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Plan for the Worst, Achieve the Best

November 7, 2017

The weeks blog centres around planning for availability.

Obviously this isn’t an all-encompassing check list for Disaster Recovery (DR) planning, but it should provide a high level starting point.

Availability, or uptime, are priorities for all businesses big and small. The keys to which are understanding and planning. -One important point to bear in mind, you don’t need to have all the information right away, and you don’t need to be overly granular straight away, that will come as the plan evolves.

Understanding: This is an entirely business orientated issue in the first instance.

  • Understand the business topology (departments, sub departments, etc)
  • Understand the way they work, and the tools they rely on.
  • From here you should be able to state which departments are the most important, and how long the business can live without these delivery areas – this helps to define your RPO’s and RTO’s.

At this point you can start your plan. As I’ve already mentioned, don’t get hung up on the details too early, IT is nothing more than a business enabler and as such the technology is arbitrary. Understand what the business does, and what it need to do as a bare minimum to keep operating.

Planning: Once you’ve established the business delivery area’s and their respective recovery objectives you can start to dig into the nitty gritty:

  • Where are these key services located?
  • How are they accessed? (this can play a large part, you need to make delivery of those tools & services as simple and cost effective as possible)
  • How often are they backed up?
  • Where & how are the backups stored? (are you meeting the 3-2-1 rule)
  • It’s important at this point to engage with your product vendors (either through your internal IT department or trusted IT partner) to understand what data is required to recover those respective services back into an operational state.

At this point you should have an understanding of where you are and where you need to be, and you can start putting together a Disaster Recovery plan, this should consist of:

  • Business Topology and the associated tools/services
  • RTO & RPO’s
  • Possible DR Scenarios (don’t get hung up on this, it’s impossible to predict every scenario, focus on the high level: specific localised failures, loss of the business premises, etc.)
  • Where the services will be located/recovered to
  • Vendor Contacts
  • Staff Contacts
  • DR Co-ordinators (who within your business will be responsible for co-ordinating the recovery, vendors and staff).

Now here comes a very important step: TESTING. Test your plan, recover your services in an isolated environment and review. Was it successful? Was it within your Recovery Objectives? If the answer to any of these is NO then you need to work with your vendors & IT partners to understand why and identify changes to address this.

It’s important to note that your DR process(s) is an evolving document. Every time there’s a change to the business, be it strategic or technical, look at how this affects the businesses Recovery Objectives and the DR Plan.

Every businesses DR plan will be unique to them, but as a general rule there are two area’s which can simplify the process and drive down Recovery Times:

  • Native High Availability – ensure your local resources have high availability and are fault tolerant (where possible). Mitigating the start of a disaster is far less costly than dealing with one! Look at moving your services into hosted offerings, Office 365 is a great example, Microsoft have spent billions making a highly available and fault tolerant infrastructure to provide it’s services. Piggy back on this and you can significantly mitigate the risks and impact of hardware and site failure.

As part of investigating this avenue with your prospective vendor, ask about their uptime SLA’s and DR plans, make sure you have confidence that they can meet their promises and keep your business running. It’s also worth looking at having a vendor agnostic backup of your data, at the end of the day it’s your data and keeping a copy in an independent location will help you achieve the 3-2-1 rule and protect your business

  • Implement An Availability Solution Not A Backup Solution – for those of you who read my previous blog you’ll know I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about backups. A backup is a copy of your data stored separately from the production copy of your data. For day to day file recovery that’s great but what about loss of whole services or hardware? Where are you going to restore your failed service(s) to? An availability solution should provide you with not only the backup mechanism but a place with which to recover to, be it local or in the cloud. It also goes some way to making your DR plan a lot simpler as you already have the recovery process in mind as well as a console to orchestrate from. Good backups will be a by-product of a good availability solution.

Written by; Russell Gower-Leech Bsc – Select Technology Systems Senior Project Consultant

Russ has been working in IT with MSP’s for over 10 years, starting as a support engineer and working his way up through field engineer, project engineer and finally found his calling as a Consultant. He really gets a kick out of designing technical solutions to meet, and exceed, Clients business needs.

