With The Cloud, Power Failure Isn't The End

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What Happens When the Lights Go Out?

As if building up the IT systems that support your business wasn’t hard enough, you also need to have a clear plan for restoring your services if you lose power or if a natural disaster strikes. Downtime can be measured in thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per hour, so any sort of outage can quickly become a major problem that you need to remedy as quickly as possible.

But how do you get your business back up and running if your data isn’t available?
In the past, doing this meant maintaining a "hot" backup data center, typically located many miles away or even in another state. That site would be set up exactly the same as your primary site, with identical configurations of expensive servers and storage systems to keep copies of all your data. In the event of a failure, the business would switch over to the backup site until normal services resumed.

This approach was so expensive and complex that many businesses simply couldn’t afford it. Thankfully, recent advances in cloud storage make it easy to continuously protect your servers without having to maintain your own secondary data center.

Drop It Into The Cloud

The trick is to use cloud-storage services, which you may already be familiar with thanks to services like Dropbox and Mimecast. These services automatically synchronize your local data in a secure part of a cloud provider’s systems. These systems are housed in a robust data center that is usually far away from your own business. Server protection tools like Lenovo’s Online Data Backup for ThinkServers do the same thing for a whole server worth of data—or more.

Once key corporate data and applications are set to automatically back up to the cloud, a power outage is no longer a problem, because you can access your data from anywhere you can get online. This means you can still access your core systems and data even if your office is flooded, has suffered fire damage, or has otherwise been compromised. Just set up your employees on laptops in a safe temporary site, and your business will be up and running in no time.

Power Without Interruption

Although cloud storage services will protect your data from outages, they’re not the only thing to consider when dealing with power outages. If you’re not already using an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for key servers, it’s well worth acquiring one so that your systems can ride out short power outages and you can gracefully transfer data to cloud-hosted applications in the event of a longer interruption. Just be sure you get a UPS with enough battery capacity to keep your servers running for a while. That way you can also plug your broadband modem into the UPS and stay online even when the lights go off.

Protecting Your Data From The Unpredictable

New technologies can help you to build a coherent business continuity strategy that will keep your servers online—or at least keep your data accessible—even when nature strikes. Current Technologies has been keeping businesses afloat through power outages and natural disasters for 20+ years. Our team has the experience and knowledge to design a plan that will work for you, no matter what the future brings.

We Can Make The Cloud Work For You

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5 Reasons The Workstation Is Key To Manufacturing

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Modern manufacturing is as much about reducing manual processes and innovating with digital prototyping and 3D printing as it is using machines to make a physical product. Modern manufacturing operations now require a high degree of computing power. Desktop workstations are ideal for providing a high level of computing power with a visual interface for an engineer or operator.

Evolution of the Workstation

For many years, the engineering workstation was a device category in its own right. Distinct from regular home and business PCs, the workstation was designed and built for high-end computation and graphics applications. They also included:

  • 64-bit processors (when PCs were 32-bit)
  • Large amounts of enterprise-grade memory
  • Discrete graphics capability
  • Plenty of local storage

In addition to the high-end hardware, workstations were also characterized by their Unix operating systems in a world where most people used Windows. As PC technology matured, 64-bit CPUs became a standard. Fast forward to today where the modern workstation is functionally equivalent to a high-end desktop, but it is still very relevant to manufacturing industries and technology development.

Workstations for Modern Manufacturing

With workstations now readily available, CIOs must evaluate the use cases for workstations and how they can complement ubiquitous mobile computers. In manufacturing, the business case for workstations remains solid.

1. Performance

The processing power, memory, and storage of workstations are superior to portable computers, and this is important where the immediacy of operational parameters is crucial. Workstations can also be "clustered" to deliver far greater performance than regular PCs.

2. Design and Visualization

The high-end graphics capability and large display options of workstations make them well suited to manufacturing where visual design and monitoring are central to operations.

