What is the business case for Windows-Server virtualization?

Windows-Server virtualization, the deployment of a virtual version of a Windows-Server operating environment, is used to reduce hardware costs, gain efficiencies, and improve the availability of computing resources.  It refers to installing a virtual environment onto one or more “virtualized” hardware servers (termed Physical Hosts) and deploying multiple virtual Windows-Server operating systems (termed Virtual Guests) onto this virtual environment.

In small to medium-sized businesses, we typically see three levels of Windows-Server virtualization with these increasing benefits:

  • Single Physical Host – Cost savings (energy and hardware) with some flexibility
  • Multiple hosts with Storage Area Network (SAN) – Highly available environment with minimal downtime
  • Multiple hosts with Site-to-Site Failover – Disaster recovery to separate location

We review each of these levels below.

Single Physical Host

This virtualization level has these components:

  • Single hardware server with onboard storage – This hardware server is the platform for the Physical Host; it could be a HP ML350/ML370 tower server or equivalent with multiple disk drives.
  • Virtualizing software – The operating environment for virtualization; typically the free versions of either VMware’s VSphere or Microsoft’s Hyper-V.  (These products are available as free downloads from the manufacturer.)  Installing the virtualizing software onto the hardware server creates the Physical Host.
  • Multiple Virtual Guests – The virtual operating systems installed onto the Physical Host; usually one or more instances of Microsoft’s Windows Server.  (These instances must each be licensed copies of Windows Server and any associated, server-based applications.)

This environment consolidates several Windows Server instances onto a single hardware server with sufficient processing capability, Random Access Memory (RAM), and on-board disk storage.  It introduces cost savings in hardware, energy, and support and provides some flexibility in the transfer of a virtualized instance to a new hardware platform (although this transfer is manual and requires a second hardware server).

Some caveats:

  • The hardware server (and its components) is the primary point of failure; if it is down, all of the installed Virtual Guests are unavailable.
  • Ports on the Physical Host are handled differently in a virtual environment; attached backup devices and UPS equipment might need special setup.

Primary business benefits:

  • Less up-front acquisition cost (capital expenditure or CapEx) since a single hardware server can be used rather than two or more hardware servers.  Plus, the virtualizing software at this level is basically free.
  • Less energy required to power a single hardware server than multiple hardware servers; leads to reduced operating expenses (OpEx).
  • Fewer components to support; could lead to lower support costs.
  • Increased flexibility and scalability when migrating to a new hardware server.

This virtualizing environment works well in a business with a couple of Windows Servers that is looking to capital and operating reduce costs.

Multiple Physical Hosts with a Storage Area Network

At this level, we separate the storage (disk-drives) from the Physical Host and move them to a separate Storage Area Network (SAN)1.  We also add sophisticated virtualizing software capable of automatically managing the location of Virtual Guests.

A major benefit of this approach is termed: “High availability”.

High availability refers to “A system design approach and associated service implementation that ensures a prearranged level of operational performance will be met…” (from WikiPedia under “High availability”).  Basically, if designed properly, this level provides complete redundancy of all critical components within the equipment stack such that any single component can fail without compromising system reliability.

Improved performance is also likely since the virtualizing software can automatically balance available resources against Virtual Guest needs.

This virtualization level has these primary hardware components:

  • Storage Area Network (SAN), preferably with redundant disk chassis and network switching2
  • Two or more Physical Hosts, preferably with N+1 redundancy3
  • Two or more VLAN-capable Ethernet switches4

Each item is a critical of the overall design:

  • All data and Virtual Guests reside on the SAN
  • Virtual Guests are balanced among the Physical Hosts
  • Ethernet switches route all the traffic between the SAN and the Physical Hosts

If any item fails, the system fails.  So, each item must be redundant (to increase reliability) and must be properly maintained.

Notes:

Technically, the Storage Area Network consists of disk arrays and the interconnecting fabric, which is TCP/IP over Ethernet over UDP in the case of an iSCSI SAN.

The SAN is the data storage; it should have redundant components capable of automatic failover.  A single-chassis SAN (like the HP P2000 series) has redundant controllers and power supplies, but fails if its disk backplane fails; a redundant-chassis SAN (like the HP P4000 series) consists of two or more separate storage arrays.  The chance of a failure in a redundant-chassis SAN affecting all arrays at once is extremely small.

Physical Host N+1 redundancy refers to adding one more Physical Host than required to meet performance standards.  The additional Physical Host permits performance standards to be retained, even if a Physical Host fails.

In addition to providing the SAN connectivity, the Ethernet switches provide redundant network links between the Physical Hosts and the remainder of the network.

