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How the Cloud Can Benefit Small Businesses

MSP & the cloudThere has been much buzz about the cloud in recent years and how it benefits big businesses, especially those with large storage and computing needs. Yet, small and medium-sized businesses can also realize great benefits from utilizing cloud resources.

Here are three ways small to medium-size businesses can benefit from leveraging an off-site, cloud resource.

Minimize Deployment Times and Increase Scalability

In the past, it was necessary for businesses to procure hardware and software systems to use as servers. It took time for the vendor and the IT department to install and deploy the necessary computers and software.

Now with cloud offerings available from service providers, businesses can be up and running within a very short time. The other benefit to using the cloud from a managed service provider (MSP) is increased scalability. The computing power can grow as the company grows or shrink accordingly. The customer only pays for what is used. Because it can grow as the company grows, there’s no need to purchase new equipment or software that can quickly become outdated.

Predictable Budget and Reduced Cost

Computer servers tend to be expensive. They require maintenance, upgrades, personnel, and other costs. No matter how knowledgeable and efficient the IT staff is, servers can and will have downtime issues. Because of their unpredictable nature, it’s hard to budget for data servers.

On the other hand, cloud services have various pricing levels and models. This can be attractive to small and medium-sized businesses with strict budgets. In addition, the business only pays for what the business uses, and payment plans make it easy to meet specific company needs and budgets.

Easier Online Collaboration and Coordination

One of the greatest benefits to working in a cloud environment is the ability to coordinate efforts on data and documents. No longer do employees have to email files to other team members, customers, or vendors. Files can be modified immediately and in real time. This allows for efficient collaboration and enables the company to be more flexible and agile in response to customer needs.

By utilizing the cloud, small and medium-sized businesses are able to take advantage of increased savings due to reduced cost, resources, and waste. Companies no longer have to worry about purchasing equipment that will quickly become outdated and overburdened. By leveraging the cloud, companies can focus on getting the job done rather than worrying about technology.

SMBs Benefit from Lightning-Fast Fiber-Optic Internet

Fiber opticsFor years, many big businesses have benefited from having the fastest Internet service at their disposal. Today, given the availability and spread of fiber-optic service, now even SMBs can benefit from speeds as high as 1 gigabit per second.

Most recently, some of the biggest names in the Internet service provider world have rolled out lightning-fast fiber-optic Internet service throughout several cities and regions. While this is great for ordinary consumers, it’s even better for SMBs.

Why Fiber-Optic Beats Out Cable

One of the biggest and most important advantages to fiber-optic Internet service is its speed. Whereas a typical cable Internet connection offers up to 150 Mbps for uploads and up to 20 Mbps for downloads, a fiber-optic connection offers speeds of 1 Gbps. When it comes to Internet speeds, cable Internet is a high-performance supercar; fiber-optic is a top fuel dragster.

It all comes down to one simple fact: fiber-optic connections are a big deal–much more so than a typical cable connection. It’s like pipes: today’s new fiber-optic lines are the big, brand-new pipes that let lots of liquids flow through unimpeded–as opposed to the narrow and winding pipes of yesteryear.

What It Means for Small Businesses

It’s not just movies and games that are getting bigger in size. Many of the digital items that small businesses rely on are also growing. Spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and graphics are just a few of the daily business items that involve lots of data. Simply, they need big pipes. Video-conferencing tools also require plenty of bandwidth, making fiber-optic lines necessary so that excellent video quality is maintained.

Fiber-optic connections are also becoming essential for cloud computing, which many SMBs employ. With a fast fiber-optic connection, businesses are able to access large amounts of their cloud-stored data and use a wide range of cloud apps at remarkable speeds.

In the end, the move towards fiber-optic connections means increased productivity for employees and an increased bottom line for many SMBs. More likely will adopt fiber-optic connections in the coming months, especially as cloud applications grow in popularity and daily business functions require more bandwidth.

