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The Business Network Firewall; what makes it different from a consumer router?

July 3, 2015

Sea to Sky Network Solutions has been recommending and deploying business class security products for more than ten years. Over that time we have answered this question many times:

“What is the difference between a firewall and the router I have now”?

As a purchaser it is a legitimate question that basically boils down to what am I buying? Below we have listed some advantages to the specific product we typically recommend; the SonicWALL TZ series – the perfect family of security appliances for the small and medium size business. Note that we also support other product lines, but only in special cases.

Please keep in mind that each client’s needs are different and a purchase should not be make without consultation of an IT provider – ask us about our Network Audit service – who is a partner of the vendor.

Firewalls, when properly configured, offer:

Intrusion prevention
Built-in software that processes all data before it gains access to the end user’s machine. This includes servers and workstations

Advanced IPSec and SSL VPN
High speed and secure access to the local network (for file access and sharing on a server) when out of the office, or at a branch site. VPN is still a very popular and very secure way of mitigating risk when sending secure data over the internet.

Comprehensive Gateway Security
A software suite that constantly updates to protect users from Trojans, viruses, key loggers and other malware that will compromise sensitive company data and cause unnecessary downtime.

Mobile Security
An important feature that confirms a secure connection for mobile devices when they need to access private company data. Mobile usually means BYOD – bring your own devices – so it is important to make sure those devices are secure.

Content Filtering
This is a customizable and important feature for some companies who wish to block users from accidentally clicking a link that takes them to a website that hosts inappropriate, illegal or dangerous content. This proactive measure is a first line of defence in many cases.

While this list is not exhaustive, it does demonstrate the fact that firewall devices have more benefits than your average home router can offer. The idea behind a firewall is to help the IT team prevent malicious software from causing damage to a company’s intellectual property, finances and even goodwill. Help protect your organization and get a properly configured and managed firewall installed.

Have questions? We can be reached at 604.628.6970 or by email at info@seatosky.com

- Sea to Sky Team

Lync is now Skype for Business

June 23, 2015

Skype for Business Logo

Back in April of this year Microsoft migrated to a new strategy for their online messaging platform. This change saw Skype replace both Lync and MSN Messenger. The change did not come as a surprise given the fact that Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011, but why Skype? What does this service bring to the table that Microsoft did not have before? Simple; it brought users, millions of them.

While the value of the sale is an interesting point of discussion – 8.5 Billion USD – that is not the purpose of this article. The deal is done and somebody, somewhere, is sailing around the Caribbean on a very nice yacht with a helipad and Jacuzzi. What really matters now are the benefits Skype for Business brings to us working folk.

Four years after the purchased, has it been a success? From an end user perspective, is Skype for Business worth the monthly user fee through Office 365’s platform? After extensive testing with our Microsoft partners I can confidently say yes!

Below you will find some key features that our clients are enjoying today:

The Contact List
Users of Skype (formally Lync) can now add any Skype contact to their contact list; instantly offering access to the largest video calling user base in the world. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can interact with a business in a safe corporate space. The business has comfort in knowing the information is running through the secure corporate account.

Legacy Hardware Integration with Full Functionality
Microsoft worked very hard to make the transition from Lync as smooth as possible. After all, many people may not know that a lot of the high end boardroom video conference solutions used Microsoft Lync as the backbone to communicate. I have personally seen this in action at Microsoft’s Vancouver headquarters. The office has a dedicated demonstration room with a Smartboard system to show off all of the advanced collaboration features.

Lync was also available on more reasonably priced hardware video conference hardware and it is nice to know Skype for Business only enhances the usefulness of that hardware as well.

No Servers Needed
Microsoft knows they have a revenue winner on their hands because Skype for Business is offered in a bundle with Office 365 subscriptions. Office 365 allows a small business to implement enterprise class technology on a per user fee that scales as the company grows. The fee can be less than $10/month/user and offers business class email (Exchange), file sharing (SharePoint) and video conferencing (Skype for Business).

