Separate the Cloud from the fog

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You’ve surely heard about the much-hyped idea of cloud computing—and whether you know it or not, you’re probably already using it. Web mail, Facebook, and Instagram are all popular examples of cloud computing, as are more business-focused services like Salesforce.com and Microsoft Office 365.

The basic idea behind cloud computing is that your data is stored on a computer that you do not own, manage, or maintain. This lets you and your employees focus on doing your job instead of worrying about keeping your systems running smoothly. It’s also cheaper—since you typically rent access to the systems for a monthly or annual fee that’s often quite competitive—and more flexible. Cloud services can be accessed via any Web browser, and most also offer mobile apps.

Public: putting it all out there

Your employees are almost certainly already running "public cloud" services on their phones and computers, whether they be cloud storage services like Dropbox or photo-sharing services like Flickr. These types of services are either called Software as a Service (SaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings, from the likes of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, and offer higher-end environments that run your company servers on their systems.

The flexibility of cloud services have changed the computing world quickly. Yet cloud’s ubiquity and ease of use have created problems, as the lines between personal and business are blurred and "shadow IT"—unsanctioned and unmonitored business use of public cloud services by employees—becomes common.

Without oversight, companies have no way of stopping or even knowing if sensitive corporate data gets out of their control. Employees are just trying to do their job better, but that will be little consolation if next year’s budget spreadsheets end up on the Web for competitors to see.

Hybrid: the in-between approach

In spite of the benefits of cloud computing, there are some circumstances in which companies may still want to keep data in-house—for example, to comply with industry regulations around the handling of sensitive data, concerns about cloud security, or because of regulatory restrictions that prohibit storing a companies data in overseas cloud systems.

As a result, few organizations have committed to the cloud 100 percent. Instead, most are pursuing so-called "hybrid" strategies that combine specific cloud services—often business systems such as customer relationship management (CRM) or human resources (HR)—with conventional on-premises systems that are owned and run by in-house technical staff.

This approach complicates things somewhat, because it means that businesses must keep track of two different types of computing environments. Yet new tools are bridging on-premises and off-premises cloud services, making it easy to track and secure data as it moves around the new computing environment. Most companies will use the hybrid cloud model for some time to come.

Private cloud: reinventing the business

While many companies are searching for the best approach to upgrading their applications to take advantage of the cloud, others are using cloud computing's ascension as an opportunity to rework the way they deliver applications to their own employees.

In the "private cloud" model, businesses effectively set up their own cloud-computing providers, running cloud services inside their network. These providers run applications on behalf of various business units, with the idea being that it’s cheaper and easier to centralize computing than it is to have each department run its own IT as in the past.

Building private cloud services requires a massive amount of effort, since it often involves upgrading old applications and moving large quantities of data into the new environment. Yet many businesses are also using the private cloud to offer entirely new services to business partners and customers. For example, a bank might run an application for finance brokers on its private cloud, giving them direct access to relevant banking systems.

Private cloud services also let banks connect their applications with those of other software providers using application programming interfaces (APIs) that let third parties easily access cloud services offering specific functions. A simple example might be an API that lets a third party retrieve current currency exchange information for use on their own website.

Less nebulous every day

There’s no doubt about it: cloud computing is here to stay. And while it’s still not perfect—issues such as telecommunications outages, security, and data ownership are still worrying many would-be adopters—its many benefits have made it essential for every business.

Current Technologies can help your business establish a clear cloud strategy now that will help you modernize your systems in order to take on nimbler competitors today and stay relevant for even more cloud-savvy customers in the future.

You don’t want to be the last one on the cloud

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Do you need more Security Factors?

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Chances are, yes, you do.

Security is one of the areas of spending in which the budget rarely gets smaller, because security is important to every organization. It’s critical that only authorized users are able to access enterprise applications and information.

As phishing and other social engineering attacks proliferate, IT departments look for new ways to ensure the person logging in to the account is the person to whom the account belongs. The search for greater security leads most of these departments toward multi-factor authentication.

Three basic factors of authentication

There are three basic “factors” of authentication:

  1. Something you know

  2. Something you are

  3. Something you have

In the most common authentication scheme, a single factor is used. We’re all familiar with the basic username and password combination that introduces everyone to the idea of authentication. That is single-factor authentication, since it’s all about what you know.

