Public, Private, or Hybrid Cloud: What’s Right for SMBs?

By | QCS Group Blog

You have a lot to keep track of in your business. Customer information, sales data, employee details, and more. Although there’s no longer a worry about someone breaking into and destroying the papers in your filing cabinet with all of your business intelligence, there are new concerns to consider. With the digital age, you must now be aware of how your business data is stored online and in the cloud.

What is the Cloud Anyway?

The cloud remains a bit of a confusing concept for many people. Yet most people with a smartphone or Internet connection access the cloud on a daily basis.

Simply put, the cloud is the way computing services are delivered over the Internet. For example, storing images, accessing data on servers, networking on social media, accessing software, and more all make up the type of services made possible by the cloud.

Facebook, LinkedIn, and Dropbox are just a handful of examples of cloud-based programs that are commonly used today.

What does this have to do with your small business? A lot.

To run your business in today’s world, you need to have a server to store your company’s information, access software, and more. This lets your employees access data from anywhere.

Where this server is located makes a big difference. With the cloud, your server equipment won’t be located on site but you still might need to own and manage the equipment depending on whether you choose a public cloud, private cloud, or a hybrid of the two. There are pros and cons to each, so let’s dig in.

Public Cloud

A public cloud service means you’re sharing hardware with others. This hardware is owned by a third party provider, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or a local IT company.

The Pros

The reason many small businesses choose to use a public cloud is because they don’t have to fork out a large upfront investment. You pay as you need to without having to be burdened by the costs of the hardware, upgrades, or maintenance. You can also scale up or down easily.

Because you’re using a third party’s server, you get IT resources quickly. The provider manages all of the backups and server monitoring so downtime is minimal (if there’s any at all) and you can be confident that you’ll always have access to the information you need.

The Cons

There is a downside to sharing hardware. Specifically, it’s not as secure as if you owned your own server.

If you’re using a large third party provider such as AWS or Microsoft Azure (instead of a local IT company) you’ll also have more ‘cons’ associated with public cloud.

First off, these large companies aren’t usually as selective with who they’ll share your infrastructure with. Local IT companies generally use strict application processes with their public cloud offerings to ensure your data is secure. Also, if you’re working with a large provider, you’ll usually have a slower response time for any problems or issues that arise.

Private Cloud

If your hardware and software is located off-site and is solely dedicated to your business, you have private cloud. Private cloud delivers similar advantages to public cloud, but offer proprietary architecture and dedicated hosting behind a firewall, so it minimises the security concerns some organisations have around cloud.

The Pros

This is the most secure option because you aren’t sharing your hardware with other businesses. The hardware is dedicated to you and you can physically access it if need be. Your data is more secure because you can decide who will help you manage it. Typically, this is a local IT company or your internal IT department. You can actually have your local IT provider own and manage the hardware, but still provide you with a private cloud environment that is dedicated to you.

Any problems or issues that arise are quickly resolved because the company hosting your data is local.

By having your own dedicated server you can customise the computing, storage, and network components. This is ideal (and often times required) for high compliance industries, such as healthcare, insurance, and financial markets.

A private cloud provider will generally use Tier 3/4 hardware (tier 1 is the low end) such as high end servers, high throughput switches, and enterprise class firewalls in a fully redundant configuration to provide the best performance possible and guarantee uptime for your business.

The Cons

If you own the equipment (not always the case), you’re the one responsible for any issues, as well as management of the hardware. If you’re working with a local IT company, they will often provide maintenance in their offering including upgrades, software, security patches, 24/7 monitoring, and backups.

But, depending on who you work with and the plan you pay for, you may be responsible for all of the above if you are the owner of the hardware.

A Hybrid Solution

A hybrid solution is simply a blend of public and private cloud options. There are many iterations of what this looks like. For example, you can use the public cloud for non-sensitive business information, and store your more sensitive business data on a private cloud.

What’s Right for Your Small Business?

