Many organizations such as Google and Cisco have made the decision to have their employees work from home to keep them safe from spreading the novel Coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. Other businesses did not make this decision on their own but rather were “volun-told” to work from home because their entire country was quarantined. Either way, whether it is voluntary or mandatory, there are a few things you can do before you send your employees to work from home which will help your business operate successfully. We believe every business needs to consider their Coronavirus quarantine preparation plan and whether their IT has the suitable systems and safeguards in place. Here are 10 Questions IT Departments Need to Ask Before Responding to COVID-19:

 

1. Do all of the individuals in your organization have remote access to your core software and files?

If your employees are working from home, it is important that they can still access your primary line of business applications. There are often several options to achieve this.

Most modern software vendors have versions of their applications that are accessible through a web browser. You will want to see if your primary business applications have this option. In addition to using internet-based versions of applications, you may be able to set up a terminal server allowing you access to your important software without the need for a VPN.

SharePoint is another wonderful tool that is part of most Microsoft Office 365 subscriptions. This service places important documents inside your Office 365 portal so you can view, edit, and collaborate on them from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.

Take a hard look at what your users need access to and ask yourself if they are going to be able to access them from a remote location.

2. Are you prepared to have staff meetings via conference call or video chat?

One way to reduce unnecessary contact even now is to have all of your staff meetings via conference call or video chat. Many organizations use Slack or Microsoft Teams for their inter-office communication with great success.

Teams is an excellent unified communication and collaboration platform that combines persistent workplace chat, video meetings, file storage, and application integration. It is also a part of some Microsoft Office 365 subscriptions and is integrated natively with Sharepoint. If you are hosting Video conferences with clients Zoom is also a fantastic option. The Zoom tutorial series is available on YouTube which makes it easy to learn how to use.

Whichever service you chose you will, of course, want to pick up web cameras for everyone so you can take full advantage of its features. Amazon has several low-cost web cameras that will do the job just fine. With the $17.49 (at the time of this writing) Logitech c270 web cameras, you can outfit an office of 20 for only $350.00. Start getting used to it now so it will be second nature when you are working from home.

3. Can your employees make and take customer calls at home?

Just because you are at home doesn’t mean the calls will stop coming in. You need to make sure your staff is fully equipped to make and receive calls from their homes. There are several ways to accomplish this and the first thing you should do is talk to your phone vendor about how they can make this functionality available to you. If you do not have a phone vendor you trust, there are many options you can consider.

Microsoft Teams does allow for phone calls if you add the necessary SIP service to your plan. You can also look at solutions like Option 9 from Data102. Option 9 includes a softphone that can be used from your computer or cell phone via the Snap Mobile phone app. You may want to pick up a few USB headsets should you choose to go this route, or stick with the web cameras as your microphone and plug in a pair of headphones into your computer. There are several inexpensive options from Logitech for around $20 and more expensive options, like the Jabra pro 930, for around $100.

4. Do all of your network devices have remote access and out-of-band management setup?

If you are at home and all of your servers and network equipment are at the office, how will you maintain it remotely if something goes wrong?

Make sure your IT staff has securely enabled the necessary access to maintain your infrastructure from a remote location. This means verifying that protocols and features such as SSH, RDP, WMI, Wake-on-LAN, and vPro are enabled and properly secured. Verifying that your out of band management for your servers is set up and that you are using the enterprise versions of IDRAC, ILO, and other IPMI implementations and not the less useful free versions that come with the device is important. UPS’s have network cards that can be ordered and installed to assist with monitoring and remote troubleshooting. Switches, routers, firewalls, and many other network devices include the SNMPv3 protocol that should be enabled and configured securely so you can monitor their performance and detect any problems early.

If you are not already using a remote desktop software application such as Connectwise Control, a Remote Monitoring and Remediation tool such as Connectwise Automate, or a network monitoring tool such Auvik, you may want to consider deploying them. Tools like these can be costly and take a lot of time to set up but return dividends over the long run. All of these vendors offer assistance during your deployment for a fee, which can make this go much quicker and smoother. There are also IT service providers that can do all of this for you if this is over your head.

