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April 30, 2015

The Basics Of Unified Comms


Metal chain

Ok, let’s start with the most obvious question…

What Is Unified Communications?

Well, put very simply, Unified Communications (UC) is a term that is used to describe a technology that allows for the streamlining of all communications that a company or individual might use – that is, telephone, text, email, instant messaging, video calls, faxes, voicemail, etc.

Once upon a time, all we had to worry about was telecommunications. But now the list of our communication methods has extended, and we need a term that encompasses all forms of communication – from texting to internet conferencing. However, importantly – to save any confusion – Unified Communications is not an all-encompassing metonymic term for communications technologies of any type, anywhere in the world, but rather it refers to particular sets of communications that are unified or linked together over a single network.

A Little History

The term was first coined by the consultant and writer Art Rosenberg in 2000. He intends the term to describe;

“technology that enables the streamlining of all communication systems – texts, emails, voicemail, telecommunications, faxes – so that any particular communication can be rerouted directly to the user wherever they happen to be, via whatever communications device they happen to have to hand.”

In the most part, UC is used for business. The purpose of it is to increase user productivity and optimize business processes. This works by creating a system whereby all of a user’s means to communicate (i.e. every communication function that they will use on their smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops) are amalgamated for the purposes of more efficient communications.

Unified Communications has become a necessity for businesses over recent years. As technologies have progressed, and businesses evolved, more and more organisations have become ‘virtual’.

What does this mean?

Well, no longer are employees of a company confined to a single space to do their work – that is to say, that their jobs don’t necessarily require them to be glued to an office chair behind a desk either at home or in the office building. Many sales reps, for instance, will be out in the field all day long, business brokers will often convene with partners or clients over lunch in a restaurant, and some companies even run their businesses absolutely decentralised and completely in the virtual space where even the receptionist is remote.

This sort of thing is of course perfectly actionable these days with internet access being as ubiquitous as it is, and mobile devices being as powerful as they are.

However, just because this superior level of interconnectivity and communication is possible, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily efficient – and that’s where Unified Comms comes in.

Unifying The Virtual Business Space

A lot of a company’s communications – emails, texts, voicemails etc. – will often be very effective. However, because all of these communications are not sufficiently integrated with one another, although they are effective in isolation, they are not necessarily efficient, and this can impact the bottom line of a business.

Typically, companies will often use various different hardware and software systems for their phones, their emails, their video conferencing, their instant messaging, their fax etc. Needless to say, this can all prove to be rather inefficient, as there are multiple means of reaching the end user, yet none are connected or by any means prioritised.

Indeed, you may well have noticed this inefficiency in your own office. How many times have you sent an urgent email to a colleague, only to find out three days later that said colleague is on holiday for the next 2 weeks?

Unified Communications provides the solution to such problems, and many more besides, by unifying all communication systems into a single service fully integrated setup, using only minimal hardware yet quite an advanced technological architecture.

Presence

At the heart of Unified Communications is the concept of ‘presence’.

What does this mean?

Well, put simply, ‘presence’ is the indicator of a user’s availability to communicate, and, more importantly, via which medium the user is at disposal to make the communication.

If you think about the indicators on your favourite instant messaging service that tell you whether or not a particular user is on or offline – i.e. available or not – the idea behind presence is that this information is presented on a much larger scale.

Presence doesn’t only indicate a user’s availability, but also the extent of their capability to communicate. So, indicators on UC show whether a particular user is available for a phone call, a video call, or just text or email only, for instant messaging, and on which device they are currently available. What is more, with location technology enabled, a user’s exact location can be pinpointed should the desire for a good old fashioned face-to-face meeting emerge.

Single Number Reach

Unified Comms also contracts all means of contact into a single piece of information – typically a phone number. This, of course, is a very attractive feature, especially for companies who have more than, say, 30 employees.

If each employee has a separate email address, mobile number, Skype account, instant messenger username and fax number, then there is essentially 5 different pieces of contact information per user that must be scrawled through in order to try and make the communication.

But, with single number reach, there is a single access point – your phone number – and the technology will transpose the communication information directly into which means you make yourself available. This means there is less time wasted trying to initiate communications with absent users, and, spread out over, say, a 12-month period and covering your whole workforce, the impact on efficiency and productivity will be significant – and your communications bills will be reduced into a single invoice as well, making the financial team’s job a lot easier to boot.

Does your company use Unified Communications? Let us know in the comments below.
Published by Igor Varnava, April 30 2015

 

April 23, 2015

Migrating To The Cloud? Top 5 Mistakes To Avoid At All Costs


A cloud and plane in the sky

All over the globe, clouds are puffing up into plump storage repositories as more and more (and more and more) companies worldwide are turning to cloud computing for their business needs. According to Verizon’s State of the Market: Enterprise Cloud 2014 Report, already 65% of enterprises are in the cloud.

