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SSL Padlock

Why an SSL Certificate is Needed for any Website

In the very early days of the Internet, all sites were accessed with no security or encryption. In 1994 the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) was introduced as a way to securely access a website publicly. Even then, sites would only use this technology if they were accepting credit cards or other sensitive information. Now, it is common for all sites to use https by default. But what does SSL actually do?

SSL primarily accomplishes two goals.

  1. Encryption between your device and the web server
  2. Verification that the site you are visiting is actually the legit one

 

Encryption is obviously important if you are banking online or having a private conversation with someone. It means that even if your Internet line is “tapped” the data would look like garbage without the private key to decrypt it. As technology has progressed, SSL has changed and improved to support more complex encryption that is even harder to crack. This is why your web server needs to renew and re-key SSL certificates fairly regularly. Visiting a site that uses SSL does not give you complete privacy though.

Accessing a website also relies on the use of a DNS query to map the friendly name of the site to an IP address. This lookup is not encrypted and will rely on a DNS server to lookup your query. Typically, this lookup is done by your ISP, like Comcast, AT&T, etc. These companies may not be able to read the specific content of your visit, but they do know what sites you went to.

Green PadlockVerification is the other main goal of SSL. Encrypting your communication will do no good if you are giving it to a fake site. Through different methods, a hacker could setup their own server to pose as a website to collect your data. Mimicking a website is relatively easy to do. What a hacker can’t mimic though is a valid certificate issued by a trusted provider. SSL issuers that are trusted by default in most browsers will almost always verify the owner of a website before a certificate is issued. Hackers can’t easily impersonate a valid certificate from a trusted issuer. If you are visiting a site without a green padlock there is no verification that the site really is the one you wanted to visit. This is how most phishing scams work. Sites impersonate a reputable site and bait users to giving away their information freely.

Because of the relative ease and obvious benefits of SSL, browsers have started to penalize non-SSL sites as not secure. In addition, search engines may also view an insecure site more poorly and hurt their search ranking. We have been implementing https on all new sites we launch for our customers and strongly encourage older sites to adopt this security feature as well.

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Application Developers

We are hiring an Application Developer – Web/PHP

MCS has a position open for an Application Developer – Web/PHP. This is a full time position at our Springfield, IL location. We need someone who is skilled at PHP development with at least 5 years of professional experience. This is an intermediate to advanced position.

Find Out More

Visit our employment page for more information on the position and how to apply. We look forward to adding another member to our team!

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Chicago MCS Office

Chicago Branch Office Opens in West Loop

We are proud to announce that we are opening a branch office in Chicago. Our new office at 550 West Washington in Chicago, IL opens August 1st, 2018. This marks our first branch location and our commitment to growth. We will be able to better serve the Chicago market with our new base there. MCS has served the Chicagoland market via travel and remote support. With a full-time presence in the area, MCS will be able to deliver faster service, and better customer service.

Our New Chicago Space

MCS Chicago Office WorkspaceOur new space includes lots of amenities to make working better for our employees. We have meeting space for up to 20 people, private offices, and a relaxing and inviting common space for quick meetings. In addition, we can take a quick break in a mediation room or enjoy the view on our outdoor patio. Also, this West Loop location is convenient to public transit and downtown. IT Service customers in the area are welcome to stop by and say hello.

Recently, MCS has developed a focus on Nagios consulting and implementation. Most of these projects are performed remotely for enterprise customers in larger markets. We hope to engage with enterprise customers in Chicago on a more personal level. Having a workspace right in the city will allow MCS to collaborate with teams that work in the area. Attention to customer service is what has allowed MCS to grow and thrive over the last 15 years. In addition, we are looking forward to serving the Chicagoland area even better.

We welcome all of our customers to come by the new space. We are proud of our new office and invite anyone to stop by for a coffee and a tour. Just let us know and we will welcome you for a visit.

Our Chicago Address:

MCS
550 West Washington Blvd. Suite 201
Chicago, IL 60606

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Nagios Free

3 Options for Using Nagios Free of Charge

When you hear Nagios, most people think of their award-winning monitoring software and that is the subject of this article. Nagios is open source software, but there are more options to use Nagios free of charge.

1. Nagios Core – Open Source

Nagios Core, available at nagios.org, is freely available to download, use, and modify. It’s called Core because it uses the same engine that is under the hood of their commercial product, Nagios XI, available at nagios.com. More on that later though. The open source version offers 100’s of free add-ons and the ability to monitor just about anything with an IP address. The core edition has no limitation on the number of monitored devices. Core has been used from everything form monitoring a garden all the way up to looking after the High-End Computing Capability over at NASA. Core’s open nature allows for lots of tinkering and complete control to modify it to suit your needs.

With a ton of control and openness there is also a learning curve. Managing Nagios Core can be difficult for lots of monitored nodes. We used the Core edition in our data center before switching to XI. Managing monitored hosts also meant manually editing 100’s of config files. Many Linux sysadmins may love this approach but we found it too cumbersome. Also, installing Core will mean compiling from source code and will take some time to setup.