5. Do you have a way to reboot your ISP equipment remotely?

Some devices may not have out-of-band management available and will require a hard reboot if they become unresponsive. The modem provided by your ISP is one such device. Do you have a plan if that device locks up and is preventing you from accessing your office remotely?

Remote power strips like the ones provided by WattBox have built-in scripting to automatically reboot a device if it is no longer accessible from the internet. This feature works from the inside out so you do not need additional out-of-band management for it to work. It also allows you to meter the power usage of plugged-in devices remotely, as well as perform hard resets without scripting (so long as the internet is available). It’s worth considering adding devices like these wherever you have devices you need to power cycle remotely from time to time.

6. Should some of your staff be issued laptops so they can work from home?

Do you have employees that need hardware? Does Bob or Marge in accounting even own a home computer? Are you concerned about their ability to perform their work on their personal machine due to the age of the machine, lack of corporate control, and questionable digital hygiene?

Maybe a few key individuals should be issued company laptops. Dell has several reasonable business-quality options available for around $700.00. These come with real warranties, which include 3 year on-site and next-day parts and repair clauses, as well as professional operating systems (not Windows Home Edition) and a build free of the bloatware that comes from junkers at Best Buy.

After the quarantine is over, you can buy them a dock and make the laptop their new desk machine. Maybe you can hand down their old one to another individual in the office if the machine is not too old, or put it on the shelf so you have a cold spare available.

7. Are there any parts of your infrastructure that are at risk of causing you an outage?

Now is the time to go ahead and plug in that other NIC on the server to the switch, or add those extra drives to the raid array for hot spares. Take inventory of the loose ends in your network and try to get them resolved.

Do you have any really old machines that you are afraid will fall over at any minute? Why not get new, affordable, business-grade replacements? How old are those UPS batteries? Maybe it’s time to get them tested or just outright replaced. Murphy’s law dictates that “if anything can go wrong it will go wrong” and probably at the worst possible time. Can you think of a worse time for the one-and-only power supply your server has to fail? Try to alleviate any of these ticking time-bombs if you can.

8. Have you reviewed your disaster recovery plan?

Do you have a disaster recovery plan? If so, good for you! But when is the last time you read it? Go ahead and dust that thing off and give it a read. Is it still relevant? Could it use an update or two? Does it take working remotely into account? Why not go over it with the team, since many of your employees may have been hired long after you wrote it? You want everyone fresh on how to handle a disaster.

9. How are you going to maintain the security of your network during this event?

What are the added security risks you are about to introduce to your business?

Allowing your employees to use their personal computers to access company information is risky business, but there are a few things you can do to mitigate those risks. Reduce the need for a VPN as much as possible by pushing the use of web apps (See #1). Get multi-factor authentication enabled where you can. Make sure your employees are using a legitimate copy of a 3rd party anti-virus such as Webroot, or at the minimum have Windows Defender enabled.

Also, make sure your authorized points of contact are up-to-date and that you have alternate points of contact assigned. You do not want the one-and-only person authorized to open ports on the firewall out sick without a backup.

This might be a good time to run that network vulnerability scan from Rapidfire Tools or Nessus you’ve been putting off, too.

10. Have you tested your plan?

Start testing your plan now. Send a few employees home for a day as soon as you can, and actively work with them to overcome the unexpected challenges this creates. It’s far easier to work with one or two employees at a time to get things working than it is to have your one and only IT guy try to get the whole company working remotely all on the same day.

 

We have helped hundreds of businesses over the years with their Information Technology and we hope our experience will help you keep your business running throughout this world impacting event. If you feel you need hands-on assistance managing your IT please keep us in mind, we are happy to help you proactively manage your IT environment and prepare you for success 719-476-0443.

