Viewing entries tagged
Managed IT Service Provider

Windows 10 Upgrades: Not Your Normal Monthly Updates

Windows 10 Upgrades: Not Your Normal Monthly Updates

Microsoft changed how they push OS upgrades since the introduction of Windows 10. They’re no longer creating what they used to call Service Packs. They’re now upgrading Windows 10 with build numbers. Updates are applied via the normal patching processes and are usually installed daily on workstations as soon as they are release and approved.

Upgrades Are Different

Upgrades are OS features released every six months and can be deployed outside of the normal patching processes. The way upgrades are now deployed is causing some frustrating issues. Instead of giving the user control, they’re installed in the background and pushed out randomly by Microsoft over time once released. Some of you may have seen this upgrade popup on your system and are forced to reboot in the middle of the day.

Better Upgrade Process

We are working on ways to control this upgrade process better to make it more convenient for you.

The upgrades are released to workstations based on Channels. The default is Semi Annual Channel (Targeted) which gets release around March and September. The remainder are placed in the Semi Annual Channel and get released 3-4 months later. There is also a Delay configuration that can increase the default delay up to 365 days from the release date.

Through our monitoring system, we can now identify which build your system is on as well as the Upgrade Channel and any delay that is configured. We have also developed a process that will set the Channel to the later release and set the delay to 365 days all in the background. This should prevent systems from getting the upgrade for a while and allow us to have a more controlled release of the upgrades.

Controlling when upgrades are applied also gives your business time to see what features and complications may exist with new upgrades. You’re able to prepare employees of upcoming changes and choose when the upgrade is most convenient for everyone.

When your company is ready for the next build, we’ll then adjust the delay and make the upgrade available to the desired systems using the patching windows to push the upgrade in a more controlled way.

For further information about this process and other monitoring and proactive processes, reach out to your TSM or our ZAG helpdesk today.

SD-WAN to the Rescue

SD-WAN to the Rescue

Many new technologies promise increased performance, reduced downtime and lower operating costs. Most can deliver on only two of the three. However, we’ve seen Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) not only make this promise, but deliver on it as well.

SD-WAN goes beyond the capabilities of simple routers and firewalls. It adds a layer of intelligence to Wide Area Networks (WAN) while proactively monitoring WAN connections and making bandwidth and routing decisions, intelligently routing your data over the best link.

Improve Performance

Traditional leased line services are seldom cost effective when compared to commodity Internet services. The most common bandwidths offered with traditional leased lines include 1.5Mbps, 10Mbps and 20Mbps.

Commodity Internet services are available on fiber optic cables at bandwidths exceeding 200Mbps. SD-WAN “bonds” the available bandwidth from multiple Internet services to form a single larger bandwidth link. This means if you have two 100Mbs Internet services, SD-WAN can “bond” these into one 200Mbps service for your site to site traffic.

Reduce Downtime

Traditional leased line services are generally very reliable. However, it’s often not cost effective to purchase multiple leased lines to protect your business from a service interruption. When compared to an MPLS service, commodity Internet services are very cost effective.

Multiple services can be purchased and linked together in a SD-WAN appliance to offer protection from a service interruption. We always recommend that these services be purchased from different providers and if possible use a different media, such as fiber, cable or fixed wireless to further reduce the risk of a service interruption.

Lower Cost

SD-WAN allows you to replace expensive MPLS or other traditional leased line services with commodity Internet services. Traditional leased line services come with long term contracts that seldom included technology upgrades.

On the other hand, commodity Internet service agreements are short term, sometimes month to month. This allows you to easily upgrade to higher performance services as they become available. These are much more flexible to changing business needs.

SD-WAN vs. MPLS

Traditional MPLS services allow clients to setup private WANs with fixed bandwidth leased lines. The configurations are controlled by the provider and are static. SD-WAN configurations can be managed by the client and are as dynamic as the client requires. SD-WAN can prioritize VOIP traffic and route it over the optimum VPN tunnel.

SD-WAN Security Concerns

SD-WAN relies on IPSec VPN tunnels with encryption to protect your data as it flows over the Internet. These tunnels are usually configured with large encryption keys to make decryption  incredibly difficult. The VPN tunnels are also protected with a passphrase.

The passphrase should be a random combination of supported characters of over 48 digits. The passphrase is necessary to establish the VPN tunnels.

SD-WAN Options

While you have multiple options when it comes to SD-WAN, we’ve seen excellent results with Cisco’s SD-WAN products Viptella and Meraki. The Viptella products are perfect for large enterprises that require  granular configuration and reporting features.

The SD-WAN service from Meraki is targeted at small to medium businesses and is built into their MX series firewalls. Even thought It has fewer features than Viptella, it’s much easier to operate, making it ideal for smaller businesses.

