Explaining the core features of IT Support

IT Support providers regularly review their services to make sure they continue to cover the latest IT trends and remain competitive. The result? New features continuously make their way to Support Plans and overwhelm potential clients looking for an IT Support solution.

I am not trying to underestimate the importance of innovation in our industry, but rather trying to help the business user steer past some of the “window dressing“ features and gather an insight into the essential aspects that an IT Support solution should include.

Here is a brief description of the essential features of an IT Support plan:

ITIL Guidelines:

ITIL stands for Information Technology Infrastructure Library.  It comprises a set of best practices relating (in an IT Support context) to procedures such as providing a single point of contact and feedback on the status of resolving an IT related incident.

Remote Support:

Remote Support is a cost effective method to solve incidents without having to send a technician onsite. Using a secure connection, support personnel can access systems remotely and resolve an underlying problem.

Helpdesk:

Helpdesk refers to IT experts who respond, within pre-agreed timeframes, to issues submitted by phone or email. Depending on the Service Level Agreement, a Helpdesk service would be available during business hours, or 24/7.

In most cases an IT Helpdesk provides level 1, 2, and 3 Support:

Level 1:

A staff member logs a particular problem and gathers all the required information. Usually representatives are able to solve more than 70% of cases at this level, which often relate to requests such as  “how to”, passwords, and basic troubleshooting.

Level 2:

At this level the problem is escalated to a more experienced staff member who will attempt to provide a solution and in-depth analysis of the root cause.

Level 3:

At this level, senior technicians will look at certain complicated problems and assess the approach followed since level 1. Technicians at this stage would have an extensive experience in their fields and can provide solutions to new and complex problems.

Operating System and Application Support:

This refers to providing support for deploying, configurating, using and updating applications; as well as, Windows and Apple devices.

User Management:

User Management refers to the process of adding and deleting users and managing their access and file sharing levels.

Proactive Alert Notification:

This refers to alerting the user to a matter of urgency through phone, email, or SMS.  Alerts are also sent when an incident has been detected and fixed, or when approval is required for an issue not covered in the Service Level Agreement.

Vendor Escalation:

When level 1, 2, or 3 support is not able to resolve an issue, IT Support providers employ a vendor escalation procedure through which they contact the vendor on the client’s behalf.

Tip: Look for companies who have established partnerships with leading software and hardware vendors as they can provide this service cost effectively.

Customer Online Portal:

A Customer Online Portal is a web interface accessible with a user name and password. This online portal allows you to track your incidents and service requests, view system status and performance, and access your monthly reports and billing.

Single point of contact:

A Single Point of Contact is a resource that understands your business and is able to promptly respond to problems.

Proactive Server Monitoring

This is the process where support providers scan and fix problems before they disrupt your business. Best practice procedure also requires the provider to generate reports that detail the problem, its resolution, and other issues that may require attention.

Onsite Support:

When IT Support issues cannot be resolved remotely, the provider dispatches an engineer onsite. Most providers will also offer a dedicated onsite resource if your business requires that level of coverage.

Service Advisor:

A Service advisor (also referred to as an Account Manager) ensures that the service continues to meet your business needs, reviews what services have been provided, assesses the service performance, and handles all upgrade requests.

Annual IT Audit:

Using sophisticated Software, IT companies can map devices, applications and licenses throughout an organisation and alert on issues that need attention.

Reporting:

Monthly reports detail issues resolved, report on the state of systems, and detail recommendations and alerts.

When delivered by the right provider, the above features allow businesses to cut costs and reduce downtime. So before you commit to an IT Support plan make sure you check our post about choosing a Managed IT Service Provider.

 

What is Cloud Computing?

Everyone in business is talking about the Cloud. But despite its popularity, it is a challenge for vendors to provide a clear-cut definition of the Cloud considering its different characteristics and deployment models.

The main characteristic of Cloud Computing is the ability to provide on-demand multiple access to shared and scalable hardware and software resources. The National institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines the cloud as follows:

“Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

An example is an email service such as Outlook or Gmail. These are cloud applications hosted remotely and accessed through any device with an Internet connection. Such applications are shared by millions of users. Each user can configure settings in the cloud and the configuration is implemented across all their devices. These types of applications are referred to as SAAS (software as a service), running on an IAAS (infrastructure as a service). The “as a service” model refers to running these applications over the Internet.