For a growing number of companies, that single factor is no longer enough, especially since it involves information that can easily be shared, stolen, or coaxed from a user.

Time to get physical?

One form of authentication most often talked about now is biometrics—that is, using something you are to authenticate an account.

A wide variety of body parameters can be used as authentication factors, ranging from fingerprints and hand prints to facial recognition and iris scans. It’s even possible to use unique characteristics of an individual’s voice to authenticate the individual.

Thinking hardware

One of the critical points of deploying any form of biometric authentication is that workstations must have the hardware necessary to “read” the biometric information.

1. Keyboards

While still not universal, many laptop computers and desktop workstation keyboards are available with fingerprint scanners, though care must be taken when looking at specifications. Some scanners will require more user training than others for reliable, consistent use.

2. Audio/visual

Cameras and microphones built in to laptop workstations can be used for facial- and voice-pattern recognition, while cameras, microphones, and fingerprint readers can be added via USB to either laptop or desktop systems until new, biometric-ready systems can be purchased on the refresh schedule.

Relying on token security

The third factor in authentication is something you have. This is most frequently a one-time token generated by a dedicated device or, increasingly, by an app on a smartphone. In this authentication, after providing a username and password, the user must provide the numeric token displayed on the token-generating device.

In all forms of authentication, IT departments must weigh security against usability. With today’s technology, it would be entirely possible to require four or five different forms of authentication to log in to an account. But how many users have access to information that is so valuable that it justifies a ten-minute routine in order to log in? Adding just a second factor, especially one that can’t be easily shared or stolen, provides significant security with minimal impact on usability.

How can we help secure your information?

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How the Cloud is Transforming Education

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School IT departments have generally been on the forefront when it comes to embracing new technologies, and teachers who also embrace the latest technologies can reap the benefits faster. The cloud has opened up their world, and technology is poised to finally deliver on its promise to transform education.

Assisting teachers

The cloud has reversed a disappointing trend for teachers. Previously, clunky hardware and failing technology meant wasted time and frustration – hindering rather than assisting them.

All that is changing as the cloud delivers a more flexible, responsive and less device-specific form of technology into the classroom, and the way information is stored, accessed, presented and managed is transformed. Coursework can be retrieved anytime, anywhere. But it’s more than just storage.

Education apps are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the tracking of individual student performance. In a context where there is a five or six-year difference between the most advanced and least-capable student in a classroom, distinguishing instruction is not only a worthy goal, but a practical necessity. And that's where cloud-based technology can help. Connected apps and services such as Mathletics and Duolingo allow students to work at their own pace and adjust the order and difficulty of tasks in line with their progress.

With such innovative data on students, teachers can make better informed decisions about the next steps in learning.

Improving student outcomes

Exercise books and textbooks are increasingly becoming relics. Cloud-based student learning management systems such as EdumateMoodleEdmodo and Blackboard are now staples in most schools across The United States and other countries. Their connectivity means students have access to the most up to date case studies instead of relying on textbooks, which quickly date and become unusable.

Cloud based applications like Microsoft Outlook and Google Docs allows students greater opportunities for collaboration, as documents can be edited simultaneously by multiple authors – including the teacher. This allows for more instant, targeted feedback.

Saving money

And perhaps the biggest impact the cloud can have on academics is the resolution of overstretched budgets. The security and maintenance of expensive infrastructure and internal servers are becoming redundant. Cloud-based storage services such as Amazon, Google and Office 365 provide huge amounts of space with the added benefit of the collective skill of world-class engineers to protect information.

Large upfront costs for software are also giving way to modest subscription fees for services that are continually improved and updated. And even better, many are free! The flexibility of these apps also means students no longer have to shell out big bucks for a laptop, with the ability to access many of the applications on their smartphones or tablets.

For initiative-fatigued teachers who are after a more convenient and efficient way to improve the teaching and learning cycle, a cloud solution from Current Technologies might just be the technological breakthrough they need to re-engage with technology.

