BusinessContinuity_0.jpg

NetConnect Blog - Your Resource For IT Tips, Tricks and News

Can a Cloud Assessment Benefit You?

Posted by Eric Kupfer on Sep 12, 2017 11:06:51 AM

Technology and people on cloudDetermining whether hosted IT infrastructure or services is right for a business can be a daunting and difficult task.

Every business is unique. Two companies in the same industry, using similar software, will have different internal policies, processes, workflows, and user expectations. Due to this, the roadmap for leveraging cloud services will vary from one company to the next.

What makes matters more difficult is the fact that successful execution of a cloud strategy is not as simple as taking the existing environment and recreating it on hosted infrastructure. Often companies that make a successful transition to cloud services are required to change business processes, application delivery methods or entire application suites.

A cloud assessment is designed to assist a company in creating a baseline for the current IT infrastructure. After collecting data on the current environment, analysts would review the data to determine feasibility and create a customized action plan for moving systems and services to hosted platforms.  

Collecting information on the current hardware and gaining an understanding of application requirements is the first step in creating the environment baseline. The assessment also seeks to gain an understanding of a company's security policies, disaster recovery objectives, and how end users expect to interact with systems.

The assessment analyst works closely with both IT departments and key business stakeholders to identify current pain points and areas for potential improvement within the current infrastructure. This information is included in the assessment to determine how a cloud or hosted solution might assist in overcoming identified issues.

After the above data is gathered and documented, applications and services that would benefit from migrating to the cloud, or delivered as a service, are identified. These applications and services are then evaluated and prioritized based on several factors such as: security, end user connectivity, bandwidth constraints, backup, disaster recovery and ongoing maintenance, management requirements, and more.

Based on this information, an ROI will be established that can demonstrate whether hosted solutions are a wise business investment and long-term technology strategy. If feasibility is established, the Network Center Inc. team will work with the identified decision makers and technical staff to create an individualized roadmap to the cloud by mapping services to hosted infrastructure or applications delivered as a service.

Want to learn more or interested in a cloud assessment?

 NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: Cloud Services, Cloud Solutions, Cloud, Cloud Assessment

3 Reasons Why Real Time Locating Matters to Your Business

Posted by Jenn Rothschiller on Jul 27, 2017 10:15:00 AM

You may have never heard of RTLS before, but the reality is that it’s expanding across multiple industries and increasing in necessity. RTLS, which stands for real time locating system, allows multiple industries to locate assets and people in real-time, along with environmental monitoring in a cloud hosted environment. A RTLS solution can also provide location-based data to ensure safety and security of staff members, as well as valuable tools and equipment. This technology isn’t just relevant in healthcare, but also branches into education, hospitality and beyond. So why does this matter to you? Here are three reasons why RTLS is important. 

1. It is forever changing how businesses operate – for the better
Long gone are the days of wandering the halls, searching for assets. When your assets are properly managed and stocked appropriately, it gives you the time to focus on what really matters. Loss and theft can happen in any business, but having insight into the key data surrounding these incidents can provide valuable knowledge of how to prevent it. Keep track of where your assets are, and in return, you are giving your employees the dependence they need to do their jobs effectively and more efficiently.

2. Relevant and reliable data is there when and where you need it.AdobeStock_123164470_Preview (1).jpeg
How frustrating is it when you don’t have access to the key information you need, when you need it? What about when you aren’t in the office? Implementing RTLS means getting the data that is most relevant to you, right now. Cloud-hosted platforms, such as ZulaFly’s Fuzion, offers a customizable dashboard and alerting system that keeps you informed on workplace emergencies through your tablet or mobile device. In other words, notifications go where you are. We know emergencies aren’t planned. Imagine the comfort of having the data you need and ability to deal with urgent situations wherever you are. 

3. Because safety is a top priority to everyone.
Whether you are in manufacturing, education, hospitality or healthcare, safety is a significant area of focus. But how can RTLS assist with safety, exactly? Here are some examples of security situations that you may be able to relate to, and the remediation that RTLS can provide:

  • Staff that deal with unpredictable patients and circumstances can call for help from anywhere
  • Minimizing loss and left with the ability to tag and locate valuable assets
  • Refrigerators holding expensive medication can go out of the acceptable temperature range, notifications can be proactively sent to staff to save medication from expiring and having to be thrown
Network Center, Inc. is proud to announce its partnership with ZulaFly, offering a new solution that helps minimize business loss and theft, while protecting staff members and providing powerful data that promotes workplace efficiency and workflow. Based in Fargo (ND), ZulaFly was founded by veterans of the software industry, with a goal to create and evolve a system that businesses can trust to protect their people and assets. We are excited to present this innovative solution to our customers!

Want to know more about RLTS or the ZulaFly solution? Contact us by clicking the button below!

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: RTLS, Healthcare, Real Time Locating System, ROI

Is Your Technology Weighing You Down? See How 'Simple IT' Can Help.

Posted by Jenn Rothschiller on Jun 7, 2017 10:15:00 AM

Technology is at the center of every business. When business networks are undependable, it might be time to switch to a condensed solution. Cisco introduces the concept of Simple IT, which enables you to better manage your time and money and allows the customer to remain the most important part of your business.

Frustrated IT.jpegWe would like to invite you to the Cisco Customer Education (CCE) session on June 14th, 2017 from 12:30pm-1:30pm CT (1:30pm-2:30pm ET). This series event will educate you on the what, how and why of Cisco technologies, in a non-sales pitch environment. Please join us using the registration button below:

 

Click Here to Register!

Topics: Technology Solutions, IT Solutions, technology

The Cloud Effect: How Businesses Consume IT

Posted by Eric Kupfer on Mar 14, 2017 11:45:19 AM

It is no secret that the Cloud is changing how businesses think about and consume IT. If your company has not outsourced applications or systems that once resided in-house to a cloud platform, it is likely that it’s only a matter of time.

dreamstime_xl_41319837.jpgCloud-use business cases are constantly changing. Cloud computing is making products and services that used to be complex, expensive or not possible, a reality. This is particularly true in the small to medium sized businesses. In the Midwest, we tend to view trends of all kinds with a healthy dose of skepticism. So the question becomes, “what is driving cloud adoption in our region”?

Outsourcing e-mail and collaboration with Office 365 and Google apps has quickly replaced traditional, on-premises Exchange servers. For every in-house Exchange migration, Network Center, Inc. (NCI) performs three to four cloud migrations. Because this type of outsourcing has become so ubiquitous, we will focus on other areas that public cloud is making gains.

Consider the line of business applications in your environment. In many cases, this might include e-mail and collaboration, an ERP suite such as Dynamics or GP, and perhaps some SQL backend with reporting or business intelligence. Maintaining LoB applications generally requires an investment in hardware and software, high priced support and maintenance contracts and skilled employees to manage the systems. Outsourcing these applications generally allows for greater application resiliency and removes the hardware overhead burden of support and maintenance from internal IT staff. 

After collaboration and line of business applications, business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) is a natural fit for the cloud. Building and maintaining a functional disaster recovery infrastructure has inherent cost and complexity that traditionally required many SMBs to compromise function for economics.

7K0A0603.jpgA surprising number of small businesses struggle with the process of automating and securely transferring backup data offsite without the hassle of removable media or simply maintaining the required amount of backup retention. Other SMBs, particularly financial institutions, are often faced with more robust business continuity requirements.  Building and managing a fully functional DR site may not have been possible. Cloud computing offers solutions that allows companies to leverage a true "pay as you grow" model for both of these scenarios. 

Another traditionally complex issue for IT departments is managing exploding storage growth. A number of things, such as business and application requirements, can cause growth. Consumer cloud storage can also become a growth issue as it gives us the luxury of never having to delete pictures, files, or any other data, making many of us have become “digital pack rats”.

The hardware, applications and expertise needed to manage this growth is complex and expensive. Cloud providers have helped solve this problem with inexpensive storage options and intelligent applications that automatically keep the most accessed data on-premises while archiving less frequently accessed information on progressively cheaper cloud based storage. 

With online e-mail, collaboration, file sharing and hosted line of business applications, some businesses are successfully transitioning to an entirely hosted infrastructure. This is especially appealing in companies with small, distributed or highly collaborative work forces.

While these may be primary drivers to the cloud for companies in our area, it is only a tiny fraction of what is possible. What the cloud computing trends might mean to your company is a highly individualized answer. There is no "correct" path through this IT transition. Finding the path and the pace of adoption of this new technology is the key.

At Network Center Inc., we realize the impact this technology is having on our industry and we are adapting to it. Our methodology for designing solutions is changing. We look forward to a consultative approach with our customers to help them find the correct path and solutions for their company. We position ourselves as the experts on several cloud platforms and are excited about the opportunities that our customers now have available. 

Oftentimes, moving forward requires change. The transition from servers and applications hosted in-house to web based applications may have a steeper learning curve for end users compared to server virtualization or other industry pivots that required companies to reimagine the status quo. However, it can be a rewarding experience for end users and IT admins once the growing pains subside. 

facebookPost_AzureLunchandLearn.jpegPlease join us for lunch on March 21 from 11-1pm at the Fargo Microsoft Campus to learn more about how your business might leverage the cloud to meet your business objectives.

Register for Lunch and Learn

 

 

 

 

 

Topics: Cloud computing, Cloud Services, Cloud Solutions, Cloud

Get more out of Microsoft Office 365

Posted by Corey Stoner on Feb 28, 2017 10:00:00 AM

I have been working with Office 365 for a couple of years, and while Office 365 discussions have been dominated by migrating email to the cloud, conversations have now started to turn to “What else can I do with Office365?”

522216413_1280x720.jpgAfter most companies have dipped their toes in the water, most of them are ready to jump in and start using more of the suite. If they are looking at using SharePoint, I will be the first to admit that I am the wrong guy to be asking about SharePoint.  I can give them the 10,000 ft. overview, but if they want to really get into it, I’d refer them to our resident SharePoint expert. If they want to look into other parts of the suite, then I am your guy. Let’s take a look at some of the other offerings from Office 365.

Skype for Business

Skype for Business always seems like a no brainer to me, but I have been using instant messaging since I signed up forSkype-for-Business.svg.png my first ICQ account, (I hope I haven’t dated myself too much). But surprisingly a lot of businesses are not using instant messaging or think it’s not for them. My first question to them is “Do you text message?” Of course everyone does these days, but why? Because it is easier than calling someone for a quick answer. This is the same for instant messaging, I want to communicate with someone but don’t want to fill up my inbox with quick one line questions or answers. There are many other reasons but this is one that gets people thinking about it.  Communication is key in all businesses and Microsoft’s Skype for Business provides a feature rich instant messaging program that is included in most Office 365 subscriptions.

OneDrive for Business

OneDrive for Business seems to come up in more conversations when users discuss pain points when trying to manage documents. More and more users are working outside of the main office and want a better way to have access to their documents. Users want access to these documents from a verity of media; Laptops, Tablets’ and Smart Phones, and are now capable of opening and working on documents remotely. Telling users, they can only use a VPN to connect to their file server is getting harder and harder to justify. Just think if you still had to VPN to get your email. Those days are thankfully behind us. OneDrive is a good way to have mobile access to your documents without giving up security concerns. You can also share these documents with internal and external users.

Yammer, Planner, Delve, and Teams

computer-pc-workplace-home-office-159760.jpegOnce you have documents online you can start using more of the Office 365 Suite to collaborate and work on documents as part of projects or together in teams. With Products such as Yammer, Microsoft Planner, Delve and now Microsoft Teams, you can now keep all of your documents and conversations organized and in one place. Think of the way we collaborate on documents now, most of us will email a document back and forth to each other. This causes multiple copies of a document, both on your file servers and residing in your inbox and sent items. Why manage so many copies when only one is valid? What if you bring in a new team member or add someone to the project, wouldn’t it be nice for them to go to one place and have access to all the documents and communications?

While living in Office 365 is quite a different mindset than how most of us are used to doing things, if you are willing and open to change, you can see the benefits that the Office 365 suite can bring to your organization. Give your inbox’s a rest and learn how to effectively work as a team. 

To learn more about how to fully utilize the Microsoft Office 365 suite to collaborate with your company, department and team, watch Corey Stoner's nVision Microsoft Office 365 presentation. He covers the different Office 365 suite products and how they work together as well as a case study with a client that proclaimed “I feel like we are finally working together.”

Contact us to learn more about how to utilize Microsoft Office 365 in your business. 

ContactUsButton.jpg

Topics: Microsoft Office 365, Yammer, OneDrive for Business, Skpe for Business

It's Not If, It's When

Posted by Jeremy Hostrup on Jan 25, 2017 8:15:00 AM

It today’s world, it’s a stark reality, odds are that at some point you will get hacked. This may come in many forms and fashions. Sometimes it’s just annoying like pop-ups in your browser and others can be more severe like ransomware. There are other types that are way more concerning. Consider this, a user receives an email that appears like it’s from someone inside your company with an excel document. They click on the document and they get an annoying bar that says click here to enable macros. They click the enable button and nothing happens from what the end user can see. What the user can’t see is that they’ve just connected their PC to a hacker that now has complete access to the user’s computer. From there, they can log keystrokes and gain information from the user. They can also pivot and try to find an administrator username and password and if they can do this, they now have complete administrative access to your systems.

So what can you do? Well, what do you do if you’re cold? If you’re like me and you get cold, you put on another layer of clothes. Still cold, add another layer. Cyber security is similar to that. You can add as many layers as you need until you’re no longer “cold”. Cisco has a family of products that when used in conjunction with each other, provide layers of security that prevent most hackers from gaining access and exploiting your systems.

pexels-photo2.jpgThe most important first layer is AMP for endpoint. This is hardware agnostic and recommended for any customer. This is an anti-malware program that runs on computers and servers that provides a layer of protection to identify and block dangerous traffic. I’ve seen the benefits of this firsthand when I tried to open an attachment that I thought was from a known sender but after looking further was not. Essentially, I got a pop from AMP that said what was wrong with the file and didn’t allow me to open it. Like most Cisco security products, AMP for endpoint relies on the Talos database to protect you from zero day threats. Another very important feature of AMP for endpoint is that it will prevent malware from spreading host to host.  http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/products/security/fireamp-endpoints/index.html

The second layer I’d recommend for any customer with any hardware would be OpenDNS. OpenDNS works on the DNS level and prevents the attack before it could even happen. If OpenDNS blocks a DNS request for information from the Internet, the attack cannot possibly happen. Another added benefit of OpenDNS is that you can do URL filtering as well. https://umbrella.cisco.com/products/features

The third layer I’d recommend, especially if you have the X series of ASA’s, is Sourcefire. Sourcefire provides intelligence to your firewall and allows you to do things like URL filtering, advanced malware protection, heuristics, inline SSL decryption, geo-blocking, alerting, and more. http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/products/security/ngips/index.html

pexels-photo-90333.jpegNow, what about the situation where a user needs to send an encrypted email or you’re receiving multiple phishing emails? Cisco has a solution for that as well. Cisco email security provides you the ability to do encrypted emails, filter out unwanted emails, scan attachments, prevent ransomware, and more. http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/products/security/email-security-appliance/index.html

Have you ever thought about what would happen if an employee was getting ready to leave the company and started uploading all their files to an HTTPS site? Would you know, what would you do, how could this impact you? Cisco has a product called Stealthwatch that watches the network and can catch anomalies. http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/products/security/stealthwatch/index.html

I know that’s many different products doing a multitude of things but in a perfect world, those would be my layers. Not everyone lives in a perfect world with an unlimited budget so at a minimum, I think everyone should have AMP for endpoint running on all systems that can run it. Add OpenDNS to that and they make a perfect team to identify and stop threats inside and outside your network. Also, if you already run the new X series of ASA’s, it’s a minimal investment to reap the benefits of Sourcefire.

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: Cyber Security

6 Signs You Are Outgrowing Your IT Environment

Posted by Jon Ryan on Jan 11, 2017 10:57:22 AM

You hear it all of the time. “We don’t need to change our IT infrastructure. Everything is working fine.” But in many cases, everything is not fine. In fact, it’s probably worse than you think. Operating on an outdated IT infrastructure can have a substantial impact on your business and the morale of the people working within it. Here are 6 signs that you may be outgrowing that ‘perfect’ infrastructure.

#1 - Hearing Complaints from Users about the IT Department

In many businesses there is unfortunately a negative consensus about the IT department. Personality issues aside, the main reason users view the IT department negatively is that things just don’t work well. It seems like IT is always fixing something, or performing updates on something. Granted you can’t please everyone all the time. But you can recognize when your environment needs to be addressed. Keeping a pulse on the feelings of your users is important. I recommend starting a “Technology Committee” made up of power users. It’s a great place to think up new ideas, understand each department process, and monitor changes that may need some IT backbone to support it. 

#2 - Bottlenecks in Production

Your IT infrastructure is the highway for your data. But it’s not just about data only. It’s about supporting your company’s business process, production schedule, and labor requirements. Having an outdated infrastructure can have an impact on how smoothly everything is running. See sign #1 above.  If your infrastructure is making your production slow down, it’s time to reassess. Having a clear understanding of what those requirements are is crucial when making IT changes or technology purchases.

#3 - Users are not Working Efficiently apple-desk-office-working-8841.jpg

“Wait, you do that every time you run an order?” You’d be surprised what users have adopted as their ‘process’ to accomplish their job. Especially if the technology doesn’t support them to be more efficient. Get into the mind of your users. Take an honest look at what they have to do on a daily basis and ask yourself if you are providing the best infrastructure and tools for them to be successful. Making your users happy is important, but keeping upper management happy is paramount. If management realizes they are wasting labor on inefficient processes, you don’t want to be the cause of it.

#4 - Users Start Suggesting or Are Using Other Programs 

You have these ‘perfect’ tools and processes in place for everyone to do their job. But then you start to hear users recommending other ways to do things. Whether it’s a different program or a different way to handle data, a good sign that it is time to take a look at your infrastructure is when your users are using other tools than the ones provided. This can be a nightmare to manage and support. One user is using Google docs, another is working off an external hard drive, and some people just don’t know where to put their data.  Standardize on your technology. Pick programs or processes that support the majority of your users. Implement it and TRAIN your users how to use it. Adoption of any technology can be difficult.

#5 - Server Resources are being Consumed Past Its Limitations

This is probably one of the easiest ones to react to. But, sometimes the hardest to get in front of. Everything seems to be running like clockwork, then all of a sudden, your data drive has 1% open space left. Or you get a call that people can’t log into the Citrix server. Time to start putting out fires. But what if you could budget and prepare for growth ahead of time? You can, it just takes some checks and balances when it comes to your infrastructure. Do routine checks of server resources. Set quotas on server shares for end users. Make sure your IT processes are efficient and perform to support the size of your user and data workforce.

light-bulb-current-light-glow-40889.jpeg#6 - Don’t Actively Support a Mobile Workforce

“Get with the times, man!” Mobile data and application usage is the future of computing. Other companies are doing it and giving their users access from anywhere on the globe. Opening that technology to your users can drive productivity and increase the overall profitability of a company. In many cases adopting the mobility model of business is no more expensive than the old technology. Like using Office 365 for email instead of buying and supporting an onsite exchange server. Your users are talking to other companies too and hearing about mobility. Make sure to bring it to the table before your users do.

Becoming content with your IT infrastructure is easy to do. Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken, right? But changing your perception of what ‘broken’ means is the key. Actively review your environment. Take those free lunch and learn meetings. Explore new technologies. You may be surprised how outdated your current technology is. Contact Network Center, Inc. for more information on future technology, free technology presentations, and how we can help you avoid having an outdated IT infrastructure.

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: IT Infrastructure

Enhancing the Healthcare Patient/Provider Relationship

Posted by Brett Anderson on Dec 28, 2016 3:49:16 PM

HealthCare-Connect-Phone-Image.jpgHealthcare’s relationship with patients hasn’t changed significantly in decades.

A recent study notes that 88 percent of patients still pick up the phone to schedule appointments and interact with their provider, whereas booking travel arrangements and ordering a pizza has only 20 percent of customers using the telephone. The automation and self-service of healthcare is on the cusp of massive change. The expectation of providers is beginning to align with other industries and patients being treated as true customers is becoming the norm.

The Integrated Experience

Through an integrated experience, patients can use a single ‘pane of glass’ on their mobile device to completely control their interactions with the provider. Network Center Inc.’s HealthCare Connect solution follows an intuitive workflow to help customers manage their appointments prior to arriving at the healthcare facility.

What does this patient/provider interaction look like?

Through HealthCare Connect, patients now have more information at their fingertips than ever. At any time, the customer can launch the provider’s mobile app and view doctor availability and schedule their appointment.

HealthCare-Connect-Nurse-Mobility.jpegOnce an appointment is scheduled, the provider is able to send a push notification to the patient reminding them of their appointment. The patient can then respond to the notification, confirming they are still able to attend, or need to reschedule.

If a reschedule is necessary, an open time slot can be filled by the provider, closing the gap in the missed billable segment. The value gained in filling these appointments allow the provider to experience ROI in as little as three months!

When appointment day has arrived, native mapping technology provides real-time directions to the correct parking ramp, the right door, and checking in at the right desk.

Revolutionizing the patient’s in-facility experience

Once the patient has arrived at the facility, the facility can now utilize RTLS (real-time location systems) to check-in for their appointment, putting them in the correct workflow. This allows administration to easily interpret how much time the patient spent within the facility and where they spent their time. RTLS can also ensure that patients are not in the waiting area longer than they should be, alerting staff if time limits are exceeded. By providing the patient an RTLS tag with a simple button press, the patient can rest assured that they can call for help from anywhere in the facility if a situation were to arise.

Patient Benefits

HealthCare-Connect-Mobile-App.jpegAligning expectations with other industries. Self-serve is the new normal. The app allows the patient to be more self-sufficient, and it is becoming popular for facilities utilizing RTLS to be ‘self-rooming’ healthcare facilities. This allows patients to no longer sit in waiting rooms, but go directly to the exam room and staff is then notified that the patient is ready to be seen. This greatly increases the value-add time of the staff member allowing them to spend the vast majority of their time providing care.

Ease of use. With an integration between the facility’s EMR system and RTLS, the patient will automatically be checked into the RTLS system via the EMR, saving time on double entry.

Stickiness. An app is a gateway to building the relationship. The HealthCare Connect app combines with Fuzion RTLS to provide a great customer experience by going above and beyond to make sure the patient is taken care of in every possible way.

Provider Benefits

Customers have a choice. Give yourself the advantage patients are looking for. HealthCare Connect and RTLS provide a combination that brings differentiation. As prospective customers determine where they want to receive health care, the app and RTLS put your organization on a different tier of service. As new customers experience efficiency they are not accustomed to within the industry, the odds of them becoming a valued repeat customer greatly increase.

Reducing missed appointments. Missed appointments that aren’t filled can wreak havoc on the bottom line of any walk-in clinic, or other healthcare organization. As mentioned above, the ROI from just filling missed appointments can be experienced in as little as three months.

Big data, analytics, and reporting. Looking for information that makes a difference in the way you serve patients? With HealthCare Connect and RTLS, what gets measured can be managed, and this is a system capable of doing exceptional things in this area with the addition of business intelligence. Not only does this system allow you to take a customized approach to data, but it also allows you tailor your  reports to meet your strategic expectations.

There are many ways in which healthcare providers are utilizing technology to jump out of the past and create benefits for the present. Systems such as HealthCare Connect have been built with the kind of cutting-edge intention that benefits not only the patient, but also creates extraordinary direct value to the provider. Contact us to learn more about HealthCare Connect. 

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: HealthCare Connect, Healthcare app

In Security, There is No Silver Bullet

Posted by Rob Lammert on Dec 22, 2016 12:47:48 PM

computer-security-threats.jpgNo one is above being breached. There are many ways that a breach can happen and there is no one piece of technology that can safeguard your organization, but, there are steps you can take to make sure you are not an easy target. Keep in mind, you don’t have to spend massive amounts of capital on your “cyber defense” posture; it is all about the policies put into place and the enforcement of those policies with your users. 

Rob Lammert from our partner, ESET breaks it down into these four important steps: 

1. Educate Your Users

Many studies show that the weakest link in your technology environment is actually human error. In their day to day activities, users are bombarded with many infiltration attempts such as phishing scams, infected email attachments or even unsolicited “help desk” phone calls. Educating your users on your security policies and procedures is a big step in preventing an infiltration. Many companies provide educational sessions like “Security Awareness Power Hour” on a regular basis to help users stay educated on how they are to identify and handle threat attempts.

2. Maintain Multiple Layers

secure-email.jpgYears ago, only having an antivirus product on your endpoints or servers seemed to be all you needed to be secure. In today’s threat landscape, having a multiple-layered approach helps safeguard against holes in one line of defense or another. For example, allowing multiple detection engines and styles, such as Anti-Spam, Anti-Phishing and Anti-Malware, to scan emails prior to them reaching their destination can be quick and easy way to safeguard against many spam or infected emails. This can be done by having an external scanning engine assess the email before it reaches your company gateway, with a final line of defense being on the endpoint to detect anything remaining. Multiple layers of security in each of your data entry and exit points helps make your environment unappealing to hackers, as security layers increase the time needed to infiltrate your infrastructure. Key items to consider for layers are encryption, authentication methods, data loss prevention, and endpoint security products, all of which can work independently or in unison to lock down your infrastructure.

3. Patching & Updating

Operating system and application exploits are among the most common infiltration points for malware and yet are the simplest to prevent. There are many products in the marketplace that can help you with patching your systems and can be deployed within a small time frame. Patching and updating products is not only limited to the common products that you think of such as Microsoft Windows or Microsoft Office, but really all products that your users might interact with such as Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Flash or Java. Keeping your environment up-to-date will go a long way in keeping your environment safe from external attacks.

4. Wash, Rinse & Repeat

security-key.jpgSecuring your infrastructure is not a project that has a specific completion date or objective; it is an ongoing process that will require you to update your methods as threats become more sophisticated. Many products, such as endpoint security software, do a lot of the heavy lifting for you to keep you (and your business) protected against many existing and “zero day” attacks, but they can’t do all the work for you.  Be sure to continually keep yourself educated on the latest threats - as well as techniques to prevent them - as they change frequently; sometimes daily! 

There are many fantastic websites out there to help you with this information, like ESET’s security news website, WeLiveSecurity.com. Also, ESET has a variety of free, educational white papers and webinars that cover a variety of security topics.

To find out more about security awareness and what options are a right fit for your organization, contact Network Center, Inc. to setup a free consultation. Network Center, Inc. also offers vulnerability tests to identify security risks in your environment. 

NCI Contact Us Button

 

Topics: Network Security, Cyber Security

Get more out of Microsoft Office 365

Posted by Corey Stoner on Dec 9, 2016 9:05:00 AM

I have been working with Office 365 for a couple of years, and while Office 365 discussions have been dominated by migrating email to the cloud, conversations have now started to turn to “What else can I do with Office365?”

522216413_1280x720.jpgAfter most companies have dipped their toes in the water, most of them are ready to jump in and start using more of the suite. If they are looking at using SharePoint, I will be the first to admit that I am the wrong guy to be asking about SharePoint.  I can give them the 10,000 ft. overview, but if they want to really get into it, I’d refer them to our resident SharePoint expert. If they want to look into other parts of the suite, then I am your guy. Let’s take a look at some of the other offerings from Office 365.

Skype for Business

Skype for Business always seems like a no brainer to me, but I have been using instant messaging since I signed up forSkype-for-Business.svg.png my first ICQ account, (I hope I haven’t dated myself too much). But surprisingly a lot of businesses are not using instant messaging or think it’s not for them. My first question to them is “Do you text message?” Of course everyone does these days, but why? Because it is easier than calling someone for a quick answer. This is the same for instant messaging, I want to communicate with someone but don’t want to fill up my inbox with quick one line questions or answers. There are many other reasons but this is one that gets people thinking about it.  Communication is key in all businesses and Microsoft’s Skype for Business provides a feature rich instant messaging program that is included in most Office 365 subscriptions.

OneDrive for Business

OneDrive for Business seems to come up in more conversations when users discuss pain points when trying to manage documents. More and more users are working outside of the main office and want a better way to have access to their documents. Users want access to these documents from a verity of media; Laptops, Tablets’ and Smart Phones, and are now capable of opening and working on documents remotely. Telling users, they can only use a VPN to connect to their file server is getting harder and harder to justify. Just think if you still had to VPN to get your email. Those days are thankfully behind us. OneDrive is a good way to have mobile access to your documents without giving up security concerns. You can also share these documents with internal and external users.

Yammer, Planner, Delve, and Teams

computer-pc-workplace-home-office-159760.jpegOnce you have documents online you can start using more of the Office 365 Suite to collaborate and work on documents as part of projects or together in teams. With Products such as Yammer, Microsoft Planner, Delve and now Microsoft Teams, you can now keep all of your documents and conversations organized and in one place. Think of the way we collaborate on documents now, most of us will email a document back and forth to each other. This causes multiple copies of a document, both on your file servers and residing in your inbox and sent items. Why manage so many copies when only one is valid? What if you bring in a new team member or add someone to the project, wouldn’t it be nice for them to go to one place and have access to all the documents and communications?

While living in Office 365 is quite a different mindset than how most of us are used to doing things, if you are willing and open to change, you can see the benefits that the Office 365 suite can bring to your organization. Give your inbox’s a rest and learn how to effectively work as a team. 

To learn more about how to fully utilize the Microsoft Office 365 suite to collaborate with your company, department and team, watch Corey Stoner's nVision Microsoft Office 365 presentation. He covers the different Office 365 suite products and how they work together as well as a case study with a client that proclaimed “I feel like we are finally working together.”

Contact us to learn more about how to utilize Microsoft Office 365 in your business. 

ContactUsButton.jpg

Topics: Microsoft Office 365, Yammer, OneDrive for Business, Skpe for Business

Machine Learning: Not Out of Your Reach

Posted by Katie Schuler on Nov 11, 2016 3:00:00 PM

Hear from Katie Schuler, Software Developer at Network Center, Inc. about the advent of Machine Learning and how implementing it into your everyday business practices is a lot more cost-effective and realistic than you may have initially thought. 

Earlier this month I attended a live webinar presented by Microsoft called “Azure Data Analytics for Developers”.  One of the main topics was Machine Learning, which I was under the impression is a technology that only large companies could afford to develop and use.  I was surprised to learn how easy and relatively inexpensive these technologies can be to implement.  Let’s take a look at what Machine Learning could mean for you. 

StockSnap_3M1WKORDOL.jpgWhat is Machine Learning? 
The technical definition includes words and phrases like artificial intelligence, pattern recognition, algorithms, etc.  But the basic concept of machine learning is computers that are setup to learn and make predictions without explicit human programming.  

You’ve likely already seen this technology in action.  Machine learning is how online shopping sites recommend other products after a user adds an item to their cart.  Spam filters can use machine learning to determine which emails should be prevented from reaching your inbox.  Credit card companies use machine learning to detect fraudulent charges.  Social media sites use it to help you connect with other people, companies, or interests that are most relevant to you. Machine learning also has applications with regard to object recognition for cameras, medical diagnosis, stock market analysis, language and handwriting recognition, and countless other examples.

How can it help you?
First and foremost, you need to figure out where in your business processes machine learning can benefit you.  Machine learning is most advantageous with a specifically defined question or issue in mind, albeit an issue where the path to the outcome is not easily reached by human means. 

A common example is searching for credit card fraud.  The question/issue is specific and clear: Is a charge of $55 at a convenience store in Washington D.C. fraudulent or not.  But the path to the outcome is not necessarily easily reached.  It involves many different variables.  Has the cardholder shopped there before?  Does the cardholder live in Washington D.C.?  If not, has the cardholder made a purchase from an airline in the last few months or had charges in an airport recently?  These and many other factors that contribute to this scenario would take a human several minutes, at best, to decide if the charge should be flagged as suspicious or not.

StockSnap_VNX2QDGS0J.jpgHow does it work? 
There are many different software options out there for setting up your company to use machine learning.  All of them will have similar steps to get them working accurately for your company.  The webinar I attended was specifically for Microsoft Azure, which has a slick and easy-to-use flowchart style interface.  Users simply drag and drop different components into a workspace, connect them, set a few properties, and let it run.  Here are the basic steps: 

  1. Connect the software with historical data from your database that includes outcomes of what you want to later predict for new data.
  2. Connect an algorithm type, which depends on the data and the question at hand.
    • It may take some trial and error to find the best fitting algorithm for the data.
  3. Train the model to predict outcomes.
    • This is where the software will take the historical data and outcomes and learn from it to create a model.
  4. Score and evaluate the model.
    • This requires another portion of historical data, including outcomes, which the software will use to determine how accurate it is at predicting the correct outcome.
    • If the score is low, you may need to try a different algorithm type.
  5. Once you’re satisfied with the model, it can now be applied to new data to predict outcomes.

A few simple steps and you’ve got information that can give your company an edge on the competition. 

For more information about Microsoft Azure Machine Learning, checkout this free video course at the Microsoft Virtual Academy:

View Free Video Course

Contact Network Center, Inc. for further details on how you can use machine learning to enhance your data usage.

ContactUsButton.jpg 

Topics: Machine Learning, Azure Data Analystics for Developers, Microsoft Azure Machine Learning

5 Reasons to use Project Management

Posted by Tracy Sanger on Oct 18, 2016 8:15:00 AM

For organizations that have embraced project management, it quickly becomes apparent how critical a driver project management is in helping your organization achieve success. Here are Five Reasons to use Project Management.

fotolia_38520924_subscription_monthly_xxl1.pngMeet your business goals and objectives
Businesses can leverage Project Management to help their organization meet their goals and objectives by ensuring the success of each project.  When developing your business goals and objective, be sure to create a planned program.  Planned programs will help organize your projects into phases for completion.  Phases are often times based on dependencies.  Having one phase complete successfully before the next one starts can be critical to the success of rolling out a new business plan.  When your projects are part of a planned program, you will avoid wasting time and money by reporting budget and timelines to the stakeholders.

Deliver projects on time
The key to ensuring projects are completed on time rests in the monitoring and controlling of the project timeline for the entire life of the project.  During the planning phase of a project, the project team works together to create a work break down structure and estimates how long it will take to complete each task.  The project manager will assist in scheduling resources to complete the tasks and will monitor if there is any slippage throughout the life of the project.  If slippage occurs, there are several options to get the project back on schedule.

Delivery projects within budget
During the planning phases of the project, the project team will work together to estimate all the costs associated with the project.  The project manager will monitor the budget throughout the life of the project, and implement any corrective action needed to deliver within budget.

Increased customer satisfactionproject-puzzle-pieces.jpg
When you are delivering what your clients are expecting and doing it on time and within budget, you on the path towards happier customers!

Save money
A common metric in the world of project management, is for every minute you spending planning, you will save 10 minutes in either implementation or post implementation support of a project.  Of course you must use common sense with this metric, but we all know that time is money.

For more information or assistance with project management within your organization, click the link below!

ContactUsButton.jpg

Topics: Project Management, Business Strategy

The Differences Between Web and Video Conferencing

Posted by Tara Patoile on Sep 30, 2016 4:30:00 PM

You know “web” and “video” are two completely different words with separate functions and meanings, but you aren’t sure how each differs when it comes to conferencing. Could web conferencing be more beneficial than video conferencing? How do you decide?

