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Posts from March, 2017


Mesh Networking for SMB Offices

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

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If the sounds of disgruntled employees complaining about poor Wi-Fi connectivity are all too familiar in your SMB, it’s time to consider switching to a mesh network.

Unlike traditional Wi-Fi networks that use a single point of origin and optional extender networks, mesh networks utilize a series of nodes to create a single, wide-reaching network.

According to the technology analysts at ZDNet, the cost of implementing mesh networking has dropped to the point where it is now practical for small businesses. Mesh networking is a great way to increase productivity in your office by ensuring a strong network connection in every location.

Decentralized Access: A Better Solution for Resolving Wi-Fi Deadzones

A traditional Wi-Fi network tasked with covering a wide area features a singular router connecting to Wi-Fi extenders. However, the main problem with this configuration is that extenders cannot daisy chain, so you’re still forced to use the router as a centralized access point. If a single extender doesn’t adequately boost the Wi-Fi signal, you’re out of luck. This can be a problem for small-to-medium sized offices where the main Internet connection comes in at one side of the building, limiting coverage and expansion potential.

Mesh Wi-Fi still uses a single Internet connection, but features multiple nodes that can daisy-chain and sport multiple node connectivity to provide signal as far as necessary. A traditional Wi-Fi network would have the router at the access point and an extender in a centralized location, while a mesh network can feature nodes at the access point, a centralized location, and anywhere else in the office that requires coverage.

Mesh networks eliminate the need to run expensive wires throughout the office to compensate for traditional network limitations. Moreover, this system helps to improve stability and performance because traffic can take different node paths if a part of the network is overloaded or not functioning.

Singular Network Solution

Wi-Fi extenders can be difficult to configure and require a change of Wi-Fi networks depending on where you are. The hand-off solution is not very elegant, because the extenders behave like additional networks. For example, you may still get great signal from the main router in your office, but not in the conference room; if you move your laptop to the conference room you’ll still get poor signal from the main router and need to manually change your laptop’s Wi-Fi settings to use the extender.

Mesh networks behave like a singular network between each of the nodes, so there’s no need to change networks as you move around the office. This can be very helpful for smartphones and other devices as well.

An Easier-to-Manage Environment

Mesh networks are much easier to set up and manage. When adding Wi-Fi extenders, each device needs to be managed and set up independently, whereas all nodes in a mesh network share the same setup and management process. Setting up a traditional network means configuring the router and individual extenders one at a time, but you can set up a mesh network all at once. Users may find managing mesh gear easier because it’s typically performed through an Android or iOS app instead of a web page.

If your office is fed up with running multiple Wi-Fi networks and Wi-Fi extenders, it may be worthwhile to invest in a mesh network. Contact the experts at MPA Networks today, located in San Mateo County and serving the South Bay and San Francisco Bay Area, to see how your business can better approach networking solutions.

You may also want to read:

Network-Attached Storage: Data Backup and Transfer Options for Small Businesses

The Benefits of Laptop Docks and At-Desk Peripherals

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

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With a little bit of effort, your staff can reap all the benefits of a laptop, and many of the perks of a desktop, with a little bit of planning and some additional hardware. It’s a common perception that laptops lead in portability, while desktops specialize in expandability. But improvements in peripheral device connection standards including USB 3.0, eSATA, and Thunderbolt have reduced (if not eliminated) the performance differences between external and internal devices. The main caveats of using external devices to enhance laptop capabilities include the need to physically haul extra pieces of hardware around, which defeats the portability perks.

If your business is looking to boost productivity and improve business continuity, it’s worth looking at configuring employee desks to work as laptop extension environments through docking stations and peripheral hubs.

Docking Stations

Docking stations are devices that connect to laptop computers to convert them (more or less) into desktop computers.

Docks feature a wide range of ports and may include built-in augmentation components like extra storage. The user can connect all their peripheral devices to the dock in advance and utilize them simultaneously just by connecting the laptop to the dock. This supports business continuity for employees who are often in and out of the office, eliminating the need to use two different devices for the same tasks.

USB and Thunderbolt Hubs

Advances in peripheral port bandwidth have made devices like USB and Thunderbolt hubs viable alternatives to docking stations that function as a “choose-your-features” option.

Hubs are essentially a collection of ports that can be used to connect several devices to computer through a single port.

This means utilizing all the hub devices is as easy as connecting a single cable to the laptop. Hubs can also be self-powered so the laptop is no longer limited by powering external devices.

