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vcenter server

Decoding the vCenter Server Lifecycle: Update and Versioning Explained

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a vCenter Server update and a patch? Or between an upgrade and a migration? Why don’t some vCenter Server versions align? Keep reading for the answers!

Version Numbering

The first thing you should understand is vCenter Server versioning. When reviewing your vCenter Server version’s you may see many different references to versions or builds.

One of the first places you will notice a version identifier, is in our release notes. Here you will see the product version listed as vCenter Server 6.7 Update 2a and the build number listed as 13643870.


Once you have upgraded or deployed your vCenter Server you will see version identifiers such as 6.7.0.31000 listed in the VMware Appliance Management Interface (VAMI). You will also see a build number, such as 13643870.

If you review the version information within your vSphere Client you will see the version listed as 6.7.0 and the build as 13639324.

The reason you will see differing versions among these places are because the release notes show the vCenter Server build and full release name, in the VAMI it will show the vCenter Server Appliance version in addition to the build and in the vSphere Client it will show the vCenter Server version and the build of the vSphere Client.

KB2143838 is a great resource that will explain the breakdown of versioning and builds for all vCenter Server versions.

Now that we have  explained the way versioning works, let’s jump into the different scenarios where VMware will increment a version.

vCenter Server Updates and Patches

What is a vCenter Server Update and how does It differ from a patch?

A vCenter Server Update is one that applies to the vCenter Server application. An update can include new features, bug fixes or updates for additional functionality. vCenter Server updates will have a dedicated set of release notes and will be hosted on the my.vmware.com download portal.

A vCenter Server patch is more much streamlined as these are associated with operating system and security level updates. There are no application related changes, and these can target Photon OS, the Postgres DB, Java versions and any other supporting Linux libraries on the vCenter Server Appliance.

A vCenter Server patch also has no dedicated release notes as these are part of the rolled up VMware vCenter Server Appliance Photon OS Security Patches. Patches are also not stored on the my.vmware.com download portal but on the alternate VMware Patch Portal. It is also very important to note as listed in the release notes, these should not be used for any deployment or upgrade. The only reason the vCenter Server ISO’s are hosted on the VMware Patch Portal is to be used to restore your vCenter Server Appliance if using the built-in File-Based Backup. Patches can also only be applied within one and the same update release. So for example if you are currently on 6.7 Update 1 you would not be able to patch directly to 6.7 Update 2b , you would first update to 6.7 Update  2a and then patch to 6.7 Update 2b.

Now that we have explained the differences between a vCenter Server update and patch we can review the differences between an upgrade and migration.

vCenter Server Upgrades and Migrations

In its simplest form a vCenter Server Upgrade is defined as doing a major version change between vCenter Server Appliance versions. If you are running the vCenter Server Appliance 6.5  in your environment and move to vCenter Server Appliance 6.7 this would be considered an upgrade.

A vCenter Server migration is defined as doing a major version change between vCenter Server for Windows and the vCenter Server Appliance. If you are running vCenter Server for Windows 6.5 and move to the vCenter Server Appliance 6.7 this would be considered a migration. It is not supported to do a migration between the same major version as it consists of both a change of platform and an upgrade together.

In vSphere 6.5 and 6.7 an upgrade or migration of the vCenter Server is not completed in place. During the upgrade process a brand new appliance of the newer version is deployed, and based on the settings defined the data is exported from the old version and imported into the new one retaining the same FQDN, IP, Certs and UUIDs.

A back-in-time upgrade restriction is when you are unable to upgrade from one 6.5 release to another 6.7 release. For example, Upgrade from vSphere 6.5 Update 2d to vSphere 6.7 Update 1 is not supported due to the back-in-time nature of vSphere 6.7 Update 1. vSphere 6.5 Update 2d contains code and security fixes that are not in vSphere 6.7 Update 1 and might cause regression. When performing vCenter Server upgrades and migrations it’s also very important to pay attention to unsupported upgrade paths which are normally restricted due to being a back-in-time upgrade. It is also important to note that just because two releases might have the same release date, does not mean that they will be compatible. The best resource to review supported upgrade paths will be in the vCenter Server Release Notes section titled Upgrade Notes for this Release.

Resource Wrap-Up

 Conclusion

Versioning of a complex product can be difficult, but hopefully you now have a better understanding of what these numbers mean. If you have any questions feel free to post a comment below or check out any of the resources linked.


This article was provided by our service partner : Vmware

How to create a Failover Cluster in Windows Server 2019

This article gives a short overview of how to create a Microsoft Windows Failover Cluster (WFC) with Windows Server 2019 or 2016. The result will be a two-node cluster with one shared disk and a cluster compute resource (computer object in Active Directory).

Windows server 2019 failover cluster

Preparation

It does not matter whether you use physical or virtual machines, just make sure your technology is suitable for Windows clusters. Before you start, make sure you meet the following prerequisites:

Two Windows 2019 machines with the latest updates installed. The machines have at least two network interfaces: one for production traffic, one for cluster traffic. In my example, there are three network interfaces (one additional for iSCSI traffic). I prefer static IP addresses, but you can also use DHCP.

failover cluster 02

Join both servers to your Microsoft Active Directory domain and make sure that both servers see the shared storage device available in disk management. Don’t bring the disk online yet.

The next step before we can really start is to add the “Failover clustering” feature (Server Manager > add roles and features).

