G Suite

G Suite Business Upgrade Incentives

G SuiteThrough June 30, 2017, you can upgrade from G Suite Basic to G Suite Business and save up to 33%.

To qualify, you must:

  • Running G Suite Basic with at least 1 user (no minimum user limit)
  • Upgrade before June 3o, 2018
  • If you are on an annual commitment plan, you can upgrade during your renewal
  • If you are on the monthly flex plan, you can upgrade at anytime
  • Contact us and let us know you want the savings

Why G Suite Business?

  • Unlimited Gmail and Drive Storage
  • Team Drives for central ownership and management of files
  • Email Archiving, eDiscovery, DLP for simple legal compliance
  • Advanced reports and admin alerts for better usage visibility
  • “Org” unit controls to adjust access and sharing rights by department
  • THE platform for new features, such as AppMaker and AI/machine learning enabled services

For more information, contact us, or see what our clients say about G Suite Business.


 

G Suite

Driving G Suite Upgrades

G SuiteG Suite Business is the recommended G Suite subscription for most small and midsize businesses. Many of our clients have upgraded already, so we asked them what is driving them to make the move. In no particular order, our clients tell us that with G Suite Business, you get:

Better File Services

  • Team Drives gives you central ownership and management of files.
  • Combined with Drive File Stream, you can create a file service that looks and feels more like a file server and benefit from easier integration with desktop applications. (We blogged about this in Oct ’17)
  • Unlimited storage gives you the ability to move files from servers and workstations without worry.
  • You can offload inactive files from past projects, prior years, etc., into online, secure, searchable archives. This can save you from upgrading or replacing on-premise servers and storage.

Help with Compliance

  • The Vault service included with G Suite Business is a critical component for your information security and compliance requirements, including HIPAA, PCI, Sarbanes/Oxley, SEC, and FINRA.
  • Vault archives and provides compliant e-discovery for email, files in Drive, and Hangout chats.

Cost Savings

  • You can retire servers in remote offices with Drive and Team Drive, eliminating the need for on-premise server upgrades and replacements, backup, and support.
  • You can reduce or eliminate NAS, SAN, file servers, and local storage, all of which require local/offsite backup, maintenance, and support.
  • If you have multiple sites, you can replace point-to-point networks, MPLS, and VPNs with direct Internet access service, at considerable savings.
  • You can replace Active Directory with a cloud-based identity manager or SSO solution; you can retire your AD domain controllers.

New Features

  • With G Suite Business, you get new features, like Team Drives and AppMaker, that are not available in G Suite Basic.

If you are interested in how G Suite Business can help you and your team, please let us know.  We have special incentives in place through June 30, 2017.


 

WiFi Services

The Longest Yard: WiFi Solutions for SMBs

WiFi ServicesBusinesses depend on WiFi service. From employee laptops, tablets, and phones, to visitors in conference rooms, WiFi service is a critical component of your network infrastructure. And yet, for many small businesses, WiFi performance and reliability degrade over time. Most WiFi installations start with a focus on coverage — ensuring all areas and users have access to the service. Often neglected is capacity, the availability of bandwidth to ensure fast, reliable service for all users. For companies with small offices, and SMBs in general, the odds seem stacked against us.

  • Installations typically use default settings, placing WiFi traffic on slower bandwidth service and on channels most susceptible to interference
  • Wireless routers and access points sold to SMBs and small offices often lack settings (bandwidth steering, antennae power control, etc) needed to manage and tune performance
  • Most SMBs and small offices do not have active monitoring of WiFi performance, or even periodic reporting about the quality of WiFi service

When SMBs and small offices have WiFi connectivity or performance issues, the typical response is to add additional access points or to increase signal power, “solutions” that often exasperate the problem.

You can and should have the WiFi connectivity and performance you need.

Even if lower cost wireless routers and access points have been installed, SMBs and you can take steps to ensure WiFi connectivity and performance. And, you can do this without expensive equipment upgrades and installations. Take an approach recognizing that the quality of your WiFi service is not static. The environment in which your WiFi operates will change over time.