Cloud implementation

Cloud implementation models fall under these three main categories:

Public Cloud: A service provider offers servers, applications and storage usually as a pay per user model. The hosting is done remotely in a data center.

Private Cloud: This refers to a Cloud infrastructure being owned and operated by one organisation and hosted on its premises.

Hybrid Cloud: As the name implies, the Hybrid Cloud combines both Public and Private Clouds. One scenario of Hybrid Cloud implementation is hosting critical data onsite with the option of scaling to a Public cloud during traffic spikes.

 

Benefits of Cloud Computing:

Progressive businesses understand that leveraging the Cloud allows them to:

Reduce costs and free up resources:
Businesses can replace capital expenditure on IT infrastructure with predictable monthly payments and allow IT personnel to focus on profit generating projects rather than maintenance tasks.

Ensure Seamless growth:
Cloud infrastructure is elastic with extensive range of hardware and software resources to accommodate any expansion quickly.

Customise IT environment:
The cloud is a highly-customisable environment which is quickly and efficiently adaptable as business needs change.

Deploy and test applications quickly:
Cloud servers make it fast and easy to build, test, deploy and scale applications.

Utilise the latest technology:
Cloud infrastructure is continuously monitored and regularly undergoes security assessments and software updates.

Backup data:
Cloud backup is completely automated with flexible storage that grows with your business. Cloud backups are accessible 24/7 from anywhere.

Access Support:
Managed Cloud Solutions mean that the provider ensures availability with regular maintenance and support.

Answers to common Cloud Computing concerns:

1- Possible Downtime:

No business can afford downtime, and hosting remotely does not increase downtime probability beyond the existing risks of hosting onsite (electricity outages, natural disasters, theft, etc.…). For peace of mind choose a Cloud provider that offers uptime guarantees and a fallback option.

2- Security:

Reliable Cloud Computing vendors have the resources that allow them to offer advanced data security systems. Data centers also have very strict guidelines and policies for physical access to their sites. The average small business will find it hard to match this level of security.

3- Cost:

While one advantage of Cloud computing is being able to pay for resources as you use them, some businesses prefer a predictable payment to avoid surprise bills and hidden costs. To overcome this, businesses can approach vendors that offer a fixed cost service with the option to scale up usage when required.

Contact Interlinked for a free consultation which outlines the benefits of Cloud Computing to your particular business.

 

Windows support ends in April 2014: Decision time for Australian businesses

Millions of enterprise users will be left with no protection against new security vulnerabilities from April 8, when Microsoft stops supporting its Windows XP operating system.

Despite knowing the extraordinary risks, millions of PCs continue to run the XP operating system. In reality this is a massive 31.4 per cent of computers worldwide, according to Netmarketshare, and at least 10 per cent of all PCs in Australia, about 2.5 million.

So what about your PCs – are they still running on Windows XP? If so, you need to take action now to make sure your business is fully prepared for the ‘end of life’ as you know it. With time rapidly running out, it pays to know your options:

1.  Continue to run Windows XP after April

To those planning to stick with the Windows XP operating system even after Microsoft ends support, my advice is simple: don’t do it.

When XP support ends, Microsoft will no longer invest any resources to maintain or update it. This has huge implications for business users. You will no longer receive new security updates, non-security hotfixes, free or paid assisted support options or online technical content updates.

Sure, Windows XP will still continue to work just as well as it has for the past decade – your computers won’t suddenly crash – but every day that passes once Windows XP support expires means new vulnerabilities that your PC will be exposed to. Malware, viruses, worms, data breaches, theft of critical business data accessible on unsupported systems; these attacks will strike repeatedly against your operating systems and there’s very little you can do to protect them.

2. Upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8.0

 Another option is to get an upgrade path to either Windows 7 or Windows 8. Sounds simple enough, but for some businesses this option presents some hurdles. You might find that some applications will not run under later versions of Windows. The migration is simply too big. You also may need to invest in new hardware to support a new operating system. And without the right technical expertise and guidance, the migration can be disruptive to business as usual.

The good news is Interlinked Pacific can help. As a Microsoft Certified Partner, we are able to automate application compatibility, test to ensure the right provisioning, reduce the time taken to deploy new desktops, and manage upgrades on PCs, laptops and tablets. But any plans to migrate from XP to Windows 7 or 8 at this stage should be acted on quickly – time is running out.

But before you make your decision, there is another way…

3. Cloud-hosted Desktops as a Service (DaaS)

Every end leads to a new beginning, and Microsoft’s end-of-support enables your organisation to take advantage of latest technology trends such as virtualisation and the cloud.

