Keep Your IT Guy and Outsource IT Services Too

59 Everyone in the office loves Eric. Sporting a different ironic t-shirt everyday, Eric is the one we call when technology spits in our face. Whether it’s a slow system, a bug that needs to be squashed, a website issue, or a crash that results in unexpected downtime and data loss, Eric is right there. Not only does he get to the bottom of any issue but he also rights the ship like he’s some sort of miracle-working captain who just happens to have a pretty wickedly funny Peter Griffin from Family Guy impersonation.

But business is growing and Eric is overworked. Eric has certain skills that you’d love to use to develop innovative applications and revenue-generating projects– but he’s too busy running around fixing things that break. Or he’s performing the most mundane and routine tasks day-in-and-day-out just to keep things secure and running smoothly.

You get a sense that Eric’s overburdened and he’s saddled with too many responsibilities. His demeanor has changed from pleasant to moody. He’s listening to angrier metal and punk music and you’re noticing cracks in his work. You fear Eric is being pulled in too many directions and the reliability of your server, network, and applications, as well as the integrity of your data, are all at risk.

Someone who has watched a bit too much of Donald Trump on The Apprentice might think Eric should be fired. We’re not going to fire Eric. But we’re also not going to hire a full-time salaried Robin to his Batman or Cheech to his Chong. We’re going to help Eric by exploiting IT automation and managed services to handle many of the monotonous tasks making Eric hate his job right now.

Let’s help Eric…..

  • Focus Primarily on Cost-Cutting and Revenue Increasing Projects: First things first, Eric has to realize that he can’t do everything himself. Where are his skills best used? Whether it’s processes that help drive down costs or ones with the potential to raise revenue, evaluate the projects in the queue and rank them by what impacts the bottom line the most. Once that’s done, look at the day-to-day processes designed to keep things running securely and efficiently. What can be off-loaded from Eric? Determine which of those tasks can be automated either through the cloud or managed services.
  • Take to the Cloud: Some IT people fear the cloud spells the end to their job security. Meanwhile, the cloud can actually help them take on a more prominent contributing role in the company’s success. The cloud should be seen as another tool that further eliminates the mundane yet necessary daily drudgery from their workday. Those who work WITH the cloud will find that they have more available time to take on more meaningful cost cutting or revenue generating projects.

Use a Managed Service Provider: Using outsourced managed services not only alleviates much of Eric’s pressure and stress, but also boosts productivity and gives the company a much improved ROI (Return-on-Investment) on their technology investment. While technology has gotten easier for the end user, it has become more complex on the backend with the advent of virtualization, cloud computing, and advanced infrastructure. Using an MSP gives Eric access to a trusted advisor, a 24/7 help desk, remote monitoring and management tools, mobile device management tools, and much better disaster recovery and business continuity solutions. All without the overhead that comes with hiring more help for Eric. MSPs offer a consistency to not just your end-user but also your main IT guy who will certainly appreciate the help.

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Understanding Managed Services and How They Benefit SMBs

Small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) receive a lot of calls each day from slick sales people peddling the next technology trend that’s going to save them money and revolutionize how they do business. They’re all too quick to caution that if you don’t listen to them, you’ll fall behind the times, and eventually be swimming in a sea of debt and out of business. No doubt you’ve heard, or you’ve at least read about, the benefits of managed services. Managed services refer to clearly defined outsourced IT services delivered to you at predictable costs. You know the exact IT services you’ll be getting and what you’ll pay for them. There is no surprise sky-high bill for services rendered. So are solicitation calls that pertain to managed services worth listening to? We think so. Then again, we’re in the managed services industry. There may be a bit of a bias here.

 

58 How Managed Service Providers Work

Managed service providers (MSPs) use remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools to keep an eye on their performance and overall health of the IT infrastructure that powers your business operations. Your MSP should have a 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) that acts as your mission control center. If the monitoring alerts them to any issue with your servers, devices, hardware or software, they respond quickly to resolve the issue. Additionally, the NOC performs regular systems maintenance such as:

Automated tasks like the cleaning of temporary files

Applying tested security patches as required

Installing virus and Malware protection

System backup and disaster recover/business continuity processes

Additionally, your MSP should give you access to a Help Desk that services your customers and employees – speaking to and working with them directly as if they’re part of your staff.

