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Technology Training

Project Manage With Microsoft Planner

Do you manage groups of people but have a hard time keeping track of everything? Well, Microsoft has the tool for you! Microsoft Planner is a great application that is part of the Office 365 offering. It is a work in progress from Microsoft but none the less, Planner is a vast improvement from a simple to do list that you may use in Outlook. If you are managing internal projects across several employees with a lot of moving pieces but don’t have a need for a fully fledged project management software, then Planner will be great for you!

Make the most of your Office 365 investment by trying Planner to see if it is a good fit for your organization. You can create projects, assign tasks and checklists under that project to members of your team. Planner lets you attach and share files that are relevant to the project and you can get a birds-eye view of the progress across all of your employees from the Planner dashboard. Microsoft Planner can be accessed on a web page, local desktop application or mobile app and the best part is that it stays synced across all of your devices to keep you on track while you’re on the move.

In this video, we will show you where you can find Microsoft Planner in the Office 365 portal. From there, we will show you how to set up your account, create projects and assign tasks to the team members in your organization. Keep your team on track and get your project completed on time with Microsoft Planner.

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Technology Training

Get Started With Skype For Business

Skype for Business really brings into question the need for a physical phone in the business world, especially for small companies. Skype for Business is another value-add in the Microsoft Office 365 offering and it works seamlessly with other Microsoft Office apps.

In this video, we will walk you through accessing Skype for Business on Windows 10. Once you have the application installed and opened, we will show you how to set up your microphone, headphones, and webcam. After you’ve gone through the setup process, it is relatively straightforward. You can open up a chat session, have a voice call or start a video conference with anyone in your contacts list. The great thing about Skype for Business is that you can talk to anyone around the world no matter if they are using Skype for Business or not.

Skype for Business is a great tool that will allow you to not only talk to friends and colleagues around the world but you can also attend virtual meetings with Skype for Business conferencing. Skype for Business also has many great built-in features such as screen sharing in case you need to show something to a colleague on your computer. The best part of all this is that you have Skype For Business built into your Office 365 subscriptions.

Microsoft Office 365 is changing the way that business communicates by creating one platform that encompasses email, voice, chat, conferencing and a whole lot more. What is great about what Microsoft has created is that you can get all the basics of business communication, hosted by Microsoft, for a low monthly cost. No more Exchange servers, PBX boxes or PRI’s to pay for and maintain.

If you haven’t looked into what Microsoft has to offer through Office 365 we strongly recommend that you do. If you already use Office 365 and are still paying to maintain a phone system then you may want to consider Skype For Business to help minimize and consolidate expenses.

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Technology Training

Microsoft OneDrive For Beginners

Every Microsoft product is designed to drive collaboration and efficiency. Microsoft OneDrive is no exception. Built as a solution to match the emergence of products like DropBox, OneDrive is integrated into the Office 365 offering and works seamlessly with all Microsoft Office products.

In this video, we will show you how to access and set up your OneDrive account that comes with five gigabytes of storage. OneDrive allows you to send files without having to use email or file transfer methods. Simply upload your files to the cloud and allow your team or any specific person to have access to them.

The real power of OneDrive is the ability to share data. OneDrive will act as a kind of backup, staying synced with the computer files that you have saved in OneDrive, however, OneDrive was intended to serve as a way for teams to collaborate with large files. Instead of trying to send a large file directly, you can simply upload your file to OneDrive send a link that will allow the recipient to download and work from anywhere in the world.

If you are using Office 365 then you should take a moment to set up your OneDrive account. Especially if you are paying for a product like DropBox. This will help save you a little money every month and will sync well with all the Microsoft products you already use.

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Technology

How to prepare for ransomware

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about ransomware: a type of computer virus that encrypts your files and holds them for ransom. Worse yet, there is no guarantee that your data will be released if you pay the ransom fee. In light of the most recent ransomware attack called “WannaCry” that infected a substantial number of businesses in Europe, it is important that you are taking measures to ensure that your business is safe.

Antivirus and firewall concept with businessman protected with umbrella

If you are not familiar with the statistics, ransomware was a billion dollar industry in 2016, and every cyber criminal knows it. There is exceptional financial motivation for these scams to be produced indefinitely, and they become increasingly sophisticated every day. As a business owner, ransomware is a constant threat that cannot be ignored.

