• August 17, 2022
  • Catagory Collaboration

Have you talked to your MSP lately?

By : Sanjeev Spolia

Most businesses turn to their managed service provider (MSP) to solve a specific pain point, and if things are running smoothly, there’s little ongoing communication. However, having a regular chat with your MSP can not only identify issues that need solving, but also help you grow your business while improving their service delivery.

Having a channel open to your MSP is an opportunity for you to share your operational challenges so it can identify potential solutions. You may already rely on your MSP for cloud backup services, but not realize it can assist you on other fronts – better deploying applications and services for remote workers, for example, or bolstering your endpoint security.

Even if your MSP is already taking care of more than one process or application, there may other opportunities to better leverage them or even combine them to realize new efficiencies. Fully exploiting technologies can also provide a foundation for launching new services for your customers and improving their overall experience.

But if you’re not collaborating with your MSP, you’re not going to be able to fully capitalize on those opportunities.

How to keep the lines of communications open

Any MSP that cares about its customers will have some framework in place to have regular conversations with its customers.

If you’re not already checking in with your account manager at your MSP, you should get into the habit of checking in at least quarterly – if they’re not pushing for it, you should be. Scheduling a regular chat is that opportunity for you to share feedback about the services you’re already using and what other issues you’re having that they can help you with.

Beyond a regular one-on-one conversation, check to see if your MSP has anything more formal or expansive if place to keep the lines of communication open. Some MSPs run a customer advisory board (CAB) so they can keep tabs on how their customers are doing, their challenges and how they see technology playing a role in growing their business. They may also run webinars around specific offerings, sometimes in collaboration with vendors and research analysts.

Participating in your MSP’s CAB allows you to share in the impact of their service offerings on your business as well as learn how their other customers are using their services as well as technologies from different vendors. Another customer may have solved a pain point you’re looking to solve or have leveraged technologies you haven’t to grow their business and improve customer satisfaction.

Whether it’s through a CAB or something less formal, regular conversations with your MSP can also open a channel to vendors and industry experts such as research analysts who can share insights on how different technologies are evolving and the opportunities that come with them. You may even be able to test some applications and services free of charge to provide feedback that improves them.

The more interaction you have with your MSP, vendors and other customers, the more opportunities there are for knowledge gain that can help overcome challenges and grow your business.

  • July 28, 2022
  • Catagory business continuity

Why any data-driven business needs a UPS

By : Justin Folkerts

We often talk about how data is the lifeblood of every business, but it’s not much use without power. That’s why any disaster recovery plan should include the use of an uninterruptable power supply (UPS).

Regardless of why there there’s a power loss, be it natural disaster, a localized outage, or a wider electricity grid failure, you need to keep mission critical systems up and running as best you can.

Having a UPS in place assumes your primary facility is still operational – depending on the natural disaster, your primary location could be physically damaged by fire or flood, for example. But if it is undamaged aside from a power outage, having a UPS kick in immediately for mission critical systems enables business continuity with little disruption to your customers.

Bear in mind that a UPS is not a standby generator or an auxiliary power system – it’s a battery-based device that will deliver provide near-instantaneous power as soon as an outage of the primary power source is detected. No matter how extreme the disruption, a UPS will provide a constant, consistent stream of energy. It will also compensate for other power-related issues such as voltage surges, spikes and sags, and any frequency differences – having a UPS in place all about maintaining stability during a disruption.

That being said, it may not be feasible to keep all systems running with a UPS, so your disaster recovery plan should outline which systems need to be maintained in the event of a power outage. If you’re a healthcare provider, for example, you’ll want to focus on powering the systems essential for delivering critical care in a hospital – having reliable power becomes a matter of life or death.

A healthcare facility is much like a data center, and even if you’re leveraging cloud computing for applications and data storage, any business regardless of its focus still has some on-premises IT infrastructure that needs to keep running, including network gear to connect to those cloud services. Ideally, any primary power outage is temporary and will enable you to continue core operations until the issue is resolved. Worst case scenario, you’ve bought time to figure out what your longer-term strategy will be if the nature of the interruption is especially serious and not expected to be resolved quickly, which can be the case with weather-related disasters.

