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By the DynaSis Team

For more than a decade, virtualization has been a well-promoted solution for achieving flexibility and security with on-premise (in-office) servers. With virtualization, a company and/or its IT vendor “carves” a server or dedicated storage device into multiple virtual servers/drives (these deployments are called virtual machines, e.g. VMs). One of the ways that DynaSis helps its customers maximize IT ROI (and security) is by designing and installing a virtual server layout from a single physical one.

Multiple VMs can reside on a single physical server, yet each will be totally segregated from the others and can have a discrete purpose, separate authentication and security protocols, availability rules and other characteristics of a physical server. Another advantage of virtual servers is that storage allocation for each VM can be altered quickly―and often, dynamically based on load.

For all these reasons, many cloud servers are virtual, with data centers dividing their large servers and storage arrays into numerous VMs for their clients. With virtualization having become an indelible fixture of data center operation, and the technology also being so beneficial for on-premise server installations, we scanned the Internet for expert advice on what we and our customers can expect from virtualization in 2015. Two items, in particular, sparked our interest.

Virtualization Security: With so many security breaches in 2014, it is inevitable that vendors will be placing a renewed focus on security. One of the hot new approaches at the data center level is “micro-segmentation,” where every discrete virtual machine becomes its own impregnable fortress with dedicated security.

Data-center-level solutions are generally too expensive for SMBs to implement for their on-premise implementations of virtualization, but that doesn’t mean companies that implement virtualization are at risk. Companies that work with a vendor that provides robust, end-to-end security and proactive problem resolution, including patch application, have the confidence that their virtual machines can be fully protected, as well. At DynaSis, we have always considered security paramount, and we recently introduced another layer of security for our Managed IT customers.

Converged Infrastructure: This term may sound a bit arcane to those outside the IT world, but it’s really a fancy way of saying bundling. Experts expect acceleration of this trend―where a company works with a vendor that provides a complete solution comprised of multiple infrastructure (hardware) components packaged to work well together.

Packaging interoperable infrastructure­ for maximum security and connectivity is always a good idea, but it requires preplanning, so it is easy to overlook. It’s the approach we take with our Ascend offering, where we build out a firm’s infrastructure and they lease it from us for a low monthly fee, including management and security. We definitely hope this trend will gather momentum in 2015, as it can be very beneficial.

In addition to these two trends, we saw mention of a number of protocols, solutions and platforms, all of which are too complicated to discuss in this short article. However, be assured that the DynaSis technicians are staying abreast of these developments to give you the most secure, productive virtualization experience possible. To learn more about the substantial benefits of virtualization, or to meet with a DynaSis Virtual CIO to explore the possibilities for your firm, please give us a call.

By the DynaSis Team

[featured_image]Last week, we talked about your options and considerations for purchasing and installing Office 2013. This week, we’ll discuss Office 365 and give you some financial comparisons.

Office 365
For a fee ranging from $12.50 - $22 per user, per month (billed annually), you can license the full version of Office for each of your employees. Best of all, the installation is good for five devices. So, if you have workers that need Office on a desktop at work, a desktop at home, a laptop, a tablet and a smartphone, one monthly fee will cover them all. That can make Office 365 a bargain. If your employees don’t need Office in multiple locations, it’s not such a deal.

With the Office 365 Small Business Premium Edition, up to 25 employees can have desktop (PC or Mac) versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access, Publisher and Link, plus online access to most applications from any computer, mobile access to Word, Excel and PowerPoint, plus cloud perks such as a hosted website, a team intranet site, online conferencing and cloud file storage.

If you don’t need Android or iPhone access or desktop installations, you can opt for Office 365 Small Business, which for $5 per month, per user (billed annually), gives you web-based and mobile (Windows Phone only) versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint (plus the cloud perks). If you have more than 25 users, you’ll have to bump up to Office 365 Midsize Business (starts at $15 a month for up to 300 users), but it also includes Active Directory integration and self-service business intelligence.

Which Is the Best Choice?

Renting Office adds up, but you’ll automatically get upgrades, fixes and new versions. As we mentioned above, if your employees do not need access to Office on multiple devices, then Office 2013 is less expensive over a three-year period for those that want desktop installations ($399.99 per user for Office 2013 Professional versus $450.00 for Office 365 Small Business Premium or $540 for Office 365 Midsize Business).