Reboot your server if required. As an alternative, you can also use the following PowerShell command:

Install-WindowsFeature -Name Failover-Clustering –IncludeManagementTools

After a successful installation, the Failover Cluster Manager appears in the start menu in the Windows Administrative Tools.

After you installed the Failover-Clustering feature, you can bring the shared disk online and format it on one of the servers. Don’t change anything on the second server. On the second server, the disk stays offline.

After a refresh of the disk management, you can see something similar to this:

Server 1 Disk Management (disk status online)


Server 2 Disk Management (disk status offline)

Failover Cluster readiness check

Before we create the cluster, we need to make sure that everything is set up properly. Start the Failover Cluster Manager from the start menu and scroll down to the management section and click Validate Configuration.

Select the two servers for validation.

Run all tests. There is also a description of which solutions Microsoft supports.

After you made sure that every applicable test passed with the status “successful,” you can create the cluster by using the checkbox Create the cluster now using the validated nodes, or you can do that later. If you have errors or warnings, you can use the detailed report by clicking on View Report.

Create the cluster

If you choose to create the cluster by clicking on Create Cluster in the Failover Cluster Manager, you will be prompted again to select the cluster nodes. If you use the Create the cluster now using the validated nodes checkbox from the cluster validation wizard, then you will skip that step. The next relevant step is to create the Access Point for Administering the Cluster. This will be the virtual object that clients will communicate with later. It is a computer object in Active Directory.

The wizard asks for the Cluster Name and IP address configuration.

As a last step, confirm everything and wait for the cluster to be created.

The wizard will add the shared disk automatically to the cluster per default. If you did not configure it yet, then it is also possible afterwards.

As a result, you can see a new Active Directory computer object named WFC2019.

You can ping the new computer to check whether it is online (if you allow ping on the Windows firewall).

As an alternative, you can create the cluster also with PowerShell. The following command will also add all eligible storage automatically:

New-Cluster -Name WFC2019 -Node SRV2019-WFC1, SRV2019-WFC2 -StaticAddress 172.21.237.32

You can see the result in the Failover Cluster Manager in the Nodes and Storage > Disks sections.

The picture shows that the disk is currently used as a quorum. As we want to use that disk for data, we need to configure the quorum manually. From the cluster context menu, choose More Actions > Configure Cluster Quorum Settings.

Here, we want to select the quorum witness manually.

Currently, the cluster is using the disk configured earlier as a disk witness. Alternative options are the file share witness or an Azure storage account as witness. We will use the file share witness in this example. There is a step-by-step how-to on the Microsoft website for the cloud witness. I always recommend configuring a quorum witness for proper operations. So, the last option is not really an option for production.

Just point to the path and finish the wizard.

After that, the shared disk is available for use for data.

Congratulations, you have set up a Microsoft failover cluster with one shared disk.

Next steps and backup

One of the next steps would be to add a role to the cluster, which is out of scope of this article. As soon as the cluster contains data, it is also time to think about backing up the cluster. Veeam Agent for Microsoft Windows can back up Windows failover clusters with shared disks. We also recommend doing backups of the “entire system” of the cluster. This also backs up the operating systems of the cluster members. This helps to speed up restore of a failed cluster node, as you don’t need to search for drivers, etc. in case of a restore.


This article was provided by our service partner : Veeam

managed services

Managed Services 101: Where MSPs Are Now, and Where They’re Going

Managed services are becoming an increasingly integral part of the business IT ecosystem. With technology advancing at a rapid pace, many companies find it cheaper and more effective to outsource some or all of their IT processes and functions to an expert provider, known as a managed service provider (MSP).

Unlike traditional on-demand IT outsourcing, MSPs proactively support a company’s IT needs. And with the IT demands of businesses becoming ever more complex, reliance on MSPs is likely to increase exponentially over the next few years.

What Is a Managed Service Provider?

An MSP manages a company’s IT infrastructure on a subscription-based model. MSPs offer continual support that can include the setup, installation, and configuration of a company’s IT assets.

Managed services can supplement a company’s internal IT department and provide services that may not be available in-house. And since the MSP is continuously supporting the company’s IT infrastructure and systems, rather than simply stepping in from time to time to put out a fire, these services can provide a level of peace of mind that other models just can’t match.

What’s the Difference Between Managed Services and the Break/Fix Model?

Unlike on-demand outsourced IT services, managed services play an ongoing and harmonious role in the running of an organization.

Due to the rapidly changing nature of the digital landscape, it’s no longer sustainable to fix problems after the damage is done. Yet the break/fix model is still a common way of dealing with IT-related problems. It’s like waiting to repair a minor leak until after the pipe has burst.

On-demand providers are usually brought in to perform a specific service (like fixing a broken server), and they bill the customer for the time and materials it takes to provide that service. MSPs, on the other hand, charge a recurring fee to provide an ongoing service. This service is defined in the service-level agreement (SLA), a contract drawn up between the MSP and the customer that defines both the type and standards of services the MSP will be expected to provide. This monthly recurring revenue (MRR) can provide a lucrative and reliable revenue stream.

What Services Can an MSP Provide?

MSPs provide systems management solutions, centrally managing a company’s IT assets. This encompasses everything from software support and maintenance to cloud computing and data storage. These solutions can be especially valuable for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that may not have robust internal IT departments, especially when it comes to hard-to-find skills.

