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Posts Tagged ‘cloud’


Looking Forward: Cloud Services Costs and Opportunities

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

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If your small-to-medium business (SMB) isn’t looking at ways to increase productivity through Cloud services, you could be missing out on exciting opportunities. But while the Cloud offers countless opportunities for business expansion, it can also taking up an ever-increasing share of your company’s IT budget. Overall IT budgets may not be growing, but Cloud expenses are; industry shifts indicate a gradual move towards increased dependency on Cloud platforms to run business operations even among small businesses.

Your business should be aware of these shifts, as they could have a direct impact on how your company’s IT budget is allocated in the future. Read on to find out more. 

The Cloud’s Share of IT Budget

According to a 451 Research study, the typical business spent around 28 percent of its IT budget on Cloud services in 2016, which could increase to a projected 34 percent in 2017.

The study argues that the budget adjustment will stem from an increased reliance on external hosting infrastructure, application platforms, online IT security, and SaaS management programs.

While this report implies a budget increase in one area, businesses will be able to recoup part of the cost with a decreased reliance on internal infrastructure like local servers. Additionally, Cloud platforms do a lot of the heavy lifting, so your business will be less dependent on powerful, expensive computers.

The State of IT and Cloud Expenses

Gartner reported that businesses worldwide spent $2.69 trillion on IT services in 2015With IT expenses remaining mostly flat across 2016, that puts total enterprise Cloud service expenses around $750 million annually. The Cloud is a big deal in the business world: in 2016, upwards of 41 percent of enterprise workloads ran in the Cloud, and that number could grow to 60 percent by the end of 2018.

Why Use the Cloud for SMBs?

Simply put, the Cloud offers businesses incredible versatility, flexibility, and agility that’s not available with on-site servers. One of the Cloud’s key advantages is that it can enable a business to become significantly less dependent, if not completely independent, on local servers. Moreover, Cloud servers can scale for extra processing power to handle work in web applications, web hosting, and SaaS platforms that wouldn’t be available if the business had to rely entirely on in-house servers. Finally, the Cloud allows employees easier access to work platforms regardless of their physical location, making collaboration, disaster recovery, security, and data backup much simpler.

Common Cloud Services to Explore

Here’s a list of Cloud services worth exploring for all SMBs:

  • Content Management Systems
  • Customer Relationship Management Systems
  • Data Backup and Archiving
  • Point-of-Sale Platforms
  • Time Clock Systems
  • Productivity/Web Applications

 If your business is trying to decide whether to expand its IT infrastructure into the Cloud or simply maintain current costs via IT consulting, contact the experts at MPA Networks today.

The Benefits of Backups

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

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Even seasoned IT pros have made the mistake of not backing up a device—and panicked after losing countless important files because the device failed. We may know better, yes, but that doesn’t mean we’re perfect.

On the flip side, we’ve all breathed a sigh of relief when a recent backup of our computer or smartphone rescued valuable files after a crash. With employees at businesses large and small using more devices than ever, vulnerability is just as high as the stakes.

It’s never too late (or too early) to implement a reliable backup system—so what are you waiting for?

How Often?

This is a question we hear a lot when it comes to backups. The answer, as ambiguous as it sounds, is “right now.” In an ideal world, your business would configure its employee devices to back up on a daily or weekly basis; but, of course, the more often your business can back up data, the better. And while it’s common for smartphones to Cloud-sync whenever they’re connected to Wi-Fi, it’s worth checking your settings right away.

Minimize Data Loss

Regular data backups are an excellent tool for disaster recovery. In the event that a computer’s hard drive is not recoverable, the ability to restore the machine based on a recent backup significantly decreases the amount of data lost in the process. For example, if the hard drive fails on Tuesday morning and the last backup was on Friday afternoon, the employee will lose at most a day’s worth of work from the incident.

Decrease Recovery Downtime

Backups get your employees back to work faster after a disaster. For obvious reasons, it’s easier to recover a computer to a backup point than to start from scratch, and for some problems, restoration can be even more efficient than repairs.

