Author Archives: Frank Riina

Getting the Most out of Your IT Budget

The cost of hardware, software and accessories can quickly add up when you want to provide appropriate tools to every valuable player.

We’ve talked with owners who acknowledge their employees share computers and passwords because they believe it is cost-prohibitive to upgrade their hardware and software. We’ve visited businesses that are using older computers and operating systems that are no longer compatible with the newest software packages, forcing employees to complete tasks manually and inefficiently because their technology is unable to support their needs.

Many businesses simply add a line item to the budget that is comparable to the past year, and then hope it is enough to cover their needs. But we believe there is a way to look at this process more strategically.

Determine What is Needed
The first thing you should do is determine what you need. Putting a strategic technology plan in place, complete with written short- and long-term goals, helps ensure that your investments will improve the organization in a tangible way. Once you’ve determined your goals and the programs that are needed to fulfill those goals, figure out what it will cost. You can further dissect the numbers to identify areas where you can save and maximize your dollars later.

Action Steps That Will Help Control Your Budget
Here are some action steps you can take to help you develop and control your IT budget:

  • Identify every program and individual that requires some form of technology, as well as the specific technologies you believe they require (i.e., hardware, software and accessories)
  • Determine what level of technical support each program and individual require
  • Set short- and long-term goals for every program
  • Determine your total or allocated budgets
  • Identify areas that can be centralized (e.g., email)
  • Identify areas that must be maintained independent from others

In addition, many businesses don’t realize they may be eligible for a variety of unadvertised discounts on new equipment and software purchases, allowing them to increase their purchasing power.

Finally, ensure you have the proper level of support available at all times, including a proactive system in place that actively monitors and manages your entire network. We have seen budgets blown apart when a network malfunctions or a breach occurs, and significant dollars are spent repairing and replacing hardware and software. Working with a professional who can provide Managed Services is the best practice, as this guarantees you around-the-clock system monitoring and proactive system maintenance, along with a variety of other services, for a pre-determined monthly fee, helping you to control your IT consulting costs.

An Objective Look at Hosting Data in the Cloud vs. In-House

Cloud Storage vs In-house Hosting

For the past few years, there’s been a lot of buzz about migrating data to the cloud. For many, making the decision as to whether or not to rely on cloud computing and storage is not an easy one.

It’s a bit like the renting vs. buying argument. When you upgrade your current on-site infrastructure you are faced with a larger upfront cost for hardware and software, along with installation and ongoing maintenance costs. If you choose the cloud, the upfront costs are smaller but the monthly cloud fees are never-ending. There are other considerations as well. Let’s take a closer look and compare these two options.

Hosting Data in the Cloud

Cloud HostingHosting data in the cloud means you are paying a hosting company a monthly fee to host your information in their datacenter. The physical security of these facilities is pretty intense; some require a retina scan just to enter. Included in the monthly fee are services such as redundant internet, power sources, and servers; as well as other things like regular backups and email services.

Here are some of the benefits of migrating your business to the cloud:

  • The Lights Are Always On! Datacenters where cloud providers host their infrastructure have both redundant power and internet access. The power is usually sourced by two or more providers and backed up with enterprise level battery backups and generators. The datacenters also host a number of internet service providers, giving redundant internet access to all their clientele.

  • Flexibility. With the pay-as-you-go model, it makes it easy for companies to scale up or down as needed. Datacenters can easily accommodate companies in growth mode that need to add more bandwidth or resources; and can just as easily scale back resources when not needed. In both cases, your monthly fees get adjusted accordingly.

  • Low Capital Expenditure Costs. Most businesses have to replace their servers every three to five years. This recurring investment can have a significant effect on a company’s cash flow. Hosting your data in the cloud eliminates the need for hardware refreshes, as this becomes the cloud provider’s responsibility and is included in your monthly fee.

  • Work from Anywhere! When your data is hosted in the cloud, all you need is an internet connection and you are at work. Although remote access isn’t a new concept for most companies, the remote technology used by cloud providers is quite superior to the applications typically used to remotely access office computers.

While interviewing potential cloud providers, be sure to ask for a full list of what is and is not included in your hosting agreement. Different providers include different features. For example, there may be licensing and firewall costs that need to be considered, along with bandwidth and data transfer capacity limits that you need to understand to avoid running into performance problems or overages. Remember, knowledge is power!

Keeping Data Hosted In-House

In-House IT storageThere are some business owners who have a tough time with the idea of their data sitting on someone else’s servers. The cloud can be scary when you don’t know where your data is kept, who has access to it, and who is securing it. The most important thing in this scenario is to ensure you are securing and backing up your data regularly, as well as testing your backups to ensure they are in working order should you ever need to restore it.

Here are some reasons for keeping your data stored in-house:

  • Peace of Mind. With an in-house server, you know exactly where all your company data is at all times. In addition, some companies must keep certain applications in-house for compliance reasons.

  • Costs. Cloud storage is essentially “renting space” vs. “buying space.” While many cloud providers advertise cheap monthly hosting fees, it’s important to add up all the expenses involved in order to properly compare the investment. In addition to the monthly hosting fee, you’ll need to consider backups, security updates, maintenance, and more. These fees can really add up over time, and in some cases far exceed the costs of an in-house network.

  • No Outages or Connection Issues. Just because your cloud provider claims 99.95% uptime, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can always access your data. In fact, earlier this year Amazon Web Services (AWS), one of the largest cloud providers in the country, suffered a half-day outage. This left thousands of companies without access to their data. Other disruptions, such as power and internet outages, can also leave you without access to your data when stored in the cloud.

