The Value of an MSP Relationship

IT professionals working for an organization are seeing the value of a Managed IT Service Provider (MSP) relationship as more positive than ever before. In fact, most organizations who use MSPs typically maintain an IT staff of their own to work together with their MSP.

There are numerous advantages of having a valued MSP.

One-Time Events are Less Costly and Stressful. Upgrades or installations are often frus­trating because the organization has to go to great expense to send people to training and oftentimes, it is training they’ll only use once. MSPs who have already performed those installations or upgrades can of­ten be swapped into place to execute those tasks which in the long run, saves your organization both time and money.

You are Less Likely to be Short-Handed. Whenever an assigned MSP professional is out for any reason, they are replaced by an equally skilled colleague who has been briefed and trained on your organization’s IT environment. Substitutes can quickly fill in the way you expect them to.

Reliability and Accountability. No longer will a single individual be held responsible for any specific situation. The MSP will own the obligation to resolve any issue quickly and thoroughly. Your regular IT staff can also easily be backfilled in the event of an emergency situation which will reduce stress and the likelihood that a project may not be completed in the event of a regular staff member being ill or having an emergency.

Broader Selection of Skills. Sometimes getting certain IT tasks accomplished requires skills that none of the IT personnel assigned to the company have. In these cases, the MSP can temporar­ily replace assigned personnel with others who do have those needed skills, therefore relieving the pressure to engage a “specialist” to get unusual tasks handled.

Increased Agility. New technologies can be deployed and the value of that technology is appreciated much more rapidly because there is little to no learning curve for employees. When the MSP can fill in the gaps between standard operating procedures and emerging new needs.

Focus on Growth. Often, when compa­nies are growing quickly, they are challenged to find and acquire qualified IT employees to accommodate that growth. This often results in rushing and settling for less-than-ideal candidates. Bringing in additional MSP resources shifts that daunting task to a partner who is far better equipped and qualified to provide the right people with the right skills to keep the company growing.

Technology Decisions Become Independent of HR Issues. Suddenly your organization is free to make major revisions to their chosen platforms without regard for the need to terminate a lot of employees. Instead, you can simply require the MSP to furnish people with the new skill sets.

The supplemental role of your MSP can make many tasks easier when it comes to tactical line employees and their functions.

What happens when something goes wrong near the top of the or­ganization?

For example, what would happen if an executive suddenly left the company? Maybe it’s the CIO who suddenly resigns to go work for a competitor. Or, perhaps the CTO stole valuable customer data and was fired. Scenarios like these examples can leave a gaping hole at the top of an organiza­tion. Who would fill that gap? How quickly can a new CTO or CIO be re­cruited and hired? How long would it take for them to understand the current state of your corporate IT?

A senior engineer at your MSP who has been working with you on your infrastructure can easily and readily step in. They already have a working knowledge of your tech­nology environment, having probably participated in designing much of it. They have the proper skills and experience, along with the full support of the entire MSP team.

In several cases, MSP specialists have been called upon to take con­trol of an IT environment, change all the passwords, lock the offend­ing executive out of all systems and help to escort them out of the company. Usually this senior MSP replacement executive will remain in place until a viable replacement is found, recruited, hired, and trained.

Every employer wants to do their best for the employees that do their best to promote the organization’s growth and success. For those who have thought about bringing in an MSP to reduce IT costs, this has often been a primary concern.

Many high-value employees who were becoming bored in their daily maintenance and support routines have been given new opportuni­ties which have enabled them to make dramatically greater contribu­tions to the company, thus also furthering their own careers.

The role of the MSP in today’s progressive organization is supplemental, and complementary. No longer are MSPs considered vendors who provide ‘bodies’ to perform tasks.

Bryley Systems prides itself on being a truly valued partner to our clients, who engage us to work side-by-side with them and their people to grow their organizations.

Bryley Systems has 30 years of experience taking the worry off of our clients’ shoulders and effectively managing IT environments at a predictable cost. For more information about Bryley’s full array of Managed IT Services, please contact us at 978.562.6077 or by email at ITExperts@Bryley.com. We’re here for you. 

Sources and References:
https://www.nytimes.com
https://www.researchgate.net
https://www.bsminfo.com
http://www.toptechnews.comhttps://www.cnet.com

Have You Ever Used a Public Cell Phone Charging Station? If so, read on…

Beware!

