Hosted VoIP: The Business Case for SMEs

Business VoIP ServicesAccording to the telecoms regulator Ofcom, 95 per cent of small businesses in the UK still use traditional landline telephones.

However, the further up the enterprise chain you travel, a very different picture emerges. Amongst larger businesses, landline use has fallen into the minority, overtaken comprehensively by Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) – otherwise known as internet telephony.
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Best Business Tablets for 2017

Best Business TabletsWhen people talk about migrating IT services to the Cloud, they tend to focus on the ‘soft’ elements – what software, what parts of their telecoms network, what data banks to transfer from in situ infrastructure to remote, managed servers.

What sometimes gets forgotten is one of the key reasons why migrating to the Cloud can benefit your business – mobility. With a Cloud business IT network, you don’t have to be in a certain office on a certain broadband connection to get on the company servers and work. In fact, the Cloud lets you work from anywhere you have an internet connection.
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Security First: How to Stay Smart in the Cloud

Cloud SecurityThe rate at which businesses moved their IT operations to the Cloud accelerated in 2016, and most forecasts see the pace of migration stepping up another gear in 2017.

According to Forrester Research, the overall number of businesses using the Cloud has increased from 10 per cent to 33 per cent since 2013. Figures from 451 Research suggest that spend on Cloud services is expected to increase from an average of 28 per cent of IT budgets last year to 34 per cent this year.
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Communication, Meet Collaboration: Why Matching Digital Tools Makes Sense

Matching Digital ToolsAccording to the people who think about these things, we are now in the third phase of the evolution of IT in the workplace.

First came the mainframe computer, followed swiftly by the personal or desktop computer, giving everyone access to digital tools at work for the first time.

For the past decade or so, we have been in the mobile phase – the advent of mobile phones, laptops, Wifi and tablets has thrown off the shackles of where, when and how we can work. Whereas once upon a time, to log on to a business computing network, you had to be logged on to a computer physically connected to that network by a wire, now you can do it from anywhere you like.

Nowadays, such is the development of multimedia communication tools, you don’t even have to hold meetings with everyone in the same space, you can just set up a video conference with as many participants as you like. To share work with a colleague, you don’t have to hand it to them, or even send it by email – you can put it in a shared folder on the Cloud that both of you can access whenever you like from any device with an internet connection.

The benefits of this new mobile way of working are manifold – flexible working patterns, more efficient use of time, are workforce that can be distributed far and wide but still connected, innovation on the move.

But there is also a feeling that most businesses are only at the beginning of this journey. And the reason for that is, according to some analysts, most businesses are not yet joining up the dots – or rather, the tools – of how to link communication to collaboration effectively.

To date, cloud-based technology for the workplace has tended to evolve along two separate paths – you have your software for doing your job on the one hand, and your communication devices and networks and the other. But what if these two were more closely integrated? What if, for example, your VoIP and mobile phones were somehow linked to your file sharing and collaboration platforms, like Sharepoint or OwnCloud

Would it surprise you to hear that the technology to do that is already widely available?

The key here is broadband internet, and the Cloud. If you are using cloud-based collaboration tools, and a hosted VOIP service, say, you are already running your comms and productivity software over an internet connection. Merging these into a single streamlined service is not only logical, but simple to achieve.

Part of the reason communication and collaboration remain separated is cultural. Workers over the age of 30 are a phone being used to make phone calls and computers being used to do work, even if the phone does run on an IP server.

But services like Microsoft’s Sharepoint already allow you to do everything from one place. In Office 365 Online for Business, you share working documents in company OneDrive folders on the Cloud, edit and collaborate on them in real time using Office Online programmes, all whilst talking face to face on a video call on Skype for Business. You can even start a message thread about it of social network service Yammer.

Long term, the business case for unifying all operations, collaboration and communication, into single integrated platforms that can be accessed on any device at any time is hard to ignore. It will reduce costs and downtime, while boosting innovation and business continuity, with a workforce that is empowered to be involved in more and to work with greater flexibility.

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Could Cloud Make Your IT Infrastructure Obsolete?

Could Cloud Make Your IT Infrastructure Obsolete?As Cloud enterprise technology takes off around the world, analysts are starting to ponder the fate of the on-premises IT systems it is replaces.

With the number of businesses running their IT infrastructure entirely in the Cloud expected to be in the majority by 2018, in-office network servers – the bastion of business operations for the past two decades – look doomed to become yesterday’s technology.

According to a recent survey of IT professionals worldwide carried out by 451 Research, 60 per cent expect to be running operations entirely on the Cloud two years from now. Although just a forecast, that rise of nearly 20 per cent from the number using Cloud-only systems today is significant. As we stand, on-premises products are still in the majority. But once the scales tip in the other direction, the slide could be rapid.

