8 Signs You Should Invest in the Cloud

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The word “cloud” may have bounced in and out of conversations at your office, but you’re still not 100% sure it’s for you. You’re waiting for some sort of sign that it’s worth your time. Luckily, we have eight. If any of these sound like your business, it might be time to invest in the cloud.

You’re looking to upgrade your software.

With cloud software, the upgrades are automatic. You don’t need to repurchase the latest version every time you want to update. You pay for your business applications on a subscription basis – think of how you’d pay for a magazine – and updates are included! And when you want to add new software, you don’t need one of your IT guys running around installing it on every single device. Instead, it’s accessible through the cloud and can be ready to go in minutes, rather than hours or days. And if you realize you don’t need a certain application anymore, you can simply cancel the subscription and be left with no waste!

You’re in need of a hardware refresh.

In the cloud, the hardware becomes the provider’s job. When you want to be working on state-of-the-art hardware, but just don’t have the bucks to spend, cloud computing is the answer. You’re not the one who invests in and maintains the hardware – the provider is! You simply get the benefit of real-time, flexible storage and modern equipment that you don’t have to manage yourself. This frees up both time and money.

You want a data backup plan.

The cloud is able to protect data both virtually and physically, with a dedicated team in place that’s available around the clock. Despite some concerns about cloud security, it has proven itself over and over in recent years. Cloud providers are paid to keep client data safe. Support and backup become their primary focus, when it couldn’t always be yours. With the cloud, businesses avoid losing data in accidents. Redundant, geographically diverse data centers keep data up and running no matter what. It’s the best backup plan, protecting a business even if its primary location or one of the data centers is damaged.

You’re looking to cut down on CapEx.

Then you’re looking in the right place. Cloud moves much of CapEx to OpEx, thanks to the pay-as-you-go model. Businesses end up paying for what they need, as they need it, rather than spending a lot upfront for resources they might not even end up using. With the cloud, many costs shift to the provider, including costs of infrastructure and maintenance, so it’s easier for organizations to decrease spending.

You want your employees to have greater flexibility.

They should have immense flexibility, especially in today’s modern, mobile business world. The cloud provides employees with anytime, anywhere access to company data and apps, on any device. This includes laptops, smartphones and tablets. The user simply connects to the company workspace using their login, and they’re good to go. When employees can work remotely, opportunities open up for a business. It’s easier to expand geographically, that’s for sure. Users have an easier time computing, connecting and responding with this flexibility too. The cloud creates seamless access across multiple devices, which employees and businesses will certainly appreciate.

You’re interested in implementing BYOD.

BYOD not only adds flexibility, but it can cut down on costs. The “Bring Your Own Device” trend puts the responsibility into the employees hands. Rather than a business purchasing devices and updating them regularly, it’s up to the users. This can be empowering, as employees can use devices they’re comfortable with, and know that they have a choice in how they work.

You want to focus your IT resources in new or different areas.

IT was traditionally more of a maintenance role, but with the cloud, many of those responsibilities move to the provider. Instead, IT personnel can transition into leaders and strategists, leading your business towards innovation. They can focus more on ever-changing technology, delivering business value, focusing on growth and the competitive landscape, identifying problems and solutions, and choosing which new tools to implement.

You’re rapidly growing.

Scalability is a key benefit of the cloud. It’s always one of the first things you hear about, and that’s because it accommodates ever-changing business demands. If your business is rapidly growing, it gets really expensive and complicated to continue updating resources. With the cloud, when you need more resources, you get them instantly. There’s virtually unlimited space in the cloud, making it easy to get more when you need it, and then scale back down again as things calm down.

4 Top IT Decisions that Business Owners/CEOs Will Have to Make in 2015

In today’s business environment, owners need to assess the advancement in all technological areas, but paying special attention to these four areas will yield exponential benefits in the next calendar year. Here are the four decisions that need to be made:

Is It Time for Me to Downsize My In-House IT Department? IT departments have long served as a vital support structure for ensuring that all business operations run smoothly. However, as more software and hardware applications migrate to “the cloud” and the number of managed services providers grows, businesses need to start taking a hard look at whether or not it is fiscally responsible for them to pay for full-time IT staff. Advancements have made it possible for remote technicians to fix computer problems off-site and run constant monitoring, management and data optimization software to improve the efficiencies of a company’s network. In many cases, entire teams are used to ensure optimum network performance, something that a single employee cannot hope to deliver consistently. As the playing field has leveled, more sophisticated tools have been developed, making this job even more competitive. In fact, many large organizations are beginning to outsource key areas of their IT operations entirely, and it is not long before outsourced IT departments are commonplace.