Next Steps

ZAG can help you choose the correct SD-WAN solution for your company. We’re happy to  assist you in determining the TCO of your current MPLS solution and show you how using SD-WAN can increase performance, reduce downtime and lower operating costs.

Beyond Managed IT Service Providers: 4 Outcomes to Measure Impact & Value

Beyond Managed IT Service Providers: 4 Outcomes to Measure Impact & Value

ZAG has been talking about the need for organizations to move past the simple MSP IT support model for years.  Why?  Technology advances provide greater opportunities but require more planning and proper design to ensure proper business value and impact.    

  • Increase Margins

  • Ensure Quality

  • Gain Insight

  • Mitigate Risks

It’s long overdue for organizations to venture “beyond” simple MSP IT.

While traditional managed IT service providers play a role to proactively prevent unexpected incidents and assist people with service issues, they are stuck maintaining the status quo of fixed costs and fixed value. Yes, it's important to ensure systems have the latest software patch updates, antivirus is installed, and employees’ technical questions are answered.  But if organizations only deliver on that basic IT “preventative maintenance”, there is so much missing. 

Managed IT service agreements usually focus on prevention and response.

·        Prevention through network monitoring and system maintenance

·        Response through help desk and onsite support. 

Keeping the lights on is important, but business requirements today demand a higher-level perspective about understanding the impact and value of enabling your business to achieve more.  

Any business today is an IT organization at the core.  When IT systems are unavailable for any length of time the hit to the company’s bottom line is dramatic.  Adopting a traditional MSP IT model limits the value of technology as a catalyst for exponential progress.  IT has become a critical business unit, securing client and employee data, while enabling the company to compete in new and innovative ways.  To accomplish this, a different, innovative approach is required, beyond just a managed IT service plan. 

An IT Strategy Assessment and Roadmap provides that new perspective.

One focused on measureable outcomes that deliver significant business impact and value.  When you are investigating the need for an IT MSP, look for a team that has a reputation as an IT business partner to help you increase margins, ensure quality, gain insight, and mitigate increased risks.

How does IT increase margins?

Think Starbucks mobile orders.  Without hiring more staff or expanding store sizes, Starbucks sold more product more quickly every day because they enabled customers to place orders before walking in the door.  In the same way, IT can increase margins in your business by helping you discover ways to reduce costs through automating best practice processes, such as creating workflows to accelerate new hire onboarding, new client credit applications, and so much more.

How does IT ensure quality?

Sensors can automate the separation of lettuce from dirt, on a conveyor belt in the field, or a packaging facility.  Automated alerts can notify department managers when service calls are left idle too long or product orders are delayed.  Quality assurance is a system of checks and balances, based on monitoring a series of critical variables against standard values or acceptable ranges.  Manual spot checks miss negative trends until an audit is performed.  Automated monitoring and alerting catches issues before they affect the business for any length of time.  IT can be leveraged to automate the collection, analysis, and reporting of any and all variables that affect quality.

How does IT enable greater insight?

Data is everywhere, it consumes our time and teases us with the perception of greater understanding.  But most people struggle to manage information overload and some organizations end up hiring extra administrative staff to collect and report on the information they need, because the systems they have are not designed for integration and analysis.  An IT business partner recognizes this and realizes there is a better way.  Instead of spending hours collecting multiple spreadsheets and other reports for executives to spend extra time analyzing, organizations should now expect “executive dashboards” for every department, and for the senior executives to gain insight for better business planning.

How does IT mitigate increased risks?

Cyber Security breaches affect more than 50% of all organizations, because most companies and managed IT service providers struggle to even ensure the “basics” are in place.  Most managed IT service providers struggle to add value to an existing fixed-fee MSP IT support agreement since they see IT as a cost center.  An IT business partner understands that mitigating risks requires taking more ownership and responsibility.  Examples include training employees, monitoring company domains, and filtering web browsing activity.  Going beyond simple MSP IT, with security-focused solutions and services such as Security Awareness training, Dark Web monitoring, and Cisco Umbrella web filtering protection.

Without a comprehensive IT strategy that integrates all these operational requirements with IT security infrastructure and policies, these outcomes would never even be considered, let alone measured.

Beyond Managed Service Contracts.  Real impact and value.

Does your Managed IT Service Provider actually understand your business and work every day as a business partner to enable you to achieve the outcomes that really matter?

Many organizations are stuck in automatically renewing tethered MSP contracts with evergreen clauses, because the terms are buried in the fine print.  A business partner using a value-based approach doesn’t handcuff clients at all.  Instead, they earn your trust every day, and give you the ability to change your mind easily.  No long-term MSP contracts that chain you for years, even when your business needs change.  No automatic annual renewals.  Just pure value, earned on a daily basis. 

IT should be more than a cost center for you.  IT should be your unfair advantage, enabling you to compete.