Free charging stations are located in many public places such as bus stations, airports, cafes, hotels and conference centers. If you travel frequently, it is very convenient to give your cell phone battery power a quick boost. But connecting to an unknown port has its risks.

A technique used by hackers called “video jacking” is when a USB cord is rigged to capture the smartphone’s video display and record everything that appears on the screen.

Plugging your phone into a hacked power strip or charger can open your device to infection and compromise all of your data. Once a port is compromised, there is no limit to what a hacker can steal. Your email, photos, videos, contact information, text messages, bank passwords and PIN numbers will all be vulnerable.

Hackers can find all the tools they need online, and for just a couple of hundred dollars. They will use their custom electronics hidden in a faux USB charging station. The person who is using the charging station believes it’s authentic, and will connect their phone to the correct charging cord. Then, while the phone is connected, the “charging station” mirrors your screen and records everything that you can see on your screen. And then, in a matter of minutes, the damage is done. If you have an Android or any HDMI ready smartphone, you are vulnerable. If you have an iPhone, you’re not safe either.

So, the best advice for those of you who cannot live without your phone?

Security experts advise never to use public outlets — instead, invest in a portable USB battery pack. You can also buy USB cords that don’t have wires to transmit data, thereby preventing a hacker from accessing your phone’s information.

Be prepared. The risk just simply isn’t worth it.

IT Security Cheat-Sheet

All organizations are at risk of a breach in IT security, whether externally (by a party outside the organization’s computer network) or internally (by a person connected to the organization’s computer network); studies show that even small companies are targeted externally, primarily because they are more vulnerable than larger organizations who can dedicate resources to combat external threats.

Organizations take great efforts to secure their data; they have firewalls, spam blockers, anti-malware applications, intrusion detection, etc.  However, the greatest threat comes from within:  End-users often inadvertently introduce malware (via web browsing or email-attachment clicking), which can spread across the network or attack confidential data.

Effective IT security requires a layered approach; it is comprised of multiple solutions at different points-of-entry and areas of concern.  It must be setup properly, but must also be continually monitored and then updated as appropriate.  Security should be periodically reviewed by an IT expert and, if budget permits, tested to ensure what is expected is what is received.

Effective IT security also requires ongoing training for all users and monitoring and enforcement of usage policies.

For an overview on IT security, I recommend viewing Ivan Dimitrijevics’ 10 Ways to Secure Your Small Business and Prevent Data Breach in The Globe and Mail.

Here is our checklist, organized by security concern:

1.) Computer Network:

  1. Deploy, update, and monitor stand-alone firewall(s) between all external networks (IE: Internet) and the organization’s network.
  2. Deploy, update, and monitor an email/spam-protection capability.
  3. Deploy, update, and monitor an event-log management capability.
  4. Deploy, update, and monitor intrusion-prevention/detection capability.
  5. Lock-down wireless access points.

The first line-of-defense from external threats is a professional-grade, stand-alone firewall configured to refuse unwanted traffic from external sources while permitting only desirable connections.  It should be supplemented with email/spam protection; either as a Cloud-based service or via an internal appliance.  Event-log management and intrusion prevention/detection are also available either as a service or appliance; both are recommended, but budget versus benefits must be considered.

Enable Service Set Identifier (SSID) for internal-use wireless access points

2.) Servers, their operating systems, and their applications:

  1. Test and then install all recommended security patches/firmware updates.
  2. Manage operating system and application security-updates continually.
  3. Deploy, update, and monitor anti-malware application on all servers.
  4. Monitor continuously and review periodically for anomalies.

Servers, whether in-house or Cloud-based, contain not only valuable data, but also end-user information (usernames, passwords, profiles, etc.) that can be manipulated and used to infiltrate.  They, their operating systems, and server-based applications, must be aggressively patched, protected through anti-malware, and monitored continuously.

Anomalies in performance and event logs can highlight potential security risks; both should be reviewed periodically.

3.) Data:

  1. Identify at-risk data and its location; keep only what you need.
  2. Outsource payment processing to a reliable, third-party partner.
  3. Verify security of vendors and partners with access to your data
  4. Where performance permits; encrypt data at-rest and in-motion.
  5. Deploy an encrypted backup solution with onsite and offsite storage.

Company data should be classified as to its value and stored accordingly.  It is best always encrypted, although many organizations might not have the processing power to permit such.

Rather than process payments onsite, many third-party vendors provide this service, but they should be verified before engaging.

