Can IT really help my business grow?

Outsourced Information Technology Okanagan

So you own your own business in beautiful Vernon BC and things are going well. You are experiencing some growth, sales are increasing and now, after 5 years of hard work, you have grown from a staff of one (yourself) to five full time employees!  That's great right? All of your hard work is paying off and your are actually thinking this was worth it. Fast forward a couple more years and now you have 8 staff and a whole lot more variables to manage. A lot of times this is about the time we are contacted by business owners looking for assistance with the myriad of IT products and services.

Today IT is a significant part of any business growth strategy and let's get one thing straight: IT is EXPENSIVE! It is a major cost to any growing business and in many cases, especially in small business, it is piece-worked together using consumer grade hardware and free software and cloud solutions. 

If you are looking to seriously grow your business and expect to scale you had best change your mindset on the value of IT! Stop thinking of it as an annoying cost and start considering how it might be properly deployed to help you succeed. As your business becomes more successful you, by that very nature, have more to lose. Some key IT pieces you should be educating yourself on are;

  • Website - Is it current? Do you have an online store? Who is Hosting your site? Is it up to date and secure?
  • Data Backups - Is your data being backed up? Are you sure? Where is it? What is the retention period?
  • Disaster Recovery - If your office suffered a fire or flood and you lost your server do you have another copy of your data? How long will it take to restore the data and get operational again? You don't have a server you are using a "cloud service" instead - what is their data backup policy?
  • Antivirus - Are you using some free antivirus software you found? Are your virus updates current? Are your staff educated on erring on the side of caution re- suspicious attachments/links? Have you even heard of the Cryptolocker virus?
  • PCI Compliance - Do you accept credit card payments? Do you store cardholder data? If you are not PCI compliant you could face liability risk
  •  Business CRM Software - You may have gotten by on Excel spreadsheets and a basic Accounting program but as you grow you will need to invest in CRM software typically specific you your industry that will look after sales, client management, billing, Inventory and the like. This software will also likely be expensive. Sorry.
  • Business Process - As you grow so grows the number of processes. You seem to have spreadsheets for everything! Anytime data entry is seeming excessive this is a good time to review your process and consider automation and scripting for tasks if possible
  • Employee Computers - Are they secure? Are the local files backed up on the server? What happens if an employee loses or steals a computer?
  • Company Data on Personal Devices - The most obvious example is company email on employee smartphones. Could you remove that email data if needed?

Yes IT is expensive and yes it is relatively complicated. As I mentioned there are lots of small businesses who get by on the cheap but I will wager that it is simply a question of "When" they will spend $$ on IT if they are actually going to stick around and grow. Do your homework on IT, it really is important! Find a service provider that you can trust, build a relationship and start taking your IT seriously!

IT provider Kamloops, Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon, Merritt

Which Office 365 Model is Right for You?

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More and more Okanagan businesses are asking questions regarding Office 365. From Vernon to Penticton,  big and small. This relatively new Microsoft cloud offering is getting lots of attention. It can, however, be a little bit confusing determining exactly which model is right for your business.

From Word to SharePoint, Office 365 has a lot offer. But each business requires different features from Office 365. Some may prioritize business analytics, while others may be content with no more than the productivity suite and Outlook. If you’re planning to deploy Office 365, first consider your business needs, then use the information below to find out which license is right for you.

Business or Enterprise?
If you’re running a cloud-first business, you’ll have to decide between Office 365 Business and Enterprise. Both may have access to Office Online and OneDrive, but there are some notable differences between the plan.

For one, Office 365 Enterprise E3 and E5 plans have unlimited archive and mail storage space, while Business plans have a 50-GB storage limit and don’t provide archive access from the Outlook client.

When it comes to SharePoint, Business plans are short on enterprise search, Excel services, and Visio features. Additionally, unified communication solutions, Power BI, and Delve analytics are also missing from the Office 365 Business offering.

