3 Keys to University Network Policies

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Tightening the reigns on your app and internet policies doesn’t mean restricting freedom. It's the only way to protect your institution's valuable research data and to preserve the privacy of staff and students.

Network security isn't only a concern for businesses and government. Recent US research from BitSight revealed that the education sector is a prime target for hackers, with nearly four times as much ransomware in its systems as the healthcare sector, and nearly nine times as much as the financial sector.

Universities and colleges make tempting targets not only because of the unique data they keep, but because misguided concerns over academic openness mean that so many still leave their gates wide open.

It’s time to take control

In a BYOD (bring-your-own-device) environment, you can’t control every potentially infected laptop and device being used around your campus. But you can, and should, control what they access through your servers.

In an academic environment, internet technology decision-makers (ITDMs) can find themselves facing resistance but it’s your responsibility to convince academics and administrators alike that beefing up security won’t compromise their ideals.

From financial information to research data, a university has many of the same assets as a business. So when it comes to security, you need to treat it like one. It’s also your responsibility to protect the personal information and intellectual property of staff and students, who will all be at risk if you don’t have the appropriate safeguards in place.

How to justify these restrictions

Website blocking is routinely justified in the US, Australia and many other countries to prevent malware, investment fraud, copyright infringement, terrorism and other malicious activity, so there’s plenty of precedent.

If you do find yourself needing to justify controlling access to suspicious websites, app downloads or file sharing through torrents or cloud lockers, the risk of malware should be reason enough.

Blocking or limiting the bandwidth available for file sharing will also reduce the illegal consumption of copyrighted materials on campus, which shows that your university respects the creators’ intellectual property.

Then there’s the practicality of preserving bandwidth. Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing consumes a lot of network resources, which slows things down for legitimate users. The same applies to streaming services and that other controversial culprit – pornography.

While universities don’t have the same excuse as high schools and public network – that they’re protecting children from seeing inappropriate content – the risk of illegal materials and viruses appearing on these sites is another justification for blocking access altogether.

How to block undesired websites

When choosing the method for restricting access to websites, you need to consider your department’s resources and budget.

Internet Protocol (IP) address blocking – the cheapest method, but also the least effective as IP addresses can be quickly changed.

Domain Name Server (DNS) blocking – permanently blocks access to undesired sites at only slightly more expense, though easily circumvented.

Uniform Resource Locator (URL) blocking – more precise, but requires the greatest investment of time and money to configure correctly.

When you’re surrounded by the best and brightest, there are always going to be people who can circumvent the restrictions you put in place by using a virtual private network (VPN) or more advanced techniques. The important thing is that you’re significantly reducing the risks and encouraging students to break bad habits.

With quality filters in place, you can make sure that legitimate websites and apps won’t be blocked by mistake, while protecting students, faculties and your institution alike.

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Is A Hyper-Converged Data Center Right For You?

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What can a Hyper-Converged Data Center do for your Business?


Hyper-converged data centers are taking virtualization to the next level. They offer greater simplicity and scalability to meet business needs.

Virtualization is all about pretending. In a data center, a cluster of computers can pool their grunt and pretend to be a single "virtual" machine such as your file server.
Think of that virtual machine like a Boeing 747, with all four engines combining their thrust to keep the plane in the air. If one engine fails, then there's a drop in overall thrust, but thankfully your mission-critical plane doesn't fall from the sky.

Data center virtualization is also about flexibility. You can easily replace that troublesome engine mid-flight, or even spin up a new plane and transfer the passengers without skipping a beat. Your file server stays in the air, and the business isn't grounded.

So what is a Hyper-Converged Data Center?

Here your virtual servers are managed by an underlying layer of virtualization which pools all your hardware.

Our fleet of 747s now shares a pool of jet engines, with the pilots more interested in available thrust than the performance of individual engines. If an engine fails, or a plane demands extra grunt to handle a heavy load, you can easily redistribute your thrust across the fleet.

Of course, plenty of data centers run multiple virtual servers on a single pool of hardware. Those that rely on pre-configured bundles of computing, storage and perhaps networking hardware from a single vendor are generally called "converged" datacenters.