WiFi Assessments:

Historically, WiFi assessments have been expensive; most SMBs cannot afford a few thousand dollars for a one-time assessment. These one-time assessments capture a point in time and may not recognize shifting usage, demand, and interference patters. These types of assessments are often vendor-led and recommend significant equipment upgrades and installations.

New technologies and services allow for one-time assessments to be completed for hundreds, not thousands, of dollars.  Drop-in devices capture all WiFi traffic and feed the data to cloud-based, AI-driven analysis engines that diagnose and prioritize issues. The AI analysis engines are able to recommend specific solution actions addresses both your WiFi infrastructure and devices accessing the network. The drop-in devices capture all WiFi signals in the area, looking not only at your networks, but the behavior and impact of WiFi signals reaching your space from other locations. And, our recommendations focus on setting changes in existing equipment rather than upgrades and overhauls.

With this lower cost, SMBs can afford to run assessments as-needed when performance or connectivity issues arise, or on a periodic schedule. With periodic assessments, you capture and adapt to changes that occur over time, often preventing issues before they impact your business.

WiFi Monitoring:

Using the same intelligent technology and services, SMBs can now also afford on-going WiFi Monitoring. With continuous monitoring, the AI engine and analysis tools can look at historical trends and address changes to the WiFi environment. This service offers incredible value to restaurants, retail, warehouses, schools, and other locations where the number of WiFi connected devices (customer, employee, IoT, etc) and usage patterns change hour-to-hour, day-to-day, or over time. As the drop-in devices also provide remote network testing, the monitoring infrastructure saves valuable time and effort when testing or re-configuring WiFi services.

Because the monitoring is not depending on your existing infrastructure of vendors, the analysis is agnostic and the recommendations are not biased to any vendor solution.

Managed WiFi Service:

For the first time, SMBs can now afford to have a managed WiFi service. With a managed service, WiFi routers, access points, and (hopefully) attached physical switches are connected to central management console. The console allows for active performance and connectivity alerts that can trigger service tickets and responses. The console also provides remote access to manage configurations and settings, diagnose issues, and resolve problems in real time.

As a managed service, we configure, monitor, and maintain your WiFi network to ensure it meets the needs of your business.

When combined with WiFi monitoring, Managed WiFi Services provide a complete WiFi service that adapts to the changing needs of your environment, ensuring connectivity and performance.


We offer WiFi Assessments and Monitoring services powered by the Wyebot Wireless Intelligence Platform along with a range of Managed WiFi Service offerings.  Please contact us for more information.


 

The Last Mile

The Last Mile: Internet Access in the Age of Cloud

The Last Mile

Internet access has changed radically in the past half decade. With greater availability of broadband service from cable providers, small and midsize businesses are no longer limited by legacy wide area network technologies offered by traditional telephone providers. The cost of service has also plummeted.  In our area, we have gone from paying $500 per month for a 1.5 Mbps circuit to paying $149 per month for 75 Mbps service. From $330 per Mpbs down to $2 Mbps in less than five years. The impact is profound and has spurred changes on how we use the Internet. We have moved from surfing web sites and email traffic to cloud computing, creating a new set of challenges for small and midsize businesses. High speed internet is not readily available in many rural, sub-rural, and urban areas. High speed internet is often built over aging infrastructure and lacks reliability. And, most importantly …

Many Broadband Services Fail to Meet the Needs of Small Business

Most business broadband services are asymmetrical, with different upload and download speeds. With uploads running at 10%-15% of download speeds, broadband fails to meet the needs of cloud users. Working with cloud systems, applications, and file services, as much data moves “up” to the cloud as “down” to user. Symmetric upload/download speeds are critical to reliable performance and productivity.

Fortunately, Solutions Exist.

By looking to other carriers and their agency networks, we can offer solutions that delivery bandwidth, reliability, access, and coverage.

For bandwidth, many carriers offer Fast Ethernet, Gig Ethernet, and other high speed fiber and coax services. These services deliver symmetrical service with a range of speeds, usually starting at 100 Mbps. Availability is generally good in urban and suburban areas. For buildings not pre-wired for service, installation may involve pulling new wires from the street network. In most cases, carriers will waive this construction cost, along with normal installation fees, when you sign a three (3) year agreement.