Ultimately, you have to decide what’s right for your business. If you’re in a high compliance industry, you might not have much choice. However, if you’re in a position to be a little more flexible with your business hardware, a hybrid solution might be your best option.

QCS Group Virtual Private Cloud (VPC)

We generally recommend private cloud environments due to the growing number of cyber threats. Our private cloud service surpasses industries standards. QCS Group utilises all Tier 3-4 hardware, meaning all of our equipment exceeds industries standards. We use industry leading hardware and software to provide the best platform to our clients. Our networking backbone is fully-redundant using enterprise class switches that can handle high throughput allowing clients to truly feel low latency from start to finish.

Our cloud platform truly isolates each clients’ data by utilising secure end to end VPN connections along with unique VLANs and private IP spaces. QCS Group  solely utilises the power of VMWare from front to back, providing endless scalability and performance to our clients. All of this is housed in a secure facility accessible only by our dedicated NOC team. No matter what your compliance needs are, chances are we have it covered. Our platform is more than just a service, it is an investment not only for us, but our clients as well.

Not sure what’s right for your business? Let’s talk! We’re happy to discuss your options based on your company’s specific needs. Call us to learn more.

4 Questions to Consider Before Moving Files to the Cloud

By | QCS Group Blog | No Comments

After moving to Office 365, you have finally uncovered the advantages of a streamlined cloud productivity platform. And to continue reaping the savings in infrastructure and increased productivity, you may want to continue moving files to the cloud. But before dumping data in the cloud — or working with a cloud partner to do so — you need to take a deeper look at your files.

Too often, companies migrate file servers to OneDrive, SharePoint or another cloud-hosted platform with the expectation that data will be organised and users will instantly be able to access it. But without auditing your files and outlining a roadmap to move them to the cloud, you’ll likely end up with bloated storage costs and frustrated users.

Key Considerations for Moving Files to the Cloud

The process of migrating file servers to the cloud is a lot like moving houses. To make the most of the new space, you need to know what you have, how it’s used and where it will work best. Before moving files to the cloud, be sure to think through the following questions:

1. How Much Data Do You Have?

Like moving to a new house, you don’t realise all the files (or stuff) you’ve acquired until the time comes to haul it to a new location. Understanding how much data lurks in your company servers will prepare you for the work that lies ahead and also opens your eyes to what’s truly important.

2. How Much Data Do You Really Need to Keep?

Moving is a great time to declutter and get organised. But do you apply the same thinking to your file server migration? Over the years, you’ve accumulated an impressive data store, but many of those files are duplicates, no longer relevant or rarely touched.

By cleaning up your files before the move, you avoid renting a larger “moving truck” to transport the files and a bigger “house” (or file server) to store it all.

Completing a file audit beforehand will also speed up the migration process, and planning where files will live saves time spent on post-migration cleanup.

3. Who Currently Uses the Data and How Do They Use It?

By now, you have a better idea of the files you currently have, which are most important and how your employees use them. But to fully utilise the new space, you also need to familiarise yourself with the layout before move-in day. You wouldn’t put your family in a new home with no context for which rooms are used for which purpose. The same should apply to your file server migration.

For instance, if video streaming is commonplace at your company, then Microsoft Stream might be the right destination for video files. If you have legacy files that your company reviews yearly or needs to hold on to in case of an acquisition, the best place for long-term file storage might be a file server in Azure. If many people in one department collaborate on files daily, those may be best served in Sharepoint.

At QCS Group, we’ve found clients that invest time in learning the new cloud system extract the most value from the cloud. That’s why we work directly with each department to understand how they work, which data is mission critical, who uses it and how they use it before devising a datacenter transformation plan.

4. Are You and Your Users Prepared for the Change?

More often than not, businesses don’t anticipate the impact that moving files to the cloud will have on the daily user experience. Although navigating to a new drive might not seem like a burden for users, it will require a business change. And if your users aren’t prepared for it, they’ll be hard-pressed to transition.

At QCS Group, we understand that transitioning file storage platforms will shake up the way users interact with data. We serve as an internal champion to help educate users on the best ways to access files and iron out potential daily frustrations before they cause undue stress.

