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

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

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

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!

Microsoft-Court-Email-Orders-01I don’t run a Web server either – why am I still reading?

In the example above I used a command which caused a Web server to eject its CD tray. Just a silly trick to show friends at parties, right? But use your imagination and think of some of the more sinister things I could do with this Shellshock vulnerability. Maybe I could figure out a way to make thousands of these severs attack your corporate network. Or I could craft a command to make the server send me sensitive information it has stored about you, such as your name, address, phone number, password, purchase history, credit card information…the possibilities are endless! 

And keep in mind, this vulnerability does not require any advanced skills on my part. I do not have to steal any usernames or passwords of people who administer these servers, download any special software or take a master’s class in hacking. Nope, just a quick Google search and about 10 minutes of my time would be all I needed to start launching attacks on vulnerable servers and potentially do damage to your networks, accounts and sensitive information. And that is why you should be concerned with Shellshock.

So what can I do about it?

If you are running Macs in your environments, check the support article Apple has published about the Bash bug, and download/install the appropriate patch.

On Linux systems, you can usually do a quick Google search for the type of Linux you run and the word “Shellshock” to find articles and instructions containing a fix. For instance, I run Ubuntu, and by searching for Ubuntu Shellshock I was treated to this nice article which walks me through patching the bug.

Don’t stop here. In your home or corporate network, you need to check other devices that may be vulnerable, such as video cameras, routers and backup devices. Tripwire offers a free tool to scan up to 100 internal IP addresses for free. Depending on what devices are identified as being vulnerable, head to that vendor’s Web site and search for any knowledge base articles or updates that might be available.

If you are concerned about Shellshock on your servers that are accessible via the Internet, this tool can help you test them.

Conclusion

Shellshock is a big deal – some experts say even bigger than Heartbleed. But as you can see above, Shellshock is not a real simple vulnerability to explain. I have had several conversations with clients who misunderstand it as “I don’t run Macs or Linux, so I don’t need to care.” Hopefully I was able to show you that is simply not the case, and you can help your fellow friends/family/coworkers better understand the bug when the opportunity arises. 

If you have any questions about Shellshock or perhaps want your network scanned for the vulnerability, we welcome the chance to talk to you. Contact NetWork Center, Inc. or FRSecure for any questions. 

This blog post is written by our guest blogger Brian Johnson, Information Security Analyst with our partner in information security, FRSecure

Topics: Technology Solutions, Network Security, Security, Security Technologies, IT Solutions

The Power of Entity Framework and LINQ

Posted by Lucas Michels on Sep 26, 2014 3:00:00 PM

Entity Framework and LINQ have been two amazing tools that I have come to love when creating and editing many different types of applications. The power of these tools allows for much faster creation of coding logic, plus some built in protection from malicious attacks. Both of these mean a savings in both time and money for us and our clients. To see some possible reasons as to why you would want to use this framework or have it put in your program, I will first give some background on what both Entity Framework and LINQ are.

What is Entity Framework (EF)?
Microsoft defines Entity Framework as “The Microsoft ADO.NET Entity Framework is an Object/Relational Mapping (ORM) framework that enables developers to work with relational data as domain-specific objects, eliminating the need for most of the data access plumbing code that developers usually need to write. Using the Entity Framework, developers issue queries using LINQ, then retrieve and manipulate data as strongly typed objects. The Entity Framework's ORM implementation provides services like change tracking, identity resolution, lazy loading, and query translation so that developers can focus on their application-specific business logic rather than the data access fundamentals.” This basically means it is an ORM framework meant to simplify the database connections and saving of information on the database. It also allows for an easy way to work with the data objects once they are returned from the database.

What is LINQ?
Microsoft defines LINQ as “a set of features introduced in Visual Studio 2008 that extends powerful query capabilities to the language syntax of C# and Visual Basic. LINQ introduces standard, easily-learned patterns for querying and updating data, and the technology can be extended to support potentially any kind of data store. Visual Studio includes LINQ provider assemblies that enable the use of LINQ with .NET Framework collections, SQL Server databases, ADO.NET Datasets, and XML documents.” In other words, LINQ provides for a syntax or a way of writing code that allows us to work more easily with objects. This tool is especially handy when working with big objects and redefining results.

Using Objects
When setting up a project in Entity Framework (EF), you can either do a ‘code first’ approach or a ‘database first’ approach. Most of the time we have done a database first approach, which means setting up the database structure for a given application. Then we can create the connection with the entity framework model and pull in the database structure into the EF. This allows for quick and easy creation of data objects within our applications. We don’t have to guess as to properties of the individual item because the objects are created in EF. When opening this data context in the code, we get access to all the objects and their properties that are created in EF. In most cases we are no longer required to form huge strings for SQL, but instead could use smaller lines of code. Below is a small example of an incomplete database, but in it we can see the objects created and the different properties associated to them as well as the links they have to other tables through foreign keys.  

Entity Framework

Simplification of Accessing and Saving Information
Through EF we have created our objects and have loaded in we can now use and update the information. To create new records of information in the system, all we need to do is declare a new type of the object, tell the context we are inserting it, and call the save changes. Any other objects that are attached to this object before the save should they be new would also be inserted. Our database open and close connections are also taken care of for us. For an example let’s look at the code below.

Entity Framework 

Within these couple of statements I have opened a connection to the database, grabbed a user with the First Name of Lucas and the Last Name of Michels. I have then updated his pin number and saved it back to the database. This saves us from having to worry about connections not getting closed and using up extra memory in the application as well as making a nice easy to read logic to follow.

SQL Injections Protection
EF also has built in protection against SQL injections which is strings of sub-queries which when put into another SQL command will perform another task. Using the example given above, should we replace the “Lucas” string with a variable that is gotten from user input, we would also have to check that input against an SQL injection. EF in the given example above does this for us. This cuts down on the amount of coding we need to do in order to help make our applications safer from these sorts of malicious attacks.

Summary
Entity Framework and LINQ are very powerful tools. In this section we have just touched on a couple of the reasons as to why they can save time and money when developing applications and make them safer.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Application Development, Developers

Securing Your Website with SSL

Posted by Joe Dunnigan on Sep 12, 2014 3:15:00 PM

SSL CertificatesWith the ever-increasing risk of privacy concerns and data breaches, it is important to know what steps can be taken to mitigate these risks. One area that can be addressed to increase security and decrease exposure to attacks is securing a website with SSL. This not only will this strengthen and encrypt communications between the user and the site they are visiting, but it will also increase visibility of the website, and show users that their actions on the site will remain private and secure.

Traditionally, a website would employ SSL (https) security only in areas of the site where the potential for sensitive user information was being transferred. This may include user login forms, shopping carts and checkout, or application forms that include sensitive information such as a social security number. Increasingly today we are finding that organizations recommend and sometimes require that SSL be present on the entire website to ensure that all communications between the client and the website are secured. If you are responsible for a small to mid-sized bank, you may have already received information from your security auditors recommending site-wide SSL be employed on your website. Even if all of your online banking processes are handled by a third party and not run directly through your website, you should still expect to see this recommendation show up on your next audit.

Another area that is seeing the increased need for SSL security on websites is the widespread availability and ease of use of content management systems such as Drupal and Wordpress (http://info.netcenter.net/Blog/bid/335313/Why-CMS-is-Important-for-Your-Business). These systems provide an easy-to-use backend for managing your website content and configuration. Typically you access the CMS by going to a login page on your website, entering your credentials, which then grants access to administration areas and content editing features. When logging in or performing content changes, having the communications between your web browser and the website backend encrypted helps ensure that your website stays safe from unauthorized access.

secure websiteUpgrading your site to use Always-On SSL is not a difficult process, but may involve additional costs and considerations. SSL certificates must be purchased, typically on a 1-3 year basis, and can expire if they are not renewed. Also, you may have to upgrade your website hosting plan, depending on what plan you currently have. Most providers should be able to assist with this transition and keep your site going while the upgrade happens.

Always-On SSL not only offers security benefits and the added sense of security for your users, but may also help your search rank. Recently, Google announced that they are giving an SEO rank boost to sites secured with HTTPS everywhere or Always-On SSL (AOSSL) (https://blog.digicert.com/google-gives-ssl-secured-sites-search-ranking-boost/). When Google crawls your site and sees that all pages are encrypted with HTTPS, your search rank is automatically increased. This has the potential to move your site up in search results, increasing exposure to potential customers. Right now this is a lightweight signal, but over time it will continue to be more important for ranking search results.

If you've considered adding SSL to your site in the past, or are currently using SSL for only certain areas on your site, there are more reasons now to consider adding Always-On SSL. You'll give your customers an added sense of security, and might even drive more traffic with better search rank. Contact NetWork Center, Inc. to find out how to secure your website using SSL security.

Contact Us Today! 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Security, Protection, Security Technologies, IT Solutions

IT Infrastructure: Expense or Business Investment

Posted by Jon Ryan on Aug 25, 2014 2:00:00 PM

1It’ll be here before you know it. You are told by your IT provider that your hardware needs to be replaced. “Again?  Didn’t we just replace that recently?” The mindset of the traditional business is to only purchase infrastructure based on their depreciation schedule. In some cases that schedule can be up to 5 years. Depreciation is often used by businesses for capital purchases to help deduct expensive infrastructure costs. But what is the driving factor to replacing or upgrading your infrastructure?

Days of the Old

Back in the day, businesses relied more on manual processes to operate as a business. File cabinets and paper copies were a large part of business process. People actually used “In-boxes” on their desks to process requests. Most of the company infrastructure was aimed at backbone services only. Businesses would purchase phone systems and financial processing servers for running the core business infrastructure. Network traffic was minimal and desktops were used until they no longer powered on. Businesses would re-use their old hardware until it was completely necessary to replace it. Thus viewing this as a necessary expense that only needs to be replaced once completely unusable.

Today’s IT Landscape

Fast forward quite a few years to today’s IT needs. The technology landscape has changed drastically. In today’s world, server and desktop computer processing is the center of your business. “In-boxes” have been replaced by email and workflow processes and that core server is being used for more than just backbone application processing. Computer technology has become the center of every business. To show how much we rely on technology, just think if your computer crashes or you lose your data. Or your servers are down for several days. What kind of impact does that have on you and your company?  One thing that many businesses don’t realize is that their business drives your technology needs. As businesses grow, more resources are needed to support the growth. Faster and more efficient processing of your day to day operations can lead to very substantial efficiencies. When new systems are put in place, it is not uncommon to adjust internal process to keep up with the faster technology.  That pile of orders sitting on your desk no longer takes a week to get into the system. Resulting in faster order processing and more output.

2IT as a Business Investment

As opposed to traditional views of company technology being an expense, something that is only done out of minimal necessity, businesses need to start realizing and thinking of their technology as a Business Investment. In order to really see your technology as an investment, you have to ask yourself, what does my technology drive? You’ll be surprised to find out that it drives EVERYTHING! From scheduling, to payroll, to orders, to accounting, to communication, to profit, your infrastructure is there processing it all. As you do with hiring and investing in good staff, you also need to invest in your IT Infrastructure. It is not uncommon for us to see servers and infrastructure that is 5 - 7 years old. Many times only replaced because of discontinued OS support. But the more important issue with using antiquated technology is that with all of advances and the fast changing IT world, there are much more efficient technologies to take advantage of. Possibly even propelling your business to an all new level.

At NetWork Center, Inc. we can help review your current technology age and usage and recommend any changes that might be needed. With over 28 years of in the technology industry, we have the engineers and consultants that can help you determine your IT business investment opportunities. 

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., IT Consulting, IT Solutions, technology consulting

An Introduction to Zerto Virtual Replication

Posted by Mike Pagan on Aug 13, 2014 2:00:00 PM

zerto logoOne of the more interesting returns that I get from attending tech conferences is the opportunity to walk the showroom floor and speak to vendors about their products. It exposes me to new products and services that I can bring back to vet for use with our customers. Zerto Virtual Replication is a product that caught my eye, so I thought I would share what I’ve discovered about it.

In short, Zerto Virtual Replication (ZVR) is software that will compress and replicate virtual machines to a remote site or VMware vCloud Datacenter, without requiring expensive storage based replication. It is not a replacement (at least not yet anyway) for backup and recoverysoftware, but an additional piece in a multifaceted business continuity plan.

Zerto Architecture

Virtual machine replication over IP networks isn't necessarily unique in today's virtual ecosystem. However, one feature that differentiates Zerto from the competition is the ability to maintain recovery point objectives (RPOs) of minutes to less than 10 seconds. This ability offers near synchronous replication and protection of your applications and virtual machine data.

These super low recovery point objectives are attainable because Zerto does not use virtual machine snapshots to gather the data to be replicated. The magic sauce for Zerto is the Zerto Replication Appliance (ZRA) which gets deployed on every ESXi host and continuously compresses and replicates changes from protected virtual machines to the configured remote site. By not using virtual machine snapshots, Zerto is not affected by the performance hit often seen when taking or committing a snapshot.

Management tab in vCenter GUI

Zerto Virtual Replication also helps with an important but often overlooked component of a disaster recovery plan -- actually testing the plan. Typically, disaster recovery testing has largely been ignored because of the amount of time it takes to recover servers before you can test the applications. This is usually a complicated task that most companies are not comfortable handling on their own, but Zerto makes it simple.

Testing of replicated virtual machines with Zerto is a wizard driven procedure that most in house IT staff can be quickly trained to do. After walking through the test failover wizard, the replicated virtual machines power on and register themselves at the disaster recovery site. If there is an isolated testing network configured at the disaster recovery site you can login to and test applications and ensure they can interact with each other.

Test Failover (in progress)

After you have logged into the virtual machines and are satisfied that they are working correctly, the test failover is stopped. Zerto then automatically cleans up the test environment by powering off the virtual machines and deleting them from the recovery site's vCenter. If all of the tasks are successful, a report is generated that you can save for your next IT audit.

Sample Recovery Report
You can also perform a move operation to relocate your virtual machines from the production site to your disaster recovery site. Typically this is for moving servers between datacenters or keeping servers up and running in the event of a pending outage (flood, planned electrical work, etc.). During a move operation you can automatically reverse the protection between sites and swap the protected and recovery sites in Zerto. This reuses the virtual machine data in the production site and allows for quick re-protection of your production data to the remote location.

A new feature in the 3.5 release of Zerto Virtual Replication is Offsite Backups. The Offsite Backup feature creates jobs that use the replicated data at the recovery site for creating the backups. Because it uses the already replicated data, the production servers are not affected during backup jobs. These jobs can be configured to run daily, weekly or monthly depending on your data protection requirements.

Offsite Backup Architecture

At this point the Offsite Backup feature is in its infancy and there is room for the offsite backup feature to grow as a backup product. I expect that Zerto will include additional functionality such as file level recovery and other granular restore features as the product matures. 

I have implemented Zerto Virtual Replication internally in a lab and in a small production environment and found it quick and easy to setup and configure. The failover test was simple to walk through and most importantly, worked as expected. I contacted support to ask a question and they were quick to respond with the information I requested. 

I believe that Zerto Virtual Replication is a capable product that has worked well in my short time working with it. It is very comparable with VMware's Site Recovery Manager (SRM) from a cost and basic feature standpoint, but it also has the additional ability to meet super low recovery point objectives compared to SRMs minimum RPO of 15 minutes with vSphere Replication. If you are evaluating business continuity software, I recommend giving Zerto Virtual Replication a look. 

You can find out more information about Zerto at www.zerto.com. For questions about Business Continuity options, or infrastructure recommendations, contact us at NetWork Center, Inc.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Data Backup

Which Routing Protocol is Best for You?

Posted by Jeremy Hostrup on Aug 4, 2014 2:30:00 PM

router image resized 600Once in a while I get surprised by the amount of static routing left in larger networks, those with more than a couple locations and more than 10 layer 3 devices. Static routing is easy to implement but it can be time consuming to make changes. Another piece that you lose with static routing is the ability to change routes easily if something changes on your network. That is what routing protocols were designed to do, find the best route to a network and install that route in the routing table. There are three main interior routing protocols: RIP, EIGRP, and OSPF. RIP is a routing protocol that I would have thought would be gone by now but they have introduced support for IPv6 so it is trying to stick around. EIGRP is Cisco’s proprietary routing protocol. OSPF is the industry standard routing protocol.

There are many reasons to switch from static routing to a routing protocol. The main reason that I’ve seen is the ease of adding a new subnet to a network. If you were to add a new subnet in a static routing environment, you would need to add that static route to every layer 3 device. That is a time consuming and tedious process. With a routing protocol, you would just add that subnet to the device running the routing protocol that is closest to where that subnet exists and it will propagate through the network. The routing protocol will use its metrics to determine what the best route to get there is. This means that you don’t have to touch every layer 3 device and add the static route.

Another benefit of using a routing protocol is you get automatic failover if you have redundant connections. So let’s assume you have a main office with two connections to a remote office. If you use static routing and one of those connections fail, you would have to either have track statements tied to your static routes to get failover or you would have to get into the remote office router and change the static routes. You would also need to get into the main office router and change those static routes as well. With a routing protocol, you wouldn’t need to do anything, it would detect that the link went down and it would automatically install the other route into the routing table. This also works if you have two internet connections.

Brocade routerWhich routing protocol you use really depends on how your network is configured and what the future plans are. If you plan on having Cisco everything, you would have no problem using EIGRP. If you have SonicWALL firewalls, Brocade layer 3 switches, and Cisco routers, you should probably use OSPF. Each one is configured a bit differently and they choose the best route using different metrics but at the end of the day, if they are implemented correctly, they are both great routing protocols. OSPF, EIGRP, and RIP do play nicely together. For instance, you can have a Cisco router running EIGRP and OSPF and redistribute routes between the two routing protocols.

The one routing protocol I haven’t touched on is BGP. Essentially, BGP is the routing protocol for the Internet. It is a very powerful routing protocol with many, many features but it is usually not advisable to run that protocol inside your network. Because BGP is designed for extremely large networks, it does not failover quickly.

So if your network has grown to the point where manually adding and removing routes is becoming a time consuming and tedious process, consider moving to a routing protocol like EIGRP and OSPF. It will make management of your network easier and also provide you with automatic failover if a link goes down.

If you have any questions about routing protocols, contact NetWork Center, Inc. today.

Contact Us Today! 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Routing protocols

Heartbleed: Do We Still Need to Worry?

Posted by Tyler Voegele on Jul 2, 2014 4:00:00 PM

Heartbleed.svg resized 600It's been a little over two months since the security vulnerability Heartbleed was announced and a fix was provided. The Heartbleed flaw, which allows attackers to extract information from the memory of the servers that run versions 1.0.1 through 1.0.1f OpenSSL allows attackers to gain passwords and other information from strings of text taken from the memory leaks.

Have you audited yourself or the sites you frequent? According to a recent study the OpenSSL bug Heartbleed was discovered on more than 300,000 servers that remained vulnerable. In April that number was around 600,000. Nearly dropping half in the past few months is great, but nowhere near completely patched and it's only getting worse. Patched servers are slowing to a snail’s pace. Since the time between last month and this month it has only gone down by around 9,000 servers.

It seems that patching is going to almost halt altogether. What does this mean for you and the security of some SSL servers? SSL is the fundamental secured communication that most websites rely on. If you still haven't updated to protect yourself against the vulnerability then you are still vulnerable to someone gaining your sensitive information such as username, password, or encryption keys.

An updated list of the most recognizable and popular websites was created shortly after the release in patches for the vulnerability that are now not affected by the Heartbleed OpenSSL encryption bug. Below are a few of the entries most notable:

heartbleed virus- Google.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Chase.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- BankofAmerica.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- WellsFargo.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Facebook.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- YouTube.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Wikipedia.org is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Twitter.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Amazon.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Linkedin.com does not use SSL.

- eBay.com does not use SSL.

- Bing.com does not use SSL.

- Pinterest.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed

- Ask.com does not use SSL.

- Msn.com does not use SSL.

- Instagram.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Tumblr.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Microsoft.com does not use SSL.

- Paypal.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Imbd.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Apple.com does not use SSL.

- CNN.com does not use SSL.

- Craigslist.org is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Reddit.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Netflix.com does not use SSL.

- Adobe.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Dropbox.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Mozilla.org is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

- Pandora.com is not vulnerable to Heartbleed.

So what's next? Since the announcements of vulnerabilities like Heartbleed, Apple's SSL bug GoToFail, and many more, how can we predict what's next? Well, there really is no easy way other than preparing ourselves for the worst. Vulnerabilities like Heartbleed should heighten our sense of security and the need to be aware of it in our environments. As bad as Heartbleed was, and still is since countless of thousands of websites remain unpatched, it actually marked an improvement in what we consider a critical security hole. Make sure your organization has a plan to patch defects and prevent possible attacks that could compromise your servers. With Heartbleed fresh in our minds it’s the best time to take a look at what the best ways to stay secure are. 

If you'd like help on planning, implementing, and creating security policies contact our specialists at Network Center, Inc. today!

Contact Us Today! 

Topics: Technology Solutions, Network Security, Security, Protection

5 Reasons You Should Use jQuery

Posted by Dane Petersen on Jun 17, 2014 3:00:00 PM

What is Jquery? The official jQuery statement is: “jQuery is a fast and concise JavaScript Library that simplifies HTML document traversing, event handling, animating, and Ajax interactions for rapid web development.” It is the most popular cross-platform JavaScript library in use today and was designed to be simple and easy to learn. It also simplifies the client-side HTML scripting. Query is free and open sourced under the MIT License. It was released in 2006 by John Resig and is currently being developed by Dave Methvin. It is used by some of the most visited sites on the Internet and helps developers by decreasing the amount of effort and time. What would take 20+ lines of code in JavaScript can be reduced down into say 5 lines with jQuery.

  1. Jquery is easy to learn, has a very small learning curve, and is very well documented. If you have some knowledge of HTML, JavaScript Jquery should come easily.

  2. Jquery works well with old and new technologies such as HTML 5 and CSS 3. 

  3. Jquery can reduce the time and effort for developers. The following is an example of code differences between JavaScript and jquery. To see a live demonstration of the code below visit https://www.netcenter.net/quick-jquery.html.

    JavaScript

    javascript screenshot (3)
     
    jQuery

    jQuery

  4. Jquery allows users to create animations quickly with less of a learning curve than Adobe Flash. Jquery uses markup technologies such as CSS, HTML, JavScript and AJAX that all work well together. A developer can use these to create effects such as drop down menus, hiding elements, fading elements in and out, and sliding elements around the page. These are just a few of the many effects provided by the jQuery library.

  5. Jquery Mobile allows you to have the same functionality on mobile browsers as you would on the desktop. It also has UI options which enhance a user’s experience on a mobile device. A good example would be the use of an accordion, which takes content and compartmentalizes them into selectable options.

There are other good JavaScript libraries out there such as minified.js. “Minified.js is a client-side JavaScript library that's both powerful and small. It offers jQuery-like features (DOM manipulation, animation, events, HTTP requests) and utility functions (collections, date & number formatting, date arithmetic, templates) with a single, consistent API."

Deciding to use a JavaScript library like jQuery is up to the developer and the project demands. Jquery is quick and efficient while reducing developers’ effort and time, and is compatible with older browsers while still working with the newest technologies. Contact NetWork Center, Inc. today if you have any questions.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Technology Solutions, Mobile App Development, Mobility, Application Development, Developers

Luck, Lifecycle Management, & Technology Debt

Posted by Jon Ryan on Jun 6, 2014 4:28:00 PM

Many companies underestimate the impact and cost a system failure would have on their business. Your IT Infrastructure in many cases is a silent hero that just churns away in its own room, out of sight and out of mind. But when it goes down, the impact can be unimaginable.  The easiest way to test this is to imagine what turning off one of your servers would do to your company’s productivity. How much would that cost you per hour, per person? The fact that it hasn’t happened to your business can give you a false sense of security, but you have to be careful not to confuse luck with technology reliability. Let’s take a look at how some companies mismanage their infrastructure lifecycle and end up with a large technology debt.  recycle keyboard resized 600

Lifecycle Management

Lifecycle management is interpreted differently from company to company. Unfortunately, it is more common for a business to invest time and budget into other aspects of their company rather than their IT Infrastructure. Getting on a lifecycle management schedule will help you make sound purchases and keep your infrastructure up to date and reliable.  

retired computer1 resized 600Antiquated Gear

“We have all of this gear and it is still running fine.” Many companies use the warranty of products to manage the lifecycle of their infrastructure. It may shock you to know that the common product warranty is 3 -5 years, usually with a 2 year extension. Best case scenario you are looking at the total lifecycle of hardware at 7 years. By law, manufacturers are required to provide replacement parts for their products for 7 years. After that time, you are left to finding old stock or used parts through web storefronts. Let’s think about it for a minute. What really drives lifecycle management? Hardware reliability, repair costs, warranty, and budget are all determining factors. But let’s talk about one of the other driving factors that is maybe not so well known.  

Business Process

Hardware and software limitation can have a negative impact on how you operate your business. Are you missing out on newer technology because you are still using a 32 bit server? Do you turn down technology advancements because your network won’t be able to handle the increased traffic? Your overall company business process can suffer from antiquated hardware and software, leaving your processes and efficiencies stuck on technology from the past.  

Technology Debt

With the retirement of Server 2003, more and more companies are finding out they have a technology debt. For years they’ve relied on old gear to do the core processing of their everyday business. Server operating systems took a big leap with the original release of Server 2003. Businesses implemented it and relied on it for many years. The problem is there were restrictions that we didn’t even know about at the time. Now with its retirement, businesses are caught having to replace it whether they budgeted for it or not. Many companies haven’t been upgrading their infrastructure using lifecycle management.  It’s at this point that you really find out what your technology debt is. In simple terms, it’s all of the antiquated hardware and software that should have been systematically updated over the years, but wasn’t. Your technology purchases all come to a head at one time. Most companies have gotten accustomed to not budgeting for technology each year. Now imagine what happens when you have to spend $50,000 - $100,000 or more in one year.  

We assist customers with their lifecycle management so that their IT budgets are smaller per year and more predictable. Don’t leave your hardware and software integrity up to luck. Contact a NetWork Center, Inc. sales associate to find out how to get a lifecycle management model that works for your company.

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Topics: Technology Solutions, Protection

Coming Attractions: VMware Horizon 6

Posted by Mike Pagan on May 30, 2014 4:46:00 PM

VMware Horizon 6 image resized 600<movie guy voice> In a world… where desktops run amok…  </movie guy voice> OK, so that wasn't a typical intro to a technical blog post, but for some reason I'm excited for the summer movies this year. The Godzilla, X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy trailers have really piqued my interest, so in that vein here is a trailer for VMware's new sequel in End User Computing software, Horizon 6.  

The flashback:

If you've never heard of End User Computing (EUC) or VMware View or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), here is the quick elevator pitch. VMware View is the management wrapper around Windows desktop virtual machines that your users attach to via various software clients. It allows for a rapid provisioning and management of user's workspaces without the hassle of multi-user software problems like Remote Desktop Services and/or XenApp.  

The story:

If you're familiar with VMware's EUC products you'll notice that they've dropped the "View" moniker from (most) of the product's branding. I don't know if I have seen a reason for the name change but maybe they learned a lesson on simplifying their branding after the unfortunately named VMware vCenter Protect Standard/Advanced products.  

The new version of VMware Horizon comes in three forms:

  • Horizon View Standard - licensed by concurrent user

  • Horizon Advanced - license by concurrent or named users

  • Horizon Enterprise - license by concurrent or named users

vmware horizon suite logo1 resized 600The action cut scenes: (To keep with the movie trailer theme, visualize over-the-top Michael Bay styled, slow motion explosions and fight scenes while you preview the new features)  

This is a major release that adds to the features already present in the current View 5.3 release, so I will highlight what is new and noteworthy in this release.   

  • Remote Desktop Server Hosted application support - Horizon 6 will have the ability to serve Remote Desktop Services and Citrix applications in the same end user portal as virtual desktops.  This is a very interesting feature because it competes directly with Citrix XenApp's Store Front (Web Interface) and can be used in parallel with XenApp (permanently or as a migration tool).

I think a strong use case for this feature is to install the Horizon Agent on an existing XenApp server and using them in parallel while you migrate away from Citrix. Based on how cumbersome it is to upgrade XenApp versions, I can see why some have dubbed this as "Citrix Killer".  

