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Big clouds for small businesses

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Choosing the right cloud service has become a major dilemma for the modern small business. At the forefront of cloud technology, Amazon, Google and Microsoft are aggressively competing against each other for a bigger slice of the cloud storage market. This fierce competition has resulted in three very diverse and very competent cloud services.

Small business owners are spoiled for choice as each service offers state-of-the-art technology, a unique array of features, distinct and tailored configurations, alternate interfaces, compatibilities and elite customer service, all with competitive pricing.

In light of this, here’s a quick overview of the three big cloud services to make finding the best-fit solution a little bit easier for small businesses, as well as a look at how suitable cloud technology is for contemporary small businesses.

What do cloud services offer small business?

“In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the internet instead of your computer's hard drive,” says PCMag’s Eric Griffith.

Cloud services help small businesses avoid the stress associated with managing technology infrastructure, provisioning servers and configuring networks. They additionally feature tailored applications to augment everyday business activities, communication and data use.

Cloud services are highly scalable and multifaceted. They can host, share and analyze your data, with state-of-the-art analytics that provide business and customer insights. They can also host your website and provide e-commerce platforms while facilitating application creation, network management, system monitoring, data logging and web diagnostics.

What are the options?

Essentially there are three main options when it comes to cloud server use: Amazon Web ServicesGoogle Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure. Each offers its own unique variation of the cloud, and they aggressively compete with each other across all aspects of cloud technology, covering customer service, quality, speed, availability, usability, reliability and even pricing.

Cost difference

The most significant difference between platforms is pricing, where Microsoft comes in last at an estimated $14,300 per year for a standard eight-server web app package, compared to Amazon at an estimated $6,415 and Google at an estimated $6,092 for the same standard package.

The pricing difference between Amazon/Google and Microsoft is massive, with Microsoft’s cloud platform sitting at just over double the price for essentially the same service. As a small business, you likely would not need or be able to utilize all the features on offer to warrant spending $14,300 on Microsoft’s cloud technology.

Service choices

Google offers almost everything a small business would need in regard to cloud services, with the most competitive price on the market (based on an eight-server web application package). Google Cloud Platform is additionally run off the same supporting infrastructure used by the ever-popular YouTube and Google Search. It even offers support to existing Amazon Web Services users.

Google effectively rivals Amazon and Microsoft in all aspects of cloud technology and most critically through competitive pricing. Amazon and Google offer the best cloud services available in the market today, but choosing between the two – as they offer comparable features, prices and functions – is difficult.

James Watters, vice president and general manager at Pivotal, suggests Amazon has a “first-to-market” advantage since it launched its cloud service earlier than its competitors. Google is seen as having an advantage with “at-scale infrastructure,” giving customers a highly advanced and stable option for running apps.

ROI for cloud

Calculating return on investment (ROI) for cloud services compared to in-house means knowing the cost of the required equipment, its projected life span and the cost of capital – in other words, the cost of the equipment plus interest costs over the projected life span. The next task is adding estimated operating costs like floor space, electricity and staff to run servers.

Other costs in moving to the cloud include the time and money spent on migrating applications, training staff and the cost of third-party cloud services. Use an online cloud cost calculator, such as the one provided by Amazon, to make an initial comparison.

While these three cloud services offer many similarities, they do significantly differ on price. Currently, Amazon and Google offer the best value, but choosing between them may come down to user experience and industry preferences. Current Technologies can help you find which system will be best for you and set up a turnkey cloud storage system that will help you the first day.

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What is the Internet of Things?

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The “Internet Of Things” is the existence of uniquely identifiable devices interconnected via the Internet. The interconnection of these devices is expected to introduce automation in nearly all fields from medicine to your own home.

There is a lot of hype about IoT, and we are at the point of wondering what it will mean for us as individuals, employees, and businesses.

The IoT will change our lives.

One example could be that your toothbrush might have a chip in it and via Bluetooth will communicate with your mobile device to tell you stuff like how long it has been since you started using it or in the case of the kids' tooth brushes, have they been used recently? Technological advances like these have people wondering, is that too invasive? We will be faced with all sorts of questions about what we do and don’t want connected to the internet.