Tara Patoile from our partner, Pinnaca breaks it down to the core of what each of these solutions mean and how they are used.

networkcenter-pinnaca-web-video-conferencing-blog.gifWeb Conferencing is typically organized for a large group of people to meet and collaborate. Most commonly, you will notice it is used for webinars, demos and training (more often than not, they are live). Desktops are the go-to device for accessing such events with multiple options for participants to engage from chat functionality to application sharing, such as Microsoft PowerPoint.

Video Conferencing is typically used and accessed by people within an organization, their clients, vendors, partners and remote experts. Depending on the solution – participants can access and join a video meeting from virtually anywhere with an internet connection on their preferred device, from laptops to mobile phones. Collaboration in such a space is typically preferred by all parties and can be easily shared by anyone.

How do you decide which type of conferencing to use? The answer is a bit tricky because web conferencing and video conferencing have blurred lines. Web conferencing applications sometimes include two-way video capability and video conferencing includes collaborative sharing/capability. If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, consider a cloud-based service that includes everything you need for face-to-face collaboration.

If you’re interested in a solution that has varied capabilities for business use, video conferencing is a safe route to consider as opposed to what web conferencing would offer. Video conferencing typically has more options for higher quality video and more reliable networks for delivering both video and audio. Not only do you get higher quality, you can make video conferencing a multi-faced differentiator for your business, using it in many areas for communicative purposes.

Here are a few examples of how video conferencing can be applied:

  • Ad-hoc, informal communications
  • An essential team collaboration tool
  • Connecting with subject matter experts
  • Connecting with customers and prospects
  • Enhanced technical support
  • An efficient recruiting tool
  • A powerful tool in education
  • Revolutionizing healthcare
  • Still a time-honored travel cost reduction tool

Creative thinkers are using video conferencing to do old tasks in new ways as well as to accomplish new tasks in ways that were not practical before. Companies that include video conferencing and collaboration solutions into their business strategy reap many benefits, including: more efficient teamwork, greater competitive advantages, enabling recruitment and hiring employees without distance constraints, and creating an innovative work culture that appeals to millennials while offering all employees the ability to stay in touch while working from remote locations.

Are you unsure where to start? Pinnaca offers several cloud-based solutions to help grow your visual communication strategy, enabling video users to meet anywhere, any time on any device. Easily join and invite anyone to meet and collaborate, with chat, screen sharing, virtual meeting rooms and more.

For more information on Pinnaca and the services we collaborate on, find their sponsor booth at nVision, our annual technology conference this November. Please follow the link below to register. 

nVision2015-RegisterNow_Button.jpg

 

Topics: Video Conferencing, Video Collaboration, Web Conferencing

Avoiding Technology Gridlock

Posted by Jon Ryan on Sep 16, 2016 2:15:00 PM

There are many components that all have to work together to ensure a healthy technology environment. From hardware and software, to network and cloud services, businesses need to get a full understanding of how these technologies interact with each other and what dependencies exist that can limit your IT growth. Here are some tips to help avoid “Technology Gridlock.”

city-cars-road-traffic.jpgSoftware Drives Hardware Technology

The world’s next best revolutionary software application is always just around the corner. There are 10,000+ new software patent ideas each year that come out of Silicon Valley alone. Not to mention the rest of the world. Commercial software vendors are upgrading their software at a rapid rate. You used to be able to see 1 – 2 software updates released yearly. Now, software manufacturers are kicking out updates and upgrades like baby penguins jumping into the pool at SeaWorld.

With all of that new “advanced” software technology and processing, hardware vendors are forced to increase the performance of their aging products. Microsoft comes out with a new operating system that increases the use of more RAM and faster processors makes hardware vendors step up their game and design better, faster machines to harness that power. At one time it was thought that Microsoft and hardware vendors were in cahoots to keep consumers interested in upgrading their systems.   

“So get to the gridlock part already.” Well, here it is. Hardware is limited right out of the box. Your shiny new server won’t be able to run faster than its rated speed. (For this example, we’ll assume overclocking or hyper-cooling isn’t a viable business option.) So as this newer and faster software is released, you upgrade to it. Why not, right? To a certain extent, yes. But where you can get into trouble is supported processor platforms and firmware support for newer technology running on older systems. Many software companies will release system requirement specifications for this situation specifically. The OS you are running may be supported, but your server’s hardware architecture may not. Be sure to consult your software vendor before making a purchase to verify the compatibility with your current hardware situation. 

Keep Your Service Agreements Active

Even though it feels like you are paying for an insurance policy that never ends, it is a best practice to keep your hardware AND software service agreements active. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages tenfold. As your environment matures, so does your reliance on technology advancements. Those advancements can only be unlocked using your current hardware and software through upgrades or add-ons.

Failing to hold service agreements can result in back-billing in order to to get your current, or penalty charges to put you in an active support state. Not only can this be a financial burden, you may not be able to upgrade your ERP solution because your storage controller firmware is on too old of a revision. Falling behind on updates, upgrades, or versioning changes, can leave your systems unpatched, vulnerable, or broken.

Latest Isn’t Always Greatest

What about all of those great updates and upgrades you get from your service agreements? Upgrade everything right away, right? Technology can be a tricky business. I was once told that you never buy the first year of a new body design for any car or truck. The manufacturer hasn’t spent any substantial amount of time fixing their design flaws. The same can be said for firmware, software and Operating System upgrades.pexels-photo-134643.jpg

Upgrading any of these technologies can cause other technologies to cease functioning at an acceptable rate. Many support companies like Network Center, Inc. will often recommend waiting for a service pack to be released, or a version .1 to come out before fully committing to a new release. In any case, you must be ready to roll back to a previous version if you upgrade and everything goes down. Test, test, test and test again if needed. Setup a test environment if needed. Pick a UAT (User Acceptance Testing) group to look for gaps and make sure everything doesn’t come to a screeching halt. There is no rush into new technology, even if it is just a versioning change. 

Take a Holistic Approach to Your Technology

This is the old adage - fixing one thing, breaks another. Your company’s ability to work at a high rate of efficiency is a result of the sum of all of its parts. There are individual technology pieces in your company but not one item can be overlooked. Each part of your daily activities makes up your business process. So any changes, or lack of changes, can have a serious impact on your daily process.

Dependencies are a huge part of the holistic approach. Most pieces of a process have dependencies on another. Once one part of the process is completed, then the next phase can start. This works on the hardware, software and process level. Having all of your technology documented and mapped out can better identify what dependencies your processes have on hardware, software, and other technologies. Just remember it can be a domino effect if you aren’t mindful of all dependencies. 

It Sometimes Makes More Sense to Replace Then Continually Patch

Aging of technology is inevitable. Hardware manufacturers will release newer models and no longer support older hardware. Software vendors will sometimes totally abandon a piece of software to move into newer technology. Case in point, dropping a custom database to move everything to a SQL database. In these cases, you are forced to move up and make a significant change. 

But what happens when technology is stagnant for a period. And when I use the word “stagnant” I mean slows down greatly. It’s possible that you are running a piece of software that has reached its full maturity.   The software vendor has since moved on or shut down completely and just provided patches. Or like in many cases, your needs have outgrown your software provider’s offerings. Your option then is just to patch, or make a complete change in technology and likely process.

In these cases, making a change before you have to, gives you time to plan, train, and execute. Getting caught at the end of the line with a piece of hardware or software forces you to stop your growth or limit your success. So plan ahead, look at your future and the future of your technology. Don’t get caught in Technology Gridlock.

If you enjoyed this blog and want to know more about Network Center, Inc. and how we can help your business. Please click on the link below. Thank you for your time in reading this blog post.

ContactUsButton.jpg

Topics: technology

The Top 3 Reasons You Should Keep Your Website Up to Date

Posted by Dane Petersen on Aug 8, 2016 2:30:54 PM

6UHHE19YG7.jpg

Websites. Done right and they can make a great first impression for your business. Done wrong and well, let's just say first impressions are lasting. In today's day and age having an outdated website can spell trouble for your company, especially when consumers are used to having all the information they need right at their fingertips. 

We sat down with one of our website developers, Dane Petersen to get his take on the top 3 reasons you should keep your website up to date.


1. Your website helps manage your business's first impression.

How your website looks conveys an impression to potential customers. Is your site modern? Is it bright and clean? Is it ascetically pleasing with corresponding graphics? Is it easy for potential customers to navigate? Your website is now an extension of your business. With everything so accessible via our mobile devices, more people are looking for websites first before going to the business themselves. Having an updated site means you are always putting your best foot forward.

2. Websites help your customers connect to you 24/7.
Websites never shut off or go home at five o'clock. Keeping your website updated and ready to go means that your potential customers are able to access your information at any time and from any device. Having your website updated means that you're customers are getting the most accurate and updated view of your information which can help them make informed purchase decisions on the go.

3. Keeping an updated website helps showcase your work and expertise.
Your website is a great opportunity to showcase the knowledge of your company. Whether it be through writing blogs or simply explaining the services you can offer to customers, keeping your website up-to-date with your work and expertise helps your potential and existing customers see what you're best at. 


These are just a couple key reasons for keeping your site updated and fresh. Dane also emphasizes the importance of having a mobile-friendly site. Statistically, most people view websites from their mobile devices in today's fast-paced environment. Making sure your site is easily accessible from all platforms is key when presenting your audience with an updated website experience. 

Click the link below, for more information on how Network Center, Inc.'s experienced team can help you update your website and enhance your users' online experience. We look forward to brainstorming with you on ways to help improve your online presence. 

ContactUsButton-1.jpg 

A Look Back at 30 Years of NCI

Posted by Mia Ness on Jul 19, 2016 4:30:00 PM

The years have really flown by! Network Center, Inc. (NCI) has been focused on the cutting edge of technology and networking since its inception in 1986. Currently NCI is a far cry from its early beginnings, now serving 12 states, servicing over 600 customers, and is considered one of the largest IT solution providers in the Midwest. In celebration of NCI’s 30-year anniversary this July, we’re taking a look back through the years and how the business has evolved into the 100% Employee-Owned company that it is today. 

Karl_Kostmann.jpgKarl Kostman (pictured) founded Network Center, Inc. in 1986 as a modest computer service shop out of his garage. The business remained there for two years. However, with business booming and the addition of employees, the need for some extra elbowroom was becoming apparent. In 1988 NCI moved into it’s first commercial location at 1111 Westrac Drive. The company continued to expand and relocated 3 times to larger office spaces within this building. In 1994 NCI moved into the HBA building on 32nd Ave in south Fargo. The following year also marked a milestone when the company reached a total of 20 employees. With a growing workforce and business booming, it wasn’t long before the HBA building started to seem a bit tight.

In 1996 NCI relocated into the 3481 South University Drive office park across the parking lot from where we’re currently located. Three short years later our current building was built, and the company moved into our current space in 1999. In the late 90’s NCI also expanded its reach westward to the area in and around Bismarck, ND. NCI reached 30 employees in year 2000, and over the next 10 years NCI continued to grow in employees and newly offered services. 

IMG_7891.jpgIn 2004, NCI expanded their service area to the Grand Forks area with the purchase of Computerland and over time, hit a total of 45 employees in 2010. The year 2012 marked a huge milestone with 25 years in business. In celebration, the office building underwent a huge renovation that included a major overhaul of the front lobby (pictured on right), new furniture and a repainting of the entire building. The new addition of the Interactive Team also really took off in 2012, expanding the range of NCI services to include websites, software and mobile application development.

Karl Kostman’s long-term goal was to put Network Center, Inc. back in the hands of its employees. After a great deal of time and planning, this dream finally came to realization and NCI became a 100% Employee-Owned company in December of 2014. Following this milestone, Karl stepped down and officially retired from the company leaving it in the capable hands of its employees. The business continued to expand reaching 60 employees in 2015, with even more individuals being added in 2016. Currently, Network Center, Inc. continues to hold a physical presence in Bismarck and Grand Forks, and has recently added St. Cloud to its expanding service area.

timeline-1.jpg

Over the years, NCI has seen a great deal of growth and expansion. With the advent of new technologies we are excited to see what the future holds for this flourishing technology company. Follow the link below to learn more about Network Center, Inc., our core values and what really makes NCI a great place to work.  

LearnMore-1.jpg

 

Topics: Company Culture, NCI 30th Anniversary

Now Trending in Website Design

Posted by Mia Ness on Jun 24, 2016 4:00:00 PM

Website design has evolved immensely over the last few years in regards to what users expect from their online experience, and how they interact with their devices. More and more people rely solely on mobile devices as their main point of contact with the digital world. With the advent of social media, people have become even more tied to their devices in constant management of their online social presence. Here is a quick look at five current trends to keep in mind regarding websites and how they impact the user experience (UX) in today’s fast-paced technology landscape.

  1. Responsive Layout:
    Users expect a website to be accessible across all platforms. It’s disappointing for users if they visit your site on a mobile platform and it’s inaccessible or difficult to navigate. Keep your audience in mind, and take note of how those individuals will most likely be accessing your website.woman-smartphone-girl-technology-1.jpg


  2. Rich User Interface:
    Websites today lean towards an emphasis on a minimalistic, but effective layout with a strong focus on user experience (UX). This goes hand-in-hand with a responsive layout.


    Unfortunately, a side effect of responsive design is that a lot of sites look very similar. However, having a similar look isn’t always necessarily a bad thing. Since the way in which we consume the web is evolving, this evolution has brought about a number of commonly used elements for the user interface (UI). Here are a few examples:

    1. Hamburger Menus: The “hamburger menu” is just a fancy name for those easily recognizable three lines that designate a menu on mobile platforms. Although it’s a necessary utilization of space on mobile devices, hamburger menus have become increasingly popular on the desktop versions of sites as well.

    2. Registration Forms: Users have come to expect some form of registration for attaining certain information. Multi-step form wizards are an effective way of sectioning out required fields, thus providing a more streamlined way for users to flow through the registration process. Many people are also more likely to register if they have the option to sign-up through a social media platform like Facebook or Twitter.

    3. Long scroll: Utilizing a site with scrolling works great when you have a story to tell. By breaking the scroll into clear sections you can still mimic a multi-page site that is easy to follow. Just make sure users can easily get back to the top of the page if desired.ipad-tablet-technology-touch.jpg

    4. Card Layouts: Think Pinterest! A card layout presents quick bits of information that are ideal for the eye to scan through quickly. These content containers stack easily and can be arranged at different break points for various devices, making it very friendly when it comes to mobile-responsiveness.
  1. Animation & Visuals:
    Users generally prefer to scan content and let visuals weave a story. With this in mind, animations are being used more and more to enhance a site’s storytelling and enhance the interactivity of a site. Take careful consideration of whether an animation could add to your site’s story elements and personality.


    Typically animations are broken down into two main categories:

    1. Large-scale animations: Large scale animations have the largest impact on users as primary interaction tool. Examples would include pop-up notifications and parallax scrolling.

    2. Small scale animations: Small-scale animations are easier to integrate into a website and include spinners, hover tools and loading bars. These animations don’t require any user input and act on their own based on the sit’s functionality.

  2. Micro-Interactions:
    People want their online experience to feel personable and human. A website can accomplish this with use of micro-interactions. Micro-interactions are at the core of any mobile app making your device feel more human-like and less robotic. Ideally, these interactions should happen almost invisibly. Consider each detail with care, and make each interaction feel natural. 


    Examples of micro-interactions include:
    1. Communicating a real-time status update.
    2. Seeing the result of an interaction initiated by the user.
    3. Helping the user to manipulate something on the screen.
  1. Social Integration:
    Society has entered the digital age of social-sharing and people expect to distribute information freely. Social media has transformed brand like not other previous form of communication. It changes the fundamental nature of the brand/customer relationship making businesses more transparent and easily accessible.


    Have a social plan and pay attention to how your users are utilizing social media by tapping into Google Analytics. Take advantage of this information to make sure your site flows with how your users want to share your information. It’s important that you’re constantly evaluating and updating your social media strategy based on your results, interactions, and analytics.

Conclusion:
Don’t follow trends just because it seems to be the “cool” thing to do. Trends represent popular techniques for good reason. Always evaluate what is best for your users and how they expect to be using your site, and tailor your site’s functionality based on that information.

For more information on how Network Center, Inc. can help you develop a digital strategy and enhance your online presence, click on the link below.

ContactUsButton.jpg

 

Topics: Web Development, Web Design

A Day in the Life - Josh Nikle, Collaboration Consultant

Posted by Mia Ness on May 27, 2016 4:00:00 PM

In a world of fast technology and changing markets, what do people in an IT consulting company actually do? At Network Center, Inc. we engage in responsible innovation, have a relentless dedication to our customers, and most of all - we are committed to our employees. The Day in the Life blog series highlights our employees’ talents, passions, and expertise in all of our departments. Day in the Life has the goal of providing a holistic, behind-the-scenes look of our company.

“A lot of people can install a server, not a lot of people can take care of you. Look for a company that will partner with you and take care of you” - Josh Nikle, Collaboration Consultant 

Josh-Nikle.jpgJosh is a Collaboration Consultant at NCI and has been with the company for a year and half. He studied Industrial Technology at the University of North Dakota. Josh Nikle’s time at Network Center, Inc. has been short compared to the 14 years he has invested in the industry. He is a jack of all trades and enjoys spending his time woodworking, practicing his archery skills and reading. He is also musically talented and plays guitar, tuba, bass and drums.

His typical day at NCI includes working primarily with the website development team and members of the sales team. As a Collaboration Consultant, he doesn’t have a “typical day.” Each new day is filled with different tasks, challenges, and developing new ways to solve problems. Josh’s time is often spent managing 1-3 projects at a time, and he also assists NCI customers with Microsoft products. Josh’s time spent visiting customer sites and collaborating with the business owners and decision makers is his favorite part of his role at NCI.  

At Network Center, Inc. the value of commitment to employees and investing in them to succeed is a priority. Josh describes how NCI does business differently by empowering employees to make decisions and providing them with the right tools to do so. When working in project management and advising customers, he is able to see a project from start to finish with the collaboration of fully-equipped team members. Josh pointed out that NCI hires qualified people, then shows faith in their ability to perform the best work for customers.

Josh described the most challenging part of his position as a rewarding opportunity: seeing how numerous components of one project fit together and then figuring out how best to navigate that complexity. He is adamant about delivering and not letting anything fall to the wayside when working with a client. For Josh, the most rewarding aspect of the project management process is when he sits down with the customer, having them describe the problem they are experiencing and being able to say to that customer, “I can solve that problem.”

Josh impacts the company by broadening the SharePoint offering for customers. He advocates for helpful customer relations when managing projects of the development team. Since Josh has been in the industry for a significant amount of time, he has the ability to share advice and knowledge with customers and give informed recomendations for various products.

The people at Network Center, Inc. are what keep Josh coming back to the office. The atmosphere at NCI is light and allows for a bit of humor amidst everyone’s work and dedication to customers. While working on a project people are eager to jump in and help, promoting a collaborative work-space providing optimal solutions for customers.

As a whole, Josh summarized the IT industry by saying, “a lot of people can install a server, not a lot of people can take care of you.” Essentially, there are a lot of companies that can perform the task, but Network Center, Inc. focuses on dedication to customers in the long run. The best advice for organizations looking to invest in IT services is to find a company that will partner with you, and provide you with responsible innovation that has your best interest in mind.

Lastly, Josh’s fun fact is that he is a beekeeper, the technical term being an apiarist.Apis_mellifera_carnica_worker_hive_entrance_3.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Stay tuned for more installments to the “A Day in the Life” series; giving you a behind the scenes look at the people behind your project.

MeetOurTeam_button-1.jpg 

 

Topics: Company Culture

School's Out! A Reflection on Employee Ownership. 

Posted by Phil Simon on May 13, 2016 2:00:00 PM

If you have school-aged kids, May is the time of year when they become like a dog at the park that sees a rabbit running in the distance; excited to the point they’re almost uncontrollable.  They can sense summer vacation coming in every field trip, extracurricular activity and sunny afternoon recess. Our company’s transformation from private ownership to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan is similar to kids leaving school for the summer.

Two years ago, before we began our ESOP journey, all of us here at NCI were in class, working to the meet the expectations of our “teacher”, if you will.  We’ve made friends, grouped up into teams, and worked both together and individually to learn the subject matter and hopefully, we tested well.  We spent the pre-ESOP school year working towards graduation and our post-ESOP lives.  We had our May before summer vacation at that time, and the excitement was just like those kids sitting in class today, waiting for that last day of school.oldschoolplayground.jpg

Now school is out, and our post-ESOP summer vacation isn’t just a carefree time to reflect on what we’ve learned, it’s the chance to apply it to the activity that we’re engage in without classroom supervision.  We’re the ones that pick our playing field. We set the rules and compete against the other kids in the neighborhood.  Cloud data storage is our neighborhood kickball game.  Hosted voice systems is our piano practice.  Sharepoint site design is our red rover.  The games change and evolve over time as does the equipment we use to play, but the lessons we’ve learned help us adapt and become a better team as we seek to achieve the goals we’ve set collectively and individually.  We’re still learning and testing but the dynamic has changed.  The difference is now is we’re all playing for each other as well as ourselves, because we all get to keep a part of the bragging rights. 

We loved our school and will always remember the lessons that allow us to continue our success long after the last bell rang.   It was a great experience and the memories are treasured.  But just like the kids counting the days to June, we love summer vacation!

Click the link below to learn more about how technology solution provider Network Center, Inc. (NCI) enhanced its culture in 2015 by becoming a 100% employee-owned company.

LearnMore-1.jpg

Topics: ESOP

Offerings of a Managed Services Provider

Posted by Jeff Bolstad on May 6, 2016 10:00:00 AM

I get asked often what I do for a living.  Now, if I tell people I work for a Managed Service Provider (MSP), most who aren’t familiar with IT will smile and nod, and more often than not I fall back to “I work in IT”.  However, if you are reading this you probably have at least some in the details of what our company does, and how this can positively impact a company who utilizes an MSP.

Network Center, Inc. has become quite versatile in terms of outsourced technology services it provides. We are continuously revisiting and revamping the technologies we use and the methods we practice to ensure we’re providing the most useful service and products in an efficient manner.  NCI offers many mundane, day-to-day tasks that can either reduce the need for an in-house IT staff or free them up for more critical work.  These tasks include but are not limited to:  Network monitoring, patch management, Spam Filtering, Anti-virus management, and proactive work to ensure network security and stability.  This is in addition to the troubleshooting and problem resolution generally associated with IT support.  Now some companies have an internal IT staff, or maybe are looking at hiring internal resources versus going with an MSP.  So why does the latter make sense?

managed_services.jpgOutsourcing has a lot of negative connotations, especially when it comes to IT.  People think of call centers staffed overseas where the person may not know what state, much less city you are calling from.  However, when I talk about outsourcing, it simply means sharing some degree of responsibility for IT work with NCI.  Why does it make sense to do this though?

One of the biggest concerns with IT is always going to be cost. And what is going to get priority is constantly shifting.  For example, the 2017 federal budget is requesting $19 Billion dollars to help improve an area of major concern, cybersecurity.  That’s fine for one of the wealthiest nations in the world, but most companies don’t have that kind of room in their budgets. This is a good example of where it makes sense to outsource to an MSP like Network Center, Inc.  We've done the vetting of equipment, vendors, and security practices to have a good idea of what is going to do a company the most good, without have to start from scratch like an internal resource likely would. We also have more people doing more research which brings many new threats to our attention before they become a problem, allowing us to take precautions against them. Not only that, but with a vast group of experts with differing experiences and knowledge to draw upon. An MSP can put the right resources for a task in place to ensure it is done quickly and correctly, minimizing time and money spent on projects and fixing day to day issues.

Another benefit we gain by having so many IT professionals under one roof is our relationship with vendors is generally very good.  This is especially true where being certified in vendor products or technologies allows us access to quicker support and better internal tools.  We can in turn pass this along to any customers, and also act as in intermediary for end users or internal IT contacts.servers.jpg

Going with an MSP for addressing IT concerns can also help avoid some risks that come with hiring an internal resource or contracting with individuals for project work.  Primarily, the MSP assumes the risks normally associated with personnel, including the vetting and review process for any candidates. This extends beyond staff to hardware, software, and any other vendors that that may be sought, such as hosted applications or infrastructure as a service providers.  This helps shift sole responsibility for a company’s IT success from one individual or small group an entire company.

So what’s the bottom line of working with an MSP?  A quick Google search will give you a million results where companies provided a bulleted list of why you should go with their unique MSP offering.  I can’t speak for all of them, just in general terms and my personal experiences with NCI.  You can see service level agreements, staffing, security, and monitoring thrown out a lot.  I can tell you that trusting a MSP with a proven record of working with clients to improve their IT situation can pay off big, either through working with existing IT staff or becoming the de facto IT staff.  Many day-to-day IT concerns can be offloaded to external staff without interruption, and the input from many experts on larger projects and planning for the future is always available.

Follow the link below to learn more about Network Center, Inc. and our role as a trusted Managed Services Provider. 

LearnMore-1.jpg

Topics: SharePoint, Outsourcing, Risk, Cost, MSP

Day in the Life - Andrew McKenzie, Account Executive

Posted by Kirsten Henagin on Apr 29, 2016 11:30:00 AM

In a world of fast technology and changing markets, what do people in an IT consulting company actually do? At Network Center, Inc. we engage in responsible innovation, have a relentless dedication to our customers, and most of all - we are committed to our employees. The Day in the Life blog series highlights our employees’ talents, passions, and expertise in all of our departments. Day in the Life has the goal to provide a holistic, behind-the-scenes look of our company.

Andrew McKenzie has been with Network Center, Inc. for the last three years as an Account Executive . Andrew graduated from Moorhead State University Moorhead, where he obtained his degree in Communication Studies. When Andrew isn’t at the office, he is a baseball coach and enjoys spending his time outdoors.

“If you spent a day with an account executive at NCI, you’d notice our relationships with customers aren’t just sales focused. We spend time to develop relationships and become a partner, not just a vendor.”

-Andrew McKenzie, Account Executive

The typical day for Andrew is spent working with nearly everyone in the office. The Account Executive role is versatile because they interact with various teams across the organization. You could be working with one department for part of the day and another group for the remainder of the week. Andrew’s role at Network Center, Inc. has a plethora of tasks that get tied into being an Account Executive. It isn’t just cold-calling customers, but also meeting with customers face-to-face and navigating customers needs and goals. For Andrew, the fact that his role is different from day to day and even week to week, provides a sense of excitement and drive to continue to be engaged.AndrewBaseballCoach.jpg

The Account Executive position does primarily serve the company by developing a steady sales pipeline, but this takes on a different level of importance when operating in an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Program). With this kind of organizational structure, the impact the sales team has benefits the most senior employee to the newest hire. To be successful in this role there are key traits to develop and master such as, persistence, resilience, adaptability and tenacity. The team of Account Executives spends a great deal of their time interacting with customers, being a resource for them and seeking to understand their business’ needs. Through these interactions, the information gathered not only helps NCI understand that one specific customer case, but provides knowledge that can turn into a best practice across the organization when helping all customers.

With each new customer and project, and the information and learning acquired as a result, it only adds to how effectively Network Center, Inc. can service and support a wide spectrum of technology. Andrew views NCI’s expansive range of technology services as a key differentiator in the IT industry. The company value of providing responsible innovation is a pinnacle in his mind for how we provide value to customers, not just another gadget. The goal of NCI is to provide solutions to business problems, not to sell a product. 

For Andrew, he is inspired by the fact that NCI is always growing and changing. The dynamic atmosphere, approach to solving business problems, and large array of service offerings help him to stay motivated. When reflecting on when he started at NCI three years ago, he said, “We are constantly revamping our efforts to be as valuable to our customers as possible. It’s a great environment, culture and mentality to be a part of.”Andrew.jpg

Key challenges that face organizations seeking IT services are the adversity of making change (and the risks incurred by said change) and an unfamiliarity with newer technology and how it can improve a company in various capacities. Rightfully so, as a change in a partner or vendor, or utilizing different technology provides a sense of vulnerability and discomfort. Andrew notes that overcoming these adversities, resolving business problems with new technology, and establishing a solid relationship with a new IT partner are rewards that outweight the risks. 

When giving advice to those that are looking for IT services, Andrew encourages customers to ask questions and to never settle. Make sure that the relationship developed with your IT vendor provides value and benefits you, as the customer. When partnering with any IT vendor, you want to find a partner that shares your goals and visions, and operates proactively to help you achieve them. Asking questions is key as the IT world is ever-changing and your partner should be a reliable resource to stay on top of those changes.

In closing, Andrew’s fun fact is that he was born at the same hospital as Will Ferrell. We almost have a celebrity in the house!

Stay tuned for more installments to the “A Day in the Life” series; giving you a behind the scenes look at the people behind your project. Click the link below to browse through other members of the NCI Sales Team.

MeetOurTeam_button.jpg

Topics: Company Culture, Day in the Life

The Impact of Being a #SocialEmployee

Posted by Mia Ness on Apr 22, 2016 10:30:00 AM

Recently a colleague and I attended a  Business Training Luncheon  on “The Power of Being a Social Employee” A number of excellent points were brought up that I’d like to expand on in this post. In today’s fast-paced society a socially active company has a huge marketing advantage over a business that resorts to more traditional means of distributing information. However, encouraging others to participate in being a social employee is the most difficult step in bridging that digital gap. As in any major shift of perspective, for a change to be successful it must be predetermined by a well-laid out plan to go about tackling the challenge. 

I9KITUHMGZ.jpgSo what is a social employee? A social employee is someone within your organization who is active on social media as an advocate for your business and industry. Social media opens a unique and organic channel of communication between you and your clients, and enables a level of transparency in business that wasn’t achievable before. Some people will participate naturally, where as others might need to be trained how to utilize these tools. Social media is not for everyone, so it’s important to analyze your current situation to determine whether a social employee campaign would be a right fit for the culture of your organization.

What are some benefits of having company of social employees?

  • Allow your company to harness the power of positive word of mouth, and empower employees and clients to be brand advocates.
  • Strive to define brand personality and company culture. Rather than pushing a product, tell a story to hold the viewer's attention. By building a unique personality based around events and community involvement, you can paint a picture of what your organization is all about and ultimately mold a story that results in consistent brand recognition.
  • By staying in touch with followers and actively engaging them in conversation, it builds trust in your brand.
  • Allow you to reach the maximum amount of people with the minimum amount of effort required on your part. 

How would you go about getting people interested?

  • Getting started is the hardest part. Organize a group of people to be social advocates for your brand. Start here, and let this group set the example for the company.
  • Specify the social media channels you want to target. Twitter has become an increasing popular choice for distributing information quickly to large groups of people. Facebook is great too, but as it has evolved over the years, people tend to utilize it more for personal use. LinkedIn is targeted towards businesses, but works very similarly to Facebook. To get updates on a certain organization or individual on a regular basis they must be followed or added to your personal network. Twitter has a far more over-arching presence.
  • Set up goals for your team. Make sure the expectations are well defined and everyone sticks to your plan. Don’t hesitate to help each other out and work together as a team. The more people tweeting and posting away, the more powerful the plan.
  • Provide training sessions for the team and make sure the rest of the company is welcome to join in too. This is great for people who are interested in participating, but might not be 100% comfortable with social media platforms. Show them how easy it is and share your team’s goals and expectations.
  • Brainstorm as a company on promotional ideas and upcoming events. Use this as a guide to create a strategy for your social media plan.

So let’s say you’ve gone through the steps. You have a plan established and team is utilizing social medias outlets to promote your company. How do you keep the fire lit and permanently transform your organization into an effective team of social employees? It’s easy to get motivated for a new idea, but it’s only worth it if you have an effective plan in place to make sure the campaign sticks long-term. 

  • Encourage employees to take advantage of photo-1434123700504-d8cfba6a12c8_1-1.jpeg“dead time.” Time you’re waiting for a meeting, standing on the elevator, or waiting in line for your morning coffee at the coffee shop would all be great examples of “dead time.” It only takes a couple seconds to share a post, and people are often in the habit of checking social media throughout the day anyways. Rather than reprimanding people for being on social media, encourage them to be a  at least once a day.
  • Have your social media team meet on a regular basis to plan posting for upcoming events.
  • Take advantage of tools like Hubspot (http://www.hubspot.com/) or Hootsuite (hootsuite.com) for pushing content out to social media channels. Going to each outlet individually is time-consuming. Streamline it as much as possible by using a tool that pushes your desired content out to all connected platforms.
  • Run paid campaigns! Social Media outlets are some of the most effective methods of advertising. A mere $1 per day can give you an upwards of 1000 impressions with complete control over of the demographics, allowing you to target very specific audiences.

Take a moment to think about how your company utilizes social media. Are you currently acting as a social employee to increase brand awareness? Taking steps to convert people into active social employees can have a hugely positive impact on your organization and how it's portrayed to the public. 

For an example of how NCI utilizes a social media strategy, click the button below to visit the resources section of our website. It acts a hub for our social media presence collecting posts from Twitter, Facebook, and our blog into one easily accessible spot.

Happy posting!

GotoHub.png

Topics: social media marketing, social media, Company Culture, Branding

Ransomware: A Tale of Three Companies

Posted by Michelle Killian, FRSecure Security Analyst on Apr 14, 2016 10:09:00 AM

Ransomware: A Tale of Three Companies

Our partner, FRSecure has been busy of late responding to calls regarding ransomware. They've seen a few success cases but not enough, so Michelle Killian, FRSecure Security Analyst, thought it would be useful to review three of the common scenarios they are encountering, what the outcome has typically been and what you can do to prepare and protect yourself from this nasty attack.

But First, What Is Ransomware?

“Ransomware?” you say. “What’s that?” Well, if you are lucky enough to not have been either directly or indirectly affected by ransomware, we'll give you a brief rundown:

Ransomware is a type of malware (malicious software) that attempts to block access to assets belonging to a victim (i.e. your files) and only unblock in exchange for a ransom payment.

The variant of ransomware running rampant today infects your device and encrypts (or locks) all the files you have access to, making them completely unusable to you unless you get the key to decrypt (or unlock) the files. The malware searches for and encrypts all applicable file types (including Word and Excel documents and PDFs) both on your device and on any shares you are mapped to, meaning the more access your device has, the more damage the malware can do.

While there are many ways your system can be infected, ransomware is typically delivered through an email phishing attack or website drive-by-download attack.

Attack Overview

Attack Overview

Download Overview

Download Overview

In order to decrypt the files, you have to get the key from the attacker who distributed the malware, which costs money, typically in the form of bitcoins. Up until recently, the attackers were demanding basically the same amount of ransom regardless of who they infected – typically between $500-1000, but they’ve now discovered that some targets are willing to pay much more and have started demanding ransom payments more proportional to the information they are holding hostage.

What FRSecure is Seeing

Michelle Killian lumped the companies FRSecure is hearing from, both in the field and from incident response calls,  into three broad categories. Read along and see which group your organization most closely aligns with and take away some action items to better prepare yourself!

Company 1: The Not-So-Lucky One

Company 1 calls shortly after getting that gut-wrenching pop-up notifying them that they’ve been ransomed, unsure of what to do or where to start. They haven’t really been good about consistently backing up their data so they don’t have a viable backup to restore from.