Data backups should be encrypted and follow the 3-2-1 rule for reliability:

  • Three copies of important data
  • Two different media types
  • One copy offsite

4.) End-user devices, operating systems, and applications:

  1. Manage operating system and application security-updates continually.
  2. Deploy, monitor, and update anti-malware app(s) on all end-user devices.
  3. Test and install security-required firmware updates to end-user devices.

End-user devices are a primary target; they are difficult to secure and change continually.  However, end-user tools also share some blame:  Karen A. Frenkel of CIO Insight writes in “How Malware Bypasses Detection Tools” that 81% of IT professionals believe that web-browser-initiated malware can remain undetected by security tools and that the primary attack vector is an insecure web browser.

End-user devices, their operating systems and their applications must also be aggressively patched, protected through anti-malware, and monitored continuously.

Occasionally, a manufacturer will issue an alert for a security-required update to an end-user device, which should be applied as soon as possible.

5.) Usage:

  1. Lock-down user rights to restrict data access to as-needed basis.
  2. Require complex passwords with forced, periodic changes.
  3. Enforce periodic time-outs when computer is left unattended.
  4. Separate social-media browsing from financial-data handling.
  5. Require two-factor authentication for all online transactions.
  6. Create end-user policy detailing appropriate Internet use.
  7. Create end-user policy on how-to protect sensitive data.
  8. Enable web-monitoring capability to enforce policies.
  9. Protect email via encryption (as needed).

Data should be restricted, preferably by need-to-know.  (Crypto Locker can initially only attack data available to the end-user introducing this virus.)  Complex passwords with periodic changes can restrict untrusted access while forced time-outs keep private information from unwanted eyes.

Setup a separate login account or device for access to financial-data.  All online financial transactions must have two-factor authentication.

Policies should exist to inform end-users; they can be enforced through web-monitoring solutions.

Sensitive emails should be encrypted (via a service or appliance) while sensitive documents can be transferred via a secure FTP site.

6.) Training:

  1. Define an organization’s best practices for IT security.
  2. Demonstrate how to spot an unwanted ad while browsing.
  3. Train users how to verify a website link (before clicking it).
  4. Show how to verify an email attachment (before opening it).
  5. Train users to check the address of an email’s sender/source.

Data breaches occur due to the inadvertent introduction of malware, sometimes through the failure to comply with policies designed to limit inappropriate behavior, but often through a lack of IT-security knowledge and training.

The more training, the better.  Initial training should be acknowledged by the recipient and then tested for knowledge gained.  Security training should be repeated periodically; preferably at least annually.

7.) Maintain a Written Information Security Plan (WISP):

  1. Assign a responsible person.
  2. Define and announce the WISP.
  3. Review WISP periodically (at least annually).
  4. Document changes to WISP when they occur.
  5. Periodically test, assess, and rework policies and procedures.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, under statute 201 CMR 17.00, requires a WISP for all organizations that hold personal information on any Massachusetts resident.  The WISP must be assigned to an Information Security Manager, periodically reviewed, and changes must be documented.  All WISP policies and procedures must be periodically tested, assessed, and reworked as needed to ensure maximum, ongoing protection.

If you would like to improve your 2017 cybersecurity plan, or to inquire about Bryley’s full array of our Managed Cloud Services and Managed IT Services, please contact us at 844.449.8770 or by email at ITExperts@Bryley.com. We’re here for you.

Case Study – Virtual CTO Helps Ensure Fourstar Connections Continuously Meets Customer Needs

The Company: Fourstar Connections

Since 1986, Fourstar Connections has offered comprehensive solutions to tackle a wide range of manufacturing needs. The company partners with leading companies to find better ways for designing and producing products—from cable assemblies to complex box builds—and then quickly ramps up to meet target dates and volume requirements. The Fourstar 28,000-square-foot corporate headquarters—with a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility— is located in Massachusetts. The company also operates affiliate manufacturing plants in Mexico and China.

The Challenges: Prevent System Downtime and Forecast Future Technology Needs

The server running the Fourstar Connections primary operations software—the Sage 100 ERP manufacturing module—nearly crashed one day due to reaching its computing capacity. Realizing how close the company came to shutting down operations, President and Owner Phil Holman knew the time had arrived to advance the relationship with its IT solution provider, Bryley Systems. Bryley had provided general IT consulting, solution deployment and troubleshooting services to Fourstar for many years. But Holman wanted to elevate the partnership to the level where Bryley would proactively monitor the health of IT systems and help plan the company’s technology future. “We needed a mechanism to recognize in advance when our IT systems will reach capacity, and we wanted to forecast which technologies we will need down the road to support anticipated future growth,” Holman says. “Up until that point, we played ‘hot potato’ with our internal personnel as the senior management team took turns managing IT over the years. But given their primary job responsibilities, they did not have sufficient time to dedicate to the task. And while we are experts in our core operations, we are not experts in IT.”