In a "hyper-converged" datacenter you have a cluster of appliance-style nodes rather than bundles of hardware handling different roles. The nodes are modular appliances that combine x86 computing, storage, and networking in a single box. The software combines the nodes to build the resources it needs, and you can manage every aspect of the data center from a single console.

Now our 747s don't just pool jet engines. Instead, entire planes are built from a pile of standard blocks rather than custom parts. The software builds each plane and reconfigures the fleet as required. Need more resources? Simply tip more blocks into the pile and the software builds what it needs.

What are the Pros and Cons of a Hyper-Converged Data Center?

Hyper-convergence lets you upgrade your data center hardware in bite-sized chunks. Making small hardware upgrades as required can help you break free from the big bang refresh cycle, where you spend big on data center capacity every few years and hope it will tide you over until the next major upgrade.

That said, the all-in-one nature of hyper-convergence appliances can make upgrades expensive if you're only chasing more storage and not computing power, or vice versa. Another downside is you may lose the freedom to mix and match the hardware, depending on your vendor, as you're locked into hyper-converged architecture from a single vendor. Current Technologies is hardware agnostic which allows us to work with hardware partners and can let you tweak box configurations to best suit your needs, custom creating the best possible solution for your business. 

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How to Make Big Data work for You

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The "Big Data" Problem

International Data Group (IDG) tells us that 90 percent of the world’s total data has been created in the past two years. Thanks to the sharp rise of social networking and mobile computing, data is now being created as fast as it is being consumed. Making sense of this volume of data is difficult, and now businesses of all sizes are turning to "Big Data" for an answer.

What Is Big Data?

Big Data by definition is the collection of very large and complex sets of data. The term also refers to the technology required to manage, store, and interpret this data. The challenge is that most of today’s data is unstructured and comes in a variety of different types (media feeds, images, streaming video, text files, documents), so Big Data needs to read and interpret everything from documents and electronic forms to emotion and expression.

Big Data’s Big Splash

In December last year, IDG reported that 70 percent of American enterprise organizations had deployed or were planning to deploy Big Data projects. On average, the enterprise organizations had spent $8 million on Big Data initiatives. Clearly, Big Data has struck a chord among large companies because it promises a novel way to understand market forces, adapt to them, and connect meaningfully with customers. But does Big Data deliver on its promise? It depends what you do with it.

Most Customers Don't Know How To Use Big Data effectively

According to Brian Hopkins, an analyst for Forrester Research, statistics like those from the IDG study only tell half the story. He says that while businesses have improved the way they collect data, they haven’t changed the way they use it. Big Data is about insights, but many businesses are not adopting the sophisticated approaches necessary to analyze the information they collect. You don't have to be a multi-million dollar company to effectively analyze data, you need to be able to recognize trends and build strategies to capitalize on trends. That is much easier said than done though.

The problem facing your business

You may want to interpret varieties of data to help you improve your service, create a new market, or launch a new product. The problem is that you may not be able to justify the cost of extra resources to get these Big Data insights. However, there is an assortment of discrete data sources such as CRM or Google Analytics that will be more than helpful in your endeavors.

So, what should you do?

 The concept of Big Data is still quite new, but if analyzed and applied correctly, it can take your business to new levels. However, before any data is even collected, you must have a place to store it. That is where Current Technologies comes in. We can provide you with either physical or cloud storage solutions and backups to make sure that no matter what happens, your vital data will be available to you when you need it.

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3 Ways Spending Less on Hardware will cost you

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How “Cheap” Machines Become Expensive


Everyone in business IT knows that budgets are shrinking. In an environment with fewer dollars, it's tempting to look at low price tags as the most important specification any hardware can carry. The problem, as we are reminded frequently, is that total cost of ownership (TCO) cannot be ignored. More importantly, the total benefit of ownership is a metric that IT managers must take into consideration seriously when specifying the details of servers or workstations. 

There are multiple aspects to TCO for hardware, and most of them have nothing to do with whether the hardware is likely to break and need service. For our purposes, let’s assume that any workstation you buy is going to be an absolute rock of reliability and quality. That still doesn't take away three ongoing costs of owning your workstations. 