He is one of Select’s Cloud Champions, helping clients leverage the power and flexibility of the hybrid cloud. He is also the in-house Veeam Evangelist – “I really love the flexibility and resilience of Veeam based solutions, especially as I spent the early parts of my career working with products like Backup Exec.”

The Enormity of Small Business

September 25, 2017

My Customers never cease to amaze me.

Within the last few months, I made the move from working within Microsoft to joining Select Technology. As I made the transition from the world’s largest software vendor into the SME partner world, I knew that I would no longer be working with the blue chip, headline brands that I have been fortunate enough to interact with over the last few years.

That said, despite the concerns of others, I had no doubt that the conversations I would be having would be equally as exciting and invigorating as any I have had before.

And Boy, did my new customer base ever prove me right!

Throughout this and next year, Select Technology will be participating in the Microsoft Partner Workshop Programme. In Microsoft’s own words “These hands-on events are led by industry and solution experts. Their small classroom setting provides lots of opportunities to learn from and share with peers and experts in your region.” In other words, they allow us to deliver real value to our existing and potential customer base by delivering a series of half day Events.

However, the real value in these events has been the opportunity for me to see into the minds of the brave small business owners that employ more than 15.7M people in the UK.

Without the structural support and financial security inherent in being part of a larger organisation, these SMB entrepreneurs feel the impact of EVERY decision they make. Against the backdrop of professional and personal risk experienced by a small business employee, the agility and imagination displayed has really caught me by surprise. The level of creativity and imagination is far beyond the majority of what I have seen over the years from much larger businesses. Despite knowing that one wrong move could have serious consequences for their business, the key players within these organisations continue to embrace technology, deriving new and exciting ways to utilise, adapt and re-purpose what is already available in ways that most larger customers would never imagine was possible.

Small Business really is the key to the future of technology. Agility in this space is not optional. These organisations need to be innovative to survive. This drives a hunger for technology unlike anything I have ever seen before.

Each time we host a Workshop, the individual that seems to learn most is me. Maybe it’s time for some of the larger Vendors out there to appreciate and embrace Small Business. It is apparent that the true value in any deal is not the ‘value’ of the deal. It’s the innovation and creativity that builds solutions that can be taken forward to deliver industry relevant solutions that benefit hundreds of similar businesses in the future.

I look forward to whatever working in this exciting sector can teach me next.

Workflow automation: a step closer to the paperless dream

September 11, 2017

For very nearly forty years the myth of the truly paperless office has been a tantalising goal, remaining just out of reach. However, with readily available workflow automation tools, such as Microsoft Flow, the myth is closer to becoming reality than ever before.

The difficulties in implementing a paperless work environment are many and varied. Compatibility concerns, copyright regulation and the complexities of digitising existing hardcopy records, the ultimate goal of “going paperless” is still shrouded in the transitory future. The omnipresent use of email in today’s workplace, and the ability to carry your office with you in the form of a smart device, has had a significant impact for the vast majority of businesses. Even without consideration being given to enterprise oriented social networking platforms such as Yammer, the ability to send a bulk email rather than print off multiple copies of a memo, for example, has edged the dream a little closer. As has a generational shift in workforce, younger workers are statistically more likely to be comfortable reading a document on a screen, rather than an original hardcopy, or even printing out a softcopy prior to processing it.

Business processes themselves can be guilty of perpetuating the need for physical hardcopy documents by their very nature. If a document requires approval or authorisation, and needs to be passed between multiple individuals, it can be very tempting to print a copy to pass around for signature or initial, prior to final processing.

In my last blog post (Cloud Agility Vs On-Prem Deadweight – Aug ’17), I mentioned Digital Transformation as a paradigm shift, a completely different way of thinking. Rather than emulating an existing process and merely introducing more technology, the idea is to examine what you are trying to achieve and the desired outcomes, then using the tools available more intelligently to facilitate the required output. The new process might be fundamentally different from the original, but the output provides what is needed, cutting down on waste (both in terms of time and material) and increasing efficiency.

