It’s been months since we’ve posted anything. That doesn’t mean nothing has been happening in that timeframe. In fact, many changes have been underway during the Summer months. I’ll try to go over most of these in as concise a manner as possible so we’re all on the same page going forward…

Microsoft and Windows 10 Upgrades

Of all the issues we have dealt with this year, Microsoft has proven to be the biggest problem generator of all. It has been a constant battle just trying to fix what they have done. This ranges from issues created by their patch updates that took down Exchange to updates that crashed Outlook and Word to ongoing issues with Windows 10 upgrades. I don’t expect this to change as any company that puts out a new business Operating System and includes games like Candy Crush and Minecraft as a default loaded item surely doesn’t look at the work world the same as we do. And the problems with Windows 10 hardware drivers and power settings could fill a blog post all by themselves.

Windows 10 upgrades have a deadline date of early 2020. We have already tested individual Windows 10 units integrated into current networks, full Windows 10 network upgrades  and have tested and resolved a number of problems that will apply across the full spectrum of supported networks as we move through these tasks. Network equipment compatibility reports for Windows 10 have already gone out to a number of clients. Expect to see a similar report for your specific setup no later than the end of the first quarter of 2018. That way, we can work with you on the planning and budgeting that is essential to get this done by the end-of-life deadline for the Windows 10 conversion process.

Network Security and Business Continuity

Once again, we have been able to keep our client network uptime above 99 percent. That isn’t accidental. It takes some degree of investigation, testing and implementation of the right combination of components to achieve that high level of operational capability. In a nutshell, we work to handle all facets of network stability so you can go to work and make your business successful without worrying about the IT infrastructure that is essential to your business operations.

We use a three-point security setup here and in all our networks. It’s designed to limit the possibility of intrusions, Ransomware and other threats and has been proven to work. At the user level (Endpoint), we have Trend Micro in place. At the Router (Gateway) we have SonicWall with Security Services and at the Web level (Cloud Security) we have Cisco’s Umbrella services actively checking browsing requests. So far, this combination has been highly effective.

We are currently investigating several vendors who provide 2-factor authentication for network users as this is evidently the next item that will be required to secure systems and business data. I expect a final decision on the vendor of choice to be made sometime near the end of the second quarter at the latest.

All clients have Trend and Umbrella in the network. Most also have a SonicWall and those that don’t yet have one will need to step up and replace any ISP-provided or Retail Router no later than January. The new Support Agreement now requires this in order for us to be able to protect the network.

For Business Continuity, the old backup methods using USB and Tape are no longer supportable in the current environment. All but a very few clients have Datto devices installed which provides more than just a data backup function. It provides true Business Continuity with the capability to restore files, folders or full Server images many times faster than USB or especially, tape. With certain Datto devices, we can spin up a Virtual Server copy in a matter of minutes in the event your Server hardware fails. Datto devices also store Cloud-based backup images on the East and West Coast in the event of a natural disaster. Again, in order to provide the proper level of support to our client base, having a Datto device will become a requirement.

Managing Multiple Components

Several critical changes have happened within the past two months which have accelerated our plans on how we provide proper oversight and management of all the various components involved in running a Managed Services Provider operation.

First, we have been moving clients from the on-premise Trend Micro product to the Cloud-based version. It gives us a single “pane of glass” to quickly view licensing, add or remove licenses according to the client’s needs and even reduce the cost of this product. This also frees up Server resources as Trend updates aren’t being handled in-house. Umbrella already has this feature in place as do the Ubiquiti Wireless Access Points and the SonicWall Routers. The Datto product management function is also a Cloud-based single pane of glass and allows us to know the status of Datto backup devices, Datto network switches and Datto’s Open Mesh Wireless systems.

On top of all that, we have begun implementing a new program called IT Glue. This will allow us to put all the information gathered from Solarwinds, our Remote Monitoring and Management application, AutoTASK, our project and ticketing application and the functions mentioned above into one Rapid View program. This will help us see at a glance everything related to a specific client site including warranties, license due dates, equipment configuration details and much, much more. Probably more critical to our needs is that this program will help generate site-specific reports for management-level planning and budgeting purposes including full equipment histories necessary for proper decision making.

In short, moving all the support functions we possibly can to the Cloud allows us to see and manage each feature from anywhere we can get an Internet connection. This helps us expedite troubleshooting and push critical security and firmware updates to all devices in as efficient a manner as possible. That alone saves the client money as we now require far less time to handle issues that arise with these critical components. All this has been a slow but steady process being done in the background and hasn’t impacted normal business operations.

However, this industry has its cycles just like all sectors of the economy. We’ve been watching the vendor acquisition process closely as it has been accelerating for the better part of the past year. It finally got around to landing in our backyard this past week. What turns out to be a major acquisition/merger announcement for us came when we heard that Datto has formally merged with AutoTASK. As we are already using both of these vendors, we see some exciting possibilities in the future. It will mean that we will have to reevaluate Solarwinds as our mainline MSP software provider because AutoTASK has a similar function available. We reviewed it last year as part of our consolidation effort but at that time the product was not mature enough to consider it as a replacement component. Going forward, we expect this might change but we already have well north of $100,000.00 invested in Solarwinds so caution is expected.

Supporting Business Clients in FY2018 and Beyond

So what really does all this mean when it comes to providing support to our client base?

This is a business that is constantly evolving. When we got started in this line of work 24 years ago, personal computers and networks barely existed. Modem Dial-up was to community bulletin boards on amber or green screens and there was no Internet to browse. Bag phones were the mobile phone of choice for the big spenders. Laptops didn’t exist and nobody could have foreseen the Smartphone and the level of connectivity we see today. There has been more innovation and acceleration in the past five years than in the previous 19 years of our business experience. It shows no signs of slowing down and demands that we constantly push forward if we are to continue to maintain a high degree of service excellence.

To do this and do it correctly, we have to set standards both for ourselves and for our clients. We cannot afford to waste time and resources and so we must seek the most effective and efficient way of assuring business operations can continue under a number of best case/worst case scenarios. Experience has taught us what works to meet that goal. It has also taught us what simply is outdated and is no longer functional in a business environment. Consequently, some things must change, especially in a modern network environment. I agree that at times, that can be painful but I also know that business has an associated cost and a successful business wraps that cost into their growth plan.

Integrating effective technology into daily business operations is simply not optional any longer. As fast as technology is moving, be assured that the Blackhats and the Dark Web hacking community is moving faster. They have far greater resources and more numerous personnel than all of us combined. While we cannot beat them in numbers, we can limit their impact on our business clients by continually testing, evaluating and implementing proven methods to protect business operations. That’s why we put so much effort into what we do and as long as we can provide the best support to business operators willing to listen to and act on our advice, we will continue to do our best to exceed expectations for those who choose us as their IT Provider.

And a final note…

Support Agreements for FY2018 are nearing completion. We will send them out likely next week. If your business chooses to continue with us, please return the signatory page no later than 17 November. If not, then we will schedule a transition to whichever new IT Provider you choose. As always, labor rates remain where they have been for the past seven years. Travel rates were reduced last year and will remain at that low level. Contract costs have gone up as needed to cover the cost increases in vendor support software and other direct operational expenditures. We think we’ve done a pretty fair job of providing IT Support to our clients. We hope you think so, as well…