20 Apr

Tips for developing a business strategy for the cloud

Use of cloud services is becoming increasingly popular with one of the key benefits being that they are available to authorised internet users anywhere in the world on demand. Cloud service providers deal with all infrastructure details and users only need to be involved with the service output and can utilise the service in any location. Microsoft O365 is one example of a cloud service provider, but there are also private service providers who can offer cloud solutions dedicated to meet more specific client requirements. 

Develop a business strategy for the cloud

Any business considering adoption of the cloud needs to think about their goals and motivation prior to signing any kind of service level agreements. Some likely goals and motivations to move to cloud services include:

- A requirement to accelerate the delivery of applications in order to gain a competitive advantage
- Improvements to IT efficiency, both in terms of staffing levels and IT infrastructure
- Increased flexibility of investment leading to optimal returns
- Moving to expanding markets in new geographical areas and requiring the provision of new capabilities
- Reducing risk with added control and continuity for all critical applications

If you can identify with two or three of the goals and motivations above, then it's highly likely your business is ideally situated to profit from a move to cloud services. 

The first step in moving to a cloud provider is to match up application requirements to the features, technical requirement and services provided by cloud services. 

Cloud providers generally offer flexible services, with opportunities to increase or cut down levels of service, depending on current business requirements. Making best use of this ability does, however, require an understanding of likely minimum and maximum levels of service required, so they can be incorporated into any service agreement.

is an important feature of all cloud services, but should not be taken for granted. Cloud service providers offer a high level of security but application security is not provided and this needs to be a consideration for business applications teams.

You should expect a highly stable service level from your cloud prov00der, however, you will need to work out the levels of support you might potentially require from your cloud services provider. There could be occasions when urgent technical support is required even if cloud services are all working fine. For example, where users experience performance problems there could be a requirement for performance, storage, database, networks or applications analysis from your provider, and these details need including within any service agreements you are drawing up with cloud providers. Recognising and clearly defining all potential future support requirements from your cloud services provider in advance helps ensure any potential problems are addressed in a timely manner.

Consilium provide IT support and a variety of cloud services solutions from leading providers for businesses of any size. We can advise on the right cloud solution for your business and work with all our clients to maximise IT resources and improve business profitability. Contact us for more information.

13 Apr

4 ways to improve your IT support processes

 

If you've ever been the recipient or requester of IT support, you know that repairing something that's gone wrong or explaining certain techniques or mechanics, can be a convoluted process that requires many steps to find the right solution - often wasting time that could otherwise be used more effectively. When it comes to managing the way your IT support process works, there are many things to consider. Here are just a few simple ways you can improve that process to get your network, system or PC up and running faster:

1. Use a troubleshooting list

With computers and IT, in general, being a more complex system than ever before, it's a fact of life that once in a while something will go wrong. But when it comes to errors or problems based on everyday office work, sometimes there can be an easy - if not obvious - solution. 

Sharing knowledge on past problems, whether by email or with a list of potential solutions, can improve your chances of your employees being able to fix minor issues themselves, or at least put them through their paces before contacting IT support; saving you both time and cost.

2. Create a flagging or tier system

Not all problems are created equal - for example, a network going down may be a higher priority than someone not being able to access a specific software, or certain staff members may need to access IT services more than others. 

Putting in place a central flag or tier system internally allows you to advise IT support which tasks are the most important; even if, to those outside your particular team or business area, it may not seem as necessary.

3. Update your IT services

Many IT support issues can be immediately resolved, or at least lessened, by ensuring the IT services used by your business are up to date and current. This is especially important in relation to systems such as networks, as well as operating systems to keep up with the latest updates in software. 

Knowing that the version of everything you're running is correct can go a long way towards solving ongoing issues, and can ensure that all IT support queries are more likely to be genuine.

4. Outsource to the experts

IT support in-house may be a tempting choice for many businesses. But by outsourcing that service not only are you entrusting your business to a team of experts, rather than one person who may be overworked, you're also accessing information from experts in different areas of IT, which could result in faster resolving of issues.

