Be More Productive with Office 365

When you first purchased Office 365, it is likely that you were looking forward to the productivity gains it can produce. But if your business has yet to realize them, you may be feeling a bit frustrated or agitated that the service didn’t deliver on its promise. However, it’s wise to remember that in order to get the most out of a service, regardless of what it is, you need to know how to utilize it properly. Here are a few ways your business can do that with Office 365.

Get All Staff On Board

To maximize your company’s productivity on Office 365, every employee that uses a computer needs to utilize it. While this may sound easier said than done, you can encourage company-wide use by getting the leaders of your company to use it first. When your executives, managers, and top employees are all using and promoting Office 365, it sets a good example that will help persuade all employees to fall in line.

Train Employees

If your employees don’t know how to use Office 365, you will see little increase in productivity, and the cloud service becomes a wasted investment. This is why training is absolutely vital. Teach your staff all the ins and outs of the platform so they can take full advantage of it.

One way to efficiently train your staff is to create or gather a series of short training videos, only a few minutes in length. Shorter videos are easy to digest for your employees and help them retain the info. Best of all, they can be reviewed again and again, and used for all employees. This saves time for management, who is often responsible for employee training.

Utilize Core Tools

When you first implemented Office 365, what sold you on it? Likely it was the fact that it increases staff productivity by allowing them to work and collaborate from anywhere. So if you’re not yet utilizing the tools that enable them to do that, there’s no better time than now to get started.

Some of the core tools that enable you and your staff to become more productive and work from anywhere are OneDrive for Business (OD4B), SharePoint, and Skype for Business. OD4B and SharePoint enable your staff to upload and save documents to a virtual drive, share that document with another group or user, and then edit it at the same time. This gives you and your employees the ability to access that document from anywhere, and essentially work from anywhere. Skype for Business also enhances productivity by creating a more flexible communication channel. Employees, colleagues, and customers can communicate easily wherever they may be in the world. From online meetings, to conference calls, video calls, and instant messaging, you have a wealth of options for instant communication.

Don’t Forget Security

Not only can a security breach cost you money, but it can also destroy your employee productivity. While Office 365 already has security built in with Azure Active Directory, you should still be cautious of what files you add and share on the service. If you do upload files with sensitive company information to the platform, it’s wise to keep them under you or your executives’ direct control.

These four productivity tips should help your business make the most out of Office 365. If you’d like more ideas on how to better utilize the platform, make it more secure or need additional training, give us a call at (800)421-7151. We are happy to share our expertise for your maximum gain.

A Backup Plan You Can Fall In Love With

A Backup Plan You Can Fall In Love With

In today’s fast-paced, data-driven world, backups are mission critical to your company’s survival and success.

Yet your data may be just one damaged drive, lost laptop, natural disaster, accidental deletion, malware attack, equipment failure, power spike or petty theft away from a profit-sucking, heartbreaking disaster.

So what measures must you take to keep your data safe, secure, and where you need it, when you need it? While there’s no one-size-fits-all-guns silver bullet, there are some general principles to be aware of.

Image-Based Backups

An image-based backup or “clone” serves like the spare tire for your car. If you get a flat, the spare will get you to a tire shop.

If the hard drive on any device in the network goes kablooey and its user is in a time crunch to complete a project, an image-based backup allows them to get right back to where they were. It saves all files, apps, and settings that were on that device, exactly the way they were at the time of the last backup. And generally, that means the user can get right back to work with no need to reconfigure everything all over again.

But, just as a spare tire isn’t designed for long road trips, an image-based backup may not perform as well as the original drive. It may, for instance, take a little longer to access data from the server, thus slowing down user workflow.

An image-based backup will be useful only to the extent that it has backed up data recently. For servers, daily or even multiple backups per day are recommended.

Archive Backups

Archive backups don’t replace image-based backups, but are an efficient way to reduce the size of these backups because they take less-frequently-used data off the main computer or server.

You can’t reboot from an archive, but if you’ve accidentally deleted a file, you can retrieve it from an archive. If any device on the network goes down, you can simply plug the external hard drive into another computer and regain access to the archived files.