Removing an infection, decrypting data, and recovering a computer that’s been infected with ransomware, for instance, can take days. But if the computer has undergone a recent backup, restoration may take mere hours.

Old File Version Recovery

Every so often an office has to deal with an employee accidentally making a change to a shared file that can’t be fixed. Regular backups are like freezing a moment in time for your business where you can always go back and recover what was lost.

Embrace the Cloud

Take advantage of Cloud storage solutions for a range of benefits—especially business continuity. With the Cloud, employees can, in many cases, share and access their work from any device. If an employee is on a business trip and needs to update or reference a file stored on their office desktop computer, they can access the information through the Cloud platform.

If your business is looking to improve its data backup practices for a more reliable digital ecosystem, contact the experts at MPA Networks today. MPA’s IT Managed Services offerings can help your company implement a backup system that minimizes downtime and protects your data for both peace of mind and pace of business.

Are Chromebooks Right for YOUR Business?

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

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Google’s Chromebook platform has the potential to replace traditional laptops and increase productivity for businesses, much like it has in the consumer market at large. For the uninitiated,

Chromebooks are Cloud-oriented laptops that run most operations through the Google Chrome web browser instead of traditional desktop applications.

And, while lacking the raw horsepower and feature range found in Windows and Mac computers, Chromebooks manage to pack a ton of functionality in a secure, zippy, and affordable package.

Extremely Capable Machines

According to TechRadar, the Chromebook is an ideal device for workers who rely mostly, if not exclusively, on Cloud data storage and web applications. Employees that work mostly through Google Apps already will find the device a natural fit. If it runs in Chrome, it runs on the Chromebook.

Other employees who primarily use desktop computers may find a Chromebook a much more powerful productivity booster for a secondary mobile device compared with smartphones and tablets. While the devices may have slower CPUs than comparable laptops, they’re running an OS with little overhead bloat, so they tend to offer a smooth user experience.

Cloud-Based Advantages

The Cloud-based nature of Chromebooks makes them a great asset for malware prevention and simplified disaster recovery. According to Google, Chromebooks “are designed from the ground up to defend against malware and viruses.” Additionally, all files saved in web applications are stored in the Cloud, which means the disaster recovery process amounts to simply reloading the operating system. Moreover, Chromebooks are highly secure in the event of theft since they don’t store confidential data on the device itself.

Low Cost

Chromebooks are a cost-effective option for many companies, but small startups may have the most to gain. Don’t use—or can’t afford—costly management tools, server hardware, and other infrastructure? Chromebooks start as low as $150, with more capable models in the $200-250 range; high-end Chromebooks hit the cost ceiling at $500. These are much cheaper than typical enterprise laptops, making them an affordable alternative. Chromebooks are also a great option for business trips, considering three-day laptop rentals can cost between $70 and $150 per employee.

Results May Vary

Chromebooks aren’t for everyone, so make sure the device fits seamlessly into your workflow before making a company-wide commitment. If, for example, your employees need powerful systems with proprietary software for intense applications like video editing, rendering 3D models, or financial modeling, and these tasks are not offloaded into the Cloud, then Chromebooks are not for you. Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that Chromebooks lose most of their functionality when working in areas without an Internet connection, and that configuring a Chromebook to print isn’t as easy as on a PC or Mac.

That said, many of the Chromebook’s shortcomings could see improvements soon: Google is planning to add Android application support in the near future. If your workflow can adapt well to Chromebooks, the pros may outweigh the cons and then some.

Transitioning to the Cloud? “Know Before You Go”

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

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The Cloud is here to stay—and growing before our eyes. Even the customer segment that the marketing world terms late adopters—the last people to “get on the boat” of tech trends—are finally taking a hard look at migrating at least some of their IT to Cloud-based apps.

One big reason is that their existing data center infrastructure has reached the end of the line. In the depths of the Great Recession, belt-tightening and bean-counting left many companies reluctant to spend the capital to replace their on-premise server equipment, squeezing out a few more years beyond their recommended service life. When it’s finally time to usher obsolete servers into retirement, IT managers are weighing the pros and cons of deploying Cloud services over purchasing new hardware outright.

