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Posts Tagged ‘Small business’


7 Ways VoIP Increases SMB Productivity

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

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Voice over Internet Protocol solutions can help your business increase productivity by enhancing your communication potential. VoIP isn’t just a simple digital upgrade over your existing office analog phone service: It opens the doors for new ways to look at customer management and employee communication. A managed service provider can help your business implement numerous best practices to reap the technological benefits of VoIP.

The following list covers just some of the ways VoIP can increase productivity:

1. Share a Phone System in Multiple Locations

If your business is looking to expand to additional locations or already operates from more than one building, VoIP can help consolidate many phone-based services. VoIP can share a singular phone system across multiple geographical locations. This means your business does not need to operate things like customer support and appointment scheduling at more than one location.

2. Seamless Remote Work

If your business receives just a handful of support calls on weekends, it’s wasteful to pay an employee to sit around and do nothing for most of the day. VoIP allows employees to connect to the service anywhere there’s an Internet connection. This way, you can allow on-call employees to work from home, meaning your business only has to pay for the time you need them.

3. Voicemail-to-Email Transcription

Employees often find themselves wasting time navigating voicemail systems in search of a specific recording, and then burn through more time sitting through entire messages full of unimportant information. VoIP services open the door for voice-to-text transcription capabilities so employees can quickly locate and read a message summary. This is a much more efficient way to handle voicemail, allowing employees to respond more accurately to more messages in less time.

4. Facilitates Employee Response to Issues

VoIP is a digital system you can integrate with your customer relationship management system so your staff will immediately have information about a customer or client on hand when they call. For example, if a customer has an outstanding service ticket, the representative answering the phone will have all that information on-hand.

5. Scales to Grows with your Business

Unlike the analog systems of old, VoIP is very easy to scale with your business’s needs. Adding an extra line for an additional employee isn’t necessary, as the system can accommodate capacity as needed.

6. Video Conference for Better Collaboration

Employees aren’t limited to audio-only conversations with VoIP: It supports video conferencing. Video calls can be very effective at increasing productivity in the workplace when employees who aren’t located together collaborate on projects.

7. Cost Savings

VoIP can also help your business bottom line. According to Forbes, Utah State was able to save six figures by switching their phone system from analog to VoIP. VoIP is also easier to maintain, with fewer technical problems when implemented: Utah State saved around $120,000 annually on labor by eliminating most of the trouble tickets.

The experts at MPA Networks are ready to help your business manage your VoIP services. Make sure you are properly configured and your network is built to handle the extra traffic without slowing down other services. Contact us today.

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.

Boost Productivity and Security with Google’s Cloud Applications

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

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For anyone unfamiliar with the Google Applications platform, Google Docs et al. are a Cloud-based spin on mainstay office suite programs that can help your staff work better together.

With a zero-dollar price tag (compared with Microsoft Office’s hefty annual subscription fees) and the potential to boost both productivity and IT security, Google Docs shines as a collaboration tool.

For many types of projects that require teamwork, Google Docs streamlines solutions to the most challenging continuity and security issues inherent in transferring multiple versions of the same file between staff members.

About Google Docs

Google’s DocsSheets, and Slides applications offer many of the same features as Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, respectively. As browser-based applications, however, they are platform-agnostic, and will work across any device that runs a compatible web browser.

According to CNET, Google Docs does not compete with Microsoft Office feature-for-feature, but instead tries to emphasize the features that are most useful for the typical user. These applications can function in conjunction with existing office suite programs or, depending on your preferences, as a standalone service.

Productivity Perks

Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides offer incredible continuity perks that facilitate collaboration in a huge way. Employees share access to files on Google’s applications through a Cloud-based storage platform called Google Drive, where the files update automatically every few seconds to ensure that everyone accessing them sees the latest version. This makes it easy to edit a document before sending it to a client, or use a spreadsheet as a checklist to keep track of progress on a project in real-time.

The Google application suite eliminates scenarios such as accidentally grabbing an old version of a document/spreadsheet and wasting time merging two sets of content into one file. As a bonus, Google’s web apps free up IT staff to work on other projects because they no longer need to spend time implementing Microsoft Office on employee devices.

IT Security Perks

Google’s range of tools offers several benefits from an IT security standpoint. Cloud-based systems like Google Docs reduce the need for employees to transfer files via email, minimizing the risk of spreading phishing links and viruses. And while it may not be the best option for storing confidential information or files, the platform-agnostic nature of Google Docs allows for easy access to shared files on a wide range of device types, including Windows PCs, Macs, Linux PCs, Chromebooks, iOS devices, and Android devices. This flexibility allows IT teams to take advantage of more secure platforms and limit the device pools that could spread malware. 

If you’re looking to increase workplace productivity and security, the IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help. Contact us today to get started.