More than Just Conference Room Video Conferencing
Video conferencing is important, but the real value is in what else the software can do. Specifically, we’re talking about the collaboration tools. These include:
-          Document and Desktop sharing
-          Share attachments
-          Group calling for over 200 user meetings
-          Calling from a desk phone for audio
-          Call monitoring – manage a call while working in other programs on your computer
-          Updated user interface on computers, phones, tablets and third-party platforms
-          Integration with the large Skype directory
As it is a subscription service, the feature are constantly changing so please bear that in mind as this article ages gracefully.

So there you have it; another Microsoft business tool update. As always, if you have questions regarding this software, on any other support needs for your business, please give us a call at 604.628.6970 or email is at info@seatosky.com

- Sea to Sky Team

Windows 10; Coming Soon and Often Thereafter!

June 8, 2015

Preface: I have done my best to collect and decipher what may or may not come with the release of Windows 10 on July 29, 2015; therefore, please take this article with a grain of salt. If you have further questions after reading, please contact one of the Sea to Sky team members for more information – 604.628.6970

Yes; the release date is upon us and there are some new, as well as some old, methodologies that we would like to share. Windows 10 is a good blend of what we were given in Windows 8 – think tablet and phone user interface integration – while making the transition easier for users who may still be on a traditional Windows 7 desktop or laptop machine. Remember that the idea behind Microsoft’s one platform for all hardware directive is the right one, but Windows 8 might have leaned too far toward functionality for touch-enabled devices. So after just 2.5 years of Windows 8 we find ourselves here at Windows 10. Let’s take a quick point-form look at what is new and, new again, with the much anticipated Windows 10 offering:

-          Windows As a Service – More Frequent Updates

This is Microsoft’s biggest change; a change in delivery. In essence we are being told to expect more frequent updates as developers refine the functions of Windows 10. These will not be terrifying changes, but rather changes to improve the experience as technology evolves – Think Windows 8 to 8.1.
From a business IT management perspective, we will be ready to facilitate what requirements this may entail.

-          The Start Menu

It’s back, with a Windows 8 twist. When clicking on the Windows logo the user will no longer see a completely new full-screen start menu, rather a hybrid start menu will show up in the bottom left corner. This means that you will still see your desktop background when clicking the Start button

-          Mouse Friendly Metro Apps

The Metro User Interface (UI) was not well received because it effectively took over your entire screen, much like the start menu in Windows 8 noted above. To rectify this we now see a more traditional program-type window open that allows us to still see the desktop background. This will help with multi-tasking.

-          Cortana – Your Digital Assistant

Here is Microsoft’s answer to the competition’s audible assistant and I am excited for it. This is the way of the future and there are so many ways it will be useful. However, like the competition, I see this feature getting better with time; be patient.

-          Internet Browser – Project Spartan

This new browser is designed to embrace the future (which is coming faster than some want to admit) with the new features for touch devices. Will it be better than Internet Explorer? Only time will tell, but the good news is that Windows 10 will get both.

-          Virtual Desktops – Dual Screens No Longer Needed?

This is a really useful feature that allows a user to maintain one high resolution monitor (like the one on the Surface Pro 3) without losing the functionality of a multi-monitor environment. Users can customize different ‘desktop environments’ to meet different needs. Maybe one for communication needs and another for a Project you may be working on? The good news is that the user gest to decide on the fly!

-          Continuum – For the Touchscreen User

This is a great way to get back to what Windows 8 was trying to achieve with the Start Screen. Now we have the option to go into touchscreen mode when needed. Surface Pro 3 users will appreciate this when they take their machine on the go.

-          Settings Menu Standardization

This is another good example of refining Windows 8. With Windows 8 you felt like there were always two ways of doing something via the Metro UI. With Windows 10 Microsoft took the best of both and made one settings menu that looks fresh and functional; thank you Microsoft!

So there you have it. We are on our way to a new chapter of Windows software that promises to be better. I am personally excited with the release of Windows 10 and once we confirm its validity we will be sure to deploy the new operating system. This is it; software that promises to be competitive in a changing world, and at Sea to Sky Network solutions we will be here to help make sure this software works as best it can for the benefit of our valued clients.