Cloud Backup

Backing up to the cloud can serve as an alternative to a rotating off-site backup and eliminates the human component of having to remember to rotate drives. However, for complete protection, you’ll want a cloud backup that makes a nightly copy of the image-based backup files. Should the absolute worst happen, the cloud backup image can be “spun up,” allowing access to your applications and data using just about any computer or tablet.

Automated cloud backup systems offer a variety of feature sets. Some only back up files, while others back up entire image-based backups and can even spin them up. Select a system that’s simple, continual, fast, secure, easy to restore from, inclusive of different devices and operating systems, cost-efficient, and most importantly, provides the kind of protection and redundancy you need for your operation to run even if things go south.

A Fail-Safe System

So, can you rest assured that your company’s backup system is built to minimize downtime in the event of data loss or equipment failure?

If you’re 100% certain you can answer yes, congratulations – you are one of the few! If not, NOW is the time to take action – rather than after you wish you had.

Not only is our WAMS ManagedCARE Backup highly affordable, it continuously backs up your entire server – including open files – so you’ll never lose a whole day’s work. Then, every night, it automatically backs up a snapshot of your entire server to an off-site military-grade data center where it’s held safe and secure until you need it.

Don’t put this off another minute! Fill out the form to the right or contact us right now through the end of February to claim your free Backup System Audit. Let us make sure your backup system never lets you down. Call TODAY!

Security Policies Every Business Needs

When it comes to Internet security, a reported 87% of small businesses has no security policies in place at at all. And considering that employee error is one of the most common causes of an online security breach, it makes sense to have rules in place that your staff needs to follow. So to help you create some security policies of your own, we’ve outlined four important areas to cover.

Internet

In today’s business world, employees spend a lot of time on the Internet. To ensure they’re not putting your business at risk, you need a clear set of web policies. Here are three important ones to keep in mind:

  1. Employees should be using the Internet for business purposes only. While this is undoubtedly hard to avoid without blocking specific websites, having a policy in place should at least cut back on employees spending time on non-business related sites.
  2. Prohibit unauthorized downloads. This includes everything from music to games, and even data or applications.
  3. Accessing personal email should not be done on business devices. If employees must access their own email account during the day, they can do so on their smartphone or other personal device.

These are just a few Internet policies to get started, but you should also consider including information on your recommended browsing practices and your policies for using business devices (such as company phones) on public wifi.

Email

Just like with the Internet policy mentioned above, company email accounts should only be utilized for business use. That means your employees should never use it to send personal files, forward links or perform any type of business-related activities outside of their specific job role. Additionally, consider implementing a standard email signature for all employees. This not only creates brand cohesion on all outgoing emails, but also makes it easy to identify messages from other employees, and hence helps prevents spear phishing.

Passwords

We’ve all heard the importance of a strong password time and time again. This same principle should also apply to your employees. The reason is rather simple: many employees will create the easiest to crack passwords for their business accounts. After all, if your organization gets hacked, it’s not their money or business at stake. So to encourage employees to create strong passwords, your policy should instruct them to include special characters, uppercase and lowercase letters, and numbers in their passwords.

Data

Whether or not you allow your employees to conduct work on their own device, such as a smartphone or tablet, it is important to have a bring your own device (BYOD) policy. If your employees aren’t aware of your stance on BYOD, some are sure to assume they can conduct work related tasks on their personal laptop or tablet. So have a BYOD policy and put it in the employee handbook. In addition to this, make sure to explain that data on any workstation is business property. That means employees aren’t allowed to remove or copy it without your authorization.

We hope these four policies have shed some light on best security practices. If you’d like more tips or are interested in a security audit of your business, get in touch with us.

Boost Productivity With These Word Tricks

Microsoft Word has become the top choice of many firms when it comes to word processing. Its capabilities go far beyond basic document editing – you can use Word to create professional documents such as invoices, statements, proposals, and even incorporate data visualization tools to add tables and graphs to your documents. But there are a number of hidden features that, when utilized properly, could greatly enhance your Microsoft Word experience. Without further ado, let’s take a look at these nifty Word tricks that will help you get things done faster.

Combine text from multiple locations

We’re all familiar with the copy and paste function on PCs. The problem is, you can only copy one thing at a time, which makes it hard to combine pieces of text from various sources. And even if you manage to do so, the whole single copy and paste process can be long-winded and downright time-consuming.