Downnsize IT Department

How Can I Secure My Network From Threats? With cybercrimes on the rise, more and more businesses are beginning to take proper precautions to prevent company downtime or data loss. Spyware, malware, data backup and anti-virus protection are all vital to the economic well-being of any stable business. In emergency or negligence situations, critical data loss can set teams back for weeks and put a giant damper on productivity. Many businesses are reexamining their Acceptable Internet Usage Policies (AUPs), to make sure that employees are only visiting work-related sites when at the office. These types of threats are usually found on dangerous websites, which can be eliminated entirely with simple site filtering tools that restrict access to unnecessarily volatile sites. Many companies see this need, especially in the case where businesses derive funding from institutional and private investors. These organizations are often required to spend a significant portion of their yearly budget on security enhancing technologies to make sure that all sensitive information remains perpetually protected.

Network Security

Big Capital Expenditures or Small Cloud Transition Costs? With servers and telephony shifting from the standard on-premise solution of old, to more software-centric and remote operation, many businesses are choosing to invest heavily in the transition to the cloud. The biggest driving factor behind this decision is that from a financial standpoint, most businesses want to upgrade their technology, but don’t want to create a large amount of capital expenditures, which constrain financial resources. Technologies with rental programs, or lowered total cost structures are increasingly popular because of their minimal impact on a budget. With plenty of equipment nearly obsolete, many businesses are investigating technologies which leverage a fixed-cost of ownership in their cost structure. This helps businesses avoid big capital expenditures, keeping them lean and mean for the next year.

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What’s Our Policy Regarding Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD)? Networks are the backbone of any business. However, when employees bring their own devices onto the network, they can often disrupt the infrastructure and slow the overall speed of the network drastically. Furthermore, these devices can pose as security threats when they are not properly configured to run in concert with all of the other technology endpoints on the existing network. It’s a complex web and network design is an intricate process, which is absolutely essential to get right. Some businesses refuse to let people bring their own devices onto the network, yet the vast majority of businesses allow employees to bring their own mobile devices onto the network, as long as they are properly configured by a leading technology specialist. That way, employees can utilize the tools they feel most comfortable with, without derailing anyone else’s performance on the network.

Bring your Own Device

 

Want to know more? Need help in talking out your decisions? Give us a call at 847 329 8600 and let’s begin the discussion.

Better protect data in event of natural disasters, power outages, employee errors or emergency situations

Nearly every business, especially in recent years, has become so inextricably reliant upon their data in order run their company. Simply put, data must be available to anyone who needs it and it must be available at the exact right time. Unfortunately, most companies still use an inferior form of data backup such as tape or external hard drives. Furthermore, lost or misplaced data creates unnecessary company downtime dragging operations to a screeching halt, which is out of the question for most of today’s businesses.

With nearly everyone depending on a strong IT infrastructure, it’s no wonder why businesses are scrambling to find the ideal form of data protection and backup. With plans ranging from manual disk backup to off-site backup to sophisticated cloud-based disaster recovery programs, the demand for this technology is clearly evident. The overarching goal of any disaster recovery program is to ensure that in the event of any natural disaster (earthquake, fire, flood, tornado) power outage or user error that a company’s data remains undamaged and is immediately retrievable. Prime Telecommunications’s cloud-based disaster recovery program, takes this technology one step further, in that it allows businesses to continue running smoothly, even during the midst of a disaster or employee error like deleting a crucial folder off the LAN. Essentially, for the first time, Prime Telecommunications’s customers can now shrug off a disaster, and continue running their business as normal.

Business owners have been quick to recognize the massive value associated with a disaster-proof business and the drastic reduction, if not elimination, of company downtime. This evolution in cloud-based disaster recovery has been heavily anticipated and Prime Telecommunications is proud to be among the few organizations leading the charge for this powerful technology. They are actively deploying their cloud-based disaster recovery program in the offices of many of their customers, across a multitude of industries.