For reliability, a second, fail-over, Internet connection can provide business continuity when your primary service fails. As the failures are often on the last mile — the connection from the network to your business — alternate service should not be built over the same infrastructure as your primary connection. For many small businesses, cellular can provide reliable, affordable fail-over services with reasonable speeds. Solutions like the Datto Network Appliance connect to your local provider and offer automatic fail-over to the Verizon or AT&T cellular data networks for a low monthly fee.

For access and coverage in areas without high speed Internet service, broadband satellite is emerging as a viable solution, particularly in rural and sub-rural areas.  Speeds start at 20 Mbps. Service may not be symmetrical everywhere, but coverage areas continue to grow.

The solution you need for business will depend on your location, size, and use of cloud services. Taking time and picking the right Internet access will improve performance and productivity.


If you are interested in exploring options, contact us for a free consultation.


 

 

Rules and Regulations

Rules, Regulations, and Results

Rules and RegulationsFor Small and Midsize Enterprises (SMEs), the regulatory landscape remains in a perpetual state of flux with changes originating at the Federal, state, and local levels. While some rules and regulations can severely impact your business’ operations, and profitability, many create requirements that you can easily satisfy at a nominal cost.

Three regulations with upcoming deadlines or increased enforcement include:

HIPAA

HIPAA compliance is a requirement for any organization that works with personal health information of individuals — not just medical offices and insurance firms. If you are sharing employee information about benefits, insurance coverage, medical leaves, or other items that involve personal health information (PHI), you have an obligation to protect the PHI. Failure to do so can result in heavy fines and, in a few instances, criminal charges.

Historically, HIPAA compliance has focused on medical practices, insurance, and brokers. We are starting to see audits of non-medical companies, along with fines for those not in compliance. 

Fortunately, you can protect PHI by focusing on the individuals that are authorized or likely to handle sensitive employee information.  By focusing on HR, payroll, and key executive and leadership roles, you can deploy services like message-level email encryption.

What to do:

  • For as little as $5 or $6 per user per month, you can ensure that specific individuals protect PHI and sensitive information while preventing accidental disclosure
  • Contact us for information about encryption, DLP, and other HIPAA solutions.

ELD

Starting December 18, 2017, all interstate trucks in the US must use an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) to track operations and required reporting.  According to the US Department of Transportation (USDOT), fewer than 1/3 of interstate trucks have installed ELDs as of mid-November. Failure to comply can result in heavy fines, impounding of vehicles, and disruption of delivery schedules.

While enforcement is not expected to impact small and midsize trucking firms until late spring or summer of next year, your business can still be at risk.

Here are a few things to note:

  • If you have your own truck(s), they may be classified or registered as Interstate Trucks, even if you only deliver within your state.
  • If you use third parties for shipping, their failure to comply can disrupt your deliveries if trucks are stopped or impounded, or if drivers are pulled off the road.

What to do:

  • Check your own vehicles:
    • Determine if they are properly registered as Interstate Trucks, or if they should be registered as such
    • If you do not have ELDs yet, please contact us for low cost, self-install ELDs with logging software subscriptions
  • Check with your shipper(s):
    • Confirm their trucks, those of their subcontractors, and any owner/operators are properly registered and have ELDs
    • If not, have them contact us for help

GDPR

Effective May 25, 2018, the European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes effect. While GDPR covers data protection and privacy for citizens of EU member states, treaties allow enforcement in action against US companies operating within the US.

If you have any personal data for citizens of EU member states, you are responsible for GDPR compliance.

GDPR means more than encrypting sensitive data.  GDPR includes processes and procedures for governance, including:

  • A named Data Protection Officer (DPO) responsible for oversight, compliance, and response to individual inquiries. The DPO role can be full time or part time, internal or contracted.
  • You must report suspected breaches within 72 hours of becoming aware of the issue.
  • You need to deploy privacy by design — any new system or change in systems requires primary consideration of privacy and information security.
  • You must be able to demonstrate that you mitigate risk, even in the absence of a privacy breach.

Fortunately for most SME’s the appropriate policy changes and the risk-mitigation technologies need not be expensive of complicated.