Another report in America from Forrester Research paints a picture of profits for Cloud companies soaring whilst ‘legacy’ enterprise IT vendors have seen a steady decline for the past decade. Producers of network hardware and software just cannot compete with cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) suppliers who offer to host and manage your IT for minimal capital outlay.

Some experts are predicting competition from the Cloud could start to force traditional big-name enterprise server manufacturers – the likes of Dell, Oracle, IBM – out of the market altogether.

All of this raises the prospect of enterprise hardware becoming obsolete. The danger of this is not that the systems themselves become out-dated, but that the crucial data on them is in a form no longer compatible with the new technologies that have overtaken them. For businesses operating on their own physical systems, it would like being trapped in a technological cul-de-sac, with no option to move forward without going backwards and starting all over again.

In practice, no one is expecting in-premises enterprise networks to be cut adrift over night. Although changing rapidly, just under two-thirds of businesses still use them, which will keep the vendors in the market for some time yet. In addition, a niche industry for ‘transition’ hardware and software to growing up to mitigate for the fact that it is not that straightforward to migrate existing networks onto the Cloud. Many businesses are employing ‘hybrid’ models, which means they launch new system technologies on the Cloud, but keep existing legacy operations running on the old servers, until they are phased out naturally.

What should businesses do? It is not yet time to panic about your on-premises servers being more hindrance than help. But the Cloud is here and, looking long-term, hosted IT is the direction the world is heading. It is certainly worth considering for any new IT investment, be it replacing existing systems or launching new. The Forrester report advises decision makers to embrace innovation but ultimately, as with any business decision, make the choice that fits with your business needs.

If you are thinking of switching your IT infrastructure or would like some advice on how hosted IT services would impact on your business, Cloud4’s friendly team of consultants would be delighted to speak to you.

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Are you ready to mobilise your business?

Are you ready to mobilise your business?The advent of so-called smart technology has transformed the way we live our lives in little more than a decade. Computing tasks which used to require hefty chunks of desktop hardware can now be completed with devices that fit snugly into a pocket. It has changed the way people communicate, socialise and consume, as lives are increasingly led on the move.

If the world has gone mobile, it makes sense for your business to follow the trend. The ability to conduct all kinds of transactions from any place at any time is not merely an issue of keeping up with the Joneses, it is about making use of technology to work in smarter, more efficient ways. As the world speeds up, businesses need to follow suit.

Added Agility

For consumer-facing businesses, it is a matter of keeping up with customer expectations. In a world where people are now used to having the world at the fingertips at the touch of a button, instant response has become the norm. Mobile technology can make your business agile enough to meet those demands.

For B2B-facing operations, mobile offers a new level of efficient, responsive working. Establishing the right kind of communication networks with clients and suppliers means no one need ever be left waiting on a response to an urgent query. Meetings can conducted across huge distances, and orders and requests can be processed the moment the need arises.

Getting set up

The first step to making a business mobile is migrating at least some IT operations onto the cloud. One of the big advantages of cloud computing is that it frees users from having to connect to a physical server in a fixed location; as long as you have internet access, you can perform all of your computing tasks from anywhere. Whether that means using a hosted desktop service or moving all your operations onto a cloud server, it means all aspects of your business are ready to be conducted on the move.

Accessing your business in the cloud whilst on the move also requires the right kind of hardware. Investing in Smart phones and tablets for your mobile workforce makes sense because they are designed specifically for on-the-move use. Touchscreens are far easier to use in transit than even the most slim-fit laptops, whilst having 4G-ready devices is an absolute must if you are to be free of dependence on wi-fi connections.

Increased productivity

The final consideration is making sure that everyone in your mobile team can communicate properly. The ability to make calls and reply to e-mails on the go has been taken for granted for many years now, but mobile technology offers much more.

VoIP services – in a nutshell, communicating directly over an internet connection – have the advantage of costing less than ordinary mobile telephony, whilst also offering video and conference calling on the go simple and straightforward.

If you are interested in learning more about how to mobilise your business, Cloud 4 offers the full range of services you will need. Contact us to find out how our cost-effective services could help to improve your productivity, and your bottom line.

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Why Use a Hosted Server?

When you opt for a hosted server, you get all the benefits of an in-house server, but without the upfront costs for hardware and installation. Small businesses often find that servers are the most expensive items they purchase. The hardware, infrastructure and power costs quickly mount up, and the cost of maintenance and management can outstrip a business’ budget. If you run a server in-house, wouldn’t it be easier – and cheaper – to switch to a hosted server instead?

When you opt for a hosted server, you get all the benefits of an in-house server, but without the upfront costs for hardware and installation. You save space on server rooms and cooling equipment, and you’ll also benefit from the flexibility of the cloud. And because we use only the best data centre facilities, you benefit from blistering network speeds no matter where you are.

