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July 24, 2015

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How Remote Monitoring and Management Keeps your Network Healthy

One of biggest reasons why organizations turn to managed service providers (MSPs) to help manage the company network is that MSPs have sophisticated technology that in-house IT teams don’t have, as well as the expertise to use them. Remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools are a prime example.

 

RMM is an IT solution that gathers information from client workstations and servers about applications and hardware, and then generates reports about that activity. All RMM tools are managed through a single interface. An MSP uses RMM to proactively monitor and maintain the health of an organization’s systems and network, including desktop and mobile devices, and address most issues before the end-user even knows they exist. RMM tools are capable of uncovering subtle problems that can result in dire consequences to IT systems if these problems aren’t resolved right away.

 

Using agent tools, an MSP can take remote control of various network systems, devices and applications so problems can be fixed quickly to maintain optimal productivity. This can be done when the user is offline without the MSP signing into the device. Issues are detected by RMM tools, which report these issues to the MSP and enable technicians to correct these issues remotely. Customized thresholds based on business requirements are created for events that will automatically trigger email or text alerts to the MSP and the customer’s designated contact.

 

RMM also makes it possible for the MSP to automate scheduled maintenance tasks and take care of proactive maintenance such as operating system and security software updates, patch management, hard disk defragment, and router configurations. Detailed performance reports can be customized and used to evaluate current network health, ensure security and regulatory compliance, and identify long-term trends. In other words, RMM shows you how your systems are working and helps you determine the best way to keep them working smoothly in the future.

 

RMM solutions are now commonly integrated with professional services automation (PSA) tools to further increase automation, service quality, support and efficiency. As a result, issues are addressed more quickly and with greater accuracy and consistency, which means more peace of mind for you and minimal disruption to business operations.

 

Could an in-house IT technician do all this manually? Perhaps, if the environment is relatively small. But poring over system log files all day probably isn’t the best use of the technician’s time and won’t provide the rapid, proactive response that helps minimize downtime.

 

If you’re evaluating MSPs, ask if they use an RMM platform. Find out if their platform supports multiple operating systems so all user devices can be monitored. Does their RMM platform offer the flexibility to use certain tools and functionality and add others if necessary? Find out about its monitoring capabilities, the level of automation, and how much reporting they provide. An MSP should be able to provide you with reports that show what work has been done behind the scenes.

 

At ICG, our core offering is our managed IT services. Let us show you how we use RMM to keep your network and devices healthy so you can achieve your business goals.

April 30, 2015

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Why Retailers Should Get on Board with Mobile Payments

2015 is being touted as the “year of mobile payments,” although the technology hasn’t caught on as quickly as expected. The introduction of Apple Pay last year was supposed to drive a revolution in mobile payments — 1 million credit cards were used for Apple Pay less than 72 hours after its launch. However, recent studies show that just 15 percent of iPhone 6 users have even tried Apple Pay, and the number of stores and apps that accept it is fairly limited.

 

Still, major players are betting heavily on the mobile payments trend. In March, PayPal announced that it would acquire mobile payments startup Paydiant, and Google introduced a service called Android Pay to compete with Apple Pay. Even Facebook is getting on board with the addition of peer-to-peer payments using its Messenger app.

 

It’s clear that mobile payments are the wave of the future. Mobile payment apps store payment card information in smartphones, which interact with point-of-sale (POS) devices using near-field communications (NFC). This eliminates the need to pull out your wallet and find your credit card, and provides a single point of reference for all your purchases.

 

Consumers increasingly view mobile payment as a standard offering that makes transactions fast, simple and seamless. Experts predict highest usage of mobile payment solutions in high-volume, fast-paced establishments where speed is critical to delivering a positive customer experience. Merchants like mobile payment solutions because they make the sales process as frictionless as possible. This not only reduces the risk of losing the sale but enables retailers to collect data about customer preferences, promote loyalty programs, and share coupons and special offers.

 

Research firm eMarketer expects the number of mobile payment users in the U.S. to more than double next year to 36.2 million, accounting for $27.5 billion in transactions. More and more people, especially Millennials, would rather use their smartphone to make a payment than fumble with a wallet, and they don’t want to share or re-enter credit card information over and over. Retailers are expected to remember how customers prefer to pay and provide a more secure alternative to traditional credit card payments.

