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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.

3 things you need to do before implementing your BYOD plan

Deciding on, and then implementing a BYOD program can be a huge challenge. It may even seem like an intimidating and impossible task. While most businesses are attracted to the cost-efficiency of a BYOD program, there are certain things that must be done to ensure the plan is successful.

Understanding BYOD

BYOD (which you likely already know stands for “Bring Your Own Device“) is something that is becoming more and more common in businesses today. This type of program allows your employees to bring their own, personal mobile devices and use them for work-related purposes. This is in lieu of the company providing them with laptops, smartphones or other mobile devices.

If you are thinking about implementing the BYOD program, but you don’t know where to begin, here’s our short list of what you’ll need.

1

Establish a security policy for all devices

Before you allow your employees the freedom to access your company’s resources from any device, you need to ensure there are stringent security guidelines in place.

Most users are resistant to complex passwords and lock screens simply because they are inconvenient. However, an unsecured device can leave your business’s sensitive data prone to an attack.

To ensure everything is safeguarded, you need to make sure that your BYOD includes the following security guidelines:

  • Set the minimum required security controls for all devices, which includes password requirements and data encryption.
  • Determine where the data from a BYOD device is going to be stored.
  • Determine if your IT department can remotely wipe devices if it is lost, an employee is terminated, there’s a policy breach, disaster situation, or some other issue.
  • Are your employees going to be required to install a mobile device security application, or are workers going to have the ability to choose their own security solutions that meet set criteria?

The strictness of the guidelines that you set will depend on your industry.

Put protections in place against any legal liability

When you introduce devices owned by your employee in your workplace, then it may lead to legal issues. As a result, you need to implement policies that help you avoid problems. Some things to consider include:

  • Rights: What legal rights do your employees and the organization have? Know what these are to create the proper privacy requirements and regulatory requirements.
  • Responsibilities: Do employees who are using a device with a corporate app or data have the responsibility of providing protection for the device? What happens if no steps are taken to protect it?
  • Liability: Will the company be held liable if an action on its part results in private data loss? What liability lies with the employee?
  • Privacy: What are the steps your business is going to take to protect employee privacy?

3

Define specific and concise user guidelines

By creating acceptable use policies, it’s possible to prevent malware and viruses from getting into the system via unsecured apps or websites.

It’s a good idea to talk about the following questions with your IT team or your managed service provider to set up your acceptable use policies. These questions include:

  • What applications can an employee access from their personal devices? Make sure that you clearly outline the types of apps that are allowed and the ones that aren’t allowed.
  • What websites need to be banned while the employee’s device is connected to the business network?
  • What type of company-owned assets will employees be allowed to access on their personal electronic devices? Contracts, documents, calendars, emails, etc.?
  • What type of policies are going to be implemented to keep employees from transmitting or storing illicit materials or from engaging in unrelated activities on their devices?

A tip from companies that have implemented BYOD policies in the past is that if you block the “time wasting” sites such as YouTube and Facebook, it may seem somewhat controlling to workers. As long as employees continue to perform well, there’s no need to implement these types of restrictions.

The best way for you to successfully get your employees excited and on board with your bring your own device program is by working to create a trusting environment. If you implement excessive restrictions, then it may make your workers feel like you are actually infringing on their personal freedoms. Rather than doing this, take the time to let them know about the realities of a BYOD program, and give them the ability and opportunity to use this new freedom responsibly.

Implementing BYOD at your business: now you know

If you are planning to implement a BYOD policy for your business, then using the tips and information here can be extremely beneficial. After all, this type of policy can be extremely beneficial for your company, a well as your employees.

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Keep in mind, you may have to tweak and alter your BYOD policy as you move forward. This is fine, just be willing to measure the success of the plans you have made to determine if changes are needed. By doing this, you will be prepared to ensure your employees have the best possible plan in place and that your company and your workers are reaping all the possible benefits that are offered by the bring your own device policy.

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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Weather the Storm with Cloud Mobility

They call it a bomb cyclone. A low-pressure system that brings with it heavy precipitation. In winter, that means snow. And wind. And, well, a lot of potential for havoc, disruption and destruction in your business operations.

It may be a low-pressure system, but that doesn’t mean it can’t create a high-pressure situation by knocking out business systems and erasing precious data. Or forcing your team to brave sub-apocalyptic conditions to get to work, only to arrive at an office with no power or blocked access.

The antidote to this swirling cloud of chaos is, ironically enough, in the cloud. The computing cloud, that is.