Peripheral Rundown

  • External Monitors: One or more external monitors can be added to docks or hubs to suit employee needs. The worker may prefer a singular, larger monitor, using multiple external screens or using an external display as an extended desktop. Employees may find having more viewable space than a laptop offers a productivity booster.
  • Additional Storage: Attaching external storage devices to the dock or hub serves two primary purposes: It acts as a backup solution for the “three copies” strategy, and it lets employees store extra data that would be a burden on the laptop’s built-in storage. This is a big help when it comes to disaster recovery; in the event that the laptop is damaged, destroyed, or stolen, you’ll have a recent backup on hand.
  • Keyboard and Mouse: Adding a keyboard and mouse to the dock or hub not only helps boost productivity, but also improves ergonomics by allowing employees to position devices where they are most comfortable. Employees who prefer a mouse over a touchpad and want to add a number pad to a laptop that doesn’t carry one will find this solution helpful.
  • Wired Network Connection: Hubs and docks can be configured to connect to the local network via Ethernet. This is a great option for offices already wired for connections that have inconsistent Wi-Fi.
  • Speakers, Webcams, and Microphones: Docks and hubs can also connect to external versions of the laptop’s audio/video devices for an enhanced experience.

The IT and productivity assessment experts at MPA Networks are ready to help your business find a hardware configuration that works best for you. Contact us today.

Mac- and Linux-Based Malware Targets Biomedical Industry

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

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The malware infection, discovered in late January, that’s been hiding out on Mac and Linux devices for more than two years doesn’t mean the security floodgates are open, but it is a reminder that these devices aren’t invincible. Apple is calling this new malware “Fruitfly,” and it’s being used to target biomedical research. While not targeted for Linux devices, the malware code will run on them.

This attack may hit a little too close to home for those industries MPA Networks specializes in protecting, including healthcare and biotech. That makes this a good time to reexamine security best practices for devices that aren’t commonly targeted for attacks.

Attacks Are Rare, But Not Impossible

Broadly speaking, any device that isn’t running Windows has benefited from a concept called “security through obscurity,” which means hackers don’t bother going after these devices because of a smaller market share.

Mac OS X and Linux provide more secure options than Windows for various reasons, but neither is an invincible platform.

Every so often, hackers strike the Mac community with malware—and when the attacks are successful, it’s typically because users don’t see them coming. The lesson here, of course, is to never let your guard down.

You may not need an active anti-virus program on a Mac, but occasional anti-malware scans can be beneficialAccording to Ars Technica, “Fruitfly” uses dated code for creating JPG images last updated in 1998 and can be identified by malware scanners. Anti-malware programs like Malwarebytes and Norton are available for Mac devices. MPA Networks’ desktop support and management can also improve user experiences on non-Windows devices.

Keep Your Macs and Linux Machines Updated

The old IT adage that says “keeping your programs updated is the best defense against security exploits” is still true when it comes to Mac OS X. While Mac OS X upgrades have been free or low-cost for years, not everyone jumps on to the latest version right away. For example, less than half of Macs were running the latest version of the OS in December of 2014. This means all the desktop and laptop devices running older versions of Mac OS X are exposed to security holes Apple patched with updates.

Typically, Apple only supports the three most recent versions of their operating system, which usually come in annual releases. Your workplace computers should, at the very least, be running a version still supported by Apple. The good news is that Apple quickly issued a security fix to address Fruitfly. The bad news? This isn’t the first Mac OS vulnerability malware has managed to exploit, and it won’t be the last.

The IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help your company find the right tools to increase productivity and improve security on all your office devices. Contact us today to get started.

Network-Attached Storage: Data Backup and Transfer Options for Small Businesses

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

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Network-Attached Storage (NAS) servers are a great asset for small businesses managing data. For the uninitiated, NAS is essentially a streamlined server designed specifically for sharing files between devices.

Because of their simplified nature, NAS devices are typically easier to use and substantially more cost-effective than full-fledged servers.

While most NAS solutions are space-efficient standalone server boxes, some higher-end routers can also be used as NAS devices by attaching an external hard drive. If your office is looking to increase productivity and improve disaster recovery, NAS may be worth its weight in gold.

Easy-to-Use Data Storage

NAS devices work as an inexpensive, easy-to-use data storage option for your business. These devices are so simple to configure that your office doesn’t even need to have a local IT staff to use them. Once configured, accessing the storage can be as simple as using Explorer or Finder as you would with any internal storage device.

Practical Backup and Recovery

In their most practical form, NAS devices can be used as a backup and disaster recovery option for office computers. This way, if a computer hard drive fails or a laptop gets destroyed, your staff can recover recent versions of important documents and files.