This proactive maintenance, stabilization of your IT environment, and rapid as-needed remediation helps SMBs control technology costs and better serve the end-users who rely on their technology.

 

Is Managed Services Better than Other Ways to Manage IT

We find that far too many companies have no real perspective about how much IT management costs them. Let’s review some of the alternatives to managed services.

 

Hiring In-House IT Support

Typically, a firm with anywhere from 20-60 employees may feel that one person can manage their technology. Understand that this one full-time employee can demand a significant salary since they’ll have to be proficient with desktop, server and network support, and interact with both end-users in the Help Desk role and management. They will likely be overworked and vulnerable to error or oversights that may prove to be costly. And what happens if they’re out sick or on vacation?

 

The Break/Fix Mentality

The majority of smaller companies take this route because they feel as if they’re too small for a more sophisticated 24/7 approach to IT management. They also feel pressure to direct all resources on the product or service, not behind-the-scenes operations. They decide to use on-call IT techs when broken technology has already disrupted business. The on-call team’s response time and overall lack of familiarity with your systems extends downtime and proves to be a much more expensive resolution to IT management. It’s reactive, not proactive, and it’s a costly mistake too often made. This is why many SMBs today feel that managed services are the most cost-effective way to support their IT infrastructure and the best way to get more bang for their buck.

CLICK HERE for a free network assessment.

4 Steps To Improve SMB Data And Network Security

 TO STAY SECURE – A GOOD DEFENSE IS THE BEST OFFENSE

SMBs must understand that the time has come to get serious with their security. Sadly, many small businesses have a false sense of security. In the McAfee/ Office Depot joint survey of 1000 SMBs, over 66% were confident in the security of their data and devices despite admitting to obvious flaws.

Cybercrime is only one cause of compromised data. There are 3 primary causes of breached security at businesses according to the June 2013 Symantec Global Cost of a Data Breach study. Only 37% are attributed to malicious attacks. The remaining 64% are human error and technology errors. 56

Data breaches aren’t always about bad people doing bad things. Many are the result of good employees making mistakes or of technology failure. SMBs don’t necessarily need a large budget or dozens of employees to adequately protect sensitive data. A secure environment is possible even on a SMBs budget. Here are a few steps to improving data and network security.

STEP 1

KNOW ALL DEVICES CONNECTING TO YOUR NETWORK

Keep a frequently updated list of every device that connects to your network. This inventory is especially important given today’s BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) workplace where employees can access your network through several different devices. Knowing what these devices are and ensuring they’re all configured properly will optimize network security.

All it takes is a regularly scheduled review to add or remove any devices and affirm that every endpoint is secure. Much of thisprocess can be inexpensively automated through a Mobile Device Monitoring (MDM) tool. A MDM tool will approve or quarantine any new device accessing the network, enforce encryption settings if sensitive information is stored on such a device, and remotely locate, lock, and wipe company data from lost or stolen devices.

STEP 2

EDUCATE & TRAIN EMPLOYEES

57 Every employee should participate in regular general awareness security training. This will not only reduce security breaches directly tied to employee error or negligence but also train employees to be on the defense against cybercrime. Employees are critical to your security success and the prevention of data breaches. Hackers commonly break into networks by taking advantage of unknowing employees. Phishing attacks – legitimate looking emails specifically crafted to mislead recipients into clicking a malicious link where they’re asked to provide their username and password – are still successfully used by hackers to capture login credentials.

If a large company makes the news for a data breach tied to an infected email, be sure to share that news with employees with a warning. Come up with fun ways to teach employees how to identify spear-phishing email attempts and better secure their systems and devices.

It is also important to have a security policy written for employees that clearly identifies the best practices for internal and remote workers. For example, password security is critical and passwords should be frequently updated to a combination of numbers, lower case letters and special characters that cannot be easily guessed. Security policy training should be integrated into any new employee orientation. This policy should be updated periodically. More important than anything, this security policy must be enforced to be effective.

STEP 3

PERFORM AN AUDIT OF SENSITIVE BUSINESS INFORMATION

If you want to keep your most sensitive business information secure, it’s important to know exactly where it’s stored. A detailed quarterly audit is recommended.