 

Is your business one of the 20% NOT using Microsoft Office 365?

Are you using one of the cheaper or free alternatives like Google’s G-Suite set of apps because it “promises” a similar range of functionality? What might be “good enough” when your business is a 1-3 person startup, quickly becomes limiting as your business grows and your team needs to collaborate and share files with clients, vendors and partners.

Office 365 has cutting-edge collaboration features like Teams and real-time co-authoring. Your staff can use O365 on up to five devices, making them more productive and able to connect from anywhere at any time.

So whether your staff is 1 or 10+, here are the key features of Office 365 that will excite your workforce to be more productive.

REASON #1: Great For Small Business Owners

Microsoft provides business owners with a stable, consistent pricing structure for their suite of business tools. They’re able to provide their employees with the latest updated software without worrying about additional upgrade charges or excessive licensing fees.

The easy per-user pricing structure allows businesses to scale up or down whenever they have changes in their staffing levels. And say goodbye to investing in expensive servers thanks to Office 365’s cloud storage option.

REASON #2: Easy Collaboration From Anywhere

All users have access to a common platform when collaborating on projects. By enabling cloud synchronization, documents can be created on one device and shared with other contributors to allow for easy collaboration in a secure cloud environment.

Microsoft’s introduction of Teams in 2016 brought collaboration to a new level. Teams is a conversation thread for groups of people, similar to Slack, but where Slack lacks in an integrated experience, Teams provides easy access your business apps, such as PowerPoint, Word and Excel. With Teams, live collaboration seamlessly occurs with teammates across the room or in the next hemisphere.

REASON #3: Ideal For A Mobile Workforce

Office 365 can be used on- or offline. This is important because if the internet goes down and your team is using G-Suite, you are down. With Office 365, your team can stay productive by just using the apps offline and syncing when an internet connection becomes available.

The Office 365 license permits use of up to five devices per user. This allows your employees to use it on their mobile device, laptop or tablet. For businesses that have a workforce that is mobile or remote-based, the options of being able to work from anywhere at any time provides increased productivity.

REASON #4: More Extensive Features Than G-Suite

Office 365 and G-Suite can appear superficially similar at first glance. Let’s do a deeper dive into important differences between the two productivity suites.

1. More Plan Flexibility

G-Suite makes only three different plan options available: basic, business, or enterprise. You’re out of luck if none of them meet your current business needs. There’s no way to massage any of the plans into a more suitable format.

In contrast, Microsoft currently offers three plans for small businesses and four plans for enterprises. They also offer separate plans for educational institutions, government agencies in the U.S. and various non-profit organizations. If none of them meet your company needs, Microsoft allows you to pick and choose features to create your own custom plan.

2. Better Cloud Storage

All Office 365 business users gain access to 1TB of cloud storage. Compare that to basic business accounts with G-Suite which only receive 30GB of storage and must upgrade to a higher tier for additional storage space.

3. Meets Compliance Regulations for HIPAA, PCI and FERPA

Office 365 cloud storage can be used to back up user and workstation data. All data uploaded to Microsoft cloud servers is protected by encryption and meets HIPAA, PCI, and FERPA regulations. Additionally, Microsoft offers two-factor authentication to prevent Office 365 and Outlook email accounts from being accessed if a password is compromised and an unfamiliar device attempts to log into an account.

4. Better Positioned for Growth

G-Suite tools may work when with a startup workforce. But, as you grow, you need tools capable of handling that expansion. Office applications are used by 80% of business users, making it easy to collaborate with business partners and vendors without compatibility issues.

Let Simpleworks Aid Your Transition

Simpleworks has migrated thousands of users to Office 365. We create a simple and seamless experience for your business, so you have nothing to worry about. We can sync your Office 365 applications within 1-2 days depending on the size of your email database.

Trust your migration to an experienced and certified Microsoft partner. Contact Simpleworks if you are considering a move to Microsoft Office 365. Reach out to us online or by phone at 719-476-0444.