Network Monitoring and Maintenance

From slow loading times to outages, inefficient and faulty systems can cost companies a fortune in lost productivity. MSPs reduce the likelihood of such delays by keeping an eye on the network for slow or failing elements. By using a remote monitoring and management (RMM) tool, the MSP will automatically be notified the moment an issue arises, allowing them to identify and fix the problem as quickly as possible. That means shorter downtime, so the customer’s tech—and the business needs it supports—can get up and running again in no time.

Software Support and Maintenance

MSPs provide software support and maintenance to ensure the smooth running of all business applications that a customer needs on a daily basis. This includes ensuring that the programs used to maintain the network are fully functional. Overall, the goal is to provide an uninterrupted experience so that work can carry on as normal.

Data Backup and Recovery

Data loss can be catastrophic, so companies need to have a system in place to back it up and recover it, should the worst happen. MSPs can handle the backup process, protecting companies against both accidental deletion and file corruption, or more malicious intent (like cyberattacks). They can also support a company’s overall disaster recovery plan, ensuring the business can always recover its data in the event of an emergency.

Data Storage

MSPs can also help their clients optimally store their data. While hard data storage was once standard, new forms of remote data storage are growing in popularity, including cloud computing. MSPs can enable seamless data migration if the client decides to switch storage options.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing encompasses more than just remote data storage options. Various IT applications and resources can be accessed via online cloud service platforms, with providers charging a pay-as-you-go fee for access. Whether the client relies on a public, private, or hybrid cloud platform, MSPs can help them navigate the cloud successfully, streamlining their workflows, storing data successfully, and more.

Challenges Facing MSPs

While there are numerous benefits to the managed services model, including the recurring revenue and the ability to build long-lasting relationships with clients, this model isn’t without its challenges.

Shifts in Sales and Marketing

Until recently, many MSPs have grown organically through referrals and word of mouth. But increasingly, companies are seeing the value of the ‘master MSP’ model, which offers valuable infrastructure to other MSPs in areas where their own expertise may be lacking. As a result, we see a trend toward inorganic growth.

In this market, MSPs can stand out from the crowd by investing their efforts in product management. Prioritizing the needs of the customer is a simple way to create value around your services. This goes beyond the basic standards outlined in the service level agreement—it’s about showing you go above and beyond.

Keeping Existing Customers

With new differentiators emerging, MSPs have to adjust their approach to keep customers happy.

One way they can set themselves apart is by having business conversations very early on in the relationship. By gaining a clear understanding of the outcomes the client wants to achieve and working with them to come to an agreement surrounding expectations, MSPs can establish themselves as a partner rather than simply a provider. This will allow you to adjust your approach to match their needs—like driving for profit rather than acting as a cost center.

Best-in-class MSPs also rarely find themselves arguing with customers over whether something is covered. That’s because they’re fully aligned on what the MSP is responsible for. Whatever the SLA covers, it’s the MSP’s job to ensure their client understands. This requires regular conversations to confirm everyone is on the same page and satisfied. Documenting these conversations also allows MSPs to streamline any disagreements by showing what has been discussed and agreed upon. The goal is to become a trusted advisor that they turn to for guidance.

A next-level approach to proactivity is also a plus. This includes setting up alerts to rapidly identify issues and putting new measures in place to ensure mistakes don’t repeat themselves.

Transitioning toward a more risk-based approach, bolstered by a security-first mindset, will go a long way, opening doors for both more recurring and non-recurring revenue streams as clients seek out your consultation. The best MSPs are experts at assessing their customers’ environment and developing a tailored plan that covers governance, compliance, and ongoing risk management. What’s more, they adjust their approach regularly to reflect the ever-changing security needs of their clients—offering more opportunities to showcase their value and up their revenue stream.

The Impact of Cloud Computing

While MSP revenue is rising, profit margins are actually shrinking. Part of the problem is the fact that MSPs are expanding their portfolio of services, yet still relying on their former pricing structures. But many MSPs are making the problem worse by choosing the wrong cloud service vendor to partner with, which can significantly impact an MSPs already-shrinking profit margins.

Some cloud service vendors are simply not priced to support an MSP. And with the pace at which cloud technology is evolving, a process that was cutting-edge when an MSP implemented it could become inefficient within a period of weeks. It’s vital that MSPs be open to change if a vendor becomes unsustainable, lest risk their own services becoming unsustainable as a result.

You should also be ready to address any cloud-related questions and concerns that clients raise. Cloud technology is still relatively new, and it can be confusing, so overcoming any uncertainties will play a key role in an MSP’s ability to act as a valuable advisor to its clients.

How MSPs Use Software

Just as they bring value to their customers by streamlining workflows and protecting networks, MSPs need internal frameworks that increase efficiency.

Professional services automation (PSA) tools allow MSPs to streamline and automate repetitive administrative tasks. This saves time and cuts costs, all while enabling greater scalability.

MSPs can also utilize remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools. These automate the patching process and allow you to reduce time spent on resolving tickets, essentially doing more with less. Not only does this enable a more proactive approach, but it puts time back into the support team’s day to focus on other things.

Needless to say, MSPs should be easily accessible to their clients via technology. Remote desktop support makes that possible. With remote control over a client’s systems, MSPs can rapidly solve issues from wherever they are—without interfering with the end user’s access. This reduces customer downtime, allowing repairs and IT support to happen quietly in the background.