At the end of the day, it’s about keeping our customers protected. When we can deliver a proactive, redundant, cloud-based program like this, we can keep our customers connected with their data so that they can keep running no matter what life throws at them. It’s such an overwhelming competitive advantage to eliminate company downtime and we’re absolutely thrilled to deliver this to our loyal customer base.

We believe that by providing our customers with competitive advantages, it gives them a leg up in their industry. Perhaps that’s why we’ve been fortunate to continue growing over the years, because of our outlook on ensuring mutual success.

What do you do? 

Multi-Tenant, Dedicated or Hybrid – Which to Choose?

Multi-Tenant, Dedicated or Hybrid - Which to Choose?

When it comes to business, cloud computing is on everyone’s mind. This next generation of computing technology is proving to be extremely beneficial for organizations of every size. With this increased consideration of the cloud, many are deciding how to best integrate it into their business. There are three main forms of cloud computing: public, private and hybrid. When considering the move, you shouldn’t just pick one of these at random. The choice should be strategic, based on the characteristics of your business. Each cloud model is best suited for certain types of organizations and needs, so picking the wrong one could backfire. It’s important to consider security, compliance, cost, efficiency, integration and scalability.

Multi-Tenant (Public)

A public cloud is based on the popular definition of cloud computing – it provides services, applications and computing resources off-site via the Internet. Multitenancy is a huge part of the public cloud, as the resources used are shared by multiple organizations. This leads to greater efficiency, amazing scalability and lower costs, all of which are huge draws of public cloud computing. Businesses typically use a pay-as-you-go model, truly purchasing the cloud “as a service,” similar to how electricity or water services work. The cloud provider is responsible for the infrastructure costs, allowing businesses to see costs based only on usage. Opposite of these benefits are a few of the downsides: less customization and greater vulnerability. Many organizations fear that the public cloud is insecure. While it certainly doesn’t allow for tailor-made security policies, cloud providers have recently focused a lot of attention on bettering their security. The reliability of the public cloud depends on the provider, and that’s why it’s important to conduct research before making the switch. A multi-tenant environment is best suited for small or medium businesses that need to bring their services to market quickly, heavily rely on Software as a Service, and have fewer compliance obstacles.

Dedicated (Private)

Private cloud, on the other hand, is one that maintains the services, applications and computing resources within a private network. These resources are dedicated solely to one organization but can be hosted either on-site or off-site with the help of a third party provider. This single-tenancy is where the word “private” comes from, though many believe it refers to security. While greater control over security is definitely boosted in a private cloud environment, it still always depends on the quality of the specific situation. A dedicated cloud offers the benefits of advanced security and control, more flexibility and easier compliance with regulations. This cloud model is clearly beneficial to organizations large enough to be able to manage these resources on their own, but it also has its downsides: reduced cost savings and increased management and responsibility. With a private cloud, the company is responsible for a significant investment in server and storage hardware, costs avoided by the public cloud. A private cloud environment is best suited for large companies that need to conform to strict industry regulations and standards and regularly uses business-critical data and applications that require high levels of security. This includes healthcare providers, government organizations and financial institutions.

Hybrid

The cloud model that is significantly increasing in popularity is hybrid, which fittingly combines both public and private clouds. This method allows organizations to decide which aspects of their business they want in each environment, allowing them to take advantage of all the benefits. Hybrid cloud computing accommodates the need for scalability as well as security. It is viewed as the best of both worlds because companies can complete non-sensitive operations and collaboration in the public environment while ensuring that critical data and applications remain secure in the private cloud. But, like the other models, the hybrid cloud isn’t all perks. Its cons include greater complexity and increased management requirements. It requires organizations to keep track of various platforms and ensure that all facets of the business can communicate with each other. The hybrid environment is best suited for organizations that experience business fluctuation but still deal with confidential information. This includes e-commerce businesses, which see constant traffic shifts but also deal with personal and payment information. The hybrid cloud allows these types of businesses to complete processing and basic operations up-front, while keeping the private information, well, private.

So…where do you go from here?

At this point, you have the information you need to make the best decision for your organization. Consider the characteristics of your business, including your size, needs, industry regulations, user experience, etc. These considerations will help you determine which cloud model is right for you. Then, find a provider! Our cloud solutions are extremely customizable, allowing clients to experience the cloud model of their choice with the benefits they need.

