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Posts from September, 2017


Flash Drives: A Productivity and Security Guide

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

With proper planning, your business can take advantage of USB flash drive technology while eliminating most of the medium’s inherent risk. The USB flash drives likely lying around your business offer excellent opportunities to increase productivity and make workflow easier, but also can be a data security breach waiting to happen. Properly used flash drives can be a great tool for your company, while improperly used flash drives are a major source of lost work and data.

Boundless Productivity Benefits

It’s an understatement to say that flash drives are really useful devices. The following list includes just a handful of the ways your business can utilize flash drives in the workplace:

  • Move large files between computers quickly on demand: Flash drives work very well when transferring large amounts of data between devices in cases where shared network connections and credentials are not viable. Using the flash drive means that you can copy from one system and paste to the other whenever it is convenient instead of at the same time, and it isn’t contingent on transfer speed from the local network or Internet connection.
  • Take work with you: Not all employees work on the same device all the time; flash drives are an easy, offline way to move work with you.
  • Make a toolkit: A flash drive toolkit is filled with software your staff may find useful including recovery and portable applications. Alternatively, the toolkit may include installers, patches, and serial code libraries for regularly used software your business uses.
  • Quick-and-dirty backup or recovery: Flash drives can be very helpful when making a quick backup of a computer or transferring data off of a distressed system that needs to be reformatted.

Data Theft: Drives that Contain Confidential Information Should be Encrypted

Flash drives feature a very small form factor which is great for portability; however, the smaller size also makes the devices prone to being lost or stolen. Therefore, any flash drive that is going to be used to store confidential data needs to be encrypted. Your business can purchase an encrypted drive or use specialized software to encrypt a standard drive. However, many encryption software options aren’t very portable or cross-platform friendly because they require software on any device accessing the encrypted drive. Windows 10 users can use the built-in BitLocker system and Mac users can use the Disk Utility application to password protect their flash drives.

Data Loss: Broken Flash Drives

While failure rates aren’t as bad as they used to be, flash drive technology is still prone to failure when improperly used. Live saving, or using a flash drive as the primary data storage location for a frequently updated file, can lead to a higher failure rate as can improperly disconnecting the device. Get the longest lifespan by primarily storing data on the local device and copying it over to the flash drive when done.

Is your business using its IT technology to its best potential? The IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help your business make sure that it is. Contact us today to learn more!

Screen Mirroring Mini-Guide

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Setting up your conference room for wireless screen mirroring is the answer to employees sharing in a collective groan when it’s time to connect a computer or mobile device to show a presentation. While setting up the conference room television or projector doesn’t have the same level of disdain as the office printer, it can still be a major source of frustration when half of your staff is in the conference room waiting for the technology to cooperate.

Screen mirroring allows any presenter, even a guest, to take a BYOD approach to giving a presentation with minimal effort. Not having to fiddle around with running cables and sorting through a “junk drawer” collection of video converters not only saves time but also increases productivity.

What is Screen Mirroring?

Screen mirroring, or screen casting, is when you duplicate the content on a computer or smart device on either a television screen or projector. In the past, someone would connect a computer to a TV or a projector through a cable which the device would treat just like a monitor. However, screen mirroring is different because it replicates the content on the device’s screen instead of treating the presentation device as a second screen. Modern smart devices and computers support screen mirroring, but the main problem arises when trying to find a setup that will support all of the common standards.

The Platforms:

  • Windows & Android Devices
    • While Windows and Android devices aren’t running software from the same companies, if a screen mirroring device supports one it more than likely supports the other. If your office has a smart TV or a smart projector, it might support screen mirroring out of the box for Windows and Android devices. However, if the TV or projector doesn’t have smart functionality, you can add support with a relatively inexpensive streaming device like MiracastRoku or WiDi adapters.
  • Mac Computers & iOS Devices
    • Supporting screen mirroring is very straight-forward, but there’s only one headache-free way to ensure support: connect an Apple TV device to the TV or projector. We’ve previously discussed setting up AirPlay through Apple TV. If you’re not going to use Apple TV, you’re stuck relying on finding a third-party receiver or app that supports AirPlay or messing with network settings every time you want to connect a device.

Device Checklist for Full Support

What your business should do is create a checklist for each of the four main device types and run a test of each to ensure compatibility. First, see which device types you can connect with your existing configuration. Next, determine which additional devices you’ll need to purchase for full support. An example setup could be a Samsung Smart TV paired with Apple TV or a standard LG TV with a Roku and Apple TV.

Streamlining your conference room screen mirroring setup is just one way the IT consulting experts at MPA Networks can help your business increase productivity. Contact us today!

The System Is Down: How To Stay Online When Your Service Provider Is Offline

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

It’s easy to take a functional Internet connection for granted until it’s no longer working. When that Internet connection inevitably goes down, your business could be left scrambling to figure out how to keep working until service is restored. The best solution your business can utilize is to develop an advance plan or an Internet outage backup plan for business continuity in the event of an Internet outage.