  • Security. Now this is an area that can be argued on both sides. In the virus/ransomware era of cloud computing, securing your data should be your number one priority. Cloud providers are a target for hackers, leaving some with the feeling that their data is more secure when stored in their own facility. Questions to ask a potential cloud provider include: “What measures have they taken to protect your data from the next cyber-attack?” And “Could another customer’s threat affect your data?” On the other hand, some cloud providers offer real-time security updates and patches; but be sure to verify that it’s included in your monthly service or your data may be vulnerable.

No matter how you feel about it, cloud computing and storage is here to stay. When deciding whether it makes sense to migrate your company’s infrastructure to the cloud, be sure to weigh all the factors involved and clearly understand the benefits of each. Don’t jump on the cloud bandwagon simply because everyone else is; but don’t ignore it simply because you may be unfamiliar with how it works. Ultimately, your decision should support your anticipated growth and add to the productivity, profitability, and success of your company.

Why Do Hackers Want My Data?

Hackers Want Your Data

By: David R. Herman – Director, Technical Services

Hacking has become so commonplace that many people have begun disregarding the potentially disastrous consequences of it. Why do hackers hack, anyway? Why are we burdened with the inconvenience and expense of firewalls, anti-virus programs, content filters, and having to sort through pages of spam selling you the next super vitamin.

As in many other facets of life – follow the money! While it’s true there are some hacking groups that use hacking as a canvas for their social messaging, bragging rights, corporate espionage and other reasons, the vast majority of ‘professional’ hacking is for personal and financial enrichment.

This article aims to help you understand what a serious effort is being made to steal and make money using YOUR data. Now is the time to ensure you are putting enough resources toward protecting your data (as opposed to glazing over and rolling your eyes every time your IT professional starts warning you about ‘those vile hackers’).

So how do hackers make money from your data? By selling it, of course!
Here are some of the most common ways hackers are profiting from your data right now:

  • Ransomware. Hackers encrypt the data on your computer or network so you cannot access it, essentially holding it ransom. Then they offer to ‘sell it back to you’ for a fee. Once you pay, they usually give you the key needed to decrypt it.

    – Motive: Financial gain through the direct sale of data back to its owner.

  • Stolen Financial Data. Credit cards, social security numbers and other identifying information can be used for immediate identity theft exploits. Hackers collect this information and then sell it on the deep web to groups skilled at using it to perpetrate identity theft. It is its own business and it’s happening 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

    – Motive: Financial gain via short-term identity theft.

  • Stolen Data. If you’ve been to a doctor in the past few years, you’re familiar with the term ‘HIPAA guidelines.’ For providers, HIPAA causes numerous headaches as it forces practices to create special procedures, train their staff, and even invest in specialized software. As a patient, HIPAA provides you with data privacy and security provisions meant to safeguard your medical information. As medicine moves toward electronic medical records, it opens the door to medical data fraud. When a hacker obtains your medical data they can submit fraudulent claims, resulting in insurance and Medicare fraud, costing the industry billions of dollars each year ($6.2 billion according to a recent IBM/Ponemon report). Furthermore, since medical records contain personal data that is biometric and never changes, skilled groups can re-use this data for future identity theft exploits long after the data is obtained.

    While the example above is specific to the healthcare industry, it’s important to note that any industry with sensitive data about its clients is at risk, including the accounting, legal and financial industries.

    – Motive: Financial gain via short-term and long-term identity theft and insurance fraud.

These are just three of the more popular exploits we see every day. Unfortunately, there are many more, and they are ever-evolving. So, the next time you see a bright red and yellow pop-up warning stating ‘Your computer is vulnerable,’ don’t ignore it. There are full-time hackers working hard to get at your data.

Want to stay ahead of the hackers and keep your data secure? Give us a call to assess your vulnerability and secure your data.

How Confident Are You With Your Existing Backup Solution?

How reliable is your current backup system?
Would your business survive a technical disaster?
When was the last time you tested your backup system?

These are some of the questions business owners should be asking themselves on a regular basis. Here are some of the answers we’ve heard through the years:

I just bought my server; it’s new so I’m protected.
All my data is in the cloud so I don’t need to back anything up.
I have mirrored drives in my server so I’m sure I’m ok.
Or our favorite…
My IT guy says we’re backing up. So I guess we’re good. 

The fact of the matter is that most business owners do not take data backups and disaster recovery nearly as seriously as they should. IT Web suggests the total cost of data breaches will be more than $2.1 trillion by 2019. In fact, currently the number one threat to business data is Ransomware. Although anti-malware solutions provide some protection, the only guaranteed protection against Ransomware and similar threats is a well-planned and maintained backup strategy.

Backup devices come in many sizes and flavors.  The key to choosing the right backup solution comes down to your expectations.  What is your acceptable level of downtime?  The client who answers that question with “one hour or less” will find themselves with a different solution than the client who answers “a day or two.”  Of course, everything comes with a price and the lower your threshold for acceptable downtime, the higher your cost is likely to be. 

Choosing the right type of backup system for your organization can be tricky.  Some only backup locally, some go off to the cloud, while others do a combination of both.  And then there is the data retention period – how far back do you need to keep the data?  The answers to these questions may be different for companies of different sizes, industries, and needs. And thus the solutions must match these criteria.

So, what happens when your most important server crashes at the worst possible time?  Some of the appliance-based backup systems will actually let you boot up the last backup and run it right off the appliance itself.  This way, no productivity is lost while the server is being fixed.  This functionality is a life saver when you need it.

Finally, disaster recovery testing is always a forgotten step in the backup strategy. Periodic testing of your backup plan is vital to its overall success.  This is the only true way to test the system and make sure the solution is adequate for business continuity.  Too many business owners discover their backup solution has failed when they are already in the middle of a crisis, at which time it’s too late to do anything about it.

Now is the perfect time to assess your backup and disaster recovery solutions, before you need it. Let us help you identify the solution that is most appropriate for your business. Contact us today to learn more.