What to do:

  • Discuss GDPR with your team, and your legal counsel, to determine your required compliance
  • Provide training, education, and “cultural support” for a data privacy mindset within your organization
  • Review systems storing or processing personal information for security and privacy compliance
  • Select and deploy relevant data loss prevention (risk mitigation) solutions for your environment

Need help? Contact us for more information.


 

Cloud Forward

What is a MCSP?

Cloud ForwardAs noted in our recent post, Moving Cloud Gets Real, many small and midsize businesses are approaching the tipping point between on-premise and cloud service. When (not if) you reach this point, how you manage and support your IT will change. The need to monitor and maintain equipment and infrastructure drops off while your need to monitor and manage services, apps, and data increases.

Enter the MCSP

A MCSP is a Managed Cloud Service Provider. Similar to a traditional managed service provider, or MSP, the MCSP provides you with end to end monitoring, management, and support for your IT ecosystem.

The big difference:

  • MSPs focus on on-premise solutions
  • Your MCSP will provide your IT services using cloud services, cloud-connected end user devices, and the infrastructure needed to connect the two

Because you MCSP covers you end to end, you still have coverage for your users’ computers, networks, file sharing, printing, and applications.

The MCSP Value Proposition

Historically, most MSPs charge monthly fees based on:

  • The number and type of services
  • The number of users
  • Number of devices
  • Number of vendors

MCSPs, in comparison, typically charge a single, inclusive, per-user fee covering cloud subscriptions and services and included devices. If part of the covered services, monthly fees for networking and other infrastructure may also apply.

The value proposition is greater given the MCSP per-user fee covers the user and the system — you do not have separate charges for servers and vendors. The chart, below, illustrates a sample comparison of the per-device versus per-user fees in which the monthly fees quoted were identical.

Traditional
MSP
Cumulus Global
MCSP
Device(s) Yes (Optional) Yes (Optional)
Operating System Yes Yes
Office 365 Subscription Yes Yes
Endpoint Protection Yes Yes
Support Yes Yes
Mobile Device Management Yes
Advanced Threat Protection Yes
Data Backup / Recovery (for Office 365) Yes
O365 PSTN Conferencing Yes
Message-Level Email Encryption Yes
Web Security Yes

In addition to the per-device fees in the chart, above, the MSP options included monitoring and management fees for Active Directory and other on-premise servers that do not exist in the MCSP solution — further enhancing the value proposition.

Next Step

Your next step is to understand when MCSP services are right for your business. Contact us for a complementary Cloud Advisor session; let’s discuss the opportunities and options.

BYOD or DaaS?

Buy, Lease, DaaS, or BYOD?

BYOD or DaaS?As we noted in our last blog post, Moving Cloud Gets Real, small and midsize businesses like yours are reaching the tipping point where cloud solutions outweigh those running on-site. When this happens, you need to decide if/when you move your remaining on-premise systems to the cloud. As you do, you face the question about what to do with your end user devices.

Not Just a Desktop Anymore

End user devices are no longer limited to the desktop/laptop purchased by the company. Most of your employees are regularly using personal smartphones, tablets, and other devices to conduct business — your business.

Four Options for Devices

When deciding on what devices your team will use, you have four options:

  • Buy: Purchase devices and provide them to employees, creating a company asset. Buy also includes finance leasing with the “$1 buyout” that gives you ownership of the device at the end of the lease.
  • Lease: Use a lease to pay for only the fair market value of the devices, returning and refreshing them with new models at the end of the lease.
  • BYOD: Allow users to buy and use the device they choose.  They own the device, but use it for work, exclusively or non-exclusively.
  • DaaS: Device-as-a-Service, or DaaS, is similar to a lease in that you pay monthly per device. DaaS differs from a lease in that you can, within guidelines, adjust the number of devices up or down, swap out devices for newer models, and replace damaged devices without penalties during the term of the contract. Many DaaS services include malware protection, support, and other services in the monthly fee.

Unless you are buying your staff all of the devices, they use, you already have some mix of “buy” and “bring your own device” (“BYOD”). For many businesses past the cloud tipping point, DaaS and BYOD become the best solutions. DaaS and BYOD let you equip your team with the tools that empower their productivity while maintaining cost controls.

