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January 30, 2015

The Benefits Of VoIP Systems


Published by Igor Varnava, January 30, 2015

Office phone systems have undergone somewhat of a revolution over recent years. When once upon a time it was the analogue PBX (private branch exchange) that dominated office phone systems around the globe, now, more and more, the most common system that you will find in place is VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).

There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, PBX has always been an extremely expensive system to set up, run and maintain (usually by full-time in-house IT teams). The cost of this communications solution was so much, in fact, that it was largely thought of as the sole reserve of large corporations for many a decade. Secondly, it is only relatively recently that VoIP technology has reached a stage where it is considered to be on a par with PBX in terms of security and reliability. But that time is now well and truly here.

VoIP is generally a much cheaper solution to implement and maintain than PBX, which is one of the main reasons that it is so popular amongst SMEs and start-ups in particular. What is more, VoIP and hosted phone systems have now evolved to enterprise class, and are proving to be even more reliable than the good old analogue solutions of the past.

No longer big business technology, SMEs are now in a position to invest in a phone system that is equal to even their largest of competitors. VoIP has democratized communications solutions, and will soon no doubt dominate the communications industry (there are, of course, still many legacy PBX systems in place in offices around the world, so, for the time being at least, both are still quite actively present).

A Brief History Of VoIP

Although it has only been relatively recently that VoIP has managed to make a significant stamp on the communications industry, the technology has in fact been around for two decades.

VoIP began in February 1995 by small Israeli company Vocaltec, inc. They created a product – the InternetPhone – which, for the first time ever, allowed one user to make a phone call to another over the internet using only a microphone and a set of speakers.

Pretty soon, PC-to-phone and phone-to-phone VoIP system solutions began to appear on the market. The thing that made these types of calls so appealing was that they could be marketed as being ‘free’ for anybody with an internet connection (although in the early stages users were obliged to listen to set of commercials before their calls were connected).

From here, just as with the internet itself, VoIP only managed to make moves very gradually in the communications market, and it wasn’t really until around 2003 with the arrival of broadband and Ethernet services that both the internet and VoIP really started to take off.

Nowadays, SMEs and large corporations alike are making full use of VoIP technology. This is down to a clear set of benefits that using VoIP brings to a business, so let’s take a closer look at exactly what those benefits are.

The Benefits Of VoIP

Lower Costs

One of the most attractive elements of VoIP for any sized business is of course the cost factor. VoIP utilizes the power of the internet to connect calls – and it’s safe to say that nearly all businesses these days are live on the web already. This means that, in the first instance, there are no additional cabling costs for a company which needs to interconnect all of their phones in the building – and this can actually be a real hidden cost, especially for the start-up or SME.

But using VoIP also means that call charges are eradicated. This can be of extremely economic benefit if your company deals with customers or has branches all over the world – no long distance additional fees.

Configured With Mobiles and Tablets

Today there rarely exists a business that is run entirely from a centralized location. Field teams and remote or home workers are the norm in the current business world. And here VoIP platforms come swinging in to the rescue again. Your VoIP system can be configured so that it connects with mobiles and tablets alongside any office phones or computers, providing almost unlimited flexibility for businesses with personnel who perform their jobs away from the office, but still rely on communication.

Other Great Features

VoIP also offers some really cool and valuable features that can benefit SMEs. Here’s a short list of some of the best:

1. Voicemail to email transcription: This feature transcribes voicemail messages to text and sends them to a preferred email. This is handy for when callers leave their details.
2. Find me/follow me call routing: This is ideal for field workers. Users can create a list of numbers where they can be found before the caller gets pushed to voicemail. So, for example, a user could have his or her office phone ring twice, but on the third ring their cell starts to ring, and then on the fifth their home phone.
3. Music on hold: Keep your callers entertained whilst waiting with latest releases, or golden oldies (no elevator music please!).

Then of course there’s call screening, conferencing and auto attendant features that can all be utilized to great effect.