We can make the Cloud work for you

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How to Secure Healthcare Files in 2019

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In modern health care, there are many reasons for very large files to be stored and sent from person to person. A growing trend is centrally located diagnostic specialists serving multiple clinics. This means image files must be moved from place to place with increasing frequency. These files must be moved and stored securely.

Fortunately for health care IT pros, there are:

  • Regulations to provide minimum expectations of what "secure" means

  • Models from other industries on techniques and technologies for protecting very large files

The road to protection starts with the security devices in place for the network.

The filtering layer

Like in every other industry, you start with standard security devices and practices. However, in healthcare an additional layer is necessary, a layer that examines file types and allows or disallows transit based on explicit permissions attached to user credentials. This additional layer of security is a filter that stops files rather than try to stop accounts. It can protect files based on:

  • Type

  • Contents (looking for certain patterns of information, such as digits arranged the way they are in credit-card numbers)

  • Allowable origination or destination addresses

Where care must be taken, though, is in the file sizes these filters can screen out and block.

The large file problem

Some security devices, especially those that guard the perimeter by looking at the contents of entire files, are limited in just how large a file they can inspect and protect. When looking at new systems, make sure to ask very pointed questions to ensure the filtering capabilities of the system you choose will adequately filter out the files you want blocked.

The VDI solution

There is another approach that some organizations have adopted, one that doesn't require moving files from system to system. A virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) moves display information, but not files. Sensitive files are left on a single server, where they are easier to protect.

In a VDI scenario, the hardware emphasis shifts from additional layers of perimeter protection to server capabilities and capacities.

Critical server components

Two critical components of the server for these huge files displayed on VDI are the storage and the display adapter.

  1. The storage subsystem will be designed like that of an online analytics processor system, optimized for rapid reads and large data transfers.

  2. The display subsystem must be able to render large files with high resolution and great speed. (This will need to be matched on the workstation end by a graphics adapter that can render the virtual desktop display containing the file at equal resolution.)

Large files can be protected if all standard network and server security protocols are observed, and content filtering is added as a layer of system protection. Health care organizations also should look seriously at VDI for the benefits that come with not moving large files at all. Leaving these files behind inside a secure perimeter can be very comforting when hackers strike. Current Technologies has helped many healthcare organizations across Illinois and the Midwest find and implement the best solution for their business, and can do the same for yours!

Which Solution is Right for you?

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Four ways to Enhance your Endpoint Security

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It's quite likely you use several devices, such as a smartphone, tablet, and a laptop or desktop PC, to run your business. Each device, however, represents an access point for threats like viruses and malware. Endpoint security aims to secure these network 'endpoints' so that suspicious online activities are blocked at the point of entry.

The need for endpoint security has risen sharply, particularly in response to the rise in mobile threats and the growing internet of things (IoT). Most vulnerable are small-medium businesses (SMBs) with offsite employees who need to access the company's network. But the reality is that all businesses are at risk, given today’s ever-shifting and undefinable security perimeter.

So, what are today’s SMB leaders doing when it comes to endpoint security? How can you ensure every tech outpost in your business is secure? Here are four key strategies.

1. Remove or limit administrative access

Most employees don't need administrative rights to perform their day-to-day jobs. If an endpoint app does require administrative access to your network, it can be added to a database of approved programs by an access control tool. Limiting administrative access in this manner can greatly limit damage within your core network caused by an attacker who is targeting the endpoint device.

2. Use advanced authentication

Many successful endpoint breaches are the result of employees using the same password across multiple sites. If just one site is compromised, it's only a matter of time before your business network is broken into. Two-factor authentication fixes this problem by requiring extra credentials to access the system, such as a fingerprint scanner, token code, smart card or additional questions. This blocks attackers even if the password has been stolen.

3. Keep your systems up to date

New security vulnerabilities are being discovered all the time. Hackers are constantly keeping watch – and using them against SMBs to find out which ones neglected to patch their systems. If you use various endpoint devices in your business, it's important to ensure your business apps, anti-malware programs and other security tools are kept up to date with the latest security patches and virus definitions.

4. Conduct security training and awareness sessions

A recent IBM study found that 60 percent of business data breaches originate from employees, with about a quarter of these being accidental. Ongoing awareness and training on security best practices, in areas such as data encryption, password security and BYOD (bring your own device), can help keep your network safe.

