Tag Archives: Cloud Computing

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Disaster Recovery that won’t break the bank

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Let’s face it, unexpected outages are the biggest cost you’ll never expect to pay. According to the Consulting group Gartner, only 35% of small to medium sized businesses have a disaster recovery plan of any type. This is a staggering statistic considering the cost of downtime is averaged at $84,000$90,000 per hour for SMB and a whopping $1.25b – $2.5b for large businesses. These statistics are not hard to find. Anyone who reads the latest trade mags can find this data online or in publication.

With these kinds of numbers facing businesses, how does an SMB leader overcome it?

The answer is face it, don’t avoid it. There is some good news however.

New innovations combining Shadow Copy, Virtualization and Cloud allow for some decently priced solutions that add resiliency from disaster and scale with business growth.

By combining your backup and DR, your business can create a comprehensive recovery system that will help protect you from outages due to virus attacks, data corruption, hardware failure and even full site failure. Companies that specialize in these solutions will install an appliance at your location that acts as the backup and DR device. The device starts by creating virtual image of your servers. In the event of an outage, that virtual image can be activated allowing a temporary virtual server to run from the DR appliance independent of the original server. Through snapshot technologies, changes in data at the block level are captured and applied to that virtual image. This allows you to stand up that virtual machine as it was at any give time within the backup frequency. These snapshots can be taken every 5 minutes or every day depending on the amount of data you can afford to lose.

This acts as revision control and near real-time backup.

What if the DR appliance fails? Well, that’s were the Cloud comes in. The DR providers configure their appliances to trickle feed the backup data to their data centers over a secure connection. Typically a VPN or private line is established in advance to a segmented part of the providers network which allows fast, secure off-site transmission of your backup data and also the ability to stand up the virtual recovery server in the Cloud. This allows you to resume operations from anywhere in the world.

If the device fails for some reason, the provider already has the data and will ship a replacement appliance overnight that is pre-configured and has all your data on it.

This may sound like an expensive solution, but it’s surprisingly affordable. A typical cost for a solution like this for a 250GB server is around $400-$800 per month. That’s less expensive than the cost of a tape drive with support, Enterprise backup software with support, loads of expensive tapes, someone’s labor to validate and test backups regularly and a secure way to transfer the offsite. Not to mention the extra DR capability you gain. Also, snapshot technologies have no restrictions by application type, file locks or file in use so the backups are much more reliable.

Combining your Backup and Disaster Recovery in this way can save you a lot of money and productivity loss from downtime. Any businesses that are still using tape backups or considering the cost of replicating their entire environment to a remote location (thereby doubling their capital costs) should consider a solution like this.

CBC Solutions is a holistic consulting company whose mission is to help businesses reduce risk and manage costs. We do this by assessing your environment with our expert team of IT veterans, then aligning best in breed providers from our extensive partner network with your business goals.

Contact CBC Solutions today to see how we can help!

CBC Solutions

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Cloud Computing

To Cloud or not To Cloud

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Don’t worry, this isn’t just another (OPx vs CAPx) discussion on Cloud Computing. The financial benefits of a scalable architecture as a service have been discussed before. If you want more on that, see my Keys to a healthy technology budget.

No, this discussion is about the other types of fears that hold people back from taking advantage of this technology and/or running into it blindly and making big mistakes.

I’m talking about the real and valid fears illustrated in this article published by Infoweek: http://www.informationweek.com/cloud/9-spectacular-cloud-computing-fails/d/d-id/1321305

Questions like “How secure it the cloud?” and “what if the cloud goes down?” or “what if I can’t get to the Internet?”. All of these are real and valid fears, but you shouldn’t let analysis lead to paralysis.

The Cloud is just like any other technology, it’s a platform that needs to be architected and designed just like any other infrastructure. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to cloud computing.

To adequately take advantage of this technology, lower costs, reduce risk and free up time for you IT department, careful planning needs to take place first.

To start with, real business needs must be defined from the process level. Security is as much a concern in the cloud as it is on your local network. If you’re connected to the Internet, you’re vulnerable, period. The question is how vulnerable and how are you mitigating those risks. More on that in the paragraphs to come, or see “5 Questions to ask your Cloud provider about security“.

Another great consideration is “what if the cloud goes down?” The answers to this comes down to the provider. Are you covered for emergencies? Do you and the cloud provider have a Disaster Recovery plan? Is it clear what the cloud providers responsibility is and what yours is? Do you have a direct support rep or do you call an 800 number and roll the dice?

Guess what, the same concern goes for your Internet carrier, local computer systems, even car insurance. Knowing the details of the contract is key.

In some cases, your cloud solution makes you more dependent on your Internet connection, but not in all cases. Think about what your business would do if all your local computers worked, but you were without Internet access for a day.

Most businesses would either grind to a screeching halt or at least, be severely impacted. Email can’t go out, credit card transactions won’t go through and a majority of your communication to the outside world is cut off. Put the servers in the cloud and the question is simply, how can I get connected while my office is down. A short walk to the nearest Starbucks be a viable solution.

