BusinessContinuity_0.jpg

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

Eric Kupfer

Recent Posts

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

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

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

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

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

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!

OpenSSL Heartbleed Vulnerability

Posted by Eric Kupfer on Apr 11, 2014 11:26:00 AM

Heartbleed virusThere has been a lot of news recently about a major vulnerability discovered in OpenSSL, a popular software library used to secure communications across a wide variety of network devices and applications. Some estimates suggest that up to 2/3  of the devices may be affected by what is known as the Heartbleed vulnerability. 

NetWork Center, Inc. would like our customers to know that we take this information seriously and are working hard to insure we can inform and protect our clients. Technicians are working with our vendor partners and will provide updates to client systems as product patches are released.  

It's understandable that this information is making many people uneasy but if there is good news in any of this, it is that for the most part Windows operating systems (Windows 2003 - Windows 2012 R2, are unaffected. Also, one of the most popular models of firewall devices that we sell, the Cisco ASA devices are listed as unaffected however Cisco continues to vet the their product portfolio.  

While a range of products are potentially affected by this vulnerability, making sure that  Internet facing devices are patched and securing sensitive data behind a firewall (that has been patched, if applicable) can limit exposure. To add an additional measure of security, now might also be a good time to have users update website passwords only if it has been verified that the website is not affected by this vulnerability. There are various tools that check for the Heartbleed vulnerability on the internet and we have included some in the list of links below.

In addition to patching affected systems and updating user credentials we need to remember to remain vigilant against malware contained in email spam. It is likely that email messages will reach our inboxes with dire warnings regarding the Heartbleed vulnerability and directions with ever so “helpful” links to change our passwords. Now is also a good time to remind everyone to never click on links in emails from any source they do not fully trust.

At the bottom of this page, we have included some links that you may find helpful. There is  general information if you would like to read up on the details of the vulnerability as well as web sites that will help test sites to ensure that they are not able to be exploited. 

For up to the minute product and patch updates directly from the vendors, please refer to sites listed below. 

General info:
http://heartbleed.com/
https://isc.sans.edu/forums/diary/Brace+Yourselves+and+your+Users+Clients+for+Heartbleed+SPAM/17939
http://krebsonsecurity.com/2014/04/heartbleed-bug-what-can-you-do/#more-25638
http://blog.digicert.com/2014/04/heartbleed-openssl-fix/
http://www.cnet.com/how-to/which-sites-have-patched-the-heartbleed-bug/

Site testers:
https://lastpass.com/heartbleed/
https://www.ssllabs.com/ssltest/
http://filippo.io/Heartbleed/
http://heartbleed.criticalwatch.com/

Product specific:
VMware: http://kb.vmware.com/selfservice/microsites/search.do?language=en_US&cmd=displayKC&externalId=2076225
Cisco: http://tools.cisco.com/security/center/content/CiscoSecurityAdvisory/cisco-sa-20140409-heartbleed
Check Point: https://supportcenter.checkpoint.com/supportcenter/portal?eventSubmit_doGoviewsolutiondetails=&solutionid=sk100173
Microsoft IIS: http://blogs.iis.net/erez/archive/2014/04/09/information-about-heartbleed-and-iis.aspx
IBM: https://www-304.ibm.com/connections/blogs/PSIRT/entry/openssl_heartbleed_cve_2014_0160?lang=en_gb
DigiCert Testing tool: https://www.digicert.com/heartbleed-bug-vulnerability.htm
Trend Micro: http://esupport.trendmicro.com/solution/en-US/1103084.aspx
Zix Corp: https://support.zixcorp.com/link/portal/16033/16036/Article/838/Are-any-of-ZixCorp-s-Products-affected-by-the-recent-OpenSSL-vulnerability-HeartBleed
Veeam: http://www.veeam.com/blog/do-i-need-to-be-worried-about-the-ssl-heartbleed-vulnerability.html

Subscribe to our NetConnect Blog to receive emails as more information is posted. 

 Subscribe to NetConnect Blog

 

Topics: NetWork Center Inc., Security

Desktop Computing in the Palm of Your Hand: Through VDI

Posted by Eric Kupfer on May 6, 2013 3:58:00 PM

VDIThe way end users interact with the corporate IT infrastructure and access the data they need in many cases has not changed significantly for some time. However, it's no secret the way people consume technology in their personal lives is much different than it was a few years ago.