If your employees are content using office only via a web browser, Office 365 is less expensive ($180.00) over a three-year period than all but Office 2013 Home and Student ($139.99). And, if upfront outlay is your prime consideration, then jumping to Office 365 is certainly the way to go. You can always opt later to switch to Office 2013 or its successor.

The virtual CIOs at DynaSis can help you evaluate exactly what you need as part of your Windows XP upgrade. (If you haven’t planned for that yet, time is running out. We really hope you’ll read this article and call us, today.) Either way, we’ll be happy to help you make the move to cloud productivity with Office 365.

By the DynaSis Team

[featured_image]In last week’s blog, we talked about the upcoming end-of-support date for Windows XP (April 8, 2014) and touched upon the two migration options―Windows 7 or Windows 8 (8.1 is the most recent release). Although Windows 7 will “look” more familiar to users, Windows 8 helps companies make a huge leap towards the largely mobile world predicted for our business futures.

If your company is going to undergo the effort of a widespread operating system (OS) migration, you owe it to yourself and your business to fully consider the benefits of jumping straight to Windows 8. Some of the issues to consider as you are making your decision include:

1. Mobility: How many of your employees currently use, or will soon use, tablets? What about smartphones? Windows 8 was built from the ground up for mobility, and it is likely the best choice for companies that currently have―or intend to have in the next few years―a largely mobile workforce.

Even if your users are already running iOS (iPhone; iPad) or Android (“Google” devices, often by HTC or Samsung), there is a benefit in migrating to Windows 8 for your desktops. Windows remains the OS of choice for business usage, by far, and some (but not all) devices running the iOS or Android OS can run Windows 8. In cases where this is not possible, adopting Windows 8 for compatible desktops and mobile devices now―and changing platforms incrementally with planned upgrades in the future―lets companies eventually standardize on a single platform. A single OS streamlines user governance and training, and it facilitates the “Three Cs”―connectivity, communication and collaboration.

2. Legacy Equipment: Are your PCs running Windows XP old and outdated? If so, you will likely need new desktop PCs (or a shift to virtualization) in order to run either Windows 7 or Windows 8. Such a move requires thoughtful planning and resource allocation. If you are undergoing a major IT project like this, anyway, it makes sense to upgrade to the most recent version of Windows, now.

3. User Uptake: When Windows 8 came out, its highly mobile-centric interface elicited frustrated comments from many early adopters. However, with Windows 8, Microsoft added many elements of the “classic” Windows interface back into the user experience. Without any modifications, users can click one of Windows 8’s “tiles” to shift from the mobile-optimized interface to the classic Desktop.

It’s also possible to make the classic Windows user interface the default for Windows 8 machines and to disable the mobile-centric interface entirely, either through system tweaks or via a third-party applet. This approach lets employees enjoy a largely classic Windows experience as long as necessary to facilitate user adoption.

There are other considerations, of course, and DynaSis’ virtual CIOs can discuss these with you, helping you evaluate your business and user needs and create a workable roadmap for adoption. The takeaway here is that, while Windows 8 does involve a learning curve, this curve leads to the future of Windows-based computing. With Windows 7 (as much as we all love it), there is no comparable benefit. To evaluate your options, or to order a network assessment (during which we will identify exactly which OSs your users are running, and where), fill out our inquiry form or give us a call.


By the DynaSis Team

[featured_image]After 12 years, Microsoft will end support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. Once support ends, Microsoft will issue no further security updates and will not offer any technical support for the Windows XP operating system (OS). Although Managed IT Services firms like DynaSis can continue supporting Windows XP, they will not be able to provide the same level of protection for their customers that they offered in the past. They won’t be able to apply anymore patches or fixes, because there will not be any.

Malware experts predict that Windows XP will become a prime target for cybercriminals, and having even one Windows XP system in a company’s network will put the entire firm’s IT infrastructure – and its intellectual assets - at risk.

If your company is still running Windows XP on some of its desktops, you are not alone. Estimates for the number of companies running the OS range from 30% to as high as 45%. Last year, one survey found that 20% of companies planned to continue running Windows XP after its “sunset” date of April 8, 2014. We urge all companies – our customers and others – not to take this dangerous path.