Playing defense in the ransomware game is a layered approach, with several security methods to prevent ransomware from getting to your network. The first line of defense includes anti-virus, a good firewall, and effective spam filtering. The next important step in any security plan is user training. Ransomware is generally not a problem until someone within your network clicks on the wrong email or web link. The final layer of defense are things like an insurance policy or data backups.

Preferably, investing in each one of these layers is best practice. However, if you have to choose one component over another, backups are the most important investment that you can make. With a good backup system, you may lose some time and a nominal amount of data after an attack, but you will be able to restore your data without the ransomware affecting your business.

In addition to having the data backups in place, it is also essential to ensure that your backups are up-to-date and running properly. Backups have a tendency to face errors that can disrupt a backup schedule. With proper backup monitoring, you may find that your backups were not operating as expected, thus leaving your data vulnerable.

Talk to your IT professional to ensure that you have both preventative security measures and contingencies in place to protect your data in the event of a ransomware attack.

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Technology

Business Information Technology Risk Assessment

In the spirit of St. Patricks Day, it is a good time to ask yourself how lucky you are. Since we are an IT consultant, we are going to focus on what that means when we look at an IT network. As an IT company, we get to see how a lot of businesses operate and manage their IT and it ranges from systems that completely rely on luck to operate from one day to the next to businesses that have more layers of redundancy than employees in the company.

Closeup of messed wires connecting computers and printers in office

It is truly amazing how lucky you can be when operating a business with a network that is patched together. Eventually, however, luck runs out and this can be costly. What we have put together is an easy way for you to self-asses how lucky you are. Using a scale of one to ten, run through the follow list of questions and use this metric to give yourself an accurate risk assessment.

The categories below are based on a company that has 10 to 50 employees and is hosting a network internally. Each category will give you 10 points for a total of 50 if you are doing your due diligence to protect your network and your company.

Backups
There are two types of backups. Local and off-site or hosted. A good way to look at an effective backup system is through a layered approach. Ideally, you should have a server that is backed up to a local storage. The local storage should then be backed up off site. This way you accomplish speed and redundancy. Give yourself three points if you have a local backup system, an additional three points if you have offsite backups and four points if you are using a backup monitoring system to ensure that your data is actually backed up.

Network Age
A network is not like a fine wine. It doesn’t get better with age. The older your hardware, the more likely you are to have to respond to downtime and data loss. We recommend that our clients replace their computers on or before the five-year mark and replace servers at three years. Other network hardware such as switches, battery backups, firewalls, routers and WIFI access points should be replaced at the same time you replace the server. To the best of your ability, try and assess the age of your network hardware. If 10% of your network falls within this specification, give yourself 1 point. If 70% then 7 points and so on.

Security
You can never be too secure so it is difficult to score a 10 on this scale. Just doing your due diligence will get you a long way and that is what we are going to focus on here. Give yourself two points if you have each of the following.

  • Anti-virus on each workstation and server.
  • Managed Firewall
  • If you scored over a 6 on your network age
  • If you have passwords on each workstation that expire every 90 days
  • If you are PCI compliant

Software Patch Level
Do you know the current patch level for all of your supported software? This could be the operating system on your server, the firmware on your firewall or the version of anti-virus you are running. Your hardware is only as smart as the software that is running on it. If you are running software that is out of date or is not supported you are at risk. Give yourself two points for each of the following.

  • Is your firewall running the latest firmware?
  • Is your server OS under support?
  • Is your anti-virus running the latest version?
  • Are your computers running the latest version OS?
  • Are you using a line of business application that is up to date?

Vendor Support 
Vendor support for applications plays a critical role in keeping networks running smoothly. If you are using a line a business application for the majority of your day to day operations but haven’t purchased a vendor support package with this product, you are exposing yourself to potential downtime. Partnering with an IT support company will not necessarily fix this issue due to the fact that no support partner will know that important application like the company that created it. In addition to purchasing vendor support for your most important application, you should also work with an IT partner that can provide preventative support for your network to ensure that you are as protected as possible. If you have purchased an application support package then give yourself five points. Also, if you are working with an IT support partner for all of you daily IT needs, give yourself five points.

