Monthly Archives: May 2017

May 29

Why Do I Want You to Sort Your Backups?

By Charles | Business

There are so many companies that are not doing their database backups correctly but they need to be sorted asap. I can’t do them all on my own so I need your help to sort them. So lets look at how to sort your backups.

How many backups do I need to be doing?

For something which is so important to a business, well vital really, it is a surprise to see backups failing or entire backup processes just not fit for purpose. With the massive cyber attack happening last weekend NOW is your last chance to sort them before something really serious happens.

Server backups

There should be a central solution for your database backups. Having one place to look and check your entire business backups have completed successfully is a high priority. It is of course not always possible to have just one piece of software looking after everything so you need one dashboard pulling in multiple data sets which can give you that single pain of glass to help you sleep at night.

There should be three copies of your data at any point in time. If you do not have 3 copies you DO NOT have ANY data. You should therefore have your live copy of your data. A backed up copy on site and an off site copy of your data. This is really the bare minimum your business needs to recover from a disaster. I would prefer two off site copies at separate locations. Only one would need to be accessible for a disaster but all it takes is an accident to burn a place down and a system to fail for your business to go up in smoke.

Hot and Cold

We talk about hot and cold systems. A hot system is one you can use straight away in a disaster situation. A cold system is one that needs some time to be brought into a usable condition. So you may have a server setup for the application but it requires a fresh restore from your most up to date backup to bring it online with minimal data loss.

When did you last test a DB restore?

Test restores should be performed on all DBs regularly, once a week should be sufficient although this should be happening fairly regularly anyway if you are refreshing dev/test from production servers for testing.

Why test restores? You are checking that the backup file you are creating is readable otherwise what’s the point of even having a backup? I can assure you there is no worse feeling than thinking you have backups and can restore in any situation to find out that when that situation occurs your backups count for nothing.

If you are not regularly testing restores from production systems you have NO backups. That sense of security counts for nothing without being tested. If you want to sleep well sort your backups.

Run DB Integrity checks

Whilst not a backup process at all you should still be doing this.

Run DBCC integrity checks on live databases. 2 types of checks full at the weekend as you have more time and physical only during the week for a quicker check. You do not want to be in the position where you must restore the DB due to internal file corruption (it happens and its a &*%$£ to recover from).

You also do not want to be in that position and realize that your backups failed and you are unable to restore from your backup solution. I am talking from experience, we managed to recover the data but it took several days of a complete systems outage to accomplish.

Full, Differential and Log backups

Before you can sort your backups you need to know your backups. There are three types of backup in SQL Server.

A full backup writes everything to disk. It is an exact copy of your data in a new file which can be restored somewhere else. It also starts off the backup chain.

A differential backup is a backup of all the changes that have happened since the last FULL backup. You can take multiple differential backups in a chain but you will only ever have to restore the most recent differential after the previous full backup. So if you take a Full on Sunday and differential backups every night Monday to Saturday. If you need to restore back to Friday evening you would just restore the Sunday backup and the Friday evening differential no need to restore all of the diff backups from Monday to Thursday too.

Log backups for point in time restores can only be taken if the DB is in FULL RECOVERY MODEL. These backups allow you to backup each transaction that happens on a DB. In order to restore to a point in time you must have a DB in FULL recovery model and be taking log backups. If you do not take Log backups the log will be constantly growing until the next log backup is completed or the drive runs out of space.

Please sort your backups

Right now task a member of your team or your company to design a backup schedule/solution. If you do not have anyone with experience or you prefer to get someone in give us a call. We will go through the whole design of a backup strategy based on your business requirements. We take into account disaster recovery and business continuity in order to keep your business safe. So take the time right now to sort your backups.

May 23

When did you last patch your systems?

By Charles | Architecture

sAs of the very recent and no doubt still stinging cyber attack I thought I would hit this question head on with some rather frank honesty. When did you last patch your systems?

Patch your systems

I have mentioned patching before and this time I’m not pulling any punches. Everyone and I mean everyone should know security patches are something to install each month as part of continuous improvement. Microsoft release patches on roughly the second Tuesday of every month. They should in my opinion be deployed to test systems on that day or within 7 days. What happens to the test system if the patches screw it up? Well, you restore from backups. You do have backups right?

