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The Current State of Backups for the SMB

Over the last 15 years of working on IT with the small to medium business market, I have seen backup technologies for critical data change a lot. Being in the business of IT consulting we, of course, took care of our own backups. In the early days of our company we had one server that took care of managing users, storing shared company files, and various other tasks that kept our small startup running. Our budget was low, but we still couldn’t afford to lose our precious company data in the event of a disaster. We didn’t want to deal with an expensive and slow tape system so we opted to backup our data to a technology from Iomega called a Rev drive. It was relatively inexpensive and was able to store 35GB on a single drive. It was fast, cheap, and didn’t require any extra expensive backup software. We used drives in weekly rotation that we would swap in and out to a safe deposit box at our bank. Luckily, we never needed to actually use our backups because a plan like that had a lot of flaws.

With any backup process that involves external media the data has to be physically moved from place to place. A process where confidential data is exposed to the outside world where it can be lost, stolen, or damaged in transit is just not a good idea. I have seen organizations with several tapes or drives that are moved around in the personal vehicle of the IT manager. Some tapes were still resting in his car and sometimes they were even stored at his personal home for long periods of time. Data was unaccounted for that could open up the company to a huge liability. Back to our old backup plan, what if we had a data loss event over the weekend and needed our offsite drive to start the long and difficult process of restoration? The bank is closed until Monday morning and we would have had to wait to even get started.

Now, cloud backups are the popular way for a company to buy a plan, install some software, and feel secure that their data is stored in the cloud. Rarely will a small business actually know what is involved is getting all of that data back to their site after a data loss. With most big cloud backup companies, getting the first complete backup of a lot of data can often take several days. This is acceptable since there is no emergency. When your systems are unexpectedly down, having to wait days for restoration to complete is unacceptable and this should be kept in mind.

Let’s say you have a lightning fast Internet connection and can get your data back in a few hours. Now you have to figure out what level of backups you have. Most organizations backup just their files when the reality is that in the event of a complete loss what you really need is a backup of your entire system. Having just your files is of little use without a functioning server in place to get that data to people who use it. Most companies use Microsoft Active directory to store their employee user accounts and control security for their PCs. That security information is stored in a database and is often overlooked. This database can be difficult to restore in the event of a complete loss. Having to start over can mean having to build your server from scratch and going around to each PC manually to join them into a new Windows domain. This process will take a very long time and will not be cheap.

I have seen many times when our company is taking over the IT function for a new customer and they completely fail our audit of their backups and are shocked. More times than I can count, our point of contact will inform me that they have cloud backups and are “all good” in that department. When we go to document and verify their backups we may find backup software is indeed installed on the server but it has either never run or has not run in a very long time. The issue with managing backups is just that. You have to actually take the time to manage them. There is no backup technology that can be setup and forgotten about while still maintaining a high degree of confidence that it will continue to work properly.

Nobody wants to think about backups. Ideally, hard drives would never crash, viruses would never encrypt your data for ransom, and disasters would never hit. Nevertheless, I have seen organizations come to my company after a data loss. This is after they thought they had backups. but when the time actually came to rely on them, they were useless. We partner with a company that offers data recovery in a clean room, where they attempt to repair the drive or array of drives that have failed. The cost for this service can easily be thousands of dollars and there is definitely not a 100% success rate to get any data back. This option is the absolute last resort and it is never a good position to be in. The absolute look of dread I have seen on the faces of managers when I tell them their data is unrecoverable is not a good look. Many of these people just assumed they had good backups in place. Larger organizations have dedicated roles or even departments of personnel that do nothing else but ensure the availability of their data. A data loss for a small business can be just as detrimental but without the resources to manage backups. Self-managing your own backups can be a great way to save money but keep in mind that you must not only check your backup plan regularly, but your restoration plan as well.

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MCS and Nagios Make IT Work Better

As technology expands, the need to monitor it increases as well. They say that knowing is half the battle, but we say, “Why should knowing be a battle?” Nagios Enterprises offers a full suite of powerful IT management solutions that make IT work better.  Nagios XI, Nagios Log Server, and Nagios Network Analyzer give admins the tools to detect future failures and act before it impacts your organization.

Let’s say your company email goes down on a Saturday afternoon. When Monday morning rolls around the service has been down for more than a day and a crisis sets in. The email server has run out of space and no one is able to send or receive email. Feeling pressure from all sides, the admin frantically frees disk space to bring services back to life.  The unplanned outage causes the company lost productivity and hurts customer relations.  Management is upset and the admin looks bad.

Using monitoring solutions from Nagios Enterprises and MCS, the admins would have known weeks before the issue occurred and could have proactively resolved the problem. Using trend data and alerting from Nagios products, admins can stay on top of potential issues.  A little advanced warning helps admins prevent IT problems.