The success of the Windows Server 2008 operating system can’t be denied. It became a mainstay with small- and medium-sized businesses across a variety of industries. Around 85% of companies still run Windows Server 2008 due to the server’s proven reliability.

And that’s part of the problem.

What Companies Risk by Sticking with Windows Server 2008

On January 14, 2020, Microsoft will discontinue support for both Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2. The costs and time investment required for upgrades are why so many companies still cling to the program. With the 2020 stop date rapidly approaching, here are the risks of not upgrading:

  1. Extensive Security Vulnerabilities. Once Microsoft stops making regular updates, there will be no further security patches to Windows Server 2008. Continuing to use the operating system without these fixes exposes your important business and customer data to hackers looking to steal data. You could also end up infected with malware designed to take your systems hostage for ransom.
  2. Limited Cloud Compatibility. Not upgrading to a new version of Windows Server limits your options when it comes to expanding your technology platform via cloud technology. Windows Server 2008 isn’t fully capable of providing support for cloud or hybrid environments, which will limit your options on software that is only cloud-based.
  3. Performance Issues. Without regular updates, you’ll see your hardware performance slow down as Windows Server 2008 becomes more and more incompatible with your current hardware and software. Virtualization becomes harder since bugs and slowdowns would severely hamper your ability to provide a smooth multiuser experience.

Upgrading Benefits to Windows Server 2008

Upgrading to Windows Server 2016 provides companies with access to features allowing them to build an IT Infrastructure capable of meeting the demands of today’s digital business space. Imagine not having to hear the words, “Our system can’t handle it,” when a great idea is proposed involving technology that moves the company forward.

Here are some of the advantages gained once a company commits to installing an updated operating system to replace Windows Server 2008.

  1. More Extensive Security Protection. Windows Server 2016 provides companies with the ability to implement either single sign-on or multifactor authentication, allowing for better account protection. All of your virtualization instances receive more security from breach attempts from in and outside of your company.
  2. Expanded Cloud Capabilities. The operating system also adapts smoothly to running in a full or hybrid cloud environment. Windows Server 2016 provides an excellent on-ramp for customers looking to explore what they can do with cloud computing, including incorporating Office 365 into their workplace. The IT department can make cloud services available to individual virtual machines (VMs), which could be deployed with a lot less overhead. 
  3. Built-in Backup Services. Windows Server 2016 provides administrators with an out-of-the-box backup system. Resilient Change Tracking (RCT) allows you to perform both full and incremental backups of your VMs.

Upgrading to Windows Server 2016 allows businesses the freedom to explore software as a service (SaaS) offerings like Adobe, QuickBooks and JIRA. Your employees will appreciate the responsiveness of the new server which enables them to increase their daily output. 

Simplifying the IT Experience

Partnering with an experienced Microsoft partner to handle your Windows Server 2008 upgrade makes it a stress-free experience for your company. Simpleworks prevents your upgrade from getting bogged down in the details and handles the miscellaneous technical issues while keeping you on schedule. 

Simpleworks believes in making IT simple and effective. Our team of professionals confirms that all your processes and hardware function as they should upon completion of the new server installation. When Simpleworks handles your Windows Server upgrade, here’s a few of the many processes we cover:

  • Outlining what your final environment should look like
  • Assessing your server and cataloging everything on your network
  • Backing up your current server environment for possible rollback if you encounter issues during the transition
  • Communicating system downtimes to all affected parties
  • Installing the physical implementation of the upgrade
  • Testing all systems, applications and hardware affected by the update

Don’t continue falling behind on your Windows Server 2008 upgrade. Contact Simpleworks at (719) 476-0444 or online to get your company on track for a brighter technology outlook.


Change is never easy when it comes to technology. We all love the familiarity of the software we use, we know the navigation menu and we know the shortcuts which adds to the efficiency of our workday. But, with technology, change is inevitable, and the end of support for Windows 7 is a major change.

