A Successful Home Office

By | Business, Cybersecurity, Food for thought

Boy, the world has changed in the last month, and everyone from governments to households are still trying to figure things out. With all of the stresses these changes have brought, let’s reduce some of the stress of having a productive Work From Home (WFH) environment.

As newly remote workers ourselves, we empathize with your struggles in adjusting to working from home and all the other changes, and have found these WFH tips, both technical and otherwise, useful.

  • Maintain a regular schedule, just as you would normally. This helps reduce the strangeness of the situation and reduces rogue tendencies to lose productivity.
  • Still getting dressed helps maintain a professional frame of mind.
  • Consider what things help you concentrate better and what distracts you, and create your work environment accordingly to the best of your ability. (noise level, visual distractions, tv/radio/quiet, computer accessories, seating, work surface, etc.)
  • When teleconferencing, everyone understands you have the kids at home, and things may be a bit noisier than normal. Good etiquette says to use the mute button when not talking (and remembering to UNMUTE when you are talking—I’m really bad at this part!)
  • Communication with each other is key—work out a system or have a sign indicating when you need to focus uninterrupted or need the internet bandwidth. Plan ahead to have quiet, attention-absorbing activities for the kids to pull out for these times. What those are will depend on your kids. Pinterest may have some good ideas.
  • Expect slower internet speeds and increased interruptions to service. Residential networks are being heavily strained by more people being home more, both working and streaming, and they aren’t designed for the heavy business use they are having. Unfortunately, there is nothing your IT department can do about this. A call to your home internet provider is your best resource.
    1. Make sure the other denizens of your domicile aren’t gaming online or streaming Tiger King when you need that good video conference connection!
    2. If you are paying for a 50 Mbps plan, for example, and getting a lot slower, your service provider may be slowing things down to keep the internet traffic moving. They do not guarantee a minimum speed, because you are sharing the network pipeline with your neighbors.
    3. If you find your subscription is not cutting it, talk with your HR department whether they will subsidize a service upgrade.
  • Wifi connections by their nature are not as fast or reliable as hardwire connections. Also, if you are in a crowded residential space (ie apartment), your neighbors’ WiFi can create interference with your networks. If you are having network difficulty while using WiFi, the first thing to do is to get an ethernet cable, and plug your computer directly into your home modem or router. Most have at least 4 ports in the back. It does not matter which port you use. You can pick up cables of various lengths from big box stores like WalMart, HomeDepot, Lowe’s, and most computer shops. We recommend supporting your local businesses where possible. Be sure to measure ahead of time the length of the path the cord will travel (along and/or up and down walls, around corners, etc.)
  • If you are connected to a company VPN (Virtual Private Network), note that ALL of your internet traffic your computer is using goes through the VPN. Your office network is not designed to have lots of people using VPN to stream videos or similar heavy usage. It may struggle to have everyone on VPN at once, so if you need to video conference or have Spotify going in the background, please use a different device for those activities, or get off VPN.
  • Remote Desktop (RDP) does not have quite the same restrictions, and are best used when handling certain Data-intensive applications like QuickBooks, Sage, AutoCAD and so on.
  • Most company IT departments do not have the resources, or corporate permission, to troubleshoot most home network problems. Home networks are often unique in how they are set up, and so are difficult to troubleshoot. Your internet provider or home computer repair service is the best first contact for issues beyond having the correct settings on your computer for remote access.
  • Most companies have policies that VPN connections are only set up on company owned devices, and not personal ones. If you are using a personal computer for remote work, an RDP is a little more secure. As always, consult with your company about what method of access they recommend for you.
  • FOLLOW your employer’s IT policies!!!! The cyberbaddies have really ramped up their game to take advantage of all of the changes, uncertainties and modifications to corporate networks.
  • Be vigilant against phishing attempts, and if being asked over email (or even chat) to do anything slightly out of the ordinary (by bosses, colleagues, vendors, or clients), especially changes to financial arrangements, contact the other party by phone—but don’t use the phone number in the email—you may end up calling the scammer, who of course will assure you it is legit. Find the number from Google or your own or your company’s address book.
  • Hover your mouse cursor over email addresses or links of suspicious emails. Doing so will cause a small popup to appear that will tell you what the actual address is that the link/email will go to. Verify that it goes where you expect.
  • Give yourself grace. Take mental health breaks. Lower your expectations of your productivity and stamina. Get some fresh air and exercise. Take 10-15 minutes every couple of hours to give your kids/pets/significant other some attention. They will typically give you more peace when they know you’ll be available regularly.

 

We are walking with you through this time and are striving to help you get up and running to WFH. We hope you and your loved ones remain healthy through this situation. Don’t panic, remain cautious and alert.