If you tally up your point and find that you have between 40 and 50, Congratulations! You are doing your due diligence to ensure that your network is running smoothly and you are protected against downtime and data loss. If you are between 25 and 40 you should consider working with a consultant to make a road map for improving your network. If you scored less than 25 you are relying on luck to keep your network operational. In this case, you should reach out to an IT consultant and consider making serious improvements to your network infrastructure and support.

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Technology

The Growing Importance of Business Internet

Sooner rather then later, business IT networks will consist of an internet connection and a light weight computer that acts as a terminal to the internet. There will be no more investing in servers, switches, battery backups, NAS devices etc. in the same way that has been done for the last 15 years. Companies will trade the responsibility of purchasing and maintaining a network for a “network as a service” in a hosted data center. Ultimately, this move will come with many benefits such as increased security, increased up-time, greater redundancy and decreased costs to your company.

landscape view of very large data centre data storage array ** Note: Slight graininess, best at smaller sizes

The catch to all of this wonderful techy business is your connection to the internet. Right now, if your internet connection goes down, it can hurt your company a lot. You will most likely lose access to email, payment processing, search, phones and any other hosted application that you rely on. The up side is that you can still work internally until your connection comes online. By hosting your entire network in a data center you would lose all functionality if your internet connection goes down. Despite all the benefits that hosted networks will bring, it will make your internet connection that much more important.

This will likely effect businesses in a few ways. Primarily businesses will want to invest in redundant internet connections that run on separate networks. A good way to look at this would be having a main fiber connection and a backup point to point wireless connection as a fail over. This will also effect they way businesses look at acquiring new locations. One of the most important questions you will ask when looking at a new building is “what internet options are available?” If fiber internet isn’t already connected to the building, this should be a serious problem to take into consideration.

Finally, with all of this in mind, you will want to watch out for the dirty tricks that the telecom industry likes to play. Namely their auto renew clause that is built into most contracts. A lot of businesses are in the process of making a change from copper internet to fiber internet. If you are at all interested in moving toward hosted options for your company network, you will want a solid fiber internet connection. It is important to know when your internet contract is coming to a close and make sure that you move to a month to month option or make sure that you are ready to cancel that contract and replace it with a fiber connection.

Business IT network options are in a constant state of change and now like never before, it is important to make sure that you have an IT partner that can help you navigate the options of the hosted world. If you are considering hosted solutions for your company, give eTop a call for a free consultation.

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Technology Training

Cloud Data Storage Gillware

Does your company have a data backup strategy? Cloud backups are a vary important part of any network. Without them, you are at risk of losing your data should a disaster strike. That being said, many questions remain. How should I set up my backup system? How many copies of my data do I need? Why is redundancy important? How do I know that my data is really being backed up? In order to make sure that all of these questions are answered, you need a strategy.
The first line of defense starts with a server. Backing up your workstations to a server will collect all of your data to one point. From there it is important to backup your data to a Network Attacked Storage device or NAS. This is a hard drive that is attached to your server that makes a copy of your data in case your server dies. A NAS device is also helpful for restoring files to the server quickly. With a NAS, you do not have to rely on your internet connection to restore files when data accidentally gets deleted.
When considering a cloud data backup solution, or any cloud solutions, it is important to think about the amount of internet bandwidth you have. Uploading and downloading data to and from the cloud can take a lot of time if your internet connection is slow. In the event of an emergency, it can cause challenges to get data downloaded from the cloud in a timely manner.
Once you have your data on a server that is connected to a NAS and you have a good internet connection, you will want to back your data up to the cloud. There are many cloud data backup solutions to choose from. For this instance we are using a service called Gillware to back up files to the cloud. Using this simple method and having three full copies of your data will insure that your data is safe not matter what emergency may arise.