 

Mobile payment adoption has been slowed by the fact that few merchants have POS systems with NFC technology. However, retailers are under pressure to replace older magnetic strip card readers with terminals that accept “chip” cards by October 2015. This has accelerated the adoption of NFC readers that extract payment information stored in smartphones without forcing the customer to hand over a card or device.

 

But NFC readers are only part of the infrastructure required to accept mobile payments. A fast, reliable and highly secure network is a must. The ICG Network Infrastructure team can optimize your environment through the design, implementation and support of cost-effective network and security solutions. ICG’s managed services are designed to ensure network availability, performance and security over the long haul. Let us help you take advantage of a mobile payment solution that satisfies customer demand and creates additional opportunities for revenue growth.

March 19, 2015

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How a Network Refresh Can Keep Business Moving Forward

In our last two posts we talked about how the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard is taking wireless networks to the next level. Many organizations are adopting this new high-speed Wi-Fi standard in order to support growing numbers of devices and bandwidth-hungry applications.

 

But even as organizations are souping up their wireless networks, they are waiting longer and longer to upgrade their wired infrastructure. According to Dimension Data’s Network Barometer Report 2014, the network refresh cycle in enterprise networking equipment has reached a six-year high. In fact, half of network switches, routers and wireless devices are either aging or obsolete. Devices that are past end of sale are considered “aging,” while those past end of support are considered obsolete. In many cases, the recession caused organizations to delay upgrades and squeeze every last drop of juice from their legacy network equipment.

 

The useful life of networking equipment ranges from three to five years all the way up to seven to 10 years, depending upon whom you ask. However, even though certain components of your network infrastructure may still be working, older technology could be preventing your network from properly supporting new wireless and Voice over IP (VoIP) technologies.

 

High-performance Wi-Fi is essential for most enterprises, yet a rapid increase in mobile device density is making it difficult to keep up with heavy bandwidth demands. A network refresh may be required if enterprises are going to meet employee and customer expectations for wireless speed and availability and support new, faster Wi-Fi standards such as 802.11ac. Enterprises will likely need to rethink wireless network design and upgrade their wired network, which will in turn make the wireless network function better.

 

Significant bandwidth is also needed to support a VoIP-based phone system and server virtualization, which consolidates servers and runs multiple applications on each server. When upgrading the network, enterprises should look for network switches that provide Power over Ethernet capabilities. PoE supports wireless access points and VoIP equipment without having to run AC power to each of those devices. Fortunately, lower prices for Ethernet technology are making a network refresh more economically feasible.

 

In addition to better supporting the wireless network, VoIP and virtualized environments, there are several key benefits to upgrading your network infrastructure.

 

  • Productivity will be enhanced when employees have access to more reliable connections, inside and outside of the office.
  • Your network will be able to support innovative services and new product features and functionality.
  • Your network will be more efficient, more cost-effective and easier to manage.

 

Let ICG assess your network infrastructure to determine if it’s capable of supporting wireless, VoIP and virtualization technology. A network refresh may be necessary to take your organization to the next level.

October 16, 2014

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Is It Time for a Network Refresh?

On average, bandwidth consumption and data volumes in the data center double every 18 months. The number of devices accessing the network doubles every 30 months. Is your network infrastructure built to support such explosive growth?

 

Many networks are not. The refresh cycle for enterprise networking equipment keeps getting longer and has now reached a six-year high, according to Dimension Data’s Network Barometer Report 2014. In fact, half of network switches, routers and wireless devices are either aging or obsolete. Devices that are past end of sale are considered “aging,” while those past end of support are considered “obsolete.”

 

Many organizations have delayed upgrades in an attempt to squeeze every last drop of juice from their legacy network equipment. However, even though certain components of your network infrastructure may still be working, older technology could be preventing your network from properly supporting the latest technologies and growing numbers of users and devices.

 

High-performance Wi-Fi is essential for most enterprises, yet a rapid increase in mobile device density is making it difficult to keep up with heavy bandwidth demands. The wired network plays a key role in wireless LAN performance, particularly with the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. Organizations will likely need to not only rethink wireless network design but to upgrade their wired network, which will in turn make the wireless network function better.

 

Meanwhile, bandwidth-heavy technologies such as virtualization, cloud computing, mobility, video and big data are contributing to an immense increase in network traffic. Aging networks simply lack the capacity, flexibility and performance these technologies demand.

