Why Is A Server Important For Your Business?

Anthony Glover is Tech Expert’s network engineer.

A server is a very important asset to any small business as it provides many features that can help your business run safely and efficiently.

For instance, when lending out a new or existing computer to employees, you can prevent unnecessary access, change passwords, or unlock accounts in one location. This allows management of the computers, enabling full control at all times.

It also allows you to have a centralized location for many of your functions: the server. You can share files and applications and reduce redundancy for all files. Since servers primarily run in a RAID configuration of some sort, you will have extra protection for your most important files.

Another great thing about a server is you can set up a domain for your business, enabling automation features like backups in one place.

This also allows for profiles, including files and applications, to be accessible from any workstation connected to the server. Not to mention, a server will keep you organized and running more efficiently in general by keeping your email, contacts, calendars, and files safe.

Data transferring to and from a server is much faster than transferring from a computer due the overall design of a server. Servers are built for speed, reliability, and security purposes.

This means you are going to get through the day with your time and resources spent more wisely, allowing you to continue with what matters in your business.

This efficiency and organization will increase customer relationships and help build retention with new and potential customers.

Best of all, you can set up a server to curve toward your needs. You can use a server for hosting your own websites, as a backup server, fileserver, or even run your database. You can also upgrade (to an extent) if your needs grow.

Keep in mind, these are only some of the many server configurations available for your server.

File or Backup Server
This server is for file-sharing, active directory, and domain services. It’s primarily used for backups and storage of user files.

This is the best option if you are going to need safe storage services for your business since a server is going to have redundancy storage to keep data safe.

Database Server
This server configuration is for database storage and management of SQL, Oracle, etc. This is a necessary option if you are utilizing a database for your business.

Again, utilizing a server is going to allow safe keeping of your files – this includes your critical files such as your database files.

Web Server
This configuration is for webhosting services and will allow hosting and management of a website from your office.

This is a great option for running web-based applications through your server. This option can also be done off-site by a website host if you prefer to go that route for faster access or security.

Utilizing a server is important for your business and choosing a server can be tough, let alone installing one yourself. Let Tech Experts help you decide and make sure you get the best option possible for your small business.

The Purpose Of Routine Maintenance On Your PC Or Server

Anthony Glover is Tech Expert’s network engineer.

Workstations and servers are valuable assets for any small business. This is why it’s very important that we take proper care of these vital attributes.

Computers can be great, long-lasting tools if taken care of correctly and routinely. This ensures that your PCs and servers will continue to run as they should, as long as possible. There are several steps to maintain your PC or server.

Monthly Hardware Cleaning
This will keep your fans running efficiently and keep your PC or server clear of dust and debris that can potentially cause a few issues (such as heating problems, fan malfunctions, or damage to devices like your power supply).

Heat also can cause computers to run slow or sluggish. This is extremely important and should be monitored and managed by an IT professional such as Tech Experts.

Monthly Software Management
This is to ensure you provide a safe operating environment for your business. It helps to keep the functionality of all your programs and keep your computer running smoothly. By clearing caches, you eliminate temp files that could potentially cause problems for some programs and will also free up space on your hard drive. This is another key process to keep your PCs and servers running at their full potential.

Registry Cleaning
Throughout use of your PC or server, you will accumulate registry errors from programs being installed, updates, etc.

This should be cleaned and corrected on a monthly basis to ensure proper operation of your PC. When it comes to speed when booting and operating your PC or server, this is an especially big factor.

Monthly Hardware Monitoring and Recording
When you are operating a business that needs your equipment to work efficiently (which is the case for most businesses), you’ll want to check your PC and servers on a monthly basis.

Having your vital components like hard drives scanned, checked, and recorded will let you know if anything needs replaced before it fails and leaves you in a bind.

Thermal Monitoring
Heat is a vital threat that should never be overlooked as it’s essential to speed and safe operation of your PC or server.

