Eight Reasons Why Small and Mid-Sized Businesses Need Managed IT Services

Managed Networks Chicago

Managed IT services is rapidly becoming one of the hottest solutions in business today because it dramatically improves an organization’s profitability, frees up internal resources, and offers a unique competitive advantage.   Simply put, managed IT services are designed to assist companies in maintaining and supporting their network and IT infrastructure with the assistance of an outsourced managed services provider (MSP).  Types of services may include remote network monitoring, programming and reporting (24/7), firewall monitoring, intrusion detection, preventative tasks, disaster recovery, data backup and help desk support.  There are eight critical reasons why small to midsized businesses (SMBs) need managed IT services now and throughout the life cycle of their business.

Dependence On IT

Almost all businesses have become more dependent on computer technologies in the past few years.  And, it’s a rapidly changing environment.  Every business has become dependent on its IT infrastructure to perform at a high level, while effectively delivering its products or services.  As a result, it has become more difficult to maintain the expertise to properly deploy, manage, and monitor this new technology, especially as a business evolves.

Complexity

The fact that this new technology is new makes it more difficult for the average employee to understand and use effectively.  The level of demand and sophistication from today’s businesses are driving up complexity.  Distinct disciplines or specialties are emerging in a variety of technology related areas such as telephony, desktop, network, application and database support.  The breadth and depth of technology an organization requires immediately places the resources at a small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) at a distinct disadvantage.

Insufficient Solutions

Traditional support options such as a one man IT consultant, or a one or two person in-house IT department cannot effectively handle the occasional network breakdowns that are bound to occur. This is especially true when compared to a team of external resources that  proactively monitor the SMB’s installed technology at all times.

Lack of Process

An IDC study reinforces the notion of lack of process, showing that 78% of all IT downtime is caused by change.  If you could simply eliminate change from the computing environment, you would substantially decrease the risk. Unfortunately, most SMBs lack the procedures, documentation standards, and scope of work, which often results in major disruption and downtime.

Increased Use of Technology

Increasing use of computers, new software and procedures, often leads to increased complaints and loss of productivity. Typically, when network or desktop problems arise and escalate inside a company, the response time of the one man shop or internal staff is quite slow. This dramatically increases employee complaints and lowers productivity.  In many situations employees have to wait in line to receive help.  As a result the downtime and morale will impact the organization’s bottom line as well as their ability to meet their customers’ needs.  By implementing a managed IT services program, the demand on internal IT resources are lessened, and they can now be utilized for other purposes such as directly supporting strategic business objectives rather than becoming bogged down in frequent break/fix issues.

Controlling Costs

During these challenging times, the IT budget is frequently reduced.  In a recent survey of nearly 950 IT managers at companies in North America and Europe; nearly half of the U.S. respondents said they have already cut their IT spending budgets.  Unfortunately, a cut in IT spending doesn’t mean there is a cut in demand for services.  This adds tremendous stress and pressure on internal departments to support the same amount of work with fewer resources.

Technology Erosion

Computer systems must be maintained just like any other systems used within the business. Vehicle fleets, manufacturing equipment, and the physical plant, have all moved to a preventative approach. If a company does not implement this preventative maintenance strategy for its technology components, disaster might be the unpleasant and unprofitable result.

Compliance

Finally, the technology utilized within an organization in most cases must meet specific compliance standards.  For example, a company’s business processes supported by technology may need to comply with Sarbanes-Oxely, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) and other requirements. Most companies don’t have the resources to fully understand and comply with all the detailed requirements of these regulations.

All of the above issues are driving the popularity of partnering with a managed IT services firm.  Companies that have made the transition already answered this question.  If deploying, managing and monitoring my IT infrastructure has absolutely nothing to do with the core competency of my business, why wouldn’t I outsource it to an expert?  This is a fairly easy question to answer and these organizations have reaped the rewards of increased profitability and a competitive advantage.

Want a honest assessment of your network? Give us a call at 847 329 8600!