6 Huge Benefits of Managed IT Service

As the shape of global business continues to shift, companies big and small are determining how to incorporate new technologies. But while growth and operational decentralization have obvious benefits for long-term goals, they also present a new series of ground-level issues that can no longer be solved by local teams.

Enter Managed Services.

Developed to be scalable as a small business grows into a large, mobile one, this type of service combines the latest network technology with network monitoring, allowing a hands-off approach to managing networks and software. Agents can troubleshoot and fix most issues that occur from a remote location, further ensuring consistent access and functionality throughout the entire communications experience.

There are many reasons why managed services are making waves in all industries, but here are six that will blow your mind:

1. Quick recovery: With complex processes available to managed services providers, businesses can track and respond almost immediately to any events that may occur across their communications platforms. Gone are the days of scrambling from one problem to the next in an effort to simply keep projects and operations on track. With managed services, quick efficient fixes help businesses focus on growth.

2.  Before It Even Happens: Thanks to helpful remote tracking, complex remote service systems can predict where problems may arise, preventing them before they even happen. Businesses can operate with confidence knowing that issues can get tackled before they even occur, thus lowering the risks involved in important projects and operations.

3. Proper Planning: By further monitoring the ways in which a client utilizes their network systems, managed services providers can alleviate redundant operations, free-up file space, and further streamline formal processes. This allows clients to accurately predict their future performance needs and make informed decisions regarding infrastructure and database.Flat Rate ITFlat Rate IT

4. Built-in HUD: Through client portals created by managed services providers, clients can access network and performance data in real time and respond immediately. Service tickets can be logged and saved, and critical processes are monitored constantly by management. These client dashboards can even be customized specifically to a business’ needs. Whether a client wants to view real-time operational data at a high level, or an ultra-specific one, a managed services dashboard allows business owners to keep an eye on the prize from the helm of the ship.

5. Lightning Fast Updates: Managed services allow IT staff and developers to step back from the seemingly endless troubleshooting and problem solving of old systems and focus on future development and patching. Managed services providers can manage patches continuously; with this in place, downtime becomes few and far between

6. Big Picture Infrastructure: The in-depth, real-time monitoring provided by managed services gives companies a full understanding of the ins-and-outs of their infrastructure. Timely reviews prior to large projects, updates, and rollouts give business owners a full understanding of the ramifications of each decision they make, so that they can remain informed as they make crucial changes to the way they do business. Managed services highlight the weak points and problem areas so that companies can prioritize resources.

With all of these benefits in mind, it’s easy to see…Managed Services is the next step in technological business development, and a crucial linchpin in the scaling of a rising company.

Learn more: http://www.primetelecommunications.com/flat-rate-it-support/

Data Backups and the Holes in your Socks

Data back up and disaster recovery are both complicated and crucial. It is all about planning, attention to detail and faultless execution.

By way of a parable:

Imagine that you are all dressed up for a special occasion. You know that appearance is important. You try everything in your power to look your best. Except, the socks you are wearing have huge holes in them. Now imagine that you are going to a place that requires you to take off your shoes (e.g. a Japanese restaurant, a house of worship or your mother in law’s living room). Not good, right?

In our reality:

In data backup and disaster recovery, this scenario is more the norm than the exception. We relegate back up to a secondary IT role, performed as a task by a junior staff member, on generally older technology platforms. Everything that everyone can see and use, desktops and applications, is snazzy. It is only when a disaster strikes- power failure, database corruption, virus- that the lack of attention to detail is brought to the forefront- for everyone to see.

There are two types of metrics that need to be determined first. What is the recovery point objective (RPO) and what is the recovery time objective (RTO)? The RPO tells you how much data you need to back up and from what point. The RTO tells you how long of a lag you can tolerate in having that data unavailable.

Thankfully, there are a number of technologies that are available to optimize both.

DISK: YOUR FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE

Disk to Disk to Tape (D2D2T) strategies have gained popularity in recent years due to the great disparity between the devices being backed up (disks), the network carrying the backup, and the devices receiving the backup (tape).

D2D2T strategies solve this problem by placing a high-speed buffer between the fragmented, disk-based file systems and databases being backed up and the hungry tape drive. This buffer is a disk-based storage system designed to receive slow backups and supply them very quickly to a high-speed tape drive.

