Network Support: In-House or Outsource?

Network Support: In-House or Outsource?

The following scenario is all too common: a company starts out with a handful of workstations and one modest server, only to find itself a few years down the road with a sprawl of desktops, remote PCs, thin clients, application servers, file servers, web servers, print servers, hubs, routers, switches, NAS devices, wi-fi hotspots and a plethora of other networking equipment that looks nothing like the original basic setup. While company growth is generally considered a good thing, growing a company’s network can be harmful to business success if done improperly. Networks that are properly “engineered” instead of haphazardly “evolved” are preferred for sustainable growth, especially when the growth exceeds that which on-hand networking staff can reasonably support at any given time.

Although there is no clearly defined point when it should occur, at some point or another owners of small to mid-sized businesses eventually come to the conclusion that their networking strategy needs to be reevaluated. Although the time when this occurs may not be exact, signs that indicate the need for this include the following:

  • noticeable increase in network support tickets
  • significant decrease in network performance
  • visible indicators of networking equipment failure
  • obvious networking software failures

When one or more of the above start to occur, it is most likely time to start thinking about defining or redefining a clear, concise network support strategy. One of the most essential questions to answer at this time is whether network support should be conducted in-house or performed by an outside company. Although initial instincts may encourage business owners and IT management staff to go the in-house route, this can be a perilous move for small to mid-sized firms that are not prepared to handle such responsibilities internally.

Just as most small to mid-sized firms don’t take on the responsibility of milling their own printer paper or manufacturing their own staples, the decision to handle one’s own network support affairs often centers around whether it is efficient to go the “DIY” route. Many successful companies choose to focus on their core competencies rather than handle every logistical matter themselves. This focus is what often leads to success in their own particular industry, as outsourcing network support affords them more time to specialize on whatever products and services they offer in order to succeed and become profitable. When cash flow is diverted to staff who focus on fixing network printers and troubleshooting Internet outages, that is money that cannot be used to improve one’s primary focus on income-generating activities.

Another benefit to using an outside vendor for network support is in-line with the idea of preserving cash flow for profitable activities, namely the ability to reduce operational costs. Outside firms providing network support are experts in what they do, thus being able to perform their duties faster, better and cheaper than in-house staff lacking the skills and experience in specific networking support duties.

Consider our previous discussion in the article titled “Network Security – The Cold Hard Facts” which explained the various duties and expertise in network design, protocols, device configuration and more required to maintain a secure network. Another article titled “The Top 3 Issues Affecting Today’s Large Computer Networks” details the various issues experts must tackle on a daily basis in order to maintain an effective network. These topics are full-time affairs requiring every care and attention to detail a full-time professional would put into his or her own line of work. Allowing one’s staff to handle these issues “on the side” or as a secondary thought to be addressed after business hours would be detrimental to productivity. Saving these tasks for outsourced networking professionals allows a company’s staff to focus time and energy on what they do best.

Outsourcing your network support may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Leave it to IT Direct to help you get started with a network support outsourcing solution that’s right for your business. IT Direct is the leading authority in Connecticut for computer networking and consulting solutions of any scale. Contact us today to get started.

5 Things To Consider When Setting Up a Small Business Computer Network

5 Things To Consider When Setting Up a Small Business Computer Network

In the old days, a famous automobile advertisement once said, “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” We’re not talking about cars now, but in a sense the same mentality holds true for computer technology, as this is not your father’s networking environment. In times gone by, a small business network setup consisted of a few desktop PCs connected to a modest file server. Nowadays, small business is actually big business; a single PC can now contain gigabytes of mission-critical information. Gone are the days of 56kbps dial-up Internet access, too, as even the smallest ‘Small Office Home Office’ operations most likely have high-speed connections now.

While all of this new computing and networking firepower brings great benefits to one’s small business, it can also bring great disasters if proper care isn’t taken from the very beginning when one’s computer network is first established. The following five suggestions should be on the top of your priority list when setting up a new computer network for your business:

1. Determine your network’s purpose

While this may seem obvious, many small business owners don’t actually take time in the beginning to determine the purpose of their network. Is the network intended to link up computers locally or provide remote access as well? Will there be applications and data shared from a central repository or distributed amongst various desktop and laptop PCs in a peer-to-peer fashion? Understanding the purpose of your network will put you in a better position for procuring the right components and setting up the proper connections necessary to meet your networking needs.