  • VMware Virtual SAN (VSAN) support - This will likely require a follow up blog post to fully describe what VSAN is and why it is cool, but in short it is a new feature built in to VMware ESXi that allows you to use locally installed spinning disk and SSDs in your server to create pools of storage to use for your VMs--no SAN required. This if very compelling because if you remove the SAN from the cost of a VDI solution you can drive the cost per desktop down into the physical desktop realm.

  • Unified Workspace - A self-service, customizable web portal that allows you to access your virtual desktops, SaaS and web apps, hosted RDS apps, Citrix virtualized apps, and ThinApp packaged apps (application virtualization) from one location. This can help relieve the pressure on IT when deploying new applications for exiting users or existing applications for new users.

A key component of the portal is VMware's Blast protocol which allows access to your virtual desktop in any HTML5 enabled web browser without downloading a client which is great for quick access or traveling users.  

  • Unified Image Management - Horizon 6 Advanced and Enterprise include the VMware Mirage feature set for managing virtual, physical and cloud-hosted Windows images. This is a relatively new product for us, but the ability to layer applications and settings onto physical and virtual Windows desktops instead of manually installing or configuring them is very interesting and bears further research.

  •  Analytics and Automation - A new version of VMware's Operations Management for Horizon is also coming with this release.  If you've never heard of vCOps, it’s software that monitors your virtual infrastructure's performance, capacity and health, and then analyzes it for usage trends and future issues. The new version of vCOps for Horizon will simplify the health and performance management of your environment which in turn will help you fix and identify issues faster.

As you can probably tell this is a big product release in terms of new features and product improvement's alone. When you add the competitive element against Citrix's XenApp this becomes an even more important release because it will likely affect how Citrix continues to go to market with their XenApp/XenDesktop products and how customers evaluate and decide between the two competing feature sets.  

I have not gotten my hands on the software yet, and I am likely going to have to wait until the product release which is currently slated in Q2 of this year. I that time I will install it internally and have a better idea of how all the bits and pieces fit together.  

For current VMware View customers, there are upgrade programs to the new licensing levels so if you are interested in looking at your options, please contact NetWork Center, Inc. and we'd be happy to help you determine if upgrading is right for you.  

Contact NetWork Center, Inc. 

In the meantime if you are interested in more information I suggest checking out the official VMware Horizon 6 product pages or some additional links for more information.  

Links:

Videos:

  <movie guy voice> …coming summer 2014, to a datacenter near you. </movie guy voice>

Topics: Technology Solutions, VMware Horizon 6

The Silence of Corruption

Posted by Jason Keller on May 16, 2014 4:00:00 PM

datacenterRacks of servers, a low drone of fan noise. A breeze of cool air on your face as you walk through the cold isle. Disks, shallowly clicking away like a synchronized ballet reliably serving data to hungry processors and memory subsystems to be processed. Network switches, carrying data out to waiting customers to enrich their lives.

Well, that's the dream at least. But this is your datacenter. Your network has terminal cancer (the DNS kind).Your internet connection is fifty megabits too small and your old groaning disk subsystems have all the grace and poise of a Call of Duty team death match. Sure, there are problems, but accounting won't budge until they feel some pain, some damage. Problem is, by the time they feel it, it'll be too late. As in, too late to save your company. Because a disk just failed in your SAN, and what you didn't know is that it wasn't the only one not feeling well.

It’s what you don’t know that can hurt you. How error detection and correction on disks actually works. First off, all modern storage subsystems utilize error correction code (ECC). You may notice that term from your server memory. And on that very label, you'll notice in the fine print it always says "corrects single bit errors, detects double bit errors". That should be your first clue as to how ECC works. An ECC can detect an error up to twice the hamming distance of what it can correct. So if it can correct 46 bytes in your 512 byte sector hard drive, it can detect up to 92 bytes of error. What isn't correctable, is reported to the controller as uncorrectable and the disk controller increments the "uncorrectable error" counter in S.M.A.R.T.

Guess what happens to any error larger than that? It isn't detected. It is passed straight up the stack to the controller as good data. Yes, you read that right. Go read it again. We'll wait for your jaw to come off the floor.

But surely RAID will catch it, right? Wrong. RAID actually depends on the disk ECC subsystem to detect errors and report them, so it can pull data from another disk or reconstruct it via parity depending on your RAID level. Take RAID 5 for instance, does it hit every disk in your array for every single read to compute parity and make sure nothing is amiss? Negative. RAID does not preserve the integrity of your data. It only addresses availability of your data, nothing more.

So what about the file system? Hate to burst your bubble, but the most ubiquitous file systems in use today (NTFS, HFS+, XFS, UFS, EXT) are woefully underprepared for data corruption, and don't have any mechanisms to verify the data they are getting from the subsystem is good. Some can check their metadata, but that's about it.

Ok, well, what about your backups? Hate to break it to you, but what good are your backups when you've been feeding them corrupt data? Garbage in, garbage out. So we all need to be buying expensive, higher quality disks right? Thank Google for busting that myth wide open, as they discovered essentially identical failure rates among drives in their huge populations.

So, to recap. We have big corruption on our disks that is invisible to ECC. RAID is useless rubble and doesn't do anything but pass it on, because it relies on the disk's ECC to tell it the data is good or bad. The transport, even if it arrives intact courtesy of its own ECC, is still corrupt! The file system is blind to corruption and passes it right up to the application, which freaks out and in all likelihood crashes immediately. Our backups, which everyone likes to knee-jerk about as being the gold standard, are useless as well because they've been fed bad data too.

This is all stemming from a huge, industry-wide attitude that data integrity is simply taken for granted. No one really cares whether you have good data or bad data. They just care about doing it as quickly as possible so they look good on their performance benchmarks.

storwize v7000.jpg resized 600First off, in the SAN camp, they've finally gotten their brains pointed in the right direction and implemented a little thing called T10 PI (SCSI DIF, expanding each 512 byte sector to 520 bytes to hold some additional tags and a 16 bit CRC-16-T10-DIF checksum). Checksums are far more sensitive to disturbances in the force, and can reliably detect single bit errors. They just can't do anything about it but cry like Chicken Little. This field is rigidly defined, including the hash, so that all devices in the path can independently verify it. Nice. But there are some downsides to this implementation.

CRC-16, while reliable, is expensive to calculate in software, and HBAs that don't implement it in hardware pass on quite a significant tax to the CPU. And to top it off, if you actually have something like Oracle's DIX implementation (so that the OS can verify the checksum as well) you'll be doing it twice, one for the HBA and one for the OS.

Another problem is, you need special disks, special firmware, special HBAs, special drivers, and kernel support to do all that all the way up the stack. Very few vendors today actually support it, and unless you get a significant chunk of that out of the way (say, to the HBA), you're still in significant danger.

Oh, and I'm not done throwing dirt on that either. Do you have any good mechanisms to pull all data on the array at an opportune time and compute its checksums to verify that it’s still good? Because if even one sector is corrupt on a disk and you lose another disk, if you only have one disk margin of safety you are once again in the dock, as now you have no way to rebuild that data. The best way to reliably know that a sector has been recorded successfully to media is to read it!

On the personal side, what's happening to your vacation pictures or pictures of your newborn child? Did I mention that SATA doesn't have SCSI DIF? And by the way, when they went to 4k sectors, and "enhanced ECC", guess what they did? They "doubled" it. As in, they blew up the sectors to eight times the size, while only doubling the size of the per-sector ECC. Did you catch that math? You now have 1/4 of the ECC you previously had. Have fun with that.

If you're still with me, you're one step closer to becoming a paranoid storage zealot. So, what are we to do to combat this growing epidemic? By using modern file systems designed from the ground up for data integrity. ZFS for instance. It hashes for integrity (optionally even using cryptographically strong hashes like SHA256), and can automatically heal data using known good replicas (because it knows what data blocks are good and bad by checksumming on each read/write). It can also do scrubs that can pull every block of data from every disk in its array and ensure it's all still good at opportune times on a periodic basis. There are loads of other hugely useful features of ZFS too, but those are beyond the scope of this blog post.

It's time to get serious about data integrity. Silent corruption isn't a myth. It happens to real people in the real world. I was personally burned by it three times before I started using ZFS. Now you have some options – it’s time to go use them and save your data, and quite possibly your whole company. Contact NetWork Center, Inc. if you have any questions.

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Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Network Security, Data Backup

5 Reasons to Move to VoIP

Posted by Paul Dahlen on May 9, 2014 4:00:00 PM

voip resized 600Many businesses today have already made the change to VoIP to take advantage of its numerous capabilities. Why have they decided to move from a traditional phone system to a Voice over IP solution? Below we will briefly touch on 5 VoIP benefits.

  1. Centralized Management – With this model, you can lower your IT costs by managing multiple locations from one spot. For example, if you have additions, moves, or changes you are doing them in one place, rather than making those changes for a remote location or on a physical system at that remote location.

  2. Flexibility – with a few clicks of a button, you can add phones, voicemail, and instant messaging quickly and efficiently.

  3. Scalability – The systems can easily grow to accommodate your business’ growth if needed.

  4. Feature Rich – VoIP systems offer many features that older analog systems simply cannot. These features can enhance your employee’s productivity out of the gate.

  5. Save Money – Interoffice calls can traverse your existing network/WAN infrastructure, saving money on office to office calling. Office productivity will increase as a result of the features VoIP provides. You could also take advantage of routing calls that would otherwise be Long Distance, out a gateway located at a remote branch, where the call would be a local call.

All in all, there are many great benefits that VoIP offers over traditional systems. If you would like to learn more, contact a Sales Representative at NetWork Center, Inc. today.


Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., VoIP

Browser Based Zero-Day Exploits

Posted by Sean Todd on Apr 29, 2014 1:25:00 PM
Browser image

The web has been abuzz with yet another potential security exploit and the information surrounding it can be confusing. We’ve seen advisories from many sources, and even they are conflicting. Below is the information we’ve been able to identify after sorting through this information in an effort to make it more clear who is affected and what you should do about it.

What is it:
There are actually 2 zero day exploits. One is related to Internet Explorer, and the other is related to Adobe flash.

1. The Internet Explorer vulnerability was identified recently by FireEye and known as ‘Use-After-Free’ vulnerability. It allows hackers to potentially gain complete access to a PC via visiting a website with malicious Adobe flash software on it. In this case, even though Adobe may be patched, IE still has the vulnerability. Outlook, Outlook Express, and Windows Mail are affected as well as they open HTML documents.

2. The Adobe Flash vulnerability has a security update issued today from Adobe and affects all browsers with the Adobe flash plugin enabled. Updating Adobe Flash in IE environments doesn’t make you immune to the IE exploit represented above.

Who is affected:
IE Vulnerability: Internet Explorer versions 6-11
Adobe Flash: All browsers


Adobe Mitigation:

Internet Explorer Mitigation:

IE Zero-Day Advisories:

  • Microsoft Security Advisory 2963983
  • Department of Homeland Security – US-CERT Response
  • ***Updated: Microsoft Issues Emergency Internet Explorer Patch – click here to get the patch

Flash Zero-Day Advisories:

In the end, the best defense is end-user education. Regardless of the fix implemented, there are other exploits that will eventually be uncovered and good browsing habits will help in eliminating their impact.

If you have any questions regarding this Zero Day Exploit, feel free to contact us.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc. 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Security

Technology Partnerships-Sitting on the Same Side of the Table as Your Customers

Posted by Jon Ryan on Apr 25, 2014 3:00:00 PM

Technology PartnershipChoosing an IT company can at times be a difficult decision. In most cases businesses will check around with other businesses to find out whom to work with. A lot of companies will sometimes pick an IT provider that mirrors their own business philosophy. Other companies rely on their experience in the sales meetings and interaction stage. In all cases the decision you make will affect not only your IT infrastructure but your entire business. Let’s take a look at working with a company that approaches their relationship with their customers as a technology partnership versus a simple sale and how it can benefit your business for years to come.

Cross Table Selling

For years, cross table selling was part of the sales ‘dance’ between a potential customer and the sales associate. Like used car sales, this drove the “negotiation” process for pricing. Those same techniques are still in use to this day with some unfortunate consequences. We’ve all witnessed the uncomfortable “show up and throw up” sales pitch. Here are the products the company has, and if all of them are shown to the customer, maybe it will spark some needs that are buried in the customer's brain. Obviously the wrong approach, but surprisingly still used to this day. The impact, of course, is the total lack of deductive reasoning. The ‘need’ may surface in time but more than likely by accident. Not only will you miss important details that lead to more investigation, but you will undoubtedly start the business relationship on the wrong foot.  

Technology Partnership Approach - Sitting on the Same Side of Table

So how is the Technology Partnership Approach different? Every company out there wants your business and will many times throw around the idea of being “partners” more than a provider and a customer. Also, we don’t want to confuse technology partner in the terms of business partner or reseller partner. We are not looking to team up with you to sell our services to other businesses. What we are referring to here is helping you decide which technology options are a good fit for your business, even if it doesn’t include a product that we sell.

Technology PartnershipLet’s look at an example of the Technology Partnership Approach. A sales associate has a call with a potential customer, and on the first meeting listens and learns as much as possible about the customer’s company. It is at this point that you can choose your path. In the Cross Table Selling approach, the sales associate will just start opening up the catalog of products and start firing through which ones might be a fit for the customer. Kind of a “this is all we have, hopefully one of them fits” approach. In the Technology Partnership Approach the sales associate or engineer relates the technology to the customer’s process. How is that customer currently using the technology they have, and why do they feel that is the best route for their business process. In many cases, just getting the customer to go through their own process will help them realize some of the shortcomings or inefficiencies they are experiencing. It’s at this point that the seller helps the customer decide whether to change the process or update their current process. This might include choosing a product that the seller doesn’t even provide.  

Conclusion

The Technology Partnership Approach is based on selling the relationship more than just a product. Even if the customer doesn’t buy something from you in that instance, you’ve helped them make the right decision and started your business relationship on a positive and honest basis. That relationship will bring you closer to the customer and will make purchasing technology a more pleasant experience for both sides. Contact us to experience the Technology Partnership with NetWork Center, Inc. and start building your relationship today.


Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc.

Convenience & Security: You Can't Have it All

Posted by Tyler Voegele on Mar 21, 2014 3:30:00 PM

In today's world almost everything is done through the Internet, which means that our security is more at risk than ever. Identity theft, corporate espionage, and financial loss are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to thinking about security. Many people and companies try to balance the need for online security and convenience to access what they need. In a perfect world, we would be able to have both, but usually when you have the most convenient approach, security is at risk and vice versa. If businesses take the safest approach they take the stance of "locking it down." This is when users have access to little to nothing without administrative privileges. It makes it easy for management purposes and is by far the safest, but at some cost of user productivity.

Security lockImplementing security practices in the business environment requires a lot of careful consideration for how the business functions and accesses information currently. If you take the "locking it down" approach, then you may stifle the productivity of end users, but not properly practicing security measures could leave you wide open to attacks.

To have a proper, secure system in place there needs to be a number of technologies used to provide a certain amount of system hardening to successfully secure information. Most companies already have the hardware and software to accomplish the most needed security measures, but they need to configure them properly to use them. Passwords, user accounts, e-mails, network access, file shares, and wireless access are a few things that should be taken into account when incorporating security measures. 

When talking about convenience vs. security, usually a hot topic is passwords and how they should be handled. We can relate this to a house. It would be convenient if there was no door and you could walk in, but you also want privacy and to prevent strangers from entering, so you have a door. Of course, other people can also open the door, so you have to go further and put a lock on it. Now you have a secure home, but you have to unlock and then open the door to enter your home. This seems like an acceptable balance between convenience and security, but how do we reflect this balance in our digital life? Strong passwords can cause problems among users, but simple passwords provide easy access for unwanted people.

If you do implement security practices and measures you have to make sure users find practicality with it. If something is inconvenient, it is human nature to find a way around it or stop doing what is required altogether. How can you achieve a balance of security and functionality with ease of access? The first step is to understand your users' needs, internal policies, and how the business runs as a whole. Throwing hardware and software into an environment will not make it more secure unless there is an understanding of how the business accesses day to day information. Protective measures require you to always be changing, but if you take a comprehensive look at how the network runs, you can reduce the work you will have to do.

security comic
The next step for implementing a more secure and convenient network is implementing changes slowly. Introduce new security changes and policies slowly to users so they can continue to work as efficiently as possible. Explaining the benefits rather than inconveniences and administering them slowly makes more sense for everyone when implementing. Looking at what really matters and putting effort into securing parts rather than the whole network will ease the process.

In conclusion, you should look at securing the data where it is rather than securing the data in transit. Also think about requiring strong passwords that can be easily remembered and have to be changed every few months. Educating users can be one of the best investments for a company as well. If users know what to do and what to look for, risks can be mitigated. If you work toward better practices and take a full overview of your network, you'll find a successful marriage between the most secure environment and most convenient for everyone's benefit.

If you have questions or concerns about your security practices you can contact our experienced staff at Network Center, Inc. today!

Contact NetWork Center, Inc. 

 

 

Topics: Technology Solutions, Security, Security Technologies

Solution Selling vs. Product Selling

Posted by Jon Ryan on Mar 10, 2014 5:00:00 PM

solution sellingIn today’s world of online purchasing, you have to ask yourself what you are getting by purchasing equipment and services through a local company versus the internet.  Some internet companies contract out regional support technicians to support their products at discount level pricing, but even though you may be purchasing the equipment what you’re really missing is the Solution.  Let’s take a minute to break down the difference between buying product and buying a solution.

The Product Approach

“We need a new server, because ours is old and slow.  I bet we can buy an affordable one through an online store.”  So at this point we are going to concentrate on the focus of where the “need’ is.  Their server is old and slow so it’s a good assumption that the need is to buy a newer server that makes it perform faster.  While there is a need for newer faster hardware, understanding what is really driving that need is more important than the hardware.  In this case, the business purchases a newer faster server online and implements it into their infrastructure.  There is some performance improvement but overall not the performance they are looking for.

This scenario shows the lack of finding the “need” before making an infrastructure change.  It’s at this point that they will need to re-assess their initial thought of replacing hardware versus finding the real need.  In technician land, we call this “throwing hardware at it” to see if it will fix it.  It’s a reference to the practice of “If you throw enough hardware at an issue, the issue will disappear”, and it is not a recommended practice.

This doesn’t always happened for online purchases.  Technology companies can be guilty of it too.  We can relate it to taking your car to a less than ideal repair shop.  You tell him you think you need new brakes, so he replaces your brakes, no questions (or troubleshooting) asked.  Likewise, if an IT technician hears about an issue from an end user and without troubleshooting or asking more questions, the technician comes up with a fix for it.

The Solution Approach

Let’s take the previous example and see how it relates to a Solution approach.  This same company calls up their technology solution provider. “We need a new server, because ours is old and slow“.  Instead of saying “That’s great, we sell servers.  Here is a quote for a new one”, your technology provider would ask questions such as:

solution selling in technology“How do you use your server?  What is its purpose?  What kind of slowness are you experiencing? How many users do you have? What kind of data are you accessing on your server? Can you tell me about your network?” 

Questions like this can help you really focus on what they are trying to accomplish as a company.  You can find the real need, and even identify efficiencies that can bring more value than only new hardware.  It’s possible the company may still need to buy a new server, but there is also a chance that this extra exploration into their infrastructure can show areas with other technology needs. 

Backups, disaster recovery, redundancy, high availability, and hosted or online options are many times overlooked when you just “throw hardware” at an issue to resolve it.  This is where the expertise and experience of your technology provider is critical.  Do they have the staff that focuses more on the issue as it relates to solution and need?  Or do they merely send you a quote, or replace your brakes, without even asking the right questions.

NetWork Center, Inc. prides ourselves on solution based selling.  We will help you find the area of need that drives the best solution to make your company highly competitive and successful.  Contact one of our solution experts today at NetWork Center, Inc. 

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc.

Windows Server 2003: Time to Say Our Goodbyes

Posted by Tyler Voegele on Mar 3, 2014 1:20:00 PM

UpgradeWindows Server 2003 is close to reaching its end of support date: July 14, 2015. Though this might seem like a long time from now, you should start planning and upgrading as soon as you can. As with Windows XP, which is now one month from its end of support date, the same will happen to Windows Server 2003. There will be no patches or security updates. 

So now you ask yourself this question, why make the move from Server 2003 to Server 2012. Some of the most concerning reasons for people not upgrading are cost and not knowing the performance enhancements that come with the newer Operating Systems. 

Cost

If you look at keeping Windows Server 2003, think about cost first and foremost. What would the difference in cost be in proportion to upgrading your environment? To run a secure IT infrastructure you will have to put twice the amount of resources into monitoring, shielding, and protecting any servers on 2003. Along with protecting the servers themselves you will also have to work to make sure the old applications will still function. Server 2003 doesn't suddenly stop working as soon as support is over, but your risk involved will increase. You may need to consider training staff about threats more often, installing an intrusion detection system, or even segmenting the servers in your network. Electricity prices may also pay a factor in why you might decide to upgrade. If you have 10 physical servers running Windows Server 2003, your price for electricity will drastically change if you were to virtualize all of them and use one physical host machine.

Optimizations, Stability, and Security

What kind of optimizations could you get from the newer Windows Servers? Windows Server 2008 and 2012 are able to be utilized in ways that Windows Server 2003 is not able. For instance, the architecture used for 2003 limits the ability for performance enhancements and for software to use specific features that the newer versions are able to utilize. Simply put, the newer versions can outperform the old. This should not be news in the technology world, as everyone knows that newer Operating Systems have more functionality than later versions. Another big upside with applications running in the newer server versions is processing power. With newer server OS's, programmers are able to utilize more resources. Windows Server 2003 is 10 years old and very limited by its time and simply cannot take full advantage of modern hardware. Microsoft has brought up concerns with possible performance issues in some versions of Windows Server 2003. Microsoft also has articles about performance bottlenecks in continuing use with Windows Server 2003

Windows 2003 InfographicAnother reason you should look into upgrading is many Windows 2003 Servers are running on physical hardware. Now that we live in an age of virtualization and cloud computing, it reduces more risks than housing every server on a physical media. If you are running eight year-old hardware with Windows Server 2003 on it and the server fails, what what would be your plan? Would the down time effect you drastically? What if you could avoid the potential downtime by planning, migrating, and proactively scheduling an upgrade? Hardware fails. It is a fact that many businesses have faced a time or two. If you run old hardware and software, you will risk the possibility of it failing and causing more headaches than it is worth.

One of the main reason you should want to upgrade from Windows 2003 is from lack of security. The biggest concern for most companies is to keep their assets that lie in the digital world safe. Windows 2003 could raise a lot of concern after the support has ended. Not only could the Operating System be exploited with malicious intent, but you could face limitations that also cause software running on the Operating System to be unsecured.

Upgrading From Windows Server 2003

So, what options can you think about when moving to a newer environment? Sometimes the most obvious transition is utilizing the environment you already have. Leveraging a virtual environment is usually the best option, and if your environment isn't virtualized already, you should consider doing so. Converting physical boxes into virtual machines is normally a very easy process, and along with the benefits of having everything managed centrally, a virtual environment is very practical for any business. Most of the time, applications that run on Windows Server 2003 can work as well in Windows Server 2012 or run in a compatibility mode. Even if you are not able to run applications in the new server versions you will at least have a virtual copy of the Server 2003 running in new hardware. 

Another option you may consider is migrating to the cloud. Not many think of having their environment moved to the cloud, but it is an option that could fit your business needs. Moving your server infrastructure into a cloud based environment can help businesses that do not always have IT staff to support them and can be more cost effective. 

Start your planning and risk analysis as soon as possible because the more you stay ahead of old hardware, software, and applications the better off your business will be as a whole. Remember, having a plan is the biggest step in your effort to stay updated. If you have any questions about planning, implementing, or maintaining your technical infrastructure, contact our experienced staff at NetWork Center, Inc. today and ask them about Windows Server 2003 End of Support.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Protection

BYOD: The Wild West of WiFi

Posted by Jason Keller on Feb 24, 2014 5:05:00 PM

wifiHave you ever wondered why your wireless connectivity was so poor at your last meeting? Do you suffer from chronic connectivity problems at hotels? Has your own wireless become frustratingly unusable?

Welcome to the Wild West of WiFi. Everyone can play, no matter their skill level or impact to your sanity. All it takes is a single trip to Best Buy, a misguided store associate, and a lazy Saturday to bodge together a smoldering wreck that will ruin your weekend, anger your wife, and elicit howls of disgust from your teenagers. Or worse, your customers and coworkers will be at the receiving end of a similar lapse in judgment. Increasingly, I have been seeing more and more home-grade networking gear in environments that they were never designed for nor are capable of effectively operating in. If that wasn’t bad enough, many are so woefully misconfigured that it’s a wonder that the end stations even see the beacons. When it comes to wireless networking, you’re not just bringing your own devices - you’re building your own disaster. Instead of enhancing your services (and your company image), clients and employees alike are furious because of unstable, unusable connections. All hope is lost, and all your time and money sunk into it is for naught. The whole deployment becomes counterproductive.

wifiHow did it get there? Let’s think about it. First, home grade (or as they frequently like to call them “small business”) access points don’t generally handle more than a handful of clients, and usually within a closer radius. They’re built with cheap radios with insensitive receivers, often using lower gain antennas because they are designed to be standalone in radio-quiet environments in a small cell radius. The cheaper ones are 2.4GHz only, while the higher end ones are dual band 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Most are simply incapable of dealing with the growing chorus of additional access points and interference sources in their midst.

Enterprise grade wireless isn’t cheap for a reason. They’re built to blanket whole facilities, allowing you to roam freely while you remain connected seamlessly as you walk about the structure. Often they are built to function in multiple bands, identify and report interference sources, and have highly sensitive receivers coupled with equally powerful transmitters. They make tactical use of diversity and additional spatial streams to weed out interference and distortions while also boosting their transmission speeds. Wireless QoS for voice and streaming deployments, beam forming to further improve signal quality and range, and mesh uplink configurations for hard to reach areas - the list goes on and on. You have hundreds of reasons to go enterprise grade, and far more reasons to let the professionals spec and configure it.

wireless networkI’ve heard from several customers after a successful wireless deployment project that they never realized just how complicated it is, and just how much work goes into it. Proper channel spacing and access point overlap are critical to good roaming experience. Knowing when you need higher transmit power and when you need lower transmit power can make all the difference for your connection stability, creating a stable connection where others will randomly stall and drop. Spectrum planning is crucial for projects large and small, and knowing the regulations of each of the bands can give you a tactical advantage that will pay dividends for years to come. Identifying environmental interference sources can save you a lot of headache as well.

The most important part of wireless deployments is realizing that none of this exists in a vacuum. Everything you do impacts not only your system, but potentially others. Devices that you don’t think can interfere with wireless can, and often do. Microwaves, cordless headsets, bluetooth devices, cordless phones, radar, and above all, other WiFi access points.

Are you looking at deploying WiFi infrastructure for your organization? Don’t build a disaster.  Contact NetWork Center, Inc. and let the professionals help make your vision a reality.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc. 

 

 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Network Security, Mobility

The Importance of Warranty and Maintenance Plans

Posted by Kyle Riveland on Feb 18, 2014 11:30:00 AM

3YR WARRANTYSome people may think this goes without saying, but at the same time there has been an inordinate amount of situations where a faulty server had a lapsed warranty, or software maintenance was missing. Since the only time that you need this in place is when something is wrong, that is unfortunately the time you find out. Let’s take a look at the two main categories where warranty and maintenance plans have the biggest effect on a business.  

Hardware  

The typical server warranty is 3 years, and there are almost always options to extend that at the time of sale and even after the normal warranty has lapsed. Networking equipment is normally 1-3 years, and have mostly the same options for extending warranty. Of course different vendors may offer different options, so your mileage may vary.  

The question you should ask is “how much downtime can we afford.” Of course, most businesses would answer “none.” Since it’s inevitable that server hardware will eventually fail, everyone knows better and we have to be ready for such times. Not everyone can afford high availability and fault tolerant environments when it comes to server hardware to avoid the downtime of a failed server or network device. 

A lot of time is lost when you need a part replaced for a device that is not under warranty or maintenance. When calling the vendor, you can be rerouted to different departments. The vendor may require you to purchase an extension before even ordering the part. If the failure happens on a weekend, that may not get processed until the next business day. Part costs, shipping, and labor are usually high.  