Is the Cloud right for you? Maybe.

The hardware/Cloud argument isn’t all that different from deciding whether to purchase or lease a new automobile. Both options have tangible advantages—which, depending on the salesperson’s objective, they’ll play up. Hardware vendors will insist that direct ownership translates into a higher ROI over the long haul, while Cloud service providers will stress a speedier turnkey deployment with lower pay-as-you-go (or pay-as-you-need) pricing, eliminating a need for hefty upfront financing. Depending on who’s trying to sell what, it’s easy to play with the numbers—and leave the customer’s head spinning!

Before you turn to the Cloud simply because “Cloud looks cheaper,” don’t forget to read the fine print.

As we talked about in our Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) series last August, the flexibility of the Cloud can be tempered by vendors’ hidden charges, such as software license fees, shifting between “service tiers,” locking customers into a minimum number of desktops, or other unfavorable contract terms. Service that looked competitively priced at the beginning can look less attractive as costs creep upward.

A Top-Down Approach

Instead of basing these decisions on the bottom line, look at them from the top down. Which IT functions would be better served via the Cloud? Many companies begin with transitioning their email system from onsite servers to Cloud-based email, because the vendor becomes contractually responsible for keeping the system up and running 24/7 (when email goes down, so does your whole company!). They’ll also assume the required day-to-day maintenance of upgrades, add-ons, and security patches, as we know email is the primary gateway for hackers and malware.

We anticipate a future where most small businesses will rely on the convenience of the Cloud, simply networking each desktop into a single modular connection to an outside provider. Our point today is that transitioning to the Cloud involves a strategy for determining the logistics—what, where, how, and why. If you’d like some advice on crafting a successful Cloud strategy for your company, contact us.

3 Incredible Benefits of Protecting Your Cloud Data with Two-Step Verification

Friday, October 16th, 2015

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Online security breaches can be expensive and productivity-killing events. When a nefarious third party acquires an employee password, it’s no party at all.

Many online businesses have begun using Two-Step Verification, also known as Two-Factor Authentication, to introduce an extra layer of protection against hackers and other cyber villains.

A number of juggernaut tech companies rely on some form of Two-Step Verification to store and exchange private information, including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Evernote, Yahoo, and PayPal. Two-Step Verification works by controlling which computers, tablets, phones, and other devices can access online accounts, requiring a user who’s logging on for the first time on a new device to enter an authorization key. Account owners assign a specific authentication key to each device—whether a cell phone or USB dongle key—which the user receives via text message, telephone call, or application. The key is time-sensitive, so any given key code only works for a short duration. If an account owner discovers a breach, all they need to do is sign on to the account with an already approved device and change the password.

Still wondering whether Two-Step Verification is right for you? Check out this list of benefits:

  1. Stolen Passwords Are Relatively Useless

If someone steals a password for an account that uses Two-Step Verification, that password is entirely useless unless the crook stole the authentication device as well, or has access to systems already approved for use. If they have the device but not the password, they’re also not getting through. In other words, the key and password are useless without each other.

  1. Control Which Machines Access Accounts

Two-Step Verification makes it so an account owner can choose which devices have access to confidential accounts. For example, a business may opt to enable access to specific devices for employees, but withhold the authentication key to prevent people from enabling access on unapproved devices. Alternatively, someone may opt to sync their workstation and personal laptop via the Cloud to work seamlessly between the two devices, but keep the laptop unauthenticated for confidential accounts because it poses a higher security risk. The workstation would act as an intermediary device in this case.

  1. Brute Force Hacks Fail

Brute force hacks systematically guess passwords and keys until they find the one that works. Since Two-Step Verification systems change the key after short intervals, brute force hacking procedures have to start from the beginning each time the interval elapses. The key is a moving target, which makes a brute force hack contingent on luck. The hack will almost certainly be identified and blocked before it cracks the code.

