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What are Managed IT Services?

Managed IT Services Managed IT Services allow business to concentrate on their core business activities and forget about the hassle of looking after their computer systems. The service provided will vary depending on the Managed Service Provider and the client requirements. However regardless of the actual service provided the goal remains the same.

Provide cost effective IT Services to business owners, so that they can spend their valuable time running their business rather than working on computer systems.

Most business outsource an element of their business services, where they have a specialist requirement but do not need to employ full time experts. Typically this includes services like:-

  • Payroll
  • Legal
  • Human Resources
  • Marketing Lead Generation

IT is a Business Service, like any of the services above.

When Businesses need Managed IT Services

Most businesses go through the different phases of development where they use services differently.

  • Start-up – Do everything themselves to keep costs down
  • Initial Growth – Business Owners don’t have enough hours in the day
  • Consolidation – Focused on making sure the business delivers the right services to the right customers
  • Expansion & Acquisition – How to grow the business and increase profitability

The time when businesses will typically engage a Managed IT Services Company is during the Growth phase, when they realise that they no longer have the time to do everything and need to start delegating some functions of the business. At this point they don’t need full time IT people, but they will typically need more expertise than they have themselves. If the Managed IT Services Company does a good job for their client and demonstrate the value of Managed IT Services they will also be able to help in the subsequent phases of the business.

What do Managed IT Services Provide?

Most Managed IT Services companies will list the features of their service. i.e. The things that they do

  • Backup
  • Patch Management
  • Fault Resolution
  • HelpDesk
  • VoIP Telephony

Most Business Owners don’t think in terms of the features that Managed IT Services companies provide, they will however know they things that their business needs in order to survive and grow.

  • Data Security – We need access to every document and email we have ever created, sent or received; even if the building burns down.
  • Our computers must always work, regardless of what happens or where they are
  • Fault Resolution – If something does go wrong, we need it fixed as soon as possible – preferably without interrupting the working day
  • HelpDesk – If we don’t know how to do something we want someone to provide some advice and guidance
  • VoIP Telephony – How can I let employees work from home, without:-
    • Loosing touch with the office
    • Costing the company a lot of money
    • It being difficult for clients to contact them

As a Small Business Owner they also need to keep an eye on budgets and cash flow, so ideally want all of the above for a fixed monthly fee regardless of how many times the HeldDesk is called or how many times files need to be restored.

Next Steps for Small Business Owners into Managed IT Services

If your business has reached the point where you need some help with computers and Managed IT Services can help your business to grow then you need to contact a Managed IT Services Company to discuss how they can help your business. SystemAssure ~ Managed IT Services for Smart Businesses

If you are in the UK and like the sound of Managed IT Services for your Owner Managed Business then contact SystemAssure and see how we can help. Either click on the SystemAssure link to go to our website or click on the Call-Me-Now button below and enter your, UK, phone number and we will call you right back.

Call-Me-Now
Click to call meClick on the Call-Me-Now Icon, on the left, and enter your, UK, phone number and we will call you right back to discuss your requirements. At the same time you will hear the quality and flexibility of a hosted VoIP phone system. Call-Me-Now is a standard part of the Voiplicity phone system, so is something that you will be able to do on your website with just a few mouse clicks.

Go ahead and find out more about Managed IT Services, today.

How to Select a Remote Support Service Provider?

If you are looking for Cost Effective Systems Management for a Small Business, to support your computer systems, how do you select the best Systems Management Company for your business? What are the keys things that you should look for?

Most Remote Support Service Providers provide very similar core services, so you need to look at the items that they use to differentiate themselves from the crowd. At the core all of the RSSPs will provide:-

  • Patch Management
  • HelpDesk
  • Monitoring
  • Reporting

Remote Support Service – Will it fix the problem?

Will the Remote Support Service Provider simply tell you that a problem has occurred, or will they actually fix the problem for you? If all they are going to do is tell you that a problem has occurred then they are of limited use.