IT service providers

These patches once installed then lead to some testing of those servers to make sure that any software on them still functions. If it stops working you roll back the patches and work out which one is causing the issue. Then you try again without the patch causing the issue to start with to confirm it is a problem. Then you either do not install the offending patch if you believe it is not needed or you make it work with it installed. The one thing you never do with patching is NEVER patch anything.

When do good IT service providers patch systems?

As soon as patches are released the information about them is available to hackers. That can literally read through the latest vulnerabilities being patched and create exploits for them. This is a dangerous time to be sitting on unpatched systems. Google give Microsoft a 90 day lead to fix any issue they find. Then they announce it to the world no matter if people feel it is right or wrong even if Microsoft have not got a patch for it yet. Any decent IT service provider would have tested these patches for their clients and rolled them out through their change management processes.

Any company with an internal department worth their salaries should have been doing the same each month. Cyber security is not a joke. The losses in respect to data theft, reputation and financial losses can be staggering even over short periods of time. The company you work for could be out of business in a matter of weeks or a few months after a devastating attack.

If you think a single piece of equipment like a firewall or anti virus are going to stop an attack you are living in the dream world. Security has to be a broad strategy and in depth. Multiple defences on multiple lines just like a standard battlefield.

Personally I would expect every system to be patched within 2 weeks of patches being rolled out to your test systems. That should be a complete patching of all systems within 2 to 3 weeks of release. Rolling patches straight to production systems is risky hence the time to test them first. Not rolling them out at all should be a P45 generating event.

Wake up call

This weekend past will have been a serious wake up call to many companies and organisations around the world. If anything is to be learned, the need for regular patching schedules should be at the top of your list. I foresee tens thousands of man hours of overtime being spent as unprepared departments scramble to patch every neglected system on the net. Both in terms of biological health and in IT, prevention is better than cure. You will most likely find it a lot cheaper too.

So when is the best time to patch your systems the answer is before a major cyber attack and not during/after it. So spend the next few days creating a patching schedule and patch your systems!

May 18

How Can IT Consultants Help Your Business Reach New Heights

By Charles | IT consultants

Does your business use IT Consultants? In order to take your business to new heights you need to either grow your existing customer base, increase the transaction value per customer or increase the margin you are making. So either sell to more customers, sell more to your current customers or improve the efficiency of the business by doing more with less resource. Each option is going to need a number of tasks completing. For that you will need a project to do list.

How IT consultants help your business

Get more done, faster with a boost in project resource by using IT Consultants.

IT Consultants

To do lists help you get more done and they help individuals achieve more, so every successful person and successful business uses them. The downside is that to do lists can seem like they are always growing and never ending. Business priorities are fluid, always changing and some items never even get off the start line.

You should in fact, make sure you have two different lists. One is your traditional to do list and one is your completed list. As soon as a project is completed it tends to get removed from the to do list and forgotten but you should keep a separate list of projects that you have delivered. This second list is the list that should always be growing. The longer it is the more you have accomplished. It can also be used to tell the rest of the business what you and your team have been doing. Individuals can even use it for justifying a promotion or pay rise.

Businesses are having to do more with less but every now and then it is acceptable to throw that little bit of extra resource at a project to make sure that it is completed and off your to do list.

Project non starters

Take a quick look at your list. Can you see items that have been there for a while? Do you keep track of when a task or project was added? The worst part of delaying a project is that it stays on your list. This is one of the reasons that your list constantly grows. You will always add new projects as businesses are always moving forward with market trends but if you do not re-evaluate what is on the list from time to time then it will become a never ending list of unfinished or even non started projects. Having an every growing list can be demotivating and increase stress which just does not need to be there.

If a project is never going to be started then you should remove it from your list. Just having it on the list is going to be a constant reminder of failure, of what you are unable to deliver. You can reduce the amount of stress and pressure that you are under by clearing off non started/needed projects. This will allow you to focus on the actual business priorities. Keeping an ever longer list is neither good for your morale or the morale of your team. If it stays on the list it needs to be started and completed. If you remove it and it once again become a priority you can add it back on.

The hard bit

There are two hard parts to any project, starting it and finishing it. Sometime the best way to get a project finished quicker is simply by starting it. Once it is moving the momentum can carry you forward all the way to the end but to start is the hardest part.