A warranty not only gets you replacements for little to no cost, it also gets you the parts much quicker. Typical warranty replacement parts are automatically delivered overnight. Calls to the vendor will hopefully get routed to the tech quicker (I’ll leave good/bad vendor support calls to another blogger). If the warranty allows weekend support, your issue may be resolved before Monday.  


hardware maintenanceSoftware  

There is typically no set maintenance for software. Some companies have phone support for software built in. Others have a forum where you could post questions and wait for answers. If a software company offers paid maintenance, it usually gets access to any/all types of communication available. This can be very important if the software is mission critical.   

The time lost can be similar to hardware, and just as costly. If your entire company uses a particular software product, what happens when the product fails? All your users either will not be able to do anything, or they will have to fall back to a slower manual process.    

No one will know the software better than the vendor. Bugs in software are about as inevitable as hardware crashes. When that happens, your software maintenance will allow immediate access to possibly get a resolution, or at the very least, patched in the next revision. Maintenance may also allow free updates to newer versions with some vendors.   

So what is the best way to determine where you stand with warranties and maintenance plans? List your mission critical hardware and software. Most vendors have provided tools on their websites to check your warranty and maintenance status. Then determine how much it will cost your company to not have access to these services and devices for any period of time. This will help you justify whether you should have active warranty or maintenance plans. The upfront cost of the plans may seem like too much now, but the cost may be much worse without the plans in place.

If you have any questions about warranty and maintenance plans, please contact NetWork Center, Inc. 


Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, Protection

Why CMS is Important for Your Business

Posted by Dane Petersen on Feb 10, 2014 4:20:00 PM

cms chartFirst off…what is a CMS? The simplest way to explain it is that it’s an application that runs on the web which allows the original content creator to add, edit, and manage content on a website. This allows a user with limited development skills to manage a web page or an entire site without ever having to know or understand programming for the web.

In the early days of web development most web pages were static and not dynamically driven. The site would be written and coded all at once, so the developer would code the menu, links, images, and content into the page(s) individually.

This meant that if you wanted to add or remove a link from the main menu the developer would have to go in and manually edit the menu on every individual page. This would be very time consuming and costly.

Nowadays, customers expect a higher level of service than ever before, making a content management system (CMS) more important to keep your content current.

Why should you consider CMS? Again, first and foremost, the content management system allows the content creator to:

  • Enter content, save it as a draft online, and return to it at a later date to publish it.

  • Create content in advance and set automatic times for the content to publish live.

  • Style content with a WYSIWYG editor similar to the word processor on your computer.

What are some other features CMS provides besides content management?
  • Security

  • SEO optimization

  • Automatic RSS feed of your content

  • User Permissions

  • Workflow and notifications

  • Create a complete ecommerce solution

    • Displaying items for purchase to customers

    • Shopping cart engine

CMSWhich CMS is right for you? There are Open source and proprietary systems. Open source solutions are developed and maintained by a community of supporting developers. Open source options are typically free and are supported by developers who are constantly expanding out the functionality of the software.

A proprietary system is developed by a company and licensed out to you with everything you might need. The only drawback is when you run into a feature it does not provide, developing that feature could be very costly, or not possible at all.

There are many content management systems out there, but a few of the top options to consider are:

  • Drupal – (the CMS of choice here at Network Center, Inc.) Arguably the most powerful and robust of all the open source options. Drupal is scalable from small websites to very large enterprise level applications. Our government trusts Drupal’s security so much they rebuilt http://www.whitehouse.gov/ from the ground up using Drupal.

  • Orchard – A free and open source option provided by Microsoft. It is rapidly growing, but many developers believe it is still lacking many of the required features other systems provide.

  • WordPress – Originally developed as a blogging application, but is fast becoming another strong option to consider when building interactive websites. Ideal for simple websites like blogs and news sites.

  • Joomla – Considered the middle man. It provides more robust features than WordPress, but isn’t as scalable as Drupal on an enterprise level. It is designed to perform as a community platform with social networking features.

In the end, using a CMS is really a no brainer. Rather than relying on a developer to maintain your site for you, take control of your own content and make your website your own. If you have any questions about CMS, please contact NetWork Center, Inc. 


Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Developers

Workplace Gaming Through Simulation Training

Posted by Sarah Jelinek on Jan 31, 2014 3:30:00 PM

Teamwork in the workplaceDo you allow workplace gaming in your company? I am not talking about everyone getting together to play Call of Duty or some other community game. Think more along the lines where employees can perform their job in a simulation where they and others can learn, evaluate and improve upon existing processes. 

How many times have you and your coworkers talked around the water cooler, coffee pot, or in a meeting about those odd situations that come up and you don’t know how to proceed. Or you hear from your coworkers on a regular basis that the process to get something done contains too many steps or is not clear?

You hear that one of the best ways to learn is to just ‘jump in the water and hope you can swim', but you run the risk of customer and employee dissatisfaction if something goes wrong. This is where workplace gaming can help educate your employees and improve customer satisfaction. So, how do you start?

Let’s look at a few examples of where this can be done. If you have people that provide customer service, you can simulate a situation with an upset customer, a happy customer, or the entire process from first contact to follow-up.

If you provide technical support, try to ‘break’ something. Have your employees try to fix it. This process can help refine troubleshooting skills by helping them identify the questions that need to be asked.

In a sales organization, you can run simulations from the most common sales process to the more unique and uncommon processes. 

Divide Your Employees Into Groups

It isn’t every person for themselves. This is where teamwork and brainstorming can really shine. By having your employees work in groups, they benefit from hearing others’ opinions and suggestions. 

Pick One Group to Lead The Simulation

This group can act as your customer or pick a process that needs to be completed. The other groups will complete the simulation. It may be helpful to advise them to think of ways to complete the process outside of the methods you have in place, or to “think outside of the box.” Once they are done, have each group present the method they used.

Discuss The Results

Many times you will find methods that will cut wasted time and provide better accountability and tracking. Employees will feel more empowered to find more ways to improve processes. 

brainstorm ideas at workFor example, during a training session for Microsoft Office Outlook, an employee was detailing how he handled scheduling in his department using the calendar in Outlook. During this discussion, other users started mentioning different scenarios they have encountered and wondered how it would be done. Many suggestions were put forth and then simulated in Outlook.

The end result of this session left everyone with a new, more efficient process for scheduling. They decided to move from having one person responsible to empowering all of the employees in that department to view and update a centralized schedule. They also found a way to make the appointments stand out that needed additional preparation or products ordered so everything was in place and ready when the appointment occurred. 

Our training department can help you facilitate these gaming or training sessions. Contact NetWork Center, Inc. today to learn more. 

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., technology training

The End of Windows XP

Posted by Tyler Voegele on Jan 27, 2014 4:25:00 PM

Windows XP has had a long run—12 years in fact—but it's time to move on. April 8th, 2014 is the final day that Microsoft will stop all support for Windows XP. Considering how long XP has been around and the number of years before technology usually is surpassed, it has run its course. If you haven’t already, you should seriously consider updating or replacing all machines running the Windows XP operating system.

What does this all mean for XP, and Why Is Microsoft Discontinuing Support?

The first Tuesday of every month is dubbed Patch Tuesday, which is when Microsoft releases all patches, hot-fixes, and service packs. After the first Tuesday in April this year, Microsoft will stop continuing the release of those patches for XP along with all the technical support for it. This means that XP will grow increasing less secure as time goes on.This includes versions of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express that run on XP.

With no security patches being released for XP, it will become a giant target for cybercriminals who can exploit the security holes that will emerge. Since the new operating systems from Microsoft were built off of the Windows XP codebase, many of the vulnerabilities that could be exploited in the recent versions could in fact be exploited in XP.

Windows XP pie chartThere are still XP machines everywhere that sometimes get overlooked such as POS systems and even some ATMs from banks in the U.S. that run an embedded form of XP. As you can see from the chart, XP still holds a large portion of Operating Systems being used. This should be a big concern for users, and also businesses that run XP. 

If you are wondering why Microsoft is finally letting XP go, just think about how old the technology is. Windows XP is a very old operating system that had its code built well over 12 years ago. Rather than have Microsoft patch the system that is already old and flawed, they released newer operating systems with better written code and kernel structures. It is far more secure and harder to exploit a newer Operating System that is built with security fixes and other optimizations in mind.

Should you upgrade and what will happen if you don't?

The short answer: yes. You should upgrade or plan to do so as soon as possible. If the discontinuing of Microsoft security patches didn’t scare you, ask anyone who deals with security and they will tell you that upgrading should be the only option. However, we also all know there will be some who continue to use XP.

Microsoft Windows XP crossed out logoIf you are stuck with XP for some reason and you really do need some solutions to support you, there are some anti-virus programs that will continue to support XP even after its support from Microsoft discontinues. Bitdefender, ESET, and a few other anti-virus suites have announced that they will provide updates for XP until the year 2016. It was also released that Microsoft Security Essentials for XP, will keep updating and supporting it until July 14, 2015. 

Also if you have to stay on XP you should plan on using third-party software that continues support. For instance, instead of using Internet Explorer you will have to use an alternative such as Firefox or Chrome who will continue support for a limited time.

You may also consider application whitelisting as an option if you must use Windows XP. This should not be a reason to stray from upgrading because XP will still be vulnerable. Even though Microsoft and other anti-virus vendors may offer a limited shield of defense for XP, it would be much more cost effective to upgrade. For businesses, it may look like a large task that costs a lot of money, but if you don't upgrade you may suffer a larger loss.

In conclusion, if you haven't thought about the effect that Windows XP could have on you or your business you should start planning now. You may have to take some risk assessment of the machines that still run XP. What would happen if those machines were not available anymore? What if those machines spread malicious software throughout your entire network? These are questions that you may have to ask if you stay with XP.

This not only reminds us of how we should be practicing better security measures, but how we need to plan and implement our technical infrastructure to optimize how we work. If you have any questions about planning, implementing, or maintaining your technical infrastructure, contact our experienced staff.

For more information on the anti-virus products that have given some dates on planning to provide support for XP, please take a look at the below list and visit www.av-test.org for updated results.

Manufacturer

 

Support Information

Agnitum

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

AVG

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

Avast

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

Avira

Support will end on 8th April 2015 - further details...

Bitdefender

Support for home-user products available until January 2016; support for corporate products available until January 2017 (2)

Bullguard

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

Check Point / ZoneAlarm

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1) - further details...

Comodo

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

Emsisoft

Support available until at least April 2016 (2)

ESET 

Support available until at least April 2017 (2)

Fortinet

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

F-Secure

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

G Data

Support available until at least April 2016 (2)

Ikarus

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

K7 Computing

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

Kaspersky Lab

support will continue at least until 2018 for consumer and at least until 2nd part of 2016 for business products (2)

Kingsoft

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

McAfee

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

Microsoft (Security Essentials)

Support will end on 14th July 2015 - further details...

Microworld

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

Norman

Support available until at least January 2016 (2)

Panda Security

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

Qihoo 360

Support available until at least January 2018 (2)

Quickheal

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

Sophos

Support will continue at least until 30th September 2015 (2) - further details...

Symantec / Norton

Products support Windows XP, no end-of-life decision has been made yet

Tencent

No end of support announced; support available for at least 2 more years (1)

ThreatTrack / Vipre

Support available until at least April 2015 (2)

Trend Micro

Support will end on 30th January 2017 - further details...

Webroot

Support available until at least April 2019 (2)

(1) These manufacturers have not yet announced the cancellation of their support for these products on Windows XP systems but have instead stated that they will continue to provide support for this platform for at least two more years.

(2) It is possible that these manufacturers will further extend the duration of their support if the market demand remains high enough.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Security

Transparent IT - File Sharing in the Mobile Age

Posted by Sean Todd on Jan 17, 2014 4:40:00 PM

enterprise mobile devices 2011As we become a more mobile workforce conducting business outside of the traditional office, intellectual property becomes harder and harder to protect. We no longer only need to worry about encrypting a laptop hard drive or making sure someone has secure access to a server via a VPN so they can access their shared drive, but now we are faced with more avenues outside our physical walls on which our information travels, secured or unsecured.

As business professionals, we can choose to turn a blind eye and assume that our information is secure because we haven’t officially authorized anyone to use something other than their company issued workstation thus eliminating concern. In reality, should we choose to do nothing, we are leaving a gaping hole in our document security as more and more employees are turning to their own consumer technology to conduct everyday business. More than half of a survey of 4000 office workers admitted to working on business content on personal devices. Truly alarming if you think of the implications of losing data on a device on which you have no control. This means statistically speaking, more than 50% of your employees have company information on their personal devices and you can’t do much about it without proper controls in place.

box LogoSo how can we protect this information? The bigger answer includes a multi-tiered approach, but if we are focusing on documents and document sharing alone, then we’ll look at an enterprise grade file sharing service. Insert Box. This enterprise grade file sharing application is easy to setup, deploy, and manage allowing us to effectively and efficiently control access to our beloved documents.

Box has applications for iPhone/iPads, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Mac, and Windows meaning whatever the platform you’ll be sure to get seamless integration translating to less of a learning curve for end users who are already used to this type of technology. Users can sync their documents directly to Box, and immediately have it available on all devices they have registered. From the office to the field and from the field back to the office the data is easily accessible. Even better, you have the ability to control the types of devices, how many per person, and whether or not documents can be downloaded to these devices. If documents are downloadable to mobile devices, you are able to force passcodes on the Box app restricting access to anyone without authorization.

mobile file sharingThere are several ways to share files with third parties. Among them include: sending a hyperlink via email and allow it to be publicly accessible; sending a hyperlink and allow it to be opened via a pre-set passcode you would share; or simply allowing others with Box logins access to the folder or file directly. Of course this is just scratching the surface of the collaboration features available.

Unlike similar competing products, data security considerations are second to none. Your data is encrypted during transit with high-grade SSL and at rest with 256-bit AES. Box data centers are SSAE16 Type II and Safe Harbor certified as well as HIPAA compliant.

In the end, your data is only as safe as the habits of your end users. By providing an easy to use file-sharing solution you encourage your employees to use company adopted applications upon which you have a great deal of control while at the same time preventing IT from becoming a road block to productivity. If you have any questions about mobility solutions or secure file sharing, contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, Mobility, Mobile Device Management, Security

The DRs of Business Continuity

Posted by Jon Ryan on Jan 3, 2014 4:15:00 PM

Cloud BackupIn the ever changing technology of the digital world, company data has become one of the most important parts of a successful business.  Not only the retention of data but also having reliable access to it. Imagine this scenario: Your business has multiple locations in the Mid-West that access data from a core location. A power grid goes offline due to iced up lines. How does that affect all locations? Are you prepared for this today? Or do you just plan to react to it when it happens? Take into account this scenario: Suddenly you are unable to access your data on your server. With the recent growth of RansomWare (where your data is held hostage by hackers) are you protected, and how do you continue to do business? Or even in the case of everyday hardware failure, are you backing up your data, and if so, what level of redundancy do you have to be able to access it?

It is easy for a business to have a false sense of security when it comes to their data. Having a firewall or anti-virus program is not enough protection from everyday threats. It is absolutely imperative to have a Data Backup & Recovery and Disaster Recovery plan to ensure the highest level of protection. Two of the DR’s of business continuity. Let’s take a look at what Disaster Recovery and Data Recovery really are.

Data Recovery

Probably the most common form of business continuity practiced, Data Backup and Recovery is the most affordable way to protect your business from a catastrophic event. But many people don’t truly understand that there is more to just backing up data than copying it to a network share.

In a typical Data Backup and Recovery solution, the best practice is to write the backups to a local device such as a NAS or External Hard Drive. These backups allow you to take advantage of two levels of protection: server drive RAID failure protection; and local file recovery from an external source. In this example if your server were to crash you would still be able to recover files from a second source.

Any type of backup is better than having nothing, but to achieve a higher level of business continuity you should also have a Disaster Recovery plan as well. What if your building experiences a fire, break in, or natural disaster? Your onsite backup will not be enough to continue operating your business at a normal level. That’s where Disaster Recovery comes into play.

Disaster Recovery

“It will never happen to us.” “What is really the likelihood of a tornado hitting our building?” “I have a hard time justifying the additional cost of Data and Disaster Recovery.” All responses to the question of Disaster Recovery protection.

Disaster Recovery allows companies to save data to an offsite location for just that reason. It is a best practice to save data locally for fast recovery and offsite for disaster recovery. The traditional way to achieve this was to copy data to tape drives and store a daily backup offsite. Cloud technology allows you to get rid of the time and security risk of tape drives.  Now that you have a disaster recovery option and a way to store your data locally and offsite, how do you keep your company processing data with no interruptions in the event you are unable to access your data? 

Data Replication

Data ReplicationIn the ice storm scenario above we discussed multiple locations accessing data from a core business location. If one of the external locations goes down, that location alone is only affected. But if your core server location goes down, all external locations are unable to access the core server data and applications.  The only way to achieve high availability of your data is to replicate it to a second location. 

Data and Compute Replication is a technology that allows you to make a copy of your core server data and applications and place it on hardware at a second site. The second site is usually the site with the best network connectivity the furthest away from the core site. With failover technologies, if the core server goes down, the system automatically fails over to the DR site.  This allows all other locations to continue to access data and applications while the core site recovers from the event. This solution can also act as your Disaster Recovery Data Solution but would also want to be tied to a separate local Data Backup solution for faster file recovery in the event of lost data. 

Conclusion

Now that we’ve given you some ideas and options to improve your business continuity, where do you go from here? A data backup and recovery assessment might be necessary to review your current solution to determine which of the three DR’s you have or need. Contact us to discuss your infrastructure and business continuity plan to see where you stand.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Data Backup, Disaster Recovery, Cloud backups, Business Continuity

Why Technical Certification Should Matter to You

Posted by Mike Pagan on Dec 20, 2013 3:00:00 PM

technical certificationEver wonder what all the acronyms in our email signatures represent? They're not part of some cryptic anagram--they represent an individual’s technical certifications. Each acronym means an individual has passed all of the qualifications from a product vendor’s certifying body. I equate IT certifications to a form of technical merit badges for geeks.

I have been taking certification tests for around 15 years and I believe they’re an important part of a technician’s development. In the IT world, there are three main ways to gain knowledge in a technology: self-study, online or classroom product training, and hands on experience. I have personally found it difficult to get hands on experience unless you can prove you have a good level of understanding about the technologies you will be working with. So how do you get that knowledge and/or attempt to prove your level of knowledge? One way is through certification.

Certifications range from online, open book tests on entry level features, to tests that involve hands on labs that are for product experts only. Most certification tests are multiple choice ranging from 50-100 questions and more certifications (especially the advanced certifications) are requiring some form of hands on lab work.

All of this you may have already known, but why does this matter to someone who is looking for a consulting company to partner with? Let me give you my take.

The most common reasons you will see technicians certified in a particular vendor’s program is because it is required to be a member of that vendor’s partner program. It only makes sense that vendors want their products sold, installed, and serviced by technicians who have a deep understanding of their products. Technical certifications are one way to vet an organization’s knowledge in vendors’ products and the number of certified technicians typically is one of the criteria for various partnership levels.

Another reason I feel technicians pursue certifications is for professional growth. Depending on how you came into the IT world, you likely started at the bottom. That’s what I did and it didn’t take me many months of replacing rollers in printers or upgrading hardware in PCs before I realized that I needed to increase my understanding of core technologies. I wasn’t going to be allowed to work on business critical technology just because I didn’t like working on printers (I always had leftover parts after I was done putting a printer back together). I needed to prove that I understood the technology.

I have also found that after you start to understand a particular technology, you want to deepen your understanding of it. A good way to do this is by pursuing additional certifications or certifications of a higher level. Most vendor programs have entry, advanced and expert certifications in their products so there is a natural knowledge progression.

Recently I completed an advanced certification from VMware and the knowledge I learned during my studies immediately became useful when assisting a customer with a critical server down situation. While troubleshooting the issue, I needed to use commands that I would not have used or become familiar with had I not pursued that certification. The customer and I both benefited from my studies.

One detractor from certification is the fact that certification programs have long been plagued with “paper tigers” who run simple internet searches to find brain dumps of a certification test and then memorize the questions and answers. Certifications look great on a resume, but they do not help you fix actual issues.

Certification comic strip

Although I think certification is a great starting point for product knowledge, I understand that it is not the end.  Hands on/real world experience is also critical to broaden one’s understanding of the concepts learned through certification. Often times, things go perfectly in training or lab environments and it is not until a technician has years of experience that they are able to understand and resolve unique situations that can happen with technology.  One of NetWork Center, Inc.’s strengths is our organizational experience in a wide array of technologies coupled with our certifications.

I think if you are looking for a company to partner with (or already partner with NetWork Center, Inc.) you can feel confident that the technicians you are working with have the technical expertise required to accomplish your technology goals. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions regarding our certifications. 

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc.

How To Shop Securely Online

Posted by Tyler Voegele on Dec 13, 2013 5:00:00 PM

online shopping resized 600It's that time of year again. Snow, holiday music, family, and of course holiday shopping. If you're like me, maybe you do most of your shopping online because, let's face it, sometimes it's easier to buy online than wade through a crowd for an unknown amount of hours. One thing you may not give much thought about when shopping online is internet security. As we all start shopping and purchasing online we use a lot of our personal information to complete these transactions. Do you know if the site is secure? If your data is secure? Your identity? More people purchase online during the holidays than any other time of the year. This brings out all of the people who could exploit you or steal your data. It’s always important to use the best security practices when buying online.

I’ve outlined the top 10 ways to keep yourself secure for holiday shopping online.

1. Update Your PC, Laptop, or Device

Keeping your browser and anti-virus up to date, and making sure your Operating System has the latest patches should be first on your list. They keep you safe from possible malware and viruses that could infect your system.

2. Shop online with familiar retailers 

If you think that it might be suspicious then chances are it probably isn’t legitimate. A lot of companies like Target, Amazon, and many other retailers are recognizable and have online sites. If you aren’t sure about the validity of a site, use www.urlvoid.com or others like it to check. Also, here is a good article on identifying fake shopping sites.

3. Site Security

When you are shopping online make sure the site has HTTPS or a padlock when finalizing your transactions. If you don’t see those items in your browser's URL it probably is not safe to enter your information.

shopping security1 
4. Site privacy

Not only should you worry about what reputable companies do with your data, but you should also make sure they handle your data properly. You can look for a privacy policy and learn about whether the company will use your information in ways you don’t want shared. If a site shares your email address to other companies it could open your email up to get spam linked with malicious items.

5. Install a Phishing Filter and other helpful extensions to your choice browser

Using phishing filters and extensions can be useful tools to keep yourself safe online. If you save your passwords in your internet browser, you could download an application like LastPass. There are many extensions for each type of browser that assist with URL checking, credit card safety, password security, ad blocking, and others that can check your browser for exploits.

6. Password Complexity

We talk about this one all the time, but it should always be addressed. Make sure the passwords you use for your shopping sites are secure. If you have simple passwords then it’s much easier to obtain your information. While using passwords it’s also safest if you don’t automatically save them into your browser. Also, let’s all agree that writing your passwords on sticky notes is just a bad idea.

7. Mobile Shopping

Be extra careful when shopping from a mobile device. Sometimes using dedicated applications from businesses is more secure than using a mobile browser. If using an application make sure it’s legitimate because there are many created with malicious intent. One rule to always follow when using a mobile device to buy online is to never do it while connected to a public Wi-Fi. This allows the possibility of everyone seeing what you are doing.

8. Use your own devices

I think we all know this is pretty self-explanatory. Don’t use machines or other devices that you don’t own. Your information can be saved or even be tracked if using a public PC. Take the safe route and always do your shopping on your devices.

9. Watch out for scams

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. No business is going to randomly give free gifts online or have a 80% off sale. Be aware that email scams and deals will be all over, especially this time of year. They try to get you to enter personal information to obtain what they need. Even if you believe an email or site to be legitimate, always proceed with caution.

online shopping2 resized 60010. Be careful of what you use for payment.

Using debit cards and credit cards are one of the two biggest options when paying online, but which is better? Most of the time credit cards are the safest bet. Credit companies have policies for fraudulent charges if you happen to have your card stolen online.  

Make sure that you use these tools to have a safe and happy holiday season. The most important tool you will always have is a good dose of common sense. Shopping online is easy and convenient, and hopefully you can use what you’ve read to be confident that you are secure. The final step to any holiday season is to enjoy it!

Happy Holidays from all of us at Network Center, Inc.!

Topics: Technology Solutions, Network Security, Security

President Ben Carlsrud is Thankful for NCI Employees

Posted by Ben Carlsrud on Dec 6, 2013 2:03:00 PM

thankful

As our calendars are now flipped to the last month of 2013, we are officially in the middle of the holiday season. The wintry weather and holiday décor reminds us what a wonderful time of the year this truly is, but it also prompts us to spend some time reflecting on this past year and giving thanks to those around us. It is the season of giving after all. The holiday season keeps us busy with the cold and snow, deer hunting, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Christmas, but in all of the hustle and bustle, Network Center, Inc. doesn’t lose sight of its core values. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to emphasize how important each employee of Network Center, Inc. is to the success of this company.

Network Center, Inc. focuses on three core values. Those core values are: Commitment to Employees, Dedication to Customers, and Responsible Innovation. Though each core value is important, I’m going to focus on the first of those values for this blog.

Commitment to Employees is NetWork Center, Inc.'s anchor value. Without the employees, Network Center, Inc. is not the company that it is today. I am very thankful for the time, dedication, and pride they take in our company. We have managed to attain a very high tenure rate for our employees and that says a lot, not just about Network Center, Inc., but about the people who make this such a wonderful place to work. In my 16 years here, I’ve developed some close relationships with the people I work with. These are all people I want to be around and spend time with, both at and outside of work.

Creating a great office culture is no easy task, but it’s a commitment we focus on to ensure our employees know how valued they are and the importance of the roles they play. Each person is here for a reason and we make a dedicated effort to improve this culture. There are a number of ways we promote this including hiring employees based on culture, hosting employee events, challenging employees and their work, promoting employees, and a number of other benefits. All of these things are great and needed, but I think it basically just breaks down to providing a safe and secure environment, working through life’s challenges in a personal manner, encouraging growth and change, and being treated with respect.

Every single person at Network Center, Inc. makes a difference, and that allows us to be something more than just a place to go to work from 8:00am to 5:00pm. The personal pride that goes into everything we do is amazing. All of this shines through our 27 years of success.

So a big THANK YOU from me to all the employees at Network Center, Inc. I am truly blessed and honored to work alongside all of you. It’s been an amazing ride so far and I'm looking forward to what the future brings. 

Have a great holiday season!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc.

Top 10 Reasons to Attend nVision 2013 Technology Conference

Posted by Jon Ryan on Nov 25, 2013 5:03:00 PM

nVision 2013 technology conferenceIf you haven’t decided whether or not you’re attending our nVision Technology Conference this year, here are 10 reasons why you should:

#1 Discuss "Future of Technology"

Meet other IT leaders and business owners from the area and learn more about the Future of Technology. Find out how they have leveraged new technology in order to prepare for the future.

#2 Keynote Speakers from the area’s Top IT Leaders

Attend keynote sessions from 3 of the area’s top companies through the eyes of their IT Leaders. Is your company on the same track for success?

#3 Learn about Next Generation Network Security

Learn about current and future network security trends, and what new technologies are on the horizon to secure your network.

#4 Get Inside the Mind of a Hacker

Find out why hackers target business and how you can protect your intellectual property and other corporate assets. Discover what hackers want, how to keep them out, where they come from, what motivates them and what your best defenses are against them.

#5 Lost in the Cloud?

Get the real information about cloud services and see what’s right for you. Join us to learn more about what “the cloud” means, how our customers are using it, and the decisions that drove them to leveraging the cloud for their business.

#6 Heard of CryptoLocker?

It’s here and hitting companies left and right. Find out what you can do to protect yourself from the data crippling CryptoLocker, the latest in Ransomware.

#7 HIPAA and IT

Are you in compliance? Compliance with government regulations is a priority for healthcare, financial and government organizations. Find out what’s important and what it takes to keep you in compliance.

#8 Mobility 101 - What you Need to Know

Are you managing your mobile task force of devices? Learn how to keep control of your company data when it leaves your office through mobile devices.  

#9 B2B Communication in a Mobile World

It’s not just about checking your email remotely anymore. Now it’s about running an Enterprise level business from the palm of your hand. Find out how to maximize your productivity through mobility.

