How cloud computing has helped remote workers during this pandemic

Our offices are usually just off the A45 in Allesley, Coventry but currently, all our employees are working from their homes using the power of Microsoft Azure [link to page on website] and cloud computing to keep business running as usual.   

During this pandemic most businesses have had to make a quick change to remote working. Some more successfully than others. This is because, to enable staff to work from home, businesses need to consider many things:

Lots of businesses do not yet have this infrastructure in place or are just at the beginning of their remote working journey and have, therefore, found this transition very difficult in the short space of time they have had to change their working practices. Luckily, we practice what we preach at Netmetix so have been able to continue with business (pretty much) as usual. We use Microsoft Azure and Office 365 [link to page on website if applicable] cloud-based services, we keep in touch with one another through Microsoft Teams, and we receive and make calls using VoIP telephony [link to page on website]. All this means we can pick up our laptops and work from anywhere with a stable internet connection.

Our support staff have understandably seen a peak in calls over the past few weeks too. They have been on hand to help current customers adapt as quickly as possible and assist in setting up computers and phones at home using the cloud. They have also been monitoring potential issues and rectifying them quickly. They have also noticed that ‘normal working hours’ no longer exist so are ensuring that all services are available for those users juggling work around homeschooling, childcare and other hazards of working from home.

Reall, an innovator in affordable homes, made the change to cloud computing with Netmetix before the pandemic hit and Maryanne Meredith, Corporate Services Manager at Reall was very glad they did:

… we are very appreciative of the support from [Netmetix’s] team in keeping all our staff connected and working well in these unprecedented times.

What ‘back to normal’ will look like over the coming few weeks – no one knows. But what we do know is that moving to the cloud will future proof your company, whether in a state of emergency or not. 

We are so proud of our technical team here at Netmetix.

Here they are holding their latest set of certifications they have all passed, across areas such Microsoft Azure, Watchguard Firewall and ITIL.

Our constant drive for excellence means every technical member of staff passes an external certificate every quarter, keeping their skills as current as can be.

This ensures we deliver an outstanding service to our clients – and with a retention rate of over 98% we can see that our approach works.

Technology is changing at such a rapid rate it is so important our team keep up to date with the latest developments & best practices.

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month – one of the most important things to realise in the fight against Cyber Crime is that we are ALL responsible for cyber security.
No longer does responsibility lie just with the I.T team!

End users must be vigilant and take steps to prevent incidents happening by taking a few basic measures…

Don’t click on suspicious links in Emails or Texts – if in doubt better to raise the issue with I.T than cause an incident! These are becoming more sophisticated in their format but it is always better to err on the side of caution.

Don’t use open Wi-Fi networks, and if you have to ensure you don’t send any secure data across them – click on the link below the image to watch a short video highlighting the risks of this.

Protect your money! Never make changes to regular payments without speaking to a person you know at the company, even a video call or visit if needs be, and minimise who can make payments on behalf of your business.

Use strong passphrases for your logins and ideally have Multi Factor Authentication in place to really protect key data. Don’t leave passwords lying around or share them with colleagues!

Don’t overshare on Social media – criminals are becoming increasingly clever about how they target businesses. Even personal or family accounts of owners & directors can be targeted to obtain information about decision makers being on holiday and try to leverage this with other staff!

Hopefully these tips will be helpful for you when it comes to protecting yourself and your business – they are by no means exhaustive but are a good start.

Get in touch if you would like to know more.

Business continuity is a concern for many organisations, particularly in the case of SMEs who don’t necessarily have the resources to respond quickly and effectively. 73% of businesses have now had some type of operations interruption in the past five years, and businesses must ensure that they have the correct measures in place to counteract these forms of disruption. Strategies must be well-thought out, with proactive tactics such as cyber-security, and frequent system backups for efficient disaster recovery (DR).

Paul Blore, Managing Director at Netmetix, explores the DR strategies available to organisations.