DEDUPE: THE DISK ENABLER

Typical backups create duplicate data in two ways: repeated full backups and repeated incrementals of the same file when it changes multiple times. A deduplication system identifies both situations and eliminates redundant files, reducing the amount of disk necessary to store your backups.

BACKING UP AS YOU GO

CDP (continuous data protection) is another increasingly popular disk-based backup technology. Think of it as replication with an undo button.

Every time a block of data changes on the system being backed up, it is transferred to the CDP system. However, unlike replication, CDP stores changes in a log, so you can undo those changes at a very granular level. In fact, you can recover the system to literally any point in time at which data was stored within the CDP system.

One of the biggest challenges of managing a backup infrastructure is that no one wants the job. In large companies, the backup admin position is an ever-revolving door staffed time and time again with junior people. In smaller companies, backing up the infrastructure is a peripheral duty that is often ignored. The result is the same in both cases: bad backups.

Cloud backup services take advantage of many of the technologies mentioned here, but allow customers to use the service without having to manage the process or invest in the equipment required to optimize the back up. Instead, customers simply install a piece of software on the systems being backed up, and the cloud backup service does the rest. But as with any backup system, make sure you have a way to verify that backups are working the way they’re supposed to.

By selecting the right cloud back up provider, using the right network bandwidth and the correct recovery time and recovery point objectives, the whole problem is reduced to one of intent. You have to recognize the importance of back up, you have to determine the objectives and test the model. For more information, call us at 847 329 8600 or check out our You Tube Channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/PrimeTelecomInc/videos).

Plug It – But Change the Password Before You Play It!

In today’s technology environment, whether personal or business, every device and most software packages come with default passwords. When these devices are installed, users frequently leave the default passwords in place. When default passwords are left unchanged, any person with less than perfect scruples (read: MALICIOUS HACKERS) can access your device and gain access to other devices on your network.

Although it sounds absurd, many people do not think about changing their passwords on their routers, on their firewall appliances or on their MAC addressed devices. Using easily available tools on the Internet, the type of device can be easily determined. Other sites have published default passwords or administrative passwords for commonly installed devices and appliances. This potentially puts millions of devices – with IP addresses and MAC addresses- at risk for exploitation.

Some examples that you may not think about: smart TVs, gaming consoles, refrigerators, industrial control systems, business phone systems and voice mail systems. This is in addition to the regular favorites – routers, wireless access points, firewalls and computers.

According to the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) a hacker with knowledge of the password and network access to a system can log in, usually with root or administrative privileges. The consequences depend on the type and use of the compromised system. Examples of incident activity involving unchanged default passwords include

  • Internet Census 2012 Carna Botnet distributed scanning
  • Fake Emergency Alert System (EAS) warnings about zombies
  • Kaiten malware and older versions of Microsoft SQL Server
  • SSH access to jailbroken Apple iPhones
  • Cisco router default Telnet and enable passwords
  • SNMP community strings

The first thing that you can do to address this problem is to always – ALWAYS- give a device a unique non default password. Recommended passwords should be strong- meaning that the include both alpha numeric characters, capitals and symbols (!,@,#,$,% & ).

If you manage technology for others – coworkers, clients, family members or friends- always enforce a password changing policy when you set up new devices. Always change passwords from default passwords.

More importantly, restrict access to your network. Make sure that only those users who should be allowed on the network are allowed on your network. With the amount of cyber attacks growing at an alarming rate, the safety of information on a network is only as good as the passwords restricting access to the network.

If you are interested in seeing how secure your network is, there are a number of legitimate sites that will show you how to scan your network for vulnerabilities and secure the access.

For more information on how you can put together all of the pieces of your business’s IT puzzle, visit http://www.primetelecommunications.com/data-solutions. Other great sources of information are the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team at http://www.us-cert.gov/ncas.

Using the Cloud and Managed Services to Make More with Less

The bigger a company is the bigger their IT staff – a truism. While the best companies learn to scale operations and solutions beyond a 1:1 ratio, staff growth inevitably follows corporate success and computing sophistication. However, the vast majority of companies are on the ‘understaffed’ side of this growth in a significant way frequently lacking dedicated IT staff completely. The majority of companies rely instead on local consulting companies, staff with rudimentary knowledge, or the teenage children of the owner (in all seriousness I’ve seen this too many times to count).