Wearable technology is already beginning to monitor health vitals and offer connected watches that monitor or report on our movements or calories burnt. One day your refrigerator could know what is inside it and your trash can knows what you threw out. Those will work together so the shopping list on your connected fridge door can ask you to confirm the online order for replacing everything you have consumed this week for delivery tomorrow.

IoT will have very practical uses across our infrastructure as well. The ability to monitor how every piece of your internet technology is running and quickly addressing problems will be vital or businesses in the long run. The Internet of Things will also have a big impact on things like street lights and traffic lights. These will soon have sensors, so those in charge of maintenance know where to replace a burned-out bulb. Pipes will be able to detect where a leak is occurring so that water wastage is reduced (today 30% of our water supply is currently lost to leaks). The infrastructure cost savings by this sort of technology in smart-pipes will equate to billions of dollars and save many valleys from being flooded by new dams.

There are plenty more examples of this sort of sensor information making big differences in our personal lives, and when this is tied to big data and data analytics the world will change quickly and significantly. The impact the IoT will have on businesses will be huge.

IoT will affect your business, so be prepared.

Some of the technology is here today and much of it is in development now. Large companies have embarked on ambitious big data projects, and many small-medium organizations have started collecting what data they can. This is leading to a growing need for data storage systems and analytics tools today.

If your business is not paying attention to the current changes in IoT technology and looking at what it means to your industry, whether you are in education, manufacturing, healthcare or consulting services, there are changes coming to technology and the IoT that will change the way your industry thinks and works. The IoT will allow organizations to minimize waste and overall be more efficient.

We will post more updates on how IoT is affecting local businesses, but in the meantime stay alert, not alarmed, and proactively seek out how the IoT changes in your industry.

How can we make the IoT work for you?

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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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Six Easy Steps To Tune Up Your PC

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Computer Crash Avoidance

Does your PC crash all the time? Does it take what feels like hours just to load one program? You are probably thinking that it's time for a new computer, well that might be an unnecessary expense. Just like healthy eating and good personal hygiene, good computer hygiene is important. No matter what computer you’re using, there are a few things you should do regularly to ensure that everything is running as well as possible. These include:

  • Minimize Startup Tasks

Many programs install plug-ins that automatically load every time you turn on your computer, whether you need them to or not. Keep these unwanted hidden programs from slowing you down. In Windows 8 and 10, use the Task Manager by right-clicking on the Taskbar, clicking “More Details,” and switching to the Startup tab.

Bonus Tip: Pay close attention when installing downloaded software. Even many reputable programs will install extra items you may not be aware of that can slow your system down.

  • Remove Bloatware

Bloatware is any unnecessary and often obtrusive program that comes pre-loaded on many PCs, or software that gets added during the installation of legitimate software. These unwanted programs often increase boot time, waste memory, and clutter up your system tray, desktop, and context menus.
 
You can uninstall programs manually by opening your PC's Control Panel and clicking on "Programs," then "Programs and Features." And to keep from accumulating bloatware in the first place, check to make sure you're not loading unwanted programs as you install new software by reading through the installation dialogue boxes and unchecking any options to install additional programs that pop up.

  • Defragment (if you need to)

Because of the way file systems work, over time small chunks of disk space can be left stranded and unavailable for use, which means the computer needs to work harder than it should to find space to store new files. Regular defragmenting will pull together pieces of files stored all over the disk, leaving more large, contiguous blocks of empty space that will help your computer run faster. Especially be sure to defragment after you’ve deleted large numbers of files.

The more places your computer has to search to find files, the slower its performance. That makes defragmenting the hard drive an essential step in any tune-up of a PC with a traditional hard drive. In Windows 7 and earlier, defragment by using the included Disk Defragmenter tool. In Windows 8 and 10, use the program Optimize Drives. If you have one of the newer solid state drives (SSDs), however, you're in luck—they never need to be defragmented.

  • Look For Memory And CPU Hogs

If your computer is running slow, it may be due to software that’s hoarding more of your CPU and disk resources than it should. Open Windows Resource Monitor (click "Start" > type "Resource Monitor" > click on the result) and you’ll be able to identify which programs are using large chunks of CPU time. If they’re slowing you down too much, it’s worth uninstalling them and finding alternatives that are more efficient.