You Own the Data (if not the device)

Whether you own your users’ devices or not, you own the data and are responsible for security and privacy.  You need to ensure you have policies and systems in place to secure, manage, and protect your company’s data. This means installing mobile device management and data security tools on devices used for business, even if they are owned by an employee. Failure to do so leaves your exposed to data loss and breaches, and the civil and criminal penalties that can result.

Fortunately, policies need to be complex or difficult to enact. Providing data protection to mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, and — yes — laptops) has benefits for your employees as well. They key is to ensure that your policies and the support technologies are aligned.

Next Steps

Now is the time to discuss your device strategy and how you are, or will, protect user devices and the company data on those devices. Contact us for a free Cloud Advisor session to discuss options, opportunities, and solutions.


 

SMB Cloud Tipping Point

Moving Cloud Gets Real

SMB Cloud Tipping PointCloud Computing is reaching a tipping point for small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) as the number and value of cloud-based applications and systems surpasses those running on site. Beyond email, SMBs use Software-as-a-Service solutions for customer relationship management, operations, finance, customer service, and vendor/supply chain management. SMBs want better integration between SaaS solutions and custom-built solutions to further enhance operations, marketing, sales, and the bottom line. Over the next few years, bots, machine learning/AI, and business intelligence will become the norm for SMBs as well as larger enterprises.

SMBs are moving core systems, infrastructure, and services to the cloud.

If all you have left on premise are your Active Directory services, some of your file and print servers/services, and a few business applications, moving your remaining IT services to the cloud makes sense. You can provide the same applications, data, and services without maintaining the physical infrastructure while enabling better integration of systems, processes, and information.

3 Strategies

You have three basic strategies to choose from when moving apps and systems to the cloud:

  • Beautify
    • Also referred to as “lift and load”, this strategy works best when you have (1) a custom-built application; (2) a customized system that cannot migrate to the vendor’s SaaS offering; and/or (3) a solution you do not want to further modify or rebuild as a cloud app.
    • In this scenario, we create cloud-based networks and servers to host and run your existing systems “as-is” with remote, secure access.
    • This option is an effective interim step to a more complete cloud solution.
  • Buy
    • In this scenario, you “buy” a SaaS solution from your current software vendor or move from your existing system to a new SaaS solution.
    • Your ability to “buy” depends on the capabilities of the SaaS solution(s) versus your current system usage and needs. For example, many businesses find that the SaaS version of Quickbooks lacks features and reports that they need an use.
  • Build
    • As the name implies, build means you are replacing an app or system with a new, cloud-based solution.
    • With the current evolution in bots, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and tools, many of your existing processes can be automated by cloud-native services with little or no traditional programming.
    • No-code and low-code solutions are the wave of the future.

Next Steps

Which strategy, or combination of strategies, is best for your business depends on several factors, starting with business goals, objectives, and priorities. Current capabilities, needed features/functions, competitive positioning, internal culture, cost, and value all come into play. When you properly plan and execute your cloud migration, you should see tangible and intangible benefits.


Contact us to discuss the possibilities and opportunities for your business.


 

Pumpkin Spice Brake Pads

Pumpkin Spice Cloud Solutions

Pumpkin Spice Brake PadsIt doesn’t just happen. It seems to become a bigger and bigger thing over time. More feel like they are missing out. More try to join in. Many see an opportunity and try to ride the perceived popularity. And many get turned off because of personal taste or even just to buck the trend.

Such is the tangential arc of fads and trends. And, unfortunately, such is the way many small and midsize businesses approach the cloud. 

There is little doubt that Cloud Computing is a trend that is quickly evolving into a “real thing” with staying power. Many “experts” insist it is the “thing to do”. And while we do not disagree with these experts — we do believe that cloud is the best strategic and tactical direction for most (not all!) businesses — approaching cloud as a trend in which we need to participate is the wrong approach. SMBs that get caught up in the “trend” will miss the long term opportunities and will do more harm than good.

Small and Midsize Businesses are Different!