Although it may seem like Enterprise subscriptions are superior -- and in some ways they are -- Business plans are perfect for smaller companies running on a tight budget. Office 365 Business and Business Premium cost $12 and $17 per user per month respectively, while E5, the biggest Enterprise plan, costs $35 per user per month.

As a general rule, start looking for Enterprise plans when your employee headcount exceeds 50 people and users require more storage space and solutions.

E1, E3, or E5?
If you do opt for Office 365 Enterprise plans, you’ll have to examine the features and choose one of three plans (E1, E3, and E5) that suits your needs.

E1 offers basic enterprise solutions such as Outlook and Word, OneNote, PowerPoint, and Excel online for only $8 per user per month. Apart from this, users also get access to SharePoint Team sites, video conferencing, and Yammer for enterprise social media.

E3 provides all E1 features and adds data loss prevention, rights management, and encryption to ensure business security and compliance. While E5 is a full enterprise-grade solution with all the aforementioned features plus analytics tools, advanced threat protection, flexible Skype for Business conferencing, and unified communication solutions.

Small- and medium-sized enterprises will usually select either E1 or E3 subscriptions and decide to add third-party applications to meet cloud security and VoIP demands. But if you have the resources and prefer a fully-managed suite of Microsoft applications, E5 plans are the way to go.

Migrating to an Office 365 platform is a big step, and if you’re still undecided about which plan to opt for, contact us today. We don’t just provide Office 365, we assess your business and find the best solution that meets your budget and objectives.

Using Good Judgement & Caution to Avoid Computer Viruses

How to avoid Computer Viruses

Being in the outsourced IT services business in the Thompson/Okanagan we tend to take IT security seriously! At the end of the day for the majority of our clients their data is their business and if they don't have their data they are in serious trouble! So we go the extra mile to ensure our client networks are secure (Robust Firewall, Anti-virus software, Anti-spam software, secure password policies, data back-up & disaster recovery plans).

But even with all of this protection it is difficult, if not impossible, to stop data loss if an employee RUNS or EXECUTES a virus! It is very common for hackers to attempt to infect your network data by way of an inbound email. These emails will usually look very, very legitimate and we are constantly being asked what to look for. I have recently discovered the following guide which I feel can be very helpful to identify possible virus/hacker risks to be aware and cautious of.

I would highly recommend you take a few minutes and read it over. I find it really helps you exercise good judgement which can sometimes be difficult to do in today's fast paced communications work environment. 

Office 365 for Non-Profit Organizations

Microsoft has finally released non-profit pricing on their line of Office 365 products. Microsoft has always had the availability of accessing special non-profit pricing on their licensing however up until to now this has been licensing for on-premise servers.                                       With the rapid adaptation of cloud services many managed IT service providers like CONNECT have moved away from on-premise based Microsoft Exchange Email servers and instead provide these services via Microsoft Office 365.

The problem, up until now, was that for large non-profit groups it still typically made more financial sense to continue to run on-premise exchange servers. Even after considering that they cost money to maintain and keep secure. The primary reason for this was due to the deep discounts provided by Microsoft on the ,server based, user licensing (Windows Server usel cals). Now with non-profit pricing for the Cloud based Office 365 suite of products non-profit organizations in the Thompson/Okanagan can share in the benefits of moving their exchange email to the Microsoft cloud. 

Office 365 Benefits for Organizations

  • Payments are recurring and users can be increased/decreased easily
  • Microsoft "add on" software such as Project and Sharepoint can be easily added and "plugged in" to your 365 account
  • Microsoft Cloud Exchange Servers have levels of security & anti-spam that simply cannot be matched by IT professionals working on on-premise exchange servers
  • Each user account comes with "OneDrive" shared cloud storage
  • Each user license can be deployed on up to 5 devices
  • Your Office software is always current

Compare Office 365 non-profit plans

As always in non-profit organizations there is a delicate balance between providing safe, secure, usable technology as well as keeping administrative costs to a minimum. CONNECT is very aware of this balance and will always work with our not for profit clients to attempt to achieve a quality IT user experience at an acceptable, budgeted price. We live, work and play in the Thompson/Okanagan.

