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.

The Network “Hack” that Wasn’t To Be

Sometimes the idea looks great on paper but doesn’t really work out when you try to configure it. And often, the only way to be sure is to break out the good old scientific method and try. So I tried. And it didn’t work, so I’m putting here in case you get a similar wild idea in near future.

The goal was to start with a primary VNET in Azure for some VMs. This network was going to act as a collection point for data coming in from a number of remote physical sites all over the world. In addition, some machines on the primary network would need to send configuration data to the remote sites. Ultimately, we were looking at a classic hub and spoke network design, with an Azure VNET in the center.


There are several ways you can do this using Azure networking, VNET peering between Azure VNETs, Site-to-Site (S2S) VPNs, and even ExpressRoute. ExpressRoute was off the table for this proof of concept, and since the remote sites were not Azure VNETs, that left Site-to-Site VPN.

The features you have available to you for Site-to-Site VPN depend on the type of gateway devices you use on each end for routing purposes. For multi-site connections, route-based (aka dynamic) routing is required. However, the remote sites were connected to the internet using Cisco ASA devices. The Cisco ASA is a very popular Firewall/VPN that’s been around since about 2005, but it only uses policy-based (aka static) routing.

So while we could easily use a static route to connect our primary site to any SINGLE remote network using the S2S VPN, we couldn’t connect to them all a simultaneously. And since we couldn’t call this a “hack” without trying to get around that very specific limitation, we tried to figure out a way to mask the static route requirement from the primary network. So how about VNET Peering?

VNET Peering became generally available in Azure in late 2016. Prior to its debut, the ability to connect any network (VNET or physical) required the use of the VPN gateways. With peering, Azure VNETs in the same region can be connected using the Azure backbone network. While there are limits to the number of peers a single network can have (default is 10, max limit is 50) you can create a pretty complex mesh of networks in different resource groups as long as they are in the same region.

So our theory to test was…. What if we created a series of “proxy” VNETS to connect to the ASA devices using static routing but then used the VNET Peering feature to connect all those networks back to the primary network?

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How to Build Employee Engagement in Your Small or Medium Business

ToniBowers 72x80Toni BowersToni Bowers

SMB Tech 



Companies of all sizes often have difficulty understanding the importance of developing trust and engaging employees in their organizations. CEOs will sign off on a serverless API because someone has shown them that it can save cloud computing costs, but the value of employee engagement, employee collaboration and trust often goes uncalculated.

That is not to say that companies don’t see problems that result from the lack of employee engagement and collaboration. A survey by Forbes and Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends revealed that 76 percent of survey respondents (2,500 organizations in 90 countries) believe that they have a significant retention and engagement problem. Ninety percent of these leaders think an engagement strategy will have an impact on business success, but barely 25 percent of them have such a strategy.

How Employee Engagement Can Affect Your Bottom Line
There is a direct and tangible added business benefit to organizations that invest in their employees. In fact, Gallup (via Dale Carnegie) claims that companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202 percent.

On the flip side, there is a measurable cost to having unengaged employees: higher turnover (estimates show employee turnover equals about 150 percent of an employee’s salary), lower productivity while on the job, and increased employee absence. American businesses lose approximately $500+ billion per year because of disengaged workers, according to Gallup1 and Office Vibe.

How to Build Employee Engagement
Trust is a necessary ingredient of both engagement and innovation. If the people in your company are innovating, producing sustainable results, and building exceptional work relationships, they are also building trust in each other, and your company, in the process.

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Keeping Up with the Releases

There are a lot of great things to say about the faster release cycles we see with software these days. Bugs are fixed and features become available to us sooner, security issues are resolved quicker too. In a lot of cases, our operating systems and software packages are smart enough to check themselves and let us know updates are available or automatically install themselves.

I work between two different machines regularly and depending on my schedule sometimes favor one software updatemachine over the other for several weeks at a time. For better or for worse (mostly for the better), Windows 10 takes care of itself for me, as does Visual Studio Code and Docker for Windows. This means I often find myself sitting down at the “other” machine and once again waiting for those updates to install. While sometimes I admit to rolling my eyes in frustration every time I get an update alert, I do appreciate that I don’t have to think about those updates otherwise.

But for software that doesn’t automatically update, I will sometimes find myself wondering why demo notes I’ve drafted on one machine suddenly aren’t working when I try them on the other machine or worse, blaming documentation for being incorrect when the commands don’t work as instructed.

When it comes to documentation freshness vs software freshness… Let’s not go there today. I generally always start with when I’m looking for information about Azure and other Microsoft products. While nothing is above being error free and sometimes out of date, more often than not my problems exist between my keyboard and monitor – in the form of some piece of software needing an update.

