Cloud or dedicated server? Where is the smart money going?

Should you be entrusting your data to the cloud or keeping it down to earth on your own servers? This is a decision facing every CIO. And it’s one they’ll be forced to justify and revisit regularly for the foreseeable future. That’s because there’s been no knock-out blow in the argument between the cloud and the in-house server. There’s plenty to be said for both, which makes the question one of what’s right for you.

Looking cloudward

Surely the chance to ditch your servers and outsource to someone who is steeped in server management seems like a gift from the universe.

The arguments in favor of cloud computing are easy to make, especially to someone frustrated by the intellectual overhead and raw cost of maintaining their own servers.

The promises of the cloud include the following.

  • You pay only for what you use, so it’s incredibly flexible; you can scale up or down at will.
  • Security, upgrading, and server configuration are in the hands of experts.

In these days of everything being “as-a-service,” the idea of owning anything like a server seems downright old-fashioned. If Uber can run the world’s largest taxi service without owning any taxis, why on earth would you need to own servers?

Where to look closely

There are a few things you need to factor in to make sure you’re comfortable with any potential compromises.

Power: Cloud providers can’t match the power of a dedicated server that’s properly configured.

Speed: The scalability of the cloud has to do with getting more or less storage, not faster storage, which might be a concern when another customer is flogging the server you’re on.

Latency: If your cloud host uses dispersed locations or it’s not nearby, you might have latency issues

Taking a dedicated approach

The promise of cloud computing is most clearly seen in companies meeting one or more of the following criteria.

  • Tight budgets
  • Growth they can’t predict
  • Business-to-consumer models
  • Jobs that don’t need lots of computer power or storage or much time to run

A company that has a business-to-business model or has well-established usage needs and predictable growth will likely find running its own servers cheaper and more efficient. This is something you can quickly run the numbers on, and the results might surprise you, considering that “cheaper” is a clarion call of the cloud industry.

The issue of security

It’s also worth running the decision through the filter of security. Hackers fish where the fish are, which makes cloud hosts attractive targets. You’re not just outsourcing server configuration and the like. You’re trusting another company with your security. If security is a concern, you’re probably better off keeping your servers in-house, where you can tailor security to your needs.

It's time to send your employees home.

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When it comes to the debate about whether you can get more work done at home than in the office, the interesting divide is between those who have tried it and those who have not. An even 50 percent of those who have tried it say they are more productive at home. So far, so much on the fence. Except...

Why you should tell your employees to stay home today

Another 36 percent of people say they are equally productive in either place. That is 86 percent of your workforce who are more (or at least equally) productive at home.

So what?

Those are workers for whom you are renting office space. You are buying them desks and chairs. You are paying for lighting, heating, cooling and other utilities.

And it turns out you do not need any of that expense to get the most out of them. In fact, you might be getting less.

Let people work at home sometimes and you can cut back on office space and other bills while upping productivity.

Once you leap the trust hurdle, the argument for equipping employees with laptops and letting them work wherever they want becomes more and more appealing. (If they are going to be working from home all the time, you could even consider helping them equip a home office with a desktop.)

The downside

You might want to consider a company health program to go with your flexible work program.

A fifth of people say they exercise less when they work from home. And they might also be part of the 38 percent who say they snack more. On the other hand, you get workers who sleep more (30 percent) and feel less stress (46 percent).

More time, more work

Unsurprisingly, 40 percent of home workers drive less. They do not have an office to go to anymore. Former commuting time is likely time they will put into doing more work.

Even if they do not turn it all into work time, they might start work earlier, when people are generally more productive, and finish earlier, when people are typically winding down.

That’s better for employers and better for employees.

So who should stay in the office?

With most employees coming into the office only some of the time, the potential to save costs by equipping workers as road warriors could be substantial. Only 14 percent of workers say they are less productive working from home.

With today’s built-in webcams and developers baking video conferencing into software like Microsoft Office, you might not even notice the other 86 percent are missing.

Top browser plug-ins for small businesses

Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer... choosing a browser is an important step for your business, but it's just a first step. Nowadays, you can use browser plug-ins to further customize your online experience.

But with so many plug-ins available to small business owners, how can you choose which are the most suitable? Well, we’ve done the hard work already, so read on to learn more about the top browser plug-ins for small businesses.

