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What are the SME benefits of Using Microsoft Azure?

Over the past few years, Microsoft has paid close attention to the fact that small and medium sized businesses are becoming more innovating in terms of opting for improved technology. They are integrating smarter IT options in their work to enhance the performance of their employees and the overall growth of the company.

Amongst the various IT platforms that Microsoft has introduced so far, Azure is one of the most celebrated one. It is a cloud computing platform that enables users to perform a number of integrated services such as networking, computing, database, analysing, storage and web. Like any other cloud service, this recent technology has also eliminated the need of office bound work. Instead, despite all geographical barriers, employees can easily connect with each other and collaborate about their work.

Along with this, there are several other advantages too of using Microsoft Azure Cloud for your SME. Some of these have been discussed below,

1.    Minimum Outlay of Capital

Azure helps small companies to minimize the growing upfront costs of their business by allowing them to pay for those models only which they are using promptly. This eventually lowers the overall cost of analysing, testing, developing, and then redistributing applications, because now they will be paying for the storage space used by them. Thus, this is a very efficient way for SME to achieve economies of scale and reduce CAPEX.

2.    Opex Cost

Azure offers reduced cost of ownership via lowered CAPEX and OPEX. Many entrepreneurs do not know the underlying fact that there is a direct connection between the value of the business and it’s Opex. So what’s beneficial for the company in terms of its opex value? It is when the company is producing the products of same quality and quantity but at a decreased Opex. Azure makes it possible through its efficient solutions of reducing operational expenses.

3.    Virtual Machines

All the companies that rely on IT solutions for their business need to have a physical server room. These rooms require proper cooling system and maintenance facilities for the smooth running of machines. However, with Azure’s cloud-based technology, you can work with virtual machines instead of physical ones with exact standards. These virtually existing cloud machines can be created and brought into function instantly, which saves plenty of time and resources.

4.    High Level Security Protocol

Microsoft has always paid special attention to the security of its clients’ data. Hence, like rest of the software introduced by the company, Azure too has a high profile security system that restricts all kinds of digital data thefts.

5.    The Disaster Recovery/ Backup Benefit

There is no doubt that cloud is the most reliable way of keeping an up-to-date backup of data. In fact this is the most common reason why most SMEs opt for this technology. Azure provides all the basic as well as advanced options for instant backup and ensure that all your important data can easily be recovered after a sudden deletion.

How to Improve your business IT and Telephony Services

A company’s reputation depends on several essential facets of its functioning, one of which is its IT and telephony service department. It is one of the most direct medium through which a company comes in contact with its customers. This means that whether your clients will assign you with the project or reject your services depends on how well you treat them in this first interaction.

In order to ensure optimum customer satisfaction and deliver top-notch telephony services to clients, several companies prefer to hire professional and renowned IT and telephony services in London. This is called co-sourcing or out-sourcing of the services to external service providers who are more efficient and experienced with the work. There are several advantages due to which companies either temporarily or permanently opt for these external services. Some of these benefits are,

Round the Clock Provision of Service

Most of the IT and Telephony service providers in London serve their clients even after the regular office hours. Since customers are not bound to call within the specified office hours, and there are chances of a prospect client calling the company in some odd timings, availability of operators round the clock is must to win all clients. This is an additional option that is usually not provided by in-house employees.

Cost Effective

Many businessmen have faith in this wrong mindset that hiring an external service provider is going to cost them more. In actuality, setting up an in house call centre or IT department to supervise all the communication activities is more expensive than opting for an already setup and well-functioning telephony agency. It minimizes the cost of infrastructure for setting-up an office, buying all the necessary hardware and software, and hiring efficient employees to deal with complicated cases.

Handles Special Clients

Every organisation has certain fussy clients who demand more attention and flawless services all the time. They are never ready to acknowledge the fact that minor defects are part of the process. In order to deal with such customers, it is recommended to have a team of expert agents who master the skill to calm them down and win the argument. Since proficient service providers have qualified agents who have been trained to perform best in such situations, they are more experienced to handle them.

Provides Supreme Services during Peak Hours

Amateur IT people or call centre agents are not skilled enough to wrap up one call quickly and move onto the next one. They spend excessive time on one client which at times not even turns out to be a winning call. This not only wastes times but also the resources of the company. On the other hand, experts know how to crack a deal within a few minutes of receiving the call and deal with maximum clients in the peak hours. This ultimately contributes towards the increment of company’s bottom line.

These are some convincing reasons which clearly define why it is a wise decision to hire an external service provider supervise the telephony and IT tasks of your business.

polycom voip phone

Hosted Telephony for Business

VoIP Telephony for Businesses

VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is not a new phenomenon. It has been around since the 1990s and has been acquired by businesses, large and small.