Heat can destroy components and cause Blue Screens Of Death due to heating issues, causing the PC or server to not function at all unless it’s corrected.

You want to make sure the environment of the equipment is clean, clear, and cool to avoid overheating.

Process Monitoring
This can catch potential threats like malicious software, of course, but it can also help you and your IT department find more subtle unwanted issues such as backdoors or even rootkits that allow onboarding of your PC or server without the end-user knowing at all.

Here at Tech Experts, we provide a preventative maintenance service that can be utilized on both PCs and servers at your business. So why hassle at all if you don’t have to?

You could have an IT professional manage your computers, saving your business money and saving you time. It could even save your computers or server.

The Real Risks Of Running Outdated Software

Michael Menor is Vice President of Support Services for Tech Experts.

Are you still holding onto your trusty old server that’s aging towards uselessness?

Or perhaps you are still running important applications on older servers with old operating systems because they’re “good enough” or “doing the job just fine.”

In many ways, your old server is like a trusty old car. You know where the kinks are and it gets you where you need to go.

But lurking below the surface of that trusty old car, and your old server, can be hidden risks that can result in very big problems, even dangers. Usually, when least expected.

Security risks are the number one danger of older technology. The older your operating system or application, the longer the bad guys have to find and exploit vulnerabilities.

This is especially true when the manufacturer is no longer actively maintaining support. Dangers can lurk across the entire aging application platform.

Your older versions of SQL Server are at risk. Perhaps you are still using an old FTP server that’s innocently sitting in the corner. Or you have some older network equipment and appliances.

The bottom line is anything that listens on the network is a potential threat to the server, and therefore your business.

If that software or firmware isn’t up to date, you’re doubly at risk of a major security incident.

Here are the top 5 risks you’re taking with running outdated software:

Crashes and system downtimec505825_m
Aging systems are more vulnerable to failure, crashes and corruption causing significant downtime.

Targeted technology upgrades can reduce total annual outage risk and reduce downtime.

Increased costs
Outdated software is more expensive to maintain than newer versions. Failing software increases costs by overloading IT personnel. The process of applying patches is also costly and time consuming.

Updated software portfolios not only decrease maintenance costs but also free up IT budgets for more strategic and innovative programs.

Decreased productivity
Aging software applications that crash or require maintenance result in reduced employee productivity.

Modernizing software increases productivity by improving the efficiency and quality of work.

Security holes
Mission critical software is more vulnerable to security breaches as it ages. A security breach can compromise sensitive customer and employee information, and proprietary company data.

Legal and regulatory compliance risks
Updated software ensures compliance to governance, regulation and policy as regulatory bodies continue to mandate new global requirements.

This is especially important for healthcare professionals that need to comply with new HIPAA regulations.

With older technology, any of the above risks can strike you at any time. The consequences can be loss of productivity, or worse, loss of critical data that negatively impacts your business.

Perhaps “good enough” isn’t really good enough after all.

(Image Source: iCLIPART)

Are You Ready For Windows Server 2003 End Of Service?

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Next July will mark the end of Windows Server 2003 Extended Support. What does that mean for you if you’re a current owner of Server 2003?

It means that there will be no more security patches or updates, putting your whole business at risk of new threats or viruses as well as potential performance problems due to incompatibilities with newer software and applications.

The bottom line is that if your business still uses Windows Server 2003 you will need a plan soon. Analysts are estimating that 10 million machines are still running Windows Server 2003 and that they will soon be stranded, especially those serving regulated industries as they will need to maintain the security and confidentiality of these servers.

For these reasons, it is important to look into the needs of your business.
Here are a few considerations: [Read more…]

Why Virtualization Is A Good Idea For Your Small Business

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Server virtualization is the partitioning of a physical server into smaller virtual servers to help maximize your server resources.

In server virtualization, software is used to divide the physical server into multiple virtual environments, called virtual or private servers. This is in contrast to dedicating one server to a single application or task.

