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.

Azure for SMBS

Azure is Microsoft’s own offering of the integrated cloud services with a wide range of features that can empower you to build enterprise-class apps and platforms. As with any cloud-hosting service provider, Azure provides you the flexibility and agility to handle your fluctuating business demands, while the azurepay-per model ensures that you only pay for the resources you consume.

Before we dive deeper into the built-in solutions and managed services that Azure provides, let’s take a look at what makes Azure different from other cloud computing solutions, or on-site IT implementations for that matter.

Why use Azure?

1. Ease of Usage:

Just like AWS, Azure boasts of multiple tools and pre-built templates or instances that you can use to build your web, mobile or Internet of Things app very fastly and efficiently. With Azure, build your product and launch it to your customers in a matter of days for what could take months by conventional means.

2. Integration:

Azure allows ease of integration not only with your existing apps and platforms but also with your existing on-site IT infrastructures.
Almost all the popular OS, programming languages, platforms, frameworks, databases, and tools are compatible with Azure. So you can either build your app with PHP, Javascript, .NET or build back-ends for your mobile apps across various operating systems.
Also, through hybrid database and storage solutions, Azure can easily integrate with your existing data centers to give you the best of both onsite and cloud computing implementations.

3. Scalable:

As with most of the cloud hosting solutions, Azure hosting solutions scale as your business demands grow. You are never committed to a resource and Azure’s ‘pay-as-you-go’ service ensures that you only pay for what you use.
Besides, Azure boasts of Microsoft-managed datacenters across 32 regions in the world, which is currently more than AWS and Google Cloud combined.

4. Security:

Many SMB executives are still doubtful when it comes to security in the cloud. Microsoft Azure is one of pioneers in cloud security and protection. Azure was the first major cloud hosting providers to embrace the new international cloud privacy standard, ISO 27018 and adhere to the EU privacy laws. Additionally, Azure has launched ‘Azure Government’ especially in the US to adhere to the compliance requirements of US public agencies.

Some Azure solutions ideal for SMBs

While the above advantages are offered by pretty much any cloud provider, including the big players in the industry, it's actually Microsoft’s brand name along with the ready-to-use solutions offered by Azure which make it a great tool for small startups and businesses. For each of these solutions, Microsoft provides you the complete technical documentation and access to partner resources to help you get started easily. Azure has a vast list of such solutions; let’s take a look at some of which are particularly suitable for SMBs.

1. E-commerce:

Azure provides a flexible and open e-commerce platform which allows you to sell products to your customers ‘intelligently’. Through the built-in tools, you can analyze factors such as site traffic, conversion optimization, abandonment zones and customer behavior & history to create personalized sales funnels and tailor-made offers and recommendations for customers. This results in a more personalized shopping experience and increases customer retention.

Azure also extends these functionalities to your supply chain and customer service sectors. You can build self-help portals for suppliers to streamline your supply chain, improve inventory management and reduce support costs. Besides, the scalable solutions by Azure assure you of a continuous uptime even at times of peak demand, so that you can devote your time and resources to business-critical functions rather than IT infrastructure.

Azure has many related products and services to aid your e-commerce venture and also offers pre-built e-commerce frameworks in the marketplace to help you get started.

2. Digital Marketing:

Azure offers in-built tools to handle the Digital Marketing functions of your business that acts on real-time data and analytics. The platform makes use of customer data, feedback, history and behavior along with intelligent predictive analytics to devise and understand different customer profiles. It then builds personalized marketing campaigns for these profiles and analyzes and optimizes these campaigns in real-time based on user behavior and responsiveness.

3. Business Intelligence:

Azure offers a wide range of predictive analytics services such as Machine Learning and Cortana Analytics, which helps your business to make better-informed and smarter data-driven solutions in real-time. Azure allows you to use the numerous ‘Power BI solution templates’ to create a feature-rich BI platform that will provide you with intelligent insights. These platforms also allow you to make use of data to create fully interactive and visual apps for your users.