Outsourced IT can better adapt to busy times, sudden influxes of issues and overall flexibility with the support they can provide - giving you far more leeway if something does go wrong.

If you're looking for an excellent IT support service in Glasgow, look no further. From traditional repair and management of support to cloud services, we can provide everything you need to ensure your business is kept up and running. Contact us today to find out more about what we can do for your business.
05 Apr

4 benefits to outsourcing your IT support

Whether you're a small up and coming business or a multi-office company, it can be tempting to hire your IT services internally, giving you in-house support as and when you need it. While this may have been the best method ten years ago, with the evolution of technology, from cloud services to virtual workplaces, you'll soon find internal IT struggling to keep up. That's where outsourced IT support comes in - providing all the benefits of internal staffing with added value.

Here are just a few reasons why outsourced IT support is the right fit for your business:
19 Mar

Four reasons to use App-ID on your Next-Generation Firewall

Managing your application traffic is no longer as easy as it once was. The advancing digital age has meant that it's harder and harder to properly identify users and applications. To combat this threat and to prevent risks, many people are now turning to App-ID, which comes native within the Palo Alto Networks Next-Generation Firewalls.

Instead of a port-and-protocol based policy, this application-based approach allows you to better identify threats and defend against cyberattacks. The App-ID is able to apply numerous classification mechanisms to the network stream in order to accurately identify certain applications. 

Better yet, it can do so regardless of any of the port and protocol evasive tactics they may be deploying. If you’re interested in better securing against this rising threat, you might want to consider implementing App-ID on your own Palo Alto Network Next-Generation Firewall. In fact, here are four key reasons why you should do exactly that.

1. Access a broader spectrum of application visibility

You will quickly gain unprecedented access to all of the applications that are running on your network. You can see how much those applications are being used and see which purpose they are being used for. This insight is invaluable in identifying which are the top applications being used by your organisation, and what the threats facing you are. 

Best of all, this information is presented in an easy to understand manner. Meaning you can share these findings with business leaders in your company and block unwanted applications much faster. 

2. Reduce the surface area of any attacks

09 Mar

Why it's time for your small business to move to the cloud

 

Every small business needs to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible to attain success in a competitive marketplace. Technology is invariably a key enabler for SME success, regardless of industry, and cloud computing is one key example of how the right technology can provide multiple benefits for the business. Let's take a look at some of the most compelling reasons for small businesses to migrate to cloud services.


1. Cost savings

This is one of the first benefits that entrepreneurs typically notice about cloud services. By buying in remote data services, businesses no longer need to maintain their own expensive data centres with private servers and the staff needed to maintain them. Instead, an affordable monthly cloud service licence allows business bandwidth needs to be appropriately matched with the right price. With the cloud, businesses only pay for what they use, without waste.

2. Security

Cloud solutions help to protect your business data and information, storing it remotely and digitally off-site and reducing the risk of hacking and data theft. Cloud services offer data security and backup, supporting your business risk strategy.

3. Scaleability

Previously, small businesses were required to contingency plan by keeping a margin of computing needs idle in case of growth. This led to depreciating assets and unnecessary costs. However, cloud computing solutions are infinitely scalable both up and down, so the business can buy exactly the capacity and services that it needs on a flexible licence basis, knowing that these can change over time as the business does.

4. Document management

Local network storage tends to lead to multiple document copies, local duplicates and general inefficiency with storing and archiving. Cloud computing services take this problem away by only opening the latest version of a document and archiving the rest. There is also the option for simultaneous document collaboration where this is required.

5. Budgeting

The monthly cloud computing licence cost is far easier to account and budget for than the traditional IT investment cycle, which tended to see large-scale capital investments on a rolling cycle and accompanying depreciation of assets. Now, businesses do not need to own servers and associated infrastructure - they just licence the software services themselves.

6. Mobility

Most people are now used to getting online wherever they are and whenever they need to. Cloud computing services allow your staff to connect to your business from home, from the train or from remote sites on a flexible basis. This allows small business owners to offer highly desirable flexible working perks, knowing that staff can always have the ability to work effectively wherever they are. This flexibility also allows some small business to lessen their fixed working space requirements, saving further overheads.

