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How to minimize downtime in the cloud

Sometimes downtime happens and there’s nothing you can do to control it. However, with some forethought, you can set yourself up for success and minimize whatever downtime does occur.

Here are a few points to consider when configuring your cloud infrastructure.

Stay on top of security

One case of downtime that can be catastrophic is a security breach. Not only are you losing productivity time but you could also be losing data.

This includes aspects like making sure your firewall settings are current, changing passwords periodically, updating software regularly, and training employees to follow good security practices.

Make sure your network security is up to snuff and you will be eliminating several vectors for sudden downtime.

Backup and disaster recovery

If you don’t have a backup and disaster recovery plan (BDR plan) in place already, then it should become your top priority. In the event of catastrophic failure, irreparable hardware damage, or even natural disasters, an effective BDR plan can save your organization a lot of pain and loss.

It should include how you back up your data, where the data is stored, and how to bring it back to a point where it can be utilized again as quickly as possible. If you prepare it ahead of time, you’ll be glad that you have it when you need it.

This ties into our next point but should operate independently.

Related reading on data integrity: How to avoid downtime and disruption when moving data

Multiple copies

Most effective cloud storage solutions should be organized so that your data exists in multiple copies stored in multiple locations. This policy should be in addition to your backups maintained for your BDR plan. This extra measure is to cover your bases in the event of things like a power outage temporarily preventing full network access or someone accidentally deleting something that they shouldn’t have.

In either case, you still have a significant dataset to work with and can use it to restore any other copies that are necessary. Your data is intact and available because you planned ahead. It’s a quick and easy solution that doesn’t require you to go into emergency recovery mode.

Some solutions even go so far as to split files up into smaller chunks and store them in different locations. This is to improve both security and redundancy. If a subset of data is lost, you only have to replace that subset. Similarly, if only a subset of data is stolen, the attacker can’t make much out of it.

Redundant hardware

Another critical component of effective cloud infrastructure is hardware redundancy. Generally, cloud solutions involve some degree of systems running in parallel and sharing capabilities already. Ideally, you should have redundant systems warmed up and ready to relieve the strain that a failed machine will place on the network.

This way if one component goes down or needs repair, it won’t bring down the entire ecosystem. In fact, the impact will be relatively minor and the malfunctioning part can be replaced without issue.

Related reading about redundancy practices: 4 ways to avoid cloud outages and improve system performance

Keep thinking ahead

It’s always best to plan ahead when you have the opportunity. Think about things like what would happen in specific situations and how you would respond to those challenges.

And don’t hesitate to call the experts if you have any questions. We can help set up your network reliably or, at the very least, provide you with guidance.

The cloud and your business: what you need to know

When it comes to your business, you know the value of relying on proven practices to get the job done. You also know that there comes a time when a bold, new approach is really needed to improve efficiency and meet demand. Businesses all across the country are moving to the cloud because they know that the cloud will give them a competitive edge of others in their industry.

When it comes to technology, things move at a rapid pace. We put together this guide to help you understand the many benefits of migrating over to the cloud. Learn how the cloud can transform the way you work and give you an advantage over your competitors.

Simplicity

Most businesses rely on technology to manage their daily operations. Managing on-site IT involves software installation and upgrades, security patches, and troubleshooting issues. It is a full-time job that many small businesses cannot afford to employ. Most businesses outsource to busy IT consultants, or they rely on a member of their staff to provide IT support. Either option can cost you time and money and put your business at risk. If you don’t have an IT specialist on staff, cloud-based software can simplify your life.  Choose your provider carefully to ensure you feel comfortable and confident in their ability to handle your needs. Your cloud provider will handle all updates for you off-site. This means you will have a full staff of experts working to make sure you are always up to date and secure.

Minimize downtime

When you rely on technology to keep things going, downtime can be a critical problem. Natural disasters, accidents, or theft can destroy data that is stored only on hard-drives or local servers. According to FEMA, almost 40% of businesses do not reopen after a disaster. Cloud storage keeps your files updated and your applications online in the event of a disruption, big or small. The cloud automates backups which remove the risk of human error. If your on-site server goes down, cloud services ensure that your business doesn’t miss a beat. Regardless of the cause, when interruptions hit the cloud helps to minimize downtime and keep your business going.

Mobility

One of the many benefits of the cloud is the ability for employees to work remote. As of 2017, up to 25% of Americans worked from home at least some of the time. Cloud services are a game-changer for mobility. You will no longer have to save files to a USB drive or email them to yourself for later. The cloud allows you to access your files anywhere there is an internet connection. For people who travel often, such as those in sales, the cloud minimizes the stress of working on the go. Never again will you have to worry about leaving behind the latest version of a contract or proposal. As many benefits as there are to mobility with the cloud, there are certain security risks. This is why it is vital to establish written policies about the use of personal devices by employees.