Rather an upgrade to Windows 8 for your on-premise computers, consider moving to virtual or hosted desktops – a user interface that connects applications and data from a secure data centre via an encrypted virtual private network.

With virtual or hosted desktops you can enjoy up to date systems all the time, with the added support and peace of mind of knowing your working data is stored in the cloud. This service is also known as Desktop as a Service (DaaS) because it allows your business to move from physical to a virtual desktop infrastructure.

Benefits of a hosted desktop

  • No need for new hardware: There’s no need to buy all new hardware. You can repurpose existing PCs to deliver employees cloud-hosted desktops, then you simply add new hardware as budget permits or needs arise.
  • Flexible connectivity: You can connect to your hosted desktop via a browser, thin client, or other handheld devices.
  • Fully Customisable: Applications (including Windows business applications) can be installed, preconfigured for each user and updated regularly.
  • Maximum Support: With Interlinked Pacific, hosted desktops are backed up by a 99.99% uptime guarantee and a dedicated help desk at a low monthly cost.
  • Lower running costs: Avoid costly desktop deployments, software installation, and backups associated with Windows operating systems. Instead, hosted desktops also allow you to replace capital expenditure with a low and predictable monthly payment.
  • Free up resources: Desktops also require ongoing management, which uses up valuable staff time. With hosted desktops, regular updates are done remotely and outside business hours so you can be sure your workforce (and productivity) is uninterrupted.
  • Scalability: With a hosted desktop, you can add users and increase storage almost instantly. For example, Interlinked Pacific’s cloud infrastructure has an extensive range of hardware and software resources to accommodate any expansion within minutes.

On top of all this, hosted desktops are continuously monitored and updated, meaning you will run the latest software all the time.

Act now

The decision is simple. A failure to migrate may lead to more serious security issues after the support runs out. Don’t waste any more time – speak to Interlinked for advice on migrating your systems today.

 

How to choose an IT Managed Service provider

IT outsourcing is not a hand-off – it’s a partnership. That’s why the selection of your managed service provider (MSP) should not be taken lightly. Think about when you’re hiring new staff. You look for candidates who are experienced, proactive, and consistent. Candidates who are able to demonstrate a track record of success and an attitude that fits well with your organisation. The same principles apply when you’re seeking a managed services provider who will look after your entire IT infrastructure.

Here are 8 factors to consider when choosing the right Managed IT Service provider for your firm:

1. Reputation and Experience

When it comes to outsourcing IT, a good track record is everything. It allows insight into past achievements and predicts future performance. Things to look for when choosing your MSP include:

  • How long has the company been in operation? How many staff do they have? What certifications do they hold? The longer a company has been in operation, the better depth and breadth of experience they will offer your company.
  • Who are their clients and can they provide references? A broad and diverse client base indicates broad experience and adaptability.
  • Are their services scalable? The best managed services provider will have a portfolio of services that not only spans the criticalities of your IT infrastructure today, but also provides the infrastructure to support you in the future with initiatives such as Cloud Computing and Enterprise Mobility.

2. Proactive Approach to IT Management

You should be able to rely on your potential MSP as a trusted advisor; an extension of your team able to foresee future needs and address them while always keeping your business goals front of mind. Experienced IT partners will use IT assessments and discussions of business needs and goals to identify solutions that best suit your business. Moving forward, progressive IT companies should be able to outline IT roadmaps which are aligned with your company’s future goals and will keep you competitive.

3. Knows and Follows Industry Best Practice

Best practice reduces downtime, costs, and disruption to your business while enhancing security and efficiency. Ask these questions:

  • Do they adhere to ITIL framework and ISO standards?
  • Do they have tested, efficient and consistent processes?
  • Do they provide 24/7 monitoring? What methods and software do they use?
  • Do they provide a single point of contact who understands your business?
  • How do they plan to start the service without disrupting your employees or workflow? The IT provider should always fit seamlessly around your working environment.
  • Do they provide documentation of your network and asset tracking?
  • Do they provide daily backup verification and periodic testing restoration?

4. Multivendor Environment Support

Your MSP should become the single point of contact for all support issues, even in the most complex multivendor environment. Irrespective of whether the source of the problem is hardware or software, a reliable managed service provider should be able to provide the required expertise, support and vendor escalation.

