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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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.

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.

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.

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

Is It Time Your Charity Embraced the Cloud?

ChaJPEG image-568A4BE6643C-1rities and small non-profits run to ridiculously tight budgets, and a climate of cuts has only served to make their work more challenging. In an ever more competitive market, charities need to spend money on marketing in order to reach their potential donators, and they need to run at optimum efficiency so that none of those donations are wasted.

Adopting new technology can seem like an extravagance, but there are lots of examples of cloud computing actually reducing business spend. There’s no reason why your charity can’t benefit from the same efficiency.

Making the most of your volunteers’ time

Cloud computing helps you to do more work quicker, and it lets you work at more convenient times. For example, if you give your volunteers a hosted desktop, they can log on from home to contribute their time. This can help you increase their contribution, without necessarily asking them to do more hours.

We also offer hosted Lync, a communications platform for teams. If you all work different hours, and you find it difficult to work efficiently, Lync gives you the power of instant messaging, video and audio chat so you can hold meetings literally anywhere.

Keep data secure

Charities that work with vulnerable people have a responsibility to care for their data. Cloud technology lets you store your data in our secure data centre, so you don’t need to store anything locally on your office or home PC. You can use MyOwnCloud to share it with the people who need to see it, and nobody else. The convenience of MyOwnCloud helps to prevent the non-compliant use of data, such as spreadsheets being shared on memory sticks, sent via email, or shared using public cloud services that you don’t control internally.

Cloud4 offers many charities entire hosted servers, which are ideal for managing cost while also reducing the amount of space they need for their IT. We can provide Windows or Linux hardware, with or without virtualisation, and you can access the very best specifications – exactly as you would in the business world.

Making the most of your budget

Cloud4 can offer significant discounts on software, with savings of up to 33% on the cloud services you decide to use. These discounts come from top brands like Microsoft, and they let you access business grade cloud technology at an appropriate price for your organisation.

We can also give you a Hosted Exchange email system, so that your email is held on our secure servers. That gives you all the functionality of business email – including tasks, contacts and calendars – but you only pay per mailbox, and you’re never over-committed.

Friendly, impartial advice

Don’t let this year be the year your charity goes under. By improving efficiency and performance, you can make the most of the time and resources you have. Speak to Cloud4’s friendly sales advisors, and describe your IT pain points. We’ll come up with a customisable and affordable solution that helps you to decrease your operating overheads.

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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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.

Why Professional Services Are Adopting Cloud

Professional services companies provide support to other businesses. They are in a sector often known as ‘B2B’, and are responsible for providing assistance to other companies.

Professional services providers have been quick to recognise the potential of the cloud, and we find a huge amount of our customers come from this sector. In fact, there are far more small businesses taking on cloud computing than large enterprises, partly because they are more agile.

But that isn’t the only reason.

Cost savingsCloud services

Pre-cloud, most small businesses would have had to have a server in their office – perhaps expanding this to a small data centre over time. For a startup, finding the desk space for a large, bulky server could be an issue in itself.

There’s also the cost of maintaining IT hardware, or paying someone to maintain it for you. The more business-critical applications you amass, the more important it will be to keep the server online.

And what about backups? Client data is subject to stringent checks, and if any business works with personal information, they need to make sure it’s properly cared for. At one time, that would mean creating tape backups and shipping them off for storage. None of this is cheap – quite the opposite.

Practicalities

Looking at the day-to-day side of the business, it’s easy to see why small businesses have embraced the cloud. There are fewer reasons to be stuck in the office, and far more scope to collaborate with colleagues on the move.

For people who have to do 10 jobs in the place of one, this is a huge benefit. It’s a massive advantage when you can take calls on the move, or work on a document in real time with a far-flung team mate.

Barriers

Some clients ask us why they should trust their data to the cloud, given that there are so many high-profile media stories and scares. But there are far more reasons to trust the cloud with business data, than to write it off and use on-premise IT.

Hacks like the iMessage affair are few and far between, and they come abut largely because of poor security practices by the owners of the accounts in question. In business, providers like Cloud4 put security at the core of their provision. Two-factor authentication, encryption and real-time monitoring all ensure that data is safe at rest and in transit.

Often, cloud security is actually better than a business’ own internal IT. Many small companies think they are too small to bother with intrusion detection, yet hackers do target small professional services companies to get information on bigger businesses. When you move to the cloud, you benefit from pooled security resources, and the ability to lock down your data much more comprehensively than you can in your own office or home.

Find out more

Cloud4 is changing the way B2B providers work. We’re making startup businesses more effective, more efficient and more affordable. And we’re helping more and more existing service providers streamline operations and trim costs. To find out more about our simple migration solutions, contact us for a chat.

Windows Server 2003 in 2015: Is It Worth the Risk?

Microsoft products usually remain in common usage long after they disappear from the store shelves. Take Windows XP, for example; it was released in October 2001 for PCs (and 2002 for tablets, although you’d be forgiven for missing that edition). Microsoft withdrew all support for the desktop version of XP on April 8, 2014, which is not a bad innings for an ageing OS. We’re guessing that the tablet edition was quietly abandoned some years previously.

The Microsoft lifecycle always involves a 28184160_d379a5d843_bnumber of key stages, and we see the same pattern time and again with operating systems. There will be updates, or patches, issued periodically to keep the software current as it ages. After a few years, Microsoft then announces a point where ‘mainstream’ support concludes. This means that features are frozen and the software is not updated.

A few years later, all support for the product is withdrawn. This is End of Life; no more security updates are provided. At this point, the software becomes a risk because the vendor does not make any effort to patch it, and your computer is essentially left to fend for itself. A very scary thought.

Understanding the Risk

July 2015 will mark the end of life for Windows 2003. This is the point where all support offered by Microsoft will end, as will all patches and updates.

To reiterate:

SUPPORT FOR WINDOWS SERVER 2003 IS NOW LESS THAN FIVE MONTHS AWAY

According to industry estimates, this particular End of Life will leave millions of servers out in the cold, and extremely vulnerable (around 9.1m globally). That’s a state no business should find its data centre in.

Businesses that continue to use Windows 2003 on their servers must understand the problems they will face after that critical End of Life date:

– Applications will start to falter; you’ll see 4262500695_dc3e0aa2b0_othem run more slowly, and crash more frequently, and there will be few people to help you figure out why

– Data will start to be more vulnerable to hacks and data corruption; there will be no patches or updates to defend it

– Regulatory governance problems and compliance issues will start to emerge, which could leave you at the mercy of the Information Commissioner’s office

– Your cost of support goes up as Windows 2003 becomes a more obscure, legacy product

Keeping an old server in action may feel like the cheapest option now. But for all these reasons (and plenty more), at End of Life, all bets are off.

Migration Options

If you’re currently running a Windows 2003 server, it’s best to start the migration process now. Leaving it too late means you have nowhere to go when End of Life actually happens.

We recommend that all 2003 servers are retired as soon as possible, and the data and applications on those servers is moved to either Windows 2012 or a cloud alternative.

If you’re not sure how to plan your migration, speak to Cloud4 now. We don’t just run IT services, we also support businesses that are in the process of switching. And once your Windows 2003 machine is retired, we’ll still be in the picture to offer support and on-going help.

For more information on if and how Server 2003 End of Life will affect your business visit this dedicated site www.server2003endoflife.co.uk.