Security

It is a myth to assume that your small business is safe from online threats because of its size. In reality, small businesses are a popular target of online hackers. Businesses of all sizes must work hard to stay abreast of the latest security threats. Your business is not immune to threats like hacking, malware, and ransomware. By housing your data in the cloud you can reduce the effect of any breach. When you use cloud services you can rest assured that your data is in good hands. It is automatically backed up and protected by experts in the field of cloud security.

It is also important to understand how to prevent and respond to cloud-specific security threats. Methods of prevention include employee education, data encryption, access controls, and governance policies.

Affordability

One of the biggest benefits of moving over to the cloud is the opportunity to cut costs. This is achieved by eliminating onsite servers, software, and associated maintenance fees. You can also remove server costs and extend the life of your existing workstations. By moving over to a subscription-based cloud service, you pay only for what you need. This means significantly reduced operational and capital costs, which makes for better IT budgeting.

Flexibility and Scalability

Cloud services come in a variety of options, depending on the needs of your business.

  • In the public cloud data is easily accessible from anywhere.
  • A private cloud is a safe way for businesses to host security compliant applications. For enterprise businesses that are looking for both security and mobility, a private cloud may be the ideal solution.
  • The hybrid cloud combines the accessibility of the public cloud with the security of the private cloud. Applications and data can move across clouds or your data center with minimal downtime. Many businesses prefer the hybrid model because of its efficient use of both private and public clouds.

The cloud also offers the opportunity to scale up or down according to required storage. Unlike on-site servers, which have a finite capacity, you can easily adjust your storage space with the cloud. As your business changes and grows, you can scale the cloud to meet your needs– no more equipment purchases required.

Evolving technology

The cloud came on the scene in 2010, and in recent years it has become clear that the cloud is the future. This is an exciting time to get on board with cloud services. Latest industry trends promise great things for the future of cloud computing. We continue to see rapid advancement in cloud technology. As cloud technology matures, it is on the brink of becoming mainstream in business, the same way that the internet did around the turn of the Millennium.

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Related: IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS: Which should you choose?

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6 Critical Steps to Bolstering Your School’s Network Security

The ongoing revolution in digital technologies has made the learning process easier and more interesting for students of all ages. As your IT environment becomes more mature, however, you need to give some thought to how you will protect your systems and devices from attackers.

Don’t worry. There’s good news, too.

A little bit of common sense can go a long way when following cyber security best practices. Let’s look at some of the most important actions that you can take to make your school’s network more secure.

  1. Antivirus and Anti-Malware Solutions

Teachers are migrating more of their lessons and resources online, which means that your school’s network security is critical. Your network as a whole is becoming a more tempting target for cybercriminals who are looking to make a little profit—or just want to have a little fun at your expense.

For example, “ransomware” applications like the 2017 WannaCry attack lock up your own files and data and refuse to give you back access until you pay a hefty sum to the attackers. Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and other nasty software can wreak havoc on your school network, making computers shut down or behave erratically.

In order to keep your network protected, install strong antivirus and anti-malware software that can quickly detect and quarantine suspicious applications. These applications should run scans of the entire network on a regular basis.

  1. Software Updates and Patches

The devastating 2017 Equifax breach, which revealed the sensitive information of 143 million people in the U.S., occurred after attackers entered the company’s network through a security vulnerability with a patch already available for months.

As you add more devices to your school network, it becomes more and more imperative to make sure that each machine has installed the latest upgrades. Patch management software can help you keep track of each device’s status. Additionally, it can alert you to any critical vulnerabilities that need immediate attention.

  1. BYOD Security Policies

Smartphones, tablets, and laptops have the potential to greatly enhance the classroom learning experience. However, they also carry great risks when you allow students to bring in their personal devices.

Because the administration has no oversight of how students behave on their own laptops and tablets, you could be opening a security “backdoor” every time that these devices connect to the school’s network.

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Related: They Stole You?

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To guard against the potential dangers of personal devices in the classroom, create and enforce a strong BYOD (“bring your own device”) security policy. For example, students might have to install an app that monitors their Internet activity while connected to the network at school. It’s a small price to pay to bolster your school’s network security.

  1. Third-Party Vetting

Many schools choose to work with third-party IT vendors because they don’t have the in-house knowledge or experience to build a robust IT infrastructure themselves. While this can greatly enhance your capabilities, it can also expose you to additional risk.

Just like students’ personal devices, vendors with inadequate security training may accidentally open a backdoor into your school network. The devastating Home Depot and Target data breaches both occurred due to a third-party vendor with lax security practices.

It’s important to do your research when speaking with potential IT vendors. Once you’re drawing up the contract, make sure that both of you are on the same page by including cyber security best practices in your service level agreement (SLA).