CryptoLocker     Photo: Malwarebytes.org

CryptoLocker Photo: Malwarebytes.org

These are usually painfully quick and unsatisfying conversations. While FRSecure always recommends doing some research on the particular malware strain to see if a key has been obtained and shared, odds are, if you don’t have a backup of your data, your only real option to get your data back is to pay up. For Company 1, this is exactly the outcome and after learning the ins and outs of Bitcoin, they are back up and running, less $500, and working diligently on formalizing their backup strategy.

FRSecure Does Not Support Paying The Ransom

For the record, FRSecure does not encourage paying the ransom as the best solution to this problem. Paying only encourages this type of activity to continue to grow and makes you a bigger target for future attacks. Additionally, FRSecure has seen many instances where the decryption process hasn’t gone smoothly and not all files are recovered. However, if there is no other way to get the information that’s been ransomed and it’s necessary for operations then sometimes this is the only solution.

Company 2: The Oh-So-Close-But-Not-Quite One

Company 2 got the same pop-up notification with ransom-payment instructions, but threw high-fives all around because they’ve got good backups and regularly test them, so they knew that this was but a blip in the road. They restored the systems they determined to be impacted by the malware from backup and resumed operations as normal.

Until they got a call from a user freaking out because their data was no longer usable. Turns out there was a small subset of the organization that was supposed to be segmented off (but wasn’t) and for all intents and purposes was thought to be no longer in use (but was) so the share wasn’t being backed up regularly. And the data stored on this share was pretty important.

So, while Company 2 was able to successfully restore most of their files from backup, because they didn’t have an updated inventory of their data resources, they still ended up paying a ransom to get the files from the not-so-segmented share back. And now they are focused on a top-to-bottom user access review and data mapping exercise to make sure they know where all their data lives and who has (and who should have) access to it.

Company 3: The Ready-For-Your-Stupid-Virus One

Company 3 called in advance of getting the ubiquitous pop-up. They noticed some files they were working on were changing and becoming inaccessible and suspected they might be in process of being infected by  ransomware. With a little digging we were able to confirm their suspicions and set about containing the malware.

The one nice thing about ransomware is that it’s pretty easy to determine where the attack started because the device where the infection initiated will be the device that provides the notification and instructions on how to pay up. But, on the flip side, once the pop-up shows up, it’s too late to contain the malware. So, you have to do some work while it’s in process of spreading to find the source and contain in.

For Company 3 there was some suspicion around a particular attachment and a particular user (based on internal conversations and where the file changes were taking place) so it was relatively easy to pinpoint the source. With that knowledge, we were able to isolate the system (disconnect it from the network and internet) and work on replacing the infected files.

Company 3 not only had replication of data to the cloud but also maintained regular offsite backups. The data being replicated in the cloud had already uploaded the encrypted versions of the files so we had to pinpoint when the ransomware was downloaded so we could revert back to the clean files, but after about four hours, Company 3 was back up and running with no ransom paid. Even so, Company 3 is not resting on their laurels, they used this close call to conduct additional user training on the perils of email and phishing attacks.

How To Protect Your Company (and Yourself)

One thing Killian would like to point out when talking about ransomware is that this virus does not discriminate. It will hit you at home and take your $500 just as readily as it will at the office. So her advice is advice that can be implemented in both environments and should be strongly considered if you place any value on the information residing on whatever device you use (PC, Mac, smartphone, tablet… all devices are fair game for this bugger).

What You Can Do:

  • Inventory your data: This is Information Security 101, but we aren’t generally that great about it. Do you know where all of your information is stored? Map out all of your data repositories and then audit regularly to make sure it’s still appropriate.
  • Back it up: This is your #1 defense against ransomware. Determine how long is acceptable for you to be out of commission (1 hour, 1 day, 1 week?) and build out an appropriate backup strategy that ensures you can meet that acceptable level. Consider multiple types of backups in the event one gets compromised and regularly test the effectiveness of the backups. Side note: many versions of the ransomware either destroy your shadow copy or encrypt it before notifying you that you’ve been ransomed so do not let your shadow copy be your only backup solution.
  • Implement need-to-know access: Do you know, with certainty, who has access to what information? Or do you take a “everyone needs access to everything” approach? Play out a few table top exercises with ransomware and you may be re-thinking that approach. Use user access to data as a strategy to protect you from attacks to limit the exposure to information impacted from any one user. And like data inventory, review this access periodically and audit users to ensure nothing is changing.
  • Continue to train users: Make sure your user base knows what the current risks are to them so they are better able to protect both themselves and  your organization. Train them on the signs of ransomware so they can report it before the pop-up does, which can help mitigate the damage done. Remember that your users are computing at home so they have a vested interested in being a bit more technical – teach them about disconnecting from the internet, unplugging from the network, and the importance of controlling access to information.
  • Strengthen technical controls: there are some pretty easy solutions that you can implement that can help protect you from installing ransomware, including:
    • Block EXE file attachments so users cannot directly run executable files from emails.
    • Disable macros in Office applications, where malicious code is often embedded.
    • Implement web filtering for malicious sites to block known security risks sites.
    • Remove local admin rights so users are forced to enter in a privileged username and password to run new software.
    • Develop and implement a patch and vulnerability management program; many variants use vulnerabilities in applications to infiltrate your system.
    • Implement group policies and other restrictions on common payload entry points, such as the %AppData% folder.
  • Check online for solutions: If you don’t have a good backup to restore from, before you give in and pay the ransom, do some research to see if a key has been uncovered. Great sources to consider include Malwarebytes, Kaspersky Ransomware Decryptor  and BleepingComputer. Do not remove the malware until you are sure all of your files have been successfully recovered.

There’s no doubt about it, ransomware stinks. But it is a good reminder of how a strong information security program can protect you and how sticking to the basics (asset management, access control, backup management, user training) will continue to pay off.

Blog post provided by: 

* Killian, Michelle.  http://www.frsecure.com/ransomware-a-tale-of-three-companies/. N.p., 7 Mar. 2016. Web.12 Apr. 2016. <http://www.frsecure.com/ransomware-a-tale-of-three-companies/>.

Are you interested in improving your processes to reach your security goals? Reach out to the team at Network Center, Inc. for more information on how utilitzing FRSecure can positively impact your company. 

ContactUsButton.jpg

Topics: Network Security, Security, Ransomware

Dear Ransomware...

Posted by Sean Todd on Apr 8, 2016 1:00:00 PM

Dear Ransomware – let’s get familiar

First, let’s define what ransomware is. Basically, it’s a piece of malware that is able to infect a device that will prevent an end user from either accessing the device itself, or the data on the device. Typically, the person responsible for creating the ransomware will require the user to pay a fee in order to regain access to the infected files or system. Even when you think you’ve got your environment configured with the right layers of software designed to prevent an infiltration of potentially destructive ransomware, there’s still a good chance you may become a victim.

lock_image.jpgSounds like a pain right? Well, it could get much more serious than that pretty quickly. Let’s assume that device is on your corporate network. Let’s also assume that the user of that device has access to files on the network. See where this is going? It now has the potential to affect files across the network. All that business critical data is now that the mercy of a cyber-criminal demanding a ransom payment before giving you back your access, if at all. You don’t just lose access to the files, you have the potential to lose productivity, legal fees, IT services, customer service, etc. it adds up quickly.

So what exactly does this ransomware do? The most common side effect is file encryption. Encryption that is at this point is pretty much impossible to crack. It has the ability to encrypt not only data on your local device, but also data across the network that the user has access to. Without a good backup or paying the ransom, you can say good-bye to your data. Even a backup will only get you back to the point in time where it was last successfully run. That means if you’re backup ran last night, and the ransomware hit today at 4pm, you’ve pretty much lost an entire day of work for not only a single individual, but potentially an entire company.

But I have antivirus, that’s enough right? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but antivirus software alone simply isn’t enough anymore. You need a layered approach to your preventative arsenal.ransomware2.jpg

  1. Education – Educate yourself and end users on how to detect these threats. Limit the amount of casual internet browsing and if an email seems fishy, there’s a good chance it is. Remember, ransomware can infect you in multiple ways.
  2. Email Filtering – Use a spam service to filter email before it gets to your mail server and inbox. Even users of a hosted email platforms should consider using 3rd party email filtering as an added layer of security.
  3. Web Filtering – Ransomware doesn’t just come from email. It can come from very popular legitimate websites as well. Utilizing some type of web filtering could help prevent access to infected websites or syndicated ads carrying malicious code.
  4. Antivirus – Use reputable antivirus. This is usually the last point in the preventative stage. Having up to date antivirus could be your saving grace, although there are never any guarantees. Even older versions of antivirus with up to date virus definitions could make you vulnerable. Much like the cyber criminals who are continuously trying to evade the various levels of protection, antivirus vendors are constantly evaluating and improving their software in order to combat the latest threats.

It's unfortunate that there are new stories daily of companies large and small being targeted by these malicious campaigns. There’s no doubt it will only get worse before it gets better as these threats are constantly evolving. They tend to get more destructive with each iteration and some aren’t even offering the option to decrypt anymore. Your best defense is a multi-layered approach. The more layers, the less chance of becoming the latest victim. Bottom line, it needs to be taken seriously.

Topics: Email Security, Network Security, Security, Ransomware

Day in the Life - Jeff Bolstad, Help Desk Technician

Posted by Kirsten Henagin on Apr 1, 2016 10:30:00 AM

In a world of fast technology and changing markets, what do people in an IT consulting company actually do? At Network Center, Inc. we engage in responsible innovation, have a relentless dedication to our customers, and most of all - we are committed to our employees. The Day in the Life blog series highlights our employees’ talents, passions, and expertise in all of our departments. Day in the Life has the goal to provide a holistic, behind-the-scenes look of our company.

“Trust that who you are working through [for IT solutons] has your best interest, and don't expect the cheapest solution to be the best.” – Jeff Bolstad

Jeff Bolstad, Help Desk Technician, has been with Network Center, Inc. (NCI) for five years. Jeff attended Valley City State University, and he has been in the information technology industry for a total of nine years. Jeff spends his free time computer gaming, specifically Dungeons and Dragons. Jeff is rarely caught without his computer, but when he is offline he enjoys reading fantasy novels, fishing, gardening, and spending time with his Rottweiler-Labrador mix. 

20150829_162319.jpgJeff is often the first one to arrive at the office, which his favorite aspect of his day. He enjoys starting the day in the stillness of a quiet morning. The early morning is an opportunity for him to get organized and prepared for the day before customers start calling. He ensures that the Support Center is up and running, and checks for new tickets. Throughout the day, he takes calls from customers to support their company’s success and resolve issues.

Network Center, Inc. takes a team approach to solving problems and providing the best services to customers. For example, Jeff collaborates and coordinates with Sean Todd, Director of Managed Services, to distribute resources and assign tickets throughout the department. He interacts with a number of people over the course of the day, mostly customers, but also other team members to assist with various service help tickets.

Jeff’s role could be perceived as transactional for the company because his time is billable to the customer, however that assumption would be incorrect. His impact goes beyond the interaction and time spent assisting customers. His success in serving customers furthers the trust built between the various accounts he serves, the Support Center team and NCI as a whole. Dedication to customers is one of the core values of the company, and the Support Center team lives and breathes that value every day.Jeff-pic-1.jpg

According to Jeff, NCI has more resources at its disposal when assisting customers. Services are managed between departments to create a collaborative and holistic approach to solving problems for customers. Jeff feels that NCI is perceptive and can readily recognize customer needs, then can take a proactive step in resolving issues.

For customers to be successful, Jeff stressed “Trust that who you are going through [for IT solutions] has your best interest, and don't expect the cheapest solution to be the best.”

Overall the company’s laid back atmosphere has hooked Jeff into always coming back to the office. He enjoys being surrounded by people determined to do their best for the customer every day. He appreciates that the company places a priority on investing in technical education for its employees. Cutting edge technology continues to surface and evolve in the IT industry, and through connections with customers he is able to stay up-to-date with the latest trends.

Lastly, a fun fact about Jeff is that while his knowledge of the IT industry and technology is widespread and global, he has not yet stepped foot on an airplane.  

Stay tuned for more installments to the “A Day in the Life” series; giving you a behind the scenes look at the people behind your project.

MeetOurTeam_button-1.jpg

 

Topics: IT Solutions, IT support, Company Culture, Day in the Life

Today is a Good Day to Code!

Posted by Paul Staszko on Mar 25, 2016 10:00:00 AM

What is the best day to become a programmer? It was, is, will be yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Respectively. I tend to be a cold hard light of the day realist about most things, but one of the few areas about which I am perpetually optimistic is software programming. As software programming is a broad topic, I’ll focus on the areas of options, ease of use, and reach. Let’s imagine how this applies to a fictitious novice jumping into software development.GDAGX2JKI4.jpg

Like any craft where you repair something that is damaged or create something out of nothing, having the right tool for the job is essential to success. As software interacts more and more aspects of our lives, programmers need ever expanding options for languages, tools, and best practices. Thankfully, we’ve got them. The sheer number of programming languages alone can seem a bit overwhelming on the whole, but if there is a job to do, someone has probably already done the hardest parts of it for you.

With even the vaguest of Google searches, our new developer will be off and running. The currents of IT support websites are well established and will insure a novice will end up with some useful tools and heaps of guidance. Sites like StackOverfow, its parent StackExchange, and CodeProject have made a permanent stamp on free and open peer support. Tutorials, essays, answers to extremely specific problems, they are all there for the taking.

The languages and the tools available also continue to mature and become better understood and supported by their respective communities. This is an easy point to overlook, but technologies live and die on the communities that form around them. For those who like something to hold, it’s very easy to find amazing books on software programming. I could hardly overstate how valuable the books on my bookshelf have been.

At the risk of being the prototypical cranky old man, kids these days have no idea how hard it used to be. I don’t think they are missing too much though. You can learn a lot by struggling on your own, but success and a helping hand are pretty nice too.

photo-1417733403748-83bbc7c05140.jpegMy final argument that today is the best day to become a programmer boils down to one word. Reach. Broadly speaking, I mean how far a piece of software can go, the amount of work a bit of software can accomplish, and how fast it can do it while continuing to grow are truly mind boggling. Small computers are all around us in the form of, well, pretty much anything these days. A crafty programmer is able to extend their reach into those devices to make them work more to the programmers liking. Come to think of it, I don’t see why my washing machine couldn’t text me when it’s done. It doesn’t have an alarm. Maybe this weekend…

To go along with the swarm of small computers surrounding us, internet services are available to be harnessed. Telecommunications, video, social media, ecommerce. All of these areas become toys for a developer to mix and match. More than ever before, a programmer’s digital world and physical world can be bent to their will. My friend wants to order cat food via a text message. I’m 90% of the way there.

The Interactive Team at Network Center, Inc. has the knowhow to get the job done. Even more importantly, we are excited to find new and better ways to exceed our customer’s expectations on time and on budget.

Today is a good day to code!

 

Topics: Developers, website development, software development

Day in the Life - Corey Stoner, Network Systems Analyst

Posted by Kirsten Henagin on Mar 18, 2016 10:00:00 AM

In a world of fast technology and changing markets, what do people in an IT consulting company actually do? At Network Center, Inc. we engage in responsible innovation, have a relentless dedication to our customers, and most of all - we are committed to our employees. The Day in the Life blog series highlights our employees’ talents, passions, and expertise in all of our departments. Day in the Life has the goal to provide a holistic, behind-the-scenes look of our company.

“In the short time I have been here, I have learned more about IT than I have in my whole career.” – Corey Stoner, Network Systems Analyst

Corey Stoner, Network Systems Analyst, hails from University of Mary with a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems Management. He has been with Network Center, Inc. (NCI) for the last four and a half years. However, his exposure in the industry goes back to his first internship in 1999 – seventeen years ago.  His favorite pastimes include barbequing, hunting, fishing – and pretty much, anything outdoors.

For Corey, each day is different at NCI. He has a core set of clients that he spends the majority of his time assisting. He time consists of a combination of tasks ranging from fixing issues to attending sales meetings with potential or existing customers. Training Microsoft Cloud and Azure products are staple jobs for Corey. Other tasks include implementation planning, and according to Corey fixing “the whole gambit.”

Corey1.pngIn a typical day, he works with customers, small companies (3-4) to large companies (100+). These customer situations vary in the number of people he will be working with on an implementation. For example, a smaller customer will have one onsite person that has a technical focus. However, in a larger customer site he could be working with five other IT people. Office 365 migrations are a common task Corey performs, some of which are hybrid integrations with over 100 mailboxes. These processes can vary in length depending on magnitude and intricacy, but on average from start to finish approximately a few weeks to a month is a typical process. 

When reflecting the favorite part of Corey’s day he said, “When the customer is happy.” He likes seeing the whole plan come together and having that plan work for a customer. The role that Corey holds at NCI directly impacts customers. He is now transferring into a role with more design and planning work for projects to ensure success and timeliness. He also helps the sales team when serving customers. 

Corey revered NCI’s differentiator within the market with the following statement, “We do things that are right for the customer, not just trying to sell things.” The emphasis NCI places on customer service is lived by our employees every day with the company’s value of dedication to all customers.

Corey_Muskie_2.pngComing back to the office every day isn’t hard for Corey because of the people that surround him at the office. There is a strong team aspect when serving customers. The satisfaction provided to customers would not be attainable if the NCI team members were working alone.

What are some words of advice Corey has for customers looking for IT services? He thinks customers should approach IT services how you would look at hiring a contractor or an electrician. You are hiring someone that knows more about something than you and that you need help with. This allows for the hired professionals to take care of the details you may not understand, and they make sure it is done well.  

While at NCI, Corey has been able to see how good businesses run and how to do business the right way. “In the short time I have been here, I have learned more about IT than I have in my whole career,” Corey said.

Lastly, a fun fact about Corey is that he has an identical twin brother, that only a handful of people have met.

Stay tuned for more installments to the “A Day in the Life” series; giving you a behind the scenes look at the people behind your project.

MeetOurTeam_button-1.jpg

Topics: Company Culture, Day in the Life

Why 3CX Phone System with Ubiquiti Infrastructure?

Posted by Jeremy Hostrup on Mar 17, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Recently, we’ve started selling a new line of products to try to expand our services offering to benefit our customers. I had the opportunity to look into and test a number of products and we made the decision to go with 3CX phone system, Ubiquiti switches and firewalls to provide a very cost effective, functional environment for (generally) smaller businesses. I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss each of those providers and how they work together.

picture1.jpg3CX provides a lot of features for a comparatively small cost. The high level features that I’ll discuss in more details are:

  • Easy Admin and Install
  • Android and IOS Clients
  • Windows and Mac Softphones
  • Unified Communications
  • Web Conferencing

The administrative web page for 3CX is very simple and intuitive to use. 3CX runs on a windows server easing management as well. One of the nicest features I’ve seen is that when I provision a user, the system automatically generates a welcome email with the installation instructions for the soft clients as well as the provisioning file. The windows client has a professional appearance and provides instant messaging and presence information, directory information, voicemails, and many other features.

Another feature that is provided with the system is web conferencing using WebRTC. Essentially, WebRTC allows you to have video conferencing without installing anything. With a couple clicks, you can have a video web conference using Google Chrome and have people join from almost any computer with an Internet connection, Android phone, and iOS phone (apps required for mobile). These web conferences give you the ability to share your screen, and provide remote support by allowing you to control another’s computer if you are given permission.

picture2.jpg3CX licensing is also a very simple model. Essentially, you pay for the number of simultaneous calls that you’re going to have. All that information is provided on their web page: www.3cx.com.

Ubiquiti Unifi switches and firewalls provide a very nice infrastructure for small businesses. Ubiquiti has done a very nice job with software defined networking with this product line at a very reasonable cost. They offer firewalls, POE switches, and access points. The configuration for the devices is all via the Unifi controller and that also provides statistics for the devices. Shown is a screen shot of the initial dashboard. More information about their Unifi products can be found here: https://www.ubnt.com/enterprise/.

For more information on how 3CX phone systems along with Ubiquiti switches and firewalls can benefit your business, contact the knowledgable team at Network Center, Inc. by following the link below. 

ContactUsButton.jpg

 

Topics: Firewall, 3CX Phone System, Ubiquiti Switches

Product Update: Veeam Backup and Recovery Version 9

Posted by Mike Pagan on Mar 7, 2016 4:00:00 PM

BackupandReplication.jpgVeeam Backup and Replication is probably a product that probably doesn't need an introduction but in case you are not familiar, Veeam is a next generation backup product built for virtual machines. Most of Network Center's customer have moved from legacy backup products to Veeam, so the release of version 9 is a milestone release in Veeam's product portfolio.

I have been using Veeam Backup and Recovery as Network Center’s primary backup product for about 2 years now, so when version 9 was released I was ready to test the update on our servers. (At the Network Center we "eat our own dog food," which means that we use the products we recommend).

A couple days after the update was available, I downloaded and started the update. I walked through the three phases of the update (Enterprise Console, Backup Console and Backup and Recovery) and it was quick and easy. After a reboot of the server, that night’s backups were ready to run and all backup jobs have completed successfully since the update (which is exactly how an upgrade is supposed to work).

For those of you who wait until the first update of a software before considering updating, Anton Gostev, Vice President of Product Management and author of the Veeam Community Forums Digest announced on 2/14/2016 that "(Veeam is) now planning to release Update 1 around the end of this month" Based on this information you should be clear to upgrade your Veeam software after the first of March. 

If you would like a full walk through of the current upgrade process, check out Vladan Seget's How-to Upgrade to Veeam Backup and Replication v9. His blog post has screen shots and a video that details the process if your curious about the details.

Best New Features:

So there is a new update of your backup software, why should I care? Good question. It's easy to get lost in the never ending slog of product updates, but here are some of the new features that I think make the update worthwhile: 

  • Standalone Backup Console: This doesn't add new backup functionality to the product but it does allow for admins to add the console do their laptop/desktop and connect back to the Veeam server to check the status of the backup jobs and make changes. Sure, you can RDP to the server to do the same thing. What if you wanted a junior admin to be able to check the backup jobs without giving them access to the server itself? The new standalone console and role based access controls now allow that to happen.
    BackupandReplication2.jpg

  • Backup Copy Job Improvements: There have been a number of enhancements with how v9 handles backup copy jobs including parallel processing of jobs, graceful termination of running jobs and general performance improvements. All of these improvements should make the off site copy of your backup data faster and more reliably.

  • New Veeam Explorers:
    • Backup/recovery of Group Policy Objects, Active Directory integrated DNS records
      BackupandReplication3.jpg

    • Exchange 2016 support and additional eDiscovery features
      BackupandReplication4.jpg

    • More granularity recovery SQL information with table-level recovery and object-level recovery
      BackupandReplication5.jpg

  • Per-VM Backup File Chains: This new backup repository option creates a new backup file chain per VM, which can increase backup performance. For those with de-duplicating storage appliances like ExaGrid this can increase backup performance by up to 10x according to Veeam.
    BackupandReplication6.jpg

  • BitLooker: Ok, so the name is too similar to Microsoft's BitLocker which may be a poor marketing decision, but the features that it adds are useful. BitLooker helps to reduce the size of your backup files by excluding:
    • Deleted file blocks
    • Swap and hibernation files
    • User-specified files and folders (I prefer to back everything up, but there are use cases where it is required to exclude a folder or two from the backup) New, modern UI: This isn't so much a feature, but it does make the new version feel like a complete and mature product.

      There are other new improvements in v9 that I did not mention, so if you're interested in the full list check out the What's new in Veeam Backup & Recovery v9 document from Veeam.

      As always if you have any questions about the upgrade or would like some assistance with it, please let us know we'd be happy to assist.

ContactUsButton-1.jpg

Topics: Data Backup, Virtual Replication, Veeam

5 Reasons Businesses Are Quickly Adopting Video Collaboration

Posted by Tara Patoile on Feb 25, 2016 3:00:00 PM

Imagine yourself in the following scenario: the company you work for is finding ways to make work-life balance more flexible as a 2016 goal, and has asked if you are interested in teleworking at least part time. The reality of this scenario is that three quarters of companies worldwide have already introduced flexible working into their environments *. What does this mean for you? It means the ability to interface with people through different mediums, from multiple locations, by leveraging various devices and toolsvideo-collaboration-network-center-video-guidance.png

Businesses small and large recognize the need to employ tools that enable their workforce to feel connected, increase productivity and help them thrive in whatever environment they choose - that’s where video collaboration comes in. You’ve likely used Facetime, Google Hangouts or Skype, whether personal or professional, to quickly and easily collaborate or communicate with someone. Companies hear and see the demand for video collaboration as a preferred medium to interact and get work done, removing time and distance barriers.

Aside from the recognized benefits, here are common reasons why businesses are adopting video collaboration:

  1. Improved productivity – The tools, technology and people are at your fingertips – reaching the right people when you need them to ultimately get more done in a shorter amount of time.
  2. Workplace satisfaction – Meeting with customers, partners and colleagues in a similar face-to-face environment creates deeper, more meaningful connections. Relationship-building is a core contributor to satisfied employees and partnerships.
  3. Maintained competitive edge – Video collaboration removes the barriers of distance and time, increasing your availability to improve customer service while discovering new opportunities.
  4. ROI and cost reduction – Traveling is one of the largest expenditures for businesses, making video collaboration a very appealing option for communication. Couple reduced cost with greater productivity and availability of resources, and the return on implementing a video collaboration platform far exceeds the expense.
  5. Streamlined process – Information can easily be distributed to streamline projects and day-to-day tasks. Did you know lack of communication and investment in technology are leading contributors to bottle necked projects**?

Short- and long-term benefits of video collaboration help businesses alike reach the same goals to improve efficiencies, open lines of communication, save money and maintain a flexible environment for employees. It’s no wonder with 61% of people using their home broadband service to access work applications (and 24% on mobile) that video collaboration will prove to enhance performance *.

Eltringham, Mark. http://workplaceinsight.net/report-reveals-huge-surge-use-flexible-working-worldwide/. N.p., 9 Feb. 2016. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. <http://workplaceinsight.net/report-reveals-huge-surge-use-flexible-working-worldwide/>.

** Davis, Kathleen. "Corporate Bottlenecks." Entrepreneur. Boniasoft, July 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. <http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/229368>.

Are you interested in utilizing Video Collaboration to reach your business goals? Reach out to the team at Network Center, Inc. for more information on how Video Collaboration can positively impact your company. 

ContactUsButton.jpg

Topics: Video Conferencing, Collaboration, Video Collaboration

A Day in the Life:  Paul Staszko - Application Developer

Posted by Kirsten Henagin on Feb 17, 2016 10:00:00 AM

In a world of fast technology and changing markets, what do people in an IT consulting company actually do? At Network Center, Inc. we engage in responsible innovation, have a relentless dedication to our customers, and most of all - we are committed to our employees. The Day in the Life blog series highlights our employees’ talents, passions, and expertise in all of our departments. Day in the Life has the goal to provide a holistic, behind-the-scenes look of our company.

“I’d still be writing software even if no one was paying me to. It’s my thing.” – Paul Staszko, Application Developer

Society has found the fruits of application development to be a norm of everyday life with smart phones, tablets, laptops, and countless other forms of technology constantly surrounding people. What many people don’t realize is that application development is truly challenging and thought intensive work.

Paul Staszko has been with Network Center, Inc. for six months, but his experience in professional software development began 13 years ago. For Paul, his work at Network Center, Inc. is not just a job, but also a deep-rooted passion.

Paul.jpg

His actions speak louder than his words. Paul’s mission is not only to perform good work when helping clients, but to do great work. The projects at Network Center, Inc. are “interesting and engaging,” continually stretching Paul’s skills in new ways.

Paul’s day begins with coffee and a granola bar as he begins to jump into his daily tasks. When approaching a problem, he always seeks innovative new ways to debug the issue. He works with the Interactive Team at Network Center, Inc. finding optimal solutions for clients on a daily basis. Paul is truly an ambassador of the NCI brand and culture, always seeking new and innovative opportunities for client projects.  He keeps coming back to the office every day, not just for the coffee – but for the people.

“I’d still be writing software even if no one was paying me to. It’s my thing,” Paul stated.

Paul believes that the depth and breadth of services that Network Center, Inc. offers is key in what makes NCI unique. He says, “IT is very diverse and we can do it all in a one-stop-shop model.” However, this is not to over simplify the problems clients face or to undervalue each employee’s specialization when solving issues. “People [at Network Center, Inc.] have a strong attention to detail and what will serve the customer well,” Paul emphasized.

For customers that are in need of IT services, Paul recommends establishing and developing a relationship with the people providing services. The point is to find people that a client can trust and will do right by the client. “When you do business with NCI, you have a lot of resources available to you,” Paul highlighted, in comparison to segmenting your services to multiple providers. In the time that Paul has been with Network Center, Inc. he has displayed the company’s core values through his work, collaboration with his colleagues, and while seeking optimal solutions for customers.

PaulsLegos.jpg

When Paul isn’t at the office he spends his time in his newly purchased house. His favorite pastimes include video games, watching Netflix, kite flying, bike riding, and constructing and collecting complex Lego sculptures. His favorite book is PowerShell in Action by Bruce Payette, which exemplifies his passion deeply rooted in script administration.

Stay tuned for more installments to the “A Day in the Life” series; giving you a behind the scenes look at the people behind your project.

 MeetOurTeam_button-1.jpg

Topics: Application Development, Day in the Life

Introducing "The Technocrats" Podcast

Posted by Eric Kupfer on Feb 11, 2016 4:50:43 PM

One of the best parts of working at Network Center, Inc. (NCI) is that we get to work with some of the most interesting and creative minds in the upper Midwest.  The funny thing about interesting people is that they are always having interesting conversations. Nothing in particular, just the informal conversations that happen between co-workers. It's what makes coming to work fun. You might call it water-cooler talk. Of course, here at NCI we spend our day thinking about and working with technology, so this often shapes the conversation.

iTunesArtwork_Technocrats.jpgAt any given time we might be discussing the best way to solve a problem for a client, a new product, IT news or trends in the industry that are noteworthy. The conversation serves to entertain, educate and solve problems.

It's easy to see the benefit that this type of interaction brings to any company. Nearly all businesses are active on social media, author blogs, etc. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to capture the real conversation in 140 characters on Twitter or in a blog post. To bridge that gap, Solution Architects, Eric Kupfer and Ric Todd are introducing a bi-weekly podcast called, "The Technocrats."

"The Technocrats" will bring the conversation outside of the NCI walls. Topics will range from a high level discussion on technology trends and industry shifts that IT decision makers care about, all the way down the stack to the 1's and 0's that an IT admin needs to keep up with in order to maintain critical systems. In many cases, the discussion will be based directly on conversations we're having with customers and peers that week.

We hope the to add insight to discussions that your company or IT team is having, or perhaps even start a conversation. To do this we need your help! We want the show to be interactive.

Please follow us on Twitter @theTcrats

Let us know if there is a topic you would like to have covered and what you think of the show! 

In the first podcast we discuss:

  • The death of IE and its implications
  • Veeam 9 and some of the new features we think may make a new difference for your shop
  • VMware vSphere 6.0 Update 1b and why you should be interested in finally deploying version 6 if you haven’t already

Technocrats_button-1.jpg

To find more information check out: https://www.netcenter.net/podcast

Topics: Technology Solutions, technology assessment, Technology Podcast

Can a Toaster Hack Your Network? Navigating the Internet of Things

Posted by Jeff Bolstad on Feb 5, 2016 4:02:03 PM

Can a Toaster Hack Your Network?

I mean, that’s ridiculous, right?  Maliciously burn bread until its inedible maybe, but infiltrate an enterprise-level network? Luckily, the answer right now is no, but we’re fast entering a world where there will be more devices with network capabilities than companies can account for and secure their networks against.  A world where even mundane items are equipped with sensors, software, and connections to the outside world is becoming the new normal, and a term has been adopted to describe it, the Internet of Things (IoT).

So that’s a buzzword by any definition, and a quick internet search will show that it might be worthy of buzz, but what does a term like that mean exactly, and what effect does it have on individuals, and ultimately, companies as a whole?

I started by trying to figure out when this term first came into existence.  The notion of eventually having everything in a home being “smart” and able to talk to one another. Or a node out in the wider world has been a theme heavily featured in Science Fiction going back decades. But when did it creep into everyday language?  As far as I can tell, it started with a presentation by Kevin Ashton, presenting on the uses of RFID and its place in the commercial world as far back as 1999.  Around this same time, LG decided that what the world needed was a fridge that could connect to the internet. From there it’s been an increasingly diverse offering of toys, appliances, and personal gadgets with the goal of making our lives easier and keeping us connected.  A lot of people in the world feel that convenience and entertainment are just a small portion of the IoT’s potential.

IOT.jpg

Take, for instance, self-driving cars.  One in its own is a novelty, a fleet of automated trucks might be a major boon to a transport company, and a city full of cars fully networked and aware of the position of other cars on the road at all times has the potential to run with minimal congestion and reduce fuel consumption and pollution.  LA County, for example, estimates impressive results just from optimizing their traffic signals.   This is without the benefit of gathering real-time data on vehicle positions and speed, which could improve the efficiency of such a program further.

There are other practical benefits that we see daily, TVs capable of streaming content without the need for another device attached, smart watches and smart phones can give you a plethora of information at your fingertips (or wrist), and appliances are just a few of the items in your home that you could connect.  Thermostats, lighting systems, and security systems that are all networked back to the internet make it so your house can be checked on and controlled from the nearest available device.  This is all well and good, but what happens when these devices find their way into the office?

So my scenario of an evil toaster is probably a little unrealistic. Many companies have items that have potential to be part of an IoT.  Coffee makers, weather stations, and vending machines, come to mind.  HP released a study in 2014 stating that the average IoT device contained twenty-five vulnerabilities, and 70% contained at least one.   I view these devices as having two major points that need to be addressed, 1) their connection to the internet, and 2) where the data they transmit gets stored.  The first can be addressed by proper research, vetting of devices, and implementation by the entity responsible for a company’s network security.  This would include network segregation, firewall configuration, and patching, as well as taking any additional steps to secure the existing network against potential intrusion.  The trickier part is what data do these devices gather on their own, where do they send that data, and who is responsible for it once it leaves your company?  If these questions can be answered to a company’s satisfaction, there is still a certain level or risk that has to be accepted.  But as more and more device become part of the Internet of Things, there’s no reason individuals and companies can’t enjoy the benefits.

Stay up to date with the latest technology trends by following our NCI Blogs.  Contact us today for more information on how we can help you secure your devices and prepare you for new technologies.

 ContactUsButton.jpg

Topics: Internet of Things

7 Frequently Asked Technology Questions

Posted by Jon Ryan on Jan 26, 2016 1:02:40 PM

techquestion.jpgEven though our customer base is widely diverse, we get some of the same questions from each customer.  Here are 7 frequently asked technology questions we get from our customers.

1. How can I create redundancies in my network to minimize outages and down time?

The best way to approach setting up network redundancy is to first look at what systems you rely on and where the possibilities of failure are present. 