7. Integration

Another key benefit is that modern cloud services are comprehensive and designed to integrate with a whole host of other existing services, allowing your business to become highly integrated and efficient and removing the old problem of silo and legacy systems which failed to communicate with each other. This positions your business well for further growth, technological adoption and better management as it grows - and as new solutions continue to come on board.

What other benefits of cloud services has your small business witnessed? Our Glasgow IT support team is always interested to hear how our clients are using the cloud to grow their operation - so let us know how it's working for you! 

 

 

26 Feb

Azure Files - What you need to know

 

Azure Files - What you need to know             

 

Azure Files provides your business with fully managed cloud-based file shares, all of which are accessible via standard SMB protocol. Using the system, file shares can be mounted at the same time via the cloud, or you can use the on-premises deployments available through Windows, MacOS or Linux. You can even cache your Azure File shares on Windows servers when you use Azure File Sync, ensuring you get fast access whenever you need it.

Azure Files allow you to streamline and simplify your cloud development, as well as provide your business with greater levels of flexibility. Whether that's through mounting a file share locally on VMs to allow developers and administrators to access tools and utilities or giving developers the opportunity to fully embrace cloud development without abandoning their existing tools, Azure Files can easily fit around the unique demands of your company. For more information, be sure to check out Microsoft's introduction to Azure Files.

 

 

Azure Files benefits

Fully shared access

If you're familiar with cloud services, you'll know all about the positive impact it can have on creating a collaborative workflow. Azure Files is no different. Supporting the industry standard SMB protocol, workers can share a file system across several machines and applications. Replacing your on-premises file shares with Azure file shares is completely seamless, and you won't have to worry about application compatibility either.

Highly resilient

Everything about Azure Files has been built from the ground up and has been designed with constant availability in mind. When it comes to replacing your on-premises file shares with Azure Files, you get the added bonus of not having to deal with network issues or power outages. Instead, you get a highly resilient system that's available whenever you need it.

Complete management

The problem with a lot of on-premises file shares is that they require hardware in order to be managed. Azure Files helps you avoid that. There's no need to manage the hardware or an OS, meaning there's no need to worry about replacing faulty drives or having to deal with critical security upgrades to your server OS. Instead, you get a fully managed system that takes care of all the updates for you.

Scripting and tooling capabilities

When it comes to Azure Files, you can use PowerShell cmdlets as well as Azure CLI with Azure applications to create, manage and mount your Azure File shares. You can even use Azure portal and Azure Storage Explorer to manage and create your Azure File shares whenever you need to.

Easily programmed

Any applications running within Azure can instantly access any data they may need to within the share by using the file system I/O APIs. That makes it much easier for developers to utilise their code and their skills in order to successfully migrate any existing applications. As well as System IO APIs, it's also possible to use Azure Storage Client Libraries as well as the Azure Storage REST API.

For more information on how Azure Files can help you and your business, as well as help with setting it up, please don't hesitate to Contact us. We'll be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

05 Feb

Patch or Don't Patch! At least double down on security.

So the latest with the Spectre/Meltdown disaster is that Microsoft have now released a patch to stop the patch that Intel released to mitigate the Spectre/Meltdown shenanigans

15 Jan

Did you know that Office 365 can help with your GDPR needs?

There is a lot of noise around GDPR. Every vendor has a product or a suite of products aimed at helping with compliance. There is no silver bullet. Indeed, much of GDPR isn’t a technology based problem.

We know that many organisations already have an investment in Office 365 and aren't aware that it has many features that can assist with important aspects of GDPR such being able do identify and secure personal data.

eDiscovery and Data Classification are key parts of GDPR. Office 365 Advanced eDiscovery includes machine learning combined with analytics which allows the sorting of large quantities of data for eDiscovery purposes.

It can eliminate duplicate files, and reconstruct email threads allowing users to to explore and discover large, unstructured data sets and quickly zero in on what is likely to be relevant.

Another important GDPR requirement is Data Loss Prevention (DLP). Office 365 can help identify sensitive information across many locations, such as Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and OneDrive for Business.