3. Prototyping

Manufacturing is moving from traditional physical prototyping to the new era of digital prototyping. Products are designed then "tested" in a simulated environment using the known properties of the materials. Using workstations for digital prototyping can significantly reduce production costs and the time to market.

4. Security

Workstations have the added advantage of being able to be locked down and located in control rooms away from sensitive manufacturing equipment. Many manufacturing operations restrict mobile devices on site for reasons of fire safety and interference protection.

5. Application Support

Mobile device platforms are catching up, but the platform support and user experience of workstations is a much more complete environment than what portables offer.

The engineering workstation is alive and well in manufacturing and continues to offer a strategic advantage over other computing options. It's up to CIOs and IT managers to put them to best use, including for innovative programs like visualization and prototyping. Current Technologies' partnership with Dell allows for us to quickly bring you high powered workstations allowing you to begin maximizing productivity. If you are not currently using desktops for activities like monitoring lines, prototyping, or design you are missing out on a huge opportunity for growth.

Discover How Desktop Workstations Can Help You

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How To Write An Award- Winning Grant Proposal

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Grants give teachers the opportunity to provide their students with technology they might not otherwise be able to afford. But it’s a competitive world where the winners take all, so it pays to be prepared.

1. Clarity

Before you do anything, you need to be clear on three things:

  1. The project for which you want funding. (It’s tempting to find grants first then suitable projects to match, but you’re unlikely to write a convincing application for a project you thought of on the fly.)
  2. The support of someone who ranks high enough to sign off on the application
  3. Your plan for the money — what is the need?

2. Every Application Needs A Need

Don’t wait till you find a suitable grant to write a compelling description of your need. Every grant is going to ask you to outline the problem, so you might as well have it ready.

What will clinch the winning application is the compelling nature of the need. Be clear about why this project is important to you and why you’re so excited it could happen thanks to the generosity of this grant funder.

Write out:

  • The evidence that supports the need — demographics, test scores, and even anecdotal evidence
  • The goals of the project — what will your students achieve if you’re able to buy the technology you need?
  • How will you measure success — what are the metrics? What tools will you use to capture them?
  • What exactly you need in the way of technology, people, and support

Having this already thought out means you can respond more quickly when you find a grant with an imminent deadline.

3. Be Meticulous

Don’t try to second guess what’s most important to the administrators of the grant. Give equal weight to every section and question unless directed otherwise. Assume they want a complete answer to everything they ask or they wouldn’t have asked it.

4. Be Clear

Extra credit will be awarded for concise applications that steer clear of unnecessary jargon. Don’t assume the people reviewing the grant are fellow educators. They could come from any walk of life.

5. Think Like A Teacher

What marks would you give a student who relied on unsupported assertions? “Some students can’t read” is weak. Describe the scale of the problem precisely.

6. It’s Not Really About The Technology

No grant funder wants students to have tablets, laptops, or whatever other technology you want to bring into the classroom. They want students to be able to read, to learn, to thrive, and to be prepared for life after school. The technology is the tool; it’s important to the application, but it’s not the outcome.

Make sure the students are the heroes of your application, not the technology.

Once You Get A Grant- Now The Fun Begins

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Safe Data Storage For SMB's Made Easy

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Secure and Stable Storage Strategies for Small and Medium Sized Businesses


Even the smallest business can generate a huge amount of data, and that data has to go somewhere.

Government regulations require businesses to keep and back up certain data for legal reasons; many firms choose to retain information like employee records, emails and instant messages; and every new version of a software application has to be stored somewhere. All that information must then be backed up to protect the business against viruses, ransomware and spyware that might infect their system and put a halt to trading. And that’s not even considering those firms that want to analyze their big data to further profits and business goals.

What are the Options?

Despite the mission-critical status of all this data, many small- medium businesses lack an overarching storage strategy that can ensure the business keeps trading no matter what. There are a number of options, and the good news is the price-per-gigabyte of storage has never been cheaper – even outside the cloud.