STEP 4

USE CLOUD AND MANAGED SERVICE PROVIDERS

Overall, the cloud is likely a more secure data solution for small business. Any conception that the cloud isn’t safe is outdated. Most of 2013’s security breaches were the result of lost or stolen devices, printed documents falling into the wrong hands, and employee errors leading to unintended disclosures. It’s fair to speculate that many of these breaches wouldn’t have occurred had this information been stored in the cloud rather than computers, laptops, and vulnerable servers.

SMBs with limited budgets are actually enhancing their security by moving to the cloud. Since there is no way a SMB can match a large enterprise’s internal services, moving services like emails, backups, and collaborative file sharing to the cloud not only reduces total-cost-of-ownership, but gives access to top-level security to better defend against internal and external threats.

Meanwhile, a Managed Service Provider (MSP) can assume responsibility for security measures like the administering of complex security devices, technical controls like firewalls, patching, antivirus software updates, intrusion-detection and log analysis systems.

MSPs are also capable of generating a branded risk report for any potential client or business partner reviewing your security measures. This third party manual assessment of your network security can instill confidence in prospective business partners by proving to them that any possible security risks or vulnerabilities will be properly managed and addressed.

CLICK HERE for a free network assessment.

6 Steps to Better Data Backup Practices

  1. Think Quicker Recovery Time, Not Quicker Backup – While incremental backups are much faster than executing a full-backup, they also prolong recovery time. In the event of data loss, a full restore will require loading the most recent full backup and then each incremental backup tape. Having too many incremental backup tapes not only adds time to this restoration process, but it also increases the probability of not recovering all of your data. A tape could be lost, unintentionally skipped over, or contain corrupted data. Be sure to focus on optimizing the restore time to ensure faster data recovery. A quicker recovery time should be the main objective, not the need for a quicker backup process.

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  1. Maintain Sufficient Backup History – Within the blink of an eye, current data files can become corrupted and inaccessible. This will necessitate the loading of an earlier data backup that is clean of corruption. Many smaller companies make the mistake of failing to keep a sufficient backup history.
  1. Be Sure to Backup Essential Data AND Applications – Some businesses don’t feel the need to backup all data, but be sure essential databases, documents and records are backed up frequently. Don’t overlook applications that are critical to day-to-day business operations either. Many companies fail to backup applications, only to realize when it’s too late that they don’t have access to the original installation disks when they’re trying to recover from data loss or an outage.
  1. Have Off-Site or Online Backup – Some businesses backup data simply by moving essential files to tapes or external hard drives that are then stored somewhere onsite. But if they’re kept onsite, what happens if a fire, flood or other natural disaster takes out not just your server but your backup tapes and drives? Onsite backups can also be susceptible to theft. Having secure off-site, or even online backup, is simply the smart thing to do to ensure quick recovery when trouble comes to town.
  1. Fix Broken Access Controls on Your File Server – Many businesses have folders with confidential data residing on a file server with overly permissive access controls. Why take the risk of having a disgruntled – even former – employee access and misuse this data when access can be limited to only those in the company who need it?
  1. Be Sure to Test Restores – It happens time and time again. Business owners think they have a data backup plan in place. Tapes are changed diligently each day and everything appears to be backed up and good to go. However, it turns out the backups haven’t been working for months, sometimes even years, right at the very moment they’re needed. Either the backups had become corrupt and useless, or large segments of data were not being backed up. This happens often. Don’t let it happen to you.

Avoid data loss before it happens. CLICK HERE for a free network assessment.

How Much Does Downtime Really Cost?

50 Many SMB owners think IT downtime only costs them a few productive hours, but there’s a lot more at stake when your systems go down. Customer satisfaction and loss of brand integrity are just two of the key losses apart from the more evident costs such as lost productivity and a temporary dip in sales.

Here’s a few other ways downtime can hurt your business:

1. Customer Loss – Today’s buyer lacks patience; They are used to getting everything at the click of a mouse, at the tap of a finger. Suppose they are looking for the kind of products/services that you offer and your site doesn’t load or is unavailable—even if temporarily– you are likely to lose them to a competitor—permanently.

2. Damage to Brand Reputation – Customers are now using Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and blogs to vent their bad brand experiences. Imagine an irate customer who doesn’t know if their card was charged on your site, or not, due to a server error. If it’s your bad day, they could probably be using Facebook or Twitter to share their bad experience, and it could be viewed by hundreds of people, causing irreparable harm to your brand image.