Once it finds that information it can help with both classification and in preventing  the accidental sharing of sensitive data whether that be cloud based on via desktop versions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word.

A third key GDPR areas is security. Office 365 has several features and modules to assist in that regard including Advanced Threat Protection and Threat intelligence which can provide protection from active threats such as viruses and malware whilst also evaluating emerging threats before they might impact your business.

Moroever, Office 365 offers full audit logs showing what your users are doing, facilitating any requirement to investigate security of compliance.

Consilium are actively working with organisations around the upcoming GDPR and Cyber Essentials deadlines. Please get in touch if you want to discuss how we can help you move forward with these objectives.

In addition to Microsoft based solutions we work with key partners including Veritas, Palo Alto Networks and Veeam to provide solutions to the many challenges facing organisations around GDPR and security.  

05 Jan

Meltdown & Spectre

There has been a lot of information in the news, and a lot of hysteria around the Meltdown and Spectre in relation to hardware exploits.

First of all, this is different from all other vulnerabilities in that it is hardware with the issue. It means hardware from Intel, AMD, ARM and others are affected. It also means that Apple devices which were traditionally thought of to be invulnerable now are. With the exception of Apple Watches – comforting.

It has been brought about by making CPU's faster and more efficient by making memory tricks the CPU to use faster  and other techniques used such as speculative execution which executes a task before its required. All these performance designs helped create this issue.

In general every piece of hardware ever issued, every PC, Phone or device will be affected. It is in our estimation the biggest security we have encountered, even a bigger issue than the recent Wannacry malware outbreak.

Currently there is no known malware taking advantage of the vulnerabilities. So there is some time. You will rely on your AV to see attempts to take advantage of this flaw via specially crafted malware.

What can  happen?

This exploit allows access to memory within the machine, which can be used to read data and inject your own. Passwords could be vulnerable, or any other core components.

The problem!

The flaw is a hardware flaw which your operating system uses to perform day to day operations. Unfortunately because it is a hardware fault, it is impossible for the CPU manufacturers to fix. They have turned to the Operating system Companies such as Microsoft, Apple etc for a mitigation which prevents the problem being exploited for nefarious ends. It doesn’t fix the issue however. Only hardware updates can do that. For example Microsoft still say you need to have the Hardware fix to properly address it. Its entirely up to the PC manufacturers to do that.

There will be no mitigation for Windows XP/2003 and also its unlikely firmware updates will fix it given the age of hardware related to it.

Steps to fix!

There are some high level steps to mitigate the flaw. Unfortunately we are not aware of BIOS updates as yet to fix the problem.

On Your Microsoft PC/Clients:

Update your AV. It needs to be compatible with the January 2018 Windows Updates. There is a registry key which is set to allow the mitigations to come down from Microsoft. Some Antivirus programs will set this, others will not, so will need to be set.

Install all Microsoft updates to January 2018.

Confirm the following settings appear with the following Powershell command:

Get-SpeculationControlSettings.

 In an ideal world, Green settings on the following:

 

The above is what you are looking for, as the firmware supports mitigation, so the chipset supports hardware mitigation, but if that does not show and is red, then you are relying on the operating system to do it. As long as one line is green then the mitigation is in place, but the risk varies. If hardware support isn’t available you are reliant on the operating system to protect you.

Windows 7, 2008R2 and Windows 2012 and so on will require an additional registry key to enable this support.

Microsoft do not guarantee that the software fix will completely address the problem as officially you need to replace your hardware! It is best effort on their part. The official guidance is that if you are working on sensitive information is to replace the CPU with a non vulnerable CPU!

Its not great but that is the reality.

For Servers:

As above, but the patch is not enabled until you enable the registry key to turn it on.

Effects

It is totally unclear at the moment that high impact to performance, but from the initial discussions on social media 6% on desktops and reports of up to 30% drop on loaded servers is to be expected. On high Loads such as SQL Queries and I/O throughput has been measured to be adversely slowed. The effects of which is variable.

Summary:

In the end its up to you to address the risk profile. If its ok to have a bit more risk, then patch, if not then replace your hardware.

