IT Spring Cleaning!

With Spring here, it’s time for a little cleanup. At Roundbrix, we’re only too familiar with those items that seem to get left by the wayside, yet they  can cause significant harm. Consequently,  we thought we would share a few tidbits of what we have learned in the last ten years.

Are we backing up everything we should?  This is a big issue and we see it all the time. We all get busy and add file shares here and there, or maybe a new database and somehow get pulled away from finishing the job which means including it in the nightly backups. Oh, this could hurt!

Do the backups actually work? I once worked with an outfit and discovered for two and a half YEARS, a gal would rotate the backup tape and take it offsite. The only problem was the backup job never ran! Folks, doing a sample restore of a file that was created yesterday will give you a ton of confidence that what you believe is in place is working.

Do these people still work here? Often times, folks leave and there are leftover items. They may still be a user on your system including e-mail. They may also have been granted VPN or remote access which may greatly expose your company.  Some may even still have voice mail set up and changed the greeting to something not very nice!  Another area of weakness we have discovered is when a user actually has been given the wireless access point password. What this means is they can sit outside in the parking lot, sit on your network backbone and attempt to get into employee accounts especially if passwords and security is not rigorous.

Can we get rid of those old computers? Sure you can, but realize what you can use and what you need to destroy before handing that machine into another party’s hands. What you should keep is usually RAM, especially if you have a lot of the same model machines. There’s not a machine out there that won’t benefit from at least 4GB of RAM and if it’s a 64-bit machine, it can benefit from using even more! It’s also an inexpensive way to stretch that IT dollar on those remaining aging units. On laptops, saving a couple extra power supplies might prevent you having to throw good money after bad should one fail. What you need to destroy is the hard drive as you don’t want ANY company data going with the drive. We use the HAMMER method with a pair of safety goggles – it’s like a sport!

Who has access to what? Ok, this is a bit more of an exercise but reviewing who has access to what makes sense. We would start at the firewall and look at the VPN list and ensure that access is not granted without VPN IPSEC access. We would also look at Access Control Lists (ACL) in the firewall. Additionally, just changing user passwords and wireless and administrator passwords every six months just makes smart business sense to catch those straggling items that are often overlooked. In more sensitive environments, we recommend a quarterly review and changing of the passwords.  Here, having a documented password change procedure makes sense.

Are folks surfing on my time and my dime? The short answer is yes, but is it at a point of excess is really the question? The policy should be simply “if someone needs to get a hold of you, they can call”. Other than that, ask folks to respect that work time is not play time. If that policy doesn’t work, you can put in web monitoring and application control, which is available on many firewall platforms that can prevent excessive social media abuse on business time.

These are just a few simple steps to keep you safe, secure, well-protected and productive.  As a business, you need Spring to be a time of growth as the vacation times start coming up pretty quick in Summer!

Let us know if we can help you button things up!

Advertisements

Six Keys to Avoiding Data Loss

At Roundbrix, we take data very seriously. After all, it’s the only thing we really cannot replace. Given that, there’s a few safeguards that we recommend so your data sleeps as well as you do!

1. Know Where Your Data Lives. This may sound silly, but what if you had nightly backups running, lost something, and went to restore the data only to find out you weren’t backing it up? Folks, this happens more than you would ever want to know. Often times data is on desktops when it should really be on a server where it gets backed up. Good company policy and procedures with occasional QA here is best practice.

And remember, if you install a new program on the server, create a new volume on a server or a new database, know that it has to be selected to be backed up. Just because it’s on the server doesn’t mean it’s backed up!

2. Backup Nightly with a Verify Pass. This is key to ensure that your data is restorable from the media. We used to call this “read after write” as it simply verifies that what is believed it wrote is indeed what can be read back. A simple check box verifies that all is well come ‘restore‘ time!