1. AdBlock Plus

AdBlock Plus is a free plug-in that’s available for Chrome and Firefox. It automatically screens out unwanted online advertisements, from blinking banners to unexpected video commercials. You can even choose to allow unobtrusive ads or create lists of specific websites that you’d prefer to visit ad-free. All in all, it makes for a more streamlined and less distracting online experience.

2. Last Pass

LastPass takes the hassle out of using multiple passwords to protect your data from prying eyes. It uses AES 256-bit encryption with routinely increased PBKDF2 iterations – that’s tech-speak for "serious encryption" – to store random non-dictionary passwords. You only have to remember your "LastPass" – a secure password that you can use to start safely browsing the Internet.

3. StayFocusd/LeechBlock

When there’s work to be done it’s important to avoid distractions, and that’s where StayFocusd and LeechBlock come in. Designed for Chrome and Firefox respectively, they allow you to limit your time on distracting websites, temporarily blocking them when time is up.

You can even block websites at specific times (so Facebook, for example, might be available during your lunch break). It’s a great way to ensure that you, and your employees, stay on task. 

4. MightyText

MightyText is one of the most useful extensions out there, syncing with your mobile device so that you can send and receive messages from within Firefox or Chrome. It also backs up messages so you needn’t worry about losing them. It’s designed for use with Android phones, but iPhone owners can use iMessage in the same way.

5. Rapportive

LinkedIn has become an indispensable resource for businesses, allowing owners and operators to connect with colleagues, find new talent, and learn about the competition. Rapportive brings this information to your Gmail inbox, automatically matching your contacts with their LinkedIn profiles. For small business owners, it’s a convenient way to learn more about suppliers, customers, and colleagues on the fly.

Plugging into the online world

In this article, we’ve touched on just a few of the things you can do with plug-ins and extensions for major browsers.

After you’ve tried out the plug-ins above, perhaps the best thing to do is visit the Chrome Web Store or Firefox Add-ons page and start looking for solutions that support your business.

What you need to know about Office 2016

Technology fans got their first look at Microsoft Office 2016 when images of its updated interface surfaced online in March. But it wasn’t until early September that Microsoft officially confirmed its existence and told us what to expect when it went on sale. Now that it’s available, here’s a summary of what you need to know about Office 2016.

Outlook is moving to the cloud

Outlook 2016’s interface hasn’t changed much, but it has some great new features. For example, when attaching a file to an email, you'll get the option to copy it to the cloud. This not only makes it easier to find in the future, it also means that people can collaborate on one version of a file instead of constantly sending each other updates.

Outlook also has a new email filter called "Clutter," which uses machine learning to identify messages that, though not spam, might rank low on your list of priorities.

Word supports real-time collaboration

For a while now, Office Online users have been able to use "Live Typing" to watch colleagues edit a shared Word document in real time. Now it’s coming to the desktop version, making collaboration even easier.

Word 2016 also features a new way for you to find the exact button you’re looking for. "Tell Me" lets you avoid Office’s menus and simply tell Word what you want to do. It’s a similar idea to Clippy, Office 98’s assistant – but more effective and less annoying (sorry Clippy …).

PowerPoint gives the power back

One common complaint about PowerPoint has been that it offers a limited range of editing tools. With Office 2016, however, it’s easier than ever to develop a visual style that suits your subject matter.

For example, "Variants" allows you to change color schemes for the included design themes. Similarly, a redesigned Format Options pane lets you quickly select text and shape options for every feature of your presentation.

Excel is better at integrating new data

Microsoft has tweaked Excel 2016 to be more efficient in the "Big Data" world.

Excel 2013 users could use Power Query, a data analysis plug-in that simplified data integration and combined multiple data sources into single spreadsheets. Excel 2016 includes Power Query as a standard feature. It also integrates completely with Power BI, Microsoft’s online tool for visualizing data and using personalized dashboards to track key data metrics.

The SCARY Misunderstanding Most Business Owners Have About Their Backup System

 

Unless you’ve been living in a tomb, you know you should be backing up your computers and server. But here’s something you probably DON’T know that will come back and “bite” you: simply having a backup of your data is NOT ENOUGH to guarantee you could be back up and running fast in the event of a disaster.

