Outsourcing? Really. Its OK: How it can save time and money

Outsourcing? Really. It’s OK: How it can save time and money

Almost by definition, small business owners and entrepreneurs cringe at the concept of outsourcing. Those who start their own companies like the control and autonomy it provides them. Unfortunately, that preference for control and autonomy may have some bad side effects when it comes to IT.

Small business don’t have the resources to fully support all of their IT infrastructure needs. The present in-house staff is most likely very busy putting out day-to-day fires. One statistic suggests 65% of IT budgets go to nothing more than keeping the lights on. In short, staff is busy making sure the printer works or reloading a PC infected by a virus after an employee fell for a phishing email. This means that small firm’s expenditures on IT are not improving operational, efficiency, or enhancing productivity or competitiveness.

There is an alternative. Managed Service Providers are outside consultants you can bring in to handle the day-to-day tasks, so your own IT resources can be used more productively.

How might an MSP supplement your IT efforts?

  • 24/7 operations center – Small businesses can benefit from, but simply cannot afford 24/7 internal monitoring of their IT infrastructure. Many of the issues that become costly business disruptions, such as hardware, software, and applications failures are completely preventable if they’re detected and addressed early enough. It is a reality that your systems run 24/7, but you can’t support a 24/7 IT staff. A MSP, however, can use economies of scale to provide around the clock monitoring of your IT operations.
  • Disaster recovery and business continuity plans – Small businesses have limited resources, so if there were to be a serious business interruption or data loss, they could be completely out of luck. However, risk assessments and continuity plans are likely outside of a small business owners field of expertise. A MSP can be brought in to design a complete solution.

These are just 2 ways that a small business owner can benefit from passing along IT support to an outside source. In both cases, small business owners don’t lose any control of the key parts of the business operation. Instead, the distractions of IT support are moved along to an expert, while the entrepreneur focuses on what she does best: running her business. We’ll talk in another blog about other benefits of outsourcing IT, but in the meantime, see our e-guide “Outsourcing Isn’t a Dirty Word: Meet Managed Services, Your IT Team’s New Best Friend – Managed Services”.

Run your Business, not an IT Company

Run your Business, not an IT Company

You went into business because you have an interest and expertise in some particular product or service. You began the firm to offer that product or service, but a dirty little problem came along with that new company. IT requirements. You need equipment, and you need networks, and printers, and data storage to keep the company up and running. As a consequence, you’ve become responsible for managing something you probably don’t care very much about or even understand especially well.

Managed Service Providers can be a solution. A small business can off load a variety of IT tasks that are becoming a distraction to everyday business operations and strategy.Here are just two examples.

Software updates and security audits: Your present in-house staff may be spending most of its time fixing everyday problems. As a result, they may have to delay vital security measures, such as applying tested security patches or updating virus software programs. Working with a MSP will eliminate much of the work overload that leads to system or security vulnerabilities.

An end user help desk: If you have any in-house staff, they are probably well-trained and very qualified. Are their skills being wasted on all the little daily issues of cranky printers and broken keyboards? MSPs can offer an end user help desk that can handle all those calls that pull your own staff away from larger efforts that can enhance productivity and move the business forward.

What is the Cloud: A Simple Analogy

What is the Cloud: A Simple Analogy

You use the cloud and don’t even know it. Do you go to Amazon and create a wishlist? Do you have an email account on Yahoo? That is cloud computing. All your emails are stored on Yahoo servers somewhere. They are on physical servers, of course, but they aren’t on your laptop. The advantage is that when you spill your coffee onto the laptop keyboard, you haven’t lost all your emails even if you never backed up your hard drive. (If you haven’t, shame on you, by the way.)

Here is a simple analogy to explain how the cloud works and why it might be a very useful part of your business model. Picture the small, very cramped office space of a little start-up. You and a few coworkers sit in tight quarters with messy desktops buried in mounds of papers, files, and pizza boxes. There is absolutely no room for storage. (Throw the boxes out yourself. There are limits even to cloud technology) It will be a long time until you can afford a larger office space. Your building manager offers to rent you an empty file cabinet in the basement. Although the basement space is shared with other tenants, only you and your team have keys to this locked cabinet where you will store all those piles of paper. Your rent is relatively cheap compared to other tenants, since you’re only paying for the cabinet, and not the larger lockers they have leased.

Suddenly, those once covered desktops are clean, leaving space to work. More importantly, the papers are all nearby, each of you has a key, but they are safe from everyone else in the building or outside. They are also safe from spilled coffee and pizza crumbs. You’ve avoided the dramatic jump in fixed costs required to find bigger office space, when all you needed were several feet of filing cabinets. Even better, the money saved is put back into the core goal of providing a product or service to a customer.