Multiple Hosts with Site-to-Site Failover

Our highest level of Windows Server virtualization, Multiple Hosts with Site-to-Site Failover, addresses the issue of a single-site failure; how long does it take to recover to a new location if your primary site fails (as in a building catastrophe such as long-term power outage, flooding, fire, theft, etc.).

Like most data-center-uptime strategies, redundancy is the core concept; in this case, a second site is equipped with comparable equipment and the data is synchronized between the primary and secondary site.  Done properly, the secondary site can be brought up either automatically or, when budget is a constraint, within a short interval of an hour or less.

Configuring for automatic failover can be considerably more expensive than allowing a short interval of an hour or less to recover since you essentially need to duplicate the primary site at the remote location, have sufficient bandwidth between the locations to permit real-time replication, and deploy some additional equipment and software to manage the automatic failover.

While automatic failover is feasible, we structure the failover interval (automatic or short) to meet the client’s requirements and budget.

When configuring for a short delay, we use HP Proliant servers with VMware’s vSphere virtualization platform.  Storage is provided through an HP P4500-series SAN (Storage Area Network), which offers complete redundancy within the SAN (redundant-chassis, dual power supplies per chassis, redundant array controllers, and a Network-RAID array to spread the data across the P4500) as well as block-by-block transfer of data to a storage device at one or more remote locations.  (This replication is not real-time; it is based on snapshots taken and copied to the remote location.  These snapshots can be taken no more frequently than every 15 minutes, but this time period often needs to be lengthened to accommodate bandwidth constraints.)

The P4500 is setup at the primary site with a lower-cost HP P2000 deployed at the secondary site(s).  The P4500 is configured to provide synchronization aligned with the circuit bandwidth between sites, allowing the P2000 to retain the same data and configuration without compromising performance.

The secondary site(s) would also have HP Proliant servers and two (or more) VLAN-capable Ethernet switches.  The Proliant servers run the VMware virtualizing software, but are basically dormant until needed.

When configuring for automatic failover, several items must be adjusted:

  • P4500 SANs must be deployed at the primary and remote site(s) and must be configured in a multi-site cluster
  • VMware vSphere Enterprise or better is required and must be licensed for both the primary and remote (recovery) site(s)
  • Windows Server licensing at the primary site must be duplicated for the recovery site(s)
  • Sufficient bandwidth must exist for real-time disk-writes since this configuration cannot fall behind and catch-up during slack periods
  • Additional VMware utilities and enhanced licensing for applications may be required to enable true automatic failover

For more information, see the Bryley Systems case study on the virtualization of RTA Transit Services, Inc.; the company operating the Worcester Regional Transit Authority at https://www.bryley.com/documents/2012/Bryley%20–%20WRTA%20Case%20Study%20–%202012.pdf.

 

For more information, please email Info@Bryley.com or call us at 978.562.6077.

Deploying software systems to manage a growing organization

Most organizations use software to manage at least these items:

  • Accounting – Perform vital bookkeeping and accounting functions
  • Contacts – Organize and manage clients, prospects, vendors, etc.
  • Operations – Match assets to organization’s need on a daily basis

In organizations with funding limitations, deployment of a software-based system to manage specific functions often starts as a cost-based decision, which can lead to several miscues along the way since cost is only one of the factors that should guide the decision.

I’d categorize deployment options in this manner:

  • Build your own using all-purpose, brand-name, productivity software
  • Purchase stand-alone applications and manually integrate them
  • Deploy an integrated, all-inclusive system
  • Outsource this mess to someone else

I’ll address the first three options now and provide some feedback on deployment.   Outsource is a large topic that will be covered separately.

Build your own

Organizations with a do-it-yourself perspective often turn to the build your own approach; you basically use the functionality of productivity software (like Microsoft Office) to create a custom-built solution.  Generally, this works OK to start, but can be difficult to manage and maintain with growth.

Popular productivity-software options include:

  • Microsoft’s Office suite (currently Microsoft Office 2013), which includes:
    • Outlook to manage contacts, calendar, email, and tasks
    • Excel to create proposals and track financial information
    • Access to build and manage contact and production databases
  • Microsoft Office 365, a Cloud-based alternative to the Microsoft Office suite
  • Google Apps for Business, which is a direct competitor to Microsoft Office 365

When Bryley Systems first started in the mid-1980s, we used Lotus 123 (a then-popular spreadsheet application) as our primary tool for everything financial; it quickly became unwieldy, so we purchased an accounting-software package.

