How Cloud Computing Can Save Your Company From Downtime and Disaster

If there’s one thing that can cripple a business, it’s downtime. Web hosts sell their services with uptime guarantees for a reason. Every business critical service needs to be online when people are working; increasingly, that means it must be up 24/7/365.

Achieving 100 per cent uptime is extremely difficult; so called ‘Acts of God’ can take out racks of server in a flash. Yet despite its reliance on off-premise data centres, the cloud is your best bet for keeping essential services online, and ensuring constant access to the services and information you need.

Cloud redundancy

Cloud platforms are inherently robust. In fact, they were designed to withstand catastrophe. Instead of storing data in one place, software distributes cloned copies among a group, or farm, of servers. If one server goes down, the others are able to step in and cover for it, creating a seamless experience for your business.

There are rare examples of cloud downtime, but these are unusual enough to hit the headlines. All cloud providers invest in constant system monitoring to keep the chance of downtime to an absolute minimum. Cloud redundancy is still exceptionally good, particularly when you consider the cost of obtaining anywhere near the same uptime figures in the pre-cloud era.

Protecting your profits

Occasionally, your users will encounter issues with internal infrastructure. The power goes out, the phones go down, or the heating system fails completely. Prior to cloud migration, these kinds of catastrophes would have forced a complete business shutdown. Now, the cloud allows us to come up with workarounds.

If you have hosted desktops, your employees can work elsewhere, irrespective of whether their main PC is functional. If you use cloud backup for files, those files are synced to multiple devices, so you can access them from home in a pinch. In a disaster, you can keep working, avoid losing touch with customers, and keep the emails flowing using your reliable hosted Exchange service.

The Cost of Downtime and Disaster

Different businesses have different concepts of downtime, so it’s difficult to measure the cost of critical systems going offline. However, industry estimates give us some idea of the compounding effect of unavailable services.

The Ponemon institute estimates that unplanned downtime cost US businesses $5,600 per minute. For the world’s largest companies, it could be double that amount. While your business may be operating on a smaller scale, there is always a financial penalty when critical services are unavailable, and you will lose revenue if you don’t act fast.

Trust Cloud4

Cloud4 offers SLAs you can rely on, and we provide round the clock support so that your calls never go unanswered. Whatever the scale of your business, we’re here to assist you in keeping business critical services online. To find out more, contact our friendly team today, and have a chat about cloud migration. It could cost less than you think, and prevent huge unexpected cost if the worst does happen.

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Are You Spending Too Much on IT Hardware?

UK SMEs will spend £22.8 billion on technology this year. That’s according to GE’s Capital Investment Barometer. The largest category for investment is IT hardware, which will increase by 64 per cent. SMEs say that they spend this money to upgrade their IT and enhance productivity.

In the UK, small businesses spent £10m on IT hardware in Q1 of 2014. That’s a massive amount of money that could be diverted to marketing or another essential function of the business.

Is it really worth chasing the latest and greatest IT hardware when your employees already have their own equipment? For many businesses, spending on hardware is a waste of money.

Try Bring Your Own Device

Many businesses are encouraging staff to use their personal IT hardware in the office, and are setting up formal Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies to govern their use. Bringing your own device to work used to be seen as a security risk, but when it’s done under a formal policy, the practice offers a number of benefits.

When employees bring their own devices to work, they can use the operating system they prefer to use, so there’s less struggle to switch to an unfamiliar system, or find training for users that struggle.

Using a hosted desktop for business tasks, your Android-loving project manager can work alongside his or her Apple-loving colleagues, or move seamlessly from one machine to the next. By providing a hosted desktop for every user, you can provide them with the Windows applications they need, even if they’re working on a Mac. If they choose to bring an iPad to work, they can log on to their desktop from their own tablet, and it gives you the opportunity to combine hot desking and remote working.