2. Establish a budget

Failing to establish a budget for your network can lead to a multitude of problems in the future. Not knowing just how much you are able to spend on networking hardware such as routers, switches, wi-fi hot spots, cabling and firewalls could lead to purchasing the wrong hardware or hardware that may not be best suited to work with pre-existing infrastructure. Without knowing how much a small business has to spend on networking from day one could lead to money shortages before all of the right hardware is purchased and installed. Buying the greatest backup system on the market, for example, isn’t going to be very useful if there isn’t enough money to install, operate and maintain it.

3. Security

People don’t really recognize the need for security until it is too late. When it comes to small business computer networking, security needs to be established from the very beginning. Have software to block spam, advertisements and malware from entering your network. Keep all operating system software and user applications fully patched and updated. Insist on the use of strong passwords for all accounts, file-shares and encrypted data. Keep important systems physically secured in lockable server rooms as well.

4. Training

Training is closely related to security, as a lot of staff training should be devoted towards understanding proper use of the network so as to prevent it from becoming compromised. Employees need to be instructed on what constitutes proper use of company networking resources so as to prevent malware and viruses from ruining the system.

5. Maintenance

Computer networks need to be maintained to continue operating effectively. Unfortunately, network maintenance can often turn into a full-time job, something that small business owners just don’t have the time, money and know-how to do properly We discussed this topic in great detail within our previous article titled “Network Support: In-House or Outsource?” Often times it makes better sense for small businesses to obtain network support from a professional Technology Consultant, but who are you going to trust?

Leave it to IT Direct to help get your network up and running. IT Direct is the leading authority in Connecticut for designing, installing and maintaining small business network setups. Contact us today to see what we can do to get your small business network up and running.

IT Consulting in a Wireless World – Protecting Your Network and Wireless Devices

IT Consulting in a Wireless World – Protecting Your Network and Wireless Devices

Mobile devices have greatly expanded the ability for businesspeople of all kinds to get their work done while on the road. While telephones were originally limited to the office, hotel room and phone booth, road warriors from every industry are now free to conduct business anywhere a mobile signal is available. Mobile devices go beyond that of traditional cell phone though, now combining telephony with PDA features. In fact, today’s mobile devices and smartphones possess more power than the desktop PCs of just a few years ago, allowing people on-the-go the ability to communicate and perform computing tasks practically anywhere.

Such freedom comes at a tremendous cost, however, as mobile devices open up small businesses to risks that traditional telecommunication devices never did. A mobile phone from just a decade or two ago was simply a portable telephone and nothing more. Telephone contacts may have been compromised due to loss or theft but was nothing worse than losing a Rolodex or Day Runner. PDAs introduced greater risks of data loss but still lacked the bandwidth and storage capacity that today’s modern devices possess. Today’s wireless devices, with their high storage capacities and high-speed networking features give hackers and thieves an easy route into your company network.

In many ways, today’s modern mobile devices are no different than typical desktops and laptops businesspeople have been using for years. Smartphones, tablets PCs and netbooks all contain the same computing and communication features a typical laptop would have, yet are much more susceptible to loss or theft. Whereas a laptop may be locked down to avoid theft, smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices are not typically secured to any physical location. Their smaller sizes make them inherently more vulnerable to loss and theft as well. While the outright replacement value for a high-end smartphone may be difficult to manage, this is not the worst part of the problem.

The real problem has to do with the vulnerability one’s small business network is susceptible to when the data on the device falls into the wrong hands. Many people fail to treat mobile devices as tiny computers even though that is essentially what they are. Today people have no problems password protecting their desktops and notebooks, yet significantly fewer see towards proper mobile device protection.

An insecure tablet PC or smartphone enables hackers and thieves the ability to access your email, networking resources and other sensitive data just like a traditional computer can. Using passwords that are difficult to guess is critical. While password protection is a start, it is important to take other precautions such as using quality security software to protect one’s mobile devices from viruses and other malware.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are many issues to consider when developing a plan for complete, comprehensive network security. Other quality tips for protecting your IT assets can be found in our article titled “Network Security – The Cold Hard Facts”. While deploying security may not be such a problem for one or two devices, even small businesses will soon find the task of maintaining several dozen devices to be a lot more demanding than expected.

Protecting mobile devices is actually much more difficult than protecting in-house computers due to their portable nature. For most small businesses, it is highly recommended to seeking the advice of an IT consulting professional specializing in mobile device protection.

When it comes to network protection and mobile device protection, nobody beats IT Direct. Contact our IT consulting pros today to find out how we can help protect your business from today’s networking and mobile device threats.