Cloud technology takes technical problems off your plate so you can focus on preparing your physical location and staff for potential disaster. Here are a few ways cloud computing provides ideal protection from the chaos caused by stormy weather.

Related: Prepare Your Organization for a Winter Storm

The Cloud Makes Data Protection a Breeze (No Pun Intended)

One of the greatest benefits of cloud storage is never having to worry about losing your data to disaster, natural or manmade, again. Whether mother nature buries you in two feet of snow or twenty, the cloud ensures your data and systems are safe.

Even if a natural disaster levels your building it won’t interrupt your business systems. Not having to worry about lost data and resources means you can maintain focus on your people and your business while clean up efforts get underway.

Related: How to Build a Disaster Recovery Plan

Cloud Mobility Means Minimal Downtime

Storm got your team stranded? No problem. Cloud-based systems and storage means your employees can easily work from home until the storm breaks. Icy roads or buried buildings don’t have to mean business comes to a screeching halt.

With the cloud, employees can log into your systems remotely with full access to the programs and data they need to do their work. Gone are the days of braving sketchy travel conditions to and from the office in the name of productivity. With cloud mobility you can keep working while your competition waits out the storm.

Related: Business Mobility Tips for Bad Weather

Cloud Computing Means Less Costly Equipment On Site

Among cloud computing’s greatest benefits is that you no longer need costly equipment such as servers on site. This means when the roof comes caving in your losses are minimized because your server closet is already empty.

You get all the benefits mentioned above plus unlimited storage. They get to worry about physical storage and protection, which is something they’re far more prepared to take on. The end result is less up-front investment on your part, with those costs consolidated into one low monthly fee.

Related: How to Fix Your IT Budget

The Ultimate Silver Lining

No single business decision could protect your company from mother nature’s havoc more than switching over to cloud services. They’re more secure, scalable, and mobile than storing your data, and the equipment needed to house it, on site.

The business continuity and protection from downtime that cloud services provide can serve as the perfect buffer to keep losses to a minimum when even the worst natural disasters happen.

Like all storms, even bomb cyclones will eventually pass. Will your company’s IT pass the continuity test these and other powerful storms provide? If not, hit us up so we can help!

Making the Business Case for Virtualization

Challenging economic times push businesses to look for more efficient ways of doing things, even if these new ways include risks and learning curves. Adopting virtualization is one way companies are evolving to become more efficient, and thus, stay ahead of the competition.

However, as with any new IT initiative, often managers find they need to sell the new technology before their company will even think about adoption. After all, new technologies typically carry expenses, in the form of new hardware and software, and that learning curve mentioned above, which can be expensive, too.

When attempting to bring everyone on board with virtualization at your company, you’ll need to develop a carefully crafted business case. The following are ideas you can include that will help you sell the benefits of virtualization while easing concerns about risks and costs.

In short, virtualization removes the inefficiency of the old “one server, one application” model, in which many business servers are underutilized. With virtualization, one single server can function as multiple virtual machines, with each one having the ability to operate in different environments such as Windows, Linux, or Apache. When companies adopt virtualization, they are able to consolidate multiple servers onto fewer physical devices, helping to reduce space, power, and administrative requirements.

Virtualization offers quite a few other business benefits as well. For example, it helps with business continuity and offers complete data protection so your company is able to achieve continuous application availability and automated disaster recovery across physical sites. Virtualization allows you to simplify backup and recovery of your data and systems and to improve responsiveness through increased efficiency and flexibility. With all of these benefits on your side, your company’s IT will help drive innovation.

Let’s break down in detail the reasons that consolidating operations onto fewer servers can help your company. This consolidation allows you to:

  • Dramatically lower hardware costs and the associated cooling and space costs
  • Improve productivity across your organization and free up valuable IT time by simplifying your IT infrastructure, leaving more time to focus on strategic initiatives
  • Reduce costly downtime and streamline business contingency planning so you know your data is secure in the event of a natural disaster or another unforeseen event
  • Now, let’s examine the ways your business can use virtualization to improve efficiencies and reduce costs.

One of the best benefits of virtualization is lower server infrastructure costs. Consolidating excess server and desktop hardware increases utilization rates, and reduced hardware means lower energy bills, too. You’ll save floor space, as well, because virtualization eliminates server sprawl by allowing you to run multiple applications on a single server. Your company could even reduce hardware and maintenance costs by as much as half.

