SMB Nation Blog

SMB Nation has been serving the Bainbridge Island area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

Top 4 Free Applications for SMBs

Even though most people may not realize it, small and medium businesses are the backbone of the economy. In 2016, there were 28.8 million small businesses in the US, which translates to 99.7% of all American businesses – and in fact, since the 1970s, 66% of total net new jobs are generated by small businesses, which also make for 55% of all jobs in the marketplace. Yet only 50% of those businesses are set to surpass five years and only one third will survive for at least 10 years. This means that SMB owners have to play it smart in order to increase their chances in a highly competitive market – so why not take advantage of free applications that could be ideal for your enterprise?

1. Project Management

One of the most important questions you have to deal with as an SMB is how to deal with managing various projects among the few people that you employ. There are software tools out there that can help make that easier for you, by streamlining communication between team members and allowing you to stay on top of the workflow. Asana, one of the most popular PM apps, is free for the first 15 users, making it great for small businesses. It has a flexible interface and visually documents progress, while it can integrate with services like Evernote, Google Drive, MailChimp, and WordPress.

project management

 

Source: Pexels

2. Traffic Management

When your SMB has a website – as most businesses today do – then sometimes managing traffic can be daunting. A load balancing tool such as HAProxy (High Availability Proxy) allows you to allocate load across multiple servers and help optimize system performance and speed. HAProxy is a free and open source (FOSS) application– it is included in some Linux distributions, if your system runs on Linux, or it can be downloaded separately. Due to its elaborate nature, though, it also requires IT expertise to set up and maintain – so having the right people on board in-house or hiring outside help is crucial.

3. Productivity

Especially when working in small numbers or when you are freelancing, time can really fly. A good time tracking app can help both you and people on your team stay more focused on the task at hand and spend less time distracted by social media or less important tasks. RescueTime is a time management app that tracks where you allocate your precious time by website and application and allows users to set productivity goals. The basic version is completely free, but if you want features like blocking certain sites or breaking down offline activity, then you’ll have to upgrade to premium for a little extra. RescueTime is flexible across platforms and can be used on Mac, PC, and Linux, but its app is currently only available on Android.

prodactivity

Source: Pexels

4. Team Communication

Besides specialized project management apps, it is nice to have a tool dedicated to internal communication in order to make sure that everyone is up to date and colleagues can get easily in touch when needed. Slack is your best friend – and its basic version is free for an unlimited number of users, although it comes with space and feature limitations. You can create a shared workspace with organized communication channels, customized notifications, searchable messages and mandatory two-factor authentication for extra security.

So if you’d like to increase productivity while on a budget, there is no better way to do it than to look out for these free software tools and choose which one right for your company’s needs.

 

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Data Protection Best Practices for SMBs

Data protection comprises of a mix of services, all poised to ensure that IT environments do not experience data loss, data leakage and downtime. Data protection technologies hold a special place for Small to Medium sized Businesses (SMBs).

Importance of Data Protection for SMBs

As businesses grow they rely on digitalization and the data generated, as a result. Data can be classified into different types Data Protectionsuch as mission critical data, frequently accessed data, infrequently accessed data and archival data. Each type presents its own unique storage requirements and challenges. The most important type of data among this chunk is mission critical data. This is the type of data that fuels all of the processes of the IT environments of a business. If this data is lost or compromised, the business experiences an outage or downtime.

Outage or downtime tends to be very costly for businesses; they incur financial repercussions and reputation damage. If an SMB does not have adequate data protection technology and techniques, then they are more susceptible to data loss or downtime and in turn financial costs and reputation damage. In the worst case scenario, an SMB may not even recover from it.

That’s why data protection technology is very important for businesses and especially SMBs.

Now the question is “What are Data Protection Technologies?”

What are Data Protection Technologies?

The major part of data protection technologies can be severed into two: Backup and disaster recovery. Backup and disaster recovery technologies are sometimes confused with one another; however, the two are very different.

The comparison between the two is an explanation for another time but the concise difference is that backup is meant to prevent data loss in all its entirety; while disaster recovery services reduce downtime by prioritizing the restoration of mission critical data.

Data Backup Options for SMBs

Data backup options for SMBs can all be summed up in two major types: Cloud backups and On-premises backups.

On-premises backups require SMBs to acquire an infrastructure, set it up and then endure the dynamic costs of maintenance, power, cooling costs and an IT professional or a team that manages the infrastructure for them. The plus side to on-premises backup appliances is that they deliver reduced latency; if an IT environment is focused on faster data flow, then backup appliances are probably the better fit.