Tools such as Flow, included in most Office 365 subscription levels, and SharePoint’s integrated workflow functionality, make automating business processes simple and effective. When business decision makers hear “customised process automation”, concerns could be raised that specialised (and expensive) development is about to be proposed. This does not have to be the case. Flow allows quick and easy implementation of a wide variety of automation, via provided templates or built from scratch using intuitive blocks. Flows can interact with over 160 different online services, both Microsoft and 3rd party, and with a handy mobile device app, Flows can also be made available on-the-go. Approvals and authorisations can be gained in real-time, rather than gathering dust in an In-tray.

A very simple Flow that can take minutes to implement, and is a great solution demonstrator, adds rows to an Excel Online spreadsheet with date, time and postcode, upon the click of a button in the Flow mobile app. Rather than completing paper records of business journeys conducted for expense reimbursement, the travelling employee need only click ‘Depart’ and ‘Arrive’ at the beginning and end of a journey. All of the relevant information is then available in real-time to the Accounts department, ready for processing. It may seem almost trivial, but the time saved in completing forms, and the accuracy assured by the automation, is appreciated by all involved.

In the case of implementing automated workflows such as the example above, the sky is literally the limit (and brings the “paperless office” ever so slightly closer).

Written by Scott Relf, Projects Manager

With a background in Operations Management, Scott has applied his expertise to our Services and Service Desk functions since joining in 2014. He now leads our Project Consultants as they provide specialist implementation services.

What’s Beneath the Surface?

June 15, 2017

Five years ago, if you would have asked most industry insiders about the position of Microsoft as a serious player in the device market, they probably would have labelled you as some kind of crackpot and gone back to working on their brand new MacBook Air.

Things were very different in 2012.

Apple was dominant in the premium devices space, launching the iPhone 5 into an already saturated iPhone market that devoured it ravenously. Apple also unleashed new MacBook Pros and the aforementioned MacBook Air to almost universal praise.

It seemed as if they could do no wrong…

The Times, They are a Changin’

Something began in October 2012 that had the potential to change the premium devices market for good: The release of the first ever Microsoft Surface device.

surface pro

Yes, it was flawed, and many had issues with the inclusion of Windows RT. The Surface almost sank under the weight of widespread rejection of the concept of a touch-enabled Windows 8.

That said, it was a good device.

It brought the concept of a detachable, convertible tablet to the mainstream. The instantly detachable ‘tear-off’ keyboard was sound – and would later be copied by Apple with the iPad Pro – and the touchscreen was responsive and tough.

Yes, it was a good device!

Getting Better all the Time

In the interceding years, Microsoft continued to refine their device offering.

Since the launch of the original Microsoft Surface we have seen the Surface 2 and Surface 3. The Surface Pro, Pro 2, Pro 3, Pro 4 (on which this post was written) and ultimately, the masterpiece of engineering that is the Surface Book.

surface pro

With each iteration, the Surface has become smaller, lighter, easier to use, and just downright sexier. It now has the desirability factor that up until recently was the exclusive domain of iProducts.

Today, things change again.

Today sees the official launch of the latest family of Surface devices.

Has the Apple Killer Arrived?

With the new Surface Laptop and the all new [except for the name!] Surface Pro, Microsoft now has a device offering with the functionality and desirability to truly take on Apple.

The Surface Laptop brings all the great features that us Surface Pro 4 users have enjoyed, enhances them, and wraps them up in a ‘traditional’ Laptop form factor that is available in four colours.

Optimised for the recently announced Windows 10 S, the Surface Laptop is small and light, but still boasts luxury features like the Alacantra Fabric Keyboard that us SP4 users like so much.

The new Surface Pro looks extremely interesting.

Smaller and lighter than any Surface Pro before, Microsoft has crammed a LOT into its 11.5”, 784g frame.