#10 Network with other Regional Companies

nVision provides a great atmosphere to discuss current topics and technologies with other business people in the area. Meet new people and make connections with other companies from the area.

Experience the excitement and networking opportunities as industry leaders talk about the future of technology and what it means for your business at the 2013 nVision Technology Conference! Register today by click on the register button below. 

Register for nVision 2013

 

nVision 2013 agenda

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Mobility, technology training, Cloud computing

New ERP Solutions to Take Your Company to the Next Level

Posted by Jon Ryan on Nov 15, 2013 4:50:00 PM

manufacturing2Many companies in today’s corporate world of manufacturing have been operating on the same business management and manufacturing software for many years. What does that mean exactly? Is that proof of the traditional bulletproof systems of the past? Or are we seeing companies that become too content with their management solutions? Let’s take a look into the past to understand where we need to be at the present. 

The Past

First of all, what is ERP? Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is business management software that allows an organization to use a system of integrated applications to manage their business. ERP software integrates all facets of an operation, including product planning, development, manufacturing processes, sales and marketing. 

We’ve all seen this before, ordering inventory out of one system while billing the customer from another and using yet a third system to manage your manufacturing schedule. “All Inclusive” solutions to cover all of these tasks were not readily available in earlier version of ERP solution software. Many solution providers of the past concentrated their software on one major component of the ERP process. That limited the amount of offerings from each manufacturer, forcing companies to purchase multiple solutions from multiple vendors. This isn’t all bad though, it’s like buying specialty software for every level of your resource planning system. The drawbacks however include working with multiple vendors, trying to stay up to date on software updates, and compatibility issues when trying to implement or intermingle newer technology. 

The Present

The decisions you make today may have changed since you’ve implemented your ERP solution from the past. Your customers have changed, your employees have changed, and the rest of the industry has progressed in technology, so undoubtedly your manufacturing process will eventually need to change.  It’s easy for a company to confuse increasing their through-put with staying up to speed with their manufacturing process. So what does a modern ERP solution give you that you aren’t getting from your old solution? The biggest benefit of a modern solution is “Efficiency”. Jumping back and forth from program to program, introducing more points of data entry, and increasing your margin of error. Using paper copies of orders and manually scheduling materials and resources. With modern ERP solutions, you have a single interface. Materials can be automatically managed in the system to be driven by customer orders, inventory, and resources. Then you have to look at the life cycle of your ERP solution.  If you’ve had it implemented for 10+ years already, how much longer can it be supported? As businesses start to broaden their ERP requirements and start looking at full service solutions, what’s the stability and longevity of the specialized ERP solution software from your current provider? 

The Future

Most ERP solutions are created in module format. You can implement the entire solution at once or piece by piece to ensure a smooth transition. This module-based design allows you to expand your efficiencies over time as well as keep building on the same system you are familiar with. Ask yourself about your current solution. As your requirements change, how flexible is your ERP solution?  Pick a solution that will be supported for years to come. Look for a solution that has a strong backbone of software like Microsoft Dynamics. Many ERP solution providers develop software that sits on the Dynamics framework and tailors it for a custom industry (i.e. food and beverage, pharmaceutical, etc.). 

ERP Solutions SoftwareKey Benefits

  • More Accurate Order Fulfillment

  • Less Billing Issues to Investigate

  • Easier and More Accurate Reporting

  • Lower Learning Cure to Increase User Roles

  • Higher Productivity from Your Employees


To Host or Not To Host?

Many ERP solutions are offered as both a hosted solution, where your entire ERP solution sits on the solution provider’s servers, or as an in house solution residing on your own hardware. While hosted solutions are becoming more popular, in house solutions are still faster for moving large amounts of data. You’ll need to make sure your network infrastructure can also support large amounts of data being transferred back and forth to a hosted solution. For mobility, hosted solutions are often easier to access outside of the company for remote management. While some solution providers have created mobile apps for ERP, you’ll need to ask yourself what is more important, mobility or speed.  

Conclusion

No matter what your current ERP solution is, even though it may be battle tested, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the inefficiencies?

  • What obstacles do you face in the manufacturing process, and are they caused by an outdated solution?

  • What is the overall business impact of those obstacles and inefficiencies?

  • Are there any data security concerns with your older system?

  • Where do you want to be with your ERP process, and will a modern solution get you there?  

To find out more about ERP solutions, discuss the future of your ERP solution, or have a network and server assessment performed on your current infrastructure, contact NetWork Center, Inc. 

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Managed Services, Network Assessment

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 Mobile App

Posted by Derik Bormann on Nov 11, 2013 5:31:00 PM

CRM mobile app dashboardAs the official release of CRM 2013 recently rolled out, I thought it would be a good time to explore one of the most anticipated features of the new version, the new Mobile client. With this product launch, there are mobile apps available for iOS and Windows devices (both are available now in their respective app stores.) An android version is also slated for release down the road.

For this article, I will be using the Windows App. However, the iSO app will function much in the same way. It will incorporate the gestures that are commonly used on Windows mobile devices. This will be a little bit of a switch for those users, but it does not take very long to get acclimated to the Windows way.

As CRM ships out of the box, most of the common entities we are familiar with will already be mobile enabled (Account, Contact, Case, Opportunity, etc.). If there are other entities, or custom entities that you would like to make available on the mobile client you will need to enable the mobile option for them.

To enable mobility for an entity you will need to go to Settings – Customization – Customize the System. Once the solution is displayed, expand the Entities option, and select the Entity you want. Under the Outlook & Mobile section, you will see two options that enable mobility for that entity, CRM for Phones and CRM for Tablets. (The tablet option also provides the ability to make the data read only if you want.) Once you have enabled Mobility, Publish your changes and those entities will now be available on the mobile client.

Mobile CRM Navigation

Once you have downloaded and installed the app, you will need to point it to the URL for the organization you want to work with. After it authenticates you, it will take you to the main dashboard for the app. The dashboard will display basic information on items that involve you such as your Activities, Open Opportunities, Leads, Accounts, etc.

Each section displays a small subset of the records in that list. You can either touch the record you want to work with, or click the heading for that list, and it will take you to the list where you will have access to all records in that view. If you swipe your finger from the bottom of the screen, an actions menu appears which gives you the ability to create new records for any entity that is mobile enabled.

In the upper left hand corner of the app, you will also find a Navigation control that will allow you to navigate to other areas of the application. When you touch the icon, a menu appears that lists all the specific entities you can access. Once you select an entity (ex. Accounts), the default view for that entity will display. The list will display all the records for the view that you have access to in the system. You can simply touch the record you want to work with, and it will open.

The record view uses a similar layout to the main dashboard. You can scroll right and left to view additional information on the record such as Business Process info, Activities, Notes, and other related records. If the record has any business process attached to it, the process will display in the upper right hand part of the screen. The current stage will be highlighted and noted with a flag icon on it. Touching any of the stages in the process will show you all of the steps involved in that specific stage. Any steps that are completed will be noted with a check mark, and any steps still waiting to be completed will have an arrow next to them.

CRM mobile app record sample

A Relationships section will also be the first section displayed on the form. This provides you access to any related items (Activities, Opportunities, Contacts, etc.) attached to the record. If you are, for example, working with an Account record, the Primary contacts' card is noted here, so you can touch it to open up the record if needed.

One neat thing about the Relationships section is the Email & Phone Call buttons that display next to the Primary Contact record. Touching either of those items, will open Outlook or Skype to create an e-mail or phone call record. It will also create the activity in CRM and attaches the activity to the record in which you are working.

Another feature I really like with the mobile client is the swipe feature on specific records. If you swipe from the bottom, you will get an actions menu specific to that record. If you find yourself going into a specific record often, the actions menu gives you the ability to pin the record to your start menu or to the main dashboard. This option can save you a ton of time as you work through the record.

The actions menu will give you the ability to add related records, switch the business process, as well as several other actions. When you choose to add a new record, it will open a quick form where you can capture the critical information about the record. Once saved, you also have the ability to touch the edit button to open up the actual detailed record view and capture any additional information you need.

Overall I really like what I see with the mobile app. I found it very easy to use and the learning curve to be very small. If you ever used the mobile express option in CRM 2011, you are really going to appreciate and love the new mobile app. If you would like to hear more on this or any other feature related to the Launch of CRM 2013, please contact one of our account executives.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Getting Granular with Security Policies and Procedures

Posted by Jeff Bolstad on Nov 1, 2013 5:28:00 PM

Secure NetworkIn our previous post, Tyler gave a great overview of different aspects of IT Security, and mentioned a top-down approach. Let’s look at IT Security as starting at the broadest point, security implementations that have a single point but affect the entire network. Then moving to devices and practices that affect the entire organization but have multiple points of implementation. And finally narrowing it down further to items that affect specific items, whether it is a unique group within the company, or specialized hardware and software.

A great place to start when reducing a network’s vulnerability is securing it against outside threats. There are a multitude of options that add a layer of protection. These options include hardware appliances such as firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, mail filters, and web filters. Some options can also be offered as part of a cloud-based solution. This is especially true of the last two items listed, but this also entails relinquishing a certain amount of control over these systems.

Moving down the list of possible security measures, there are a number of options that can be implemented and managed from a single point, but have multiple points of failure. Included in this group are more familiar methods like anti-virus and anti-malware products, user training, and application and operating system patches. I say multiple points of failure because protection can fail based on the individuals or machines. Anti-virus is one of the most common options mentioned when it comes to protecting a network, but it cannot protect a network alone. Proper configuration can go a long way in mitigating damage.

Network SecurityAn increasingly prevalent area of security concern is managing mobile devices. This becomes especially true as more users are allowed to bring personal devices into the workplace. This introduces concerns of lost or stolen devices, company data being exposed over an unsecured network, ownership of information, whose responsibility it is to support those devices, and separation of home/work functions on these devices. End user device policies help address a number of these issues, and services such as MAAS 360 allows for greater control and security over both corporate devices and those provided by the end user. Another option for mobile devices, predominantly laptops and tablets, are VPN connections back to the corporate network. These machines can also benefit from measures such as whole disk encryption and TPM.  These are all great possibilities for improving security, but are ineffective if employees don’t take the proper precautions as well.

Employees can make or break security as easily as anything. Proper training will mitigate a vast amount of problems you can encounter, provided employees adhere to the new policies. This includes proper procedures for securing unattended devices, procedures for reporting lost/stolen devices, and acceptable use of company resources. Having to spend five minutes talking to a user about an email attachment they’re unsure of beats two hours of cleaning up an infected machine, or worse an infected server.

Luckily, through the use of administrator defined policies, choices can be taken out of the hands of end users, preventing files in certain locations or with certain extensions from being executed, limiting access to potentially damaging websites, and limiting access to company data, among other options.

Network SecurityRemaining security measures should fall solely to IT ideally. These include user account security, server and application hardening and patching, and keeping third party applications properly patched. This can be achieved on a machine by machine basis or through the use of products such as WSUS and Shavlik.  Additionally, once these policies are in place, regular monitoring and review of polices should take place.

You can of course drill down into more and more specific security measures, but this must be balanced against the resources needed to implement them. Not all of these options are feasible for all organizations, but through identifying those with the greatest benefits, security can be vastly improved for a corporate environment. A regular review of your security measures will allow your security to evolve as the threats faced do.

If you have any questions about network security, please contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc. 

Topics: Technology Solutions, Security, Protection, Security Technologies, Firewall

Getting Serious About IT Security

Posted by Tyler Voegele on Oct 25, 2013 5:15:00 PM

We can all agree that the Internet, PCs, mobile devices, servers, and other equipment are essential to everyday business, and without them we would not be able to complete our work. Also, everyone knows by now the impact and multitude of viruses, malware infections, and even hackers that can affect our businesses. It's no secret to how much money can be spent on these problems to try to properly resolve them, so why don't we give it as much attention as any other area? We need to be more proactive in our view towards security. More often than not, the only time we think about security is when it is already too late.

Let’s take a look at some statistics to make more sense of how breaches are effected today:

IT SecurityIT SecurityIT Securityhttp://www.verizonenterprise.com/DBIR/2013/

What are your biggest concerns with IT security? Preventing data loss? Preventing outages? Keeping security up-to-date? To better understand you have to determine where your valued assets lie or maybe you want to focus more on certain parts of your business structure. I like to think of security in three seperate layers. It may be an oversimplification, but it's easier to understand where you should focus time and energy when starting to get serious about security. One of the first road blocks many people come to find when beginning to secure the entirety of their network is where extactly to start.

1. External Network/Edge Devices
2. Core Network/Server Structure
3. Endpoint Devices/BYOD 

As I mentioned, this is a very broad view into your network, and at some point we have to look at cost of dealing with security breaches and spending money to be more secure. Let’s say you want to go with the top-down approach. It is a more comprehensive strategy towards IT security and is definetly not the only way it can be done. I’ve outlined some key steps that I think are very important and the components that are involved in each step.

1.       Create Security Policies and Procedures

This is by far one of the most important and hardest steps you will do. You should create an overall security policy document, BYOD security policy, and determine an action plan for an overall security audit, and also establish a risk management framework and determine the level of risk the business is willing to tolerate. After developing these policies you have to train the staff to adhere to them. Training staff is equally as important as sticking to a training schedule.These documents should always be continuously updated to make sure you can adapt to future security needs. After completeing documenation and an action plan you’ll be better equiped at knowing where to spend time, focus resources, and tackle the big projects. Preparation and adaptiveness are the keys to security success.

2.       Inventory Equipment and Data

Finding old, outdated, or decommissioned equipment and replacing or removing it is important to keeping vulnerability out of the business. Eleminating unnecessary or old data, starting to keep track of what you have, and whether or not it is secure is important to keeping data loss to a minimum. Creating an inventory of what equipment is in the network and asset tagging equipment helps logging and maintentence which is the last step.

3.       Fix Secuirty Holes and Update Equipement

Run tests to see where the security flaws in your network are. Having external auditors run tests both internally and externally is a good idea. Updating software, firmware, operating systems, and antivirus are usually a top priority. Applying security patches when needed and creating secure configurations throughout the network is also important. Create a maintenance window for all equipment and devices you've done, getting up to date. Protect your network against external and internal attacks. Manage the network perimeter of devices at all locations. Create filters for unwanted access both internally and externally.

 4.       Harden Network Security

You’ve probably already documented the policies for most of this step. They may include locking down the operating system and software you run. Creating Group Policies for workstations, servers, and users might also be part of  your policies and is also important. Locking down firewalls and other network equipment is probably one of the most important steps to hardening your security. Why? At least 92% of attacks originate from the external facing part of your network. Put in place policies to disable features that allow users to either remove, disable, or inhibit the functions of a firewall and virus protection suite. Managing user privileges, management processes, and limiting the number of privileged accounts is important. Preventing data loss by creating secure backups is a must to save you in case of critical failures.

 5.       Protecting Mobile Users and Endpoint Devices

Securing users that authenticate from the external world is a must. PCs and other media used to access internal resources need to be as secure as the servers themselves. Manage risks related to the use, processing, storage, and transmission of information or data. Data needs to be kept safe and made sure it is not lost or stolen. Apply a security baseline to all devices. Protect the data in transit as well as outside the network. Those who log into the business through mobile means must have guidelines and restrictions in place to prevent any possible data loss.

 6.       Stabilize and Monitor

Establishing a monitoring strategy is important to maintain support of the policies you’ve created and preventing further exploits that could arise. Continuously monitor the network and analyze logs for unusual activity that could indicate an attack. This is were having an IDS or IPS helps immensly. Without de-emphasizing prevention, focus on better and faster detection through a mix of people, processes, and technology. Tentatively monitoring users can be the difference between pinpointing malicious intent whether intentional or unintentional. Further educate the users of the business to keep policies in check and to make sure they are understood.

IT Security
There is no way to absolutely prevent everything from happening. We can only strengthen our ability to try and detect, prevent, and fix threats that can slip through our defenses. Attackers don’t rely on a single tactic to breach your defenses and neither should you. Remember, there is no “one-size fits all” strategy and many of the things I am suggesting are a great start to a security plan you can implement.

Keep an eye out for the next security blog posts defining more detailed approaches to the top-down approach I explained in this post.

Questions? Comments? We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment or email us with your questions and we will gladly respond!

 Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Email Security, Network Security, Data Backup, Security, Security Technologies, Firewall

Wireless Data Security: How to Keep Your Wireless Devices Safe

Posted by Tyler Voegele on Oct 4, 2013 4:00:00 PM

wireless securitySince most of our work is done through wireless technologies like laptops, desktops, tablets, or other mobile devices, they need to be secured just as we take precautions with wired networks. Basic security includes the use of Service Set Identifiers (SSIDs), open or shared-key authentication and optional MAC address authentication. Each of these features has some level of access control and privacy, but they can be compromised by attackers as well.

Basic Security

SSID is a common network name for the Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN). By default, most access points broadcast the configured SSID in its beacon. Even if the broadcasting of the SSID is turned off, an attacker can detect the SSID through monitoring on a network. The first step you should always take, whether it is a home or business wireless setup, is to configure the SSID and hide it from broadcasting. When wireless technologies were first developed the need for security created the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol. This was the original encryption protocol developed for wireless networks. WEP encryption can use a pre-shared key to connect to your network. Due to security flaws in this encryption and how easily it can be cracked, it is recommended to use a different encryption. Some WLAN access points support authentication based on the physical address, or MAC address, of the client’s network interface card (NIC). MAC authentication can also be compromised as addresses can be mimicked, or spoofed, to gain access to the network. When configured, an access point will only allow client access if the MAC address matches its MAC address configured in the authentication table.

Advanced Security

The more secured forms of security include WPAv1 or WPA2. The WPAv1 (Wi-Fi Protected Access) security method, sometimes called WPA-personal, uses MIC (message integrity check) to ensure the integrity of messages, and TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) to enhance data encryption. TKIP uses the RC4 cipher with 128-bit keys for encryption and 64-bit keys for authentication. By encrypting data with a key that can be used only by the users, TKIP helps to ensure that only they can connect to the WLAN more securely. TKIP encryption can generate up to 280 trillion possible keys for a given data packet.

The WPA2 security method uses the more secure Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) cipher instead of the RC4 cipher used by WPA and WEP. Unlike WEP, which uses a key stream acting across a plaintext data input stream for encryption, AES encrypts bits in blocks of plaintext that are independently calculated. The AES standard specifies an AES block size of 128 bits with three possible key lengths 128, 192 and 256 bits. If you use older technologies it makes it that much easier for attackers to gain access to the network and data inside. Security algorithms such as WEP and WPAv1 can be cracked with readily available tools on the web.

Steps toward Better WLAN Security

So how do you best secure your wireless networks? The following suggestions can be the starting steps to helping you form a layer of security for your WLAN:

wireless securityUnique SSIDs and SSID Broadcast

Changing the SSID name may not seem important, but it helps prevent attackers from scanning for standard SSID names that vendors have for basic setup. A simple measure can also be taken to attempt to secure a wireless network by hiding the SSID from broadcasting to devices with wireless capabilities. This provides little protection against attackers but can avert casual intrusion methods.

Complex Passwords

Attackers can use cloud computing resources to test millions of passwords in minutes, so wireless password should be a considerable length and include special characters to make it harder for attackers to gain access. The more complex the password becomes, the harder it is for attackers to crack the password to gain access.

Authentications Strategy

You want to use the most secure and up-to-date authentication methods available such as WPA2. To prevent something like MAC address spoofing, you can set up MAC filtering to only allow authorized computers with the addresses you provide. If you are using WPA2-PSK you are using one of the most secure authentication methods available, but if you share the Pre-Shared Key with everyone, they may share it with others causing a security risk. Remember that any user, once authenticated, can see any of your network traffic. If an employee leaves the company, they may retain your network key—allowing them to later decrypt your traffic or access the network. For larger organizations it may be feasible to consider using a certificate-based authentication mechanism or server based authentication so that each user has their own managed credentials.

Manage Visitors and Restrict Traffic

If you are a business that needs to provide guest access, consider offering a separate network with restrictions on what guests can access. A hotspot registration portal can be an easy way to restrict access without a lot of administrative effort. Wireless solutions should enable you to easily deploy such networks, allowing visitors only access to the Internet and keeping them away from corporate services. There are also ways to separate their network traffic from your corporate network creating a VLAN (virtual LAN) when they are authenticated.

It should never be assumed that wireless networks are 100% secure. Those in regulated industries should consider additional monitoring techniques through IDS/IPS, NAC (Network Access Control) and log reviewing to ensure added layers of security and intrusion detection.

If you would like to know more about wireless and wireless security, contact your network security specialists at Network Center, Inc. today!

Contact NetWork Center, Inc. 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Mobility, Security, Security Technologies

Increase Effectiveness of Your Web Presence Using Website Analytics

Posted by Joe Dunnigan on Sep 13, 2013 4:59:00 PM

Google Analytics screenshotIt is uncommon today to find a business that does not have some sort of web presence, whether it is a simple site with a few pages of information, an interactive site with many features, or a full online store. Having a website means that customers have another way to locate and contact you, find information about your products and services, and use or order those products and services. Providing this resource is very important, but how do you know your investment is effective and that you are reaching your audience the way you intended? One valuable tool that helps you answer these questions and reach these goals is website traffic analytics.

Website analytics involves gathering anonymous statistics regarding visitors to your website. The number of visitors, return visits, how long they stayed on the site, and which pages they visited are just some of the statistics that can be made available. With this data, you can begin to determine if your site is being found through search engines, if people are easily finding the information they need, and where improvements can be made to assist your users in navigating your site.

There are many reasons why you might want to implement website analytics. Evaluating an investment in a new or existing web presence, and determining additional money that should be spent on that presence rely heavily on proper data that can be gathered by implementing an analytics package. There are many analytics package offerings, with some of the most popular packages being offered as free services. Google Analytics is the most popular free offering, and integrates well with other Google services, such as Google AdWords and Google Webmaster Tools. With a little help from your web hosting company or web development team, you can have analytics added to your site and begin gathering data.

Once you have analytics up and running, you can begin to review data. Simple statistics such as number of visits in a month, return visits, and time spent on the site can help determine if you are getting a return on your value. Reviewing data on most visited pages can help you determine what content on your site is most valuable to users, which may drive decisions on where to concentrate time in content or navigation improvements. Using advanced tools, you can track clicks through your site, helping to ensure that often-viewed content can be accessed quickly and easily.

Website VisitsAnalytics data can also provide information on where your users are geographically and what devices they are using to access your site. If you find that a large percentage of your users are coming from a certain geographical area and accessing information specific to that region, you could assist by making it easier to access that content; for instance, placing a graphic or link on your home page that would direct users to the highly-viewed content on your site. If you find that an increasing number of users are accessing your site from mobile devices, you may look at increased investment in mobile-friendly site content, or possibly even a mobile app.

In addition to website analytics, companies providing analytics services are incorporating mobile app analytics into their offerings. Implementing mobile app analytics can help you track your app offerings from search, to download, to usage. If you're curious if a new feature you just implemented in your app was worth the cost, plugging in analytics could be a quick way to verify the investment.

The availability and ease of implementation for analytics packages makes it a wise investment for many organizations, with a quick return on investment. If you're curious about the effectiveness of your web presence, adding website analytics is an easy decision.

If you have questions about website analytics, please contact NetWork Center, Inc. for more information.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc. 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Mobile App Development, Mobility, Website Analytics

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013: New Process Flow - Walk Through

Posted by Derik Bormann on Sep 6, 2013 5:00:00 PM

The new Business Process flow was one of the more exciting features of the Polaris release for Microsoft Dynamics CRM. This feature will also be included in the upcoming release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013. These new processes are different from the workflows and dialogs which we are currently using in CRM 2011. Both workflows and dialogs will still be included in CRM 2013.

What makes Business Processes different is that they can span multiple entities. Think about a traditional sales process. You will generally follow a path similar to this: Lead – Opportunity – Quote – Order – and so on. You are able to do this in CRM 2011, however, as you advance from one entity type to another, a new window is opened and the tasks and other items associated with the previous entity are not easily accessible. 

CRM Process Bar
With CRM 2013, a process is displayed across the top of the entity that you are currently working with. It shows all of the stages that are included with that process. Each stage will display all of the steps that are associated with that stage. As you complete the steps and advance through the different stages, the new entity associated with that stage is displayed inline on the current screen. This makes going back and looking at previous stages much more accessible because you can use the process bar to move to any of the previous stages inline on the form.

Within the process bar, you can also enter each piece of required information for that stage directly into the designated area. Once you have completed all of the steps in that stage, you can advance to the next stage by selecting one of the actions on the command bar. For example, if you wanted to close an opportunity, you can select either CLOSE AS WON or CLOSE AS LOST. A small drop-down screen appears for you toClose Opportunity enter the needed information. Once you have entered this information, you automatically advance to the next stage in the process. Stages that have been completed will still show in the process bar, and will have a lock icon next to them to show that it is completed. You can look at that stage at any time by clicking on it.

In addition, if you have customization privileges, you can edit the steps and stages associated with a Business Process by clicking the three dots at the end of the command bar, and choosing Edit <Process Name> Process. When you open the Process Control Customization Tool, you see all the stages and steps that are defined for the entire process. You also have the ability to view and edit them by each entity associated with the process. You can add or remove steps and stages as needed, and your Business Process will be updated once you save your changes.

Process Control CustomizationBusiness Processes will be available for most entities (including custom entities) in CRM 2013, and you can have multiple Processes defined for each of the entities based on your specific
needs. As CRM 2013 approaches they will be including additional functionality to this feature
that will allow users the ability to change the process associated with a record to a different process if needed, along with some other functionality.



Please contact NetWork Center, Inc. if you are interested in learning more about the CRM 2013 changes.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc. 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Enhancing the Customer Experience with Project Management

Posted by Jon Ryan on Aug 19, 2013 9:38:00 AM

technology project managementChanging your IT environment is an exciting experience for any company. However, it can also become a time of negative business impact and unpredictable risk. With multiple variables involved in implementing new technology into your environment, having an extensive plan for installation is critical.  Project Management lays the framework to keep the installation on time and within budget. Taking out a great deal of risk and threat of financial over-spending.

Let’s break it down from the beginning. A sales associate is working with the customer and engages his engineers to assess the situation and design a solution. When designing the solution for the customer, an installation plan needs to be created. This is where the project management begins. The installation plan is typically created in the form of an SOW (Scope of Work) or Project Scope. Based on the complexity of the scope a decision needs to be made. In smaller short term installations the engineer or sales associate can manage the installation. However, with longer term installations, a Project Manager can be engaged. So let’s say this is an install that needs a Project Manager to lead the installation and begin putting together a Project Plan.

The core components of a good Project Plan include; scope of work creation; scheduling; timeline and milestone documentation; budget awareness; progress updates (email or conference calls); strong documentation including change control documentation; and post completion review. While documentation is critical for the success, communication is the most important component to a successful project. Customers feel more comfortable with changes or delays as long as they are aware of them. With planning and close management, the possibility of delays or inaccuracies are reduced greatly.

project management success graphThere are many advantages of having a Project Manager versus trying to manage a project using various departments.

  1. Better Efficiency in Delivering Services: Project management provides a “roadmap” that is easily followed and leads to accurate project completion. Minimizing additional labor and time to complete a project.
  2. Increased Customer Satisfaction: Anytime you get a project done on time and under budget, the client walks away happy.
  3. Enhanced Effectiveness in Delivering Services: The same strategies that allowed you to successfully complete one project will serve as a blueprint for future projects.
  4. Improved Growth and Development Within your Team: Positive results encourage team members to embrace and leverage the project management process, building success for years to come.
  5. Greater Standing and Competitive Edge: Set yourself apart from your competitors not only on a deliverables standpoint but for the customer as well. Customers gain a competitive edge with more efficient installation of new technology.
  6. Opportunities to expand your Services: Offer more to your customers by selling products you normally wouldn’t be able to manage the installation of due to complexities in implementation.
  7. Better Flexibility: Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of project management is that it allows for flexibility. As a project changes, the use of change requests allows you to manage labor, time and cost while keeping the customer up to date through the entire process.
  8. Increased Risk Assessment: Having all aspects of a project monitored by a Project Manager allows you to address all sides of installation. This allows you to accurately predict issues and assess levels of risk.
  9. Increase in Quality: As project flow becomes more efficient, the quality of service you can offer your customers increases. Less time is spent correcting mistakes in the installation process.
  10. Increase in Quantity: Faster and more efficient project completion leads to more free time to do more installs.

