Small and medium sized businesses today are relying more than ever on IT systems to efficiently run their business, support customers and optimize productivity. These systems house sensitive digital data ranging from employee and customer information, to internal emails, documents and financial records, sales orders and transaction histories. This is in addition to applications and programs critical to daily business functions and customer service.
While corporate-level data losses and insider theft are well publicized, many smaller businesses have also become casualties of data loss and theft. Following a significant data loss, it is estimated that a small-to-medium sized business can lose up to 25% in daily revenue by the end of the first week. Projected lost daily revenue increases to 40% one month into a major data loss.
According to The National Archives & Records Administration in Washington, 93% of companies that have experienced data loss, coupled with prolonged downtime for ten or more days, have filed for bankruptcy within twelve months of the incident while 50% wasted no time and filed for bankruptcy immediately. Finally, 43% of companies with no data recovery and business continuity plan actually go out of business following a major data loss.
Still, a survey conducted by Symantec SMB revealed that fewer than half of SMBs surveyed backup their data each week. Only 23% of those surveyed said they backup data every day and have a business continuity plan in place.
Businesses play on a much bigger playing field than they did two decades ago. Any disruptive technological event – even the smallest of incidents – can have an amplified impact on day-to-day business and profitability. Being proactive with data recovery solutions, and having emergency response procedures in place prior to a disruption or data disaster, is the only way to minimize downtime and soften the impact of such events. CLICK HERE for a free network assessment.
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Technology is full of difficult jargon. To further complicate things, certain terms are often used in a different context between one publication or service provider and the next. An example of this is the usage of backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity. These terms are commonly used interchangeably, often resulting in confusion. In an effort to alleviate some of this confusion, let’s describe each physical process. You will see an overlay among all three, although they are each different processes.
Backup – In IT lingo, the most basic description of backup is the act of copying data, as in files or programs, from its original location to another. The purpose of this is to ensure that the original files or programs are retrievable in the event of any accidental deletion, hardware or software failure, or any other type of tampering, corruption and theft.
It’s important to remember that the term “backup” refers to data only and doesn’t apply to the physical machines, devices, or systems themselves. If there were a system failure, disk crash, or an onsite physical disaster, all systems would still have to be replaced, rebuilt, and properly configured before the backed-up data could be loaded onto them.
Disaster Recovery – Backups are a single, albeit crucial, component of any disaster recovery plan. Disaster recovery refers to the complete recovery of your physical systems, applications, and data in the event of a physical disaster like a fire; hurricane or tornado; flood; earthquake; act of terror or theft.
A disaster recovery plan uses pre-determined parameters to define an acceptable recovery period. From there, the most satisfactory recovery point is chosen to get your business up and running with minimal data loss and interruption.
Business Continuity – Although backup and disaster recovery processes make sure that a business can recover its systems and data within a reasonable time, there is still the chance of downtime from a few hours to many days. The point of a business continuity plan is to give businesses continuous access to their technology and data, no matter what. Zero or minimal downtime is the goal.
Critical business data can be backed up with configurable snapshots that are instantly virtualized. This allows files, folders and data to be turned on and restored in seconds. Bare metal restores of hardware, where an image of one machine is overlaid onto a different machine, is also utilized along with cloud replication for instant off-site virtualization.
Many businesses also keep redundant systems and storage at a different physical location than their main site as part of their business continuity process. They may also outline procedures for staff to work remotely off-site. Some businesses or organizations may go as far as to have printed contact lists and other critical data stored off-site to keep their business moving if a disaster wipes out power and their ability to access anything electronically.
This should clarify the differences between backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity solutions. Choosing what works best for your business will come down to your current IT infrastructure, your budget and how much downtime you can reasonably accept.
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Inquiring SMBs Want to Know… What’s the Difference Between a Help Desk and NOC?
It’s no secret that any growing small-to-medium sized business must monitor and manage its business technology in the most cost-efficient way. The tricky part is figuring out how to do this without sacrificing the overall experience of the end- user. End-users can be clients and customers or employees. Both rely on the efficiency of a firm’s network, servers, and applications, and the availability of the company’s data center. Thanks to the evolution of managed services, it’s actually possible these days to reduce costs, which strengthens IT support and infrastructure. It’s just a matter optimally integrating all available resources.