 

In addition to better supporting the wireless, VoIP and virtualized environments, an up-to-date network infrastructure delivers several key business benefits:

 

  • Productivity will be enhanced when employees have access to more reliable connections, inside and outside of the office.
  • Your network will be able to support innovative services and new product features and functionality.
  • Your network will be more efficient, more cost-effective and easier to manage.

 

Fortunately, lower prices for Ethernet technology are making a network refresh more economically feasible. In addition, cloud-based configuration and administration tools are making it easier to manage the network infrastructure. Network switches that provide Power over Ethernet capabilities support wireless access points and VoIP equipment without having to run AC power to each of those devices.

 

The ICG Network Infrastructure team has proven expertise in the design, configuration, installation and support of best-in-class network solutions. Let us assess your network infrastructure to determine if it’s capable of supporting wireless, VoIP and virtualization and other state-of-the-art technologies. A network refresh may be necessary to take your organization to the next level.

August 7, 2014

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Why a High-Performance WLAN Is Critical

 

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The modern workplace is quickly evolving to better serve an increasingly mobile workforce and customer base. Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiatives are introducing about three wireless devices per employee into the workplace. Mobile unified communications has improved the quality and speed of collaboration and customer service. With today’s smartphones and tablets and Wi-Fi connectivity, organizations have the opportunity to engage customers in new and personal ways. None of these trends would be possible without the emergence of high-performance wireless LANs (WLANs).

 

WLANs based upon the 802.11n standard deliver raw data speeds of up to 450Mbps. Because 802.11n doubles channel width to 40MHz and uses more of the wireless spectrum than older standards, organizations can use high-bandwidth applications such as video and Voice over IP (VoIP) with minimal interference. 802.11n also incorporates MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology, which uses multiple paths to transfer more data simultaneously. MIMO also boosts bandwidth and increases the Wi-Fi coverage area to 150 feet or more.

February 12, 2014

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What You Need to Know about Migrating to Windows Server 2012 R2

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In a previous post, we warned you of the impending end-of-support deadlines for some of Microsoft’s most popular desktop and server products. After April 8, 2014, users of Windows XP SP3, Office 2003, Small Business Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003 and SharePoint Portal Server 2003 will no longer receive security patches and updates from Microsoft. These organizations may also face regulatory compliance issues.

For organizations that are still using these products, migration to another platform is critical. But even if you’re running a newer Microsoft Server product, it’s worth considering an upgrade.

Microsoft has streamlined Windows Server options by retiring Windows Small Business Server and Windows Home Server and offering just four editions of Windows Server 2012 R2. The features are basically the same across all editions, each of which is capable of supporting a different number of users. Here are the four editions:

  • Datacenter is intended for enterprises that utilize highly virtualized environments with a private or hybrid cloud.
  • Standard is intended for midsize organizations that utilize non-virtualized or moderately virtualized environments.
  • Essentials is intended for small businesses with up to 25 users running on servers with up to two processors. This edition replaces Small Business Server and Home Server. Office 365, a cloud-based version of Office, can be integrated to provide users with anytime, anywhere access to email, collaboration tools and popular Office programs such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
  • Foundation is intended for small business with up to 15 users running on single-processor servers. This edition is preinstalled on hardware and through original equipment manufacturers.

Organizations of all sizes should be excited about a number of new features and benefits delivered by Windows Server 2012 R2. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Simplified Licensing: Fewer editions mean less-complex licensing, which makes it easier to determine the true cost of Windows Server 2012 R2. Datacenter and Standard licensing is based on processors plus the Microsoft Client Access License (CAL), while Essentials and Foundation licensing is based on servers and user limits.

Data Deduplication. Now part of the core Windows Server 2012 R2 operating system, data deduplication eliminates identical copies of data to reduce redundant space by up to 90 percent. It also helps you avoid wasting time with unnecessary backups and conserve bandwidth.

More Flexible, Reliable Storage. An alternative to public cloud storage and network storage options, Storage Spaces enables organizations to create expandable storage pools using affordable hard disks. This new feature makes it easier to manage large amounts of data, improves resiliency and optimizes utilization of storage resources.

While migration is essential if your organization is using server products that will be unsupported in less than two months, you need to determine the right migration strategy. For example, if you’re using older products, you’ll need to check compatibility with your applications before you upgrade. Also, pay close attention to Microsoft requirements to determine if you should upgrade your domain controllers or install a new domain controller with Windows Server 2012 R2.

ICG can help you develop a migration strategy that minimizes downtime, ensures application compatibility, and helps you take full advantage of the new products and features at your disposal.