Consider Your Options

The most current version of Windows is Windows 8.1, and it offers numerous benefits for corporate users, including a common interface across desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Windows 8.1, while powerful, works differently from Windows XP, Vista and 7 and does require a learning curve. (We’ll talk about this in our next blog.)

For companies that want a more traditional Windows experience, Windows 7 is a stable, well-respected OS with an interface very similar to that of Windows XP. It is still available for purchase both as software and preinstalled on business machines. In fact, Microsoft recently announced that although it would stop selling Windows 7 for pre-installation on “home” computers in October 2014, it did not have any current plans to stop selling Windows 7 for business machines.

Migrating to a modern OS will give companies dramatically enhanced security, increased productivity, and a lower total cost of ownership. If that’s not enough to persuade you, consider this. Microsoft quit selling retail copies of Windows 7 (both home and professional versions) On October 31, 2013. However, a number of retail outlets are still selling it, so it is currently an option for companies that are hesitant to move to Windows 8 due to the learning curve or any other reason.

Companies that do not upgrade now, and wait to end their usage of Windows XP until their systems are compromised or obsolete, may be forced to migrate all their users to Windows 8.1 or it successor at once, with no time for their users to become accustomed to the differences in this intriguing OS.

Our virtual CIOs can evaluate your company’s needs and determine which users would be better suited to Windows 7 and which would benefit from the jump straight to Windows 8.1. We can also perform a network assessment, with a complete software inventory, to identify and let you address every instance of Windows XP running on your network. To learn more, fill out our inquiry form or give us a call.

By the DynaSis Team

[featured_image]Two major IT research firms―Gartner, Inc. and Forrester Research―have announced their 2014 IT spending forecasts, and they indicate some interesting patterns that we believe small and medium businesses (SMBs) should consider. Forrester predicts worldwide technology spending will grow 6.2 percent to $2.2 trillion in 2014. More cautious, Gartner Worldwide’s IT spending forecast estimates that international IT spending will expand 3.1%, reaching $3.8 trillion.

Most interestingly, perhaps, Gartner attributes its more conservative figures to various cutbacks that are directly related to the explosive growth of new technologies, including cloud computing and mobile devices. Despite differences in their overall IT spending forecasts, both firms see bright prospects for SMB expenditure on cloud computing and office mobility products this year.

So what does this mean for your company? If you’re like 66% of SMBs (per a recent survey by Spiceworks), it means you are either using cloud-based solutions or are planning to implement them in the first half of this year. SMBs that adopt cloud services cite cost savings, low maintenance and convenience as factors in their decision to replace old servers with cloud servers. Firms with smaller IT staffs find cloud-based services especially practical due to the minimal configuration and maintenance they require.

Mobile devices, which will account for another large share of projected IT spending in 2014, will also create tangible value for an increasing number of SMBs. Gartner projects spending on devices such as mobile phones, tablets and PCs to rise 4.3 percent to $697 billion worldwide in the coming year.

We’ve talked about mobility―and BYOD (bring your own device)―in this blog before, but we recently came across some new insights we found interesting. In addition to increasing employee productivity, employee mobility also improves customer response time for some 66% of businesses. Furthermore, a recent Dell Software study found that employee mobility and BYOD also leads to greater creativity, more innovation and more productive office collaborations.

Still, two thirds of the survey’s respondents stipulated that the benefits of mobile devices were limited unless the company made sure those devices fulfilled the needs of each user. In other words, comprehensive evaluation of devices and their feature sets, as well as effective planning and implementation of corporate-data-access mechanisms, will bring companies the most value from their mobile device investments.

If you’ve allocated more budget for cloud or mobile solutions in 2014 but are not 100% certain of your roadmap for those expenditures, the virtual CIOS at DynaSis would be happy to help you explore the possibilities. With proper program execution and device management and security, cloud services and mobile solutions can absolutely provide your business with a competitive edge. To start a discussion about how to achieve these goals cost-effectively and with minimal technical complexity, fill out our inquiry form or give us a call.

By the DynaSis Team

[featured_image]Business owners hear frequently that they should have a good mobile site or application for their customer-facing efforts (e.g. sales or marketing), but what about corporate mobile apps? Are those important too? Depending on your business model, the answer can yes―or no. Corporate apps can be an important contributor to “Modern Officing,”―an operating model where employees can perform many or all office duties wherever and whenever it suits them, without the boundaries of time and space. However, as with public-facing mobile apps, corporate apps must be “done right” to succeed.