Small- Medium Businesses can opt for:

  • Direct attached storage (DAS): Devices connected to PCs or servers, usually via USB. Good for information that's frequently accessed.
  • Network attached storage (NAS)Devices that connect directly to the network and operate as a file server. Good for storing large files.
  • Cloud storageOnline storage that comes in public, private or hybrid configurations. Good for mobile access.
  • Offline media: Backing up data on to tape drives, DVDs or Blu-rays sounds a bit old-fashioned, but Google still backs up Gmail on to tape as a last resort and Facebook has its Blu-ray Cold Storage Data Center. Good for archiving.

How to Choose your Storage Strategy

Mission-critical data, like operations-related software applications and the business website, is the most important regardless of the size of the company. Firms need to consider having at least two complete separate copies of this – with one offline – to ensure business continuity.

For most SMBs, a combination of those aforementioned storage solutions will make up a good strategy, but figuring out the ideal combination can be challenging. SMBs need to analyze their storage needs closely, looking at which applications generate the most data, how quickly and from where most data needs to be accessed. They also need to assess how old the data is, if it’s being unnecessarily duplicated, and if it’s business related or operations related. 

In the end, the budget and volume of data will help determine the combination of solutions an SMB requires. However, careful assessment of the data, the legal and regulatory ramifications, and business continuity are all essential for a secure and stable storage strategy. For more information, talk to the IT professionals at Current Technologies. CT is partnered with Dell Technologies to bring your business the best possible storage solution.

You Still have Questions, we have the Answers

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How To Give Employees The PCs They Want

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Employees Want (and need) More


Remember the days when no one had a PC at work, let alone at home? When a few people punched cards into computing machines that occupied whole rooms? Probably not. These days, an employee might not go on vacation without half a dozen computers—laptop, a couple of tablets, phones (that are really computers), e-readers, smart watches, and so on.

Long ago, the bar for technology started being set in the home, not the workplace. This means IT departments must recognize that choosing computers is not merely about finding a sweet spot between cost and functionality.

Like it or not, the bar is set at:

  • Powerful
  • Functional
  • Easy to look at

It doesn’t matter whether you’re ordering desktops, laptops, or tablets. Your desk warriors don’t want to look at a beige box, and your road warriors don’t want to be embarrassed in front of clients or competitors. The evidence shows that employees will look for another job if they don’t think the IT in their current workplace is good enough.

What’s the answer for IT?

1. Think outside the old model

Conventional procurement methodologies had IT departments balancing cost and functionality. Today, you have permission to take a broader view of cost.

What will it cost the company if employee retention rates fall because employees won’t work on clunky, ugly devices? What will it cost the company if it can’t attract quality employees because they don’t want to work in a dated workplace? What are lost productivity costs from slow, outdated machines? Often times the lowest cost machine ends up costing more in the long run due to repairs and lost time spent loading applications.

2. Loosen the reins

Bring your own device (BYOD) policies create freedom (great for your employment brand) and, to an extent, put the ball back in the employee’s court. Think ours are ugly or clunky? Bring your own.

The technology to manage employee devices—selecting software, rolling out security features, and so on—is mature enough to create room for a policy that allows both parties to get what that they need. Plus the money your company saves in hardware can be invested in other areas to assist employees like security and higher quality software.

If you’re uncomfortable with BYOD, a choose-your-own-device approach is a solid alternative. Employees don’t get to bring their own device but they do get to choose from a range of devices curated by IT. There’s less freedom, yet there’s self-determination.

3. Shorten your cycle

Refreshing organizational IT every three to five years means falling behind quickly. Advances in computing are faster than they were when those cycles were set. That means productivity losses occur sooner. Going back to the question of cost, the cost of refreshing faster should be considered against the productivity gains that come with new hardware and employee retention.

Are Your PCs Helping Or Hurting You?