Furthermore, network redundancy isn’t that hard to come by these days and a good network architect or consultant can design one for a lot less than you think. See Worry free connectivity on a small business budget.

Finally we come to security. What if you cloud provider was hacked and your data was stolen or your service was taken offline?

My question is, what if that happened to the servers in your office? Same answer, but the cloud provider is generally going to have more resources to throw at the problem.

Not always, but it’s a good question to ask them…

Getting the risk management plan from your Cloud Provider is not the easiest task. For best results, see a cloud consultant about the options out there the risk management plans for the various providers. There are many Cloud Brokers that can quote the “best deals” in cloud, but make sure they’re also consultants that understand the technology.

We’re here to help. CBC Solutions is a Consulting company with members that have over 25 years of experience performing risk management plans and a deep understanding about cloud and telecommunications. The best deals are waiting for you and at phenomenal rates. Give us a call, our initial consultations are free!

CBC Solutions

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What Can a UCaaS Offer You?

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In today’s fast paced environment, many businesses are turning to Telephony (the integration of voice, data and computing) to keep in contact with customers, suppliers and business partners.

Legacy business phone systems are being replaced with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and Hosted PBX systems at a very fast pace.

Major phone system vendors are pushing their Telephony products over the traditional onsite, digital phone system model.

With all the new features and vendors on the market, how do you decide what to buy and keep from getting locked into the wrong contracts or systems?

Fortunately, there are some great options now. Hosted services like UCaaS, Hosted VoIP and SIP Trunking are allowing companies to tap into the market with lower risk and at a fraction of the cost.

What is VoIP?
The term “Voice over Internet Protocol” defines a system where normal voice communications are converted to digital data that can be sent across your existing PC network, then converted back into voice on the other end, all managed by a cloud-based solutions provider. It allows for low-level integration with the computer. This in turn allows applications such as Outlook, CRM systems and other software to gain insight to calling patterns.

UCaaS can benefit your business by offering many features you wouldn’t ordinarily have:

  • Detailed Call Tracking
  • Customer Relations Management
  • User-level call routing
  • Voicemail to email
  • Status based call routing
  • Call center management
  • Mobility

What is UCaaS?
There are many ways to convert to VoIP. The fastest and most scalable method is through “Unified Communications as a Service”. UCaaS is a from of Cloud Computing service where a carrier provides all the features of an enterprise phone system from their location. With a hosted system, there is no equipment to buy and the system is managed and upgraded by another party. This architecture is also sometimes referred to as Hosted VoIP.

The architecture is very simple for the business. Pre-configured phones are plugged into the data network just like a computer, then configured with the users extension and contact info. from a dedicated web-based console.

UCaaS can offer many benefits to the business:

  • Easy to implement
  • Only pay for what you use
  • Bundled or free long distance rates
  • Fast setup
  • Enterprise level features at an affordable price

Enhanced Call Routing
A VoIP system allows you to be sure you’ll never miss a call (unless you want to). Every user on the system gets their own extension and voicemail box. As an additional option, everyone can have a direct inward dialing (DID) number as well.

Users manage their own extension through a call manager application installed on their computer and/or mobile device. The call manager allows them to:

  • Record voicemail messages
  • Handle voicemail routing
  • Instant message co-workers
  • Define call routing

Call routing features allow the user to configure how incoming calls are routed. This is done through profiles.

For example:

  • Standard – At your desk, ready to receive calls
  • In a Meeting – Don’t ring, send incoming calls to voicemail
  • Out of Office – Forward calls to mobile or an assistant
  • Extended Leave – Route calls to voicemail with a special announcement

These call profiles can be configured in any way you like. Once the profiles are configured, incoming calls will be handed in accordance with the Active Profile. A profile (otherwise known as “Presence”)  can be made active in a variety of way:

  • Manually set by the user
  • Manually set by a designated assistant
  • Automatically based on appointments in a calendar
  • Automatically by time of day, day of week, etc

Mobility solutions allow a user to place and receive calls from an app installed on a mobile device. This allows users to make calls from their designated extension without having to give out a mobile number. Also, callers only need to know one phone number to reach you no matter where you are.

Computer Integration
Integrating the Call Manager application with the computer allows additional features not found in legacy phone systems:

  • Enhanced call logging with notes
  • Dial from Outlook
  • Log calls in CRM
  • Easy forward and conference calling
  • Quickly find presence status of another employee

UCaaS Additional Features
Nationwide Hosted PBX providers add more features not found in an on premise system:

  • Multi-location disaster failover
  • Unlimited long distance
  • System upgrades
  • Pay only for what you use
  • New features automatically implemented
  • Bundled services with Internet access, calling plan, etc. for even more savings

Business phone systems have come a long way since the days of calling a main number, then a 4 digit extension. Voice Over IP can greatly extend the features of the phone system to enhance the way you do business, improve productivity, and even low costs. Although there is some risk if you don’t get connected with the right provider, it still outweighs the risk of having the whole system onsite.