There’s a clear cost benefit to letting people bring their own devices, in terms of reduced investment. The company doesn’t have to keep upgrading its own machines, nor does it need a pool of tablets and laptops for occasional use.

Balancing the Risk

A Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy is a sensible way to leverage the power of the cloud, save on hardware spend, and give employees increased choice.

While some companies are nervous about having third party devices on their networks, a robust policy can ensure that data is safeguarded without restricting the use of any device. That means:

– Encrypting mobile devices

– Blocking websites that could spread malicious code

– Educating users about the risks of public WiFi networks

– Ensuring every device is locked automatically when not in use

– Using two factor authentication to safeguard company data

– Defining reasonable use of a personal device on company time, and any activities that are prohibited, such as downloading torrents, using social media, or gaming

– Listing any operating systems that are not allowed (such as very old versions of Android, which may be targets for hacking)

– Having a policy that allows company technical staff to wipe the device if it’s lost

Of course, the company may also choose to contribute to the cost of the device, or the cost of services that employees use. However, this should be structured and organised, so that only permitted devices are used.

However you approach BYOD, the hosted desktop is the cog that makes every device work together. All you need to do is draw up the policy, and cut back on your hardware spend next year.

 

How a Hosted Desktop Can Streamline Client Site Visits

Hosted DesktopMany businesses have remote sales teams, and those teams are generally kitted out to work effectively on the road. For a sole trader, it isn’t always as easy to get work done outside the office, nor is it cost effective to carry everything you might need in a pinch.

So how do you work on a client site? How are you planning to take minutes? Or create invoices and mark down expenses? Sure, you can take a pen and paper, but it’s an old-fashioned way to get around the problem when we have so much technology at our disposal.

And while you could take your laptop to the client’s office, will you have a back-up plan if you can’t get on the WiFi?

How many times have you taken your laptop on holiday, only to realise there’s no internet access in the hotel? Perhaps it offered an old-fashioned dialup connection, and the only connection option is a mobile signal; not much use for  laptop.

Perhaps you’ve visited a client site where you’ve put in a support call to get the logon details. By the time you’re done with your meeting, the ticket hasn’t been answered, and you’ve had to make notes offline instead.

Contingency Computing

For most remote workers, connectivity is their big essential. Just carrying a laptop is not enough. In some cases, it can even weigh you down.

The vast majority of workers need:

– A device that’s easy to carry, whether they’re in the car, on a bus or on a plane

– A device that won’t slow them down at airport security

– Access to the applications they normally use (not watered down mobile versions)

– The ability to connect to their computer without WiFi

– Military grade encryption, and two factor authentication, to keep prying eyes out of their business

– The ability to work ‘on the spot’, rather than complete paperwork work home to process at night

– The ability to use more than one device to access the same things

Cloud computing answers some of those requirements, but it can still leave you short if you drop your laptop in a puddle. But if you’ve invested in a hosted desktop, all your data is there – regardless of the device you’re connecting on.

You can even work on a hosted desktop using your phone over a 4G connection.

Other Benefits

Why else would you opt for a hosted desktop to work on site with a client?

– If your laptop gets lost or stolen, all you’ve lost is the physical machine

– Your data is backed up in our data centre, so you can leave it to us to look after it – no matter where you are

– We’re your technical support team, so you don’t need to worry about your client’s support team sorting out problems

– You don’t have to worry about an upgrade wrecking your machine, since we take care of all of that for you

There are dozens of applications for hosted desktops. Mobile nail technicians, surveyors, musicians and accountants all get more done when they work in the cloud.

Move Your Business Forward

Cloud4 understands that businesses have changing needs. Working at a remote site requires a flexible solution, which is exactly what we offer with hosted desktop. We do all this without losing the personal touch that so many of our customers value.

From a one-person start-up to a multi-site enterprise, cloud computing and hosted desktops offer a proven increase in productivity. To find out how to upgrade, swiftly and easily, ring Cloud4 for a chat today.

