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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.

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Topics: Disaster Recovery Plan, technology

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.

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

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