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.

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.

Where’s Your Company’s WISP? Why You Need One NOW

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

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A WISP is one of the most important documents for any company doing business over the Internet—which, in this day and age, is pretty much everybody. Who’s responsible for drafting and maintaining your company’s WISP? Or are you even sure what a WISP is? If not, your company is already at serious risk for additional legal action—lawsuits and punitive fines—following a data breach, whether the result of external hacking or internal human error.

WISP stands for Written Information Security Programessentially your company’s formal road map for safeguarding the privacy of customers’ Personally Identifiable Information (PII), as well as a response plan after a data breach—including customer notification.

WISPs are already required for companies dealing in financial services (the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act) or medical health records (HIPAA). Additionally, most states now have their own laws governing data privacy standards for businesses.

Here in California, the California Data Protection Act (Civil Code Section 1798.80-1798.84) requires businesses to “implement and maintain reasonable security procedures” to ensure the electronic privacy of customers’ personal information—their names combined with any of the following:

  • Usernames/passwords for online accounts
  • Social Security/Driver’s License numbers
  • Credit/debit card numbers
  • Medical history/health insurance records

How Much Is “Reasonable”?

The tricky thing here is that the California law doesn’t define what “reasonable security procedures” really are. And if even one of your customers resides out of state, your company is likewise bound by the corresponding data protection laws in that state—such as Massachusetts, where a WISP is a legal business requirement. At a time when new corporate data breaches seem to grab headlines every month, a formal WISP program for any company—large or small—is just good common sense.

Cover All the Bases

What are the elements of a comprehensive, iron-clad WISP? Here are the essential points to cover:

  • The designated person(s) to administrate the WISP
  • An assessment of reasonably foreseeable risks to security/confidentiality of protected PII data
  • Locations where personal information is stored (electronic or hard copies, as well as access from portable devices)
  • Specific measures to safeguard confidential data (encryption, firewalls, security patches, or more)
  • Ongoing employee data security training, with disciplinary policy for WISP violations
  • Monitoring and review of the program’s effectiveness, annually or as necessary
  • Your company’s official breach response plan

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts offers a good WISP template for small businesses here.

Most importantly, if your company is partnered with a managed service provider or other third-party IT services, make sure they’re on board with your WISP program—that they’ll take time to assist in crafting your initial policy in addition to providing regular enforcement and documentation. We certainly will.

Cybercrime Begins Over the Phone, Too—Don’t Let Your Employees Forget

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

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If you’ve been a regular reader of our blog, you know we’ve spent plenty of time discussing phishing, malware, and other cybercrime. It’s all part of our modern online world, and we know it will never really go away.

We’ve talked about the tricks scammers use, from links in bogus emails to simply visiting the wrong website. But don’t forget crooks are still stalking victims via good old Ma Bell.

Chances are you’ve received a phone call pitching one of these common scams—more than once:

  • The promise of a lower credit card interest rate or a reduced electric bill… provided you give the caller your existing credit card number(s).
  • A call on behalf of one of your family members, requesting wired money to bail them out of a foreign jail. With “people search” sites all over the web, it’s disturbingly easy for a scammer to not only obtain your phone number, but also the names of your loved ones.
  • And perhaps the most devious phone scheme: the service tech from “Windows” who warns that your PC has been detected with a dangerous virus, which he can immediately remove remotely—for a nominal service fee, of course—or guide you in removing via a removal tool download (which is the actual malware)!

Hopefully, you’ve learned to recognize such obvious schemes. But businesses large and small are also targets of sophisticated electronic con artists, and it only takes one employee’s slip-up to rob a company of anything from confidential information to simple cash.

When to Hang Up the Phone

  • Suppose one of your senior executives is speaking at an out-of-town industry conference (information freely available on the conference’s website). Your receptionist receives a call from an “event manager” saying they urgently need their email password changed in order to download their PowerPoint presentation within the next half-hour. If it’s actually a cyber-crook on the other end of the line, they’ll have successfully hijacked that email account—inbox, address book, archives, everything.
  • If your accounting team gets a call from an angry “vendor” demanding payment for a mysterious invoice that’s suddenly 90 days past-due—for something as innocuous as bottled water or toner cartridges—might they be directed to a bogus payment site to collect a quick payment? Banks usually won’t forgive such voluntary gaffes, and if the culprits are outside the U.S., that money is almost surely gone.

We’ve discussed the necessity of a comprehensive employee security training program. Don’t forget to include your employees on the lookout for phone scams as well. Also consider a policy of no password changes without alerting top-tier support of your managed service provider, or supplement usernames and passwords (or even replace them) with two-step verification.

Questions? Contact us today.