4. Apps:

Azure has many functionalities when it comes to user applications.

Azure makes use of predictive analytics and machine learning to help scale your SaaS apps as your business grows, helping you to scale your business model efficiently. Further, you can rest assured that your customers’ data is always protected as Azure allows you to isolate data in separate databases. Azure also allows you to use ‘Power BI Embedded’ to deploy sophisticated features as Image Recognition in your apps and deliver rich and interactive visualizations to users.

The ‘Dev-Test’ solution by Azure provides you cross-platform functionality to test and build your applications. Deploy and use virtual machines on a pay-per-use basis to expedite your development and launch new features and updates in a matter of days.

Azure’s MBaaS (Mobile Backend as a Service) allows you to develop mobile apps for your business across all the operating systems by compiling in a single language. MBaaS allows you to find and fix bugs easily and distribute beta versions of your apps to a development community to collect real-time data and improve your app.

5. Backup & Recovery , DR:

Azure offers the ‘Backup as a Service’ and Restore Solutions that enable you to run your business even when your onsite IT implementations are damaged. Reduce the expense on storage devices and tapes as your business grows and leverage Azure’s pay-per-use cloud storage model to make a backup of all your business instances.

Azure’s DRaaS provides you with business continuity during natural or artificial catastrophes. Eliminate the cost of secondary datacenters and losses due to downtime by making use of Azure’s data recovery solutions which assure you low RPOs and RTOs for every business-critical instance at affordable rates.

Cloud solutions such as Azure open up a world of possibilities for your business where you can scale your business model without any initial heavy expenditure. Azure is made to handle any type of business load: from a small dev-test project to a global product launch. More than 66% of the Fortune 500 companies use Azure. If you are still relying on onsite IT infrastructure, it’s time you give cloud solutions as the Azure a shot. It’s free to get started!

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Ransomware? Bad news, it's getting worse

Steve Weisman, Special for USA TODAY

635981605803254358 ThinkstockPhotos 492800537I first warned you about the dangers of ransomware in early 2015,   and its increased use was one of my cybersecurity predictions for 2016.

Unfortunately, that prediction has come true, and my motto of, “Things aren’t as bad as you think — they are far worse,” has proven accurate. In fact, the FBI has recently warned that ransomware attacks against hospitals, schools, government agencies, police departments, businesses and individuals are dramatically increasing.

Ransomware is a type of malware that once installed on your computer locks and encrypts files.   The cybercriminals who send it to you then threaten to destroy your files unless you pay a ransom, generally in untraceable bitcoins.

Phishing or its more sophisticated version, "spear phishing," is often used to spread the malware. Emails lure the victim to click on a link, which downloads the ransomware.  Spear phishing targets specific victims by personalizing an email to make it appear especially legitimate.

Cybercriminals can do this by gathering information from various sources including social media accounts.  By putting too much personal information on social media, we often become our own worst enemy.

Ransomware is also spread through malvertising, which is apparently legitimate advertising, and on bona fide websites. But click on it, and you've downloaded the malware.

Yet another way cybercriminals strike is by infecting legitimate websites such that merely going to the site without clicking on anything is sufficient to infect your computer.  A newer version of ransomware called CryptXXX is being spread in this manner and was used to infect the website of American toy maker Maisto.  Fortunately, there is a free decryption tool for this particular type of ransomware, available from Kasperksy Lab.

Often the websites are infected through attacking vulnerabilities that exist in plug-ins such as Adobe Flash.  As long ago as 2010, Steve Jobs complained about this vulnerability.  Despite security patch after security patch, new problems kept coming up with this software.  It would appear that just as companies retire certain programs when it is just too difficult to continue to patch them (as with Windows XP), this may well be the time for Adobe to retire Flash. And if the company doesn’t do this, you should consider retiring it yourself and replacing it with another plug-in that performs the same function.