3. Loss of Productivity – When your systems don’t work, this can have a direct impact on your employees’ productivity. Consider a research firm of 200 employees where they primarily rely on internet connectivity to access the knowledge base. If the server hosting the knowledge base is down, there’s a total loss of at least 1600 work hours for one day.

4. Overtime, Repair and Recovery, Compensatory costs – In the above case, imagine the overtime wages the business would have to incur if they were to make up for the work loss they faced owing to downtime. In addition, there’s always the cost of repair—the money the business would have to shell out to fix the issue that caused the downtime and get the server up and running again. In some cases, businesses would have to incur additional costs to make customers happy. These could include giving away the product for free or at a discount, or using priority shipping to make up for a delayed order.

5. Possible Lawsuits – Businesses could also be at the receiving end of lawsuits. For example, a downtime that has an impact on production, delivery or finances of the customer could invite litigation.

6. Marketing Efforts Rendered Useless – Consider a pay-per-click advertisement that shows up for the right keywords on Google, or an extensive e-mail campaign that your business engages in. However, when the prospect clicks on the link, all they see is an error message – Isn’t that a waste of your marketing budget?

The bottom line—one natural disaster, one technical snag or just one power outage has the power to put you out of business – both virtually and in reality. It’s probably time to think about how you can mitigate the threat of a possible downtime and whether your MSP can act as an effective and efficient ally in this battle for you.

Don’t let downtime cost you your business. CLICK HERE for a free network assessment.

5 Reasons Why You Should Get On The Cloud

45 A recent article by The Guardian (UK) states that the cloud industry is set to see a growth of around 30% soon. But many small and medium business owners are still struggling to make sense of the cloud and how it can benefit them. If you are one of them, then here’s what’s in store for you when you migrate to the cloud:

1. Connectivity – Being on the cloud gives you unparalleled connectivity to your data—from anywhere and at any time. All you need is a device that can connect you to the web and you are set!

2. Save On Hardware Costs – Using the cloud for certain programs spares you the cost of investing in specific hardware. Even devices as simple as your smartphone or a tablet can help you access those applications so you don’t have to spend money on dedicated hardware. Studies have shown that cloud users end up enjoying as much as a 17% IT cost reduction compared to their non-cloud counterparts.

3. Cloud Enables SAAS – The cloud allows you to use software as a service. Microsoft 365 is one such example. When you use software as a service, you enjoy certain benefits such as more regular updates at a lower cost and the ability to have anyone work on the program for you by sharing the access credentials with them.

4. More Efficient Use of IT Staff – Moving to a cloud-based environment puts the burden of maintenance and downtime reduction on your service provider. That means you can use your limited IT staff more efficiently and also don’t have to worry about the costs associated with such maintenance or downtime.

5. Improved Productivity – Studies have shown that cloud users enjoy better productivity than their non-cloud counterparts. This could be because cloud service providers are better equipped to handle any IT eventualities than the average SMBs.

So, perhaps it’s time to ‘get cloudy’ and enjoy all that the cloud has to offer your SMB. And…if you need help in doing that, CLICK HERE.

Cybercrime and SMBs

 WHAT HAPPENS ON MAIN STREET STAYS ON MAIN STREET

When hackers breach the security of corporations it makes headlines, yet there is rarely a mention when cybercrime hits small to medium sized businesses (SMBs). Very few people are even aware that today’s cybercriminals are targeting SMBs, not just supersized global businesses. According to Verizon’s 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report, 71% of the data breaches investigated by the company’s forensic analysis unit targeted small businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Of that group, businesses with less than 10 employees were the most frequently attacked.

55 EVERYONE IS A VICTIM WHEN IT COMES TO CYBERCRIME

The loss and exposure of confidential data from a cyber-attack is costly to both the people victimized and the businesses whose data was compromised.

For the victim, hackers typically retrieve personal information, bank account, credit card and social security numbers, resulting in identity fraud. The stress and time involved to reclaim their identity and get their financial house back in order is beyond measure.

For businesses, there are 47 state-specific DBN (Data Breach Notification) laws in effect in the United States. Adding to the complexity and costs of this process is the fact that laws and compliance obligations vary from state to state. A breach of customer data in Pennsylvania will have different breach notification and follow-up requirements than a breach involving a customer in Massachusetts. This means firms servicing customers and clients from more than one state are responsible for these duplicative legal, regulatory and compliance burdens.