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Helpful Hackers- They Do Exist

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Business IT systems are complicated, you know that. You've invested in security for your systems, but you're worried that there are still holes in your defense, weak spots between all the bits and pieces that make up your total networking and computing infrastructure. How can you feel confident in your security? You have to welcome a hacker into your midst.

It sounds counter-intuitive, welcoming a hacker (or team of hackers) to come and break into your network and your most sensitive data stores. But that's exactly what pen-testers (short for penetration testers) do—launch non-harmful, sophisticated attacks and probe to see if your network can handle the worst the world has to throw against it. Pen tests are almost always valuable, but to get the most from the exercise there are several things you can do.

1. Turn Them Loose

Too many pen tests are hampered because the client places significant limits on what the pen testers can do. One frequent example involves spear-phishing and social engineering. Will you let the pen testers send email messages to employees trying to tempt them into giving up network credentials or privileged information?

Some companies say they do not want to risk embarrassing employees, so they forego testing the human element of the network. If you do not run these tests, you lose valuable opportunities to see how well corporate training has been put to use by employees. The key is to not single out employees and treat any successful spear-phishing attacks as opportunities for education, not punishment.

2. Define Goals Before You Start

Is the purpose of the test to inform regulatory compliance efforts? Are you trying to see where weaknesses lie before starting a new security purchase cycle? Do you want to give your InfoSec team information before they begin revisions to the corporate security policy? Is this just part of your regular cycle of testing the effectiveness of your security?

Being clear about what you want to achieve from the test, and communicating that information clearly to the pen testing team, will help make sure the pen testers are working with you to be most effective.

3. Do Not Hire Them

Some executives resist pen testing because they worry that the results of the test could become subject to the discovery process in the event of a lawsuit. That is a legitimate concern, but there's a way around it.

Let your law firm hire them. If outside counsel hires them and delivers the report to you, then it is privileged communication and is immune from legal discovery. You get the results, everyone gets protection, and everyone (on your team) is happy.

“Hiring” a team of hackers can be the best thing you do to strengthen your network security. Do your homework on the firm you hire and follow the tips above, and you'll end up with a sound picture of where your security is doing its job—and where you should start immediately patching the holes. Our team at Current Technologies specializes in building state of the art security systems to your specification. If you already know where the holes are from a pen-test, it will be a breeze to have us patch them up for you.

Need Help Passing Your Pen-Test?

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Is Your Network Ready For Student Demands?

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The Future Of Education Requires WiFi


Once upon a time, handheld calculators were the height of student technology. Now, students are coming to school with multiple devices, each trying hard to connect to the Internet through your campus network. Is your network up to the challenge?

Some student devices place a heavy load on the campus network when they're used to watch video content that makes up part of a classroom curriculum. Other devices won't make constant demands of the network but will be part of the steady drip of bandwidth that adds up to a significant overall network load.

Network Provision Affects Education Outcomes

Within the classroom walls, there are a couple basic network divisions that student devices can use. How you provision and manage them significantly impacts how successfully:

  • Teachers integrate student devices into the learning process
  • Each device can function as a network endpoint

1. The Cabled vs Cellular Networks

The cabled network and cellular data network are, in many ways, at opposite ends of the classroom use spectrum.

Cable connections will almost always go to devices owned and tightly controlled by the school. That use is so thoroughly presumed that the cabled network often skips one or more authentication steps required on the wireless network.

The cellular data network, on the other hand, will be used almost exclusively by student mobile devices. School network architects can use those facts to balance their network traffic to help all users have a better experience.

Keeping as many school-owned systems as possible on the cabled network means that the impact from student devices is minimized.

Shifting student devices to the cellular data network rather than the campus WiFi also reduces their impact on other users.

Network managers must decide whether that reduction is enough to justify allowing classroom material to be transmitted over the cellular network and, if so, whether the school should explore installing femtocell transceivers to encourage students to keep their devices off the school's WiFi network.

