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.

If Your Laptop is Stolen Tonight, Will You Cope?

If Your Laptop is Stolen Tonight, Will You Cope?None of us likes to think about our homes or businesses being burgled or ransacked by an intruder. Yet the consequences are worth thinking about, simply as a preventative measure. While we don’t wish to tempt fate by suggesting your laptop could be stolen, what would you do if it actually was?

Would there be consequences for your clients? How much data would you lose? Would you be confident in the state of your backups, or does the thought leave you in a cold sweat?

We tend to be quite complacent about data, despite the fact we’re told to back it up on a daily – or, better, hourly – basis. In business, you need a reliable, affordable and flexible solution that will scale as your business grows.

Backing up is simple

In the bad old days, backing up a laptop meant connecting it to an external storage device. This was usually inconvenient, since early external drives had to be plugged into the mains beside the laptop. Without a docking station, many users simply didn’t bother to back up on a regular basis, and it’s only since we’ve had WiFi that we’ve been better at creating backups.

In business, many backups are still made on magnetic tape, or stored using on-site backup devices. But there are still risks in using these old-fashioned methods: they are slow, they are expensive, and they may not always work reliably. By the time your IT equipment has been stolen, it’s too late to do anything about it.

Trust the cloud

Cloud computing arguably gained traction because of cloud backup services, and the cloud is still one of the safest places to store your precious business data.

Cloud4’s hosted online backup services offer both storage and recovery capability. So you can upload data whenever you like, and easily retrieve it if the worst happens.

Cloud backup isn’t just for your Word documents and PowePoint presentations. You can upload the entire contents of your hard drive, or pick out applications that you want to back up.

Why Cloud4?

You’re probably aware that we have a number of competitors offering cloud backup services. But many of these services are designed for consumers who use their IT in a very different way.

Not only is their data different, but they way they connect is different too. Consumer cloud backup rarely offers you the robust uptime guarantees you need in business. Additionally, some service providers are not very clear on where they’re storing your data.

You can trust us with your critical business files, because we store it all within the UK in our ISO-certified data centres. In fact, in the event of a disaster, we can even despatch an engineer to get your data recovered – and they’ll be with you the same day.

How many consumer grade backup services can make a promise like that?

Affordable peace of mind

We hope that your laptop isn’t stolen, and we hope that your server room doesn’t suffer a power outage. But if it does, could your business cope with the consequences of losing its data?

Pricing for Cloud4’s cloud business backup starts at just £17.99 per month, and offers a genuine alternative to business on-site backup, external hard drives and tape-based storage. Once it’s up and running, just leave it to do its job: it really is a ‘set and forget’ solution.

To find out more, call our team for a chat on 0800 802 1989

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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Have You Got a Disaster Recovery Plan?

Enterprise level clients have disaster recovery procedures as a matter of course. When you have thousands of clients, and the pressure of regulatory compliance, it would be unthinkable to operate IT systems without some kind of ‘plan B’ in place. For the smaller business, disaster recovery features less prominently in the IT strategy; many don’t have a plan at all.

In fact, SMEs are more vulnerable when outages occur, since it doesn’t take much to wipe out critical systems. If your computer updates itself and the result isn’t pretty, could you feasibly continue – ‘business as usual’ – the next day?

The Bare Necessities

Your idea of essential services will vary from your peers’, but there are a few systems which every business needs to be up and running. Remove any of these tomorrow, and the whole house of cards would come crashing down:

– Email

– Telephone systems

– CRM systems

– Desktop operating systems

– Vital infrastructure (such as the internet connection that links you to the outside world)

You might assume that you have a fairly good handle on things, given that you oversee and run all of these systems yourself. Unfortunately, this can leave you wide open to unexpected disruption, and your competitors will not fail to take advantage if your customers are forced to look elsewhere.

Affordable Disaster Recovery

For small businesses, running your IT as lean as possible is key to managing cost. While it would be nice to have spare servers, internet connections and computers lying around, that isn’t practical for the vast majority.

Cloud computing has made disaster recovery much more accessible, and that’s mainly because of the huge economy of scale. If you use hosted services, you can purchase a tiny share of overall capacity, but benefit from the same comprehensive disaster recovery plans as bigger clients. The secondary benefit is that someone else handles the technical side for you.

Take email for example: it’s probably the most crucial system in a business’ lifecycle. Let’s say your mailbox is corrupted. If that mailbox is located on your local server, you own the problem, and your email won’t work until it’s resolved. If you use a service like hosted Exchange, your mailbox is stored remotely on your service provider’s server; they are responsible for its uptime.

The hosted Exchange provider continually monitors and scans that mailbox for viruses. It’s less likely to experience a problem because it’s proactively managed and secured. But if the worst happens, the host’s cloud-based infrastructure means it can bring another copy online. You didn’t have to pay for another server, or find an out-of-hours engineer to sort it out.

There are other good examples of cloud infrastructure providing disaster recovery. The hosted desktop is a good one. Unlike your local desktop, the hosted desktop is stored remotely, backed up several times, and can be replaced with a clone if the worst does happen.

Take Action

Small businesses know that disaster recovery plans are expensive. That’s no reason to ignore the threat and hope it goes away. By moving towards a cloud-based infrastructure, you can automatically protect yourself against the risk of DR, ensuring continuity in the services that matter most.

Cloud4 helps thousands of businesses reach their full potential with affordable, innovative cloud services. If you don’t have a disaster recovery plan, don’t wait until the worst happens. Contact us today, and we’ll talk you through the options.

 

Why is Cold Storage a Hot Topic?

Have you completed your annual office spring clean? Chances are you uncovered all kinds of paperwork stuffed into files; things you’d ‘get around to’; certificates for all those courses you attended; perhaps a few photos from the Christmas party that would really be best forgotten. Most of our kids have shoeboxes full of photos, drawings and pictures – objects that they might want to look back on in their later years.

Archiving is something of a human instinct, whether it’s hoarding food or saving for a rainy day. The same is true of our digital habits. As we amass more and more data, we’ve started to run out of space on our hard drives, and all of those 1s and 0s get expensive – fast.

Cloud Storage Solutions

There are various types of cloud storage, and they’re not necessarily made equal. Choose the wrong one, and you might find that your data becomes a cost burden.

At Cloud4, we offer four services in the data storage market:

  • Business online backup, which backs up files and applications, and provides a version history
  • Synced storage for file sharing and easy access across devices; this is called MyOwnCloud
  • Network storage, a bulk storage option with a set cost per gigabyte
  • FTP, which is essentially a hosted storage option for large files, using the file transfer protocol

Across these four services, we can see some distinct use cases. Synced storage for sharing is unlikely to be suitable for a company that needs a huge amount of archival space. And storing the data on a server is not desirable if you plan to give out FTP details to that space.

Hot and Not

Cold storage is, as the name suggests, a deep freeze for your data. This is a perfect example of cloud technology coming into its own. It’s great for archiving documents, such as contracts, invoices, and your accounts for the last 10 years. It can also be used for personal storage, like the archiving of digital photos.

Cold storage is cheap because it’s not designed to be accessed often. Once you place data into a cold store, you have to pay to get it back out, and retrieval might take a few hours.

A key component of cold storage is the ability to back up incrementally. The first backup – when you send all of those documents to the cold store – might take days, or weeks. After that, you’re just going to top up the new stuff; the old files will not be transferred again. We compress data before transmission to make the backups as painless as possible.

Find Out More

If you’re currently using a mass storage solution like Dropbox, you’re probably putting your data at risk. For one thing, Dropbox isn’t a backup solution. And if you pay for it, it’s not cheap. You’d be far better off using a business grade cold storage solution for your files and slashing your costs in the process.

If you’re not sure what kind of cloud storage you need, contact us at Cloud4 today. We have a wealth of experience on our website, in our FAQs and via our Live Chat, and we’ll guide you through the different services to help you get the most from the cloud.

Could Your Server Bring Down Your Data Centre?

Businesses spend millions of pounds on data centre security, and for good reason. Data is one of the most valuable assets we have, along with the hardware and software that manages it. It’s rare to find a data centre that isn’t equipped with state of the art security; biometric locks, backup generators and comprehensive fire suppression.

When all this effort goes in to protecting business assets, it seems unlikely that the biggest threat to security could already be inside the data centre. Yet out of date, unpatched software is one of the things hackers look for when they prowl the internet, and your Windows server could be the invitation they’ve been waiting for.

The Problem With Windows

Windows Server is, generally, an excellent server solution. It’s built for enterprise performance, and its security is second to none – providing it’s kept updated. Microsoft’s update services for Windows Server keep software up to date automatically, at least while the product is current.

However, businesses can only count on Windows if it’s well maintained and up to date, and that’s where things get tricky. If Microsoft puts a product into an End of Life (EoL) phase, it’s a sign they need to take action fast.

In July, Windows 2003 is going to completely drop off Microsoft’s support schedule. There will be no patches, and no protection against new threats. If businesses are complacent about the potential consequences, they could find themselves with an expensive mess to clear up when hackers discover their old, unpatched server. And there is consequences way beyond data loss.

Compliance and Risk

Some industries attract much bigger compliance worries than others. While a small start-up need only protect a few hundred customer records, a large bank or insurance company has a much larger client base to protect.

It’s not just about usernames and passwords, either. There are myriad complex regulations covering consumer data, particularly in finance and medicine.

If any business is still using Windows 2003 after July 2015, and there’s an attack on the server, they’re vulnerable, and they only have themselves to blame. If the breach reaches the Information Commissioner’s office, there will be huge fines to pay, and the likelihood of negative media attention.

Worryingly, few businesses seem to have registered how serious this could be. According to research by Foxall, the End of Life for Server 2003 has attracted just 5 per cent of the publicity that Windows XP’s EoL attracted.

Cloud Solutions

Replacing servers can be an expensive and time-consuming process. Time is fast running out. If you haven’t taken action to retire your Windows 2003 server, you need to act fast to mitigate the risk, and we can provide a customised service that will help you meet the July deadline.

Cloud4 can set you up with hosted cloud servers – managed machines that slot directly into your existing data centre infrastructure. We can offer off-the-shelf solutions, or bespoke configurations especially for your business. Whether you’re already cloud-based or you’re yet to migrate, a cloud server is the ideal solution.

Do You Know Where Your Hosted Desktop Image is Stored?

All businesses have to comply with certain regulations and laws. In some industries – and continents – unmanaged compliance quickly becomes a burden on profitability. If the business doesn’t take its responsibilities seriously, it can end up paying fines and losing its hard-earned reputation.

If your business has its offices in the EU, you need to be careful about data storage. Cloud computing means your data could be stored literally anywhere if you don’t keep a close eye on the services you’re using.

What’s Special About Europe?

Globally, all businesses must meet compliance and governance requirements, and this has been a barrier to cloud adoption for many businesses. It’s not that compliance changes when you use the cloud – but the nature of the services you choose can affect its impact.

In Europe, there’s a law, the Data Protection Directive, which prevents the transmission of personal data to non-EU countries unless it’s dealt with in a compliant manner. There are 11 approved non-EU countries that are considered to be compliant; all others require special care.

Choosing a Provider Overseas

When storing data in the cloud, the business is responsible for that data. It cannot pass the buck to the cloud storage provider. You need to carry out due diligence and ensure your services are fit for purpose.

If you use a US provider, you need to make sure they are Safe Harbor members and regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. US and EU law actually conflicts in some areas, too. Don’t assume that the US is vetted and allowed for data protection compliance: it isn’t.

There’s the added complication of the Patriot Act: the law that lets US authorities gain access to any data held by a US company if they have good reason to do so. It doesn’t matter if the data was generated by a UK company, or is owned by a UK company. The fact is that it’s stored in US locations, so the Patriot Act is applicable.

The issue of compliance could fill a white paper, or even a book, but one thing is clear: it’s immensely complicated. While public cloud and private cloud services sound simple on paper, storing corporate data can be problematic… and storing your clients’ data very risky indeed.

Often, if you use a very large provider, your data may be stored in multiple locations without your knowledge. That makes it impossible for a UK business to know the risk.

Safe Options

As the data controller responsible for security and personal data, you are ultimately in charge of compliance. The fact that your provider does things you don’t know about is no excuse.

For UK companies, by far the safest option is to host data within the UK. This is a simple way to make sure your data is stored according to the laws applicable to you, so you have complete peace of mind. With your data in UK storage, your risk is mitigated and there are fewer fines to worry about too.

5 Things to Look For in a Hosted Desktop Provider

cloud computingVirtualisation is a driving force behind efficiency and productivity, and hosted

desktops are great for any employee that works in the field. They can access their desktop computer from a range of devices, and pick up where they left off no matter where they are.

Your hosted desktop provider is responsible for storing your desktop images and making them available to your staff around the clock. There are lots of providers, so what should you look for in a quality desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) host?

1. Security

Security concerns can present a barrier to cloud migration. Businesses often feel wary about putting data into a cloud environment. But with the right security, there is no need to be concerned. The key is to control access effectively, exercise common sense and increase security where you need to be sure of compliance.

For critical environments, look for two-factor authentication. With this enabled, users must provide a password and another token (such as a code sent via SMS) before they’ll be logged on. Also, make sure your hosted desktops have full virus and malware protection from the moment they’re deployed.

2. Choice

If you’re still migrating from Windows XP, you might be wondering which operating system to adopt. There are pros and cons with Windows 7 and Windows 8; technically, the former is now a discontinued product, but it’s potentially friendlier than the hybrid interface in Windows 8.

For best results, we recommend a provider that offers you more than one operating system so you can deploy a mixture of desktops for different purposes. Let users choose their OS, or assign Windows 7 for legacy use only.

3. Support

Cloud uptime is known for being much better than with a traditional infrastructure, and your hosted desktops should be available 24/7/365. Naturally, not every problem can be planned for. If there’s a fire, flood or other catastrophe, you’ll need quick support. And sometimes, it’s good just to have the reassurance that the support is there.

Look for a provider with two key provisions: support in your own language, and support in a relevant time zone. If your teams are working remotely, they might need hosted desktop support outside office hours. Factor that in.

4. Printing

Logging on from anywhere is convenient for all staff, but what happens when they need access to a printer? You need to ensure your team can quickly print out a document in the office, even if they’re in the airport waiting to board a flight.

Most good cloud providers offer some kind of remote printing, where documents are spooled through the virtual infrastructure, giving them always-on access to the printer back at work.

5. Backups

Data loss is always catastrophic when there are no backups to rely on. Don’t assume that your provider is taking care of it. Make sure your company’s file repositories are being backed up frequently, including files used collaboratively and personally.

With cloud backup, there should be multiple instances of your backups to ensure complete coverage should one host fail.

More Information

When choosing your cloud services portfolio, it’s important to assess providers in detail. There are many companies competing for your attention, but not all of them offer a five-star service. Look for the features your users need, coupled with robust security and protection against downtime. This will ensure your users get the best from DaaS.