Corporate Network Security – What You Need to Know

Corporate Network Security – What You Need to Know

Corporate network security is much like indoor plumbing; you don’t really think about it until it stops working. While a leaky faucet or a stopped drain may be annoying, failures in corporate network security are much more threatening. A single breach can leave a company wide open to identity theft, intellectual property theft and even total loss of network operations. The news reports every day intrusions proving to be detrimental to even the largest organizations in the world. At this very moment hackers are invading computer systems with profound effects on corporations, individuals and the world as a whole.

Although the media paints a dark, gloomy outlook on network security, there are many things managers and small business owners can do to prevent themselves from becoming a “digital statistic.” These five suggestions provide a good starting point for developing an enterprise-wide strategy for protecting one’s corporate network:

1. Corporate network security is a serious matter.

Although some people choose to remain in denial about many of the difficult challenges life throws at them, corporate network security should not be one of these. Unlike a personal pet peeve or bad habit, corporate network security is a serious matter that should not be taken lightly. The sooner one realizes this the better, as corporate network security transcends the borders of one’s own office. Theft of physical office supplies is one thing, but intellectual property theft is a completely different matter. While insurance can replace office desks and file cabinets, how does one get back trade secrets copied off of a “secure” network server? How does one recover tax returns, personnel records and sensitive customer data? The answer is simple: you don’t.

2. Just one time is enough.

All it takes is one time for a hacker to penetrate a company’s network, violate its privacy and, perhaps even worst, ruin its reputation. Just ask Google, Sony or Citibank to confirm this. A company who takes network security seriously and approaches it with the right attitude is in a much better position from the start than one that doesn’t.

3. Corporate network security is an on-going process.

Corporate network security is not a “fire and forget” sort of procedure. It is an on-going process that requires attention on a daily basis. In the old days, people wholeheartedly welcomed air conditioners, automobiles and computers as novelty items. Less attention and care was given to them as they became more routine. This is normal, as people come to depend on things that “just work” without requiring constant attention. While it is typically a good thing that one’s network discretely operates in the background, its lack of a spotlight should not make it any less important than routine service for any other component vital a company’s operation.

4. Learn to grow properly.

When it comes to securing one’s corporate network, the key is to learn to grow properly. The needs of a small company differ drastically from those of a large company. Apply the tools and techniques needed for your level of sophistication and step up gradually as needed. Obtain network consulting from a network security specialist who is ready to deliver expert guidance to you.

5. Assume they know more than you.

Network security isn’t your primary business, but hacking is certainly the primary line of work for “the bad guys” out to steal your data. The best you can do is to be aware of general threats and delegate the responsibility to the guys on the front, namely your IT personnel.

Perhaps you either lack an IT department or just don’t enough staff on hand to handle everything. Don’t worry; you don’t have to go it alone. Leave it to IT Direct to help keep your network secure. IT Direct is the leading authority in Connecticut for designing and securing corporate networks. Contact us today to see what we can do to keep your data in and the hackers out.

How to Choose an IT Consulting Company

How to Choose an IT Consulting Company

Choosing an IT consulting company to help with one’s information technology issues can be a daunting task. Running one’s business is tough enough without having to decide what IT consultancy will be capable of providing all of the right tasks on time and within budget. Although it is impossible to predict the future, below are a few criteria that can help small business owners choose the right IT consulting company for them:

1. Experience. Contrary to what many new college graduates may believe, experience really does matter when it comes to choosing an IT consulting company to help solve information technology issues. Small businesses choose to hire qualified, experienced IT consultants because they want the job done right and done right now.

While it is possible to save money hiring a young intern to perform many duties, one runs the risk of time delays, wasted money and even make matters worse. Although technology changes almost daily in the IT world, the principles involved with developing IT solutions for small business are age-old.

2. Pedigree. Experience shows what a consultancy has done in the past, but are they keeping up with the present and the future? A company actively engaged in industry-recognized certification programs demonstrates a firm commitment to staying informed with modern technological trends. This commitment also demonstrates an IT consulting company is committed to providing their customers with the latest the market has to offer.

An IT consulting company who trains its consultants and certifies them in the skills and technologies needed by its customers is more likely to provide its clients with top-notch service when compared to those who do not.

3. Reputation. When a business outsources to another company, their own credibility becomes linked to that of the company performing the outsourcing. When choosing an IT consulting company, it is important to research the company’s background.

