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Thursday, July 19, 2012

3D Welcomes Kevin Foster to Network Engineering Team

3D is pleased to announce the addition of Kevin Foster to our engineering team as a Systems Administrator.

As a Systems Administrator Kevin's responsibilities include providing our diverse client base with comprehensive remote and onsite network troubleshooting, problem resolution and maintenance as well as configuring and implementing best-in-class data backup and security products.  Kevin brings to 3D 12 years of experience in network administration, two accreditations as a Windows Microsoft Certified Professional, CompTIA A+ certification.  He has a degree from Skagit Valley College and attended Washington State University.
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Friday, July 6, 2012

Are Macs Really Safer than PCs?

The Mac vs. PC debate has raged for years.  A huge part of the debate has always been that a MAC is safer and more secure against viruses than PCs are.  We are starting to see that this may not be the case, as Mac viruses and security gaps are being identified.


Why does everyone believe Macs are safer, then?

While news of major viruses for Macs like the Flashback Trojan have made headlines this year, security experts have been warning for some time that Macs are not actually less vulnerable to viruses than PCs are.  In 2010 Fox News investigated the Mac vs. PC debate and summarized the difference in security well: “The vast majority of the world's hackers spend the vast majority of their time making trouble for the vast majority of computer users. That's why almost all known viruses, trojan horses, and other malicious applications attack only Windows PCs… Security through obscurity is no security at all.”  Macs may not be inherently safer, but since PCs dominate the market, fewer viruses were created to target Macs, which gave credence to the idea that they are safer.

But now things have changed.  Apple is gaining market share and giving hackers more reasons to modify their PC viruses to target Macs as well.  Apple had to admit that their products are not impenetrable; in March it released 83 patches for their Safari browser, 90% of which were rated as critical, and another 81 for issues with iOS.  As Marcus Carey, a security researcher at Rapid7, noted “There are a couple of takeaways from this, the first being that Apple products are 'hacker proof' is a myth.”  In CRNs report they point out that security experts agree that Apple’s operating systems and programs like Safari are no safer than the new versions of Windows and Internet Explorer.

An even larger, but quieter, admission by Apple that their systems are not any more secure than PCs is the recent change made to the “Why You’ll Love a Mac” section of their website.  Up until the beginning of June one of their arguments was “A Mac isn’t susceptible to the thousands of viruses plaguing Windows-based computers.”  That statement has been removed and replaced with “It’s built to be safe.”  Now Apple is only saying that security features are built in (they’re built into Windows as well).  That they no longer claim that their systems are any more secure than PCs is a telling admission by Apple.

But doesn’t that still mean there are fewer viruses out there for Macs?

Are there fewer viruses designed to attack only Macs?  Yes.  But malware is now being designed to attack across platforms and hit PCs and Macs, rather than just PCs.  Both systems utilize programs like Java, allowing hackers to attack both platforms through a single means.  The Flashback and Sabpub Trojans are examples of this.  The malware installed itself simply by a user visiting an infected website.  

What may be an even bigger issue is Apple’s slow response time to issuing security patches.  Apple became aware in February of the Flashback virus and patches weren’t released until April, whereas PCs received an update in less than a month.  Apple generally doesn’t allow third party software companies to send out patches to users directly, they write their own patches.  This led to the long delay in the issue being fixed for Macs.  Vicente Diaz, a researcher at the security firm Kaspersky Lab, stated “Apple is not used to reacting to these kinds of attacks.  Mac OS invulnerability is a myth.


So which is safer, Mac or PC?


Neither.  No one is arguing that using a Mac is dangerous, what security experts are stressing is that using a Mac does not by default mean you are less vulnerable to attacks.  Security precautions and best practices should be adhered to regardless of the system you are running.  And if one of your major considerations for buying a Mac is that you want the extra security, you may need to reconsider the pros and cons of a Mac versus a PC.  No matter what system you have, security issomething you will need to invest in.  

So are you a Mac or a PC person?  Has the news about Mac vulnerabilities changed your opinion at all?
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Friday, May 4, 2012