Here at V&C Solutions we can set up and maintain your VoIP system for you. You can choose the specific features that suit you, and we promise that switching to VoIP will be one of the best decisions that your company ever makes. Get in touch to find out more.

Office 365 Vs. Google Apps


Nearly all of us learned how to type using Microsoft Word. Then we learned how to do spreadsheets with Excel. And when finally schoolteachers across the world replaced their over-head projectors with PowerPoint presentations, it seemed like Microsoft had the whole office suite game sewn up. And, to a large extent, that’s very true. I’m writing this out right now using Microsoft Word for Mac. Sure, I occasionally make use of Google Docs and Google Drive, but the for the most part I nearly always default back to Word.

It’s just a habit, I suppose. And one that I’m sure I share with millions of people around the globe. Microsoft got in their first with their software, and, by the time Google Apps for Business came along, we were quite happy to stick with what we already knew and loved, thank you very much.

However, Google Apps did indeed take off. And this is because it managed to create an ‘office cloud’ system before Microsoft got anywhere near it. Suddenly, you could sync all of your documents across all of your mobile devices, sync to Outlook or Google Gmail, and create for yourself a very highly functioning and organised online office suite for yourself.

Then along came Microsoft’s retort – Office 365. I think it would be fair to say that a lot of people assumed that, because of the holy Microsoft moniker, Office 365 would surely kill off Google Apps pretty sharpish.

But, in actual fact, it didn’t happen like that. By the time Office 365 launched in June 2011 (as a successor, in fact, to the largely unpopular Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (MSBPOS)) a lot of businesses were already quite happy with their office cloud that had been provided by Google for the past 5 years (thank you very much), and it was actually Microsoft which found itself struggling.

So now here we are in 2015, and, given the sheer extent of development that both Office 365 and Google Apps have undergone in recent times, combined with the fact that both suites are now absolutely jam-packed with all sorts of wonderful features, it’s fair to say that now more than ever, choosing the better product between the two has never been more difficult.

And that’s why we’ve decided to put the two head to head to help you decide for yourself which service is better suited for your business. Because, if it hasn’t already, there will come a time when you will need to make a decision between the two. And, as your business grows and grows, it simply won’t be realistic or economic to think that you can switch back and forth at a later date. So, whichever one you choose, you have to be confident that it’s the right one, because there’s no turning back.

Let’s take a closer look…

Mac Compatible?

It’s no secret that Microsoft and Apple don’t have that much time for each other, and, when it comes to Office 365’s OneDrive for Business, Microsoft doesn’t have any time for the Mac at all. This indeed might be a deal breaker for some people. OneDrive is a flagship product, and it is true that Microsoft have recognised the fact that they are missing out on a huge market share here. So the message is that it will eventually be compatible. So, in this instance at least, we have to say that Google Apps wins this round for now.

Access

Office 365 is available to the user everywhere – including on tablets. And it’s the full-blown version of Microsoft Office at that – not the MS Office Lite of yesteryear. Furthermore, it is fully compatible with desktop versions of Office, and up to 5 licences can be installed on other devices and tablets. If you want email with Office 365, then you can have it at the same price as you would pay for Google Apps for Business. Google Docs, which is Google’s version of Microsoft Office, quite simply is nothing in comparison. It doesn’t even come close, in my opinion. Office 365 wins this round.

Integration and Sync

A lot of products that are cloud-based are not – as yet – syncing with Office 365. Much more are syncing with Google Apps at the time of writing. So, if you are running a cloud-based practice management system, you will absolutely need to check the integrations with all products that you are planning on using. So, this one is a purely a numbers game, and so it’s Google Apps that wins for now.

Web Interface

The interface for Google Apps is the Gmail interface. A lot of people like it, but some just can’t seem to get on with it all. Office 365 now uses the new Outlook Web Access interface, which is very good indeed. It looks a lot like Outlook in fact, which has been very popular for a very long time. Both Office 365 and Google Apps will sync to Outlook, however, which is great news if that’s what you prefer. Can’t really pick a winner on this one – it’s a draw.