Most businesses have most of or all of the following:

  • ISP (Internet Service Provider)
    • Possible ISP Failures (examples)
      1. IP or Configuration Change by the ISP
      2. Downstream ISP Partner Issues
      3. Physical Outage Due to Construction in Your Area
      4. Environmental Outage Due to Storm or Natural Disaster
    • ISP Redundancies

Often times overlooked as a major failure source, ISP redundancies can add a high level of outage protection.  Purchasing ISP from two different vendors allows you to failover to the secondary ISP as a backup.  Firewalls with failover capabilities can provide a manual or automatic failover option.

  • Internal Cabling

Cat(X) Ethernet cabling will eventually deteriorate and break down.  Testing your cabling or upgrading your cable to a higher speed will help reduce the amount of network traffic issues and outage due to aged cabling.  Older buildings are more susceptible to old cabling and rodent attacks.  (Nothing spruces up a rats’ nest more than some shiny blue Ethernet cable insulation.)  Running two runs to every location also provides you with port failover in case one line becomes unusable.

  • Hardware/Device Failure

Have one switch or firewall installed?  You should have two.  Hardware failure is the most common network failure event.  It is also much easier to prepare for.  With technologies such as switch stacking, you can link network switches to provide single management for multiple switches.  Redundancy is achieved by spreading multiple network ports on a device over two or more switches.  In case of a device failure, you have a secondary path for connections.  This also provides load balancing for Ethernet traffic, a bonus.

2. When creating a technology plan, how many years should I plan out to?

We have all heard “Do you have a technology plan?” Our first response is typically based on a 5 year and 10-year plan.  More than likely based on having to respond to job interview questions.  The reality is, you have to plan much shorter out than even 5 years.  A typical technology plan should be a 1 to 2-year plan and a 3-year plan.  Technology changes much too fast to plan out further than 3 years.  More than likely, your business needs will also change by then.  One-year planning is the most common as it is typically done for budgeting cycles and sometimes spills over into year two to tag the next year’s budget. 

3. I have backups, but how protected am I from data loss?

There is a little confusion on what kind of data protection backups provide.  Most IT providers set up retention schedules on a 1 - 2 week or 10-day schedule based on the requirements and budget provided by a business.  Meaning for a 2-week retention, you have 2 weekly full backups with night change data going back two full weeks.  This backup schedule is a rolling backup and moves with you throughout the year.  So anything beyond two weeks is unrecoverable. 

Here is an example: I deleted a file off the server 3 weeks ago.  I just realized that I need it.  My retention schedule is set for 14 days which means my files can only be recovered back two weeks.  The file is non-recoverable.

The reason retention schedules seem so short has to do with the cost of storage and the amount of it we need.  In order to recover files older than your retention schedule, you need to setup a bi-yearly, yearly, or even monthly full backup that is never updated.  This will cost you more money in storage, but will give you archived data to go back to.  In the all-powerful adage, time equals money, where time is how far back you want to be able to save and money is ultimately storage cost.

4. I have multiple lingering IT projects to complete. How do I identify, prioritize and get them completed?

troubleshooting-techniques-asking-the-right-questions-1024x576.jpgIt’s the same old problem that IT departments have been struggling with for quite some time.  I have too much to do, but lack the budget and/or labor power to do so.  Obviously each IT director has a better view into their business than we do, but what we can provide are ways to approach that tower of projects building up.  This is not an exact equation to solve all of your headaches, but hopefully it will get your thought process going.

  • Lay out all of your projects and prioritize them on impact to your business. By impact, we are referring to positive impact that increases business efficiency.
  • Now make three budget cycles representing the next 3 years. Start placing the high impact projects in the first two-year budget cycles without going over.  If you want, you can add an approximate 10% budget to each year cycle. 
  • Take the remaining projects and fill in the remaining budget areas in the 3 years with the smaller, less impact projects. You ultimately want to place the high impact projects in the first two years. 

Most businesses will stay pretty firm on IT budgets.  But you may be able to get some extra funds if you can justify the amount of productivity you will get back from a project.  Don’t forget to keep aging hardware in mind when prioritizing your projects.

5. How do I improve my Disaster Recovery plan?

What’s a disaster recovery plan?  Just kidding.  But in all seriousness, many businesses don’t have a DR plan.  When talking to our customers that don’t currently have a DR plan, we can usually put them in two categories, customers who don’t think they can afford it, and customers who do think they need it.  Disaster Recovery encompasses more than just IT, but since we are the IT experts, we’ll just stick to the IT part.  DR plans are designed to react to unplanned outages.  Whether it is theft, damage (sprinkler system triggered, vandalism, electrical spike), hardware or software failure, you need to be prepared to react.  If you have a DR plan in place, here are some helpful tips to improve your current plan.  If you don’t have a DR plan in place, give us a call.

  • Have your plan extensively documented. Make sure every step is clearly documented for someone to follow.  Assume that someone with little technology skills could follow it.  Meaning, you should make two versions of it.  One version that allows someone to get ahold of the right people to react.  Maybe it’s as easy as having a list of all of your service providers.  From your ISP, to your IT Company, to the Electric, Plumbing and Heating vendor. 
  • Create a Disaster Recovery Response Team. Identify key people within your organization to be part of a Disaster Recovery response team.  Train all of them in your DR plan and how to react to it when you experience an event.
  • Have local and offsite backup copies. When disaster strikes, you should have two locations to recover from.  A local copy will provide quicker access to restoring your data.  While a cloud or offsite backup is needed as a separate location for your data that is safe from the disaster event.  For those of you that only have one location, the cloud is a great place to store your backups.
6. Everyone talks loosely about ‘the cloud’. What would I use the cloud for?

This is typically a larger discussion with a review of your business process. But for the sense of answering the question in broad terms, the cloud has many uses. Here is a list of ways a business can take advantage of ‘the cloud’.cloud_concept.jpg

  • Microsoft Office 365 is ‘in the cloud.’ Microsoft provides SharePoint, Office applications, and individual OneDrive cloud storage for its subscribers.  While SharePoint and Office applications are still catching on, Microsoft OneDrive has been a favorite for users as it provides online cloud storage for personal files similar to Dropbox.  Office 365 is available to both personal and business users.
  • Offsite backup storage is becoming a popular use for cloud services. Remember the good old days of taking your backup tapes offsite as a DR solution?  With the advent of cloud services and faster (affordable) internet speeds, pushing your offsite backups to the cloud eliminates the need for offsite tapes.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) allows businesses to place programs in the cloud and access them from anywhere remotely. There is no longer a need to host applications on a physical piece of hardware anymore.  This option works great for businesses with aging hardware that only use their onsite server for a few applications, file storage and email.  Those services can all go to the cloud with IaaS, OneDrive, and Office 365.
7. I have seen some proposals for “All You Can Eat” managed services. What is the advantages and disadvantages of the “All You Can Eat” support model versus an hourly rate support?

All You Can Eat” (AYCE) support contracts have been around for a long time.  They are currently making a resurgence in the field of IT support.  You may be familiar with this ‘cost per pc’ model where businesses pay a total monthly charge based on the amount of PCs (or users) they have and receive unlimited support for those users.  To be competitive, we’ve also offered the same kind of support model.

In some environments the AYCE model can have its benefits.  The drawback is in the fine print.  Many AYCE support contracts require a 1-year agreement.  They also often only include a helpdesk type resource.  So be ready to pay for an engineer or onsite technician.  Most times they do not include any projects or new installations.  The biggest selling point behind them is Predictable IT Costs.  (As predictable as the fine print anyway.)

We try to give our customers the best of both worlds.  The benefit of predictable IT costs, no term contracts, and any resource we offer.  We offer a monthly fee based support model that only charges you for what you use called a NetSecure Support Plan.  We take a predicted amount of support hours, that we arrive at with our customers, and space the payments out over 1 year. 

It is not a contract term, but just spaced out to fit a yearly budget cycle.  The support hours never expire and can be rolled over to the next ‘term’ if requested.  Unlike AYCE support, which resembles more of an insurance agreement, with a NetSecure Support Plan you are not billed for work that is not being done. 

Hopefully this article has been able to give you an idea of what other businesses are currently inquiring about.  If you have questions of your own, or want to know more about these topics, please contact us at Network Center, Inc.

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: Disaster Recovery Plan, technology

Save The Date for nVision 2016

Posted by Angie Ryan on Jan 12, 2016 3:10:34 PM

SavetheDatenVision2016.jpg

Mark your calendars for nVision 2016 to be hosted on November 2, 2016 at the Avalon Event Center West!

nVision is a collaborative event that focuses on envisioning the future of technology. We bring together the strongest regional thought leaders, IT resources, business professionals, and vendors to discuss market trends, challenges and technology.

In the past, nVision has featured a key note speaker, a panel discussion, and the attendee’s choice of breakout sessions. At nVision 2016 we will be featuring session tracks focusing on three areas: business, technology and marketing.

The goal of nVision is to facilitate change and provide solutions for a spectrum of challenges, and have attendees leave with innovative ideas. We aim to provide content for all levels of attendees from CEOs and CIOs to Marketing Directors and Network Administrators. nVision strives for a casual atmosphere that allows conversation to be fluid throughout the entire conference. We hope you will join us on November 2, 2016 for this cutting edge technology event.

Learn more about nVision by watching this nVision 2015 event story video: 

Stay tuned! Network Center, Inc. will be sharing more specific agenda information about the conference, and registration will open closer to the date of nVision 2016. 

Sponsorship and vendor opportunities will be available in the near future. Please contact us if you would like to sign up for nVision 2016 email announcements and we'll be sure to add you to our nVision email list so you don't miss anything!

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: nVision 2016, nVision technology conference

The Positive Impact of Company Culture on your Business

Posted by Mia Ness on Dec 31, 2015 12:30:00 PM

Company culture is extremely important for any successful company. But what does that really mean? Why does a saidCorporateCup.jpg “culture” make such a difference in today’s corporate world?

A company culture is essentially the values and practices shared by the members of the group. In other words, how employees strive to live by a business’ core values.

Studies show that companies with an adaptive culture that is aligned with their business goals routinely outperform their competitors and have a lower turnover rate. According to an article from entrepreneur.com, “A Columbia University study shows that the likelihood of job turnover at an organization with rich company culture is a mere 13.9 percent, whereas the probability of job turnover in poor company cultures is 48.4 percent.” (http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/238640)

But in order to achieve results like this for your organization, you have to first determine what your culture is and what you want it to be. Once that is established you can promote, and put that culture into practice.

Company cultures can evolve over time, but it’s important to look at the core fundamentals of your business. What traits really make your company successful? Here at Network Center, Inc. There are 3 main values that are a constant across our entire organization.

Commitment to Employees
We invest in our employees, enabling them to attain a deeper understanding of our products and stay up to date with new and evolving technologies on a broader scale. We feel our employees should always be a top priority, and we strive to celebrate individuals, teamwork, and their great achievements within the business. Ultimately we understand that our employees are at the core of our culture and we believe that if we have happy employees, then our customers will be happy too. A happy employee-base sets a stable foundation for any successful company no matter what the industry.

Dedication to Customers
Of course you can’t have a successful business without customers! This goes hand in hand with our first core value. WhenDedication_to_Customers_nVision.jpg you have employees that care about their work, they will in turn take great care of your customers. Great customer service creates loyal, passionate customers that keep coming back because they enjoyed their experience working with you.

Our employees understand our products and take the time to really get a good idea of a customer’s needs. By doing this we can better ascertain what solution best fits their needs, and come up with a viable solution that successfully fulfills that need within their budget. When our certified technicians find that perfect solution, we take pride in doing whatever it takes to ensure our clients stay up and running no matter what the project may be. The result of exceptional customer care is a solid, long-standing client relationship. Customers have a peace of mind because they know they will receive a high level of quality support, and know they will be working with familiar faces time and time again.

Responsible Innovation
Finally, we focus on improving efficiency and effectiveness of our customers' business processes through the implementation of well thought-out solutions. The entire company is open to new ideas. If someone has a concept that’s either going to help us do our jobs better, or help our customers’ businesses function more efficiently, the company is 110% supportive of promoting and utilizing those ideas. Continued education and updated certifications are a necessity in staying up to date in today’s fast-paced technology landscape. You can be confident that our employees are knowledgeable in their field and will go to lengths educating themselves on a new topic to better help you as a customer.

Here are a few tips to help you build a culture you want to promote:

1. Core Values You may already have a list of core values for your business. If not, try to come up core values that promote a healthy employee and customer experience. Those core values will give your employees direction and help shape your culture.

2. Teamwork Environment You see the posters promoting it all the time. But what does teamwork really boil down to? Your employees should be comfortable enough with each other to ask for help when it’s needed. Encourage positive work relationships between your employees. Create events that help break down barriers between employees, and make sure your employees have a reasonable workload to give them a little extra time to help their peers if needed.

3. Social Events Besides the normal yearly holiday party and maybe a summer picnic, create social events to help CommunityInvolvement.jpgbring your employees together. A competitive chili cook-off, or a Star Wars themed lunch with a costume contest are just a few fun ideas to toy with. Including clients in your social events can also promote a positive culture for your employees and customers. Maybe a day at the ballpark, or an evening at the art gallery can get people out of the work environment and give them a chance to mingle.

4. Community Involvement – Getting employees involved in the community is also a great way to build a strong foundation of teamwork while contributing to a beneficial cause. Encourage your employees to get involved in various community organizations they are interested in and contribute as a company. Plan events where employees have the option to participate in a community event for a few hours during the work day. Donating blood, volunteering at a local food bank, homeless shelter, or fundraising for a school supply drive are all great ideas for getting employees involved without taking away any of their own free time. Ask people what they're interested in and create a monthly or bi-monthly plan for giving back to your local community. 

5. Spirit Awards Your employees like to know when they are doing a great job. One way to show that is with spirit Commitment_to_Employees.jpgawards. Give them a chance to be recognized and rewarded. At Network Center, we reward employees that display our core values by using a nomination system. Employees can nominate their peers when they exemplify one or more of our core values. We also recognize employees for milestone years of service. Here at Network Center, Inc. we take pride in employee retention and reward individuals for their dedicated years of service to the company. 

Here at Network Center, Inc. our employees are always striving to live by our core values. When you work with us you can be confident that we care about you as a customer and that we’ll give our all to insure your project results in success.

If you’d like to share your company’s core values, or share your success stories, please comment below. To learn more about Network Center, Inc., check out our website at www.netcenter.net and browse the many technology solutions we offer. You can also stop by anytime in-person to get a first-hand look at our culture in action.

ContactUsButton-1.jpg

Topics: core values, Company Culture

Delve into...Microsoft Office 365 Delve

Posted by Josh Nikle on Dec 17, 2015 4:25:56 PM

“What is Delve?” “Is that my new My Site?” I get asked these questions fairly regularly. Although Delve was released to the majority of Office 365 customers early this year (and early adopters even before that), most of my customers don’t know much about it.

In answer to the second question above, no, Delve is not your new My Site. So, what is Delve then?

What is Delve?

Microsoft_Office_365_Delve.pngFrom Microsoft, “Delve is a cloud-based service offered through the Office 365 suite. Its primary purpose is to help users find and discover pertinent information across Microsoft products that are integrated with Delve through Office 365.”

Super useful, just like so many error messages…

Basically, Delve provides a personalized dashboard of all people, documents, sites and content that you interact with in Office 365. It searches through applications like SharePoint, Yammer, Exchange, and OneDrive for items you’ve recently created, shared, or discussed and then displays that content for you as “cards” on your dashboard. 

With everything you’re using in one place, there’s no longer any need to bounce back and forth across applications. Click on a document, for instance, and the document will open in the correct application, whether it’s OneDrive or SharePoint.  Click on a video, and it will open in the corresponding blog post. Click on a post, and you’ll see the thread in Yammer.

But Delve also presents people you interact with through collaboration, following, or organizational hierarchy. In fact, you can even share your aggregated content with people as well.

How does it do all that?

The Delve service is essentially the front end of the Office Graph service. Office Graph uses machine learning to map relationships between people and content you work on and activities you engage in. This includes emails you send, files you save and where, who you share those files with and who shares with you, and even search terms you use.

Office Graph then feeds all that “learned” behavior to Delve, which compiles it all into a neat dashboard filled with content and people that are pertinent to you right now.

If you’re like me, right now you might find yourself saying, “That’s a lot of information…about me.”

You’re right, but not just because you agree with me. Office Graph does indeed keep a lot of tabs on a lot of things. However, Delve is a completely personalized experience. What you see in Delve is not what other people will see. Your private information cannot be seen by other people. Nothing you do will be displayed on Delve. Ever. In fact, Delve doesn’t even have its own security. It relies totally on the security of the applications it’s aggregating content from.

But wait, there’s more…

All that information does indeed boost productivity though...and it doesn’t stop there. 

Delve allows you to group all of your custom-delivered content through boards. A given card can belong to multiple boards too. Say you’re working on Project X. You have documents and discussions spread across multiple applications.  All of this content is conveniently added to your dashboard, but it’s mixed with content from projects Y and Z. Through the use of boards, you can filter out the content you don’t want to see. And for those files that pertain to both project X and Y, you can add them to each of those boards. You can make as many boards as you’d like too.

Another addition to Delve is a revamped take on blogging, which Microsoft now refers to as “stories.” Delve’s new blogging platform is really very slick. It allows you to easily add images, files or video from OneDrive or your device. Just click in an area and start typing to add content. Highlighting the content brings up a toolbar for text formatting. Publish the blog post when you’re finished, and it’s immediately added to your post feed.

That’s not so bad

Nope. It’s pretty neat, actually. It’s not your My Site, but I think the change is for the better. Microsoft is planning further expansion of the Delve and Office Graph services to include social media and eventually an API that will allow third party vendors to add their own features.

Oh, I should mention the interface is really intuitive as well. Hop in and give it a spin. I’m sure you’ll like it. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions regarding Microsoft Office 365 Delve. 

 NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: Microsoft Delve, Microsoft Office 365 Delve

Desktop Virtualization – Analysis and Selection

Posted by Amber Vogel on Dec 9, 2015 9:30:00 AM

The trend in providing mobile access to apps and information is shifting to providing the ability to work anywhere. There are no limitations to location, time, or device. Employees want the flexibility to work anywhere and have the same experience they do while they are at their desk in the office. This trend is bringing desktop virtualization to the forefront of IT strategy and there is homework involved to make it successful.

Key questions to answer for considering desktop virtualization: 

  1. Is the organization a good candidate for desktop virtualization?
  2. What does the market look like and who are the vendors?
  3. How does an organization choose a vendor?
  4. What are the implementation considerations?

Desktop Virtualizations Assessment

Prior to moving forward with the other stages of desktop virtualization it is important to perform an assessment of the environment to determine the following:

  • How many systems are good candidates for virtualization?
  • Is the user currently receiving an acceptable experience?
  • Are there any latency challenges within the environment?
  • How many applications does the organization have and out of them which ones would should/can be virtualized?
  • How do the users and applications group together in pools?
  • How many images would the organization need?
  • How would my infrastructure environment change? (Servers, storage, etc.…)

Market Analysis

Following the determination of whether to move forward with desktop virtualization, the next step is taking a look at the market. This will provide insights into trends, vendor options, and features.

The following should be included on the market analysis report:

  • Infrastructure
  • Connectivity
  • Features
  • Support
  • Company Performance/Strategy
  • Cost Estimate

Selection Considerations

The market currently has a limited number of players however the depth and breadth of these vendors is changing. As the demand for desktop virtualization grows, so does the competition. Vendors are continuing to focus on the user experience and mobility. Desktop Virtualization vendors are typically adding these features through acquisition. Citrix and VMware continue to be the leaders but other vendors are creeping up on them. Some questions to answer prior to selecting a vendor may include:

  • Does your organization have a brand preference?
  • What does the current infrastructure environment look like and does one vendor fit in better than others?
  • How much does the organization want to spend?
  • Does one vendor have features that another does not offer yet?
  • Does the vendor have a solid road map and how is the company doing?

Implementation Considerations

Something that is often overlooked in implementing desktop virtualization is the collaboration and shared ownership it requires. It takes the server team, desktop support, security team, etc. to roll out and maintain this environment. In the past, desktop deployment tended to operate in silos. In order for desktop virtualization to be successful, these teams need to continuously collaborate.

Also, be prepared for user impact. If users are used to installing their own apps or streaming music their world could quickly change. Change management is a critical component of a Desktop Virtualization project and should be planned for.

Conclusion

Obviously there is a lot of detail that goes into the analysis above. The purpose of this article is to give you the framework for moving through the process. Desktop virtualization is not always the answer but when an organization decides it is, the work does not end there, it only begins!

The table below is also a good reference for keeping your desktop virtualization on track.What-it-offers-and-success-criteria.png

Use-for-and-Dont-use-for.png

Forrester, Server Hosted Virtual Desktops, 2015

Network Center, Inc. can help you plan for virtualization by analyzing your environment and aligning your requirements with the appropriate vendor. Contact us today to learn more.

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, VDI

Critical Bug Affecting VMware Hosts Running ESXi 6

Posted by Eric Kupfer on Dec 4, 2015 9:27:03 AM

software-bug.jpgRecently, a bug was discovered that affects changed block tracking on VMware hosts running ESXi 6. This is a critical flaw as changed block tracking (CBT) is the mechanism that many backup products (including Veeam) uses to decide what data has changed and needs to be backed as part of an incremental backup job. Unfortunately, the result of the bug is that there is no guarantee a successful backup job will actually allow you to restore good data.  

The options for a workaround to the problem were not practical for most of our customers and included rolling back the host to a previous version of ESXi or shutting down the virtual machine during the backup process.

VMware has released a patch to resolve the issue. Network Center, Inc. is recommending that all customers running ESXi 6 hosts apply this patch as soon as possible to insure integrity of their backup data.

Unfortunately simply applying the patch does not resolve the issue. Resetting the changed block tracking map is also required to insure consistency. Veeam has created a script that will reset CBT on virtual machines. The script requires that Powershell and VMware CLI are installed on the management station where it is executed.

A couple of quick warnings:

  • Resetting CBT may impact the amount of time a backup job will run as each block of data needs to be evaluated during the next backup cycle. Please take this into consideration if your backup window is constrained.
  • Also, the script creates a VMware snapshot, resets CBT then removes the snapshot. This process may “stun” a virtual machine. Therefore it is recommended that the script is run during off-peak hours.

VMware_logo.jpgAgain, this issue only impacts servers running ESXi version 6. All previous versions of VMware are unaffected. If you have questions, concerns or would like assistance applying the patches please reach out to anyone at Network Center, Inc. and we will be happy to help!

Please review the supporting documentation and find a link to the CBT reset script that Veeam has provided.

VMware KB: http://kb.vmware.com/selfservice/microsites/search.do?cmd=displayKC&docType=kc&externalId=2136854&sliceId=1&docTypeID=DT_KB_1_1&dialogID=840649925&stateId=0%200%20840663565

VMware patch info: http://kb.vmware.com/selfservice/search.do?cmd=displayKC&docType=kc&docTypeID=DT_KB_1_1&externalId=2137545

Veeam KB article: https://www.veeam.com/kb2075

Veeam CBT reset script: https://www.veeam.com/kb1113

VMware CLI download: https://my.vmware.com/web/vmware/details?downloadGroup=VCLI600&productId=491

 NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: VMware

Windows 10? "What's the Deal with That?"

Posted by Corey Stoner on Nov 25, 2015 2:41:19 PM

Seinfeld.jpgWith Windows XP being end of life for just over a year and a half, and Windows 7 end of life scheduled for the beginning of 2020, it might be time to start looking at getting used to the tiled interfaces of Microsoft’s newest Operating systems and familiarizing ourselves with the terms like Cortana, Edge and Windows Hello.

While Windows 8 was quite a change from the XP and Windows 7 interfaces we have been accustomed to, Windows 10 seems to fit right in the middle of the new and the old. It is not uncommon for Microsoft to take 2 steps forward and one step back, remember the transition from Office 2003 to 2007, then the release of Office 2010?

While you might be annoyed by the little icon on your taskbar asking you to upgrade to Windows 10 and think, it isn’t for me, you might want to rethink this, or at least look into it. While everyone is familiar with Smartphones and their interfaces and functionality we can hardly remember a time these did not exist.

Windows 10 looks to bridge the gap between your smart devices and your computers which makes a lot of sense as in the business world, all these products are “Productivity” devices, why shouldn’t they be similar. While there might be still some compatibility issues with some business software, if this isn’t the case for you, why not check it out. Chances are you will need to at some point and those 4 years might be here before you know it. Besides, Microsoft is giving the upgrades away for Free, who doesn’t like that? (For qualifying systems only. See Microsoft for more details.)

So what’s new in Windows 10?

Windows-10-Screen-shot.jpgThe first thing you will notice is the familiar start button is back, but once you click it, is where things will be a bit different, while the left side of the start menu is going to be similar, you will notice the tile interface on the right side. While the left side cannot be customized, the tiled side is fully customizable and with a little bit of time spent on it, can become very useful.

Who or what is Cortana? Microsoft describes Cortana as your “Clever new Personal Assistant.” You can ask Cortana things either by talking to your computer or typing in questions. You can ask it to track flights and packages, add reminders, or tell you a joke. Putting in your interests into Cortana’s notebook will help personalize your experience.

Windows Hello is a new feature and gives you a more personal way to sign into your windows 10 devices with just a look or a touch instead of remembering those long and complicated passwords.

Microsoft Edge is Microsoft’s new browser that makes it easier to find things on the web and integrates with Cortana to help find what you are looking for. The addition for the Hub allows you to keep a collection for things you collect on the web. Edge also gives you the ability to search right from the address bar without going to a specific webpage to search from. Writing allows you to take notes, doodle, or highlight areas of webpages.

Windows-10-Search.jpgThe Windows 10 upgrade will only be available for free until July 29th 2016 so you do have plenty of time to test it out in your organization. Depending on the size of your organization, you can download and update each computer separately or create a bootable disk to install on each machine, or any other deployment methods you may currently use. If you wish to deploy Windows 10 and would like a hand in doing so, let Network Center, Inc. know and we would be glad to help you.

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: Windows 10

Analog Watch in a Digital World

Posted by Jon Ryan on Nov 17, 2015 10:46:33 AM

It’s easy sometimes to feel comfort where you are sitting with your technical aptitude. You feel that you have a general understanding on server and networking infrastructure, understand the concept of virtualization, and know enough about the cloud to consider playing with it or staying away from it. But, unless you are a 1’s and 0’s kind of person, how can you really understand the complexities of these technologies on a deeper level? You don’t want to fall behind the times and become an ‘Analog Watch in a Digital World.’

How We Got Where We Are

Everyone builds their IT experience differently. Some have built a lot of their technology experience from more real world applications than text book study. I’ve known IT managers that have been forced to learn technology on the fly right before or during an installation. Especially where they were not necessarily involved in the planning or selection of the technology but more as a byproduct of the install. “This new technology is going to impact my gear, so what is it and what does it do exactly?” 

If you are not working directly with the technology, we often rely only on text book, or now internet resources for education. Not only just text resources online but video through sites like YouTube or CNET. The issue with online or text book self-learning, is absorbing and applying (if possible) what you learned.

You Can’t Get There From Here

So where do I take my self-paced, homebrew learning from here? Comprehension can be difficult to gauge unless you are directly applying what you learned to a real environment. So unless you apply it right away, you will likely lose it and have to start the learning process all over. Time is money and extra time spent re-learning everything is time wasted.  Keeping that information fresh in your brain is a difficult and on-going task.


How to Make Your Brain More Fantastical

Obviously they don’t make an NZT pill that can make your brain Limitless like the movie/TV series depicts. If you can’t do it alone with just knowledge, what options are out there to help make all that valuable information stick in your brain?

Test Environment: Applying your new found knowledge in a test environment would be ideal, but not always practical. If you have the capacity to build up a test environment, we recommend writing a base image. Just in case things go awry.

Live Environment: Arguably the most dangerous way to ‘tinker’ with new technology, but will really put your newly found skills to test if something blows up as a result.

Online Lab: Many vendors provide an online lab environment for free. The best part about this is you can pretty much do anything to it without any consequence. Even on a test environment, most times you would want to fix it to keep the environment useable.

Free Online Testing: We all hate taking tests. But free online tests can help keep you sharp and gauge your technical retention. The only thing it is missing is the hands on aspect. But it will at least help you retain some of the book smarts you have.

Retaining and expanding your technical abilities will help you support your environment more efficiently as well as enhance your skillset to newer technology. We encourage you to explore new technologies and keep looking forward. In this ever changing technical world you have to keep moving forward in your technology and your technical skillset. If you don’t, you’ll just be another Analog Watch in a Digital World. 

 NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: technology, test environments

nVision 2015: A Look Back

Posted by Andrew McKenzie on Nov 9, 2015 4:36:07 PM

It took months of planning and in a whisper of the wind, nVision 2015 is now a thing of the past. Before we turn our attention to the last, and arguably busiest, 6 weeks of the year I wanted to take a little time to reflect upon what was nVision 2015.

Before I jump right into the highlights from this year, I realize some of you may not be familiar with nVision. nVision is our annual technology conference. As stated in our nVision literature:

“nVision focuses on the future of technology while bringing together leaders from the region to collaborate, strategize, and discuss new technologies. It’s an informal chance to learn valuable information and find some inspiration moving into 2016 and years to come. Topics include: Next Generation Storage, Security, Cloud, Mobility, Collaboration and much more.” 

In short, it’s all about getting people together to talk technology. We want to learn who is doing what and why. It’s about answering questions and exposing people to new ideas, technologies, and strategies. It is an event we host ever year, so if you happened to miss this year’s event, we will be hosting it again next fall.

Now that everyone is caught up, let’s get to some of the highlights from this year’s event:

  • Mark Rheault was our keynote speaker. Mark kicked off our day with an excellent presentation titled “Fostering a Culture of Innovation.” From thought provoking statements to some of the most curious inventions, attendees were rewarded with valuable insight on how to integrate innovation into their lives.
  • Panel Discussion with Regional IT leaders: Heidi Konynenbelt (OtterTail Power), Darin King (NDUS), Gary Inman (Bell State Bank), Ron Gronneberg (City of Fargo). This panel was set to answer questions provided by our facilitator and field any questions from the audience. They shared their top initiatives, strategies, and ideas. With expertise ranging from 4 different sectors and industries, the answers they provided benefited all of those in attendance.
  • Breakout sessions. Most of the day was focused on providing as much information to as many people as possible. There were more than 25 breakout sessions covering information along the entire technology spectrum. There was even a more business focused track that focused on topics like Office 365, SharePoint, digital strategies, and Windows 10. The more technical track covered everything from the nuts and bolts of hardware to cloud based offerings.
  • Full lineup of technology sponsors. In the midst of all the breakout sessions and people moving about, the vendor lounge remained a constant. With over 19 sponsors, attendees had unrestricted access to the presenters, vendors, and key resources to get more specific information they needed. 
  • Hands-on Cisco/VMware lab. One of the new features to this year’s event was the Cisco & VMware lab. It enabled attendees to sample new features, test updates and upgrades, and get some exposure to things they may be curious about. The lab was overseen by Cisco and VMware experts to ensure no question was left unanswered. As it was pointed out by many, it was extremely helpful to be able to try and test without compromising their current environment or by having to stay after hours to figure something out.

And that, in a nutshell, was nVision 2015. Naturally I skipped over the other key highlights of the event, which include plenty of food, plenty of drinks, and a day away from the office. By now you’re most likely kicking yourself for not attending, and if you did attend, I’m sure you’re already wishing for next fall to come around so you can have another round of this event.

To hold all of you over though, we do host a wide range of events throughout the year. We’ll host social events to get you familiar with our team and partners to more educational events to help you stay up to date on trend in technology. To ensure you’re on our mailing list or want to know more about other events and how to stay involved with Network Center, Inc. happenings, contact your Network Center, Inc. representative. Heck, contact any one of us and we’ll be willing to help.

Thanks to all who made this year’s event the best we have had and we look forward to already planning for nVision 2016.

NCI Contact Us Button

Microsoft Office 365 OneDrive vs. SharePoint Sites

Posted by Amber Vogel on Oct 30, 2015 4:45:21 PM

Planning for Microsoft Office 365 involves more than just moving emails and documents from one server to another.This transition provides an opportunity to re-organize, categorize and classify documents personally and professionally across the organization. 

The most common questions I get asked in planning for Microsoft Office 365 are:

  • What is the different between OneDrive for Business and Sites?
  • When and how should I use one or the other?

If I do not get asked this question I always ask it because organizations tend to use Microsoft OneDrive for Business as a catch all without understanding the ramifications or business process limitations they will face long term.

The following are considerations to talk through when deciding where documents should live and how to interact with them:

  • What is the structure of your documents today? Are they hard to find, is a document stored in more than one place, are they still relevant?
  • Where do all of your documents live today? Are there multiple locations, systems, rules?
  • Who has access to what documents?
  • How do I differentiate between my working documents and shared documents?
  • How can I use metadata tags to categorize documents and refine search results?
  • How do my users create, store, edit, collaborate, and discard documents today? What is the business process today and how can we improve it going forward?

Technically there are no differences between storing documents in Microsoft OneDrive vs Sites. Functionally how you store them and the business process to support the workflow will drive how and when you use one or another. Here are some tips, observations, and terminology that will help support planning and decisions.

· Personal, My Documents, Desktop

· Company/Enterprise Collaboration Tool

· Microsoft Version of Drop Box

· Multiple sites, Unique business requirements

· Setup controlled by local user

· Controlled by central administrator(s)

· Owner selects what to share with other users

· Varying levels of security established by the Company/Enterprise

· Only files and folders

· Intranet (tasks, calendar, events, contacts, discussions, etc…)

· Limited scope or life cycle

· Long term document management/archive

The process flow graphic included with this post provides a simple walk through to help users determine where to put the documents. However, the determination may warrant more discussion and planning depending on the complexity of the business process and how many other users are involved. You may find that a document belongs in OneDrive initially but as the importance or relevance of the document changes it makes sense to move it into Sites. This is a simple process, either copy and paste, or drag and drop using file explorer. Both of these tools are designed to be flexible and adapt to changes in your business.

I hope this article sparked a conversation in your planning discussion on how to organize documents as well as informed you on the difference between these two tools. If you have any questions about Microsoft OneDrive or Microsoft SharePoint, feel free to contact us. 

NCI Contact Us Button

 

Topics: Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft SharePoint

Three Principles of Computer Programming and Life

Posted by Paul Staszko on Oct 23, 2015 2:19:04 PM

Programming ABCI think most people would agree that outside of the group of people that write software, many people do not have a clear idea of what is involved in the creation of software. As much as I’d like to teach the world to code, I am going to settle for sharing some of the guiding principles of programming. I also aim to find parallels with more relatable aspects of life, as these can be powerful concepts to harness.

Before I dive in, I will refer to code a few times. Simply put, software is a bunch of instructions for the computer to carry out. When programmers write these instructions, or code, we prepare documents with special languages and grammars that ultimately tell the computer what to do.  Now that you are a programming specialist, let’s review Three Principles of Computer Programming and how they apply to life in general.

  1. Don’t Repeat Yourself

For as simple as this point is, it is surprisingly relevant. Many, many times a programmer will need to instruct the computer to do the same thing in different parts of a program. It could be as simple as “If the value is blank, print out a 0” or as complicated as posting a batch of invoices. Since all of this code is just text in documents, it’s entirely possible to copy and paste the code wherever you need it. This principal warns us not to. If the code needs to change to fix a bug or add an enhancement, it has to be changed everywhere. Aside from being extra work to fix it in multiple places, you can miss one and end up with inconsistent behavior. Fortunately, pretty much every programming language allows us to code things in one place and refer to that as needed.