The downside? Two-Step Verification can be a bit tedious to configure. And because it prevents bad things from happening instead of making good things happen, it may feel like an unrewarded effort.

A managed service provider can help your business develop and implement a Two-Step Verification plan today. Two-Step Verification can streamline data sharing and increase productivity, saving you time and money by preventing security breaches over third-party platforms. Get in touch with a trusted local IT consulting service to protect what’s most important to your business.

Hidden Costs of DaaS Service? Know What to Look For

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

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Back in July, we talked about the emergence of Cloud-based Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS). From overall cost to scalability, mobility, and security, more IT decision-makers are recognizing DaaS as simply a better alternative to traditional networks of standalone computers.

As with any other new technology, however, there can be a steep learning curve involved. While quite a few vendors are hopping on the bandwagon and offering contracted DaaS services like selling a new car or a cell phone, many just aren’t adept at explaining the contract’s fine print—or even the real meaning of the big print. Too many first-time customers are left to “learn the hard way” about sneaky fees.

Before locking your company into a DaaS commitment, here are a few major items to do your homework on:

Semi-Private Cloud or Public Cloud. A DaaS platform can be hosted on two types of Clouds. A semi-private Cloud divides operations between Cloud infrastructure hosted remotely and some server hardware installed at the client’s onsite data center. In many cases, the provider may bear the initial cost of designing and setting up the onsite equipment, but impose higher costs over the long term via monthly hardware rental fees.

Public Clouds are hosted entirely off-site and offer direct “turnkey” DaaS services without any onsite data center equipment. They are particularly effective at providing full desktop access for mobile workers, quick desktop setup of new or temporary employees, and hassle-free disaster recovery.

Licensing Fees. Third-party providers merely serve as “middlemen” for DaaS platform products from the big-name vendors, who pass along their costly licensing fees to their end customers. When that’s the case, ask what specific “value-adds” their service includes.

Service Tiers. Many providers divide their DaaS service into different levels along the lines of “standard,” “gold,” or “platinum.” Each offers progressively greater per-user bandwidth and storage capabilities. Make sure you choose the best package for your company, without any hidden fees for switching to a more appropriate tier—up or down.

Long-Term Commitment. The flexible, pay-as-you go nature of the Cloud has been a real advantage, especially for smaller businesses. Yet, as with cell phones, many vendors still try to lock customers into annual contracts. Avoid unfavorable contract terms if you can.

Minimum Number of Desktops. Some vendors require a minimum quantity of daily users in their service agreements—with harsh monthly penalties for dropping below that number. Don’t let this added expense hang over your business’s head if your workforce shrinks when times get tough.

As managed DaaS services become the new standard for businesses of all sizes, we expect it to become a customer-driven market. Know where you’ll find the best deal for both price and service. Need help? Just get in touch.

 

DaaS and the Virtual Workspace: The Next Big Thing?

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

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We’ve recently received quite a few questions regarding “virtual workspaces.” Particularly in light of the imminent release of the next version of Windows (which, as we’ve discussed, won’t come cheaply for enterprise users), will virtual workspaces be a cost-effective alternative to full computers on every desktop?

The original incarnation of virtual workspaces came in the form of Virtual Desktop Architecture (VDI), a self-contained, “on-premise” server responsible for delivering documents, software, and apps to multiple network users simultaneously. Over the past few years, the reputation of VDI has really taken a beating because, despite the projected bandwidth and storage capacities of that in-house VDI server, network performance invariably seems to fall a step behind—leaving end users frustrated with keystroke lag, poor video resolution, and other annoyances. In most IT circles, VDI is looked back upon as a “novelty”—a technology that never really proved ready for prime time.

Over the past couple of years alone, major advances in the power of Cloud computing have breathed new life into the virtual workspace concept—with far better results.

Through the “Desktop-as-a-Service” model (DaaS), business customers purchase a monthly subscription for Cloud-hosted virtual workstation emulation: software, storage, backup, and upgrades included.