Project management is being requested by more customers every day. In some cases the management of a project is just as important as the solution itself. If you are making a change to your IT infrastructure and want to experience the benefits of Project Management, you can find out more by contacting NetWork Center, Inc.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Managed Services

NetWork Center, Inc. Truly Appreciates Our Customers

Posted by Mark McQuillan on Aug 9, 2013 5:22:00 PM

Sarah with NCI customerWith the coming and going of this past 4th of July we find ourselves amidst another summer. That translates into two summer necessities: Baseball and Food. That tasty and entertaining combination laid the foundation for this year’s NetWork Center, Inc. Customer Appreciation Day on July 25th at the FM RedHawks game. We wanted to place an extra emphasis on our customers this year, so we ditched grilling the food in the parking lot (tailgating style) and let the FM RedHawks show off their catering skills while we spent that extra time with our customers. 

NCI Customer Appreciation RedHawks 2013

Prior to first pitch, we invited our customers to join us for some food and giveaways. We’re not sure if it was the seat cushions, can koozies, or just our charming personalities, but we had a great turnout for the lunch. It very well may have been the word “free” that lured them in as well, but at any rate, with the help of IBM and Cisco, we found ourselves kicking off another NetWork Center, Inc. Customer Appreciation Day. Equipped with new goodies, full stomachs, and some Hawk Bucks, our customers were armed and ready for a wonderful day at the park.

Bruce with NCI customer

Following lunch, our customers must have been under the spell of Mother Nature’s beauty and opted to enjoy America’s pastime as opposed to slaving away at the office. As the innings passed by we found our customers happily soaking up some sun and catching some peanuts and Cracker Jacks being tossed by impromptu stadium vendor Steve Stenerson (NCI Sales Manager).

RedHawks Post Game Concert Sponsor NetWork Center Inc resized 600

Not to steal the thunder from Steve, but the game itself may have been what kept the customers glued to their seats. In the middle of all the fun that was our Customer Appreciation Day, we found ourselves amassed in a nail biter of a game. Down two runs going into the bottom of the ninth, the RedHawks were able to string together a couple of hits, take advantage of a throwing error, and eventually found a little magic from a well-earned walk off home run to button down their 1,000th win. 

Steve with NCI customerWe would have never been able to plan a more perfect day for this event. Really what made this event great were the customers who made it all possible. Though the day was highlighted with a great game and weather, the employees of NetWork Center, Inc. were able to spend time with our customers and let them know how valuable they are to our business and how we hope to continue to build our relationships with each and every one of them.

As the RedHawks celebrated the milestone win we steered our customers to the beer garden for a post-game concert (sponsored by NetWork Center, Inc.) and in a harmonious fashion, the band “Off Duty” continued the celebration. After a few impressive dance moves and a few more UV rays were collected, we found ourselves closing out our Customer Appreciation Day.

Our customers are the focal point of all we do and we want them to know that they are appreciated every day. So from the bottom of our hearts…NetWork Center, Inc. wants to thank each and every one of you and let you know that you are truly appreciated!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc.

Dynamics CRM 2013 is on the Horizon!

Posted by Derik Bormann on Aug 2, 2013 6:12:00 PM

CRM keyThe newest release of Dynamics CRM (officially named Dynamics CRM 2013) is fast approaching and is slated for release in Q3/Q4 2013. CRM 2013 represents a major shift for the Dynamics CRM platform. It is shifting to a more process centric application. This shift will provide a unified experience across all platforms, including mobile. I wanted to take a few moments and provide a quick overview on some of the key changes that are coming.

Updated User Experience

The biggest change you will see with 2013 is that the user experience has been updated. In December, Microsoft rolled out the Polaris update to its online customers. This provided us with a small preview of what can be expected in CRM 2013. Navigating the application will be much easier and organizations will be able to take full advantage of the new business processes designer. The Command bar at the top of the application allows users to quickly navigate across multiple entities while staying in-line on the current record. 

CRM 2013 Features Overview

ACRM 2013 Screen Shots mentioned above, the biggest change with CRM 2013 is the move from an action driven application to process driven. This change will allow organizations to build their business practices directly into the application and have users easily navigate these processes from a central screen. CRM 2013 has many additional features that will support this functionality. 

Some of these features include:

  • Defining multiple processes per entity for greater customization (including custom entities).
  • Switching to different business processes on a record as it evolves.
  • Assigning business processes based on user roles.
  • Stage categories can link process stages across multiple business processes.
  • Business processes can span multiple entities.
  • Business processes available on mobile clients.
  • Process progress can be tracked.
  • Process definitions can be exported/imported across deployments.
  • The UI has changed to better support this process-centric experience.
  • Users can create new records or navigate to other entities directly from a business process.

Additional Items to Note

While the business process changes and the new UI are the two biggest changes you will see with CRM 2013, that is just the top level. There have been major changes to almost every area of the application. 

mobile CRM 2013Below I have listed just a few of the major changes to look for:

  • Auto Save: The Auto-Save introduced in Polaris has been enhanced in CRM 2013. 
  • Mobile Support: Expanded Mobile Access including: Windows, IOS, and Android.
  • Server Side Sync: Direct server-to-server syncing of e-mails, tasks, appointments, and contacts. 

As the rollout gets closer in the coming months, I will highlight specific options in greater detail. If you have any questions (upgrade paths and so on) please contact us to discuss this further.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc. 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Microsoft Dynamics CRM, technology training

Providing a Website for Mobile Devices

Posted by Joe Dunnigan on Jul 22, 2013 5:50:00 PM

make your site mobile friendlyIn today's mobile device-centric world, it is increasingly common for your customers to access your website from a mobile device. A quick check for account balance at a bank, reviewing a menu or specials at a restaurant, or directions to your office will often be checked from a phone while your customer is on the go. Providing your customers with quick, easy access to the information they need is important, but can take time to get right.

Many websites that have been around more than a year or two were built before mobile browsing was so commonplace, and may not account for these new browsing and information gathering trends. So, how do you update an existing website or create a new one that will serve both traditional PC users and mobile devices? There are a number of options available that can meet the needs of your organization and your customers.

Web technology continues to grow and change, and many of these technologies are being developed specifically to meet the needs of the mobile website developer. Developers have tools at their disposal now that allow a website to change its display depending on the type or size of the device the site is being viewed on. These tools enable a design approach called responsive web design. In a responsive web design, the layout of your site can change to bring important information into view quicker for a mobile user, while still retaining your normal site layout for standard web browsers.

responsive web designResponsive web design has quickly become a popular tool for developing new websites. Previously, it was common to provide a completely separate website for mobile users, with layout and content tailored to what the mobile user would be most likely to view on the site while on their phone or tablet. With the options provided by a responsive design, it will often be unnecessary to provide a separate site specifically for mobile users. This can ease time required to develop, update and maintain your web presence.

A responsive design will often be the best answer for developing a mobile-optimized site, but there will still be cases where you may require a separate and distinct mobile presence. E-commerce sites, for instance, may be better suited to a mobile version of the site that makes finding and purchasing products easier from a mobile device. Due to the complexity of a large e-commerce store offering, a responsive design may not be feasible, or may add development time that would not be required for a separate mobile-centric site.

mobile app developmentYet another option for reaching mobile customers is a mobile app. Responsive and mobile-specific websites can meet many needs, but specific use cases may warrant the need for an app. Mobile apps can also be a great marketing tool, increasing your company's visibility to another segment of your customer base. A mobile app can allow you to take advantage of advanced features on the client device, such as GPS, notifications, built-in mapping functions, and more. Providing a mobile app can provide great benefits for you customers, but can be costly and time consuming to produce, so your use cases and benefits should be closely examined before deciding to make the decision to move forward.

When updating an existing website or creating a fresh web presence, knowing what information your users are looking for, or what tasks they are performing on your site, is important to know. Analytics tools that monitor visits to your site will help you determine how many mobile users you are attracting to your site, what content they are viewing, and how they are getting there. With this information, you can bring the information and function they need quicker, through site organization, menu options, and other navigation techniques.

The mobile era is here, and keeping pace with these new technologies will help you to provide the value your customers expect. The advent of responsive design, mobile apps and in-depth analytics can help make your site a mobile friendly experience.

We would be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding your website, responsive design, or mobile apps. 

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Mobile App Development, Mobility

Additional Security Through Two-Factor Authentication

Posted by Tyler Voegele on Jul 12, 2013 5:12:00 PM

Two-factor authentication is a security process which means exactly that; two means of authentication. Simply put, it's something you "know" (like your password) along with something you "have" (such as your phone). In most recent web services typically you are first prompted for the password, and then texted a secondary pin or code to enter. A common example of two-factor authentication would be a debit card used at an ATM: the card itself is what you “have” and the personal identification number (PIN) is what you “know.”

Two-factor authentication could lower the cases of online identity theft, phishing expeditions, and other online fraud, because the attacker would need more than just the user’s name, passwords, or security questions. It is much harder to obtain information from something you “have.”  Two-factor authentication is not immune from attackers either. Hackers can still exploit the codes sent to your phone via SMS by using a man-in-the-middle attack. You could also be exploited if you had any form of malware on your mobile device. Though it can be exploited it is still a much safer way to secure yourself online than not using two-factor authentication at all.

So where can you use it? Unfortunately, not all web services have yet to adopt two-factor authentication into their security, but many you use might already have. A few include:

                *Google/Gmail

                *LastPass

                *Apple

                *Facebook

                *Twitter

                *DropBox

                *LinkedIn

                *Evernote

                *Yahoo!Mail

                *SkyDrive

                *Amazon

Of course, there are others and each day more and more web services are adding the option. Enabling two-factor authentication on most web services is very simple. For example, if you wanted to enable Google's two factor authentication you would start at the settings. There is an area for authentication that you can enter your phone number for it to send the authorization codes to. After that you verify that your phone received the code and you've enabled two-factor authentication! 

Two-Factor Authentication

(I used Jenny’s phone number for security reasons!)

Sometimes with security you will get more steps and have to go through a longer process, but if you are concerned about your security enough then you should enable two-factor authentication everywhere you can. If an attacker can access a password you use on multiple accounts it can be easy for them to access everything you have.

Not only are online based services implementing this security measure but security companies are offering it for the local environment as well. Security companies like ESET are offering two-factor authentication and ways to incorporate it into your own environment. Most of them integrate with Microsoft Management Console and Active Directory Users & Computers. So not only can you use two-factor authentication in the cloud, but you could also pair it with your environment.

Even Microsoft is trying to dip its services into the two-factor realm. Microsoft Azure with Active Authentication is a new service in preview which secures the hosted applications such as Office 365 with two-factor authentication. Active Authentication enables two-factor authentication for users stored on the Azure-based version of Active Directory, and helps secure access to Office 365, Windows Azure, Dynamics CRM Online as well as other apps that are integrated with the hosted directory service.

Just enabling this authentication might one day help you against attacks similar to ones made to Evernote and LinkedIn. Ideally, we want to have the most secure way of logging into our services, and two-factor authentication is a step towards a more secure world that’s moving into the cloud. 

We would be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding two-factor authentication. 

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc.

Finding the Right Fit for Employee Training

Posted by Sarah Jelinek on Jul 5, 2013 5:11:00 PM

blended learning word cloudWhen you explore training options for your company, you will find there are a variety of training methods. With so many options, it begs the question: “Which one do I choose?” Who says you have to choose just one? Each method has advantages over the other. Let’s explore some of the options and how they can work for your employees:

Instructor Led Training

This method has been popular since preschool and kindergarten. We have all had a teacher or instructor lead a class and deliver courseware, curriculum or training to those in attendance. It is how we all started to learn. This method includes different types of training such as classroom, on-line group training, video conferencing and on the job coaching. Let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of each type:

instructor led trainingClassroom 

This type of training is developed quickly, easy to revise and offers face-to-face contact. It does offer difficulties with scheduling and travel costs if you have attendees traveling from other locations. Also, each class has the potential to be different based on the dynamic of the people in attendance.

On-line Group Training

Similar to classroom training, on-line group training can be developed quickly. An advantage over classroom training is there are no travel costs for the instructor or the attendees. On-line group training does not offer face-to-face contact and does require computer equipment for all attending and the instructor.

Videoconferencing

The type also includes video/on-line training as well. It is a preferred option for people that need to support large groups of attendees across multiple sites. Travel costs may possibly be eliminated as well. Videoconferencing may provide a challenge for logistics and equipment costs but with advancing technology, there are many vendors that offer affordable solutions.

On the Job Coaching

This is the most effective type of training in regards to knowledge transfer as it is related to the trainee’s job and allows for face-to-fact contact. Similar to classroom training, it can differ from session to session and instructor to instructor. It is also costly in terms of instructor-to-trainee ratio.

learning key with booksSelf-Directed Training

This is a method that continues to grow in momentum. It is very accommodating for companies that do not want to deal with scheduling conflicts for attendees. Trainees also do not need to worry about keeping pace with others in class. This method includes types such as all on-line training, web-based training, printed material and CD-ROM/DVD.

All On-Line Training

Convenience is one of the major advantages as it not only allows attendees to set their own pace but also provides convenient access to the training.  The training is consistent every time and can be reused.  This type of training requires computer equipment and can require longer development time.

employee training optionsWeb-Based Training

Web-based training is one of the easier types of training to modify. Depending on the trainee’s equipment and connectivity, limited bandwidth may cause slow download times.

Printed Material

There is nothing like turning a page in a book. Printed material provides portability to the reader. Electronic versions of the material provides even more portability with the popularity of e-readers, tablets and smartphones. Trainees can set their own pace with material that can be developed quickly. Some trainees might find it less interesting due to no interaction and it can be difficult to modify. Many find it is a great supplement to other training types.

CD-ROM/DVD

Similar to all self-directed training types, this delivery type offers consistent training where trainees control the pace. They can also share copies with others. It can be difficult to modify, costly to develop and requires appropriate playback equipment.
 

This is a small assortment of options available to you when finalizing training for your employees. Everyone has their own opinion on which method they like best or find is the most effective for them to learn. Our training department can help you find the right method or combination of methods that fit best for your learning goals. We can also assist in the development and deployment of training for your company. Contact us today to find out more.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., technology training

NetWork Center, Inc. Celebrates Fargo Office Remodel

Posted by Angie Ryan on Jun 24, 2013 4:35:00 PM

NCI Chamber Ribbon Cutting 6 20 13On Thursday, June 20th we celebrated our Fargo office remodel with the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce. We held an open house complete with a Chamber ribbon cutting celebration, tours of our building and breakfast.

The ribbon cutting was led by our very own Sales Associate Andrew McKenzie who just so happens to be a FMWF Chamber Ambassador. Andrew passed the baton to our President Ben Carlsrud who explained the many updates that were made to our Fargo office building and why we were so proud to celebrate the remodel.

These updates include:

  • Expanded area for our Help Desk technicians
  • New carpet on both floors
  • New cubicles and standing workstations for service and Help Desk team members
  • Fresh coat of paint on both first and second floors
  • Additional sales team member offices and updated cubicles on the second floor
  • Updated lobby design with NetWork Center, Inc. logo wall mount
  • Built in reception desk and new reception area furniture 

NetWork Center Inc. Before and After Photos resized 600

After Ben expressed his thanks for the many customers, partners, vendors, Chamber ambassadors and NCI team members in attendance, he introduced our Sales Manager Steve Stenerson. Steve shared his excitement for our growing team and how this remodel will provide a better work environment for our employees and allow us to better serve our customer's needs. 

NCI Chamber Ribbon Cutting Celebration 6 20 13 resized 600The ribbon was then rolled out by the Chamber and cut by seven of our employees representing various departments: Sean Todd, Help Desk; Angie Ryan, Marketing; Steve Stenerson, Sales; Ben Carlsrud, President & Service Manager; Mark McQuillan, Accounting; Brett Anderson, Interactive Services; Brad Maczkowicz, Business Development. 

After the ribbon cutting ceremony, attendees enjoyed breakfast and tours of our office. We heard very positive feedback from customers as well as partners and Chamber ambassadors. If you were unable to attend our open house, we welcome you to come by for a visit. Any one of our team members would gladly give you a tour. 

Open House June 2013 resized 600While on your tour, feel free to ask our team members what their favorite part of working at NetWork Center, Inc. is. I'm willing to bet they will tell you our company culture. Personally, I'm proud to work for an organization that provides employees the freedom to achieve their career goals through encouragement, education and advancement. I truly believe each and every employee exemplifies our core values: Commitment to Employees. Dedication to Customers. Responsible Innovation. 

NetWork Center, Inc. understands the importance of investing in employees, and in return, employees invest their time and hearts into helping clients solve their technology needs. 

Contact us today if you would like a tour of our recently remodeled Fargo office or if you have any questions regarding our organization. 

 Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Managed Services

Managing Company Data on Employee Owned Devices

Posted by Joe Dunnigan on Jun 13, 2013 5:10:00 PM

MDMIn the continued drive to help businesses deal with employee-owned devices being used to connect to company resources, industry leaders have been debuting new products that provide solutions to the issues of securing and managing data and access.

Mobile Device Management (MDM) is becoming very common in the workplace, allowing companies to manage devices that are given to employees, as well as secure data such as email and documents that are being accessed from employee-owned devices. Companies can track devices they own, securely distribute documents and company applications, set email and secure access configurations, and wipe sensitive data from any enrolled device if the device is lost or stolen.

New tools being offered by many of the top MDM solutions now allow complete separation of work and personal data. Employees are provided a secure application that loads company email and documents, and removes the ability to move data between this secure location and personal applications installed on the device. The interface maintains many similarities to existing mail and document applications, giving users a familiar experience. Early device support includes the iOS and Android platforms.

Device makers are also starting to offer solutions for separation of work and personal data. With the debut of the Blackberry Z10, Blackberry maker RIM introduced Balance, which provides a secure space for work files, email, corporate network access, and more. The use of Balance is transparent to the user, with minimal learning curve. RIM is also offering some features of this software for Android and iOS devices through their Blackberry Enterprise Server technologies.

mobile device managementSimilar to Balance, Samsung has recently introduced Knox, which aims to provide similar features to that of Blackberry Balance and MDM software. Samsung is also working with MDM software providers to ensure their Knox software will be compatible with investments businesses have already made in mobile device management software. In addition, the Department of Defense recently finished testing and approved Knox-enabled devices for use on DoD networks. This puts Samsung in the same space as Blackberry, which has enjoyed DoD approval for some time, along with iOS devices, which are seeing some approval and adoption in secure government usage.

Android maker Google has also implemented user profile support natively in their recent software updates. These features are most commonly available in Android tablets, allowing multiple user profiles to exist on a single device. These profiles can be used to separate work and personal data, as well as create separate areas for family members to keep individual apps, email, and other user data.

With the growing availability of options for managing company data on employee-owned devices, it is important to develop a policy that details how data will be secured, and to identify the technologies and products that will be used to achieve those goals. With so many options, it should be possible to find and implement the solution that fits your business needs!

If you have any questions regarding MDM, feel free to contact our NetWork Center, Inc. team. 

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Mobility, Mobile Device Management

Product Release: Veeam Backup and Replication v7

Posted by Mike Pagan on Jun 3, 2013 5:05:00 PM

Veeam v7This week I thought I would preview an upcoming release to a product you may have already used or reviewed for your network; Veeam Backup and Replication v7.

If you’re not familiar with the product, the elevator pitch is that Veeam Backup & Replication is a business continuity product that protects VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V virtual machines through bare metal backups and virtual machine replication.

At NetWork Center,Inc. we have used Veeam frequently with our VMware virtualization customers to displace agent based backup software and to assist in creating a disaster recovery plan that meets the recovery time objectives of modern businesses. 

Veeam Backup and Replication has performed as we well in both of those areas but there were a few shortcomings that have started to be addressed in the upcoming version. Other than the typical bug fixes and interface tweaks, there are seven new features and two new “disruptive” innovations that Veeam is including in their new version listed below.  

  1. vCloud Director SupportData backup and recovery
  2. vSphere Web Client Integration
  3. Veeam Explorer for Microsoft SharePoint
  4. Virtual Lab for Hyper-V
  5. Native Tape Support
  6. Enhanced 1-Click Restore
  7. Virtual Lab for Replicas

Two new features:

  1. Built-in WAN Acceleration
  2. Backup from Storage Snapshots (for HP SANs)

For more information about the new features, check out Veeam’s product announcement page: http://go.veeam.com/v7?ad=pp

I will highlight the new functionality that I find the most interesting personally and the most relevant to our customers.

  • vCloud Director – Most of us have not had much (if any) exposure to VMware’s Cloud Director so on the surface this feature does not seem like it would add any benefit for us in the SMB market. The usefulness of vCloud Directory support comes from the emerging disaster recovery as a service market, which allows for customers to replicate their VMs to a cloud service provider instead of to a remote branch or other private hosted environment.
  • vSphere Web Client – The vSphere Web Client will become the de facto management tool for vSphere environments in the near future so if you are already using the web client, you can manage your Veeam Backup and Replication software in the same window.
  • Veeam Explorer for SharePoint – Veeam has added single item recovery for SharePoint to this release. This simplifies SharePoint data protection and eliminate the need for a separate 3rd party backup product to accomplish the same tasks.
  • Native tape support – It is likely that you have a tape drive gathering dust in the IT boneyard, now you can use it to archive your VM backups. A backup to tape job will archive an individual VM or an entire backup repository. Additionally, the ability to backup individual files from virtual or PHYSICAL servers has been included. This closes a major gap in data protection for organizations that haven’t been fully virtualized.
  • Built in WAN acceleration – “I would replicate all of my VMs, but I don’t have enough bandwidth.” Does this sound familiar? With Veeam Backup and Replication v7 they are adding a WAN Acceleration feature to the new Enterprise Plus licensing tier. There is a new type of backup jobs called Backup Copy that will utilize the WAN Acceleration AND allow for grandfather/father/son levels of data retention. 

Veeam estimates that the backup job transfer will be up to 50 times faster than a traditional data transfer. WAN Acceleration will initially only be for Backup Copy jobs, but will be available for replication jobs in a future release.

When I found out that the WAN Acceleration feature was a part of the new licensing tier (Enterprise Plus) I reached out to Veeam to find out more regarding the new licensing model.  I was told that current Enterprise edition customers and customers who purchased Enterprise licensing before July 1st can upgrade to Enterprise Plus for free. This will give Enterprise customers access to the WAN Acceleration feature at no additional cost.

In the coming weeks I hope to get my hands on Veeam Backup & Replication v7 so I can put it through its paces to try out of the new features. If you have any questions regarding the new features or Veeam pricing, feel free to reach out your contacts at NetWork Center, Inc. and we’ll be happy to assist in any way we can.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Data Backup

Mobile Security 101

Posted by Tyler Voegele on May 17, 2013 5:04:00 PM

mobile device securityWhat is mobile security to you? You hear people talk about security on PCs and laptops, but what about the new wave of technology that is taking over the corporate world? Smart phones, tablets, and other mobile devices are becoming more prevalent and sometimes even our main communication tools. We plan, organize, work, and input all of our data on these devices as we do with PCs and laptops. We are moving to a mobile age, and may soon be working solely with mobile devices instead of our standard PCs and laptops.

What do you keep on your phone? How do you keep it secure? I’ll provide some statistics from Consumer Reports to give you a better idea of mobile security today. Over 39% of the more than 100 million Americans fail to take even minimal efforts to protect their smartphone and their data; 64% don't even have a simple screen lock, 69% do not back up data, 79% have yet to install an app to locate a missing phone, and 92% have not installed an app to remotely wipe data in case of loss or theft.

Most of us feel pretty comfortable in the fact that we take and keep our phones close by anywhere, but in the past year alone over 7.1 million smart phones were irreparably damaged, lost, or stolen and never recovered. Now that you've got a number to associate with the problem, imagine how much data you store on your phone. What could a malicious user possibly learn from you if your device was lost or stolen? Bank account transactions and passwords? Contact and location information? Personal emails and access to social mediums? We store about as much information as we do in our mobile devices, if not more, than our PCs or laptops. So now you may be asking what steps you should take to make sure your mobile devices are safe and secure.

Iphone5 Security Image

Create a secure password instead of using the default security locks on the phone.

It takes almost no effort at all to crack a 4 number password combination or other security measure on a smart phone. You need to make sure if you want to stay secure you'll need a stronger security lock password.

Stay cautious of mobile purchases when Wi-Fi is on.

When roaming with your Wi-Fi on your smart phone or mobile device, it will automatically connect with any Wi-Fi in range and without an encryption password. If you decide to use your phone while connected you could be vulnerable to other users on that network. Even worse, a malicious individual could host a wireless connection point and make "false" websites to most popular banking websites, Facebook, and other sites you may enter personal data in. Making sure you are connected to a secure and trustable Wi-Fi network is essential to your mobile security.

Keep your phone locked when you’re not using it.

This may seem like a no brainer, but many of us may often forget to lock our mobile devices and if someone picked it up the secure passcode would be useless.

Make sure you download apps that are reputable and watch for those that have been known to carry malware.

Malware is becoming a larger issue on mobile phones. Just like any other device, you can infect your mobile device just as simply as downloading an app with malicious code. With access to all of your data, passwords, and even location there is nothing a malicious individual couldn't find out. 30% of users using PCs and laptops have malicious programs or malware on them, and while 5% of mobile users doesn't seem like much, it is still cause for caution. A lot of antivirus and security companies are developing apps to protect your phone also.

Mobile security word cloudRemember to download any manufacturer’s updates to your device in a timely way.

When you download the latest updates for your devices you are protecting yourself from any vulnerabilities or bugs in the software that could be a security risk for you. Usually before you update it will often tell you what it is fixing in your mobile device.

Learn how to read and understand Terms of Service and Permission Agreement screens.

This is important when downloading applications onto your mobile device. What does this app do, what does it need to access on the phone, and why does it need to access the things it needs? These are all questions you should ask when agreeing to let the application use most of the services or data you have accompanied with your mobile device. You may be sharing more data with companies you use than you realize. Location tracking is a service that a lot of mobile apps use on your phone even if it isn't necessarily needed.

Only make financial transactions on secured sites.

This is also something that you probably already look for when using PCs and laptops, and just as important on your mobile device. It is much easier to make purchases from anywhere and anytime with our mobile devices, but using unsecured sites or malicious sites while roaming is always something you need to watch out for.

These are just a few scenarios you can look at to better secure yourself in the ever encompassing mobile world. There are applications out there that secure our devices and more and more are developed each day. If you would like additional information about mobile security in the corporate environment you can contact us at 1-800-723-5353. Talk to our representatives today and learn how you can keep your mobile life secure!

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Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Mobility, Mobile Device Management

New Tools for Developers in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011

Posted by Derik Bormann on May 10, 2013 3:10:00 PM

MS CRM 2011Back in February and March, I wrote about many of the new front end changes that were included in the December 2012 update release for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online called Polaris. These changes were geared to end users and reflected changes to how the application is presented to users.

In this blog post, I want to talk about some behind the scenes changes that are geared towards developers who are extending the out-of-the-box Microsoft Dynamics CRM functionality. The first is a new method that you can use if you are trying to execute bulk jobs against CRM. The way CRM is currently designed, it can be somewhat chatty. If you are trying to execute a bulk operation to insert multiple records into a CRM database, the requests are executed individually which results in a lot of round trips.

The CRM SDK now includes the ExecuteMultipleRequest method. It accepts an input collection of message requests, executes each of the message requests in the order they appear in the collection, and optionally returns a collection of responses containing each message’s response or the error that occurred. The result of this request is more records being created in a shorter amount of time.  In one test I ran, it took about 45 seconds to import 250 records to a CRM online instance using the old methods. By using the ExecuteMultipleRequest I was able to import 250 records to an online instance in about 7 seconds. This was a huge performance increase when compared to the old method.

CRM word cloudAnother new feature is RetrieveMetadataChangesRequest. It contains a query parameter that accepts an EntityQueryExpression instance that you can use to specify specific criteria for the data to return in addition to which properties you want. The EntityQueryExpression.criteria property accepts a MetadataFilterExpression that contains a collection of MetadataConditionExpression objects that allow for defining conditions for filtering entity properties based on their value.

