Managed Services

May 16, 2016

Is managed services right for you?

You’re looking to roll out a big data initiative—or build a more flexible network to support new applications and services, and future expansion. Trouble is, you don’t have the appropriate technical expertise or IT resources in house to pull it off, and hiring and training new staff takes time and money.

Or maybe your IT systems have just become too unwieldy to manage internally. With multiple offices and increasing user demands, your IT staff always seems to be putting out fires and can’t focus on strategic business initiatives. And, with technology evolving so quickly, they don’t have the time and resources to keep critical software and hardware up-to-date.

If any of these scenarios sounds familiar, it may be time for you to consider a managed service provider (MSP).

MSPs offer an essential alternative for IT today.

In CompTIA’s Fourth Annual Trends in Managed Services study published last year, more than two-thirds of the companies surveyed said they use an MSP for ongoing management of one or more IT functions, particularly email hosting, custom relationship management (CRM) applications, storage, backup and recovery, and network monitoring.

Despite their growing popularity, there’s still some confusion about what managed service providers actually do. By definition, an MSP is a company that manages, usually remotely, a customer’s IT infrastructure and end-user systems, typically on a proactive basis and under a subscription model. The MSP assumes ongoing responsibility for monitoring and managing the customer’s IT systems and resolving any technical problems that arise. This approach is an alternative to the traditional on-demand “break/fix” model (which literally means waiting until the server, desktops or other critical networking devices break down and then scrambling to fix them and billing customers only for work that’s done).

While managed services were first intended for Fortune 500 companies and their huge networks, the MSP concept has become increasingly popular with small and medium-sized companies, particularly as a way to supplement a skeletal IT staff and acquire additional technical expertise. Rarely do companies get rid of their IT staffs when they engage an MSP. Especially in larger companies, signing on with a managed service provider frees up the existing IT staff to focus on higher-level strategic projects, like custom app development projects and cloud initiatives.

In the past, cost savings were seen as the primary benefit of MSPs, but that is changing.  In the CompTIA study, respondents were asked to cite their reasons for hiring an MSP. Factors like efficiency and reliability of IT operations, and enhanced security and compliance, proved to be more important than saving money. 60 percent of the survey respondents who consider their technology usage as advanced said they rely on an MSP for physical security services, and 63 percent of the same group said they use an MSP for application monitoring.

MSPs don’t cost more than traditional break-fix services.

In most cases, managed service providers end up costing less, especially when you consider the negative impact of downtime. By discovering and fixing IT issues and keeping them from negatively impacting a business, an MSP can end up saving your organization millions of dollars. Services like proactive network monitoring, patch management and desktop optimization, performed regularly, ensure that your network keeps running smoothly—and your employees and customers have unfettered access to the IT resources they need.

In addition, with most MSPs pricing their services on a flat-rate monthly basis (with different packages priced at different levels), you know in advance what you’re spending as a fixed cost of doing business.

When is a company too small for an MSP?

A recent Computer Economics study actually determined that organizations with fewer than 300 employees stand to benefit the most from IT-managed services and outsourcing their IT support.

Most small businesses eventually reach a point where supporting their IT in-house is no longer a viable option. These companies may be too big for a single IT person, but not large enough to hire a team—and they need a solution somewhere in between. That’s when an MSP can fill the critical gap.

So how do you know if you’re ready to hire an MSP? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you know immediately when your data backup fails to run?
  • Do you know which equipment on your network may need replacing in the next six months? Do you know which PCs are running out of memory, affecting user performance?
  • Do you know if your server and desktops have the latest antivirus updates installed and functioning correctly—and if the latest security patches have been installed on your network?
  • Do you know who the heaviest Internet users are in your organization and whether they access inappropriate websites? Do you know whether they’re downloading large files that can slow down your network?
  • Do you feel confident that your network is sufficiently protected from security vulnerabilities?
  • Are you getting the network performance you need for your critical business applications? What about to fuel your business growth?
  • Do you have confidence in your IT staff to give you the right advice on technology issues?

If you answered “no” to any or all of the above, it may be time to take the next step. Contact Next Dimensions and ask about our managed service offerings. Find out how we can help ease your mind.

Two-Factor Authentication

May 2, 2016

The value of using two-factor authentication to secure your network

With cyberattacks in the news so often these days, security is a growing concern for businesses of all sizes and in every industry. Here at Next Dimension, we’re always looking for ways our customers can make their networks and users more secure. And user authentication is an excellent place to start.

It’s time to think beyond the password.