An everyday example of this would be a shopping list. In that case, the list is the program and you are the computer. It tells you what to do. You wouldn’t want to maintain multiple copies of the same shopping list. That would be a nightmare to keep synchronized and updated on all versions of the same list.

  1. Everything should be made as Simple as possible, but not Simpler

The above is a quote. Its origin is unclear, but the message isn’t. There is a minimum level of complexity involved in any task or description, be it programming or something else. If you make it simpler, it will be incomplete. The quote itself is a perfect example of this. It simply says what is broadly true while also acknowledging the exceptions.

If you want an example, observe the next conversation about where to go to lunch with your friends or colleagues. If they are anything like mine, it may be overly complicated. The simplest answer would be to have one person pick, but an obvious wrinkle would be the dietary restrictions of someone in the party. It would be nice for it to be ultimately simple, but it’s not. The best antidote for this issue is a solid understanding of the factors involved. This is true for lunch and software.

  1. The Principle of Least Astonishment

When designing a user interface or some code to be shared with other programmers, it is vital to present things in such a way that the user or programmer will be able to anticipate the behavior. Many times, this is as simple as using a clear naming convention or following common standards. This can be a tricky one, however, as we all see the world differently; some more differently than others. Your best bet is a good understanding of your audience.

This is a pretty broad one, but a simple example would be the gas and brake pedals in a car. It would be quite a surprise to find yourself driving a car with the two flip flopped.  The same confusion can occur if your software programming style does not conform to the common style of the programming language being used.

I hope this has given you a better idea of the types of things that rattle around in a programmer’s brain. Perhaps more interestingly, you might find that giving names to some of these ideas might help you notice and take advantage of them in your work and life.  If you’d like to know more about interactive services or how custom programming can help your business, contact Network Center, Inc.

NCI Contact Us Button

Innovative Technology in Education

Posted by Joe Dunnigan on Oct 16, 2015 4:54:42 PM

Recently I had the privilege of attending TEDx Fargo. There were many great speakers on a number of subjects; the discussions that really stuck with me centered around education. We heard presentations from Dr. Anne Blackhurst, president of MSUM; Kayla Delzer, a second grade teacher in West Fargo; Ted Dintersmith, a venture capitalist focusing on education; and many others. Their message was clear: we need to innovate and be creative to solve the many problems in education that are facing us today. That message stuck with me, and I want to know how I can use my skills in software development to help make a difference.

We are all affected by the quality and methods of our current education systems, and I've had many personal experiences with this in the past few years. I have three kids currently in grade school, and I see the impact of education initiatives, both local and government mandated, every day. I also get to see first hand how technology is being used to help improve the learning process.  
I have also had a number of opportunities of late to see first hand how technology is being taught and applied in our local colleges. We were recently interviewing for a software development position, and had a handful of candidates from the local university system. I was surpised that these candidates, at least one of which were completing a masters degree, had few skills that I thought could be applied to the business software development processes that we are using in our daily work. On the other hand, I had the privilege of presenting for a college Javascript/HTML coding class last fall, and was impressed at the subject matter the students were being exposed to, and was excited to share how we do our work and what technologies are in demand in our business. Those two cases were from different university systems, which I think highlights a progressive nature at some schools, and a traditional approach at others.


Using technology as a tool to educate and teaching technology as a career may appear to be two different subjects, but I don't think that is always the case. Using technology on a daily basis and understanding the tools at one's disposal are very empowering. I also agree with current initiatives to add computer programming as a core competency in primary schools. Computer programming if nothing else teaches critical and logical thinking skills that are a valuable asset in today's workforce. Many of us will have the opportunity to work together with software developers at some point in our career, and as a software developer, I can say that if the people on the other side of the table have a better understanding of how it works, we all win.

And now I have to look at how I can help. What can I do to make an impact? At Network Center, Inc. we are seeing increased potential and existing business with local area schools. I've even spoken with local churches looking to improve their education methods and toolsets. Many discussions center around integration - how can we take existing systems and get them to work together, or share data between systems in order to improve business processes? 


At my kids' school, they have been integrating Chromebooks into the classroom for a few years now. The kids even have Google accounts where they receive and turn in assignments. I'm still trying to wrap my head around some of that. We're looking at the same kind of classroom management in some other locations. Recently I've been researching Google Classroom, a suite of tools that is available to Google Apps for Education subscribers (the service is free for education and non-profit institutions). Google Classroom allows educators to manage classes, class rosters, assignments, and more. They also offer an API, which allows developers like myself to extend the functionality and integrate external systems. We could explore using this to automate classroom and roster creation, connect teachers and parents, and remove technology roadblocks that exist today. I would also love it if we could cut down on the amount of paper that is sent home every day!

Education is so important to us, and when I find ways to use my skills and knowledge to improve the way our kids are taught and how our colleges prepare the next generation of our workforce, I jump at the chance and am thankful for it. Please consider us for your next technology initiative, we'd love to help!

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: technology in education

Beware of Phony Support

Posted by Mike Pagan on Oct 8, 2015 3:07:55 PM

Recently, we've heard of a number of customers who have been receiving fraudulent phone calls from various "tech support companies" who are offering unsolicited help. The gist of the scam is that they are calling you to connect to your computer to fix a virus problem you didn't know you had. Often times they will direct you to a legitimate remote support site and have you download a small program to connect to your computer. From there they sift through your data, looking for sensitive information and then they try to get you to buy security services/software to protect you from future issues.  All you need to do is give the caller your credit card or bank account information.

This type of scam uses social engineering to circumvent any security devices or software that you may have in place.  These malicious callers find it easier to work through a user computer than to cut through a network's various security layers. They play on the trusting nature of people who might not understand technology and offer to help them with a scary issue. How many times have you let someone from Network Center connect to your computer? How did you verify that they were who they said they were?

Many of these callers crooks say they are representatives of Microsoft. It happens frequently enough that Microsoft has issued the following statements on its Safety & Security site:

"Treat all unsolicited phone calls with skepticism. Do not provide any personal information.

If you receive an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft Tech Support, hang up. We do not make these kinds of calls"

"There are some cases where Microsoft will work with your Internet service provider and call you to fix a malware-infected computer—such as during the recent cleanup effort begun in our botnet takedown actions. These calls will be made by someone with whom you can verify you already are a customer. You will never receive a legitimate call from Microsoft or our partners to charge you for computer fixes."

Sources: Avoid tech support phone scams,  Avoid scams that use the Microsoft name fraudulently

So what can you do to keep your data safe?

  • Ask questions - The simplest thing to do is ask questions of whomever is trying to "help" you. How did you get my phone number? What is my computer name? What is your badge and callback number? Scammers won't spend a lot of time on a mark who is being difficult; there are plenty of fish waiting to be phished. If you ask questions they'll likely hang up and move on to the next target.
  • Check with your IT staff - If you get a call from someone offering remote support and you feel that the call might be legitimate but don't recognize the voice or the company name, ask your internal IT support staff if whoever is on the phone is authorized to connect to your computer.
  • Call them back - If you don't recognize the person trying connect to your computer, but they say they're from a company you recognize, ask them for their callback number. Hang up and call them back. Most of the scammers work overseas in outbound-only call centers or with stolen cell numbers so they won't be able to offer you a call back number.
  • When in doubt, keep them out! - If something doesn't feel right, don't connect them to your computer. If they don't get connected, they can't steal any data. Like it or not, you share the responsibility to keep your company's and your customer's data safe.

Sometimes, you can follow all the security advice in the world and still let the scammers into your computer. What then?

  • Disconnect from the network - That will sever the remote control connection and allow you to assess the situation.
  • Scan the computer - Use anti-malware software programs like Malwarebytes and Spybot Search & Destroy to scan and attempt to fix your computer(s) for malicious software that may have been installed without your knowledge.
  • Change your passwords - Many times, scammers poke around on your computer for data they can steal before pressing you to buy their "services." You likely won't be able to tell what they accessed so changing your password(s) is one step that will make sure they cannot get back in.
  • Reconnect - If the scans do not show any infections, you can reconnect to the network but watch for suspicious behavior such as browser hijacking or unusual antivirus messages.
  • Report the scam - Microsoft recommends reporting the call to the FTC so they can gather information about these criminal organizations.

My intention is not to alarm you or make you paranoid about remote support. Remote support connections are an integral part of keeping your networks running smoothly. I do want to make you aware of how as Midwesterners, our trusting nature can be used against us and how we can protect ourselves and our data. Remember: when in doubt, keep them out!

If you have any questions about how you can better protect your network or if you need help with a security issue, please reach out to your Network Center support or account contact. We're here to help.

 NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: technology support, IT support

10 Proactive IT Self-Assessment Best Practices

Posted by Jon Ryan on Sep 22, 2015 9:00:00 AM

IT-assessmentIn a world where new technology is introduced almost daily, you need to be proactive in your approach to your company’s IT environment design. The “Set it and forget it” approach only works with the As Seen on TV products. In fact your IT environment is drastically the opposite approach. But it is easy to think you are all set for the year. Especially after a large install. Even if you have accomplished all of your IT changes for this year, your journey is not over. Rather, it’s a constant re-assessment of your IT environment and processes. The hardest part is that taking a step back from your IT environment and reviewing your progress can sometimes be a difficult task for businesses.

Here are 10 proactive IT self-assessment practices that can help guide you:

1. Don’t Get Too Content

Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken, right? Wrong. Turning on your IT “Cruise Control” can make you drive right by new technology opportunities. Take more of a proactive approach. “How can we improve on what is working for us?” Search out those inefficiencies and improve on infrastructure and process. A quiet IT environment doesn’t always mean there isn’t something that could be running even better!

2. Review Your Environment Often

Whether you realize it or not, your business is progressing and changing daily. You should be aware of these changes as they are happening, however the recommended business practice is to do a complete review at least quarterly. Keeping your technology and processes in tune with your ever changing environment will help drive efficiencies and make your business run as smooth as possible.

3. Create a Technology Group

Your people are one of your biggest assets. They can also provide unique visibility into your systems and processes. Ask for volunteers for a technology and process committee. You’ll find out quickly which employees are genuinely invested in the health of your company. Pick people from all departments, no matter what level of IT know how they have.

4. Review Your Business Process

Technology-Assessment

If your technology is currently not providing what you need, you may need to look at your overall business process to see what changes need to be addressed. Business drives technology. So if your business processes are in place, they will guide your technology infrastructure. Overlooked or sloppy business process will result in sporadic IT purchases. Kind of like plugging individual holes in a dam rather than reinforcing the entire structure.

5. Attend Technology Conferences

I will also add attending technology webinars to this as well. You can’t think about what to implement if you don’t know what exists. Make yourself available to attend (and pay attention to) webinars for new technology. Invite your newly formed technology committee to watch them. Have a review session with your committee and get their input on where that technology may fit in your business.

6. Be Open Minded

One of the biggest faults in the IT industry is being close minded to new technology. The “We’re all set.” approach can make you miss out on new tools that make you and your employee’s job easier and more efficient. Try to be open to all new possibilities. You never know which ones will help propel your company to the next level. Use this approach when choosing which technology shows and webinars to attend.

7. Think Like Your Customers/Employees

Take a look at your company from the outside. Put your feet in the shoes of your customers. Or if you don’t necessarily have direct customers, put yourself in the mind of your users. How easy is it for the user to operate? What will their experience be? Does it make business sense to spend time and money on enhancing their experience?

8. Weigh Advantages Not Just Cost

Getting caught up on cost can obscure your view to advantages. Surprisingly, the advantages in many cases can justify the cost and even show you a return on investment with new efficiencies. Talk to an engineer or a consultant to identify inefficiencies and determine what the resulting fix will do for you versus the overall cost. Cost/benefit analyses exercises can help.

9. Don’t Be Afraid of New Technology

Successful installation and adoption of new technology can sometimes steer you away from implementing new technology. It may seem like you are taking the plunge by considering different technology. Just make sure to ask for detailed installation, support, and training services provided by the vendor. This is also a good time to lean on your IT service provider for environmental preparation and support resources.

10. Talk To Your Peer Business

Chances are, if the technology exists, someone is already using it. Most businesses have “Business Friends” or Peers that they trade stories with. Open up a dialog with some of your non-competitive business peers and talk about what has and has not worked for them. You may be surprised to find that you have some of the same experiences with technology. Our nVision 2015 technology conference is a great resource for this as well.

Hopefully I was able to give you some helpful ideas on how to approach performing an IT self-assessment. For more information about IT Self-Assessments, to have our company perform an official assessment, or to talk to a consultant, please contact Network Center, Inc.

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: IT assessment, proactive IT

Community Involvement in Today’s Corporate Culture

Posted by Mia Ness on Sep 11, 2015 2:57:19 PM

NCI-Volunteering-in-FargoEncouraging community involvement in your company is a great way to distinguish yourselves from your competitors and often reaps many benefits, including happier employees and loyal customers. In fact, when deciding where to shop and which services to buy, many consumers will take corporate social responsibility (CSR) into consideration before making a decision. A company involved in the local community is oftentimes seen as much more approachable than one that is not, possibly resulting in successful business connections you might not otherwise have established.

Below are a few benefits of incorporating a community involvement action plan into your business strategy.

  1. Enhance Your Business Profile with Stronger Ties to the Community: Volunteering is a great way to bring awareness to your brand. Anyone who has worked in sales knows that many great business connections often start with positive word of mouth. Community Involvement can function as a starting point for these conversations, while also establishing a reputation for giving back to the community.
  2. Volunteering Oftentimes Results in More Business: Volunteerism creates greater public exposure for your company and can result in referrals that ultimately lead to more business. Don’t feel guilty about increased business resulting from community service. With more business comes an expanded toolbox of resources for giving back. It’s a positive cycle of influence in which both parties benefit over time.
  3. Higher Employee Moral & Team Building: Changing the atmosphere and working together outside of the office environment is great for bringing employees together as a team. Not only does it help people feel better about the company they work for, it also brings coworkers together who may not normally work with one another on a daily basis. Many people in the workforce, especially those from younger generations enjoy altruistic pursuits, but do not have time in their schedules or the means to commit to these activities. Offering volunteer opportunities in the office can be a perk to interested employees, giving the company considerable employee retention and a recruiting edge over its competitors.

So how do you get employees interested in community involvement?

  1. Establish a Community Service Committee: Recruit employees who are interested in helping to organize events and recruit volunteers. The level of service is different for every company. Some businesses prefer to be involved in one or two larger events per year, whiles others enjoy more frequent, smaller events. Pick the level of involvement that is right for your company culture to set your business up for success over time.
  2. Don’t Force People to Participate: Don’t tell employees to participate. Ask. Community involvement can take whatever form an employee chooses. Encourage people to give feedback and to find something they are passionate about. Let them commit to that service during work hours. Giving back should be positive and fun. Brainstorm ways to generate interest throughout the company without pressuring people to participate.
  3. Plan Ahead: Stay organized and start with realistic expectations. Start with one or two events and build from there. Keep it fun and gradually build up your level of company involvement over time. The last thing you want to do is to overburden yourself with unrealistic expectations and get frustrated. Start small and grow.

NCI-Gives-Back-to-FargoJust recently the Network Center, Inc. employees participated in a Pack-A-Thon at the Great Plains Food Bank. In one hour volunteers packaged 1800 lbs. of food that will be distributed to families in need throughout our community. The event received very positive feedback from employees who volunteered.

“I really enjoyed helping out at the Great Plains Food Bank. I plan to do it again, and look forward to other volunteering opportunities that help people in our community. It was also nice to spend time with co-workers I don’t work with on a regular basis." - Paul Staszko, Network Center, Inc. Software Developer

There are countless ways of giving back to your local community and doing so can boost your employee morale, enhance and create new business connections, and improve your bottom line. Learn more about how Network Center Inc. gives back to the community by visiting our Community Involvement page, and reach out to us to learn how giving back can be an integral part of your overall marketing strategy.

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: community involvement

Adding a Searchable Tag Field to an Image Library in SharePoint Foundation

Posted by Josh Nikle on Sep 3, 2015 9:30:00 AM

Microsoft-Sharepoint-2013SharePoint’s search features are without question among its top selling points.  And while SharePoint foundation’s search isn’t as full featured as the Enterprise edition of the product, it’s still very powerful.  One common request I get is allowing photos to be tagged and searched for via those tags.  This simple tutorial will walk you through setting that up.

Create a new site column

First we need to create a new Tags field. Image libraries do have a Keywords field that you would expect to use for this functionality. However, it’s a multi-line text field, which SharePoint’s search service can’t index. So, what we’re going to do instead is create a new site column of the single line of text type.

  1. Go to Site Settings and then Site Columns under the Web Designer Galleries section.
  2. Click on Create.
  3. Create a column as you would for any other list or library.
    1. Name the column Tags.
    2. Select the Single line of text type.
    3. Leave the rest as defaults and click OK.

SharePoint_Create_Columns_Screen_Shot

We now have a site column ready to add to our image library.  The nice thing about site columns is that they’re automatically added to the search index.  Saves us work later.

Create an image library

  1. Go to Site Contents.
  2. Under Lists, Libraries, and other Apps, click Add an app.
  3. Under Apps you can add, click Picture Library.
  4. In the Adding Asset Library dialog box, type “Images” for the name of the library, and then click Create.

Add the site column to our image library

  1. Open the Images library we just created.
  2. In the ribbon menu, click Library Settings.
  3. In the columns section, select Add from existing site columns.
  4. In the Select site columns from dropdown, select Custom Columns.
  5. Add the Tags column from the Available site columns box.

SharePoint_Add_Columns_Screen_Shot

That's it.

Now when you add a new image, you’ll see the Tags column at the bottom of the form.  Also, as I said, the beauty of the site column is that it’s automatically added to the search index.  Once a full crawl is run, all the tags you’ve added will turn up in search results. 

You can now search for images by tags.

Wrapping up

I hope this was helpful.  However, don’t stop here.  You can take the principles in this post and create any searchable content you like. Feel free to contact us with any Microsoft SharePoint questions you have. 

In a future post I’ll cover creating a custom search page that only returns image results and displays a nice preview.

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: Microsoft SharePoint

Taking a Step Back...

Posted by Ric Todd on Aug 27, 2015 10:00:00 AM

way_back_imageOdds are, you are reading this in some capacity as a technology decision maker. Assuming this is the case, I have a bone to pick. With all of us. In that little circle of “us”, I include myself and everyone else that thinks of services in the context of solution vendors prescribed via slick marketing, tired ideas, and buzz word campaigns designed to confuse you into submission. 

The truth? Everyone knows technology flies forward at an incomprehensible rate. How often does anyone stop to ask the question, “is it always the right road?” (I’m guilty my hand is in the air, you just can’t see it…technology hasn’t caught up to that piece yet.)

This thought train started a few years ago when my then 2 year old was attempting to change the channel on our television by swiping the screen left and right. It wasn’t working for him. Thankfully we didn’t elect to sit down and train on the remote control. These days we have very little TV interaction. Sorry. I’m already off topic….

<whip crack!>

The point is, as I watched the swiping, I instantly had my IT hat on. I was learning by watching my baby boy learn. The TV should have been that easy. And in fact, on mobile devices it really is. That is of course, where he learned the behavior. The TV just (mostly) hasn’t caught up. Like a lightning bolt it hit me. (First, we may need a new TV...second...

Why am I trying to use the same tired methods of service delivery when my users are already showing me how they want to work? They have tablets, mobile phones, and other technology trinkets they use during their coveted "non-work hours.” They are interacting and producing work and content at rates never before seen. Just not at real work. Why aren’t we listening to them and helping them use the same tools they already want to use? Because it may mean a paradigm shift in thinking? Because we are conditioned to put the same square peg in the round hole? 

Look, I’m not saying it is always feasible to just jettison your traditional methods. That is not the case at all. In fact, many times it’s not even a remote possibility. But I think many of us are guilty of falling in love with the idea of a technology in terms of newness and features. Too often these shiny objects supply very little benefit to the end user but consume a large portion of a budget ultimately only serving to fulfill our inner “tool-time” cravings. 

Is this a manifesto? Kind of. Doesn’t sound very convincing does it? Nope. I am not asking you to dump all that beloved power company friendly infrastructure you have and jump straight off the ledge into the cloud. I am simply asking this….

When you have a major initiative or a decision to make, that’s exactly the right time to discuss swiping the TV. Maybe there’s an opportunity to not only strengthen, but to actually improve the end-user experience. 

(Whoa, careful Ric...starting to sound a bit off the ledge here.) Imagine that, thinking of the user first. Weird, right? 

If you are interested in taking a step back and redefining how you do what you do…give us a buzz. We heart talking about this stuff. 

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: Cloud

Technology & Education: A Guide to Maximizing Your Tech Initiatives

Posted by Andrew McKenzie on Aug 21, 2015 10:32:10 AM

Back2School3As crazy as it is, summer is coming to a close. That means kids will soon have to face the reality that a new school year is upon us and there is learning to be had. While students have had the summer off, their school’s technology staff has been busy at work. They’ve been making the necessary upgrades to ensure students can get wireless on one of their several mobile devices. They are ensuring they have access to every program being used to enhance their educational experience. And as schools start up over the next couple weeks, all their hard work will be put to the test. Given it’s that time of the year, we figured it’s time to publish a short article regarding education and technology.

There are a million things we could say, products we could recommend, or insight we could offer. It’s safe to assume that a large majority of technology projects for this year are already completed, so we wanted to offer up some suggestions for what to do between now and next year’s project planning. The goal is to help schools with the constant battle of weighing wants and needs. For some this will be common knowledge and practices already in place, but there are some administrators, tech coordinators, and school boards who can hopefully find something productive. The list below is focused at the K-12 sector, but there could be some relevancy for the college staff as well.

Stay Educated

Now is the time to focus on expanding your knowledge of the options out there. Attend webinars, technology conferences, and do some research. Technology changes faster than most can keep up with, so staying up to date can only benefit yourself and your school. Or perhaps there’s a product that is newer to the market that can offer more value than what you’ve been using. Budgets are always tight, so knowing what options exist may offer much more flexibility when it comes to planning.

Develop/Update Technology Plans

A recurring theme among schools on a yearly basis is fighting what you need and want and making it fit the budget. And with a predetermined amount to work with each year, it pushes you to the limits to make the most of every dollar. One way to help offset this is to develop a plan. Aim to develop a 3-5 year plan that highlights the items that need addressing. Whether it is refreshing old computers, adding new networking infrastructure, or deploying more student devices, it can only benefit you and the budget to layout the plan for how this will get done. IT Coordinators should be able to/already have something in place, but if you need additional assistance with where to start, don’t hesitate to collaborate with your IT vendor.

Understand Your Funding Sources

Again, budget is a major sticking point in how much or how well technology initiatives are deployed in a school district. Some schools have a stronger emphasis than others when it comes to being proactive and progressive with technology initiatives. More often than not, these schools are also the ones who are very knowledgeable about funding available to K-12 and in tune with special promotions and discounts from various technology vendors. Take the time between now and this next spring to polish up on your E-Rate forms and explore what grants may be available. Any additional dollar you can find outside of your budget can only help.

Get an Outside Opinion

The last point I’ll touch on is utilizing an outside vendor periodically. Not necessarily hiring them and burning the budget on their services if it’s unnecessary, but technology vendors can be a great source of information. They are constantly in contact with hardware manufacturers like Lenovo, HP, Cisco, Meraki, etc. They can help provide insight of some of the newest technologies available or provide an objective review between products. They can help provide budgetary numbers and develop designs for technology deployments. They can offer up expertise of how other companies, educational or not, are using certain technologies. And of course, they might be able to assist in projects that are unfamiliar or perhaps beyond the skillset of your IT staff. There’s a large array of benefits an outside vendor can provide, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and explore.

If there is any takeaway from this list, it’s to prepare and plan and education is as critical for the IT staff as it is for the students in your schools. If your school has the resources to do what’s listed then you’re well on your way to another successful school year. Should you find you may need additional assistance in developing a technology plan or learning more about technology in the educational sector, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d be glad to offer up what knowledge we can.

NCI Contact Us Button

Protection in an Online World

Posted by Jeff Bolstad on Aug 14, 2015 4:00:00 PM

Security-ImageIncreasingly, people are being forced to integrate their lives with an online presence. Making purchases online, social media, work requirements, smart TVs, smart phones, networked appliances. It’s safe to say that it will be quite difficult for people to remain disconnected from the rest of the world going forward. However, with the convenience that comes with this expanded connectivity, individuals and businesses face constant threats as a result of this connection being open 24/7. This link shows real-time threats around the world. So are the old methods of protection still viable in today’s environment?

For individuals, the go-to methods have usually been good anti-virus and password complexity, as well as being aware of who is getting your personal information. This all holds true still. New technologies though are creating new holes. Smartphones can carry our lives on them, in the form of texts, emails, purchase history, credit card information, social media sites, and passwords. These devices have been deemed to have enough personal information on them that they require a warrant in order to be searched for information by arresting officers, where as previously they were considered covered under routine searches. But while the government may be realizing how sensitive these devices are, many people don’t take action to ensure their security. By taking a few simple steps, and being careful about what you put on your phone, it’s possible to greatly improve security on your phone, both when you’re using it, and in the unfortunate event that it is lost or stolen. While not infallible, these steps can make it much harder for a malicious entity to compromise your personal security.

So if you’re protected at home, there’s still all the businesses you are forced to interact with, or the business you are a part of, and they have to fight a constant battle as well. There have been a significant number of breaches just this year, and millions of people are affected yearly. So is it the new normal that we just have to live with the inevitable breaches of personal data? Not if companies adopt responsible policies towards security and enforce them. It’s one thing to say we have a security policy in place, but if users are not facing consequences for loading company files on a flash drive to take home, or leaving their password on a sticky note on their desk, there’s really no incentive to follow the policy. But beyond more vigilant users, what are businesses doing? 

The mainstays for protection from outside sources are always having proper hardware and software security. This includes Firewalls, Intrusion Prevention, Web Filters, Spam Filets, and Anti-Virus. Company-wide security policies enforced at the workstation and server level add another layer, and managing what outside devices are allowed to connect to the company network provides a further buffer against malicious intent. But one of the biggest things that can help companies avoid trouble is not becoming complacent.  Frequent review that systems are up to date and making sure they are the best system for the task at hand can go a long ways towards preventing the kind of event that makes headlines in today’s business world. That often translates to having someone appointed to make sure reviews happen of the network and security systems, and that any flaws are found and corrected as quickly as possible. 

Some IT experts are quoted as saying that security breaches are a matter of when, not if, for a lot of companies. But many companies could adopt a more aggressive stance when it comes to security and preventative measures, and individuals can become more aware and diligent in the protection of their own systems, which will raise the bar for IT security as a whole.

If you have any questions regarding security for your business, feel free to contact us. 

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: Security

Considerations Before Installing Windows 10

Posted by Sean Todd on Aug 7, 2015 9:00:00 AM

windows-10It’s been 24 hours now since I was able to successfully get Windows 10 Enterprise installed and running on my Surface Pro 3. Having gone through most of my career with the mindset that in-place upgrades are a bad thing (thank you Windows 95/98) I have to say things seem to be pretty stable and the experience thus far has been positive coming from Windows 8.1 Pro. My upgrade didn’t come without issue however.

What I didn’t do, but would absolutely recommend you do is run all available windows updates. On my Surface Pro 3 there were some firmware updates that would have made stability post upgrade much better. Remember, windows updates are not only for security, but for features and enhancements as well. These updates may very well be paving the way for your future upgrade.

Another thing I found out the hard way is that having a Cisco VPN client on your machine while doing the Windows 10 in-place upgrade yields a Windows 10 install with no network adapters listed in the control panel. As a technical person, the first thing I did was go into the Device Manager, and sure enough, they existed. Hmmm…maybe if I deleted them and then forced a hardware detection again I’d be able to bring them back and things would be harmonious again. No, that’d be too easy.

Enough wasting time trying to figure it out myself, I’m sure I’m not the only one that has been experiencing this on launch day. I was right! A lot of people were saying that rolling back to Windows 8.1, removing the Cisco VPN software and then re-running the upgrade worked. Thank you Microsoft for including a wonderful feature: Go back to Windows 8.1.

Go_Back_to_Windows_8.1

I selected this option and was pleasantly surprised on how easy it was revert back to windows 8.1 without wasting half a day. It only took about 20 minutes to get back to where I needed to be.

Restoring_your_previous_version_of_windows

Once I was back in Windows 8.1, I removed the Cisco VPN software both the classic VPN and AnyConnect to be sure I didn’t have to go through this again. I then re-initiated the upgrade and within 45 minutes I was up and running on Windows 10. The first thing I did was re-visit windows updates to ensure I got anything that didn’t make the RTM image. There was some firmware for the Surface Pro 3 that I should have installed first, but once I installed it post-upgrade my installation of Windows 10 has been trouble free so far.

So, the big question: should I upgrade or wait a while to make sure all the bugs are worked out? Well, that’s a decision you have to make. I will say that there are considerations you need to take into account before jumping right in:

  1. Does the software I have support Windows 10?
    I’ve not had any issues yet although I’m only 24 hours in. I would say if you have any core business apps, wait until the software manufacturer officially supports them or you’ll be in a predicament should something not work and you need help.

  2. Does all of my hardware support Windows 10?
    Things can’t be supported forever. Even with Windows 8, there were a lot of printers and legacy devices that simply wouldn’t work well. Make sure that old printer, scanner, or multifunction device, etc. are on the hardware compatibility list.

  3. Will I have to learn something completely new?
    Yes and no. If you came from Windows 8/8.1 things are fairly close to what they were before. If you’re coming from 7, then there are some differences (tiles/icons/hot keys) that may take some getting used to, but they made this transition much easier than they did with Windows 8/8.1.

  4. Will I run into issues getting my computer upgraded?
    Maybe, maybe not. With a release this early there are bound to be unforeseen upgrade issues that will be resolved with future updates. If you’re willing to take a risk and won’t be severely impacted if things do go south, then go for it! I did mention the “Go back” feature previously, but you can’t be absolutely certain that it will work.

My decision to upgrade was simple; my customers will be asking, and rather than make their system the guinea pig, I’ll take the leap and start learning things so I can be prepared to assist others with questions and/or issue as they arise. We have a saying around our office that we eat what we sell. If we’re not comfortable with it, we aren’t going to recommend it.

Finally, if you do decide to upgrade, make sure you have a backup. Get your documents, pictures, music, videos, and whatever else you deem as irreplaceable onto backup media that you can use to restore from, should your upgrade go South and you find yourself needing to do a clean install. 

If you have questions about installing Windows 10, feel free to contact us. 

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: Windows 10

What's New in Zerto 4.0

Posted by Mike Pagan on Jul 31, 2015 2:30:00 PM
Today I thought I'd write an update to the Zerto Virtual Replication introductory post that I wrote nearly a year ago. (If you'd like to read my previous post it can be found here: Introduction to Zerto Virtual Replication)  

Zerto_knifeZerto still protects virtual machines with low RPOs (Recovery Point Objectives) by replicating to an offsite virtualization host or vSphere vCloud Director and still does basic offsite backups so I won't go into those features here, but instead highlight the new and/or improved functionality found in Zerto 4.0.

What's New in 4.0:

Since my first post about Zerto, they have released Zerto 4.0 which enhances an already solid product.  Zerto's software engineers have added four new features to their existing feature set:

  •   Brand new user interface - They ditched Adobe Flash for a HTML5 web interface and have created a well-designed and intuitive interface that simplifies creation and administrative tasks. 
  •   Cross hypervisor replication - Zerto can replicate virtual machines between a VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V and vice versa. This allows you to replicate VMs between dissimilar datacenters or easily perform datacenter migrations.
  •   Hyper-V support - You can't have cross hypervisor replication, without Hyper-V support. Now you can get the same low RPOs for production Hyper-V virtual machines or protect dev/test environments by replicating them to a vSphere cluster.
  •   Replication to Amazon Web Services – Now you can protect your virtual machines in AWS and/or migrate them to the cloud by replicating them with Zerto.

If you have not seen the Zerto UI before, I’ve included some screenshots of the old and new UI below.  The great thing about moving away from a Flash based interface to HTML5, is that the UI will work on any computer, tablet, or phone that has a compatible browser. Additionally, anything that can be done to reduce the dependency on Adobe Flash, the safer our networks will be.

Old Zerto User Interface:

Old_Zerto_Interface

 

New Zerto User Interface:

New_Zerto_Interface

My experiences with Zerto:

Over the last year I've had the opportunity to install different virtual machine replication products and I've found that Zerto is one of the simplest products to setup and configure. It is also not prone to the fragility that I've found in other replication products during software upgrades.

Zerto’s product upgrades have been very simple and straightforward. I have completed the upgrade process on the lab servers I have at work and in customer networks and found that it was straightforward and simple. After the upgrade I was able to update my ZRA (Zerto Replication Adapters) and after that was completed, my VPG (Virtual Protection Groups) started replicating again.

As with any products, there are areas for improvement that I have found while working on customer projects. Here are a couple of things that I would I like to see changed to make Zerto more functional for my typical deployments:

  •   More customizable bandwidth throttling - Bandwidth can be throttled by time range but not on daily basis. For example, it would be helpful if I could restrict bandwidth used for replication between 8am and 8pm M-F but let it be unlimited over the weekend.
  •   Limit email notifications - During the initial sync or during times of bandwidth contention, I've seen the Zerto software sending far too many emails about RPO violations and other warnings. Currently, there is no way to throttle notifications other than to disable notifications entirely.
  •   Easier offline replication seeding - Almost all networks I work on don't have enough bandwidth or time to let their virtual machines do their initial replications over the WAN. I have looked at the process to do offline seeding of virtual machines but I think it should be a wizard driven process in the Zerto Virtual Manager web client to make it simpler and less prone to errors.

Those personal gripes aside, I highly recommend taking a look at Zerto if you have an upcoming disaster recovery project. Zerto offers a free, fully functional 30 day trial so you can install it in your environment and see for yourself how simple virtual replication can be. If you have any questions or need some assistance configuring your Zerto trial, please reach out to us and we'd be happy to help you become familiar with Zerto. 

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: Virtual Replication

Utilizing Social Media Outlets For Your Business

Posted by Mia Ness on Jul 24, 2015 3:00:00 PM

So what’s all the hype about?

technology_imageIn today’s day and age, social media has become a powerful marketing tool. According to a new study described on Forbes.com, four out of five corporations in America leverage social media outlets to help build relationships with their customers, and expand their client base. Companies that use Social Media Marketing (SMM) are able to branch out to far more individuals than traditional means of marketing, and information can potentially reach millions in the blink of an eye.  Here are a couple things to keep in mind to help you get started, or build on your current SMM campaign.

Use social media as a means to drive traffic to your existing website

If you already have a website, SMM can be a great tool in driving people there. On your site, encourage visitors to share content that they are interested in and that they enjoy. If you utilize a blog, make sure you announce new posts on your social media outlets. People following you will see these announcements and be redirected to your site to read or watch more. At this point they’ll most likely click around and explore. If your visitor sees more information they like, there’s a good chance they’ll repost it. Everyone following them will now see the post linking to your site, potentially generating even more traffic. It’s essentially a snowball of digital information. At the end of a blog post always include a link to contact you if the reader wishes to do so. Make it easy to reach out to your business.

