The Pros and Cons Of Implementing A Virtual Desktop Infrastructure In Your Business

The Pros and Cons Of Implementing A Virtual Desktop Infrastructure In Your Business

If you run a small to medium size business, technology is probably one of the top frustrations you deal with each year. Not only do you have to keep up with the latest device – would your sales team operate better with tablets over laptops – you also have to stay on top of software upgrades and security updates.

In the end, every user’s technology is different, and as an administrator, you often find yourself having little control over the variety of operating systems and applications running throughout the company. Troubleshooting to you doesn’t just mean downloading and installing the latest security patch, it also means significant time researching what is on the terminal, verifying what the system requires, and only then downloading the necessary upgrades and updates.

And this isn’t a once in a blue moon process; this is  a regular routine.

All of this has led to many companies looking for alternatives. And depending on the size and structure of your business, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, or VDI integration may be the answer.

VDI is based on a thin client computing model. A virtual desktop machine on the server side is used to handle all operating system related tasks, application processing, and storage; each endpoint PC simply acts as a workstation.

There are a wealth of benefits to moving to a VDI approach.

Extends PC Lifecycle
Because each endpoint PC acts as little more than a workstation, with little to no real modifications to keep it running, the life of a PC can be pushed from two to three years to five or more. That can mean significant savings over time, especially in larger offices with a lot of end users.

Requires Lower Grade Equipment
When it is time to purchase new PCs, a company can do so at significant savings. Because the focus won’t have to be put on disk or memory space, or processing capacity, endpoint units can be purchased based on price instead of needs. In many cases, lower hardware requirements also mean lower energy usage, which can help you reduce other costs throughout your office as well.

Less Downtime
When a conventional PC fails, it puts both the technician and the employee at a disadvantage. A technician has to stop all other processes and immediately work on the PC. The employee loses the ability to perform until repairs are made. Which can put both into crisis mode mentality. When a thin client PC fails, it’s a simple case of replacing the terminal, and work can continue immediately. In addition, if a PC can’t be swapped out immediately, he or she can still login from other endpoints, and continue working as required.

Superior Administration
One of the biggest reasons companies move to a VDI platform is because of control. Management happens almost entirely at the server level. If a new desktop is needed, an administrator can simply set up a thin client PC in the new workstation, and connect it with a pre-established virtual image from the server side. Admin can also control many other functions from the server side unit, including deployment of new software, patches and upgrades, antivirus, antispyware and other security products, and even control what an end user can download and access, and what they can’t, keeping the entire system safer overall.

Even with so many benefits to moving to a VDI platform, there are a few negatives to be aware of as well.

Bandwidth
Depending on the type of company you run, how many end users you have, and the functionality each end user needs, bandwidth can be one of the largest drawbacks. This can especially come in to play if you have hundreds, even thousands of PCs pulling data and refreshing screens as they continue on with the day. Graphics can be one of the biggest drains, and may require upgraded hardware and network upgrades to support use. Though systems today are designed with the needs of today’s printers, scanners, audio, video, and other USB device needs, it is important to keep all of this in mind as your system is developed.

Server Redundancy
Imagine an office with 50 thin clients and one server. If all are hosted on the one server and the server fails, instant panic. To avoid this scenario, it is important to realize that for safety reasons, server clustering, redundant connectivity and other tactics are essential for keeping office technology running at its best.

Storage
Because all processing is handled centrally, all application data is stored centrally as well. Whatever storage space was allocated to each end user in original PC format will also be required on the server with this new platform. Which means if the average PC in your office stored 100 GB of information and you have 100 thin clients in the office, you’ll need at a minimum 10,000 GB (or 10 TB) in the data center. Too many administers cut themselves short in the planning process, and quickly realize they are out of space, even with basic functionality.

Historically, with the complexity and server requirements necessary to support the VDI infrastructure, only mid-to0large size companies could practically implement VDI.  Fortunately, the huge explosion of cloud providers has made the implementation and affordability of VDI practical and attractive for even small companies.  It’s more than likely that the next generation of business users will (with companies of more than 5-10 users) will all employ VDI.  As always, call me if you want to see how VDI or any other technologies can strategically work in your company.

Why Security Questions Can Be Your Biggest Threat

Passwords. We all use them every single day.

Studies consistently show that people become lazy when it comes to creating a password, with the top spots going to things like “password” and “123456”. But with a little education, you can bring your employees around to changing their habits and creating a more encrypted password choice.

But what about security questions?

Security questions are used on almost every site in which you login to an account. They are used for the “just in case” you forget your password, and have to retrieve it by some other means.