IT’S A STAFFING CONUNDRUM FOR MOST SMBs
Most SMBs tend to be short staffed. This isn’t just another reference to the many SMBs with little to no onsite tech support. While that’s true, and problematic, it’s actually all operations that tend to be short staffed.
Small yet growing companies and organizations aren’t just short on tech support; it seems like even their administrative assistant needs an assistant to keep up. Customer support and sales teams are also overworked, and often hindered by having to understand and troubleshoot tech problems when they have no tech expertise whatsoever.
There is no, “Hold for a moment, Sir. I’m about to transfer you to our tech support team.” There is no tech support team.
This is where managed service providers (MSPs) step in to save the day. MSPs help SMBs better manage their technology to achieve greater ROI (Return-on-Investment). One way they do this is by augmenting a SMBs existing on-site staff with the remote support of a 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) and Help Desk.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A NOC AND A HELP DESK?
This question is asked a lot because it’s really not uncommon to see both referenced interchangeably, which leaves many to assume they are one in the same. They are not. Here is the easiest way to distinguish between the two.
NOC: Most of the work performed by a NOC focuses on the network and systems. The NOC can almost be viewed as a mission control center. They monitor and manage an IT network. A 24/7 NOC typically monitors the network and system security, performance, and backup processes.
Help Desk: The Help Desk is more customer-oriented. The Help Desk has interaction with the end-user, or someone representing the end-user, to directly respond and resolve technical problems as they arise. Customers or employees can typically reach the Help Desk by clicking a support icon, emailing them, or dialing a toll-free number.
DO THE HELP DESK AND NOC INTERACT? Although the NOC and Help Desk are different, they do work together, along with any in-house tech support, to provide cohesive tech solutions to end-users. The Help Desk typically has three tiers of support and may sometimes have to escalate tickets to the NOC for resolution. This open communication, and ease of escalation, improves the end-user experience and serves as a proactive cost-efficient approach to managing SMB technology.
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Small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) tend to have a more difficult time managing IT than larger enterprises. Despite being as technology dependent as larger enterprises, SMBs have tighter budgets and fewer resources to devote to IT management. This leads to a more reactive “break-fix” approach to their technology that never does any smaller company or organization any good.
Here’s what break fix most often leads to. If the burden rests on the shoulders of hourly or salaried in-house IT support, and they’re too busy putting out fires all day, then their skills and talents are essentially wasted.
If there is no in-house tech support, and many smaller companies and organizations don’t have even one onsite “IT guy”, SMBs are commonly taken for a ride by some of the more unscrupulous on-call IT consultants.
Although “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a popular saying, it should never be applied to the management of business technology. The cost of downtime can crush any barely surviving small business. The combined impact of lost revenue, lost productivity, and lost brand reputation is a severe hit that many SMBs aren’t built to withstand.
It pays to be proactive, not a reactive about technology. This requires a cultural shift from how IT has commonly been handled in the past. Say goodbye to manual, yet necessary, processes and hello to a better way for businesses to meet their technology needs – a smarter and more cost-efficient way.
THREE STEPS TO FIX IT MANAGEMENT FOR SMBs
Be Proactive – More often than not, it’s the things that aren’t caught early on that turn into costly business disruptions. For instance, many of the hardware, software, and application failures that cause downtime occurrences are preventable; they’re just not detected and addressed early enough. SMBs today have the advantage of using a Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) tool to help their existing in-house support staff get a grip on their workload. A RMM tool, combined with an outsourced 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC), monitors your technology all day and all through the night via one comprehensive interface that is even accessible with a mobile device. This kind of around the clock monitoring transforms technology management. Problems can be nipped in the bud with an alert and prompt ticket resolution before they turn into major issues that disrupt day-to-day operations.
Automate/Schedule Mundane Tasks – Free the in-house support staff from everyday manual maintenance and monitoring by automating a broad range of IT security and monitoring tasks.
Get More From Your In-House Team – If you have any in-house IT support, you’ve likely hired some incredibly skilled and talented people who would be more worthy contributors to your company or organization if they weren’t always so tied up fixing things and performing monotonous tasks. With RMM and NOC solutions, SMBs can put these individuals to work on projects that matter. They are freed-up to work on concepts, strategies, and application development that better serve your customers, employees, and suppliers, truly giving business a competitive advantage.