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Technology Training

Server Backup vs. Computer Backup

If you spend your working days behind a computer, it is worth it to know what is going on behind the scenes when you save a file that you have been working on. There are usually a list of drives that you can use to save your files to. Knowing the difference between saving your files to your computer and saving it to your server can save you a great deal of trouble. This may seem silly if you already understand the difference, however, if you don’t know, it could lead to significant data loss.
If you are not saving your files to your server, then you are at risk of losing all of your documents should your computer die. Among many other things, the server acts as your first point of backup for your computer. This means that if your computer dies, you don’t have to worry. You can simply replace your computer and continue working since all of your documents are saved to the server.
The server in turn should follow the same principle. Once the data has been created on your computer and saved to the server, the server is then backed up to a local storage device. The local storage device should then be backed up to the cloud. Following these simple guide lines and making sure that you have at least three full copies of your data will insure that your company and your data are safe, no matter the disaster.

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Technology

How Many Forms Of Redundancy Should Your Data Backup Plan Have?

How do you know when your data is secure? In business today, almost everyone knows that backups are an absolute necessity, but there are no clear standards that helps you know your data is safe. It seems like there are new appliances and cloud services being created every day that are going to solve all of your problems, but when doing a cost-benefit-analysis, it is hard to know if you are making a good investment.
In the world of data backup, you have desktop backups, server backups, local network attached storage (NAS) devices, cloud backups and backup and data recovery (BDR) solutions. Under each of these categories you have an abundance of products and services that will help provide redundancy. As a rule of thumb, you should have a complete copy of your data in three or more locations.
In a typical network, you will have data being created on desktop computers which are not considered a point of backup. The data is stored on a server which is considered the first point of backup. The server is then backed up to a local appliance like a NAS device. This will give you two independent and complete copies of your data at your physical location. The third backup is usually in the cloud which will give you two or more physical locations where your data is stored. Depending on the specific company needs, you may also have a collocation server and cloud backups for that as well.

Know where your data is being stored!
This is an important aspect of data backup that often goes overlooked. This is typically a problem for end users as they may not understand the difference between saving their data to the server rather than their computers. This problem can be overcome with end user training and the implementation of company policies. Your data is only as safe as your employees’ ability to save it in a secure location. If they save all of their documents to their local computer, all of that information is at risk of being lost should that single computer die.

Why is a NAS important?
You may be tempted to ask. “If I have cloud backups, why do I need a local copy of the data on the server?” The answer is bandwidth. The connection between your server and your NAS device is a lot faster than the connection between your network and your cloud data storage facility. Most backups are set to run every couple of hours and uploading that much data over your internet connection during working hours would make your internet connection almost unusable. Data can easily be backed up to a NAS at several points during the day and from there, the data can be backed up to the cloud after business hours.
A NAS works in the reverse order as well. If by chance you lose a drive on your server and you need to download a large amount of data, it is a lot faster to restore data from a local backup than it is to download it form the cloud. This will decrease downtime should an emergency occur.

Why is the cloud important?
It is equally tempting to ask. “If I have a NAS device, do I really need to back up to the cloud?” The answer is yes. Primarily for reasons of natural disaster. In the event of a fire, flood, earth quake, tornado etc. you stand a good chance of losing all of your data, should your building be destroyed. If this were to happen, it may take some time, but at least you could set your company up in a remote location and your staff would be able to function.

Do I need a BDR solutions?
The answer to this question really comes down to a cost benefit analysis. How much money have you lost over the course of three years due to network downtime? Compare that with the cost of a BDR (Backup and Disaster Recover) device and you will have your answer. In most cases a BDR appliance is a duplicate server that sits at idle waiting for your primary server to stop functioning. If you have had a server outage that has taken up most of a days worth of your employees time then you know that the cost starts to add up quickly. With a BDR appliance, no one would know that your primary server had gone down except for your IT professional.

Monitoring your backups   
As if having backups for your backups isn’t enough, you also need to know that your data is being backup up appropriately. There is nothing worse than finding out that after having made the investment to back up your data correctly, your backups haven’t run in the last six months. Backup systems can be finicky and sometimes they run into errors that stop the automated processes. If you don’t know that this has happened you will go about your days thinking that everything is fine. Talk to your IT partner about the status of your data and make sure that they have a system in place to monitor your backups.

By following these simple guidelines and investing the three points of redundancy for your data backup, you can feel confident that you are adequately protected. You will protect yourself from everything from simply deleting files accidentally or having a hardware failure to ransomware and other malicious programs and natural disasters should they ever arise. Consult with your IT professional to make sure that your data is secure and that you have at least three point of redundancy for all of your data.