Five Ways Session Border Controllers Keep Businesses Safe

Internet firewallWith reports in the news of high-profile hack attacks against major corporations like Sony, many businesses are wisely looking at their own defenses and asking “Are we vulnerable?” By and large, the answer is probably “Yes.”

The state-of-the-art hacking and intrusion techniques currently in use are generally effective well beyond the usual security measures installed by businesses. Firewalls are typically only installed near the access level, well inside the network, leaving the network border just as open as an unprotected physical border between nations.

Like national borders, proactive measures at the network border are far more effective than tracking intrusions after they’ve occurred. This is a key reason Enterprise Session Border Control (SBC or eSBC) is quickly becoming a necessity. The combination of smart, proactive Intrusion Prevention Systems and firewalls along a network border delivers more robust internal security.

Five Reasons eSBC Is A Necessity For Modern Business Security

#1. Distributed Denial-of-Service Prevention

Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks are among the biggest fears in modern corporate security. The attacks are easy for hackers to launch, and currently there are no security systems which can entirely defeat a large DDoS attack.

That said, large-scale attacks (involving millions of bots) are generally reserved for high-profile targets. For most smaller businesses, eSBC will provide adequate warning and protection against smaller attacks.

#2. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Traffic Control

Internet traffic management, a standard addition to eSBC packages, provides software or hardware control over the number of VoIP connections allowed in and out of a business’ network.  These systems monitor traveling data packets for any sign of malicious activity. Newer DDoS variations target VoIP systems rather than primary servers. eSBC can prevent these types of intrusions as well.

#3. Hidden Topography

Many forms of packet requests used by hackers, such as VoIP transmissions, will send back information about the topography of the network. Similar to bank robbers “casing” a bank before a crime, it is common for hackers to use such techniques to probe a network and map out its structure in preparation for more specific targeted attacks.

eSBC systems can combat network probing by preventing network information from being sent back to attackers. When hackers can’t see the internal network topography, they are likely to pick a more vulnerable target instead of pursuing a full attack.

#4. Toll Fraud Protection

Toll fraud is niche of system cracking that is dedicated entirely to getting access to a company’s on-site VoIP system and relaying calls through so they are more expensive. The costly charges are passed on to the business. eSBC technology can prevent this by automatically blocking all secondary dial tone sources.

#5. Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) Encryption Services

SIP, a technology used to negotiate VoIP sessions is also a vulnerable part of a business network. Most SIP packets are in plain text, making them easy to intercept, exploit, or mimic. eSBCs use Secure Realtime Protocol with encrypted handshakes to remove this weak point in system defenses.

The Year Of Computer Security

A power imbalance in computer security, tilted heavily in favor of hackers, currently exists. The year 2015 is likely to be one that separates companies that are serious about security from those who are not. It is very likely that a network-reliant company without Enterprise Border Security will be among those companies that are open to attack.

Businesses Need Fiber Sooner, Rather Than Later

FiberModern communications continue to evolve, but copper has remained the one constant that’s resisted change thus far. The changing technological landscape is quickly relegating copper’s status to that of a quaint relic, especially as bandwidth and latency needs begin to overwhelm existing copper infrastructure.

The point is simple: Businesses are quickly approaching a point where a switch to improved fiber infrastructure isn’t just inevitable, but mandatory for future survival.

As Copper Fades, Fiber Emerges

For several decades, the U.S. has come to rely on its extensive copper infrastructure for its networking needs. However, that very same infrastructure is starting to show its age in a big way. It’s taking longer and becoming increasingly expensive to repair and refurbish existing copper, leading many carriers to consider putting off needed upgrades and maintenance in favor of making the jump to fiber.

As carriers consider exchanging much of their copper infrastructure for fiber, fiber’s expansion into outlying areas continues apace. Although spread of fiber into rural cities and neighborhoods has been historically sluggish, a recent uptick in application-driven projects, including projects to help shore up mobile data capabilities for cell phone towers, has helped speed up that extension.