What the Future Holds for MSPs

The role of MSPs is changing. Keeping an eye on these emerging trends can help you anticipate shifting client expectations—and stay ahead of the curve.

Arguably the largest area of opportunity for MSPs is cybersecurity—and that service is only going to grow more valuable. Even as awareness increases and regulations tighten around data privacy laws, the number and complexity of cyberattacks continue to rise. Between 2017 and 2018, the annual cost of combating cybercrime rose by 12%—from $11.7 million to a record high of $13 million—so establishing yourself as a cybersecurity expert now will put you in good stead for the future.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is also going to have a major impact on MSPs. Keeping up with the sheer volume of devices being used on a day-to-day basis requires a dynamic approach to systems management. This includes being proactive about establishing best practices and security guidelines around new technology, such as the use of voice assistants.

Business intelligence offerings are also likely to grow in demand. With the use of IT in business at an all-time high, the amount of data being generated is enormous. But data is only numbers without someone to effectively consolidate and analyze it to extract actionable insights. Providing easy access to reports and KPIs that clearly demonstrate areas for improvement will allow MSPs to not only stay relevant in this data-driven market but become leaders in their field.


This article was provided by our service partner : connectwise.com

Cloud Based vs Self Hosted Remote Support

Cloud-Based vs. Self-Hosted Remote Support: 3 Things to Consider

Researching remote support products can lead you down many paths, but it’s important to keep your footing and consider how the needs of your business–and your clients’ needs–factor into the functionality of the tool(s) you’re considering.

One fork in the road you might encounter is the choice between a self-hosted or cloud-based remote support solution. You should carefully consider your options here as there are pros and cons to both self-hosted and cloud based remote support software.

Your crossroad will only look slightly different if you already have a self-hosted remote support system in place. In that case, you should consider whether your current solution is still worth the time and money to maintain.

So, where does this lead? Let’s examine the pros and cons of both self hosted and cloud based.

1. Setup & Implementation

On-prem support tools frequently require more time and money up front to implement. You might have to purchase hardware to build your own server structure or buy a domain name. In that case, you’ll need to ensure that the ISP allows for configuration of your own self hosted remote support software as some don’t.

The cloud-based remote support counterparts typically come preconfigured for easier setup, ready for action right out of the box. Typically, they also include an easy to remember URL or subdomain, so you won’t have to worry about ISP server allowances, purchasing a static IP address, or experiencing NAT loopback issues.

2. Security*

Self-hosted remote support software will require you to manually secure ports, set up firewalls, establish SSL certificates, and maintain security yourself.

Conversely, with a cloud-based tool, securing your data (and maintaining its security) is done in partnership with the vendor who’s there to help with these efforts. The vendor will usually have wildcard SSL certificates in place that will secure your instance for you, so there’s no need to maintain firewalls and traffic for a server in the cloud.

Pro-Tip: look for remote support software that offers AES encryption as well as SSL certificates.

*If the industry you support requires stringent security compliance, then on-prem is the option for you. But for most businesses, cloud-based tools are a viable option. And while there’s still plenty of debate about the security of cloud environments, the question you should ask yourself is whether or not you want to shoulder the responsibility of a security breach if something goes wrong with your self-hosted system.

3. Upkeep & Upgrades

When considering self-hosted options, hardware gets old and sometimes breaks; manual upkeep ties up your resources; access to support and upgrading fees add up; downtime can poke holes in your revenue stream.

But with cloud-based options, updates and bug fixes are done automatically, and typically don’t have hidden fees. You’ll always be using the most up-to-date version of the product.

Other factors are at play here, too. Customization, resource training, overall reliability–these are all things you should weigh before you make a purchase. Once you see what tilts the scales, the decision will be much easier.

Automation

5 Ways Your Business Benefits from Automation

1: Improved Organization

Automation tools distribute information seamlessly. For instance, when you automatically create a quote for a new project and can invoice it from the same system, all of the information regarding the project is in the same place. You don’t need to go looking for it across multiple systems.

Automation ensures that the information is automatically sent where you need it, keeping your information current, and preventing your team from spending a lot of time looking for it.

2: Reduced Time Spent on Redundant Tasks

One of the biggest benefits to IT automation is the amount of time your team will save on manual, repeatable tasks. Leveraging automation helps your team reduce the time spent on creating tickets and configuring applications, which adds up over time. Based on estimates, it takes 5 to 7 minutes for techs to open up new tickets due to manual steps like assigning companies and contact information, finding and adding configurations, and more.

With automatic ticket routing, you can reduce the time spent on tickets to just 30 seconds. For a tech that works on 20 tickets a day, that results in 90 minutes a day, or 7.5 hours a week, in additional productivity.

3: Well-Established Processes

The best way to leverage the most benefit from IT automation is to ensure you create workflows and processes that are set up in advance. Establishing these workflows will ensure that you create a set of standards everyone on your team can follow without having to do additional work. Once these workflow rules are established, these processes can help establish consistency and efficiency within your operations – and ensure you deliver a consistent experience to your customers, regardless of which tech handles their tickets.

Furthermore, the documented, repeatable processes can help you scale by making it easier to accomplish more in less time. Your team can focus on providing excellent customer service and doing a great job when they don’t need to waste time thinking about the process itself.