Prior to this release, developers were able to create custom workflow activities that could be used as an action in CRM 2011. Because you were not able to register these workflow activities to the “Sandbox” they did not work with CRM online. With the new update release you can now register these activities to the sandbox and are able to use them with CRM online. The CRM Developer Toolkit Add-In now offers support for Visual Studio 2012. By using the Toolkit, developers have access to Project templates for common CRM project types, reusable code for plug-ins, and contain a CRM explorer for viewing CRM solution components from within Visual Studio.

If you are interested in learning more about how these new features can help you in extending your Dynamics CRM deployment, please contact us for additional information.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Microsoft Dynamics CRM

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

Get the Most Out of Your Employees - By Training Them

Posted by Sarah Jelinek on Apr 26, 2013 4:57:00 PM

Technology trainingOn a recent flight, I had the opportunity to sit across the aisle from a gentleman that was working on his laptop. He powered it on and proceeded to open Microsoft Excel and a workbook. I did not look at his worksheet or the details but instead at how he was moving within the application.

As an instructor, I demonstrate the most efficient ways for users to get their job done using software, hardware or soft skills. I analyze how a user currently works in the system or what they need to get done and find a method that works best for them. In the example of this individual, I came to a disappointing conclusion.

Technology failed this gentleman. He finished inputting his data into the worksheet and then pulled out a calculator to add up the numbers he just finished entering. Then he typed the total from his calculator into the worksheet. He entered the same numbers twice into two different tools and doubled the amount of time it took to get the job done.

He was only doing what he knew and was trying to get his job done. He was either untrusting or unaware of the powerful analytical functions of Excel. One of the first things we show users in Excel is how to enter data and how to perform simple calculations like adding or averaging numbers.

How did technology fail this gentleman? What could be done to ensure he gets the most efficient use of the tools provided to him? The answer is clear:

Training

Training

It shows great perseverance when someone takes on a task without any help or guidance and gets the job done. However, if they continue to do this job in an inefficient manner, in the long run, he or she will end up losing more time and money than it would have cost for training.

Some think they do not need to attend training. Many times these people attend a class and are surprised to find they do learn something new. Whether it be a new feature of the software or a more efficient process.

I know what you are thinking, here come the arguments as to why you cannot implement training in your organization.  I am going to take your doubts and arguments and refute them.  Let’s use Microsoft Office training as an example:

I can’t afford to send my employees to training.

It depends on how you deliver or offer the training to your employees. If you plan to send them to a conference in Hawaii for a week, then yes it will be expensive. NetWork Center, Inc. can come to your office or place of business and deliver training to your employees onsite.  We can also deliver training remotely using an online meeting tool. Teneo Online Learning is also a valid and cost effective option.

I can’t send everyone to training, the needs of my customers come first.

I completely agree with you in regards to your customers’ needs always coming first. Many of our classes are in shorter increments of 2-4 hours. We can run the same session multiple times a day to ensure that you are adequately staffed. We can deliver custom training sessions that cover only the topics that apply to your business so the time in training is used wisely.

We don’t have enough time in the day to allocate 2-4 hours for a class.

This is where Teneo Online Learning will help your organization. You and your users can pick the topics you want to cover. You can then watch those topics in training videos that range anywhere from 2-7 minutes long and view them as many times as you need to. With tip sheets that provide step-by-step instructions, you are able to not only read how to do something in Microsoft Office, but also see it in action.

If you have any questions or concerns about how to incorporate training in your organization, contact our training department at NetWork Center, Inc. 

Contact Us Today!

 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., technology training

Features & Benefits of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

Posted by Jeremy Hostrup on Apr 19, 2013 5:10:00 PM

VoIP phone systemMany companies are making the transition to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems. There are many features and benefits that companies can gain by making the transition to VoIP. One of the main benefits of VoIP is the reduced costs of add’s, move’s and change’s. The average cost of add’s, move’s, or change’s with digital/analog phone systems can vary but are generally more expensive than with a VoIP phone system. Some of the advantages of using a VoIP system include: remote phone access, easy integration with call recording software, instant messaging, voicemail, call center software, ability to easily tie together multiple sites over a WAN, toll bypass, and extension mobility.

With an analog phone system it is not generally possible for someone to take the phone off their desk, bring it home and have that phone work like they were sitting at their desk. With VoIP this is made possible with a few configuration changes on the firewall and the phone system. After the configuration changes are made, the phone will create a VPN tunnel to the phone system through the firewall and will work like it’s in the office from basically anywhere with an internet connection.  Another way this is possible with a VoIP system is with the use of a soft phone and VPN from the user’s computer. (A softphone is a piece of software that is installed on a PC that has most of the functions of an IP phone.) Since most users already have VPN on their computers for offsite access, it is easy to install a softphone and connect that back to the office.

voip business phone system resized 600Most VoIP phone systems have the ability to integrate very easily with call recording software, instant messaging, voicemail, and call center software. With call recording software, you could have a server that was dedicated to recording phone calls for a call center for auditing purposes. Instant messaging software can also be tied into a VoIP phone system so that users can see if someone is on the phone, make a phone call from their desktop, or click a number on their computer and have their desk phone call the number. In addition, voicemail comes with many VoIP phone systems and can be integrated directly into email for a single place to manage all messages. Call center software can be used to provide call queuing for customer service needs.

Toll bypass or tail end hop off (TEHO) is easy to implement with a VoIP phone system. An example would be if you have an office in California and one in Delaware, you could configure the VoIP system so you have 4 digit dialing between the offices. Then if you were to dial the Delaware office from the California office, it would be considered local, allowing you to avoid long distance charges.

VoIP advantagesExtension mobility allows a user to log out of their phone and log into any other phone connected to the VoIP phone system. This allows a user to go between locations or offices and maintain their extension and preferences. This is very useful if you have people that use the same desk on different shifts or if you have personnel that travel between offices.

There are many features and functionality that can be leveraged from current VoIP systems to give your business the ability to communicate better internally as well as providing a better experience for your customers. If you have any questions in how a VoIP solution could better help your business please don’t hesitate to contact us by clicking on the contact us button below.

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Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., VoIP

Disk-to-Disk Backup Strategies

Posted by Ben Carlsrud on Apr 12, 2013 4:25:00 PM

disk backupBackup solutions traditionally have used tape which has been labeled as being unreliable and difficult to manage. There are many day to day tasks that need to be done to make a tape solution successful and those pains are what are leading us to leverage disk as our backup media in place of tape. There are other options, but this blog is going to discuss Disk-to-Disk backups and offsite replication methodologies. 

Disk-to-Disk is a technology that people love to say takes all the pain out of a backup solution. Get rid of your tapes because disk is faster, more reliable, easier to work with and less prone to having problems. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. It’s a matter of how they are implemented, and if implemented poorly, you could end up with disastrous results. 

Disk is a great media to work with and with the ease of attaching and detaching hard drives we can see how this may reduce some of the pains felt with tape. The thing to keep in mind is that disk is just a type of media. It doesn’t reduce the need to have archival software and retention policies. It’s not a silver bullet that just makes the processes and procedures that we have with tape go away. I’ve seen a number of solutions that toss the tapes in the garbage, buy some storage, plug it in and forget about it. This might sound great and allow more time to enjoy a coffee in the morning but at some point it will lead to a resume generating event (time to find a new job).

Two items that need to be discussed about Disk-to-Disk backups are how we replicate data offsite and how we achieve a long term archival strategy. These are the same discussions we have about tape but it usually adds more complexity to the backup process. These processes are more automated making the day to day tasks easier for an administrator but need to be properly designed to be successful.

One method to leverage disk technology is purchase as many externally attached disks as you have tapes. Every day you unplug a hard drive that was used last night and plug a new hard drive in for the next nightly backup. You would still use the archival software used when backing up to tape but just change where backups are being written to. Sounds and feels a lot like swapping tapes because it is. We aren’t changing processes and procedures, just the media itself. You still have to follow all the rules you did previously. 

Another option is to use a NAS (Network Attached Storage) as your disk solution. A NAS is a device that has a large amount of storage that attaches to the network. We use the same archival software that was used for tape but just change where we are writing the backups to. We no longer have the day to day tasks of managing and swapping media, but we are also not taking the backups offsite. The size of the NAS could also be an issue allowing us only to be able to store a few days of backups, and not allowing for long term archival. How do we restore if something happens at the location the device is housed? We are not only concerned about natural disasters like floods, fires and tornadoes, but a hardware failure within the NAS that could compromise the integrity of the data. All of your eggs are in one basket and we have to get the data offsite.

Replicating data offsite is easier said than done. First you must have a secondary location to replicate to. It could be a remote office or with a vendor that provides this type of service.  There also needs to be appropriate bandwidth to make this work. The issue of bandwidth has to do with how much data we are replicating each night and over the weekend. Our window has to be such that the backup can complete and replicate to the remote location while not interfering with daily business. The data also needs to completely replicate to the secondary location before the next replication starts otherwise we have a scenario where the backups between the main location and the second location are not able to synchronize completely.  We may find that the bandwidth needed is not available or is too costly. 

Bandwidth is almost always an issue and we need to do something to help shrink the backup size to better utilize our bandwidth and allow us to replicate our data a timely manner.  Compression is one method used so the backup uses less space. Another method is to perform Data De-Duplication on the backup set. Data De-Duplication is the process of only backing up the changes that occur to a file and not the whole file itself. In a traditional backup if you make a change to a Word Document the whole document is backed up.  Data De-Duplication only backups the changes made to that file so if the file was 10MB in size the traditional solution would backup 10MB where as the De-Duplication solution would only backup a few bytes. Data De-Duplication can also compare backups to see if there are similar files spread across those backups. Many times a word document will be received by people and those people may save that file to their home directories thus creating multiple copies of the same file. In a traditional backup all those files would then be backed up but with Data De-Duplication only one instance is backed up. Using compression and Data De-Duplication we can greatly shrink the size of our backups allowing for efficient and timely replication. This also allows for longer backup retention as the overall size of the backups are shrinking even though we are backing up the same amount of data.

The last option is an appliance, much like a NAS, that is made specifically for Disk-to-Disk backups. It has the backups written to it, compresses the data, performs Data De-Duplication, replicates it to another device at a secondary location, and then has the ability to restore the data from the remote device easily. It takes all the processes and procedures that are needed and automates them. It uses bandwidth more efficiently allowing for a better replication. It allows for a long term archival strategy. These appliances make a Disk-to-Disk solution successful but they do not come without drawbacks. One of these drawbacks is if a major change is made at the main location there may not be enough bandwidth and time available to replicate the new data to the remote location and a process of bringing the remote site and the main site back together would need to be performed.

As shown there are many different options when it comes to replacing tape with disk but they each come with their own positives and negatives. Any changes from a tape to disk based backup need to be well planned and designed to allow for a complete and successful backup solution. Feel free to contact us with any questions you have regarding disk backup. 

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Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc.

Your Unknown Vulnerability: Password Security

Posted by Tyler Voegele on Apr 5, 2013 5:00:00 PM

common security mistakes password resized 600In today's heavily based world of online activity one often overlooks the fact that the vulnerability of your business and personal IT security lies in the strength or weakness of your password. Many of you may have heard about the online services such as LinkedIn, Last.fm, eHarmony, Yahoo! and Evernote having their password databases compromised. Often we think too little too late when it comes to our passwords. Sometimes we assume things are secure just the way they are. We often underestimate the importance strong passwords can have on our corporate infrastructure and our personal lives.

Many of us are still using very simple and easy to guess passwords. According to a list compiled from Antivirus and other IT security companies users still need a lot of work when it comes to their passwords. Here is a brief top 10 most used passwords in our corporate and personal digital lives.

  1. password
  2. 123456
  3. 12345678
  4. abc123
  5. qwerty
  6. Password1
  7. letmein
  8. Password01
  9. 111111
  10. welcome


Reading that list often makes most IT and business professionals chuckle at the thought of our companies’ users even using such passwords, but it can be a problem.

Let's jump right in and talk about the four key things that you should follow to make up great passwords. Some of this may be common sense, but implementing sensibility with these key components is a must.

1) Length

I'm sure it comes to no surprise the length of your password is a big factor in how secure it will be. The length of your password can significantly increase the time it takes to crack it. Adding just one to two characters in your password can be the difference in adding 4 months to 10 years of its ability to be cracked. Realistically, you should have a minimum of eight characters.

2) Complexity

It is a good practice to include a variety of characters such as letters, punctuation, symbols, and numbers. You should also try to avoid common dictionary words as they are much easier to attain by attackers. Combine upper and lower case letters, but try to focus on incorporating a combination of any non-letters. However, be aware that password hacking software automatically checks for common letter-to-symbol conversions, such as changing "and" to "&" or "to" to "2."

3) Variation

To keep strong passwords effective, change them often. Encourage or require employees to change passwords every 30 to 90 days. By the time a hacker gets a chance at your secure password it will already be outdated.

4) Variety

Don't use the same password for everything. If you start using similar or the same passwords it makes it much easier for someone to gain access. Be aware of your personal accounts and what passwords are used for which services. If you use the same password for a site that was compromised you should be changing all of the same passwords for other sites as well.

Password Security resized 600

I'm sure we all have not followed at least one category of the top four. Although you know the basics and what makes a strong password, what can make it easier for you to adhere to these best practices? You don't always want to remember 10 character, scrambled passwords that you will forget the next day. That's where the password managers come into play. LastPass, 1Password and Roboform are all great password managing tools. Personally, I use LastPass and use it across my browser as well as a stand-alone application. For a more detailed review of password managers, give this article a read, "Best Password Managers Top 4 Reviewed."

Remember, one of the most important parts of keeping you secure is having a secure password. Use this guide and you will feel better about the security of your business and personal life.

Want to check out how your password stacks up? Check out the following links for a little tool to give you an idea about your password’s strength!

GRC's Interactive Brute Force Password “Search Space” Calculator

The Password Meter

If you are interested in the latest security news, I suggest reading the following articles:

  • There was a large attack to Spamhaus recently (a company that monitors and stops major spamming operations) involving a complex DDoS attack on their network. Read full article.
  • With recent Java exploits on the rise, this article covers how many of us still are using vulnerable versions. Read full article.
  • Crackers don't waste the time to break individual accounts through a Web login, but focus efforts on obtaining databases that contain passwords. Read full article.

Please contact us if you have any questions regarding password security for your organization. 

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Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Email Security, Network Security

Network Security: Your Business is Never Too Small for Attacks

Posted by Sean Todd on Apr 1, 2013 4:59:00 PM

network security preventionThere is a common misconception with many small businesses that the need to follow the same types of security protocols as enterprise environments isn’t necessary because they really aren’t a target of malicious activity due to their size. “Who would want to steal information from us, we only have 25 people”. Nothing could be further from the truth!

First, we define small business as any company having fewer than 500 employees, although this can vary based on the SBA Table of Small Business Size Standards.  For the purpose of this post I want to focus even smaller on those companies with fewer than 50 employees. In my experience these are the companies who tend to have the most issues with viruses and malware, and have the least amount of information gathering utilities to determine the overall health of their network, thus making them the most vulnerable.

Think about the repercussions if your proprietary data was leaked, or someone was able to obtain and exploit your companies’ financial information. The results could easily be enough to shut you down overnight. We need to start thinking about this just as we do our disaster recovery planning.

Here is a brief list of things at stake:

  1. Financial loss
  2. Lawsuits
  3. Reputation
  4. Market Share
  5. Your Business!

network security tipsSo, now that we’ve identified some the repercussions, let’s discuss how these things could happen. It doesn’t always take a targeted hacking attempt to exploit your network. Something as simple as an employee accessing an infected website could allow an attacker to automatically install malicious software that in turn, could send key information back to them.

Out of date software can also put your information at risk. Think Java for example. On several occasions over the last few months exploits have been identified within Java that would allow someone to remotely exploit their browser session without the need for a user name or password. Like the previous example this is internet based vulnerability; the key difference is that it’s out of date software that allows it to happen.

Another possibility would be unsecured remote access. Allowing remote access to your network without a VPN or other means of security opens you up to the potential for an unauthorized intruder to crack weak passwords and access your network along with all information that it contains.

computer securityWe’ve identified risks and dangers, so now we will talk about prevention. What should we do to maintain a high level of network security and protect our assets?

  1. Anti-Virus – We should always maintain up-to-date AV. We want to be sure we have the latest virus definitions applied at all times. Using centralized AV in larger environments is also beneficial because its gives a central point of distributing updates as well as centralized reporting so we can see the overall health of all clients.
  2. Web Filtering – By utilizing a web filter, we get the ability to block potentially malicious websites. The majority of infections we see come via the web, so this is very important. An added side benefit is selective blocking of websites for specific user groups. This means Facebook for those who need it for their job duties, and blocking it for those who don’t.
  3. Software Updates – Utilizing software titles such as WSUS and vCenter Protect gives us the ability to determine from one console the software versions on each machine as well as deploy updates to those who need it.
  4. Password Policies – Enforce strong passwords. Weak passwords are easy to crack, the longer and more complex passwords mean the tougher they are to crack. I would suggest a minimum of 8 characters including the need for numbers, capital letters, and symbols. Also, force regular password changes. Even though routine password changes can be considered a nuisance to many, it’s a necessity to ensure old routinely used passwords are flushed from the system.
  5. Remote Access Policies – At the very least allow remote connections ONLY via an encrypted method. Client VPN, SSLVPN, and Client Access Gateway are all methods of securing remote access. Without this, information can be obtained in transit.
  6. Education – Educating your employees on safe internet habits is one of the most effective things you can do. Network security starts with the end user.

This list is certainly not all-inclusive as there are many other things that contribute to network and information security. I encourage you to spend some time thinking about this topic and educate yourself on real world security risks. If you have any questions or thoughts on this topic please let us know.

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Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Email Security, Network Security

Mentoring Your Employees to Maximize Your Investment on Training

Posted by Derik Bormann on Mar 22, 2013 5:08:00 PM

Mazimize training resized 600There is an old saying that goes something like, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” As an instructor, I think it is safe to say that I disagree with the second part of that statement. I think that by phrasing the statement differently we can improve our organizations learning effectiveness by leaps and bounds.

I like to look at that initial statement this way, “Those who can, mentor. Those who don’t know, attend training.”

Classroom or large group training generally provides one of two things:

1. A foundation that the learner then has the opportunity to build from.

2. A different approach or technique to expand on previous skills.

Good training will provide learners with the knowledge and skills to begin to apply it in the “real world”.  But it is the experiences they have after the training (successes, failures, etc.) that will ultimately mold the person and determine their path.

IT training FargoIn order to build on the skills learned and achieve maximum success, learners need to be mentored and coached.  This sounds simple enough, but it is routinely overlooked or forgotten over time. To ensure long term success, your organization must make mentoring part of your daily practice.  You don’t need to be an instructor to be effective in this; you need to have knowledge to pass on and the ability to help learners apply their knowledge in different situations to become self-sufficient.

You'll find good mentors:

  • Are approachable, provide trusted suggestions, and have experience to provide useful tips or suggestions.  
  • Create an environment that encourages people to ask for help.  Their suggestions should help leaners to move forward.
  • Mentor people so they arrive at the answer on their own. People commit items to memory faster when they are fully engaged in a task, and are stepping slightly out of their comfort zone. If their mentor is always giving them the answer or doing it for them, they are not growing or expanding their skills. Mentors should work to provide them with options or recommend resources.
  • Don't assume the situation is like others the mentor has encountered in the past. They listen to what the learner is saying to find out the specific needs of the person who is seeking your assistance. 
  • Give their full attention and provide personalized responses to questions. Good mentors listen for what people are not saying verbally.

Training Key resized 600Remember your ultimate goal is to help make your employees self-sufficient. You want to give them the tools needed to expand their knowledge beyond the initial training. Assist employees by supplying a process they can follow to build on their own skills.

If your organization has good mentoring practices, your training will become more effective, and your employees will become more effective faster. NetWork Center can help to supply your employees with the initial tools, skills, and techniques needed to start becoming better mentors, as well has help you to mentor employees along the way. If you would like to hear more about non-IT training services, please feel free to contact us. We would love to assist you. And always remember “Those who can, mentor. Those who don’t know, attend training. Those who train, are rock stars.” – Derik Bormann 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., technology training

Cloud Backup. Is It For Me?

Posted by Brad Piekutowski on Mar 15, 2013 4:17:00 PM

cloud backupThere has been a lot of buzz around “The Cloud,” and whether or not we can push our backups into the cloud in lieu of local tape or disk backups. In many cases this is a viable option, but there are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • How Much Data do you need to back-up?
  • Do you have enough bandwidth to handle sending the backup offsite?
  • Is all of your data centrally located?
  • Do you have roaming clients that need to be backed up?
  • How fast do you need to recover in the case of a disaster?

The amount of data you need to backup is important for several reasons. First, cloud based backup providers commonly determine price based on the amount of data you are storing offsite. Typically there is a point at which the cost of a cloud based backup becomes
prohibitive and the traditional onsite backup makes more sense. This is something you would want to evaluate with whatever cloud solution you are reviewing.

Second, if the cost of offsite backup is within your budget, then we need to make sure that you have the necessary bandwidth to handle sending your selected data offsite on a nightly basis. For example, unless you have a dedicated WAN link to backups, you likely don’t want to be running your back-up 24/7 as this would compete with your normal traffic causing a bottleneck in your network.

cloud backup questions to askWhere is your data located? Is it on one server, two servers, or even across multiple workstations? Along with per GB pricing, some cloud providers also license per endpoint. This mean that for each device you want backed up, you may need a unique license and perhaps even a separate client loaded on each. Although it may add to your cost, this is a good option to keep machines which frequently leave your network backed up.

How much data do you need to restore and how fast? In the case of a disaster, pulling all of your data out of the cloud may not be a viable solution as the speed is dependent on how much data and the bandwidth you have available, therefore keeping a local USB drive to seed a bare-metal restore may make sense. For simple file restores however this is typically a non-issue.

cloud backup strategiesBefore making any decision on a backup solution you really need to identify key business drivers and evaluate what your business cost per hour without it is worth to you. Different backup strategies have different speeds of restoration and your decision should be tied to those drivers.

Network Center, Inc. has a wealth of knowledgeable resources who have evaluated and implemented a variety of solutions and can help review your business needs to determine if a cloud based backup is right for you, and if so, the cloud backup strategy that allows for recoveries within a DR timeframe that works for your company.

 

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Cloud backups

Key Disaster Recovery Planning Questions

Posted by Ben Carlsrud on Mar 8, 2013 4:58:00 PM

disaster recovery planningWe’ve all seen the disaster movie where twisters, asteroids, floods, tsunamis, volcanoes and earthquakes cause major destruction and life has to go on. What is your organization doing to prepare in case disaster strikes?

As with anything, it’s just a matter of time before you may be restoring a file, an application, a server or recovering from a natural disaster. A lot of decision makers within an organization approach DR like they would some type of insurance. Some see the value and some don’t.  Many times we hear the statement, “Heck, we’ve been backing up to the same tape or hard drive for as long as we can remember and we’ve never had any problems. Why would we change?” Eventually something is going to happen and if you’re not prepared for it, you may experience a RGE (Resume Generating Event). 

There is simply too much technology stuff that can go into an organizations DR plan to be discussed here but I’ll give you some ideas and questions to think about that will help you start the process and allow you to be more prepared when it comes to defining and implementing a DR plan for your organization.

One of the first things any organization should do is classify their data. What I mean by this is define the most important data to the least important data. You can lump them into groups like Gold, Silver and Bronze. You may find that you have more or less groups depending on the types of data you have.

Once you have classified your data, sit back and ask yourself some questions about the data in those classifications. 

  • How long can you be without access to that data?
  • What happens if we lose that data? 
  • What are the ramifications to your customers trying to do business with you? 
  • What is the cost to recreate the data if we cannot recover it, if even possible?

disaster recoveryNot a very long list and definitely not conclusive, but it's a start. Once you come up with those answers put some dollar costs to them. This will allow you to give yourself a good idea about what a disaster can cost you when it comes time to designing a solution. If you find that costs are $10,000 it probably doesn’t make sense to spend $100,000 on a solution, but if you find that losing certain categories of data could mean the end of your business you may find that you have a much larger budget to work with.

One of the next things to think about is what resources are available.

  • Do you have another site that can be used to replicate your data and services to?
  • What connectivity options do you have available at your facilities?
  • What kind of bandwidth can you get at these facilities?
  • What staffing do you have available to take ownership of daily responsibilities?

Again, not a very long list of questions but once you come with answers to these questions, you can start to envision what a solution may look like. 

You may have noticed I have not mentioned anything about tape, disk, de-duplication, cloud or really any technology. That’s where an organization, like NetWork Center, Inc., working with you helps educate, define and plan a solution that meets the needs of your organization.  The above questions are the first steps of many in designing a solution that could use multiple technologies to meet an organizations needs.

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Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Disaster Recovery

Office 365: Hosted Email and more from Microsoft

Posted by Kyle Riveland on Mar 1, 2013 4:55:00 PM

Office Business ValueWith advances in internet speeds and technology, more and more companies are developing applications in the ‘cloud’.  Companies no longer have to be burdened with a multitude of servers to host each of their applications.  Microsoft is no exception with Office 365.  Office 365 is a collection of products in the Microsoft family relating to productivity (Word, Excel), communication (Outlook, Lync), and collaboration (Sharepoint).  Office 365 is built off of Exchange 2010, Lync 2010, and Sharepoint 2010 technology.

Applications included in the various plans of the Office 365 suite are:

  • Microsoft Exchange Online: Microsoft’s hosted email and calendars/contacts.
  • Microsoft Sharepoint Online: This is an online version of Sharepoint (collaboration, sharing, and document editing services).
  • Microsoft Lync Online: Lync provides communication features such as presence, instant messaging, PC-to-PC video calls, and meetings
  • Office Professional Plus: This is the same client software you would purchase or receive with a PC (Word, Excel, etc.)
  • Office Web Apps: These are browser-based versions of Word, Excel and Power Point that enable viewing and lightweight editing of Office related documents within a web browser.

what is office 365

Depending on a company’s needs, Microsoft has many tiers and categories for Office 365. For e-mail only, Microsoft has low cost mailboxes all the way up to full suites of applications that not only give access to online versions of Word and Excel, but also downloadable versions of the latest Office suite for a premium price per user. Current pricing can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/office365/compare-plans.aspx.

The primary plans are as follows: Hosted Email (Exchange Online), Small Business (P1), Midsize Buisiness & Enterprise (E1 through E4). 

  • Hosted Email gives you mailbox and calendar access using either a full Outlook client, or access via web. Smart Phones can easily be connected to this service as well. Users get up to 25GB mailboxes and can send attachments up to 25MB. A configurable anti-spam product is offered by Microsoft for all users of this plan. Live support is offered via phone on this plan as well.
  • Small Business is intended for smaller companies (there is a cap of 50 users). The benefit of this plan is that it has a lot of value for the price. In addition to the email, you get access to a single Sharepoint site, Microsoft Lync, Office Web Apps, and finally Anti-Malware/Anti-Spam filtering of email. Microsoft allows a 90-day trial of up to 25 users with this plan. One drawback to this plan is support is via forum posts only. Phone support is not offered at this level. The ability to synchronize with Active Directory is also not available.
  • Midsize Business & Enterprise gives everything from the Small Business P1 plan. The E1 and E2 version of this plan only allow viewing with the online version of Word/Excel/PowerPoint/One Note.  The E3 plan is necessary for editing with these applications. In addition, this plan also allows synchronization with Active Directory.  There is a larger number of Sharepoint sites with this level of Office 365. Users can reach a live person via phone if support is needed in the E1-E4 plans. At the E4 level, users also can download a full version of Office Professional Plus on up to 5 different devices. If new versions are released, users will have access to those new versions. Please see the above link for plans and full descriptions of the common plans.

Microsoft also has home and university/education plans available.

Office 365 Anywhere accessThe burning question is: Why host my email in the cloud? There are many reasons to use Office 365. 

  • There are no servers to maintain or configure
  • You do not have to host your server, and pay for licensing (other than the monthly per user charge)
  • No SSL Certificates to maintain
  • More secure (no open port on your firewall)
  • Financially backed 99.9% uptime guarantee
  • No worrying about data backup. Microsoft has geo-redundant data centers and provides disaster recovery.
  • Latest version of software being upgraded at no additional cost (only on appropriate plans)

Need more information?