3. Take a Backup Offsite at Least Weekly. This is where you have to think through your pain threshold for data loss. In other words, if you’re building burned down, would losing a week’s worth of data make it even more painful? If the answer is an emphatic ‘YES’, then that means you need to take a tape offsite more frequently than weekly. Do remember a couple of things about taking tapes offsite. First rule is they don’t survive well in heat or moisture so get a proper transport and storage container. Second rule is ensure it is secure as the tape includes all your company information and if misplaced, creates a liability. You’ll want to account for your tapes periodically to ensure one didn’t ‘fly the coup’. If you’re a Roundbrix client, you can use our secure biometric-secured facility to store your backup data as frequently as you would like.

4. Periodic Reviews of What is Being Backed Up. This little step that we like to do every quarter to catch new areas created. Face it, we get busy and things fall through the cracks as we’re only human. Also, we occasionally find new databases that not only aren’t being backed up, but not set up properly for maintenance, safety and controlling growth. To know how to set up a database maintenance plan, see the article we previously wrote here.

5. Redirect My Document Folder to Server using Group Policy. Desktops and laptops will fail, but what’s important is that it does not take sensitive company data with it. Also, if it gets stolen or misplaced, has this just put your entire company at risk? Folks, keeping autonomy between the company data and the desktop/laptop device any more than absolutely required is simply good business. One of these failing should not send dangerous ripples through an organization like “Oh, Ed had all the company financials and client lists on his computer and now they are gone!”

6. Know How You Would Restore From Scratch. In a crisis situation, this is not the time to “figure things out”. We have “been there and done that” so rest assured we can get you back to where you need to be is short time. After all, the name of the game is first prevention, and secondly restoration. If the restorations took a month, what would be the point?

Current Projects

  • Access to SQL Database Conversion
  • Server upgrades
  • High Availability Firewall upgrades
  • Network Engineering and Performance Monitoring
  • – MAS Migrations

Roundbrix – Moving to Take your IT Dollar Further!

What’s important to you? We think it should be the best use and longest life of each dollar spent on IT. It means really evaluating a few facets of each purchase.

Total Cost over Useful Life must Equal Business Value. Yeah, it’s a mouthful, but let’s think about that for a moment. The annual cost must be of business value, in other words, the benefit should be equal to, or preferably greater, than the cost. Here’s how we figure it out.

This must include all costs. Cost of item, tax, shipping and handling. But also important are items like annual maintenance and foreseeable costs outside what is covered. The name of the game has to be to cap your costs, but in doing so, you may overpay. Hardware support is a gamble in two ways. First, you’re betting that the cost of the support is less than a few service calls. Secondly, what is the most important thing to understand about support contracts is that you will always receive more timely response support over those that have no contract. So at this point, you need to figure out what an hour, or a day – or two – of downtime means to your operation. This is really what the hardware maintenance contract hedges against.

Software support must be factored in as well, but before signing up to 15-25% per year of retail cost (not what you paid for it), ask yourself a simple question. Am I going to benefit here? The answer lies in evaluating the situation. If you’re deploying a new ERP system, by ALL means, get the support for the first year to get through it. But once it’s stable and assuming you’re not in need of constant updates tied to a software agreement, that money might be better used for other business purposes. You can always re-up later

Very important here is to be realistic as to useful life. When considering the purchase, ensure you are not under buying to save a thousand dollars, but then your solutions only lasts for three years and you were thinking six years. This short-term savings just cost you a ton of money, and you not only have to repurchase, but pay the cost and endure the pain of redeployment.

If something (like a server or a phone system) is scalable, meaning you can buy what you need today and add to it later without performing a forklift upgrade, that may be another way to pull out a win.

Probably the most important point here about useful life is how a few dollars can hedge an earlier-than-expected retirement of your systems. Thinking down the road a few years and being just short of a clairvoyant will serve you well.

As we have been at this for many years, we know how long stuff lasts – period. We thought we would share our experience here to help you make better and more informed decisions .

AVAYA IP Office – 7 years minimum. Look, there are no moving parts and upgrades are a couple hundred dollars and a few hours, it’s a solid telephony solution.

Cisco VoIp – 5 years maximum. Our experience here in supporting these systems has been that a couple years in, it requires an expensive upgrade to remain compatible with the latest Windows systems on which the Agents reside. A workaround here is to run XP in Virtual Mode. The other reason that life is limited to 5 years is that the servers/hardware they place them on are typically only warrantied for 5 years max.