SSD or Solid State Drive - How Should I Equip My Laptop?

Hard Drive vs. Solid State Drive (SSD)

                            Left- Standard Hard Drive          Right- Solid State Drive (SSD)

SSD vs HDD

Most people now buy laptops for their computing needs and have to make the decision between getting either a Solid State Drive (SSD) or Hard Disk Drive (HDD) as the storage component.  So which of the two is the better choice, an SSD or HDD? There’s no straight-forward answer to this question; each buyer has different needs and you have to evaluate the decision based on those needs, your preferences, and of course budget. Even though the price of SSDs has been falling, the price per gigabyte advantage is still strongly with HDDs. Yet, if performance and fast bootup is your primary consideration and money is secondary, then SSD is the way to go. 

What is an SSD?

We’ll make no assumptions here and keep this article on a level that anyone can understand. You might be shopping for a computer and simply wondering what the heck SSD actually means? To begin, SSD stands for Solid State Drive. You’re probably familiar with USB memory sticks - SSD can be thought of as an oversized and more sophisticated version of the humble USB memory stick. Like a memory stick, there are no moving parts to an SSD. Rather, information is stored in microchips.  Conversely, a hard disk drive uses a mechanical arm with a read/write head to move around and read information from the right location on a storage platter. This difference is what makes SSD so much faster. As an analogy, what’s quicker? Having to walk across the room to retrieve a book to get information or simply magically having that book open in front of you when you need it? That’s how an HDD compares to an SSD; it simply requires more physical labor (mechanical movement) to get information.

A typical SSD uses what is called NAND-based flash memory. This is a non-volatile type of memory. What does non-volatile mean you ask? The simple answer is that you can turn off the disk and it won’t “forget” what was stored on it. This is of course an essential characteristic of any type of permanent memory. During the early days of SSD, rumors floated around saying stored data would wear off and be lost after only a few years.  Regardless, that rumor is certainly not true with today’s technology, as you can read and write to an SSD all day long and the data storage integrity will be maintained for well over 200 years. In other words, the data storage life of an SSD can outlive you!

An SSD does not have a mechanical arm to read and write data, it instead relies on an embedded processor (or “brain”) called a controller to perform a bunch of operations related to reading and writing data. The controller is a very important factor in determining the speed of the SSD. Decisions it makes related to how to store, retrieve, cache and clean up data can determine the overall speed of the drive. We won’t get into the nitty-gritty details for the various tasks it performs such as error correction, read and write caching, encryption, and garbage collection to name a few. Yet, suffice to say, good controller technology is often what separates an excellent SSD from a good one. An example of a fast controller today is the SandForce SATA 3.0 (6GB/s) SSD controller that supports burst speeds up to 550MB/s read and write speeds. The next gen SandForce 3700 family of controllers was announced in late 2013, and is quoted to reach a blistering 1,800MB/s read/write sequential speeds as well as 150K/80K random IOPS.

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ssd vs. HD compare.jpg

 

What is an HDD?

Hard Disk Drives, or HDD in techno-parlance, have been around for donkey's years relative to the technology world. HDDs were first introduced by IBM in 1956 - yes folks this is nearly 60-year old technology, thank goodness vacuum tubes for TVs didn’t last so long! An HDD uses magnetism to store data on a rotating platter. A read/write head floats above the spinning platter reading and writing data. The faster the platter spins, the faster an HDD can perform. Typical laptop drives today spin at either 5400 RPM (Revolutions per Minute) or 7200RPM, though some server-based platters spin at up to 15,000 RPM!