Remote Support Service – Application Expertise

Find a Remote Support Service Provider (RSSP) who understands how to look after the key services that your business relies on. In addition to the obvious things like do they support your mail system, Exchange, Lotus Domino etc. you may want to find out about specific Line of Business application support.

If your business is growing, make sure that they understand what you are planning for the future. e.g. If you are looking to have home workers or multiple offices in the future, then an RSSP who can also provide VoIP might be helpful, as would the ability to provided hosted services – like Microsoft Office 365, BPOS, Hosted Exchange etc.

In addition to fixing things for you do they also provide advice and guidance, which could help reduce your IT costs, around future technologies and trends? Ideally you want a company who will act as your IT department providing advice and guidance as and when required.

Remote Support Service – Experience

Find a Remote Support Service Provider (RSSP) who is experienced in providing software support, rather than a hardware support provider who is dabbling in Services.

  • Are they used to supporting customers of your size or will you be their largest customer?
  • Are they experienced in Systems Management processes?

Understand how they Charge for their Remote Support Service

Do they charge, Monthly, Quarterly or Annually?  Monthly in advance is the best option for customers, unless you particularly want to pay quarterly. If you pay annually in advance the MSP (Managed Service Provider) doesn’t have much of an incentive to provide you with good service, as they already have your money.

How long is the Remote Support Service Contract?

Is the Remote Support Service Provider trying to tie you into a multi-year contract.  A lot of IT providers will get you to sign a 3 year contract, the most you should sign up for is a single year, and in a lot of cases you can get monthly rolling subscriptions. Monthly Rolling is ideal as the Remote Support Service Provider is only as good as the service they provided you last month, if they mess up you can easily change to a different Remote Support Service Provider. i.e. They will always be interested in making sure that you are provided with a good service.

What is included in your Remote Support Service?

Do I need to buy any Software to use the Remote Support Service?

Typically most Remote Support Service Provider’s include all of the software required to perform the tasks they are managing. You don’t own the software, it is provided as part of your subscription service. In most cases this will include things like:-

  • Anti-Virus Software
  • Anti-Spam Software
  • Backup Software
  • Software Delivery System
  • Audit & Inventory Software

What do they charge extra for?

A lot of Remote Support Service Providers offer a fixed Fee service. i.e. It doesn’t matter how much support work they do the charge is always the same. Some companies will want to charge extra for fixing problems, adding new users, restoring files from backup etc. Make sure that you know what is included as part of your contract and what they want to charge extra for.

Remote Support Service

SystemAssure ~ Remote Support Service for Smart BusinessesIf you are looking for a Remote Support Service in the UK then take a look at SystemAssure from AKCSL and see how the Remote Support Service that we provide maps onto your business requirements.

Microsoft Hosted Services

There is now a cost effective range of Microsoft Hosted Services, for both the business and home user. Some of the services are completely free and the others are available as a monthly subscription service.

Free – Microsoft Hosted Services

Currently the Free Microsoft Hosted Services include:-

  • Microsoft SkyDrive
  • Windows Live Office

Microsoft Hosted Services – SkyDrive

Microsoft SkyDrive is 25Gb of Free Online Storage, accessible over the web. You can save files securely, or share them with other users.

Microsoft Hosted Services – Windows Live Office

Windows Live Office provides you with Free access to the Microsoft Office Suite of tools. Used in conjunction with your SkyDrive account you have complete access to your Office Documents, along with the tools to edit them from any PC with an Internet connection.

Windows Live Office, or Office Web as it is sometimes called provides you with free access to:-

  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Microsoft OneNote

Subscription – Microsoft Hosted Services

Business Productivity Online (BPOS) – Microsoft Hosted Services

Currently the Microsoft Hosted Services, available as part of a subscription include:-

  • Hosted Exchange
  • Hosted SharePoint
  • Hosted OCS
  • Hosted LiveMeeting

These services can be purchased either individually, or together as the Microsoft BPOS (Business Productivity Online Services) package. The BPOS Suite is available, in the UK for, £6.71 per user per month – with a minimum subscription of 5 users. You can either purchase BPOS online from the Microsoft website, or through your Microsoft Partner. The price is exactly the same whichever route you take. Generally you should purchase BPOS through your Microsoft Partner as they will provide advice, guidance and assistance on setting up and configuring your Microsoft Hosted Services.