How Hosted Servers Work

A hosted server is a Linux or Windows machine that is set up by Cloud4’s engineers, and provisioned from our Manchester or London data centre. Your server is provisioned according to the specifications you choose at sign-up, and you don’t need to buy any hardware. If you want to scale up later, you can, with no penalty. Equally, you can reduce your commitment if you have more capacity than you need.

Our team can install the applications that you require to get started, or you can take control of your server and set it up the way you want it. Once we’ve handed it over, your IT team can take care of it as though it was on the premises. We give you a level of permissions equivalent to full root access, and once we’ve deployed the server, all of the management and control is handed to you.

Each server is equipped with backup software and firewall protection at no extra cost, and we provide the expertise of our specialist team to get you up and running. If you have any support queries, you can trust Cloud4 Computers to provide prompt, efficient and effective resolution, with support services provided for a fixed hourly fee.

Server Customisation

With a hosted server, you can choose an off-the-shelf solution, or ask us to put together a customised solution. From a single server through to a dedicated private cloud environment, we have options to suit every business and every use case. From testing and development through to application and database hosting, our flexible plans give you exactly what you need.

From there, you simply pay a monthly subscription fee according to the specifications and resource that you’re using. Optionally, you can bolt on a management service for an additional fee, or get support ad-hoc for a small charge.

Find Out More

When you buy a hosted server plan, you’ll get complete peace of mind. Your business data will be stored in an ISO27001 certified facility, and you have 30 days to evaluate the service. If you decide that it’s not working during that period, you can activate our money-back guarantee.

Cloud4 Computers are the experts in hosted server provision. For more information, contact our friendly sales advisors, and find out how much time and money your business could save.

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Is It Time to Transform Your Office?

Is It Time to Transform Your Office?As more and more millennials enter the global workforce, businesses are faced with a generational split. Older staff are seeking to work later into life, and they are used to working in the same place each day. At the same time, younger employees expect more flexibility: they want to work from home, work varied hours, and bring their own devices to work.

In the face of this shift in working practice, we’re seeing the traditional office slowly changing shape at the same time. Desks may only be occupied for part of the week, as technologies like hosted desktops allow staff to work from practically any location. VOIP telephony lets people take their phone lines with them, and hosted Exchange is shrinking the on-premise data centre.

The office of the future will be a very different place, compared to the function it has served over the last 30 years.

Millennial Perks

Millennials are a generation that has grown up with the internet. They’re the people most likely to use instant messaging to talk with a team, or fire up video calls rather than attend meetings. Google and Facebook have led the way in redesigning their workplaces to better meet the needs of millennial staff, and SMEs can learn a lot from these initiatives.

Facebook has reinvented the humble vending machine, offering free keyboards and other peripherals at the touch of a button. Google provides free gyms, pool tables, launderettes and massages to retain its best staff and keep them happy. Of course, these perks have a secondary purpose: they drive productivity and loyalty, and blur the line between work and play.

Most businesses can’t afford to repurpose meeting rooms as ping pong halls, but that doesn’t mean that change has to be expensive. We’re seeing more businesses offer relatively small perks: free burritos, shopping discounts and bowling trips, as well as a general re-think of the way their office space is used.

Changing Ways of Working

If more of your staff are working remotely, you’re going to be sitting in a partly empty office for much of the day. Reducing desk space and repurposing it can offer better utilisation of space, increased productivity, and a workplace that is more in tune with the millennial way of working.

For example, some businesses are splitting off a corner of the office and turning it into a soundproof booth – perfect for morning scrums and video conferences. Many are doing away with cubicles and introducing large desks that bring teams together.

More common space, coffee shop zones and outdoor facilities help to keep people stimulated and happy at work.

Does the office really have to contain banks of computers, and a fixed seat for every person you hire? Not necessarily. Changing technologies mean we all have the freedom to rethink how our office space is used.

Technology That Works For You

If you’re bringing in technologies like cloud file storage and online collaboration, do you really need vast meeting rooms? As we embrace the hosted desktop, is there any need for the 9-5? Millennials are already moving into management positions, and they are reshaping the way our offices function, which is aiding productivity and innovation.

To find out more about the cloud could drive transformation in your workplace, speak to the experts at Cloud4 today. From a handful of hosted desktops to a full virtual PBX, our solutions are driving change in businesses.

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When Will Your Business Be Fully Cloud-First?

Hosted ServicesSmall businesses and startups are most able to take advantage of new cloud technologies. That’s according to an IDC report. It says that 70 per cent of SMEs now engage with the cloud in some way. SMEs are using 4 cloud apps per company, on average, while the fastest adoption is taking place among millennials: people who reached adulthood around the year 2000.