Beyond users, business owners also have to be open to change. Although you might be hesitant to switch up your users’ daily routines, organising files and enabling users to access them anywhere will improve productivity in the long run. You just have to set expectations for your team — and yourself.

Looking to consolidate your on-premises servers infrastructure and better utilise your cloud file servers? QCS Group’s data transformation services provide flexible servers, storage and networking devices hosted in the Microsoft Cloud so you retain control over apps and resources — without the burden of costly onsite hardware. Learn more about our cloud file server migrations or get in touch today.

Top 4 Ways to Protect Against Ransomware

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You’ve seen the headlines — when it comes to ransomware strains like Locky, Wannacry, and Petya, we’re all at risk. What’s more, with the growing ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) trend, cybercrime is now at an all-time high and accessible to nearly anyone.

Since the introduction of RaaS, negotiating with hackers is now a business in and of itself. We see websites offering up the latest advice to hackers, ransomware customer service lines, and FAQ available to help victims make Bitcoin payments.

So, why do organisations pay the ransom anyway? Well, in many cases, an organisation’s systems were never backed up properly, or the backups were too old. In others, the recovery attempts failed – maybe there was no DR testing, leaving no usable backups from which to recover. Often the amount of time it takes to recover is far more costly — in terms of downtime — than paying the ransom fee itself. In other words, the process is simply broken.

What’s critical to understand is how ransomware gets into your organisation, and more importantly, how you can protect your business from current and future threats of ransomware.

1. Best Practices for Ransomware Prevention

First and foremost, to protect against ransomware, start by doing what you can from a prevention standpoint.

  • Make sure servers and firewalls are all patched.
  • Update your anti-virus software with latest signatures.
  • Train users to recognise suspicious emails and attachments, and to identify nefarious websites.

While this may sound like old news, it’s a critical component to ensuring that you have a proper disaster recovery prevention plan in place.

2. Update Your Backup Process

Long gone are the days where overnight backups every 24 hours is sufficient for proper data protection. A quick and easy fix? Increase your backup frequency. In order to minimise downtime associated with an outage, you should be backing up in 15 minute increments. Your solution should be able to set policies on those backups alert the administrator to any errors.

Also, to protect against ransomware, data should be safely stored both on-premise and off-site. In addition, you want to ensure that you protect all of the servers in your environment, whether they be physical or virtual, with the same level of security. You may instinctively focus on mission-critical applications like Microsoft SQL, Exchange, and your financial systems, but don’t overlook those file servers that are also susceptible to attack.

3. Early Detection Capability

In a ransomware attack, time is your worst enemy. By the time encryption hits, you could have thousands of files encrypted in mere seconds. What’s worse, if you wait for your end users to identify that encryption is spreading via a ransomware attack, you’re going to have a much larger problem on your hands. The longer it takes to detect an issue, the more files are getting encrypted!

Ransomware can spread like wildfire, but early detection capabilities are available. IT needs a solution that will measure high change rates in files, thus using the way ransomware works — against it. Ransomware opens files and changes files in the system. Protect against ransomware by utilising a solution that can identify a high change rate of modified files on a per-user basis.

If you’re using the 15-minute backup frequency we recommend, you can prevent most of the damage of the attack by simply having this proactive alerting system in place.

4. Lightning Fast Failover

If you are infected with ransomware and have to recover your data and systems, an important concern is to ensure the recovery process is faster and easier than paying the ransom. There could be hundreds of thousands of files infected, and you need to recover them quickly. Your best bet will be recovering the full server, rather than individual files.

Failover technology will give you the ability to boot and run from a backup. But, not all failover solutions are created equal. Only certain solutions give you the ability to boot from the backup and run either on-premise or in the cloud.

With the QCS Disaster Recovery (DRaaS) solution you can simultaneously cloud boot multiple versions of the same machine to determine the safe version to recover, and boot either to the cloud, a virtual environment, or recover to production hardware. No matter what DR solution you choose, it’s so important to understand exactly how the solution plans to failover your applications, and then failback, in addition to how much customization and control you have in the whole orchestration process.

