all heard overblown technology claims, such as “Apple computers never get
viruses.” But they do, and when they do there is outrage and possible backlash
against what’s still a pretty good product. Similarly, we still hear claims
such as the cloud being 100% reliable and that upgrades and maintenance don’t
interfere at all with users. Then, when there is an outage or some downtime
related to maintenance, the critics point fingers and claim that the cloud did
not deliver what was promised. Often, they will also use that frustration as an
argument that they want to go back to hosting their own servers and bring back
their software onsite.
happening here is common in the world of technology (and with many other things
in life). A new technology legitimately improves upon a previous technology,
but the expectations are set too high. So even if expectations reach 99.9%,
critics will rip apart the 0.1% that caused it to not reach 100%. But if we’re
accustomed to lower expectations from old technology, then something we expect
to work 85% of the time will delight us if it hits 90%, even if that means
higher costs and more risk than with modern technology.
A recent article on LinkedIn
lays out some common points that people bring up to shoot down the cloud based
on real but skewed data. The author points out three representative points that
often cause a lot of doubt, but let’s look closer at these oft-heard claims.
92 outages totaling 39.77 hours for the year. As stated by Microsoft's own
Chief Reliability Strategist David Bills, cloud service failure is, "inevitable".”
Reality: By focusing only on
the total amount of downtime during the year, it’s easy to miss the high
percentage of total uptime. If cloud services run 24/7/365, that means Azure’s
uptime during 2014 was 99.5%. And Azure was actually the anomaly by a long shot.
Other common cloud services
such as Rackspace, Google Cloud Platform, Joyent, and Amazon Web Services all
had higher than 99.9% uptime. From our experience, these performance results
easily beat out most onsite servers and match or exceed most data centers.
Cloud service providers invest in plenty of redundant power lines, generators, and
Internet connections that ensure such high uptime for a variety of customers.
Their resources far outpace most onsite setups and smaller data centers.
“A recent Verizon 40
hour cloud shutdown proved that cloud DC maintenance is not seamless in all
Reality: First, it’s
important to note that this situation with Verizon is another anomaly. The article from which the author quotes
clearly says, “For an industry that generally measures downtime in minutes or
several hours, this was a long shutdown.” But who ever said maintenance was
seamless? It may be less intrusive than traditional ways of conducting
maintenance, but an occasional interruption or pause is not unheard of. Compare
these brief interruptions with the amount of downtime, staff time, and IT
maintenance costs of making updates to your current onsite servers. With cloud
providers, you don’t even have to think about maintenance. You may experience
an occasional few minutes of downtime, and a rare anomaly might lead to an
outage for hours. But the way that cloud providers conduct maintenance is much
faster, less interruptive, and less costly than traditional server maintenance—by a long shot.
(CPs) have a commercial interest to hype to their potential and existing
customers how easy it is to migrate workloads to the cloud.”
Reality: Sure, you will hear
vendors do what they always do: sell and make everything sound easy. But the
author mentions another important point: “One study conducted by BT found that
32% of enterprises don’t have the skills internally to manage cloud migrations.”
While a cloud provider can help with the migration, you need a strong IT staff
or vendor that has done these kinds of migrations many many times. The right IT
professionals will help you:
assume that once they have signed a contract with the CP that their
Reality: Obviously, that’s an
incorrect assumption for any hardware or software you would use. Even when
traditionally buying software from a vendor that installs a server onsite, you
still have to find space for that server, connect it to your network, and
maintain that server. That’s why you would have your IT staff or vendor help
with patching, updates, and upgrades. With cloud service providers, you still
need IT professionals monitoring your cloud data and applications, alerting you
to any issues, ensuring security (such as antivirus, antispam, content
filtering, etc.), updating and patching the software, and tracking your cloud
assets for reporting purposes. Your IT staff or vendor will also help you with
any data migration needs or day-to-day technical help.
to abnormal data about the cloud prevents you from making a good business
decision. Overblown points will scare the less technically-minded away and
encourage them to stick with less secure, more risky traditional technology
solutions. The two most important points to remember are:
To talk about migrating to the cloud in more detail, please contact us.