Exchange Server – 5 to 7 years. Most companies here skip every other version of exchange, so most folks going to Exchange 2010 today are on Exchange 2003. This helps defray deployment costs by ‘skipping’ a deployment cycle. And these days, Dell and soon others will warranty servers for 7 years, as it makes business sense.

Firewalls – 4-5 years. This is typically as long as the manufacturer is comfortable standing behind the product. Also pay attention to “trade-up” programs and try to pre-purchase at least two years of support as it’s cheaper that way.

Switches – 7 years+. The HP Procurve line carries a lifetime warranty, so unless you need more functionality, like PoE (Power over Ethernet) built-in, use it as long as you can.

In the end, it’s all about the best use of strategic IT dollar and how you stretch and leverage your expenditures.

We’ve moved! We now have a 50% larger data center with more rack space, all the bells and whistles, and are able to host more cost- effective solutions like cloud hosting, SBS hosting, web hosting and proactive system monitoring. Also, if you’re moving, we can be your stop-gap for mission-critical applications as we can host your systems as you transition.

Recently, we also have become both a Juniper Networks and Barracuda Networks partner to add to our list of strategic partnerships. The way we see it, if we can deploy the solutions for companies, we don’t need to make as much in the sale of the hardware and software solutions, controlling your total cost of deployment.

Ed

4G Wireless Networks – The ISP Game Changer!

Every so often, a technology comes along that truly changes the game. The latest one to do so is the 4G networks popping up everywhere. It will no doubt take some time to retrofit all from 3G to 4G, but talk about taking it to next level! The speeds here are comparable with physical land-based facilities, like copper or fiber. Also understand that 4G is all IP-based, so this is another significant shift in technology.

I tend to measure an ISP network connection by a few metrics, and these rules need to hold true when comparing 4G to copper and fiber land lines.

Reliability: No compromise here folks as it needs to work 100% of the time (or very close to it). If it’s not up, you’re not in business.

Latency: It’s likely to increase a bit traveling through the air. The other issues here for 4G might be weather and temperature issues, which would increase retries.

Bandwidth speed repeatability: A connection needs to be repeatable to be able to have something you can ‘count on’ in the course of doing business. This may be a sketchy area.

Cost: Cost per Mb must be comparable, as should the terms and penalties for early termination.

Who should adopt soon: Where I see 4G taking hold first is replacing flaky and underperforming DSL connections. It only makes sense. I also see it replacing land lines for the person who spends a ton of time on the road, given adequate 3G coverage in all the areas they frequent. Remember, it’s going to take some time for 4G to be widely available.

Though certain bandwidth speeds are published, look for wireless carriers to cap speeds to protect the core. Look for them to also cap monthly bytes. You just need to know what you’re getting – and not getting- for the monthly recurring cost, plain and simple.

Also, Sonic Wall and other firewall providers will soon offer 4G options to get us away from the terrestrially-based connection, so they need a little time to get their offerings on the table if other than a single computer scenario.

Who should wait to adopt: Outfits that require 3Mbits up and down and unlimited monthly data downloads, especially those that have a lot of folks using VPN into a central site or using Terminal Servers or Citrix Technologies for your field folks. Yeah, these cost more, but there are no restrictions and repeatability of bandwidth speed and latency are critical here.

You folks should wait this out until the field issues and costs settle out a bit. Also, see if a guaranteed repeatable bandwidth and static IP “Business Offering” type service makes more sense. In a few words, let’s take the “Wait and See” approach to not put our business at risk as the economy is just starting to turn in our favor. This is not the time to make mistakes or take unnecessary risks for the sake of technology.

At Roundbrix, we believe technology is always best leveraged when it has stabilized from numerous standpoints, including cost, performance, and acceptance by the vendor community. This helps alleviate risk from adopting too early and paying the price with a negative experience. Roundbrix will be testing 4G over the next few months and we’ll write again and share our findings at that time.

Ed