With these 4 recommendations in place, you’re closer to staying protected against the current threats of ransomware. There’s no telling what ransomware attacks will look like in 2018, but we know that Ransomware will continue to get more sophisticated, more intelligent, and more harmful as time goes on. You can’t completely prevent ransomware, but you can keep yourself educated and up-to-date on the most recent technology solutions available. Also, look to the experts to vet and validate what you learn when it comes to ransomware protection.

The Non-Negotiables of Small Business Backups

By | QCS Group Blog

Chances are you’ve heard the warnings before. You must backup your business data! As nice and necessary as these warnings sound, setting up a backup solution might be one of those tasks that continue to get pushed down your to-do list. And because of that, you might be questioning if you need a backup at all, or if the warnings are a little exaggerated.

Do You Need a Backup?

Perhaps not surprisingly, the short answer to whether or not your small business needs a backup solution is a resounding YES!

Small businesses, in particular, are subject to a growing number of threats. The biggest? Ransomware. Security solutions work hard to keep up, but these solutions can only go so far to keep your business safe.

Outside threats aren’t the only thing putting your business at risk. Human error is another common cause of data loss. Networks also go down for a variety of reasons beyond just floods and fires. This can unfortunately cause data loss. And since your company can’t make money if your employees can’t work, time is truly of the essence when it comes to getting your data back.

It’s virtually impossible to protect yourself from every threat. Without your data, you could lose everything you’ve worked so hard to build – accounts receivable, customer information, processes, procedures, etc. The list goes on and on. With a good backup and disaster recovery plan in place, if there is a breach in your business intelligence, you can restore your data to a past point before the attack, recovering the bulk of your data.

What Needs to be Backed Up to Keep You Safe

You’re convinced you need to back up your business data, but what specifically do you need to protect?

In an ideal world, you’ll backup everything in your business. Sometimes this is a little more than your small business can take on right away, and that’s okay too. As long as you’re backing up all of your critical data – the data you couldn’t live without or recreate – you’re still taking necessary steps to protect your business. Financial records, customer information, and sales data are all on the list of “must include” when you’re deciding what data to back up from your business.

Setting Up Your Backup

As you start to research your options, you might find that you’re overwhelmed with how many choices are available to you when it comes to small business backups. Here are the basics you must consider when finding the right solution for you.

Onsite vs. Offsite

A backup done onsite is a backup that’s stored on a separate piece of hardware at your business. Note: If you’re still using tape backups, it’s time to make a change. These are very outdated and ineffective. Current hard drives designed to keep data safe are ideal for onsite backups.

If a backup is done offsite, your information is transferred through the cloud (or through your Internet connection) to a server in another location.

It’s recommended that you have both onsite and offsite backups.

By having an onsite backup, you can immediately recover your data. This instant access could save you time and spur your productivity. An offsite backup is equally important because it’s always best to have a Plan B. If something physically happens to your office, or your onsite backup somehow gets misplaced or tampered with, you have a fallback plan in place.

Automated vs. Manual

It’s rarely recommended (if ever) that you rely on a manual backup. You’re busy enough as it is. Having to add the task of updating your backup on a daily basis is not realistic.

By having an automatic backup, you can ensure your data is transferred safely and securely on a regular basis. To start, you’ll do a full backup of all of your data. Then, once that’s in place, the backup program will make updates incrementally whenever changes or additions occur.

With automatic backups, you’ll need to decide how much information you can’t live without. Then, you’ll also need to determine a time period in which you’re willing to lose this data. You can set your backup solution to capture changes daily, hourly, or even every 15 minutes depending on how quickly your data is changing. It’s recommended to have a daily backup as the bare minimum and to keep 30-days of daily backups since sometimes, you might not notice that your information is gone for awhile, believe it or not.