  • Update Your Operating System And Applications

It might seem counterintuitive, but newer versions of operating systems often run better on old hardware because they have been optimized to do so. If performance is an issue for you, update your operating system—and make sure you also update all of your applications, particularly security tools and Web browsers, to keep yourself safe online.

  • Upgrade Your System

When many users consider upgrading their computer to improve performance, their first thought is often to add more RAM. If you're currently using most or all of your RAM, then adding more will provide a noticeable boost. If, however, you're not regularly using all of your current memory, adding more may make little difference to your computer’s performance. Search for Resource Monitor in the Windows search box to find out how much of your system's resources you're currently using. However, even if you're not using all your current resources, switching from a traditional hard drive to an SSD can provide a significant speed boost.

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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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When is the Right Time to Refresh your Computer Fleet?

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There are more Important Factors than Update Cost


Stanford University’s IT department has a minimum standard for what their computers can do. For teaching staff, the standard is that the computer can handle running at least four applications at the same time. Using this standard, the university expects to replace computers every three to four years.

It’s just one example, but it’s a good one because Stanford’s policy is a reminder that a well thought out hardware refresh plan is about more than cost. There will always be disagreement about the answers, however that doesn’t mean it’s not worth asking smart questions and testing the industry assumptions.

Asking the right questions

What do I need my Computers to do?

Have you gone beyond the question of raw upgrade cost and asked, as Stanford has, exactly what should your computers be able to do? Many employees today would expect to be running far more than four applications simultaneously. Are your workers among them?

The ability to quickly multi-task is key in today's fast moving business environment. Employees need computers that can switch between many applications without losing a beat. Staring at a loading screen is a waste of time that you can never get back.

What is the Productivity Cost of not Refreshing?

Sure a slower refresh cycle saves money on the surface, but have you compared that to the lost time cost of employees waiting for applications to load or function?

Intel found that a faster refresh cycle brought an average productivity improvement of 9.7% over a range of tasks. You don’t have to rely on Intel’s numbers; you can do your own analysis.

Looking at productivity and refresh costs together will give you additional confidence in your decision, whatever it is.

When do Support Costs Peak?

Just like us, computers cost more to support in their declining years. It’s not just the hardware starting to fail, but also the burden of maintaining multiple versions of operating systems and software.

It’s inevitable that you have to refresh your computers at some point. It isn’t inevitable that you have to spend a fortune keeping outdated computers limping toward the end of a too-long life. Again, the trick is to look at the numbers and find the sweet spot between the two expenses.

Good Enough is Good Enough

The costs of a faster refresh cycle can potentially be offset by not having to buy the highest-end machines every time. At the rate technology improves, chances are most computing technology today is leaps and bounds ahead of what you bought years ago. The further into the future you expect your hardware to last, the higher the specs you need today. Equipment that will be replaced sooner doesn’t necessarily need to be as future-proof, and future-proof is often expensive.

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Making the Internet of Things work for you

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Building Your Industrial IoT


The Internet of Things (IoT) is a broad term that tends to get wider when marketing departments use it. In general, though, it means machines talking to machines with a back-end system gathering the data from those conversations for analysis and control purposes. In the business and manufacturing worlds, IoT techniques and technologies can be the key to greater productivity and efficiency.

With the IoT, we’re headed to a world where things aren’t liable to break catastrophically- or at least we’ll have a hell of a heads up
— Scott Weiss, Venture Capitalist- Andreessen Horowitz

How to get it right

Getting it right starts with figuring out what you want from your Industrial IoT.

  • Will you be taking data from sensors so that your back-end analysis will let you begin predictive maintenance? For some companies, that alone will justify the project.
  • Will you be using the data, again coupled with your back-end servers, for command and control of equipment based on real-time data?
  • Are you going to set up a system in which your equipment is talking to itself, adjusting operations on it's own far quicker than any human operator could?

The key to a useful internet of things is knowing exactly what you want to get out of it. The answer to these basic questions will inform decisions on everything from network infrastructure to the servers required for analysis.

Servers and communications

Regardless of your other decisions, you're going to need communications and servers for analysis. Both come together at the rack where your analytics are housed.