A large non-profit I spoke with not long ago has a staff of over 1,000 with geographically dispersed sites, but an IT staff of about 6. They certainly had little hope of getting everything done through no fault of their own with so few people to manage a dozen servers and over a dozen remote locations. This last case is extreme in its ratio, but the limited staff overwhelmed by the amount of work and its complexity is all too common. How would they have time, initiative, know-how to move to the cloud?

One of the keys is timing, not finding the time, selecting the window that helps avoid disrupting ongoing operations or slipping delivery dates. While some companies make an outright strategic commitment to the cloud diving in deep, the majority want to put their toe in the water to test it out. Adoption of cloud computing is being used far more than most people realize from payroll by ADP to CRM & SFA (salesforce.com, NetSuite, Intuit), and hosted VoiP/PBX systems. While cloud computing is the most important change in IT today, the majority of companies systems are still run in-house and moving anything to the cloud creates significant discomfort for many.

Testing the Waters

Here are some steps for deciding how to test these water vapors:

  1. Select a provider; learn how things work; make a plan.
  2. New initiatives make an excellent choice in generally avoiding CapEx, avoiding impact to current systems, and significant unknowns surrounding total computing requirements and change management.
  3. Integrate initial efforts with already planned deployments.
  4. Use existing maintenance windows for integration and testing.
  5. Pick a system/solution that has low business impact risk – not payroll, CRM, SFA.
  6. Duplicate your production system, or use a non-production environment (development, test, QA) though alternative environments are uncommon for smaller companies.
  7. Avoid “leaps of faith”. They don’t really work for computing solutions… test, test, re-test.

 

Common Uses

  • Secure file sharing with your extended team. From managing your own file system to using cloud SharePoint, there are many options available.
  • Everybody has email, but many cloud solutions offer integrated calendars, folders, document management, and more making teams far more productive with all the email touch points.
  • Expand web and application servers to reduce latency for remote workers, improve overall scalability, or free expensive hardware for more critical in-house computing.
  • Establish a backup service – very easy with commonly available tools with direct file system integration as a drive letter (Windows) or volume (Unix).
  • Duplicate databases for high-availability or business-continuity use cases – MySQL Cluster, Oracle streams, SQLServer replication, etc. from the current system to a cloud database instance. Implementing a redundant database would be the easier and safer use, but with the option to change to a high-availability solution at a future date.
  • For some companies with more sophisticated data needs (and staff), data warehousing and lightweight BI of the reporting variety would be a good option. Performance is sometimes an issue for cloud databases. But for prototyping, developing and more, it could be a good starting point. Moving to dedicated, private cloud solutions, provide excellent capabilities for databases while supporting the dramatic benefits of the cloud simultaneously.

Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning – Lessons we need to learn from Sandy

Disasters can be classified in two broad categories. The first is natural disasters such as fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes. The second category is man-made disasters to include security incidents, equipment failures, arson, sabotage, and even file deletions.  While preventing disasters is very difficult, measures such as good planning which includes mitigation measures can help reduce or avoid losses.  Disaster recovery is the process, policies and procedures related to preparing for recovery or continuation of technology infrastructure critical to an organization after a natural or human-induced disaster. Of companies that had a major loss of business data in the last 5 years; 43% never reopened, 51% closed within two years, and only 6% survived.  As a result, preparation for continuation or recovery of systems needs to be taken very seriously. This involves a significant investment of time and money with the aim of ensuring minimal losses in the event of a disruptive event.

Disaster Recovery Planning is the factor that makes the critical difference between the organizations that can successfully manage crises with minimal cost and effort and maximum speed, and those that are left picking up the pieces for untold lengths of time and at whatever cost providers decide to charge; organizations forced to make decision out of desperation.

Detailed disaster recovery plans can prevent many of the heartaches and headaches experienced by an organization in times of disaster. By having practiced plans, not only for equipment and network recovery, but also plans that precisely outline what steps each person involved in recovery efforts should undertake, an organization can improve their recovery time and minimize the time that their normal business functions are disrupted. Thus it is vitally important that disaster recovery plans be carefully laid out and regularly updated. Organizations need to put systems in place to regularly train their network engineers and mangers. Special attention should also be paid to training any new employees who will have a critical role in the disaster recovery process.