What are the primary benefits of switching to a DaaS environment?

Cost. A monthly DaaS subscription delivers more long-term “bang for the buck” than a traditional PC network or on-premise VDI server. Cloud-hosted workspaces cut the expenses associated with regular hardware upgrades.

Expandability. The turnkey convenience of DaaS means onboarded employees can enjoy a fully functional desktop within only a few hours, without the prolonged hassles of additional software licenses and manually loading and configuring every program.

Mobility. DaaS is an ideal solution for telecommuting and other out-of-office applications. As many employees prefer to use their own personal laptops or tablets, a virtual DaaS environment allows full desktop access on any device, regardless of brand or operating system.

Security. “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Security breaches typically occur on the outer fringes of a network—hackers singling out an end user with inadequate protection or lax “security hygiene.” A DaaS environment centralizes network security at its core, and software patches and antivirus updates deployed from the Cloud protect the full network immediately (all computers and devices, everywhere).

Service. Onsite hardware requires onsite support, such as setup and maintenance. The first generation of VDI required hours upon hours of setting up the onsite servers, plus creating and tweaking the virtual interface for every customer. Because DaaS is hosted remotely, it can be deployed much more quickly, and service issues can be fixed in the fraction of the time of an onsite service call.

In the coming weeks, we’ll expand on the emerging viability of DaaS, and whether it may be the best solution for you.

The Cloud: An Eco-Friendly Alternative?

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

IT SF Bay Area discussion on how the Cloud hosting is more energy efficient and green for information technology.

April 22 marked the annual worldwide observance of Earth Day. This made us think about the role small businesses play in the “Go Green” movement. Many companies have a genuine concern for preserving our planet’s natural resources—even if many hotels use going green as a convenient excuse not to provide fresh bed sheets every morning.

Of course, here in California, we know conservation is no joke. As we endure a severe, multi-year drought—with no end in sight—we’re just now realizing the potential long-term effects on our region’s entire eco-system. The longer our resources continue to dwindle, the more all of us—households and businesses alike—will be expected to make cutbacks to help sustain our environment.

Thinking Beyond the Bottom Line

When small businesses weigh the benefits of migrating their IT functions to the Cloud, they tend to frame their decision around only one context of “green”—the saving of dollars. Yet they usually overlook another viable justification of the Cloud: reducing the company’s energy consumption and carbon footprint.

An onsite data center typically consists of multiple servers dedicated to general tasks, such as one server for email, one for database, one file server, and so on. Yet, like the human brain, a single server only uses a small fraction of its full capacity at any given moment—typically as low as six percent—while drawing continuous full power 24 hours a day, every day.

While that higher “firepower” is necessary for occasional spikes of peak usage, the rest of the time it simply gobbles up far more electricity than necessary.

By contrast, a shared, Cloud-based facility utilizing virtualization gains a much higher performance ratio from its offsite infrastructure, averaging 60 to 70 percent of capacity. Fewer machines are required to handle the same amount of work.

Cloud-hosting facilities also save energy when it comes to the massive cooling requirements of larger computer equipment. Most onsite data centers simply rely on the “chaos” method of cooling—virtually turning their existing computer room into a large refrigerator. Cloud colocation facilities consolidate climate-control costs, often engineering rack-first cooling systems to optimize efficiency—saving both electricity and money.

Also, larger Cloud colocation facilities have the flexibility to regularly upgrade their equipment to the latest energy-efficient solutions, while small businesses often rely on outdated, less efficient IT systems.

Benefits for Small Businesses

The bottom line is that Cloud computing generally requires less energy consumption than an traditional onsite data center, which directly translates into fewer carbon emissions—and a smaller impact on our environment. An Accenture study commissioned by Microsoft suggests small businesses (100 employees or less) have the most to gain from the Cloud, reducing their overall CO2 emissions by up to 90 percent.

Might Cloud migration be an eco-friendly IT solution for your company? Learn more here.

Is Tape Storage (Completely) Dead?

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

IT SF Bay Area discussion on using tape for backup & archiving of data.

