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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

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.

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Topics: technology

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

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. 

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Topics: technology, test environments

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