The major advantage of an HDD is that it is capable of storing lots of data cheaply. These days, 1 TeraByte (1,024 gigabytes) of storage is not unusual for a laptop hard drive, and the density continues to grow. However, the cost per gigabyte is hard to calculate now-a-days since there are so many classes to consider, though it is safe to say that all HDDs are substantially cheaper than SSDs. So if you want cheap storage and lots of it, using a standard hard drive is definitely the more appealing way to go.

HD vs. SSD

 

 

 

Microsoft Office OEM 2016 or Office 365?

Microsoft Office 365

For those of you who love giving your hard earned $$ to Microsoft you now have a method of sending recurring funds! Kidding aside Microsoft is not the first software company to come up with the concept of a recurring license as this has been around for some time. Actually Microsoft has been doing this as well to a certain degree with their enterprise customers. The big difference now is that they have deployed Office 365 to the masses.

So a definition is likely required of both OEM Office 2016 and Office 365 before we go any further.

OEM Office 2016- This is a "for purchase" Office 2016 software. OEM software is licensed with the computer system on which it was originally installed and is tied to that original machine. OEM licenses are single-use licenses that cannot be installed on more than one computer system, even if the original machine is no longer in us. If you get a new computer or would like a newer version of Office you purchase a new OEM license. This is typically the way Microsoft Office has been sold to the general consumer and small-medium business since inception.

Office 365- For business users, Office 365 offers plans providing e-mail and social networking services through hosted versions of Exchange Server, Skype for Business Server, SharePoint and Office Online, integration with Yammer, as well as access to the Microsoft Office 2016 software. Each Office 365 user license allows for that "user" to connect up to 5 devices (laptop, iPad, tablet, smartphone.....). When a newer version of any of the included Microsoft software becomes available the user will have the ability to upgrade to the newer software.

So how do you choose which is the right way to procure Office for your Thompson/Okanagan business? Good question and there is no clear black and white answer. There are, however, pros for both options.

OEM Office 2016 Purchase Pros

  • You pay for it once and it's yours
  • It is likely the way you are "used" to purchasing software
  • If you use on the same PC for more than approx. 24 months you will pay less over the entire period

Office 365 Recurring Purchase Pros

  • Payments are recurring and users can be increased/decreased easily
  • Microsoft "add on" software such as Project and Sharepoint can be easily added and "plugged in" to your 365 account
  • Each user license can be deployed on up to 5 devices
  • Your Office software is always current

As more and more services become recurring, cloud based it is almost inevitable that this will one day be the only way to purchase Microsoft Office products. So far it has been our position to offer both options to our clients. We have noticed however a significant increase in the amount of Office 365 products that we are managing and deploying for businesses.

Office 365 4 devices

HD Videoconferencing ... Anytime ... Anywhere

Panasonic’s HD Visual Communications (HDVC) System is an ideal videoconferencing product for mid-size businesses that want the features of larger systems without the large price tag

The hdvc System addresses the needs of a wide range of fields, including education, manufacturing, healthcare and finance. John Sneyd, Panasonic Canada’s Product Specialist, Video Conferencing, offers an example. “A manufacturing company might have three offices. The challenge of a mid-size business is that it won’t necessarily have subject-matter experts in each of its Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto locations. It may have one subject-matter expert running around to each of those places trying to engage with people,” he says. 

The system comes in two models: the kx-vc1300, which can connect with people at up to four sites including the home site; and the kx-vc1600, which comes standard with six-site capability and can be upgraded to 10. Unlike some other systems, both models can bridge multiple connections without the additional purchase of a multipoint control unit (MCU).

lifelike sound and picture

Panasonic has leveraged its expertise in chipset technology for its tvs, displays and Blu-ray players to provide the system with lifelike sound and picture, capturing the nuances of facial expression and tone that are essential to clear business communication. Most senior managers don’t come from an it background. They want a system that’s easy to use for scheduled and ad hoc videoconferencing. The kx-vc1300 and kx-vc1600 keep it simple with a remote control similar to their home tv remotes and which feature intuitive functionality. Videoconferencing access is not restricted to set locations. The system can be used anywhere from boardrooms to product development sites to exhibition halls, as it operates via cable lan or wireless (Wi-Fi/LTE) connection or through other mobile Internet/Intranet access products. 