If you have any question about Windows 10, or Managed Services support for your business, please contact a Sea to Sky team member by phone: 604.628.6970 or email: info@seatosky.com.

- Sea to Sky Team

Perks of Microsoft Open Value Subscription Licensing

February 2, 2015

Technology is changing at an incredible pace and staying up to date is becoming more and more important in our competitive business world. Considering this, does it make sense for a business to spend a huge outlay of time and money every few years just to keep up? And once the upgrade is installed, how to you make sure the staff understand how to take full advantage of the new features?

Would it make more sense to approach software as a subscription – spreading payments over the life of the software’s useful life – with rights to upgrade as new versions come out?

Subscription licensing has become the primary choice for the large majority of our clients. It takes the responsibility of staying on top of software updates off the plate of upper management and makes it a recurring task of the IT department – an operational item, rather than a capital item that is usually tied to hardware upgrades or replacements.

There are many benefits to this software model and it the interest of time, I have provided bullets outlining the advantages as listed by Microsoft below:

Low Cost Option
As a rental agreement OVS is a cost effective licensing agreement for small and medium sized companies.

Access to Latest Versions of Microsoft Products
OVS customers can automatically use the latest software available from Microsoft, ensuring they get the benefits of the best Microsoft has to offer.

Pay According to Use
Customers only pay for software actually installed. Each year, customers can increase and decrease the number of desktops as need be to support their business requirements and only pay annually for the revised number of desktops.

Up-to Date Discount
Customers’ existing investment in Office is recognized by receiving up to a 50% discount in year 1 of the agreement.

Simplified Licensing Management
One simple agreement can cover a customer’s entire organization, with a simple on-line tool showing the exact licensing position. No more managing the complexity of different licensing types on different pieces of paper.  All a customer needs to do is check software deployment and make a payment once a year.

Simplified Budgeting, Ordering and Price Protection
Customers receive a predictable invoice once a year for all software covered under the agreement, streamlining budgeting and ordering. Where usage of covered products increases, prices are fixed at the initial value for the 3 years.

Reduced Risks of License Non-compliance
Managing licensing can be complex, but a company covered by an OVS agreement is considered compliant during the 3 years of the agreement, removing uncertainly and the worry that accompanies it.

Employees can use Office at Home
Employees can install and use Office on their home PCs free of charge, helping productivity, tele-working and training.

Information Worker Solution Services
Customers can get one and two day workshops delivered free of charge by Microsoft designed to help them get practical, tailored information and blueprints to help them maximize the benefits of desktop software.

Technical Support
Customers can qualify for a TechNet Plus subscription, 24×7 Problem Resolution Phone Support and Microsoft Professional Support Incidents.

Training Support
OVS Customers get free vouchers for classroom training from official Microsoft training partners. Employees get access to on-line Microsoft learning courses.

Cold Backup Server Licenses
Any server covered by OVS can have a complimentary “cold” back-up in place for disaster recovery.

Possible Tax Benefits
Since OVS is a rental agreement it may be possible to treat the cost as an expense rather than a capital expenditure. Customers must, naturally, seek their own tax advice.

In order to provide customers with choice and because of its legal nature licensing is complex. OVS is designed to simplify licensing for small and medium size companies. In order to qualify for an OVS contract customers must cover at least one of the following :- Windows Pro Upgrade, Office Professional, Office Small Business Edition, Windows Small Business Server CAL or Core CAL.

If you, or someone in your company, is interested in learning more about software licensing, Managed Services, or have general IT support questions, please reach out to a Sea to Sky team member by emailing info@seatosky.com, or call us at 604.628.6970.

- Sea to Sky Team

Windows Server 2003; End of Support Coming in July 2015

January 5, 2015

2015 is going to be a year of change for the better. I mean this quite literally if your business is running Windows Server 2003 because Microsoft has solidified an end date for the older server operating system; July 14, 2015.