If you are one of the 184 million small- to mid-sized businesses still using Windows 7, it’s time to mark the date and start preparing for the transition now.

Mark the date:

January 14, 2020, Microsoft will stop supporting Windows 7.

End-of-Life Explained

Software manufacturers like Microsoft have ever-evolving code in their products. At some point, older versions of software can no longer support the technological advances supported by new solutions. So, the manufacturer moves its focus from an older product to a newer one. This usually involves ending the life of older versions. This is exactly what has happened to the Windows 7 operating system.

What happens when the EOL deadline passes for Windows 7?

  1. No new security updates or patches. This leaves any flaws in the software open for exploitation by hackers.
  2. No more Microsoft support. Without support, if you have a problem, you can’t rely on the manufacturer for help.
  3. Noncompliant with federal regulations. Unsecure software is not compliant with any federal regulation, such as HIPAA and PCI.
  4. Increased risk for your business. Personally identifiable information (PII), confidential data and financial numbers are at risk of theft.
  5. Compatibility issues. Your common line-of-business applications, such as Salesforce, QuickBooks, Office 2016, and Raiser’s Edge, will no longer work with Microsoft 7, leaving you unable to digitally communicate with clients, vendors and partners.

End-of-life issues introduce significant security risks to your organization. If you’re in a regulated industry and still using out-dated software, you’re almost certainly not in compliance with regulations. Further, if you’re still using an older operating system, it’s likely your hardware is dated as well.

Steps to Prepare for Your Windows Upgrade

The time to upgrade is now. If you wait until the end of 2019, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an IT provider with the time to deploy upgraded solutions. Other businesses are already booking-up their schedules.

The least disruptive way to upgrade your organization’s software is to do it in small groups and after-hours so only a few employees are affected as little as possible at one time. This involves a considerable amount of planning. Your IT provider must be able to understand your business tolerance for downtime.

For most small- to medium-sized businesses, the recommended upgrade option is to go from Windows 7 to Windows 10. There is the question of, “Can I upgrade to Windows 8 instead?” Well, unless you like repetitive pain, don’t do it! Windows 8 is next in line for EOL in 2023.

Simplify Your Windows 10 Upgrade  

At Simpleworks, we’ve conducted hundreds of Windows 7 to Windows 10 upgrades and have many lined up throughout 2019. Our team is experienced and certified with Microsoft applications and servers for both the cloud and on-premise solutions, and we have multiple engineers with Microsoft certifications.

The key to a successful and smooth upgrade is to work with an experienced Microsoft IT partner. Here’s a few of the planning tactics we cover to ensure a smooth transition:

  • Document your current technology environment
  • Manage the lifecycle of your hardware
    • Know their age, which are approaching EOL, etc.
  • Plan your budget accordingly
  • Manage user data
  • Backup and verify the restore
  • Stage the rollout in small groups
  • Plan the rollout during off-peak business hours
  • Communicate continuously to the client and team
  • Be available during the rollout process to troubleshoot and provide peace-of-mind

Upgrading and The Cloud

Depending on your business, it may be beneficial to move to the cloud when upgrading Windows 7. Windows 10 is cloud-ready, unlike most older operating systems. And, if you’re already using Office 365, the move is made even easier.

By turning large capital investments into predictable operating expenses, cloud solutions can improve productivity, help your budget and increase the operational maturity of your business.

Upgrading to Windows 10 with Simpleworks

At Simpleworks, we make your upgrades simple. We have proven processes and tools to automate much of the upgrade. After the upgrade, we can push the software and updates your employees need directly to their workstations. The same goes for line-of-business applications. Your business won’t be interrupted for software updates. When you partner with us, we completely handle your technology, including your upgrades and rollouts. If you’d like to learn more about simplifying your IT, contact us here or call us at 719-476-0444.