How long have they been in business? What are their specialities? Are they capable of developing the solutions they claim? What do other customers say about them? Do they stand behind their work? Choosing an IT consulting company with a good reputation not only provides peace of mind, it also keeps one’s own reputation above board.

4. Costs. Although everybody wants to have their cake and eat it, in reality compromises have to be made. Small business owners are well aware of their budgetary requirements, and as such need to choose an affordable IT consulting company. Making the choice to outsource IT work is definitely a step in the right direction, as hiring such specialized expertise in-house is most often an unaffordable option for small businesses.

However, small business owners are cautioned not to “go cheap” when it comes to selecting an IT consulting company to augment their computer and networking needs. When it comes to weighing the costs of hiring an IT consulting company, it is important to try to compare “apples to apples” whenever possible. Some companies may boast low hourly rates to attract more customers. These “teaser” rates may ultimately prove disastrous if the above suggestions about experience, certification and reputation are ignored.

Try to take a holisitic view of the costs involved whenever possible. Assess a consultant’s entire approach to your solution, including equipment, design and support. Although one proposal may initially look more expensive than another, it may turn out to be cheaper in the long run. Small businesses rarely invest in IT solutions for just a few days of temporary use; the budgetary decisions involved with IT solutions should likewise be given thought for the long-term as well.

Hiring an IT consulting company can be a rewarding task, leading to one of the best business partnerships one could possibly make. The Technology Consultants at IT Direct are very familiar with these and the many other issues small business owners are faced when seeking the services of a reputable IT consultancy. IT Direct is a computer and network support provider with the experience, skills and reputation small business owners seek in an IT consulting company, all at a cost that won’t break the bank. Contact IT Direct to schedule a consultation today at (860) 656-9110.

How a Network Security Consulting Company Can Help Your Business

How a Network Security Consulting Company Can Help Your Business

Any small business that uses a computer connected to the internet or uses several computers connected to each other should realize that now it has an elevated security risk and should consider the services of a network security consulting provider.

Network security has become such a vast and complicated area of data and hardware management that it is now a dedicated discipline where professionals need to keep their skills right up to date to ward off the constant stream of new dangers. Most small to medium businesses do not have the resources to provide the necessary skills in-house and opt for third-party network security consulting.

A network security consulting partner will be able to undertake an accurate risk assessment for a business and prepare an action plan that will address vulnerabilities. The areas covered in risk assessment will be wide-ranging and will address the most prominent network security issues. Some of the potential issues to be addressed follow.

1) How access to the network is controlled

Granting anybody access to the network, from senior executives to remote customers, is plainly an issue. Careful attention must be paid to how and when access rights are added/amended and removed (a surprising number of businesses neglect to remove access rights for employees who no longer work for them).

Users should be restricted to only those data they need to access (a typist will not normally need access to company accounts, for example).

Policies on password and login management must be in place and physical access to premises and assets must be controlled. There is not much point in having sophisticated password control if, once logged in, a user remains logged in forever and their machine is accessible to members of the public e.g. a terminal in a store.

If access to the network is allowed from remote locations then the security measures need to be even more stringent.

2) How physical data backup and assets are managed

Removable storage devices and remote storage via internet are very cheap and easy to use nowadays, so there is no excuse for companies to lose data in the event of a fire, for example. Backup policies must exist and must be implemented. Network security must take into account how data are protected when they are sent to a remote location.

3) Staff awareness of network security risks

All staff must be made aware of the dangers of downloading infected files, having weak passwords and leaving written passwords on or in their desk, failing to change password regularly and revealing security policy to outsiders. Companies must also gave a policy on dealing with staff who breach procedures.

4) Good security housekeeping

Every computer on a network should be up-to-date with the latest versions and security patches of the operating system, antivirus and firewall software, protection against malware and spyware. Ideally, updating should be managed centrally with users given a limited time to implement updates on their machine.

We have touched on just some of the vital issues here. There are many more risk areas to be considered, but we hope that it is clear how beneficial a network security consulting company could be for any business.

Hiring an IT consulting company can be a rewarding task, leading to one of the best business partnerships one could possibly make. The Technology Consultants at IT Direct are very familiar with these and the many other issues small business owners are faced when seeking the services of a reputable IT consultancy. IT Direct is a computer and network support provider with the experience, skills and reputation small business owners seek in an IT consulting company, all at a cost that won’t break the bank. Contact IT Direct to schedule a consultation today at (860) 656-9110.