Stand-alone applications

Stand-alone applications target a specific function and provide work-flows and best-practices to address this function through use of the software application.

Stand-alone applications are often categorized by function (as described above):

  • Accounting
  • Contacts
  • Operations

Below is a brief summary of these categories.

Accounting

The accounting system is very important; it automates the various accounting and bookkeeping functions (Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, Inventory Control, Payroll, etc.) and provides a shared foundation for other capabilities.

Intuit’s Quicken is easy to use as a checkbook replacement, but QuickBooks is a full-function accounting system that leads this market.  Peachtree is another popular accounting package, but with only a fraction of the market share.  Intaact is making headway in mid-sized businesses.

FindAccountingSoftware.com provides an easy-to-use, online guide at http://findaccountingsoftware.com/software-search/.

Contacts

Contact-management applications permit the input and retrieval of contact information with tracking and communications activities, including scheduling.  (You can manage your contacts within your accounting system, but this becomes less practical as your account base grows.)

ACT was one of the original contact managers and claims to be the market leader.  It is now owned by Sage Software (which also owns Peachtree and other accounting packages) and can be purchased or leased online.

Other popular options include:

  • Salesforce
  • OnContact
  • Prophet

We started with ACT in the early years, but shifted to Prophet in the early 2000s since it integrated with some of our other systems.

For a recent ranking and review, please visit http://contact-management-software-review.toptenreviews.com/.

Operations (both manufacturing and service-delivery)

In a manufacturing environment, a production-management system enhances control over materials flow (from raw materials coming into the organization to finished goods flowing out), production resources (tooling, equipment, and employees), and scheduling.  It is the glue that binds these items together, permitting the company to manage its flow of work.

We often see these packages at our manufacturing clients:

  • Exact Macola
  • Exact JobBOSS
  • GlobalShop Solutions
  • IQMS  Enterprise IQ

Capterra lists many of these options at http://www.capterra.com/production-scheduling-software.

Service-delivery management is a bit more diverse; what works for one type of service operation might not be appropriate for another type.  Typically, these are industry-specific solutions.

For example, we started with BridgeTrak, which is a service-ticketing application with scheduling and limited contact management.  It served well for a number of years, but we found it difficult to integrate with our accounting package (Peachtree at the time) and with other applications.

Stand-alone applications can be deployed internally, but many companies exist to assist with this process. Multi-user versions should have a dedicated, Windows-based server or be Cloud-based.

The lines are blurring between stand-alone applications and integrated, all-inclusive systems, but the primary issues with stand-alone systems:

  • They can become separate islands of information
  • They do not readily integrate with one another

Integrated, all-inclusive system

ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and PSA (Professional Services Automation) systems integrate all company functions and departments; it provides one repository for all organization data, which is available to all employees.  A related option, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), software is similar, but has less functionality and is often a component of an ERP or a PSA system.

High-end, all-inclusive systems from SAP, Oracle, Epicor, etc. cost hundreds of thousands or even millions to procure and deploy, but integrate every aspect of the organization.  Most large organizations work with one of these vendors and use their software nearly exclusively for all functions.

For mid-sized and smaller companies, there are many accounting-based systems that can be expanded through modules and customization to provide ERP and PSA-class alternatives.  Three of the more-popular options:

  • Microsoft Dynamics/GP (formerly Great Plains)
  • Sage 100 (formerly MAS 90)
  • NetSuite

There are also many software-development firms that focus on a specific, vertical market and provide a complete, market-specific solution.  In the mid-2000s, we chose this direction and purchased a PSA system from ConnectWise which is custom-tailored to our industry.

ConnectWise handles all facets of our business and integrates with our accounting system and with our sales-quoting tool.  All employees are required to enter every scrap of data into ConnectWise; our adopted slogan is “If it is not in ConnectWise, it did not happen”.

We also use QuickBooks, but primarily because it integrates with ConnectWise in a downstream direction.  We create our proposals through QuoteWerks, which integrates with both QuickBooks and with ConnectWise.

The initial investment is significant, but the time spent deploying an integrated, all-inclusive system solution within the organization and training employees can far surpass the cost of the software licensing. It is a demanding process, but it pays big dividends in uniting all functions and groups.