Consider the fact that many of today’s entrepreneurs can barely remember a world without the web. They are adaptable when it comes to new technology, and they are open to trying new ideas. It’s no wonder: they’ve grown up with the cloud. Millennials are already forming new companies that are disrupting established markets, and they’re using digital tools relatively freely.

If your business is to compete with these new, highly agile competitors, it needs to take a cloud-first approach to its business IT. That may mean invoking massive culture change.

Are you ready for the challenge?

Defining Cloud-First

The US government coined the term ‘cloud-first’ to encourage departments to use cloud technologies as a first option. This policy was designed to speed up migration to the cloud, therefore encouraging a more economical use of IT.

And it worked. Hundreds of US government data centres have closed, or are in the process of being decommissioned, because so many departments are leveraging cloud storage and processing power instead. The cloud is creating a less wasteful IT landscape, and delivering massive savings. Already, the US Department of Agriculture has saved $75 million by moving to the cloud, and expects to save another $125 million as its adoption strategy continues. That’s just one department of hundreds.

Here at home, the UK government also has a cloud-first policy, although it has failed to deliver the same kinds of savings as its US peers.

Is this a cultural issue, or perhaps a generational one?

Changing Times

By 2020, millennials will make up 50 per cent of the world’s workforce. And millennials are the people most likely to understand, accept and trust cloud technologies.

In contrast, look at attitudes within the UK civil service: 43 per cent of employees are still printing and posting documents to each other, because the cloud is still viewed with suspicion, or seen as a barrier to normal ways of working.

In a survey, 78 per cent of civil service IT workers were concerned about cloud security, while 68 per cent said time and effort were an issue when migrating.

As startups come to treat the cloud as a prerequisite for success, so established organisations are going to have to update their approach to IT and embrace the cloud, rather than shying from it. Startups are going to outpace non-cloud customers and gain that critical efficiency advantage.

Additionally, customers and service users are going to notice a marked difference between the companies that are cloud-first, and the ones that are not. Delivering exceptional service means giving customers the service they expect.

The First Step

All over the world, we’re seeing a digital revolution take hold. In public organisations and private businesses, cloud computing is driving efficiency and positive change. A cloud-first approach is essential if your business is going to retain its lead over competitors, particularly as agile startups threaten your lead.

For more information about our cloud-first email services, file storage and online backup, don’t hesitate to give Cloud4 a call. We can provide a single service or a bespoke package, supporting your business as it takes its first steps towards successful migration.

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Is Your Business Taking Care of Client Data?

Is Your Business Taking Care of Client Data?We’re all used to receiving dubious emails about obscure lottery wins, and thankfully, most of us are wise to the scams. But occasionally, these phishing emails slip through the net, and employees get caught out.

Scammers are using a range of tactics to try to capture payment and login details, and it’s up to you to ensure your employees know about the latest attacks. If you work in professional services, and you handle client data, you’ve got a responsibility to protect the security of that data as well as your own.

Types of Scams

Phishing scams have been used to dupe unwitting users for more than 20 years. The premise is simple: send people an email that looks legitimate, but embed a bogus link. When the user clicks through, they are tricked into entering their credit card information or login details, which are transmitted to the scammers and used to commit fraud.

Now, there’s a new type of scamming, called vishing – or ‘voice phishing – that involves telephone calls that sound legitimate. The scammer makes a call and poses as a member of staff at a bank, or a large IT company. They convince the user that there’s a problem with their account or computer, and tell them they have to provide their card details to proceed. Vishing has been in the media recently because large numbers of people have been conned out of money.

Businesses may also have noticed an increasing number of fake invoices and payment demands that are appearing in Inboxes and Spam folders. These emails are sent to trick new employees into paying non-existent clients. While most businesses will cross-reference payment demands with client accounts, a few of these bogus demands will inevitably slip through the net.

What You Can Do

In any organisation, the IT system needs to be robust enough to filter out threats. At Cloud4, we include free virus and spam filtering to capture as many dangerous emails as we can.

On top of the automated checks we offer, we recommend that you invest in staff training. You must educate your users so they recognise these scam attempts and act accordingly. Security training needs to be part of your induction program for all new employees, with a focus on front line staff that may be handling payments or login details in their role. Additionally, you should schedule refresher courses to communicate new scammer tactics as they arise.

Protecting Your Data

Scammers are looking for login details, passwords and access to your corporate network. A file on your computer could be a source of valuable information, or could unlock intellectual property that can be misused.

Keeping data safe is a joint effort between your business and its IT service providers. At Cloud4, we always do our bit to protect the valuable data assets your company depends on, ensuring your clients and employees are less likely to be hit by a phishing or vishing scam. Get in touch to find out more about the security and spam filters we provide.

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