As your data network gains more endpoints, the number and variety of cyber risks will only increase. These steps will help to ensure that your SMB is better protected and more resilient against online attacks.

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Cloud or Dedicated Server?

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Should you be entrusting your data to the cloud or keeping it down to earth on your own servers? This is a decision facing every CIO, and it’s one they’ll be forced to justify and revisit regularly for the foreseeable future. That’s because there’s been no knock-out blow in the argument between the cloud and the in-house server. There’s plenty to be said for both, which means there is no blanket answer. Each individual company must make a decision based on what makes the most sense for the business.

Looking cloudward

Surely the chance to ditch your servers and outsource to someone who is steeped in server management seems like a gift from the universe. The arguments in favor of cloud computing are easy to make, especially to someone frustrated by the intellectual overhead and raw cost of maintaining their own servers.

The promises of the cloud include the following.

  • You pay only for what you use, so it’s incredibly flexible; you can scale up or down at will.

  • Security, upgrading, and server configuration are in the hands of experts.

In these days of everything being “as-a-service,” the idea of owning anything like a server seems downright old-fashioned. If Uber can run the world’s largest taxi service without owning any taxis, why on earth would you need to own servers?

Where to look closely

There are a few things you need to factor in to make sure you’re comfortable with any potential compromises.

Power: Cloud providers can’t match the power of a dedicated server that’s properly configured.

Speed: The scalability of the cloud has to do with getting more or less storage, not faster storage, which might be a concern when another customer is flogging the server you’re on.

Latency: If your cloud host uses dispersed locations or it’s not nearby, you might have latency issues

Taking a dedicated approach

The promise of cloud computing is most clearly seen in companies meeting one or more of the following criteria.

  • Tight budgets

  • Growth they can’t predict

  • Business-to-consumer models

  • Jobs that don’t need lots of computer power or storage or much time to run

A company that has a business-to-business model or has well-established usage needs and predictable growth will likely find running its own servers cheaper and more efficient. This is something you can quickly run the numbers on, and the results might surprise you, considering that “cheaper” is a clarion call of the cloud industry.

The issue of security

It’s also worth running the decision through the filter of security. Hackers fish where the fish are, which makes cloud hosts attractive targets. You’re not just outsourcing server configuration, you’re trusting another company with your security. If security is a concern, you’re probably better off keeping your servers in-house, where you can tailor security to your needs. Current Technologies can help you determine which solution would provide more value to your business and then set up a custom solution for your business.

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Do you need to upgrade your network?

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Upgrading your company’s network isn’t likely to be easy. Your network affects every aspect of your business, and downtime or making the wrong decisions will negatively impact everyone.

Whether you’re replacing outdated technology or expanding your network infrastructure, regular upgrades are essential for keeping your business productive and profitable as well as your data secure. On the other hand, if your network is already fit for purpose, upgrading too early will mean unnecessary expenditure and hassle.

If you're the one responsible for making that call, you should be able to evaluate your network’s suitability and decide whether it really needs an upgrade now, what type of upgrade and how to make the switchover with as little impact on the day-to-day operations as possible.

What types of upgrades?

Networks aren't a one-size-fits-all solution – they’re as diverse as your business needs them to be. Networks can be upgraded to:

  • Expand your range or capacity: As your business grows, so does your network. You could be adding more computers to your office, linking to remote locations or hiring more cloud storage to host your growing data.

  • Improve security: Network upgrades are an opportunity to improve your business’s resilience to cyberattacks. Updating hardware and software will help protect your company’s data and the privacy of your staff.

  • Boost productivity: Like any good investment, your network upgrade should pay for itself before long by improving productivity, saving time and reducing maintenance.

Figuring out what you need

Everyone on your network has unique needs and, while an upgrade may not be able to satisfy them all, you should aim for the best compromise. Talking to department heads and sending out surveys can offer valuable insights that you might not have considered. Remember that a decision of this magnitude effects everybody on the network, therefor the goal of network upgrades should be to make life easier for everybody.

You should also check capacity and usage statistics to see whether network speeds and storage need improvement. If you don’t have the resources or the know-how to evaluate your network capabilities, you can hire consultants to do it for you.