Much of the hype around “Digital Transformation”, machine learning, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence focuses on the enterprise. Yes, these capabilities will make it to SMBs and cloud will help accelerate the availability and adoption. SMBs, however, do not generally have the resources to run DevOps teams and rebuild or build custom applications.  SMBs rely much more heavily on SaaS and packaged solutions.

For SMBs the challenge is to pick the application or system that fills the need, and integrate that application or system into the overall ecosystem. Microsoft, Google, Salesforce.com, and others are creating ecosystems that foster integration within the ecosystem, but offer less support for solutions outside the multi-vendor boundaries they create.

A Cloud Forward Approach

Given this reality, a forward-looking approach is critical to your cloud success.  Your IT should clearly help you achieve your business goals and objectives. Your goals and objectives are forward looking, so too should be your IT and cloud decisions. For many SMBs, the first major decision is which cloud, and the initial focus is on productivity.  Do you go Office 365 and build your ecosystem around Microsoft 365 and Azure?  Do you deploy G Suite and look to deploy apps and systems Google Cloud Platform? Are you using Salesforce.com and will you limit yourself to solutions on the force.com platform? Are you looking at services or solutions that run on Amazon Web Services, and if so, how do those fit in?

Cloud Forward starts by asking the question “Which Cloud?”.  To answer, we map business goals and objectives into technology-driven objectives that, in turn, guide your decisions. Knowing that “cloud” is not simply “what we have running someplace else”, we actively assess other factors that should guide your decision — the structure of your information, your company structure, the culture your have or want, your existing applications and systems, industry-specific solutions, mobile and remote work, and more. We look ask uses about their preferences and what tools they feel make them most productive. And, we look at the near-term and long-term integration required to create a holistic solution.

Without a comprehensive assessment and understanding, your cloud solution will behave like a fad — a trend that fades.  By looking Cloud Forward, you can avoid the hype and fluff. You will focus on substance and will realize tangible results.


Contact us for more information or a complementary Cloud Advisor Session. For a customized Which Cloud Analysis and Recommendation, please complete our Which Cloud Survey. We are waiving the $895 fee through the end of 2017.


 

Drive File Stream

Does Team Drives + Drive File Stream = File Server?

Drive File StreamLast month, Google (finally) released Drive File Stream. Unlike the Drive Sync Client it replaces, Drive File Stream provides “mapped drive” access to files in Drive. In doing so, you can browse, search, and use Drive like you would any mapped drive through Windows File Explorer and Finder on Macs. By mapping and using a cache, you have access to all of your Drive contents without having to sync all of your content to your device. While you can still select files and folders to sync for offline access, the Drive File Client gives you and your local applications access to your files in Drive.

The Real Value is with Team Drives

As a second improvement over Drive Sync Client, Drive File Stream connects you to both your “My Drive” and “Team Drive” hierarchies. The integration with Team drives, in particular, adds specific value. Team Drives provide file sharing hierarchies that include many traits of a traditional file serves. With Team Drives, the system owns the space and administrators centrally manage permissions. You can grant members of Team Drives limited administrative rights and you can control which members can view, comment, and edit files and folders. Permissions are hierarchical with inheritance pushing permissions down to subfolders and files.

Combining Team Drives and Drive File Stream gives you a “file server like” experiences. You use your local apps, browsing and searching for files in Explorer or Finder. You open, work with, and save files like you do for local files and files on traditional file servers. You manage permission by Team Drive and your folder hierarchy. And while you do not have all of the granularity with Team Drives as you do with a Windows File Server, for example, you have enough to build a managed file service. Because of the differences in permissions granularity, you are more likely to have more Team Drives than you might have top level folders on a traditional file server.

Does Team Drives + Drive File Stream = File Server?

Combining Team Drives and Google File Stream does not give you all of the features and functions of a traditional file server. By creating a managed file service, however, you do have the power to manage access and use of your data and information. And better than a traditional file server, your managed file service will server the needs of user with local, traditional applications and those working in the cloud.


Best Practice: Plan your team memberships and permission, hierarchies, and management strategies before you start building your Managed File Service using Team Drives and Drive File Stream. Contact us for a Cloud Advisory session to discuss your needs and project.