Data Storage

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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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.

Need help deciding or implementing?

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IT System Management for Academics

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Universities and other learning institutes have developed many different strategies for how they provide computing and infrastructure services to their users. For some schools, a cloud model makes both technical and financial sense as a way for the IT group to deliver applications and services effectively and efficiently. For others, well secured and backed up in-house hardware gets the job done, while most go with a combination of both.

Once upon a time, offering basic services—networking, clients, servers, and applications—was all that an academic IT group would ever be called on to provide. Now departments and schools are asked of a lot more from employees and students. If you’re tasked with meeting those expectations, the infrastructure you build must accomplish three things.

1. Break it down

Services, applications, and infrastructure should be broken into individual pieces and offered on that basis. That means:

  1. Supporting virtual servers to provide those services.

  2. Investing in software-defined networks that provision network capability that changes as rapidly as the demand for computing services from your users.

Thinking of your internet technology in smaller increments means thinking of your infrastructure in more complete terms—servers, storage, and networking, all under the control of software that can manage individual services and allocate resources on demand.

2. Add it up

Breaking up your service offerings into small pieces makes no sense if you continue to account for your internet technology in old ways. An out-of-band management style that breaks things up allows for the feeding data to accounting systems without adding traffic to the production network or servers. Out-of-band management also allows for users to still do what they need to even if your system experiences some unplanned downtime.

Between new services, security, and the avoidance of outages, the importance of out-of-band servers and network infrastructure increases dramatically. You'll want to specify systems (including transaction-ready storage) that can cope with changing demands.

3. Lock it down

Smaller computing units mean a greater number of points of potential intrusion. Security, then, becomes a service that is part of everything else you offer to internal customers.

Current-generation servers offer features that provide tremendous assistance in keeping data and resources safe. Regardless of whether the server CPUs are made by Intel or AMD, similar features allow administrators to:

  1. Explore the ways in which your target operating system (or hypervisor) makes use of these features.

  2. Ensure you have configured the operating system to take advantage of those features.

When you look to the cloud for a model, you add a bit of complexity to your IT operation, but you significantly increase the number of services you can provide and the quality of those services.

Modern academics and employees have built their expectations on cloud services. Make sure:

  1. Your hardware infrastructure is up to the task

  2. You've built the right software for management and accounting

Then you'll be ready to provide the kind of IT service that keeps researchers, academics, and students happy and productive

How can we help you help your students?

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Storing Medical Data in the Cloud

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From doctor-patient confidentiality to insurance non-disclosure agreements, we do all we can to ensure our medical data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands—and for some healthcare organizations, this makes the idea of storing such data in the cloud quite alarming. Though the cloud promises to reduce costs and streamline records management, it’s all too often (and wrongly) associated with the specter of cybercrime and other security breaches. Fortunately, it’s much safer than you might think.

A slow revolution

In 2011, only 4% of healthcare providers had moved to the cloud. Adoption rates have since skyrocketed to over 70%. However, it appears that some in the industry are still reluctant to make the leap, and the main concern among detractors appears to be the possibility of a security breach.

However, when it comes to sensitive data, a security breach isn’t the only thing you have to worry about—data might also be lost as the result of a physical event, like a fire or flood. When keeping your data in the cloud, it is being secured by IT professionals at groups like Microsoft and Google, whose only job it to secure your data. In other words, storing data in the cloud might be the safest option available.

Meeting industry standards with HIPAA

The good news is that you no longer have to determine for yourself whether or not a cloud provider is able to protect sensitive medical data. In 2013, the federal government expanded the privacy and security protections established under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) so that they now apply to electronic health records. The act outlines strict procedures for storing such records using data encryption and destruction. It also imposes significant penalties on non-compliant organizations.

From the clinic to the cloud

When a healthcare organization decides to move to the cloud, it should check that its cloud provider is HIPAA compliant. The U.S. Department of Health doesn’t itself authorize any HIPAA certification programs. However, cloud providers can voluntarily undergo an audit that takes into account the HIPPA Audit Protocols. If they pass, you can be confident that they’re capable of storing your data in a safe and secure environment—which means that the prognosis for your organization’s medical records is very good indeed.

Current Technologies is here for all your data storage needs

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The Right Data Storage For Your School

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A Datacenter Filled With Small Servers


As the economics of cloud computing continues to evolve, many school districts are asking whether moving their entire datacenters to the cloud is the best way to improve IT response and keep IT on budget. There are certainly advantages to some cloud services, and any modern educational IT infrastructure should contain some elements that are cloud-based. But there are also reasons to keep some IT functions local. For those, a datacenter furnished with multiple small servers can be the perfect answer.