Until recently, the default option for user logon was single-factor authentication (SFA), a traditional security process that requires a user name and password for access to a website or network. Given the increasing sophistication of hackers, however, password protection is no longer good enough.

Beside the basic inconvenience of users having to remember or keep track of their passwords, there’s always the risk of passwords being stolen, whether from a discarded sticky note or an old hard drive. And let’s face it, sooner or later any determined hacker can find a way to breach a password-only based security system, through methods like brute force cracking (basic trial and error), dictionary (trying every word in the dictionary) or rainbow table attacks (using a list of plaintext permutations of encrypted passwords), which is why identity theft is on the rise.

For all these reasons, it makes sense to consider implementing two-factor authentication for the added protection of your network, your employees and your customers.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is not new. You already use it.

If you’ve withdrawn money from a bank ATM, you’re already familiar with two-factor authentication. You not only needed a bankcard to access your account, you had to enter a PIN (personal identification number) as well. You needed two ways to get into your bank’s network.

As its name applies, two-factor authentication is a security process in which the user has to provide two forms of identification. One form of identification is something the user owns, a physical object like a bankcard, hardware token, smartphone or other device. The other form of identification is something the user knows (typically memorized), such as a PIN, security code or password.

The majority of cyberattacks come from remote Internet connections, and 2FA makes distance attacks less likely, since a user’s password is not sufficient for access and cybercriminals are not likely to have access to the user’s physical form of authentication. Without that second vital piece, remote attackers can’t pretend to be the user and gain authorized access to corporate networks, cloud storage, financial information, etc.

Two-factor authentication comes in many forms.

A variety of vendors, including Apple, Cisco and Microsoft, now offer devices and solutions for 2FA—everything from RFID (radio frequency identification) technology to smartphone apps.

Different online services offer different 2FA methods. The most common include:

SMS verification: Many Internet sites, such as those of banks, social networks and retailers, allow users to sign up to receive an SMS (short message service, or text) message, containing a one-time-use code they need to enter whenever they log into their accounts. The cell phones are essentially the second form of authentication.

Hackers can’t get into a user’s account with just a password—they need the password and access to the phone and its SMS message.

  • App-generated codes: Some mobile apps can generate temporary authentication codes. The most popular, Google Authenticator, is made for Android and iPhone. Once it’s installed, the app generates new codes about every 30 seconds. Users have to enter the most current code displayed in the app on their phone as well as their password when they log into their account.
  • Physical authentication keys: Created by Google and Yubico, U2F is an open authentication standard that simplifies 2FA using specialized USB or NFC devices. Whenever users want to log into their accounts from a new computer, they insert the device and press a button on it. There are no codes to type.
  • App-based authentication: Some mobile apps provide two-step verification using the app itself. For example, Twitter’s mobile app allows users to enable “login verification.” Whenever users attempt to log into Twitter from another computer or device, they have to verify that login attempt from the mobile app on their phone.
  • Email-based systems: Other services rely on users’ email accounts for authentication. They require users to enter in a one-time-use code sent to their email accounts.

Are you ready to take the next step?

While 2FA is not a panacea (no security measure really is), it can dramatically improve your network and users’ security—with reasonably little effort and cost. And Next Dimensions can help you implement it.

If you’d like to learn more, contact us and we’ll be happy to recommend the most effective way to implement 2FA for your organization. Your security and peace of mind are top priorities for us.

Cisco Wireless 802.11ac Wave 2

April 20, 2016

Why You Need the Latest Wireless 802.11ac Wave 2

Mobile usage continues to explode.

According to a Cisco report issued in February 2016, by the year 2020 there will be 4.4 billion mobile users worldwide (up from 4.8 billion in 2015) and 11.5 billion mobile-ready devices and connections (four billion more than in 2015).

Many of these users are bringing their mobile devices into the workplace. More and more employees are using smartphones and tablets to perform day-to-day work functions, and the BYOD (“Bring Your Own Device”) environment has become the norm in most organizations today,

Mobile users are demanding faster speeds, too. The Cisco report estimates that by 2020, the average mobile connection speed will be 6.5 Mpbs, up from 2.0 Mbps in 2015. And, global mobile IP traffic will reach an annual run rate of 367 exabytes, up from 44 exabytes in 2015.

Once a luxury, wireless networks are now a necessity.

Given the new reality, wireless networks have become essential to the success of most companies. Today’s enterprises must have the capability to connect a diverse range of devices—everything from wireless cameras to sensors and thermostats—and manage an increasingly noisy and crowded wireless network environment.