If you’ve not included a UPS in your data protection and disaster recovery planning and you’re not sure how to best configure one, consult your managed service provider. Given their uptime commitments, they understand the need for uninterruptable power supply if they are to meet their Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with their customers.

Your managed service provider can help you map out where best to deploy a UPS and prioritize what systems must stay on at all costs – reliability and redundancy are their reasons for being. They can also help you refresh and update your disaster recovery plan to ensure business continuity in the event of a power outage.

As much as data is the lifeblood of business, there’s no pulse without power. And remember, it’s just a matter of when a major disruption occurs, not if, whether it’s bad weather that causes a power outage or a problem with the local grid. Having a UPS is essential if you’re to restore data and applications without any noticeable interruptions to key business functions.

  • July 14, 2022
  • Catagory remote work

How SMBs can begin to implement zero trust

By : Justin Folkerts

We’ve already talked a lot about the benefits of zero trust for securing your organization, but if you’re a small or medium-sized business looking at how to implement zero trust, it can be easy to get overwhelmed.

Your managed service provider (MSP) can be a great resource for implementing zero trust, and all things security, too. And while zero trust can greatly improve your security posture, it’s not the only thing you should be doing.

Implementing zero trust requires technical expertise and dedicated IT staff, and you’ll increase your odds of success if your break down your implementation in smaller, more manageable tasks. Different security vendors offer different frameworks, but regardless of the cybersecurity tools you deploy, implementing zero trust can be broken down into four elements:

  • A system for tracking everyone on your network, their location and what applications and data they are accessing
  • Selecting security tools, including next-generation firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and identity access management
  • Comprehensive guidelines that outline who can access your network and resources, when and from where
  • Network monitoring capabilities that track and log all traffic, both external and internal, that can establish a baseline to make it easy to spot suspicious activity and remediate it

A zero-trust model will greatly reduce your overall risk by limiting the impact and severity of a cyberattack. Even if you fall prey to an attack, implementing zero trust will reduce the cost to your business, including penalties related to regulatory compliance. Zero trust also increases visibility for your IT staff because it enables them to see who is on the network and granularly segment access – even employees are strictly managed to only access resources that are related to their responsibilities. In addition, what they are allowed to access requires multifactor authentication.

Implementing zero trust shouldn’t be your only strategy for securing your organization, but it has a high success rate of mitigating the damage caused by threat actors, especially social engineering attacks. A managed service provider can help you get started with the four key elements of zero trust as well as determine what other tools and polices can improve your security posture.

  • June 30, 2022
  • Catagory cloud backup

4 Key Elements of Cloud-Based Disaster Recovery

By : Sanjeev Spolia

Implementing cloud-based disaster recovery is the best way to minimize disruption and maximize business uptime, but you won’t realize the benefits without keeping four key elements in mind.

Data classification

Not all data needs to be backed up – it’s simply not cost effective, even with cloud solutions. You should understand what data you’re backing up, why and how quickly you need to restore it to keep your business running and avoid disruption for your customers.

Remember that not all business information is created equal. While some data must be archived and replicated offsite to meet compliance and regulatory commitments, mission critical information and applications should always take priority, with clear recovery time objectives (RTO) and recovery point objectives (RPO) so you restore operations quickly in event of any type of disruption.

Platform and provider selection

You want to simplify your cloud-based disaster recovery implementation as much as possible by using as few data protection tools as possible while covering all essential applications and systems – this where a managed service provider can provide guidance by applying their experience and recommending the best cloud-based disaster recovery solution for your needs.

Keep in mind you’re not just evaluating the technologies that back up and restore your data. You must also evaluate the provider’s infrastructure and track record. Your business goals, RPOs and RTOs, and any other requirements should be reflected any Service Level Agreement (SLA) and their data management policies.