CYBERCRIME COMES AT A HIGH PRICE FOR SMBs

According to research compiled by the Ponemon Institute in their 2nd Annual Cost of Cyber Crime Study, the average cost per breached record in the U.S. is anywhere between $150 to $200. This amount factors in the costs of the investigation and notification process, fixing the issue that led to the breach, possible liability and litigation costs, lost business, and the time and effort that go into damage control. In many cases, a damaged reputation may prove to be irreparable. Nearly two-thirds of victimized companies are out of business within six months of a significant cyber-attack, making cybercrime the death knell for many SMBs. This is because the consequences of cybercrime extend well beyond the actual incident and have long-lasting implications.

Small businesses obviously don’t have the same financial footing to rebound and carry on with business as usual in the way organizations like Target, Amazon, Apple, or Citibank can.

Symantec’s research found that customers affected by security breaches are generally less forgiving of smaller businesses, especially smaller online retailers, than larger companies. SMBs are contending not only with lost revenue and expenses, but also the possibility of never regaining the trust of customers, clients and business partners.

Symantec’s 2012 State of Information Survey found that nearly half of all SMBs admitted to a data breach damaging their reputation and driving customers away. 53

The trend of cybercriminals preying on smaller businesses doesn’t seem to be waning. According to Symantec, the number of cybercrime attacks targeting firms with fewer than 250 employees jumped from 18 percent of all attacks in 2011 to 31 percent in 2012.

WHY CYBERCRIMINALS ARE ZEROING IN ON SMALL BUSINESSES

Large corporations have the resources to invest heavily in the most sophisticated security strategies and successfully stop most cybercrime attempts. A typical large enterprise may have over twenty in-house IT dedicated employees ensuring that every device connecting to their network is adequately protected.

In comparison, SMBs have neither the money nor the manpower of large enterprises and can’t afford the same level of security. Very few SMBs have fulltime IT dedicated personnel on hand to run routine security checks. Even those who do have in-house IT support often find that their internal resources are too bogged down with other tasks to properly address security upkeep.

A joint survey of 1000 SMBs conducted in September of 2013 by McAfee Internet Security and Office Depot further confirms how lax many SMBs are when it comes to protecting their data. 54

Not only have SMBs become easy prey for cybercriminals, but their sheer abundance also makes them an alluring target. There are roughly 23 million SMBs in the United States alone. Half of that figure is comprised of home-based businesses. Even in a struggling economy, it’s projected that there are still an estimated 500,000 startups launching every month with only a handful of employees.

SMBs ARE NOT “TOO SMALL TO MATTER”

Since most cybercrimes affecting smaller businesses go unreported by the media, there is no sense of urgency by SMBs to prepare for cyber-attacks. Too many SMBs mistakenly view their operations and data as trivial to hackers. They feel that large online retailers, global banks, and government entities are much more attractive targets for hackers.

The goals and methods of cyber attackers are evolving and will continue to evolve. The era of one “big heist” for hackers is over. Cybercriminals today often prefer to infiltrate the data of many small businesses at once, stealing from victims in tiny increments over time so as to not set off an immediate alarm. This method takes advantage of those SMBs who are especially lax with their security processes and may not even realize there has been a security breach for days or sometimes even weeks. SMBs must end the “It will never happen to us” mindset. For instance, political “hactivists” have been responsible for a number of high-profile Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks in recent years. The goal of a hactivist is to disrupt the status quo and wreak havoc on the technology infrastructure of larger corporations and government entities. It’s a form of cyber anarchy: A “stick it to the man” philosophy spearheaded by groups like 4chan, Anonymous, LulzSec, and Anti-Sec.

An owner or Chief Information Office (CIO) at a SMB may read of these high publicized attacks in the press and not think anything of it. They aren’t Sony, Apple, or the Department of Defense, so why would a hactivist target their data? But it’s estimated that there are on average 1.29 DDoS attacks throughout the world every two minutes and such activity is much broader in scope than the press may lead us to believe.

