September 4th, 2014

Wireless networks, once an afterthought in many offices, has now become a business-critical capability. Secure wireless capabilities are needed to support personal mobile devices, tablets in the classroom, machines on the manufacturing floor, bar scanners in warehouses, and workstations and laptops where there is no Ethernet cabling available.

Advances in wireless technology fortunately have kept up with the increasing technical demands. The latest standard is called 802.11ac can provide data rates up to 3 times faster than the previous 802.11n standard that is in common use today, or up to 1GBit/s of throughput. In addition, it uses the 5GHz radio band which is much less noisy than the 2.4GHz band that most systems run on today. 2.4GHz is also used by a lot of other devices including cordless phones and microwave ovens and can interfere with today’s wireless networks.

Current products that already use this standard include the Macbook Air and Pro laptops, the Apple Airport router, Samsung Galaxy S5 phone are already on this standard. About half of all new wireless devices to be sold by next year are expected to support 802.11AC. So if your company is considering installing or upgrading a wireless network, you should consider a solution that supports 802.11AC.

August 31st, 2014

As employees are spending more and more time on the internet in order to perform their jobs, small and medium business in particular may not be aware of the possible implications to productivity loss, security, and regulatory and legal issues.

In the past, all company data and systems were internal and security systems were designed to keep cyber intruders out. Today, much of the data and applications that employees are using are physically outside the company on the internet. In a sense, PCs and mobile devices are more “wired” to outside systems instead of internal servers.

This evolution has led to increased risks for businesses. For example are your employees protected against malicious websites that could infect and attack critical information systems? Also, sophisticated internet client applications such as bit torrent and skype can unknowingly transfer sensitive data elsewhere without detection from conventional security systems.

Perhaps more importantly the inability to control what sites employees’ access, such as shopping, job search, or pornography can lead to decreased productivity and increased liability.

Fortunately, the solution to these problems are inexpensive to install, configure and maintain. A reputable IT Consulting Firm should be able to provide you with a reasonable fixed price quote to do this.

August 28th, 2014

With the proliferation of IT Companies providing Managed Services, and even other companies such as copier sales and service jumping on the bandwagon, a lot of owners have asked if this is really just a scam. What is the truth behind all the hype?

Many companies take the approach of just calling for help if their computer or server breaks. After all, if it’s working then why fix it? For a lot of companies, this makes perfect sense.

However there are reasons that a small or medium sized business might consider managed services.

  1. Security: The threat from intrusion from hackers continues to grow. If a company has sensitive information or confidential client data, a professional end-to-end approach may be warranted. A typical solution might be a business class firewall, antimalware and antivirus that are continually and automatically updated, Operating system and application security updates, a high-end antispam filter that can detect malicious payloads, and a web filter to block against compromised or dangerous web sites.
  2. Compliance: For those industries subject to regulatory requirements such as Healthcare (HIPAA and HITECH), Credit Card processing (PCI) require IT capabilities such as email journaling and ediscovery, enhanced network and wireless security, physical security of IT systems, and the proper confidentiality agreements with certain vendors such as IT firms.
  3. Productivity: Improperly maintained workstations that are heavily used will slow over time. In addition undetected minor problems can eventually disable a workstation or laptop if not detected and remediated. A failure of a critical network device or server can cause a work stoppage for an entire office.
  4. Cost Reduction: Collaboration and mobility solutions can enable more employees to work at home or in different parts on the country. This can reduce the costs of a fixed office and opening the talent pool to are area much larger than a geographical center.

In most cases, solutions addressing all of the above can be built into a single integrated “stack” that can be customized and provided for a reasonable monthly cost by a reputable IT company that specializes in managed services.

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August 26th, 2014

Office 365 has ushered in a new era of easy to setup and use applications, particularly for business users. Lync has existed in various forms for some time, but it has been redesigned and nicely integrated with the rest of the Office suite.

For example, documents created in Word or Excel can be shared in real-time to other Lync users.

This is in addition to core Lync functionalities such as IM (Instant Messaging) and Video Conferencing.

Is it right for your business? Well consider that Lync provides more ways for your employees to communicate quickly and efficiently, that aren’t served well through telephony or email. This can be especially helpful when employees are working from home or are geographically dispersed.

Lync is private, secure, easy to use, and compliant with industry and government regulations by employing advanced encryption and data loss prevention technologies. It also works well with various mobile devices.

Almost any small business can benefit from Lync and should be given serious consideration.

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August 25th, 2014

Microsoft’s latest foray into the ‘cloud’ warrants at least some degree of skepticism considering their past half-backed or outright failed attempts at building cloud-based products.

Office 365 carries the Office franchise to the cloud, displacing a collection of disparate products such as Business Productivity Online Suite, Skydrive, Office Communicator, Messenger, etc. It’s a huge bet for Microsoft and it’s hard to argue that it’s anything less than the future of the company.