Comprehensive testing

Never assume your cloud-based disaster recovery is working – you should know for sure through testing before implementing and then conducting regular fire drills once it’s up and running. Remember that the value of any solution comes down to how quickly and easily you can restore data and applications while minimizing disruption to your business operations and customers. They can be established through a proof of concept that runs through some likely scenarios to verify that your cloud-based disaster recovery is meeting the business goals, as well as your RPOs and RTOs.

Ongoing adjustments

Your disaster recovery plan is a living document. Together with your managed service provider, it should be adjusted and tweaked regularly to reflect changes in the business, including application upgrades, while also applying product patches and updates to the cloud back up solutions themselves. Be sure you and your managed service provider are on the same page as to who is responsible for what.

Maintaining cloud-based disaster recovery as an ongoing activity, not a one-time IT project, and you should always be reassessing its performance. Regular reports from your managed service provider allows you to understand if you are meeting the objectives and having confidence that disruption will be minimal when disaster strikes.

  • June 16, 2022
  • Catagory cloud backup

Complexity is the enemy of effective data protection

By : Justin Folkerts

If you want to effectively protection your data, it’s best to keep things simple – complexity is your enemy.

While it’s important to have redundancy for your mission critical applications and data, the more tools and systems implemented to safeguard data, the bigger the likelihood of something going wrong and the greater potential for data loss. Simplifying your data protection systems will make it easier to get back to business in the event of a disruption due to data breach, malware and ransomware, natural disaster or human error.

Less is better

It’s easy to fall into the trap of setting up a complex solution for data protection because your business information systems tend to be complex. But even when you have a wide variety of applications and data to back up, complexity makes your data protection less effective.

The problem is that when lines of business incrementally add Software-as-a-Service (Saas) applications such as Microsoft Office 365 and Salesforce, they often assume data is automatically backed up by the vendor. However, they are just adding to the mix of systems that must be backed up by IT, including multiple endpoints including servers, workstations and laptops, and remote workers and satellite offices. Every time a new software solution, endpoint or physical office is add, incremental data protection is added to keep up with infrastructure sprawl. Complexity is an unintentional side effect because when data protection is put into place, it tends to be done in a silo, not holistically with all other applications and data in mind.

In the same way having more endpoints, network access, and applications creates more attack surfaces for threat actors, having more data protection systems increases the number of potential points of failure in your organization.

More complexity means risk

It may seem daunting to simplify data protection when your data is distributed across different applications and endpoints, especially with rise of remote work and the emergence of the hybrid workplace. Having multiple backup system in place to protect all this information increases complexity and risk of a data breach that can disrupt your operations, cost you customers, and even lead to a breach of regulatory compliance.  

And as much as data protection is necessary, you don’t want to create any more work than necessary for your IT teams. Data protection systems must be configured, maintained, and updated, and backups must be verified – double checking backups takes time and people. Each tool you implement requires expertise and training and represents a software license you must pay for and manage.

Overprovisioning your data protection capabilities is an unnecessary expense and doesn’t improve your overall security posture. Running multiple backup solutions with overlapping features and even backing up the same data to different locations, is costing you time and money.

Given the complexity of production systems, it’s not realistic to have a single data protection system for everything, but it’s essential your streamline as much as possible. Settle on a small number of backup tools that will encompass all your system so that your IT team isn’t overwhelmed by their data protection duties. Otherwise, you can end up with misconfigurations that defeat the purpose and result in a data breach.

Most of all, remember that data protection may be essential, it’s not a strategic IT activity, so consider looking at how a managed service provider can consolidate your data protection tools to reduce complexity and ensure all your backups are effectively safeguarding your mission critical information.

  • May 26, 2022
  • Catagory Data Protection

Every data backup plan must be put through its paces

By : Sanjeev Spolia

A robust cybersecurity strategy is not the only way organizations protect sensitive information – having a data backup plan that’s tested regularly is essential to ensure complete protection.

While putting a disaster recovery plan in place can be daunting for small or medium-sized organization, it must be done because it’s only a matter of time before you face a major disruption that threatens your mission-critical business data. However, thanks to the cloud, its easier than ever to implement enterprise-class data backup with the help of an experienced managed service provider.

