It is year end… Again..

2016 to 2017

This is going to be a quick/brief blog.  The point behind it is to get you to read or reread two previous blogs.

A couple of years ago, we discussed the significance of year-end in IT in two previous blogs.

In the first blog “ Year-End – What to Expect in IT”, we discussed why many companies incorporate a change lock-out policy for the end of the year.  Though that blog is two years old, almost everything discussed is still valid this year.  The biggest difference is that I did not have to camp out for the door-buster deals.  This year, Black Friday started on Thursday around 5 or 6pm.  Luckily, that annoying holiday called Thanksgiving did not get in the way of retailers having their employees on hand.  (Please add a note of dripping sarcasm when you read the previous sentence.)  In fact, most of the sales started on-line Thursday morning.  I did not have to go to the store or wait in a line to get what I wanted.

In the second blog “End-of-Year IT Tasks”, we discussed the tasks that may need to be done to prepare for the end of the calendar year.  Everything in that article is still valid today.  Please use the links provided to review these previous blogs.  If not both, at least read the tasks article.  It may help you remember a task you needed to do to prepare for the end of the calendar year.

 

As always, please feel free to post any questions or comments below or reach me directly by email.

Craig Kalty

 

 

 

 

 

Craig R. Kalty
(CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)
Sr. Network Consultant craig.kalty@customsystems.com

©2016 Custom Systems Corporation

Cloud Computing’s Refuseniks: How Long Can They Hold Out?

Is your organization a “Cloud Computing Refusenik”?

This article excerpt, by Dave Cartwright, originally appeared here: http://bit.ly/1Wvmbu7

Umpty-squillion surveys come out every week, and they generally disagree with each other. Personally I tend to take notice of the ones that tell me that red wine is good for weight loss and long life.

I read one recently, though, in which no fewer than 51 percent of managers said they’re not presently investing in cloud technology. “OK”, I thought, half the population isn’t doing it yet. Then I read that in the same survey that 49 per cent said that in two years’ time they still wouldn’t be investing in it. And I was more than a little surprised by that.

Cloudy thinking

Bear in mind that they weren’t talking about whether they’d move their entire world to the cloud: it was whether they were investing in cloud at all. At all.

Fair enough, I understand organisations not moving en masse to (say) hosted virtual desktops. But no Office 365? No Google Apps? No DropBox? No AWS for a cheap server for a pilot project?

Some organisations tend to shy away from cloud services – specifically those with particularly high security requirements on the data they store. But even then there must surely be the temptation to adopt some kind of fully managed hosted service for applications under less scrutiny – public-facing brochureware websites, for example.

Furthermore, the cloud can be incredibly attractive in a business continuity context. Say you host your email service in a co-location data centre facility where you own all the servers and network kit, you manage the servers yourself, you have a secure remote access mechanism with two-factor authentication. Is it really that big a leap of security confidence to decide to shift it all to (say) Office 365?

And even if it is, what about that two-factor authentication system you’re using on your private data centre installation? Is that an on-site offering? I’ve recently been getting to grips with Symantec’s hosted offering – it works a treat and doesn’t need me to feed and water it.

Taking the concept further, you could even use the cloud to monitor and control your internet usage behaviour. Even the most paranoid security officer must surely find it hard to complain about using an Internet-based system to control your internet browsing.

In this sense I’m talking about services such as Websense’s cloud offering, which I introduced to my infrastructure in a previous life and which I found absolutely excellent – access gateways worldwide, synchronisation with our Active Directory, resilient services, a single management GUI, not overly expensive, and I got to throw away a fleet of god-awful ISA servers that hosted the legacy on-premises version.

I completely understand why people don’t move wholesale to the cloud. A fully cloud-based infrastructure is something that suits only a minority of organisations. But I’m still astounded to see that almost half of those questioned in the particular survey I read are of the belief that they won’t be using it at all in two years’ time.

Okay, there are concerns. There’s security. There’s the fact that it’s easy to forget what you left running and end up with a bigger bill than you expected.

