Updating Your Cloud Strategy

We hear all about the cloud without end. For large corporations and individuals, using the cloud is a nearly flawless solution for storing and accessing apps and data from anywhere. But for small businesses, exclusive reliance on the cloud may not be the best solution. Here are some decision-making factors.

First, for all their differences in size, a huge corporation and an individual have a few things in common. Individuals and corporate employees can travel anywhere in the world and need to access apps and data wherever they are. The cloud works really well for this.

Although they operate on totally different levels, subscription-based apps such as Office 365 work really well for individuals and large corporations. Individuals can share the cost over a large user base, enabling each to benefit from constant upgrades that app publishers can update from central locations. Large corporations essentially do the same thing within their communities. They spread their cost over many users, and their tech teams control the software-update process to keep operations running as smoothly as possible.

A small business is different in one significant way. It’s essentially a self-contained community of users who use the same apps and data in one location. Yes, that business may have employees who log in ‘from remote locations, and yes, it may benefit from subscription-based application software. But we are likely talking about 10 to 100 people who are working with the same apps and data in a “bubble” known as the office. While small businesses combine to form a huge user base, each has its own specific needs, and our clients rely on us to customize systems to meet specific needs.

Therefore, the cloud may not be the solution, especially if you are a small business still working with a combination of a Windows 7 operating system and a Windows 2008 server, either in your office or in the cloud. We’re approaching a perfect storm with that combination because by January 2020, Windows will no longer support that OS and server platform. They’re too old and expensive for Microsoft to develop performance upgrades and security patches. You are being brought to a decision point.

We recommend that small businesses look at a cost/benefit analysis that covers five years to determine whether you upgrade your OS and server or migrate to the cloud. Five years is a good projected lifetime for a server and OS, it makes it easier to compare their cost with setting up and using a cloud-based system.

Setting up a server on the cloud involves costs, including the cost of server space and the cost to set it up to meet your needs. Once that’s done, your maintenance cost should be minimal. If your business runs Office 365, you already have a cloud presence through Azure, Microsoft’s cloud system. And while Azure automatically updates its server, it’s still a maintenance operation. All cloud servers need maintenance, and it’s something you pay for as part of your agreement.

Of course, using a cloud-based server requires access to a good internet connection, one with sufficient bandwidth for your needs and virtually perfect reliability. If you don’t have the bandwidth, your business won’t operate at its desired level. If your service goes down, you’re out of business until it’s restored.

If your computing needs are largely internal, you might be better served with your own server on a strong internal network, which can be hard-wired for better performance and security than a Wi-Fi network. You’ll incur purchase and set-up costs for your server, and you’ll need to install all updates in a timely manner. But your maintenance expenses should be relatively low once you’re up and running.

By setting up computers as terminals on a server and hard-wiring the network, you won’t need a router system or a big pipeline to the internet. You’ll also have fewer internet access points to secure, and that could help keep out intruders. Finally, depending on your employees, they’ll likely be less likely to wander off to other things on the internet.

Whichever way you go, you will have the most up-to-date servers, application software and security technology available at the time of installation. Cloud systems will update automatically, but your internal system can be configured to download and install updates.

With a January 2020 deadline, you have time to analyze your options and start moving along your chosen migration plan. We can help you analyze your business’s needs over the next five years and put a plan into action so you don’t miss a deadline or a beat. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment.

Hello, New Security Technology

Passwords are on the verge of becoming extinct, and for many people, the passing of passwords will be like getting rid of a migraine. With the latest Windows 10 major update from Microsoft, your computers and devices may now say “hello” to you to access Microsoft accounts, and additional security measures may now work together better with smart devices. Facial recognition is playing a big role.

Security is more important than anything in today’s world, and hackers keep cyber defenders back on their heels in many instances. Our message continues to be that you need to harden your security measures while you have control of your computer, device, network, etc. If you wait until it controls you, it can cost you a lot of time, money and aggravation.