In most cases they provide you with a list of security questions to choose from, with most of them asking fairly standard things.  Top 10 lists put these at the top:

·      What is your mother’s maiden name?
·      Who is your favorite author?
·      Who is your favorite actor?
·      What is your favorite movie?
·      What is your favorite book?
·      What was your favorite pet’s name?
·      Who was your childhood friend?

You’ve probably used one or more of these yourself, over and over again. Yet how secure are they? All are simple questions that can easily be answered with a little bit of research, something a detailed profile on Facebook could make readily available with five minutes of browsing through your page.

While these questions make it relatively easy for an external hacker to gain access to an account, studies also show that its not always an external hacker that will be your biggest threat. In some cases, it may be an internal risk. If a co-worker wants to access company data through someone else’s account, what better way than to do so then through an account from someone they know? And who’s going to question a co-worker when you stand around the water cooler and ask, “what’s your favorite movie”? Its just idle chit chat that we talk about all the time.

So what makes a good security question? A good security question typically will have the following characteristics:

Be safe from guessing or research
This is the most important characteristic of a great security question. It should be something that cannot be easily found out by visiting a social media profile page, or that someone could guess simply by being around a person for a short amount of time. After all, walking your dog and calling him by name can release information to everyone at the dog park.

Won’t change over time
If a security question is vague and can have many meanings, it can be easily forgotten as time goes by. Avoid questions that ask for your “favorite” thing, such as “what is your favorite food?” And avoid questions that can fluctuate as you age, change and grow, “where do you want to retire?”

Be memorable to you
We all have things we talk about and share because it’s a part of our culture. Which is what most security questions are designed around. I’m sure you’ve had conversations with friends, even co-workers, over your very first crush in school, or the first person you ever kissed. But what about the second?

These things are memorable to you, yet they aren’t something we share on a regular basis. They are part of your past, yet don’t come up in regular conversation.

There is one other factor that should be part of online security. When someone forgets a password, having them login with a security question is an important step, but it should always be a part of a two step process. The second half of authentication should be using a code that is sent via email or text to the information used to set up the account. This will further ensure that only the correct person will be gaining access to the system.

What Cloud Computing Means For Small Businesses

What Cloud Computing Means For Small Businesses

Think back to how quickly technology has changed. A few short years ago, every computer was a free standing unit. All upgrades, all changes, all control was handled by moving from unit to unit.

Fast forward as organizations quickly found ways to integrate the entire process to help them scale their businesses. They developed an in-house infrastructure, with expensive servers, physical copies of software, and lots of fully equipped computers for each end user. Control was centralized, meaning it was easier to keep things running smoothly without having to go out to each end user to make adjustments or corrections.

And while this may still be the norm in some businesses, once again technology is changing the way businesses are operating.

Cloud computing is now moving rapidly into businesses of all sizes, and allows a business to put the processing and hosting responsibilities on a professional third party company. Instead of running everything internally, employees access their programs, email and data via browser like tools that connect them to everything they need to operate efficiently. And while large enterprises have been quick to adapt, there are many reasons why small businesses should make the transition as well.

Flexibility
One of the biggest reasons people move to cloud computing services is to allow your employees to work from anywhere. All documents, programs and related data is stored online, which means they will never be tied to a single computer in order to get their work done. With desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones all being able to access the same data at the same time, employees can quickly move to where they are needed most. A doctor, for example, can make notes on his smartphone as he finishes with a patient, move to a tablet as he talks with his staff, and open up the same file on his laptop as he sits down at his desk.

Since programs are not stored locally, updates, bug fixes and changes can all be handled on the server side without the end user experiencing any of the process. This creates a stable platform that helps the entire office stay productive throughout the day, without the usual downtime associated with in-house processes.

Backups
If you’ve ever lost important client files or large amounts of data before, you know how important it is to have a strong backup and data recovery plan in place. As users create new documents, their local copies are synced with a cloud version, making it easy to access a file later from any device. These systems can also save revisions so its possible to go back in time and work with a previous version if a mistake is made. Many cloud providers have comprehensive data backups that automatically copy and protect your data on a regular basis. So there is no more relying on an end user to initiate the process.

Collaboration
Cloud computing can now make even the smallest of offices more productive. Instead of having to move a file from machine to machine with a flash drive or through email, a user can simply go and “check out” a file, work on it, save it, and have it waiting for the next user. Collaboration on a project file from anywhere in the world is a simple as logging in. And with automatic backups occurring along the way, there is never any risk of having one team member delete the wrong data. Simply retrieve an earlier version and get right back to work.