There are several options available for organizations to use once they decide to begin creating their disaster recovery plan. The first and often most accessible source a business can drawn on would be to have any experienced managers within the organization draw on the knowledge and experience they have to help craft a plan that will fit the recovery needs specific to their unique organization. For organizations that do not have this type of expertise in house, there are a number of outside options that can be called on, such as trained consultants and specially designed software.

One of the most common practices used by responsible organizations is a disaster recovery plan template. While templates might not cover every need specific to every organization, they are a great place from which to start one’s preparation. Templates help make the preparation process simpler and more straightforward. They provide guidance and can even reveal aspects of disaster recovery that might otherwise be forgotten.

The primary goal of any disaster recovery plan is to help the organization maintain its business continuity, minimize damage, and prevent loss. Thus the most important question to ask when evaluating your disaster recovery plan is, “Will my plan work?” The best way to ensure reliability of one’s plan is to practice it regularly. Have the appropriate people actually practice what they would do to help recover business function should a disaster occur. Also regular reviews and updates of recovery plans should be scheduled. Some organizations find it helpful to do this on a monthly basis so that the plan stays current and reflects the needs an organization has today, and not just the data, software, etc., it had six months ago.

Business Continuity planning is an essential part of running any modern organization that takes its business and its clients seriously. With so many potential business disasters looming that can befall an organization at any time, it seems unwise not to take actions to prepare for and try to prevent the devastating impact of such catastrophes. There is a multiplicity of benefits in planning for Business Continuity within your organization. Not only will your data, hardware, software, etc., be better protected, but the people that compose your organization will be better safeguarded should a disaster occur. In addition, employees will be informed and rehearsed as to what actions to take to immediately start the recovery process and ensure business continuity if disaster strikes.

Without this type of preparation any unexpected event can severely disrupt the operation, continuity, and effectiveness of your business. Disabling events can come in all shapes and varieties. They can vary from the more common calamities like hard drive corruption, building fires or flooding to the rarer, yet more severe and often longer lasting disruptions that can occur on a city-wide or even national basis; events such as disruptions in transport (oil crises, metro shut-downs, transport worker, strikes, etc.), infrastructure weakening from terrorist attacks, or even severe loss of staff due to illness like a pandemic flu. All of these strikes a blow at an organization’s struggle for business continuity.

For smaller companies the impact of the above mentioned and even lesser disasters can hit much harder. For example, unexpected non-availability of key workers alone could be catastrophic, potentially causing as much disruption to business continuity as technological hardship, especially if it occurs during the height of the company’s busy season. If only one person is trained to do particular and/or essential tasks, their unexpected absence can severely disrupt productivity.Thus, putting business continuity plans into practice in your organization now can prepare your business for most any potential disaster, help ensure that you will be able to maintain continuity of your business practices, and reduce or even possibly remove the effect such calamities could have on your organization.

In addition to the above mentioned benefits, the following are also advantages of business continuity planning:

If not already, your organization my soon be required to incorporate some type of Business Continuity Management planning into its policies by either corporate governance or governmental legislation.
With an effective and practiced Business Continuity plan, your insurance company may well view you more favorably should some sort of disaster ever require you to call upon their services.
In creating a Business Continuity plan, the process of evaluating potential weakness and planning how to deal with what could possibly go wrong often offers management the chance to gain a better understanding of the minutia of their business and ultimately helps an organization identify ways to strengthen any short comings. Frequently the greatest and most immediate value of the Business Continuity planning process is the awareness one gains of the details of his/her business and not necessarily the streamlining of how to handle disaster as an organization. Business Continuity planning can often create awareness of useful ways to improve an organization, sometimes even in areas that had previously gone unconsidered.

Business Continuity planning will make your organization more robust. It can strengthen your organization not only against large-scale problems it can also help make smaller problems that might have caused continuity interruptions to become moot, through detailed planning.

Business Continuity plan will show your investors that you take business seriously, that you are prepared and desire to maintain productivity regardless of difficulty. This preparation will also show your staff that you have their employment and personal well-being in mind. It will show that you care.

Informing your customers that you have a Business Continuity plan, that you have taken steps to ensure continuity of your productivity so that you can keep your commitments to them, lets them know that you consider the provision of quality service a high priority which in turns instills their confidence in your business. A Business Continuity plan helps protect your organization’s image, brand, and reputation. Being known as a reliable company is always good for business. And finally, a Business continuity plan can significantly reduce your loses if ever you are hit by disaster.