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Microsoft Office 365

7 Tips to Effectively Manage a Video Conference Meeting

Posted by Angie Ryan on Feb 22, 2013 4:40:00 PM

video conferenceWe hope you enjoy this guest blog post by one of our partners, Video Guidance. They have compiled best practices from their video conferencing customers.

Here are 7 best practices to help end users establish video comfort, competence and confidence, maximizing video conferencing applications:

  1. Scheduling - Create a process and communicate it company-wide to all employees. Make certain to include how to schedule both a conference room and video system.
     
  2. Be Prepared/Be on Time - Preparation allows for a successful meeting. In order to keep all participants at all sites engaged, make sure you are prepared so your meeting flows from one topic to the other. Before using presentation features, test before you connect to the far end and then again when you are connected.
     
  3. Appoint a Meeting Facilitator - One person should manage your video meeting. This will create a better meeting flow as well as lessen any chance of confusion for those participating. If someone joins the meeting late, the facilitator should make certain introductions are made at the appropriate time.
     
  4. video conference meetingCamera Dos and Don’ts – Do utilize the zoom button, do use eye contact and don’t zoom in too close or to far. Far End Can See You! Don’t forget that you are a participant, not just an observer. Cameras and videos tend to make everything “bigger” - nervous habits or little recurrent gestures will be magnified and a distraction to participants at the other end. Try not to rock, sway or fidget with paper or pens. Relax.
     
  5. Microphone and Volume - Place the microphone at the nearest point to cover all participants. Be sure to use the Mute key when necessary. Speak up - even though the microphones are sensitive, mumbling is difficult to understand and hard to hear especially over video. During multi-site meetings/presentations use the Mute key unless your site is speaking. The Mute key will eliminate extra noise coming from each site.
     
  6. Presentation Instruction - Test your presentation settings and know for certain the connection is successful. Make sure your presentation is launched at your desktop or another video source so you only have to manage one touch on the remote control to send content to the far end. Use simple slides when creating presentations to share over video – pictures are always best; and using a larger font is a must! Not everyone has a 60-inch plasma for video conferencing.
     
  7. Troubleshooting – Keep it simple and then ask for help. Check connections and avoid pressing buttons you are not familiar with as this can cause further problems.

video conferencing


The main thing to remember is to be yourself and have fun! Relax, be lively, break the ice with a joke, and make viewers laugh.

It’s easy to tune out in a face-to-face, so imagine how easy it is in a virtual one. The more interaction you interject, the more people will stay focused and interested.

Learn more about video conferencing solutions by Video Guidance.

 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Video Conferencing

Microsoft Dynamics CRM New Skype and Bing Maps Features

Posted by Derik Bormann on Feb 13, 2013 11:30:00 PM

dynamics crm skypeIn my last post, I covered the new Sales Process that was included in the December 2012 product release for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. In Introduction to Skype Integrationaddition to this change, Microsoft has added several new features that integrate with other technologies to make your Microsoft Dynamics CRM solution more dynamic and easier to work with. In this post I want to focus on two brand new integration features available: Skype Integration and Bing Map Support

With the Microsoft Dynamics CRM new Skype integration, users are now able to make phone calls from within the CRM Skype Click to Call plugin. When you have this plugin installed, it will recognize phone numbers and display them as hyperlinks in the read-only forms. You can click a number to make a call through Skype.

How Skype Integration works


When you click a phone number in a record, CRM will launch Skype and connect to the phone number automatically. It will also open the Add Phone Call area to allow you to note the details of the phone call.

Skype installs a browser add-on called Skype Click to Call (C2C). It detects and formats the valid phone number strings found in websites with the direct call functionality. It will also insert a Skype icon next to the phone number.

Country/region code prefixing

Microsoft Dynamics CRM and skypeIn order to make calls from CRM, the numbers must be stored in a valid number format: <country/region code><area code><number>.  When entering data in CRM, users may not specify the number in the correct format. To correct this, you can enable country/region code prefixing, and CRM will prefix the code to the number that you are trying to call. This prefixing can be done at two levels, organization-level and user-level.

To enable country/region code prefixing at the organization level

1. In the Navigation Pane, click Settings.

2. Under System, click Administration, and then click System Settings.

3. On the General tab, in the Set the default country/region code section, select the Enable country/region code prefixing check box, and then in the Country/Region Code Prefix, specify the country/region code, such as +1.

4. Click OK.

To enable country/region code prefixing at a user level

1. On the File tab, click Options.

2. On the General tab, in the Set the default country/region code section, select the Enable country/region code prefixing check box, and then in the Country/Region Code Prefix, specify the country/region code, such as +1.

3. Click OK.

Introduction to Bing Maps Support

microsoft dynamics crm bing mapsBing Maps are now integrated into the account, contact, and lead forms. They appear in the lower left corner of these forms when enough street address information has been added to match a map record. Familiar Bing Maps functionality, like pushpins, informational popups, zooming, and scrolling, is available. To see a larger view of the address on the Bing website, get directions, and take advantage of other features, click the map image.

To see an updated Bing Maps view:

  1. Enter address information on an account, contact, or lead form.
  2. Save the form.

Both of these new features will improve you users experience while working with the application. NetWork Center, Inc. has two Microsoft Dynamics CRM trainers on staff that can help you to make the most of these new changes to the application. If you have any questions or would like further information please feel free to contact us.

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Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Mobility in Today’s Business

Posted by Paul Dahlen on Feb 7, 2013 9:00:00 AM

Cisco Jabber Screen shotLife can be very hectic from time to time, not enabling us to always be in the office, or to be reached at times we really need to be. In today’s world, there are number of technologies that afford businesses to be just as efficient from outside the office, as inside the office. A few different vendors, Microsoft and Cisco, offer such solutions, and based on the needs of your business, one may suit you better than the other.

The advantage of these applications is that we now can be available when we really need to be, even when we are not in the office. Cisco Jabber or Microsoft Lync are two of these collaboration technologies that can turn your iPhone or Android device into a full-featured phone device, giving you the ability to place and receive calls, regardless of your geographic location. This ensures not only that the ship runs more efficiently, but business continuity is maintained, even when individuals are not in the office.


Microsoft LyncThese technologies allow you to view your colleague’s availability in real time from your cell phone or other mobile device. Through this, you can see status indicators showing if they are available, away from their desk, in a meeting or if they are presently on a call. Having this information allows you to make an informed decision on how to communicate with that person which will speed up the communication process. 

For example I if see that someone is in a meeting, calling them and leaving a VM (voice mail) might not be the best method to reach to that person, but starting an IM (instant message) might, thus allowing better and more efficient communication. Another example would be sick children, or a snow storm; a majority of us have been through this. If I needed to contact you at home I could simply dial your extension and be talking with you on your laptop/pc or cell phone/mobile device.

JabberUtilizing your personal office extension is an added benefit of placing calls to customers via these applications, which in turn ensures your availability using a single number, so regardless of where you are, or what device you are on, I dial a single number to get to you.

You may be thinking, I don’t want to be that accessible, and I can’t blame you for that. There are filters that can be put in place to ensure that every single person that calls your extension isn’t getting to your mobile device. You can also place schedules to allow calls between certain time periods, so you aren’t waking up at 3:30 in the morning when your cell rings.

Calls can also be moved from a Wi-Fi network to a cellular network and back without disconnect. Even receive and view your voicemail messages from these applications.

As I mentioned above, life CAN be hectic and at times we cannot always be in our seats in the office, but by implementing these types of technologies, everyone can breathe easier knowing their peers are a simple IM, or call away.

Contact an Account Representative at NetWork Center Inc. for more information today!

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Mobility

Microsoft Dynamics CRM New Sales Process User Interface

Posted by Derik Bormann on Jan 31, 2013 9:00:00 AM

Dynamics CRM Customer Relationship ManagementAs I mentioned in a previous post, Microsoft recently released a major update to Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 in December. There were several major changes to the application including Multi Browser Support, Skype Integration, and Bing Map Support. Over my next several posts, I will introduce you to many of these new features. In this post I want to cover what I consider to be the biggest change to the interface.   

As part of this release, Microsoft has included a new way to work through the sales process. In past versions the sales process was a more of a background process that happened behind the scenes through workflows. With this release, the user interface will now guide users through the process of identifying leads and all other steps to marking a deal as won.

Users enter information right in the forms. There are no popup windows to launch. As users enter more information, the system will respond by guiding them to the next logical stage in the sequence (if needed, you can customize the sequence to suit your business needs).

The new forms will show you all tasks in a logical sequence. The pages are organized to make things easier to find. The text, layout, and controls now have a new look on every form, aiming to make things easier to read.

What else has changed?

  • Process control: When you create a new lead or opportunity, you’ll see a process flow across the top of the page. The process flow organizes tasks under stages labeled Qualify, Develop, Propose, and Close. As you click these stages, you’ll see key tasks with data fields organized beneath them.
  • Inline editing. Forms will now behave slightly different than in the past. To edit a piece of data, just click it (or tap it on a touch-enabled device).
  • Auto-save. As you edit information on a form, it saves your changes automatically after a certain period of time. If you close the form or click a button in the command bar, your changes will be saved automatically.
  • Duplicate detection. Duplicate detection is handled less invasively.
  • Editable process. Anyone with permissions to do so can change the sales process to display different stages, steps, and fields. You can do this at any time, and it can be done without software development resources.

Customer Relationship ManagementWith the current release, you have the option to install Product Updates that offer significant improvements to the user experience in the sales and customer service processes. Even though you’ll get some features in this release automatically, the sales and service process forms come only through Product Updates.

While the new user interface designs are more intuitive, easier to navigate, and more efficient to use than previous designs, they are very different from what you are accustomed to. With that in mind, I would recommend familiarizing yourself with them before putting it into your live environment.  It might be a good idea to sign up for a trial and assess whether the changes will work for your organization. Once you are familiar and satisfied with the new process forms you can install the product updates and enable them in your organization. Below are the steps for doing this in your Microsoft Dynamics CRM deployment.

  1. Install the product updates in your own production organization.
  2. You may need to migrate any customizations you have made to the new forms.
  3. Enable new Forms
    1. Click Settings, click Administration, and then click Product Updates.
    2. Click Enable the New Forms.
    3. Click Yes.

After you have installed the updates, you should consider training the people who will use the system on how the changes will affect their work. We have two trainers on staff that are very familiar with the new changes and can assist you as needed. If you have any questions or would like some guidance please don’t hesitate to contact us.

In my next post I will introduce you to the new Skype and Bing Maps Microsoft Dynamics CRM Integration.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Microsoft Dynamics CRM, technology training

Know Your Threats: Network Infections

Posted by Tyler Voegele on Jan 22, 2013 10:38:00 AM

computer worm threatsOne of the most common threats to any business network is a network infection due to virus or malware. Most do not cause many problems and are easily removed, but some can cause significant damage and downtime within your network. Today I will cover a new form of “worm” that made its way into the top ten most common infections of 2012.  

The difference between a worm and the more commonly known “Trojans” is a worm is spread through a network quickly and replicates itself on other machines. This worm goes by different aliases given by different security organizations.

Known Aliases:

  • W32/Autorun.worm.aaeh [McAfee]
  • W32.Changeup [Symantec]
  • Worm.Win32.VBNA.b [Kaspersky]
  • Win32/Vobfus.MD [Microsoft]
  • Trj/CI.A [Panda Software]
  • W32/VBNA-X [Sophos]
  • WORM_VOBFUS [Trend]
  • Win32/Pronny.xx [ESET-NOD32]

computer worm holeThis worm takes advantage of the Windows auto run feature. Windows auto run feature does exactly that; it enables media and devices to automatically launch programs by the use of command line from an autorun.inf  file usually stored in the root directory of the medium. This is the main exploit of the worm.

So now that you know a little bit about the origin, let’s talk about how the worm spreads if it were in your network environment.

  • It uses the auto run feature in Windows (autorun.inf files) to launch remotely.
  • It copies itself to open shares, hides the legitimate folders/files, and then imitates the same ones found in the share, creating executable files in their place.
  • Additional files are added to network shares with common names such as:
    • Porn.exe
    • Passwords.exe
    • Sexy.exe
    • Secret.exe
  • It continues to spread, when the network share is used, to other machines.

So now you are wondering, “What should I do if this does happen to me?” The simple and quickest answer is to contact your IT department or your technology solution provider. As a technology solution provider we handle these cases all the time and can quickly give answers our customers need when this happens. This is a serious infection and steps should be taken very quickly to quarantine the worm. Let’s cover a couple of quick steps.

  1. Identify the infected machines.computer virus

This is a very important first step to removing this type of worm, or any infection, completely. Anti-virus may not always help you find the infected machines, so it is up to you or the support team to find the traits listed above and take care of the machine. It is also very important you let everyone know they should not use network shares or removable media until the infection is safely removed. (Some anti-virus programs may warn infected machines that it is quarantining the autorun.inf file)

  1. Remove threats from the infected machines.

Now that you have quarantined the machines and users know about the threat it’s time to remove it. One of the first steps in this process is to download a malware removal program other than the anti-virus you may already have. I have found the free Malwarebytes tool works very well for this process. After running a scan on the infected machine you will need to show the extensions of the files and folders of the local system. You may also need to make hidden files visible to see the original content of your system. You want to remove any duplicate entries listed with executable extensions and the autorun.inf file. Once everything has been scanned or removed from of all infected machines you may need to do some cleanup.

  1. Restoring the original files back to normal.computer security

The final step in the process is to bring everything back to normal. Since this type of infection will hide all of the original content, you will need to manually change the attributes of the files. The quickest way of tackling this situation is by command prompt. The command: attrib –h –s –r “file path” /s /d  will automatically go through all files specified and unhide them (ex. attrib –h –s –r “D:/Share/*” /s /d). After you have finished with that, everything should be back in working order.


Hopefully you are not faced with this type of infection, but if you are, you will be better equipped to quickly handle the situation, and if need be, involve your technology solution provider. Remember this worm takes advantage of the users of your network. By learning and explaining to everyone how exactly this threat works, the more your organization can focus on day to day tasks and continue running proficiently.

For any further questions feel free to contact our team. Our job is to make yours easier.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Network Security

Java Security Advisory - CVE-2013-0422

Posted by Sean Todd on Jan 14, 2013 1:05:00 PM

An exploit that has been identified in the Java 7 application allowing remote code execution to be run without end user intervention. This threat has been deemed severe by the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team and it is recommended to either patch the software with yesterday’s release or disable Java all together. Should you have any questions please feel free to contact us.

This Security Alert addresses security issues CVE-2013-0422 (US-CERT Alert TA13-010A - Oracle Java 7 Security Manager Bypass Vulnerability) and another vulnerability affecting Java running in web browsers. These vulnerabilities are not applicable to Java running on servers, standalone Java desktop applications or embedded Java applications. They also do not affect Oracle server-based software.

The fixes in this Alert include a change to the default Java Security Level setting from "Medium" to "High". With the "High" setting, the user is always prompted before any unsigned Java applet or Java Web Start application is run.

These vulnerabilities may be remotely exploitable without authentication, i.e., they may be exploited over a network without the need for a username and password. To be successfully exploited, an unsuspecting user running an affected release in a browser will need to visit a malicious web page that leverages these vulnerabilities. Successful exploits can impact the availability, integrity, and confidentiality of the user's system.

Due to the severity of these vulnerabilities, the public disclosure of technical details and the reported exploitation of CVE-2013-0422 "in the wild," Oracle strongly recommends that customers apply the updates provided by this Security Alert as soon as possible. 

A great Q and A article has been written by Brian Krebs titled What You Need to Know About the Java Exploit.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Network Security

Top 5 Technology Trends for 2013

Posted by Brett Anderson on Jan 11, 2013 2:45:00 PM


As most technology leaders have already seen, Gartner released what they believe to be the Top Ten Strategic Technology Trends for 2013. It is a good read and if you have not already looked at it, I would definitely recommend it. 

2013 tech trends

I cross-referenced the 2013 list with the 2012 Top Ten Strategic Technology Trends list (found here), and noticed quite a bit of overlap, which is not surprising given both lists are intended to be strategic and not tactical. This got me thinking – in our area, what can we really expect to see in 2013? I thought it would be helpful to share my ideas on what 2013 will bring, based on what I have learned from my customers and peers at NetWork Center, Inc. More of a “rubber meets the road” list for 2013 than the Gartner list.

1. Core Infrastructure is Still Critical 
Nothing on my list or the Gartner list works without a well-maintained, efficient and secure infrastructure. From servers to desktops, routers and switches to wireless networks, you need these pieces to make everything else perform.

mobile devices2. Mobile Devices! 
No surprise here, but more specifically:

  • More smartphones will be in the hands of employees and customers – how will you use this to drive service, revenue and efficiency?
  • Customers expect a self-service tailored web experience on their mobile devices. How does your site look from a smartphone or tablet? Can web visitors learn more about you, contact you, request information and gain the confidence they need to start working with your business?
  • Apps for employee productivity. Now that most people have tablets and smartphones, and in many cases, business are paying for a portion of them, what are you doing to drive productivity from your workforce?
  • Mobile Device Management (MDM). With employees having corporate resources available on their devices (email, apps, VPN), the risk when a device is lost is greater than ever before. We recommend to our clients an MDM solution that proactively secures devices, has centralized management, streamlines support and makes monitoring easy. Are you protected?

social media3. Social Media 
I suspect more businesses start to utilize Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and LinkedIn this year. To date, most companies I work with do not have an online social strategy and are uncertain on how to engage customers and drive revenue with social media. Does your company have a social media strategy in place?

4. Data is a Differentiator 
Every business collects information on their customers. What do you do with it? Do you analyze it, mine it, and act on it? What are they buying, what corollaries can be drawn, how do you act on this? If you can successfully understand the buying habits, you can align your sales team with your customer’s needs.

cloud computing datatrend5. Cloud Hybrid
I don’t believe there will a massive, ‘all or nothing’ shift to online storage and processing, but we are working with clients to create more of a balanced approach of local apps, storage and processing along with more cloud-based hosting for sites, data, applications and processing.

Beyond 2013 I expect there to be a bigger focus on Google Apps and their Office-like suite of tools – more on this to come, but as one of my customers said, “I spend $400 on a new desktop and $400 for an Office license”. The reality is that 95% of users don’t need the power of Office Professional. Google Apps (and Office 365 for that matter) provide attractive alternatives.

Are you interested in learning more about Mobile Device Management? Download our MDM Ebook today. 

Download MDM Ebook to learn more!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Mobile Device Management, Cloud computing

Grade Your Network: How Does Your Network Stack Up

Posted by Kyle Riveland on Jan 4, 2013 11:00:00 AM

Network assessmentSince technology changes at an incredibly fast pace, we understand it’s not always easy to keep up when other daily tasks must take precedence. One of our services at Network Center, Inc. allows you to keep up with your important duties by allowing us to take the burden of finding technology that fits your network off your shoulders. We call this service a Network Assessment. We will come to your company, take an inventory of what hardware and software is in use, and make recommendations based off of the findings. This includes hardware equipment such as servers, switches, firewalls, printers, etc. We can certainly take a look at the software currently in use, or even the procedures in place that could benefit from a software package. Soon after the visit, you will have information on what technology could make your daily process smoother. 

vulnerability network assessmentMaybe you do not need new technology. Maybe you are wondering if your current network setup is vulnerable to intrusion. Network Center has you covered. We have another service called a Vulnerability Assessment. With the help of a scanning computer, we will put your network through a rigorous test. We have a series of questions that relate to your current procedures ranging from your backup solution, to your disaster recovery policy. We also take a look at share folders, Group Policy (if you use Windows Active Directory), as well as physical security (such as locking up your critical equipment). After all the data is gathered, we will send a report with the findings and recommendations on resolution.

If the firewall is your concern, we have an external Penetration Test (Pen Test). We use the same software from the Vulnerability Assessment, and point it at your firewall. We will be able to detect vulnerabilities of the firewall or any other servers that are visible by the internet at large. We also take a look at your e-mail server and your “footprint” on the internet. Upon completion of this test, a report is generated, and given to you with all the data gathered.

network assessment gradeSo which assessment do you need to grade your network? If you are simply looking for what hardware and software may be available that will help you improve your processes, then the Network Assessment is your best bet. If you have an audit coming up, the Vulnerability Assessment and/or the Penetration Test will get you ready. Regardless, Network Center will help you get the information you need.

Contact us to schedule your network assessment to grade your network and see how it stacks up. 

Request a Network Assessment

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Network Security, Network Assessment

Patch Management: An Important Component of Any Security Plan

Posted by Mike Pagan on Dec 27, 2012 4:32:00 PM

Patch Management UpdatesPatch management: I know, I know -- patch management isn’t the shiny red sports car of security topics but it is an important component in any security plan.  If you work in a regulated industry like banking or healthcare you are familiar with software patching, likely with Windows Software Update Services.  It’s free and it covers Microsoft products (which need their share of patching) but it doesn’t cover third party products such as Adobe Flash, Mozilla Firefox, Java, etc.  This likely has caused a blemish or two on your network security audits, but how do you get a handle on patching everything?

Some customers plan to patch these products and their security vulnerabilities by sitting at each computer and manually updating the key third party products such as Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader and Java.  While this will lead to better interpersonal relations between IT staff members and the IT consumers, this isn’t a very efficient use of time.

network vulnerabilitiesTo update just one workstation the IT staff would need to kick a user off their computer, download and install updates, reboot (possibly multiple times), then move on to the next workstation.  A rough estimate of the time it takes from start to finish to complete this task is around 30 minutes per workstation.  Add to that travel time to remote locations and lost productivity for the end user and there is even more time/money lost.

A better solution for machine patching is to use software that will update your entire server and workstation environment such as VMware vCenter Protect.  If you’ve never heard of VMware vCenter Protect, you’re not alone, but I’ll bet you’ve heard of its origins. 

VMware vCenter Protect was originally a product called NetChk Protect created by a Minnesota based company, Shavlik Technologies.  VMware bought Shavlik Technologies in 2011 and changed the name of NetCheck Protect to VMware vCenter Protect. 

Now that the history lesson is over, let’s take a look vCenter Protect’s features.

From VMware’s website:

VMware vCenter ProtectVMware vCenter Protect Standard brings enterprise-level IT management to companies of all sizes. Get centralized patch management and asset inventory for Windows and third party applications for both virtual and physical machines. Add centralized antivirus, power management, and ITScripts with vCenter Protect Advanced.

IT management features:

Patch management – Continuously scan and deploy all available patches—in particular, critical security patches—for deployed software. vCenter Protect makes patch management, a core of good security, an automated task that does not consume IT administrators’ time, enabling them to focus on business optimizations.

Asset inventory – Discover and maintain a current inventory of all hardware and software assets, whether physical or virtual.

Antivirus (Advanced version) – Run and maintain antivirus software across all platforms in an integrated fashion, lowering costs and increasing security; an “antivirus plus patch” approach is a key to network security.

Power management (Advanced version) – With the Wake-on-LAN feature, bring machines online for patching, then power them down, enabling security management during power-off cycles to lower management costs. You can also schedule power settings for savings without business disruption—for example, by shutting a computer down on nights and weekends, businesses save an average of $60 per year in power costs.

ITScripts – Quickly solve and automate many common workflow process challenges with ITScripts. You can use ITScripts to build unique workflow processes quickly and easily.

Snapshot Backup Recovery – Take and manage “snapshots” of virtual machines—immediately before and after patching—while automating the backup process, so that a current and relevant backup copy of the virtual machine is immediately available for rollback or disaster recovery.

So in a nutshell, VMware vCenter Protect is a patch management solution for your physical and virtual machines with added benefits like asset inventory and basic ITScripts.  If you purchase the advanced version you add antivirus, power management and advanced ITScripts to the product’s feature set.

updates buttonWith either version of the software you can schedule your security patch scans to run at night and when completed, automatically update the machines with the patches that were missing.  When the patching is complete, VMware vCenter Protect can reboot the machines and email you a report of that night’s activities.  If you ask me that sound better than floating from system to system and manually installing updates.

If you are struggling with keeping all of your systems and software patched, why not give VMware vCenter Protect a try?  There is a free 60 day evaluation available and NetWork Center, Inc. technicians are available to assist with everything from answering basic questions to managing software pilot in your environment. 

Update: VMware has recently sold the vCenter Protect line of product to LANdesk Inc. and it will be now sold under the name Shavlik Protect after July 1.  We have contacted or LANdesk partner representative and inquired if there are any changes planned for the product.  We were told that its “business as usual” so we expect no changes to the product line at this time.  You can find more information here: http://www.shavlik.com/landesk-shavlik.aspx and if you have more questions please contact your account executive.

Contact us to get your free 60 day VMware vCenter Protect Advanced free trial.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Patch Management

Why Antivirus May Not be Enough Anymore

Posted by Sean Todd on Dec 17, 2012 4:20:00 PM

Computer security threatsWe see the same scenario unfolding almost daily. An end user calling in describing what appears to be the latest round of viruses or malware infecting their machine bringing all productivity to a screeching halt. We explain the fact that it sounds as though they’ve become a victim and we’ll need to verify and clean and clean the machine if needed, but they can’t believe it as they have anti-virus and it’s up to date.  

Computer viruses exist for a number of reasons. It could be a corporation or country attempting cyber espionage, a disgruntled former employee seeking revenge against a former employer, or perhaps just someone looking for a quick thrill. The motives are endless which translates to a lot of viruses and malware. Symantec estimates that 403 million new variants of malware were created in 2010.

The sad reality is that Anti-Virus is merely a reactive technology only protecting you against what has already been discovered and analyzed by security professionals at any of the dozens of security firms around the globe. These professionals create vaccines much like a flu shot and then release software updates that protect your computer against these known threats. Even if one firm has a virus identified, it doesn’t mean they all do, so you may be protected against different threats based on the type of protection you have.

I’m by no means suggesting doing away with Anti-Virus. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite. Anti-Virus is a crucial tool in your bag of security tricks. What I would recommend is adding additional tools to your bag in order to better protect you and your end-users. Some of these include but are not limited to the following:

  1. Application Whitelisting – Much like Anti-virus prevents viruses from running based on its list, whitelisting only allows applications to run based on its list of allowed programs. If the application isn’t on the allowed list, it won’t be allowed to run.
  2. internet web filteringWeb Filters – The majority of infections of viruses and malware come from the internet. By filtering the allowed traffic you protect your ends users from visiting sites that are known to carry malicious code. In other words, if the filter detects a virus, it will block your users from seeing it. You are more likely to be infected by a legitimate website carrying malware than you are to be infected from one created by a hacker.
  3. Education – Educate your users on safe computer usage. In an age of computers you would think safe surfing would be second nature, but it’s surprising on the amount of infections we see daily that could have been prevented if users were educated on the impact of their computer habits.
  4. Policy – Create a company policy that holds end-users responsible should they choose to ignore safe internet usage. If they choose to purposefully ignore your company policies, they are a liability, and if they choose to adhere, they are an asset.  

computer securityThe seriousness of a virus outbreak shouldn’t be taken lightly. Sure, in some scenarios it may be something as little as a benign pop-up, but it could also be the demise of your business. Take Gauss for example. It has targeted machines in the Middle East and was used to spy on things such as financial transactions, emails, and passwords. Even though you may have identified an infection and run several utilities against it, you can never guarantee it is 100% clean. (RT, Published: 09 August, 2012)

To conclude, a multi-faceted approach is your best option. Relying on one method alone will not provide adequate protection against these threats leaving your end users vulnerable. Review your policies and educate your users before it’s too late.

Contact us if you would like us to review your security processes and procedures. 

Contact Us Today!

 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Email Security, Network Security

5 Reasons You Should Attend our 2012 Technology Showcase

Posted by Brad Maczkowicz on Dec 7, 2012 1:20:00 PM

There may not be a busier time for IT shops than the last two months of the year. Between trying to close out the open projects, reporting to leadership, budgeting and planning for the next year – finding time to get out of the office is difficult to do.

Technology Showcase Email Signature Final450x97 Register Today

Our annual Network Center, Inc. Technology Showcase is on December 12th and we have five great reasons for you to pull away from the office and attend!                                           

  1. Mobility, Mobility, Mobility! The biggest trend in technology is smartphones and tablets. Learn how to manage, secure and deploy mobile devices and how they can make your employees more productive and your customer service better!
  2. 2013 Technology Trends. Learn what the biggest players in IT are expecting from 2013 and how you can benefit!
  3. Breakout Session. We have 6 breakout sessions scheduled that will help you with your 2013 plans!
  4. Top Technology Leaders. Interact with many of the top technology leaders and learn about their emerging technology innovations!
  5. Build Relationships! Establish relationships with technology vendors at our reception and exhibitor display. Visit with Parallel, Exagrid, Implementation Specialists, IBM, Video Guidance and ESET.

