DIY network maintenance every business owner should know

Managing your network probably isn’t your favorite part of being a business owner. Unfortunately, it’s most likely at the top of the list of things that keep you up at night. In fact, according to the 2018 Small Business Risk Report conducted by Forbes Insights, 94% of businesses face cybersecurity risks.

So while there definitely is reason to be concerned, you can alleviate some of the risks by following a few simple strategies.

94% of businesses face cyber security risks.” Forbes Insights

Provide training

Your employees are your first line of defense against threats. Having everyone trained and involved is vital to keeping your network safe and secure. You can begin by scheduling a company-wide meeting to specifically discuss security and compliance.

Rather than a formal training session, start with a dialog approach that allows everyone to share stories and ask questions. This will enable you to get an understanding of how well-informed your employees are about your current solution and determine how much training will be needed. Then it will be easier to start the project with a clear idea of what to cover first.

Run simple courses

Employee training will make your staff more effective at their jobs (even the little things help a lot!). Training on creating strong passwords, using two-factor authentication, how to recognize phishing scams and routinely run software updates on their computers will help everyone get up to speed quickly. This is an easy way to greatly reduce the probability of cyber attacks due to employee negligence.

Provide transparency and open communication

Employees need to feel comfortable and safe, even if they’ve inadvertently put your network at risk. It’s important that they come to you when something happens so you can deal with it quickly. That way you can execute your data recovery plan as quickly as possible.

Provide tools that enable self-monitoring

Enable your employees to have some control over the safety of their company. By giving them the tools they need and the responsibility to use them, they’ll be more invested in helping you maintain your network security, saving your IT staff time and energy.

Test regularly

Taking an inventory of your network for vulnerabilities can help you nip a potential problem in the bud—or prevent it altogether. By testing for weaknesses when you’re not in the midst of a crisis, you can save money and hours of downtime.

Although testing may seem time-consuming and disruptive, setting a regular schedule should make it a lot more manageable. Determining what can be tested simultaneously, picking low traffic times and staggering systems should make this process less tedious and more efficient.

So rather than blocking off an entire day or days to do it all at once, you can devote a minimum of time over the course of a few days and get the same effect. Of course, consulting with experts is always a good idea, and they can tell you which course of action will work best for your organization.

VPN Monitoring tools

Although a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides encryption to protect your data, testing for leaks weekly will help to discover any problems that could potentially harm your network.

Run a services audit on servers

Over time your servers will be running more services than you need. Clearing these out on a monthly basis will make your network less vulnerable as well as improve their overall performance. Make sure that if you use a hybrid cloud solution that any third party does the same with their servers.

“The key to an effective cybersecurity strategy is regular penetration testing and continuous intrusion detection efforts.”

Update frequently

When a vulnerability is discovered, companies will issue patches to counteract it. If you’re not keeping everything up-to-date, you could miss out on major bug fixes and face potential risks.

While keeping everything updated has its challenges, software updates can be made with relative ease.

Important things to remember:

Update your OS and software

Updating software doesn’t usually take a lot of time. Some even give you the option to update automatically when it becomes available. You should keep an eye out for any significant changes but most updates mainly consist of minor patches or incremental improvements.

Update your router

Firmware tends to be out of date after only one year so you might have to update the router manually. This will ensure you have the most recent bug fixes and any security updates. If all else fails, you can always just replace your existing router for a new one.

When it comes to your servers and hardware, things can get a little more complicated. That’s not to say that’s it’s difficult. It just might take more time and energy to ensure you have everything you need to keep your network running smoothly.

Update servers

The good news is that typically your servers are less vulnerable to attack. The bad news is that if a cyber attack does occur, it can infect all your other systems. Updating your servers is crucial but it usually requires downtime so plan accordingly.

Update hardware as often as needed

How often you update your hardware is up to you. However, there are risks associated with keeping outdated technology around for too long. Frequent breakdowns and loss of data could hinder employees’ ability to work at peak efficiency. Running an annual assessment at the very least should help you make a determination when to pull the plug, make upgrades or invest in new equipment.

“Most breaches we become aware of are caused by failure to update software components that are known to be vulnerable for months or even years,” René Gielen, Vice President of Apache Struts

Be proactive

Taking steps to ensure that you have protocols in place to prevent attacks before they happen is probably the best way to save yourself some headaches in the future. Although you might be hesitant to spend the money upfront to beef up your security, it will save you money in the long run.