We don’t often think of it this way, but our technology providers are rather intimate with our businesses. Indeed, technology touches almost every area of our businesses – from allowing us to check our work email from our phones to securing our most confidential information. Our IT, and, thus, our IT providers, have access to the most important areas of our businesses. That means you need to be able to trust your IT provider and depend on them to be there for you when you need them most. It’s not altogether different from getting married.

However, like most relationships, it can take a while to find the right one before settling down for a future together.

6 Signs Your IT Provider May Be Wrong for You

Your IT provider will send signals about the value and future they place in your business relationship. Some will be subtle and some not so subtle:

  1. Recurrent downtime
  2. Never seeming to be able to solve the root cause of issues
  3. Leaving you on hold for support
  4. Nickel-and-diming you for every service
  5. Not helping you align your IT with your business goals
  6. Never calling to check on your IT and your needs

Don’t let your feelings get hurt. They probably treat all their clients the same way. It’s not you; it’s them.

At the same time, you don’t want to become complacent. If you’re not getting the service and proactive IT planning that your business needs to grow, it’s time to move on.

Finding the Right IT Provider for Your Business

The first thing to realize when searching for a new IT provider is that you get what you pay for. If you aren’t willing to invest in your technology, you’ll keep falling for poorly performing IT providers. Remember: the time you spend struggling with inadequate IT is time you could be spending improving your business and readying it for growth.

Once you’ve committed to investing in your technology to help your business grow, don’t fall for the first managed service provider (MSP) you meet. Do your due diligence first. Here are a few key things to consider as you search for a long-term IT partnership:

  • Talk to your peers about their experiences with IT providers. Industry peers are often great resources for insight into how an MSP performs on a daily basis. They can also help you identify MSPs you might want to begin talking to. Don’t take their word for it, though. Trust, but verify.
  • Identify your business’ needs and goals. The only way to effectively align your technology with your business plan is to review and plan ahead for the technology you’ll need. For instance, if you’re planning to hire new employees, you’ll need to also plan for more laptops, more storage, more licensesand other technical considerations.
  • Communicate your needs to prospective IT providers. Does the provider clearly understand your business goals and explain how their technology solutions will help you achieve them?
  • Look for industry-experienced MSPs. IT providers with experience in your industry, especially if you’re in a regulated industry, gives you a leg-up as they already know the requirements you must meet to comply with laws and regulations.
  • Can the provider secure your network and most confidential data? Whether it’s intellectual property or personally identifiable information, hackers are interested in the data that companies store. Your potential IT provider should be able to clearly explain how their solutions protect your business from cyberattacks.
  • Reliable, tested disaster response and backups. Any MSP you seriously consider should have experience developing disaster response plans and ensuring your backups are tested on a regular basis and working. Your backups are your last resort in the event of a disaster or cyberattack.
  • Experienced and expert staff. Does the IT provider have a strong, talented technical team with industry experience, certifications and quality toolsets for managing, tweaking, adjusting and proactively monitoring your IT environment? It should.
  • Verify. As we noted above, you should verify the information you gather by contacting the provider’s other clients and references to get a better picture of how they work.
  • Reporting and metrics. Make sure the IT provider can provide you with regular reports on their metrics for success in serving your business. An honest self-appraisal indicates an honest provider.

Comparing IT Providers – It’s Not Always Apples to Apples.

By starting your IT provider search with the questions above, the answers will help you narrow the field to those providers that better match your business. At Simpleworks, we’ve simplified managed IT from start to finish.

Our new Simple Technology Solution takes the mystery out of IT contracts:

– No hidden fees.

– What you see is what you get.

– Your IT investment is predictable.

– Our program automatically scales with your business’ needs.

Ready for a Simple Technology Solution?

When you partner with us, we completely handle the transition and employee training. We also coordinate with your former or current IT provider, so you don’t have to do anything.

If you’d like to learn more about simplifying your IT, contact us here or call us at 719-476-0444.