One of cybercrooks' newer methods is deploying ransomware against smartphones. While this tactic is less common, it is only a matter of time before the myriad of devices that make up the Internet of Things could be subject to such attacks.  Just imagine the dangers of Internet-connected medical devices such as pacemakers and insulin pumps being compromised.

Rarely is paying the ransom a good option, although in a controversial statement at a Cyber Security summit in 2015, FBI Assistant Special Agent Joseph Bonavolonta indicated that sometimes the FBI advises victims to pay up.  The FBI, as would be expected, has since backed off of this statement.

New versions of ransomware are constantly being developed by cybercriminals who often — rather than merely using the malware themselves — will sell it on a part of the Internet referred to as the Dark Web, where less technically sophisticated criminals buy and sell malware as well as stolen information, such as credit card numbers.

Cybersecurity predictions for 2016

Some cybercriminals are even taking advantage of the general awareness of ransomware to trick their victims into downloading malware that merely locks their screen while a pop-up message appears telling the victim that they have become a victim of ransomware and that they must pay a ransom or their data will be destroyed although the data has not been locked or encrypted.  Merely restarting the computer can often get rid of the pop-up and end the screen lock of these wanna-be ransomware criminals.

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How Food Startups are applying Internet of Food?

There is much to talk about when it comes to Internet of Things (IoT) in the Food industry. There are several emerging Food Startups that have adapted IoF and have integrated it into their business processes. The trend of Internet of Food (IoF) is enormous, as business are experiencing major difference after adapting these technologies.   Let’s look at two startups who are embracing IoT and bringing them into the food industry.


BovControl is a Brazilian group which that keeps all information regarding Cattle farming on it’s data collection and analysis tool hosted on the cloud. This tool allows Farmers and Shepherds to track the Cattle and keep updated record of stock and trading. Using multiple digital tools such as charts and inventory graphs, BovControl controls effective exchange of information with farmers. After this first successful adaptation of IoT, BovControl is about to launch a second Cloud Offering which will provide information to Food providers. This is how BovControl applies Internet of Food (IoF) technology in it’s emerging business model.

Consumer Physics
When it comes to scanning, or analyzing content of food, Consumer Physics has kick started the market. With a mission to empower people to have a better understanding of our physical world, Consumer Physics has developed and produced a scanner that helps users identify the composition of food, medication, and plants.
Scan meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables for macro nutrient values (calories, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins), produce quality, ripeness, and spoilage analysis. Not only does this scanner work for food, but it is designed for you to create your own DIY material sensing applets to identify different materials of your choice. The possibilities are endless.

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Amazon Web Services (AWS), having been around for a decade, is the market leader by miles in the cloud-based computing industry, providing the foundation and framework to power application developments, storage and data processing. However, aws logo 100584713 carousel.idgegrowth figures, as reported by Synergy Research Group for 2016 (53%), puts them behind Microsoft’s Azure (100%) and Google’s Cloud Platform (162%); even for a business with 45% market share (more than twice the size of the next three competitors combined), those growth figures will make them shake like a leaf.

Market share figures may suggest absolute dominance in the short term, but AWS is aware of the growth waves of the other competitors; a clear indication that the market will most likely look enormously diverse in the long run, probably even before their second decade. The power of Google is also intimidating even from a distance; Android developers are increasingly finding Google’s Cloud Platform preferable. Also, both Google and Microsoft are heavily resourcing their research and development departments and the fruits have been a rhythmic launch of new products. AWS though, seems to want to focus on a new target market; Enterprise customers.

Enterprise customers was widely referred to as wealth beneath the soil. These are large organizations using systems such as SQL Server, MariaDB, MySQL, Oracle … and are either slow or reluctant to migrate onto any cloud platform. Amazon is trying to make migration from any of these systems seamless with their AWS Database Migration Service. The aim is to be the market leader for enterprise customer; to sweep every organization that falls under this category as Google and Microsoft focus on startups and individual developers. However, Microsoft is also tapping into its long-standing relationships with some of these organizations to have them migrate onto Azure. Google though, was a major winner last year when Apple signed up for their Cloud Service for some of its iCloud services. Clearly, Microsoft and Google will also focus on this market sooner than later, but AWS would have lead the market by the nose.