Corporate mobile apps are company-branded and approved tools that enable employees to run processes and connect to the corporate resources from their mobile devices. They allow companies a greater level of control and access restriction than simply allowing personnel to get direct access over the Internet. And they are becoming increasingly affordable to develop. So, what’s not to love?

Of the nearly 70% of employees that use personally owned smartphones and tablets in the workplace a majority (58%) abandon the corporate mobile apps they should be using for work-related tasks (per a 2013 survey conducted by ResearchNow). Most concerning, the report revealed that 64% of employees "go rogue," freely downloading public “productivity” apps of their choice and putting corporate security at risk.

Some 26% of smartphone users―and nearly 20% of tablet users―report that they "stick with" the corporate mobile app, but that productivity suffers as a result. A majority of users also reported returning to their desktops to complete tasks they could not effectively accomplish via mobile apps.

Now for the big question: what should your company do? That depends upon your level of technological sophistication and need for the apps. The reality for all businesses―especially small and medium-sized businesses―is that corporate apps are not a requisite in the way that customer-facing apps are. You do have options:

Secure cloud-based access: If you want employees to have access to corporate resources, for a very reasonable fee you can make those resources available securely, “in the cloud” Cloud security has improved substantially, especially when your data is hosted at a world-class data center or on your company’s own servers. Such setups are dramatically more secure than public apps. DynaSis’ ITility solution and DynaSis BLUE are approaches that incorporate this model.

Public apps with strict BYOD policy enforcement: Not all public apps are bad. It’s the unrestricted usage of them, without any corporate screening, that is dangerous. The survey we mentioned earlier found that only 24% of the businesses surveyed were enforcing a formal BYOD policy. Developing and enforcing a BYOD policy that lets employees download only approved, secure, well-respected mobile apps will go a long way towards reducing your risk, as well.

This effort is about incentives and enforcement as much as access. If personnel are using devices they paid for, you won’t be loved for restricting them from downloading public apps for personal use. You can incent them to use only company-approved solutions instead, through a combination of perks (company-paid minutes and data bonuses) and routine “health checks” with serious penalties for those that break the rules. Just make sure your choices are well-designed and intuitive or you may find yourself firing a lot of employees.

In-House Apps: If you want to develop in-house apps, they must be functional and intuitive. Companies developing them must adopt the best practices that are common with customer-facing apps. These practices include identifying user personas and use cases and targeting functionality to the broadest base of users. Corporate apps may not be a requisite, but if you are going to use them, they must work elegantly and offer a rich, mobile app experience.

DynaSis’ on-demand CIOs can help you evaluate and develop your mobile strategy and decide which of these approaches is best for you. The most important point is to do something. If you are waiting to make a decision about corporate mobile apps―or public mobile apps in the workplace―you are putting your company at risk. In the absence of a clear policy and directive, don’t wonder if your mobile-enabled employees are downloading public apps without your knowledge. Be assured that they already are.

By the DynaSis Team

Last year, we published an article that introduced the concept of Social Business and hinted at what it can do for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). We also promised to share more information to help you explore the value of this approach.

Social business, as we mentioned before, is an operating model where companies embrace social media at the enterprise level, not only for outward-facing marketing and communications but also for internal collaboration and information sharing among employees―and possibly partners and vendors, as well. Despite the availability of an array of enterprise-grade social tools such as Yammer and Socialcast, the approach is not taking off like gangbusters―yet. Per Forrester Research, only 8% of employees use social collaboration tools more than once a week.

Despite that discouraging statistic, many studies indicate that these tools and platforms can provide companies and their employees with substantial benefits. For example, a 2012 survey by consulting firm McKinsey & Co., found that social collaboration software can reduce the time employees spend processing email by 20-25%.

The challenge, of course, is adoption―by both SMBs and their personnel. Companies want secure, controlled-environment social collaboration tools; users prefer to “socialize” via Facebook or Twitter and don’t want to learn a new platform. Early adopters struggle to obtain user buy-in, and many become frustrated when it doesn’t happen.