4: Multi-department Visibility

Maintaining separate spreadsheets, accounts, and processes makes it difficult to really see how well your company is doing. To see how many projects are completed a day or how quickly projects are delivered, you may need to gather information about each employee’s performance to view the company as a whole.

Automation tools increase visibility into your business’s operations by centralizing data in a way that makes it easy to figure out holistically how your company performs, in addition to the performance of each individual team member. You can even isolate the performance of one department.

5: Increased Accountability

With so many different systems in place, it can be difficult to know exactly what is happening at every moment. For instance, if an employee wanted to delete tasks they didn’t want to do, you’d need processes in place to know this went on. What if deleting something was an accident? How would you know something was accidentally deleted and have the opportunity to get the information back?

Automation reduces human errors by providing a digital trail for your entire operation in one place. It provides increased accountability for everybody’s actions across different systems, so issues like these aren’t a problem.

Automation is an easy way to develop the increased accountability, visibility, and centralized processes required for your company to grow and serve more clients. When selecting the right automation tools for your business, ensure that whatever solutions you’re evaluating helps in these key areas. Technology that help you manage workflows, automate redundant tasks, provide consistent experience to all your customers will help you provide superior levels of service to your customers – and help improve your bottom line.


This article was provided by our service partner : connectwise.com

Asset Management

Don’t Ignore Security Activity That Could Help the Most

We tend to think of security as the tools—like email scanning, malware, and antivirus protection—we have in place to secure our network. But did you know that the process of asset management helps you minimize the threat landscape too?

Management of software and hardware has historically been treated as a cost-minimizing function, where tracking assets could be the difference between driving or reducing value, from an organizational perspective. However, even the best security plan is only as strong as its weakest link. If IT administrators are unaware where assets reside, the software running on them, and who has access, they are at risk.

Understanding the device, as well as the data, is what matters here. Having an in-depth knowledge of the network of devices and their data is the first step in protecting it. Often, organizations have the tools in place to support and maintain the device, but once in place on the network, it can be easy to set it and forget it until it need repair, replacement, or up for review. Conducting asset management on a regular basis should be a fundamental function for your security plan and can strengthen the security tools you already have in place. Remember, asset management has to be continuous for it to be truly effective.

When you’re conducting continuous asset management you can always answer the following questions should an incident occur:

  • What devices are currently connected to the internet?
  • How many total systems do you have?
  • Where is your data?
  • How many vendors do you have?
  • Which vendors have what kind of your data?

Companies struggle with consistent and mature asset management because they often don’t have the time or dedicated resources to stay on top of it. However, an IT asset management program can add value by reducing costs, improving operational efficiency, determining full cost, and providing a forecast for future investments. Oversight and governance help to solidify policies and procedures already in place.

ConnectWise Automate® complements and strengthens security tools and processes by significantly improving the ability to discover, inventory, manage, and report. Additional tool sets–like antivirus and malware protection—can be added to help further protect data and reduce operational risk.

recent study of the Total Economic Impact of ConnectWise showed, “Organizations estimated that they could shorten engineers’ involvement by 60%, thus cutting the cost of hardware maintenance by $1.2 million.”


This article was provided by our service partner : Connectwise.

Considerations in a multi-cloud world

With the infrastructure world in constant flux, more and more businesses are adopting a multi-cloud deployment model. The challenges from this are becoming more complex and, in some cases, cumbersome. Consider the impact on the data alone. 10 years ago, all anyone worried about was if the SAN would stay up, and if it didn’t, would their data be protected. Fast forward to today, even a small business can have data scattered across the globe. Maybe they have a few vSphere hosts in an HQ, with branch offices using workloads running in the cloud or Software as a Service-based applications. Maybe backups are stored in an object storage repository (somewhere — but only one guy knows where). This is happening in the smallest of businesses, so as a business grows and scales, the challenges become even more complex.

Potential pitfalls

Now this blog is not about how Veeam manages data in a multi-cloud world, it’s more about how to understand the challenges and the potential pitfalls. Take a look at the diagram below:

cloud services

Veeam supports a number of public clouds and different platforms. This is a typical scenario in a modern business. Picture the scene: workloads are running on top of a hypervisor like VMware vSphere or Nutanix, with some services running in AWS. The company is leveraging Microsoft Office 365 for its email services (people rarely build Exchange environments anymore) with Active Directory extended into Azure. Throw in some SAP or Oracle workloads, and your data management solution has just gone from “I back up my SAN every night to tape” to “where is my data now, and how do I restore it in the event of a failure?” If worrying about business continuity didn’t keep you awake 10 years ago, it surely does now. This is the impact of modern life. The more agility we provide on the front end for an IT consumer, the more complexity there has to be on the back end.

With the ever-growing complexity, global reach and scale of public clouds, as well as a more hands-off approach from IT admins, this is a real challenge to protect a business, not only from an outage, but from a full-scale business failure.

Managing a multi-cloud environment

When looking to manage a multi-cloud environment, it is important to understand these complexities, and how to avoid costly mistakes. The simplistic approach to any environment, whether it is running on premises or in the cloud, is to consider all the options. Sounds obvious, but that has not always been the case. Where or how you deploy a workload is becoming irrelevant, but how you protect that workload still is. Think about the public cloud: if you deploy a virtual machine, and set the firewall ports to any:any, (that would never happen would it?), you can be pretty sure someone will gain access to that virtual machine at some point. Making sure that workload is protected and recoverable is critical in this instance. The same considerations and requirements always apply whether running on premises or off premises.  How do you protect the data and how do you recover the data in the event of a failure or security breach?