Server virtualization provides a small business with almost unlimited storage space. Let’s look at some of the ways that server virtualization could benefit your small business.

Efficiency
Virtualization maximizes server space, which reduces the number of servers needed to store important company data.

Since multiple virtual servers reside on a single physical server, your infrastructure will require less space, saving occupancy costs.

Economy
Virtualization will cut down on your energy consumption, which will lower your monthly bill. Because you’ll need fewer servers, you’ll save on hardware costs, as well.

For a small-business owner, these savings can mean a lot in the long run, especially if energy costs are high.

Disaster Recovery
Fires, theft and natural disasters happen, often without warning.

What would happen to your business if all of your important files were stored on in-house servers that got destroyed in a tornado or fire?

With virtualization, that becomes less of a worry, especially if you conduct regular checks to ensure that your data is being properly backed up.

It is equally important that you take steps to ensure the data can be recovered if necessary and that when recovered, the data is usable.

Virtualization cuts down on the risk that an employee or thief could walk off with important company files, something that can happen if you back up company files on external hard drives.

Business Continuity
Unlike disaster recovery, business continuity is about quickly recovering from things like power outages and server crashes.

These two common occurrences could cost a small-business owner a lot of money depending on how long employees remained idle waiting for power to be restored or a server to be repaired.

With a virtualized server environment, server images are often backed up to the cloud – where they can be enabled in real time and act as a replacement server until resources are restored.

Virtual Desktop
This is a growing trend in the business world. Also known as client virtualization, desktop virtualization separates the PC desktop environment from the physical machine and operates in the cloud.

With virtual desktop infrastructure, employees can access the company network from their laptops, tablets or smart devices.

Virtualization has worked well for large enterprises for a number of years, and now the technology is affordable for smaller businesses.

Choosing virtualization for your company is no small matter. You’ll want to make sure you use an experienced, trusted IT partner to make sure your project goes smoothly.

Server Maintenance: Why We Do What We Do

By Tech Experts Staff
Most small businesses have onsite servers, which is a change from years past when small businesses didn’t see the benefit of having a server in place and instead depended on sharing within a workgroup.

With the great benefits of having a server in-place comes some additional costs to make sure your investment continues to be beneficial.

Many businesses that put a server in place are always defensive about having server maintenances done within a month after putting a server in place.

The number one phrase we hear after putting a new server in is “Are you sure that needs done, we just put that server in?”

The problem with taking this approach with your new server is that you already put a substantial investment in your new hardware and want it to run great for a long time.

Neglecting the server, even if it is for a short period of time, or even if it was “just put in,” is dangerous.There are items that can go bad or cause problems if not addressed, even on a new server.

The first item and most arguably one of the most important are the server updates. Servers have to be kept up to date especially since they physically host your important data.

Allowing a server to become outdated is highly risky and potentially allows hackers access to your server via security exploits in the operating system, Internet Explorer, Adobe, etc. If these items go without their security updates you run risk of data breach.

The second item that is one of the most important items that we check is the health of your RAID disks.

Most servers (at least the ones we install) have a RAID configuration of some sort configured to help protect your server in the event of a hard disk failure.

Hard disk failure is not a matter of if it will happen but rather when it will happen.

Since this is the case we generally set our clients up on a RAID 5 configuration which allows up to two RAID disks to fail at different times.

The redundancy provided by RAID 5 configurations allows for a large amount of protection from data loss but does not guarantee it. If a business’s server was not having regular maintenances done it is very possible to have the RAID disks fail and lose all the data because it was not caught.

We have had clients bring in computers that are brand new with failed hard drives so it can and does happen at any time, even when they are brand new.

During our maintenance we also go through the logs on the system carefully combing over the entries looking for any instances that could potentially indicate a problem or an upcoming problem if let go.

If this is not done your server could be showing that it is starting to have problems but you would never know it until it is too late.

