Any good consultant working with small and medium sized businesses strives to become an integral part of the way that business operates. For IT consultants, it is a long road that usually begins with fixing problems and maintaining the status quo. Good IT consultants look for ways to add value by recommending solutions to improve processes and help reduce the time it takes employees to complete a task. Eventually, a great consultant can prove not only the value of their services but also the value of IT to the business. The process of building that relationship and trust is long and hard fought, but in the end provides a great benefit to both the business and the consultant.
The stages an IT consultant goes through in a relationship with its client is not unlike the path one might take to become the CIO or Chief Information Officer of a large company. So if a consultant is like a CIO why doesn’t every small and medium business have a CIO? Well, because it’s not cost effective for most smaller businesses to have one. The amount and complexity of work a CIO would do for most smaller businesses would not be sufficient to keep them busy full time.
A part time CIO or virtual CIO, as they might be called, could be just the solution. A virtual CIO takes a cue from virtual machines, which allows a single server to do the job of many servers. A virtual CIO is a person or a group of persons who divide their time performing the duties of a CIO for more than one business. Isn’t that just a consultant, you might ask? Yes, but a virtual CIO is also much more. A virtual CIO works closely with management on a regular basis to determine ways to improve productivity. A virtual CIO helps management develop strategic plans for using IT in the future to support business growth. A virtual CIO helps build a budget for maintaining and upgrading systems as they age and need to be replaced. This kind of strategic planning helps business manage cost and mitigate the potential loss of time and money that occurs when employees use outdated computers that are slow and are also more prone to failure as they age.
The average consultant or even IT administrator isn’t generally equipped to perform these duties. The average consultant is good at managing projects and finding solutions for problems already identified by a client’s management team. IT administrators tend to have their hands full managing the day to day operations of a network. The virtual CIO bridges the gap between consultants and management while still providing the technical skills and knowledge to plan the implementation of a solution, like an IT administrator. Jacobs & Company B.I.T.S. Managed Services is a first step in developing the kind of high visibility relationship needed to allow us to become your virtual CIO. Jacobs and Company B.I.T.S. has both the business acumen and IT skills to provide you, our clients, with virtual CIO services today to help your business continue to grow through the strategic use of IT in your business.
Like New Amsterdam and Constantinople, Microsoft’s cloud based storage service now has a new name. Much like these cities, Microsoft was forced to change the name after losing a battle. In June of last year, Microsoft was forced to settle a law suit regarding trademark infringement with British Sky Broadcasting Group plc. British Sky Broadcasting Group uses the word “Sky” to brand many of its products such as “Sky Store and Share.” As part of the settlement, Microsoft agreed to change the name of its consumer and Pro SkyDrive products. British Sky Broadcasting Group agreed to allow Microsoft to continue using the name during a transition period. As some of you who may use the product may have noticed, the transition period has come to an end.
SkyDrive is now being called OneDrive. It is the same service it was before, but now with a new name. Windows 7 users should already see the new name show up in their My Documents and Favorites groups in the left hand column of Windows Explorer. Users of devices like iPhones, iPads, and Android devices will also see the name change when they update the application. With the name change, Microsoft did release some new features and incentives to use the service. Android phones can now use the OneDrive app to automatically backup their pictures stored on their device to the cloud. Microsoft also claims to have made it easier to share and view videos stored on the OneDrive service.
In addition to the name change and the new features, Microsoft has added some incentives help keep existing users and add new ones. You still get 7GB of storage just for signing up for OneDrive; however, now you can earn more storage space bringing your total storage up to 15GB. One easy way to get an extra 3GB of storage is to turn the automatic camera backup on in the settings of your smart device like your iPhone or Android tablet. Additionally, Microsoft has taken a cue from Dropbox and is allowing you to earn extra storage by referring friends. For each referral, you receive an additional 500MB of storage for a total of 5GB.
SkyDrive Pro is also being renamed to OneDrive Pro. As we have discussed before, the pro version of the product is part of the Office 365 subscription and is based on Microsoft’s popular document management and collaboration platform SharePoint. More information about changes to the pro service will be released at the SharePoint 2014 Conference March 3-4, according to this blog post from Microsoft (http://blog.onedrive.com/onedrive-is-now-available-worldwide/).
If you are not using a cloud service to backup and sync all of your important data you should be. It makes sharing all your important pictures and documents easy and secure. It also gives you access to all your files anytime, from any device, anywhere in the world.
At the beginning of February I came across yet another scareware/ransomware virus of which you should be aware . Like other similar viruses, this virus downloads and installs an application on your computer from an infected website targeting browsers and java software that have not been updated. The application proceeds to turn off your real antivirus software and hold your computer ransom by pretending to be legitimate antivirus software. This particular fake antivirus calls itself Windows Paramount Protection and asks you to pay for an update in order to clean up an infection. DO NOT give them your credit card. If you see the screen below or one similar, the best course of action is to shut down your computer and call someone to remove the infection.
Another attack that popped up on my radar this month was one targeted at a U.S. veteran’s website – VFW.org. This attack exploited a flaw in Internet Explorer 10 and older with Adobe Flash installed to install a piece of software designed to steal files from a computer. What makes this virus interesting is that it disappears after the computer is rebooted. The stealth nature of this virus makes it hard to detect; however, upgrading your browser will prevent you from being infected.
If you are using an older browser because of specific requirements of say a web application that only supports Internet Explorer 9 or 10, I would recommend only visiting those sites with the older browser and installing another browser like Google Chrome, Firefox, or Safari for your regular web browsing activities. These browsers are not immune to attacks either, so be sure you update them frequently as well.
The big news in Windows support is still the impending end of extended support for Windows XP which is April 8, 2014. What you might not have known is that mainstream support of Windows 7 will be ending in the near future as well. Mainstream support is a period of support during which Microsoft actively writes new code for an operating system, sometimes adding new features in addition to fixing bugs and patching security holes. When mainstream support ends for a version of Windows, so does the availability of the operating system on new computers. Due to customer demand, the previous mainstream support end date for Windows 7 has been moved from October 31, 2014 to January 13, 2015. Many of the major computer manufacturers have however already stopped building new retail and consumer systems with Windows 7 on them. Businesses and consumers can still purchase some models with Windows 7 installed from the computer manufacturer’s websites though they are being sold as downgrades. This means you only get a license key for Windows 8 so if you have to reload the computer or replace the hard drive you will be installing Windows 8 and not 7.
The concession by Microsoft to extend mainstream support might give some of you out there a little more breathing room for testing and planning for the move to Windows 8.1. Windows 7 still has some life left after the end of mainstream support date however. Existing computers with Windows 7 installed will enjoy extended support through January 14, 2020. On that day, Windows 7 will be in the same position Windows XP is now. It will become a liability. Just because Windows 7 will be supported through 2020 does not mean you shouldn’t have a plan for implementing Windows 8.1 in your environment. Like it or not, Windows 8.1 will find its way onto your network well before 2020.
If you don’t have a plan for supporting Windows 8.1 on your network you should be developing one now. You should also be planning to move from your Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 based servers. If the task seems too daunting or you just don’t have the time to devote to this kind of planning you need to bring someone like Jacobs and Company B.I.T.S. in to help you develop a migration plan not just for Windows 8.1 but to also to help prepare for whatever comes next. If you have not already read it, I recommend that you read my article “Every Business Needs a CIO” also printed in this volume of the newsletter to help you better understand how Jacobs and Company B.I.T.S. can help you maintain your IT systems and plan for the future.