Tangible reductions in overall cost are also making fiber more attractive to carriers that were once hesitant to shoulder the burden of expensive fiber upgrades. In many areas, the cost of 10MB fiber is now comparable to that of several bonded T1 lines. Meanwhile, the explosive use of bandwidth-intensive services, including video and software streaming, are pushing these very same T1 lines to their limit.

Planning the Transition

To feed that insatiable craving for high-speed, low latency broadband, transitioning from copper to fiber infrastructure is almost a non-negotiable requirement. The actual transition process can be fraught with a variety of interesting and sometimes frustrating challenges, but many of these can be overcome with diligent foresight and careful planning.

Businesses interested in making the jump to fiber should first know what they’re working with. This means:

  • Asking existing providers to qualify all current copper and fiber sites
  • Estimating the approximate costs of adding fiber infrastructure
  • Understanding the challenges of adding and upgrading to fiber

Knowing where to look for fiber is also crucial, since having a number of alternatives on hand can help businesses avoid potential dead ends and prevent delays. For businesses where fiber isn’t readily available, this could be as simple as approaching a fiber company that’s eager to expand and grow its existing customer base.

Time is also an important factor when it comes to upgrading to fiber infrastructure, as it can take several months to successfully complete. Even if fiber is already available in the area, the amount of time needed for setup is much longer than most businesses anticipate. Remember that this is no ordinary network upgrade – patience and a flexible timeline is the key.

For businesses that operate in rural areas or have multiple locations spread out throughout the country, making the jump to fiber may involve the use of more than one carrier to facilitate fiber service. The ramifications behind this project can be major, so it’s important to make coordination and meticulous planning the focus of the project.

It’s a Tough Road, But It Must Be Traveled

Leaving copper behind for faster, more robust fiber is a growing necessity, but no one said it wouldn’t be tough to pull off. As with any major business project, planning lies at the heart of the effort. It’s important for businesses to have a clear plan for transitioning to fiber and it must be done as soon as possible.

Cloud Security: It’s Actually Real!

Cloud securityBreaches in data security can be scary. Surprisingly, compromised information doesn’t just pertain to consumer transactions (like the recent one at Target); it can involve sensitive patient information and other private data that’s supposed to be protected from criminal activity.

As these trespasses have occurred in the cloud, it has contributed to the misconception that somehow storing information in the cloud is risky. People erroneously believe that the cloud lacks “real” security. If the cloud were secure, the fact that at least 90% of healthcare organizations have had exposed or stolen patient information wouldn’t exist, right?

Wrong. Often these types of security breaches initiate from internal devices that distribute malware among other devices because they lack intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS). In other words, the security breaches happened because internal controls were lacking after the initial perimeter was penetrated.

Understanding Cloud Security

The public cloud is basically just storage, data and program execution through a data center that isn’t owned by the user. Options like NaviSite or RapidScale allow businesses to upload their data to a center that offers incredible scalability and accessibility.

But these providers also specialize in data security. In fact, they have the tools and security protocols in place to repel the constant bombardment of viruses, hackers, and other cyber-attacks.

Imagine a massive treasure vault. All those precious items located inside twenty feet of solid steel and concrete walls. But when a thief finally digs through the wall, he realizes that another, thicker wall is located behind the first. If he gets through that one, he discovers that another wall protects the treasure, and so on, and so on. This is how cloud security works.

Misconceptions

Yet, many business owners still feel that their data is somehow safer when it’s housed on their premises. That somehow having possession of a physical data center for storing information is more secure than utilizing a reliable cloud service provider.

Consider the previous ‘vault’ comparison. If inadequate IDPS is involved, the business is actually at greater risk to theft because once the first wall has been breached, the treasure is gone—metaphorically speaking, of course. But literally, if a business operates with a single firewall, that’s exactly what can happen.

Using a reputable cloud data center to store information is often superior to physical locations because of the services provided. Basically, once information gets connected to the Internet, having the data center close at hand really doesn’t matter. Having an expert staff who knows the latest and best cyber-security protocols, and who can react swiftly and ruthlessly to any threats is the best defense.