One of the logs, the Security Log, allows us the ability to see whether or not your server has had unauthorized attempts to login to it. Yes, we mean hackers trying to get in your sever and to your private data.

These are just three of the numerous areas we check with the server maintenances to ensure that your server, whether new or old, is running properly and continues to do so for years to come.

If a server is not properly maintained, it can degrade quickly into an almost useless piece of equipment and the investment you put into becomes a waste as well – not to mention the potential data loss.

Don’t waste your company’s hard earned money! Invest in systems maintenances, every month. This is the only way to prevent major issues with your server and avoid data loss or compromise.

Industry Standard Security Best Practices

Network security is a must in any network, but when it comes to a business network, there are a number of security standards and best practices that ensure you have control over your network.

Businesses in certain industries secure. Many different companies require different security standards; one organization for instance is the PCI (Payment Card Industry). The payment card industry has very a strict network security standard.

The below practices are fairly strict and will offer you a great deal of control and protection against data theft and network intrusion.

Modem
We will start from the outside edge of your connection of your network and work our way in from your modem on into client workstations.

The modem is probably the simplest device on the network – you can’t really secure it (beyond performing regular updates), but some ISP’s feature a built in firewall in the modem. This can be turned on or off to work in conjunction with your company’s firewall.

Firewall
The next item to take a look at is your router/firewall. Generally you would have a router that offers several ports you can connect to via a direct Ethernet connection as well as WiFi access.

This firewall will add another layer of protection for when your network connects to the Internet. When configured properly, you would block all unauthorized network connections. As far as protecting the WiFi goes you are best to enable MAC filtering.

Each piece of network hardware has a unique identifying numerical code, called a MAC address. Filtering by MAC lets you set up WiFi so that only devices you explicitly define are allowed to connect to your network.

Once you have MAC filtering in place, you can also encrypt network traffic and use a long secure password. Since the clients on the network will not need to type this password in all the time, it is best to make a complex password containing both capital and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols.

Another option to further increase security when it comes to WiFi connections is to set the access point to not broadcast it’s SSID. This will make it look to the normal person as if there is no wireless connection available.

Server
There are a lot of features that can be enabled at the server to further improve network security. The first item to review is the group policy. Group policy is part of the server operating systems that allows you to centrally manage what your client workstations have access to and how.

Group policies can be created to allow or deny access to various locations on your users’ desktops. You can get as granular as defining a group policy that sets standards on user passwords.

By default, Windows Server 2008’s password policy requires users to have passwords with a minimum of 6 characters and meet certain complexity requirements.

While these settings are the defaults, generally 8-10 characters is recommended as well as mixing upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special symbols. An example of a complex password might be @fF1n!ty (Affinity). This password would meet all complexity requirements and is fairly easy to remember. Passwords should also be forced to reset every so many days. A good time period is roughly 30 days.

One other possible option is to have firewall software installed on the server itself to regulate traffic in and out of the server.

The nice thing about having a firewall on the server itself is that you have the ability to log failed connections to the server itself as well as what that connections is and where it was coming from.

This feature alone gives you a lot more control over the network. For example if you noticed in the firewall logs on the server that a connection you didn’t want getting through was making it to the server you can go back and edit policies on the router/firewall to attempt to further lock down your network from that point as well as blocking it at the server.

One final quick thought on server security is physical security.

Generally it is a good practice to have the server physically locked in a room that only specific people have access to. If you really wanted more control as well you can have the server locked using a system that logs who comes in and out of a room via a digital keypad and their own passwords.

When it comes to your workstations, employees should only be logging into the workstation via their domain login and not using the local admin login.

This will allow you to centrally control via group policy what they can access like stated above. You can also configure roaming profiles so that if someone was to steal a physical workstation they would not have access to any company information as it would all be stored on the server and not that workstation – which is another great reason to have your server locked up.