There are many benefits for utilizing cloud services for your business. As well as the unlimited storage space that you can tap into (which, for many companies is reason enough to begin migration), you can lower the operating costs of your in-house data centers, benefit from greater security of your digital assets, improve your application performance and greatly improve your cost-effectiveness right across your IT service needs.

Clearly, there are many advantages that IT managers are attracted to when it comes to the cloud. Disaster recovery, cost savings and centralization of data management are very important considerations for any business, and the cloud provides solutions for all of these and much more.

Despite this, however, migrating to the cloud can be extremely tricky, and there are in fact a number of stumbling blocks that can be very easily tripped over when making the transition. Cloud migration is a good business move, but it needs to be done carefully and considerately.

They say that fool learns from his own mistakes, and the wise man learns from the fool’s. So, in order to try and guide you along the path of accumulated wisdom as garnered by the folly of many an unenlightened IT technician in the past, we’ve put together a list of the top 5 cloud migration and storage mistakes that have proven to be the undoing of many a fool in days gone by, as well as the relevant sagacity to avoid such misdemeanors.

Top 5 Cloud Storage And Migration Mistakes To Avoid

  1. Scrimping On Connectivity

Depending on the size of your company, migrating your data to the cloud can prove to be quite a big job. Put simply, the more data you currently house in your own data centers, the more bandwidth you are going to require to move it all. Bandwidth costs money, and it may be tempting to try and go for the biggest bargain that you can find. But this will often prove to be a false economy, as moving large amounts of data over low bandwidth can take days, as opposed to literally minutes if you go for the larger, safer, though more expensive option.

  1. Hopping On The First Cloud That Floats By

Some people think that all clouds are created equal, but this just simply isn’t the case. You will need to think about what you will require from your cloud service provider. For instance, if it’s scalability that you’re after, then not all private cloud service providers will necessarily be able to accommodate this, and so a public cloud might be the better option for you. Every cloud has its silver lining, though most of them have a few dark spots too, so do your homework and make sure that you choose the right one for your business before making the move.

  1. Miscalculating Your Security Needs

Security is of utmost priority to any business. That almost goes without saying. And when you start to move your important and sensitive files around the web, then security is absolutely paramount.

All cloud service providers will detail what kind and what level of security they will offer with their packages, and so it is essential that you choose the right one. A large corporation will be a high-value target for attackers, and so it will make sense to opt for the cloud option that provides the highest level of security they can get their greasy little paws on. However, the SME, although their data is still sensitive, their smaller size will put them at a slightly reduced level of risk, and so forking out a fortune for encryption will not necessarily be the wisest business decision that you’ve ever made.

  1. Miscalculating the Cash Flow

Cloud utilization is not always the cheapest option you have in front of you. In fact, if you are not careful when you do the numbers of your in-house operating expenses, then it might seem like migrating to the cloud is the cheapest option, when actually, if you take the long view, it might not be. Generally speaking, moving to the cloud is a decision that you will take to provide you with greater flexibility, and not necessarily savings.

  1. Being Too Eager

Some companies are so keen to get up off the ground and float away on cloud 9, that they fail to take the last 4 points made on this list into serious consideration, and lots more besides.

It’s a big deal migrating to the cloud – and the more you want to move there, the bigger the deal gets. There will be cultural company impacts, cost issues, access issues, security and privacy considerations and applications to think of. All in all, it is a process that will require a lot of time and thought, so take it slowly and do it smartly.

Are you considering migrating to the cloud? Contact us here at V&C Solutions to see how we can help you make the move.
Published by Igor Varnava, April 29, 2015

 

April 17, 2015

LANs, Protocols and IP Addressing: A Guide To Network Communications


LANs, Protocols and IP Addressing: A Guide To Network Communications

People seem to have this idea that IT is far too complicated for them to understand. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you asked the average Jo on the street what would they rather have a go at, setting up a firewall or a round of brain surgery, then they’d be inclined to opt for the former.

Now, I’m not saying for an instant that IT is by any means a doddle – it’s not. It is in fact a huge discipline that is evolving and expanding all the time. However, to grasp a few basics, which I think is where many people get put off, would actually help a lot of people with their computing confidence.

All disciplines come with their very own wonderfully named tools and jargon. For instance, if I were writing poetry then I would be dealing with trochaic hexameter, enjambement, caesuras and Spenserian stanzas. If it were the online game of SEO, then you’re dealing with backlinks, SERPs, 301 redirects and alt text.

And so it is in the world of network communication.

If you get past all the jargon, the confusing terms and the geeky eggheads in round spectacles (it’s not imperative that IT technicians dress like this, but a lot certainly seem to think it helps), then you can start to build up an understanding of how network communications work, and, I can almost guarantee you that as soon as you’ve got to grips with the basics, you’d be happier picking up the Ethernet cable than the scalpel any day of the week – if only us IT technicians got paid as much as those fancy folks in white with stethoscopes, ay?