What’s Next?

Will any and all providers offer the same cloud protections and solutions? Of course not. But what a reputable service provider does offer is layers of firewall defenses and a professional staff who are attuned to virtual security and specialize in protecting information.

As technology advances, so will cyber crime. But business owners don’t have to be timid about cloud data centers, they just need a strategy. And just like every aspect of business, if the service is confusing or unknown, talk to an expert to find out more.

Unified Communications Systems Enrich Corporate Teamwork

CollaborationAdvances in communication technology are creating new ways for corporate teams to work together effectively, even when they are in different locations. One of the most effective methods of enhancing business collaboration is through utilizing Unified Communications (UC) systems.

Businesses adopting a UC strategy can further enhance UC effectiveness with these tips to improve collaboration:

Centralize Communications

An advantage of cloud-hosted unified communications is that data can be centralized into one database. This eases collaboration and ensures client histories are always available in one place. Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking can further enhance collaboration by providing high bandwidth capacity that facilitates multiple, data intensive activities such as video conferencing.

Use the Cloud

Unified communication systems can be hosted on either private or public clouds, which can be easily accessed from diverse locations. Cloud-based services also enable employees access using personal smart phones and tablets, a helpful feature for businesses adopting Bring-Your-Own-Device initiatives.

Private cloud solutions remain within the organization’s firewall, but may not offer the same level of unfettered access as a public cloud UC solution. Both solutions offer users greater security, especially with regard to disaster recovery and data backups.

Identify Core UC Needs

Unified communications gives companies many options, including videoconferencing, desktop sharing, instant-messaging, and VoIP telephony. Before launching into UC, it’s a good idea to consult with reputable UC consultants to identify those services that will enhance specific business processes. These processes should be chosen for initial introduction.

Measured and Systematic Implementation

Start with a few features then gradually implement other features over time. For example, many companies start with audio and videoconferencing, instant messaging and VoIP then introduce unified messaging. This sequential approach is beneficial because it allows employees time to adapt to the new technology and reduces incidences of passive resistance and avoidance.

Benefits of Employee Training

As with any new technology, the implementation of appropriate training greatly enhances the success of unified communication systems. It’s wise to initiate training at an early stage before the new technology goes live and to follow this up with refresher training once employees start using the new features.

An article that appeared in the magazine, Campus Technology, reported that the transition to UC was easiest for those organizations that started training before implementation. In part this was because many employees felt the introduction of UC represented a significant change to their working environment.

UC Enhances the Work Environment

Unified communication technology greatly enhances collaboration among teams, especially those that are geographically separated. Although many employees may be broadly familiar with the features of UC, it is important that the introduction UC is well organized. A coherent introduction will allow employees to become proficient in the new technology.

4 Reasons Why Colocation Is Booming

t2bThe cloud isn’t the only buzzword being embraced by a growing number of businesses. Companies are also warming up to colocation services in an effort to reduce their overhead expenses and improve their efficiency. This upward trend hasn’t gone unnoticed by analysts, who have predicted a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.6 percent for colocation services through 2018.

There are plenty of reasons why businesses are now counting on colocation for their data storage and management necessities.

Colocation offers lower expenses than in-house data hosting.

In the old days, businesses relied on in-house hardware along with their own IT teams to handle their data needs. However, the up-front costs of designing and building a data center, along with maintenance costs and the steep expenses required to power and cool that equipment, often proved formidable to a company’s bottom line.

These days, paying a third party to utilize their dedicated facilities and equipment has proven more cost-effective than using in-house alternatives for data storage and management. To the average CFO, paying monthly fees for colocation makes more fiscal sense than the initial and long-term outlay for an in-house data solution.

Colocation centers are highly equipped for a business’s needs.

Colocation also packs a punch when it comes to computational power. These facilities not only have a much smaller footprint than most in-house solutions, but they’re also more powerful than most designs put into place in most in-house builds. This offers the average small and medium-sized business a definite advantage: access to the fastest and most efficient infrastructure available.