The Solution: Virtual CTO Enables a Proactive Approach

To enable Holman to proactively plan for future growth, Bryley recommended its Virtual CTO (Chief Technology Officer) service, which provides expertise in applying technology to achieve business strategy and goals. Virtual CTO also ensures Fourstar gains as much value as possible from its current technology investment while defining and setting the standards for future requirements.

Bryley then assigned Michael Carlson, Chief Technology Officer at Bryley Systems, as the Virtual CTO for Fourstar. He serves as a trusted adviser on technology issues and designs solutions based on the technologies that cost-effectively ensure that Fourstar IT investments support the strategic business direction.

“We receive tremendous value with Mike as our Virtual CTO,” Holman emphasizes. “After our near server crash, we realized we did not know when trouble was heading our way. But Mike prevents such occurrences by proactively monitoring the health of our IT systems.”

Through the Virtual CTO service, Fourstar and Bryley have established a high level of trust. Fourstar provides confidential projections on company growth and the technology expectations of its customers. Armed with this information, Carlson then plans which technologies the company needs to deploy in order to scale to the correct level of IT resources. As a result, Fourstar has come to rely on Carlson to inform them in advance when to upgrade existing IT systems.

“When it comes to IT computing power, we don’t want to be left short, but we also don’t want to overspend,” Holman says. “Mike advises us just as though he’s our internal CTO. He presents the options and the costs to make sure we have the right technology balance in order to keep providing a high level of service to our customers.”

The Deployment: Virtualization Reduces Server Count, Enables Software Upgrade, and Permits Failover

Under the guidance of the Virtual CTO program, Fourstar turned to Bryley Systems to virtualize its server infrastructure. In addition to reducing, by 50 percent, the number of servers Fourstar requires to support its 75 employees, the new infrastructure allowed Fourstar to deploy a Sage 100 ERP upgrade, a software package that the previous server infrastructure could not handle.

Bryley—with project management and system engineering resources to support Carlson’s virtual CTO services—also deployed a disaster-recovery failover server for Fourstar in the Bryley data center. In the unlikely event the onsite server at Fourstar should crash, Bryley can quickly restore operations via the failover server.

“When presenting the virtualized server and disaster recovery proposal, Bryley gave us three options,” Holman says. “Each option came at a different price level, and Bryley clearly explained the benefits of each approach. We felt comfortable knowing what we were paying for as well as the differences in the capabilities that each option offered.”

The Benefits: Cost Savings with Assurance IT Systems Will Perform as Required

Bryley Systems’ Virtual CTO service empowers Fourstar Connections to allocate their IT budget more efficiently. For example, under Carlson’s guidance, Fourstar has improved the way they configure employee workstations, reducing IT costs. “We previously spent $1,200 per workstation when factoring in the hardware, software and deployment time,” Holman says. “But we lowered that number down to $800 per workstation thanks to a recommendation from Mike.” By analyzing the business processes within the Fourstar manufacturing facility, Carlson determined that some workstations did not require the standard Microsoft Office suite. End users needed to view business documents, but they did not need to edit documents. Carlson thus created a configuration that uses Microsoft Viewer software, which reduces the cost per workstation by approximately $400. Fourstar expects to add about 80 such workstations as the company grows over the next three years, so the new configuration will save the company $32K.

“This is another example of how Bryley always strives to reduce our IT costs as much as possible,” Holman says. “As another example, we estimate that the options they gave us for our virtualized server with failover capability saved us about $40K.”

From a cost standpoint, Virtual CTO eliminates the need for Fourstar to hire a CTO-level employee, which would add significantly to payroll costs. The company would likely also incur on-going training costs, and someone who is technically talented might eventually leave to find an opportunity offering a greater variety of technical challenges.

Holman also emphasizes how it’s difficult to find someone who is a good fit and has the necessary skills. “Anyone we hire would also likely have less experience and fewer skills than Mike,” Holman notes. “And in addition to his services, it’s beneficial that Bryley provides access to any additional resources when we need them for project management, technical support and deployments. As we grow and our needs change, Mike will identify what we need, and Bryley will always have the resources to meet those needs.”