Converged, Not Hyper-Converged

The arrival of converged systems means that educational IT professionals have an ideal answer for many applications. Notice that it's converged systems we're talking about and not hyper-converged systems.

The highly virtualized and automated operation of a hyper-converged system is perfect for organizations with rapidly changing load levels and requirements, but most educational IT systems value stability and regularity. For those characteristics, the overhead of the hyper-converged system is difficult to justify.

Converged systems have little additional overhead compared with separate components deployed around a datacenter and a host of benefits. Converged systems tend to reduce, rather than increase, the management load of an IT staff.

  • There are physical savings that come from putting as much as possible into a single rack enclosure

  • There is the assurance that all of the components are certified by the vendor to work together

Ultimately, the key to justifying and successfully deploying small servers in a district datacenter boils down to understanding the applications that prefer the local hosting treatment.

Examples of data that might benefit from staying on local servers rather than being transported to cloud servers include:

  • Sensitive personnel records

  • Student records with personal identification information left intact

  • Financial information

Where The Cloud Comes In

That is not to say there's no role for cloud services in the modern IT infrastructure. The secret is understanding which data can best be stored in the cloud and which needs to remain in the local datacenter.

The decision should be somewhat easier with a converged datacenter because an integrated hardware stack can be configured to more easily be deployed as part of a hybrid system with cloud services.

The networking piece of the converged stack is especially important to ensure that data is shared as part of a seamless process, rather than simply being passed off from one type of computing equipment to another.

From an economic standpoint, the self-hosted pieces of the infrastructure have an advantage in that the ongoing cost will be fixed over the life of the converged stack. That cost can be lower than many professionals anticipate because, for most districts, small servers will be sufficiently powerful to handle the applications and data sets required. Current Techhologies has found that when multiple small, on-site servers combined with the right cloud services, the result will be a secure, economical IT infrastructure that will handle school needs for years into the future.

We Can Build A Custom Hybrid Solution For You

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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.

We Can House Your Big (or small) Data

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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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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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Why Smart Money Is Moving To The Cloud

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The benefits of owning equipment are thin when what you have bought will be outpaced within months by the next generation. The new equipment will be faster, more powerful, and cost less to run.

Outsourcing to cloud specialists means running services on better equipment at a lower cost. And not buying equipment means those costs shift from capital to operating expenses. All the expenses are deductible in a single tax year. No more carrying depreciation.

When enterprises make the decision to free up real estate, skilled staff and time by moving to the cloud, the first things they move tend to be email, accounting, software and backups.

Accounting

"An accounting file on a server or desktop is difficult to access by anyone who is not in front of the computer,” says Sholto Macpherson, editor of Digital First, a website dedicated to accounting technology. “Once it is in the cloud, a company can access it from anywhere and share it with external accountants, auditors, company directors and senior management."

That is why the cloud is where innovation is, Macpherson says. “Accounting software in the cloud can plug into many sources of data, such as e-commerce platforms, inventory and warehouse management, analytics and CRM software. Software developers are prioritizing online software, so the cloud then becomes the best source of innovation."

Email

Email is an area where vendors have significant cloud experience and supporting infrastructure. That makes it another good choice for a first move in transitioning to the cloud.

Cost savings are just one reason. When the US government’s CIO told agencies to identify at least three legacy systems to move to the cloud, many chose email. Their reasons included cost savings and also the potential to:

  • Provide more reliable services

  • Upgrade faster

  • Offer new collaboration capabilities

Software

Software as a service means lower initial costs. And there is no need to add hardware, software or bandwidth as the user base grows, because that is up to the software provider.

The software provider also manages all updates and upgrades, so there are no patches for customers to download or install.

Backup

Cloud backup avoids a common problem in backup infrastructure: a company adds storage in the primary environment but forgets to add additional capacity to match it in the backup environment. With cloud backup, you simply take as much as you need. As you add storage in the primary environment, your cloud service scales to match it.

You reduce your costs because you are not responsible for the infrastructure. And those costs can be predictable with fixed pricing.

The vendor might also offer additional benefits, like making replication between sites and keeping multiple copies.

Switching To The Cloud Is Easier Than You Think!

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With The Cloud, Power Failure Isn't The End

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What Happens When the Lights Go Out?

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

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

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

Drop It Into The Cloud

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

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

Power Without Interruption

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

Protecting Your Data From The Unpredictable

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

We Can Make The Cloud Work For You

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