Your data backup plan should be part of a broader and comprehensive disaster recovery plan, which identifies all the activities, resources and procedures needed to carry out all processing requirements during interruptions to normal business operations. You may be tempted to back up all your data and applications, but ideally, you should focus on identifying the data and applications that are essential for running the business.

Even more important is to make sure your data backup is running properly. It’s easy to get complacent and take for granted that your backups are running on schedule and safeguarding the right data. But whether you maintain your own backup infrastructure or adopt a managed backup service from a outside provider, you must regularly test your backups.

It’s easy to get out of the habit of testing your data backup and assume you’re backing up essential data and applications when there are more pressing demands on your IT staff. However, none of the more strategic technology initiatives you’re pursuing will matter because your business can’t afford the downtime that comes with a disruption related to a data loss – it means lost revenue, productivity, and the loss of current and future customers due to a negative perception of your brand.

Whether it’s your broader disaster recovery plan or just your data backup process, you should be doing regular fire drills. Even if your data backup is still working, it may not be keeping up with changes to your business – your data and applications are not static. Applications and data evolve, and a dynamic environment requires regular monitoring. Whether you do your own backups or outsource it, you should always be testing, and any credible managed service provider will always be testing without you having to ask and part of your Service Level Agreement (SLA).

Knowing the right data is being backed up is not enough either. You should also have peace of mind that you can restore it and any applications quickly to minimize any interruptions in business operations. Your restoration process is a critical aspect of any data backup plan. Your fire drill should demonstrate the ability to mount the backup and access the relevant files quicky and that a virtualized backup copy is bootable. Remember that your storage used for backup is subject to defects, and files can be accidentally erased or overwritten. If your primary storage can fail, so can your secondary.

Even if you do have the capability to maintain a data backup plan in-house, it’s one more thing on the to do list of your IT staff and distracts them from more strategic initiatives, so you should consider engaging a managed service provider that can remotely monitor and manage your backup infrastructure, as well as send your backups to their hosted backup repository. This will reduce your capital expenditures and simplify your data backup.

Remember: It’s just a matter of when, not if, your organization will be faced with major data loss, so no matter how you decide to implement your data backup, regular testing not only minimizes disruptions to operations and your customers, but it also allows you to stay in business.

  • May 12, 2022
  • Catagory remote work

Disruption is an opportunity for improving security

By : Justin Folkerts

The pandemic has been a challenge from security perspective, but it can also be viewed as an opportunity to review your best practices, your cybersecurity tools, and the role of a managed service provider.

The move to remote work two years ago was quite sudden, and left many organizations caught off-guard. If they were in the process to moving to more cloud-based services, the pandemic accelerated that migration. It also brough to light security challenges that could not be ignored because the number of endpoints suddenly grew exponentially with the bulk of their employees working from home.

As Dell’Oro Group Mauricio Sanchez recently pointed out in a blog post about the top five demands and challenges faced by CISOs, the massive disruption of pandemic compounded the rate of technology and threat change, and provided an impetus for looking at security problems in new ways and drove investment that would not have been possible in a non-pandemic environment.

While small and medium-sized businesses rarely have a C-level executive in charge of security or even a CIO, there are lessons they can take from observing the cybersecurity trends affecting large enterprises.

Relationships matter

Sanchez notes that the security vendor landscape is highly fragmented, so if a CISO is trying to sort through many options, don’t feel bad as an SMB if you’re feeling a little lost about what to implement and who to work with.

It’s important not to be tempted by new and shiny security products simply because they are new and shiny. The products and services you choose should be guided by an understanding of what needs to be protected in your organization, both on-premises and through your distributed workforce. Vendors do have a role in helping you secure your organization by developing security controls and technologies that will benefit you, but bi-directional communication essential.

For smaller organizations, it’s often best to engage with a managed service provider who can keep abreast of the rapidly evolving landscape of threats and available cybersecurity products. They can help navigate the options, evaluate your current security posture, and implement and manage what works best depending on the nature of your business.