So Who Wins?

Well, Google Apps is just about pipping it from what I’ve highlighted in this mini horse race. But, at the end of the day, it’s a decision that your business is going to have to take some quite serious thought over. Put simply, Office 365 is rather rich and complex, whereas Google Apps is more lean and simple. There isn’t a lot of price difference between the two, so your decision will in the end come down to which features you need, and which ones you can do without.

InfoWorld did a similar head to head between these two cloud office systems, and so, to finish, I reproduce here the table that they put together for you to mull over.
Office 365 Vs. Google Apps

Are you currently faced with the choice between Office 365 and Google Apps? Get in touch to speak to one of our team to find out how we can help you with your decision and all of your cloud office needs.

January 16, 2015

The Benefits Of Outsourcing Helpdesk Support


Outsourcing helpdesk

January 16th, 2015, Published by Igor Varnava

The costs in both time and resources when it comes to running your company’s helpdesk can very quickly start to mount, and pretty soon it can become quite an uneconomic venture. Outsourcing is a great solution to combat this. It can solve several IT management problems right from the outset, instantly reducing costs and providing a very quick route to a more streamlined mobility management structure.

Some IT managers actually fear the prospect of outsourcing their in-house helpdesk to a third party provider. And this is quite understandable. The best helpdesks are quality resources designed specifically to provide the customer or end user with support and information related to your company’s services and products. Since the primary purpose of a helpdesk is to provide guidance and troubleshoot problems about products – such as electronics, computers, software or what have you – how can you be sure that the third party providers to whom you turn your helpdesk over are really qualified to provide support to your most valued customers, or indeed your in-house staff?

The concern is of course a real one, but in reality is actually quite outdated. Today, IT outsourcing is a huge industry, and with managed services the helpdesk actually only represents a relatively small part of it. But it is nonetheless one of the most significant factors that SMBs must consider when trying to build a streamlined business that is on hand to support customers and staff quickly and efficiently if business is to always remain running as productively as possible.

The helpdesk is normally one of the very first services that businesses decide to outsource. Indeed, it often proves to be a kind of pilot scheme for outsourcing further managed services in the future.

How Helpdesks Work

Helpdesks typically perform several functions. One of the key benefits is that they offer a single point of contact for users who know exactly where to go for assistance, troubleshooting and support for problems.

Often, a helpdesk will manage its requests via the use of software, such as issue tracking systems. These allow the helpdesk to sort and track user requests, and can even categorise problems by user, computer program, or indeed anything else. This is an extremely valuable resource for any business. Value is derived from helpdesks not only from reactive responses to user issues, but also from the information that they acquire on a daily basis. Massive amounts of data can be garnered with regards to common technical problems, user preferences and satisfaction levels, all of which can be used to help you continually improve your service and your information technology in general going forward.

Large Helpdesks

Large helpdesks can even be structured into different levels to handle different types of user difficulties and queries. For example, sometimes a company will have a first-level helpdesk that is in place to answer basic questions and provide information that can also be found on the FAQ (frequently asked questions) section of your website. If the issue cannot be resolved at this first level, it’s then forwarded onto a second level, which is there to handle the more complex or technical issues. Sometimes an organisation may even have third or fourth levels of support that are there to deal with very specific software needs, such as bug fixes or updates that directly affect a specific client.

Large helpdesks normally have a person or team at their helm who are responsible for managing the incoming requests, known as ‘issues’. These queue managers organise the issue queues, which are set up various ways in accordance with the helpdesk structure. Normally, a large helpdesk will have specific teams who are all specialized in dealing with particular issues. It is the role of the queue manager to assign issues to the according teams.

Sometimes this function is provided by a telephone system with an ACD split that ensures that calls about specific topics are forwarded to the correct people with the appropriate experience or knowledge.