The primary benefits:

  • All functions integrate together
  • The system can usually integrate with other applications
  • All employees use the same interface and share the exact-same information

Deployment

To deploy these packages on-premise (rather than in the Cloud), you would need:

  • Infrastructure hardware – Physical server with reliability items (UPS, RAID, redundant power supplies, backup solution, etc.).  We recommend HP servers, but also support Dell.
  • Infrastructure software – Most business software are compatible with Microsoft Windows Server and Microsoft SQL Server.  Microsoft Exchange Server may be needed for email integration.
  • Infrastructure deployment – Setup the Infrastructure hardware and software (listed above), configure the end-user devices (PCs and mobile), etc.
  • Business software – Usually sold in a series of modules with add-ons and licensed to match your user count.
  • Business-software deployment – Usually sold as a project, which includes all of the setup stages needed to get the business software operational and assist in the transition.  A fair amount of process customization is needed; report customization is also part of this stage.  (Most folk select an internal “champion” or a “deployment team” to evangelize, build enthusiasm, watch-over the process, and keep things on-track.)
  • Training – We recommend several, time-spaced sessions followed by occasional tune-ups to allow acclimation and to provide hand-holding for those that will have the most challenges.

Cloud-based deployments eliminate the Infrastructure stages (except setup of client devices) and price the business software in per-user increments; however, customization and training are still needed.  The major incentives to Cloud-based deployments include:

  • Reduce capital expenditures (Infrastructure equipment and software)
  • Shift to operating expenses on a per-user basis
  • Speed-up time to deploy

Cloud-based deployments requires great trust in the business partner providing these services, but they can free-up cash (by eliminating the need to purchase Infrastructure) and get you setup quicker.

Summary

Many cash-strapped organizations start with build-your-own and later morph to one or a combination of the other three options as they grow.  However, deploying an integrated, all-inclusive system provides significant benefits and is now easier to budget and deploy with Cloud-based alternatives that spread costs over time.

 

For more information, please email Info@Bryley.com or call us at 978.562.6077.

Comparing Cloud-based services (Complete Overview)

Many Cloud-based services fall into one of these categories:

  • Productivity suites – Applications that help you be more productive
  • Storage – Storing, retrieving, and synchronizing files in the Cloud
  • Backup and Recovery – Backing-up data and being able to recover it
  • Prevention – Prevent malware, typically spam and related components

Each category is represented below in its own section.

1. Productivity suites

Productivity suites

Probably the segment with the heaviest hitters, Microsoft and Google are battling for supremacy; Microsoft was late to the Cloud, but is ramping up nicely with its Cloud-services sales exceeding $1B/year.  However, Google still owns this segment with an estimated 33% to 50% of Cloud-based, productivity-suite users, mostly on the strength of its free Google Apps and Google Apps for Education, but also with paid subscriptions to Google Apps for Business and Google Apps for Government.

Microsoft Office 365 Logo

Microsoft built Office 365 on its popular, desktop-based, Microsoft Office suite which includes Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other applications.  (The current versions are Office 2003, Office 2007, Office 2010, and Office 2013.)  Microsoft Office users will find Office 365 familiar since most versions include the Microsoft Office suite, which can be downloaded to your PC and to other compatible devices.

Office 365 consists of these primary components:

  • Exchange Online – Email, calendar, contacts, and tasks
  • SharePoint Online – Document collaboration and management
  • Lync Online – Online meetings with instant messaging and desktop sharing
  • Office Web Apps – Cloud versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote

Most versions of Office 365 also include:

  • Office suite – Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.
  • SkyDrive – Cloud storage of documents

Full-feature versions range from $96/user per year to $240/user per year.  Microsoft now offers its E1 plan free to qualifying non-profit organizations.

Google Logo

Google Apps are, and always were, Cloud-based; they did not start as applications installed onto your computer.  As such, they are easy to use and maintain and they work on a wide variety of devices, from PCs to tablets to smartphones.  On the downside, due to this setup, they have some functionality and usage limitations when compared to Microsoft Office applications.

Google Apps for Business has a “one size fits all” approach; you get all the features at $50/user per year.  Google Apps for Business includes:

  • Gmail – Email with Google-powered search
  • Calendar – Schedule meetings, share calendars, get reminders
  • Drive – Store files in the Cloud and send files to colleagues
  • Docs – Create, share, and work-on documents
  • Sheets – Manage spreadsheet data
  • Slides – Create presentations

Comparing Productivity Suites

Both Office 365 and Google Apps for Business provide desired applications that are somewhat easy to use; while Microsoft relies on its huge base of Office users to consider switching to Office 365, Google lures its users in with its free versions of Google Apps and Google Apps for Education and then provides a simple upgrade to the paid version of Google Apps for Business (or Google Apps for Government).