Traditional DR processes

Historically, on-premise backup systems that use removable media in the form of tapes or disk drives to store backup data, have been used to try to ensure continuity in the event of a disaster. However, this requires manual action and designated employees, that can lead to human errors and failed or incomplete backups. Moreover, removable media is typically a consumable that needs replacing regularly; a considerable cost that is not ideal for SMEs.

When it comes to conventional DR, it works through the duplication of all critical systems, installed at a different location and ready to take over if disaster strikes at the primary location. Although a working solution, this is expensive, and many businesses have concerns over the required budget for ‘what if’ technology that may never be needed.

Cloud-based DR

Cloud technology has received a flood of attention, and in the case of DR, has the ability to drastically reduce storage costs, whilst making entire system backups much more cost-effective and straightforward. All of the leading cloud providers now offer backup as a core service of their cloud offerings, and clients can generally select whichever backup schedule and retention policy they wish to utilise.

This also addresses the DR aspect as well, with major cloud service providers employing large-scale resilience and redundancy to ensure their systems remain operational. In the unlikely event an entire data centre goes down, client systems could operate from a second data centre. The very best systems can also provide a full DR service for on-premise systems by replicating on-premise data in almost real-time into the cloud. Then, if disaster strikes, the systems can automatically allocate computing resource e.g. CPUs, RAM etc. and “spin-up” virtual servers to seamlessly take over until normal service is resumed on-site. Once the disaster has passed, the cloud systems will “fail-back” to the on-premise systems and synchronise all data that was changed during the disaster window.

Operating on usage-based costings, this type of system is ideal as the secondary or replicated IT infrastructure lays in wait until it’s required, and businesses need only pay for it when, or if, they need it – perfect for SMEs with minimal budget. This means that when it comes to defining a DR strategy, businesses now have far more options available, with genuine DR systems now a cost-effective possibility for SMEs.

Future gazing

With so many businesses relying on digital technology to function day to day, business continuity should be a key priority for organisations, and will continue to be in the foreseeable future. After all, businesses will cease to function at full capacity if a disaster strikes and the necessary procedures are not in place; and as a direct result will experience a significant increase in downtime and expenditure, with a decrease in potential profits.

It’s now easier than ever to migrate to the cloud and take advantage of the inbuilt backup and DR options available. With the rate of cyber attacks on businesses of all sizes increasing significantly, no company is immune from the threat of hacking, human error or natural disasters, and there is no longer an excuse to not have these systems and procedures in place.

Cloud computing is gaining massive momentum amongst organisations of every type and size, with an ever-expending range of services becoming available.

Many organisations’ first foray into cloud-based computing will have been with a private cloud service provider where they would effectively rent dedicated hardware in a computer rack in the service provider’s data centre. These facilities would be able to provide basic computing services such as virtual servers, storage and backups. However, the big public cloud services like Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS and Google Cloud are now offering a depth and breadth of computing services that are putting enormous pressure on the private cloud companies.

Cloud users no longer need to be constrained by the limits of rented hardware or the geographic locations of the private cloud provider.

In response, a number of myths are being peddled in an attempt to cast doubt on the suitability of public cloud computing for certain requirements, so here we will address some of those myths.

Myth No. 1 – Public Cloud is less stable and secure

The big public cloud service providers, including Microsoft, Amazon and Google have invested mind-boggling sums of money into their global platforms and provide services to every conceivable type of organisation around the world, including military, government, health and legal. It is inconceivable that their systems would be less stable or secure than a private cloud system.
They also invest enormous resources into achieving and maintaining a vast array of security certifications from governments and industry bodies around the world. For example, Microsoft employs an elite team of security “hackers”, known as the Red Team to simulate real-world breaches, conduct continuous security monitoring and practice security incident response to validate and improve the security of Microsoft Azure and Office 365. The Red Team takes on the role of sophisticated adversaries and allows Microsoft to validate and improve security, strengthen defences and drive greater effectiveness of its entire cloud security program. Very few, if any of the private cloud providers can claim anything even remotely comparable.