To help companies and organizations keep pace with the ever-increasing surge in Wi-Fi traffic and the growing demands of mobile users, Cisco has developed the 802.11ac Wave 2, the first Wi-Fi standard to break the gigabit barrier. Transmitting data at speeds beyond 1 Gbps, 802.11ac Wave 2 access points support the very latest Wi-Fi standard technology, offering the performance and functionality to support mobility for customers and employees, now and in the future.

Multi-user MIMO boosts performance for every user and every device.

One key feature of Wave 2 802.11ac technology, multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO), enables an access point to transmit to multiple clients simultaneously—rather than sending data to just one client at a time. Each client device gets the amount of airtime it’s supposed to have, based on the technology it supports: 802.11ac Wave 2, Wave 1, 802.11n, or an older version of the standard. And, every device on the network enjoys the luxury of not having to share its data stream with anyone else—which is especially beneficial when a user is streaming video or using another high bandwidth application.

With MU-MIMO, your organization will be able to use more devices on your Wi-Fi at once. Internet speeds will seem faster and more dependable. And everyone will see a noticeable impact on everyday Wi-Fi use—a more stable Wi-Fi connection for every laptop, phone, tablet and computer on the network.

Prevent network traffic jams.

Cisco’s end-to-end infrastructure support and services help ensure that wireless traffic won’t face a bottleneck when it hits your wired LAN infrastructure. Cisco Catalyst Multi-gigabit switches support 1-Gbps, 2.5-Gbps, 5-Gbps, and 10-Gbps speeds on existing Gigabit Ethernet cabling to accommodate increasing Wi-Fi traffic over time and future higher-speed access point connections.

Talk to us about upgrading your wireless capacity.

The new Cisco 802.11ac Wave 2 technology is a smart investment now if you’re looking to prepare for the increasing proliferation of video and mobile apps on the horizon—and the Wave 2 client devices that will soon be coming to market. It’s also a good way to protect your existing IT investment because you’ll have access points that work with the technology you’re using today as well as accommodate technology you’ll acquire in the future.

If you’re ready to upgrade your wireless capacity, contact us today. Let Next Dimension show you what Cisco’s next generation wireless networking technology can mean for your organization.

Cloud Services

March 3, 2016

What’s new in the cloud—and what’s in it for you?

The transition to cloud computing has changed everything in IT. Virtually every company in every industry now utilizes the cloud for some or all of their business applications, not just data storage and backup.

In fields ranging from healthcare to manufacturing, cloud computing has streamlined operations and made them more cost efficient. Statistics show that 82% of companies that transitioned to the cloud reported saving money, and 80% of the businesses saw improvement in their operations within six months of moving to the cloud.

As cloud usage continues to grow exponentially, organizations are looking to realize cloud benefits in a much broader range of applications. This includes applications involving sensitive data, making security in the cloud a top priority.

In public clouds, which tend to be more cost-effective because they’re not proprietary, many different organizations and a vast number of individuals use the same servers. For that reason, a public cloud is not an ideal solution for industries like healthcare and financial services—where confidentiality and data security are essential to the services that are delivered to customers.

What’s the right cloud approach? Well, that depends.

Many businesses are now opting for private (proprietary) clouds or a mixture of public and private (hybrid) cloud solutions for greater control and peace of mind.

Strategic priorities and the nature of the services a business provides are also factors to consider in determining the cloud solution that makes the most sense for an organization. In addition, every industry has specific operational requirements and “rules of engagement” that shape how companies in that industry use the cloud.

In short, there’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution. Determining what’s right for your business requires a thorough technical understanding of the ins and outs of cloud computing, what’s involved in implementation, and how to change or amend your business processes to derive the greatest efficiency and maximum ROI from your cloud investment.

How do you make the most of the cloud?

The answer, especially for small and mid-sized companies, is to employ a managed services provider (MSP).

First of all, finding a cloud specialist with specific expertise in your industry for a staff position won’t be easy and will be expensive.

And if you’re like most businesses, your existing IT personnel (if you have an IT staff at all) are already working at maximum capacity.

MSPs are brought in for the vast majority of cloud implementations because they have the knowledge, the resources and the vertical industry expertise to serve as a company’s “bridge” to the cloud. They can also be a cost-effective solution to managing a company’s entire IT function.

Our head is fully in the cloud.

If you’re looking for help transitioning to the cloud or need a reliable resource to manage your IT operation, talk to us at Next Dimension. We’ve helped companies in a broad range of industries successfully implement cloud computing and now manage some or all of their IT functions.