Basic reasons to choose Microsoft Office 365:

  • Users are familiar and comfortable with Microsoft Office interface
  • Multiple plan options exist to fit your needs and budget
  • Greater functionality within applications

Basic reasons to choose Google Apps for Business:

  • Relatively inexpensive with only one plan to select
  • Low maintenance with no updating necessary
  • Works over a wide range of devices

Get more Microsoft Office 365 versus Google Apps from our August newsletter at https://www.bryley.com/2013/09/04/near-term-future-computer-technology-microsoft-versus-google/.

 

2. Storage

Storage often comes in a free version with separate professional/business (paid) versions that includes advanced features.  The basic premise is that your data is stored in the Cloud – hopefully in a secure manner with sufficient redundancy – is available from any location on any device, and is synchronized between devices.

Most free versions offer these minimum features:

  • At least 2Gb of storage with synchronization across multiple computers
  • Easy access from mobile devices and PCs via downloadable client software
  • Direct access to files through a web browser
  • File sharing with other users

However, you typically must upgrade to a paid version to receive these capabilities:

  • Access control – Define and control who can access what, where, and when
  • Additional storage – Purchase extra storage once your limit is exceeded
  • Auditing – Identify and record what files are stored where and by whom
  • Integration – Integrate with other platforms (i.e.: Active Directory)
  • Security – Enable advanced encryption and security techniques

Popular services (alphabetically) include:

  • Box – 10 Gb free storage with NetSkope’s second-highest rating
  • Dropbox – 2 Gb free storage with over 200 million subscribers
  • Google Drive – 15 Gb free storage shared with Gmail and Google+ Photo
  • SkyDrive – 7 Gb free storage and integrated within Microsoft Office apps

Box

Box (www.Box.com) is a Q3-2013 leader in Forrester’s “File Sync & Share Platforms”.  It offers a free version, but is built for professional use with available integration to Active Directory and LDAP, security with rotating encryption keys, access control, and auditing.

According to Netskope’s review of Cloud-based applications, Box was the second highest-scoring Cloud application, coming in the number two spot on the NetSkope Q3-2013 Cloud Report.  (Please visit Netskope’s http://www.netskope.com/reports-infographics/netskope-cloud-report-q3-2013 for the complete report.)

My take:  Box is the most-comprehensive offering, but a bit more complex due to its advanced features.  It is a serious choice for those that value advanced features (access control, auditing, integration, etc.) and are willing to pay to get them.

Dropbox

With over 200 million users, Dropbox (www.Dropbox.com) claims market leadership.  It is built upon Amazon’s S3 storage and is easy to use.  The free version offers 2 Gb, but there is a professional (Dropbox Pro) version with greater functionality (and storage) and a business version (Dropbox for Business) that offers team collaboration.  All three versions offer synchronization and file-sharing; the help screens are brief, useful, and entertaining.

My take:  Dropbox is the easiest and most-fun to use, but it has the least amount of free storage and its paid plans are a bit more expensive than others.

Google Drive

Google offers Google Drive (www.GoogleDrive.com) as a stand-alone service or bundled within Google Apps.  The free version offers 15 Gb with synchronization among devices and sharing among peers.  It is a no-frills alternative with little glitz, just reliable storage at reasonable cost.  It is the base of Google Apps.

My take:  Google Drive has fewer doodads and the least amount of whimsy, but it is reliable and offers the greatest amount of free storage.

SkyDrive

Microsoft offers its free version of SkyDrive (www.SkyDrive.com) with seven Gb plus an additional three Gb for students.  SkyDrive is an option in newer versions of Microsoft Office and integrates to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Bing.  You can also “fetch” files from your base computer via web-browser on a remote computer.

My take:  SkyDrive offers the most for the least, although there is some buzz about slow synchronization between devices.  Its “fetch” feature is unique among these alternatives and its integration within Microsoft Office is a killer feature.

 

3. Backup and Recovery

Backup and Recovery automatically copies files and folders to an offsite location at periodic intervals.  It is similar to Storage, but is unique in that these files are held separately, unchanged, for the purpose of restoration (recovery) if the original files become unavailable.  Backups are typically encrypted and are somewhat resistant to malicious attacks; however, if the original files were infected before the backup process begins, the backup files will also be infected.

Recovery is the reason for backups.  The most common recovery scenarios:

  • A user changes a document and then wishes to retrieve the previous version.
  • Changes are saved to a template document, rather than creating a new file.
  • An upgrade to an application fails and corrupts its data files.
  • Access is needed to a deleted file.