These large helpdesks are normally run on strict rosters. A certain amount of time is set aside to allow analysts to perform the required tasks, such as returning phone calls and replying to questions via instant messaging or email. The idea is that all analysts are available to not only make outgoing calls, but also have the time to take new incoming calls and deal with fresh issues as well.

Outsourcing Helpdesk Functions

As you can see, and, if you are currently running your own in-house helpdesk you will no doubt already be acutely aware, the helpdesk can be a huge drain on resources for a company. They take time to set up, to educate the analysts on the receiving end, and of course many man-hours in ensuring that there is always someone at the end of the line who can deal with any number of problems that may arise.

As mentioned above, a great solution available to you to help ease the toil of managing a helpdesk is to look to managed services to take over this task for your. So let’s take a closer look at some of the key benefits of outsourcing helpdesk support that have managed to persuade many companies to get on board with the scheme.

Lowering Costs

Lowering costs is, as you might expect, normally one of the key factors that aid companies in making the strategic decision to look to managed services for their helpdesk functions. By unloading such a significant proportion of your IT operations onto a third party you can indeed expect to see meaningful savings made on both time and resources, which will ultimately be extremely beneficial to your bottom line.

Freeing Up Resources

By outsourcing your helpdesk, you will have the ability to repurpose your IT team and other resources towards the more high-ordered work that is better focused on the core business functionalities of your business. The helpdesk is an essential part of all businesses – especially those that employee in excess of 50 or 100 people – but it is nonetheless time consuming. With managed services taking over this massive part of your organisation functionality, your in-house IT teams are consequently freed up to handle the more pressing issues for your company.

Flexible Capacity

The call volume for any helpdesk can vary greatly for any amount of reasons – seasonality, for example, or if a certain bug crops up that affects the computers of numerous staff. As such, outsourcing your helpdesk creates a flexible capacity for handling the changes in volume as they occur, so you are not left with your in-house employees either being swamped with issues or sat twiddling their thumbs with no problems to solve.

Updated Training

Managed services and IT firms like V&C Solutions who specialise in helpdesk services are almost invariably in a better position to keep training always updated and current. As with everything when it comes to the helpdesk of your company, training can prove to be a very time consuming venture. But when you outsource your helpdesk, you are also outsourcing all of these little niggly problems that come with it, thusly freeing up your own in-house resources to focus on the core competencies of your business.

Specialized Skills From Experienced Professionals

This comes in particular handy when your helpdesk is set up to deal with employees’ IT usage. By outsourcing with managed services you providing your employees with access to technically talented professionals who will all have very specialized skills and able to combat any IT issues that your team may incur swiftly and efficiently. With managed services, the teams on hand are always right up to date with the latest technology, software and infrastructure that your company will be using.

Increase Business Performance

If you outsource your helpdesk, then your company will be able to focus more readily on your core business matters. Your helpdesk call centre provider will concentrate on the end user experience – be they customers or staff – whilst the rest of your organisation can pay due attention to the more pressing expert issues. Although that it is certainly true that in the short term outsourcing your help desk will require some investment in time while you get things set up, in the long run it make a meaningful and valuable contribution to overall health and growth of your business.

Better Management

When you outsource your helpdesk to a contracting company, that company will do most of the hard work for you. This includes recruiting and hiring employees and providing their training, all of which reduces the strain on your in-house human resources.

Higher Profits

Customer or employee dissatisfaction is quite quickly engendered with an inadequate helpdesk. End users want to be able to get the information they need very quickly. When you outsource, you can always be assured that you have fully manned and fully trained helpdesk ready to tackle any problems that users may encounter at any time of the day. Improved user satisfaction will result in a better reputation, a more motivated workforce, which will ultimately translate into more business.

To find out how V&C Solutions can help manage your helpdesk, get in touch and speak to one of our friendly and experienced team members who are on hand to answer all of your questions.