Consider Zero Trust, but remember it’s a strategy, not a product

The shift to remote work has given Zero Trust increased traction, but whether you’re a big enterprise with a CISO or a smaller organization with limited IT resources, don’t confuse tactics and strategy.

As Dell’Oro’s Sanchez notes, Zero Trust is a valuable strategy but it’s not a product you can buy. Having a coherent strategy and understanding what needs protected will help you avoid wasting your IT budget on products do very little to improve security. Simply buying “zero trust” product could create a false sense of security, he says, and ultimately lead to your business being compromised.

Even if you’re confident that they are the right fit for your organization, buying the latest and greatest security solutions only go so far if you don’t have a firm handle on the fundamentals. A managed service provider with security expertise can help you best understand how a Zero Trust strategy can be implemented, and what tools you need to support it.

  • April 28, 2022
  • Catagory Managed IT Services

How an MSP can help secure your business

By : Sanjeev Spolia

Many businesses turn to a managed service provider (MSP) to solve a specific problem but may not always be aware of the breadth of capabilities their MSP has to offer, including security.

The cloud is a great enabler of many of these services, and it allows you to scale up your security protections as needed without a great deal of capital investment or dedicated IT staff. Because your MSP is helping multiple businesses with their security needs, they benefit from economies of scale and so do you. They are also able to keep pace with trends in IT security, whether it’s available tools, best practices, or new threats, and apply them to the security services they offer you.

If you’ve not fully explored what your MSP has to offer, you should consider evaluating your security posture and looking additional capabilities they have to offer.

Cloud backup and disaster recovery

Whether you’re the victim of a cybersecurity attack, data breach or natural disaster that disrupts your primary systems, having a disaster recovery and backup strategy protects your assets, saves your critical and confidential data, and keeps your business running even after your network is compromised. Backup was one of the first services to move to the cloud, and if there’s one service you should outsource to an MSP, it should be cloud backup and recovery – your MSP can step in quickly if you need to restore your primary system so you can keep your employees productive and your customers happy.

Network security

Your network is comprised of servers, computers and other hardware, and software applications, and your company’s data flows through all of them. Without it, your employees can’t share information or communicate. Not only will a data breach or cyber attack impair your ability to operate, but they could lead to revenue loss, regulatory consequences, and damage to your reputation. Your MSP can help defend your network endpoints, including desktops, laptops, and mobile devices, and provide high-quality help-desk service.

Penetration testing

A penetration test (“pen test”) evaluates the security of your IT infrastructure by safely looking for vulnerabilities. Your MSP will try to systemically compromise servers, network devices and other potential points of exposure, and then report back with their findings and recommendations. A pen test can act as an audition for MSP to demonstrate they can find problems, help you remediate any issues, and implement ongoing security services they can manage for you.

Proactive 24/7 monitoring services

Even without a cyberattack, network infrastructure can falter. Your MSP can provide real-time monitoring of organization’s network infrastructure and act immediately any issue that arises with instant troubleshooting to avoid disruptions to workflows and business operations. Around-the-clock monitoring maximizes business uptime, prevents performance or service interruptions, and provides peace of mind that your network is safe and sound.

If you’re concerned about your security posture but don’t know where to begin, your MSP should be your first call. And if you don’t have one, selecting one should heavily depend on their ability to show how well they evaluate your infrastructure, their recommendations to secure it, and references from other customers who’ve enjoyed uninterrupted operations as one of their customers.

  • April 14, 2022
  • Catagory Collaboration

Any business can benefit from a UCS

By : Sanjeev Spolia

If you’re an SMB who thinks a unified communication system (UCS) is a luxury for large organizations, think again.

With remote work still the norm even as employees head back to the office, having the right tools for remote workers is essential for attracting and retaining talent by offering flexibility to your team, as well as maintaining competitive advantage in your industry through efficiency and productivity.

A UCS enables distributed employees to collaborate effectively by pulling together all the communications and file sharing tools they need into a single platform, including calendaring, video conferencing, voice calling, chat and email. Together, your staff can communicate, share information, and easily keep everyone in the loop through advanced project management capabilities and cloud-based storage.