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Apple Ends Support of Quicktime for Windows

U.S. Department of Homeland Security US-CERT

National Cyber Awareness System:

04/14/2016 03:48 PM EDT
Original release date: April 14, 2016

Systems Affected

Microsoft Windows with Apple QuickTime installed

Overview

According to Trend Micro, Apple will no longer be providing security updates for QuickTime for Windows, leaving this software vulnerable to exploitation. [1]

Description

All software products have a lifecycle. Apple will no longer be providing security updates for QuickTime for Windows. [1]

The Zero Day Initiative has issued advisories for two vulnerabilities found in QuickTime for Windows. [2] [3]

Impact

Computer systems running unsupported software are exposed to elevated cybersecurity dangers, such as increased risks of malicious attacks or electronic data loss. Exploitation of QuickTime for Windows vulnerabilities could allow remote attackers to take control of affected systems.

Solution

Computers running QuickTime for Windows will continue to work after support ends. However, using unsupported software may increase the risks from viruses and other security threats. Potential negative consequences include loss of confidentiality, integrity, or availability of data, as well as damage to system resources or business assets. The only mitigation available is to uninstall QuickTime for Windows. Users can find instructions for uninstalling QuickTime for Windows on the Apple Uninstall QuickTime page. [4]

References

Revision History

  • April 14, 2016: Initial Release

Only 10% of Hospitals & Clinics Keep Their Patients’ Data Safe

According to privacy researchers at the Ponemon Institute, “Recent numbers show 90% of health care organizations have exposed their patients’ data — or had it stolen — in 2012 and 2013.” The implications of this research are far-reaching and unsettling for most consumers.

Most attacks are caused by hackers who want to acquire medical records due to their extreme value. The information in medical records (name, birthdate, addresses, phone numbers, medical history and social security numbers), can be easily used for identity theft, fraudulent medical billing or acquiring prescriptions to resell on the street. Hackers can use the medical information to accomplish just about anything once acquired. This flaw in IT security is not a series of isolated incidents but an incredibly widespread problem now affecting millions of people across the nation.

In August, Community Health Systems reported that Chinese hackers had allegedly stolen a staggering 4.5 million patient records in what could be the largest breach of patient data to date. The company is treating the breach as a violation of HIPPA, even though the hackers didn’t gain access to medical records (only names, addresses, birth dates, phone numbers, and Social Security numbers were stolen). The breach happened between April and June this year, and was discovered in July. According to cyber-security firm Mandiant, which helped investigate the breach, the group responsible for the attack is known as “APT 18,” and may have links to the Chinese government.

The majority of hospitals and health organizations are using outdated technology on a single network making the job of hacking into networks even easier for criminals. IT security is often a large oversight for healthcare organizations because their objective is to save lives. Unfortunately, lack of internal IT expertise and outdated technology plagues the healthcare industry making it an easy target.

The challenge here is that doctors are inherently more interested in saving lives, instead of upgrading their IT security. This a great thing for society and we believe that’s exactly what doctors should be focused on! The only thing is that IT security must be addressed too. Over the years, we’ve learned exactly what it takes to protect health organizations and we love being a part of the solution to this problem. It’s unfortunate when something like this happens but it brings much needed education to the issues at hand. We consider it our duty to educate our market and provide doctors with the technology tools they need to do their jobs, protect their  patients and spend their time focused on saving lives, instead of firewalls. That’s our job.

Microsoft Ending Support for Windows Server 2003 Operating System

NCCIC / US-CERT

National Cyber Awareness System:

11/10/2014 07:19 AM EST
Original release date: November 10, 2014

Systems Affected

Microsoft Windows Server 2003 operating system

Overview

Microsoft is ending support for the Windows Server 2003 operating system on July 14, 2015.[1] After this date, this product will no longer receive:

  • Security patches that help protect PCs from harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software
  • Assisted technical support from Microsoft
  • Software and content updates

Description

All software products have a lifecycle. End of support refers to the date when Microsoft will no longer provide automatic fixes, updates, or online technical assistance.[2] As of July 2014, there were 12 million physical servers worldwide still running Windows Server 2003.[3]

Impact

Computer systems running unsupported software are exposed to an elevated risk to cybersecurity dangers, such as malicious attacks or electronic data loss.

Users may also encounter problems with software and hardware compatibility since new software applications and hardware devices may not be built for Windows Server 2003.

Organizations that are governed by regulatory obligations may find they are no longer able to satisfy compliance requirements while running Windows Server 2003.

Solution

Computers running the Windows Server 2003 operating system will continue to work after support ends. However, using unsupported software may increase the risks of viruses and other security threats. Negative consequences could include loss of confidentiality, integrity, and or availability of data, system resources and business assets.