Cloud backups enable SMBs to acquire backup services without the acquisition of infrastructure and without initial costs. Cloud backup service providers deliver pay-as-you-go payment models. Instead of commissioning a backup infrastructure that has storage resources which sit idly until they’re used; SMBs can acquire the storage space that they need with cloud technology and then scale up later to add more space.

The most well sought after attributes of cloud technology are scalability and cost effectiveness.

The downside of cloud backups is that each time a backup file is retrieved, the process incurs charges. This requires detailed management of the backup and restore processes; otherwise, cost efficiency is compromised.

Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) Options for SMBs

Similar to backup solutions, disaster recovery solutions also come in two major forms: on-premises disaster recovery and cloud disaster recovery.

On-premises disaster recovery solutions comprise of an infrastructure that replicates data using combinations of technologies like data replication technology and snapshot technology. Disaster recovery solutions tend to be quite expensive because they need optimized technology to reduce RTOs (Recovery Time Objectives) and RPOs (Recovery Point Objectives) as much as they can.

Cloud disaster recovery solutions are less taxing and less expensive than on-premises disaster recovery solutions. However, as with all cloud based services, latency remains an issue. For IT environments that cannot tolerate latency, on-premises disaster recovery technology is the better option.

Till this point, we are now familiar with backup and disaster recovery technology and we know why data protection is important for SMBs.

Let’s explore some data protection best practices for SMBs.

Best Practices – What SMBs should do to efficiently protect their data

Before indulging in the best practices, I’d like to mention here that each business has their customized data requirements. This implies that what’s best for one IT environment may not be for another; one shoe does not fit all. It’s better to scrutinize your data requirements before setting up data protection solutions.

With that in mind, here’s a general set of recommendations pertaining to data protection for SMBs.

Setup a Hybrid Solution – Cloud and On-premises

Instead of setting up a single on-premises or cloud based solution, I recommend setting up a hybrid data protection solution that uses both of them.

Initially, acquire a backup appliance for all your backup purposes and setup cloud disaster recovery services with it. As the data grows, you can either scale-out the appliance or you can set it up with a cloud based service. The compatibility depends on the appliance and the vendor. It is important to make sure that the desired services are being offered before the acquisition of the solution.

The initial setup will accommodate all the SMB’s data requirements and as the requirements increase, the SMB can use cloud connect services or cloud gateway appliances to tap into the cloud and utilize the different storage tiers offered by major cloud service providers.

With this setup, SMBs can have a scalable solution that’s optimized to address all their data requirements and is cost efficient. This sort of a setup is basically future proof; SMBs don’t have to worry about future expansion.

The cloud disaster recovery service will ensure that downtime is reduced while keeping the cost implications in check.

That sums up my insight about the subject. What’s your take on it? Comment below and remember to share with other professionals.

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How to Collaborate Effectively If Your Team Is Remote

by Erica Dhawan and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

February 27, 2018

 

Remote Team

Remote communication isn’t always easy. Do you recognize yourself in any of these examples?

At 10 p.m., a corporate lawyer gets a text from a colleague and wonders (not for the first time) if there’s a protocol about work-related texts after a certain hour.

After a long and liquid client dinner, an advertising executive opens an email from his boss reminding him to submit his expenses on time. Annoyed by this micromanagement, he immediately responds with his uncensored thoughts.

On the weekly team conference call, a remote team member is confused about whether her colleague is really on mute when she delays a response to a question or if shes just not paying attention and is using this as an excuse.

When it’s possible to be set off by a phone’s mute button, it’s safe to say that we’re living in challenging times. The digital era has ushered in a revolution in communication that’s equivalent to the one surrounding the invention of the printing press. It’s changing how we speak — often in bullet points. And it’s affecting what we hear, as the jumble of information coming at us can lead to frequent misunderstandings and confusion.

People who work on remote teams face these challenges consistently. According to recent estimates from Gallup and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 22% of Americans work from home, while nearly 50% are involved with remote or virtual team work. This continuing shift calls for a new range of behaviors and skills.

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Top Takeaways - Ingram Cloud Summit

Talk about a working vacation, I have returned well-rested and intellectually nourished from the just completed Ingram Cloud Summit held at an iconic, old-school Florida hotel (Boca Resort). In my earlier blog, I spoke toward CloudBlue, a new platform announced by Ingram Micro and Microsoft. 
But there were other nuggets at this event.