Leveraging our partnership with Cisco—and drawing on their strong enterprise network, data center, collaboration and security resources—we can offer you a range of fully remote hosted cloud services. From servers, web hosting and email to security, backup and disaster recovery, the Next Dimension team can take care of managing your IT infrastructure so you can focus on running your business.

Next Dimension can serve in an advisory capacity as well as take a hands-on role in helping you make the most of your IT investment. We can help you accelerate the adoption and management of new technologies to help simplify operations; maximize how your company utilizes technology, including mobile devices, in your day-to-day business operations; monitor problems areas and troubleshoot problems that could potentially slow down your operation; and help ensure the security of your network from cyber threats and data breaches.

In short, we can help your business realize the promise and potential of cloud computing. Don’t attempt to do it alone.

Firewall – Cisco FirePOWER

February 24, 2016

Are your cyber defenses up to the challenge?

2015 was a particularly good year for hackers. Big data breaches and cyberattacks made the news quite frequently —and the victims were well-known companies like Anthem, CVS, Walgreens, Experian, Scottrade, and V-Tech.

According to a recent study of business risk managers released by The Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company of Canada (HSB BI&I), 90 percent of Canadian businesses experienced at least one hacking incident last year.

Cyber experts don’t think 2016 will be much better, and all businesses are vulnerable. As cybercriminals become more and more sophisticated—and more and more business is being conducted online and in the cloud—companies of all sizes need to adopt more aggressive strategies to safeguard against Internet piracy. And your company is no exception.

Steps you can take to shield your network.

In a previous blog, we discussed the limitations of antivirus technology in preventing attacks by sophisticated custom malware. In addition to advanced malware protection, there are other ways to help protect your IT infrastructure.

A firewall is a network security system, either hardware- or software-based, that controls incoming and outgoing network traffic based on a set of rules. It protects your company against attackers by shielding your computers and other devices on the network from malicious or unnecessary network traffic and prevents malicious software from accessing your network. Firewalls can be configured to block data from certain locations or applications while allowing relevant and necessary data through.

There are many different types and brands of firewalls. But if you’re looking for one with maximum security potential, you can’t do better than the Cisco ASA with FirePOWER Services. Designed for today’s new era of sophisticated cyber threats, it offers advanced malware protection and integrated threat defense before, during and after an attack.

A firewall that gives you foresight.

While many security solutions struggle with security blind spots, Cisco ASA with FirePOWER Services is centrally managed by the Cisco FireSIGHT Management Center. This means you get comprehensive visibility into suspicious web traffic, not to mention control over all activity within your network, which includes all users, devices and communications among virtual machines as well as network vulnerability, threats, client-side applications, files and websites. The Cisco FireSIGHT Management Center also gives you the ability to track and determine the root cause of an infection, so it can be remediated faster.

By consolidating multiple security layers in a single platform, Cisco ASA with FirePOWER Services reduces the need to buy multiple security solutions from a variety of different vendors—and the manpower required to manage security functions. And by correlating threats, it makes it easier to detect and prioritize them based on their risk. It’s not only effective but also cost-effective.

Security appliances offer another form of protection.

Network security appliances combine multiple capabilities and functions to protect your IT infrastructure, providing a unified way of managing potential threats to your data and other business assets.

Take the Cisco Web Security Appliance (WSA), which has been configured to offer a complete and comprehensive web security solution. It offers advanced threat defense, advanced malware protection, application visibility and control, insightful reporting, and secure mobility—all in one.

The Cisco WSA draws on the resources of Cisco Talos Security Intelligence and Research Group, the world’s leading intelligence organization. The Talos team analyzes incoming data from Cisco, including billions of web requests and emails, and millions of malware samples and network intrusions, analyzing threats at every point in your network (including users’ computers and mobile devices, virtual systems, web and email) to protect your company against known and emerging threats.

What’s more, you get complete control over how your users access the Internet. By identifying hundreds of applications and micro-applications, the appliance allows your network administrator to create highly granular policies. You can determine which specific features and applications (like chat, messaging, video and audio) should be permitted, restricted or blocked entirely. By setting the requirements, you no longer need to block access to entire websites.

Bolster your defenses.

With new security tools by Cisco and other providers, there’s no reason why you can’t take additional precautions to protect your network infrastructure from cybercrime. If you’re ready to take the next step, let’s talk. In this era of sophisticated hackers, we can offer some added peace of mind.