What to consider when choosing a cloud platform?

This is something often overlooked, but it has become clear in recent years that organizations do not choose a cloud platform for single, specific reasons like cost savings, higher performance and quicker service times, but rather because the cloud is the right platform for a specific application. Sure, individual reason benefits may come into play, but you should always question the “why” on any platform selection.

When you’re looking at data management platforms, consider not only what your environment looks like today, but also what will it look like tomorrow. Does the platform you’re purchasing today have a roadmap for the future? If you can see that the company has a clear vision and understanding of what is happening in the industry, then you can feel safe trusting that platform to manage your data anywhere in the world, on any platform. If a roadmap is not forthcoming, or they just don’t get the vision you are sharing about your own environment, perhaps it’s time to look at other vendors. It’s definitely something to think about next time you’re choosing a data management solution or platform.


This article was provided by our service partner: veeam.com

Automation

IT Automation and Why Should You Use It?

The hottest word in IT is automation. More and more companies are using automated technology to speed up repetitive tasks, improve consistency and efficiency, and free up employees’ time. But what exactly is IT automation, and is it worth making changes so you can include it in your IT department or company? By looking at all the facts, options, and benefits, you can make an informed decision and maximize the potential of IT automation for your team.

What is IT Automation?

IT automation is a set of tools and technologies that perform manual, repetitive tasks involving IT systems. In other words, it’s software that carries out information technology tasks without the need for human intervention. IT automation plays an essential role in proactive service delivery, allowing you to provide faster, more effective technology services to your clients. It can also create, implement, and operate applications that keep your business running smoothly.

Businesses today are increasingly turning to IT automation as a method that saves time and improves accuracy, among other benefits. IT automation can apply to a number of different processes, from configuration management to security and alerting. Regardless of what type of technology services you offer—whether it’s managed print services, value-added reselling, internal IT, or managed services—there’s always room for automation within your company.

What Are the Benefits of IT Automation?

Being a time-saver is where IT automation offers the most benefits. As Information Age reports, employees lose an average of 19 working days per year to repetitive tasks like data entry and processing—things that could easily be automated.

By handling redundant tasks automatically, IT automation eliminates the need for techs to spend hours creating tickets, configuring application systems, and performing other tedious functions. As a result, your team can turn their attention to higher priority tasks. And while that will probably come as a relief to your employees, that’s not where the benefits end.

Automating repetitive tasks allows your team to handle more, which enables you to bring on more clients and reduce the need to hire additional employees. In other words, IT automation means you can do more with less.

Technology professionals that use IT automation tend to see a weekly billing average in the 40- to 100-hour range, meaning the automation software performs that many hours of human labor per week. Breaking that down, it translates to the work of one to two and a half full-time employees. Unlike employees, the automation system performs at a fixed cost and never takes a holiday or sick leave. It’s always doing its job.

Of course, we’re not suggesting that IT automation should replace human employees. Rather, it helps employees perform their jobs with greater power and accuracy. It pushes the boundaries of what your team can achieve.

Another benefit of IT automation is simply your peace of mind. As an entrepreneur and/or a manager, it can be hard to hand over all your IT tasks to an employee, and trust that they’ll get the job done. You may feel the need to remind them or check in regularly to see their progress, and that in itself can take up time. With IT automation, all of that is taken care of, which means you can turn your attention to higher pursuits.

Many IT automation systems handle everything from one platform, which greatly improves organization and cross-department visibility. You’ll be able to access all the information you need quickly and seamlessly from one location. And you’ll be able to check in with other departments via a few simple clicks.

You’ve heard that consistency is key. A good IT automation strategy allows you to provide a consistent customer experience. By monitoring workflow, it also ensures that no steps are missed in the delivery process. Since everything is handled automatically, IT automation also cuts down on response times, leading to quicker customer interactions and a more efficient process from start to finish. Needless to say, consistency and a high level of accuracy really are key to satisfying customers, and an improved customer satisfaction rate means more business for your company.

What Are the Risks of Not Automating?

Even if you haven’t yet made the decision to automate, you can safely assume most of your competitors already have. Automation is quickly changing the face of the IT world. In a 2017 study by Smartsheet— which surveyed approximately 1,000 information workers—65 percent reported using automation in their daily work, while 28 percent said their company plans to start using automation in the future. Clearly, if you’re not currently using IT automation, you’re already falling behind the competition.

Companies using automation have discovered that it saves significant time—and that time translates to money. As an example, let’s look at the time an average IT department pours into reactive tickets. If we assume that a technician creates 20 tickets a day, that’s about 100 tickets per week, or 5,000 per year. If automation would allow a tech to save three minutes per ticket by saving them from manually re-entering information, and the billable rate is $125/hour, that translates to $31,250 a year in savings—per technician. Imagine the difference it could make to your bottom line if all your technicians were leveraging automation.

Which Tasks Should You Automate?

If you’re considering automating a certain task, that task should meet the following criteria: It can be resolved consistently through documented steps; and the solution can be performed without accessing the user interface. Once you’ve decided which tasks to automate, the next step is to decide which automation systems to implement.