On the communications side, this means a network that is designed for high connection and transaction counts rather than for the largest possible raw bandwidth. IoT applications tend to involve incredibly high numbers of very small transactions. It's easy to think that, for example, all gigabit Ethernet or 10 gigabit Ethernet network cards are created equal, but that is far from the case. Ask your vendor about the transaction and connection capabilities of the cards you intend to put into your IoT infrastructure.

Twin servers?

When you begin to put together the specifications for an IoT infrastructure, you'll want to look at the possibilities of twin servers for your IoT. One of the servers will be designated to receive and send IoT traffic, while the other will be the heart of the analytics process. The difference between them? Transactions.

The Industrial IoT is a classic online transaction processing (OLTP) application. The qualities needed in the storage design and overall application infrastructure are almost identical to those that would be used in a traditional centralized point-of-sale or e-commerce system. The key to acceptable performance is write speed, the ability to catch a fire-hose stream of data and write it to storage without pause or bobble.

Continuing to look back at classic processing, the analysis system is a traditional online analytical processing (OLAP) system in which data reads will be exceptional, delivering data at near-streaming speeds for accurate, timely analysis.

The Industrial IoT paired with the knowledge and experience of Current Technologies can put a mid-sized business onto a level playing field with much larger competitors. Build your infrastructure properly, and it will maximize the benefits while keeping the additional load on your IT group well in hand.

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10 Essential Steps To Protect Your Data

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How Much is Your Data Worth?

There are various ways to calculate the cost of losing work stored on computers. Perhaps the easiest way to get a gut feel for the cost is to think for a moment about how long it would take to replace lost work. How many people would have to spend how many days to create everything from scratch?

Here is a simple 10-step plan for making sure they do not have to.

1. Have a Strategy

You will not know what approach is right for you until you have answered these questions:

  1. How long can you go without the lost data?
  2. Will you be making full backups or incremental or differential backups?
  3. How quickly will you need data restored?
  4. What solutions will you use?
  5. How secure do your backups need to be?
  6. How long do you need to keep the data for?

2. Prepare for the Worst

If the building burns down, your onsite backups might go the same way as your primary systems. You should think about offsite or cloud backups as part of your plan. At Current Technologies, we help our clients find the best ways to leverage the cloud for a positive return on investment.  We can help you choose the best path forward to the cloud using proven solutions. 

3. Get Help

You might not have all the answers or even all the questions, contacting experts is never a bad idea. Our team at Current Technologies has been helping organizations secure data for over 20 years. Our knowledgeable and experienced employees will work with you to reach the mutual goal of defending your data.

4. How much can you Afford to lose?

Catalog which data would have the biggest impact if you were to lose it. Break data into tiers and work out how long data from each tier needs to be backed up.

5. How long can you go Before your Data is Restored?

The answer to this question will be different for each of the tiers of data you identified. And it will inform your decision about what backup systems you need.

6. Consider your Applications

Not only does your solution need to fit your business needs, but it also needs to suit the applications you run.

7. Choose your Device

What will you backup onto? This is another area where it is worth taking more expert advice.

8. Set up your File Backups

If you are working with someone, you should be able to borrow their expertise to make sure you set up correctly. If not, look for vendor tutorials that walk you through the process.

9. Take a Picture

Do not just set up to backup data. Image backups capture your whole system so that you can restore everything. That includes your operating system, applications, settings, bookmarks, and file states right before disaster struck. Current Technologies is partnered with Barracuda Networks and VMware to maximize ease and minimize cost of image backups.

10. Check and Double Check

Your system is no good to you if it is not working. Check and check again that you are capturing usable backups in the format you are expecting.

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Our customers love the piece of mind knowing they can be alerted to issues so outages can either be prevented or responded to very quickly because of the visibility our tools provide
— Mark Rhodes,VP - IT Soluions

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Cloud Computing is the Solution you need

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How to make the most of the Cloud


You only need look at the explosive growth of services like Microsoft Office 365 and VMware for evidence of the business trend towards cloud computing. You can also check out our article on where businesses are spending their IT budget. This raises an important question: how can a business maximize the cloud’s benefits?