Establish yourself as an Industry Resource

It’s all about building your brand and getting your name out there. The trick is to always keep your content fresh. You want your viewers to keep coming back for more because your resources are interesting and relevant to them, or to their business. People will start to see you as a leader, and great resource for interesting links and relevant information. This leads to more followers, positive word of mouth, and ultimately more business!

Put a face (or faces) to your brand

Who’s behind your brand? Before initiating a business relationship, most people will take time to do some research on the company they’ll be working with. Highlight company events with photography. Put a visual to your information. If your business participates any community events, social media is the ideal place to spread the word and encourage your clients and followers to participate as well.  

Learn more about your customer base and how reach them on the go

Looking at who is following you can be a great indicator on how to proceed with your digital strategy. Ask questions and encourage followers to post feedback. What are they looking to get out of your posts? Which media outlets are they most likely to follow you on? Where are your clients located? These are all important questions you can answer by taking a look at the demographics of your followers, and finding out what they want to get out of your posts. Social media is all about making connections, and keeping those connections strong.

Engage your followers

Keep your followers interested by holding social media contests that encourage people to connect with you and post their feedback. A contest can stand on its own, or you can tag it onto a live event to add an extra layer of interaction. The main thing is to have fun with it and get people involved. There’s no limit to how creative you can get with your SMM campaigns.

It’s about more than just strengthening your client base

Use social media to grow your team as well as your clientele. Looking for an addition to your team? A friend of a follower who re-tweeted your tweet might be the perfect candidate for the job. Don’t be afraid to get that word out there and proactively work towards growing your business.

There’s no limit to the creative ideas that go into SMM, and it is an important component in the overall digital strategy of your business plan. The Interactive Services team at Network Center, Inc. can help guide you through this process of selecting the right SMM campaign that best fits your company’s needs. Don’t hesitate to give us a call today, and let us help you make the most out of your company’s social media experience!

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: social media marketing, social media, SSM

7 Future-Proofing IT Practices for Your Business

Posted by Jon Ryan on Jul 17, 2015 2:00:00 PM

futureSo here it is, the answer to all of your business questions. Ok, so maybe not the answer to all of them, but at least some insight on looking forward and being as prepared for the future as possible. We all know that it’s not what you deal with in life, but how you deal with it that makes all the difference. Being prepared for diversity and change within your business will help solidify future IT infrastructure. 

As with any article, everyone’s IT environment is unique to their business. So while these practices may not exactly match your environment, they are thought points to get you thinking of ways to help future proof your company for years to come.

1. Plan for Expandability

When choosing your IT Infrastructure, you have to be cautious not to limit yourself for future expandability. It’s important to look at your current resources and plan for approximately 20 - 30 percent growth over the next 3 – 5 years. This will account for average to good growth. Even if you don’t grow at that rate, you are at least capable of growing to that size without making a significant investment in your infrastructure.

That doesn’t mean you have to buy a bunch of processing, memory, and storage up front. But you can choose hardware that is expandable. This is where some of the higher server cost comes from. Entry level servers are often times limited to specifications such as a single processor and maximum of 32GB of RAM. For a business looking to eventually get rid of onsite hardware, these are great servers to buy you a couple more years until you can phase it out completely.

Essentially, expandability means not painting yourself into a corner with your technology. Make sure to share your growth predications and expectations with your IT consultant to design the best fit for future expandability.

2. Look at More Than One Option to Solve a Problem

Sometimes the hottest problem is the one that gets all the attention when upgrading your IT Infrastructure. It’s easy to get “caught up in the now” of an IT limitation especially when it is a forced upgrade. In many cases the immediate problem is a pre-cursor for more problems to come. You should try to ask yourself “What else is affected by this?” “How will this change impact what we are looking at doing in the future?” “Is there a change that we can make that will fix this problem and prepare us for future changes?”

You don’t want to purchase the same hardware 18 months later. It’s easier sometimes to use the band aide method of “patching” a problem. Depending on the issue, many times it’s your infrastructure telling you there is a need. So instead of replacing the same hardware with newer same hardware, look at options of changing the current way your infrastructure is setup to accommodate future changes.

3. Have a Documented Disaster Recovery Plan and Test It Often

When everything starts to “hit the fan,” what is your plan for recovery? Many businesses have a “plan” or idea of what to do when their systems fail. But having a documented plan will help you react more quickly and consistently if you ever experience a disaster. Many people also relate a “Disaster” to something like a tornado, or flooding. In which case there are more things to deal with than just their infrastructure. But disasters can range from theft, power outage or internal sprinkler damage to the extreme cases. Some may even consider complete server hardware failure due to a power spike or general failure a disaster scenario.

Having an off-site disaster recovery plan will help you prepare for the worst. But in some cases, when it needs to be activated, it fails or is a convoluted process. The easiest way to document your disaster recovery plan is to design it with an engineer and get a clear understanding of what it will take to fire it off. Then, once it’s installed, test it. You should test your DR plan 1-2 times a year. It will give you and your organization some comfort as well as expose weak points in the process. You may need to upgrade your switching if your data processing requirements have grown.

4. Actively Monitor your Network & Server Performance

It’s your daily operation. Pushing data in, out, and around your network. Network and server performance are the veins and heart of your infrastructure. Just like an EKG scan, network and server monitoring can give you insight to how fluidly data is moving, choke points, and predictive failures. Performance monitoring can also help identify trends. At 3pm every day your network may run really slow. Having that information can assist in finding a process that could be pushing too much data during the work day. You can also identify suspicious network activity related to viruses or malware.

5. Review your Business Processes Frequently

As your business grows, so should your business processes. One of the problems a business can run into is upgrading their infrastructure but not their business process. It’s like putting twice the size engine in your car, but still only driving at 20 MPH. Although the growth of your business will dictate the frequency, we recommend you do a business process review no less than once a year. Performing regular Business Process Reviews will help you predict process issues and take advantage of all of the tools you have available now and in the future.

6. Build a Technology Team of your Employees

You would be surprised how many of your employees would volunteer for a technology committee. One of the stumbling blocks in using technology is getting a grasp on it. Instead of just leaving it up to a single IT administrator to train the company on new technology, use a technology team. This will give you more insight to your technology from different perspectives. It will also allow you the welcome input of efficiencies and improvements from your team. Ultimately steering your future IT purchases in a direction that is fully beneficial to your company.

7. Invest in your Technology

It’s easy to see improving technology as an expense instead of an investment. But having visibility in all of the previous points in this blog can help you make decisions that are not wasted. One of the biggest fears is buying all of this technology and only using 10% of it. Getting a clear vision of why you are purchasing the infrastructure you are looking at and what it can do for you now and in preparation for the future will make that decision easier. Quantizing your investment is important too. Instead of looking at the purchasing number and cringing, think about the efficiencies it brings to your business and where it will take you in the future.

For more information on any of the points listed in this blog, please contact us. We’d love to talk to you about where you are now and what you want to do to future proof your business.

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: Network Monitoring, IT practices, expandability, Disaster Recovery Plan, IT Infrastructure

Customer Appreciation at Network Center, Inc.

Posted by Andrew McKenzie on Jul 8, 2015 1:30:00 PM

DSC_0582-1As the old adage goes: “The customer is always right.” For those of us in the service industries, the debate on the validity of that saying can carry on until we’re all blue in the face, the cows come home, or whatever cliché you prefer. Here at Network Center, Inc., we believe in a different approach when it comes to customers. Whether they are right, wrong, or indifferent, they deserve to be appreciated.

In a world where projects and transactions can be done without any face to face interaction, customer appreciation is even more important. People nowadays often take things at face value and focus on the cost above else. Our customers need to know that we see each customer as a valuable partner in business, and not just an account number. One of our core values is Dedication to Customers. That’s why every year we host some events focused on the customer. Sure, we provide food, refreshments and entertainment, but more importantly we provide them the option to escape from the daily grind (for at least a few hours) in exchange for building a personal relationship with our employees. Those relationships allow us to become fully invested in assuring our customers have the service they expect.

The goal of these events is to show how much we appreciate the customers we have. No matter the size of a customer’s organization or how much or little they work with us, we truly value the relationships we create with each and every customer. We are, after all, only as good as our customers enable us to be.

photo_3-1A couple of short weeks ago we hosted our annual NCI Customer Golf Event at Rose Creek Golf Course. We invited customers and vendors to join us for lunch, a round of golf, and some appetizers during a social hour in which we awarded the various contest winners to end the day. For those who were able to make it, they were rewarded with beautiful weather and a judgment free zone for some of those swings they wish they could forget. To quickly summarize the event: fun was had by all.

This week, we will be hosting our annual customer appreciation event at a FM Redhawks business day game. An event where again food and refreshments are provided (it’s a recurring theme at NCI events), we offer a chance to kick back, enjoy America’s pastime, and escape the stressors of work for an afternoon. Oh, let’s not forget the postgame concert where you can cut a rug, or several, if that be your preference. 

If there’s anything you need to take away from this article, is that we want to thank each of our customers for their patronage. You’re the reason we can continue to grow, adapt, and improve as a company. We enjoy having fun and showering our customers with food and prizes and activities, but it’s nothing in comparison to how we value the partnerships and relationships we have with each and every one of you. We hope you feel appreciated as a customer every other day of the year, but for those couple of days you want to feel extra appreciated, don’t hesitate to attend our events!

For more information regarding our upcoming events, please feel free to contact your Network Center, Inc. employee of choice, or just give us a call at 701-235-0940 for guidance.

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: customer appreciation

NCI Core Value - Responsible Innovation

Posted by Sean Todd on Jun 26, 2015 2:30:00 PM
dreamstime_xl_45967026Merriam-Webster defines innovation as “the introduction of something new; a new idea, method, or device”. As a company we innovate every day whether it’s developing a new application, a new bundle of product offerings, or simply a new way we interact both internally between employees and externally with customers.
Innovation is what keeps us relevant. Without it we would have been out of business a long time ago. We have the gift of employees who constantly push the boundaries. Employees who don’t stop looking for that next great product even though we have a list of similar products that seem to be doing just fine. We aren’t afraid to ask why. We don’t accept “because it’s how we’ve always done it” responses. We’re constantly looking to improve, and improvement equals innovation.

Add the word ‘Responsible’ and we have created one of our core values. Responsible Innovation. Innovating in a way that impacts our customers, our community, and our company in a positive way with an eye to the future. Responsible Innovation can be measured many ways, but here are a few:

• Ethics – Does this innovation align with our core values?
• Sustainability – How does this innovation impact our future? Is it a short win, or a long term win? What resources will it take to get off the ground and maintain throughout its lifecycle? Is there or will there be enough demand?
• Stewardship – Ensuring constant communication with each other and customers to prevent large project overruns, everything we do affects the bottom line.

Who is responsible for innovating? Everyone. Regardless of the department, Responsible Innovation falls on everyone. We aren't afraid to ask why. Asking why often opens the door to innovation. Innovating is what keeps us relevant today, and tomorrow, and ensures that our company will be around for many years to come.

To learn more about Network Center, Inc. core values, please visit our Core Values page on our website.

Topics: Innovative Technology, innovation, responsible innovation, core values

Should You Have a Mobile Responsive Website?

Posted by Dane Petersen on Jun 18, 2015 1:00:00 PM

Should you have a mobile responsive website? Absolutely.

WebsiteInfographic_1This may or may not be surprising, but most businesses have not yet moved to mobile, and that could hurt their existing client base or potential new clients. Over 20% of all Google searches come from a mobile device. Responsive mobile website design allows you to have one website that is coded to dynamically change its design based on what type of device it is viewed on (pc, tablet, mobile phone etc.). This allows your website to reach as many users as possible.

Here are a few more reasons why it is essential for your website to be mobile ready:

1. Your website will be adaptive for future devices. Mobile responsive design is based on Media Queries which allow the developer to code your website to adapt to multiple screen resolutions.

2. Mobile sites provide users with the best user experience. I’m sure we have all run into a website that is not optimized for mobile, and have found it difficult or even impossible to access the information we are looking for, driving us to look for that same information elsewhere. Giving your user base an easy way to access the information will give your users the trust in your business to keep returning. It also shows your clients that you care about their experience.

3. Google may penalize you for not having a mobile responsive website. They have noticed the trend that users are more likely to view your website on a mobile device than ever before. Having the mobile version of your website will lead to better search rankings, giving your website more exposure.

"To improve the search experience for smartphone users and address their pain points, we plan to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users."
-Yoshikiyo Kato, Software Engineer, on behalf of Google Mobile Search Team

4. If your competition has a mobile version of their website this could potentially lead to loss of clientele. Over 60% of mobile users say that they will never return to a website as long as they are not provided with an easy to use experience on their mobile devices.

5. Having a mobile responsive website allows you to only edit once, and will display on all devices.This makes it even easier to individually manage your the content.

At Network Center, Inc., we strive to provide websites with the best possible user experience whether it's on a desktop or a mobile device. Please contact us for further information on building a mobile responsive website.

NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: Mobility, Interactive Services, Mobile Friendly Websites, Mobile Responsive Website

Announcing Our Newly Redesigned Network Center, Inc. Website

Posted by Angie Ryan on Jun 12, 2015 3:30:00 PM

We are excited to announce our newly redesigned website - www.netcenter.net. Our website's fresh new look, user-friendly navigation and search functionality are some of the features you will enjoy. The new site has several easy to use drop down menus with updated information about our technology solutions and company, along with a comprehensive resources hub that will keep you coming back for more. We hope that you will enjoy browsing our new site and find new technology resources and information each time you visit.

As you explore the new site, one of the first things you’ll notice is the rotating banner on the home page highlighting Network Center, Inc. news and solutions. The home page also provides easy access to recent blog posts, videos, and a technology resources.

1-1

Review the solutions pages to learn more about our recently expanded list of technology services offered. You will notice the menu titles under the solutions tab are orange and green. The orange titles depict our Strategic & Consulting Services and Interactive Services. The green titles display our traditional IT Solutions and Support Services. 

2-1

Please take some time to look around and acquaint yourself with the new layout and features that include:

RESOURCE HUB & BLOG

The redesigned site makes it easy to connect and share content from Network Center, Inc. with others on our new Resource Hub. Click through our Resource Hub to find our latest social, video and blog content. Be sure to subscribe to our NetConnect Blog to receive even more information about our latest products, tips and tricks. 

3

CLIENT PORTFOLIO

Our clients’ goals are our goals. At Network Center, Inc. we work with our clients to create a customized solution that will meet their ever evolving needs. View our impressive collection of work on “Our Client Portfolio” page to see how we have successfully delivered for our clients through the creation of websites, digital signage and mobile apps. 

4

CLIENT SUCCESS STORIES

Every day, Network Center, Inc. helps clients win in today’s complex world of technology. Visit our “Client Success Stories” page and click on any video to learn more about the solutions that delivered successful results.

5

We are eager to hear what you think of the new site design—leave us a comment below! Thank you for your continued support.

Contact us to find out how we can partner with you to achieve your IT goals and streamline your business.

 NCI Contact Us Button

Topics: Web Design, website development, responsive website, Website Redesign

Benefits of Implementing a CMS Into Your Website

Posted by Mia Ness on May 29, 2015 4:15:00 PM

CMS_photoToday websites are much more dynamic than they where in the past. Gone are the days of setting up a static website and just leaving it be. In today’s fast-paced society, people expect a certain level of interactivity on a website, whether that be a blog, social media feeds, or continually updated content to keep their attention and keep them coming back to visit your site. The solution for this essential need for fresh content is a CMS, or Content Management System.

So what exactly is a CMS?

A Content Management System is an easy-to-use software that stores all the content from your website.  With this it allows multiple web administrators to login in and update a website’s content as you please without any coding experience or the need to contact your developer.

Why this is great for you?

1. It’s convenient.
You have the ability to log in anytime and update your site on your own terms. Let’s say it’s a Sunday and you need to post a company-wide reminder on your homepage. Ideally you want everyone to see it right away Monday morning. With a CMS you’re not restricted by the times your developer is available to update your site. You can change content, upload images, videos, and more! It completely cuts out the middleman, making your site more dynamic and ultimately more valuable to your visitors. 

2. No Coding Required!
A CMS is a WYSIWYG meaning “What you see is what you get.” If know how to create a Word Document, you’ll have no problem at all updating your site.

3. Cost Effective
Although we’re still here to help if needed, simple updates won’t require you to contact your developer. Other than the one time fee to build your site with an integrated CMS, there are no monthly fees for accessing your content.

4. Stay up to Date
Any quality CMS such as Drupal or Wordpress will provide you with functionality updates on a regular basis, giving you peace of mind that your site and content are secure.

5. Build a Marketing Strategy

A CMS also gives you the ability to implement a marketing strategy harnessing email marketing, blogging tools, social media and custom forms, among many other powerful tools right at your fingertips.

The Interactive Services team at Network Center, Inc. can help build a site utilizing a power content management system. Don’t hesitate to give us a call today, and let us help you make the most out of your company’s web experience!

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Interactive Services, website development, Content Management System, CMS

Opening PDFs in the Browser in SharePoint Foundation 2013

Posted by Josh Nikle on May 21, 2015 3:00:00 PM

SharePoint's PDF "Support"

sharepoint_iconWith SharePoint 2013, Microsoft is finally offering native support for the PDF file format. No more add-ons or custom icons and code. However, saying it “supports” PDFs is a bit generous.

SharePoint’s default behavior is to force the user to download the file. Having hundreds of files residing on desktops all over your organization might be construed as defeating the purpose of document storage in SharePoint in the first place, so we need to fix that.

To get PDFs to open in the browser, you need to change the Browser File Handling setting to permissive. You’re half way there, but now PDFs are opening in the same window. This is obviously problematic, so you need to go one step further and edit your search center’s display template to add “target=’_blank’ ” to PDF URLs.

However, this option isn’t available in SharePoint Foundation 2013. You have no access to any display templates. And so, I fall back on my old standby: JQuery.

The basic process is…

1. Change the Browser File Handling to permissive.
2. Add JQuery to our document library to add a target to any PDF URLs.

Change the Browser File Handling setting

I should note that there are security implications in changing this setting, but to date, I haven’t found a way around it in Foundation. With that being said…

1. In SharePoint 2013 Central Administration, in the Application Management section, go to Manage Web Applications.
2. Select the application for which you want to change browser file handling.
3. In the ribbon, click on the General Settings button, then on General Settings in the dropdown.
4. Scroll near the bottom, and change the Browser File Handling setting from Strict to Permissive.

1-2

At this point, PDFs will open in the browser. However, they’re opening in the same window, so we need go one step further to make this really useful.

Make PDFs Open in a New Window with JQuery

The final step is to add a small bit of scripting to the page. Access the script by clicking here. Here’s how to add it to your library.

1. The first thing we’ll need to do is edit the attached script file with the ID of your particular library app web part.
  • Go to your library page.
  • Hit F12 to bring up your browser’s dev tools.
  • Click on the library section of the page. You’re looking for an ID in the format of “#MSOZoneCell_WebPartWPQ2”. Your web part may or may not be “2”.
  • Edit the attached file with your library app web part’s ID.
2-1
2. Upload the edited script to the library of your choice. Site Assets or Sites Styles are the common places.
  • Once uploaded, click on the ellipsis (…) next to the file. You’ll get a popup with the file’s URL. Copy it.
3. Now, go back to your library. In the ribbon, click on Page > Edit Page. Alternatively, you can click on the Settings cog > Edit Page.
4. Place a content editor web part (CEWP) at the bottom of the page and add a link to your edited script.
  • Edit the CEWP.
  • In the Content Editor section at the top of the Properties window, paste your copied URL in the Content Link field.

At this point, you should now be able to open PDFs in your browser, and in another window.

Troubleshooting

This solution is pretty short and sweet, so not much to go wrong. However, if you’re having problems with the script, there are a couple things to check.

1. Make sure you have the correct web part ID and that you edited the script before uploading. I wouldn’t mention it if I hadn’t done it before. <grins>
2. There’s a console.log line in the script. Remove the comment slashes (//) in front of it. Then refresh the page with dev tools turned on. You’ll at least be able to see if the script is returning the URLs you’re expecting.

Contact Network Center, Inc. for any questions regarding Microsoft SharePoint.

Contact Us Today!

 

Topics: Microsoft SharePoint, SharePoint Foundation 2013, SharePoint PDF Support

Microsoft Windows Server 2003 - Your Chance to Leave Hardware Behind!

Posted by Jon Ryan on May 15, 2015 4:00:00 PM

1-1With the impending retirement of Microsoft Windows Server 2003 on July 14th, businesses are quickly approaching their deadline to upgrade their server OS, applications, and most likely their hardware. Some might think just upgrading the OS and the hardware will solve all of their aging OS problems. The variable in that equation is applications. File shares, printer shares, and Active Directory are only a small part of most business' headaches. 

Where the Application World is Headed

If you haven’t been recently looking at application services, you probably aren’t aware of how many are moving to the cloud. Applications like QuickBooks and Dynamics already have cloud options. Most ERP/MRP/HRIS programs offer both an on premise and cloud hosted version. What does that mean for you? Well, traditionally, even when a business only runs one fat client program, they would buy a physical server to house that application/database.

Fat Client programs are usually designed to run a ‘client’ install on each computer, with the database residing on the server. This connection between the database and client program is constantly connected and usually updating in real time. This, in turn, uses a large amount of constant bandwidth and ties up both server and computer resources. Over the past few years, application vendors have transitioned their fat client programs to the cloud. Now, you can simply log into a website and have access to all of the tools and functionality of a locally installed database program.

“OK….where is he going with all of this?”

How this Relates to Windows Server 2003

So we are back to Server 2003 and what the purpose is of this server in your business. If you are only utilizing it to house Active Directory, file shares, and one or two applications, there are online services available for you to not only retire the operating system, but the hardware as well. How do we do that?  Let’s take a look at what the current roles your server is providing and what online services there are to cover those roles.

blog-table2

Most of the larger software providers have been providing online services for quite some time now. Others are also following suite. As hosting and cloud services become even more inexpensive, we will see smaller application providers offer an online solution.

2Migrating your server roles to online services will lower your dependency to onsite hardware. The most efficient way to approach moving to online services is when a major upgrade is apparent, hence Server 2003. *wink* *wink* 

How the Cloud Plays Into All of This

Migrating away from hardware doesn’t just rely on hosted services. Cloud resources have come down in cost substantially over the last couple of years. With internet speeds increasing and becoming more affordable, businesses are able to budget operating IT costs into their IT plan. If it's time for you to replace your 2003 server and your server roles are not available online, you can spin up your new server in the cloud rather than acquiring hardware. Dependent on internet speeds, you can migrate away from onsite hardware all together.

The Future is Here

Our recommendation is to review all of your server roles and determine what services are available online and whether spending a large capital expense is necessary. We encourage our customers to invest that money in training and to invest in less hardware dependent solutions. It’s the wave of the future, and your chance to leave hardware behind.

Contact Network Center, Inc. today and speak with one of our technology consultants to see what options are available to your business. We can help you save money and turn that capital expense into an investment into the future.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: technology consulting, Cloud Services, Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Upgrading hardware, IT Plan

Network Support Across Diverse Environments

Posted by Jeff Bolstad on May 8, 2015 3:22:57 PM

network-1In my time at Network Center, Inc. I have had the benefit of being exposed to a large and unique client base. And while they all have common themes and similarities, including hardware and software, each has their own unique uses, programs, and methods for dealing with their day-to-day operations which affects our relationship with them in terms of how we support them. There are two primary groups that I like to divide clients into: those that have an environment we have implemented and control and those that we are taking over but someone else previously implemented. Each presents their own challenges and have to be approached with care.

I’ll touch first on clients who have a network that we have had a hand in implementing. That may be from the planning stages through to completion, upgrades or replacements of existing infrastructure, or hosted solutions that we help administer. These are usually, though not always, easier for us as a company to support and troubleshoot when things go awry. This stems primarily from being more familiar with the system, and being able to document issues as we have encountered them during implementation and the steps we took to resolve them. This also usually indicates that there is a primary technician who is responsible for the setup and installation, giving others who may be called on to support the customer a valuable resource who has knowledge that may otherwise not be readily available. While these clients generally benefit from the knowledge our technicians have from the extensive time they spend on the system during setup and installation, we also have a number of clients who primarily handle IT issues internally, or who are coming to us from another support provider. These clients present their own set of challenges to address.

For those networks we didn't implement, it can take slightly longer to become familiar with the ins and outs of certain systems. While many pieces of software see use for both categories of clients, they can be utilized in vastly different ways. Certain comforts exists in working with a particular brand of software, however, there can still be unique situations per client which require additional runtime to become capable of supporting it in an efficient manner. There are a myriad of things we can do, however, to make supporting both environments as easy as possible for both the end users and those helping them out.

network_supportFirst and foremost is communication. Whether it’s between an end user and a technician, between a designated contact and a service engineer, a salesperson, or communication between technical resources, quick and accurate information between those working on issues or those affected by said issues can go a long way in mitigating problems that stem from a technical issue. Communication can minimize downtime by getting the right information to the right people, or correctly identifying the root cause and quickly addressing it.

The other side of the coin is having proper documentation. The obvious ones might be passwords, a list of programs, maybe hardware and software inventory, but there is much more that can be and sometimes isn’t kept, which could help in the event support is needed. This can include updated contact information for both users and third party vendors, proper escalation procedures for incidents, configurations for specialized equipment, troubleshooting workflows for common issues, and changes requested by either end users or technicians to address ongoing issues. Knowing what was done and why goes a long way toward being able to identify any future problems, roll back changes if necessary, and minimize their impact should they resurface. And while we have an internal program to document issues that we work on, there is more that can be discussed and found to record that will make supporting a network easier for all parties involved.

In short, network support in a timely and efficient manner boils down to communication and documentation. With either one missing, time is spent filling in blanks and can result in additional work and costs. This is also not solely the responsibility of one party or the other, but a joint effort to make support easier for all involved. For questions about network support, please contact Network Center, Inc.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: diverse network environments, network implementation, network support

Utilizing Google App Engine and Amazon Web Services

Posted by Joe Dunnigan on May 1, 2015 4:00:00 PM

great_website2Oftentimes the most intensive and expensive part of building a website or application is managing your project infrastructure. I’ve interviewed our lead Application Developer, Joe Dunnigan to find out how we utilize Google App Engine and Amazon Web Services in our projects and why they are so effective for developers in today’s market.

So to start out with, what exactly do these tools do?

Both Google App Engine and Amazon Web Services are platforms you deploy websites and applications to that manage scalability and high availability on your site. Managing back-end infrastructure is incredibly time-intensive for the developer and thus expensive for the client. By deploying code to either of these services, you can free up time by allowing either Google or Amazon to manage your infrastructure for you.

What are the Benefits of using these services?

  1. Saves time: Allows us to build applications and websites quickly without worrying about the time-intensive underlying infrastructure.
  2. Faster loading times for your website or application: For example, a part of Amazon Web Services called “Amazon Elastic Beanstalk” propagates your code to servers across the world. If someone on the East Coast is viewing your site, the content will be pulled from a server on the East Coast near the user. In contrast if a user is on the West Coast, that same content will be pulled from a server closest to their corresponding location.
  3. More traffic – less crashing: Since it manages scalability, using these services gives your site the flexibility to adjust for high traffic on it’s own. You also have the control to adjust scalability manually if you predict higher traffic to your site in the near future. For example, both Netflix and SnapChat use this technique to scale accordingly throughout the day in order to accommodate traffic flow. As the infrastructure indicates that the demand is rising, it scales accordingly to meet that demand with no down-time.
  4. Cost-effective: Both Google App Engine and Amazon Web Services are charged based on usage. The more traffic you get on your site, the more it costs to manage that infrastructure. This makes these services ideal for start-up companies and small business, as it is initially a more cost-effective option.

A cloud-hosting infrastructure such as this is the best way overall to approach a potentially high-traffic site without draining resources. Clients need very little capital to get going, and it is perfect if your site is only busy during certain times or during certain events. The Interactive Services team at Network Center, Inc. can help guide you through this process. Don’t hesitate to give us a call today, and let us help you make the most out of your company’s web experience!

Contact Us Today!

Interviewer: Mia Ness, NCI Digital Designer
Interviewee: Joe Dunnigan, NCI Lead Application Developer

 

Topics: Interactive Services, Project Infrastructure, Cloud-hosting infrastructure, Google App Engine, Amazon Web Services

‘Mobilegeddon’ is here. Are you ready for the change?

Posted by Andrew McKenzie on Apr 20, 2015 4:26:19 PM

MobilegeddonThe next big change regarding Google and how they rank search results is upon us, whether you’re ready for it or not. The world has gone mobile and with each year the numbers climb in terms of mobile users. If your company hasn’t considered being mobile-friendly, you’re already behind in this fast-paced, “want information now” world. Starting April 21st, Google is making adjustments to their algorithm on its search results rankings that will drastically shake things up. Here’s a quick breakdown of what it is, who this impacts, and why it’s important.

In short, the change is meant to reinforce the mobile-focus of websites. It will now integrate a site’s mobile-friendliness into the algorithm determining one’s search ranking. In essence, if you’re searching from a mobile device, Google is going to reward those mobile-friendly sites more heavily than those that are “non-responsive” sites by helping them climb the search ranking.

As a 20-something who has grown up on technology, this is great news. Consumers want an easy-to-navigate/read site when searching from mobile devices. For myself and my generation, it’s simple: make your site mobile and you’ll get me to browse your site; stay non-responsive and force me to zoom and struggle to navigate your site, and I’ll move on the next site with no turning back

By now you’re probably wondering if this impacts you. For industries that rely on traffic from search engines, this is huge. Immediately, we think of the hospitality, service, and entertainment industries, but it certainly impacts all companies in some form or another. If you’re not sure if your site is mobile-friendly and meets the criteria set forth by Google, there are ways to check. You can put your URL into this tool to get instant feedback by Google: www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly

Google-on-Airtel-phonesPerhaps you probably haven’t felt the immediate need to go mobile with your site, so here is one reason why this is important. Companies without a mobile-friendly site could stand to lose nearly 1/3 of the traffic to their site once this change goes into effect. What’s worse is that the 1/3 you’re potentially losing could be going to your competitors’ mobile sites instead. I understand that this does impact some companies more than others, but at the end of the day, traditional PC web searching is declining and searching from mobile devices is increasing. This is the way people search for your company now, so don’t fight it or hide from it.

If you haven’t considered an upgrade to your site or making your site responsive, you’re omitting yourself from relevance (and revenue) in many ways starting April 21st. This trend will only continue to grow, so don’t keep yourself out of the game. Embrace the changes and win your customers' business by at least hitting the status quo of being mobile-friendly. As a consumer, I want to buy from you or hire you for what I need. Make it easy for me to do so and I’ll keep coming back.

If you have any questions regarding your current site, mobile sites, or mobile apps and/or how prepared you are for “Mobilegeddon” contact us at Network Center, Inc. 

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Google Algorithm, responsive website, Mobile-Friendly, mobile-friendly website, Mobilegeddon

SvSAN Brings Software Defined Storage to SMB & Remote Office Environments

Posted by Eric Kupfer on Apr 20, 2015 9:42:00 AM

stormagic_logo_cmyk_on_white-RGBWhile attending VMware Partner Exchange this year we were introduced to StorMagic. We believe that they have a product that can provide unique value to some of our small business customers and clients with remote or branch offices. Often, these customers have the same requirements for uptime and hardware resiliency as bigger companies, but for various reasons a SAN solution will not work or isn’t in the budget.

Typically, to achieve high availability and hardware redundancy, at least two VMware hosts and highly available shared storage (usually a storage area network (SAN)) was required. The cost of the shared storage component left small offices and remote branches with the choice of maintaining an overly complex and expensive infrastructure or relying on a single server for all of their IT needs. To choose the second option meant accepting the risk that a single component failure may impact whether or not they could continue to conduct business as usual.

StorMagic_ROBOStorMagic SvSAN removes the most expensive component needed to create a highly available virtual infrastructure. SvSAN replaces a traditional SAN by mirroring data between two (or more) VMware hosts with direct attached or internal storage. VMware High Availability, vMotion, and all other “vOptions” are available, similar to if traditional shared storage was in place.

StorMagic publishes case studies that include production small business deployments as well as large retail and manufacturing companies with many remote locations. Typically, the sites feature a small number of virtual machines that are critical to production and need to be highly available.

SvSAN is simple to use and maintain for SMB customers with little or no onsite IT staff. Larger companies can centrally manage the product by seamlessly integrating it into the existing vSphere tools they already use.

If you are interested in getting a quick overview, here’s a link to a YouTube video that does a good job explaining how it works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hu5LuckfUB4

If you are interested in more information or think that the solution might be a good fit at your company, please reach out to Network Center, Inc. for a follow up!

Contact Us Today!

Topics: VMware Partner Exchange, StorMagic, StorMagic SvSAN, SAN solution

2015 Technology Trends Recap

Posted by Ric Todd on Apr 10, 2015 5:15:00 PM

business-intelligence-03TL;DR? Take the time to watch these YouTube clips to get an idea of how we think about you. Every. Single. Customer. 

Here's a link to our business intelligence video.

Here's a link to our cloud video.

If you are into verbose bloviation…carry on.

You are a decision maker. You are driving in your car on the way to a meeting relating to one of a thousand things on your plate. Your inbox is filled with requests, issues, and a million other things you can’t possibly get to but must. Quite literally, the world does revolve around you, at least in your business. 

Now you get a phone call that your production database is down. Or maybe that call doesn’t even get to you until a day later when you find out you’ve lost hours of productivity. Now it's a question of mitigating loss. 

The thought occurs to you, "why is technology such a burden when its original intent was to improve?" You know you don’t have the budget to hire superstars and if you did, they’d move on after a short while anyway. 

cloud-solutions-1024x747You need to focus on the things “in your wheelhouse.” How in the heck do you get your IT out of the way? Why does it cost so much to upgrade this stuff? Is there another way? Did I leave the TV on? 

Let’s reframe your question, because that's what we do. How in the heck do you get IT to move you forward instead of constantly dragging you down?

That’s the very question we are constantly asking ourselves. 

Our conversations rarely ever start with specs. We want to understand the driving reason behind the discussion. Maybe there is an opportunity to pivot. Maybe there is another need within the business that can be solved at the same time. 

More importantly, as we have our dialog, we are taking the CIO level view. How can we help you improve efficiency, drive down cost, and get more from that technology?

During our nVision 2014 event (that seems so long ago….) we talked about a lot of trends for 2015. Brett Anderson and I presented on a couple of topics we see having a tremendous impact today for customers we have already implemented solutions for and ran through the case studies. Take a gander on our YouTube channel to get an idea of how we think about you. 

Also…No, you did not leave the TV on. 

Topics: Cloud Solutions, Innovative Technology, Business Intelligence

ASA VPN Dual Factor Authentication

Posted by Jeremy Hostrup on Apr 6, 2015 4:45:00 PM

2factorI’ve had multiple talks lately about dual factor authentication for VPNs. Basically, there are two options that I’m aware of to accomplish this: a token or a certificate. Dual factor authentication can basically be broken down into two pieces, something you have and something you know. The something you know would be your username and password; the something you have would be your token or certificate. There are benefits to each. Using tokens are easy and most people have had some experience with them. Certificates get a bit tricky because it’s not a skill set that a majority of IT professionals possess. I’m going to touch less on tokens and more on certificates.