The cloud does the same thing. You rent only the space you need, it is safer from hackers than your on-site server will ever be, secure from thieves, and protected from accident-prone employees. Unlike the rest of us, cloud service providers don’t have coffee cups near their keyboards or forget to do monthly backups. In short, the cloud provides scalable storage without large incremental leaps in fixed costs you really can’t afford.

Loss of Data: Causes and Prevention

Loss of Data: Causes and Prevention

The adoption of technology from the simplest of matters to the most complex problems has rendered us heavily dependent on it. We love paying our bills minutes before they are due. We enjoy seeing loved ones face-to-face on our computer screens. We can access and print our extremely sensitive records from government and financial websites in a matter of minutes instead of waiting for the mail for days. The time and resources that technology saves are invaluable, but this convenience has a very ugly side. This convenience brings costs, which could include irreparable financial, professional, and social damage. The technology that is designed to make life easier can also wreak havoc when criminals use it to breach secured, personal information. So how do we tame this beast called ‘breach of data security’?

Background: The gravity of the problem: To look for a solution, we first need to understand how serious this problem is. Breaches in data security and loss of data could spell imminent demise for many small companies. According to the National Archives & Records Administration in Washington, 93% of companies that have experienced data loss resulting in ten or more days of downtime have filed for bankruptcy within a year. 50% wasted no time and filed for bankruptcy immediately and 43% that have no data recovery and business continuity plan go out of business following a major data loss. In the past, small- to medium-businesses (SMBs) thought that data security problems were reserved for large corporations, but cybercriminals are finding out that SMBs are more complacent in securing their data thus making themselves easier targets. More importantly, the lightly guarded SMBs can provide backdoor access to the large entities hackers really want to hit. Fewer than half of the SMBs surveyed said they back up their data every week. Only 23% have a plan for data backup and business continuity. That is why the number of cyberattacks on SMBs has doubled in the recent past.

Causes of lost data: Loss of data can be attributed to two factors.

  • Breach of data security: As we discussed above, theft is the main reason for loss of data. Hackers can get into networks by installing their own software hidden inside emails and other Web content. They take over PCs and networks and then access files containing personal information. They can then use that information to empty people’s bank accounts and exploit data for other purposes.
  • Human error and employee negligence: Humans still have to instruct technology to perform as desired. Examples of negligence include unattended computer systems, weak passwords, opening email attachments or clicking the hyperlinks in spam and visiting restricted websites. Fortunately, this type of loss of data is easily preventable, but it is just as detrimental and can bring your business to a halt. Downtimes can be very harmful to your business continuity and revenue.

Five ways to minimize data loss

  1. Enforce data security: More than technology, this is the management of human behavior. SMB management must communicate data protection policy to the entire staff and see to it that the policy is adhered to. Rules and policy must be enforced very strictly regarding the use of personal devices. Tell employees to create passwords that are hard to crack and change them frequently.
  2. Stress the consequences: Rules are only good if there are consequences for not following them. Define what those consequences mean for the both the individual and the organization.
  3. Mobile device management: Mobile devices may be the weakest link in data security. “Mobile device management” refers to processes that are designed for the control of mobile devices used within the company. Devices tapping into company systems are identified and monitored 24/7. They are proactively secured via specified password policies, encryption settings, etc. Lost or stolen devices can be located and either locked or stripped of all data.
  4. Snapshots: Fully backing up large amounts of data can be a lengthy process. The data being backed up is also vulnerable to file corruption from read errors. This means sizable chunks of data may not be stored in the backup and be unavailable in the event of a full restoration. This can be avoided by backing up critical data as snapshots.
  5. Cloud replication and disaster recovery services: For SMBs who consider data backup to be too costly, time-consuming and complex there is an answer. The Cloud provides a cost-effective, automated off-site data replication process that provides continuous availability to business-critical data and applications. Cloud replication can often get systems back online in under an hour following a data loss.

To conclude our conversation, it is very important to understand the causes and consequences of data loss. Be proactive and minimize the likelihood of a data breach and data loss, so you can stay in business without interruption. Make sure you have a solid data recovery and business continuity plan so you don’t become another statistic about small firms who didn’t make it.

Be Proactive: How to Avoid Potential Network Failures

Be Proactive: How to Avoid Potential Network Failures

For small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), an IT network failure can be devastating because they don’t have the resources of large corporations to bounce back from such disasters. Preparation against such devastation may be the only course for them to avoid failure and survive with the least damage if failure occurs. SMBs must be proactive in recognizing the eventuality of a cyberattack or human error that can cause data loss and disrupt business continuity. This is what needs to be done to help prevent a potential failure.