As the reader, you might be thinking; who cares, that’s months away, but the truth is upgrading older server software usually means also upgrading the older specialty software that relies on Windows Server 2003 – this could be anything from estimating software to database software that requires SQL. As such, it is important to sit down with your current IT support provider – or, if you are looking for a new one, Sea to Sky Network Solutions – and begin the process of creating an upgrade plan this month. Microsoft reports that from the date of approval to the go-live date it takes, on average, 150-200 days to plan, test, migrate and upgrade a server-based solution. That means your organization should be thinking about this now – right now!

This news should not come as a surprise to most, in fact, mainstream support for Windows Server 2003 formally ended in 2010. The past 5 years of ‘Extended Support’ was really meant to provide businesses with ample time to upgrade in a controlled and cost-effective manner while maintaining access to critical security patches meant specifically for Windows Server 2003. In 2013 there were 37 critical updates released for Windows Server 2003/R2 and 2014 was similar in numbers. We are talking about updates meant to counter threats and vulnerabilities from hackers who know that servers usually house extremely sensitive data.

Furthermore, if your business is required to be PCI compliant, remaining on Windows Server 2003 may void your agreement to hold sensitive data for companies like Visa and MasterCard. While not every firm has this compliance requirement, the fact that larger firms are actively reminding their partners to upgrade should be heeded by all business with a Windows Server 2003 instance.

So what can you do? It is simple; plan your upgrade now. Work with a Microsoft Partner to build out a plan to move to one of three options:

1. A new onsite solution running Windows server 2012 – This is a good option with the opportunity to utilize virtualization

2. A new hosted solution in the Cloud – This is the ‘pay for what you need’ subscription model

3. A new hybrid solution – Take some of your services to the cloud (i.e. email in Office 365) and keep your third-party solution onsite (i.e. third-party software)

So that is it; you are now aware of the pending deadline (July 2015), the time it will take to complete the migration (~150 days) and a phone number to call for help (604.628.6970), stop reading and call our client success team for a no-obligation meeting to discuss your specific situation in more detail. If you would like to send an email we can be reached at info@seatosky.com

Here is a great PSA video from Microsoft outlining the Windows Server 2003 news:

Windows Server 2003 EOS Awareness video

- Sea to Sky Team

Welcome Sarah and Taylor

March 20, 2014

Sea to Sky would like to extend a warm welcome to two new full-time employees who bring with them valuable computer network management and customer service experience. As we grow our business we know that our managed service offering is only as good as the people who provide the support. Sarah and Taylor understand Sea to Sky’s corporate mission and are excited to help the company achieve our shared goal.

Sarah called the Okanagan home before moving to Vancouver four years ago. Shortly after making the move to our beautiful city she graduated from the UBC Sauder School of Business, and worked in the real estate industry. Sarah’s past experience in that field allowed her to sharpen her administrative office management skills and broaden her practical business perspective. She brings years of client service experience to the Sea to Sky team.

Outside of work Sarah enjoys travel, music, and photography.

Taylor is a native of Vernon, BC and recently moved to Vancouver to work in the technology industry. Before graduation, Taylor worked at a retailer as an AV systems specialist. He believes that the customer service experience he acquired at his previous job provides a strong foundation for his work at Sea to Sky Network Solutions.

In Taylor’s spare time you can find him on the local ski hills or enjoying the culinary culture of Vancouver.

We know that Sarah and Taylor will enhance Sea to Sky’s position as a leading IT support provider in British Columbia. Next time you call us for computer help, and connect to one of these specialists, please make sure to welcome them to the team.

If you have any questions about Sea to Sky’s products, services or people please contact us by email: info@seatosky.com or by phone: 604.628.6970.

- Sea to Sky Team

Sea to Sky Network Solutions 2013: A Strong Foundation for 2014

December 30, 2013

It has been a successful year for Sea to Sky Network Solutions and we want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has dedicated their time and resources to the company’s success in 2013. Our business exists to provide IT support to organizations in need of advanced solutions to complex problems as well as managed service support for day to day issues. We know that without our vendors, team members, and clients our achievements would not have been possible; thank you. 