There’s the fact that in all but the smallest cloud providers you have bugger all influence over their techies if the infrastructure goes down and your finance server is unavailable at year end, or your email’s not working for a couple of days. I get that.

Keeping up with the hackers

Surely, though, the people who say they won’t be using the cloud in the future are forgetting that what you can do with it is likely to change radically in the next 24 months. Security will have kept up with the hackers; connectivity will be even better than it is now (my fiver says that by then you’ll see proper quality-of-service guarantees over the Internet as if it were a private WAN).

I reckon that some vendors of traditional IT products may even entirely stop shipping software and appliances, instead stripping down their support division (supporting customers with on-prem solutions is highly non-trivial) and supplying their services as entirely cloud-based services. Will this 49% of IT managers simply avoid those services even though they’re acceptable to the auditors and the best of breed?

No, I don’t think they will. I suspect simply that when they were asked: “Will you be investing in the cloud in two years’ time?”, they’re thinking: “Hell, I’ve got so much to do now, and so much on my roadmap for the next 24 months, that I can’t even think about cloud as well”. But that in fact by the time they get part-way down their roadmap they’ll find themselves with a cloud solution.

Because by that time we probably won’t be calling it a cloud service. Or a SaaS product. Or an AnythingaaS solution, for that matter. Because by that time we’ll be so used to the idea that we won’t have a special name for it: in two years time it’ll just be called a product.

Troubleshooting: Migrating Office 365 Public Folders

Migrating Office 365 Public Folders

Not that I expect many people to have this problem, but I learned something new today. Did you know, that if you have public folders you are moving to Office 365 that exceed 50 GB, you have to wait for Microsoft to “Auto-Split” them?

Basically what is supposed to happen is you have a public folder and as it grows close to the 50 GB limit, an automated process is kicked off that will migrate some date to a new public folder mailbox. This is seamless to the end user and allows you to continue to add data. What I was doing was migrating a very large amount of data at one time. This caused the public folder to reach the limit of 50 GB in a few days. I was not moving data slowly, so the automated process did not have time to run. Since I was in a time time, crunch I needed to find a solution.

According to Microsoft, it can take up to two weeks for this process to happen. And I didn’t have two weeks. I needed it to happen, roughly — immediately — so I knew I needed to figure something out. I thought I could just create a new public folder mailbox and that would be that. The problem is, that was not working. It was still binding me to the 50 GB limit. I read that if you create a new public folder mailbox Microsoft will use it for its auto-split process. Again this did not help me.

I did a little research and found that there were two solutions to my issue. The first was to wait the up-to-two-weeks for the automated process, and the second was to run two PowerShell commands. Of course, I opted for the PowerShell commands. Here is what I did.

First I started power shell as an administrator. Then I ran the following script to connect to Exchange online via PowerShell.

Set-ExecutionPolicy Unrestricted -Force
$LiveCred = Get-Credential
$Session = New-PSSession -ConfigurationName Microsoft.Exchange -ConnectionUri
https://ps.outlook.com/powershell/ -Credential $LiveCred -Authentication Basic -AllowRedirection
Import-PSSession $Session

Once connected I then ran this command (The public folder email address can be anything you wish.):

New-Mailbox -PublicFolder -Name MasterHierarchy

Once that was complete I ran this command (Again the name can be anything you wish.):

New-PublicFolder -Name PF201 -Mailbox SecondaryPFMbx

Once the commands were complete I had a new folder under my public folders. In the Exchange management console, in the Office 365 public folder mailboxes I had a new 50 GB limit. I was now able to start moving more data and effectively had a 100 GB limit to now use.

I hope you have found this helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them below. Also, make sure you follow and friend us through social media at Twitter or Facebook.

Ryan Ash

 

Ryan Ash
Network Consultant
ryan.ash@customsystems.com

 

 

 

©Custom Systems Corporation 2015

 

Are Cloud Offerings Good for SMB?