Its top spec will give you a massive 1TB SSD, 16GB of RAM, and an Intel Core i7 processor.

It also boasts 50% longer battery life than the SP4, something that was badly needed for the Surface to be a serious contender as a business device.

Also released today is the Surface Studio. A device aimed at the professional design and creative marketplace but one that is sure to find a home in education, a key market for the entire Surface family.

1

Looking Forward

Time will tell whether Microsoft can truly wrest the crown from Apple for the premium devices market.

Whoever wins out, I cannot recall a more complete ‘family’ of products from a single vendor.

Bear in mind that all the new Surface devices are optimised for Windows 10 and Office 365. Consider how powerful the combination of these products could be, especially when integrated by design.

Whether you are an educator, knowledge worker, design guru or just a consumer of sexy gadgets, you must now seriously consider a Microsoft Surface.

To have come so far in just five years is genuinely impressive, and it is starting to look like the long held Microsoft promise of Workplace Transformation is finally coming true.

Written by Marcus Naris, Sales Manager at Select Technology – Marcus is a former pre-sales Solutions Specialist at Microsoft and is passionate about helping customers understand that there is usually a better way of doing things, and that change is good and should be embraced.

Find Marcus on LinkedIn

IT Support for Business

May 24, 2017

IT Support for business is essential if you have customers that rely on your systems…

IT Support for Business

Let me explain that a little better.

If your business reputation relies on the strength of your backend technology then your business relies on the BEST quality proactive IT support services.

The embarrassment of having your customers or even your staff waiting for IT to fix things is unacceptable.

Who are Select Technology?

Firstly you should know that we are an MSP by mistake… We did not consider ourselves Experts!

When Nigel Potter founded the company over 20 years ago it was to serve businesses with good value hardware and software.

Select Technology didn’t start out as an Expert MSP. Back then it was all about value and by providing a good deal. This service was unrivalled and Select grew through solid reputation of providing a quality service. As time went on Select flourished into the successful Managed Service Provider it is today!

IT Support for Business became more and more demanding.

We adapted over time providing the same quality and value in the service side of the business. It wasn’t always easy we had many hurdles and lots of learning curves to tackle.

But we’re proud to say that we are now one of Kent’s prestigious IT support companies. But it doesn’t stop there, we undertake dozens of projects every year helping companies move their business forward.

Projects we undertake have shifted from on-premise server upgrades to more cloud based focus as more and more businesses move their systems to hosted solutions.

The increasing demand for ‘always-on’ infrastructure has never been higher. Select have aligned themselves constantly, investing in research & development to meet these demands.

You can find a range of our Services Here Make sure you also check out our Prestige Helpdesk service.

Your IT support partner of choice is part of your success, as mention above if your systems are not ‘always on‘ and are ‘always on the blink’ then maybe it’s time to speak about your options.

Our door is ‘always’ open, give us a call on 01892 830 111 and arrange to have a chat with our project team.

Veeam Cloud Connect

May 16, 2017

Veeam Cloud Connect

With the recent spate of ransomware targeting previous versions, and some backup file extensions, you may have heard the term offline or air-gap backups.  This is essentially backup media or repositories that are only in use during the backup, tape is a great example of this.

Devices like Network Attached Storage (NAS), or USB drives, which are either permanently on line or left connected for 10-12 hours a day, can be vulnerable to these types of ransomware attack.  Now, if you’re not familiar with ransomware, or have never heard of it there’s a great webinar here.  Before we get into scare mongering territory, there’s plenty you can do to protect your data.

Most of it is pretty straightforward, and hopefully already a staple of your day to day operations:

  • Regular proactive security patching of your servers and client devices
  • Regular Anti-Virus updates and scans of your servers and client devices
  • Perimeter security services like Open DNS.

But this ‘prevention’ is only part of the solution.  The ‘cure’ element is just as crucial, maybe more so in the context that anti-virus, anti-malware and security patching, are all reactive.