Pirated Windows led to WannaCry’s spread in China and Russia

By | Uncategorized

WannaCry, the notorious ransomware demanding up to $300 worth of Bitcoins to unlock victims’ computers, hit systems all around the globe over the weekend. According to Finnish cybersecurity company F-Secure, though, Russia and China were affected the most, and it could be due to the rampant use of pirated software in those countries. Microsoft issued a patch for the vulnerability the attackers used as an entry point back in March and even fixed it for XP, which it long stopped supporting. However, pirated systems can’t install those patches, so computers running illegal software remained vulnerable.

That was a big problem for those two countries and for India, as well. According to the a survey conducted by The Software Alliance last year, 70 percent of computer users in China are running unlicensed software. Russia isn’t far behind at 64 percent, while India comes in at third with 58 percent.

In China, for instance, even prestigious universities and big companies use pirated Windows on their computers. As a result, 40,000 institutions in the country were affected, even police stations and state oil giant PetroChina. A China Telecom employee even told The New York Times that his company tried to fix the vulnerability. When it didn’t work, he was asked to use a patch issued by Qihoo 360, a service that supports old and pirated Windows OS.

WannaCry’s propagation in those countries illustrate the dangers of using bootlegged software. But as NYT said, the use pirated OS and the lack of willingness to pay for software is so ingrained in their culture that this event likely won’t change that mindset. As for WannaCry, authorities still don’t know who’s behind the ransomware — though they have their suspicions — and the problem seems to be getting worse.

https://www.engadget.com/2017/05/15/pirated-windows-china-russia-wannacry/

WannaCry Ransomware

By | Uncategorized

US-CERT has released a threat alert regarding a spreading global ransomware attack. There have been a number of reports of WannaCry ransomware from a number of different countries. The WannaCry ransomware may be exploiting an identified vulnerability in Microsoft operating systems. Microsoft released a patch as part of the March 2017 Security Rollup that addressed the vulnerability. If a resource has been updated with the March 2017 Security Rollup or later, then the vulnerability in question should be resolved. More information on this threat can be found at US-CERT.

 

https://www.engadget.com/2017/05/14/wannacry-ransomware-evolves/

Understanding Managed Services and How They Benefit SMBs

By | Uncategorized
7 Must Haves for Your Small Business Website

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.

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.

Contact us at ALCON DTS

Are Managed IT Services Right For You? A Few Things to Consider

By | Uncategorized

Are Managed IT Services Right For You? A Few Things to Consider

How do you get a small business to recognize the value of manages IT services? In the start-up environment, we encounter an eclectic bunch of personality types. There is a reason people become entrepreneurs or C-level execs. When we meet the owners or decision makers at smaller companies and organizations, we can tell right away why they’re where they are. They’re visionaries. They’re risk takers. They’re competitive. They want to be in charge.

Therefore, they aren’t always quick to place the fate of their business technology in the hands of a third party. They’ve come as far as they have by being in control and they’re hesitant to give up that control. But we’ve learned a few things along the way.

For example, the Type A personality is highly independent but also very competitive. So we tap into the competitive advantage that managed IT services gives them.

The Type B personality is creative and doesn’t like static routines. But their ears perk up when they hear terminology like “cutting-edge” and we can then paint the big picture for them once their listening.

But anyone we do business with has to be committed to the efficiency, security, and stability of their business technology to see our value proposition. And they have to recognize that managing their IT infrastructure is an investment they cannot take lightly.

So here are a few things we commonly have to address before any deal for managed IT services is signed.

Is my business large enough to even consider managed services?

The truth is, any company, regardless of its size or the number of people they employ, will run more efficiently if its technology is monitored, maintained, and managed properly.

These are facets of your operations that drive profitability and give our Type A personalities that competitive edge they crave. And they can rest easy whenever business is booming because their technology is built to sustain their growth. That’s the big picture that our Type B personality can appreciate.

How is making another IT investment a cost-savings move for my business?

There are still many SMBs who feel a greater focus and investment should go towards their core operations or marketing and sales. They only worry about technology when it breaks, figuring they’ll just call a service technician to come to the office and fix whatever the problem is. Or buy some new hardware at Office Depot.

There are some very obvious flaws to this strategy.