Increase business efficiency by using extra resource to quickly finish off never ending projects. IT Consultants can give you that extra boost of passion to get a project done. By using that extra resource where it is needed you can get a temporary push forwards to get over a bump that is slowing down the rest of your business.

Never ending projects

Worse than the never started projects are the never ending projects. There are three things that every good project and every good story should have. A beginning, a middle, and an end. If you leave projects in a never ending state you will always be short of resource. The only way to manage your resource is to start a project and complete it. If you do this then you are constantly moving forwards. Old projects are closed down and the implementation is reviewed to find lessons learned which can help to improve future project performance. Not every project implementation will succeed but you should still learn lessons from every project.

People need closure. It gives a definite end to a process, time frame or project and allows us to draw a line psychologically so we can concentrate on what is next. Having constant lose ends open can be very frustrating and affect our focus. By closing off these projects we tie up the lose ends and can put the experience behind us giving us the focus and indeed the excitement of starting something new.

Time to finish up and clear down

So you have now removed anything on your list that does not need to be completed at all. This will leave two mini lists one with projects that have been started and not completed and one with projects that have not even been started.

You can hire some IT Consultants to do one of two main roles. They can either complete a project that needs to be done. This is a nice clean and easy option. They come in do a set piece of work and leave with minimal interruption to your day to day business. The second option is they come in, you train them up to back fill your perm people whilst they get to work on the fun project stuff. This takes longer as you may have to train up the consultants on your systems and processes but it may keep your staff happier as they are not doing all the boring drudgery of BAU work for the length of the project.

Whichever option you choose, IT Consultants are there to help you jump over a few hurdles in a temporary capacity. By using them effectively you can hit your objectives faster and power forwards with minimum costs.

May 09

How businesses can benefit from managed IT services

By Charles | Business

Every business uses IT for their day to day tasks. Most businesses even use the same pieces of software. Let’s look at the traditional IT use for a small to medium sized business and see how businesses can benefit from managed IT services.

What do they use?

Most businesses are running Microsoft Windows on their PCs and until recently your accounting software was probably one version or another of Sage. If you are using spreadsheets and creating documents your choice was most likely Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Word. My point is 80% of businesses are using the same software in the exact same way. Then they all hire the exact same type of person to manage and look after their IT.

This leads to a massive over spend for each individual company. Not just on the hardware but also on those hired to look after everything. What is worse is that each of these companies sees IT as an expense! As IT is not a direct way for these companies to make money (they don’t charge per hour for their IT experts like managed IT services companies would) every pound spent appears to have a return of zero.

The logical thing to do is make sure that the least amount is spent on IT as possible. Spending most of the budget on maintenance leaves very little left for actual hardware and software. The very systems your business depends on are procured for the lowest possible price resulting in the lowest possible quality. There is nothing wrong with getting the best possible value for the best price but is there a better way to do it?

managed IT services

There is indeed a way to get more from your investment by shifting where the money is spent.

What skills do they need?

Every business needs a minimum depth and breadth of IT skills and I can tell you now you will not find an expert on virtual networks, security, database administration, Email, SCSM, SCOM, Active Directory and application performance management in a single person.

IT roles do have overlap in areas but you cannot hire an expert in everything that is why we call them experts. The role of IT in business is too big and software packages are now too complex for a single person to know everything about everything. You need a team or you need to return to the use of paper and pen. Most businesses will need accounting, email and office applications and probably a CRM system of some type. Add to that the skills to manage the applications and systems they run on and your have an every increasing list of added costs looking like zero return.

What is an MSP?

An MSP is a Managed Services Provider. Essentially you outsource a function of your business to an external company that will perform that function as a service. This is a very cost effective option for businesses that want to focus on growing their customer base whilst not having to worry about functions that either do not interest them or are not part of their core business. Most frequently this is done with Payroll, Marketing, Accounts and IT but other services can also be outsourced. Legal for example might be something you decide is best done via a third party as you may not have enough work to justify paying lawyers full time. But where do I benefit from Managed IT services? Just a little bit further to go. First let’s see how MSPs do things better.

How do MSPs do it better?

Focus. MSPs specialise in a set of skills or a business function. It is what they do day in and day out and better yet it’s what makes them money. A business function that may have been a cost for your business (as you do not directly bring money in from it) will be their source of income. By outsourcing it you get to vastly reduce what would be a cost to your business and still manage to get the work completed to a high standard.