3 Reasons Why Professional Services Are Better With Cloud Computing

Cloud servicesAs British businesses recognise the importance of being agile, they’re choosing to outsource more tasks to professional service providers who can quickly and efficiently get the job done. If you work for one of these providers, you already know how important it is to be able to serve multiple clients efficiently.

Flexible working is an important part of professional service delivery, and cloud computing supports professional service providers in working to their strengths. Here are 3 ways you could improve your services by migrating to the cloud.

1. An Office That Follows You Everywhere

Depending on your niche, you might spend a lot of time moving from office to office, working on client sites or taking your work overseas. Micro businesses tend to take work on holiday at times, too. If you have one laptop computer, you’re setting yourself up for difficulties if that computer was ever damaged or stolen.

Look into using a hosted desktop that you can access from any computer. Our hosted desktops run in a web browser, so you can log on from practically any location. This safeguards your own equipment, cuts back on the need to find WiFi, and also means you don’t have to carry your laptop when you jet off on holiday.

2. Better Data Security

Small businesses often assume that they won’t be hacked because they don’t hold valuable data. In fact, the opposite is true. A small business computer can be a goldmine for a hacker, since you probably do business with larger companies and hold data about their policies and systems.

In order to serve clients responsibly, you need to encrypt your data, and implement two-factor authentication to prevent hackers from gaining access. Cloud storage and backup is ideal for this, as your provider handles the technical side. To be fully compliant, it’s best to pick a provider in the UK so that your data never ‘leaves’ the country.

3. Uptime

When your clients outsource to you, they will have a timeframe in mind for delivery. A computer problem can wipe out days, or weeks. In a competitive space, you really need to avoid bouts of downtime; you will lose clients as a result. It’s never your fault if your email provider goes down, but if you’re using an inadequate provider, your clients may feel you could have done more to prepare.

When shopping around for a cloud provider, look for a good service level agreement (SLA) that details the uptime and support you should expect. The best providers offer 24/7 support details, as well as a reliable service suitable for business critical applications. Hosted Exchange email offers the features of a local Exchange server without the precarious technical risk of trying to run a system in-house. Cloud4 hosts all hosted Exchange mailboxes in an ISO-27001 certified data centre, giving you peace of mind and a considerable cost saving.

We Understand Professional Services

Cloud4 offers cloud services to many professional service providers. We understand the pressures you face, and the things that can make or break your success. When it comes to IT infrastructure, you’ll find that our cloud solutions allow you to be more agile, responsive and cost effective.

Contact us today on 0800 802 1989 to find out more.

Read our Guest Blog on the Social Media Makes Sense Website

We recently contributed a piece to the Social Media Makes Sense website talking about how a hosted desktop differs from a normal PC.

If you’d like to have a read of our guest blog simply click HERE

What to Do When Your Exchange Mailbox is Always Full

All of us use email for business communication, but it can actually be a very inconvenient way to communicate. For many years, people have used work email accounts to volley Word attachments back and forth, or distribute newsletters, images and PDFs. Each time a file is attached, it takes up space in every mailbox it lands in, and every mailbox it’s sent from. That causes everyone’s mailbox to fill up fast.

Running out of space is a hassle for everyone. Is it time we dropped email for good

CloudStorage Woes

You’re probably familiar with the ‘mailbox full’ messages that Microsoft Exchange throws out. That’s because Exchange mailboxes tend to be incredibly small. In Exchange Server 2010, the default storage size is 2GB. In a large organisation, the administrator may have set it even lower.

2GB used to sound cavernous, but these days, it really isn’t. Outlook will prevent you from attaching anything over 20mb, but that 20mb file could be forwarded back and forth for weeks. It only takes 100 big files to fill up a 2GB mailbox. If you have a 500mb mailbox – and many people do – you probably get a ‘mailbox full’ email every week or so.

For most businesses, increasing mailbox size isn’t an option, because every user needs an allocation, whether they fill it or not. Before long, you hit the mailbox storage limit, because your server has a physical limit.