Looking back on 2013 it is evident that our accomplishments are the result of hard work and dedication. We have experienced substantial growth as we expand our product and service offerings to reflect the business requirements of our clients. To accommodate for this growth we have hired new staff, moved into a larger office space, and deployed an advanced cloud solution designed to maximize the value of an organization’s IT dollar.

New staff:

Sarah – Administrative Assistant

Sarah joined us in December and assumes the role of administrative assistant. She has already proved to be a valuable member of our team. We look forward to working with her.

New office space:

In the second quarter of 2013 Sea to Sky moved into a larger office space located near Howe and West Pender; in the heart of downtown Vancouver. Our ~3500 square foot facility includes advanced internet and power connectivity to help us provide timely support to our clients. If you are in the area, please feel free to stop by and say hello!

New cloud offerings:

Our cloud offerings are fully deployed and currently running for several clients. Each site is utilizing different features of the cloud service (see the list below):

Our cloud services include:
-          Email through Office 365 Enterprise class plans
File sharing through the Sea to Sky Canadian Cloud
Offsite backups using software that integrates with our 24/7 monitoring system
Application hosting for advanced service needs
Web hosting for client sites (both public and private)
And many more…

These services maintain the high level of security and customizability that our clients have come to expect. Anything we deploy has been designed to integrate with an existing server, which allows us to monitor vital statistics and execute routine maintenance in the most efficient manner. We are very proud of our Canadian (BC-based) cloud offerings and would be happy to share more information with any organization interested in streamlining their business technology services and support.

2014 is going to be an exciting year for Sea to Sky. We look forward to working with new and existing clients as we continue our sustainable growth model. From all of us here at Sea to Sky Network Solutions, we wish you a Happy New Year.

- Sea to Sky Team

Windows 8.1 Pro is ready for business

December 19, 2013

Sea to Sky Network Solutions

Windows 8 is stable, secure and ready for business use! If your organization is contemplating a hardware lifecycle refresh, Windows 8.1 Pro should be first on the list of operating systems to consider. There are several reasons to upgrade; here are a few of the key benefits:

1. Windows 8 is backward compatible with software designed for Windows 7; no need to replace everything at once. (Note that individual software suites should be kept up to date regardless of operating system compatibility).

2. Windows 8 provides an interface that works well with a traditional computer controllers (mouse and keyboard), but truly excels with touch screen devices. This suggests that deploying Windows–based hardware can help reduce learning curves and costs associated with training and security testing during new deployments. Think phones and tablets.

3. The dashboard is a great place to quickly access important programs and information a user may require on a daily basis. In the coming years, we anticipate more custom apps designed by the company to help with employee efficiency.

4. Better support for multiscreen environments. While this might sound like a nice-to-have, Windows 8 truly improved my personal day to day computing. For instance, the menu bar spans across both screens and duplicates shortcuts (now called pinned items) on either the start bar or start screen. It also duplicates the reintroduce start button. After all, the reason for two screens is to work twice as much; right?

Creating a familiar, but better, experience was a top consideration for Microsoft when developing Windows 8. After testing the software within our own organization for several months, we are happy to give it the green light for general deployment.

Windows 8 is an evolution, not a revolution, but this is just fine with us. It helps users work in a modern way and allows hardware vendors to be creative when designing the next generation if intuitive products.

If your business is interested in learning more about Windows 8, please contact our business development team at sales@seatosky.com or by calling 604.628.6970 extension 1.

- Sea to Sky Team

Lightning Strikes and Network Surges; a case for business-grade hardware

September 9, 2013

On September 5th Vancouver experienced a powerful lightning storm. The system was short lived, but caused damage to property and trees throughout the lower mainland. Below is a story, and some advice, about events that occurred on that day.

We are all familiar with power surges, but we might not be familiar with network surges. A network surge still requires a power spike to cause damage, but affects a different part of an electronic device; the network card. A network surge usually infiltrates a network at the weakest point, which is usually a consumer grade piece of hardware without a properly grounded plug. While rare, they can cause hundreds or even thousands of dollars in damage, depending on what is connected at the other end.

