A quick rundown on recent items of note-

*Windows 7 Pro Extension Update

Good news from our Dell Partner Program:

Microsoft has extended the sales timeline for the Windows 10 Pro SKU with downgrade facilitation to Windows 7 Pro or Windows 8.1 Pro to October, 31, 2017. Due to the extension, Dell launched a new SKU option for customers that have a Microsoft Volume License Agreement (VLA) and wish for Dell to exercise their downgrade rights with the purchase of new PCs. The new SKU option allows Windows 7 Pro or 8.1 Pro to be installed in the factory (exercising the customer downgrade rights) with no price increase.

  1. Customers with no VLA and wish to have Windows 7 installed will pay a $20 fee for this service.
  2. Customers who currently have a VLA and plan to downgrade to Windows 7 on their own timeline, should continue to order Windows 10 Professional installed with no downgrade service fee.
  3. Be advised that to avoid the $20 fee, the partner must provide the Dell Account Team with the customer’s VLA number at the time of order. Contact your Dell EMC sales rep if you have any questions.

So, if you want a new Dell and would like to keep working with Windows 7 Pro, this is now a viable and cheap option. Remember, extended support for Windows 7 runs until January 14, 2020.

*Windows 10 Home Upgrade to Pro- the least costly method

If you bought a new PC with Windows 10 Home and want to upgrade it to the Pro version (essential for business networks!), there are a couple of ways you can do this. At the retail level, Microsoft sells Windows 10 Professional for $200. So you could buy the retail copy of Pro and run the upgrade that way. But there is a far less costly method of getting the PC up to the Pro version.

You can buy the upgrade right from the Windows Store, like you’d buy an app, music, or a movie. After you do, Windows 10 will be automatically upgraded to the Professional edition and the Professional-only features will be enabled, like being able to join a Domain. This upgrade costs $99.99 at the Microsoft Store and it will require you to set up a Microsoft Account to purchase there. The upgrade will be licensed only to a single PC. We have used this approach and in at least two cases, it went just fine. NOTE: Your mileage and satisfaction with this process may vary… after all, it is Microsoft we’re talking about here!

*Enhanced Security Package- it works for you

For the better part of the last three years, we’ve been doing a major deep-dive into network security requirements with two specific goals.

  1. Find the best multi-layer protection for our business networks
  2. Keep it affordable

With the continuing increase in Ransomware (and no end in sight), providing multiple layers of protection for our business networks has become Priority One. For years, first-class protection methods were very expensive and tended to be available only to Enterprise- level network Administrators. Like all things in the computer world, that has changed and changed quickly in order to meet the threat environment.

At this point, it seems we have managed to put together an effective package that protects business data from exposure to known Ransomware attacks. After all, your data is the lifeblood of your business and if Ransomware manages to encrypt that data, you stand to lose your business, period. The current package in place at our supported networks goes all the way down to the biggest risk factor for this type of attack… the end-user. No offense intended here but that’s the weak link in the chain. End users get click-happy and tend to click on anything showing up in their e-mail. Active links in the body of the e-mail and especially attachments in e-mail are generally the trigger for activating Ransomware and other Trojans.

In 2015, before the final components of this Enhanced Security configuration were in place, we had to do two data recovery operations due to Ransomware. In one case, the client had a Datto in place and the operation went quickly and smoothly. In the second instance, backup data was on an external USB drive and that one took a couple of days and at a high dollar cost, too. So far, in 2016, we have not had to do any Ransomware recoveries and our Enhanced Security Package (a default part of your Support Agreement) has managed to stop a number of attempted attacks resulting from end-users clicking e-mail links and/or attachments (as recently as this morning, too).

A note here: if you do not have a Datto in place to handle your backups and are still using tape or USB drives, be aware that the newest Ransomware variants are programmed to encrypt those devices as well and will often do it before even going out to the Internet to download the rest of the virus package. If that should happen to you, be aware that we will be completely unable to get you back up and running in less than three to four days, minimum. The reason for that timeframe is simple… we’d be forced to do a bare metal load of the Server and any infected Workstations before we could even begin to restore data from other uninfected tapes or USB drives that were stored offsite. On the other hand, even if the local Datto should get hit, Datto engineers can wipe it and restore it Remotely or overnight a clean copy of the data from just before the attack. That allows us to get you back up in the shortest possible time.


*FY2017 Support Agreements Are Due

Time is short to get your signed FY2017 Support Agreements in to us. Today is the 18th of November and we are still waiting for ten of the 31 networks to respond with a “Yes/No” decision. The deadline for return is 25 November (one week). If we don’t receive a response by that date, we’ll give the remaining clients a courtesy call but we do have internal deadlines of our own that are dependent on a timely response for this task.