As a way to mitigate communications and data loss, we suggest the following:

  1.  Know your providers contact information (check out our list of provider emergency numbers)
  2.  If you can, vary your providers and the types of circuits (e.g. use a primary circuit that is fiber, secondary circuits copper, back up with fixed wireless)
  3.  Back up your data onsite and offsite (check out our back up disaster recovery device – that does constant backups and you can do a bare metal restore off of!)
  4.  Write your plan, communicate your plan and revise your plan.
  5.  Practice your plan
  6.  Research your options! In writing this blog, I used information from http://www.disasterrecovery.org which offers free disaster recovery and business continuity templates.

 

 

2 Winning Options for Small and Midsize Businesses

Whether your business that has a handful of servers or hundreds of server racks, until fairly recently they were all managed the same way: server by server, one application to one server.

Virtualization has changed all of that. With virtualization, you can allocate applications across servers. You can more easily balance workloads across hardware and better adapt to peak usage and maintenance schedules. In the event of a hardware failure, applications can be quickly migrated to another server in the environment and resume operation. You don’t need redundant hardware—overall savings on hardware and management can be significant, which is why virtualization has been a dominant trend in IT for the last several years. 

But there has been one major holdout in the virtualization game: communications. You might have virtualized your other applications, but you kept your communications separate and apart.

That’s because, initially at least, virtualization software—solutions like VMWare’s vSphere and Citrix’s XenServer—could not adequately support real-time communications. They could handle non-real time applications (e.g., voicemail ) but for real time services like call control, conferencing and call center applications the quality was simply not there.

Now that’s changed. Enhancements to virtualization hypervisors have opened the door to fully virtualized unified communications platforms. This is a big deal, particularly for midsize companies.  In the past, midsize companies were forced to choose between single-server communications solutions designed for small companies or much larger, multi-server solutions designed for enterprises—in effect, having to under-buy or over-buy.

Now, through virtualization, the midsize company has a way to move into advanced communications and collaboration, without being forced to over-buy. Midsize companies can buy virtualized modules of unified communications services deployed in turnkey appliances with separate partitions for each service. They can select only the services that they need, and if their needs change, new modules can be activated on the appliance without additional hardware costs.

The Avaya Aura Solution for Midsize Enterprise (ME) is typical of the new unified communications solutions that take advantage of virtualization. It provides a centralized, enterprise-wide architecture for up  to 2400 users (up to 250 remote locations) with common management for all kinds of collaboration—mobile, voice, video, instant messaging and presence—and support for extended applications such as  Avaya Aura® Contact Center, Avaya Aura® Conferencing and AvayaLive™ Engage.

The complete base system is one server. Even with additional application servers for advanced applications, virtualization is a key reason why Avaya Aura ME is up to 16% less expensive per user compared to competitors (based on Avaya internal testing–measured at 400 users).

Faster and less costly than installing everything separately, the solution uses the Avaya System Platform application to simplify the installation and maintenance procedures. System Platform runs multiple Avaya Aura applications on a modified Citrix Xen hypervisor on a Linux platform.

Set-up is streamlined through the use of pre-defined templates (e.g., enter IP addresses once for all solutions) simplifying desktop management and speeding deployment. Overall, streamlined administration can result in 75% less time required for system maintenance.  Virtualization also means significantly less power and cooling required compared to traditional deployments.

Virtualization is not for everyone. That’s why Avaya also offers a non-virtualized solution: Avaya IP Office. On a single server platform, IP Office can grow from serving a handful of users to up to 1000 users at up to 32 locations. It’s designed to be easy-to-administer and deliver desktop communications capabilities right to a smartphone or tablet, including integrated e-mail and voice mail, instant messaging, presence and conferencing. You can meet the needs of individual users in your company by adding targeted software applications designed for office workers, mobile workers, home/teleworkers, customer service agents and more.

So, if you are ready to take the plunge with virtualization, there has never been a better time with a solution like Avaya Aura ME. If you are still more comfortable with a single-server solution that is simple to manage and offers easy growth to up to 1,000 users, Avaya IP Office can fit the bill.  Read “Getting Mobile Collaboration Right: A Guide for Midsize Enterprise” at http://www.avaya.com/usa/solution/mobile-collaboration for more information on these 2 winning options.