But the greatest value Fourstar derives from Bryley is the assurance that IT resources will continue running at peak levels, and the company no longer has to fear whether any unknown IT disasters may be lurking. “Bryley ensures we stay up and running and also provides a way to recover should a disaster beyond our control strike,” Holman says. “They also look ahead so that as we grow and change, we know the technology will adapt and we can continue to function efficiently in servicing our customers.”

Major Benefits—Virtual CTO Provided by Bryley Systems:

  • Enables advanced planning of required technologies to support future company growth.
  • Identifies when existing IT systems approach capacity to prevent system failures.
  • Prevents over-spending on IT resources.
  • Ensures sufficient computing power to meet operational and customer needs.
  • Aligns long-term technology and business plans.
  • Minimizes IT spending by presenting multiple options for resolving IT challenges.
  • Eliminates need to hire internal CTO and the cost of salary and benefits.

For more information on how Bryley can assist your organization with IT goals, please contact us at 978.562.6077, or email us at ITExperts@Bryley.com.

Disruptive Tech Trends for 2017

So, another year departs, obsoleting old technology while ushering in new gadgets and trends. Even though gadgets get the attention; trends set the direction.

A survey of 196 IT professionals1 revealed these disruptive trends in technology2:

  • Predictive IT and Self-service IT
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Mobile payments
  • Next-gen WiFi

Predictive IT and Self-service IT

In the IT-support world, things have been transitioning from:

  • Reactive – Your PC’s drive is broken; we are going to fix it now, to
  • Proactive – Based on our remote tooling, it looks like the drive in your PC is starting to fail, which we can replace now before serious damage occurs, to
  • Predictive – Based on historic data of similar drives and on our ongoing analysis of the specific drive in your PC and its expected, long-term behavior, we are going to replace the drive now before it exhibits failing tendencies.

Predictive IT reduces the effort and improves the response of an IT-support team; it allows the team to focus on critical issues, while optimizing the time spent on predictive issues.

The ease of deploying consumer-grade technologies and lower-level Cloud services, combined with service-management platforms with knowledge-based response capabilities (like ConnectWise, a leading Professional Service Administration tool used by Bryley Systems), is leading end-users toward self-service IT.

Self-service IT enables both IT-support teams (by redirecting their time spent on end-user issues toward higher-level IT concerns, like security) and end-users, providing a world where the end-user can support themselves (to some extent).

Internet of Things

IoT is here, and it can be hacked: One of the most-hacked, in-home appliances are Samsung TVs, but a recent, Denial-of-Service (DoS) attack on DNS providers3 was perpetrated primarily through unsecured, IoT-based surveillance cameras.

IoT refers to all of the IT-enabled items, both home-based and commercial, that communicate through the Internet, primarily providing end-user access and/or sending data back to a collection point for analysis.

IoT traffic and security are significant concerns: All of those not-so-smart devices (projected at 20B by 2020) constantly sending data can consume bandwidth, while presenting themselves as easy targets to hackers and crackers.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Remember HAL? (No, I’m not referring to Bryan Cranston of Malcolm in the Middle.) Back in 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey was a fairly accurate portrayal of space travel; the HAL 9000’s cognitive ability and self-preservation-at-all-costs behavior seemed extreme, but may become necessary since AI has been bent to the will of hackers, teaming repetitive acts with mindful observation to attack secure sites.

AI forms the basis of Big Data, IoT, and Predictive IT; although disruptive, it will likely remain safe for human beings, with the ability to secure itself (somewhat).

Mobile Payments

Being a cash-carrying/credit-card-wielding, baby-boomer payer; I am not sure I agree with this one, but I do know millennials who always upload gift cards onto their smartphones, using them to expunge their purchasing debts.

Statistics support the supposition that Mobile Payments will endure and prosper:

  • Over 70% of US citizens own a smartphone, and
  • Over 70% of those using a mobile-payment tool are millennials or Gen Xers.

Retailers and urban-area merchants best get ready; if they wish to accept payment from their young clients, they will need to deploy the technology to enable mobile payments, or risk losing them to the competition down the street.

Next-Gen WiFi

Tomorrow’s WiFi ain’t what grandpa uses today; it will be faster, but will also work over greater distances with lower-powered, IoT devices.

The emerging standard is known as WiFi HaLow, based on IEEE 802.11ah. It will double the range, provide greater penetration through obstacles (walls, doors, etc.), and enable power-efficient use.