1. Lost Productivity

You've heard that time is money, well one of the primary ways in which the cheapest priced machine can become expensive over time is through the lost productivity that accompanies the minimal performance.

Managers focused on nothing but purchase price might criticize the organizational cost of a few seconds per operation or the inconvenience caused to an employee by a desktop workstation compared to a laptop, but over the course of a workstation's lifetime, those seconds and minutes add up.

2. Reduced Effectiveness

Workers who have to deal with daily frustrations from underperforming or poorly configured workstations are less effective.

Human memory is poor, especially after the fifth meeting of the morning. Handwritten notes are better than nothing, but notes typed into a laptop are surely best. That isn’t possible for workers away from their desks if their computers can’t follow them.

There are still organizations with managers who consider laptop and other mobile computers as luxury items. IT managers might want to point out that mobile computers can increase information accuracy, improve productivity, lower network infrastructure costs, and enhance security in return for their perceived luxury.

3. Security and Network Infrastructure

Considerations such as network infrastructure cost should be considered in TCO calculations, especially when WiFi has become nearly ubiquitous, and the costs of running cable continue to rise.

IT managers who want to seriously tilt the table in the direction of mobile endpoints can discuss the cost of potential data breaches through physical intrusions. The average desktop-based client infrastructure is far less secure than an infrastructure and policy framework that has:

  • Most laptop and mobile devices locked in drawers or cabinets at the end of the day

  • The rest in the possession of employees trained in security

Moreover, connecting to central assets through a VPN can be far more secure than the average desktop-based client infrastructure.

Decisions based solely on minimum purchase price can come back to haunt an organization for years. Current Technologies specializes in consulting with your business, finding out your needs, analyzing all options and bringing you the solution best fit for your business.

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Budgeting IT Growth- For Growing Businesses

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Cast your mind forward 5 years. Will we still send so many emails? Will we be satisfied with a keyboard to fill in web forms and use passwords to log on to secure systems? The changes in speed of access and capability are coming fast. As facial recognition, voice recognition, and biometrics develop, our concept of how we communicate with machines will change. The effect of cloud computing will drive down the cost of infrastructure and create new potential for business solutions.

There are smarter ways to drive down the risks associated with aging IT systems that are likely to add value to your business. The question is how much should you spend?

We have tried to set a guide based on a percentage of revenue, but that is too vague for many businesses where maintaining margins is hard work. Often a better answer lies in reducing waste or risk. First of all, it is important to understand your risk around IT involves loss of systems or loss of competitive edge in the marketplace. Then look to business processes with high cost and look for technology to reduce that waste and so reduce the cost per product.

That cost may be in marketing, sales, inventory, materials, or time. The savings will build the business case for spending on IT.

Building a Business Case

There are some clear costs to IT that you can work into your business case. If you are using PCs, servers, and mobile devices, there is a cost to buying them and maintaining them. This may be a fixed cost if outsourced or a variable cost if you buy the equipment as needed. PCs will vary from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, depending on the demands you are placing on them, from an email station running a couple of small spreadsheets to a workstation running 3D design tools. You should anticipate three to four years of performance from the right PC, but to stretch it further will have hidden costs in increased downtime, maintenance costs, and poor performance relative to newer machines.

For each new starter in your business you need to factor in the annual cost of a PC, a device, and software, and if you are using the cloud, factor in monthly fees. Again, these will vary from application to application, but you should be able to figure out what your costs will be. There is also the cost of supporting each person in your business in terms of their IT tools, which will either be a direct cost or a hidden cost. The costs are hidden when you have no formal support arrangement and your staff waste productive time fixing their own IT problems or working around them. Direct costs are usually lower than hidden costs because problems are fixed efficiently. Management of an individual’s IT environment will cost from a few hundred dollars a year to a few thousand depending on the complexity of the systems being used.

Dealing with Growth

If your business is increasing staff you may need to revisit your infrastructure strategy and change how you share, store, and protect your data. As you add employees, you will need larger, more expensive systems unless you have adopted a scalable cloud solution that allows you to simply add one more team member to the account. Of course, not all applications have a cloud version yet, so you may need to invest in a hybrid solution with some servers and some cloud storage.