Combining facial recognition with another authentication factor is one element of Hello, which is available on certain computers with Windows 10 installed. It replaces a password with biometrics to authenticate secure access to devices, apps, online services and networks with a fingerprint, iris scan or facial recognition. It’s considered to be more user friendly, secure and reliable than traditional passwords, which are easy to crack because most people use simple ones they can remember or leave written notes in easy-to-find places.

You can authenticate a Microsoft account or a non-Microsoft service that supports Fast Identity Online (FIDO) by setting up a facial scan, iris scan or fingerprint to log into a device. Hello uses 3D-structured light to create a model of someone’s face and then uses anti-spoofing techniques to limit the success of people creating a fake head or mask to spoof the system. Once you set up your initial scan, the image will enable you to unlock access to Microsoft accounts, core applications and third-party applications that use the system. You can modify facial and iris scans, and add or remove additional fingerprints, and you can uninstall biometric identification.

Microsoft has updated Hello to support new security keys and offers two-factor authentication. There are keys to authenticate users for Azure Active Directory without requiring that a user enter a username or password, or even set-up Windows Hello beforehand. Technology advances could include authentication through a smartphone, but don’t expect any of those to involve text messages. Your cell phone number can be easily highjacked, and a perpetrator can simply have all of your passwords sent somewhere else without you ever knowing about it.

Windows’ latest update, version 1809, which is being pushed out this month, will increase the number of computers able to use Hello, and that will certainly help expand its user base – which, in turn, will spur more development of more ways to use it.

Microsoft is working with a growing number of service providers and device manufacturers to give its users a more seamless method to authenticate multiple accounts. Ultimately, the industry needs to tighten its false rejection rates and “liveness detection,” which ensures that the scan is that of a living person.

We’re confident that use of these new systems, such as Hello, will make us more secure, especially for business systems. We still see so many offices with passwords attached to computer monitors. Hello will go a long way to eliminating this particular potential for security breaches.

If you have computers that can work with Hello, we urge you to take a close look at implementing it. If you have questions about getting computers that are compatible with Hello or will be, we can help you set it up or prepare you to set it up. In the meantime, we can perform a security assessment to make sure your information technology system has no open backdoors or trapdoors that can allow access. This can be especially important, as one client discovered after they bought a company and started to merge IT systems.

Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about your security.

Personally Improving Tech Service

As I’ve said many times before, the greatest value of going to conferences is talking to people. We continuously develop better networks among colleagues and voice concerns to the many techies who man the booths at expos.

One of my crusades for this year’s Ignite conference, Microsoft’s annual tech extravaganza, was to talk with the engineers from the hardware and software companies we do business with on your behalf and my IT colleagues. We get together annually and stay in touch all year long. My specific beef this year was documentation.

In one instance, I had an error message on of our clients’ system. Trying to find the resolution through the manufacturer’s documentation had me going in circles. Then, I remembered a conversation I had with one of my Ignite colleagues about a major issue he had with a piece of HP equipment. It seems that a low battery problem showed up as a “not installed” message, which left me dumbfounded because all the installation steps checked out. Resolving the battery issue resolved the “not installed” error message but having accurate documentation would have resolved the problem much faster.

I talked to Microsoft engineers about documentation for setting up encryption through Office 365. Encryption is a hassle for computer users, but it can play a key role in protecting the security of information. They admitted that documentation was a problem, and my reaction was, “What am I supposed to tell my clients?”

I’m hoping that being able to talk to engineers personally about the issues we face as IT professionals will be addressed. And with many former IT independents in my network going to work for hardware and software companies, my personal connections might help my colleagues and me get better resolutions to the issues we face. Those personal contacts will go a long way to providing you with better service.

The personal connections may prove to be even more valuable as Microsoft rolls out its new Windows 10 updates, version 1809. It has extensive updates and changes that may require tweaking for some clients, and our goal is to make your transition as seamless as possible.

If you need help with installing or tweaking new hardware and software, be sure to call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for help. It’s likely we’ve picked up a trick or two that the documentation doesn’t cover or make clear.