Popular, Cloud-based, Backup and Recovery services include (alphabetically):

  • Carbonite – Extremely popular; starts at $59.99/year per device
  • Mozy – Also well-known with prices starting at $5.99/month for up to 50Gb
  • SOS Online Backup – Starts at $9.99/month for 100Gb; unlimited devices
  • SugarSync – More synchronization than backup starting at $7.49/month

Carbonite

Carbonite is automated, encrypted, and easy to use.  It is available for home users, but includes business-oriented plans.  Home-user plans are per-device; each device is priced at $59.99/year with unlimited backup.  Business plans start at $299.99/year with an unlimited number of devices.

Visit www.Carbonite.com.

Mozy

Mozy is a subsidiary of EMC, a Fortune 500 company in Hopkinton, MA.  Like Carbonite, they offer both home and business packages.

There is a free version, but most MozyHome plans start at $5.99/month per device with up to 50Gb. The business option, MozyPro, starts at $19.99/month for unlimited devices up to 50Gb; $26.98/month with servers.

Visit www.Mozy.com.

SOS Online Backup

Plans from SOS Online Backup do not restrict the number of devices, but their base plan is restricted to a single user starting at $9.99/month.  Plans that include unlimited devices and unlimited users start at $99.99/month and include monitoring, password encryption, and phone support.

Visit www.SOSOnlineBackup.com.

SugarSync

SugarSync is more of a folder-synchronization service than a backup service; it synchronizes a folder across multiple devices.  SugarSync is user-based with plans starting at $7.49/month per user; multi-user plans start at $55/month.

My take:  Of these four options, we hear more about Carbonite and Mozy than SOS Online Backup or SugarSync.  Although SugarSync is popular, it is not as good a backup and restore solution as the other three.

Mozy has the deepest pockets with a large corporate partner, but Carbonite has, at this time, greater momentum.  The monitoring and telephone support included with SOS Online Backup makes it attractive.

Visit http://pcsupport.about.com/od/maintenance/tp/online_backup_services.htm for an extensive review of 40 backup services by Tim Fisher at About.com.  Another comparison at http://www.toptenreviews.com/services/internet/best-online-backup-services/ ranks 10 services from one through 10.

Bryley Systems offers our Backup/Disaster Recovery (BU/DR) service for servers; it is a monitored, secure, service hosted within our data-center in Hudson, MA with onsite appliance included.  Please visit www.Bryley.com for details.

 

4. Prevention

Prevention is a necessary evil; it can slow end-point performance (since these tools are using computing resources to constantly scan for problems), but it is critical in keeping end-users safe from external threats like spam, malware, and viruses.  Cloud-oriented Prevention includes:

  • Email protection – Control spam plus encrypt and archive emails
  • End-point security – Secure end-user computers against attacks
  • Web filtering – Prevent unauthorized access to undesired websites

Email protection is wholly Cloud-based, but end-point security tools usually deploy an application onto the end-user computer while web filtering requires at least an adjustment to (ie: setup a proxy server), or an application installed on, the end-user computer.  We’ll cover only Cloud-based, email protection in this article.

Key issues for email-protection options include:

  • Administration – Easy setup and enforcement
  • Effectiveness – Works reliably and consistently
  • End-user interface – Intuitive, secure, and easy-to-use
  • Granularity – Allows multi-level policies and permissions

Popular, email-protection options (alphabetically) include:

  • Google Message Secure (formerly Postini; now bundled within Google Apps)
  • McAfee® (now Intel Security) SaaS Email Prevention and Continuity
  • Microsoft® Exchange Online Protection
  • ProofPointEssentials Business
  • Symantec Email Security.cloud (formerly MessageLabs)

Google Message Secure (GMS)

GMS was one of the best products at an excellent price of $12/user per year.  In 2013, Google discontinued GMS as a stand-alone service and bundled it within Google Apps.  Former GMS clients will retain the $12 pricing for a period of time, but will eventually pay the Google Apps for Business price of $50/user per year.

Visit http://www.google.com/postini/ for details on this transition.

McAfee SaaS Email Prevention and Continuity (MEPC)

Intel is currently rebranding McAfee within Intel Security; no timeframe on the conversion, but the McAfee logo (a red “M” on a shield) will remain associated with these services.

MEPC prevents spam, but also includes Continuity, which allows end-users to retrieve and send email even if their email service is unavailable; once the email service becomes available, all emails received and sent via MEPC are then resynchronized with the email service.  The price is $27/user per year.

McAfee also offers email encryption and email archiving.  (Please visit our site at http://www.Bryley.com/services/email-management/ for details on MEPC and related offerings.)