Additional Options for Exchange – Microsoft Hosted Services

The optional Microsoft Hosted Services include:-

  • Email Spam & Virus Filtering
  • Email Archive
  • Email Encryption

These optional Microsoft Hosted Services for Exchange are designed so that they work with both hosted versions of Exchange and your local on-premise version of Exchange or Small Business Server (SBS). So if you have a local Exchange server you can start using Microsoft Hosted Services today to provide your business with a fully searchable email Archive and Spam protection.

Email Archive starts at only £3.00 per user per month and email Spam filtering and Virus protection starts at only £1.03 per user per month.

How can I get Microsoft Hosted Services?

Microsoft Hosted Services – Free

If you want to use the Free Microsoft Hosted Services of SkyDrive and Live Office, you can simply create yourself an account on the Microsoft Live website and start using them today.

Microsoft Hosted Services – BPOS

If you are interested in the subscription based Microsoft Hosted Services the best way to get a Free 30 day trail is to contact your Microsoft Partner, who can help you setup an account for your business.

If you don’t have a Microsoft Partner, and are located in the UK, then Contact us, via the SystemAssure website and  we can get you setup with a Free 30 day trail of any of the  Microsoft Hosted Services.

What is Malware?

The term Malware is generally accepted to be a short form of the words Malicious software. This typically encompasses multiple categories of software such as viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, etc. The goal of malware is to install software that can destroy your data, effect your computer’s performance, cause a crash or allow spammers to send email through your account. Typically the authors of Malware want to use your computer to send spam or phishing emails that will ultimately generate money for them.

How do I know if my PC is infected with Malware?

“My Anti-Virus software doesn’t show any problems, so how do I know if I have any Malware installed?” Unfortunately most antivirus software doesn’t recognise malware, or if it does then it doesn’t do a good job of cleaning up the malware.

What is the best way to get rid of malware?

malware removal with malwarebytesThere are several good products available to identify and remove Malware from your computer. The best and most effective Anti Malware software that I am aware of is Malwarebytes which is available in 2 versions. Both versions of Malwarebytes are fully functional, the two versions are:-

  1. Malwarebytes Free edition
  2. Malwarebytes Full version (approx £16.00)

Both versions perform full scans and will remove malware from your computer, so you get to try the full capabilities of the product without having to hand over your credit card information. The main difference is that activating the full version unlocks real-time protection, scheduled scanning, and scheduled updating.

Note: Anti-Malware software isn’t intended to replace your anti-virus software, it should be used in conjunction with a traditional anti-virus product – like Microsoft Security Essentials.

Can I Automate Anti Malware Software?

The short answer is yes, you can automate anti malware scans and clean up. You can buy a full copy of Malwarebytes, so that you can schedule the scans and updates.

Another option is to use a Systems Management solution, like SystemAssure, which provides full automation for anti-virus and anti-malware scans and cleanup, alongside monitoring and management.

Business Continuity - Can your business survive the Winter?Business Continuity, Is your business disaster proof?

Do we really need Business Continuity for Small Businesses? The snow and general bad weather, at the beginning of the year in the UK, meant that many people were unable to get into work for a while. Did you loose business as a result of the weather because you weren’t able to get the phones answered, you weren’t able to deal with email or were unable to get into the office for a while?

Whilst, for the UK at least, the weather conditions were unusual there are several other problems that can cause similar problems for your business. Most people think of the major disasters, like flood or fire but what about a power cut or your ADSL line being down.

There is no reason why you should loose business as with the technology available today you can have access to email, your phone system and even your PC in the office from almost anywhere that has Internet connectivity. So how can we provide Business Continuity for Small Businesses?