Tablets and smartphones have been outselling PC's for years. Cloud based services such as iTunes, iCloud, Dropbox or nearly every product developed by Google in the past decade, has been created to allow instant access to the information and resources  you need regardless of where you are, the type of device you are using or the time of day. Due to what has been called the "consumerization of IT" users are beginning to expect the same anywhere, anytime access to corporate resources.

Additionally, in organizations large and small, the true costs associated with providing the end user workspace are more quantifiable than in the past. Historically the primary IT cost associated with end users was tied to the procurement and installation of the hardware itself. When considering the IT budget for end users, IT decision makers might have added up the cost of purchasing the PC, monitor, etc. and perhaps an hour of IT staff labor to connect the device to the network. Most IT decision makers now realize this is flawed arithmetic and the real costs tied to end user support are related to ongoing support, operating system and application maintenance, etc. The cost to support users is now less of a tangible capital expense and more of an intangible operating expense.

To address this realization, IT departments struggle to create a user environment that can be centrally managed using fewer IT staff; where applications and patches can be easily deployed and corporate data can be secured as centrally as possible. Typically this is accomplished to some extent using many different products and ultimately requires a compromise in performance and/or usability.

A virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) may help address many of the issues relating to end user computing and management. By adding a desktop management and orchestration layer to the server virtualization technology that already exists in many environments, virtual desktops keep data and processing centralized and protected in the corporate data center while providing the end user self-service, private cloud based access to computing resources.

VDI advantagesMost people are now familiar with the concept of server virtualization and understand the benefit of the technology. Extending the management capability, high availability and performance of the data center to the end user makes sense but it has been difficult to justify the investment required for small and medium businesses. Luckily technology changes quickly and what was expensive and out of reach a short time ago may now be possible.

One of the biggest reasons virtual desktops are more affordable is due to the fact that server virtualization is now a mainstream technology used by companies of all sizes.  Also, large amounts of compute and memory resources are inexpensive and high performance shared storage equipment is available at entry level prices and now in production at most organizations.

By broadening the reach of the data center to include end user environments, several challenges facing IT departments can be addressed:

  • Patch management and application deployment is simplified, by updating a parent image one time, the other linked images are also updated.
  • The users "PC" is now running on server-class hardware and storage which is built with redundant components to insure uptime. In the event of hardware failure, downtime is minimized by leveraging the high availability characteristics inherent with an underlying hypervisor environment.
  • Data resides in the corporate data center where it can be controlled, secured and backed up rather than on a user's laptop, iPad or other mobile device.
  • A separate unique desktop or a single application is delivered to each user as opposed to more traditional server based computing models such as Microsoft Remote Desktop Service or Citrix XenApp which use a multi-tenant approach. This improves performance and stability and minimizes compatibility issues that are often encountered with server based end user computing.
  • Resources can be allocated to individuals or groups that have higher performance computing needs or more demanding applications. Even demanding applications such as CAD can be run in VDI environments.
  • Adding or moving a user is as simple as having the user log in. The environment flows with the existing user or is created dynamically for new users out of a pool of available resources.

what is vdiUnfortunately, all of these benefits to the IT department will not mean much if the end user is not happy with how the system operates. The end user will realize the following advantages:

  • Because the VDI environment is the same from device to device at any location, the user is presented a consistent and familiar interface.
  • Even though the desktop resides in the data center, the user experience can be full featured. This means delivering high quality two-way sound that can be optimized for Unified Communications and softphone applications. Streaming video, 3D graphics and the ability to play rich media content is supported.
  • A user's desktop can be delivered to nearly any device on demand.  If a user connects to a traditional Windows desktop with a touch based device such as an iPad or other tablet, enhancements have been added that allow applications to be launched and files accessed using a touch friendly menu system/launch bar.
  • Should users need to access the corporate desktop using a kiosk or other device where client connection software cannot be installed, a fully functional desktop can be run in any HTML 5 compatible browser with no plug-in's or additional downloads. 
  • Allows for secure remote access to the corporate desktop and data without the hassle of a VPN connection.

A virtual desktop infrastructure provides a flexible platform that can help address some of the traditional challenges facing IT administrators while allowing them to bridge the gap and enable the increasingly technology savvy and mobile workforce. Prior to a PC refresh or server/storage upgrade cycle is an ideal time to consider a VDI pilot project.

Ask us how virtual desktops could help empower your end users, ease the burden of endpoint management and add value to the investment that has already been made in your organization's data center.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

Subscribe to Email Updates

Posts by Topic

see all