Happier, More Productive Employees

Perhaps the biggest advantage the cloud gives an organization is tied directly to its most important asset: employees. By leveraging the possibilities for remote work and more flexible hours inherent in cloud-based computing, it’s possible to keep staff both happier and more productive – all at little to no cost.

A study in the Harvard Business Review found that call center workers who switched to a work-from-home model experienced a 13.5 percent increase in productivity compared to their in-office peers. They also reported much higher job satisfaction and quit at half the rate of employees working in the office. Nicholas Bloom, one of the authors of the study, argues that remote work and flexible hours can give an organization an edge by allowing them to attract better talent from a wider pool by removing geographic and other barriers.

Bloom gives the example of a low-cost airline: “JetBlue allows folks to work as far as three hours from headquarters – close enough to come in now and again but a much bigger radius from which it can draw applicants. When I asked the people at JetBlue about this policy, they said it helped them gain access to educated, high-ability mothers who wanted flexibility in their jobs. The airline believes this policy has improved the quality of its workforce.”

To win the marketplace you must first win the workplace
— Doug Conant, Former President - Campbell Soup Company

Connected like Never Before

The cloud-based services also allow for easier and more fluid coordination and communication among staff, contractors and clients. Rather than working on multiple versions of the same document, team members in different locations can now work simultaneously on one version, cutting confusion and ensuring better document control.

The lesson here is that an organization transitioning to the cloud should carefully consider the increase of productivity. Current Technologies is closely partnered with Microsoft Outlook 365 for cloud email and collaboration. Outlook 365 is the industry leader allowing for your employees to check emails and tie in with peers on presentations and documents.

The shift to the cloud offers another huge plus: operational agility and capacity. Need more or less server or storage space? What about employee access to an application? Scaling capacity up or down is simply a matter of coordinating with your vendor rather than purchasing, installing and implementing expensive IT hardware and software on-site. Current Technologies offers top of the line VMware cloud storage options for businesses that are highly customized to client needs. Backup and recovery is also simplified in the event that your data is compromised. Finally, the infrastructure, platform and service options that cloud computing offers make things like implementation incredibly easy.

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Allocating Your SMB's IT Budget in Today's Environment

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Where Small- Medium Businesses are Currently Spending their IT Budgets

Businesses are in a tricky spot in 2018.  Global political uncertainty and flat company revenues mean IT budgets most likely won't be increasing. The good news is technological advances are allowing businesses to get more for less, and with a properly allocated budget your business can do the same.

Hardware and software

Research from Spiceworks, a network of IT professionals, suggests the bulk of financial allotment for the year ahead should remain with hardware (37% of overall budget) and software (31%). A combined 68% from these hand-in-hand tools is no surprise since these are the essential building blocks of any business. In order to skyrocket your business, you need a solid foundation. 

What will force IT departments to spend money on software this year is less likely to be new features than simple end-of-life replacements. According to Spiceworks, 46% of companies still use Microsoft Office 2003 on at least one computer. Even more startling is the ghost of Office 97 is still haunting 3% of companies. Software that is old enough to have a beer needs to be dropped in order to get the most out of your employees and their time.

Virtualization and productivity are at the top of the tree when it comes to priority updates.

Cloud and Hosted Services

This coming year there will be more spending than ever on cloud-based services – 38% of respondents consider the cloud very or extremely important to their current business practices (compared to 29% last year). This is due to the cloud's increased safety and ease of use in recent years. Email hosting is predicted to take up much of the 14% overall budget allocation in the cloud sector with online backup and recovery a close second.

Managed Service Projects

Remote Management and outsourcing of company IT infrastructure will take up 13% of the budget total. As headcounts shrink, IT departments are going to have to be more strategic in how they use people and outsourcing to managed service providers will become a necessity.

AI, VR and 3D

Artificial intelligence, virtual reality and 3D printing are out of the lab and into real world applications. The remaining 5% of budget spend is predicted to be invested in making these systems a part of everyday use.

For the Visuals out There

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What do I do with this Information?

As you know by now every business is vastly different in their needs and budgets. This is a snapshot of where businesses like yours are currently allocating their IT budget. Also take into account that as technology advances and becomes more practical, you can expect to see the percentages allotted to the cloud and AI increase. Being on top of new technology in your industry can really set your business apart from competition and make your employees much more efficent.

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