Prepare Now or Pay Later: More Ransomware Attacks in the News

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

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We’re only a few months into 2016, but we’ve already seen two high-profile ransomware attacks—where cyber-crooks heavily encrypt a victim’s computer files before demanding payment for a decryption key only they can provide. Two notable incidents grabbed headlines:

  • In January, Israel’s Electricity Authority was hit by what officials termed “a severe cyber attack.” What early media reports described as a possible terrorist plot to knock out Israel’s national power grid turned out to be a multiple ransomware infection that crippled the agency’s IT network—most likely triggered by a employee falling for a phishing scam (as little as clicking a link in a bogus email). The Israeli government didn’t reveal whether they’d paid off the crooks in order to restore the network.
  • Closer to home, one month later Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Southern California gave in to hackers’ demands for 40 Bitcoins—a little under $17,000—to restore access to their ransomware-encrypted network. With patient care potentially in the balance, the hospital decided the quickest solution would be to simply pay the ransom.

Pay or Don’t Pay: Where Do You Stand?

A recent study from anti-virus maker Bitdefender indicates that over half of all U.S. ransomware victims have actually paid off their attackers, while 40% of respondents said they most likely would pay to restore access to their data files if necessary.

This leads us back to the central ransomware conundrum: To pay or not to pay.

As we recently discussed, the FBI considers their hands tied against ransomware attacks (almost all are suspected to be launched from Eastern Europe) and shockingly recommends victims simply cough up the Bitcoins. But there are still very logical reasons why paying off cyber-extortionists is never a wise idea:

  • You’re an instant patsy. A quick ransom payment indicates you’ll give in without a fight—an ideal victim. Expect your attackers to remember that when they run low on cash—or share that knowledge with other cyber-gangs looking for their next “easy mark.”
  • The demands will grow bigger. Think of ransomware attacks in terms of simple economics—the “seller” charges what the market will bear. Today’s most lethal strain of ransomware, CryptoWall 4.0, currently charges victims a standard flat rate of 1.83 Bitcoin ($700). If most readily paid $700 for their precious data today, why wouldn’t they pay $900 tomorrow—or even more?

Protect Your Company Now

  • Back up your entire network regularly. Most ransomware will seek out external backup drives (connected to a computer via a USB port) and infect those files as well—unplug the drive after every manual backup.
  • Make sure all software is fully updated and patched. Ransomware and other viruses seek out vulnerabilities in all common office apps.

The middle of a robbery is too late to create your anti-robbery plan! Contact us to help design and implement your company’s strategy against ransomware and other emerging cyber-threats.

IoT Devices: Security Holes?

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

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Hackers can take advantage of a newer technology prevalent throughout your business to break into your network and compromise security: Internet of Things devices. Your business may have never considered that the handy new Smart Thermostats throughout the building or the Smart TV in the conference room could actually be used by a hacker to piggy-back onto other devices on your network.

Fortunately, a managed service provider can stay on top of your IT security, installing the latest updates on every computer and all network hardware, and minimizing the risk of experiencing productivity-draining malware and hacks.

Your business could be vulnerable to a major security breach by leaving IoT devices unpatched and running old code.

The Elephant in the Room

In December of 2015, the security experts at TrendMicro identified approximately 6.1 million devices in use, including IoT devices, running software with an unpatched code execution attack security hole. The catch is that the security hole was identified and fixed all the way back in 2012, meaning these devices are still putting their owners at risk. Code vulnerabilities aren’t limited to device firmware, as the security hole TrendMicro found came from a code library found within apps.

A study by HP showed that upwards of 70 percent of all IoT devices are in some way vulnerable to an attack—and according to ZDNet, IoT devices are problematic for business security overall because they lack much of the security sophistication found on devices like laptops. For example, the home IoT market is facing major privacy and security concerns over Baby Monitor hacking. Your company may be concerned about home IoT devices as well if you have employees that work from home.

Plug, Play, and Forget

Hackers aim to exploit the common “set it and forget it” mentality toward IoT devices. Not only are IoT devices prone to security breaches, they are also often neglected as points of concern. When the manufacturer issues an update to patch security problems, your staff may not include IoT devices alongside regular updating practices.

There is plenty that an MSP can do right now to protect your business from IoT security holes, even when security apps and firmware patches aren’t an option. In addition to keeping the device’s operating software up to date, it is also necessary to keep all installed apps updated. Many IoT devices lack a clear interface to implement patches, making the process cumbersome. Security apps work well on devices that support them, but IoT products that lack security app support are a bit trickier to work with.

Another way an IT consultant may suggest to keep IoT devices from impacting the rest of your business’s security is to create a second isolated network for smart devices that can’t directly access your main network. WiFi makes the process relatively inexpensive and straightforward.

Keep your business running productively by taking preemptive action against IoT security faults with a local MSP. You’ll be glad you did.

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.