Certificate authorities can be configured on a Windows server, a Cisco ASA, or even a Cisco router. The CA on the Cisco ASA and Cisco routers are less scalable and have fewer features than a Windows CA, usually for deployments of less than 50 users. Another major benefit of using a Windows CA is that is usually has a much lower TCO than using tokens.

Once the CA is configured, you then have the challenge of getting the certificates to employees. You can use AD Group Policy to push the certificate to domain computers. You can also use SCEP to easily deploy certificates to mobile and non-AD devices.

Here’s a high level task list for configuring the user template:
1. Duplicate the User certificate template
2. Configure the validity period
3. Check the extensions
4. Disable the export of certs
5. Select the subject criteria (email must be populated for auto-enroll)
6. Set the security permissions on the template and publish it

Once the certificate template is published, you can then use Group Policy to get the certificate onto the domain computers.

352627-what-you-need-to-know-about-two-factor-authenticationTo configure SCEP enrollment on the ASA, you need to install the CA Server Certificate chain on the ASA. Once that is done, you can set the enrollment mode for the trust point to request a certificate from a CA. The ASA basically acts as a SCEP Proxy so that clients don’t request certificates directly from the CA.

To prevent users from sharing certificates, you can prefill the username with the certificate CN. Hopefully by doing this only the person that is authorized the certificate will be able to user it. You can also perform checks with the ASA to see if the certificate has moved machines. Optionally, you can use the machine ID as the common name on the cert to tie the cert to a machine. You can then use a dynamic access policy on the ASA to verify device / certificate pair. You can also use a hybrid cert that is a combination of the username and machine name to gain more granular control over who and what can connect. If you decide to use machine identity or hybrid identity certificates, you will need to enroll devices prior to them using the VPN. However, if you use user identity certificates, you can auto enroll the user with SCEP proxy on the ASA.

Another feature that can be used with this is limiting what resources the client is authorized to use during the SCEP enrollment process. Meaning that until they have been enrolled and a certificate issued, you can limit the user to only have http and https access to the CA server.

This is a pretty cool video that shows the process of SCEP enrollment through the ASA with the AnyConnect client. They don’t use prefill on this video, but if you were to prefill the username from the CN of the cert, the user would not have an option to enter their username.

Here is also a link to the Cisco Live breakout session that covers PKI and VPN. You’ll need to register to get a Cisco live account but it’s free.

If you have any questions about VPN dual factor authentication, please contact Network Center, Inc.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Two Factor Authentication, Token, Certificate, VPN Two Factor Authentication, Dual Factor Authentication, VPN, VPN Dual Factor Authentication

The Power of the Onsite Visit

Posted by Alex Kingsley on Mar 27, 2015 4:49:55 PM

server-room1A good majority of my first year working at Network Center, Inc. has been spent working onsite at one of our customer’s locations. Some might think that having a technician onsite is unnecessary, or maybe even be an inconvenience, but in my experience it is very much the opposite. There are many benefits that come with being onsite both during the project and for some time after.       

One of the best things we can do for our customers is to build a good, strong relationship with their end users. This creates trust, alleviates any customer anxiety, and creates an overall good feeling for the customer knowing that when they need help, they will be talking to someone who is willing and able to help them. Being onsite allows the customer to see a face behind the phone and helps them to see that we are normal people more than willing to assist in any way we possibly can.

While onsite I was troubleshooting an issue and talking to the end user. Through that conversation we happened to start talking about our families. The head of the department overheard us and came out and said “It is so nice to hear an IT geek talking about something as normal as their family. I thought all you guys talked about were computers.” It’s that personal touch that can go a long way differentiating traditional support with someone who actually cares. It’s not always about the technology. Quite honestly we find it’s as much about the person as an individual and understanding them as it is the technology and potential issues it may be causing. Another benefit is that it’s a great way to allow a customer to ask questions that they might not necessarily feel are important enough to call in about, but is something that still needs to be fixed.

Being onsite is a very powerful way to show the customer that our main objective is to help them in any way that we can, whether it be fixing something that is broken, or improving something that no longer works as well as it should. We strive to support our customers holistically and this is another means to help make that happen.

Please contact Network Center, Inc. with any of your technology questions.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: technology consulting, Onsite visits

VMware User Group Meeting (ND VMUG) is 3 Days Away

Posted by Eric Kupfer on Mar 16, 2015 10:10:00 AM

Capture-4Attention VMware users and enthusiasts! The local VMware User Group Meeting (ND VMUG) is happening in Fargo on 3/19/15. This is a great opportunity to meet and network with fellow VMware professionals, users, and enthusiasts to discuss virtualization trends and find out what is new from VMware and other virtualization ecosystem partners. There is a lot of excitement regarding the recent launch of vSphere 6 and this is a perfect opportunity to speak with VMware representatives as well as your community peers on how the evolving technology can benefit you and your business.

Meeting agenda:

  • A general session presented by VMware to discuss what’s new and exciting from VMware.
  • A special presentation on VMware App Volumes, a cool technology VMware acquired last year that allows for instant, real time delivery of applications by leveraging a “layered” approach to Remote Desktop Hosted Sessions (RDSH), Citrix XenApp, XenDesktop, and Horizon 6 virtual desktops. 
  • A presentation from Nutanix, one of the fastest growing providers of hyper-converged infrastructure. The solution combines compute and storage resources into a single appliance that is deployed in minutes to run any workload at scale.
  • An ask the experts Q & A panel that includes local and regional VMware experts.
  • And…most importantly a happy hour so you can network and relax with your friends and colleagues

The event is free of charge and is a lot of fun. VMUG’s are all about community participation and creating an opportunity to bring people together to share information and education. We look forward to seeing all of our friends and customers at the event!

Registration is open until Wednesday March 18. Click here for more information about the event.

For questions or for more VMware information, please contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Contact Us Today!

VMware vSphere 6 Released

Posted by Mike Pagan on Mar 12, 2015 4:46:44 PM

vsphere6announced01Earlier today VMware released a new version of their flagship product, vSphere. The new release includes 650 new features and innovations, most notably VMware Virtual SAN (VSAN) 6, vSphere Virtual Volumes, and multi vCPU Fault Tolerance support. We'll cover the new and upgraded vSphere 6 features in another blog post.

There are a couple of back-end changes in the latest version of vSphere, so if you are thinking of upgrading in short order, please refer to this support article KB2110293 before starting the process.  

An additional word of caution: if you use Veeam Backup & Replication (or any other virtualization-aware backup product) check your product's supported software versions. The official Veeam twitter account posted today that they will have a update for their flagship product soon to introduce vSphere 6.0 support.

twitter

If you have any questions regarding the upgrade process, please contact us. We'd be happy to work with you to answer your questions.

You view view the official press release here.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: vSpehere 6, VMware, VSAN

Adding Navigation Links to Personal Sites on Microsoft SharePoint Online

Posted by Josh Nikle on Mar 6, 2015 3:30:00 PM

I recently had a request to add some navigation links to the tops of pages in personal sites on SharePoint Online. While the links they requested are largely available OOTB through the app launcher in the upper-left corner of the screen, they were looking for a solution that would…

  1. Be easily accessible
  2. Be instantly visible
  3. And most importantly, would require no training on their part.

Since we really didn’t want to change the site master page, we opted instead to add the necessary links to the top bar on the applicable pages with a little bit of JQuery.

1

If you want this feature for all pages in MySites, you’ll need to add the script by clicking here or a reference to it to mysite15.master. For the purposes of this post though, we’ll implement it on the “About me” page through a script editor web part and our script.

Tools you’ll need:

  1. The script attached to this post.

The script

The script is just a small bit of JQuery that finds the div containing the section of the top bar we want to edit and then inserts some custom HTML into it.

There is one “gotcha” with this method though. Because of the way the top bar renders, you need to add a delay before inserting your HTML. In my case, I had to add 1 second.  You may find your delay needing to be longer or shorter based on your environment.

To Implement:

  1. Go to the settings menu > Edit page.
  2. Scroll down until you see “Add a Web Part.” It doesn’t matter which zone you use.
  3. Click “Add a Web Part” and insert a script editor web part.
  4. Edit the web part.
  5. Click on the “edit snippet” link and paste the script provided into it.
  6. Stop editing the page, and you should now see something similar to the image at the top of this post.

If you have any other Microsoft SharePoint questions, please contact our SharePoint professional at NetWork Center, Inc. 

Contact Us Today!

Topics: IT Solutions, Microsoft SharePoint, SharePoint Online

Exploring Mobility, the Cloud, and Analytics

Posted by Brett Anderson on Feb 27, 2015 4:21:00 PM

It’s an exciting time to be in technology! With new advancements each year, we are seeing increasing productivity, decreasing costs and many new ways to interact with customers. As these new technologies become more mature, their credibility increases and their usefulness in everyday business grows. Looking out into 2015, Network Center, Inc. is excited about 3 technologies in particular, and we encourage our customers to explore how they can make a difference in their business. Although Mobility, Cloud and Analytics have been around for many years, we believe they have grown in their features and practical uses. These three technologies will play an even larger role in 2015 and beyond. Here are a few of our thoughts in these areas.

mobility-1024x572Mobility

The use of mobile devices (tablets and phones) to drive productivity has gained popularity over the past several years. The reality is mobility is a two-sided coin and both sides of the coin need to be understood before you can embrace all that a mobile strategy can do for your business. The first consideration is related to productivity. How can you maximize your workforce via mobile devices? Allowing employees to access corporate email on their mobile devices is the easiest way to drive productivity, but everyone is doing this. How do you set yourself apart from your competition?  How can you make a difference in your employees’ success? How can you improve on the customer experience? These three questions can help you craft ideas that really make a difference. For instance, do you need an app with sales information? Or maybe a secure, responsive intranet site for inventory or scheduling details? There are many ways to leverage a mobile device to empower your employees and differentiate yourself from your competitors. Network Center, Inc. encourages you to build a strategy that fits your business!

The second consideration is the risk associated with allowing company resources to be accessed via mobile devices. What if the device is lost or stolen? What if there isn’t a passcode on the device? What if there are documents stored locally? What if the applications on the device have loose security? How do you mitigate these risks? The best way to address this is with an ‘insurance policy’ – a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution can help you mitigate these risks. There are many MDM solutions in the market, but we can help you choose one that is a good fit for your needs.

shutterstock_105420140Cloud

If you have heard a few of us at Network Center, Inc. talk about “The Cloud”, you’ve probably heard a little sarcasm in our voice when we use that word – people are using the term “Cloud” to mean everything but nothing in particular. We’ve been fortunate enough to have many great clients who have embraced the cloud at varying levels. And this is really the power of the cloud – being able to choose what makes the most sense for your organization. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution but rather a fully customizable palette you can choose from. A few of these scenarios we have helped our customers with include: 

  1. Moving servers, compute and infrastructure offsite
  2. Leveraging productivity-based software in the cloud
  3. Building a business continuity/disaster recovery (BCDR) solution
  4. Mitigating connectivity or other soft issues
  5. Addressing cyclical and seasonal needs with scalable solutions

There are so many benefits to moving pieces of your business to the cloud. We encourage you to talk with Network Center, Inc. to see how the cloud can save you money, drive productivity and reduce risk. 

analyticsAnalytics

If you attended nVision 2014 you heard me talk about the power of analytics. I call it one of the most impactful yet underused technologies of the past 10 years. The best way to define the concept of analytics is to describe its benefits:

  1. Self-service: Easy to use and does not require a report writing expert.  If you can use Excel you can leverage analytics.
  2. Interactive: You can ask questions of the data, build variations of reports and be more analytical without writing new reports from scratch.
  3. Predictive: Analytics can be used in trending and predicting!
  4. Distributable: Rather than sending out large files, analytic solutions are based on reports that link back to the server data.

Many of our customers define Analytics as a game changer. If you want to learn how analytics can change your business, talk to your Network Center, Inc. representative. We at Network Center, Inc. are excited for what's to come, and we challenge our customers to do great things.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Mobility, Website Analytics, Mobile Device Management, Interactive Services, Cloud Services, Analytics

11 Components of a Successful Website

Posted by Mia Ness on Feb 20, 2015 4:30:00 PM

great_website2Everyone has been to a great website that is easy to spend a lot of time on. But what really makes a site “great"? What makes you want to stay on a website and browse, when you could just as easily navigate away with the click of a button? Let’s explore 11 aspects of a “great” website, and how you can apply these tips to your own site.

1. Who is your audience?
Ultimately what do you want your viewer to do? Do you want them to buy something, read an article, or give you a call? This should always be the first question you ask yourself when you decide to build a site. You want your site to subconsciously direct the user to a goal, and you don’t want the viewer to scroll through miles of text if you’re goal is to get them to pick up the phone.

2. How quickly does your site load?
Unfortunately, people will only take note of this when speed is absent. As Internet connections get faster and faster, there is more and more content, images, and data for users to view and download. Everyone has been to one of those sites where you seem to sit there FOREVER to see your content or download your file. This by itself can be a major turn-off for people visiting your site. With a site that responds quickly, you’ll ensure that your viewers will stay longer and potentially return again in the future.

3. Navigation is essential.
If your user can’t easily get to where they want to be and get the information they want, they probably won’t stay terribly long on your site. Page navigation should be clear in the way it’s laid out and use a font that’s easily legible. If you have a very long page, it’s helpful if the navigation is either anchored in place or you have a “Back to Top” button of some sort to avoid unnecessary scrolling. 

4. All of your links should work.
Broken links are a huge turn-off for users and search engines alike. It can be perceived that your site is not well maintained and question the integrity of your business. Who wants to hang around on a site that doesn’t work? Having multiple broken links can severely hurt your search engine rankings as well, creating a domino effect that could potentially impact your overall business. 

5. Optimize Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Search Engine Optimization is the process of affecting the visibility of a website in a search engine such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing. Optimizing a site for SEO involves editing a site’s HTML content, headings, and metadata to increase a site’s relevance to specific keywords. Increasing the amount of inbound links or backlinks is another tactic to promote a site and increase search engine optimization.

contactform26. A contact form of some sort should be easily accessible to the user.
Your site may be absolutely stunning, but if a method of contacting you is unclear, then that pretty site really won’t help you much. Again, ask yourself what is your ultimate goal? If the purpose of the site is to get the customer in front of you face to face, you need to spend some time thinking about the visibility and accessibility of your contact form. 

7. Use appropriate colors for your business.

  • Red – Is a common color in the food industry. It’s attention grabbing, aggressive, and evokes a call to action. It’s also been scientifically proven to increase appetite. However, it’s also a color that can easily be overused. Too much red creates a kind of mental shutdown and nothing will stand out. Try pairing red with cooler colors to tone it down a bit and really make it pop.

  • Blue – A very calm, reliable color. Evokes of sense of trustworthiness and reliability. Companies use blue to let you know you can stand by them, and they will be there for you. 

  • Brown – Brown is a common color for stability. This company is well rooted and very reliable. It’s also very earthy and is a good color for representing organic-type products.

  • Green – Green, like blue is a cooler color that evokes feelings of trust. It’s a very common color in the tech industry due it being reminiscent of green type on a black screen. It’s also very common in industries that want to represent a feeling of soothing calm.

  • Yellow – A very cheerful and energetic color. Like red, it’s often used to draw attention and can easily be overused if you’re not careful.
  • Black – Black pairs well with any color. It’s classic and elegant. A very common color in the financial industry, black evokes a sense of power and boldness. 
  • White – White, like black is very versatile and can be paired with any color. It’s simple, clean, and elegant. More whitespace is always a good thing. 

Of course you can use many combinations of multiple colors to fit your needs and evoke desired feelings. Yellow and black may be an excellent choice for a successf­­­ul construction business, but if you take that same yellow and pair it with orange and blue it takes on a lighter, more playful quality. Choose color combinations that make sense for your business. If your logo is red and orange, blasting your site with too much of these colors is overwhelming. Find colors that will compliment your brand so your logo pops and is easily visible.

8. Spell everything correctly.
People are very critical of spelling and grammatical errors. Misspellings can come across as a business that lacks a sense of detail. Have multiple people proofread your content to ensure that everything is correct and makes sense to the user. 

9. Don't over-explain the content.
Writing for web is a little different than writing for print. There is such an over abundance of information online, so people usually skim through the content instead of taking time to read big blocks of text. So if you’re taking the time to read this, great! Many readers are probably just skimming the headlines, and they will do this on your site too. If your goal is get the viewer to actually contact you, don’t overload them with so much content that they don’t feel they have to.

10. Include a purposeful footer.
Many people will look for contact information or an extension of the navigation in the footer area of the website. This is also a great spot to place social icons, or even a sign up for a newsletter or blog. Make sure the footer is purposeful and contains relevant information for you site. If you have a great deal of scrolling on your website, a “Back to Top” link above the footer is very user-friendly option to include as well.

mobile_friendly11. Make your website mobile friendly.
In today’s busy society, there’s a good chance people are going to be looking at your site on a phone or tablet. The NCI Interactive Services team always designs sites to be responsive and can be viewed consistently across any number of devices. 

These are just a few helpful pointers to help you improve or create your new website. The Interactive Services team at Network Center can help guide you through this process. Don’t hesitate to give us a call today to let us help you make the most out of your company’s web experience! 

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Web Design, Interactive Services, website development

Windows Server 2003 End of Life

Posted by Jeff Bolstad on Feb 12, 2015 4:44:51 PM

Windows-Server-EOLMany of you probably remember going through a similar process as Windows XP neared its end-of-life date last year. Finding answers to questions about compatibility, costs, and security, not to mention leaving end-users with a product that was unfamiliar to them. We now face the same situation with the same questions, but this time with all editions of Windows Server 2003. July 14, 2015 marks the date that extended support for all 2003 editions stops, leaving customers who haven’t migrated off with the daunting task of using and maintaining a product the vendor no longer supports.

Is it really that important to move off of Server 2003 if your environment is running at the moment?
The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is yes, because it may run fine now, but the minute something goes wrong is the minute you need the support Microsoft provides to its current product line. In the event of a crashed system or corrupted OS, the result will be a new server instance anyway, so you might as well migrate gracefully with all data intact. The servers however will continue to operate normally after July 14.

Another consideration for server operating systems is compliance.
After the end-of-life date, Microsoft will no longer release software updates and security patches for its 2003 line of server operating systems. Any company with these servers still in operation would be leaving not only the information on those servers vulnerable, but a compromised server could also leave the rest of the network open to exploit as well. This would bring about issues for any company that requires compliance with any financial regulations or privacy/security standards.

There is the additional cost of maintaining the aging operating system as well. 
Because of additional time to troubleshoot and maintain, Gartner, Inc. released a report last year recommending that companies budget an additional $1500 per 2003 server per year to try and account for the price of keeping aging systems in place. Recovering from failures without support or addressing new errors will take additional time as well, which, depending on the importance of the system, could result in lost productivity.

5_Keys_to_A_Successful_Server_MigrationIf you are still running Server 2003 in any form, you’re not alone. 
Near the end of last year, Microsoft estimated that there are almost 24 million Server 2003 instances still in use in either a physical or virtual form worldwide. That equates to almost 40% of Microsoft’s entire server presence. So, migration off of Server 2003 should be a familiar process to any resources you may enlist to accomplish the move. Microsoft also goes into detail on their website about planning and initiating a move to their newer, currently supported technologies.

Your needs may have certainly changed in the time since your 2003 server was implemented. 
New technologies that weren’t available at the time can be leveraged for easier management and migration. Office 365, Server 2012, and virtualization tools like Hyper-V and VMware can help reduce physical footprint and reliance of on premise equipment.

Ideally you have been planning to replace these servers, but if not, now is the time to start to ensure that your company doesn’t suffer adversely from the looming Server 2003 end-of-life deadline. Keeping software and hardware systems up to date not only keeps day to day business running smoothly, but also helps put customer's minds at ease as security breaches occur and software vulnerabilities like Heartbleed gain attention from the public. July 14, 2015 may seem like a long way off, but the planning and execution of a one server transition, let alone multiple servers, takes time and budgeting.

Please contact NetWork Center, Inc. for any questions about Server 2003 migration. 

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 End of Life

The Interactive Services Client Process

Posted by Mia Ness on Feb 2, 2015 4:57:00 PM

Website DesignSo you’re in the market for a new website. The last time you changed the look of your site was about 8 years ago. It currently looks flat, blocky, and the navigation is clunky. You’re prepared to take the leap into the process feet first, but you’re still not sure what to expect. “How does the process work?” “How long will it take?” “How do I convey what I want?” A website is an important investment for your business. Not only will you be able to reach out to a larger pool of potential clients, but you’ll also have the power to target the individual needs of your customers. “So, this sounds great. But how do I get started?”

Sit down with a designer and developer for an initial meet. This first step in the process is crucial because it sets your expectations for the project. Communication is key. This is the part where you tell them what you want out of your site so they can give you an accurate idea of the “Scope,” or overview of the project. The more detailed you can make the scope, the smoother the process will go, and the estimation of price will be much more accurate. So, as the client, what can you expect from the designer and developer, and what can you do to make the process go as smoothly as possible?

  1. Research: The more information you can provide the designer and developer with, the smoother the process will go. It always helps if you’ve surfed the Internet a bit, and can provide some examples of what you like. Tell them specifically WHY you like the examples you provided. This not only helps the designer, but also the developers in knowing what you’re looking for as far as back-end functionality.

  2. Set Realistic Expectations: This goes both ways. Tell your designer/developer exactly what you want in the provided timeline. As a designer/developer it’s also their responsibility to give you, the client realistic expectations for your goals. If you ask for something out of the ordinary don’t be surprised if that takes a little more time (and costs a bit more) than usual.

  3. Website DesignSay What You Don’t Like: Most people will spend the majority of their time telling the designer what they like, but they forget to mention what they don’t like. This is just as important. Is there a color you can’t stand? Something you just don’t want your site to do? Let them know! The more information you can give them the better.

  4. Be Completely Honest: It’s their job to create a site for YOU. It’s your site; so if there’s something you’re not crazy about after the initial proof, please don’t hold it back! Don’t be afraid of offending them by saying what you want out of your site. The more honest you can be, the smoother the process will go, and the happier you’ll be with the finished product.
  1. Be prepared for questions, but don’t forget to ask them too!: Initially, you’ll hear questions like, “What colors do you prefer,” “What does your logo look like?” “What kind of functionality does your site need to have?” The more questions on both sides, the more accurate the finished product will be. As you get further into the development stages the questions will become more specific. Communication is key.

  2. It’s better to Over-Budget than Under-Budget: With any large-scale project it’s safe to say that you might have some unforeseen complications or requests somewhere in the process. As a client, don’t spread your finances too thin. Be realistic about what you can afford, and clearly communicate that to your designer/developer. Accurate communication really helps streamline the process so you get the most out of your site.

  3. Website DesignWhat if I don’t really know what I want? That’s fine too! Especially if it’s your first website, you might not have the best idea of what you’re looking for. This is where good communication and accurate questions come in. It might take a little longer in the early stages, but you will still get to your goal. Don’t be afraid to experiment with out of the box ideas.

  4. Share Meeting Notes: Sometimes you cover a lot of information in one meeting. If a great deal of information is presented, it’s unlikely the average person is going to remember every item discussed. It’s ideal if one person takes meeting notes and shares them with the attendees directly following the meeting. This way you can ensure that everyone is on the same page and avoid unintentional “he said” “she said” situations.
If these tips are followed throughout the preparation process the rest should flow smoothly. Moral of the story is that the more prepared you are walking into the process, the smoother the overall project will go. Above all, HAVE FUN! These pointers are applicable to mobile app development, custom application development, and many other products within our Interactive Services department as well. Our talented team can help you through the process from start to finish to make sure that your product not only looks the way you want it to, but also includes all the functionality you need for your business to be successful. The process shouldn’t be a hassle and the ultimate goal is that you absolutely love your new product. 

For more information on website development, contact a designer or developer at NetWork Center, Inc. today!

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Web Development, Web Design, Interactive Services

NCI Give Back Campaign 2014 Recap

Posted by Emalee Hedberg on Jan 26, 2015 4:16:17 PM

Our quarterly giving initiative, NCI Give Campaign has been well received by employees, non-profits and organizations we have given to since the inception in Q4 of 2012. We have also formed a NCI Give Back Committee to help plan and organize opportunities to further impact the community. The photos below display some of our 2014 NCI Give Back Campaign highlights.

Give_Back_Image_3-02
blog_collage_logos-02


Throughout 2014, our NCI team volunteered for multiple organizations including Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity and the Fargo Air Museum, raised money for organizations like United Way of Cass-Clay and Junior Achievement, and donated over $5,500 to local non-profits and organizations like the Fargo Youth Hockey Association and the Boy Scouts of America Northern Lights Council. 

Four of the photos above show our employees volunteering for two Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity build days. Employees had a great time helping out an organization that builds homes and hope in our community. Two NCI employees also raised money for Tour de Habitat, a stationary bike race with all proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity. 

United Way of Cass-Clay is another organization in the F-M community that we love to support. We sponsored two billboards, donated school supplies for their annual school supply drive, wore LIVE UNITED t-shirts for United Way's LIVE UNITED T-shirt Day, and raised money for our Employee United Way Campaign with a Thanksgiving dinner and a pie in the face contest. The manager with the most money in their jar got a pie in the face with all money raised going to United Way. Don't forget to watch the video above. 

Another event our team always looks forward to is the Junior Achievement bigBowl fundraiser. We form a company team of bowlers, raise money for Junior Achievement, and bowl against other local businesses competing to win bowling pin trophies and raise awareness for an organization that offers financial literacy, career readiness, and entrepreneurship education to K-12 students. 

In 2014 we also started hosting grill-outs like our Rib Fest Fundraiser where NCI employees could make a donation, eat a delicious meal, and vote for a non-profit organization. The organization with the most votes received the total amount raised. We proudly donated $350 to the Homeward Animal Shelter

NetWork Center, Inc. is proud to support organizations that have such a positive and lasting impact on the Fargo-Moorhead community. If you have a non-profit organization that is close to your heart, feel free to drop us a comment below and we'll look into volunteer/donating to them this year.   

To Monitor or Not Monitor Your Network? That is the Question.

Posted by Nick Tichy on Jan 2, 2015 2:00:00 PM

networkWhat is a network? A network as defined by Merriam-webster is a system of computers, peripherals, terminals, and databases connected by communications lines. There are many types of networks. The biggest network is the internet which is a wide area network. A wide area network spans a large distance and is a collection of LANs or local area networks. A local area network connects network devices over a short distance. A school or home would be an example of a local area network.

In today’s networking world it is important to know if your equipment is running at maximum efficiency. There are some great tools out there to help us do that. Some tools are as simple as Angry IP Scanner which makes it easier to scan ip addresses and ports. Some of the more complex tools will not only allow you to monitor your network, but also allow you to monitor devices such as routers, switches, servers and much more. For the purpose of this blog we will talk about the complex type of network monitoring tools such as PRTG and Solarwinds.

All of the monitoring tools are a bit different in some way. The great thing about some monitoring tools (like PRTG and Solarwinds) is they will allow you to monitor the device plus certain characteristics of the device like the power voltage, temperatures, fan settings, and usage. Let’s say you are monitoring a router, and one of the fan’s goes out. You can be emailed and alerted of fan failure and some network monitor tools will even recommend that you replace the fan. Another example could be that you have a router and the temperature starts to climb up. The network monitoring tool can email you a warning letting you know the temperature is rising. This would allow you to hopefully find the issue on the router or at the very least troubleshoot what the issue could be.

prtg_sunNetwork monitoring tools such as PRTG or Solarwinds will allow some sort of map of your network, or tabs that will allow you to click into the device or expand the device to see what you have under the device.

Another handy feature that some network monitoring tools include is the ability to run reports. Running a report can be useful for a number of reasons. First and foremost running a report gives you the ability to see how well or not well your equipment and devices are running. You should be able to narrow the report down. Let’s look at the router again for an example. If we have been having temperature issues with the router we can go back and see if it has happened before. This can be handy and help identify trends. Maybe this has happened 7 times before in the last 2 months. Now might be a good time to look at the room it is in. There might be a cooling issue within the room that the router is stored. Or it could be a fan issue on the router. Running a report would allow you to see if the fans haven’t been running efficiently. This should help you pinpoint what the issue is.

Another option that some network monitoring tools will allow you to do is click into the device you are monitoring and see the history, logs, how much storage is left, usage, memory, free space on drives, and much more.

Since there are many network monitoring tools out there, you will want to research and decide what is best for your network and what is easiest for you and your company. You should have no problem finding one that will give you the features you are looking for.

For more information on network monitoring please contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Network Security, Network Monitoring Tools, Computer Network, Network Monitoring

The Mobile Office-How Mobile Are You?

Posted by Jon Ryan on Dec 19, 2014 3:00:00 PM

jon_1Many of us have an idea in our mind about what it means to be mobile. Back in the day, the advent of pagers and bag phones for your car meant ultimate mobility. Obviously a lot has changed in technology over the years. How do these advancements change your impression of being mobile? Let’s take a look at modern mobility and exactly just how mobile your “mobile office” really is.

Defining the Mobile Office

There is no defined parameters to describe the mobile office. Software vendors will each have different ideas of what it means, mainly to help pitch whatever product they are developing. Some people think if they can just see their work email on their phone, that’s enough to have a mobile office. But the truth of the matter is you define what qualifies as your mobile office. Through the wonders of modern computing and the development of high performance wireless networks, you can take more of your office with you than you may think. 

Technimonolgy

Clearly a misspelling of technology. But for some businesses, spelling out the usage of mobile technology is difficult. What is available? What will my employees be able to access? How will they use it? What risks are there once that information is accessible outside of my network? Is all the work even going to make my business more successful? All very good questions. Let’s take a look at what is available. You can’t use a tool if you don’t know it exists. We’ll break these up into categories.

Mobile Computing – “How can I do business when I’m on the road?” Mobile computing is not limited to just cell phone use. You can deploy Microsoft Office365 or Google Apps for business. These applications and services can be used on mobile devices, tablets, and laptops anywhere you can get on the internet. Mobile sharing of documents is becoming very popular. 

Mobile ERP, Order Processing, and Analytics – “Mobile sharing of documents and communication is nice, but I’d like to make decisions on the ERP side.” You’ll be surprised to know that most newer ERP solutions have mobile capabilities. Review orders, check labor scheduling, look at sales forecasting, and resource planning all from your mobile device. With sign in authentication you can take a look inside your network and operations securely. And if your current ERP solution doesn’t have a mobile app, that’s ok, we can build you one.

Mobile Communication – Ok, we aren’t just talking about using a cell phone to call someone. Clearly we all know the options we have there. Some phone systems allow users to not only forward their desk phone to their cell phone but also give you advanced communication options. Through technology like Cisco’s Unified Communications Manager you can receive direct calls to your cell phone, hiding your personal cell phone number from the caller. And that’s not all. Both the Cisco Jabber client and Microsoft Lync can provide presence and chatting through mobile devices.

Mobile Infrastructure Administration – How would you like to see the health of your network from anywhere around the world? Well, it’s more than possible. Remote management and monitoring software is available for mobile devices. From getting alerts of network outages to remote management of switches and servers, you can attend that conference in sunny Florida while keeping an eye on things back here in the frozen tundra.

Security

jon_2All of this mobile access is great, but what about security? The most common issues with security are on cell phones or tablets. Products like Maas 360 and Zix One can provide security on company owned or employee owned devices. With Maas 360 you can enforce company policies on devices. If a device becomes lost, you can remotely wipe that device. Zix One handles mobile access by providing a window to access company data. No data physically resides on the device. There are other products out there that enforce security on mobile devices. We can help you find one that fits for you.

Benefits

What do my employees get out of working from a mobile office? Commonly, your biggest hurdle with productivity is when you leave the office. Traveling eats up hundreds of hours of productivity per year for the average company. Providing your employees with a way to continue to be productive while away from the office will lower that number substantially. Being able to work from home, on the road, at a customer site, or anywhere with an internet connection gives your company the advantage of continuing business from anywhere.

For more information on mobility and what it can do for your company, contact NetWork Center, Inc. to meet with one of our Mobility Analysts. And yes, I did write this on my tablet at a local coffee shop.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Mobility, Mobile Office, Mobile Computing

A Simple Way to get Items from Lists Across Multiple Sites in SharePoint

Posted by Josh Nikle on Dec 9, 2014 3:10:00 PM

Recently I was tasked with creating a two-tiered announcement list system for a client running SharePoint Foundation 2013. They needed…

  1. to run approval workflows against some lists, but not on others
  2. to selectively aggregate items from a list on the home page and lists in departmental sites
  3. to display those items in a specific format
  4. and the ability for a local admin to be able to customize the pool of items returned without any special training

Here’s what we ended up with. Basic blog entry-type display that combines selected items from two lists (for this example) on two separate sites.

josh_blog_photo_1

Normally I might use the Content Query Web Part, but…

This is a Foundation install, so that’s ruled out. And frankly, setting up the query to return the specific results I want would be less than straight forward for my local admin, and I’d have to create a custom template to display the data as my client requires. XSL isn’t a common skill with most of my clients either, so any changes would have to be made by me. The CQWP then fails on requirements 2, 3 and 4 anyway.

SP Services does exactly what I needed

Luckily though we have SP Services in our tool kit! If you’re not familiar with it, SP Services is a JQuery library that exposes all the SharePoint Web Services, making them easier to access and use. It’s a very handy library and one you should familiarize yourself with.  

Having said that, SP Services is not a new tool, but I still find it useful for a number of tasks, particularly when working with Foundation’s limited features.

Anyway, using a little SOAP and SP Services, we can…

  1. easily access all of our lists across all sites
  2. combined with list views, easily aggregate selected items from those lists into departmental sites
  3. easily customize the display format
  4. and create a setup that allows for local site owners to easily change results without having to understand queries or XSL

We’ll implement this on the page by adding two Content Editor Web Parts (CEWP). To one we’ll add the script, while we’ll use the other to create the tag element to which we’ll pass the HTML we generate in the script.

How to do this step-by-step

Things you’ll need…

  • The three text files attached to this post. SOAPCallsToList.txt is the script. HTML.txt is the template for the element we want to create on the page. CSS.txt contains the styles used for the output.
  • A list view that sorts and filters items as you want them displayed in the aggregated feed.

Tools you might want…

  • The moment.js library which can be found here. This handy library allows you to easily manipulate dates and times.

Edit the script with your list, view ID, and fields.

We’ll use a simple SOAP script that queries a specified list using a view ID, and returns the items you want to display. We then use a little JavaScript to massage the results of the query to create the HTML to display on the page, and pass it to an element we’ll create with the second CEWP.