Cloud Computing Services: Getting the Most Out of It

Since our first discussion of cloud computing last year, throughout this series we've looked at the service and licensing costs, implementation costs, security and the reliability of cloud computing in this recent series.  Despite some of the obstacles and concerns, moving to the cloud might be good fit for your business.  The point is that it’s not a decision to make lightly.  For many businesses, the scalability of being able to pay for only what you use is a huge benefit.  The potential cost savings of reducing your hardware needs can definitely outweigh many of the potential obstacles of moving to the cloud.  Preparation is the key.
One of the best options out there when you don’t have significant in house IT resources is Cloud Services Brokerage (CSB).  A CSB is a third party company which adds additional value to your use of cloud services.  They work with both you and your cloud provider to make the transition and maintenance of your cloud services smoother.  If your cloud provider has an outage, a CSB isn’t going to be able to fix it, of course.  But you will have a team who can help you deal with network issues, application integration, testing and troubleshooting.  They can also setup security measures to make your data safer and monitor your network so that if there is an issue, they can help determine if it’s a problem with your cloud provider or something else which leads to a faster resolution.
And don’t forget, you don’t have to use the cloud for absolutely everything.  You can choose to utilize it for only certain tasks.  It can be a fantastic disaster recovery option, a cost effective and frequently simpler way to back-up your data offsite.  You can use it to create a virtual test environment to test how new patches might affect your system or if new software will run properly.
Like most technologies, with time it will improve.  While there has been buzz about cloud computing for awhile now, in reality it’s still very new.  In the end, just take your time with the decision.  Go over your needs, compare the costs, do your research, and maybe enlist a professional to work through it with you before you start implementing.

So what are your thoughts about the cloud?  Share your experiences or the research you've done!
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Friday, April 27, 2012

How Much Does Cloud Computing Really Cost: Advantages and Disadvantages of the Cloud

This week we continue with the big question: will the cloud really save me money?  We first began our cost-benefit analysis of cloud computing last year and as the technology has advanced and more questions arise, this series is exploring the cloud and how it can be used for your business.

In case you missed it, check out the first two parts of this series:
Is the Cloud Reliable?
Will The Cloud Really Save You Money? (A look at licensing and service costs)

How Much Will it Cost for Me to Move to the Cloud?


In addition to the licensing and service costs we reviewed last week, another cost to consider is what it is going to take to actually move everything to the cloud and get it going successfully.  It sounds like you can just upload your data, download some software and you’re on your way.  Simple?  It’s unlikely.
You’re going to need to start with testing to make sure all your applications are going to run the way you need them to.  Moving to the cloud is not going to be beneficial if your programs run at half the speed they used to and significantly impact your productivity.  
Don't forget you'll need to modify access settings, install software on your devices , teach your users how to use the new system, etc.  All of that takes time.  And you'll also need to have someone capable of getting everything setup and being able to test and troubleshoot any issues.  While you may be trying to avoid the cost of hardware by moving to the cloud, the cost associated with system downtime if your cloud migration doesn’t go as planned can be just as expensive if not more so.
Before you can even consider the cloud, you have to make sure that the applications you want to run in it are going to perform the way you need them to.  In order to utilize the cloud effectively, you are going to need to make sure your internet and network speeds are capable of handling it.  This may mean investing in more networking hardware or paying your internet provider for more bandwidth.
Furthermore, there are questions about how well the cloud performs even on ideal networks.  Compuware, a company which evaluates technology performance, conducted a survey of cloud performance last year.   They found that more than half of the companies surveyed are delaying fully adopting the cloud or have halted their implementation completely due to the slow performance.  In addition to being simply frustrated for users, slowness may mean loss of revenue due to reduced productivity or even frustration for your customers when it takes longer to provide them with service.

Next week we will conclude our series on the cloud with some final thoughts on how to make the most of the cloud service options available to you.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Will the Cloud Really Save Me Money? Advantages and Disadvantages of Cloud Computing

Welcome back as we continue to look at the advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing.  A year ago we first explored the use of cloud computing in your business, and as the technology has changed we are taking another look.  Last week we looked at How Reliable is the Cloud, and now we tackle one of the aspects of cloud computing that draws the most attention, does the cloud really save you money?
There are so many aspects to consider when it comes to how much the cloud will cost you, this will be broken into two sections.  This week we will look at licensing and service costs, and next week will will follow up with implementation costs.  Don't forget that in this series in the coming weeks we will also address performance and how to make the most out of cloud computing for your business.

Will the Cloud Really Save You Money?

You’re looking at your aging server that’s no longer performing well and thinking about how you’ll need to replace it soon, and you know that’s going to be big bucks.  So you are likely very tempted to move to the cloud where you won’t need to replace that hardware.  It sounds great to not have to maintain and upgrade your in house equipment.  But is it really much more cost effective?
The answer is: maybe.  You don’t just pop your data into the cloud, pay a monthly fee and be good to go.  Yes, you pay a monthly fee and it varies by how much data you are using.  You also must pay for licenses for each user who is going to access the cloud.  Take Microsoft’s Server and Cloud Platform.  Depending on your server and software, you can be looking at a three year license for anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000.  Depending on the type of access your users need, you could spend $3,000 for 20 licenses.  Depending on the type of license you choose, you could be paying per user or per device.  If you have one user accessing your network on their work computer, home computer, mobile phone, tablet and laptop, it can equal 5 licenses.