Microsoft Exchange Online Protection (EOP)

Microsoft provides email protection and archiving within its Office 365 suite, but also offers it as a stand–alone service under EOP, although it is directed solely at Exchange-based email.  In addition to spam and malware prevention, you can establish content and policy-based filtering to ensure outbound emails do not violate company standards.  Price is $12/user per year.

Visit http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/exchange/microsoft-exchange-online-protection-email-filter-and-anti-spam-protection-email-security-email-spam-FX103763969.aspx for details on EOP.  Or, visit our site for information on

Office 365 at http://www.Bryley.com/office365/.

Proofpoint Essentials Business

Proofpoint Essentials Business is a comprehensive offering that classifies security threats and then manages against their intrusion.  Outbound filtering, content filtering, and 14-day spooling are included; archiving is also available.  Proofpoint Essentials Business starts at $26.40/user per year.

Please visit http://essentials.proofpoint.com/ for more information.

Symantec Email Security.cloud

Symantec recently acquired MessageLabs spam filter and rebranded it within their Symantec.cloud services under Email Security.cloud.  It protects against targeted attacks, malware, spam, and the like using proprietary Skeptic technologies.  Content filtering is included; email encryption is available.

See http://www.symantec.com/email-security-cloud for details.

 

For more information, please email Info@Bryley.com or call us at 978.562.6077.

Protect your mobile device

The need to secure newer mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) has grown since they now meet the basic criteria for malicious, cyberspace-based attack:

  • Developer kits are readily available
  • Mobile devices are in widespread use throughout the world
  • Motivation is increasing since usable/saleable data live on these devices

In addition, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has introduced related, security-oriented concerns and complexities:

  • How can we accommodate personal equipment in the workplace, particularly when two-thirds of 20-something workers in a recent survey from research firm Vision Critical state that “they, not the company, should be responsible for the security of devices used for work purposes”?1
  • How do we manage the large variety of mobile devices, many with differing operating systems, processing capabilities, and user interfaces?
  • How do we structure our security offerings to permit broad access to low-risk functions while restricting high-risk activities on a need-to-have basis?

Protecting a smartphone (or tablet) gets easier if you take the perspective of Garin Livingstone, one of our technical staff, who pointed out: “It is just a small computer; all of the same security concerns and rules that apply to PCs also apply to smartphones.”

As described in a recent InformationWeek article2, corporate response from the IT department should consist of these three stages:

  • Set policy for mobile device use
  • Train users
  • Enforce

 

1. Policies

Mobile-device-use policies should protect company data, while enabling employees to do their jobs efficiently.  The policy should protect, but not inhibit, the use of data from a mobile device; this usually requires the protection of the device itself with a strong focus on what data is available and where it will reside.

Some policy suggestions:

  • Device:
    • Deploy an anti-malware utility set to scan automatically
    • Set continuous updates of operating system and anti-malware utility
    • Encrypt company data (if stored on the device itself)
    • Backup data to a secure site (preferably daily)
  • User:
    • Require passwords and make them complex
    • Set an auto-lock period of five minutes or less
    • Set browsers to high-security mode
  • Remote access:
    • Access data/applications securely via SSL, HTTPS, or VPN technologies
    • Provide virtualized access to data stored at the corporate site

 

2. Training

Training is an important, early step in any process; informing end-users of the need to secure their mobile devices is critical.  Recommended training topics:

  • Why we need to authenticate and encrypt
  • How to reduce the risk of loss or theft
  • How to safely deploy new applications
  • How to securely backup your data

Authenticate and encrypt

Authentication is the process of confirming that the end-user is authorized to use the mobile device in a prescribed manner.  It is typically handled through a username with a complex password that is changed frequently.  (A complex password requires at least three of four character options – capital letter, lower-case letter, numeric, and special character – with at least eight characters.)

Increasingly, biometrics (fingerprint verification, eye-scans, etc.) are playing a role in authentication.

Sensitive data should be encrypted to make it unreadable if the device is lost or stolen.  (Encryption scrambles the content, making it unreadable to anyone without the capability to unencrypt.)  Authentication is required to unencrypt and access the data.

Reduce the risk of loss or theft

Cell phones are easy targets for theft; they can be sold on-the-street and are (still) easily programmed to a new service on a cellular network.

To prevent theft:

  • Be vigilant; know where your cell phone is at all times and keep it close to your body.  (It doesn’t always help:  One of our clients had his cellphone taken right from his hand by a man on a bike on a busy city street; the bicyclist also gave him a kick to discourage pursuit.)
  • Install phone-tracking software
  • Install a physical locking device

Safely deploy new applications

Mobile-device users download applications through app stores installed on the device.  App stores are increasingly targeted areas for malware distribution; only trusted and approved applications should be downloaded and deployed.  (Most app stores have responded by requiring additional security precautions from their customers.)