Businesses are growing more concerned with data security.

Thanks to highly publicized data breaches and other security failures, businesses are concerned about the security of their data more than ever. There’s also the issue of compliance with a growing number of regulatory statutes, and each has its own set of concerns for achieving and maintaining compliant status.

Instead of worrying over digital and physical security with an in-house setup, companies are handing off those concerns to seasoned experts within the colocation industry. Most colocation facilities have the staff and the training to remain up-to-date on the latest security threats and to address other security needs when warranted.

Businesses want to keep up with the latest technology.

The swift currents of changing technology often mean that some businesses can’t keep pace—at least not when it comes to their data infrastructure. The in-house infrastructures of old are quickly giving way to new and improved technologies that promise greater efficiency and lower costs.

For example, many companies are turning to their colocation providers for localized monitoring and management instead of using their own staff to remotely handle their colocated equipment. This allows in-house staff to remain focused on their core competencies while leaving the burden of continual development and training of new technologies to the colocation providers.

Given these benefits, it’s not hard to see that colocation is offering businesses many advantages when it comes to handling their data infrastructure. As businesses continue to refine and streamline their business strategies, colocation and other innovative services will see continued gains in the competitive marketplace.

Hosted VoIP or VoIP PBX? Making the Right Choice for Your Business

t2aThe advent of high-speed Internet has radically changed the technological landscape. A high-speed connection makes it possible for businesses to switch from regular telephony to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. But with such a switch comes an important decision: whether to choose a hosted VoIP solution or go with a VoIP Private Branch Exchange (PBX) system.

Hosted VoIP Pros and Cons
Hosted VoIP is a popular choice with small- and medium-sized businesses due to its ease of operation and low cost. Also, because the service is managed by outside providers, businesses are freed from the burden of implementing and managing the system themselves. There are several other advantages to using a hosted VoIP solution:

  • The initial cost of setup is lower compared to a VoIP PBX system.
  • Maintenance fees are also reasonable.
  • Businesses can move the phone system in a quick and efficient manner with little to no interruption in service.
  • Third-party hosting means that fewer resources are spent on the phone system.

However, there are also a few caveats to consider:

  • It may cost extra to add new features or more users. However, this depends largely on the service provider’s policies and capabilities.
  • Implementing customized features on a hosted VoIP solution can be challenging.
  • More bandwidth is required as compared to a VoIP PBX solution.
  • If the hosted VoIP provider goes out of business, it could cause a gap in service until another provider is found.

VoIP PBX Pros and Cons
VoIP PBX solutions are ideal for larger companies with their own in-house IT staff, especially if it can take on the additional work of managing this system. This solution is highly customizable, allowing the staff greater control over how it’s used and the features available. There are several other benefits to using a VoIP PBX:

  • As all the equipment and software is in-house, IT staff can easily add or change features as needed.
  • VoIP PBX becomes more cost-effective than hosted VoIP in the long run.
  • Companies with pre-existing VoIP PBX equipment can pick up where they left off.

As with hosted VoIP, there are also a few disadvantages to VoIP PBX:

  • Creating a brand-new VoIP PBX from scratch can be cost-prohibitive for some businesses due to the steep upfront costs of acquiring and setting up new hardware.
  • VoIP PBX systems require dedicated staff to manage and monitor the system.
  • Moving a VoIP PBX phone system can be difficult, primarily due to server relocation issues.

Which Is the Right Choice?
The choice between hosted VoIP and VoIP PBX depends upon a business’s specific needs. Some businesses may already have the staff and the hardware needed for a reliable VoIP PBX system, while others may benefit more from the flexibility and low initial cost of a hosted VoIP solution. In the end, a company should carefully consider its goals, resources, and requirements before deciding which communication solution is best for the bottom line.

Buy or Build: Why Colocation Wins

shutterstock_128785199The question of whether to build a data center or purchase space from a colocation partner continues to perplex IT stakeholders within organizations. While each company needs to evaluate their individual needs, there is a growing case for choosing colocation simply because it makes more sense from the perspective of both infrastructure and investment.