Microsoft live Presentation - https://aka.ms/EMEAOOBCPU

NCSC UK guide - https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/meltdown-and-spectre-guidance

Official info on Spectre attack - https://spectreattack.com/

Windows 7, 2008 and 2012 Registry key - https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4072699/important-information-regarding-the-windows-security-updates-released

05 Oct

Veritas Vision 2017

Veritas Vision 2017 

More than a week has come and gone since Veritas Vision in the amazing City of Las Vegas.  On a somewhat sombre note my thoughts go out anyone caught up in the attack earlier this week.  It so easily could have been me or anyone else I was with only a week before.

The conference itself was set within the huge Aria hotel, one of the latest flagship hotels on the Vegas strip.  A glamorous venue for what was going to turn out to be an awesome event.  I met some amazing people form the VERITAS team, customer and partners alike.

Vision 2016 was in the same hotel at the same time as last year but I think this year was different?  I’ve been to many Veritas Vision (formerly Symantec Vision) conferences over the years so why was this one different?  For starters, last year was the first Vision conference after the demerger with Symantec so I think there was a bit of uncertainly all round.  What direction are Veritas taking? Where will they be in a year?  What’s their R&D strategy and product roadmap?  So, on that, I think veritas have found their feet.  What do I mean by that? Well, they are no longer ‘the NetBackup folk’  They truly are now one of the leaders in information management.  Yes, the new enhancements to NetBackup look awesome and the largest appliances have faster throughput and greater capacity than ever before, never mind the enhancement to the virtual appliances for your more remote locations.  In addition to the integration with Azure/AWS and the Nutanix tie up,  it’s the new technology that’s exciting.

It’s the Information map.  It’s Velocity, It’s Access and the Veritas Resiliency Platform and the wrap around solutions to address GDPR next year.  It all seems to be coming together nicely into a portfolio of collaborative solutions that not only address your information management issues but address your GDPR compliance requirements and concerns.

One of the many interesting sessions was busting the myths around GDPR.  If you are concerned about GDPR I suggest you have a look here:  https://www.veritas.com/gdpr

                                   Quote from IDC: “We believe VERITAS GDPR portfolio is the strongest in the data assessment area’

Moving on from GDPR, the whole wraparound 360 data management suite is exciting.  The management of your data is becoming more and more and a daily struggle and with data growth growing exponentially, it’s something every organisation needs to address, and soon.  Some of the largest companies in the works are built on the power of harnessing their information using a proper, defined information management strategy (Amazon/Uber/AirBnB to name just a few).  They aren’t built on bricks and mortar or tangible assets, in fact, many have very few assets!!  They are built on the basis of harnessing and using data effectively and turning data into useful information and turning information into big business. But in order to achieve this you need to know what that data is, where it is and whom the data belongs.

Another highlight of Vision was the inspiring Richard Branson who gave a keynote speech.  He has always been someone that inspires me.  Maybe it’s his constant smiley face, I don’t know.  What is clear is that he is very much a people person and it’s clear to see people are at the heart of building his successful empire.  A phrase that stuck with me “don’t treat people the way you would like to be treated, treat people the way THEY would like to be treated’.

The conference closed on a high.  The awesome 80’s band ‘Foreigner’ (you know the song ‘I want to know what love is’) closed what was a fantastic conference.

If you were swithering about the benefits of going to Vision I can wholeheartedly recommend it for next year.  Not only is the conference itself highly informative and fun but the hospitality VERITAS lay on during the conference and in the evenings is second to none.

And if you didn’t know, VERITAS was the mythological Roman Goddess of ‘Truth’ and the message throughout Vision 2017 was simple;

        ‘The Truth in information’

Let us help you find the truth in your information and your most valuable digital asset. For instance, why don’t you talk to us today about a dark data assessment? https://www.consilium-uk.com/archiving-data-management/free-dark-data-assessment/

Let us help you identify where your data is, what it is and help young on your journey to an information management strategy, GDPR compliance and unlocking the truth in your information.  I for one and very buoyed by Vision this year and even more so at the prospect of helping our customers on their information management journey.

Steven Brown

 

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