Be prepared: Being proactive is an essential step for preparation against a disaster. There are two ways to determine how to best prepare to prevent potential failure of your infrastructure. First, you need to identify the weaknesses throughout your systems, and second, determine how you are going to eliminate those weaknesses and protect your network.

Identify the weaknesses: Determine how and why your system could fail. Examine all aspects of your hardware and software. Assess all the internal and external factors that could contribute to failure of your networks. Here are some questions you need to know the answers to.

  • Does customer access and/or employee productivity often stall because of downed systems? In these situations, how quickly is your IT support able to minimize the damage?
  • Can you say with certainty that your business will be back online and be able to access lost data with minimal disruption in case of failure?
  • Your critical data should be backed up frequently. The data on personal laptops, iPads and other mobile devices should also be backed up. Are all these steps being taken, and how often?
  • Are all backups stored in a location off-site and are they quickly accessible in the event of corruption, fire or flood?
  • Are you using any custom-made software? Can it be reinstalled and updated when needed?
  • Are your systems truly protected from hackers and viruses? Do you change passwords when employees leave the company?
  • How often do you test your backup processes?

The answers to all these questions should give you a clear picture of your network’s ability to survive in case of a catastrophe.

Here are five steps that you can take to protect your networks

  1. Backup files every day: There are a large number of businesses that never backup data. Only 23% of SMBs are backing up their data daily, and only 50% are doing it weekly. A number of issues can result in loss of data. You should backup data every day.
  2. Check backup procedures regularly: Don’t find out accidentally that your backup system is not working properly. By then it could be too late. It may seem like your data is being backed up normally, but check frequently if it is backing up the way it should be. In this age of BYOD make sure all employees are also following procedures to backup data on their laptops, iPads, etc.
  3. Make sure virus protection and firewalls are always enabled: Many companies either don’t have virus protection installed or it is disabled. That renders their networks vulnerable to virus attacks from emails, spam and data downloads. Corrupted files will not only bring your systems down, but they can spread to your customers and email contacts. That will spell disaster for your reputation. Hackers are always looking for unprotected and open ports online that they can attack with malicious code or files. That can cause permanent data loss.
  4. Monitor server drives: Dangerously full server drives can cause many problems, ranging from program crashes to sluggish email delivery. Servers should be monitored and maintained regularly to avoid these problems.
  5. Check built-in logs: Frequent reviews of built-in logs can reveal small issues. You will have a chance to prevent them from becoming bigger, harder-to- manage problems that can bring your systems down.

Summary: We now know IT system failures have very serious consequences for SMBs. We also know that they can avoid such failures by being proactive. Many SMBs are now turning to cloud-based services and virtualized backup solutions to mitigate downtimes and network failures. Virtualization and cloud computing have enabled cost-efficient business continuity by allowing entire servers to be grouped into one software bundle or virtual server – this includes all data, operating systems, applications, and patches. This simplifies the backup process and allows for quick data restoration when needed.

It is Heaven! Using the Cloud to Challenge Big Business

It is Heaven! Using the Cloud to Challenge Big Business

Has anyone suggested you begin moving your business to the cloud? Cloud data storage or cloud computing? What is this, anyway? And isn’t it something for huge companies?

In the last post we explained what cloud computing is. Simply put, it is the offsite storage of your data, and perhaps even the software packages you use. The primary benefit is pretty straightforward. Somebody else pays for all the hardware and support costs needed to store your data. You pack up all your own servers, wiring, etc. and take them to the recycling center, and save money. But is that all it is? There is a much stronger case for a small business to incorporate the cloud in their business model. The cloud allows you to become competitive with the big players in your industry.

The traditional issue holding back small business: they do not have the capital to create the infrastructure to compete with large firms. They are too small to enjoy economies of scale. One obvious area is software and hardware. Historically, the technology used by big business has been out of reach of the little guys. Most SMBs have neither the hardware budget nor internal resources to own a network infrastructure. A small business does not have capital to buy the equipment. Take a simple example: You run a storefront, but think you might be able to sell a bit more if you went online, but you don’t know how much more. You can’t justify the capital to buy the hardware, software, and the labor to design, build, and support it all. The cost of entry to the online world is just too much.

The cloud ends all of that. In simple terms, the cloud lets you rent just as little infrastructure as you need, and then lets you grow as incrementally as you like, paying only for what you use. Essentially, the cloud has become the great equalizer. The high cost of entry created by IT can be eliminated by the cloud.