Having a data backup merely means that you have a copy of your company’s data stored somewhere; it does NOT mean you have a way to instantly restore your network back to normal – a shocking dose of truth most business owners discover after they’ve experienced a major network crash or data-erasing disaster.

For example, if your network dies because of a hardware failure, your entire company is down, period. No e-mail, no printing, no accessing your database, customer records, and more. Until whatever caused the problem can be fixed (which might involve ordering replacement parts), your business is deader than a door nail.

So You Reach For Your Backup Only To Discover... 

Your information is there, but without a server, you have nowhere to load that information, and no way to access it. On top of that, a backup only holds your data, not your operating system, settings, or software applications. So even if you can load the data, you can’t actually use it without re-loading all the software applications—no small feat. Even IF you have all the software disks and key codes (most people don’t), it could still take days — possibly weeks— to rebuild, and the costs can run into the thousands.

 That’s Not The Half Of It

The three most common causes of server downtime are hardware failure, software corruption and human error. But nearly 20% of businesses suffer damaging downtime from fire, flood, theft, or other natural disasters, and 44% of them never recover—and that’s mostly because they didn’t have a disaster recovery plan in place.

A disaster recovery plan covers more than just backup. It maps out how to get your business restored and running again in every possible scenario.

For example, if another company in your office building has a fire, the police may quarantine your building preventing you from even entering your office. Or if a major storm knocks out power, Internet or the phone lines, you need a plan “B” for servicing customers, taking orders and keeping things rolling.

3 Crucial Components To A Disaster Recovery Plan

1.    Have One! As the old adage goes, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” When it comes to disaster recovery, nothing could be more accurate.

If something happens to your office, will your employees be able to work from home? Do you have an alternate plan for your phones? Where would you temporarily set up shop? How quickly could you get technology equipment you need to function like computers, scanners, or printers? How will you access the Internet? Make a point to document the answers to these questions.

2.    Onsite Server “Virtualization.” In a downtime situation, virtualization is basically a business owner’s lifeline to his business. Once only available to big businesses with deep pockets, this now affordable technology can literally get you back up and running just as you were before the disaster... in as little as 24 hours. If the disaster doesn’t take out your whole office, virtualization can have you back in business the same day.  Here’s how it works. A second server makes exact copies of everything on your server—operating system, software applications and data—every 15-60 minutes.

This server replica, also known as an “image,” can take over if your main server fails or gets corrupted. No need to re-load software, reconfigure your network, or re-load your data. In as little as 30 minutes, everyone in your company can get back to work, just as they were before the downtime. Compare this to the days or WEEKS it could take without virtualization; the productivity and money savings is staggering. Side Note: If you are still using old tape backups, you NEED to throw them away and virtualize your server with an offsite backup!

3.    Offsite Image of Your Server. Fire, flood, theft, natural disasters, or even faulty office sprinkler systems can physically damage your office equipment, including your server and your backup system.

Head this off by having an exact copy (an image) of your server’s operating system, settings, programs, and data sent daily to an offsite location. Also make sure this image can be quickly loaded on to a server and shipped to you. With this in your plan, a tornado could rip open your office and destroy everything, yet you could be back up and running within a few days.

Want To Make SURE Your Business Can “Stay Open” After a Disaster? 

Contact us to see how our backup solutions can make sure your core business stays up and running and no horror stories happen. We can make sure:

  • Your files are automatically backed up every night right over the Internet. No more rotating and storing tapes or running the risk of tape failures!

  • Your data is safe from fire, floods, storms, viruses, hackers, hardware malfunctions, and human error!

  • You can back up ALL of your data and not be limited to the size of your tape drive.

  • Should a disaster occur, you can be back up and running the very next day…we GUARANTEE it.

 

Plus, we’ll map out a disaster recovery plan for your company’s network so everyone in your office will know what to do if the server dies or your employees can’t get into your physical location.To get started, call us at 214-270-0850 or send us an e-mail to sales@prototypeit.net. Don't quite believe us? We've experienced our own disasters. This is why you have a disaster recovery plan.  Back during the big freeze of 2013 we had a flood in the office Sunday evening and we were back up the next morning. It did take a while to clean things up a bit, but we are stronger for it and now know our DR Plan worked.