What can you do?

– You can scrabble around looking for emails to delete – again

– You can drag files onto your local hard drive (and hope they don’t get deleted by accident)

– You can buy a new server, or extend storage, which will cost money

Sounds inconvenient and costly, doesn’t it.

But there is a fourth option.

A Modern Solution

Hosted Exchange offers a different solution. Instead of using your own server to store emails, you can purchase email as a service. Your email accounts are hosted by a third party, securely, in the cloud.

A hosted Exchange mailbox is an affordable way to max out the storage you can use, without investing massive amounts of money on equipment. The limits of physical servers are removed.

Cloud4 offers three tiers of hosted Exchange services. The Web tier offers a 10GB mailbox, while the top Pro tier can be upgraded right the way to 50GB. To put this in context, Google’s Gmail service is well known for its generous mailbox limit of 15GB. Cloud4 gives you the space for more than three times that amount, at the top end.

Imagine how convenient it would be to have a 50GB mailbox; enough to store 2,500 attachments at maximum size.

The other aspect is cost. If you were to buy the on-premise infrastructure to give everyone in your business a 50GB mailbox, you’d be looking at huge investment, and a lot of that space would never be used. The beauty of the cloud is that you only pay monthly, and you only pay for the mailboxes that you actually need. If more staff join, simply scale up your commitment and pay for a few more mailboxes. If staff leave, cut back any time.

The Many Benefits of Hosted Exchange

Scalable storage, and monthly payments, are just two of the things our clients love about hosted Exchange. If you’re ready to make the move, talk to Cloud4 about the many benefits of switching. Call us today on 0161 850 1264.

Is it Time Your Employees Worked From Home?

Whether it’s down to workplace culture, or employee envy, working from home has a stigma attached. According to the Office of National Statistics, 87 per cent of people still have office-based jobs, despite the phenomenal opportunities that cloud computing can present. Large companies are more likely to allow remote working compared to SMEs, despite the clear cost and efficiency savings.

Sir Richard Branson is a famous supporter of home-based working, although this is hardly surprising; he lives on a tropical island. For the rest of us, is working from home a viable option?

People ARE More Productive at Home

If you prefer to have staff in your office, ask yourself why. Is it that you don’t trust them? Or you want managers to be able to easily discipline poor performers? Are you measuring people’s performance based on their attendance, rather than the things they’re getting done?

Remote working is often seen as a bit of a joke – a chance to watch daytime TV, or munch Cheerios through conference calls. In fact, remote working boosts productivity. Stanford University’s researchers found that remote workers are 13 per cent more productive. They take fewer days off sick, and benefit from fewer workplace distractions, despite the pile of laundry in the corner.

In a US survey, 65 per cent of the employees who worked from home said they felt they were more productive. You might be surprised at the boost to output.

Staff DO Need Perks to Stay Loyal

When it comes to performance and productivity, incentives are a key driver. The happier your employees are, the more likely it is that they’ll engage, and the less likely they are to seek another job.

Want to give your staff the ultimate incentive? Do away with the daily commute, and let them log on to a hosted desktop from home. Free everyone from the tyranny of tube stations and traffic jams. Give them the gift of extra hours in the day.

If you embed remote working into the culture of your workforce, they’ll likely stay loyal long term.

Employers DO Need to Offer Choice

Ask any office worker with kids how they feel about the school summer holidays. Chances are, they’ll tell you it’s miserable, stressful and expensive. The kids are out of school, but they’re stuck at work, with the only respite being an expensive holiday.

Remote and flexible working policies give your employees options. Granted, you might not be able to offer unlimited holidays, but you could let people arrange work around their children.

It’s also important to recognise difference. Some employees like coming into the office. They would feel lost with a laptop at home. Why not offer those employees a combination of flexitime and remote working, with a hosted desktop solution that gives them the freedom to take work home.

Will You Change the Future of Work?