Here is my take.
1. SkyKick $40m Raise. Wow – that was a surprise. As I was monitoring Seattle-based GeekWire, a story broke that migration and backup ISV SkyKick closed on a $40-million investor round. It brings its

Skykick

Lauren Wood (SkyKick) with a partner.

2. Women in Technology. I attended a pre-conference afternoon panel about Women in Technology. As I like to do, I asked one question. While most of the women leaders on stage were from the corporate world, there was one like-minded SMB entrepreneur (Dao Jensen, Kaizen Tech Partners) who spoke towards feeling challenged as a woman geek in high school. I asked her about the findings in a popular book “The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance---What Women Should Know” (Shipman and Kay) wherein as young people transition from tweens to teens, men become overconfident and women have a drop in confidence. Dao and the other panelists affirmed that inflection point in life and offered sage advice, experience, etc. Bottom line. A recognition that we all need to work on inspiring confidence in women.

 

womenintechnology

 

3. IAMCP Expanding. I’m a fan of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) monthly lunch meeting in Seattle that I attend regularly plus its annual presence at the Microsoft Inspire partner conference. I wasn’t used to seeing IAMCP at a conference like Ingram Cloud Summit. It appeared to be happy hunting to recruit new IAMCP members as the Ingram Cloud Summit catered to larger partners.

4. Microsoft IoT. The coolest thing on the tradeshow floor was the Microsoft IoT SUV. IoT was the overarching theme for the Ingram Cloud Summit (hey – every conference has to have a theme). The IoT SUV was here, now and pragmatic. I felt a lot of the IoT conversations were still too far off in the future to impact today’s cash flow. But we’re getting closer. 

iotSUV

 

 

The IoT SUV was very popular! 

5. Hallway 101. Long-time readers know that I prefer to work the hallways all-day every day at conferences versus attending lectures to meet people (I wasn’t a well-behaved student due to ADHD). The good news is that there are folks just like me walking ‘da halls and open to networking. Shout outs to Jeff Ponts (DataTel) and George Mellor (KloudReadiness) for sincere business development conversations.

jeffponts
 Jeff Ponts from DataTel

george

George Mellor from KloudReadiness

Really enjoyed this event and I will repeat. Join me.

 

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Why Microsoft gave Windows 10 (version 1803) a different name

Rather than recycling 'seasonal' names for OS upgrades, the company changed things up this time around.

 

Microsoft Windows 10

 

Microsoft will start distributing the next Windows 10 feature upgrade, "Windows 10 April 2018 Update," today - a few weeks later then it had been expected to arrive.

The release date barely squeaked under the wire Microsoft set for itself with its labeling of the upgrade, although the company has never expressed concern when actual release dates have conflicted with each update's alternate - and numeric - title, the one formatted as yymm. That conflict continued with the April 2018 upgrade. Its 1803 moniker envisioned a March, not a last-day-of-April, debut.

 

Microsoft will start distributing the next Windows 10 feature upgrade, "Windows 10 April 2018 Update," today - a few weeks later then it had been expected to arrive.

The release date barely squeaked under the wire Microsoft set for itself with its labeling of the upgrade, although the company has never expressed concern when actual release dates have conflicted with each update's alternate - and numeric - title, the one formatted as yymm. That conflict continued with the April 2018 upgrade. Its 1803 moniker envisioned a March, not a last-day-of-April, debut.

But the new name puts a spotlight on more than just that long-standing contradiction. Here are the most likely reasons Microsoft changed Windows 10's nicknaming.

Microsoft would have exhausted seasonal names

After last year's "Fall Creators Update," for the October feature upgrade, Microsoft would have run out of seasons this month unless it was willing to upend, if not its twice-annual cadence, then the times during the year when it would issue a refresh. (There was a time when virtually everyone, including Computerworld, assumed the latest would be branded as "Spring Creators Update," a single-word upgrade on April 2017's "Creators Update.")

The protesting howls would have matched stadium concert levels.

As some noted, the naming is also northern hemisphere-centric, because south of the equator, "spring" comes in September and "fall" in March.

So, absent a decision to add Roman numerals to the nameplates - "Spring Creators Update II" or "Fall Creators Update IV" - and risk mimicking Hollywood's creative bankruptcy, Microsoft faced a forced name change.

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