Event details can be found at www.netcenter.net/TechShow

What are you waiting for? Register today!  
 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Mobile Device Management, Managed Services

Features Introduced in Microsoft Windows 8

Posted by Jeff Bolstad on Nov 29, 2012 4:15:00 PM

October 26 marked the launch of Microsoft’s latest foray into desktop operating systems, Microsoft Windows 8. With the end of support for Windows XP on the horizon, many people may be considering whether it is worth upgrading beyond Windows 7. I loaded Windows 8 recently to see what big changes come with Microsoft’s latest offering.

In an attempt to streamline their available installations, Microsoft has pared down their versions to Windows 8, 8 Professional, and 8 Enterprise (Windows 8 RT also exists but as it is designed for tablet PCs we will forego discussing it for now). For business purposes, Windows 8 Pro is the minimum required level to add a machine to a Windows domain. Additionally, it is possible to upgrade Windows XP, Windows Vista, and every version of Windows 7 except Enterprise to Windows 8 Professional.

Let’s take a look at 5 of the new features in Windows 8:

  1. Start Screen
    Windows 8 Start ScreenMost notably when first seeing Windows 8 is the start screen.  Probably the most touted feature of 8, users are greeted after logging in by a series of tiles, Microsoft’s defaults and your installed programs, which populates with programs you use frequently. With this addition, we also see the Start Menu that people are accustomed to seeing vanish. Luckily, anything you would want can be found by moving your mouse to the same corner of the screen, bringing the start screen back with a left click or common troubleshooting tools with a right click.
  2. Store App
    Windows 8 is designed to be a similar experience across all platforms.  As such, there are some features that seem a little out of place in a business environment. Foremost is the Store App. While there are certainly a number of useful apps available, this invites a lot of discrepancy between each business system. Fortunately, this feature can be removed from the Start Screen and also disabled via Group Policy.
  3. Windows To Go
    Windows 8 To GoAnother interesting feature that comes with Windows 8 Enterprise is Windows To Go. This allows a functional version of Windows 8 to be run from a USB flash drive. There are a few interesting options that arise from this. One option is being able to run a standard business image on any machine that is brought into the office, provided it’s powerful enough to run Windows 7 and is capable of booting to USB. The other benefit is that machines running Windows To Go are much harder to infect with Malware and Viruses, on account of it removing access to the local hard drive. In a business environment, it is generally considered a best practice to save items to the network anyway, so this should not be a major drawback.
  4. Charms Bar
    Windows 8 Charm BarWith Windows 8, users now find a lot of the traditional start menu features on the new Charms Bar. Power options, connected devices, and search features are all available by moving your mouse to the right side of the screen. Additionally, Microsoft has refined its search feature to provide more specifics as well as a wide variety of common questions you may have about setting up various aspects of your computer, whether it’s adding a printer or setting up an extra monitor.
  5. Multiple Monitor Support
    Speaking of monitors, Windows 8 has made efforts to improve multiple monitor support. These improvements include access to the start screen, application bar, and charms bar from the corners of any screen, to easier travel of the mouse between shared screen edges, to individual taskbars and the option for easier switching of applications launched from the start screen.

Overall, people who are comfortable with Windows 7 may not feel compelled to upgrade. But as Windows XP is phased out and tablets find themselves more and more integrated with desktop PCs, many people will find that Windows 8 is a worthy successor to their current operating system. Feel free to reach out to our team with any questions you have about upgrading to Windows 8.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Microsoft Windows 8

5 Ways to Protect Your Network from Internal Attacks

Posted by Jeremy Hostrup on Nov 21, 2012 4:10:00 PM

network securitySecuring your network is an important part of any security plan. The majority of professionals focus their attention on securing their network from outside threats, which is an important piece to network security but internal threats sometimes get overlooked. However, the majority of all network attacks come from inside the network.

Those attacks could be someone plugging in an unauthorized access point, switch, computer, or someone trying to attack switches and routers. There are many ways to mitigate these threats but they occasionally get overlooked.

Here are five general guidelines that can be followed to secure your internal network with little work:

  1. Hard code all of your switch ports to access ports and assign them to a specific vlan. This way, if an unauthorized switch is plugged in, it cannot auto-negotiate a trunk to the other switch. The default setting on a Cisco switch is to auto-negotiate a trunk if another switch is plugged in. Setting the access ports to use spanning-tree portfast with bpduguard is another way to disable a port if a switch that sends bpdus is plugged in.
  2. Use port security on the switch ports to limit the number of mac addresses a single port can have. This will prevent someone from plugging a hub into a switch port. With port security, you can set the maximum number of mac addresses for the access ports. You can also specify what actions you want the switch to take if the access ports exceed the maximum number of mac addresses. The default action is to shut down the port.
  3. Put Access Control Lists (ACLs) on the management interfaces of switches and routers to only allow management from certain IP addresses. This way if someone installs a program like Putty on their computer, they would not be able to get the log in screen on routers and switches.
  4. Configure switches and routers to only use secure shell (ssh) so usernames and passwords are not transported in clear text. Telnet transports usernames and passwords in clear text so if someone had a traffic sniffer on their computer, it would be possible for them to capture the username and password.
  5. Disable switch ports that are not in use or assign them to an unassigned vlan so that if someone plugs into them, they can’t access your network.


network security piecesIf you want to get a little more involved, you could implement RADIUS for login authentication on the network equipment. This could be tied in with active directory and provides another level of security. This way, only users in a specific active directory group would have access to login into the network equipment.

You could also use RADIUS with the dot1x protocol to automatically assign a vlan to a switch port based on the user’s authentication to the RADIUS server. Using dot1x, you could also specify the vlan for users that don’t authenticate to the RADIUS server.

How much you invest in your network is dependent on your unique set of requirements. If you have spent thousands of dollars on your network, that investment could be compromised by an internal threat if you are not prepared.

network securityThere are different ways to protect a network from different threats depending on the risk involved. And there are many additional ways to secure your network but these are just a few to get you started. Feel free to contact us for a review of your network security. 

Contact Us Today!

 



Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Network Security

It’s time to take another look at Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Posted by Derik Bormann on Nov 13, 2012 10:00:00 AM

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the annual eXtremeCRM 2012 conference in Las Vegas in October of this year.  One of the most exciting parts of the conference was a session I attended by Craig Dewar (Director of Product Management for Microsoft Dynamics CRM).  It focused on the next two major feature updates to Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  The first release (Polaris) is scheduled for release in December.  The second release is currently scheduled for Q2 in 2013 (Orion). 

The Polaris update will have 2 separate releases, one for CRM Online customers and another for CRM On-Premise customers.  There is still some question on what specific features will be available for On-Premise customers, but either way, the features included in this new version are very exciting and will help to broaden the reach of the CRM software. 

Let’s take a look at some of the features that are coming to Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Cross Browse Compatibility: The biggest feature of this update will be ability to use most of the available browsers on the Market such as Opera, FireFox, Chrome, and Safari.  If there has been one big complaint with the CRM program it has been the fact that it only works with Internet Explorer.  This will no longer be the case and this feature will be included in both the Online and On-Premise updates.

CRM Browser Flexibility
CRM Skype Integration

Social Updates and Integrations

  • Polaris will provide several updates to the CRM Activity Feeds implementation. 
  • Integration with Yammer for all social updates. 
  • New integration with Skype and Lync as part of Polaris.
    • Users can either Skype or Lync to make phone calls via Click-To-Dial
    • Video integration for CRM Contacts and Leads

Bulk-Data API: The Bulk-Data API will allow developers to send multiple CRUD (Create, Retrieve, Update, Delete) operations in a single Bulk-Data API Call. This undoubtedly will speed up integrations with CRM Online. 

Federal: Microsoft will now be able to have Microsoft Dynamics CRM online host FISMA compliant instances of CRM 2011 in the Office 365 Cloud. 

Custom Workflow Activities:  Custom workflow activities will now be able to be deployed and embedded in the cloud which is currently only available in On-Premise deployments.

** Note** The Following features may not be included in the December 2012 update, but are slated to be deliver by Q2 of 2013.

Process Centric UI:  The new interface will make it much easier and quicker to navigate and perform tasks in the application.  In the demo I saw, this feature was awesome.

Windows 8 App: Microsoft will be releasing a Windows 8 Microsoft Dynamics CRM app.  The app will include alerts, action needs, activity feed roll-up, mobile charts, and the new process centric UI.

Dynamics CRM Windows 8 App

CRM mobilityMobile: Microsoft will be developing apps that will allow users to attach pictures from devices to CRM, track locations, and obtain signatures from mobile devices for CRM items.

Other items that will be included in updates will include:

  • Additional and improved integration features with SharePoint
  • Microsoft Office 2013 support

As someone who has been working with Microsoft Dynamics CRM for many years now, I am truly excited to see the direction the program is heading.  If you have not looked into CRM, or have considered it in the past but found it did not fit your needs, I encourage you to take another look at Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Please feel free to contact us, we would love to have the opportunity to assist you.

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Microsoft Dynamics CRM

4 Keys to Safer Email

Posted by Sean Todd on Nov 6, 2012 10:58:00 AM

Over the last two decades, email communication has become one of the most important means of business communication. During this time, we’ve learned a lot about how end-users typically use this communication both positively and negatively, and how 3rd parties try to exploit it.

email security1. Email Communication – Email in the traditional sense is an insecure medium, meaning that your message including attachments can be intercepted and read by 3rd parties on the internet. Think about hackers, scammers, and it’s only when we add security layers that we are able to encrypt and secure our messages from end-to-end.

There are other ways we can ensure our communications are secure:

  • The use of an email encryption service. 
  • Password protecting your attachments with the highest encryption available. 
  • Sharing files using a 3rd party secure file transfer.

2. Email Continuity – What happens if my server crashes? How long will I be without email?
How about if I lose internet connectivity, what happens to my email if it can’t get to my server? 

  • By using an email continuity service you greatly reduce if not eliminate the business impact of a server outage. For example, if your central mail server crashes or you lose internet to your mail server and you do not have any kind of email continuity service, you run the risk of mail being extremely delayed, or returned to the sender as undeliverable email continuitycausing you to lose out on important business communications.
  • With email continuity, your mail is spooled on a remote server in the cloud, and if your mail server failed, your end users can simply log into a portal to send and receive emails until your email server comes back online, at which time the portal would sync up with your mail server and things would return to normal. If you completely lost internet, those messages destined to your mail server would simply spool up in the cloud as opposed to being returned to sender. Once the internet came back online, that email would slowly be pushed into the mail server and things would return to normal.

3. Data Loss Protection - Ever worry about proprietary business or confidential client data being leaked and end up in the wrong hands?

  • As much as we trust our end users, mistakes happen. By implementing Data Loss Protection (DLP) you add a layer of security around your information.
  • How Data Loss Protection (DLP) works: you define a set of criteria that essentially triggers either an email block or email encryption, then your email is handled accordingly. An example of information that would trigger an action could be a bank routing number, social security number, or other keywords that directly relate to your business or industry.
  • Without this type of protection, you are leaving yourself vulnerable to the human element. We are human, and we make mistakes.

4. Email Archiving – Email archiving can be important for a variety of reasons, and depending
on your industry or even disaster recovery plan, your specific needs could be different. Some specifics are:

  • email archivingCompliance – Banking, Legal, and Healthcare aren’t the only industries who should be thinking about email retention periods. Any business could find themselves in a situation where the need to locate and produce an email that happened several years prior. Without it, it becomes the said/she said, and you may be on the losing end of the battle. 
  • Disaster Recovery – Email archiving provides a means in which to recover should the worst happen. Should you find yourself in a situation where you lost both your server and primary backup, an email archiving solution provides another layer of disaster recovery.
  • Storage – In a data driven world, almost everything is electronic. Wouldn’t it be nice to free up costly server space? With archiving you offload data to an environment where someone else is maintaining it, and if/when you require it, you can simply log into a portal to find what you need and bring it back.

With our business and personal lives becoming so dependent on electronic communication, it’s imperative that we continually review our email practices. What may have been acceptable 5 years may no longer be relevant, and as laws change, so does our responsibility. Be proactive and protect yourself before it’s too late.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc. to review your current email security. Together we can protect your business critical emails.  

 

Contact Us Today!

 

 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Email Security, Disaster Recovery, Email Encryption, Email Continuity

Using Blended Learning to gain a Competitive Advantage

Posted by Derik Bormann on Oct 23, 2012 8:42:00 AM

blended learning approachI have been a technical trainer for nearly 14 years now. For most of my career, the classes and solutions I have been a part of were classroom training. In addition, most were reactive and focused on a product or policy.  This “Reactive Training” worked at the time, but it did not provide companies with a proactive solution to increase productivity and reduce errors. It was a means to ensure past issues did not occur again.   

Because this is the typical approach used, training is often one of the first causalities when the economy turns. It’s hard to justify spending money in that manner when there are others areas it could be spent. I have found the opposite is actually true. When used to enforce good proactive policies, training increases productivity, limits costly mistakes, and provides a solid foundation on how your company expects to conduct business. Since many industries now face regulations and restrictions, instructing your employees early and often is critical.  In addition, an effective training program can become one of your biggest advantages over your competition.

blended learning technologyTo maximize the effectiveness of your training content, it is important to utilize various learning options available. The most effective way is often to develop a “Blended Learning” solution for your organization. Blended Learning is identifying how the learning audience can achieve mastery and improve business performance. By using this approach, you can incorporate the best methods based on the item being taught.  


The key to effective Blended Learning is to set goals, use analysis, and planning tools to find the optimal blend of learning tools to achieve maximum results. A successful blended learning solution is a compromise between several factors:

  • Business and performance objectives
  • Ways groups of learners learn best
  • Ways material is best individualized, presented, and learned
  • Available resources that support learning, training, business, and social activities
  • Capabilities for access, interaction, and social relationships

I will discuss in future posts specifically designed solutions to consider when developing a blended learning plan. Before you can implement those items, it is important to spend time effectively analyzing and planning several factors to maximize your success. Some items you should consider include:

  • Identify and analyze audience, organization, learning, and system requirements
  • Keep a catalog of available resources that support learning and training activities
  • Involve stakeholders in analysis, planning, implementing, testing and evaluation
  • Use a reiterative analysis and planning process
  • Provide criteria and evaluate the blended learning, performance outcomes, instructional products, and performance
  • Factor in local requirements

blended learning IT
There are many other factors that can and should be considered when developing a learning strategy for your entire organization. If you would like to learn more about blended learning options, please drop us a line. We would love to help you as you move forward.  

Contact Us Today!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., technology training

What You Need To Know About Cloud Computing

Posted by Ric Todd on Oct 17, 2012 2:05:00 PM

Cloud computingThere I was, on the way home from a trip to New York for business last week, I happened to look out the window and notice below me clouds. I thought to myself as we flew along, wow those aren't just the fluffy things that produce rain, gray days, and soon enough snow...that is where IT all is. That's what the entire hubbub is about. But I don’t see anything that would leave me to believe the worlds computing power is converging in this nebulous mist.  No giant monitor in the sky. I don't see an incredibly long network cable plugged into it. There's NOTHING to let on this is where it's all happening.   

Removing the tongue from my cheek, the cloud can be no less mysterious than the ridiculous previous point. It seems these days, if it isn't cloud, it isn't legit. Not helping the confusion is the fact that many of the companies who profit from the buzz are dumping tons of money into coming up with new acronyms your business simply can't live without. Now you have a recipe for confusion.   

For a short period, I will attempt to be your meteorologist with a hopefully higher success rate.

If you are a business, you are no doubt spending money on technology. I am here to tell you, though you may not spend less, you can get MORE. 

Why? Someone else has made a very sizable investment in infrastructure, cooling, security, and facilities. You would never want to spend that kind of money (or maybe you do and this article is not for you). You, YES YOU, have the ability to rent a portion of those resources. For a fraction of the cost of implementing this yourself, you are able to take advantage of someone else's really expensive redundancy and security. 

cloud computing devicesWhat's more, in a lot of these scenarios, you have less direct responsibility for the maintenance of the underlying systems than you would with your own infrastructure. The good news from this: fewer surprises, more uptime, more consistency, more security. Translation: fewer things getting in the way of you doing what you should be doing - focusing on your business.   

We see the adoption of one (or a hybrid) of these three deployment scenarios:

1) SaaS: Software as a Service

  • A single software piece moved into the cloud such as email, document processing, CRM, ERP, etc.
  • Microsoft Office365 is a great example of SaaS.  Including the Microsoft Office application suite such as Access, Excel, Word, etc.  

Advantage: One major advantage of using SaaS is while it doesn’t go away completely; the need for ongoing technical skills is reduced. Once your application need is implemented, there is generally very little overhead needed for ongoing support.

Disadvantage: Relinquishing control. It’s not as simple to pick up a phone or send an email to make a change or get the on-demand support you may be used to up until now.

2) IaaS: Infrastructure as a Service

  • Offers the balance of having some control while leveraging someone else's sizable investment in redundant, secure, and highly available systems.
  • In this instance, you rent “virtual hardware” and deploy your own servers and their relative roles and applications. You share medium, storage, memory, etc.

Advantage: Generally speaking the costs associated with IaaS aren’t cheaper than your owned infrastructure. However, your costs are more predictable. You don’t have to worry about replacing hardware when it fails or upgrading that underlying hardware layer when it becomes obsolete. You still have to ensure your OS layer and upward is patched and secure.  

3) Private Cloud:

  • A Private cloud comes at a premium, and it should.  It's the private jet of the Cloud world. And much like a private jet, businesses often find the customization and flexibility of dedicated infrastructure necessary.
  • You want to take advantage of highly redundant power, cooling, internet paths, and even security but don’t want to make the investment. 
  • Perhaps due to regulatory needs your data must reside in its own storage domain and can’t afford to run across shared medium. 
  • You maintain control, you have your own hardware sitting in that datacenter but everything is cordoned off so there is no doubt you are a separate entity. 

Caveats: There are always caveats to things. Here is a short list of things I have run into:

  • Do you have a really dependable internet option? You may even want to consider multiple internet options. This internet connection is the lifeline to your infrastructure. If you don’t have a reliable connection to the outside world, this may not be a good option for you, yet.
  • There is a misconception that moving to the cloud is cheaper than owning your own infrastructure. In most cases, this is simply not the accurate. In fact, Cloud migrations I have been a part of are usually about equal to the previous annual IT spend. Remember, you get more bang for your buck. In many cases, businesses have the misconception that their infrastructure is highly resilient and redundant when it fact it is not. And why shouldn’t they? That stuff drawing power and making all that noise is expensive. It’s even more expensive when it doesn’t do what you thought it would and your business is unable to do what it needs to do for a few hours or even days.
  • Control. As mentioned briefly before, to some degree you lose control. Maybe it’s not as easy to request a restore. Maybe it takes a bit longer to create a new vlan. Maybe it’s justCloud Computing key the inconvenience of not being able to walk down the hall into the server room.

The bottom line is this: If you are near the end of your hardware life or even close and considering upgrading your infrastructure, drop us a line. In this day and age, there is no reason you shouldn’t at least be considering moving some of your business to the cloud, as mercurial as it may seem. 

 

Contact Us Today!

 

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Cloud computing

Small Technology, Big Risks: Top 5 Mobility FAQs

Posted by Brett Anderson on Oct 5, 2012 4:53:00 PM

mobile device managementI love my job!  I get to meet with a variety of businesses and work with them to make the complicated less complicated.  Our conversations cover a broad spectrum including strategy, marketing, business drivers, revenue, cost, efficiency and how it all ties to technology.  Over the past 12 months the most consistent topic in these discussions is related to mobile devices and how they fit in this mix. From iPads to smart phones and everything in between, this is the most misunderstood topic I work with.  

Unlike most of the technology drivers over the past 5 years, mobile devices are driven from the bottom-up and not from top-down.  This brings a whole new dynamic to the problem.  We hear more and more of it every day – employees are bringing their cell phones and tablets to work and want to be “hooked up to the network”.  But with this comes a whole new set of concerns and desires from the business. 

Five most common mobility questions we receive:

1. What should I be concerned with when employees ask to connect their mobile devices to our network?

First off, treat the mobile devices like any other laptop.  Secure it, manage it, and control it.  Your policy and rules for mobile devices may be different for corporate purchased items versus employee owned (BYOD-Bring Your Own Device).  This is an important facet to work out.

We recommend you use a robust Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution.  The right MDM solution will help you with mobile security– locking the phone, wiping it, black listing applications, and location services.  In addition, a good MDM solution will also  help with productivity and efficiency – document distribution, app distribution and expense management.      

BYOD Bring Your Own Device resized 6002. How is BYOD different than other technology trends?

Simply put – your employees are driving it.  Instead of a master plan to select and deploy a piece of software, your employees are connecting to your wireless network and Exchange server without you knowing about it.  They may even have a VPN connection configured.  If you don’t get in front of it, and a device is lost or hacked, you may face enormous risk. 

3. How difficult is it to connect a device to an MDM server?  

This is very easy to do!  It’s designed so someone with very little understanding of technology can simply click ‘yes’ on a couple of dialog boxes and they’re up and running.  Once the device is being managed, you’ve mitigated the security risks and positioned yourself to improve productivity with mobility. 

4. Should I worry about how my current website appears on a mobile device?

If you have an active site that customers visit frequently to learn more about your business and how to contact you, YES, you should open it up in a mobile browser and see how it looks. 

  • Is there too much information on the home page?
  • Do the images run off the side?
  • Does your site loop while trying to load content?
  • Is it difficult to navigate to the sub-pages and contact information?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, there’s room for improvement! There are many inexpensive ways to solve this problem. Personally, I can’t remember the last time I looked up a website from my desktop – it’s all being done from a smartphone or tablet!  This will only become more common with your customers too! 

mobile app5. Should I build a mobile app?

A little background first.  An “app” in a native software application built to run on a smartphone or tablet.  Angry Birds and Dropbox are examples.  Apps can be built for 2 reasons:

  1. Internal use – sharing information, driving productivity, managing costs or expenses, or streamlining processes.  The goal of building an app for your employees is realizing the promise that mobile devices will help your workforce be more productive. 
  2. For your customers – typically gives you a presence, shares important customer information (think CRM), decreases workload on your customer service reps, and helps drive revenue.

In most situations I’m able to walk my customer through a quick decision tree that helps them determine if an app would be helpful, or if there are other ways to accomplish their objectives.

There are many facets to the mobility trend and how it applies to your business.  If you would like to learn more about it, drop us a line.  We’d love to help!

Download our Free eBook to learn more about MDM - Mobile Device Management: Guide to the Essentials and Beyond.

Download MDM Ebook to learn more!

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Mobile App Development, Mobile Device Management, Apple Certified Network Consultants

3 Tips on How to Provide Real Value To Your Customers

Posted by Brad Maszkowicz on Sep 28, 2012 10:18:00 AM

I recently purchased a new vehicle. Although I did not expect a great experience, I did expect more from the organizations I have worked with in the past. Each dealer kept telling me they would give me more value for my money. I finally got so tired of hearing it; I asked them to clearly quantify “Value” for me.

As expected – all I got was silence.

As they scrambled to answer my question, they told me “well, there are fancy rims; we will throw in heated seats; this one has a nice looking radio (which it was not)!” 

That’s Value?  Maybe in their eyes!  Not one of the dealers bothered asking me what value meant to me.

To really understand customer value, you need to understand what your specific customer is trying to accomplish with your product or service.  More than likely, it is not the same for each client.  

technology valueIf I am buying a car to provide inexpensive transportation and from work, then fuel efficiency and maintenance costs should be addressed first to provide me value. If I am buying a luxury car, to look great and be extremely safe for my family, then a 5 star airbag system and sporty rims may be adding more value to me.

The term, “Value” does have dollar implications. Dictionary definitions use words such as worth, importance, usefulness, fair market price while describing value. We often hear people say, “For the price this one offers more value.” The mistake is assuming all features apply to all people.

If you work for a technology service business like I do, providing real value is key and at times difficult to identify or quantify. Here are three tips to consider when discussing value with your clients:

  1. Ask the client how they will measure value. You can and should help them with this, but they need to formulate and express their opinions of value
  2. Use real numbers when possible. For example: Our solution will save you time.  We have all heard that before, right? If you get the customers agreement on what they will do with that saved time, now you are starting to add value. Those 5 hours per week of saved time may drive X% more revenue, increase job satisfaction by X%, etc.
  3. Follow up. This is probably the most important thing you can do to guarantee a long term client.

valueWork through the agreed upon value measurements and see if they are getting the value they anticipated. It may be out of your control or it may be fixable, either way, you have demonstrated to your client you care by following up with them. You can use this information as tools for improvement for yourself, your services, and your company. 

NEVER Assume value. Just like the car salesperson that thought fancy rims would give me more value...that car is still on the lot.

We have found these three tips to be extremely helpful in the technology industry and hope they benefit your industry as well.

Your turn: How have you demonstrated value with a customer recently? 


Topics: Technology Solutions, Managed Services, NetWork Center, Inc.

Applying Technology To Solve Business Challenges

Posted by Brett Anderson on Sep 22, 2012 7:00:00 AM

It’s an eye opening and humbling experience to tell the story of your company. Earlier this month The Forum spent time with some of the leaders of NetWork Center, Inc. to talk about technology, our record of employee retention and what we expect in the future. The Forum did a wonderful job telling this story, but we thought we could elaborate on the future of technology with this blog. 

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” – Albert Einstein

Ben CarlsrudIt’s often said that business success can be tied to your ability to predict change and adapt quickly. Over the past 10 years we’ve seen an evolution in technology that’s changed the way everyone does business. From e-commerce to more powerful mobile phones and the popularity of tablet computers, the successful companies are those that have embraced change and adapted quickly. Two examples to consider: 

  • Where was Apple 10 years ago? How well did it predict the market and its consumers?  Has it paid off? 
  • In contrast, how has the automotive industry faired in the past 10 years?  Specifically, how would you describe the rollercoaster General Motors has been on?
  • How is your business reacting to the changes in the market place?  Are you leveraging technology and these changes to secure your future?

For many years NetWork Center, Inc. has been a regional leader in core technologies which are at the heart of the changes in the market place. This is a difficult concept to understand, but it’s important if you want to evolve with the future. The core technologies – or what we refer to as “traditional” offerings – include the servers, switches and routers, phones and connectivity. Our success over the past 25+ years is based on our deep understanding of how they all come together to make up the core infrastructure.

So how does this help our customers adapt in the future?

Connectivity and core infrastructure isn’t going away any time soon – this technology backbone is what makes all the “new” technology possible. From social media to tablets and smart phones to the Cloud – they all rely on the “traditional” core infrastructure at some level. We’re building on this proven track record of “traditional” offerings with experience in more forward-facing technologies:

  • Mobile Device Management and advisement.  We’re the only local reseller and provider of MaaS360, the leading solution to help manage and secure mobile devices and tablets.
  • We’re the only Certified Apple Consultants in the region.
  • We’ve developed mobile applications for Android and iOS.
  • We‘ve developed feature-rich and robust solutions based on Google Apps.
  • We’ve designed and deployed hybrid solutions that leverage our customers’ local software, remote locations and Cloud based storage and computing.

“Computers are useless.  They can only give you answers.” – Pablo Picasso

Twenty years ago this was what most people thought.  But doesn’t it still hold true?  Computers and technology and all the “traditional” pieces mentioned earlier are just the means to an end. Without the intelligence that Albert Einstein talks about, the core technology itself isn’t very useful. You need smart people who understand business, understand challenges and can apply the technology appropriately to make your business better.

This is what Network Center, Inc. does. We have passionate, intelligent people who listen to your concerns and partner with you on solutions. From the core infrastructure and “traditional” technology to all of the new challenges technology brings. We can help you adapt to the changing landscape and take advantage of opportunities the future holds. 

Contact us to talk about your business –we’d love the opportunity to share our knowledge with you and help map out your future! 

Contact Us Today!

  

Topics: Technology Solutions, Mobile App Development, Mobile Device Management, Cloud computing, Apple Certified Network Consultants, Managed Services

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