The more you can push to the cloud, the less capital expenditure you will need to budget for, but keep an eye on the comparison costs over a four-year period. Many cloud solutions are cost effective for the enterprise but not for the smaller business. For a fast-growing start-up, the cost of the cloud is not the issue as it is all about the freedom to grow without the need for expensive upgrades.

Understanding your business and getting the right advice on suitable technologies may give you the advantage you are looking for. When your business is growing is the perfect time to reconsider your IT needs, and taking professional help is never a bad idea. Current Technologies has been helping companies manage growth for over 20 years. Our team is well versed in today's technology, where it will be in the future, and how to apply this information to your business. 

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Pros VS. Cons of a Bring Your Own Device Policy

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Securing Your BYOD Policy


Work practices have undergone a revolution in the digital age. Networked devices and more mobility have blurred the line between work and home as vast numbers of people perform their jobs across multiple platforms, often far from the office.

An accompanying phenomenon is the bring your own device (BYOD) policy which allows employees to use their own laptops and smartphones in the office or, alternatively, to use those devices to work from home.

BYOD has its pros and cons, and organizations that already have a policy in place or are contemplating implementing one need to tick some boxes to make sure it runs as smoothly, and most importantly, securely as possible.

The Good

BYOD has obvious advantages for staff who like the convenience and familiarity of working on their own devices. It could also lead to productivity gains, as users have an affinity for their own personal devices and how they use them.

Personal laptops, tablets, and smartphones are usually more cutting edge, given that companies often don’t update their desktops for years on end. BYOD also allows staff to carry only one or two devices around with them, rather than different ones for work and personal use.

BYOD policies can save organizations money, as they don’t have to spend as much on their IT hardware while allowing workers increased mobility.

The Bad

Having said that, BYOD practices are not free from security concerns. More and more mobile devices provide greater scope for ways to breach a company’s IT infrastructure.

Some employees may not be as stringent as they should be about the information they bring home that could be highly sensitive or confidential. Once they take it out of the office, there’s nothing stopping them from sharing it across devices, networks, emails or even showing it to their family and friends.

Disgruntled employees about to walk out the door pose an even bigger threat. If they are leaving to work for a competitor, BYOD makes it easier for them to take intellectual property with them. Alternatively, if an employee uses a smartphone to access the company network then loses it or it's stolen, an unauthorized person could retrieve unsecured data on the device. Staff can also sell their devices or give them away and forget to wipe company data beforehand.

And The Necessary

A good BYOD policy should contain two critical components: an application or software program for managing the devices connected to your organization’s networks, and a written agreement that clearly states the responsibilities of employers and staff.

For example, IT departments wishing to monitor the use of personal devices must ensure that they only monitor activities that access company information.

Software developers and device manufacturers are constantly releasing security patches and updates for threats such as viruses and malware. BYOD policies should have the necessary processes in place to automatically apply those patches across all the agreed BYOD devices.

Additionally, organizations can simplify the whole process by limiting the number or make of devices allowed in their BYOD programs and the systems they have to support. Supporting a broad range of devices could become an administrative nightmare.

The IT department should also have permission to remotely wipe the device if it's lost, the employee leaves or if it detects a data breach, virus or any other threat to its infrastructure.

BYOD should satisfy employees and management alike, as long as there's a clear understanding of everyone’s responsibilities. Before settling on the best BYOD policy for your organization, it's worth getting input from employees, HR, IT, finance, legal and anyone else who has a stake in the matter.

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Stop Entry Level Shaming

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There’s something about that label. “Entry level” systems are seen as insufficiently powerful, marginally useful, and utterly degrading when placed on a professional’s office desktop.

This characterization might have been accurate years ago. But today, even entry-level systems can be capable, powerful computing devices that, under the right circumstances, can be “cool” for users to work with.

Moving entry-level systems from stigma-inducing to cool requires properly making a handful of critical decisions. Get them right, and your organization could save significant money while boosting user satisfaction with new systems.

What is Entry Level?