managing bandwidth for a smooth experience

The videoconference experience can be less than ideal if the highest-quality full-HD 1080/60p signal requires more bandwidth than some sites can consistently accommodate due to the ebbs and flows of network traffic. “If the bandwidth is fluctuating down, a 1080p videoconference won’t look good. It can be frustrating when you see a lot of blockage or jitter,” Sneyd notes. So to maintain a stable connection, rate control for the system and for hdvc Mobile estimates network congestion and controls the amount of data to be transferred, preventing packet losses and suppressing image and audio disruptions. Video and audio communication is possible at a minimum 256 kbps per site. Profiles can be set up for meetings so that only certain sites can join, preventing unwanted interruptions. Audio can also be muted at all but one site, allowing the company president to deliver a smooth, town hall-style videoconference. The system can connect with sites equipped with other manufacturers’ communications systems that comply with h.261, h.263 and h.264 international video compression standards. The kx-vc1300 and kx-vc1600 can function as primary or secondary units. Given the cost savings of Panasonic’s product, this offers an economical means of system expansion. 

easily controllable cameras

Two hd Communication Camera models are sold separately. The gp-vd131 offers an 85° horizontal angle of view and 3x optical zoom, while the larger gp-vd151 has a 56° horizontal angle of view and 12x optical zoom, allowing for optimal frame adjustment as needed. Each camera provides Full hd images and is operated by the remote control.

Also available for separate purchase is the kx-vca001 digital boundary microphone, which contains four built-in mics that reproduce the position and direction of speakers’ voices in the listeners’ side speakers. Up to four of the units can be connected together for meetings in larger spaces involving numerous participants. The kx-vca002 analogue boundary microphone provides a more compact, economical alternative that delivers high-grade stereo audio. It’s an attractive choice for businesses conducting videoconferences in smaller three- or four-person huddle rooms. Just as Panasonic has created a visual communications system that is both economical and easy to use, it has brought the same approach to product support. It doesn’t charge for software assurance: patches and upgrades are free. The hardware comes with a two-year warranty and Panasonic offers local technical support in Toronto.  

Is Your Data Really Secure In The Cloud?

 Are you an Okanagan business owner thinking about moving all or parts of your computer network “to the cloud” but worried about who can access your data? You’re not alone – but many security experts, software companies and cloud-service providers alike agree that cloud computing offers a MORE secure way to store data. In fact, the US governments cybersecurity adviser, Howard Schmidt, has said that cloud computing will enable businesses to catch up on security issues.

That’s because most small businesses do NOT have high-security measures in place for their data on-site and lack tight password protection policies, firewall management and backup procedures. The same Kelowna & area business owners who verbalize their concern about putting their data in the cloud are backing up their entire network to a tape drive and leaving it in their car overnight – or are using weak passwords for important access points to their network, which are much bigger security risks than storing it in a highly secure, highly redundant cloud platform. That’s like saying you’d rather stuff your money into a mattress at home than keep it in a bank because you’re not sure who can see and touch your money. 

Here are the top five security questions you must know the answers to if you’re going to trust your data in the cloud:

1- Who outside of my company will have access to my data?

2- What security measures are in place whenever a mobile device or laptop is lost or stolen

3- With what frequency is my data backed up (and where is it backed up)?

4- What happens if my cloud provider goes out of business? What’s the backup plan?

5- Where is my data actually located?

The decision to move Data to the "Cloud" is not one that should be taken lightly. There are plenty of variables and specifics than one must be carefully considered before making the move. Make sure you have done your due diligence and don't just jump right in!

Is Your Computer Data Truly Protected From Fire, Flood & Theft?