Now this blog isn’t about ransomware, although ransomware is a great topic as it asks a lot of questions as to how well your IT estate is proactively looked after,  how you data is protected and not least because it is considered the de facto IT threat to all businesses, creating a billion dollar business according to the FBI.

Veeam Cloud Connect. Is the topic I’m actually covering today.

For those unfamiliar, Cloud Connect is an add-on feature to Veeam’s Availability suite which allows businesses to synchronise their backup data with a trusted service provider. This is achieved via a secure HTTPS tunnel with the data between client and service provider being encrypted to 256 bit AES while in flight.

In the context of our ransomware discussion, this is an air-gapped backup repository. Unlike tape however, this repository is always online and you can synchronise your backups as frequently as required. If we keep to the ransomware example, is recovering from last night’s (or older) backup tape really meeting your businesses Recovery Point Objective(s) (RPO)?

Going beyond that example, and considering availability, how does this feature help businesses drive down their Recovery Time Objectives (RTO) and keep the critical business services running in the event of a disaster?

The answer is that Veeam’s Cloud Connect can also be used to replicate virtual machines from customer premises to a trusted service providers platform, giving their customers a business continuity platform which can be invoked much quicker than a traditional disaster recovery process can be turned around.

Since we’ve mentioned DR, that’s another string to Cloud Connects bow.  If the recurring cost of a Business Continuity platform isn’t feasible, or your business RTO’s simply don’t warrant it, Cloud Connect can allow your trusted service provider to recover your infrastructure to either their own platform or into the Azure public cloud.

Obviously, in either scenario, it is critical to work with you trusted service provider(s) to understand and identify your businesses key services, and put together a plan that allows your business to mitigate risk and continue to operate should the worse happen.

Now Veeam’s availability suite has a whole host of other features besides this, and it’s modular deployment really lends itself to any infrastructure and can scale in either direction, but just taking the Cloud Connect piece into consideration, ask yourself

‘Can your current backup solution do this?’

Written by; Russell Gower-Leech Bsc – Select Technology Systems Senior Project Consultant

Russ has been working in IT with MSP’s for over 10 years, starting as a support engineer and working his way up through field engineer, project engineer and finally found his calling as a Consultant. He really gets a kick out of designing technical solutions to meet, and exceed, Clients business needs.

He is one of Select’s Cloud Champions, helping clients leverage the power and flexibility of the hybrid cloud. He is also the in-house Veeam Evangelist – “I really love the flexibility and resilience of Veeam based solutions, especially as I spent the early parts of my career working with products like Backup Exec.”

Please call us today on 01892 830111 if you would like to find out more about Veeam Cloud Connect.

Cryptolocker hits the NHS…

May 15, 2017

Cryptolocker hits the NHS

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 72 hours you will know that the NHS has taken a hit by Cryptolocker.

This is causing mayhem and panic throughout the NHS and general public.

Over the past few months we have written many posts about ransomware because we are keen to ensure that businesses of all sizes understand the dangers of these types of attacks.

Cryptolocker hits NHS

They are advanced and superior to standard Viruses and therefore need dealing with in a different way using different protective measures.

Protecting your business is simple if you follow basic security steps which should be priority number one.

Unfortunately it sometimes takes a high profile case like the NHS being attacked before people pay attention, no business is “Out of bounds” in the attackers eyes.

Attackers using Cryptolocker don’t care which business they attack, EVERY business is a target!

The truth is these attacks happen frequently every day around the world. You are only hearing about it because of the nature of business under threat.

As a support company we deal with many more attacks than we care to mention, scare tactics are not our game!

You can see for yourself this is now very real: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-25506020

If you’re a business owner security really should be in the forefront of your mind right now.

Read any of our historical posts such as: http://www.itsupport.co.uk/ransomware-need-know-2017/

You will see we mean business in helping you to keep your business operational and safe in the face of ever increasing threats.

All of Select Technology’s Prestige Support Customers get advanced and enhanced protection against ransomware as standard.

If you are at all concerned about the health and security of your own business then please do contact us today and arrange to speak with one of our security specialists, even if you’re not a customer of ours, we really would be happy to advise in seeing you safe and secure.