Have a question about Voice over IP? Want to know if it’s for you? Give us a call to discuss. We can help you decide if your business can benefit from a system like this and give you an idea of how much it will cost.

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Why you need a Cloud Consultant

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“Cloud Computing” has got to be the most misunderstood term since the technological revolution began. Not to mention all the sub-terms and acronyms that go with it.

With all these different flavors of computing, how a business leader know which one to pursue?

The good news is, you don’t have to. All you need to do is adequately define what your real requirements are and find the service that meet those needs. A Cloud Consultant can help.

 A business computing environment can be broken down to three parts. Processes, Data, & Services. Applications align with your business processes, store & retrieve data then deliver it to the user through a service. The questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • How is my data stored?

  • Are the processes aligned with my business?

  • How fast & reliable should the service be?

A Cloud Consultant should ask you some critical questions to help you define requirements. Do you care where you data is stored and how secure it is? Are your business processes well defined and are they efficient? How much downtime and delay can your business handle?

 Knowing these questions will help the consultant find the best services for your business. A good consultant will address these issues before getting into cost.

 Speaking of cost. The draw to Cloud Computing isn’t always that it’s cheaper, though that’s often the case. The real reward comes in the fact that the costs are predictable and scale up and down with utilization. With the right set of services, the costs will be more predictable and help drive down your bottom line.

 Internal solutions usually start with a costly investment in hardware, software, services & infrastructure. These costs generate negative value when they’re fist deployed. The value doesn’t come until the utilization of the services hits a certain threshold. Once the business starts using the solution, there’s a brief value add and the investment pays off.

Eventually the utilization will out live the capacity of the solution, and upgrades will be required. What happens then? Another large investment. The costs of upgrading, migrating and shutting down the old systems come in to play and now it’s even longer before you recuperate the costs.

 In contrast, a solution “As A Service” doesn’t usually require a lot of up front costs. A monthly fee is applied based on utilization so that the costs will scale with the value the solution provides. As your organization uses the service, the costs will rise. If the service doesn’t add value and it’s used less, the costs go down. It’s much easier to retire a service and the upgrades are handled by someone else.

CBC Solutions is a product agnostic organization that specializes in defining the business requirements and aligning solutions up that meet those needs with a predictable cost model with verifiable efficiency metrics.

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5 Questions to ask your Cloud Provider about security

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Almost every survey regarding moving an enterprise to the cloud shows “Security” as the top concern by most business leaders. It’s important to note, that the “Cloud” can only be as secure as the provider makes it. Some cloud providers are exemplary at providing a secure network, some are not. The right cloud provider is going to operate their network with a much higher level of security that most enterprises, but it’s not good practice to assume they are doing so. In order to find out how secure you provider is, it’s important to ask the right questions.

 It’s not enough to trust that your data is secure just because your vendor says it is. Read through your contract in detail. It’s also a good idea to get a legal review of the contract, preferably before it’s signed to make sure you know where your liability ends and the providers begins. Your provider should be able to answer these 5 questions

1. Who has access to my data and how is that access managed?
This is important. The provider will always have access to some form of the data. It has to. The question is, does the provider maintain a good security practice around the management of that data and how is access governed withing the providers network?

Good answers to expect: ‘We have limited access by only key individuals, security is managed by a rigorous access control and auditing program’

Possible warning signs: ‘We have no access to your data’; ‘We are not responsible for data security

2. What screening methods are involved in hiring staff members and vendors?
Service providers of every type should have a process to make sure that their staff members and vendors all pass a rigorous security screening which includes background checks to make sure they’re trustworthy.

Good answers to expect: ‘We have a detailed screening process that all employees must pass before they’re able to work here

Possible warning signs: ‘We make sure our employees are trustworthy‘ (without a process to validate it)

3. How can I report a possible security breach and what is the expected response time?
The answer to this question should be very clear. Furthermore, the process should be documented and easily accessible. Your staff members should be able to know what to do in an emergency.

Good answers to expect: Call this number to speak to a support representative immediately

Possible warning signs: ‘Submit a ticket by email or web form, your inquiry will be responded to within one business day

4. Do you have a security policy and is it available to customers?
This is a bit of a trick question. Security policies should be company confidential. If a provider is too willing to give you information about their security practices, that could indicate irresponsibility on their part. They should be able to provide a list of security policies and the table of contents, but not the policy itself. Some providers will be able to even provide certifications based on SSAE, PCI or SOX audits.

Good answers to expect: We have internal, confidential polices, but we can provide limited disclosure on what those policies contain

Possible warning signs: Yes, we can provide you with all our security documents

Even worse answer: We have a policy, but it’s not in writing

5. What security related certifications does your organization own?
There are a lot of security certification out there for solution providers. Sarbanes Oxley is one, SSAE 16 is one that applies to datacenters specifically; there are 3 types, 1, 2 & 3. Having all three means the facility has undergone a very strict audit that happens once a year in order for them to keep their certification.

Free yourself from the worry of technology and get back to running your business today!