Word has feature called “spike,” which allows you to cut pieces of text from documents and pages and paste them all in one go! To use it, simply highlight the text you want to copy and press Ctrl+F3. Repeat this and when you’re satisfied with what you have, you can paste everything on another document by pressing Ctrl+Shift+F3.

Format images

You probably already know that it’s possible to copy and paste (drag and drop) images onto a Word document. But the image will place itself on a line of its own, pushing text above or below it. You can drag the image all day long to position it in a way you want, only to find that it’s not working properly. There’s a much better alternative. Simply right click on the image and select one of the layouts under Layout Options. You can position the image in line, behind, or in front of text and crop the image to remove unwanted areas.

AutoRecover feature

Microsoft Word can restore and recover unsaved documents when a crash occurs, but you can add another level of protection and peace of mind by enabling the AutoRecover feature. Navigate to File → Options → Save and check the box that enables AutoRecover. This feature will automatically save your documents at regular intervals that you specify, minimizing the risks of losing important documents in an event where your computer crashes, reboots itself, or experiences any issues that shut Word down before you can hit the save button.

Use text boxes for layouts

Many people use Word only for reading and typing text. But did you know that you can play around with text boxes to make your documents more readable? By inserting text boxes and images, you can create rough mockups of ideas and projects, whether it’s website design or product catalogues. Adding text boxes is easy – just choose the Insert tab, click on Text Box and choose from many available styles and formats. You can customize text boxes with colors, frames, and size.

Show hidden characters

If you’re a regular Word user, chances are you’ve come across that moment when something just feels a little off, whether it’s an extra space, out of place paragraph, or weird bullet points. If you can’t understand why your document is behaving unexpectedly, you can get to the root of the problem by clicking on the paragraph symbol under the Paragraphs tab to make all the hidden marks (spaces, paragraphs, tabs) visible. This makes it easy to remove any characters that are causing the error.

These tips may seem small, but they will make a big difference in helping you work more effectively towards your goals. Want to learn more Word tricks and tips? Get in touch with us today, and we’ll help you save time and increase productivity.

5 Different Types of Virtualization

Companies of all sizes are embracing virtualization as a way to cut IT expenses, enhance security, and increase operational efficiency. While the benefits of virtualization are self-evident, many people are still in the dark when it comes to the many different types of virtualization. Here, we’ll show you some of the most common virtualization methods and why they’re valuable for your business.

Application Virtualization

This is a process where applications get virtualized and are delivered from a server to the end user’s device, such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets. So instead of logging into their computers at work, users will be able to gain access to the application from virtually anywhere, provided an Internet connection is available. This type of virtualization is particularly popular for businesses that require the use of their applications on the go.

Desktop Virtualization

Similar to Application Virtualization mentioned above, desktop virtualization separates the desktop environment from the physical device and configured as a “virtual desktop infrastructure” (VDI). The major advantages of desktop virtualization is that users are able to access all their personal files and applications from any location and on any PC, meaning they can work from anywhere without the need to bring their work computer. It also lowers the cost of licensing for installing software on desktops and maintenance and patch management is very simple, since all of the virtual desktops are hosted at the same location.

Hardware Virtualization

This is perhaps the most common type of virtualization today. Hardware virtualization is made possible by a virtual machine manager (VM) called the “hypervisor”. The hypervisor creates virtual versions of computers and operating systems and consolidates them into one large physical server, so that all the hardware resources can be utilized more efficiently. It also enables users to run different operating systems on the same machine at the same time.

Network Virtualization

Network virtualization is a method that combines all physical networking equipment into a single resource. It is the process of dividing bandwidth into multiple, independent channels, each of which can be assigned to servers and devices in real time. Businesses that would benefit from network virtualization are ones that have a large number of users and need to keep their systems up and running at all times. With the distributed channels, your network speed will increase dramatically, allowing you to deliver services and applications faster than ever before.

Storage Virtualization

This type of virtualization is very easy and cost-effective to implement, since it involves compiling your physical hard drives into a single cluster. Storage virtualization is handy when it comes to planning for disaster recovery, since the data stored on your virtual storage can be replicated and transferred to another location. By consolidating your storage into a centralized system, you can eliminate the hassles and costs of managing multiple storage devices.