If you’ve never thought about upgrading to a cloud based system before, you might be surprised at how easy it really is. Many small businesses can make the switch to the cloud, and even stay on their existing equipment (meaning your end cost will be even less). Find out today what the cloud can do for your business.

8 Ways To Become A Well-Read Person

8 Ways To Become A Well-Read Person

Have you ever watched an experienced networker in action? They circle the room, warming up and making friends with everyone they meet. Not only do they put on a happy face and show true interest in what the other person is saying, they seem to be able to carry on a conversation about a wide range of topics.

When you’re knowledgable and well-read, conversation comes naturally. You don’t have to stretch for the next topic or the next thing to say. When you become a seasoned conversationalist, your clients, colleagues and acquaintances find you easy to be around.

So how do they do it? After all, networkers aren’t born; they’re made. It’s a skill that’s teachable and easy to learn with just a little bit of work each week. It starts with the ability to have intelligent and interesting things to say. And you can do that in a number of ways.

1. Subscribe to a daily newspaper
Subscribing to a daily newspaper doesn’t mean doorstep delivery any more. If your office subscribes to The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, start there. Or sign up for a digital edition, most offer them at reduced rates. If you travel, pick up a local paper and learn what’s happening in different locations. Or use RSS feeds to follow the news from different parts of the world.

2. Read a good book
Several hundred thousand books are published each year here in the United States, and that doesn’t take into account all the books that are self-published. While it would be impossible to read each and every one of them, you can find the best of the best by looking at the top seller lists each week. The New York Times, Amazon, even magazines like Inc and Entrepreneur put out best seller lists to help you select the most interesting books on the market.

3. Multi-task
It’s hard to fit in everything you would like to do in a 24 hour time period. If you don’t have time to read, chose an audiobook instead. You can download it to your phone or tablet and take it with you everywhere you go.Whether on your commute to work, or your 30 minute workout after work, listening to something new can give you more than enough tidbits to share over dinner later that night.

4. Podcasts are the new books
If you haven’t had a chance to listen to a podcast, you’re missing the newest wave of technology. Though podcasts have been around for years, they are once again picking up steam – which means you’ll find a podcast about anything of interest to you. Head over to iTunes and browse through the hundreds of possibilities. Or check out one of the many apps that cater to podcasts – how about Stitcher?

5. Sign up for a class
There is a world of opportunity right outside your door. Classes don’t need to be expensive or even a great distance from your home in order to open up your eyes to new opportunities. Check out your local parks and recreation center in your community. A community college offers a wide variety of classes, and often have adult learning opportunities that can teach you something new in one evening. Don’t have time to attend a class? Stream it instead. You can find many opportunities online to watch via telephone, webinar or even through video. You can even learn new ideas quickly by following and watching TED videos every week.

6. Find new local events
As a networker, its easy to get into a rut, going to the same events over and over again. When you see the same people, its hard to find new things to talk about. Switch it up and find new groups in your area. Use sites like Meetup to find events happening all around you. Don’t limit it to business or groups a mile or two from your home. Do a few searches based on your other interests too. Business comes from being out there and connecting with new people. Who says you can’t do that on a hike, or sharing a glass of wine at a tasting?

7. Visit museums and cultural centers
Have you taken advantage of all the resources in your community? You’ll find many historical and cultural exhibitions in your area with just a simple search. You can join the museum and be the first to every exhibit that comes to town. Or take a tour to learn more about the native culture; you can find tour guides in a variety of places, even your local greenhouse may offer talks on native plants.

8. Stretch outside your comfort zone
It’s easy to fall into a rut, doing the same old things over and over again. Yet the more you venture out to learn new things, the more you’ll be able to share what you learn about. If a colleague mentions a class that sounds interesting, consider signing up too. If an acquaintance talks about a new hobby that sounds interesting, investigate how you could give it a try. Be curious. Ask questions. These are often skills we had as children, yet have lost as adults. The more inquisitive you are, the more you’ll grow. And the more you’ll discover about the world … and yourself.

How Small Practices Benefit From Electronic Health Records

How Small Practices Benefit From Electronic Health Records

Is there such a thing as being too small to benefit from technology? If you run a small medical practice, at what size will you begin to reap the largest paybacks?

Study after study are showing the benefits of using electronic health records (EHRs) instead of its paper record predecessor are many:

  • It improves health practice efficiencies and can offer substantial cost savings
  • It improves coordination of patient care
  • It improves accuracy of diagnoses and potential outcomes
  • It provides patient access to participate in their own care

And its not just the large practices that will benefit. If you have a patient, if you run an office, if you make referrals to other specialists, moving into the digital world has its benefits.