Invest in an Intrusion Detection System (IDS) or Intrusion Prevention System (IPS)

An IDS will notify you of botnets, malware, worms, Trojans and can test for vulnerabilities. An IPS do the same thing but can also be set up to take actions like blocking traffic when a threat is detected.

Fortify your firewall with a Web Application Firewall (WAF)

A WAF will protect against remote file intrusion, cross-site scripting and forgery and other threats that could put your customers’ information at risk.

Install antivirus/antimalware

Make sure your servers and computers all have the same software installed (maybe make a central backup on a central server). This will help to avoid conflicts that could lead to gaps in your protection.

“Many businesses remain too defensively-focused in the way they address cyberthreats.”

Final thoughts on network maintenance

There are always going to be threats to your network. However, taking a proactive approach and putting a plan in place can help to significantly reduce your risk. If you find that you’re having difficulty with any of these points, it might be time to switch around your internal organizational structure.

Once you’ve determined a plan of action, be sure to stick to it. Make a commitment to hold yourself and your team accountable to keep your network safe and secure.

Painless hardware updates and upgrades

Every business needs to update its hardware from time to time to stay current and competitive on the technological front. The problem for many businesses, though, is that hardware updates can be disruptive and difficult to manage without negatively affecting day-to-day operations.

Luckily, if approached correctly, hardware upgrades don’t have to be a hassle.

Here are four tips your business can use to ensure that its next round of hardware updates goes smoothly and results in as little downtime as possible.

Go through a comprehensive planning process

Before executing major hardware updates, it’s critical for your business and the managed IT service provider you’re using to plan the process out thoroughly. You need to know exactly what hardware needs to be replaced or upgraded, then develop a plan to handle the updates with as little disruption to your everyday business operations as possible.

Staging and testing new equipment before bringing it into use can be a good idea, as it will help to eliminate downtime during the upgrade. Your plan should also cover the disposal of your old hardware since you won’t want it taking up space around the office.

Make sure your team is in the loop

Even the best hardware updates and upgrades will cause some disruption in your office. For this reason, making them go smoothly requires that you communicate with your employees about what will be done and when.

This communication stage also gives you an opportunity to ask employees what they would like to see when you buy or lease new hardware for them to use.

Let new technologies make the process easier

One of the beauties of upgrading your hardware is that it presents an opportunity for you to take advantage of new technologies.

Trading in your own servers for cloud-based solutions, for example, is an excellent way to make hardware updates easier, since it involves fewer infrastructure changes on your end. Cloud solutions are also extremely efficient, with Microsoft estimating that they can decrease the workload of small businesses by an average of 42 percent.

To make this change possible, you’ll need to partner with a cloud services provider that can assist you in migrating your existing data into a cloud computing environment.

Be proactive to limit downtime and keep things running smoothly

Many businesses make the mistake of trying to keep using their old hardware long after it has become outdated. Though this approach may seem to save money in the short term, it is a deeply flawed way of looking at necessary hardware updates.

Not only does postponing updates make it more likely that you’ll need to pursue a company-wide update program, but it also incurs more downtime and additional costs.

A Techaisle whitepaper prepared in 2018 found that PCs that were four years old or older cost 1.3 times as much money to repair as newer units and were responsible for 2.1 times as many hours of downtime. The same survey found that 36 percent of small businesses are using such outdated PCs.

This isn’t to say, of course, that hardware repair and maintenance aren’t essential components of a good IT strategy. However, proactively replacing hardware when it has become outdated can help to keep your business up to date and prevent the disruption that will occur if you have to perform all of your hardware updates simultaneously.

Final thoughts on hardware updates

If you use these tips and work closely with a good IT partner, your next set of hardware updates and upgrades should go quite smoothly.

The more preparation, planning and consideration you put into these upgrades, the easier it will be to pull them off without disrupting any of your core business tasks.

How to pick the right business server for your SMB

No matter whether you’re running an e-commerce store or doing some powerful number-crunching, your small business will eventually grow to the size where you need a business server. With so many options on the market, it can be tough to know how to start your search—especially without the dedicated IT expertise of a larger company.

Whereas desktop computers are intended for only one or two people, businesses servers are designed to support the needs of many users simultaneously. Servers are used for purposes such as backing up data, hosting websites, sharing files and information, and more.