The Microsoft “Microsoft Support Lifecycle Policy FAQ” page offers additional details.[2]

Users have the option to upgrade to a currently supported operating system or other cloud-based services. There are software vendors and service providers in the marketplace who offer assistance in migrating from Windows Server 2003 to a currently supported operating system or SaaS (software as a service) / IaaS (infrastructure as a service) products and services.[4,5] US-CERT does not endorse or support any particular product or vendor.

References

Revision History

  • November 10, 2014: Initial Release

 

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Improving Security & Reducing the Risk of Data Breach

It’s a parallel that seems to represent a negative product of change: as technology advances, so do security threats. In a world where data breaches make headlines, security is of utmost importance—especially for companies that have critical assets such as customer data, intellectual property, or proprietary corporate data.

Despite the progress that has been made to improve security, there are still instances of data breaches over the cloud. However, by taking the right measures, businesses can utilize the cloud to prevent data breaches and reduce the inherent stress perpetuated by security threats.

Below are five tips on utilizing security in the cloud.

1)    Be aware of your cloud apps. We all love the various services that apps can provide. However, it is important to know the business readiness of app and which ones encrypt data stored on the service. It is important to know which apps render you more or less prone to a breach. If you employ cloud services, you should know exactly what is provided, and how your company utilizes them.

2) Transfer users to high-quality apps. As you already know, cloud-switching costs are minimal—which means that switching to better apps is possible. Choose apps that are best suited to your business needs; shopping around for the best apps is advised. If you stumble upon unsatisfactory apps, talk to your vendor or even switch. Our current technological makeup is dominated by a preponderance of worthy apps—utilize them.
3) Ask yourself: where is my data going? Look at your data in the cloud: review uploads, downloads, and data. Check if you have personally-identifiable information (PII) or unencrypted confidential that is in—or moving to—the cloud. Be aware of where your data is going.

4) Identify user activity. It is essential to understand not only which apps you utilize, but also your user activity. Which apps are used to share information? According to a VentureBeat study, one-fifth of tracked apps enabled sharing—ranging from customer-relationship management to finance and business intelligence. Knowing who is what sharing information—and with whom—will enable you to implement the right policies.

5) Reduce risk through granular policy. Begin with business-critical apps and implement policies that will help your business in the case of a breach. Some ideas: blockthe upload of information, block the download of PII, or block access to vulnerable apps when necessary. Preparation is key—and knowing where your information is at all times is paramount in mitigating risk.

Preventing data security breach is possible—it relies on your careful attention to cloud apps and user activity. Knowing your data is crucial in preventing risk. Analyzing your apps takes time, but is a worthwhile task. Contact us today to learn more about security and minimizing your cloud and data risks.

Get more information here!

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Consumerization of IT, BYOD and the Cloud

When the first personal computers appeared nearly 40 years ago, it was a revolutionary moment. The ability to set up a spreadsheet on the screen of a computer and instantly recalculate when any variable changed was such a huge advance that workers would secretly slip PCs (i.e., the Apple II) into the workplace under their coats. And so consumerization and the first Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) assault on the IT department were underway.  Eventually, of course, IT reasserted control, thanks to the ascendancy of MS-DOS and later Windows.

Fast forward to 2012. Instead of slipping PCs in under their arms, workers armed with tablets, smartphones, ultrathin laptops and more are once again manning the ramparts. It’s déjà vu all over again, but this time it’s here to stay. Unlike the first PCs, today’s devices are cheaper, smaller and far more versatile.

At the end of 2011, there were 6 billion mobile subscriptions, according to The International Telecommunication Union (2011), equivalent to 87 percent of the world population. Some 300,000+ applications were downloaded 10.9 billion times. On average US feature-phone users have 10 apps on board.

Given the scale of the change, more and more consultants like Forrester are warning of major disruptions if businesses do not implement a thorough mobile strategy across the enterprise. These disruptions include problems in coordinating data, network access and applications across multiple channels; servers and infrastructure that are unable to handle the surge in activity; applications poorly constructed for user engagement; and business processes that are misaligned with mobile requirements.

Forrester recommends that companies start to get a grip on the new era of mobility by establishing the office of the chief mobility officer with a focus on crafting an approach to the company’s mobile architecture and mobile engagement practices, including the adoption of Cloud solutions, which are being driven by the mobile shift.

BYOD, consumerization, the Cloud and more are all here to stay. Waiting to see how they evolve is likely to leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Are CIO’s Lighting a Fire for More Managed Services?