Integrating virtualization into your business can be a complex and confusing process. Ideally you will enlist the help of experts to get the job done right. If you’re looking for top-quality and reliable virtualization solutions, why not get in touch with our professionals today. We’ll make your virtualization experience a quick and painless one.

This Small Business Was Hacked. Could You Be Next?

When it comes to the online security of their business, many small to medium-sized firms consider it an afterthought. They think their firm is too small to be of any concern to cyber criminals, and there’s good reason for this mentality. How often are security breaches to SMBs listed in the news? Rarely. In fact, you may not be able to think of a single one. But today, that’s about to change. A recent NY Times article documented the story a small business that was lucky to survive a ransomware attack.

Last holiday season, Rokenbok Education, a small California-based toy company of seven employees, realized its worse nightmare. During the busiest time of the sales year, the files in their database had become unusable, infected with malware. The hackers used ransomware, a malware designed to hold a business’s data hostage, to encrypt their files and demanded a payment to make them usable again. However, instead of paying the ransom, Rokenbok restructured their key system. To do this it took four days. That’s four days of downtime, lost sales, and confused customers who likely lost confidence in the integrity of their company. Luckily this did not put Rokenbok Education out of business. But many SMBs aren’t so fortunate and are forced to close after such a security debacle.

So why do security breaches like this happen to SMBs?

There are many reasons, but a common one is that small and medium-sized firms often focus on profits over security. And really, it’s hard to blame them. When you’re small, you want to grow your organization as quickly as possible. And you likely think that because you’re small, no one is going to attack you. However, nowadays hackers are on to this way of thinking. They know that SMBs don’t focus as much on security, which make them a perfect target. In fact, according to Timothy C. Francis, the enterprise lead for Cyber Insurance at Travelers, 60 percent of all online attacks in 2014 targeted SMBs.

So what can your business do to protect itself against online attacks? There are a range of options, but it’s best to start off with an audit of your current security system to see where the holes are. This audit should check areas of risk which include customer data, employee access, and assets such as servers, computers and all Internet-enable devices. (Interested in a free Security Audit from us? Fill out the firm to the right to get more info.)

After that, an obvious thing to do is to strengthen your passwords. While this has been said thousands of times over, many SMB owners do not take heed. Clay Calvert, the director of security at the Virginia-based firm MetroStar Systems, notes that hackers analyze how we create passwords and use big data analytics to crack them. “They have databases of passwords,” Calvert said. The best way to create a strong password is to make it long with a mix of characters. Password managers that encrypt your passwords can also help.

Aside from passwords, there are many other ways to boost your business’s security that include installing a firewall, keeping your antivirus up-to-date, and moving data over to the cloud (instead of storing it on company servers). Also, since many security attacks occur because an employee clicked on a malicious website or link, training your employees is a smart move. A good way to start this training is to create an employee manual that includes security guidelines they must follow. For ongoing training, you can keep them up-to-date on the latest security threats through email updates and regular meetings. Once you feel confident that your employees are up-to-speed and your security practices are updated, you can try hiring ethical hackers to test your systems and try to break through your security. This will let you know if there are any security holes you missed.

Calling in a security specialist

However, if all of this sounds far too much to bother with, consider outsourcing your security to a service provider that specializes in security. This can oftentimes save valuable time and money in the long run. Best of all, this can provide peace of mind, knowing that you have a security specialist watching over your business.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure where to start with your firm’s security, we’re happy to help perform a thorough audit and provide you the security solutions you need to keep your firm protected. Simply fill out the form to the right to get more info on the audit we do.

Security worries don’t have to keep you up at night, and we can help you implement the measures that will protect your business from disastrous security problems.

What Does 2016 Have In Store For The Cloud?

Cloud computing started as an avant-garde way of business operating, but 2015 has established it as an accepted solution which brings many advantages. Why? For a host of reasons.

Cloud computing allows for inexpensive computing solutions, which is beneficial for companies of all sizes. Staff can access applications and data anywhere around the globe and they can collaborate in real time.

The pay-as-you-go model and the lack of necessity of software licenses make cloud solutions very affordable. Companies can scale their business, as well as improve efficiency, while the cloud provider takes care of reliability and security.

Cloud solutions promote the philosophy of “renting”, so their cost leaves a lot of operational funds available to the company. Businesses can stay competitive and still invest in their technology.