The good news is that buying the right business server for your SMB largely comes down to a few crucial factors. In this article, we’ll discuss the 5 criteria that you should evaluate when you’re in the market for a business server.

1. Speed

Most server vendors give buyers like you the flexibility to choose the number of processors and cores that your server will have. In particular, servers that will use multithreaded applications, such as web servers and database servers, will benefit from having multiple cores.

Both the number of cores and the clock speed of each core (measured in GHz) play a role in how fast your business server will be. If you’re uncertain about the right balance of cores and clock speed to select, speak with the vendor of the software that you plan to run on the server.

2. Storage space

Depending on what you’ll be using the server for, you may wish to upgrade the storage space. If you’ll be using it primarily as a repository for your business data, for example, you’ll need a good deal of storage. On the other hand, a machine that’s intended for use primarily as a file server will need less storage, because it emphasizes data transfer and not data processing.

In general, the amount of storage you’ll need depends on the number of users who will be accessing the server. The good news is that you can usually expand your storage space by adding another hard drive to the server. In this case, you should configure the drives using RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks).

As your business grows, you might anticipate needing substantially more storage than the size of a single server. Consider using cloud hosting, which can scale indefinitely to fit your business needs.

3. Memory

The third and final technical requirement to consider for your server is memory, which is measured in gigabytes (GB). In general, the more memory your server has, the more quickly users will be able to send and receive information. Additional memory also makes it possible to run more applications on the server concurrently and get better performance from them.

Like storage space, you can generally supplement your original server hardware with more RAM, so you won’t be locked into a hard limit once you make the purchase.

4. Security

If you use any form of server technology, network security is a vitally important part of your business, and it could make all the difference for your company’s survival. According to a study by the National Cyber Security Alliance, 60 percent of small businesses shut their doors in the 6 months following a data breach.

Servers that will be interfacing with the outside world, such as those that host websites, must have robust security measures to protect their contents. Not only should the physical hardware be stored in a secure location, but you should also install tools such as firewalls, antivirus and anti-malware applications, and monitoring and alerting software in order to protect yourself.

5. Operating system

Although the operating system is largely independent of the server hardware itself, you should still consider which operating system would be best for your needs. These days, the two most popular choices of server OS are Windows Server and a Linux distribution such as Debian, OpenSUSE, Fedora Server, or Ubuntu Server.

Windows Server is popular among many large enterprises and has a more “corporate” feel to it. Meanwhile, Linux gives you more flexibility and freedom due to its open-source code base, but it can require a good deal of in-depth technical knowledge to use successfully—there’s no IT help desk you can call as with Microsoft.

In some cases such as web hosting, one of the two options is clearly the preferred choice. According to web technology survey company W3Techs, Unix-based operating systems such as Linux power 68 percent of websites, while Windows runs the remainder. Ultimately, the best choice of operating system for your server is likely the one that meshes the best with your existing IT infrastructure.

OS cheat sheets:

Final thoughts on business servers

Although buying a business server for your SMB might seem like a daunting task, the question really simplifies down to a few important considerations.

If you increasingly find that your SMB has IT needs that outstrip your staff’s abilities, it might be time to work with a managed IT services partner.

Interested in learning more? Contact our qualified, knowledgeable IT professionals at MCA who can give you the expert guidance and service that you need to run your business.

4 signs that it’s time to replace business hardware

Hardware has become a crucial aspect of business success. Without the right hardware, you can’t track data, run new software, or help your employees collaborate with each other.

Unfortunately, hardware doesn’t last forever. At a certain point, you’ll need to replace business hardware to keep up with your technological needs. You’ll know it’s time to replace business hardware when you notice the following four signs.

You have performance issues with your computers

The faster your company’s hardware works, the more your employees can accomplish. As hardware ages, you’ll find that performance issues affect productivity. As the computers slow, so will your employees.

You can often improve a computer’s performance by uninstalling unused software, removing malware, and deleting old files. Even with regular maintenance, though, the age of your computers will create performance issues.

Today’s latest technology makes business processes seamless. If you don’t feel like your computers can keep up with your business’s workload, then it’s time for you to consider upgrading to newer models.

You can’t update your software

Software and operating system updates help protect your company from security weaknesses that hackers can exploit. Updating your software is one of the most effective things that you can do to protect yourself from malware.