SMBs- THE ACCESS RAMP TO BIGGER & BETTER DATA

One reason small businesses are more vulnerable is they’re often the inroad to larger better-protected entities. They are often sub-contracted as a vendor, supplier, or service provider to a larger organization. This makes SMBs an attractive entry point for raiding the data of a larger company. Since larger enterprises have more sophisticated security processes in place to thwart cyber-attacks, SMBs often unknowingly become a Trojan horse used by hackers to gain backdoor access to a bigger company’s data. There is malware specifically designed to use a SMBs website as a means to crack the database of a larger business partner.

For this reason, many potential clients or business partners may ask for specifics on how their data will be safeguarded before they sign an agreement. Some may require an independent security audit be conducted. They may also ask SMBs to fill out a legally binding questionnaire pertaining to their security practices.

Moving forward, a SMB that is unable to prove they’re on top of their infrastructure’s security will likely lose out on potentially significant deals and business relationships. More large enterprises are being careful to vet any business partners they’re entrusting their data to.

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Understanding How Data Loss Happens – The Four Main Reasons

43 Small business owners are often worried about data loss. Rightly so, because data loss has the potential to wipe out a business. We have identified the most common forms of data loss so you can see how they fit into your business and assess the risks related to each of these pitfalls.

1. Human Error – Human error – by way of unintentional data deletion, modification, and overwrites – has become much more prevalent in recent years. Much of this is the result of carelessly managed virtualization technology. While virtualization and cloud computing have enabled improved business continuity planning for many businesses and organizations, humans must still instruct this technology how to perform. The complexity of these systems often presents a learning curve that can involve quite a bit of trial and error. For instance, a support engineer may accidentally overwrite the backup when they forget to power off the replication software prior to formatting volumes on the primary site. They will be sure to never do that ever again, but preventing it from happening in the first place would be more ideal.

2. File Corruption – Unintended changes to data can occur during writing, reading, storage, transmission and processing – making the data within the file inaccessible. Software failure is a leading cause of data loss and is typically the result of bugs in the code. Viruses and malware can also lead to individual data files being deleted and hard drive partitions being damaged or erased.

3. Hardware Failure – Storage devices may be at risk due to age, or they may fall victim to irreparable hard-disk failure. Viruses and hackers can also potentially shut down a hard drive by inserting undeletable malicious code and huge files via open, unprotected ports. If these malicious programs cannot be deleted, the entire hard drive may have to be reformatted, wiping out all the data.

4. Catastrophic Events/Theft – The threat of catastrophic events such as fire, flooding, lightning and power failure is always a concern. Such events can wipe out data in a millisecond with no warning. Theft is also a data loss risk that companies must address. While advances in technology like anytime/anywhere connectivity, portability and the communication/information sharing capabilities of social media and crowdsourcing have revolutionized business – the risk for theft is even greater due to this increased accessibility. More people are doing daily business on their laptop, iPad and mobile phones. They are also carrying around portable media like thumb drives, USB sticks and CDs. Physical theft of any of these devices can spell big trouble.

Data loss is as unique as the various sources from which it comes. The key is to identify the areas in which your business is weak and work towards a mitigation plan for each one of them. An MSP can act as a trusted partner in such cases, holding your hand through the process of safeguarding your data.

Prevent data loss with Cognoscape. CLICK HERE for a free network assessment.

Four Tips for Your Hybrid Cloud Strategy

42 It should come as no surprise that many small to midsize business owners take pride in overseeing every aspect of their startup business. Naturally, many are apprehensive when it comes to surrendering control of their servers, their data, and their applications. The downside of this need for control is that operating and maintaining everything onsite can be time consuming, super expensive, and it can make your business more vulnerable to failure related downtime and cyber threats. Although everything can be stored in the cloud at a fraction of the cost, many aren’t responsive to the idea of sharing the infrastructure their technology runs on. The great thing about the cloud is it’s not an all or nothing thing. This is exactly why so many small to midsize businesses have turned to hybrid cloud solutions. Just as they name implies, hybrid cloud solutions are both on and off premises. It’s the best of both worlds. An entrepreneur can still control certain aspects of the business on-site, but simultaneously exploit the cloud’s cost effectiveness and overall scalability. For example, a local server like Windows Server 2012 can be housed and managed on-site but that server, or just specific files, can still be backed up in the cloud with Microsoft Windows Azure and stored far away off-site. This provides a partial disaster recovery solution in the event of a hurricane, flood, fire, or just a basic server crash.