Cloud Monitoring Can Be the Difference Maker for SMBs

Cloud Monitoring Can Be the Difference Maker for SMBs

It’s a fast-paced world. Not only do people want things, they want things right now. This sometimes-unnerving need for instant satisfaction has only intensified now that we have Wi-Fi and mobile devices that keep us connected regardless of where we are, what we’re doing, or the time of day. There is no longer any tolerance whatsoever for waiting. A business with a website that fails to load, or loads too slowly, will lose customers and leads to competitors.

So what has your business done to address this need for constant accessibility and optimal uptime? Do you feel you’re doing enough to meet the demands and expectations of your customers, new business prospects and those who have just now found you on Google?

If you’re a small-to-medium sized business owner, do you have confidence in your technology infrastructure? Can you say with certainty that your website, internal server, and mobile applications function smoothly, efficiently, and correctly?

When your IT team leaves work to go live their lives, are you confident that things won’t go bump in the night? That you won’t be ringing their cell phone while they’re out having dinner with their family, or worse yet, sleeping?

If you answer no to these questions, you may be one of the many small business owners who could benefit from cloud monitoring. And you’ll be pleased to learn that cloud monitoring can significantly improve all facets of your business – especially your service, productivity, reputation, and profitability.

What is the Cloud?

According to a study conducted by Wakefield Research, 54% of those questioned responded that they’ve never used cloud technology. However, the truth is that they’re in the cloud everyday when they bank or shop online and send or receive email.

Business owners, specifically non tech savvy small business decision makers, are still apprehensive when it comes to moving their server and web monitoring services to the cloud. But FDR’s famous quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” definitely applies here. The cloud is nothing more than moving the storage and access of your data programs from a computer’s physical hard drive to the web. There is nothing to fear.

Benefits of Cloud Monitoring

Obviously, these physical and virtual servers, their shared resources, and the applications they run on, must be monitored. This can be done from multiple remote locations and it’s called cloud monitoring.

Cloud monitoring makes it easier to identify previously unseen patterns and potential problems within your infrastructure–issues that may be too difficult for any in-house support staff to detect. For instance, monitoring ensures that your site is delivering accurate page content and is meeting anticipated download speeds. It can detect unapproved changes, website tampering, and compromised data.

The continuous analyzing and testing of your network, website, and mobile applications can reduce downtime by as much as 80%. The speed and functionality of e-commerce transactions are also optimized. Additionally, cloud monitoring tests your email server at regular intervals, which minimizes failure deliveries and other issues pertaining to sending and receiving emails.

Clearly, all of the above, along with the alerts that help identify and fix issues before they become catastrophes, make cloud monitoring an attractive way to gain insight into how end-users experience your site, while also enhancing their overall experience.

Contact us at Nomad Technology Group

Why Hybrid Clouds are More Than Just Another Trend

Why Hybrid Clouds are More Than Just Another Trend

It should come as no surprise that many small to midsize business owners take pride in overseeing every aspect of their startup business. Naturally, many are apprehensive when it comes to surrendering control of their servers, their data, and their applications.

The downside of this need for control is that operating and maintaining everything onsite can be time consuming, super expensive, and it can make your business more vulnerable to failure related downtime and cyber threats.

Although everything can be stored in the cloud at a fraction of the cost, many aren’t responsive to the idea of sharing the infrastructure their technology runs on.

The great thing about the cloud is it’s not an all or nothing thing. This is exactly why so many small to midsize businesses have turned to hybrid cloud solutions. Just as they name implies, hybrid cloud solutions are both on and off premises. It’s the best of both worlds. An entrepreneur can still control certain aspects of the business on-site, but simultaneously exploit the cloud’s cost effectiveness and overall scalability.

For example, a local server can be housed and managed on-site but that server, or just specific files, can still be backed up in the cloud and stored far away off-site. This provides a partial disaster recovery solution in the event of a hurricane, flood, fire, or just a basic server crash.

Here are some tips for developing your hybrid cloud strategy

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

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

Contact us at Nomad Technology Group

Why More SMBs are Turning to the Cloud to Reduce TCO

Why More SMBs are Turning to the Cloud to Reduce TCO

More small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) seem to be taking the initiative to learn more about the benefits of the cloud. Determining why SMBs have this sudden keen interest in the cloud isn’t all that tricky.

If you shouted, “Cost Savings!” in a room full of SMBs, you’d undoubtedly be the center of attention. And it seems as if this is also the motivating factor as to why more SMBs are looking into cloud-based solutions to reduce expenditures.