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It’s a fast business world. Brilliant business ideas can be conjured up at some hipster-filled vegan coffeehouse, a website is thrown together, and poof… in no time at all there is a living, breathing, small business venture accessible from anywhere in the world.
But as your head hits the pillow at night, with visions of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg dancing in your head, understand that many obstacles will greet you on your road to entrepreneurial success. A fresh innovative idea is merely a start. For every successful startup like Groupon, there are even more that have faltered. Some great, even revolutionary, business concepts that just faded into obscurity; leaving behind nothing but tales of what could’ve been and insurmountable debt.
Failed business technology is often a big reason for this. Many startups think big but tend to operate small-minded to keep overhead and costs down. They then find themselves completely unprepared to meet the demands of growth, particularly when it comes to their IT infrastructure. There is no one-size fit all approach to how to manage technology for optimal efficiency, uptime, and profitability. Especially given the challenges of limited budgets and the need to keep overhead down.
So exactly how do SMBs make sound decisions regarding their technology infrastructure? Choices that are cost-effective enough to get their business off the ground and running without screwing them over once it truly takes off?
Combine On-Site and Off-Site Support for the Best of Both Worlds Over 45% of SMBs have no dedicated in-house IT staff and no contracted IT consultant regularly monitoring and managing their technology. Roughly only 7 percent of SMBs have a full-time onsite IT technician on payroll. The rest rely on third-party on-call IT companies who appear only when technology goes haywire and disrupts business. These on-call companies can sometimes take a day or two to even show up, which means issues aren’t resolved in a timely and efficient manner. And did we mention they’re expensive?
Most SMBs say they simply can’t afford full-time in-house support. Even those who do budget for it face overwhelming challenges. They often experience a revolving door of on-site help who leave for a larger company and better salary once they’ve beefed up their resume. And those hires that do remain loyal often feel as if they have no reliable help and become overworked and frazzled as the business and their responsibilities grow. Discontent may even set in if wages aren’t raised proportionately to the added responsibilities, or if they grow bored of doing the same mundane repetitive work every day.
But today’s SMB has access to technology that won’t drain resources. In particular, the evolution of cloud computing and managed services can either automate or re-assign a lot of the day-to-day caretaking of technology to remote employees, leaving onsite support available for more meaningful and potentially profitable projects.
Better yet, it saves money on equipment costs.
Whenever possible, a mix of on premise and off-premise IT support is the best way to make your technology scalable and prepared for growth.
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When smaller businesses look to cut costs, they commonly take shortcuts that are risky to their bottom line. They may go out of their way to avoid upgrading dated hardware, buying software licenses, or increasing bandwidth. In some instances, they layoff in-house IT support, or avoid hiring new help, even as the business grows. This often leads to a very cranky and disgruntled “IT guy” with a bad attitude as he or she runs around the office putting out one fire after another – feeling overburdened and underpaid.
Operating even the most basic data center today means recurring operating expenses that aren’t affordable for most small-to-midsize businesses.
Unfortunately, SMBs just have to accept that keeping their data center alive and kicking means significant overhead and expenses. That’s just the way it is.
Or is it? There are actually several ways to reduce data center infrastructure costs without sacrificing the efficiency of your network, server, and applications, or the sanity of your IT guy.
Rent, Don’t Own: A data center needs experienced people and a virtual, always-on, 24/7 staff of administrators, networking experts, database specialists, systems managers, and dedicated IT personnel monitoring the network. From an economic perspective, it’s simply more logical to “rent” these workers rather than hire permanent employees.
Keep Things Remote & Energy Efficient: According to a study published by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the fastest-growing sources of U.S. energy consumption are data centers. This is due to the increased power supply required to run and cool a data center. Hardware sprawl is also a problem contributor, as most businesses have space limitations and lack the available room for any additional hardware.
Both of the aforementioned cost control measures can be accomplished by outsourcing data center operating expenses. Outsourcing isn’t a dirty word. Managing IT on your own is difficult and far from cost effective. Outsourcing the day-to-day IT management responsibilities through a Managed Services Provider is a strategic way to improve the efficiency of operations and dramatically cut costs. Is it any surprise that more and more SMBs today are tapping into the full spectrum of outsourced managed services to empower their business processes and reduce overhead? Are you?
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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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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
EDUCATE & TRAIN EMPLOYEES
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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