Happy Halloween!

 

The 10 Disaster Planning Essentials for a Small Business Network

 

September is...

If your data is important to your business and you cannot afford to have your operations halted for days – even weeks – due to data loss or corruption, then you need to read this report and act on the information shared. A disaster can happen at any time on any day and is likely to occur at the most inconvenient time. If you aren’t already prepared, you run the risk of having the disaster coming before you have in place a plan to handle it. This report will outline 10 things you should have in place to make sure your business could be back up and running again in the event of a disaster.


1.    Have a written plan. As simple as it may sound, just thinking through in ADVANCE what needs to happen if your server has a meltdown or a natural disaster wipes out your office, will go a long way in getting it back fast. At a minimum, the plan should contain details on what disaster could happen and a step-by-step process of what to do, who should do it and how. Also include contact information for various providers and username and password information for various key web sites. Writing this plan will also allow you to think about what you need to budget for backup, maintenance and disaster recovery. If you can’t afford to have your network down for more than a few hours, then you need a plan that can get you back up and running within that time frame. You may want the ability to virtualize your server, allowing the office to run off of the virtualized server while the real server is repaired.  If you can afford to be down for a couple of days, there are cheaper solutions.  Once written, print out a copy and store it in a fireproof safe, an offsite copy (at your home) and a copy with your IT consultant. 


2.    Hire a trusted professional to help you. Trying to recover your data after a disaster without professional help is business suicide; one misstep during the recovery process can result in forever losing your data or result in weeks of downtime. Make sure you work with someone who has experience in both setting up business contingency plans (so you have a good framework from which you CAN restore your network) and experience in data recovery.


3.    Have a communications plan. If something should happen where employees couldn’t access your office, e-mail or use the phones, how should they communicate with you? Make sure your plan includes this information including MULTIPLE communications methods.


4.    Automate your backups. If backing up your data depends on a human being doing something, it’s flawed. The #1 cause of data loss is human error (people not swapping out tapes properly, someone not setting up the backup to run properly, etc.). ALWAYS automate your backups so they run like clockwork.


5.    Have an offsite backup of your data. Always, always, always maintain a recent copy of your data off site, on a different server, or on a storage device. Onsite backups are good, but they won’t help you if they get stolen, flooded, burned or hacked along with your server.


6.    Have remote access and management of your network. Not only will this allow you and your staff to keep working if you can’t go into your office, but you’ll love the convenience it offers. Plus, your IT staff or an IT consultant should be able to access your network remotely in the event of an emergency or for routine maintenance. Make sure they can.


7.    Image your server. Having a copy of your data offsite is good, but keep in mind that all that information has to be RESTORED someplace to be of any use. If you don’t have all the software disks and licenses, it could take days to reinstate your applications (like Microsoft Office, your database, accounting software, etc.) even though your data may be readily available. Imaging your server is similar to making an exact replica; that replica can then be directly copied to another server saving an enormous amount of time and money in getting your network back. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about losing your preferences, configurations or favorites.  To find out more about this type of backup, ask your IT professional.


8.    Network documentation. Network documentation is simply a blueprint of the software, data, systems and hardware you have in your company’s network. Your IT manager or IT consultant should put this together for you. This will make the job of restoring your network faster, easier AND cheaper. It also speeds up the process of everyday repairs on your network since the technicians don’t have to spend time figuring out where things are located and how they are configured. And finally, should disaster strike, you have documentation for insurance claims of exactly what you lost. Again, have your IT professional document this and keep a printed copy with your disaster recovery plan.


9.    Maintain Your System.  One of the most important ways to avoid disaster is by maintaining the security of your network. While fires, floods, theft and natural disasters are certainly a threat, you are much more likely to experience downtime and data loss due to a virus, worm or hacker attack. That’s why it’s critical to keep your network patched, secure and up-to-date. Additionally, monitor hardware for deterioration and software for corruption. This is another overlooked threat that can wipe you out. Make sure you replace or repair aging software or hardware to avoid this problem. 


10.    Test, test, test! A study conducted in October 2007 by Forrester Research and the Disaster Recovery Journal found that 50 percent of companies test their disaster recovery plan just once a year, while 14 percent never test. If you are going to go through the trouble of setting up a plan, then at least hire an IT pro to run a test once a month to make sure your backups are working and your system is secure. After all, the worst time to test your parachute is AFTER you’ve jumped out of the plane.