IEEE 802.11ah also supports machine-to-machine (M2M) markets, permitting direct communication from sensing devices to the applications they serve.

REFERENCES

1Please see ComputerWorld Tech Forecast 2017: Complete survey results.

2See the ComputerWorld article 5 Disruptive Technologies to track in 2017 by Beth Stackpole on December 5th, 2016.

3See Jon Gold’s article DNS provider Dyn hit by DDoS attacks that takes out major sites in the October 21, 2016 edition of ComputerWorld.

Case Study – Ruland Manufacturing Finds Comfort and Trust Outsourcing IT Services to Bryley Systems

The Company: Ruland Manufacturing

Established in 1937, Ruland Manufacturing designs and manufactures high-performing shaft collars and couplings. Innovation is a hallmark of the company as Ruland continuously refines its proprietary processes such as special surface treatments, anti-vibration coupling hardware and precision honing. In recent years, the company expanded its product line and added metric rigid couplings, step bore rigid couplings, and motion control couplings. All products are carefully manufactured under strict controls in Ruland’s Marlboro, Massachusetts factory.

The Challenge: Staffing Sufficient Expertise to Manage IT

The transition started when the internal IT administrator supporting the Ruland Manufacturing IT network and end users decided to pursue another job opportunity. That’s when company president William Hewitson decided to consider a whole new model for managing and maintaining IT systems.

“We traditionally handled IT in-house, but with all the ever-evolving technologies, it was challenging to hire and retain people with the experience to properly maintain our systems,” Hewitson says. “It’s difficult for a company of our size to attract high-end technical resources and keep them interested in supporting our environment.”

Over the years, Ruland typically hired mid-level or low-level technical resources, but Hewitson found they usually could not properly support the company’s servers and high-end networking devices. New solutions Ruland deployed tended to fall short in meeting business requirements.

“For the vital applications we run on our servers to keep our business operating efficiently, we need an IT support resource with solid knowledge of technologies such as Microsoft SQL as well as security measures to protect against website and email intrusions,” Hewitson says. “Those skill sets are typically found in senior-level IT resources.”

The Solution: Bryley Managed IT Services

Hewitson began analyzing the use of an external service provider to manage and support his company’s IT systems by comparing the cost of outsourcing to the cost of hiring a senior IT resource. After determining an outside service provider could reduce the support costs considerably, he then spoke to colleagues at other similar companies.

“We discovered many other companies our size have also made the transition to an outside service provider,” Hewitson reveals. “For us, the decision came down to feeling comfortable with turning over support to an outside firm and knowing we would receive fast responses when we need help. We were skeptical about the level of service we would receive.”

While conducting research of service providers, Hewitson hoped to find a local company with broad IT expertise and a diverse pool of technical resources. “We need someone local who can get here quickly when necessary,” Hewitson says. “We also wanted to strike a balance between a service provider that’s so large that they won’t value our partnership—and one that’s so small that they can’t always be here when needed.”

Bryley Systems turned out to be one of the few companies that met all the criteria Hewitson had established. And based on his research, the IT solution provider was the only one he invited in for a discussion—to hear about the Bryley Managed IT Services offering.

The Deployment: An Increasingly-Expanded Role

Upon meeting with Hewitson, a Bryley systems engineer conducted an initial site survey to understand the Ruland IT infrastructure. He immediately identified some maintenance services that needed to be applied to the servers. “The entire Bryley team is personable and quick to react to our requests,” Hewitson says. “We were impressed by their technical knowledge and the initial assessment of our IT infrastructure—this gave us the comfort level we needed to change to an outsourced IT model.”

“We chose to partner with Bryley because we appreciate their level of professionalism and that they provide services to other customers of similar size,” Hewitson adds. “They also offer a technical staff that gives us all the coverage we need, and they provide all information we need to understand their pricing and the various services they offer.”

After initially providing managed services for the Ruland servers, Bryley System deployed new hardware to replace three servers reaching end-of-life status. By applying server virtualization technology, Bryley was able to replace the three servers with just one new server to reduce initial hardware costs as well as on-going power/cooling and maintenance costs.

Bryley then refreshed Ruland’s networking equipment and the backup server. After all the aging gear was replaced, Ruland expanded the managed IT services contract with Bryley to include the company’s 40 desktop computers. “Over time, as we have grown more-and-more comfortable with Bryley, we have expanded their role,” Hewitson says.