However, it is also beholden on each client to protect their own cloud environment, so virtual firewall appliances from the world’s leading security vendors like WatchGuard and Barracuda can be deployed in public cloud environments to protect services and data from a wide range of sophisticated malicious attacks with comprehensive threat detection and response technologies, including AI based anti-virus services to detect and remove zero-day malware.

Physical security is just as important as digital security and all the big public cloud service providers employ comprehensive and sophisticated measures to ensure that client systems and data are protected. The data centres will typically be wholly owned and managed by the vendor, not simply rented rack space in a third-party facility. They will have secure perimeters of steel and concrete with CCTV and security professionals. Access will be tightly controlled with only those with a very specific need to enter allowed in and only for as long as they need to be there. Microsoft also use full-body screening of everyone entering or leaving their data centres to ensure that no unauthorised device or data enters or leaves the facility.

Myth No. 2 – Public Cloud is expensive

If a public cloud-based infrastructure was designed and provisioned in the same way as an on-premise or even a private cloud infrastructure, it may well end up costing more. But to do so would completely miss many of the compelling benefits of a public cloud environment.

In a private cloud solution, we are still fundamentally working with hardware, all that has been done is it to relocate it to a remote location. Therefore, we need to take account of resilience and where feasible, avoid potential single points of failure, all adding cost and complexity. If DR is also required, we will need to replicate the hardware, software and data in a separate facility, significantly further adding to the cost and complexity.

Whilst there is still obviously hardware in a public cloud data centre, the user or system administrator isn’t aware of it. All of the services are virtual. Therefore, we don’t need to design in resilience by duplicating hardware, because it comes as standard with the service. For example, in Azure, on the most basic level of storage, any data held on a virtual “disk” is replicated a minimum of three times within the same facility, so even if an underlying physical disk failed, anyone using the disk wouldn’t be impacted because the data would continue to be available from one of the other locations. Systems and data can also be replicated to separate locations in either the same region or a different part of the world at minimal cost and complexity.

In a private cloud, resources and therefore costs are dictated by the physical devices that have been provisioned for a specific client. Whereas in a public cloud environment, resources are completely elastic, so they can be scaled up or down to suit the real-time demands. If a business works normal working hours for example, there is no point having a server with 24 vCPU cores and 128GB RAM running at minimal utilisation outside of those working hours, so resources and therefore costs can be scaled down to match the reduced demands. If a peak in workload requires additional resources, they can be provisioned in hours or even minutes in a public cloud, whereas a private cloud would require the deployment of physical hardware, which could take weeks or even months to complete. And once deployed, it will typically be a commitment for a minimum contract term.

Comprehensive analytics and reporting tools are provided by the service providers to allow systems administrators to assess, manage and optimise the levels of resources deployed.

The range of services being made available on the big public cloud platforms is growing at an incredible rate, meaning that it is highly unlikely that a full deployment couldn’t be achieved for any services required.

A public cloud isn’t simply a cloud-based alternative to a traditional on-premise infrastructure. It is a fundamentally different way of provisioning IT infrastructure with its own requirements for specialists and expertise. It therefore follows that if the maximum benefits and efficiencies are to be achieved, appropriate skills need to be sought and employed. This would generally mean working with a partner with a proven track record of designing, deploying and managing public cloud systems.

Myth No. 3 – Moving to Public Cloud is complex

Most people wouldn’t choose to move house on their own. Instead, they would use specialists who have the necessary skills and resources to ensure a satisfactory outcome. The same goes for migrating into the cloud.

Mistakes can be costly, but that goes for pretty much anything in business these days, so it pays to find the right company to work with. The choice can be daunting and if asked, many IT companies may well claim expertise, even if they don’t actually have it. Microsoft use certifications called Competencies to identify those Partners with expertise in specific areas. Partners with expertise in a specific field are awarded a Silver Competency, whilst those at the top get a Gold Competency. Those Partners with a wider range of experience and expertise will be able to boast multiple Gold Competencies and those that specifically relate to Azure are the Gold Cloud Platform, Gold Cloud Productivity and Gold Datacenter certifications.

