Microsoft ‘Ignites’ Tech Initiatives

We’ve all grown along with Microsoft, starting with its DOS operating system and moving through Windows and its many reiterations and the package of Word, Excel and other apps that evolved into Office 365. It’s fair to say the company and its products are entrenched in our daily lives, like it or not. At the Ignite technical conference, they showed how they’re digging deeper.

Delivering the keynote at this year’s Ignite conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella highlighted the company’s latest product and service launches, including new tools and services for the Azure cloud platform. Most of you are familiar with Azure because we’ve built your backup services on it. We’ll talk more about Azure and backup services in Azure – Always at Work in the Background, but Nadella’s talk showed how all the technology is tying together to ultimately give you more computing power.

“We want every organization to be a digital software company. And that means you all need to have the capabilities to be able to turn every organization into a digital company,” Nadella said. “In fact, our goal is to commoditize digital tech. We don’t want it to be just the province of a few companies in the West Coast of the United States or the East Coast of China…we want every company out there to be a tech company in its own right.”

Let that sink in. Whether you are a small business, a home-based business or a family user, Microsoft wants to treat you as a digital company. We can trace our path to this point from the time that Microsoft opened Office 365, OneDrive and Azure to the smaller users. It’s enabled all of us to share in the technological advances made possible by the economies of scale – and it will only get better.

Nadella touted the introduction of Azure Arc as the beginning of a new era in hybrid computing. Boiled down to simple terms, hybrid computing allows data and applications to be shared across public and private cloud environments – server systems. It will, in turn, enable companies – and you, eventually – to switch seamlessly between private servers used for sensitive operations and public servers for less sensitive operations. That will add speed and ultimately let you pay only for the service you need. Nobody will need to build systems to handle spikes in operations because the hybrid system will handle the supply-and-demand needs of users. Everyone will benefit from flexibility, scalability, and cost efficiencies with the lowest possible risk of data exposure. Azure Arc will be enhanced by open-source projects that will allow developers to build and deploy more power applications.

With the introduction of Azure Synapse, Microsoft will offer data warehousing and big-data analytics, using cloud-native memory hierarchy and storage hierarchy to redefine the rules around analytic workloads. It will bring together two separate categories, data warehousing and big data – in ways that integrate analytics systems. Eventually, this capability should filter down to smaller users who need it on an affordable scale.

Two other products that caught our eye are:

  • Project Cortex is an AI (artificial intelligence) initiative that works with Office 365 to classify and categorize content, such as documents and email, to gain greater knowledge within their context. It is expected to be generally available during the first half of 2020.
  • Project Silica will use quartz glass as a storage device. The company is collaborating with Warner Bros., who stored the original 1978 “Superman” on a piece of glass approximately the size of a coaster. Project Silica uses laser optics to encode data in glass and then uses machine-learning algorithms to decode the data. It’s said to be incredibly durable.

As time goes on, we may be able to incorporate some or all these advances into your technology or business operations. Some of these advances may involve new computers, services or networks to help you take advantage of the benefits that apply to you. We can help you plan for these and other developments. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about where your business is heading and how we can plan for the most efficient acquisition and deployment of suitable systems.

Azure – Always at Work in the Background

Microsoft’s Azure platform has been our backup program of choice for clients since Office 365 became a product for small businesses and home offices/users. We like that it’s a living system – one that continues to evolve and grow.

If you read the article Microsoft ‘Ignites’ Tech Initiatives, you couldn’t help but notice that Microsoft is throwing massive resources behind Azure as a technology platform. As we see it, Azure will become an even stronger backup resource as it helps you use your data files and apps more efficiently. That said, you need to make it your backup program – or at least one of your backup programs – if you want to take advantage of advancing technologies.

Backup is a misunderstood term in the context of IT services. We define a backup as an extra copy of data from a computer. Simply putting data in the cloud – even with OneDrive through Office 365 – is not a backup; it’s storage. Now, it can be useful – even vital – to store data in at least one cloud and on some sort of external device that’s separate from a computer or office server. But it’s not backup.

Why is backup critical? Two scenarios come to mind: 1.) a catastrophe that wipes out your computer or cloud-based server and 2.) a rogue employee or hacker getting into your account and deleting files. The big issue in both scenarios is recovery.

Azure solves the recovery issue for us because it works seamlessly with Office 365, including Outlook and its PST files for your email. For some, backing up email may be more important than backing up files.

As an IT professional, I like Azure’s ability to generate reports – with more capabilities coming online all the time. Microsoft constantly uses customer feedback to add more power to the platform. That gives us the ability to go back into our clients’ backup records to trace incidents and to restore files after a catastrophic event. That’s critical because it can be 90 days – sometimes longer – before a hack or data loss is discovered by a client. When that happens, we can go back in time through the power of Azure to find data files that help us help you recover.

As a set of powerful tools, Azure needs to have respect from users. Yes, you can go into Azure, but you can also create havoc with your systems and our work if those tools are misused. One of the things that drives me crazy is when we look like we don’t know what we’re doing when restoring files because somebody messed with the system.

That being said, we believe in educating our clients. If you want to learn more about how your Azure backup is set up and see what it can and can’t do, we’ll be more than happy to give you a remote tour. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to book your tour of your system.

Backup and Security

What happens when you use the cloud to store files encrypted for security instead of backing them up properly? You can face huge expenses, compounded by the consequences of lost data.

Let’s set a scene to show you how things can play out.

When your files are backed up or stored, they can be encrypted. That’s not a bad thing because it can add a layer of security, and it can help your cloud provider make better use of their server space. However, you and anyone who works on your IT system must make sure that all your system software stays intact.

We had a situation with a client that shows how multiple missteps can create exponential problems. The first misstep was that Windows updates had not been installed. We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to install updates, which include security measures and bug fixes. Without the bug fixes, you’ll run into a problem somewhere along the line that causes a performance failure.

The client decided to call in another IT person to fix the problem that arose with their system. During the diagnostic process, that tech erroneously removed a vital part of the system software, which included the encryption key for stored files. The net result was that the data files could not be restored when they thought the problem was fixed.

Fortunately, the client still had their old computer, which had been sitting in the office for a year. It wasn’t ideal, but it helped. Because they had Office 365, they were able to restore their Word and PowerPoint files, but they lost their QuickBooks files and a year’s worth of data because there was no effective backup in place for the files. They had to be recreated – painstakingly – at the cost of time and money.

We see three lessons for everyone based on our client’s experience:

  1. Install your updates. While security updates are top-of-mind for most users because of prevalent hacking, you can’t overlook the bug fixes. Bugs will cause performance problems that you’ll recognize and motivate you to take corrective action, which brings us to the next point.
  2. Use IT consultants who know what they’re doing. Cheaping out on a service provider compounds the effects of not keeping your software up to date. Today’s tech systems are complex, and your IT tech must know where to go and where not to go within your system. When someone uninstalls software, for example, they must have the encryption key to restore software.
  3. Have a good backup program in place. Cheaping out here, too, can have dire consequences. Again, we go back to Azure and Office 365. Together, they store and encrypt your files on secure servers. And because they’re in the cloud, you can access your files from any device that has internet access. Ultimately, that means you should be able to recover your data in the event of a catastrophic event.

We can help you with any technology issues, including system wellness checks, setting up a process for updating your software, and installing and setting up Office 365 with an Azure backup program. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs and their solutions.