Image-Level Backups

The industry-wide recommendation is to conduct an image-level backup. An image-level backup means you’ll backup the entire system (both physical and virtual) by taking a snapshot of every byte of data. Nothing is overlooked. Nothing is missed. All of your software, information, and configurations are captured, just like they would be if you took a picture of your current setup. When it comes time to restore your data, everything is brought back online exactly how you had it before disaster struck.

Encryption

Just like you encrypt sensitive financial information when you send it to the bank, you’ll want to encrypt your data every time you back it up to your onsite and offsite servers. Encryption keeps it safe and out of the hands of hackers who could use your backup to gain access to your business intelligence. Encryption is your safeguard here. It’s important.

Server Only?

When deciding which data to backup, you’ll need to also take into consideration whose data to backup. For some employees, it’ll be important to backup their actual PC. This will mean that any data not stored on the server will still get protected against disaster. For example, the documents, software, and the overall configuration of your computer are important. Backing up this data will help you restore everything quickly if disaster hits.

The Ultimate Failsafe

Proper small business backups are the ultimate failsafe against loss. No matter what goes wrong – ransomware, viruses, employee error, rogue employee actions, fire, flood, etc. – you can always go back to the way things were before the loss.

How MSPs Can Reduce Your IT Spending By Over 50%

By | QCS Group Blog | No Comments

You moved to the cloud to reduce infrastructure costs and more easily scale in the future. But in many cases, taking on a cloud setup puts excess pressure on your IT manager — and doesn’t turn out to be the cost-saver your anticipated.

This is where outsourcing your cloud IT needs to a managed cloud services provider can help.

How Managed Services Providers Reduce Costs

The technology nonprofit CompTIA recently conducted a survey of 400 businesses that outsourced their IT needs to a managed services provider within the past year.

In the survey, 96 percent of respondents reported saving a substantial amount annually — 184 businesses noticed cost reductions of 25 percent or more, and 58 saw over 50 percent reduced costs.

Sure, you want to save money, but quality of service is also a concern.

Over 89 percent of respondents reported an exceptional experience. The knowledge and expertise their MSP delivered kept operations running smoothly and on schedule. Business owners were especially impressed by the ease of use, high security, flexibility and increased uptime.

More Ways to Reduce Costs With Outsourced Cloud Management

Increased uptime alone can save you thousands of dollars — we all can attest to the high cost of accidental downtime. Other ways to reduce costs include:

  • Upfront billing: Most providers charge an upfront fee and a flat monthly rate. You know how much you’ll pay each month to help manage your IT budget.
  • Reduced resources: Outsourcing allows you to reduce your in-house workforce and the tools needed to handle operations.
  • Fully trained managed service providers: They have the experience needed to complete tasks quickly and accurately. This reduces risks and liabilities and ensures compliance with government regulations and industry standards.
  • The best tools and technology: MSPs use industry-leading tools, technology and resources to enhance efficiency and streamline procedures and processes. This enables more insight and greater visibility, leading to smarter data-driven decisions based on real-time information and analysis.

Other Benefits of Using MSPs

MSPs handle the arduous, repetitive, complex and time-consuming updates for IT teams, freeing up time for staff to do other things. Working behind the scenes, an MSP manages critical operational tasks that your business depends on.

Businesses most often outsource workforce management, contract compliance, payroll and information technology.

However, MSPs can also work closely with your IT team to complete projects right the first time. They can thoroughly review current processes and find opportunities to reduce expenses while maintaining efficiency. Your services provider is dedicated to seeing you succeed and will stick with a project from start to finish.

Choosing an MSP

Working with an MSP is a long-term play. You could go anywhere for managed cloud services, so your partner is committed to earning your trust.

When vetting a cloud services provider, look for market maturity. Choose a cloud-first company that has completed similar projects — and won’t use you as a guinea pig.

Some MSPs only offer routine maintenance and remote monitoring. This might work if you only need a quick fix or emergency help. At QCS Group, we strive to be your strategic partner and align our cloud strategy with your business vision.

Learn more about QCS Group’s cloud consulting services and how we can help you.

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