  1. Data Backups and Encryption

Schools represent a highly enticing target for attackers. This is because they possess a great deal of personal and sensitive information about their students and employees. Still, in the event that hackers do break into your network, all is not necessarily lost.

By backing up your data at regular intervals in a separate location, like on a server in the cloud, you can protect it from loss even if your systems are compromised by a ransomware attack. In addition, if you encrypt the data that you store on your on-premises servers, it will be useless gibberish. Even in the hands of the attackers, unless they have the decryption key.

Encrypting your data should be a secondary line of defense if a data breach does occur. Data encryption will help you remain compliant with legislation such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) because the breach only exposed the encrypted information and not the actual underlying data.

  1. Training and Education

The best defense is a good offense, especially in cyber security. All too often, schools and companies have issues with breaches and malware. This can all be because one person clicked on the wrong link or opened a malicious application.

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Related: 4 Ways to Avoid Internal Security Threats

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Students, teachers, and administrators should all be trained to recognize the common signs of phishing emails and other scams. For example, phishing emails usually create a false sense of urgency and have frequent spelling errors. In addition, the email address of the sender is likely incorrect. Links in the body of the email may superficially resemble the correct website, but point somewhere else upon closer examination.

Bonus Step 7: Partner with a Scholastic IT Expert

Everything we mentioned above will take ample coordination and research. It’s a delicate game of balancing the necessary network security components to secure your school and staying within your IT budget.

Luckily, that’s where we can help.

We’re experts in optimizing schools to have the best possible security solutions that work for their needs. Let’s have a chat and explore more of what you’re looking for.

8 Things to Include in the Perfect Disaster Recovery Plan

It doesn’t matter if you’re a small-business owner or part of a larger enterprise – no one is immune to the effects temporary outages and data loss can have on day-to-day operations. So when disasters, security breaches or other catastrophes take place, how does a business effectively recover from them?

By creating a disaster recovery plan (also known as a DRP).

Extended periods of downtime and unrecoverable data loss can be fatal to companies in any industry.

With this in mind, it’s imperative that you establish a DRP now to minimize the negative effects of unplanned outages.

Here are 8 steps you should follow when crafting the perfect disaster recovery plan.

Step 1: Create Recovery Objectives

The main purpose of a disaster recovery plan is to get your business back up and running as quickly as possible during a disaster. Creating key objectives in the form of an established RTO (Recovery Time Objective) and RPO (Recovery Point Objective) will let you set criteria on how quickly your recovery efforts should take.

An RTO sets a deadline to achieve full recovery within the maximum allowable downtime. An RPO measures the possible data loss that your company can afford before suffering catastrophic business consequences.

As you identify and document other objectives, the availability of company resources needs to help identify how conservative or aggressive data recovery efforts should be.

Step 2: Identify Essential Personnel

When designing your disaster recovery plan, you’ll need to identify each staff member, both internal and external, that will be part of your recovery efforts. Each team member and department involved with your recovery efforts should be documented in your DRP with their assigned responsibilities.

It’s important to discuss budgets for both time and resources well in advance to eliminate the need for approvals when purchasing recovery tools or services.

Step 3: Produce Company Infrastructure Documentation

Having a step-by-step walkthrough of your current network configurations will ensure your IT recovery efforts are executed properly. There’s no telling how severe the data loss or corruption will be.

But leaving a blueprint of your current network infrastructure ensures your IT team will be able to properly rebuild and recover your systems. Having a plan to follow gives your IT recovery team a solid head start in reconstructing your infrastructure.

All documentation should be kept both offline and in the cloud. No matter what, it should be easily accessible to the people that need to see it.

5 Cloud Benefits to Give Your Business an Advantage

Step 4: Decide on Data Recovery Solutions

When it comes to choosing the actual recovery method, there are a lot of options for your company to consider. You should decide on the direction you wish to take, whether that’s on-premise, outsourced, or cloud-based DRaaS solutions.

Each method of recovery will have different costs and capabilities to consider, based on the needs of your company. Storage capacity, recovery timeline, and configuration complexity will all be factors that affect your costs.

Step 5: Define Incident Criteria Checklist

Not every outage that your company experiences should be strictly classified as a disaster. However, you’ll want to list the criteria to be used before deciding to execute your disaster recovery procedures.

Every company’s needs are different. Deciding in advance how strict to keep your criteria will help you set realistic goals and manage your data recovery costs.

You don’t want to roll out the red carpet recovery plan for an electricity outage that lasts an hour.

But if an earthquake rattles your office to bits, you probably do.