A recent article from Sarasota’s Herald-Tribune
reported on a sensitive political situation concerning who manages the IT
department within the city. While we’re not obviously speculating or commenting
on the politics involved, it was striking to see the mayor quoted as saying,
“We went through all these things that nobody, but nobody, understands. We have
no way of knowing what goes on in the cyberspace games we're playing.” That
lack of knowledge about IT from key city officials can have devastating
consequences. Follow-up articles noted that onsite data storage was at high risk for a disaster
and that the city faced dangerous security risks.
In many cases, we often see conversations about IT in which
important stakeholders such as elected officials and even city management don’t
fully understand IT enough to understand critical risks and make good judgments
about technology investments. IT often doesn’t help by remaining obscure,
technical, and tactical when explaining its activities to city officials and
managers. While that strategy may buy IT time, eventually it risks political
explosions like those seen at Sarasota.
Key stakeholders don’t need to be technical to understand
IT. Instead, it’s important that they ask the right questions of IT in order to
get a good non-technical, business understanding of IT’s accomplishments and
any red flags. Even if you’re a technology novice, here are some questions that
are important to clarify in order for IT information presented to city
officials or managers to have the most impact.
While the situation in Sarasota is extreme, it shows what
can happen when ignorance about what IT does adds fuel to existing political
fires. As a mayor or city manager, it may be tough to introduce the topic of IT
to councilmembers who don’t have day-to-day operational knowledge. Yet, it is
part of your responsibility to demand and receive information that makes sense,
even if you have to go back to IT a few times to demand the right kind of
information you need. More importantly, a lack of understandable,
business-focused answers reflects a problem. Bad IT staff or vendors often hide
behind technical jargon to cover up problems or inexperience. By asking the
right questions, you expose these problems to light much quicker and allow all
stakeholders to understand exactly what IT is doing.
To talk about IT communication in more detail, please contact us.
Like an old car, it’s tempting to use your desktop and laptop computers until the blue screen of death beckons them into technology heaven. After all, you invested a lot of money in those computers and you want your full bang for the buck. And while you might hear that best practices indicate that you replace all hardware every 3-5 years (and more like 2-3 years for laptops), you may think of that rule applying to the more important servers rather than the “less important” everyday computers that your employees use.
However, there are critical business reasons to replace your desktop and laptop computers that affect your bottom line both directly and indirectly. Here are five things to consider when taking a look at your aging desktop and laptop computers at your organization.
Even if your older computers are maintained well like an old classic car, you’ll still see employees having problems using modern software or Internet applications. Perhaps a new kind of software won’t work, or works slow. Or your employees can’t watch videos or load information from important websites. Older computers simply can’t keep up with modern software (similar to how an old smartphone can’t handle modern versions of GPS software). You’re crippling your employee productivity by having them use older computers.
To talk more about desktop and laptop replacement, please contact us.
about denial of service attacks? That’s where hackers will pummel an
organization’s website servers with tons of bogus traffic so that the website
becomes impossible for people to access. A recent story from the Columbia Daily Tribune reported that the city of Columbia,
Missouri experienced a denial of service attack that led to a three-day website
outage. That meant citizens could not access city services and information
while valuable city staff time was tied up helping deal with the emergency.
bad news? Denial of service attacks are hard to prevent. If a relatively
sophisticated hacker wants to go after you, they will likely be able to have a
negative effect on your website. However, it helps when your city can respond
within hours rather than days to eliminate the negative effects of a denial of
are some tips and best practices that you can implement to best handle a denial
of service attack and recover as quickly as possible—without overtaxing your
For cities on a tight budget, simply moving your website hosting to the cloud and engaging the ongoing monitoring services of experienced IT professionals will help you more likely respond and recover from denial of service attacks in hours rather than days. Plus, these kinds of technology investments also help you with important areas such as:
To talk more about mitigating the risk from denial of service attacks, please contact us.
One of our colleagues (let’s call him “Joe”) is particularly tech-savvy. While not an IT professional, he has been involved in the information technology field for over 10 years. He’s immersed in that world and can easily talk to us about the many nuances of data backup, website content management systems, and software. That’s why it surprised us when he called us up a few weeks ago and told us about how he eliminated a particularly nasty computer virus.