Here are the developments that emerged in 2015 and are expected to grow strong in 2016:

Hybrid cloud

A combo of private and public cloud provide businesses efficacy on top of keeping their confidential files safe. Sensitive data stays on the company private cloud, while the less sensitive data can be easily processed through the public cloud.

Cloud facilitator

The boom in cloud computing is difficult for some to keep up with, even those who are in need of it. Cloud facilitators are liaisons between non-IT companies and cloud providers, because they have the knowledge to connect the business to the cloud solution that would suit it most.

Cloud-intended designs

As the cloud is being more widely deployed, more and more companies will design their applications around the cloud, which allows maximum benefits to be obtained from the platforms.

Containers

Container technology enables software to be moved from one environment to another without blips. Today’s dynamics often require software to be shifted around, which can cause glitches because of different protocols and standards, for example.

Containers make sure that all incompatibilities between the two environments are ignored, so that software can perform seamlessly.

Uninterrupted delivery

Once just a desirable feature, but now a requirement – software applications should provide uninterrupted delivery across platforms. Cloud solutions allow users to access applications which have been updated with the latest changes. Users get the latest versions while they are using the applications.

Cloud solutions Los Angeles

WAMS, Inc. has extensive experience in offering flexible, reliable and secure cloud solutions for Los Angeles businesses. If you are interested in how your business could prosper from cloud computing, feel free to contact WAMS, Inc. right away. We would be happy to discuss with you the merits of cloud and offer you a customized solution.

Things To Consider Regarding Your Servers

Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. That’s the sound of a beating heart, but it might as well be the sound your servers make. They more or less act as the heartbeat of your firm and if they stop functioning, your business might as well be dead. Despite the importance servers have on operations, it’s amazing to see so firms neglect this vital component of their business. With this in mind, you should ask yourself these three server-related questions.

When do my servers need to be replaced?

This is a difficult question to answer, but there are two factors you will want to consider – age and performance. The useful life of a server tends to be around three-four years. After the fourth year, your support costs to maintain them will rise drastically. While it’s not unheard of for servers to function properly beyond year four, relying on them beyond this point can be risky as their health can’t always be guaranteed. This means you will have to deal with costly repairs and possible downtime that you can’t predict.

Performance is another factor when it comes to servers. Even if your servers are only a year old, it doesn’t make sense to keep them around until year three if they are slow and are costing a fortune to maintain. It’s important to do a cost benefit analysis in these situations and look at how much money you will lose in repairs and downtime and then compare it to the cost of buying new hardware.

Do I have an alternative to buying new servers?

Believe it or not, the answer to your server problems might not necessarily be purchasing more physical hardware. One way to avoid this is by embracing the cloud. This process allows your servers to be stored and maintained off-site with everything being delivered to your office via the internet. There are two notable benefits of going to the cloud. The first is that you don’t have to spend a bunch of money buying new equipment. The second is that the cloud is a scalable technology meaning you only pay for the space you use. For instance, if you only need two and a half servers, you can do that. This is in contrast to having physical equipment which would require your business to either make do with two servers or splurge and buy the third one even if you didn’t need all of that space.

Of course there are a few things you need to consider before making the switch to cloud. One of the biggest issues is security. You’ll have to ask yourself if you feel comfortable keeping all of your data off-site. While this isn’t a concern for some companies, others don’t see this as palatable. Be sure to check our our Cloud Provider Checklist to make sure the company you’re looking at meets these security requirements.

Can I do anything to prevent a full-scale server replacement?

Yes. It’s certainly possible for you to buy some time and give your current servers additional life, but these are short term fixes, not long term solutions. Server upgrades are a good place to start if your servers are more than three-four years old but are degrading in performance. Adding additional CPUs or memory may increase server performance at a fraction of the cost of buying new servers.

You can also utilize old servers for non-critical workloads. It’s possible to extend the life of servers that may have four of five years of wear and tear on them via repurposing. Instead of swapping out all of your servers, use the old ones for the non-critical processes and purchase new ones to handle critical workloads. This will help you get a better ROI on your technology while avoiding a wholesale hardware purchase which could cripple your budget.

If you have any questions about your servers and how you can increase performance, get in touch with us today. We can help you procure new hardware or show you the benefits of virtualization.