Call us right now on: 01892 830 111

Three Amigos

May 9, 2017

Kent Vision Live 2017

Three Amigos

Do you have any burning questions about Cloud services?

You can find these three Amigos at Kent Vision Live tomorrow @ stand 323.

Talk to us about hosted services such Microsoft Office 365 + Microsoft Azure + More.

Kent Vision Live 2017

Our expert Mantej Yadav will also be giving his Keynote presentation about Microsoft Cloud Services at midday, click for more details Here

Talking Geek & Free IT Support

May 4, 2017

Picture this.

You’re standing in the middle of Trafalgar Square with approximately ten thousand people around you.

That’s a lot of people…

Now, imagine that each one of those people is a business owner trying to tell you about their services.

Hot Air and Lots of It

That’s a lot of noise entering your ear canal, causing the tiny hairs in your eardrum to vibrate before sending a message to the brain, which ultimately comes out as jibberish.

Apart from the odd word that makes it through here and there – It’s all just noise.

ITSB

Many of us face this common problem.

We’ve seen so many times just how damaging it can be when business owners receive sub-par support services.

Better the Devil You Know?

This is common feedback, but the thought process underpinning this only delays the inevitable as the relationship becomes more and more strained.

So what is beneath all of this?

Well, it often comes down to a simple fear of change.

If you’ve ever moved house, then you probably know how stressful the experience can be without the right help.

We Get It!

That’s why we designed a comprehensive on-boarding process to ensure you’re treated like royalty right from day one.

Clearly you don’t want to take our word for it because, again, it’s all just ‘Hot Air’ at the end of the day.

Read what our customers are saying about us following theses links:

We prefer to let our customers do the talking for us.

Is Select Technology a Good Fit for My Business?

That’s a good question.

If you’re happy with:

  • Missed SLA;
  • Broken Promises;
  • Engineers failing to show onsite;
  • Not being called back at an arranged time;
  • Talking Geek; and
  • Paying for cheap (not inexpensive) services…

…then there’s no need to contact us because we won’t be able to compete with that kind of service!

If, however, you want a bit of extra TLC and don’t mind paying a little extra for a high level of service, then we are the right company for you.

If you have more than 12 staff members using PC’s and/or mobile devices then fill out this form now and you will qualify for the first month IT support services completely free of charge.

Cloud Storage: What Do You Really Need to Know?

April 28, 2017

Cloud Storage: What Do You Really Need to Know?

Moving your data and applications into the cloud could be the smartest move you’ve ever made.

Cloud Storage

All of your important files will be stored safely online. You need not panic about losing your laptop or your data if, for example, your external drive stopped working.

If your data is in the cloud, you will still be able to access it if your computer is lost or stolen.

The Best of Both Worlds

Cloud storage is a model of data storage in which the digital data is stored in something called logical pools. Basically your data spans multiple servers and even geographical location.

One of the biggest concerns for most companies is the security and location of data. As mentioned above, it really is in the safest place while in the cloud.

The level of investment cloud hosting companies employ for security is far, far greater than any single company would spend on data security.

You really do have the best of both worlds!

It all boils down to what you actually want to do: If you want the ability to work anywhere, anytime, and have the peace of mind that your data is safe and secure in the cloud, then it is absolutely the way forward for you!

PAYG With Cloud Storage

The other benefit of using cloud storage is that you only pay for what you use, whereas traditionally you would often have to buy more storage on a server than you actually need.

There is also a fantastic range of different providers to supply you with cloud storage such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and our personal favourite, Microsoft Azure.

A few years back, a big restriction for using cloud services and cloud storage was Internet connectivity.

The Future’s Bright

As the United Kingdom’s connectivity continues to improve, it really opens a door for many small and medium-sized businesses to start adopting cloud services.

Drop us a line today on 01892 830111 and let’s have a chat about your options for cloud services.

Here’s a link you might find useful before you call us: http://www.itsupport.co.uk/cloud-storage-services/