The Benefits: Sharply Reduced IT Costs and No Down Time

As for the ROI of Bryley’s Managed IT Services offering, Hewitson estimates the cost is about 60% less than the cost of the salary and benefits of a full-time senior IT resource. “But more importantly, placing the management of our servers in the hands of experienced professionals from Bryley has probably prevented significant outages,” Hewitson points out. “As is the case with every business, the cost of downtime is big, but we have yet to go down since Bryley replaced our aging hardware.”

Bryley also came through in a big way before the aging servers were replaced when one of the systems crashed. “At that time, we were entitled to a response within 24 hours, but Bryley sent a team over right away,” Hewitson says. “They cloned the server onto a loaner so we could get up-and-running quickly while they fixed the server that crashed. Bryley had that server back on-line the next day.”

Since that incident, the virtualization technology along with the new backup server Bryley deployed now make it possible for Ruland to failover even faster to a backup system should any server problems occur. Bryley also deployed a new firewall to give Ruland added protection against malware and viruses.

“In addition to the more reliable IT network and the great technical support we receive by partnering with Bryley, they also save a lot more time for me in leading the company,” Hewitson says. “I no longer have to manage an IT person and can take a hands-off approach—knowing things are getting done and receiving regular reports from Bryley that show us everything is in good shape. There’s also no fear of our IT guy leaving the company or having sick days. Bryley is always there when we need them.” 

Major Benefits—Managed IT Services Provided by Bryley Systems: 

  • Reduces cost of IT support 60% compared to hiring an internal resource.
  • Prevents servers from crashing so company can maintain business operations.
  • Frees up senior management from having to hire, train and manage internal IT resources.
  • Ensures fast responses when IT service incidents occur.
  • Provides the latest infrastructure technologies to keep critical business applications functioning at peak performance.

For more information on how Bryley can assist your organization with IT goals, please contact us at 978.562.6077, or email us at ITExperts@Bryley.com.

Case Study – Bryley Allows Manufacturing Firm to Focus on Internal Resources & Core Business Tasks

The Company: Built-Rite Tool & Die

A custom mold-making and design firm founded in 1984, Built-Rite Tool & Die is the corporate parent and driving force behind its Reliance Engineering and the LSR Engineering divisions. Built-Rite hires highly-skilled engineers, designers, and mold makers to execute demanding design challenges. The company is a leader in the manufacturing of precision molds for the liquid-injection molding of liquid silicone rubber and injection molding of thermoplastics as well as thermosets, compression and transfer molding of thermoset plastic materials.

The Challenge: Improve Network Performance without Diverting

Internal Resources

As a small business, Built-Rite Tool & Die does not employ a full-time resource to support IT operations. Robert Eaton, a design engineer for the company, previously managed IT on his own and sometimes relied on an outside consultant, who was not always readily-available during business hours.

“As the company grew from 10 to 25 employees, we reached the point where we needed to ensure consistent computer network performance with the capability of receiving service quickly when problems occurred,” Eaton said. “We also wanted to ensure we had reliable backups of our work. If a server goes down, we don’t want our design engineers having to replicate weeks of work.”

As Built-Rite began adding desktops and purchased a new server for each operating division, Eaton began working with a computer reseller but was not satisfied with the level of service provided.

“We needed a higher level of expertise that could recommend a technology support solution that met our specific needs and could ensure the technology would function properly on a consistent basis,” Eaton said. “It was time to solidify the management of the network. With everyone dependent upon up-time and proper backups, it became imperative to hire professional help.”

The Solution: Managed IT Services from Bryley Systems

Eaton conducted research on possible technology partners and met with two IT solution providers that presented proposals. He ultimately decided on Bryley Systems and its Managed IT Service offering.

“Bryley gave a professional presentation and clearly explained the multiple levels of service they could offer to match our business needs,” Eaton said. “The Managed IT Service takes the worry of IT operations completely off or our plates so that our internal resources can focus on our core business.”

Built-Rite also selected Bryley for the local presence it offers, which allows system engineers to visit on-site quickly if necessary. In addition, Bryley’s pricing structure compared favorably to the other solution provider, a large regional firm.

“Bryley also established a stronger personal connection,” Eaton added. “Their team seeks to form a true partnership in which they listen to our business needs and strive to create solutions that balance our technology needs with our business needs. They are also attentive to detail and willing to adapt their service to meet our needs rather than asking us to fit our operations into what they offer.”