Don't forget that some of the applications you would like to host in the cloud may have additional charges.  The cost of the application, the licensing, other various fees, and just using the application may increase the amount of data you use and thereby increase your monthly bill with your cloud provider.
But you may save money because you are only paying for the resources you actually use.  If your business has seasonal fluctuations, you can pay less during the off season when you’re not utilizing as much data instead of investing in a network that has to be capable of that much usage year round. 
Of course, every network is different and every business’ needs are different.  To determine your individual cost requires you to evaluate your network, data usage, applications and how you use all of it.  Maybe you just want to host your data in the cloud, maybe you want to run your applications, maybe just your e-mail.  Pricing can vary widely.

Next week: Will the Cloud Really Save Me Money: Implementation Costs
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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Advantages and Disadvantages of Cloud Computing: Is the Cloud Reliable?

Last year we discussed the advantages and disadvantages of utilizing cloud technology for your business. One year later, as the technology has advanced, it’s time to take another look.  Over the next few weeks we’re going to look at some of the key concerns businesses have about moving to the cloud, including reliability, performance, cost and security.  These advantages and disadvantages apply not only to moving to an entirely cloud based system, but also when you are considering moving just parts of your operations to the cloud.
Cloud computing has become a hot topic and especially attractive to small businesses who are looking to save on the cost of hardware like servers, and cloud services can be a great solution; instead of replacing your server every few years you can host your applications and data in the cloud.  It sounds fantastic, and it may be, but you need to ensure you evaluate your business needs and match them with the infrastructure you choose.

How Reliable is the Cloud?

One of the things that makes cloud computing so attractive is that you don’t have to worry about your server failing or other hardware issues which result in your business grinding to a halt until it can be brought back online.  Depending on the situation, recovery can take time and a lot of money.  But what you must consider is that while you are putting your system in the cloud, your cloud provider is using physical hardware to create that cloud.  As demonstrated by the failures of an array of major cloud providers, the cloud is not foolproof.  The outages were caused by the same things that cause outages in your own hardware: software problems, storage issues, power failures, etc.
Of course, the difference is that these cloud providers have state of the art equipment that your business might not otherwise have access to, and teams of people constantly monitoring and maintaining that equipment.  This can make it less likely to experience failure.
So when you consider moving to the cloud, you have to take into account and plan for an outage the same way you would if you were hosting on site.  Microsoft’s Azure platform, Business Productivity Suite Online (BPOS) and 365; Google Docs; VM Ware; Amazon Web Services; Intuit and Yahoo all had major outages in 2011.  Would an outage like Amazon’s where their cloud was inaccessible for 24 hours cripple your business?  Or Intuit’sQuickBooks and Payments Solutions being down for nearly a week?  If so, you might want to consider an additional disaster recovery option.  It may seem redundant to store your data in multiple places, and it is, but that is exactly the point.  Redundancy means that when one service goes down, you have another option to get up and running until your main provider has resolved the issue.  And cloud outages don’t only mean your data and services are unavailable, sometimes it can be unrecoverable, as demonstrated by Windows Live’s Hotmail outage where 17,000 user’s data was deleted and couldn’t be recovered. 
You are completely dependent on your cloud provider to resolve an issue, and it can be very frustrating to sit by and wait without being able to do anything to fix it.  When your cloud provider goes down, it’s not just a server or two that they need to fix, it may be an entire data center.

As the cloud matures the providers are learning and the risk of downtime and data loss continues to decline at the leading cloud service providers.  However, at least taking the time to consider the effects of a cloud disaster on your business is prudent prior to moving to the cloud. –Dave Koshinz, CEO 3D Corporation 

Remember to check back next week for the next sections of our Advantages and Disadvantages of the Cloud series:
Will the Cloud Really Save You Money? (licensing and service costs)
Will the Cloud Really Save You Money? (performance and implementation costs)
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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Systems Administrator Ian Weydert achieves SonicWALL CSSA Certification

3D is pleased to announce that Ian Weydert, 3D Systems Administrator, has earned Certified SonicWALL Security Administrator (CSSA). The certification further enhances the company’s range of professional accreditations.

SonicWALL®, Inc. designs and sells intelligent network security and data protection solutions around the world. CSSA certifications are awarded to network engineers who have demonstrated their mastery of designing, implementing, supporting and managing security infrastructure with SonicWALL products and services.

Weydert employs these competencies when identifying the technology needs of 3D’s clients and implementing products and services to fulfill those needs. The 3D team holds an array of certifications in Microsoft, Cisco, Citrix, Sophos and other technologies that recognize their expertise in using these products to provide businesses with reliable network management and support.
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