Data Cap Management Poses Challenges

We called it a long time ago, and now it’s a reality. Internet service providers (ISPs) are capping data, and it couldn’t happen at a worse time. As we continue to work and learn at home, use cloud-based services for application programs and data storage retrieval – and stream more entertainment, we’re set up to use more data. You’re going to need to look at data bytes like you look at calories on a menu.

We all know that calorie counts on a restaurant menu don’t tell the full story. The calorie count for a salad may be low, but dressing may raise the total through the roof. Knowing how much data you’ll use to watch a standard-definition movie on a device of any kind won’t really help you a whole lot in planning your data usage for a month. In reality, you’ll want that visual salad dressing – HD or 4K resolution – to enjoy the quality of the experience. A movie that requires 600 to 700 mbps to watch can easily balloon to 4 Gigs.

What’s really ugly about it is that most households or small businesses have multiple users on their internet plans. We’re still not going back to the office in droves in anytime soon, and the same is true for kids going back to school – although that will likely happen faster. If you have a business and have employees logging into your network from home, they’re using your data while logged into your system. They’re also using their own data to log in.

In addition to logging in to work from home, kids are logging in for classes, collaborating with classmates and doing research. That uses data.

Everyone, no matter where they are, is using cloud-based software to run applications and work with files. We’re all using data, too, for email, web browsing, social media and entertainment. That last item is a major source of data use for families that have cut the cable TV cord. The more people you have streaming different content, the faster your data usage can run up – and up.

We have no problem with that; it’s a reality. But we do have a problem with the ISPs’ lack of transparency in sharing our data usage. You can’t easily find how much data you’ve used during a billing cycle so that you can manage it. The ISPs make it easier for their big-business customers to know how much data they use. They don’t do it for small businesses or residential users.

If you don’t know how close you are to your limit or if you’ve exceeded it, you can be in for a surprise. Either your service will drop down to a slower speed, which is not cool during a business meeting or class, or you’ll wind up with an extra charge on your bill.

As the cable companies lose traditional cable TV subscribers, they need to make up for lost revenue by fine-tuning how they price their data plans. That’s fine. We knew they’d come to data caps. We just want them to be more transparent about telling us what the caps are, letting us know when we’re close and giving us realistic options for managing our caps.

Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us if you have any questions about how to better manage your data use and monitoring at home or at the office.

Making ‘Work from Home’ Work

As the “shelter-in-place” orders rapidly clamped down on our mobility, the massive and sudden shift in how we worked forced employers and employees to scramble. Equipment and security became the key issues to address.

Most of the equipment issues our clients faced revolved around laptop computers. Because of last year’s chip shortage, computer manufacturers were already behind in building enough machines to meet the market’s needs. Those needs shot up as COVID-19 hit, making computers as scarce as toilet paper. Simply, there are just not enough business-grade laptops to go around. In some cases, our clients have gone to consumer electronics stores to buy home-use laptops for employees and have us set them up.

In our view, that’s better than just having employees use their personal devices to log onto a business network and access files and apps. Unless an employer knows exactly how a computer is set up for security and how secure the employee’s home network is, that employer is rolling the dice.

Many employers have VPNs (virtual private networks) to protect the security of computing from the office to their servers or cloud servers. But that only covers the traffic between their covered computers and the server. Those who regularly work remotely use the VPN, but their computers and devices should have security measures installed, and the users should have been trained in internet security.

When your employee sets up a computer or device at home and logs into your network, here’s the worst-case scenario. Your employee may not have up-to-date anti-virus and malware protection software installed and running. Your employee may not have an adequate firewall – or any firewall – installed and running. Your employee may not have a secure Wi-Fi network. If your employee’s security system is like Swiss cheese, you can be sure a hacker will find a way to tunnel into your corporate data.

Fortunately, we have found a workaround.

Working with your employees, we can install VPNs and we use your ISP’s (internet service provider) IP address as an external IP address when your employee logs into your work network from home. That helps keep the connection secure. Then, we use Microsoft’s Remote Desktop to connect the home computer to your office network and the employee’s office computer. That allows employees to work just like they were in the office.

The keys to making this workaround successful are making sure that all the office computers are on and that someone can monitor the office computer system to make sure everything is functioning properly.

If you haven’t taken these steps yet, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to schedule the work and to run through a checklist of things to be done before we begin.

COVID-19 Crisis – Keeping Your Technology Safe and Productive

A letter to our Clients and Friends:

It’s time to step back and take a deep breath. Yes, breathe in. Exhale slowly. Relax.

We don’t know how long our public health crisis with the coronavirus will last nor how it will end. But we’re in it together, and we at Sterling Rose want to offer you a few guidelines to help make your work and home disruption a little less disruptive.

If you are an employer or partner in a small business and need to conduct business from home, here’s what you should be doing:

  • Make sure everyone with a laptop computer – whether company-issued or personally owned – can log into your cloud or server to access the apps and files that drive your business. If there’s a problem, contact us.
  • Make sure that all of your hardware has the latest firmware (it’s basically like app software for hardware) installed. Do the same for your employee’s personal computers if they are working from home and logging into your tech system.
  • Make sure all of your software – OS, apps, web browsers – has the latest updates and upgrades installed. While updates improve performance, they also have the latest security patches, and that will be most important. Hackers will be in high gear to try to penetrate your defenses.
  • Make double sure that any employees who use their personal computers to conduct your business have of their software up to date for the same reasons.
  • Make sure you and your employees have strong network passwords for Wi-Fi networks and that everyone has installed and activated antivirus and malware protection programs. We strongly encourage everyone to have a password management program in place, too, for convenience and security.
  • Train everybody and constantly remind them to be careful about emails they receive and respond to and links they click. This is like the holiday shopping season for hackers. They’ll prey on your trying to do many things in a short time while under stress. If something looks just the slightest bit out of place, don’t click. Make a phone call.

If you are working at home and/or have kids at home who need to learn online, here’s what you should be doing.

  • Make sure you have the internet and Wi-Fi capacity to handle multiple users at one time. You could have two people working and using cellphones while your kids are either online for classes or homework and/or streaming 4k content on HD TVs or other devices.
  • Make sure your network is secure with a strong password – complemented by antivirus and malware protection software for every device that comes on your network. If your Wi-Fi system has the capability, set up a guest network for family and friends who visit – even though we’re not supposed to have visitors. It will help keep your network secure.
  • Make sure everyone who is on your network has strong passwords for online activities, and make sure everyone in your home has up-to-date firmware, OS software and app software for every device and system they have.
  • Make sure everyone in your home understands the threats caused by hackers. If you’re working at home, you’ll be under stress, so be careful about the emails you open and the links you click. Your kids at home may be bored. Make sure they are careful about the emails they open, the chats they get involved in and the links they click.

Again, take a deep breath, exhale slowly and relax. Take an extra minute to make sure you have your technology safe and functioning and take two extra minutes to make sure everyone – at the office and at home – is aware of the need to practice good online health while we try to avoid getting sick.

Finally, know that we are available to help you, your employees and your family be happy and productive online. Call us – 973-433-6676 – for any problems you have with technology at home or work. We’ll do our best to solve your problems by remote, and we’re still available for onsite visits to solve your problems.

We can all get through this together. We just need to be careful with our personal health and technological health.

All the best,

Norman Rosenthal
Sterling Rose