Unfortunately one of our staff members fell victim to a network surge at his home on that fateful day. Most if his computers and media devices were physically connected via a home grade switch with only a two prong power cord. This type of plug does not provide proper grounding for power and; therefore, is a weak link in a network’s chain. When the surge occurred, it damaged a TV, two Apple TV devices, the router and the switch itself, which was hot to the touch. Network cards are integrated into most devices and cannot be replaced very easily. This fact can render the device useless if the network card’s board gets fried.

How to Protect the Network in a Business:
It is simple; deploy business grade hardware when setting up the network. Sea to Sky is adamant about this because we know what happens when cheap hardware is installed (see above). Business hardware is made to last and is designed with better components to manage large amounts of traffic from multiple users all day long. When purchasing hardware for your business it is best to consult with an IT provider, such as Sea to Sky Network Solutions, with experience building and managing a network infrastructure.

A point of interest:
It is not commonly known that a network cable can also power some devices. This technology is becoming more mainstream as businesses demand additional features from their electronics. Common electronic devices that utilize this ‘Power over Ethernet’ (PoE) feature are digital security cameras, wireless access points and other low voltage electronic monitoring devices that may not be close to a power outlet. As technology moves forward, we will find that more and more devices receive power this way. Considering this, it is ever more important to make sure a network, especially a business’ network, is protected appropriately.

The victim in this case will have to replace all of the hardware that failed, but life will go on. It will not be for nothing so long as the lesson from his misfortune is heeded by the rest of us.

Sea to Sky is dedicated to managing networks in an efficient and cost effective manner. Our client relationships are meant to be long-term and we work hard to provide solutions that make sense for today and tomorrow. If your business is interested in learning more about how we can help, contact a Sea to Sky Team Member by email at info@seatosky.com or by phone at  604.628.6970, ext.#1.

- Sea to Sky Team

Data Retention: How Far Back Does Your Organization Need To Go?

July 19, 2013


The only purpose of an offsite backup service is to protect a business’s data in a last resort. Given the singular purpose of this service it is very important to make sure the solution is setup correctly. Ask these key questions when setting up a server’s offsite backups because not all backup solutions are created equal:


  • How often are document changes saved? (hourly, daily or weekly)?


  • How far back can I go if I need to retrieve a file or email? (weekly, monthly, annually, or forever)?


  • How long will it take to retrieve the file (minutes, hours, days… longer)?


Managing our client’s data is the most important aspect of what we do and planning for the unexpected is a big part of this. Sea to Sky’s BDR backup solution is comprised of two key components; an onsite hardware device to manage the processor-intensive task of backing up on an hourly basis, and an offsite component to keep that data safe and accessible in the event of a localized disaster. While our clients do not necessarily need to use the service every day, it is a huge time/money/headache-saver when they do.

Before the BDR most businesses used a tape backup system – if your business used a server 3 or more years ago you know what I am talking about. The tapes were meant to be swapped daily, required human intervention, and typically provided a weeks’ worth of backups, if they worked at all. The new server-based BDR solution provides the ability to take that default week time frame and extend it as far back as the client requires. It also automates the process and allows a Managed Service Provider, such as Sea to Sky, to check for backup completion on a more regular basis.

For most businesses a week is typically enough time to realize a file is missing, but for others this is not the case. Sea to Sky’s technical staff will work with your business to make sure the backup retention period properly reflects your business’s requirements. This is not a complicated process, but must be addressed in advance of an emergency data retrieval scenario.

Finally, Sea to Sky supports organizations located throughout the province of British Columbia and beyond. Furthermore, our client list includes organizations which are regulated to maintain offsite data repositories in BC. Because of this fact, we provide all of our clients with a BC-based backup solution. Besides the legal implications, this geographical advantage allows our technical staff to maintain full physical control over our client’s offsite data repository if need be.

If your organization can not answer the questions listed above contact a Sea to Sky Network Solutions team member to learn more about the BDR solution with offsite data storage in British Columbia. We can be reached by emailing info@seatosky.com or calling 604.628.6965.

- Sea to Sky Team



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