Although it seems like an oxymoron to recommend investing in new technology to control costs, cloud-based solutions can be leveraged for a greater return on already inevitable operational expenses. By enhancing productivity and overall efficiency, the cloud could help spur business growth and profitability.

Here are few of the reasons more SMBs are opening up to cloud-based solutions…

  • Containing Costs – This is the big one. Every SMB wants their business to grow but that growth is accompanied by rising costs to maintain safe, reliable, and sustainable business technology.

On-premise solutions are expensive. If you’re paying someone $60K a year to manage and monitor your technology, and most of their day is spent performing routine maintenance tasks or running to the aid of the intern who complains that something is running slow, are you really getting a return on that investment? You can do better and your on-site IT support can do more for you.

The cost for cloud-based solutions have been found to be anywhere from 35% to 50% lower than with on-premise solutions. This is because the cloud can completely eliminate most infrastructure costs such as servers, databases, backup, operating systems, upgrades, migration, physical space, power and cooling, and associated in-house or third party staffing costs.

  • Greater Flexibility – No doubt you’ve been privy to an office Happy Hour conversation or two about Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Iaas) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). Is that crickets we hear? Okay, well since you’re in the dark, the flexibility of the cloud makes it really attractive to SMBs. IaaS and PaaS are two increasingly popular cloud technologies because of their flexibility when it comes to big data analysis.

IaaS technology is flexible as it allows an as needed rapid deployment of resources. Basically, fast expansion to accommodate growth. SMBs can pay accordingly for this on-demand usage, giving them the ability to access and analyze the kind of big data seen at larger enterprises without having to pay for necessary hardware capacity.

PaaS technology gives SMBs the ability to affordably increase or decrease data storage capacity as needed.

Of course, there must be a need for big data analysis that justifies the use of these technologies. Many SMBs may be just fine using Microsoft Excel for data analysis.

  • Greater Mobility – Many SMBs are turning to the cloud to provide remote employees with access to communications solutions. Through the cloud, remote workers can use smartphones, laptops, and notebooks to access documents and files for internal and external collaboration.

As you can see, it’s understandable why the cloud is being seen by SMBs as the “great equalizer” to take their business to the next level and stay competitive with even the big dogs despite budget and staffing limitations. It also helps that cloud-monitoring services have simplified the monitoring and management of SMB cloud deployments, alleviating a lot of the fear about migrating to the cloud.

Contact us at Nomad Technology Group

How SMBs Can Utilize the Cloud To Build Their Business

How SMBs Can Utilize the Cloud To Build Their Business

There has been a lot of talk lately about the cloud and its ability to put small to midsize businesses (SMBs) and startups on a level playing field with large global enterprises. Can this be substantiated or is it a load of trendy hype to push SMBs to cloud-based solutions? We’ve compiled this breakdown of how the cloud can be used to boost profitability.

The Convenience Factor

It once took smaller companies and startups weeks to launch and configure their own IT infrastructure. Doing so also required a ton of overhead costs. Today’s cloud technology provides the benefits of this very same infrastructure but on an as needed and on-demand basis. SMBs can build a technology infrastructure for themselves online in less than a minute.

For example, a smaller agency that provides apps for its clients, can turn to a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud provider. A PaaS provides companies an environment that enables them to more easily host and deploy apps. They do this by shielding developers from the hassles that come with the set up, configuration, and management of things like servers and databases.

Without having to worry about things on the infrastructure side, the company and its application developers can focus on creating innovative apps that will generate business revenue. Once their server is online and available, they can launch instantly with a 1-click deployment of their application.

Mission Critical Agility & Scalability

In the tech industry, everyone must channel his or her inner Maverick and Goose* because there is a need… a need for speed. Speed is everything and agility is mission critical. The cloud’s rapid provisioning of computer resources can offer additional storage space in mere minutes rather than weeks.

Having that kind of agility bodes particularly well for the scalability needs of SMBs. As business grows and the need to store more data increases, the cloud is flexible enough to resize your infrastructure on the fly and grow with you.

The cost of cloud-based solutions is much more beneficial to SMBs than the cost of traditional shared or dedicated hosting plans. This eliminates the high overhead that comes with buying dedicated hardware and hiring staff to run the servers.

Cloud technology has empowered SMBs by eliminating any need to make the same kind of costly upfront investments that large enterprise are able to incur. There is no longer a need for SMBs to spend thousands of dollars building out a massive infrastructure to support their big data applications. Better yet, backing up that big data is also inexpensive compared to traditional hosting solutions.

* Top Gun, 1986, in case you were wondering

Contact us at Nomad Technology Group