So, below we’ve put together a quick reference guide to some of the most common terms that you will hear in reference to network communications, so you can move forward with a little more confidence the next time the tech guys start trying to confuse you with the fancy words and numbers.

A Quick Overview Of Network Communications

Most of the computers on your building will be linked together over the internet on a local area network, or LAN for short. This enables all of the devices on the LAN to send data to one another – be they messages, emails, photos, what have you. LANs can extend beyond a single building, however, but usually when we talk about LANs, we’re referring to a network that is contained within a 1km radius.

So far, so simple. But what happens when we want to send and receive data to and from our computers which reside in other LANs? Not all LANs are connected to the same technologies, right? Right – any amount of technology can be hooked up to any amount of LANs.

So, since we can’t control what technologies are connected to which LANs, what we have to control instead is the standard that is used for communicating. This requirement is what led to the development of IP addressing (don’t worry, we’ll clarify shortly), which is needed to communicate over the internet (which, incidentally, is simply a world wide system of interconnected networks).

Ok, so let’s now delve a little deeper – draw breath – here we go.

What Is IP Addressing?

Your very own internet protocol address (IP address) is a modern product of computer technology, which allows one computer device to communicate with another one over the internet.

They work much like postal addresses. Your IP address allows your device to be pinpointed amongst the billions and trillions of other devices that are out there which are also connected to the internet. So, just like the mailman wouldn’t be able to deliver your letters to you without your postal address, neither would you be able to receive emails on your computer without an IP address. It really is as simple as that.

What About Routers – What Are Those And How Do They Work?

Well, as discussed in the introduction, lots of computers mean lots of LANs. In order for data packages to be sent from one LAN to another, a piece of networking equipment is needed, and this piece of equipment is called a network router.

Network routers route packages of data from one network to another based on IP addresses. Only network packages that are to be sent to other networks are forwarded, importantly. It connects a local network to the larger internet.

And Firewalls?

Firewalls are important to understand too when it comes to network communications. What these do is analyse all of the data packages that attempt to enter or leave a network. If these data packages meet the security criteria that is specified, then they are allowed through. If not, then they are blocked.

So those are the very basic terms that everyone needs to know when it comes to understanding network communications. You may need to chew over it all for a moment, but that’s ok, even us eggheads had to start somewhere.

To find out how V&C Solutions can be of service to your network communications then please get in touch.

April 10, 2015

Devising An IT Security Strategy


Chains

The stakes are high for any company who houses sensitive information on their IT infrastructure. And these days that means most businesses.

Targeted attacks are on the rise, and, after what happened last year with the likes of JPMorgan Chase and Sony pictures, there seems to be no limit to the size and scale of a company that are potential targets.

For SMEs IT security is a must. Whilst a company as massive as Sony can no doubt afford to weather the storm, if a smaller business gets hacked, then oftentimes there is no way back and the end is eternally marked for them.

So, what to do?

Is Total Security Ever Possible?

The short answer, unfortunately, is no. Just as in the physical world there is no wall high enough that can’t be climbed and no lock strong enough that can’t be broken, so it is in the digital world.

But the fact of the matter is that just because you can never create an absolutely impenetrable IT security system for your network, that’s not to say that an effective risk-based security strategy won’t serve your needs and keep you protected against attacks indefinitely. The trick is in trying to stay ahead of the game.

Risk-based Security

To do so you need to identify, evaluate and prioritize all of the potential risks to your system based on the level of sensitivity of your data. Generally speaking, the more sensitive your data, the more valuable a target it is.

Other factors to monitor are the vulnerabilities that may reside throughout your system. Again, these will prove to be the most likely points at which hackers and cyber criminals will attack.

In order to come up with an adequate security strategy, you will need to make risk-based decisions and develop realistic security goals in accordance to the identified risks.

One of the key measurable benefits of risk-based security is found in budgeting. If you can identify which of your assets matter the most to your business, then you can allocate appropriate funds into protecting them, rather than wasting money trying to secure less sensitive material.

Devising An IT Security Strategy

The protections of all of your assets – which includes your reputation, your staff, your customers, as well as the actual data itself – is an absolute must for all companies. Therefore devising an effective IT security strategy is imperative to the integrity and future of your business.

Cyber threats are evolving all the time, and in order to protect yourself against them, then you need to evolve as well.

We recommend taking the following steps to devise a security strategy that will keep you ahead of the game and protect your business.

1. Identify Your Most Valuable Assets

This is the fist stage. You may actually find it quite hard to quantify the actual monetary value of each of your individual assets. But this isn’t to say that you actually need to do such a thing to determine which sets of data are most valuable to your business.