For company-owned devices, end-users should have specific guidelines on what applications can or cannot be deployed; ideally, an enforcement mechanism would be installed on the mobile device to ensure these policies are followed.  For employee-owned devices, this policy may need to be recommended rather than required.

Securely backup your data

To prevent loss or inadvertent deletion, data stored on a mobile device (pictures, documents, contacts, etc.) should be backed-up in an encrypted format to a separate, secure location.

Backups should be required on devices owned by the organization and strongly recommended for individually owned devices.  Backups should be scheduled periodically and verified.

Online, consumer-oriented backup and file-storage applications – spritemobile, DropBox, Mozy, SugarSync – are somewhat restricted by the mobile-device operating system in what type of data that they can backup; typically contacts, calendars, tunes, and photos.  Full backups are usually done through tethering (attaching the phone to an external device).

Visit Enterprise Security Policies for Mobile Device Backup and Restoreat Dummies.com for an informative article on mobile-device backup.

 

3. Enforcement

Enforcement is usually assisted through a Mobile Device Management (MDM) tool; typically a software-based application that requires an agent be installed to the mobile device.  Once installed, this agent connects back (remotely) to a central console from which an administrator can monitor, manage, and secure the mobile device and also support its user.

MDM features typically include:

  • Enforce user security policy:
    • Require complex password with frequent changes
    • Permit remote access only via SSL or VPN
    • Lock-down browser settings
    • Enable encryption
  • Recover lost or stolen devices:
    • Activate alarm (set off an audible alarm on the device)
    • Enable track and locate (track and locate the device via GPS)
    • Permit remote wipe (complete erasure of the device as a last resort)
  • Control mobile device applications:
    • Recognize and prevent installation of unauthorized applications
    • Permit whitelisting and blacklisting of application
    • Restrict or block application stores
  • Remotely deploy and configure applications (email, etc.)
  • Audit the mobile device for installed software, configuration, and capacity

ComputerWorld has a comprehensive article on the challenges of MDM.  View it at Mobile device management: Getting started.

MDM Tools

To support our mobile device clients, we use the MDM capabilities built into Kaseya, our Remote Monitoring and Management tool.  Other MDM providers include:

  • AirWatch
  • LabTech
  • MobileIron
  • Symantec
  • Zenprise

While MDM provides a comprehensive tool, it can be costly to procure and support.  Many companies utilize a trusted business partner (like Bryley) to provide MDM tooling, monitoring, and support for their mobile devices on an ongoing basis with pricing that ranges from $15 (in quantity) to $75 per device per month.

Non-MDM Tools

Alternatively, Microsoft Exchange 2010 offers many MDM-type features through Exchange ActiveSync (EAS), an included protocol that licenses by end-user or end-device Client Access License (CAL).  The Exchange 2010 Standard CAL licenses:

  • Password security policies
  • Encryption required
  • Remote wipe

The Exchange 2010 Enterprise Add-On CAL licenses advanced features including:

  • Allow/disallow Internet browser, consumer email, unsigned installation, etc.
  • Allow/disallow removable storage, Wi-Fi, Internet sharing, etc.
  • Allow/block specific applications
  • Per-user journaling
  • Integrated archive

Exchange Server Standard 2010 is $709; Standard CALs are $68 each while the Enterprise Add-On CAL is an additional $42 each (based on list prices for business).

Main difference between MDM and EAS: Most MDM tools provide greater control over the mobile device during its lifecycle and can provide control over the device even before email is configured.

Other recommended tools include:

  • Anti-malware: AVG Mobilation – From free to $9.99 for Pro version
  • Protect and find phone via key-case fob – Kensington Bungee Air at $79.99

First step suggestions

These are our minimum, first-step suggestions:

  • Deploy anti-malware software immediately and manage it continuously
  • Require password to activate the device with a low auto-lock time
  • Update mobile devices through vendor-approved patching
  • Enable on-board encryption if handling sensitive data

Visit 10 Steps to Secure Your Mobile Device for detailed recommendations on securing your mobile device.

 

References:

1. Visit Network World at http://www.networkworld.com/news/2012/061912-byod-20somethings-260305.html to review the article “Young employees say BYOD a Right not Privilege” by Ellen Messmer.

2. Please review the May 12, 2012 InformationWorld article “Mobile Security Gaps Abound” at informationweek.com by Michael Finneran.

 

For more information, please email Info@Bryley.com or call us at 978.562.6077.