Luckily, the computer he used was brand new, so he was able to erase all his data and reset the computer to the original factory settings. However, it was a stark reminder that even the most tech-savvy people can click on the wrong attachment and download a computer virus.
We’re sharing this lesson as a case study (with “Joe’s” permission but keeping the person’s identity anonymous) in order to highlight to you the importance of making sure your information is protected. Because even well-intentioned people can accidentally upload a computer virus in a matter of seconds, we want to make sure that a virus doesn’t knock out your network or cause you to lose important information.
Here’s how it happened.
He used the computer’s default Internet browser and search engine to search for “Chrome browser download.” A list of search results displayed and Joe clicked on what he thought was the first legitimate search result.
At this point, we should note that the search engine’s ads did not look terribly different from an organic search result. Unbeknownst to Joe, he clicked on an ad, not a search result. In hindsight, he realized that the ad led to a website that was not Google’s.
While the page looked somewhat like the typical Google sign-in page, there were clear differences that he was savvy enough to notice. He came within a few seconds of sharing his important Google username and password with hackers, but unfortunately he had already downloaded malware to his computer.
At this point, the antivirus program that came with his computer started alerting him that it detected malware on his computer. However, the malware was so cleverly written and installed (and remember, installed voluntarily by Joe) that it could not be removed manually. The malware kept reinstalling itself every time the antivirus program quarantined or removed it.
More dangerously, the malware hijacked his Internet browsers with fake search engine and login pages. His computer also began to take actions on his behalf that he was not agreeing to. The “bundleware” software that originally looked like innocent, helpful programs began to open up on his computer and fill his screen with pop-ups.
Luckily, the story has a positive ending, but it required some brutal tactics. Thank goodness that Joe literally only had bought the computer several hours ago and had yet to store any important data on it. He followed the steps below to combat the computer virus.
A scan of Joe’s computer detected nothing. At that point, Joe was able to use his computer normally although he obviously kept an eye out for unusually slow performance, strange popups, and any interruptions or odd computer behavior when doing online banking or payments.
We’re sharing this case study to warn you that it isn’t just the non-tech savvy people who get viruses by accident. With Joe, all it took was some haste and distractions, and he went down a dark path that led to vicious malware voluntarily installed on his computer. To head off any disruptions related to events like this, we recommend that you:
Accidents happen, so you want to make sure you’re covered in even the worst computer virus situation. That way, you mitigate the risk of losing data, losing money, and losing time spent recovering from the virus.
To talk more about antivirus protection, please contact us.
While Windows XP market share has fallen to about 18%, that still means a lot of computers are using this outdated operating system. Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP on April 8, 2014, which means that any computers using it have not received any security patches or updates from Microsoft. Like a decaying building not kept up anymore, it becomes more and more dangerous to “live” in the condemned, abandoned house of Windows XP.
We’ve written before about some of the immediate malware and security risks that immediately started to happen once Microsoft cut off support. Because we still see many computers using Windows XP, we wanted to review some new risks along with some earlier warnings that grow more urgent with each passing day.
Modern operating systems improved the way that IT professionals can manage and oversee your network. That includes things like managing security patches, user permissions, and remote help. The city of Detroit is struggling with this exact issue, and even with a new CIO the city’s IT environment is considered “dysfunctional” with so many computers on Windows XP. If your IT staff or vendor is prevented from properly administering your IT network, that puts you at risk and make IT’s job ridiculously hard with no guarantee of successful service.
To talk about these concerns in more detail, please contact us.
As organizations continue to shift their hardware, software, and data storage into the cloud, there are just as many organizations still clinging to more traditional technology setups with onsite servers, software installation, and long-term licenses. Despite significant technology advances, it’s easy to grow accustomed to traditional yet outdated ways of handling your most important business applications. Or perhaps you understand that data backup and storage is effective in the cloud, but you’re not convinced about something like accounting software.
In our experience, we see a wide range of common applications that benefit from the cloud’s low cost and high reliability, security, and ease of management. Here are five business applications that we find particularly suited to the cloud, and why.