How to Automate IT

The prevalence of automation in the IT industry today means there is a plethora of tools available to help you make the switch. Here are some of the most effective automated system solutions for IT teams.

RMM

RMM (remote monitoring and management) is a software that allows you to monitor devices, networks, and client endpoints remotely and proactively. Like most IT systems, RMM tools are basically automation engines that can reproduce processes and solve cause and effect situations.

A bonus of RMM software is that it can monitor client devices and detect issues proactively. RMM will then create a ticket for the issue, and your tech team can address it before the issue even comes to the client’s attention. RMM also allows your team to manage more endpoints, greatly increasing productivity.

PSA / Workflow Rules

A PSA (professional services automation) is a system for automating business management tasks. By establishing workflow rules, or automated, repeatable processes, you can program the software to perform certain tasks, like reminding clients of contract renewals or license expirations.

Using workflow rules can greatly simplify the process of managing tickets and service tasks. When it comes to workflow, there are three basic types to focus on for service delivery:

  • Status workflow sends a notification when a ticket status changes to a specific value.
  • Escalation workflow defines the steps to be taken based on the conditions of a ticket.
  • Auto resolution workflow keeps tickets from piling up by creating auto-closure timeframes for alerts that are informational or historical.

Many companies benefit from combining PSA and RMM solutions. For example, based on the real-time alerts you receive in your RMM software, you can automatically generate and manage service tickets in your PSA software, and thereby respond to customer needs more quickly than ever.

Whether or not you need to ticket everything that the RMM software generates is a highly debated topic, but it all comes down to the idea of information. With the right data, you can predict problems before they occur and simplify the troubleshooting process. You’ll have all the info you need about each client, and you’ll be able to see supported devices, service history, and other details. Perhaps best of all, you won’t waste time hunting around for that information. You can simply pull up the ticket and find everything you need, which translates to a faster turnaround and the ability to quickly move on to the next client.

Remote Support and Access

Remote support and access software can integrate with RMM and PSA solutions to help you rectify tech issues, track time and activity onto a ticket, and quickly find that information later while auditing. In effect, remote support and access acts as a bridge between you, your end users, and their devices. Provided the endpoint is online, this software allows you to deliver fast and secure reactive services. Remote support and access can help you both work directly with a customer and remotely access unattended devices. It’s a way to solve issues more quickly from a remote location.

Marketing Automation / CRM Capabilities

The average marketer spends nearly one-third of the work week completing repetitive tasks, according to a study conducted by HubSpot. Those tasks include gathering and organizing data, emailing clients, building landing pages, and managing lists. With a marketing automation tool, you can greatly reduce that number and free up your marketers to spend their time and energy on more high-level tasks.

Marketing automation can help you easily build emails and landing pages, score new leads for sales readiness, and access and understand your marketing metrics to accurately measure the success of your efforts. The best marketing automation software integrates with your PSA tools for centralized information you can access quickly.

With an automated CRM (customer relationship management) system, you’ll be able to set reminders for your sales team, alerting them to complete tasks like following up with prospects so they can move steadily through the sales funnel, and close deals on track.

Quote and Proposal Automation

Also known as a CPQ (configure, price, quote) tool, quote and proposal automation imbues your sales process with greater visibility and accountability. Think of it as a second brain for your sales team—empowering you to turn leads into happy new clients.

With pre-defined templates and pricing models, you’ll achieve a high level of consistency across your sales team. You’ll also save yourself the time of manual calculations, especially if you offer clients the same markup with each quote—and you’ll eliminate the risk of making a costly miscalculation.

Plus, pricing integrations allow you to find and incorporate hardware pricing in seconds, without taking the time to manually check different sources and pull the results into your proposal.

Document Your Automation

After successfully implementing IT automation software, your work isn’t done. It’s important to also document your automation campaign, for a number of reasons.

For one thing, documentation will help significantly when you need to train new team members. And if one of your staff takes a vacation or sick day, clear documentation ensures the rest of your team will be able to quickly fill in.

Documentation will also help your clients see the value of your services. As they assess whether your service is cost-effective or not, a deciding factor can be the efficiency with which you run your business. If you’re using industry-leading automation to run the most effective business possible, that gives you a competitive advantage. And if you’ve documented your automation from beginning to end, you’ll have a record of improvements and stats you can rely on to help inform clients of your company’s high standards.

It’s also important to be aware of the new capabilities automation brings. For instance, if you can tell a client that you proactively monitor for low disk space on their servers and workstations, and that you’ll automatically free wasted drive space to avoid system outages, you’ve already made an impression.

The main point to get across to clients is that your team is constantly looking for ways to provide more proactive and efficient IT solutions. When used and communicated effectively, automation can be key to achieving that element of trust that leads to delighted clients and fulfilled team members.


This article was provided by our service partner : Connectwise

Active Directory

Three Active Directory Automation Scripting Tips Using PowerShell

Active Directory is one of the most common products I see being automated. After all, it’s the perfect candidate. How many times do new users have to be created, group memberships changed, or new computers added? Employees are coming and going all the time, and the actions to perform these tasks are the same—every time.

Microsoft® has an Active Directory (AD) PowerShell module that allows anyone to manage AD objects and write scripts to tie various tasks together. However, with PowerShell expertise, we can create scripts that go past just finding users and groups. We can automate any task you can think of in AD.