1. The [LIST NAME] is whatever is in the Name field in the list’s settings.

2. To get the [VIEW ID]…
  1. Go to the list and click on the appropriate view. 
  2. Modify the view and copy the URL. 
  3. Click Cancel. 
  4. Go to http://meyerweb.com/eric/tools/dencoder/, paste the URL in the gray box, and click Decode. 
  5. Copy everything inside the curly brackets after “view=”. You should end up with something akin to “BF40EFB6-C7CF-4AA2-8CAF-6E5EQE437C96”.
3. To get your field names…
  1. Go into the list’s settings and click on the field in question. 
  2. On the page you’re taken to, look at the end of the URL and note the name after “field=”. 
  3. If you’ve got any special characters in the name, copy the URL and head to http://meyerweb.com/eric/tools/dencoder/ again.

4. Find the “/_vti_bin/lists.asmx” URL and change it accordingly. If you’re running the script on a page in the site that holds the list, then leave it as is. Otherwise, change the URL to a format like “http://mydomain.com/sites/mysite/_vti_bin/lists.asmx”.

5. Change the JavaScript as necessary for your application.

6. Upload the two text files and the moment.js file (if you want to use it) to your Site Assets library.  Be sure to change the path to moment.js at the top of the script if you need to.

sharepoint_logo-746470Add the script and markup to a SharePoint page.

7. Add a CEWP and edit it. 

8. In the Content Link field, add a link to SOAPCallToLists.txt. In the Appearance section, set the Title to “SOAP Calls to Lists”, and set the Chrome Type to “None”.

9. Add another CEWP and edit it.

10. In the Content Link field, add a link to the HTML.txt file. In the Appearance section, set the Title to “HTML”, and set the Chrome Type to “None”.

11. Save the page.

Add our custom styles to your CSS file

12. Assuming you have a custom CSS file for your site, the final step is styling the list items you’re returning. We added styles to the HTML we generated with the script to make this easy.

And we’re done!

Depending on your styling, you should now see something more or less like the image at the top of this post. However, just in case that’s not what you’re seeing…

Troubleshooting

If you’re still seeing a blank page after adding the script and html, here are a few common things to look for.

  1. Are the links in the CEWPs correct? If you edit them again, click on “Test Link” to make sure you’re actually hitting the text files. If they’re correct, you’ll see the text of your file displayed in the browser.
  1. Is the View ID correct? Follow step 2 above again and make sure you’ve copied the correct ID.
  1. Is the lists.asmx URL correct? Copy your URL and paste it in the browser to make sure the page loads. You should see a page with a list of services on it.

For more information on SharePoint or for any SharePoint questions you may have, please contact us at NetWork Center, Inc. 

Contact Us Today!

Topics: SharePoint, SharePoint Items, SharePoint Lists

Network Center, Inc. Employee's Reflection on Kuwait Trip to Perform for Troops

Posted by Ric Todd on Nov 28, 2014 3:30:00 PM

IMG_3343-1
I’ve had a lot of time to reflect since I’ve gotten back from Kuwait for my trip to perform there. I wanted to try and meet the magnitude of the experience and share to the degree which I was moved. I feel I might have missed the mark if only because words often cannot express the immediacy of impact these kinds of experiences can have. 

IMG_3303Was it an amazing experience? Unbelievably so. From the time we arrived until the time we left Ali Al Salem, I was struck by all of the young faces who were laser focused on their responsibilities. Sure, they had a rec hall where they could do “american” things like play pool or table tennis. There were TV’s here and there broadcasting football games at crazy hours so people could stay in touch with “normal life.” They had Americanized meals that were really quite good. 

But our meeting with base commander Colonel Hanover set the tone from the point of our arrival. These people were there to be a very important part in a larger picture, none more important than the other. The Colonial shared how he came from a Special Forces background and early on would often think his role was king. He shared that years become a reference point and as a leader it was now crystal clear how all roles serve an integral part. He was extremely gracious in his hospitality and very forthright with his take on what the state of the middle east is. He was emphatic we entertain his people and help them forget for a little while why they are there and what they are there to do. 

IMG_3232I won’t remark on our performance other than to say I was literally moved to tears early on. I tried to hide it. I was, after all, surrounded by people whom were all tougher than me. It was a blast and over entirely too quickly. Following the performance and without exception, every person in attendance was thankful for our time and many stopped us to thank us even a day later.

But throughout the entire ordeal, what was most striking, was how everyone went about their days. Like anyone else living a normal americanized life, their routine is what gets them through. Never mind they are 7500 miles away from home on the other side of the world. They are just focused on getting their work done and getting back to their lives. It is such a selfless endeavor yet they are all so much like you and I. They have the exact same wants and needs. They aren’t just militarized borgs assimilated with a single function. They have worries, lives, hopes, and dreams in-between the minutia that gets them to the next day closer to home. Maybe this isn’t a revelation to you, but it sure is to me. Often I feel so disconnected from news events that it almost becomes a movie or a staged reality show. I can assure you these people are real and the gravity of my time there will never be lost on me. The events we hear about are often played out with these people involved. 

IMG_3319Now, as I sit and reflect on the time I am going to have in the coming days to spend time with my wife, kids, family, and friends, my fortune comes sharply into focus. It’s knowing there are literally thousands of others in the world manning the security patrols, preparing for a battle we may never hear about, piloting a plane to drop relief supplies to hungry people, maybe even protecting things like Mosul dam from terrorist attacks, that humbles me so very, very much. 

What I can tell you is this: These trips transcend politics. They are more than a Facebook status or a twitter hashtag to me. Countless young men and women in the US Military are sacrificing every second of every minute of every day to help ensure we have the luxury to enjoy the very things they cannot. 

With that in mind words cannot express how very thankful I am. 

Topics: Giving Back,

Thank you for attending nVision 2014

Posted by NetWork Center, Inc. on Nov 26, 2014 5:00:13 PM

nVision_photo2On behalf of all of us at Network Center, Inc. and from our many wonderful sponsors who help make our nVision event possible, we’d like to take this time to THANK YOU for attending nVision 2014. You all have helped make this year a tremendous success and we truly appreciate it. nVision continues to grow in size, scope, and value for all of us. As technology pioneers here in the Upper Midwest we continue developing our tri-state area as the ‘Silicon Plains’ of the Midwest.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?

As we spend the next few weeks thinking about the exchange of knowledge and what transpired at the conference, we all learned something new that could have a significant impact on our enterprises. The challenge is acting on what we have learned; while it may be a small change that makes a grand impact or a significant change that continues driving down the cost of your technologies and improving your operating efficiencies, the value of the event is exercising your mind to the possibilities available. 

Between now and year end, all of us here at Network Center, Inc. are available to continue the conversation. Whether it’s planning for your immediate future for quick changes as your budget cycles close, or to set long tearm future goals, we would be happy to assist your enterprise and collaborate with you and the vendor partners of your choice as you consider changing the ways you do business.

Your first Next Step is the most important. As your technology company, Network Center, Inc. will be diligently following up on the many conversations we had with each of you; both customers and vendors, making sure we all realize the full value of the event. If there is something more that can be done for you, please let us know or work directly through your vendor contact for your next step. These next steps can help shape your business future. What’s important to us is making sure all of your questions have been answered and for you to fully evaluate if new technology is just cool or if it really does have a business value for your enterprise.

nVision_photo3WHAT’S NEXT FOR US?

As we continue reflecting on nVision 2014, we will begin planning for nVision 2015. Your opinion matters to us as nVision is all about our customers meeting our vendors and discussing new ways to shape your future. Please take some time to contact us with any feedback you have from attending the conference. All comments will assist us in planning nVision 2015 to make your experience even better next year. 

WHAT’S AHEAD?

Please continue watching your emails for our upcoming event invitations. During the first quarter of 2015 we will be doing a couple of Lunch and Learn events in the valley as well as in central North Dakota. If you have topics you are interested in, please let us know.

Thank you again for joining us for nVision 2014. We look forward to seeing you all again very soon.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

 

Topics: NetWork Center Inc., nVision 2014,, NetWork Center, Inc. technology conference

Building the CUBE - Analyzing Business Data with Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services

Posted by Joe Dunnigan on Nov 21, 2014 11:20:08 AM

ssasIt is common today for companies to gather data from many sources and store that data for long periods of time. But how can you tap into that data and utilize it to improve your business processes and product offerings? Today we'll look at one technology stack that helps you accomplish this goal: Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services.

Your company data can come from many different sources. You may have accounting packages like Microsoft Great Plains, analytics data from web sources, spreadsheets and Access databases managed by your team, or even CSV text files with information from third parties. Sifting through all this information and making use of it can be cumbersome. So how do you make use of it?

Often times various data sources will have relationships that can be used to tie the data together. Perhaps you have sales figures or invoicing, and would like to tie these to trends in your e-commerce operations. Or you may find that you have years of sales data, and would like to quickly view trends and year-over-year comparisons. By taking your data sources and combining them into a single 'data warehouse' with relationships between the data defined, you can start building a reporting solution that will give you that extra insight into your business.

cube2

Using technologies in the Microsoft SQL Server family of products, we can create processes that will refresh and combine these various data sources on a regular basis and load them into a single location. In order to provide easy to use reporting, we can then connect to this data source using SQL Server Analysis Services. Analysis Services allows us to create an OLAP Cube - a structured set of data and queries that allow data to be quickly and efficiently reported on.

Once you've setup a data warehouse and an OLAP Cube, you need to connect to this source so you can start analyzing and reporting on the data. This can be accomplished easily with Microsoft Excel. From a blank Excel worksheet, you can define a data source and create a pivot table with your data in just a few clicks. Once connected, you can pull in columns and rows of data and start manipulating filters to get the views you're looking for. Using 'measures' and 'dimensions' provided by the Cube, you can sort and view data by such metrics as fiscal year, month and day, ordered vs. invoiced product, demographics, and any other relationships your data has.

After you've had some time to setup reports, you'll want to share them with team members. Excel Workbooks you create can easily be sent off to colleagues or placed on a network share for access by your peers. Setting up multiple sheets or workbook tabs with multiple views, charts and pivot tables can all be accomplished here.

If you have lots of data and would like to see if that data can help you gain insight into your business, Analysis Services is a tool worth considering. With a small investment, you may be able to find some great improvements for your business.  To build your cube, contact NetWork Center, Inc. today and schedule a data review consultation with one of our highly qualified database experts.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Microsoft SQL, Analysis Services, Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services

nVision 2014 Platinum Vendor Spotlight

Posted by Mike Pagan on Nov 19, 2014 9:00:00 AM

NetWork Center, Inc. would like to thank our platinum sponsors for this year’s nVision technology conference. The companies below have made a commitment in time and resources to help us produce a top tier conference. Their sponsorship and partnership are greatly appreciated.

2014_nVision_Logo_blackbackgroundIf you are not up-to-date with our platinum sponsor’s portfolio, below is a short introduction to their current product offerings. If you are curious and would like to know more about these technologies, these vendor’s will have representatives speaking and/or have a presence on the showroom floor, look them up for more information.

Brocade

Brocade® VCS® Fabric technology eliminates Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) to deliver active-active links, doubling network efficiency and improving resilience. This flat, multipath, deterministic mesh network is ideal for IP storage environments.

To meet the challenges of dedicated IP storage networks, Brocade VDX® switches powered by Brocade VCS Fabric technology provide the following benefits:

  • A highly automated and simple-to-deploy solution: VCS Fabric technology and Brocade VDX data center switches are self-provisioning and self-healing, delivering a 50 percent reduction in operational costs.
  • Predictable performance: Non-blocking, multipathing at network Layers 1–3 provides the industry’s best and most predictable network utilization.
  • Deep buffers: Brocade VDX switches offer the industry’s deepest buffers to handle bursty storage traffic and minimize latency and packet drops.
  • A solution purpose-built for next-generation data centers: Chassis-based HA, ISSU, and fixed-configuration redundant power supplies and fans provide high availability.

The portfolio of Brocade VDX switches provides Ethernet storage connectivity for FCoE, iSCSI, and NAS storage solutions within a single product family (see Figure 2). IT organizations can protect their Fibre Channel investment by connecting Fibre Channel SANs to Ethernet fabrics with the Brocade VDX 6730 Switch.

Check Point Software Technologies

Check Point Capsule delivers a complete solution that addresses the security challenges facing your organization as your employees, devices and data become increasingly mobile. With this integrated solution, you can provide seamless security to protect business data from threats, establish a secure business environment on mobile devices, and secure business documents, devices and networks.

Check Point Capsule enables you to extend Check Point’s industry-leading security from the corporate network, and apply it to your mobile devices. With a single set of policies, you can ensure both your network and your employees’ mobile devices enforce the same protections against internal and external threats.

With Check Point Capsule you are able to access corporate email, documents, and internal directories and assets from within a secure business environment. Personal data and applications are segregated from business data, enabling secure use of business assets while protecting employee’s personal information and applications.

Business documents are protected everywhere they go with Check Point Capsule. Security is established at document creation, and travels with the document everywhere it goes, ensuring that corporate security guidelines are always enforced.

Check Point addresses the challenges organizations are facing to support their employees’ needs to access the network, corporate resources, and business documents in a secure manner, whenever and wherever they go.

Cisco

The Cisco Unified Computing System is a next-generation data center platform that unites compute, network, storage access, and virtualization into a cohesive system designed to reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) and increase business agility. The system integrates a low-latency, lossless 10 Gigabit Ethernet unified network fabric with enterprise-class, x86-architecture servers. The system is an integrated, scalable, multichassis platform in which all resources participate in a unified management domain. The main system components include:

  • Compute: The system is based on an entirely new class of computing system that incorporates blade servers based on Intel Xeon 5500 Series processors. The blade servers offer patented Cisco Extended Memory Technology to support applications with large data sets and allow more virtual machines per server.
  • Network: The system is integrated onto a low-latency, lossless, 10-Gbps unified network fabric. This network foundation consolidates what today are three separate networks: LANs, SANs, and high-performance computing networks. The unified fabric lowers costs by reducing the number of network adapters, switches, and cables, and by decreasing power and cooling requirements.
  • Virtualization: The system unleashes the full potential of virtualization by enhancing the scalability, performance, and operational control of virtual environments. Cisco security, policy enforcement, and diagnostic features are now extended into virtualized environments to better support changing business and IT requirements.
  • Storage access: The system provides consolidated access to both SAN storage and network attached storage (NAS) over the unified fabric. Unifying storage access means that the Cisco Unified Computing System can access storage over Ethernet, Fibre Channel, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), and iSCSI, providing customers with choice and investment protection. In addition, administrators can pre-assign storage-access policies for system connectivity to storage resources, simplifying storage connectivity and management while helping increase productivity.
  • Management: The system uniquely integrates all the system components, enabling the entire solution to be managed as a single entity through Cisco UCS Manager software. Cisco UCS Manager provides an intuitive graphical user interface (GUI), a command-line interface (CLI), and a robust application-programming interface (API) to manage all system configuration and operations. Cisco UCS Manager helps increase IT staff productivity, enabling storage, network, and server administrators to collaborate on defining service profiles for applications. Service profiles are logical representations of desired physical configurations and infrastructure policies. They help automate provisioning and increase business agility, allowing data center managers to provision resources in minutes instead of days.

Working as a single, cohesive system, these components unify technology in the data center. They represent a radical simplification in comparison to traditional systems, helping simplify data center operations while reducing power and cooling requirements. The system amplifies IT agility for improved business outcomes. The Cisco Unified Computing System components illustrated in Figure 1 include, from left to right, fabric interconnects, blade server chassis, blade servers, and in the foreground, fabric extenders and network adapters.

ExaGrid

ExaGrid Systems, the backup appliance storage provider just named an industry Visionary in Gartner’s recent “Magic Quadrant for Deduplication Backup Target Appliances” i report, is launching version 4.7 of its software for the ExaGrid family of backup storage appliances.

The new software continues to deliver on ExaGrid’s promise of stress-free backup, allowing for 14 appliances in a single GRID and increasing ingest and capacity by more than 40 percent. In addition, version 4.7 increases the number of data centers for cross-site disaster recovery, improves the recovery point for offsite disaster recovery and supports an ExaGrid-Veeam Accelerated Data Mover integrated into each appliance.

ExaGrid is a leading disk-based backup provider with a unique landing zone for fast backups and the industry’s fastest restores, instant VM recoveries and tape copies. ExaGrid adds full server appliances into a scale-out GRID architecture, maintaining a short backup window as data grows while eliminating the need for expensive forklift upgrades.

The new software will allow for:

  • More capacity. 14 appliances in single GRID system, increasing ingest to 60.48TB per hour and capacity to a 294TB full backup in a single GRID; a 40 percent increase over previous versions of the software.
  • Expanded cross data center replication for disaster recovery. 16 systems in a data center cross-protection topology, with 15 spokes to a hub, replicating data to a major data center for disaster recovery and cross-replicating the major data center to a second data center for disaster recovery.
  • Adaptive deduplication. Enable deduplication and replication to occur in parallel during nightly backups in order to greatly improve the recovery point at the disaster recovery site, without impeding backup performance.
  • New Integrated ExaGrid-Veeam Accelerated Data Mover that improves performance for all Veeam backups and restores. The Veeam backup server communicates to the Veeam data mover on ExaGrid appliances with an enhanced protocol, versus simple CIFS. In addition, ExaGrid greatly improves the performance of creating a Synthetic Full Backup, as the entire process can be completed on the ExaGrid appliances, freeing up the Veeam backup server and network resources for other tasks.

FRSecure

Information security is not a one-size-fits-all as others would lead you to believe.  FRSecure works hard to assess your most significant vulnerabilities (information security assessment), put a plan together for managing those risks (information security roadmap), and helps you execute that plan (information security program development).

What makes FRSecure different?

  • FRSecure’s Methodology – FRSecure has developed a proprietary approach to assessing information security risks. It’s more than a checklist of questions and recorded answers. Get a full picture of your risks – prioritized and rated – with recommended solutions, so you know which investments will have the greatest impact.
  • FRSecure’s Project Leaders – Our project leaders possess years of real-world information security experience assessing and building security programs from the Fortune 100 to SMBs.
  • Full Transparency – FRSecure strongly believes in empowering our customers. The more knowledge transfer that occurs during our engagement, the more value our customers recognize. FRSecure fully discloses the methods, tools, and configurations used to perform analysis work for our customers, so that they can easily adopt our processes for their benefit.
  • Product Agnostic, On Purpose - FRSecure does not represent any third-party products or services. Our recommendations stand on their own, with no ulterior motive to sell you other things.

IBM

IBM FlashSystem storage arrays are designed to deliver extreme performance, microlatency, macro efficiency, and enterprise- grade reliability and serviceability. They are powerful, cost-effective tools for accelerating leading- edge scientific, academic, governmental and commercial computing environments where Elastic Storage is often deployed.

IBM FlashSystem 840 offers industry-leading performance, reliability and low latency, while IBM FlashSystem V840 Enterprise Performance Solution adds the full spectrum of enterprise-grade management and feature- rich storage services. Together, these IBM systems provide multiple options for addressing high-velocity data requirements, removing performance bottlenecks and increasing productivity. Key features include:

  • IBM MicroLatency™: To speed response times, FlashSystem supports 135 μs reads and 90 μs writes with a purpose-built and highly parallel design. This provides fast access to insights—and customers—while reducing operational costs.
  • Extreme performance: With optimized IOPS and band-width performance, FlashSystem works well in demanding environments. It can easily support a single application with thousands of concurrent users as well as multiple applications with diverse workloads.
  • Macro efficiency: FlashSystem provides high storage density, low energy consumption, and greater utilization of existing resources, offering up to 40 TB of usable capacity in only two units of rack space. It also uses only 625 watts of power, making it one of the most power-efficient products on the market.
  • Enterprise reliability: By employing enterprise-grade multi-level cell (eMLC) NAND f lash technology, plus two RAID dimensions—IBM Variable Stripe RAID™ at the flash module level as well as system-wide RAID—FlashSystem delivers enterprise-grade data protection. It includes hot- swappable components for rapid servicing; plus, software and firmware updates can be completed with the system up and running. In addition, FlashSystem supports AES 256 hardware-based encryption, while FlashSystem V840 offers advanced storage services such as snapshots and replication.

Microsoft

With Microsoft Azure you can gain a competitive edge and keep your business moving forward without breaking the bank. Azure helps you bring products and services to market quickly. You can run your operations more cost-effectively, paying only for what, not for what you don’t. And you can free up budget to spend on other business needs by eliminating the cost of infrastructure hardware.

Choose your own path to the “modern business”, with a flexible cloud platform that offers the following features:

  • A 99.95% monthly SLA
  • Enterprise-level security used by many of the world’s largest organizations today
  • The ability to use any language, framework, or tool to build applications
  • Unlimited servers and storage

Only Microsoft offers a flexible platform that lets you choose the path that’s best for your business, whether that’s on-premises, in the cloud, or a hybrid combination. Azure is a core part of this overall vision that helps you make the cloud a seamless part of your IT.

Veeam

In today’s interconnected and global business environment, IT organizations must make data and applications available to all stakeholders every minute of every day. Availability is everything—and settling for recovery times of hours or

days is unacceptable. Today’s Always-On Business™ demands recovery time and point objectives (RTPO™) of <15 minutes for ALL applications and data.

The availability gap

Achieving non-stop service and continuous protection is costly—requiring investments that could only be justified for a few applications. Therefore, the vast majority of workloads are left exposed, supported by lower performing, legacy backup solutions, resulting in recovery time and recovery point objectives (RTOs and RPOs) of several hours or even days. These low performance levels fail to meet the requirements of the Always-On Business, creating a significant availability gap.

Bridging the availability gap

Veeam® bridges this gap by leveraging virtualization, new storage integration and cloud capabilities to deliver Availability for the Modern Data Center™. As a result, RTPO of <15 minutes for ALL applications and data is within reach.

Veeam supports the five key capabilities of the Modern Data Center through the industry-leading technologies and features found in Veeam Availability Suite™, including:

  • High-Speed Recovery - Quickly recover the data you need and realize RTOs of <15 minutes with features like Instant VM Recovery™, Veeam Explorers™ for Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, SQL Server and Active Directory, Veeam Explorer for Storage Snapshots (HP and NetApp)—and more!
  • Data Loss Avoidance - Prevent data loss and achieve RPOs of <15 minutes with features like 2-in-1: backup and replication™, Built-in WAN Acceleration, Backup from Storage Snapshots (HP and NetApp), EMC Data Domain Boost integration, end-to-end encryption and Veeam Cloud Connect.
  • Verified Protection - Ensure business resiliency through automated backup and DR testing. With SureBackup® and SureReplica, you will be certain your files, applications and virtual servers can be restored when needed—every time.
  • Leveraged Data - Minimize risk by putting your backups and replicas to work. With Virtual Lab, you can test changes in an isolated, production-like environment before actually deploying them.
  • Complete Visibility - Gain complete visibility of your entire virtual environment so that you can discover and be alerted to issues before they result in operational impact. Veeam Availability Suite combines the centralized management, enterprise scalability and built-in reporting of Veeam Backup & Replication™ with the advanced monitoring, reporting and capacity planning of Veeam ONE™

Video Guidance

Video Guidance offers “VG Connect™” a comprehensive video communication service that is completely hosted and managed by Video Guidance.  All video components are housed and managed in their secure and environmentally managed data centers.  Your video endpoints are installed and connected directly to the VG Connect video platform, ensuring an end-to-end managed solution.  With VG Connect, your company can purchase services and equipment separately, and Video Guidance will activate, maintain and support your chosen service plan.   Customers benefit from hosted solutions with significantly reduced capital and operating expenditures, while enjoying the added value of capacity and security.  

Additionally, Video Guidance offers is a cloud-based service named WorkSpace.   This "user-based" mobile service provides for one user experience across all screens on all devices.    WorkSpace accounts include unlimited coSpaces (virtual meeting rooms) and user devices, 1st-level support, software updates and service SLAs.  The service also allows for unlimited Pt-to-Pt and multi-party calling for up to 25 participants per call. 

We hope to see you at nVision 2014 on Thursday, November 20, 2014. Questions? Feel free to comment below or contact us

Topics: NetWork Center Inc., nVision 2014,

Top 5 Reasons to Attend nVision 2014

Posted by Andrew McKenzie on Nov 7, 2014 3:30:00 PM

2013TechShowLogo_largeWith the looming end of the year approaching, it’s time for businesses to evaluate their accomplishments and also look forward to the future. So much happens over the course of a year. It’s hard to keep track of where we are or how far deviated we actually are from “the plan” we had established 10 months ago. On top of that, we need to get our act together to prepare a new plan for 2015. Needless to say, we could use a chance to take a step back and regroup. Well, here’s that chance.

Network Center, Inc. is hosting their annual nVision technology conference on November 20th. nVision 2014 gives attendees a chance to talk directly to vendors, get questions answered, generate new ideas, connect with others, and of course, enjoy free food and drink. For some that’s not enough and they may need a bit more information on this technology conference.

So we’ve compiled a list of the top 5 reasons to attend nVision 2014. If these items don’t help Humpty Dumpty fall to our side of the fence, well, then we’ll just find a different way to get you there (short of kidnapping of course).

1. Educational, not “Salesy”

We all know how the typical sales pitch goes. In many cases, it’s the highlight to our days…or not. The purpose behind nVision is to stray away from telling you what you should buy or what your organization needs. You’re a professional and know what you/your company needs in most cases. We’ve asked our vendors to strictly take an educational approach to the event. They’ve been asked to provide a topic to discuss. They are going to present instead of pitch their company and their solutions. Will you still hear information on how they stack against their competitors? Absolutely, but at least you don’t have to leave behind any contact information in fear of being hounded after the day is over.

email_photo2. Peer to Peer Networking

An underrated aspect to the day is the chance to connect with the other attendees. We’ll see IT managers, IT administrators, executives, business owners, and other positions from a wide spectrum of industries. This is a great opportunity for you to learn about technology from other IT professionals. Learn who is utilizing what technology for what purpose. Embark in a discussion with no pressure from any vendor or NetWork Center, Inc. staff, but just good friendly conversation to learn how to enhance your business or improve your current state of technology. Bring several business cards, an open mind, and let the networking flow.

3. “Choose your own adventure” agenda

What fun is it to be told what to do and when to be there? What if you’re not interested in the topic being presented? That more or less leads to an opportunity to pass that terribly difficult Angry Birds or Candy Crush level or a chance to sneak in a quick post lunch nap in the back row. That sounds more like college now that we say it aloud. Instead we’re giving you the chance to pick and choose which sessions you‘d like to attend. Nobody wins if we have rooms full of bored attendees. We want to see you engaged and captivated throughout the day. We want to see you run to the open bar during the social because “my brain hurts from so much learning.” So I encourage you to check out the agenda for nVision 2014. Find the topics that interest you and get the most out of your day. Yes, you’ll just have to wait on that Candy Crush level just one more day.

email_photo_24. Sneak Peek into Tech Trends for  2015

So in my spare time, I’m totally hitting up Google for what’s coming in technology or what big IT trends we can expect in the near future. Oh wait, no, that’s not the case at all. Between work and life, we know it’s difficult to stay caught up on our own lives today, much less what’s on the horizon in the tech world. Let us help you. We’ll spend time in the morning laying out the top technology trends for 2015 to get you back in the know so you can try to keep you ahead of the curve. We all know end of the year means visiting budgets and planning, so we want to arm you with some key IT points to keep an eye on for the next calendar year. If you find yourself on the edge of your seat from anticipation for the next 2 weeks, I’m sorry.

5. It’s Free 

They say save the best for last. Well, here it is. You get all of the above at no cost to you. Food is obviously a key component to any conference and we promise to provide you with enough food throughout the day for breakfast, lunch and appetizers during our social. Our hope is you leave with a full mind and stomach. You’ll also receive a gadget/gizmo upon arriving at the registration table, chances to win some awesome door prizes at the end of the day, and oh yes, we will provide drinks during the social. If you must, have the closest co-worker of yours pinch you, but this is no dream. NetWork Center, Inc. truly appreciates your time and willingness to attend our event, so we want to be sure you are well cared for. This event is created with you in mind. To enable and equip you with information to make the best decisions possible for your organization. The value is in the information presented and to show you that, we provide this day at no cost to you. So please, join us for nVision 2014. Whether you’re a long standing customer or just curious as to whom NetWork Center, Inc. is and if/how can we help you with your technology needs, we’d like to see you there.

There you have it: Our top 5 reasons to attend nVision 2014. By now you’re probably curious how to get in on this killer event. It’s simple, register for nVision 2014. Put in your information and then baddabing, baddaboom, you’re in. Questions? Feel free to comment below or contact us. We hope to see you November 20, 2014.

Topics: nVision 2014,, technology conference, NetWork Center, Inc. technology conference

Network Center, Inc. Employee is Traveling to Kuwait to Perform for the Troops

Posted by Ric Todd on Oct 30, 2014 5:00:00 PM

kuwait_mapNetwork Center, Inc. is proud to announce that our very own employee is traveling to Kuwait to perform for the troops. Here is a note from Ric as he embarks on this honorable trip.

Some of you may know me and know that I am a musician. What most of you probably don’t know is to the extent music is still very much a part of my life. I have toured the country for more years than I care to remember and I continue to do so to this day. Often, these dates require a great deal of travel and time dedication outside of my main “gig” at Network Center, Inc. 

I wish I had kept track of all the miles I have traveled in my music career. All the closed interstates, icy roads, hail storms, fog, cattle, pretty much every travel hazard you can think of. All of which would pale in comparison to the trip I am about to embark on. 

air_baseI’ve just completed my early check-on for my flight with a final destination of Kuwait. Yes. Kuwait. My group has been asked to perform for what will surely be one of the highlights of my career, Ali Al Salem airbase in Kuwait. We will be entertaining troops who are coming back from and entering into various combat theaters as well as the troops who serve and support these folks for Halloween. I’ll be going to Qatar for a New Year’s Eve trip for the same purpose. 

These trips wouldn’t be possible without the support of Network Center, Inc. Many businesses talk about giving back to their respective communities. The fact of the matter is, Network Center, Inc. consistently puts its money where its mouth is and takes no credit. So I feel the need to share what this organization does for its community without looking for photo-ops. Being an organization that believes in family first, giving back, and doing the right thing, they jumped at the chance to support my trip(s) to the Middle East by allowing me time away. Without their blessing and support, I would not be headed to the land of sand and heat to give a little something back. 

I don’t know what to expect, other than a bit of time in the air and warmer temperatures. I have played in the thousands of gigs in my lifetime but none will compare to the thrill I will have giving a little bit of what I can. Especially to folks who are away from their families and friends selflessly protecting our interests here at home. I can’t articulate here how incredibly excited I am to have the opportunity to give in my own little and unique way.

I’ll be taking pictures and video of my experiences. Stop back and see what I’ve been up to. It can’t be all business here. Then of course, it’s not. Network Center, Inc. wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Back soon,
Ric Todd

Topics: NetWork Center Inc., Give Back, Donating

Reviewing the Impact of the SSLv3 POODLE Vulnerability

Posted by Joe Dunnigan on Oct 24, 2014 4:55:00 PM

PoodleFlaw_SQ-300x300Attack of the POODLE
Last week, a new high profile web vulnerability was disclosed, dubbed 'POODLE' (Padding Oracle On Downgraded Legacy Encryption). This vulnerability received much press, partly due to the fact that a number of other vulnerabilities have hit the news recently (Heartbleed and Shellshock in particular).

The POODLE vulnerability deals with attacks that downgrade the level of encryption and security in an https connection between a web browser and server, forcing the communication to use the old and less secure SSLv3 protocol over newer implementations like TLS 1.0-1.2.

SSLv3 has been around for nearly 15 years, and has outlived its usefulness. However, most systems have kept it enabled so that legacy systems can still function. At one time, this was the highest protocol that web browsers supported for secure communications, but TLS has been available for many years now. IE6 is the only browser with any notable market share that requires SSLv3 in order to establish secure connections. Any recent versions of IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc. will support TLS.

Sniffer-2-01So, what does this mean for us?
Upon reporting the vulnerability, it was recommended that systems be configured to not offer SSLv3 for secure connections. This includes web servers, application servers and appliances, and web browsers, among many other devices. If a user tries to connect to a secure service via SSLv3 and this support has been turned off, they will not be able to use the service any longer. The recommended approach is to ensure that recent versions of web browsers and other client software are as up to date as possible.

The greatest risk to allowing SSLv3 in communications is the possibility of a man-in-the-middle attack, where an attacker could listen in on the secure https communications and crack the encryption to expose sensitive information (passwords, banking information, etc.). By disabling SSLv3, this threat is successfully mitigated. 

In fact, disabling SSLv3 has been a topic of discussion prior to this discovery, as weaknesses in the protocol have been known for some time. However, the risk associated was not deemed worth the trouble of potentially shutting out users who were using older web browsers or application clients. With the POODLE vulnerability disclosed, it was determined that the risk to information disclosure is too great, and moving forward with disabling the protocol will be necessary. With IE6 usage falling below 0.1% in most of the world, the impact should be significantly lower than in previous years.

What should I do now?
As with all vulnerabilities, it is important to determine exposure and take action to remediate the issue as quickly as possible. By keeping software and systems up to date with security patches and new software versions, we can help to curb the possibility of serious attacks and information exposure.​

To find out if you are vulnerable, contact us at NetWork Center, Inc. for more information.

Topics: Network Security, Security, Protection, IT Consulting

Shellshock: It Has Nothing to Do with Ninja Turtles

Posted by Brian Johnson on Oct 17, 2014 4:13:04 PM

shellshock-bug-100457107-largeI’m probably starting to show my age, but when I hear the word “Shellshock” the first thing I think of is the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons. But unfortunately, the Shellshock we are talking about has nothing to do with pizza-loving reptiles, and everything to do with a gaping security hole affecting many of your Internet-connected devices. Here’s what Shellshock (a.k.a. the “Bash bug”) is all about and why you should care:

What is it?

There are a few terms and technologies contributing to the Shellshock nickname. First up is Bash, which is a command-line interface used in Mac, Linux, and many other operating systems and devices. This interface, often referred to as accessing the “shell,” can be used to enter commands to perform various actions on a system, such as editing files, running tools, or initiating a restart or shutdown. 

The heart of the Shellshock problem is that when these Bash commands are tweaked for potentially malicious purposes, really really really bad stuff can happen all across the Internet. 

I don’t run Macs or Linux – so can I stop reading now?

No – please don’t! This still matters to you. You may not directly run these operating systems on the machines you use every day, but Linux is everywhere. It could be found on video cameras, routers and other devices on your home or work network, and is prevalent on thousands and thousands of Web servers scattered across the Internet. 

To understand the seriousness of this issue, we have to get a little nerdy first and look at an example Bash command:

/bin/eject

This simple command, when executed on some Linux servers, will eject the CD drive. No harm done there, right? 

Ok, but what if I could somehow modify that command and, from my comfy office in Waconia, use it to make a server across the Internet eject its CD drive? Wouldn’t that be cool? Well, if my target server was vulnerable to Shellshock, I could do exactly that with this command:

 curl -H "User-Agent: () { :; }; /bin/eject" http://www.example.com/

Again, this looks like a bunch of gibberish, right? But when we break it down, here’s essentially what this command is doing: first, it is asking www.example.com to display its Web content, much like it would if you visited www.example.com in a Web browser. Next, as my computer and the Web site send data back and forth to complete this connection, my computer sends the characters () { :; };. And here’s the bug: the server misinterprets the /bin/eject command as something to ignore or discard, and runs it instead. Wa-lah! The CD tray pops open!