Again, you’ll lower costs and maintenance headaches by going to the cloud for project management. But project management software especially works well in the cloud. Think about it. A project often involves a variety of employees in the office, employees offsite, vendors, and other third party contacts. They all need to coordinate with each other and produce results. With more and more people working remotely today, traditional onsite project management software becomes more of a bottleneck with each passing year. If someone cannot access the software without coming into the office, it creates lags in the status of projects and interferes with real-time collaboration. By using one of many great cloud project management software solutions, multiple people can access the software from anywhere, you can set clear permissions for users, and centralize all communication and deliverables concerning a project.
To talk about cloud software benefits in more detail, please contact us.
Sometimes, you’ve got a special project in mind that requires a significant investment in technology. You might need specialized hardware, software, a mobile app, or other form of technical project expertise. In the past, you may have given the specialized technology vendor a lot of freedom and just assumed they were taking good care of the project. After all, they’re the expert. You’re not. Right?
Actually, there is a lot you can do to mitigate risk that happens when technology vendors are given free reign over a project: going over budget, not meeting deadlines, watching scope creep bloat the project, and ending up with a solution that doesn’t meet your needs.
The way to avoid those risks? It’s all about smart vendor management, and this post provides some tips on how you and your trusted IT staff or vendor can help ensure that using a specialized technology vendor doesn’t break your budget or introduce excessive risk into your organization.
When it makes sense, collaborate with the specialized vendor instead of just having only their people handle all of the work. When your team is integrated into the vendor’s work, there is more of a chance to understand and oversee what the specialized vendor is doing. Ideally, a non-technical business decision maker and an IT representative from your staff or a vendor will take part in a project. Build in roles and responsibilities into your requirements to ensure that key stakeholders from your organization have a clear involvement in the project.
To talk about vendor management for specialized technology projects in more detail, please contact us.
You may often hear the phrase “business driver” when some consultants refer to information technology. It’s an overused phrase and often gets thrown around without meaning a great deal. In the meantime, it’s much easier to think of information technology as extremely tactical, purchased out of bare bones necessity to accomplish basic things like run software, provide employees with computers, and share electronic data. Beyond that, information technology as a “business driver” might sound like inflated rhetoric.
However, there are some important insights for organizations once they unpack the term “business driver” and apply it to information technology. In our work with organizations, we try to bridge the gap between business and technology for non-technical people by showing that many technology decisions should be spearheaded by non-technical decision makers. Of course, it helps to have experienced IT staff or a vendor to suggest what’s possible and how to get it done, but there are many ways that non-technical decision makers can use technology to drive the business.
Many business goals and objectives are often set without an organization knowing fully if technology can help or hinder those goals and objectives. Your organization might want to offer a way for people to pay for products and services online. Cities might want a mobile app that allows citizens to report problems and issues such as potholes. Even a website redesign involves a lot of parts and pieces that may lead to disaster or excessive cost if done poorly. An information technology consultant can help you discuss feasibility, cost, and options that include possibilities you may not have known were possible—but you need to be the one who throws out possibilities and see if they can work.
To talk about the business impact of information technology, please contact us.
It’s always great when we
help cities save money. A little publicity doesn’t hurt either! The Polk Fish Wrap recently reported that we saved the city of Rockmart, Georgia
$36,000 a year in IT costs as they transitioned to us when their full-time IT
manager left for another position elsewhere. Many cities are starting to
realize that our IT in a Box offering has the capacity and scale to do more for less.
That’s why the article says, “The decision was made to
outsource the work after research was completed and the Georgia Municipal
Association (GMA) recommended the firm.” That research included looking into
not only our low costs but also our capacity to handle the city’s website, data
backup, document management, email, and server, desktop, and mobile device
management. In addition, the city benefits from our helpdesk available 7 days a
week and the management of all the city’s communications with technical vendors
so that city staff doesn’t have to worry about it.
We look forward to serving Rockmart, Georgia and
continuing to help cities in Georgia—and around the country—save money on IT
costs while also modernizing their technology.
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