Step 6: Outline Disaster Response Procedures

Once you identify an incident as a disaster, you will need to have a set of procedures to follow that will allow you to move forward with your disaster recovery efforts. This stage of your DRP is vital to ensuring you meet the RTO and RPO standards you established in the early stages of your objective planning.

Regardless of how automated or manual your recovery processes are, everything needs to be documented to ensure maximum efficiency. As you begin to identify each step of your disaster response protocols, you should make sure there are steps in place to validate the success of your efforts.

In the event of data loss and recovery, you will need to ensure that all files recovered are working and in good order.

Step 7: Perform Regular Testing

Your perfectly laid out disaster response procedures can be totally ineffective if they haven’t been thoroughly tested. Once you create a disaster recovery plan, it is imperative that you run regular testing on each procedure to confirm its effectiveness.

There are several ways to develop secure environments for your testing, regardless if you are using on-premise or cloud-based recovery options. Create a testing schedule for engineers and other essential staff. They can play through scenarios of outages and data loss, ensuring proper preparation in event of a real disaster.

Making the Business Case for Virtualization

Step 8: Keep Your Recovery Plan Updated

As your company grows, so do the needs of your disaster recovery plan. If you have implemented a regular testing schedule of your DRP, you’ll begin to identify necessary changes to keep your plan in line with your company’s recovery needs. You should make changes to your recovery plan as needed and record each change in a log.

As you make staff changes over time, you must train and assign to your new disaster recovery personnel. As you continue to make regular evaluations of your business needs, your disaster recovery plan will continue to adapt over time.

Bonus Step 9: Let the Experts Handle Your DRP

Preparing your company for unexpected outages and data loss is a critical step in sustaining your business. Going at it alone is certainly doable. However, you need to ensure that everything is going to go off without a hitch.

Here’s the good news: There’s no need to go at it alone. We can help you craft your disaster recovery plan and test it to ensure full functionality.

Need help making a DRP? Want professionals to look your DRP over? Have any additional questions about what goes into DRPs?

Let’s have a conversation.

 

Transform Your Work Environment with the Cloud

We all know that cloud computing is changing the way the world works. The sheer amount of data that is collected every day is astounding. It’s 2.5 quintillion bytes. The fact that data accumulation in data centers is going to drive much of business in the future, means that you can no longer afford to disregard cloud technology. And the benefits of this new wave of cloud possibilities is felt strongest in office mobility.

According to Forbes: “Employee mobility leads to 30% better processes and 23% more productivity—and 100% more satisfied employees.” Office mobility is one of the most exciting elements to cloud computing thanks to new methods in data storage, business application delivery and improved security procedures. Here, we want to give you a rundown of the best ways that office mobility can help you transform your work environment thanks to the cloud.

Related: 3 Simple Ways to Promote Cloud Security

Accessibility

Did you know that mobility gives you more accessibility? Well, that should be a “no kidding” sort of statement. But it resonates more strongly than some people consider. Particularly in a world where more millennials are entering the workforce. Of course, it isn’t just millennials who are looking for mobility. In fact:

Accessibility means you don’t have look for the perfect employee in a 20-mile radius. It means you can get the best person for the job. A good mobility program gives your team the flexibility for work-from-anywhere days, extended vacations and more. Likewise, when you’re traveling, mobility means you have access to your staff and to clients without the need for troublesome communication procedures.

Accountability

It used to be that when remote working became an option, accountability went out the window. But the cloud offers project management tools and business apps that keep your staff productive and communicating. Now you’ve got the tools to give your staff access to all the data they need, without losing time and energy struggling over document versions and who is not getting work completed.

With the right cloud technology, your accountability is identical to in-office workstations, giving you peace of mind and a more productive staff.

Cybersecurity

For many businesses, security has always been the sticking point with the cloud. A poorly thought-out office mobility plan could leave you open to malware and other cybersecurity issues.

But in modern office mobility scenarios, particularly with programs like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, your data is held behind some of the strongest walls available. This means that no matter your company size, you get enterprise-level cybersecurity defenses automatically applied to your hard-earned data.

Related: Identity Theft in the Modern Era

Recovery

Backup and recovery should be a high priority for every business. After all, if your office experiences downtime, that lost time can become extremely detrimental. Running your business out of the cloud can help you minimize your downtime.

With a good office mobility program, your team can be up and running after a disaster. When a blizzard strikes, or a hurricane, your staff can easily pick up where they left off, even when the office is inaccessible. But it happens on the small scale as well. A laptop dropped in water can be easily replaced because of good office mobility solutions and management.

Learn more about cloud computing with EaseTech.

Finally

While many businesses are aware of their need to go mobile, enacting a plan to do so safely and with long-term goals in mind can be difficult. But with the right cloud technology and an IT provider with vision by your side, you can transform your work environment.

Call us today to discuss take your office mobility needs to the next level.