It usually starts with a modestly powered CPU (often one generation behind the current market leader) and continues to have the following:

  • Minimal RAM (generally 4 GB at this point)

  • Basic graphics capabilities (sometimes, those on the motherboard; other times, those available from an inexpensive graphics board)

  • Gigabit Ethernet

Wrap it all in a basic box with a standard keyboard, mouse, and video monitor, and you have your entry-level system, which in many cases, is exactly what most of your employees need.

It Might be the Perfect System

As companies race to embrace cloud services, it can be argued that the entry system is the perfect system for most employees to use.

It might be that what you need is an internal marketing campaign, not a larger budget for desktop workstations. It all depends on the job you’re asking systems to do and the way you present the systems doing the job.

Chromebooks are the very definition of minimalistic workstations. The barest entry-level workstation will be more powerful than the most powerful Chromebook, so comparisons should be frequently made when talking with employees.

Spend Where it will be Noticed

Spend a few dollars on the components that have the biggest impact on user satisfaction.

1. Keyboard

There is now a dizzying array of keyboards available for purchase. Most of the keyboards that make the “enterprise-class” grade are within a few dollars of one another, so employees can be allowed to “customize” their system with little difference in purchase price and no difference in support costs.

2. Mouse

The IT department could offer employees their choice from a selection of mice or other pointing devices to be used at the desktop.

For minimal difference in price, the employee has a maximum feeling of personalization.

3. Monitor Size

The enterprise standard has been twenty-one-inch or twenty-four-inch monitors for nearly a decade. But today, it’s possible to purchase twenty-seven-inch monitors for little to no more money.

The entry-level system doesn’t need to be a symbol of shame, for it can gain access to cloud-based services and information as equally well as more expensive systems. And if the IT department will allow for some choice in input devices and monitor, the users will come away feeling more digitally empowered than ever before.

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Data Center Upgrade: Not All Or Nothing

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Everyone wants one screen to rule them all: one console display to monitor and manage all systems in a data center. According to some vendors, the only way to achieve this management “nirvana” is to bring in the forklifts and replace every system you own in one swoop. If you have an unlimited budget and no executive committee to report to, that's a suitable and realistic plan.

For the rest of us, the good news is that there is a better alternative: updating servers as they hit the end of their life cycle according to the refresh cycle. A mixed fleet of servers can be highly manageable if you consider a handful of key issues while you're building and evolving the servers within.

Picking The Server Management Framework

Several decisions follow the initial decision of which server management framework is selected. The basic split is between a framework from a hardware vendor and a framework independent of any hardware tie. While they are alike in many ways, there are key differences that will have major implications for your hardware choices.

Hardware-Tied Or Vendor-Neutral?

First, it seems obvious that a hardware-tied management framework should be at the top of your candidate list if all your servers are from a single vendor. While each new generation of servers has features that work more closely in concert with management applications, the vendor's software will typically work with at least three previous generations of hardware.

Vendor-neutral frameworks may lack the ability to take advantage of some specific server features, but they tend to offer consistent management across all servers of a particular generation and across two or three previous generations. They also can be cheaper depending on a multitude of factors. The real advantage of these frameworks involves existing analytics packages that you want to continue using. Integration with a wide range of third-party software is a strength of several vendor-neutral management systems.

Preparing For The Future

With all of these management frameworks, one of the most important considerations is how well the package prepares you for the future, since changing the software that manages a fleet of servers is not something to be taken lightly. Whether the management framework comes from a hardware vendor or not, it will be the tool that allows you to manage new servers and server blades as they are brought into service through the normal hardware refresh cycle.

As servers become part of a growing ecosystem of platforms that support virtual or software-defined functions, a management framework that supports all components of an integrated environment, from the server to storage to the network, becomes more important.

A single pane of glass that allows you to monitor and manage absolutely everything in the infrastructure is not yet available, but you can have a data center management system that will provide direct management of the servers in a diverse fleet while allowing integration with platforms that manage networking, storage, and other functions.

Another valid option for network monitoring and management is hiring a managed service provider (MSP). The advantages of hiring an experienced MSP like Current Technologies are numerous and include spending less on IT personnel, the MSPs are experts, you can rest easy knowing that someone else is protecting your network, and it is cheaper than and easier than doing it yourself.  It isn’t surprising that 70 percent of CIOs partnered with outside experts to plan manageable growth in 2018, find out what we can do for you today.