2. 2.4GHz vs 5GHz Protocols

A growing number of wireless mobile devices can take advantage of 5GHz WiFi protocols that are both faster and able to gracefully support more users. Pushing school-owned wireless devices to 5GHz channels makes the most of the spectrum, leaving the slower 2.4GHz band for older student-owned devices.

Student-owned devices are complicating life for school network managers, but a Current Technologies designed network plan for balancing traffic across all available network technologies can keep the student body’s mobile fleet from wreaking havoc on your computers. Our team specializes in taking your current system and making the most out of it or building you a totally new system to your exact specifications.

See What We Can Do For You

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2018-19 School Year Technology Checklist

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Making your list for the year ahead


In the ongoing cycle of the educational year, it’s buying season for primary and secondary schools. That means schools and school districts are looking at the technology available for students, faculty, and staff. Then, they’re trying to make decisions that will affect those users for the next three to five years (or more). What are the products that school IT staff should be considering, given the march of technology and the lessons learned in the last few years? Let’s take a look at the issues and technologies for each of the constituents that school IT must consider.

Security

For faculty, the key considerations are security and the ability to work successfully with a wide variety of instructional media. The first of these considerations is obvious because FERPA requires it. Student data must be kept secure. The challenging piece of this is, of course, that the data must also be accessible to faculty and authorized staff at a moments notice.

Look for multi-factor authentication built into hardware and graphics capabilities that make it possible to run virtual desktops. These simply eliminate many of the security issues around sensitive data. When it comes to things like student data, it is wise to talk with professionals. Current Technologies has been working with schools for 20+ years and keeping their data secure.

Wi-Fi

The more technology gets integrated into schools, the more bandwidth schools are going to need. Streaming videos, internet searches and an array of learning applications all require bandwidth. With a slow connection, it could take half of a period just for students to load what they need.

The recently released 802.11ac Wave 2 is providing schools with more than 6Mbps, which is a huge upgrade from 802.11ac. With more students bringing their own devices from home and teachers continually integrating more technology, bandwidth has to grow. 802.11ac Wave 2 has done that and can last long into the future. 

Device mix

Student workstations are changing as school systems revisit desktop and laptop computers.

Tablets will remain relevant, although many schools have found that without comprehensive lesson plans and dedicated support infrastructure, tablets don’t necessarily provide the desired results.

While some schools allow students to bring family-owned tablets, school-provided desktop computers are more rugged, more easily secured, and more capable than tablets.

Mobility

Staff members are among the computer users who are focused on mobility for their systems. Part of this is due to requirements that administrators and specialists take systems home to complete work.

Another consideration is on-campus (or between-campus) mobility to supervise multiple locations or functions within the school. For these employees, convertible systems that combine laptop and tablet functionality are gaining popularity, especially with the addition of FERPA-compliant mobile device management (MDM) software to ensure security.

Networking, device mix, mobility, and security are the primary hardware considerations driving changes in education systems. For educational IT specialists, specifications for these three should be part of any requirements list for this year’s shopping season.

What's On Your Shopping List?

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Don't Give Up On The Desktop Yet

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The Desktop Is Not Dead


According to some, you would think all corporate employees can do their jobs on their smartphone or on a tablet at most. The thing is, there are still many business tasks that are best performed using a larger display, a more substantial keyboard, and more computing power than even the best mobile option can afford.

Unsung Flexibility On The Desktop

The capabilities of a traditional desktop computer can be found in a wide variety of packages that can fit an array of needs. Whether the task at hand would most benefit from a minimal footprint on the desk, minimum impact on the help desk or maximum performance, some variety of desktop personal computer can fit the bill.