About VoIP Telephony

Simply put, VoIP telephony or hosted telephony is a cloud based phone system that allows users to make telephone calls through internet instead of the traditional analogue phone system. What it does is that it simply converts sound into digital signals that can be easily transferred through the internet broadband. With hosted telephony your phone calls travel to other parties just like emails.

Although this cloud based telephony is gaining popularity, some businesses are still sceptical about its below-standard sound quality. They also think that it would be difficult to implement or that their service would be disturbed in case of electricity failure. However, since its inception, VoIP telephony has improved by leaps and bounds.

Evolution of VoIP Services

When it was first introduced, VoIP telephony required both parties to be present in front of their computers for the communication to take place. The sound quality was also not up to the mark which made it unsuitable for businesses to adopt. But as time went by, not only did the sound quality get better, VoIP also became compatible with mobile phones. Some businesses took great advantage of this by creating their own data networks.

Advantages of VoIP

This internet based or cloud based telephone system has made lives easier for a lot of businesses. It has got better with time. Let us take a look at some of its advantages:

Reducing Costs

Costs for operating VoIP services are considerably lower when compared to traditional phone systems. The maintenance of phone systems is quite expensive. With fast and cheap internet available, companies can save huge costs by using VoIP telephony. They also do not have to use separate networks of communication. A compact and secure network can be built which will be extremely cost-efficient.

Increasing Flexibility

Cloud based telephone system allows you to do things that were not possible with the conventional phone system. Whether you are at home or are travelling, VoIP services allow you to communicate on the go. It only requires internet access. As long as you have it, you can take your phones anywhere and still call people. This helps your employees to communicate even when they are not in the office. They just need to have their laptops or mobile phones. 

 Enabling Enhanced Functionality

Today’s VoIP services not only enable you to make calls, they also allow video conferencing. This enables your employees to have face-to-face meetings even without being physically present. Whether you are abroad or at home, with hosted telephony, you can have full video access to your offices and discuss important affairs and agendas.

VoIP for businesses has been a tremendous success. Companies, large and small, are quickly adopting it to save costs and increase efficiency. With ever-increasing advances in technology, this cloud-based telephone system is sure to be even better.

Online safety for small businesses

Many small businesses neglect their IT security in a big way. More often than not no budget is set aside on a regular basis, employees aren’t shown best practices and until a virus or hack occurs it never even crosses minds.


Password basics

It all starts with weak passwords. First name followed by year of birth, a child’s name, even ‘password’ – all of these can be broken into with either guesswork or a brute force attack, which just churns through a dictionary and tries combinations until it gets in.

Passwords should be changed for everything on a regular basis. Monthly or three monthly is good. They should be long and combine capitals, numbers and characters and should be unique each time. To help make this easier a password manager like 1password or Lastpass will remember logins for you, so you don’t need to try to memorise (or worse, write down) lengthy phrases.


Gone phishing

A major threat to businesses operating today is online scams. So called ‘phishing’ emails are used to trick people into providing personal details or installing viruses, and businesses can be targeted with messages that appear to come from banks, tax authorities and known suppliers.

Everyone should be on the alert to spot these scams, it only takes one person to open a dodgy attachment purporting to be from ‘The Bank Of England’ and then every file on your network becomes encrypted, permanently.

There is only so much anti virus and anti spam software can protect against, new threats often slip through until the safety net databases are updated. Do not trust any emailed attachment, even if it appears to come from a known contact. If you were not expecting an email scan the attachment with your anti-virus software and check with the sender.


Theft protection

Another big issue is hardware loss; how many times have we heard that the government has lost a laptop with however many thousands of confidential documents on it? The same thing can happen in a small business environment. Except it can have even more devastating consequences.

To protect your computers, turn the hard drive encryption on. All professional versions of Windows now come with Bitlocker, Macs have FileVault. These features encrypt the data on the drive so that if it were to ever be removed, the files cannot be accessed in another machine. You would need to open it with the corresponding software and provide the password to gain access.

You can take this one step further by applying a boot password in the systems BIOS, this will stop anyone who doesn’t know the password from ever using that unit again, even if they change the hard drive.

Mobile platforms also offer encryption; both Apple iOS and Android can be protected by encrypting their storage to prevent thieves gaining access to your confidential data. Mobile devices should also be protected with PIN or password locks.

In the event hardware is lost or stolen then a tracking service – like the features built into mobile platforms or third party tools such as Prey – can help you to either locate the device or remotely wipe it to prevent the data being accessed.


Should you BYOD?