“Come on baby light my fire” has more meaning than just lyrics to a great old song.

We know things are getting more complex with application integration. mobile device management, social integration and UC integration… the list goes on. Things are – heating up.. But what’s an IT leader to do when pressures are mounting? Resources are scarce and CAPEX budgets are capped.. Almost 90 percent of companies nowadays are telling us they’re doing something within the realm of managed and hosted services.

Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar, pointed out that this increase in managed/hosted services trend is increasingly important – especially when you look at how companies are planning for growth. (Have a listen to what Irwin Lazar has to say about this in our communication trends video about Managed & Hosted Services.) We discuss how nearly 40 percent of companies are adding more services. Not only are folks raising the roof in a positive way about Managed Services, CIO’s are lighting a fire within their IT teams to get more creative about the mix of managed services support.

If you’re concerned about managed services and if you haven’t really looked at them carefully, our advice is to take a hard look now.

Important success metrics include cost of IT per employee, revenue per employee, and IT spend per employee. All of these metrics tend to correlate positively with higher use of managed services. So, companies that outsource the day-to-day support operations of their applications tend to spend less per employee and have higher success metrics.
Being able to leverage third-party services shows significant financial and operational benefits in this day and age, where talent is so hard to find. So, are you waiting for someone to light your fire – baby?

Looking for evidence of a Post-PC world

A number of vendors are touting that a post-PC era has begun, I believe it, but believing is not seeing. Lets begin with what a Post-PC world should look like. Will there be PCs in the future? I would say yes. They still have a purpose, and some general value, but they will be a minority form factor as far as local computing is concerned. What will the majority form factor look like? Mobile computing platforms: smartphones, tablets, and devices that are hybrids of those two. A key characteristic is the ability to be data connected at a decent bit-rate while on the cellular network. Many things should look and act differently given these changes, lets speculate on a few.

Lets start with form factor, the PC usually is connected to a healthy size monitor, this makes digesting large scale data sheets (web pages as an example) easy, it produces a conducive environment for running multiple applications (windows), it provides a large rendering space for user interface (more real estate to easily activate or modify entries while seeing the entire UI) and a number of people can easily view the monitor at once. A large tablet can handle all of this today except the sharing aspect. A smart phone, for the most part, is challenged. What adaptations are necessary? Optional micro-projectors would increase real estate and address all these characteristics. We can see evidence of thinking here at [here & here] Another possibility is a wireless interface between the mobile computing device and a general purpose display. Evidence of thinking in this domain can be found at [here]
I’d characterize this as early evidence that the video real estate characteristic is being solved.

Another physical characteristic is the input method (keyboard, mouse, trackpad, etc.). This area is already well addressed in the commercial market. In fact, it may be driving the post-PC evolution as users embrace touchscreen tablets. Additionally, as natural gestures and speech become more important as input and control methods, something the smartphone and tablet provides easily, as is already being witnessed in the consumer marketplace.

Lets look at application modeling. Apple iOS and Android provide excellent local application capabilities that can operate while network connected or not. Some productivity toolsets require video real estate to create content effectively or view complex content (like spreadsheets). As discussed before, technology innovators seem to already have a handle on that problem. Some applications require connectivity (they may be focused on messaging, collaboration, or real time feeds) or may be better used if connected (augmented data and search are a couple of examples). Both mobile computing platforms and PCs provide the connectivity. Mobile computing platforms can do so from many locations and while in motion. Connectivity requiring significant bandwidth could be challenged on cellular networks (video calls for example). Even with LTE deployments on North American cellular networks, the likelihood of a significant bandwidth crunch is high if video calling is supported natively on the network. For this reason, expect most high bandwidth real time applications to be limited to WiFi networks for a few years.

This brings up another consideration for the connectivity model: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) eliminates the need for a fully functional PC, it can be replaced by a special purpose low cost viewing brick, or it can be replaced by a browser running on any platform. While it does not necessarily require significant bandwidth to support, there are times where it might, and certainly some use cases where it certainly will. Mobile computing platforms already support VDI viewing, but connectivity can dictate how functional it is. VDI is an example of an application type that requires connectivity, cloud based service applications is another example (think Google tools). As connectivity reach increases (think WiFi on airplanes) the need for intense local processing on PCs decrease. The evidence based on application connection model certainly indicates that mobile computing has evolved enough to begin replacing desktops.