Find All Effective Members of a Group

AD has a great feature that allows you to add groups to other groups. This cuts down on the number of repeated group assignments you have to make, and makes AD much cleaner. However, when navigating to a group in the AD Graphical User Interface (GUI), you can only see the members in that immediate group. You may see others, but you’ll have to look at the members of those groups over and over again.

It can become a pain when you want to see all of the affected user accounts, but we can solve that using a PowerShell code and a recursive function.

To find members of a group with PowerShell, use the Get-AdGroupMember cmdlet. This command returns all members in just that group. However, a property on each of those members is an AD attribute indicating if it’s a user, a group, etc. That way, we know what kind of object it is. Knowing this, we can build code to look at each of those members, check to see if they’re a group, and if so, run Get-AdGroupMember again. If not, we return the member.

We need to use a recursive function—a function that calls itself, forcing it to find user accounts nested deep inside of various groups. By using a recursive function like this, a user can be nested ten groups deep, and we’ll still find it.

An example of how this can be done is below. This function can be called via Get-NestedGroupMember -Group MyGroup.

function Get-NestedGroupMember {
[CmdletBinding()]
param (
[Parameter(Mandatory)]
[string]$Group
)

## Find all members in the group specified
$members = Get-ADGroupMember -Identity $Group
foreach ($member in $members) {
## If any member in that group is another group just call this function again
if ($member.objectClass -eq 'group') {
Get-NestedGroupMember -Group $member.Name
} else { ## otherwise, just output the non-group object (probably a user account)
$member.Name
}
}
}
Easily Find Inactive Group Policy Objects

The next tip is finding inactive Group Policy Objects (GPOs). Especially in large organizations, GPOs can get out of hand and run wild unless controlled. Sometimes there ends up being dozens of GPOs created that aren’t doing anything at all. Rather than picking these out one at a time via the GUI, we can build a simple script to find them all in one shot.

There are two ways to define an inactive GPO. This GPO could have all of its settings disabled, or it could not be linked to an organizational unit. We can create a script to find both of these types. First, we’ll pull all of the GPOs in the environment:

$allGpos = Get-Gpo -All

Once we have them all, we can then filter those GPOs by the ones that have all settings disabled:

$disabledGpos = $allGpos | Where-Object { $_.GpoStatus -eq 'AllSettingsDisabled' }
foreach ($oGpo in $disabledGpos) {
[pscustomobject]@{
Name = $oGpo.DisplayName
Status = 'Disabled'
}
}

Next, we can find all GPOs that aren’t linked to an organizational unit. This is a little trickier, but nothing we can’t handle using the code below:

## Create an empty array
$unlinkedGpos = @()
foreach ($oGpo in $allGpos) {
## Gather up all settings in the GPO
[xml]$oGpoReport = Get-GPOReport -Guid $oGpo.ID -ReportType xml;
## Only return the GPOs that don't have a LinksTo property meaning they aren't linked to an OU
if ('LinksTo' -notin $oGpoReport.GPO.PSObject.Properties.Name) {
[pscustomobject]@{
Name = $oGpo.DisplayName
Status = 'Unlinked'
}
}
}

This script will return a list of GPOs that look like this:

Name Status
---- ------
GPO1 Unlinked
GPO2 Disabled
GPO3 Disabled
Find How Long Ago a User Reset Their Password

For my last tip, let’s figure out how long ago a user’s password was set. More specifically, let’s write a small script that will allow us to find only those users that have had their password set within a configurable amount of days.

This small script uses the Get-AdUser command and filters the users returned using the Where-Object command. In this example, we’re looking at the passwordlastset attribute for each user that is greater than 30 days ago.

$daysOld = 30
$today = Get-Date
Get-AdUser -Filter { enabled -eq $true } -Properties passwordlastset | Where-Object 
{ $_.passwordlastset -gt $today.AddDays(-$daysOld) }
Summary

We’ve just skimmed the surface on what’s possible when automating with PowerShell and Active Directory. By leveraging Microsoft’s Active Directory module and stringing together commands with PowerShell, we’re able to come up with some interesting scripts.

 

HIPAA

HIPAA Compliance — It’s the law…

As an IT Managed Services provider, we’ve heard it all…. I mean, who wants to take on another initiative that is as ambiguous and costly as HIPAA Compliance. Besides, your staff don’t have the time to take on more roles and responsibilities.

There’s only one problem though. These rules and regulations are signed into Law. That means, you are breaking the law. So, where does that leave us? Well, there’s 2 options: 1) Roll the dice and hope you don’t get audited/fined when PHI info is lost/stolen 2) Have someone like NetCal help you be compliant quickly and easily.

You see, we are forced to understand/implement the compliance requirements because as a Business Associate, we are also liable for our client’s non-compliance. We’re in this together and we got your back. It’s actually not as bad as everyone thinks. In particular, we know which items are important to focus on and we know how to get your business in compliance via best practices, trainings, templates, etc…

NetCal will perform the following tasks for you:

1. Perform HIPAA, MACRA, and Meaningful Use Risk Assessment
2. Write your Policies and Procedures
3. Train your Employees
4. Maintain your documents in a web portal
5. Provide support in the event of an audit

High-level Summary of Tasks Needed

1. BAA signings
2. User Training
3. Risk Assessment
4. Create HIPAA Policies
5. Perform IT Discovery and Vulnerabilities list
6. Create Recommendation and Security Plan