For instance, the files in which you store your customers’ credit card information are obviously more important than the ones where you keep a list of company employees. Although of course you’d rather that neither became compromised, the priority in this situation rests with the former.

2. Analyze Risks

Security risks can encompass anything from network vulnerabilities to members of staff who are untrained and end up opening compromised emails and downloading apps that are infected with malware. Work out exactly what all of the potential IT security risks are, and list them in order of sensitivity.

3. Make A Plan

Once you have identified your most valuable assets and have analyzed all potential risks, now it’s time to start making a prioritized plan that you will follow.

This security plan will be an extremely important document to your business. In it will be the proposals for what your organization is planning to do in order to meet security requirements. You will be listing all of the people involved, the resources that you will utilize, and the network services that require protection (intranet, web, emails etc.).

4. Enforce A Security Policy

Once your security plan has been actualized and deployed, you should then draw up a security policy that all staff and managers who have access to the system must abide by. The IT security of a company is the obligation of everyone.

The key points of your IT security policy should include:

· Access
· User Authentication
· Accountability
· Privacy

5. Maintenance

Audits must be regularly scheduled so that security is constantly maintained. Regular testing, training and updating of the security plan and policy is an absolute must to ensure that your security efforts will stand the test of time.

What is known as the “security wheel” is in fact a never-ending process. Monitor, test, improve, monitor, test, improve, monitor, test, improve, monitor… and on it goes.

Does your business have an IT security strategy in place? Contact us here at V&C Solutions to find out how we can help you get yours up to scratch.

April 8, 2015

4 Questions You Should Ask Your Managed Services Provider


Seismographic picture of world linking to computers

Choosing the right managed services provider (MSP) for your business needs can be one of the toughest decisions you might have to take as a business owner. We have all at some point or another signed up for a service that promised it could deliver X,Y and Z, only to find out upon delivery of the service that only X and Y were covered in the plan and that Z is going to cost us extra.

The sad fact of the matter is that in order to secure business deals, some sales people will promise the earth, yet, as you soon find out, they must have had their fingers crossed behind their back the whole time, for what they actually end up providing doesn’t come anywhere near what was initially promised.

Nevertheless, you have decided that you need managed services for the purposes of offloading some of your tough and time-consuming IT work. This is a good choice that you have made, for outsourcing IT services can save an SME a lot of frustration, worry and indeed money in the long run, as it will give you a chance to focus on your more pressing business needs, like serving customers.

But you have to choose the right one for your company. Indeed, your MSP will be an extension of your company, and will be working very intricately with some key parts of it. And so, it is essential that you don’t just plump for the first managed services provider you come across. You need to choose the one who is going to get to know you, your business and your business’s needs. And to find out which MSP that is will require you to ask some important questions to separate the wheat from the chaff.

So, below we’ve put together a list of the top 4 questions you should ask your managed services provider before agreeing to take on the partnership.

1. Is Providing Managed Services The Sole Focus Of Your Business?

There are some cowboys out there who offer managed services as a bit of a sideline to some other endeavor that they are more focused on. Ideally, you don’t want to partner with an MSP of this kind. You want to make sure that providing managed services is the full time job of your MSP, and that they are experts in all fields of the services that they offer.

Further details that you will want to check in order to try and confirm this information is to ask how long they have been in business, how many employees they have, and, importantly, that the service provision includes ongoing support.

2. Who Will Be Authorized To See My Data?

Privacy and data security is your number one concern, both for your business and your customers.

You may want to set up your managed services so that your MSP will be in charge of, but not be able to see, your sensitive business data. However, most MSPs will probably still retain the ability to see your data. And so, you will need to ensure that it is drawn up in your contract that there will be various controls in place that will prevent your MSP reproducing or sending your data in any form.

Even though your MSP will have control of your data, but the responsibility of it, and therefore the liability, will remain with you should it ever become compromised.

3. What Kind Of Support Do You Provide?

This is where you will be trying to get down into the nitty gritty details of the service. For example, will your MSP offer around the clock support? Is there a fully-staffed call-center that can be contacted should you encounter a problem? Are you able to provide a scalable solution should my business start to grow in the future?

Remember, there are never too many questions that you can ask. You want to make sure that your MSP offers every single one of the services that you require of it, so dig deep.

4. How Do I Access My Data Once I’ve Handed Control Over To You?

Even though you will be handing your data over to an MSP to look after, it is nonetheless still your data and therefore you should be able to have access to it around the clock. And this means that you will want to make sure that you have actual physical and personal access to the data center where it is stored, as well, of course, as being able to access it as and when you need it online.

Another consideration along this vein is that you will want to have it drawn up in your contract that should you ever wish to change service provider then your MSP will be able to hand all of your data back to you quickly.

Get in touch with us here at V&C Solutions and we will be happy to answer any questions that you have. Looking forward to hearing from you!!