The title for this blog came about from a number of our SMB clients asking two questions:

  1. What exactly are cloud services?

  2. Should we be looking into them?

Here is a general answer to the first question: Cloud services are on demand solutions made available to users through an Internet connection from a Cloud provider.  For instance, Office 365 provides an e-mail solution (and more) from Microsoft that users can access anywhere they have Internet access from almost any device.  I can even get to Office 365 from a certain gaming console.  In the early days of cloud computing, cloud referred to services that came through the Internet from a third-party.  However, today we have private in-house clouds as well.

As for the second question; yes, you should be looking into Cloud solutions.  Every year, IT has a buzz-word that rises to the top of the list.  In the ancient past of a few years ago, ‘client/server computing’ was the major buzz-word.  More recently, ‘virtualization’.  Though virtualization is still a major buzz-word today, ‘Cloud Computing’ is now on the top of the list.  There is a reason these buzz-words rise to the top of the list, they are a rising, viable trend for IT solutions.  Cloud may not be for everyone, but there is not a single administrator who should not be looking to see how cloud services can help their organization.  Funny, I said the same thing about virtualization not too long ago.

So, why should your organization we be looking at cloud services?  Here are some major reasons:

  • Lower IT costs without the risk. If you host a service in house, you need the hardware resources to house it, the expertise to build and maintain it, and the resources to operate it.  Most of the time, cloud services are a subscription based service.  When first looked at, the monthly cost of those subscriptions may be substantial.  However, you have to compare it to what it would cost you to have the services in-house.  Add up the cost of the server, the environment to protect the server (power and air conditioning), installation, maintenance, backup, and upgrades.  You get all of that from the cloud without you having to deal or worry about it.  The cloud service has the security and the disaster recovery resources already which means lower risk to you.
  • New methods of collaboration. Sharing ideas, files, and data can be done almost anywhere, anytime, and on any client.
  • As stated above, being able to do things almost anywhere, on any client, at any time.

Most SMB do not have a large IT staff with a wide variety of technology skill sets.  They usually have the one or two people who have to be a jack-of-all-trades.  I have seen places where this person is the head of accounting.  They have a CPA, not a BS in Information Technology.  With cloud solutions, the need for in-house expertise on a product is practically eliminated.  The burden on the ‘IT’ people is lifted and day-to-day IT tasks are reduced.

Here are few examples of cloud offerings and what they give you (some items depend on the subscription level):

  • Office 365 gives you hosted Exchange e-mail services, the latest version of MS Office for multiple devices, shared information and files, hosted storage, and more.
  • Trend Micro Worry Free Business give you cloud administered antivirus. The AV client still resides on each device, but the administration is in the cloud.  This way, you do not need to install AV administration services on a local server.  You can also get to the console from anywhere to perform tasks.
  • Carbonite offers highly compliant backup solutions to the cloud. You don’t need the storage or administration hosted in-house.
  • Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services make it possible to put any server, even your entire server infrastructure in the cloud.

There are many more cloud offerings than these.  It is most definitely worth looking at cloud services whether you are a small or large company.

Do you have any questions about the cloud and your business? Custom Systems can help! Feel free to post any questions or comments below or reach me directly by email.

 

AZS-3

 

 

Craig R. Kalty (CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)| Sr. Network Consultant craig.kalty@customsystems.com

 

 

©2015 Custom Systems Corporation

End-of-Year IT Tasks

time to plan Ivelin RadkovIn a previous blog, we discussed how the calendar end-of-the year can be different for IT than the rest of the year. Because of a possible fiscal year-end, possible higher resource utilization, less staff due to holiday vacations and other factors, IT operations and procedures shift or change. So, let’s discuss some of the tasks IT people need to do to prepare for the end-of-year and the start of the next:

  • Backup – We all knew this would be on the list and should probably hold a very high priority, so it is first on the list. We need to have a backup of the data at the year’s end. Unless you want one, you probably do not need a systems backup, only data. Our daily and weekly backups will take care of system state backups. What we do want is a complete backup of all data as it looked at the end-of-year. This backup will go somewhere safe. Odds are we will never need it, but we will have it just in case. In some cases, accounting and finance may need to utilize that backup to make sure they only have the previous year’s data without any from the current year.
  • Lock Production – For all the reasons mentioned earlier and other reasons that drive company policy, production systems usually get locked until the end of the year. Only emergency alterations are allowed to production.
  • Increase Support – Many companies are busiest during the holiday season. They are most likely the ones that have production locks. Being busier will increase IT support needs.
  • Increase Operations – Those busy organizations may need an increase in operations to support the increase in business. IT will have to pay closer attention to utilization and daily operations.
  • Staff Alterations – Due to higher vacation utilization at end-of-year, we may also be running on a smaller staff. There will be changes in support coverage and shift operations.
  • Enhance Development – If production is locked, that does not mean we can’t touch the development environment (unless doing so will affect production). This could be a good time to update, clean, or just plain continue work in the development environment.
  • Update Applications – Wait… Didn’t we say production was going to be locked? Well this may be one of those cases where we have no choice. There are software packages that require year-end updates or they will not have the functionality needed to operate properly. For example, accounting and payroll may need updates to tax tables for the next year.
  • Budget – At this point, the previous year’s budget should be gone or close to it. In these last few weeks, you can finalize the budget estimates for the next year. If you had not started on this yet, now may be a good time to start.
  • Reporting – Many business units are going to look for reports on the previous year to perform their required close-outs. So, reporting volume and support will most likely increase.
  • Inventory – if production is locked, now would be a good time to inventory our software and hardware. This includes servers, workstations, laptops, printers and peripherals.
  • Resource Review – This may sound like inventory, but it is a little different. This refers to utilization and consumption. We need to know how much power and computing resources we are currently utilizing and how that will affect the next year. This could occur during or after taking inventory. We should evaluate how much power our systems draw and whether we have ample power and power protection into the next year. We need to know how much of our server (and other hardware) resources we are utilizing to know what we will need for future endeavors.
  • Nothing – We may not need to do anything different. Some organizations see no difference in activity in year-end from the rest of the year.

If you think of any other end-of-year tasks to add to the list or have other points of view, please note them in out comments section.
AZS-3

 

Craig R. Kalty (CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)|
Sr. Network Consultant
Craig.Kalty@CustomSystems.com

 

 

 

© 2014 Custom Systems Corporation

Time to backup your backup

Don’t lose what’s important

scyther5Everyone has files that are important to them and it would be a disaster if they were lost.  Years’ worth of pictures from graduations, kids growing up, and even items like tax returns or import documents that have been scanned for digital file storage.  Keeping digital files can make it easier to store, as well as search for later.  The problem is, what happens if your hard drive crashes and you lose everything?  A good backup plan is something that most people tend to forget about.  Many people will backup pictures and documents to one main hard drive and believe that is good enough.  What happens if that drive dies?  I had a colleague bring me the external hard drive where she had kept all the pictures of her children growing up.  The drive had crashed and after looking at it, I had to let her know there was nothing I could do to retrieve the files.  The drive was dead.  She lost years of pictures.  She was under the impression that it was on an external drive and that was good enough.  The truth of the matter is, you can never have too many backups.

Don’t be fooled by cloud storage options

Cloud storage programs such as Drop Box, One Drive and Google Drive are great places to store files, but you need to keep them stored somewhere else as well.  For me , I keep my son’s pictures on my laptop and backed up to my Microsoft One Drive account.  Then from time-to-time I will run a backup of those photos to my external hard drive that I keep connected to my wireless router.  This way the pictures and important files are kept on my laptop, in my One Drive cloud storage and also on an external hard drive.  These pictures are so important to me, I will probably even back them up a fourth time to something like DVD.

Do follow the Backup 3-2-1 Rule

This rule states:

3 – Copies of anything you care about – Two isn’t enough if it’s important

2 – Different formats at least (more is always better in this case) – examples of this would be Dropbox (or other cloud storage) + DVD, or hard drive + USB stick

1 – Off-site backup – This means using a cloud storage option such as Carbonite or Crash Plan.