60 per cent of office workers will work from home by 2022, according to figures from Virgin Media Business. Is it time you set your employees free?

Speak to Cloud4 today, and find out how our hosted desktop solutions can let your staff log on from anywhere, boosting satisfaction, retention and output.

3 Ways to Stop Business Interrupting the Holidays

The summer’s officially over, and the kids are going back to school. Whatever fun we had over summer is soon going to be a distant memory, and before long, the Christmas countdowns will begin. We had precious few summery days in 2015, and for many entrepreneurs, holidays had to make way for essential work.

It’s the same every year. For SMEs, family holidays never really mean true relaxation. Fortunately, cloud computing is helping more entrepreneurs enjoy the summer, while offering clients a good level of service. Here are five ways to find a better balance.

1. Turn Off the Smartphone

To an entrepreneur, the idea of disconnecting the phone lines is akin to commercial suicide. But as convenient as smartphones are, they are also responsible for keeping us connected to the world of work when we should be relaxing. Last year, the German labour minister Andrea Nahles looked at banning employees from checking emails at home, due to the risk of “psychological diseases”. While it’s not helpful to overstate the risks, there’s certainly an argument for giving yourself a break.

To contain risk, ditch the mobile number and use hosted VoIP. That way, you can give our a respectable geographical or non-geographical number, while routing calls to your smartphone or a softphone app. Using an IVR, you can direct callers to an answerphone greeting and voice mailbox, or have urgent requests forwarded through to your phone.

2. Take Your Desktop With You

Hosted desktops function in the same way as a regular desktop computer. When you log on, all of your applications are there; your files are stored in the right places, and authentication prevents anyone else logging in. Unlike a regular desktop, your hosted desktop can be accessed through a browser, so you can enjoy the familiarity of your work machine from practically any location.

Hosted desktops let you access work when you need to, without the hassle of carrying a laptop on holiday. If you really need to work, you can jump on to any computer in the hotel’s business suite, and pick up where you left off. If you’re not staying in a hotel, take a tablet PC, and use all of your usual software on a virtual version of Windows 7 or Windows 8.

3. Sync Your Files

If you get a sales enquiry when you’re lounging by the pool, hiking back to your room for the laptop is the last thing you’ll want to do. It makes more sense to sync important files to multiple devices so you always have a copy on hand.

Cloud4 has a cloud sync product that’s a holiday essential. MyOwnCloud is packed with business features, with all files hosted in the UK. Download the apps for your PCs, laptops, tablets and phones, then sign in to sync them together. Sharing is simple, and the service works offline, even when you don’t have a data connection.

Get Set Up Today

The summer may be over, but the Christmas period will be upon us before we know it. Get set up with Cloud4 now, and your next holiday will be all the more relaxing. For a free demonstration, or details of our offers, speak to a Cloud4 sales advisor today.

Can Mobile Working Save Your Business?

mobile business apps for productivityBy 2020, half of the world’s workers will be remote workers. That’s according to a survey at the Global Leadership Summit in London. Over the course of the next five years, we’re going to see some big changes. Not every business will keep pace; some will fail.

The global economic crisis continues to put financial pressure on companies, and smaller businesses are still finding it difficult to raise capital. Now more than ever, remote working could be the answer if your business is finding it hard to adapt.

Benefits of Working Remotely

Employees are looking for a good work-life balance, and that means changing the way they work. People don’t want to travel at rush hour with everybody else. They don’t want to put their kids into after-school clubs if they can avoid it. As the world’s best employers offer more flexible working, the world’s best employees will follow.

Sir Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin group, is a vocal supporter of flexible working, and says that remote access is making this easier. Virgin employees can take unlimited holiday leave, providing their productivity is not affected. That means taking time off when you’re not needed, and being around when you are. Richard himself works remotely from Necker Island, a career move that would have been unthinkable before the internet became so widespread.