Planning the upgrade

Your survey results offer an idealistic guide to work from, but you first need to think about practicalities, such as:

  • How many devices need to connect to your network?

  • Will people connect to your network outside the office?

  • What type of software will they be using?

  • How much data is sent and received every day?

Any upgrades you make should primarily help your business achieve its objectives, which also means minimizing the negative impact on the business and on users as much as possible.

You’ll never truly be finished upgrading your network but, through careful planning and projections, you can establish a flexible network capable of supporting future growth. Technology comes and goes, but the infrastructure you lay down today can future-proof your business for years to come – not to mention making subsequent upgrades a lot easier.

Wired or wireless?

One decision you could face when rolling out your new network is whether to replace your wired connection with a wireless network hosted in the cloud.

While wireless connections are more convenient, on-premise networks have traditionally been faster and more reliable, as they experience less downtime and don’t have the same range of limitations. This has started to change, however, and cloud services also offer adequate security for most business needs.

For many companies, a hybrid model is the ideal middle ground – storing less sensitive data and apps in the cloud while keeping more critical data on your premises. This can reduce costs and improve convenience while ensuring you’ll always have access to your data when you need it.

And that’s the key consideration – are you providing the people who use your network the speed, access and capabilities they need? If not, then it’s time to upgrade and ensure you’re not holding your business back.

Get a quote for your upgrade now!

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How Prescriptive Analytics Can Help You

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Every business runs on analytics. Even the smallest businesses that keep their information in QuickBooks and Excel learn how to figure out which activities make money and which do not, or they won't be in business very long. Modern enterprise analytics have taken one huge step and are in the middle of a second. When this second step is complete, it will change the way businesses are managed.

From Descriptive To Predictive

The first major step in analytics was from descriptive analytics (what has happened) to predictive analytics (what should happen, based on what has happened and trend lines).

This was very important because it allowed management to have a high degree of confidence in the outlook for their business; they could make plans based on something better than a "best guess" basis. Step two builds on predictive analytics to make the IT system a partner in business management.

Prescriptive Analytics Is Coming

If a computer system can predict what is likely to happen, and has been given information on what business management wants to happen, the next step is to provide the analytics system with the ability to tell management how to tweak inputs to turn the predicted future to the desired future. This next step is called prescriptive analytics and it's a step that is coming very, very quickly.

Analysts like those at Gartner see this next step of prescriptive analytics taking three forms. The first involves the analytics system acting as an advisor to management. This is the traditional role of the IT system, but in the high-speed world of modern business, it might not be fast enough to react to changing circumstances. So Gartner sees the prescribed actions of the analytics system becoming the default instructions of management, to be overridden only in the most extreme circumstances. And that leads to the third form.

Taking Humans (partially) Out Of The Picture

When management understands that the decisions reached by the prescriptive analytics system are more reliably correct than the decisions of human managers, then the only rational course is to cut out the slow, unreliable part of the system and allow the prescriptive analytics system to feed commands straight into the ERP and process control systems. At that point, humans can concentrate on creative matters and decide what the corporate goals should be.

This third form is technologically feasible today. Major enterprise software companies are already demonstrating the integration of analytics and ERP required to take human managers out of the loop. While it sounds frightening to many, this merely brings to manufacturing and other types of enterprise the sort of automated business activity that financial services have already embraced in their trading operations. Prescriptive analytics will become a competitive advantage for the companies that embrace it; the real question is how quickly IT departments can be ready.

All That Data Needs To Be Stored Somewhere

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How IoT is Changing Manufacturing

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Well over half of all businesses have adopted IoT into the workplace in 2018, according to a study conducted by Gartner. That trend is only projected to increase moving forward. While many industries are just figuring out how to integrate the Internet of Things into their business operations, manufacturing has been a leader in IoT deployment.

Improved understanding of IoT

IoT grew as more leaders within the industry grasped both the understanding and potential of the devices. According to a study by MESA International IoT Manufacturing and LNS Research, for instance, in 2016, only 19% of company leaders admitted they didn’t understand IoT well enough to implement it in their factories, compared to 44% the year before.

Also, for the first time, more than 50% of manufacturers stated they planned to introduce different IoT technologies into their plants.