However, NAS does not replace the need for Cloud or off-site backups for vital information. An office fire, for example, would wipe out desktop computers and the NAS. Combining both NAS and Cloud backup processes gives your business the best level of protection from data loss.

Faster Information Sharing

NAS is also a viable business continuity option as it does not require Internet connectivity to work. Employees who use multiple devices, such as a laptop, desktop, and tablet, can use the NAS to access the same files from any deviceThese data servers are also excellent for employees collaborating on the same files; gone is the need to use email or Cloud storage to sync or send updates.

Cost-Effective Hardware Comes at a Price

NAS devices aren’t as sophisticated as traditional servers. Designed only to focus on sending and receiving data, they offer substantially less processing power. You won’t be able to use a NAS device to run an email server, for example, or to run any server-based applications. For these, you’ll need to look into server management solutions.

Because of this trade-off, however, NAS devices cost a fraction of the price of a dedicated server. Moreover, your business doesn’t need to worry about wasting money buying too much or too little storage because you can install additional hard drives in the NAS device as needed.

Security Issues

As mentioned above, NAS servers should not be used as a replacement for an off-site, Cloud-based backup. IT professionals often recommend storing important data in at least three locations: two “on-site,” which includes the computer and the NAS, and one “off-site,” like a Cloud service. Additionally, if your business is using NAS storage, you’ll want to make sure it is only visible to authorized individuals. Security in this case could include something as simple as password-protecting the Wi-Fi.

Use our wealth of knowledge at MPA Networks to your advantage to meet your business’s server and storage needs. Contact us today.

8 Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Office Computers

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

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When it comes to your office computers, a little bit of spring cleaning goes a long way. Sure, cleaning office computers can seem tedious. But think of it like preventative maintenance on a vehicle: In the best-case scenario, you’ll never know all the breakdowns you avoided.

Keeping your office computers clean and healthy minimizes your risk of downtime and increases productivity.

Here are 8 tips for your next round of spring cleaning:

1. Update All Software

Run updates and patches for the operating system, commonly used programs, and security software on every system. Program and operating system updates don’t just add features; they’re loaded with security updates that keep your devices safe. Most problems with computer security exploits stem from outdated software that allows hackers to break through established breaches that the developer already closed, so running updates and patches is your best line of defense.

2. Run a Full Anti-Virus Scan

After updating all the software on the computer, run a full anti-virus scan to catch any malicious software hanging out on the device. Active anti-virus protection does a good job of safeguarding the system against infections, but sometimes malware slips through the cracks.

3. Run a Full Anti-Malware Scan

Anti-virus programs go after specific, high-risk malware infections, meaning lower-level malware can still find its way onto your computers. Anti-malware programs including Malwarebytes and Spybot are better equipped to identify and remove malware that the anti-virus misses.

4. Defragment the HDD

Older PCs with traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) may experience load time improvements from an annual drive defragmentation. However, newer Windows systems—and all currently supported Mac OS versions—handle this process in the background, so you don’t need to worry about it. If the computer is running a Solid State Drive (SSD), do not bother with the defragmentation process.

5. Remove Unnecessary Launch Programs

It may seem like every program installed on your computer wants to launch itself at startup—even those you rarely use. Removing unnecessary programs from the system startup can help improve performance and reduce login times. Windows 10 features a handy “Startup” tab on the Task Manager that lets users quickly toggle which programs launch with the system.

6. Check and Create Restore Points

Restore points can be a major time saver in returning a compromised computer to full operation. Restore points reverse most of the damage caused by malware and bad configurations, all with minimal effort. Check whether the computer is already using them, and create one if it isn’t.

7. Run a Full Backup

Backups are like restore points for when very bad things happen to a computer. It’s best practice to make at least two backups of a given computer’s files, and store them in different physical locations. This ensures that in the event of catastrophic loss, all the data saved on the computer up until the backup point is preserved. Mashable recommends verifying if automated backup services like Time Machine and Windows Backup and Restore are actually working.

8. Bust Dust on Desktops

This part of the spring cleaning process is literal. As we’ve previously discussed, excessive dust inside a computer obstructs airflow, which can cause crashes due to overheating and even damage components. CNET has a helpful guide on how to go about the dustbusting process.

A little spring cleaning makes for a more efficient office and stronger disaster recovery. The expert desktop support and management staff at MPA Networks is ready to help your workplace in San Mateo, San Francisco, the South Bay, and other Bay Area cities implement better practices. Contact us today for more information.