Download Nagios Core

2. Nagios XI – Use the Commercial Version of Nagios Free

XI is the commercial version of the already great Core version. The main advantages to Nagios XI are Web Configuration and built in Performance Graphing. Also, you get SNMP Trap Support, easy Configuration Wizards, and a Database Backend. The UI is also just much more polished and integrated than the core. The main disadvantage to using Nagios XI free is that you are limited to 7 total nodes, or hosts. You can monitor more than you may think with 7 hosts though. A host is typically anything with an IP address. Under that, you can monitor unlimited services attached to that host. Theoretically, you could monitor 10,000 individual service checks under one host.

The good news is that the free version can even be used for commercial purposes. Let’s say you have a data center and use Nagios Core to monitor your infrastructure. If the data center goes dark, so does your core server and you wouldn’t be notified. Spend an hour and about $10 a month and you can spin up Nagios XI for free in Amazon AWS. It’s super easy and a cheap insurance policy for when everything else fails. For small projects, this is the best way to run Nagios free.

Download Nagios XI

3. Run a Free Trial

Nagios is very generous with their free trials. They offer 60 days free for most of their products. If you are serious about using their software and may move to their paid version there is a strong possibility that a rep here at MCS can get your trial extended. Contact us to let us know what your specific situation is. Nagios XI runs as a trial by default so use the download link above for this option too. If you have less than 7 hosts it takes about 10 seconds to convert a trial to the free edition that won’t expire.

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VEEAM Silver Cloud Service Provider

Veeam Silver Partner – Cloud & Service Provider

MCS is now a Silver level Veeam Cloud & Service Provider (CSP). We have been a Veeam partner for several years. In addition, we use their software and recommend it consistently to our customers. The Cloud & Service Provider program is designed for cloud providers like MCS. We offer Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) powered by the incredible features VEEAM can offer.

Backups vs Replication

Everyone knows backups are essential for any organization. Having data backups is great but using that data in a disaster is better. Also, replication is the key to a fast recovery when the worst happens. A VM that has been replicated is ready to go at a moment’s notice. In addition, a replicated server is easier to fail-back when the main site is back online. Getting up and running fast is the most important part of any DR plan.

Why Use Veeam and MCS?

Veeam is an outstanding company and their products keep getting better. Over the years, features and reliability keep improving. In addition, their support is the best in the industry. Using features like WAN Acceleration, Deduplication, and Virtual Labs, MCS can be sure data is ready when needed. We replicate data over long distances for even large servers. Plus, our data center stores your data securely and safely.  Using Veeam we can go way beyond just backups. Replicated servers can be ready to go in our data center within minutes. Space is available in our business continuation center. Using this space during a disaster can be the difference between success and failure.

As a cloud partner, MCS takes care of managing and setting up your DR plan. Disaster Recovery specialists actively monitor and manage the replication process. This means there are less errors, and better data integrity. Your data is critical for your success. Partner with MCS and let a professional take care of your precious data.

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Going Fast with SD-WAN

SD-WAN for Reliable Internet and Voice with Lower Costs

It’s 2018, and options for your organization’s Internet connection and voice service are plentiful. Connection speeds are getting faster while prices are going down. With more options than ever, providers are competing for your business. Smart SD-WAN firewalls are even more affordable too. These devices are power efficient, provide enterprise security, and can automatically leverage two low-cost Internet connections to give organizations high levels of reliability.

Smart Gateways with SD-WAN

Gateways, or routers, have been able to perform lots of high end security filtering and WAN connection balancing for many years now. The issue was that you also needed to pay through the nose and have a highly skilled networking staff to properly manage this functionality. Now, inexpensive security gateways like Cisco’s Meraki MX line are able to leverage the cloud to make smart decisions, or SD-WAN, to keep connections between multiple sites up even when some connections go down.

There is no longer a need to use MPLS or other high-cost carrier locked solutions. The Meraki can use SD-WAN to take two low cost connections and use them both to dramatically increase reliability. This allows you to add and remove low cost Internet connections from any provider as needed and still maintain secure connectivity to branch offices and remote workers. On top of that, these devices provide industry leading Web Filtering and Intrusion Prevention to limit your risk significantly.

Internet Options

MCS has recommended Fiber Internet for organizations in the past. Fiber give high speeds, high reliability, and a guaranteed service level agreements (SLAs). We still recommend this service for larger organizations that need an abundance of upload bandwidth as fiber connections usually come with matched upload and download speeds, but the cost is typically much higher, by at least 4 times or more. With the use of a smart gateway, organizations of any size can use a low-cost cable Internet connection along with a low-cost DSL service that can automatically fail over and load balance using both providers. This is invisible to the user and can make for a connection to the Internet that is even more reliable than fiber at a much lower cost.

Voice

Business class voice connections have come a long way since the days of a T1 based PRI. Now, it’s all about VoIP. In the early days, VoIP connections suffered from poor quality and reliability. The technology has matured now and a VoIP based voice path can be more reliable, of higher quality, and much less expensive. Using a VoIP provider for your voice lines through a carrier like NexVortex can deliver a reliable service with automatic fail-over. MCS has been using NexVortex for years for our voice service at our headquarters in Springfield, IL. The service and quality has been nothing short of excellent.

How to Switch

MCS is a reseller for most Internet and phone providers and can put together a solution that works for you. In most cases, we can increase security, reliability, and speeds while also reducing your monthly spend. There is no cost to have our team provide you with a quote. MCS has the experience to properly implement SD-WAN for any organization. We will do all of the leg work and we have saved many organizations money, month after month. Contact us today and see what we can do for you.

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Man with Fingers Crossed

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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