5. Service Level Agreement

Service level agreements (SLA’s) outline the level of service that will be provided under the agreement and provide measurable terms. Your MSP’s service level agreement should clearly outline the service framework, security management, response times, and any corresponding penalties for breaching. Ask for monthly reports that outline call logging and resolution, system uptime, backups and security checks.

6. Level of Support

Depending on your business needs, you can choose from a variety of support options from your MSP. You might only require them during business hours, or you might want 24/7 support. It is advisable to ensure that they offer remote support – 90% of IT problems can be solved remotely.

7. Pricing Model

The MSP should be able to demonstrate potential cost savings they can provide based on your business model. Use this to help determine which provider will allow the quickest return on investment. However this should not be your only decision-making factor. Weigh up the overall value and service they provide with the ROI.

8. Attitude and Culture

From the moment you make contact with the MSP, make note of how they work, their culture and attitude. Consider their response time to your enquiries, the knowledge they demonstrate, their eagerness to discuss your needs, the time taken to supply you with a proposal, and so on. How they work with you at the beginning is a sign of things to come, so choose a MSP that is efficient from the outset. Also avoid companies that talk down to you from their tech towers. If you can’t understand them now, how will you cope when your systems are down? You will rely on support provided by this MSP, so their ability to communicate clearly and act swiftly is paramount.

Ready to speak to a MSP? Contact Interlinked today on 1300 302 207 or enquiries@Interlinked.com.au to discuss your requirements!

Top reasons to outsource your IT management

No matter whether it is a 50-year-old company or a start-up enterprise, businesses today are under tremendous pressure not just to provide uninterrupted services, but to continually reduce costs and increase efficiency. Add to this the chore of staying up to date with what seems like ever-changing technology, and it’s easy to understand why more and more businesses are choosing to relieve themselves of their IT burden by outsourcing to a Managed IT service provider.

Here are six great reasons to outsource your IT to the experts:

1. Reduce and Predict Operating Costs

Outsourcing can help fill the gaps while also saving money. First and foremost, it eliminates costs associated with hiring, training, and managing IT staff, which for many smaller businesses is simply not viable. Engaging a managed IT service provider with a fixed monthly management fee which includes Network Management and IT Support provides access to experts on an as-needed basis and you benefit from streamlined procedures and enhanced efficiencies that come from a proactive approach to infrastructure support.

2. Reduce Downtime

Your network is only as secure and stable as its weakest part. If a single element fails, you risk the whole system going down. And downtime has costly impacts for your employees, your customers and your profits. A managed service provider, through their initial review and ongoing monitoring, will be able to identify any potential problems and, through proactive Network Management, attend to them before they cause interruptions to your business.

3. Access Expertise

Few IT departments have the manpower or skills to provide the full range of services they are being asked to deliver – and that’s if the organisation has the luxury of a dedicated IT resource, which many SMEs and start-ups don’t. In today’s information world, technology is continuously evolving and it can be difficult for in-house IT staff to keep pace with emerging IT trends and technologies.

That’s where outsourcing comes in. Managed IT services companies continuously seek, train, and invest in staff with different specialties and advanced levels of certifications and experience. Partnering with a managed IT service provider allows your business to access this pool of expertise. You have the peace of mind that the service provider will be totally conversant with the best-practice systems and technologies for your specific business goals.

4. Free Internal Resources

Outsourcing your IT management delivers measurable IT productivity gains by enabling you to redeploy skilled IT staff from mundane tasks, such as monitoring servers and providing basic IT Support, to more strategic projects that use their core competencies to directly support business initiatives. By outsourcing the day-to-day management and maintenance of your network and systems, IT departments can better align themselves with growing the business.

5. Take Control

Contrary to popular belief, outsourcing gives you more control over your IT infrastructure. How? Through better organisation and management of your network. In-house staff who are providing support and basic IT services alongside other responsibilities are unlikely to provide the documentation and in-depth approach required for security, backups, and network management. A managed services provider will document your network and assets, and provide monthly reporting on the state of your IT infrastructure, any work and backups they performed and the number of support problems they resolve. The report will also outline areas that might require attention, which will prevent the risk of system failures and costly downtime.

6. Maximise your IT investments

Combining a bird’s eye view of your IT environment and knowledge of best-practice technologies, a managed IT services provider is able to offer strategic roadmaps and budgets on areas that require future investment. They can also offer advice on systems that integrate or complement your existing infrastructure, helping you improve the overall performance and return-on-investment of your current IT environment.

Find out more about Managed It Services from Interlinked