Other evidence will be in the types of applications that become favored over long standing PC applications. Email, Calendaring, Web browsing all come to mind. Email is evolving to include common inbox, virtually no one wants multiple email clients on their platform. Both iOS and Android support this well. Many users are shifting to prefer Instant Messaging or SMS because they offer prospects of answers in near real time. Users will want to have a common messaging client for the same reasons they do not want multiple email clients. Evidence of this can be seen with iMessage, Gtalk, and Yahoo Messenger. There is no dominant calendaring application outside of Microsoft, a Post-PC world should see some movement here. Calendaring clients can be Microsoft independent. Web browsing innovations are already outstripping the need for a PC and have been for a number of years. HTML 5 adoption will foster this and is another strong indication of a Post-PC world.

Lastly, there should be evidence in trending. Fewer PCs and laptops sold; more smart phones; more tablets. More application sales for mobile computing, more SMS, MMS, and their derivatives. What do the trends show? Canalys reports that in 2011 smartphones outsold PCs. [here] Further its growth rate is a scorching 63%, tablets grew at an incredible 274%, while desktop PCs shrank 3.6%. ComScore’s review of 2010 indicates that mobile subscribers preferred text message use to email use 2:1 in the US and almost 4:1 in Europe. [here] Further the growth rate in SMS traffic is presently between 20 and 30% for the age 18-54 demographic. [here]

It seems like there is evidence that the era of Post-PC is approaching, will the evidence become even more pronounced? It will be an interesting year or two as we observe.

Until next time …

Nearly half of organizations using managed services have cut their annual IT expenses by 25 percent

Nearly half  (46 percent) of organizations using managed services have cut their annual IT expenses by 25 percent or more, according to a new study published Tuesday by CompTIA, the nonprofit association for the IT industry.

The CompTIA study, “Trends in Managed Services,” also reveals that among current users of managed services, 13 percent have slashed annual IT expenditures by 50 percent or more.

“This is compelling evidence that managed services, even when implemented on a small scale, can deliver significant cost savings, freeing up cash for other business needs,” said Carolyn April, director, industry analysis, CompTIA. “More importantly, these savings are accomplished without impacting the availability and reliability of the technology solutions the company relies on to conduct business.”

Indeed, the CompTIA study reveals that 89 percent of current managed services users are very satisfied or mostly satisfied with their experience. Performance and uptime, agreeable contract terms, a secure environment, and the flexibility to easily and quickly add new services all contribute to customers’ satisfaction, the study found.

Another critical factor is good communication between the customer and their managed services provider . Among companies that are highly satisfied with managed services, three-quarters say their MSP provides regular activity reports on all of the steps they take with the customer’s IT environment, including documenting any problems averted to keep the customer up and running.

“This shows return on investment and fuels accountability, which builds loyalty and raises satisfaction among customers,” April noted. “From the MSP’s perspective, these are opportunities to make recommendations on new services to add to keep pace with business growth. Customers are engaged even though they’re not managing their own IT.”

While costs savings are the top factor in deciding to turn to managed services, more than half of respondents in the CompTIA survey said a major reason they are contracting with an MSP is to free up their internal IT staffs to work on projects that fall into the business’ core competencies – in other words, revenue-generating activities.

Looking ahead, 62 percent of end users surveyed said they plan to increase their IT spend on managed services over the next two years, with the balance opting to remain at current levels. Among the IT needs that companies intend to move to managed services in the next 12 months are:

·         security, such as firewalls and antivirus, cited by 38 percent of customers

·         website hosting, 36 percent

·         network administration and maintenance, 34 percent

·         help desk and IT support, 31 percent

The managed services model also has been successful as a revenue generator for the IT channel. Fifteen percent  of channel partners offering managed services reaped more than 75 percent of their revenue from these contractual services last year. Nearly half said that managed services accounted for between 50 percent and 75 percent of sales during the last 12 months.

“Growth expectations are not overly aggressive, perhaps reflecting the tepid economy,” April said. “Still, a quarter of respondents project growth of more than 10 percent and a full two-thirds expect modest growth. None of the sample predicted any level of decline in MSP business in the coming year.”

CompTIA’s “Trends in Managed Services” study is based on separate online surveys of 400 IT and business professionals in the United States involved in IT decision making and 364 IT channel firms in the U.S. Both surveys were conducted in June 2011.