Employee logins to workstations should also have account lockout policies in place so that if a user attempts to login too many times with an incorrect password, the server would lock them out on that workstation for a time period set by the administrator. One other item you could have in place for various employees is specific time periods their credentials will allow them to log into the systems.

One final step in network security is having good antivirus software installed on your workstations and your server. A compromised machine can be giving your passwords and information away to hackers making it possible for them to waltz right into your network undetected.

You are best protected by having as many of the above security steps configured and working properly on your network.

Determine what your network needs, evaluate the practice after it has been in place for a month and make the proper adjustments to ensure your network is safe. You should also preform regular security audits.

If you would like to see how secure or unsecure your network is give us a call and we can perform a network security audit for you and let you know where you stand!

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Networking Equipment: What’s It All Do?

There are many times when explaining to clients what piece of hardware needs rebooted or reset that they do not know what we are talking about when we reference the piece of networking equipment by name.

Even if you do know what is meant by router, modem, switch, hub, etc., you might not know what the equipment does, and why you need it.

Today is your lucky day! Below is a brief explanation of what the various types of networking equipment is, what it does, and why you need it.

Let’s start from your Internet service providers (ISP) main line into your house or business and work our way up to your computer. It all begins with your modem – this is how you initially connect to your ISP’s main line into your building.

The modem is what connects you to your Internet provider, and secures an IP address for your computer or network to connect to the Internet.

The next piece of hardware in line is normally your router.

Some network installations don’t have a router, usually because the modem supplied by the Internet provider has one built in, or the computer connects directly to  the modem.

A router allows you to have your own network IP scheme and communicate from your network to your ISP’s network.

Routers allow you to expand your network beyond the one device that most ISP’s modems allow by creating a larger subset of IP addresses for your computers to connect to which is then “routed” to your ISP’s IP address and out to the Internet.

This is why they are called routers, they route network traffic. Some routers also offer the ability to connect wirelessly to your network.

These connections act exactly the same way except for the fact that they do not have an Ethernet cable plugged into the computer you are using to connect with and there is increased security on the wireless connection to prevent unauthorized connections to your network. Some routers also offer a high grade built in firewall.

So as you can see routers can come in many different flavors and configurations.

The final piece of hardware in the chain of networking hardware is your switch.

In general switches are designed to be connected to your router and offer more Ethernet ports for you to connect devices to your network.

Most routers offer on average five Ethernet ports – a switch gives you the ability to expand on the number of available Ethernet ports that can connect to your router.

If you want to have multiple devices connected to your Internet connection while keeping your network secure give us a call and we can guide you on selecting the proper equipment as well as getting it setup properly for you.

If this kind of equipment is not configured properly you may not be able to connect to the Internet at all.

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What Is RAID, And Why Should Your Server Have It?

Did you know you can increase storage functions and reliability through the redundancy of RAID?

RAID is an acronym for “Redundant Array of Independent Disks.”

RAID was first developed in the late 1980’s because servers were encountering a dramatic increase in the amount of data they needed to store.

Storage drives were really expensive then and would cost a fortune if ever you needed to replace one.

By having RAID on your server you were able to use a large number of low cost hard drives and link them together to form a single large capacity storage device, which offered greater performance, storage capacity and reliability over older storage solutions.

It has been used mainly in the server markets, but over the past few years RAID has become much more common in end user systems.

There are three major advantages by having RAID.

 

Redundancy
This allows for a form of data backup in the storage array in the event of a hard drive failure.

If one of the drives in the array failed, it could be easily swapped out for a new drive (without the need to turn the system off, this is referred to as “Hot-Swappable”) or you could continue to use the other drives in the array.

Performance
Depending on which level of RAID you are using and how many hard drives you have in the array you can increase the read/write speed of your drives.

Lower Costs
You can set it up so that you have several inexpensive (low capacity) hard disk drives brought together to make up one big (high capacity) disk drive.