The right UCS platform will work with multiple devices, too, with an emphasis on mobile device optimization to enable employees to connect from anywhere. Your chosen UCS should balance simplicity to ensure an intuitive experience for all users while also offering advanced functionality such as one-button push to join, in-meeting chat, call-in and callback, and whiteboard capabilities.

If you’re already invested in cloud-based business tools such as Microsoft Office 365, Google Docs, and popular customer relationship management (CRM) software, you can integrate them and other software with a UCS through application programming interfaces (APIs). Any UCS should readily integrate with your existing IP network or on-premises IP telephony network.

All these capabilities and integrations might suggest that adopting a UCS is an expensive, complicated proposition best left to a large organization with an in-house IT team, but because today’s UCS solutions are cloud-based, it’s feasible and relatively easy to adopt and scale up a UCS in line with the growth of your business and headcount. A cloud based UCS streamlines ongoing management, so it’s easy to add users, devices and locations and keep an eye on all of them through a centralized, holistic dashboard.

Adopting the right UCS sets your employees up for success in an era of hybrid work, no matter where they’re working, enabling them to connect and collaborate cohesively to keep your business competitive. If evaluating and deploying a UCS still seems overwhelming, you don’t have to go it alone. A managed service provider can help you select the best platform for your needs and integrate with your existing telephony and productivity apps, as well as understand how a UCS aligns with your broader business goals.

  • March 31, 2022
  • Catagory Document Management

Assess your hybrid office for effective print security

By : Justin Folkerts

The need for printer security has waned during the remote work era, but as more employees return to the office, consider reviewing your fleet and how you’re managing it.

Protecting hard copies is especially important today given privacy legislation and other regulatory frameworks that outline how businesses must handle Personally Identifiable Information (PII), which is subject to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Just as critical is that your employees may be printing sensitive business information, including financial data or other proprietary intellectual property that gives you competitive advantage in your industry. Many security teams today are more focused on making sure data doesn’t leak through corporate firewalls or via a remote worker, but with office life returning to normal, corporate data can be compromised or stolen in hard copy.

A managed print services strategy contributes to better endpoint security and controls access to any printed materials, which have the same potential to lead to a security or compliance breach if the wrong person gets a hold of a stack of paper that contains sensitive information.

Older printers are holding you back

An assessment of your current print infrastructure will likely reveal there’s room for upgrades. Older, legacy print technology is not only a security threat, it’s also a barrier to productivity, collaboration, efficiency.

Older devices are likely to break down more frequently, which means you’re pulling IT resources away from strategic projects for frequent break / fix incidents such print jams and toner shortages. This impairs employee productivity, too, in the form of slower outputs in terms of pages per minute. Software compatibility issues are also amplified if your office workstations are being modernized at a faster pace. Older printers are also less energy efficiency and costing you more in electricity.

High electricity consumption also means your business isn’t as sustainable is it could be. Retiring your older printers as part of a managed print assessment can help you evaluate how much you really need to print and establish greener practices to reduce waste. A more modern, efficient printer fleet can reduce paper use and improve ink and toner management, which also contributes to sustainability, as modern toner cartridges can be recycled and turned into new ones, and overall consumption can be reduced.

People will always want to print

Even organizations that are aiming for a paperless office will always have some hard copy output – accounting for human behavior is an essential part of any managed print services strategy. As offices get busy again, there’s going to be the potential for the wrong person to grab documents from a printer they shouldn’t have and walk out the door with them. So long as people are inclined to print out information in hard copy, if only for their own personal convenience, there will be a need to secure paper documents.

In the meantime, legacy print technology is costing you more money than necessary by having an impact on your budget, efficiency, productivity, and sustainability, while also posing a security risk. Just as a leaked email or hacked database can put the future of a business in a severe jeopardy and disrupt operations, so too can a stolen printed document.

A managed print services strategy beginning with a thorough assessment bolsters your endpoint security with printed output in mind.