January 9, 2015

How to Set Up Servers with Amazon Web Services


amazon web services

January 8th, 2015, Published by Igor Varnava

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has been around for nearly a decade now. It began in 2006 by offering IT infrastructure services to businesses – what’s now most commonly referred to as cloud computing. It’s no secret that cloud computing has literally skyrocketed in popularity and usage over the past few years (the last two particularly), and this is largely due to the massive savings on infrastructure expenses than can be incurred through smart utilization.

Cloud computing offers the opportunity for businesses to replace the massive upfront infrastructure expenses that would normally be required to start a business, with low variable costs that scale in line with your growth. Cloud computing has meant that businesses no longer need to procure servers and any other IT infrastructure months in advance, instead being able to gain access to literally thousands of remote servers (or as many as the business needs at any given time) in a matter of minutes.

AWS now provide reliable, scalable and low cost infrastructure platforms to businesses in more than 190 countries around the globe. Amazon houses datacenters in the US, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Singapore and Europe, and companies of all sizes are taking advantage of massive benefits around the globe.

The Benefits of AWS

Agility

There’s a massive global cloud infrastructure provided by AWS, and one that allows businesses to very quickly innovate and experiment with new applications and software instantly, with no fixed terms of contract or massive upfront capital layout. With Amazon Web Services, a company need not wait weeks or months to budget for, receive and install new hardware or software, and applications can be instantly deployed as they become available. What’s more, companies can scale up and down based on business demand, and you’ll only ever pay for what you use – even if it’s just a few hours.

Low Cost

With pay-as-you-go pricing, AWS means that you have no long-standing commitments or upfront expenses, and you only ever pay for what you use. Amazon actually prides itself on keeping costs as low as absolutely possible, having managed to lower its process on 15 separate occasions in the past 4 years – so you really know you’re getting the best value available.

Flexibility

AWS is an agnostic operating system platform. This means that you can choose the programming model or development platform that suits your business, which services you want to use and how you want to use them.

Security

The AWS datacenters are protected with multiple layers of physical and operational security to ensure the absolutely safety and integrity of your data. With industry recognized audits and certifications, AWS is a totally secure and durable technology platform that you should feel safe in using.

How to Set Up Servers with AWS

Amazon’s cloud server product is called Amazon EC2. Once you have set up your free AWS account, simply follow the step by step guide below so you can start using your web server immediately.

  • Sign in to the AWS Management Console with your username and password.
  • Click on EC2 – Virtual Servers in the Cloud.
  • Click “Launch Instance” (instances are effectively servers).
  • Click on “Classic Wizard”.
  • Select the 32 bit Amazon Linux AMI type server.
  • Set number of instances to 1, and set type to Micro (this is so it will be free). Hit continue, then continue again on the next page.
  • Give your server a name, then hit continue once more.
  • Now you need to create a key pair so that you can access the server remotely from your computer. Under “Create a New Key Pair”, give your key pair a name, then click “Create and download your key pair”.
  • Now select your security group (quick-start-1, for instance) and click continue.
  • Finally you will be presented with a screen containing everything that you have just selected. If everything looks good then click “Launch”, and your server will be up and running and ready to use in a matter of minutes.

Congratulations!! You have now set up your own free server with AWS. What you do with it will of course depend on your business plans etc. and if you can make do with the free one then so much the better.

However, the likelihood is that you may well need to pay for a few extra servers if you are to truly maximize your business output. Once you’ve got to grips with the backend of AWS, then acquiring new servers as your business expands becomes a lot more straightforward. However, to take the pain out of the operation entirely, then you should consider outsourcing some IT services to do all this techy hard work for you.

Here at V&C Solutions we can set you up with AWS immediately. We’re experts and know exactly what Amazon can offer you in terms of servers and storage, so get in touch to help us help you get on the right plan with AWS.