"All-in-one" computers have been available for years, but they became more capable and flexible with the introduction of Windows 10. An all-in-one computer can be the platform of choice for applications that range from old-school enterprise green-screens to responsive HTML5 web-facing apps due to a combination of mix-and-match elements, such as:

  • A minimal footprint on the desk
  • Monitor sizes that can range from adequate to extravagant
  • I/O expansion capabilities through a variety of external ports
  • Touchscreen monitors
  • An operating system that can take advantage of all of the pieces

A Step Above “Thin Clients”

Minimum physical footprint and minimal hardware combine in compact systems that are a significant step above "thin clients" in capability, though not in size. These very small systems are ideal for situations in which the hardware will be embedded in furniture and the software embedded in a virtual server on the other end of the network.

Only the hardware required for user interaction will be visible, and the bulk of application processing will be done at the server. At the same time, these minimal PCs have local storage and processing, so application data can be kept at the endpoint as long as necessary. Also, application processing and data storage can continue even if network connectivity is lost.

Stepping Up To Workstations

The application processing and storage capabilities are ramped up in workstations that support the most demanding applications for workers in specialized tasks. These desktop (or desk-side) personal computers can boast multiple CPUs, each with multiple cores, and several terabytes of storage. For engineering and scientific applications, they are must-have platforms with capabilities that can't be matched by any laptop, tablet, or another handheld device.

There are certain employees and tasks for which a tablet or smartphone is the perfect computing platform. But for many business applications and users, a current-generation take on the traditional desktop workstation is still the preferred solution for bringing enterprise computing to the office. Current Technologies, through partnerships with Dell and other leading computer manufacturers, can analyze your businesses desktop related needs and provide you with the necessary equipment to maximize employee productivity and overall continuity. 

What Do You Use Desktops For?

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How SMBs can use Technology to Compete with Big Brands

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Taking on Goliath: how SMBs can Compete with Multinationals


The world’s biggest multinationals will see their profit growth drop by up to 5% over the next decade, according to a recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute.

That’ll leave a void in the global market that small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) will fill. McKinsey predicts these companies will occupy 45% of the Fortune 500 list by 2025.

This remarkable shift is possible because of the technological tools small businesses now have at their disposal. With the following advantages, smaller companies are taking on the multinationals like David and the Goliath.

1. Increased flexibility

SMBs can take advantage of their small size and agility to seize new opportunities before bigger competitors can react. And, thanks to scalable cloud computing services, larger businesses are losing their old advantages, like dedicated IT infrastructures and in-house expertise.

Forbes predicts that 78 percent of small businesses will have adopted cloud computing solutions by 2020. With access to on-demand resource provisioning, even the smallest businesses can compete with the multinationals. If you are not already using the cloud, it's not too late. Current Technologies can have a cloud platform up and running within days to aid in your fight against the large multinationals.

2. Increased Visibility

The goal of marketing is to share a specific message with a specific audience. Or, if your product has universal appeal, with as large an audience as possible. Multinationals used to have all the advantages when it came to marketing, with plenty of money to buy radio and TV slots, place full-page ads in magazines and newspapers, and hire full-time PR and marketing teams.

Google and social media have changed that forever.

With Google AdSense, small businesses can promote their services to an audience whose search terms identify them as likely customers. And social media platforms allow SMBs to find and connect directly with their customers no matter where in the world they are.

3. Increased Understanding

Sophisticated data analysis used to be reserved for multinationals with enough money for full-time "data mining" teams. But the rise of Big Data has made analytics tools available to SMBs and even individual businesspeople.

Google Analytics and InsightSquared allow SMBs to mine their data for valuable insights and turn them into easy-to-read infographics. With easily read and usable data, the possibilities are endless. You can 

An (Almost) Level Playing Field

To be sure, multinationals still possess some advantages. For example, some own their entire supply and distribution networks, which means they can "outship" smaller companies and reach consumers first.

The good news, however, is that SMBs are in a better position than ever before to compete. Using new technologies, they too can connect with customers across the globe and carve out a space for themselves in the fast-shifting global marketplace for goods, services and ideas.

We Can Help In Your Quest!

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