Crash Plan and Carbonite are topics in of themselves, but these are great programs to back up larger amounts of data.  With programs like One Drive and Drop Box, you tend to get one folder that is backed up.  With Crash Plan and Carbonite, you can back up your entire computer if necessary.  Look for upcoming posts about Crash Plan and Carbonite where I will explain exactly how they work and why they are a good choice.  In the meantime make sure you backup your important data by no less than the Backup 3-2-1- Rule.

As always, we welcome your opinion and questions. Do you have a data backup plan in place? How are you keeping your files and precious memories safe?

Ryan Ash
Network Consultant
ryan.ash@customsystems.com
©Custom Systems Corporation 2014

Secure Data and Application Access From Any Device: Citrix Workspace Suite

What is Citrix Workspace Suite?

citrix-logo-webIn essence, Citrix Workspace Suite is the branding for multiple Citrix products in one. The primary ingredients are XenDesktop Platinum and XenMobile Enterprise. Basically, you’ll receive licensing for XenDesktop, XenApp, Mobile Device Management, ShareFile, Cloud Bridge and Smart Access licensing for the NetScaler, AppDNA, technical support, and more. The concept of this packaging is to provide secure access to all of a user’s data and applications with the highest level of mobility.

For a limited time, Citrix’s Workspace Suite is being launched with the opportunity for some major discounts. At the time this article is being posted, Citrix is offering up to 70 percent off of Workspace Suite. The savings all depend on what you are trading up from and other variables. The discount varies based on currently owned products, license level (Advance, Enterprise, or Platinum), subscription advantage state (active or not), and other factors. I have found that if the wind is blowing from the East, it is a Tuesday morning, and three Major League Baseball games were won by only one run the day before, you can get the most significant discounts. Okay, all kidding aside, my point is that the discount is variable based upon multiple factors. It seems that the ones who will see the most significant discount in the trade-up program are those that currently own XenApp or XenDesktop concurrent licensing. There are other factors to consider like you may be required to trade-up all your existing product license pool and purchase extra licenses. Also, Software Maintenance for the first year is required in the purchase.

To help you evaluate this offering for yourself, here are the links to some helpful resources with more details:
Citrix homepage for Workspace Suite.

FAQ for the trade-up program

Visit our site to learn more. Our account executives are available to speak with you, with further details at no obligation. As always, if you have any questions, I would be more than happy to help. You can leave your comments below or email me directly.

AZS-3

 

 

 

Craig R. Kalty (CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)
Sr. Network Consultant
Craig.Kalty@CustomSystems.com

 

 

 

© 2014 Custom Systems Corporation

Cloud-Based Apps vs Local Servers

I get a lot of questions about Cloud computing.  So today we are going to discuss a few of the differences between keeping your applications and files on local servers vs. moving to the Cloud.  We will cover some of the advantages and disadvantages of both, as well as examine my own bias.  We may even discover that I’m (GASP) wrong.  Sound like fun?  Ready?  Here we go!

What is Cloud?

Well, it’s not in the Stratosphere (though THAT would be especially cool!).  Cloud computing usually refers to a service that you pay to store data for you.  Everything from email, databases and files to accounting software can be Cloud based.  Advantage?  No servers to manage or  maintain.  No backups to check, no tapes to change.  Just sign the check on time, and it’s all taken care of for you.

This ain’t your Dad’s Cadillac, er, Cloud.

Cloud computing has been around since the dawn of the interwebs.  Why it’s just becoming a buzzword now is beyond me, but there it is.  Chances are, your bank hasn’t stored your account information in their local branch office in over a decade.  Instead, they pay a hosted service to provide the disk space and backups they need.  Banks used to dial into the data center at a specific interval each day, update any changes and check for problems.  It was painstakingly slow, but it kept your information safe.  Fast forward to today:  Even your grandmother is uploading pictures to Facebook or to DropBox.  Both are cloud.

So is Cloud better?