While we can’t all work from a Caribbean beach, the benefits of remote working can be felt on a smaller scale when working from home. Freedom to choose when to work, where to work, and when to take breaks; the chance to get fresh air, spend more time with the family, or cut back the daily commute. Far from being less productive, remote workers get more rest, are more energised, and feel more connected with their home life, helping them achieve that work-life balance they so crave.

The company gets its share of the benefits too: a workforce willing to work, and staff that enjoy collaboration. Rather than forcing people to fit the company mould, giving them the tools they need to work anywhere means work will often ‘just happen’.

Make it a Reality

You don’t need to have complex infrastructure to let people work remotely. But you do need to invest in modern services that help keep people connected.

Here are some ways to free up your employees and let them work wherever they like:

  • To ensure everyone has access to the right software and data, purchase hosted desktops rather than a fleet of laptops
  • Issue everyone with a smartphone capable of 4G connection, plus a tablet that can be tethered to it
  • Use hosted Exchange email so that employees can access their messages from anywhere, free from the size restrictions of an on-premise Exchange mailbox
  • Invest in VoIP telephony, project management tools in the cloud, and use video conferencing in place of lengthy on-site meetings

All of these things are affordable to small businesses, helping to keep costs down and ensure the company stays competitive.

By kitting out the workforce with cloud services and relevant support, they can access company data in a secure, compliant and speedy manner, without a break in productivity or an increase in IT spend. The reality is this: if you don’t wise up to remote working, your business could be overtaken by the dynamic, youthful competitors just waiting to steal your thunder.

Just How Secure is Your Cloud Data?

When we think about IT security, we tend to assume that anything private should be stored on our own computer. The idea of putting a private document onto someone else’s machine seems like madness, particularly in an ever-connected world.

This instinctual reluctance to move data around has made some companies wary of the cloud. But the truth is that many cloud services are more secure than the on premise solutions we’ve used in the past.

So what goes in to securing your data in the cloud?

ISO/IEC 27001 Compliance

ISO/IEC 27001 is the international standard for security management, and it’s a standard that we comply with. Using this framework, we ensure that third party data and sensitive information is handled appropriately.

Compliance with ISO/IEC 27001 is not guaranteed among cloud service providers. But we believe that it’s an essential part of keeping your data secure. When you compare us with the competition, check to see if they have certification.

Super Encryption

When we store your data on our servers, we encrypt it. Using a special key – a string of characters – an algorithm scrambles the data, and the key is required to restore it. By protecting the key, we prevent unauthorised access.

Encryption keys are incredibly secure. A 128-bit encryption key would take millions of years to break, even if you used a computer. Consider this: our online backup uses 256-bit encryption, and our Hosted Lync and MyOwnCloud services use 2048-bit encryption. You’d need billions of years to crack either.

Location of Data

All Cloud4 customers benefit from UK-based storage for their data. This is critical, since laws on data access vary around the world. When your data is kept in the UK, you benefit from the very best in speeds, but also know that your data is stored according to local laws.

Our datacentres are located in Manchester and London, and we access is completely locked down. Only authorised security staff and technical teams can ever get into the building without a vetted escort, and we have state of the art fire suppression systems ready to kick in if there’s a disaster.

Our support team is all located in the UK, too, and we’re available 24/7/365. If you have any security concerns, we’re always here to help you.

Email and Desktop Security

To prevent system infection, and ensure your data never gets compromised, our hosted products use all of the security software you’d expect. That includes anti-virus software, anti-malware scanners, firewalls and identity verification. We do all this while allowing convenient access to your data from any location. If you use the cloud to share and collaborate, you won’t be prevented from doing anything you need to do, yet any unauthorised users will be locked out firmly and permanently.

Test Drive the Cloud

High profile hacks always grab headlines, but the cloud is inherently very secure. We don’t use weak passwords, and we don’t leave your data in the hands of fate. Instead, we used tried and tested, military grade security using the very latest technology and techniques.