The top two things on my machines that I have to manually update regularly are:

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New SMB Channel DevOps extends Slack/Autotask


Wise minds are always innovating. That’s exactly what’s occurred with long-time SMB Nation member Grace Schroeder (remember the Idea2 CRM?) with her new company Slingr.

Schroder and team have launched a supporting actor application in a category I just made up called SMB channel partner ecosystem extenders. Essentially Slingr found a gap that needed to be filled. In particular this blog concerns Slingr’s integration of Slack to the Autotask professional services automation (PSA) solution.

I spoke with Slingr executive Thomas Beck at a recent cloud computing event in the Seattle area to learn  slingr thoms beckmore. “Essentially Slingr is a low code, high productivity application platform as a service combined with an integration platform as a service capability. Our value proposition is that you can build and integrate apps much more efficiently than starting app development/integration from scratch.” Beck shared. “We’re so efficient that , on average, you save about 80 percent of time on labor and resources when building from a platform basis versus the alternative of building from scratch.”


With Thomas Beck (right) from Slingr.

Autotask Integrations with Slack

I asked about Slingr’s new Autotask/Slack integration solution. “We build a lot of apps and integrations for our customers. Sometimes we have ideas or requests from customers like ‘Hey – we wish this was something that did this’ and one of those requests came from a friend in the MSP community who shared a lot of MSPs are using Slack and Autotask.” Beck said. “The basic request was could you make Slack and Autotask work together. We determined it was a broad enough market profile and that exactly what we’ve done: integrate Slack and Autotask.”

Okay. I asked how would I use the Slack/Autotask integration in the day in the life as an MSP? “Think of it this way. If you use Slack, you tend to start living in it; Slack becomes your windows to the world. You stop wanting to get out of Slack and you don’t want to swivel chair to another app to get something done because that’s inefficient and loses productivity.” Beck shared. With the Sling bot for Autotask/Slingr integration, you can do 90% of what you need to do in Autotask by staying inside Slack. All within ten commands. You can open, assign/reassign, check and fetch tickets, etc. all with in Slack.

Get the App and Costs
Download from the app store.
Free ten (10) day trail
Costs are $9.99 per user per month

I asked if the Datto acquisition of Autotask has impacted the integration. “No – nothing has been broken.” Beck said. “Everything is still full operational. Based on the success with the Autotask/Slack integration, we expect that we’ll expand into the other PSAs such as ConnectWise. Everything is driven by customer feedback.”

Finally, I asked how MSPs can work with Slingr? “We do have a partner program for MSPs that want to work with clients. Take an two or even ten applications and you can partner with Slingr to build integrations. We can work with the MSPs and clients to be an enabler on digital transformation. All in the cloud; partially in the cloud, etc." Beck stated.

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Machine Learning is Animal Learning

I’ve had this blog written in my mind for months. I’ve just been trying to find the words to articulate my vision of animal behavior as the best way to explain “machine learning.” So what motivated me to type this out? I read an article in the New York Times this week here about artificial intelligence (AI) and how animals are helping with machine learning.

My study was based on the SMB Nation mascot,

Astro, an English Springer Spaniel who hunts. Hunts food that is. But his hunting to spring birds on Bainbridge Island is for pleasure only (and its instinctual). He has quickly learned via nurture and from over 15,000 years of canine domestication (nature) that its far easier to beg for food from humans. Astro uses a charm offensive much like an infant to get what he wants - food - from humans. Loosely translated to machine learning, think of it this way. Animals are very good at detecting what works and doesn’t work. Begging works.

Old Dog, New Tricks
Animals such as dogs are creatures of habit. Normally they repeat routines such as awaiting kids at 4pm when the yellow school astromachinelearningbus pulls up to unload. And Astro isn’t getting any younger, so I embarked on a mission to teach an old dog new tricks! The task was to teach Astro to go through the doggy door to the home office. It was harder than I thought as the see-through plastic flap appeared to be a barrier to entry. So, like AI, I modified the approach to find a tactic that worked. With food being a primary canine motivator, I’d place a dog treat inside my office and Astro could see through the plastic shield and nudge his nose to open the “doggy door” to enter. The downside was that Astro would only open the doggy door if there was a dog treat on the other side because that’s exactly what I trained him to do.

So back to the basic axiom of machine learning and AI: modify and try again.

I removed the actual see-through doggy door under the auspicious that I’d first get him to go through the cutout hole unimpeded then I could reintroduce the true doggy door. See Figure 1 below as evidence that this worked. Now Astro comes in-and-out of my office at will. And this is the current state of my animal learning experiment. The downside to the current state – with the doggy door removed is that my office is colder and yesterday a song bird flew into the office. Had to shoo the bird out with a fly swatter. All good.

Machine Learning/AI and animal learning are analogous. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself at home. Feedback always welcome.

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