Areas where manufacturers have seen an increase of IoT use include:

  • Improved analytics functionality

  • Predictive modelling for the supply chain

  • Machine intelligence

Manufacturing operations management

IoT trends to expect in 2019

Manufacturers report having used IoT to help streamline business operations and improve efficiency. Connected sensors across the plant floor or across facilities have communicated concerns such as:

  • The environmental conditions within the building

  • The operational status of individual pieces of equipment

  • The output status of each leg of the manufacturing process

The ability of the connected sensors to share data in real time and to study stored data to create better, more efficient business models has been the selling point of IoT from the beginning.

There have been a few other trends and changes coming to the forefront that have proven to be invaluable to the modern manufacturing plant.

1. The rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): More manufacturing plants have adopted devices, because more machines are being designed specifically with IIoT operations in mind.

2. New partnerships developed: IIoT and IoT require communication networks that are reliable and easy to use. IT needs rival those in any other industry. Manufacturers are turning more to partnering with network providers, cloud services, and software companies to ensure that that the devices are able to avoid major disruptions and costly downtime.

3. New focus on cyber security: A connected facility is also a facility at risk of cyber-attacks. Especially worrisome is the lack of security that is built in to most IoT or IIoT devices, leaving them exposed to malware, denial of service attacks, and other threats. This has required manufacturers to take a closer look at their security systems.

Current Technologies has helped manufacturers in the Midwest with both physical and IT security. Our experienced team of professionals will create a custom plan to fit your needs and make sure that no matter where your business goes in 2019, the venture will be safe and profitable.

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Manage your endpoints from one screen

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A few IT managers see their servers and network as an Iron castle of order and stability surrounded by a horde of anarchic devices. Other IT professionals know that it's as important to manage the end-point devices as it is the central servers. Understanding a few crucial points can help you adopt the latter’s serene view of their world.

See endpoints as tribes

It can be useful to view each type of your organization's endpoints as a collection of tribes. Each tribe (device) serves its particular set of users in a particular way.

Laptops and tablets serve given groups in different ways. Field sales and human resources employees use laptops in different ways. This means that as an IT manager, you can not manage each tribe the same way. It is rare that a "one size fits all" approach will be the most successful approach, but that doesn't mean you can't use a single framework for managing all the tribes.

Points of convergence

A single framework can implement a lot of different tactics for a single strategy regarding your endpoints. The good news is that a single family of software can take care of that. One of the most significant issues to be managed is configuration: Are the workstations, whether desktop, laptop, or handheld, running the approved version of the operating system, applications, and security components? Proper patching and configuration is one of the central points at which all the tribes converge.

Using agents

Things get much more complicated when employees can (or must) bring their own devices of one type or another. It's one thing for an employee to spend their own money for a work-related tool. It's quite another to ask them to agree to load an intrusive agent on their personal system. Agent-less management systems are available to enterprises, or systems that rely on minimalist agents. How small an agent can manage all your tribes? It might be time to find out.

Choose where you can

Managing the endpoints can mean choosing as many of the endpoints as possible. While most management frameworks will give you control over legacy endpoints, there's no question that current-generation hardware takes manageability to a new level. If you want, or need, the highest degree of managed functionality in your fleet of tribes, you will want to make sure that as many members of the fleet as possible use the same CPU, same operating system, or same support chips. It's your choice—use it wisely.

Manage it all from one screen

New software makes endpoint management a problem of the past. Current Technologies and our partnership with Auvik remote monitoring and management software can make the one screen dream a reality. Auvik Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) software allows you to do much more than simply watch your servers and endpoints. By utilizing RMM software from Auvik, it is easier than ever to keep an eye on everything from routers and switches to firewalls. Doing so cuts costs by avoiding outages, optimizing connections, saving time and controlling service level agreements (SLAs).

Auvik cloud based network management software has automated, networking best, practices built into every aspect from alerting thresholds to configuration analysis. Auvik RMM software features state of the art visual topology which gives your IT department the ability to view and monitor every device in your network, allowing them to do more in less time.

For more information on what Current Technologies and Auvik RMM software can do for you, please fill out the form below and we will be in touch with you as soon as possible

Find out what Auvik RMM can do for you

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