Another area AWS seems to want to revamp is security. TechCrunch reported earlier this year that AWS has acquired a cyber security firm called; a startup which is known for using artificial intelligence to assess and analyze the behavior of users around a company’s IP to automatically nullify any attacks. This will eliminate the need for third party security for some AWS subscribers. This will also enhance the work of Amazon Inspector; a security service that enables users to analyze the behavior of applications used in AWS to unearth potential security threats.

Some may find AWS decision to focus on a new market a major risk; others may find making startups an opportunity cost costly, but that is business. Enterprises are continually looking for new ways to get work done faster, smarter and cheaper. Startups are most likely going to deal with Google anyway. AWS has been shrewd to say the least, and they will continue to rule the roost this year.

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Amazon Web Services for Small & Medium Sized- Businesses

As seasoned IT professionals running a small-sized business, you probably must be aware of the advantages cloud-based platforms bring over in-house deployment of hardware.

Most of the small business and startups lack the budget and workforce to purchase, install, handle and maintain on-site data centers and servers. Cloud Computing has long been known as the solution for such businesses, where rather than deploying aws logo 100584713 carousel.idgein-house IT hardware, the business model is deployed on the infrastructures hosted by a third-party. Most of these providers use a pay-per-use model and the initial investment is almost negligible.

Cost aside, cloud-based solutions offer flexibility and scalability. If you are using an in-house IT infrastructure, scaling up your business systems demands heavy investment in hardware, often at the cost of downtime for your business. With cloud hosting platforms, the peak demands are automatically met through the pay-per-use model without any additional hardware costs.

There are numerous cloud-hosting providers in the market currently. Unarguably, AWS (Amazon Web Services) is the most popular one, especially when it comes to catering to small businesses.

What does AWS offer?
AWS includes numerous cloud-based computing, storage, database, networking, administration, security, mobile services and enterprise-based applications. When you open the main console of AWS, you will see more than 30 tools available in each section such as EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) in Cloud Computing, S3 (Simple Storage Service) in Storage and Content Delivery, RDS (Relationship Database Service) in Database and many more.

Here are some noteworthy features of AWS:

1.  Prebuilt AMIs (Amazon Machine Images):

It is extremely simple and easy to build your product with the wide variety of prebuilt Amazon Machine Images. Additionally, there is a marketplace where there are user-built Machine Images (MI) and a vibrant community that creates and shares such MIs. With AWS, you can build a product and reach your customer within a matter of hours.

2.  Understand your usage of IT applications and save more:

Amazon CloudWatch is a monitoring tool within AWS to monitor your use of IT applications. This tool provides you multiple insights and metrics that will aid you in choosing the correct price model for the service you want to deploy- be it Amazon EC2 or the S3 .

3. Automated infrastructure:

AWS offers auto-scaling through services such as Amazon Elastic Beanstalk, which automatically scales up your service capacity when the traffic spikes and downgrades it when demand is low and helps you decrease costs while ensuring 100% uptime for your business.

4. Cost management:

AWS offers a very transparent billing model with many instances where you can cut down your expenditure. The Amazon EC2 Reserved Instances can cut down your hourly costs by 50% if you invest in a reserved capacity upfront. AWS also offers Spot instances, where you bid your own price based on a fixed usage of resources and this can significantly reduce your costs. The ‘Cost-aware architecture’ allows you to monitor and tweak your architecture to control the usage to adjust to your business’ growth over time.

5. AWS Activate:

AWS Activate is a global program developed by AWS and directed at SMBs to help them develop their products easily and provides them the same computing power and technology used by global corporations. With AWS, you can get started for free to try out the many services within AWS and see if it is fit for your business and budget.

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