  • You’re paying way too much when it’s way too late – An issue that was likely preventable with early detection has escalated into a full blown business disruption and that on-call technician likely charges a high hourly rate, on top of hardware replacement costs, and may not get to your site right away. Being proactive rather than reactive to technology issues is important.
  • Don’t forget productivity killers – It’s taking your employees too long to boot their computers. Servers and applications are running slowly. Employee devices are full of Malware. Non-technical employees are running around troubleshooting tech problems. If you see this, your present approach to IT management is killing employee productivity and your bottom line.
  • What happens internally is noticed externally – Don’t think for a second that customers or clients don’t notice outdated or slow internal technology and mismanagement. If your site or applications are down often, run slowly, or your customer service rep tells them “I’m sorry, our system is down”, they’re noticing and it’s hurting your business.

When all is said and done, professionally managed IT services will give you a competitive edge, guarantee your business is always leveraging the newest most cutting-edge technology, and enhance your relationships with customers and clients – all while reducing costs.

Contact us at ALCON DTS

Breaking News: Downtime Kills Small Businesses

By | Uncategorized

Breaking News: Downtime Kills Small Businesses

Downtime is bad news for any business whether big or small.

A recent two-hour New York Times’ downtime occurrence sent Twitter ablaze and their stock price plummeting.

Google going down for one to five hours resulted in lost revenue up to $500,000 and decreased overall web traffic by 40%.

We know what you’re thinking. Holy crap, Google makes $100,000 an hour? Yeah… insane, huh?

While the hourly cost of downtime for a small-to-medium sized business won’t be nearly as large as that astronomical Google figure, downtime is often more detrimental to smaller companies. Smaller enterprises are more susceptible to downtime and are neither large nor profitable enough to sustain its short and long-term effects.

Downtime Leads to Unhappy/Unproductive Employees

Even the happiest of employees become dissatisfied when they can’t perform basic day-to-day job functions or properly service customers or clients.

While some employees may use downtime as an excuse to lean back, put their feet up, and comfortably collect their hourly pay, we’re talking about those employees who come to work to actually work.

And don’t forget your IT guy or tech crew. They can’t necessarily sit back and twiddle their thumbs when downtime occurs because they’re typically taking the brunt of the storm. They will ultimately grow tired of the daily routine of having to put out fires and having neither the additional manpower nor resources to change things for the better.

These things lead to high employee turnover and the expenses that come with training and re-training a revolving door of employees.

Downtime Leads to Customer Dissatisfaction

Customers and clients grow weary whenever critical components of your operations – or the services they either expect or pay for – cannot be accessed.

Nearly 50% of customers will move on to a competitor if they encounter downtime of five minutes or more. These customers represent significant lost revenue.

While some suggest this is a bigger problem in the retail sector, other types of businesses are impacted as well. Have you ever clicked a link from search engine results only to quickly bolt when the page didn’t load, you couldn’t complete an online transaction, or you were greeted with a “Technical Difficulties – Be Back Up Soon!” message?

Did you give up on finding what you were looking for or did you wait it out? You did neither. You went back to Google and found someone else offering a similar service or product that satisfied your yearning for instant gratification.

Downtime Ruins Your Reputation

One of the most commonly overlooked consequences of downtime is the hit your company’s reputation takes online. In this age of social media, one person’s bad experience is broadcast to dozens or even hundreds of followers. Bad news spreads faster than ever and has lasting repercussions.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” — Warren Buffet.

Protect Your Bottom Line

The challenge for small businesses has always been how to minimize single-point-of-failure downtime using their limited IT resources. This is why downtime kills so many small businesses. They can’t prevent it and they can’t react quickly enough.

Thankfully, there are end-to-end business continuity solutions available today that integrate Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) software, 24/7 access to a Network Operations Center (NOC), and advanced backup and disaster recovery solutions to alleviate this issue.

Not only do these methods minimize downtime and get businesses back up and running quickly, but they can reduce the cost of technology infrastructure maintenance by as much as 80 percent.

It’s time that small businesses stop being victims to the silent killer that is downtime.

Contact us at ALCON DTS

Is That A Business Continuity Plan in Your Pocket…Or A Bunch of Jargon?

By | Uncategorized
5 Tips for SMBs to Improve Search Engine Rankings…

Is That a Business Continuity Plan in Your Pocket or a Bunch of Jargon?

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.

Contact us at ALCON DTS

8 Hard Truths for SMBs not Worried About Data Recovery and Business Continuity

By | Uncategorized
7 Must Haves for Your Small Business Website

8 Cold Hard Truths for SMBs Not Worried About Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

The foundation of any successful business continuity solution is the ability to retrieve data from any point in time from anywhere. When the topic of data recovery and business continuity comes up, you get the feeling that many decision makers at smaller businesses and organizations wish they could channel their inner six year old, simply cover their ears, and sing “La, la, la. I Can’t Hear You. I’m Not Listening.”