Working with a Partner with one or more of these Gold Competencies will help ensure a successful outcome to a public cloud migration.

Can you go into detail about your role at Netmetix?

I work as one of the Support Engineers, so my job role is to help our customers manage and maintain their IT infrastructures and support with any technical issues that may arise. The other prominent area that falls under the umbrella of my role at Netmetix is project-based work, in order to assist with any upgrade or implement entirely new systems for our customers.

I currently work under the guidance of Technical Director, Greig Schofield, who creates the scope of work for the projects that I work on. Greig has a wealth of experience that he uses to help all the technicians deliver projects and solutions to our customers – you can read more about Greig’s role at Netmetix here.

I really enjoy working with a team of such highly skilled IT technicians, and we all work together to provide a service that ensures end users can work efficiently, utilising innovative and cutting edge technology.

I’d personally describe myself as an enthusiastic IT Technician, always looking to improve my skills and deliver positive results for the business as a whole.

Can you share some of your experience prior to working with Netmetix?

My first role within the IT sector was as a 2nd Line Engineer at a large corporate clothing manufacturing company. This role was what really drew me into the world of IT in the first place and I worked for the company for eight years, learning about a wide variety of different hardware and software packages.

I then moved on to work for a food manufacturing company based in the Midlands. Working for these two large companies gave me a great foundation on how to implement best IT practices and procedures as I studied the technologies that I was working with in great detail and was also able to gain several Microsoft certifications.

Why did you join Netmetix?

I decided to join Netmetix for a number of reasons that all came together to present an exciting place in which to work. After meeting the senior management team and discussing what would be involved for the role, I knew that it would be a fantastic place to learn new skills and improve on the ones I already had. Another key factor in my decision to join the team at Netmetix was that the technologies being used were cutting edge and the role offered an opportunity for me to work within an incredibly forward thinking organisation.

Is there anything in particular that stood out as attractive at Netmetix from an employee point of view?

It was apparent from my first meeting with the senior management team that they wanted us to continually improve our skills to stay ahead of the game. I knew this was what I was looking for in a workplace environment and wanted to utilise this attitude to help improve my own IT and workplace skills. Upon meeting the whole team, it was clear that Netmetix is a close knit organisation that works extremely hard to achieve great results, so I knew that the company would be a great fit for me.

As we look back over the past year in technology, Paul Blore, our MD, shares his predictions for the digital trends disrupting business in over the next twelve months; including the challenge of cyber security issues, the rise of cloud computing adoption and how continued investment in emerging technologies can help tackle the UK’s productivity problem.

Cyber security
With an increasing number of high profile data breaches over the last year, it comes as little surprise that the issue of data security has become a key topic for businesses of all sizes, and rightly so; there’s no doubt that the number of these types of incidents will only increase further during 2018, in line with the value of data.

Whilst no business wants to be the target of any type of attack, a common issue we see is that many businesses still see IT as a tactical overhead rather than a vital strategic investment. SMEs often believe they are too small a fish to be a target for hackers but if data is valuable to a business, then it’s valuable to hackers. With such an increase in the number and sophistication of cyber attacks, we expect to see a greater emphasis from the security industry at large, on reviewed cyber security measures and strategic business protection.

In relation to the cloud, we have noticed a seismic shift in opinions surrounding security. In recent years businesses have been cautious about committing to the cloud, fearing that with no physical security, data could be vulnerable to attack. However, businesses are starting to recognise that the cloud might actually be a safer place for data than an on premise server and as such, are now focused on the operational benefits of moving to the cloud.