What does a Small Business Continuity Solution need to provide?

How does a Business Continuity solution work and what are the minimum services that it needs to provide? Think about the way that you do business on a day to day basis, do you recieve a lot of phone calls, is most of your customer communication via email?

Make sure that your primary ways of doing business are covered, typically the immediate concern is managing existing customers and prospects – i.e. Can we continue to ‘Do Business’ ?

So for 90% of Small Companies that is:-

  • Send and receive email
  • Answering the Phones
  • Generate Invoices

Below are some of the methods that you can use to make sure that you have a business which can survive a disaster and have a viable Business Continuity plan in place.

email access methods

Webmail

If you have a laptop, or webmail access, you have probably been able to keep up with your business email, even if you haven’t been able to get into the office. One of the big advantages of email systems is that, typically, you can get access to them from anywhere that you can get an Internet connection. That is certainly true of things like Hotmail, Googlemail or Exchange Online, where all you need is a web browser.

Most companies that use Microsoft Exchange, or Small Business Server (SBS), will also provide webmail access through Outlook Web Access (OWA). OWA allows you to send email and read your company email from any web browser, you can also look at your calendar etc, just as though you were using Outlook in the office. If you don’t have access to any form of company webmail then its worth talking with your IT department to see if they will set provide you access to OWA.

Mobile devices

If you have a Blackberry, iPhone or Windows Mobile device (SmartPhones) then you can probably get access to your company email on that. In most cases it is a relatively simple task to configure SmartPhones to work via your Exchange Server and to send and receive your company email.

Don’t forget that if you send email via OWA or your SmartPhone and its going via your Exchange server then you will have a copy saved in your sent mail items and, if your signatures are applied on the server, then your email will get all of the correct footers, branding etc. that it would have if you sent if from your desktop machine in the office.

Hosted Exchange

Hosted Exchange is now a scalable, cost effective solution especially for Small Businesses. Microsoft have entered the hosted market and offer Exchange Online, either on its own or as part of its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).

In the UK you can get Microsoft BPOS for £6.71 a month, per user or just Exchange Online for £3.36 a month, per user. There is a minimum number of 5 users.

BPOS is a great way of providing a low cost, scalable, robust, enterprise grade, Business Continuity solution for small businesses.

Business Continuity and Phone Systems

If you use a hosted VoIP phone system, then you can easily make and receive calls from anywhere that you have an Internet connection. These calls will appear to come from the office number and will get billed to the office rather than your home phone number. So in the bad weather you can work from home and appear to be in the office. Even if the power is out in your office using a hosted VoIP solution means that your calls will still get delivered, as all of the redirection is carried out in the hosted PBX. If you have a softphone on your PC then the calls don’t even need to get redirected they just get delivered to your softphone.

If you don’t have Internet connectivity then its simple enough to make a phone call and get your calls re-directed to your mobile phone or home phone. There is no need not to be able to receive the office phone calls even if no-one can get into the office to answer the phone.

You can even use the Hosted VoIP solution to make sure that all of your calls still appear to originate from the office number, even if you are using your mobile to make the calls. What happens in practice is that our Hosted PBX calls your mobile, then dials the number you want to talk to – as soon as they answer the calls are connected. Its really simple to configure, in just 2 mouse clicks and is included in your base cost.

Call Me Now

Click to call meClick on the Call Me Icon, on the left, and enter your phone number and we will call you right back to discuss your requirements. Call Me is a standard part of the Voiplicity phone system, so is something that you will be able to do on your website with just a few mouse clicks.

So we can provide Business Continuity for your phone system, from anywhere with Internet access.

Off-Site Backup

As part of a Business Continuity plan we to need to consider what you would do if the office was destroyed. If you have gone done the route of Hosted Email and VoIP then you will probably be able to continue to ‘do business’, but what about all of your company records, customer details, contracts etc? How are you going to be able to access that information if the office no longer exists?