Everybody thinks bad things only happen to other people. Just because we hear about a fatal car accident on the morning news, doesn’t mean we fixate on that news when we ourselves get into a car and drive to work.

So no matter how many times the owner or executive of a small to midsize business (SMB) hears of other small businesses being crippled by hurricanes, tornados, fires, or flooding, they aren’t necessarily overcome with fear to the point that they feel an urgency to take action.

Sure, they may think about backup and data recovery solutions a little more that day, but not enough to initiate immediate change or reverse a lenient approach to their processes.

If you fall into this category, here are eight cold hard truths to consider

  • It isn’t natural disasters or catastrophic losses like fires that take down small businesses but something far more sinister – malware. Cyber attacks through malware have grown exponentially in the past four years. Malware is hitting everything from PCs to Macs to mobile devices and it’s inflicting damage.
  • Over half of the small businesses in the U.S. have experienced disruptions in day-to-day business operations. 81% of these incidents have led to downtime that has lasted anywhere from one to three days.
  • According to data compiled by the Hughes Marketing Group, 90% of companies employing less than 100 people spend fewer than eight hours a month on their business continuity plan.
  • 80% of businesses that have experienced a major disaster are out of business within three years. Meanwhile, 40% of businesses impacted by critical IT failure cease operations within one year. 44% of businesses ravaged by a fire fail to ever reopen, and only 33% of those that do reopen survive any longer than three years.
  • Disaster recovery solution providers estimate that 60% to 70% of all business disruptions originate internally – most likely due to hardware or software failure or human error.
  • 93% of businesses unable to access their data center for ten or more days filed for bankruptcy within twelve months of the incident.
  • In the United States alone, there are over 140,000 hard drive crashes each week.
  • 34% of SMBs never test their backup and recovery solutions – of those who do, over 75% found holes and failures in their strategies.

It’s critical that small businesses review their backup and disaster recovery processes and take business continuity seriously. Given the vulnerabilities associated with the cloud and workforce mobility, the risk of critical data loss today is quite serious and firms must be truly prepared for the unexpected.

Contact us at ALCON DTS

The Sky’s the Limit for SMBs Taking to the Cloud

By | Uncategorized
The Sky's the Limit for SMBs Taking to the Cloud

The Sky’s the Limit for SMBs Taking to the Cloud

There has been a lot of hype about cloud computing transforming the way small-to-medium sized businesses do business. Proponents of the cloud say that cloud computing has leveled the playing field, allowing SMBs to finally compete with bigger companies despite their limited financial resources and staffing.

Still, many are apprehensive to make the jump. They’re hesitant to give up control and they fear the cloud will expose them to greater security risks. Moving to the cloud definitely requires a leap of faith, but a recent ComScore study, completed on behalf of Microsoft, suggests that those who are froggy enough to take the leap (sorry) have no regrets once they do.

In fact, more than half of those surveyed wish they had adopted it earlier and feel that the benefits far outweigh their initial worries.

What are those benefits?

Enhanced Privacy and Security

According to the study, 94 percent of companies who’ve adopted cloud services believe they’re now more secure than they were before, thanks to the cloud’s spam management and up-to-date systems and antivirus protection.

Less Downtime and More Confidence

61% of those surveyed reported fewer instances of downtime since their move to the cloud. Even those who still experienced downtime events felt that they were shorter in duration and that full recovery could be achieved much quicker.

93% indicated that they were more confident in their ability to fully recover after an outage. Comparatively, 73% responded that they felt the integrity of their data in the cloud was stronger than previously, which is interesting since data integrity has often been the biggest worry about the cloud.

Environmental Friendliness

Any company striving to be more “green” will appreciate the environmental benefits of moving to the cloud.  A recent six-month study conducted by the Berkeley Lab found that moving 86 million U.S. office workers to the cloud resulted in the use of 87% less energy, leaving enough leftover electricity annually to power a city the size of Los Angeles for twelve months.

Cost Effectiveness

Cost effectiveness and greater ROI (return on investment) are the most important factors in getting CEOs and major decision makers to support shifting to the cloud.  A Rackspace commissioned study conducted by Vanson Bourne, found that 62% of respondents felt that adopting cloud computing strategies freed up money that could be reinvested in other operations like marketing, customer service, product development, and expansion into new markets.

Conclusion

While there is a competitive advantage that can be realized by moving to the cloud, those who are still apprehensive should migrate to the cloud at a pace they’re comfortable with. Once they implement cloud monitoring, and understand it a bit more, most SMBs grow more comfortable with the cloud and expand their use of it.

Contact us at ALCON DTS

Why Should You Get On The Cloud?

By | Uncategorized
7 Must Haves for Your Small Business Website

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, we are just a phone call away!