Patience Pays Off

So, how can you deploy enterprise-level social tools without becoming a statistic? To borrow a phrase from the 1970s show Kung Fu, “Patience, young grasshopper.” Increasingly, major technology players from Salesforce to VMware are embedding social features into their platforms. Salesforce has reported success with its social networking and collaboration tool, Chatter, and Microsoft has integrated Yammer with Office 365 and SharePoint as a by-the-seat, SaaS (software as a service) offering.

In other words, you won’t have to force users to adopt a totally new platform, and you also don’t have to give in and abandon your craving for control and security. (Control and security should not be negotiable, no matter which solution you choose.)

The trick is to find an offering that integrates with enterprise-grade systems you already use (or are planning to deploy), rather than to expect workers to learn a new platform (and keep another window open on their desktops.) The more tightly social tools integrate with other technology systems, the easier it will be to encourage users to adopt them―and the more benefit you will see.

This is true, not only because social collaboration and information sharing is more approachable when employees access functions from a familiar interface, but also because interconnected platforms work together to convey more and better information. With an integrated solution, for example, your sales people might be able to receive alerts when a pending contract is executed. Then, your warehouse manager might receive an automated tweet because the contract was for more items than your current inventory levels could support.

This may sound like a futuristic scenario, but it’s already happening in larger enterprises. The potential for social collaboration and information sharing to foster amazing achievements is increasing, every day. Social platforms and tools are even helping some companies create “corporate brains” for vital knowledge sharing between departing Baby Boomers and their younger successors.

At the SMB level, we expect many larger developers to debut solutions that target (and are affordable for) smaller enterprises. Some already have. After all, that’s the real beauty of SaaS. Developers can serve an identical interface and feature set to a 50-person company or a global conglomerate at an affordable, per-seat cost.

To see if these solutions make sense for your firm, give us a call. Our virtual CIOs can perform an analysis and help you devise a strategy that will carry your business into a very bright future.

By the DynaSis Team

[featured_image]In 2013, the CEB (Corporate Executive Board), the world’s leading member-based advisory company, published its 2013–2014 IT Budget Benchmark study, developed from the responses of 165 member organizations. The study found that CIOs are not increasing their spending on innovation, whereas HR, operations, finance and marketing are spending sizeable portions of their budgets on innovative IT projects. (HR departments alone are spending between 6-9% of their budgets on IT innovations, per the study.)

The CEB concluded that these findings indicate IT departments are no longer driving technology innovation to other parts of the business.  For the CEB the question then became, "Why are IT departments not budgeting for and controlling these projects?"

The CEB postulated (and we concur) that this shift has occurred because nearly 70% of IT budgets (per the study) are being consumed by maintenance and mandatory (e.g. regulatory) expenses. This "cash crunch" is encouraging already territorial IT departments to reject other departments' pet projects.

While it warms our IT-oriented hearts to learn that marketing, HR and other departments are willing to cannibalize their budgets to implement IT innovations, from iPads to cloud services, this behavior also concerns us. The CEB called the revenue consumed by these expenditures "shadow IT budgets" and estimates that such unapproved projects increase corporate IT expenditures by as much as 40%.

The CEB also determined that some 50% of these expenditures are what it called "unhealthy spending." Unhealthy spending results when projects are not properly evaluated and vetted against a business' overall growth strategy and objectives and/or the risk/reward analysis for the project is inadequate. We've seen unhealthy IT spending among some of our clients that, if not caught in time, could literally have jeopardized the company's trajectory, in terms of priorities and focus.

So, how much "unhealthy spending" are your departments engaging in? How many initiatives have they undertaken without the knowledge and approval of your IT chief?  No matter what you think the number is, we're willing to bet it's higher.

To curb shadow (and especially unhealthy) IT spending, our virtual CIOs can perform "project discovery" and help you map all recent and future projects against your business goals and needs. If you bring everyone to the table for a conversation, we can help vet the ideas of your HR, marketing, finance and other departments and quantify the impact of the good ones for IT and executive management.  We may also be able to help you reduce maintenance and mandatory expenditures through solid IT practices, freeing up budgets for innovation.

Only when you address shadow IT spending—and accept that these efforts are well-intentioned and can be quite valuable when handled properly—will you reap maximum reward from your technology initiatives and move expenditures out of the shadows and onto the balance sheet.

To learn more, fill out our inquiry form or give us a call.

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