For more than 15 years, MCS has been a leading provider of IT consulting services and Nagios XI is our preferred monitoring solution.  To be effective, monitoring software must be able to monitor a wide variety of devices, systems, and software.  The goal is to have a single solution that monitors all critical IT components.  This provides IT staff with a unified suite of tools to ease monitoring of the enterprise.

Nagios uses a system of plugins to allow monitoring of virtually any device that connects to a network.  Nagios monitors common infrastructure devices such as routers, switches, wireless equipment, and servers.  In addition, Nagios monitors less common items like environmental conditions, power devices, business processes, web applications, and manufacturing systems. The power of plugins allows Nagios to monitor almost anything on the planet.  Using both open plugins from Nagios and custom developed plugins from MCS, we monitor everything.

MCS is a Featured Nagios Reseller with knowledgeable Nagios professionals on staff.  MCS provides competitive pricing on Nagios licenses and renewals, as well as professional planning, setup, and implementation services.  Our team of Nagios professionals provides kick-start, implementation, and managed Nagios services customized to fit your organization’s needs.

Contact MCS today for a free consultation and case studies that show how MCS and Nagios make IT work better.

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MCS Upgrades Partnership with Digium

We have officially upgraded our partner level with Digium, the pioneers in the VoIP market. For years, MCS has used Digium equipment in our VoIP phone systems to bridge the gap between SIP and legacy telephone technologies. Digium also offers a complete PBX solution based on Asterisk called Switchvox. Switchvox phone systems offer every feature available for a business PBX at no extra cost so companies will not be limited on productivity. Switchvox offers a simple, easy to manage system that can tightly integrate with Digium branded phones or Polycom VoIP phones.

MCS employs several, full-time Digium certified professionals with concentrations in sales and complete system integration. We are now able to offer features like Unified Messaging, Easy Call Recording, and CRM Integration to our customers. MCS offers Switchvox as an on-site solution or hosted in the cloud with no hardware to purchase or maintain. We are very excited to expand our partnership with such a great company and look forward to better serving our customers with the full line of Digium powered communication solutions.

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We’ve Added Better Monitoring, Power Redundancy

MCS has completed maintenance on our automatic standby generator systems to allow for increased monitoring and higher availability. With traditional generator systems, a unit will turn on once a week and run for a short period to both test the system and keep it functioning properly when not in use. If a problem is detected, or the generator is not able to start, data center staff would not know until the next manual inspection for error codes. Our new monitoring system provides a 3rd party, out of band notification via cell service. Not only are our staff notified if there is a problem, we are provided with more health information than was previously available via the generators on-board systems. This monitoring combined with regular preventative maintenance should keep our data systems running even in the event of an emergency.

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Our New Logo

After almost 15 years MCS has an updated logo. As our organization has grown, we have added more full-time professionals, increased our service offerings, and moved forward along with growing technologies. We thought it was time that our logo reflected the growth and change our company has had since 2003. Ownership and management of MCS is the same so rest assured MCS will keep delivering the same high quality of service our customers have always know.

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Habitat Hearts & Hammers Sponsor

MCS will be a board sponsor for the Habitat Hearts & Hammers Game Night Event Friday, November 1st. This event is hosted for Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon county. Details for the event:

You’re part of an interactive, life-size game; a race to complete funny tasks and take on challenges to build a “Habitat Lincoln Log House.” The player to build the house first takes the prize! Admission is $20 / person and includes dinner. Cash bar, heads & tails game, door prize chances, & live auction.

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We are Looking for a Linux Deployment Engineer

We need a talented person to help us out with projects and are looking for a Linux Deployment Engineer to join our team! Do you laugh at the idea of using a GUI on a server? Have the ability to dish out shell scripts like nobody’s business? Do you feel a sense of satisfaction from fully updating a system without a single reboot? We want to hire you! Our Nagios deployment team has opportunities for you to work with a wide range of technologies to fully integrate monitoring solutions from the ground-up. You will be able to work with customers anywhere from a week to a few months depending on the deployment. Most work can be dome remotely but in some cases, travel may be needed. If you are interested in joining our team, please take a look at the full posting in Employment Opportunities.

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Electrical Upgrades

When we moved our data center in 2008, we wanted to pick a location that would allow us to grow to avoid another move. Over the years, our data center has grown, and our infrastructure needs grew too. We have installed a generator, multiple fiber connections, dedicated cooling systems, and alarm/security upgrades. One of the most important needs, power, was also of some concern to us. As we added racks of servers, we know that it was time for an electrical overhaul.

We have completed our work and our data center is now 100% transitioned to a brand new electrical system from the plug to the main feed. All critical data center related services are now isolated from the rest of our building with a dedicated feed from our utility provider (CWLP).

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