A lot of small businesses end up letting employees bring in hardware from home – this goes back to the IT budget issue. With ageing equipment staff end up sick of using slow, clunky machines, so they offer to bring in their own. For business owners ‘Bring Your Own Device’ can be a nice way to save money and employees can be happier using their own hardware.

But if malware ridden laptops are linked to the office network it can end up being more expensive. There’s also the danger of hardware containing confidential files being taken out of the office where it could be misplaced.

If you allow employees to use their own equipment you should have a policy which explains exactly how they are permitted to use their hardware and what measures they must take to protect business data.

Related to this are the issues of allowing employees to use work computers at home. The flexibility of being able to work from home is useful, and any business will appreciate someone who puts in extra effort outside of regular hours, but you need to ensure you take measures to protect these devices. When connected to a network you do not control there is a risk of malware spreading, making anti-virus even more important. And drive encryption and device tracking, as mentioned above, are really important to protect your business data in the event a work device is lost or stolen.


Adam Tudor-Lane

Broadband Genie

Spam, Spam, not so wonderful Spam.

Mention the word ‘Spam’ and many, especially those who were around in the Seventies will remember a Monty Python skit where a woman tries to order a dish in a greasy spoon cafe  without spiced ham only to be drowned out by a group of Vikings chanting ‘Spam, spam, spam!”  The term was later taken up to mean the flooding of a bulletin board with so much data that it would crash.

Back in the Nineties, spamming (the sending of unsolicited messages over the Internet, usually to a large number of users so as to advertise and spread malware) was a highly profitable business with individuals earning tens of thousands per day. The ensuing efforts of anti spam crusaders who imposed financial penalties, prison sentences, improved filtering and the shutting down of spam botnets considerably reduced spamming activities by the billions. The cat and mouse game that spamming became between the spammers and the anti spam crusaders also drove down the profitability of spamming to a point where spammers simply didn’t make as much money.

These efforts significantly drove away the pornography and cheap medicine touting of old but today the business of spamming continually shape shifts in its approaches.  These days spam is increasingly used to gain marketing referral fees by directing visitors to legitimate websites.  It is also used to install malware. Spammers will break into email accounts and send out messages to all of a victim’s contacts because they know that emails between private contacts are more likely to avoid being picked up by spam filters.

Spammers recognised that email was being overtaken by messaging and also that many more people were spending more and more time actually on websites. One of the reasons why you may recall having seen a lot of spam advertising when browsing and visiting gaming or social sites.

Spammers have also managed to manipulate search engine results to get their pages listed at the top.  Another well know example of search engine spamming are the backlink scammers who promised, for a fee, to promote business websites by linking them to large numbers of bogus websites to push up the victim’s webpage listing. The initial euphoria of a high page rank and surge in website visitors then resulting in the cruel reality of being completely blacklisted by the search engine.

To counter spam, email users and administrators apply anti-spam techniques. These can be applied through software or services and face the challenge of filtering legitimate email and missing actual spam.  Their effectiveness no doubt continues to improve but we still hear people blaming the system for their failure to pick up an email.

The trick for success in anti-spam is to balance the missed spams (false negatives) against the filtering of legitimate emails (false positives). So a system that reduces the false positives may achieve this by allowing more false negatives and vice versa. Some systems hand back an element of control to the user who can slide a ‘spam score’ control one-way or the other.

Broadly speaking anti-spam filters look to determine where the message came from, what software sent the message and what the actual message looks like.  Checks can be made against Reputation Block Lists that give the networks commonly used by spammers. Genuine mail is typically handled by software such as Outlook that is designed to make sure that messages actually arrive intact at their intended address and alerting when they don’t. Whereas a spammer on the other hand is looking to send vast amounts of email without the tracking element that will reveal their source. So the anti-spam system will look to see if this information is included in the email. A typical giveaway is where the spammer uses the same message ID on all their messages whereas unique message IDs are required to effectively track individual emails.  The anti-spam systems will also look at the content and keywords within the message to identify typical spam traits such as give away keyword phrases i.e. viagra or  cheap prices. It will also look for variants such as V1 Agra. Anti-spam can compare the amount of suspicious text against the total amount of text to get a perspective of the message whereby a few suspicious words shouldn’t undermine a lengthy message. It will also check the HTML to spot typical spam techniques such as large flashing signs and so on.

The long and the short of spam is that it is annoying when it inundates your inbox or becomes epidemic across your work force. Time and money is lost manually deleting spam and it swallows up bandwidth.  Spam can contain malicious viruses and hidden tracking codes that will compromise your systems and ultimately your business.  Good anti-spam software is an effective and necessary tool in the battle against spammers.

Blue Mouse IT can assist you in selecting and installing Anti-Spam measures to protect your employees and your business.

We provide IT Support in Portsmouth and across Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire.