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January 29, 2015

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How Microsoft Is Raising the Bar with Windows 10

Last week, Microsoft showed the world what the final version of Windows 10 will look like, unveiling a variety of new features and apps that signal a new direction for the latest operating system (OS). In fact, Microsoft execs claim the company skipped Windows 9 because 10 is such a radical overhaul rather than an incremental update.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to create more perceived distance between the new product and the Windows 8 debacle. Windows 8 and 8.1 were widely panned by both experts and the average user, combining to own just 12 percent of OS market share, far less than Windows 7 (53 percent) and even XP (24 percent), which is no longer supported.

Microsoft is going to great lengths to ensure widespread acceptance of Windows 10 by launching the Windows Insider program, a collaborative initiative developed to make the product more intuitive and user-friendly. Participants receive a technical preview of Windows 10 and are encouraged to provide feedback throughout development as updates are made. A Windows Feedback app can be used to offer suggestions and identify issues, while the Windows Technical Preview Forum enables insiders to interact with Microsoft engineers and other program participants.

At the top of the list of highlights for the new Windows 10 is the return of the Start Menu, which had been replaced by a confusing Start screen in Windows 8. Not only is the Start Menu back, but it’s bigger and can be viewed in full screen, providing users with one-click access to their most commonly used files and functionality. It can also be customized to include the user’s favorite apps, programs, people and websites.

Another major change is the emergence of Spartan, a new browser that is expected to replace Internet Explorer and be available on all mobile and desktop versions of Windows 10. Key features include built-in note creation and sharing capabilities, and the ability to save a page with one click for later viewing from any device. Windows 10 users will also be introduced to Cortana, a virtual assistant similar to Google Now and Apple Siri. Just say, “Hey Cortana” to receive help and take advantage of far greater intelligence than Cortana had in Windows Phone.

The Surface Hub, a massive tablet available in 55-inch and 84-inch versions, may represent the boardroom and conference room of the future. Surface Hub includes Skype for Business, OneNote, cameras, sensors and microphones, which are used by Windows 10 to deliver high-quality audio and video, recognize gesture controls, and enable the use of a smart pen to turn Surface Hub into a whiteboard.

Improved multitasking functionality, such as Snap Assist, helps users combine or snap apps together – up to four in a single window – and intuitively recommends what additional apps to use. Multiple desktops make it possible for users to easily create, differentiate and switch among different projects instead of having groups of apps and files that serve different purposes open on the same desktop.

Perhaps the most significant change in Windows 10 is that it represents Microsoft’s first cross-platform OS, capable of delivering a natural, seamless user experience across all Windows desktop and mobile devices. Universal apps, including the Microsoft Office suite of programs, a new Photos app and the new Spartan browser, will work virtually the same on a Windows 10 phone as a laptop. OneDrive will enable files to be synced and shared across devices and services.

Windows 10 is expected to be launched in late summer of 2015 and will be offered as a free upgrade for Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 users for one year. Let ICG, a Microsoft technology partner, show you how to best utilize the new features and functionality to achieve your business goals.


January 22, 2015

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7 Tips for Keeping Your Smartphone Secure

Your smartphone is no longer just a phone — it’s a high-tech communication device and computer. While mobile malware is still relatively rare, smartphones are increasingly vulnerable to malicious software. According to mobile security firm Lookout, mobile malware increased 75 percent in the U.S. in 2014, with ransomware dominating the threat list.

Far more significant is the risk that a mobile device will be lost or stolen — along with the data stored on it. Given the increased use of personal mobile devices for business purposes, this creates significant potential for a security breach.

Yet users remain surprisingly cavalier about mobile device security. According to a study by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and McAfee, 72 percent of Americans have never installed data protection applications or security software on their smartphones.

Regardless of the brand or operating system, there are a number of basic security measures you should take to ensure the safety of valuable information:

  • Set up the screen-lock function. This feature locks the smartphone after it’s been sitting inactive for a period of time, and requires you to enter a password or PIN to unlock it. This is one of the easiest functions to set up yet it can prevent people from easily accessing personal data if the phone is lost or stolen.
  • Download a remote location/lock/wipe application. These apps can remotely locate, lock or wipe a device if it is lost or stolen. Remote locking ensures that anyone who finds or steals the phone won’t be able to access anything inside without the proper PIN or password. In a worst-case scenario, remote wiping clears all the data so private information won’t fall into the wrong hands.
  • Back up data. This can be done with a product or application, a cloud service or simply by copying contacts, documents, pictures and personal information to your computer.
  • Install an antivirus app. Consider using mobile security antivirus software — especially with Google’s Android OS. As the market-leading mobile OS, Android has become the biggest target for cybercriminals. Some security experts estimate that as many as one-third of all Android apps contain some form of malware.
  • Download apps from reputable sources. It is safer to use application marketplaces provided by the carrier or phone vendor than to download apps directly from the web. Some sites have hosted repackaged versions of popular mobile apps that include spyware. Malware and spyware can still sneak into marketplaces, however, so be careful, especially with applications from unknown developers that have poor ratings or low download numbers.
  • Turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when unneeded. Wi-Fi hotspots and Bluetooth create avenues for public attacks. Turning off these features not only improves security but conserves battery life. When Bluetooth is used, make sure it is in “non-discoverable” mode. When using Wi-Fi, try to use an encrypted network or VPN to prevent hackers from “sniffing” data out of the air.
  • Keep the OS up to date. As with a computer, a smartphone’s operating system must be kept up to date. Although updates sometimes include features that may seem unnecessary, it is still a good idea to install them because they typically include security patches or improvements.

At ICG, we’re concerned about keeping all of your devices and data secure. Let us help you develop a security and data protection strategy to safeguard critical business information.

January 13, 2015

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Why Every SMB’s Resolutions Should Include Data Archival

The new year is a popular time for small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) to get organized. An important part of this process is figuring out how to use technology to reduce the amount of physical “stuff” in the office, from calendars and sticky notes to cardboard boxes filled with paper files.


Although certain data must be retained for compliance purposes, many SMBs just keep everything as a precaution. Whether that data is stored physically or digitally, adding storage space on a regular basis can get expensive as the amount of data being produced continues to skyrocket. SMBs need to determine which data serves a legal purpose or has strategic value, and treat that data as a business asset that is properly stored and protected.


Because primary storage capacity isn’t unlimited, developing a sound data archival strategy is essential. Data archival is the process of identifying and moving data that is no longer actively used from primary storage to secondary storage for long-term retention. Data archival is sometimes confused with data backup, which is the process of copying data to a separate storage system so the data can be restored in case of equipment failure or disaster.


Data archival brings valuable business benefits that extend far beyond reducing clutter and becoming more organized. Because secondary storage costs less than primary storage, data archival reduces storage costs. By moving data to secondary storage, organizations eliminate the need to repeatedly back up data that hasn’t changed, allowing active data to be backed up more frequently. Data archived to meet regulatory compliance requirements will be well-protected against tampering and remain accessible. Data archival also offers strategic business value because it enables organizations to store large volumes of data for analysis. This data can provide valuable customer and operational insights that can be used to create competitive advantages.


Although the concept of data archival may seem simple, effectively archiving data is a complex process that requires an understanding of proper archival policies and best practices. The first step in developing an archival strategy is identifying what data should be archived and for what purpose. Again, it may seem simple to archive all data that hasn’t been updated for a certain period of time, but there are a number of factors to consider. For example, the methods for archiving email, database and file data are very different.


Also, what is the lifecycle of various types of data? Can certain data be deleted instead of archived? If data is archived, how long must it be retained? For example, compliance data will most likely need to be retained for a longer period than human resources data. A data archival policy without a deletion policy can become unnecessarily costly in terms of wasted storage space and time spent searching through extra data.


Another factor to consider is accessibility. In order to maintain the integrity of archived data, organizations must establish clear guidelines that explain who may access various types of archived data and for what purpose. Once the types of data to be archived, the lifecycle of various forms of data, and accessibility policies have been identified, organizations should evaluate storage media and software based upon cost, control, performance and other factors. Cloud-based storage for data archival is quickly becoming a popular choice of SMBs.


ICG makes it possible for SMBs to realize the benefits of effective data archival while minimizing the need to purchase and maintain additional hardware as storage demands grow. Let us help you design and implement an archival plan and choose the solutions that make the most sense for your organization.

January 5, 2015

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Technology Predictions for 2015, Part 2

This is the time of year when you hear a lot of over-the-top claims about the next big thing as the words “disruptive” and “transformational” are tossed around far too casually. Unfortunately, many of these claims are based on the hopes of a sales department rather than the current and near-future business needs of organizations and their IT departments.


We prefer to focus on the trends that we expect to have a significant, immediate impact on business operations. In Part 1 of this post, we began this discussion with predictions about Windows 10, the Internet of Things, wearable technology and enterprise mobile applications.


Here are three more technology predictions that we feel organizations should understand and investigate in order to stay competitive in 2015.


The cloud will reach a tipping point. The transformation of the data center is well underway as more infrastructure and services are moving to the cloud. However, no organization is completely cloud-based, and they shouldn’t be. A hybrid cloud approach that combines on-premises, private cloud and public cloud tools will become the dominant model that best aligns cloud strategy with business strategy. At the same time, new “cloud first” technology is expected to drive consolidation among service providers and IT vendors.


Big data analytics will deliver more business value. Although many organizations are still struggling to gather, filter, store and retrieve structured and unstructured data, the capabilities of data analytics are quickly becoming more advanced. Big data applications make it possible to quickly and automatically provide granular, data-driven answers to important business questions. Using real-time data, predictive analytics drive faster innovation and better solutions for customers. More organizations will reap the rewards in 2015 by integrating these tools into business processes.


3-D printing will become a valuable business tool. 3-D printing is no longer confined to demonstrations at business and tech expos. In fact, Gartner estimates that worldwide shipments of 3-D printers will grow 98 percent this year. More printers are being introduced from more vendors, and more products can be printed. As prices continue to drop and new use cases are developed, 3-D printing will emerge as a cost-effective tool for designing and manufacturing business and consumer items, especially replaceable parts.


ICG has been in the technology business for more than 35 years, navigating a constantly evolving technological landscape to identify the best business solutions while reducing IT costs. As the pace of change continues to accelerate, the importance and difficulty of these decisions are only increasing. Let us help you take advantage of these and other technology trends to improve your organization’s operational efficiency, agility and flexibility while delivering the best possible customer experience.