Data Backup

You should have off-site copies of your computer backups, after all there is no point in keeping your backup copy next to the server. At a minimum the daily backups should be held off site in a secure location. That could mean taking the daily tape home and keeping it safe, or using of of the many Online Backup services.

Online Backup

An Online Backup, or Hosted Backup, service will continually take copies of your data and ship it to a secure data center. Depending on the service you subscribe to this could be a continuous backup, or scheduled on a daily basis.

Most of the services allow for a local copy of the data and the off site copy. The local copy allows you to quickly restore files in the event someone accidentally deletes a file. The off-site, or hosted copies, are for disaster recovery / Business Continuity in case the office gets destroyed.

Hosted Services

If you use Microsoft BPOS, Google Apps, or any of the other hosted services then your data is held in a secure data center. It will actually be held in multiple geo located data centers, so your data is secure. In this case you can continue to work and not need to worry about your data. You also have access to your applications from anywhere in addition to having a copy of your data.

One thing about Hosted Service and Online backup services, make sure that you select a vendor who will host your data in your country, or legislative area. The reason for this is that not all countries have the same approach to Data Security and Data Protection, so you want your data where it is covered by the same data protection laws as your business.

Remote PC Access

You can also use systems like LogMeIn, GoToMyPC or the functionality built into Remote Management Systems like SystemAssure that will let you access your office PC from a web browser. Typically this type of application will let you print on your local, home, printer and also copy files and documents between your office PC and your home PC. If you are a BPOS user you wouldn’t even need access to your Office PC, as all of you data will be stored within the SharePoint Online section of BPOS.

So whatever the weather, if its snow, floods or even if you want to sunbath in the back garden rather than go into the office there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do everything that you can do from the office. You can either do this will a combination of different applications that you put together yourself or let SystemAssure take the strain and do the work for you.

Business Continuity For Small Businesses

Yes it is entirely possible to provide your small business with a cost effective Business Continuity solution. By doing this properly you also increase the scalability of your business and also remove the need to ‘step’ investments in hardware as your business grows.

Planning Business Continuity for Small Businesses from day one can dramatically reduce your need for capital investment and also give you flexibility in work practices.

Need Assistance with Business Continuity planning?

If you would like assistance in designing and  implementing a Business Continuity plan for your small business then please contact me through the SystemAssure Website.

Get A Free Website Monitor Right Now?

SystemAssure Google Search ResultsMost companies spend a lot of time, money and effort making sure that their website content is correct. That the site is attractive and will engage visitors.

They might even have spent money on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to make sure that their site comes out near the top for people searching with Google, Bing etc.

However if when your, potential, customer clicks on the link in Google to go to your site they get an error message, or the site just doesn’t display then all of the money spent on getting people to the point of ‘clicking’ is totally wasted. If your site is not available they have no means of contacting you and will simply click on the next available link.

How can you make sure your website is working?

There are lots of tools available which can provide different levels of website monitoring, all at different prices, which provide different services. SystemAssure automatically includes basic connectivity and availability monitoring for up-to 5 websites. We check the connectivity every 2 minutes from several different locations. If you sign up for SystemAssure monitoring for a server we include the website health and availability monitoring for up-to 5 websites for free.

Free Website Monitor

If you want a Free website monitor, simply go to the SystemAssure site and follow the instructions at the base of the WebSite Health Page. The Free Website Monitor will test the availability of one website every 10 minutes. If the site isn’t available then we will send you an email, so you know about the problem before your customers.

Why you should run disk defrag

When you first buy a PC it seems nice and fast, everything happens so quickly. Then over a period of time it seems to start to get slower and slower. Why is that?

Disk Fragmentation

Part of the answer is disk fragmentation. When you first get your PC the disk is nice and clean and ordered, then you start using it to browse the web, download files, install software, write documents etc.

Each time you use your PC files get written to the disk and then, generally, deleted when you close the files. Web browsers ‘cache’ images in case they are used again on the site, this is done to improve the performance of the pages so that the web browser doesn’t have to download the same image multiple times.