Close to two-thirds of practices across the US are considered small in nature, with less than 10 people on staff. If this sounds like you, what can you truly expect by implementing EHRs into your practice?

Paper Reduction

Lets start with the basics. Paper causes problems. When physicians or assistants handwrite medical records, the information may be subjective at best. Notes can be misread. Papers can become torn, warn, or even lost. Paper is also easily destroyed, expensive to copy, transport and store, and makes retrieval difficult as time passes. Its also important to note that paper records have been known to go missing as much as 25 percent of the time, meaning xray or lab results may be ordered again and again as diagnosis is made.

EHRs allow easy navigation of an entire medical record from beginning to end. When multiple people throughout the office can access a record at the same time, information can quickly be added and filled in without the wait time associated with paper records. Instead of putting off paperwork until the end of the day, doctors and assistants can make notes immediately, putting more thought and detail into each entry. EHRs can also be used to establish alerts and reminders, and help keep better track of a patient’s diagnosis and plan, to be better informed and provide better care as time passes.

Improved Efficiency and Productivity

When records are kept in paper format, its difficult to share information with patients, with other medical offices, and even with other doctors or assistants within your own practice. By digitizing records, the process becomes as simple as hitting send.

Consider simple lab work for a moment. Once the doctor makes a request, the request will travel from doctor, to assistant, to office clerk, to assistant, to lab technician, then flow back for results. It may touch other hands, going to a specialist who reads the results, and ultimately to the patient who may have to use it for future referrals. With that many touches, its easy to get lost in transition, and to have mixed messages about its original intent. With clarification written in electronic format, every person can see and review the original orders, and make notes at the time of processing, leaving nothing to chance.

And that’s just the start.

As our health care requirements change with new regulation, mandates will continue to demand the use of EHRs. As a health care provider, its easy to come on board and see the potential benefits. But its another thing to know where to begin.

Choosing A System

As a small practice, coming on board with the idea of implementing an EHR system into your office is the easy part. Next comes the task of doing. With hundreds of choices between EHR programs on the market today, where do you start? What do you look for? How do you know if your infrastructure is adequate for the system you choose? What are the best features and functions, when each program begins to sound a little better than the one before? How do you implement it into your office? How much time will it take?

If you’ve done a little research, chances are you can even add a few questions of your own.

The best place to start is by talking with your staff; what features would benefit them most? Create a list of functions performed every day within your office. Then begin dividing the list into “must have” and “nice to have” features.

Implementation will take several months, depending on the system chosen, the number of employees in the office, and the existing systems that will need to be modified or replaced. If you have any questions as you go through this process, I’d be happy to lend a hand.

How To Add More Time Into Your Day

How To Add More Time Into Your Day

Have you ever sat back at the end of a busy day and wondered exactly what you accomplished? Sure, a lot of things came across your desk. You had a great lunch meeting filled with potential promise. But what did you truly accomplish?

The trickiest part of the time management process is finding all of those time wasters that kill your efficiency and rob you of the opportunity to do more in less time. We all want more time – its our most valuable resource. But in reality, how you use each moment of the day is what controls your effectiveness as a worker, and as a leader. If you learn to focus in on results rather than action alone, you’ll soon be able to choose the thing to follow through on that will benefit both you and the company the most.How To Add More Time Into Your Day

Action, Not Reaction
One of the biggest time wasters involves going into crisis mode when a big event occurs. Rather than planning and having things run smoothly, a telephone call or a simple statement from a client or employee can set the fires burning, and suck everyone in the office into problem solving mode. Reaction not only takes top priority, it stops productivity in its tracks as it pulls you away from other things that truly needed to be done.

Yet studies consistently show that many of these crisis situations can be solved with a little bit of foresight and planning. When a crisis happened, what caused it? How was the problem solved? Instead of reacting, completing the task, and pushing it aside to play catch up on other tasks, spend time evaluating the situation. What could have been done to avoid the crisis altogether? What’s missing in your system? In almost every case there are certain procedures that if implemented properly, would have been enough to avoid the situation. Learn from your mistakes. Implement new procedures and stop the next crisis from occurring before it ever has a chance.

Outcomes, Not Details
Leaders like to be in the know; understand what is happening from every direction. As we start out in a work environment and continue to grow as we learn and age, it can be difficult realizing that details aren’t necessarily our friends. Details take time. Details mean specifics. And in many cases, the specifics simply don’t matter for what a leader needs to know.

Leaders need to know when the task is complete. They need to understand the consequences of doing the job the wrong way, and make sure procedures are in place to avoid the bumps. Yet when it comes to the outcome, the only thing that truly matters is that the task is complete, and the end result is acceptable to all parties involved. The details don’t matter. Release control over the details, and you’ll give yourself more time to do what you truly need to do.