For the Bryley Systems Managed IT Services options that Built-Rite chose, Bryley provides managed services for the two servers, 25 workstations and the Built-Rite firewalls. Bryley also manages server backups and the disaster recovery process as well as the workstation anti-malware software and overall network security, providing compliance with most of the technology mandates of Massachusetts privacy statute 201 CMR 17.

The Deployment: Uninterrupted Operations and System

Enhancements

Bryley deployed the Managed IT Services solution with minimal interruption to Built-Rite’s daily business operations. Bryley first benchmarked both servers and all of the desktop computers while making sure not to interrupt each employee’s work day.

Early in the partnership, one of the Built-Rite servers began experiencing RAID array crashes. Bryley repaired this system and stabilized the server with proper backups. As the second server began experiencing performance issues, Bryley recommended and installed a new HP server with a virtualized operating system.

“Our goal is to eventually consolidate our two severs onto the one HP sever with two virtual instances for each division,” Eaton said. “Bryley will play a key role in this by helping us determine the best way to connect our two buildings so both divisions have access to the virtual server—whether it’s by a fiber, wireless, or an Ethernet network.”

While providing managed services, Bryley has shown it’s adeptness at resolving general technology issues. “As a machine tool-and-die shop, we have a lot of CNC (computer numeric control) equipment with CAD software to program our tool machines,” Eaton explained. “We had machine controllers that did not always communicate correctly with our CAD software, but Bryley helped with this issue—even though it’s outside their primary service offering. Bryley engineers enabled our CAD software application to talk to all the CNC machine controllers.”

The Benefits: Server Costs Reduced and Internal Resources Focused on Core Business

Since partnering with Bryley Systems, the Built-Rite computer network has run smoothly, and any issues that have occurred have been addressed quickly. “The networks of both divisions run much better than they used to,” Eaton said. “We have experienced very little down time, and that which has occurred has been due to hardware failures of systems that were previously installed.”

In addition to receiving Managed IT Services, Eaton also now looks to Bryley to help determine whether Built-Rite needs to deploy any new IT solutions, and if so, which technology makes the most sense. “Bryley’s advice that we virtualize our main server so that it can provide services to both divisions saves us in capital expenses since we won’t need to purchase a new physical server and storage,” Eaton said. “This approach also saves us in the areas of on-going maintenance, support and backup costs.”

Having a partner like Bryley “who is always there” to support the business when needed is the primary benefit that Eaton points to. “Bryley takes a big load off of my shoulders, which is important because I’m not always here. And I can’t always divert my attention from engineering tasks.”

Eaton also emphasizes that Bryley is very easy to work with, dependable, and always gets the job done: “It’s good to have a technology partner willing and able to help in other areas outside of their service contract. They know how to diagnose general technology problems even when they occur outside of their primary area of expertise.”

Major Benefits—Managed IT Services Provided by Bryley Systems: 

  • Allows internal resources to focus on core business tasks
  • Creates cost savings with new solutions such as virtualized servers
  • Improves performance of computer network so employees experience fewer interruptions
  • Stabilizes system backups so design work can be recovered in the event of server failure
  • Provides a reliable partner that can advise on new technologies
  • Provides partial compliance with Massachusetts 201 CMR 17.00

For more information on how Bryley’s Managed IT Services can benefit your organization, please contact us at 978.562.6077 or by email at ITExperts@Bryley.com.

Data-Backup Guidelines for 2016

Our Data-Backup Guidelines for 2016 discusses backup technologies (like our Cloud-based Backup/Data Recovery service) and includes a helpful Backup-Rotation Calendar and a Backup-Event Log for those with on-premise backup systems.

Consumer PC Price Cuts!

In an effort to bridge the gap between current Windows 8.1 and upcoming Windows 10 (not sure what happened to Windows 9), Microsoft is shepherding a dramatic decrease in the prices of consumer PCs and Windows-based devices.

These price decreases started in October with year-over-year reductions of 10% and falling, particularly for consumer-class PCs; higher-priced, business-class PCs will also be affected. Most are attributed to Microsoft’s decision to fight Chromebooks with a low-cost version of Windows 8.1 with Bing.

The potential consequences:
• PCs will become even more commoditized
• Smaller, PC-centric vendors will struggle to survive
• Prices may drop on popular, after-market, Windows-based software

For details, please see the Gregg Keizer of ComputerWorld article: “Drastic price cuts may damage PC industry, jeopardize Microsoft’s hopes for Windows 10”.

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.