The Cloud
With 60% of workloads expected to be operated in some form of hosted cloud service by 2019, we are already seeing significant growth in the adoption of cloud computing amongst businesses of all sizes. As a result, the choice of providers is greater than ever before and therefore the consideration of a multi-cloud environment is becoming more and more popular. However, for many organisations that cannot justify spreading their infrastructure across multiple data centres, we anticipate an uptake of customers hosting with one provider, but using a number of web-based applications from a variety of vendors that host elsewhere. This multi-cloud approach is an unintended consequence rather than a planned strategy for many organisations, but importantly from the user’s perspective, it is completely invisible.

The Technological Revolution
It has been well publicised that the UK lags behind much of Europe in workforce productivity. The Confederation of British Industry has argued that the government should be encouraging greater uptake of new technologies, such as the cloud, to help close the productivity gap between the UK and neighbouring countries. Thankfully, the government seems to be listening, announcing an investment of £500 million in the Autumn Budget to be targeted at technological initiatives from full-fibre broadband to new start-ups. Some argue that the funds committed do not go far enough, but with such a focus placed on the UK being at the forefront of a technological revolution, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. With continued investment in emerging technologies and services, businesses will be able to – flexibly and cost-effectively – deploy the very latest applications that automate processes, provide complex analytics and boost productivity.

With just over 5 months until GDPR comes into full effect, if they haven’t already, it’s time for businesses to start reviewing their processes to ensure compliance, or risk facing hefty fines. Netmetix MD, Paul Blore, shares his thoughts on how cloud migration can help businesses ensure they meet the regulatory compliances, whilst providing affordable enterprise grade cloud security.

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was designed to change the way that businesses approach data privacy in order to protect the personal data of all EU citizens. With such widespread reform, it’s no surprise that it is set to have a huge impact on UK businesses. Every modern industry has access to huge volumes of data that after 25th May 2018, must be stored, secured and managed in a way that is compliant with the new regulation. For a small business, this could be quite an overwhelming task.

For large organisations, whilst it is still a significant challenge, they are appropriately geared up to throw huge resources and hire dedicated staff to address the issue. But what about SMEs? The serious penalties at stake, including fines of up to €20 million or 4% of global annual turnover, could bring smaller businesses to their knees if they are caught out by GDPR. So, how can SME’s approach the issue of GDPR compliance effectively without the huge resources of larger organisations?

The first step for any business should be to assess their current infrastructure. For those businesses without a heritage in digitalised systems, many view IT as a tactical decision, only considering a short-term approach to addressing it. The problem with this strategy is that systems can quickly become overly complex or outdated, making the issue of GDPR even tougher to overcome. So what can businesses do to change this?

The answer is to start looking at IT as a strategic decision. For a large proportion of organisations, IT is a significant element which likely plays a part across each department, so it makes sense to consider the best way to approach it in the long term. This is where cloud technology can help. Not only does it provide a business with a future-proof and scalable infrastructure, it can also provide an efficient way to prepare for GDPR.

Cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure also provide access to affordable enterprise grade security, allowing businesses to protect their data better than ever before. An experienced Managed Service Provider (MSP) is also best placed to advise on how businesses need to arrange their infrastructure in a way that will keep their data, and their customer’s data, compliant with the incoming regulations.

With the threat of such huge penalties, the consequences of failing to comply with GDPR would be felt that much harder by an SME, with narrower profit margins compared to an enterprise. According to the latest research from Aldermore, less than one in ten SME owners in the UK fully understand what GDPR actually means for their business or have taken the appropriate steps to prepare for it, which makes the situation even more worrying. Therefore, with the GDPR start date quickly approaching, it’s vital that SMEs review their processes and see that the cloud can offer a cost effective, fast track to compliance.

Netmetix has been awarded two further Gold Competency certifications from Microsoft. Gold Competencies recognise the highest levels of achievement in specific technical areas.
The new Gold certifications are for:

Gold Datacenter
Gold Application Integration

Netmetix already has two Gold Competency certifications for:

Gold Cloud Platform
Gold Midmarket Solution provider

giving us four in total and distinguishes Netmetix as a leading provider of Microsoft Cloud solutions and services.