Virtualization makes your company more efficient because it improves staff productivity, allowing your IT team to focus on more strategic projects that can help speed time to market for new products or services you are developing. Since IT employees won’t have to order and set up a new server for every new application, you can get applications up and running smoother and more efficiently. And, with fewer technical issues to manage, your IT team can focus on improving customer service or developing new projects. Virtualization can be combined with cloud services to move your servers to a hosted environment adds even more benefits that could include extensive backups, improved failover and greater security.

Finally, backup and recovery get a huge boost from virtualization because your company is protected from downtime and disaster. Business continuity solutions can be expensive and complex, but even the smallest organizations can achieve a solid continuity plan with virtualization.

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to consider adopting virtualization for business. Now, it is your turn to sell these points to your team so you can begin reaping the benefits of virtualization.

How to Build a Disaster Recovery Plan for Accounting Firms

Disaster can strike at any moment, and its effects can be devastating to businesses. One year ago Superstorm Sandy slammed into New Jersey and New York City crippling many organizations for weeks, if not longer. With such dire consequences, it’s critical to have a good disaster recovery plan in place in case the worst should happen for you and your accounts.

A solid disaster recovery plan can be divided into three parts: Planning, Storage, and Recovery. Each part is equally important, and each one should have a thorough plan of its own. For accounting firms, it is not just that your data that you need to protect, it is your customers business information that needs safeguarding.

Planning
A solid disaster recovery plan requires everyone involved to know their roles and be ready to execute them at a moment’s notice. Ideally, a plan should be created with partners and vendors as well. Careful consideration for several broad scenarios helps devise plans that are best based on conditions in your area.  Some suggested disaster considerations include: floods, hurricanes, winter storms, local building issues and security threats.

This is the second key aspect of planning for disaster recovery – always make sure that there are redundant channels and oversight. In case the worst should happen, the channels of communication need to be set up so that everyone knows who to call as a primary, and who to get in touch with in case the primary contact person is unable to be reached. Make sure that everyone knows who the person to contact is in case of a major IT issue, and who the alternate contacts are. Maintaining a strong chain of communication can mean the difference between a temporary outage and a major business disaster. Determining primary and secondary communication options should be part of the plan.

Storage
Storing your data securely for a post-disaster recovery is as important as planning. The first step to storing and protecting your data is choosing a backup and storage method and provider. There are many options available for both backup and storage, and choosing the right one is based largely on the needs of the business.

Larger accounting firms with more involved data needs can opt for an in-house solution using their existing IT staff. Smaller accounting firms, or those with more generic data needs, should instead look at one of the cloud backup services or managed backup providers. Whatever option you choose, it’s important to make sure two requirements are met:

1. Your recovery data should be kept in multiple physical locations separated by some distance. Most cloud and managed backup providers already guarantee this level of duplication and redundancy by distributing your stored data across multiple different data warehouses in multiple locations. However, if you go with an in-house or custom solution, it is important to make sure that backups are not all located in the same datastore, and certainly not in the same building as your offices.

2. Your recovery data should also be stored on physical media somewhere in another location, in case a recovery is necessary and an internet connection cannot be established. External hard drives are a fast and cheap method for offloading data. Of course, the best approach to this varies on the type and amount of data.

Recovery 
The process of recovery begins with a good policy of detection and monitoring. Make sure that whatever disaster recovery plan you create accounts for carefully keeping track of your data in case of less obvious disasters – things like fires when you are out of the office, malicious intrusion (either physical or cyber), power outages and the like. The faster you can learn that your data is in danger, the quicker you can react and the easier the recovery process can be.

As mentioned earlier, everyone on your staff should know who to contact in the event of a major disaster. Make sure to inform your staff that their safety is the top priority – if you’ve been backing up your data properly and storing it offsite, losing your equipment in a disaster is only a temporary setback. Make sure you know where your data is and how to retrieve it. Practice full recovery drills several times a year so that everyone on your staff knows what to do – you don’t want to have to add learning an unfamiliar system to all the other post-disaster stress.

Make sure you have a plan about what needs to be recovered first, where all your priority information is, and how to get to it. For many firms, this will be customer-facing data – websites, client login portals, and any information that needs to be accessed by your clients. It should also include your most sensitive business information.

Having a disaster recovery plan can make the time between disaster and recovery much shorter than it would be without one, and the work required to implement one is minor compared to the risk of losing your business. Your business depends on a good plan and your clients are depending on you to ensure you have them covered as well.

To help in the executing of your disaster recovery process for your accounting firm contact Ease Technologies to learn more how we can help. 888-Ease911