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 We certainly have gotten off to a warm start in the Penticton, Kelowna and Vernon areas so far this year. It is only April 12th and already rivers and streams are in full run-off! Ellis creek for example,  which runs behind my home in Penticton, looks like it typically does in May!

During this time of year the threat of fire, flood, severe storms, water damage from office sprinklers, and even theft is very real. One of the most valuable assets for any Okanagan company is its data. Hardware and software can easily be replaced, but a company’s data cannot! As a reminder to all of our clients and friends, here are some simple things you should do to make sure your company is ready for any natural disaster.

1) Back Up Your Data Remotely! Everyone knows that data should be backed up on a daily basis, but many people still use in-house backup systems that will get damaged in a natural disaster or fire, and can easily be stolen. We recommend backing up all data to an off-site location, and we offer this as a service to our clients.

2) Use a Quality Surge Protector With Uninterruptible Power Supply Battery. A high quality surge protector combined with an uninterruptible power supply battery backup will go a long way in protecting sensitive electronic equipment from surges and other electronic irregularities that can destroy your computer’s circuitry.

3) Make Sure Your Servers Are Off The Floor Or In The Cloud. If your office gets flooded, having your equipment off the floor will prevent it from being completely destroyed. Server racks can be purchased and installed very inexpensively. Or consider moving your critical server equipment to the cloud and be protected no matter the weather!

4) Have A Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plan. Every business should have some type of plan in place for continued operation after a disaster. Would people know where to go? Who to call? How to log in and access data remotely? Hopefully you’ll never need it, but having a simple plan will make you sleep a lot easier at night knowing you have a way to continue to operate when disaster strikes.

As we rely on our data more and more in business the onus really is on the business owners to ensure they have a clear understanding of WHAT is their important business data, WHERE is this data and HOW can they get their data back if a disaster recovery is needed!

 

Do You "Love" Spending Money on Servers and IT Upgrades?

 

As hurtful as it feels to us, we know that no one in Kelowna  likes spending money on IT. Sure, we all want our laptops, e-mail and applications secure, running fast and readily available 24/7/365, but your friends in the Okanagan aren’t going to visit your office and oooh and ahhhh over your new server, and it certainly won’t provide you hours of entertainment or bragging rights at your next high school reunion.

     So the question is, how can you get the tools you need to work without spending an arm and a leg? More and more businesses are choosing to move their network to the cloud. By hosting your server, data and applications off-site (cloud computing), you free yourself from having to purchase, install and maintain your own in-house computer network. That way you’re not required to buy a new server and workstations every 3 to 5 years to keep everything updated; all you need is a good Internet connection and a web browser, and your cloud provider does the rest.

    In addition to the cost savings, here are some of the benefits of moving to the cloud:

1.     Automatic Backup. Businesses that host their server, applications and data in the cloud don’t need a separate backup. In some cases, that can save a business thousands of dollars by eliminating the need for a separate BDR (backup and disaster recovery) device and service.

2.     Work Remotely From Any Device. By hosting your server and workstations in the cloud, you can access key applications, documents, e-mail and processes via a web browser, freeing you to work remotely from whatever device (laptop, tablet, PC) you’re using to access them. All you need is a good Internet connection and a web browser.

3.     Easier Cash Flow. When your network is in the cloud, you aren’t faced with a big, expensive network upgrade every 3 to 5 years. All you pay is a fixed monthly fee for the computing power you need, just like a utility. If you need more users, space or features, you add them. If you need to dial it back, you can do that too because you’re paying a monthly service fee, not for the physical hardware and software licenses that you have to install and maintain on-site.

     If you want to find out if all or parts of your network can be hosted in the cloud to save you some money and to simplify IT, call us at 250-448-7255 during the month of March for a free Cloud Readiness Assessment. To be clear a hosted solution is NOT the correct fit for all businesses. If your business is located within the Okanagan Valley (Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton, Osoyoos) there’s no cost or obligation, and you just might discover that it’s the solution you’ve been looking for!