January 5, 2015

Loading Up Your Anti-Malware Arsenal For The New Year


anti-malware 

January 5th, 2015, Published by Igor Varnava

2014 was wrought with headlines concerning the ever-increasing threat of malware. Massive data breaches the world over brought businesses to a standstill time and time again. Indeed, a study by Osterman Research Inc. which surveyed 157 companies found that 74% of organizations have had malware infiltrate their corporate network through web surfing over the past 12 months.

malware affecting business

Web, email and social media are all targets for malware, and if your business is using them (and almost undoubtedly it will be using all three) then without serious anti-malware protection moving forward, you are leaving yourself and your business vulnerable to a whole host of online threats that are becoming increasingly sophisticated as each new year ticks by.

Malware can be used for any number of devastating functions. From capturing sensitive information to establishing a controlling foothold within an organization’s network; malware is serious, and unfortunately it’s everywhere. And it gets worse. What is quite often the case is that, in these technology-advanced times, the malware that tries to infiltrate business systems is custom designed in order that it may evade traditional detection techniques. Signature-based methods that have long been the final frontier of malware threats these days simply do not have the intelligence to withstand today’s more sophisticated malware attacks.

With this in mind, security and IT professionals must consider using anti-malware services and technology that utilise a conditions and behavioural-based approach to identify potential malware on in-house networks and systems in real time.

Of course, firstly detecting and then subsequently deflecting malware attacks is the primary task of protecting a business, but there are more things to consider. One of the main objectives of the cybercriminal is remain anonymous for as long as possible so that they may continue to siphon off as much confidential intelligence as computably possible, and so, defenders of such information must consider the use of further technological tactics as part of their managed service to both prevent a compromise in the first instance, as well as signal that a breach is underway.

So, below we’ve put together a round up of some of the best additional technologies services that every business should be using to make sure that they are deploying the very best anti-malware protection available.

Web Application Firewall

Phishing links and email attachments are often the channels taken through which malware enters a system. However, attackers also like to use the web application layer to launch their malware attacks. As such, web application firewalls (WAFs) should be installed to provide the shield that is required to help close off this channel.

Network Access Control

Any unmanaged devices attempting to connect to a network should always be vetted. When done properly, alerts can be sent off to ensure that any contaminated endpoints do not end up spreading malware throughout a network.

Ethical Hacking

Ethical hacking is a security testing technique, which evaluates a network’s and application’s vulnerabilities and capabilities to withstand an attack. These tests should always be carried out by professionals and ideally as part of a managed services package. The identification of potential vulnerabilities that could enable malware to enter an environment is an essential part of all anti-malware initiatives.

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)

SIEM is a threat management technology that comes into its own should hackers ever actually start to mount an attack – especially when they are either at the stage of conducting reconnaissance or attempting to move within a network towards more high-valued targets. During these stages, cybercriminals often try and use tools to try and steal poorly protected credentials and elevate their privileges and access within a system. Using SIEM means that you will have increased network visibility and monitoring capabilities, and you will be enabled to collect, correlate and analyse events that may signal an unusual activity.

Data Loss Prevention

This is absolutely essential. No matter how good your anti-malware efforts are, there will still be occasions when attackers will make it through your security and get greasy paws on what they want. In this instance, you will need data loss prevention to help you firstly identify what has been compromised, and then put a halt to any sensitive information slipping out of the back door.

Database Scanning

The ultimate goal of most hackers is to land on the repositories that house an organization’s database. It is imperative, therefore, that regular scanning of that database be carried out to uncover any weaknesses. Missing patches, for instance, configuration errors and easily crackable passwords must all be identified and dealt with promptly.

An organisation must always be prepared for a malware attack that could come from anywhere at any time. It is an ongoing challenge for businesses of all sizes, and one that is most effectively controlled with managed services. Companies can better protect themselves if they build their anti-malware approach with web security gateways as their focus, and from there complementing it with high-defence technologies such as those we have outlined above.

Contact us at V&C Solutions to find out how we can bolster your anti-malware arsenal for 2015.