 

Debate: RDP vs VPN

If you’re working from home and need access to your office work computer, you have two options available to you. To access your work, you could connect with a virtual private network (VPN) service, or you could connect using a remote desktop connection (RPN) service. While many people believe VPN and RPN services to be the same thing, they’re actually not. Both types of software provide different levels of access of a remote network to access resources.

While a VPN service will allow you to access resources on the network, an RDP can provide a larger range of processes because it allows you to access your computer terminal and the network. Both options can be used on Windows and Mac computers, and likewise, both options have pros and cons depending on what you’re attempting to do.

Pros

  • VPN allows you to encrypt your internet traffic for your protection. It allows you to enable geo-location services and to bypass content restrictions. By using a VPN, you can access a network from home, allowing you to work from home, and allowing you to access files from your work computer.
  • RDP not only allows you to access network resources, but allows you to have access to the resources on a single computer. This means that you can run specific network licensed software that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. RDP is great because it allows you to screen share, and over-all it’s easier to use than VPN, although you you’re more limited by what you can do.

Cons

  • VPN unfortunately uses a lot of bandwidth, since files you access will be transferred to your computer for you can access them and edit them. Also, VPN’s traffic is routed through your internet connection, even if files don’t require internet access to access them, meaning you’ll need a good internet connection to use VPN. Lastly, using a VPN can cause system errors if not configured properly, but on the upside, the errors are easier to troubleshoot than those associated with an RDP. 
  • Sadly, RDP’s are very insecure and with a little patience, somebody could gain access to the network. In most cases, an RDP is used with a VPN. As well, RDP’s are harder to troubleshoot if errors occur, can be hard to configure properly, and can lag if your bandwidth isn’t good enough.

Running RDP on it’s own is fine as long as you maintain safe security and encryption practices. If you have no bandwidth intensive data, than a VPN service will be enough. However, most people prefer to use RDP since it uses less bandwidth. Lastly, because of the amount of security concerns facing RDPs, it’s best to use it alongside a software that performs encryption services. 

Choosing the Right IT Consulting Company

 

Making a big decision is never easy. No matter how decisive you are, at some point you’re bound to lose a little sleep –change your mind a couple of times– over a big decision. Choosing an IT consulting company that helps you with your information technology issues doesn’t have to be a task worth losing sleep over. We know that running your business is tough enough without having to decide what IT firm will be capable of providing all the right tasks and services on time and within budget, so we’ve provided you this list that will help you in narrowing down the right firm for your IT needs.

Experience

Small IT firms choose to hire qualified, experienced IT consultants because they want the job done right and in a timely manner, as opposed to IT consulting companies chock-full of new college graduates. By investing in a firm with experienced talent, you’re investing in years of problem-solving capabilities and customer service. Leaving your networks safety at the hands of those inexperienced puts you at a higher risk.

Pedigree

While experience shows what a firm has done in the past, it’s important to make sure that it’s keeping up with the present and the future. A company that’s actively engaged in providing learning opportunities for its staff will be ahead of the curb when new technology releases, providing smoother transition to new systems. Increased knowledge of new trends through conferences, awards, industry-recognized certification programs, and more, display a firm commitment to staying informed; a necessity when it comes to ensuring that your network is prepared for new and growing security threats.

Reputation

Reputation is nothing to make light of. Reviewing and researching the IT firm’s history, specialties, capabilities, and customer satisfaction is all paramount in ensuring that you’re making the right pick. Calling on previous clients, or research reviews online of the firm’s success with previous clients will give you a good view of what’s in store for your experience with that firm. Not only does a reputable company provide peace of mind, it’s an investment, a warranty, and security, which keeps your own reputation in the limelight.

Costs

Everything boils down to cost. At the end of the day, compromises have to be made which may mean you don’t always get what you want. Small business owners understand the affliction of tight budgetary requirements, and as such need to make an IT decision that won’t set them financially off course. By making the choice of outsourcing IT work, you’re taking a step in the right direction, as it’s typically a more affordable option than creating and hiring a specialized in-house IT team.