Are they succeeding? Well Gartner Research says: “Microsoft will significantly outpace Google in sales of cloud services to enterprises.” Encouraging.

But is it right for your business? Having deployed it to several of our customers, we believe it’s a good choice for smaller businesses. It works seamlessly with the Office suite that they currently use, and the web versions of applications such as Word, Excel, and Powerpoint look and feel similar to their traditional desktop counterparts. For example, the web version of Outlook is almost indistinguishable from the traditional version that many of you are using today.

Technically, it’s an excellent product in our opinion and superior to Google Docs. And this makes sense because Google is a search company; Microsoft was built on their Office suite. And you can be assured that unlike Google, Microsoft won’t mine your email for personal marketing information.

August 24th, 2014

With the myriad of IT companies in the marketplace and the abundance of hype surrounding the multitude of technologies and approaches in small business computing, including the cloud, is there any way to for a business owner to determine what solution is best for his company? Is it possible to select the best IT provider without becoming a computer expert?

In my opinion it’s possible to make an informed decision and select the solution that will provide the best competitive advantage for a reasonable cost for small and medium business.

  1. Have they properly evaluated your business objectives?
  2. Did they audit your network to determine any needed improvements or risks?
  3. Can they describe specific benefits to any products they are proposing?
  4. Do they back their proposal with quality AND performance guarantees?
  5. Can they provide references from their current client base?

A reputable IT Consulting Company should be able to describe in plain English, how they can solve your existing problems and support your business objectives. The underlying technology, whether it be conventional or cloud-based, is secondary.

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August 20th, 2014

Are you still running a firewall that was designed 10 years ago? How about 5 years ago? Well unfortunately those firewalls are already obsolete and unable to deal with current cyber threats.

Previous generation firewalls were designed to block hackers from trying to access your network. Current firewalls, termed “Next Generation Firewalls” or NGFW deal with the increasing usage of web-based applications. Since these applications often run inside of a web browser, or change their behavior over time, they cannot be blocked or controlled by older firewalls. For example Skype cannot be blocked by a conventional firewall because it constantly ‘tunes’ it’s behavior for maximum performance; something older firewalls can’t handle.

Other applications may be appropriate for some users but should be blocked for others. For example, it may be appropriate for a marketing person to have access to Facebook, but other employees should be blocked or perhaps blocked at all times except lunchtime.

Fortunately NGFWs are affordable and work well for small business. Be sure to ask your IT Company or consultant if it’s right for you.

August 19th, 2014

Most people have wireless networks at home. And that’s good since most homes are not cabled for computer networks which means that a wireless signal is the only way to get internet to workstations throughout the house. In addition, wireless internet is needed for smart phones and tablets. In today’s technological world, wireless is indispensable.

For the workplace however, the problem is a lot more challenging for many reasons. For example, one office could have dozens or hundreds of wireless users. The area required for coverage can also be much larger than that at home.

Then there are security considerations. A basic wireless set up will be protected by a single wireless key which provides the only security mechanism to protect the network against unauthorized devices. In a business environment handing out that key to dozens or even hundreds of users is surely not secure. And changing that key can be disruptive.

Business class wireless systems solve these and other problems. Your IT Company should be able to provide you with ideas and options to solve your wireless network problems.

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August 18th, 2014

Everyone knows that it’s important to keep your operating system updated. If you heard about the “End of Support” for Windows XP. What this really means is that Microsoft will no longer be issuing security updates and therefore XP users are vulnerable to new hacking threats.

So if you are running Windows Vista, 7 or 8, you will get all the latest security updates from Microsoft and will be have the latest protection as long as you apply the updates. But what about other common applications such as Java, Adobe Reader or Flash. You may see the occasional popup asking to update these applications and are not sure if it’s legitimate. The short answer is “probably” but you must take care. You do however want to keep these applications up to date because, you guessed it, they can be used by hackers to attack your system.

Ask your IT Company about monitoring and ensuring that these and other applications are kept up to date.

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August 6th, 2014

Laptops, tablets and smart phones are the tools of choice for an increasing number of workers. While not new, these technologies are more pervasive and business critical.

In the past, to access company data stores, the standard solution was a Virtual Private Network. While secure, VPN connections tend to be cumbersome to set up, and performance when opening or saving files can be frustratingly poor.

A better approach worthy of consideration is Dropbox for Business. While similar to the Dropbox that many of us have on our cell phones and tablets, there are a number of critical improvements for business:

  1. Central Management: All company Dropbox accounts are controlled through a single web-based console so a company can have complete control over who has access to what data.
  2. Performance: Files are stored locally so they can be opened and saved quickly. They are synced to the cloud in the background so the user doesn’t need to wait while the file is being transferred, like they do with VPN.
  3. Security: Features such as remote wipe of Dropboxes on mobile devices, and the ability to audit the changes made by any user to any file provide business-class data security.

A secure approach to providing mobile solutions to employees should be a consideration for many if not all businesses. Make sure your IT Company is involved as well.

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