As the files get written and delete and new files get written again they don’t always fit neatly on your disk, so they start to leave spaces. The next time a file is written it tries to fill in the spaces. If the file is larger than the space then part of the file is written in the space and the rest of it is written in another space – so that file is now fragmented. The larger a file is the greater the chance that it will become fragmented. That is why you should run a Disk Defrag on a regular basis, to keep your computer working at its optimum and as fast as when it was new.

How do I know I need a Disk Defrag?

In the example here the black colour is the free, or empty, space on the disk.

Disk Defrag to improve performanceBlack: empty
Green: regular files, un-fragmented
Dark green: spacehogs, un-fragmented
Yellow: fragmented
Red: unmovable
White: busy
Pink: MFT reserved zone (NTFS only)
Gray: in use by unknown data

So you can see that not all of the free space is in a nice contiguous area, it is spread through the disk. There are also some files, in yellow, which are fragmented and need to be de-fragmented to improve performance.

The reason that fragmented files slow your computer down is to do with the way that disk drives work and how they access their data. If you have a loose leaf file with 50 sheets of paper in it that are in sequential order its very easy to read through the document. If however the pages are all out of order it takes you much longer to read the document, as you need to keep moving backwards and forwards through the file. This is exactly what happens when a file on your computer is fragmented, so it takes the disk longer to read all of the data and assemble it for you. The same is true when the file is saved if the disk has to keep stuffing little bits of the file into small spaces and remember where it has put everything.

How to run a Disk Defrag

Disk Defrag on Workstations & Laptops

Windows XP, Windows 7  & Vista have defragmentation programs built into them. On an XP machine you have to run the program manually, on Vista or Windows 7 it will schedule itself to run every so often.  The problem is that on most office systems the schedule will probably be due to take place outside office hours, when the machine is turned off.  You should de-fragment your disks on a regular basis. How often you should de-fragment your disk depends on how much you use your computer and how full the disks are. For most people every month will be sufficient, if you have a lot of files changing on your computer with downloads etc then you may want to do this more frequently.

Disk Defrag on Servers

Servers suffer from Disk Fragmentation in the same way that workstations do. In some ways its worse on servers as they tend to be file repositories for lots of users. The problem here is that Microsoft doesn’t make it simple to schedule a disk defrag on a server, so in most cases you need to use an external utility to do this. Also files cannot be defragmented when they are open, so if you runs a Database or Mail Server you will need to stop these applications to be able to fully defragment your disks. Most of the Managed Service Providers, or IT Outsourcers can automate this process for you so that these tasks take place outside business hours.

Defrag Utilities

A couple of good Free Disk Defrag utilities are:-

MyDefrag to Defrag DisksMyDefragwww.myDefrag.com works on XP, Vista, Windows7 and the Windows Server range. This includes everything from Windows 2000 through to Windows 2008. MyDefrag was previously known as JKDefrag,

MyDefrag is written by the same person who wrote the original JKDefrag..

Defraggler to Defrag Disks

Defraggler from Piriform www.piriform.com works on XP, Vista, Windows7 and the Windows Server range. This includes everything from Windows 2000 through to Windows 2008. Piriform produce several other products which help to improve the performance of your computer, the best known of which is cCleaner.

Both MyDefrag and Defraggler are available as free downloads. Make sure that you read and accept the End User License Agreement (EULA), this is true for any software product – even though most people never bother.

Automating the Disk Defrag Process

If you like the idea of having your disk defragmented on a regular basis but don’t feel comfortable doing this then SystemAssure can help to get round this and keep by your computer working at its peak performance creating an automated schedule for your disk to de-fragment. If the computer is powered off we can, in most cases, wake the PC up, de-fragment the disk and then put the computer back to sleep again. If you are running an Exchange Server we can stop Exchange before we defragment the disks and restart it once the defrag is completed. You will also recieve a report on the process.

Find out more about how SystemAssure can automate your disk defrag at www.SystemAssure.co.uk