Updates, however, have hardware requirements. When your hardware doesn’t meet the requirements of your software updates, then you need to replace business hardware. Without new equipment, you leave yourself exposed to attacks that will disrupt your company’s plans and services.

Additionally, you should have a data backup plan so you won’t lose important information when old hardware fails or a hacker uses malware to lock your files.

You spend too much money on maintenance and repairs

Hardware maintenance and repair can extend the lives of your computers, servers, routers, and other equipment. Eventually, though, repairing your hardware will cost more than replacing it. If you find that you’re spending more than you would like on maintenance and repairs, then you should consider purchasing new hardware that doesn’t need as much attention.

If you have hardware warranties, then you should try to replace damaged items before the warranties expire. Doing so could help you save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Your hardware can’t run the software you want to use

As business software becomes more advanced, you’ll need to replace business hardware to keep up with the software’s requirements. Most companies expect their laptops and desktop computers to last about three years.

After three years, your computer probably won’t have the processing power needed to run software that helps you analyze data, manage customers, and automate everyday tasks. If your IT budget doesn’t have enough flexibility for you to purchase new computers every three years, then consider leasing the hardware that you need. You should also revisit your budget to make sure it matches your company’s technology needs.

When it comes time to replace business hardware, make sure you dispose of your old equipment in a safe, eco-friendly manner. You’ll need to permanently delete sensitive information from your computers, hard drives, and servers. It also makes sense to recycle or donate hardware that still has usefulness for other organizations.

Hardware disposal pro tips for small business leaders

In today’s business environment, having the latest tech tools at your disposal is essential to your company’s success. Whenever you buy or lease new business hardware, though, you’ll be left with old hardware you may no longer need.

Here are a few of the steps your company should take to make hardware disposal easier, safer and more efficient.

Before hardware disposal, consider repurposing

Before you actually start the process of hardware disposal, it’s a good idea to consider repurposing some of your old hardware.

Servers and workstations can often be repurposed for new tasks with only minimal upgrades. Laptops, however, are generally not seen as economical candidates for repurposing.

As a rule, repurposed hardware is best put into auxiliary roles, such as providing extra data storage. You could also reassign it to departments that require less specialized hardware. Be aware that your hardware may need some basic maintenance and repair before being repurposed. You should take that cost into consideration when deciding between repurposing and hardware disposal.

Preparing for hardware disposal

Once you’ve repurposed what you can, it’s time to prepare for the actual process of hardware disposal. Securely destroying or otherwise disposing of hardware requires some forethought.

To prepare your hardware, you need to start with data security. We recommend completely wiping the hard drive of any computer, tablet, smartphone or server you plan to retire. Leaving data on your hardware for possible attackers to find can lead to a major network security data breach. Do what you can to defend yourself before you do any hardware disposal.

For workstations and laptops, you can use special functions built into all Windows and Mac operating systems to erase your data. Decommissioning servers is a bit more complicated. The process will vary depending on the software that is running on your servers.

Removing data from your hardware is critical to ensuring you don’t run into cybersecurity problems down the road. You also need to be sure that any important data has been properly saved for future use.

Be sure that all data from laptops and workstations has been backed up. Also, migrate the data from your old servers to the new servers before the old ones are wiped. Many businesses today choose to migrate their server data to the cloud. If you plan to go this route, it’s important to find a good cloud services provider. Pay attention to fast transfer speeds, security and overall customer service.

Consider donating your old hardware

A great way to handle hardware disposal to donate retired equipment it to a nonprofit organization.

There are some nonprofits that take donated computers and give them to low-income families. Other charitable organizations find themselves in need of computer hardware for basic administrative functions.

If you need to dispose of laptops or workstations, giving them to a worthwhile charity is a great option.

The hardware recycling process

Electronic waste from hardware disposal can be extremely harmful to the environment. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have your old hardware recycled.

E-waste recycling and reclamation centers can be found in every state. These are the best places to take old hard drives, computers and other electronic waste products.

Although most people think of hardware recycling only in terms of old computers, some specialty recycling companies can also recycle servers. Before handing your old hardware over to a recycling center, though, do some research to be sure the company is legitimate. In recent years, reports of recycling scams in which e-waste is ultimately deposited in landfills have become increasingly common.