Purchase a Secondary Service

The safest and most reliable strategy your business can rely upon to work around Internet outages is to purchase a secondary Internet service. This service doesn’t need to be as high-speed as your main connection and it should be viewed as a safety net. The transition process can be as straight-forward as switching which modem connects to the office router.

Additionally, your business should invest in a different backup connection technology than your main connection; if your main connection comes from cable, try considering a DSL or T-line. If your business runs on a fiber service, your secondary platform can be from a cable provider. However, the secondary provider option may not be the most cost-effective solution for businesses with fewer than two-dozen employees.

Go Mobile (Internet) for an Internet Outage Backup Plan

Mobile Internet connections are another viable continuity option for smaller businesses: a tethered smartphone or mobile hotspot can work as a backup. The mobile option works well for smaller businesses and remote-employees. After all, mobile connections aren’t as fast and can lead to substantial data charges for businesses moving large amounts of data, so it’s not a good option if your business needs to move large files. Your corporation can also look outside of the cellular service providers for dedicated 3G/4G/LTE-based ISPs as an alternative secondary service option.

Nearby ISP Hotspots

If your company works out of a large office building with many nearby businesses you may be able to lean on your neighbors for some extra backup. Some ISPs offer Wi-Fi hotspots over all their rented modems. Then, if your business is on Verizon DSL and experiences an outage, you can use your home subscription to connect to a nearby Xfinity hotspot.

Hit the Street

If your employees need to get back online to handle immediate work, your company’s last line of defense is to lean on public Wi-Fi. You can find these hotspots at local libraries, cafés, coffee shops, and other storefronts. However, this comes with some major potential security risks; your employees shouldn’t come to rely on it with extremely confidential information.

One such risk is that it’s very common for hackers to set up “spoof” hotspots that resemble business hotspots, but are actually designed to steal your information. In other words, you have to make sure local hotspots are legitimate before using them. Keep a list of nearby secure Wi-Fi hotspots your employees can use in the event of an Internet outage. It’s of the utmost importance that this list is devised in advance because there are inherent risks in using another business’s Internet connection.

Never let an Internet outage keep your company from working: formulate an advanced backup plan so that your vital staff can keep working. If your company is looking for help developing an outage plan, the IT consulting experts at MPA Networks can help. Contact us today!

3 Lessons SMBs Can Learn From Retailers On Thanksgiving Weekend

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Online retailers are already working on business strategies for the Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday online shopping weekend months in advance. These three days are the busiest online shopping days for retailers, bringing in nearly $6 billion in revenue combined. An online retailer’s worst nightmare on these days, in particular, is to lose business by overloading their platforms and losing customers because of long load times or crashes. SMBs can look at how retailers prepare and manage massive traffic influxes for insight into running a better online presence.

1. Do not launch a new service or platform when you expect to be busy

A robust testing and QA process is a business’s best tool to releasing features like a website update, a new software implementation, or a new hardware system as seamlessly as possible. However, some problems don’t reveal themselves until your business has pushed changes into the wild; in other words, your business doesn’t want to introduce new features that could expose problems at a busy time.

Therefore, it’s better to go with a “soft launch” for new implementations than try to run a high-traffic promotion to show off something new. Introduce new features and sweeping changes at a time when your company expects business to be slow.

2. Sometimes “bells and whistles” need to be dropped to stop from damaging functions

People tend to love “bells and whistles” features because they can take a boring product and turn it into an exciting experience. The more improved visual experience is great until it becomes detrimental to the performance. For example, retailers like Amazon will actually disable some of the rich content features on their product pages over the Thanksgiving shopping weekend, which simultaneously reduces the amount of work the servers complete when generating pages. This allows customers to load pages with minimal delay.

Retailers have to keep in mind the “user experience,” which includes the process of using a service as opposed to focusing on how it looks. SMBs can take this philosophy to heart when approaching technology: provide the best “form” as possible as long as it doesn’t impede “functionality.” A visually striking product preview page won’t do your business any good if customers refuse to sit through a long load time.

3. Don’t be a victim of your own success

Website overloads on Cyber Monday are a particularly great example of how a business can become a victim of its own success, which SMBs should keep in mind when running promotions. Unless a website’s hosting infrastructure is built with scaling potential or uses a CDN, a huge traffic spike can bring the site offline which translates to lost potential business and a negative brand impression.

Retailers typically use performance testing and monitoring strategies to prepare their platforms for massive traffic influxes. SMBs should keep a “ready-to-grow” philosophy in mind concerning their web presence because opportunity can strike at any time. Bracing for traffic spikes is particularly important when running social media promotion campaigns: if your business goes viral, you don’t want to miss out because your website is overloaded.

Whether your business is looking for opportunities to keep up with growth in cloud computing or seeing if new software would increase productivity, the IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help. Contact us today!