Well, it depends.  Internet services keep getting faster and more reliable.  So does server hardware.  Having servers in my office means that I get to manage them.  If there is ever a problem, it’s a short walk down the hallway, and I can troubleshoot in a matter of minutes.  Hardware can easily be replaced or upgraded as needed.  Servers have lights that blink, fans that whir, and hard drives that hum in perfect harmony.   And should one of them get out of tune, I can fix it.  If my data is in the Cloud, I have to rely on someone else to keep an eye on their servers.

In some scenarios, I suggest a hybrid of both on-site servers and a Cloud-based solution.  For a medium-size business, this is often the best of both worlds.  For example, keep your data on an in-house file server so you have local, secure access to your information; but use a hosted solution for email.  Email servers take a lot of work and are difficult to manage.  While I’m more than happy to take care of your email server, using a hosted email option may be the most cost-effective for your organization.

Give us a call today, and we can help find the best solution for your business!

Full disclosure:  Custom Systems uses Office365 to host our email and file services.  This article was written on my laptop, but then stored on a hosted SharePoint server for the editor to review and fix my spelling and grammar.

ChaseChase Reitter
Network Consultant
Custom Systems Corporation
Chase.Reitter@CustomSystemsCorp.com

 

 

© Copyright 2014 Custom Systems Corporation

Cloud vs. hard drive storage and security

Cloud storage allows users to save pictures, music, files, and other data to a server on the Internet that can then be easily retrieved from any device such as another PC/Mac, Smartphone or Tablet.

Hard drive storage is primarily used to store data from a single PC or Mac to the local computer that can only be retrieved on the PC/Mac it was saved to.

The growing trend in Cloud Storage is due primarily to today’s mobile lifestyle.  We want to be able to access our pictures, music, and files from any device at any time, in any location.  Sharing our data with others is also important as we rely upon social media as a primary means of personal and business communication.  Take a picture or video on your Smartphone, upload it to Facebook, post it to Instagram, save it to the cloud server, and then later open it on your Mac to do some Photoshop.  It is all easily accomplished with Cloud Storage.

In contrast, with local or hard drive storage you must take a photo with your phone, email it to yourself and save to your PC.  Put it on a flash drive and email or upload it to social media.  Back it up because it is your only copy, and hope you never lose the hard drive on your PC.

The mobile lifestyle requires easy transfer of data through a ubiquitous partner we call the Cloud.  Any app on any device can share, save, and edit the data easily.  Oh, and did I mention the Cloud provider promises to back up your data so you don’t have to worry about losing it?  Say goodbye to a USB hard drive connected to your PC/Mac and the frequent task of making local backups that we never seem to have the time to do.   You say your local backup is automatic… did you ever check it?  I don’t but I am also too mobile to be at home to check it.  Put another check mark in the “Cloud” column for me.

How safe is my data?  Well, how safe is your house? If a thief steals your PC and USB hard drive, your data  is gone.  Be unfortunate enough to be driven from your home due to a local disaster and the data is just as gone should there be a flood, hurricane, tornado, or other all too frequent event that interrupts our lives.

How safe is the cloud? Well that depends too since anyone can access the cloud from any device at any time with only a username and a password. Maybe the small inconvenience of creating a secure password is not too high of a threshold to cross. Yes, I’m talking to you who thinks having a capital “P” on Password will keep you secure, or maybe adding a “1”, as in Password1.  Your data is as good as gone, or worse copied by someone without your knowledge with an insufficient password.

If you can get serious about a password – nothing in the dictionary, no names, significant dates, or easily guessed family and pet names – then you are safe.

Local storage provides high capacity, fast retrieval, and the security to know where your data actually resides.  Cloud storage provides on-demand access anytime from any device  provided you can use a secure password.  I don’t see myself becoming any less mobile with the current trends in storage, so I vote for the cloud.  A good password is a small price to pay!

Paul R. CookPaul R. Cook
Vice President, Network Services
Paul.Cook@CustomSystemsCorp.com

 

 

 

© Copyright 2014 Custom Systems Corporation