Also in the event you need to replace a hard drive you will not have as much down time if you chose a RAID level that supports redundancy.

Types Of RAID
There are several different RAID levels, and each has advantages over the other. Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, you can choose between (these are just the most common choices) RAID 0, RAID 1, and RAID 5.

RAID 0 is a base confi guration called striping, which requires a minimum of 2 disks. With RAID 0 all of the drives in the array will appear as one drive with the sum of all drives adding up to make one big hard drive.

The logical disk is then created with “stripes” which run a crossed each disk in the array. The advantage of having RAID 0 is that you gain storage space as each disk is seen as one giant logical disk. However if one drive goes bad, then all of the data is lost and there is no way of retrieving it.

RAID 1 is the second base configuration and it is called mirroring. Like RAID 0, this level of RAID also requires a minimum of 2 disks and can only be used with an even number of disks. RAID 1 provides data integrity. Instead of each disk showing up as one giant logical drive as with RAID 0, RAID 1 will mirror any data that is written to one of the disk’s in the array, and copy the data to all of the other disks in that array.

Therefore if one of the mirrored drives goes bad, no data is lost as it is on the other drives in the array. The bad drive can then be replaced and the data can be copied back over automatically (if set up to do so).

RAID 5 is the most commonly used RAID level. It combines the features of RAID 0 and RAID 1. It requires a minimum of 3 disks in the array.

RAID 5 uses the same striping aspect as in RAID 0, however not all of a stripe is made available for data storage.

Part of each stripe is reserved for parity. Parity is used to ensure the integrity of the array by comparing two bits of data and then it forms a third data bit, in which each bit is on a different physical disk drive based upon the fi rst two bits, leaving you with 2/3 of your storage.

However depending on which disk dies, each triplet will lose one of the bits built by the RAID level.

Either bit 1, bit 2 or the parity, but with the other 2 existing on a different disk, the third can be quickly calculated and replaced onto the replacement drive.

 

When Should Your Company Consider Adding A Server?

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

If you are like most small businesses, you acquire desktop computers, phone systems, and software in a random, “buy-it-when-you-need-it” fashion as your business operations demand it.

But at some point, this patchwork of stopgap technology you’ve acquired needs to be examined, retooled, and perhaps replaced, depending on your company’s needs.

As your business grows, it makes sense to take a broader view of your technology investments. One of the first things you might consider is the role a server would play in your company.

Servers can take on a lot of tasks for a growing business, from securing data to enabling better sharing of company resources. But it’s sometimes difficult to know when, and if they’re a smart investment.

There are a few common scenarios in which a server can bring real benefits to a growing business – read on and see if any of these apply to you.

You need to share files, printers or other resources
It is technically possible to set up a simple network without a dedicated server, with just a few PCs connected together.

However, if you want to share databases, files, printers or other resources, a server makes it a lot easier.

In fact, servers are specifically designed for sharing, so you’ll get better control, faster access, easier management and improved security. And who wouldn’t want all that?

Your computers are overloaded and you need more storage
If you have a lot of files or multiple databases, it might be time to consider migrating some of these files to a server.

Whether you want to replace your old computers or just improve their performance, a server will give sluggish, data-laden PCs a welcome respite by freeing up memory and storage.

You want to have inhouse company email
While businesses with only a few employees can get by with using an external service for its email, there comes a time when these services aren’t ideal.

Adding a server allows you to bring your e-mail in-house, with the dual benefits of making users’ e-mail access faster and keeping sensitive business information within the company – not on another company’s servers. Plus, you can benefit from shared email productivity tools like Microsoft Outlook.

You want to conduct business remotely
If you have employees that work remotely, or if you’d like the option to work from home, a server will allow you and your employees to remotely access your company network, information and resources.

These are only a sampling of the signs that a server could be right for you. The bottom line is this: if you spend a lot of time moving data around, struggling to access things you need, and are worried about security, then it’s time to consider a server.