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How To Improve Your Network Without Major Investment

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Simple ways to Improve your Network Without Major Investment

Who knows how many more devices will be in the Christmas haul for students, staff, and faculty? You can certainly be sure most of those new devices will appear on campus at some point or another. However, you are not likely to find an unexpected budget for a major network overhaul in your stocking. But if there is something left in the budget, you might be able to make a big difference with some small improvements.

1. Take another look at what you are made of

When planning a network by looking at blueprints and floor plans, the basic question of building materials is easily overlooked. Those materials can make a big difference to the reach of a WiFi network, however.

Dense building materials like brick or rock could smother your wireless signal. Materials that hold water can also sabotage signal strength. Not taking into account a bathroom in the way can play havoc with signal strength.

If there are dead spots in your network, double check whether you have taken building materials properly into account. Buying a more advanced access point for a place where the signal is weak will not cost the earth. And it could give you a fast, reliable connection where you did not have one before.

2. Follow the crowd

WiFi users will mob in the places with the best signals. The problem is that those mobs then bring down the very network speeds they were chasing.

You might see real benefits in a small investment in access points in the locations where users would gather if only the WiFi were better. The right access point in the right place could give you double benefit:

  1. You have good WiFi where there were only complaints before

  2. You have even better WiFi where users used to congregate in greater numbers

3. Invest in Analytics

It might be time to invest in an analytics tool. If you already have good analytics tools, it might be time to fund a project to study the data. There are questions that you should know the answers to in order to make the most of your current WiFi:

  • Who is using your network

  • When they are using it

  • Where they are using it

  • What they are using it for

The answer to getting more from your network is not always going to be to buy more bandwidth, for instance. It might be a question of allocating what you already have better—perhaps spreading it further and more efficiently as with the suggestions here. It might also be a question of defining better rules for which data has priority.

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Connecting Branch Offices Made Easier

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Branch Offices Shouldn't Be Separate Worlds


Running a business across multiple locations has always had its share of IT challenges. Past approaches consisted of duplicating data between sites or relied on an often-unreliable wide-area network (WAN) links to make remote branches seem like part of the office network. With fast Internet connectivity now widespread, there are more ways than ever to securely connect staff at multiple offices

Extending corporate networks to remote sites has become far easier now that inter-office traffic can be routed across the internet without the need for expensive telecommunications links. With providers across the country improving their broadband services, it’s becoming easier than ever to link branch offices with rapid, secure, and reliable connectivity.

Keeping Your Data Safe

Data security, of course, is paramount when linking offices over the Internet. For this reason, you’ll need to encrypt your inter-office data by setting up a virtual private network (VPN) that creates a "tunnel" through the Internet between your work sites. Such tunnels have been widely and successfully used for years to link sites and to allow mobile users to log into corporate networks while they travel.

However, encrypting data is only one part of the challenge. With large numbers of branch offices in operation, you’ll need to develop and manage a coherent data architecture that controls where data goes, where it is stored, and how it is safely stored.

Previous store-and-forward models would see branch offices—particularly in time-sensitive retail operations—caching data at the remote site and periodically synchronizing it with central databases. Now that businesses are online and always available, data is more effectively transmitted in real time for storage in central transactional databases, which are often duplicated in a second, remote data center for redundancy and disaster recovery.

Cloud Solutions

Increasingly, smaller businesses are turning to cloud services to link up their branch offices in a different way. In this model, data is stored centrally in a cloud service and each branch office uses the same techniques to access it.

This approach lets businesses locate the data in whatever mission-critical data center is appropriate for the task while providing each branch office with the ability to access and collaborate on documents equally. This architecture also allows businesses to provide more consistent access to supporting services like unified communications, video delivery, identity management, security, and more, which are available to all employees at all branches.

With a cloud storage solution set up by Current Technologies, branch offices no longer need to be treated like remote outposts. By tapping into the flexibility and configuration of Internet-based services, it’s now possible to link even remote branch offices more seamlessly than ever before.

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