Some of the top reasons that IT leaders continue to choose colocation over building new infrastructure are:
• The colocation partner’s ability to support the density needed for companies’ increasing data output.
• The colocation partner can provide the scale and availability they require.
• It makes more sense financially.

More Data Means More Density

Today’s workers use an increasing number of devices, tools, and networks to do their job. This has the following impact on IT resources:
• Increased device usage and network traffic exponentially increase the amount of data businesses need on a daily basis.
• Workers have higher expectations about readily available and top-speed connections and tools.

The high-density computing available through a data center is better able to meet these demands of the modern workforce.

Redundancy and Scale Are Expensive

Due to the large amount of data that organizations manage nowadays, the data center’s infrastructure needs to be equipped with numerous physical and technological features. This translates into budget-busting necessities such as physical security, redundant equipment, cooling and environmental controls, and distributed power supplies. Colocation partners can provide the scaled resources required to support increasingly high-density computing more efficiently and inexpensively.

Colocation is a Smarter Investment

Even for organizations that have a higher IT budget and can support an internal data center infrastructure, colocation is still an option that should be carefully considered due to the following reasons:
• The money spent building a data center could be used to buy a more secure and powerful set up in a   colocation space.
• Data centers specialize in data availability and security; organizations that want to provide the best   connectivity to their workers should consider the quality services offered by colocation partners.
• The human resources required to operate an on-site data center could be better allocated to other, more    directly revenue-generating initiatives.

From the perspective of data management, computing resources, and financial practicality, colocation is often the better option for today’s businesses. As the case for colocation continues to grow, more IT professionals are beginning to see that the advantages of colocation could far outweigh those of building an internal infrastructure.

Some of the top reasons that IT leaders continue to choose colocation over building new infrastructure are:
• The colocation partner’s ability to support the density needed for companies’ increasing data output.
• The colocation partner can provide the scale and availability they require.
• It makes more sense financially.

 

 

The 3 Advantages Colocation Has Over Cloud Hosting

shutterstock_1514828When making a long-term investment in a hosting solution, many decision-makers still struggle with the choice of colocation vs. cloud hosting. While each option has its advantages, there are numerous factors that must be considered in order to make the best decision.

There is no doubt that cloud hosting is the lesser expensive option in the short term, but strategic, forward-thinking decision-makers should carefully consider whether the less expensive option today will result in greater expense down the road. In addition to the long-term benefits of colocation, advantages include the ability to customize technical and security infrastructure and retain control over the environment.

Make a Long-Term Investment

As a business grows, its needs will evolve and IT professionals will want to adjust infrastructure accordingly. For businesses that choose cloud hosting, the rented server and website may be adequate for their initial needs. However, colocation satisfies the present and the future needs of a business.

With colocation, businesses can consider how their data management may change as their data load grows. Businesses don’t need to constantly pay for additional scale or continue to use the same hardware used by the cloud hosting provider, which may not meet evolving needs. IT can add to the infrastructure and install additional firewalls, security apps, and other solutions as needed. 

Customize Security Needs

Colocation provides more flexibility than cloud hosting when it comes to security and privacy needs. While cloud hosting is still a secure option, colocation eliminates the additional risks that come with having the data center team perform upgrades, troubleshoot hardware issues, and otherwise handle the environment. Security risks are introduced simply by exposing the environment to more people. By retaining ownership of environment maintenance, businesses gain an additional layer of security and peace of mind with colocation.

Retain Control

When it comes to data in the cloud, control is key. The ability to control the specific servers, hardware, applications, and vendors is very important for a business that values quality and security, and this is only available through colocation. By choosing, purchasing, and owning all pieces of the infrastructure, users can ensure that they are using only the technology they choose — while still reaping the broader benefits of the data center provider.

For businesses that value a good long-term investment, strong security, and the ability to retain control over hardware type and management, colocation is the wiser choice.