Here are four tips for developing your hybrid cloud strategy:

  1. Honestly assess the current IT strategy – Over time, as your business grows and technology advances, your well-planned and neatly arranged IT infrastructure transforms into a disorganized mishmash of different servers and disconnected software and tools. View this almost as the spring-cleaning of a cluttered garage. What systems or applications are critical to your business right now and which ones no longer support your current or future business initiatives?
  1. Know what you want to keep close – Every business will be different in this regard. Certain companies will prefer keeping large files in-house, in a more controlled private cloud, for easy access but may be okay with having their emails out there in the cloud or vice versa.
  1. See how others are leveraging a hybrid cloud environment – New services once only available to large enterprises are now available to SMBs. This presents an extraordinary opportunity to be more agile, flexible, and better suited for new business opportunities and growth. Remote monitoring, 24/7 support, and disaster recovery solutions can be easily integrated within a hybrid-computing environment – regardless of operating systems, server types, or mobile devices used.
  1. Staged implementation – Be sure to plan your hybrid cloud strategy as a multi-year plan that is deployed in phases. For example, in the beginning, private controlled access to a public cloud service can be granted to internal application developers experimenting with a new business initiative. Or a new customer relations management SaaS (Software as a Service) application can be implemented.

This is the year that even small or midsize enterprises are getting serious about cloud operations and a strategic mix of public cloud services and private cloud may make the transition easier.

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What You Can Learn From US Regulator’s Business Continuity Recommendations

U.S regulators have recommended that all fu 40 tures and securities firms review and update their current data backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity solutions. Prompted by closures in the equities and options market in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Regulators including the SEC, FINRA, and the CFTC contacted firms to assess the impact Hurricane Sandy had on their operations The regulators asked each firm for specifics regarding any backup disaster recovery (BDR) and business continuity plan (BCP) they had in place prior to Hurricane Sandy. The responses they gathered were compiled to develop a list of best practices and lessons learned. The regulators have since gone on to suggest that all firms refer to these best practices and lessons as part of reviewing and improving upon their current BDR and BCP procedures. By doing this, the regulators hope that firms will be better prepared for similar events. Regulators feel that a comprehensive BDR and business continuity strategy will help firms improve responsiveness and minimize downtime. Managed Service Providers (MSPs) have always stressed the importance of the BDR and BCP solutions they offer to small-to-medium-sized businesses. That said, it doesn’t hurt to see what government regulators recommend to those handling our money. We’ve summarized portions of the full report, addressing only the parts that we feel can easily be applied to SMBs. The full report can be read here at http://www.sec.gov/about/offices/ocie/jointobservations- bcps08072013.pdf.

Widespread Disruption Considerations

True business continuity plans go beyond technology. What is the probability of a widespread lack of telecommunications during a disaster? We’re talking no Internet and no cell phone coverage. Large-scale events can knock out power and limit our access to drinkable water and food supplies. Getting around may be complicated. Roadways might be inaccessible and fuel may be scarce. Part of being prepared for the unknown is to assess how any plausible scenario would impact day-to-day operations and services. A critical component to business continuity planning is remote access. Every employee should have the ability to efficiently work from home if a disaster strikes or blocks access to the office. If there is no power or no Internet and phone, alternatives should be defined to carry out key operations.

Alternative Location Considerations

The implications of region-wide disruptions must be factored into the location choices for backed-up data centers. Keeping backups within close proximity may seem like a smart strategy to ensure they’re readily accessible, but this does you no good if it’s a region wide disruption. When it comes to supporting business critical activities at an alternative location, what will be the site’s staffing needs? How about office space, equipment, and available resources? Printed copies of the business continuity plan, contact lists, and other business documents and manuals should also be kept at the alternate site if electronic files can’t be accessed.

Vendor Relationships

Any critical vendor relationships should also have an adequate business continuity plan, as they may be affected by the same event as you. Vendors risk ratings should be considered based on the quality of their BDR and BCP strategies.

Telecommunications Services and Technology Considerations

The telecommunications infrastructure must be enhanced. Consider secondary phone lines, backup mobile phone services with different carriers, emergency Wi-Fi spots, and cloud technology.

Review and Testing

Annual full BCP tests should be conducted. If the business continuity plan changes often, more frequent testing is recommended. All personnel should be trained for their specific role in the plan.

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