MSP’s need to cater to the broad set of skills needed but each person can be 100% invested in their field of expertise. Having a team of 10 people with 100% depth on each personal skill set is infinitely better than an individual who knows 5% to 7% of 15 or more different specialist topics. By having access to all those skills you can save a fortune on professionals that may only need needed a few hours a week.

Larger teams have built in redundancy. For the exact same reason that you spread your email workload over multiple servers. MSPs can spread the workload of a skill set over multiple people. What happens in your business when your email expert is on his holiday or on a training course or is off ill?

IT experts are paid more at companies where IT is the direct source of revenue. As they are responsible for the revenue that the business generates, the business can afford to pay them top rates. Whilst paying the most for a role is not a guarantee they will be the best, being able to pay higher amounts should on average improve their chances of finding better people.

How do they compete?

Prestige. If you work for one of the big tech companies, there is a reputational advantage. Everyone will know that you must be good enough just to get through the interview stages. After that if you say you worked for Google or Facebook it is as good as saying you worked for IBM in the 80’s. Doors will just fly open with new opportunities.

Unless your organisation has a mission that does some good for the world like save the Rhinos or protect the rainforest it might be difficult to compete for tech roles. Millennials are not all about money though, for them it is as much about the cause as the money.

Whilst most MSPs are not tech giants some staff will feel more at home with other tech professionals. They feel they can learn more, faster, by working for a Microsoft Partner. They may also feel safer working for a company that does not see tech as a cost. A Microsoft Partner also has some benefit for employees. They have a better standing in the IT industry as well as direct links to one of the biggest IT companies in the world. Being able to leverage the skills of an MSP is a clear benefit from Managed IT services. By partnering with an MSP you have access to some of the best IT professionals in the industry.

 

How can my business benefit from Managed IT Services

We know what an MSP is and how they compete but how can my business benefit from Managed IT services?

If your IT person is away on holiday, on sick leave or on a training course and your email server goes down do you still call him/her? Do you have someone that can fill the temporary skill gap? Do you just chance it and hope that everything stays up and running? By using an MSP with a team of experts, you know that even if one person is on holiday or on a training course or is on sick leave there will always be someone else to cover your needs.

Savings from having to train staff on the latest tech is another bonus. Do you pay 2k for a Microsoft training course plus lose out on the skills of the person being trained? Do you lose out on 4 to 5 weeks of an individual’s skills when they are on holiday? That can be the equivalent of 6+ weeks that you are seeing no return on their skills per year.

Last but certainly not least a benefit from managed IT security services are the SLAs which are agreed. They usually come with or allow for some sort of financial penalty. Should the MSP not hit a certain service level. Whilst not hitting the level is obviously not good for either party. You do know that your businesses are financially aligned on service uptime. If they mess up you can get a part refund which seems to be offered by most Cloud Service Providers. This can be a nice incentive and certainly a benefit from Managed IT services.

Summary

As 80% of businesses need the same skill sets to manage their IT you can outsource the management of your IT for a fraction of the cost. You should be able to improve the service level by leveraging the better skills available from your MSP. Getting the exact same skills but for a fraction of the cost allows you to free up some of the savings from the budget. This can be used to improve the quality of the hardware and software you run your business on.

Reallocating your budget to go into the software and hardware will give you a better return on the investment. By shifting where the money goes you can increase the quality of your purchases. Using fresher and higher quality ingredients will always improve a low quality recipe. Using high quality ingredients and a high quality recipe will give you a result in orders of magnitude greater. It is quite common for businesses to be spending 70% to 80% of their IT budgets just on the maintenance. By outsourcing the maintenance, you can change that figure around so you are spending 20% to 30% on the maintenance and 70% on the projects. By investing in better software with more required features this will help you grow faster and achieve more.

There are many ways to benefit from Managed IT services from reducing costs to improving service levels. The most important points are

  • Spend less on maintenance to benefit from Managed IT services
  • Focus your budget on higher quality software, offering better functionality
  • No work hours lost from holiday, training, sick leave
  • Saving on annual training costs
  • Team of wide and in depth skills always available
  • No need to worry about staff leaving after receiving training
  • Potential refunds in case of service level targets being missed.

Hire Managed IT Expert Today!