If you’re over 40, you probably remember the original Sony Walkman—the freedom of listening to a single cassette tape in portable stereo. Even if you still have a few favorite cassette tapes packed away somewhere, where could you listen to them today? Tape is just so… ancient. Ask your kids.

Magnetic tape used for computer data storage dates back even further, introduced by IBM in 1953. Those first reel-to-reel contraptions would likewise give way to the convenience of portable cassettes, which would largely be replaced by hard disks, and most recently storage via the Cloud. But tape storage hasn’t quite gone the way of the dinosaurs just yet. In some cases, it might still be a favorably economical storage option, particularly for small businesses.

When we talk about “data storage,” we need to divide it into two distinct areas: backup and archiving.

Backup

Backing up essential day-to-day files and applications, as we’ve talked about, is necessary for disaster recovery (DR)—getting your company back up and running as soon as possible following a major catastrophe (from acts of nature to hostile computer viruses to simple human error). We strongly advocate that each of our customers develops a comprehensive, hybrid Cloud and on-premises Disaster Recovery solution.

Archiving

Archiving involves the secured storage of “cold” data, rarely used files which still need long-term retention (typically for regulatory requirements). For many small companies, as much as 85 percent of stored data is never accessed again after 90 days. It either takes up valuable disk space on an onsite server or gets uploaded into a Cloud data center—where the provider charges monthly for every last gigabyte.

As antiquated as tape storage may first appear, it still holds a few advantages over other media:

  • Tape is cheaper. Purchasing new cassettes (as low as $30 each) for a single DDS/DAT tape drive is less expensive than multiple hard drives/servers or additional Cloud data storage.

  • Tape lasts. A stored index of tapes lasts up to 30 years undisturbed, requiring none of the constant power and cooling requirements of an active computer.  Of course, you need to keep the tape drive equipment and software around.

  • Tape is secure. Archived data remains off the IT network until it’s needed—so it’s virtually hack-proof.

The “tape vs. disk vs. Cloud” debate still rages in IT circles. It doesn’t need to be an either/or proposition; archived files on tape can be a cost-effective supplement to storage on your server or in a Cloud data center. How well might a hybrid on-premises/Cloud/disk/tape solution fit into your company’s data storage needs? Ask us.

To Cloud or Not to Cloud: a Heated IT Debate

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

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With all the hype surrounding cloud computing, it may seem like any business that is NOT in the cloud is woefully behind the times.

As an IT Managed Services Provider, we hear the following questions from clients and prospective clients all the time:


“Should we move to the cloud?”

“The cloud is faster and cheaper. Why aren’t we in the cloud?” 

“Everyone is moving to the cloud. When can we start?”

 

While we do provide cloud services where appropriate and believe it can be a great fit for certain organizations and use-cases, it’s necessary to open a more thoughtful dialogue on cloud computing to determine if it really is a good fit for your organization.

Question Cloud

The cloud doesn’t always live up to its marketing hype (“faster and cheaper,” especially!) and SMBs that move to the cloud don’t always reap all the amazing benefits they were sold on. We have seen this time and again.

While the cloud boasts many pros, it definitely has its share of important considerations that need to be clearly understood before jumping in.

We recommend that every business owner or CIO who is considering cloud computing consult an experienced IT expert or IT team who understands the technology needs and considerations of businesses in their specific industry and has extensive experience with both in-house and cloud-based IT architectures.

The cloud may have the greatest marketing team ever built, but it’s our job to move past the hype and deliver an unbiased response to the question of the hour: to cloud or not to cloud?

We will be covering this topic and more in our cloud blog series, which is aimed at promoting a better understanding of the cloud for small and medium sized businesses (SMBs). Please check back soon for “Three Great Misconceptions About Cloud Computing for SMBs”

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If you find yourself asking any of the questions above and work in the San Francisco Bay Area or on the Peninsula, please get in touch with us today. Our Belmont, CA-based team can help you determine if cloud computing is a strategic fit for your business and future goals.