Control Technology
One of the biggest time savers we have is also one of our biggest time wasters: technology.

Those little devices we carry around with us everywhere make us more productive than ever before. They also have the potential to chain us to the office 24/7, and suck us in to doing things way beyond the scope of what truly needs to be done.

To gain control over technology, start by assessing what programs you truly need to be more efficient. In some cases it may mean evaluating new tools to provide you with better access to the things you need most.

Next, take the time to develop a plan for how you deal with technology. Rather than glancing at your phone every time an email comes in, pre-establish select times for email viewing: 7:30 am, noon and 4pm are good times to evaluate what’s happening during the day, but also gives you freedom to not be fixated on the little chimes that are bound to interrupt. You can also establish phone and texting timeframes, and answer questions and communications that come in during these specified time periods.

By establishing time frames in your mind, you’ll quickly learn to express your preferences to the people that contact you the most. If an assistant has an important question at 10am, she’ll know texting is the best way to get an answer quickly, and won’t expect an email response and get frustrated when it doesn’t happen. It’ll also set the stage for you to communicate with the people around you in a manner most friendly and conducive to letting you operate at your top efficiency level.

Why It May Be Time For You To Look at VDIs and a Virtual Private Data Center

Why It May Be Time For You To Look at VDIs and a Virtual Private Data Center

Company. Employees. IT. Each have their own set of rules and expectations, and no matter how hard you try and bring them together, you’re bound to run into a few problems along the way.

The company wants safety and security, all at the most economical price. Employees want technology to be easy; available when they want it, and have someone else fix the problems as they arise. Then there’s IT; they try and and bring everyone’s wishes together; keeping the company’s data safe and secure while giving the employees immediate access to all the programs and functions they need and desire.

Every technology strategy needs a few things to remain efficient:

  • a place to store the company’s data
  • servers to integrate the process
  • desktops for the end user
  • security to protect the entire process from beginning to end

And in many cases, companies piece a system together in order to provide for their basic needs. How these pieces are put together has varied over the years, and in many ways the pendulum has swung from centralized control to decentralized control. For IT organizations, centralized control is always easier and more cost effective; for end users, decentralized (local) control provides more agility and flexibility.

Now imagine a scenario like this.

IT discovers a breach in security in the most popular browsers. A simple online test will tell a person if they are at risk, and provide the download patch to fix the problem. This is how it plays out:

  • Fred over in accounting has required a non-standard PC to run his specialty software, but when IT tells him about the risk and patch, he doesn’t have the time to implement (or allow IT) to fix the problem, and he doesn’t consider the risk that significant.
  • Brian in sales is on the road constantly, and chooses to ignore the issue altogether.
  • Amanda uses the company imposed citrix desktop and IT has fixed the browser security issues. But she remains frustrated that IT doesn’t have time to add the printer connection she’s requested, so she can print to the printer in the cubical next to her instead of the one across the building. IT has restricted access to the desktop so she can’t do it herself, even when she knows how easy it is. It just isn’t a priority for the IT department with all the network, server and security issues.

If the company’s technology is being accessed in a variety of ways, the IT team will have a difficult time keeping up on potential threats, or even simple customer service issues. How satisfied is your company with IT support? This may be a sign that the team is struggling to keep up with all the priorities they have to face.

This is where a virtual private data center and virtual desktops can come into play.

For several years now, the blending or moderating of these extremes has been through implementing a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) – terminal servers, citrix, and other VDI alternatives. But these are not easy technologies to implement and master. To be truly effective and stable, they require a high technology investment and ongoing commitment to maintenance. Most small companies and small IT shops either can’t or struggle to afford and maintain this software.

But the world is changing again, and evolution of cloud technologies have evolved and become affordable enough for small IT shops and companies to take advantage of VDIs. Even more interesting is moving the servers to the cloud and not having to maintain physical hardware, just the network. This balance of centralized control, and off loading low-value IT functions (like patch management, backups, etc) is at the heart of virtual data centers.

I’m always on the lookout for great resources that can offer my clients the tools and capabilities for running efficiently in today’s world. And DinCloud has caught my eye as a great resource for running a virtual private data centers and VDIs within your business. They even understand the nuances and complexities of various industries compliance requirements. For example, they are willing to sign HIPAA BAA’s.

If your goal for the year is to make your technology more secure and easier to manage, especially with limited resources, this might be a perfect solution for you. If you have further questions about how best to manage a virtual private data center for your team, I’d be happy to answer your questions.