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SEA TO SKY is a professional IT services firm located in Vancouver, providing complete IT sales, service and support.

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A Lesson in the Importance of Offsite Data Recovery

July 2, 2013

The devastating floods of June 2013 in Calgary are a grim reminder of how unforgiving Mother Nature can be. The losses inflicted on Calgarians are very unfortunate and we wish everyone affected all the best in their recovery.

While these events are rare, they do provide technology managers with valuable insight into which backup and disaster recovery protocols work and which do not. At the end of the day, insurance will replace physical goods, but intellectual property and other data cannot be replaced as easily if appropriate precautions are not taken.

As an IT support provider for businesses, Sea to Sky Network Solutions is constantly reviewing how events like these were handled. We consider the effectiveness of different disaster recovery plans by collecting data and producing timelines illustrating the true impact on IT systems and the business they serve. We identify what worked, what did not work, and how we can modify our offsite backup solution accordingly.

We are happy to report that our current backup and disaster recovery offering can protect our client’s data when a similar disaster, such as an earthquake, strikes in British Columbia. Key considerations for this include:

1. Automate the backup system; human intervention is no longer required to facilitate offsite backups. Software now allows for complete automation of incremental backups on an hourly basis.

2. Schedule backup testing (weekly); an image of a server’s operating system is the only way to test that a backup actually works. Booting up the image on a virtualized server is the only way to test for true functionality. We include this service with our Managed Service Agreements.

3. Store images of the server in geographically unique locations; make sure data is stored in more than one secure location, even if this is on the server in the office and in a colocation several kilometers away. Ideally multiple offsite data repositories around the country should be implemented, but this cost can be unreasonable for some. Sea to Sky will work with you to maximize your offsite storage capabilities, based on budget.

4. Know how quickly a server image can be restored (time is money); consider how quickly the business can gain access to the data (physically or over the internet). Furthermore, make sure the backup image is able to boot off of different server hardware when power is restored. Backing up data in a useable form, especially if only new hardware configurations are available at the time, is a commonly overlooked concern. Sea to Sky’s backup solution is not dependent on the exact same hardware configuration allowing for a faster restore time. Our goal is to get our clients back to business as quickly as possible.

We recently completed a video case study with the Village of Queen Charlottes detailing the earthquake they experienced in October 2012. The video discusses how Sea to Sky Network Solutions configured a server and BDR (Backup and Disaster Recovery device) with offsite data storage to help the staff maintain access to their critical data during the disaster. The video can be viewed here: www.vimeo.com/seatosky

If you would like to learn more about our backup solution for your business’ server infrastructure contact a team member by emailing info@seatosky.com or calling 604.628.6970 Ext. 1

- Sea to Sky Team

Reverting to PST/GST: consider upgrading under the HST tax system

January 28, 2013

Tax Time!

There are many great resources out there to help business owners in BC understand the transition of the tax system from HST to PST/GST. One of the most useful websites I have found is: www.pstinbc.com. This site provides an abundance of constantly updated information. While some taxable goods will benefit from a reduction (i.e. restaurant meal purchases) other tax incentives to businesses will be lost. Those losses are the reason for this article and have been explained below.

On April 1, 2013 British Columbia is reverting to the PST/GST tax system; no joke! If your organization is considering new business technology hardware or software you have until March 31st to get your order processed! Make sure to talk to your accountant to verify your organization’s eligibility.

What is happening?
HST provides businesses with an input tax credit; effectively eliminating any tax costs on technology hardware or software purchased by a business for business purposes. With the loss of HST, this input tax credit will be reduced to only cover GST at 5%. This suggests, that all other variables the same, businesses will be required to pay the extra 7% PST on any purchases moving forward.

With this information in mind, think about how much your organization spends on hardware and software in a given lifecycle – this is typically 3 -5 years for the average organization – now add 7% to that cost!

What should I do about it?
If you are close to making an IT upgrade decision, and want to make sure you are making the right decision, give the Sea to Sky team a call; we would be happy to help your organization build a solution that will allow you to maximize your IT dollars; as long as you order before the change to PST.

If you have questions about the change to PST in BC, talk to your accountant, or visit www.pstinbc.com. If you have questions about upgrading or maintaining your IT systems, talk to us; we are happy to help. Inquiries can be made to 604.628.6970 or email info@seatosky.com.

- Sea to Sky Team

Article Disclaimer: as outlined above, Sea to Sky is not an accounting firm, but we do like to stay on top of the latest changes in policy that could adversely affect our clients. If you haven’t already, get the tax conversation going with your accountant, then give our team a call to see how we can help your company become more productive.

Windows Phone 8: The highly anticipated mobile business device is coming soon!

July 19, 2012

Windows Phone 8 Image

One of the most exciting Microsoft products to be announced this year is Windows Phone 8. This new mobile phone OS is going to take an already great user experience and make it better. From a business point of view it is going to incorporate advanced security features to help keep business data protected, yet readily accessible. The device enables users to access documents from their company cloud and edit them using rich versions of Word and Excel. Microsoft feels that the key to advanced productivity is going to be standardizing the experience from the PC to the phone; making apps and accessing files work seamlessly across platforms and from anywhere on any Windows device.

As an advocate for our clients, Sea to Sky understands that security and business productivity are the most important aspects of a mobile device, but it is also nice to know Windows Phone can support great social and gaming experiences as well. That is why I wanted to outline some of the notable features of the new Windows Phone 8 OS. Please note that the content below is borrowed from an Article written by Joe Belfiore and can be found by clicking this link: (http://windowsteamblog.com/windows_phone/b/windowsphone/archive/2012/06/20/announcing-windows-phone-8.aspx).

If you’re tired of reading, you may wish to view our video interview with Paul Laberge, Technical Evangelist at Microsoft Corporation (@plaberge) here:

List of Technical Features:

- Multi-core processor support: As reviewers have noted, Windows Phone runs buttery smooth on phones with a single processor. But piggybacking on the Windows core provides support for multiple cores—so we’re ready for whatever hardware makers dream up.
- Bigger, sharper screens: Windows Phone 8 supports two new screen resolutions (1280×768 and 1280×720), opening the door to amazing new handsets with high-definition 720p displays.
- More flexible storage
: Windows Phone 8 supports removable MicroSD cards, so you can stuff your phone with extra photos, music, and whatever else is important to you, and then easily move it all onto your PC.
- NFC wireless sharing
: If you haven’t heard the term “NFC” yet, I’m betting you soon will. This emerging wireless technology lets phones share things over short distances. In Windows Phone 8, it helps make sharing photos, Office docs, and contact info easier—just tap your phone another NFC-equipped device. How cool is that?
- Internet Explorer 10
: The next version of Windows Phone comes with the same web browsing engine that’s headed for Window 8 PCs and tablets. IE10 is faster and more secure, with advanced anti-phishing features like SmartScreen Filter to block dangerous websites and malware.
- Wallet
: Windows Phone 8’s new digital Wallet feature does two great things. It can keep debit and credit cards, coupons, boarding passes, and other important info right at your fingertips. And when paired with a secure SIM from your carrier, you can also pay for things with a tap of your phone at compatible checkout counters.
- Better maps and directions
: Windows Phone 8 builds in Nokia mapping as part of the platform. Our partnership will provide more detailed maps and turn-by-turn directions in many countries, plus the ability to store maps offline on your phone so you can work with maps without a data connection.
- Cooler apps and games
: Basing Windows Phone 8 on the Windows core will unleash a new wave of amazing apps and especially games, for reasons I’ll touch on in a moment.

List of Business Features:

- Device encryption: To help keep everything from documents to passwords safe, Windows Phone 8 includes built-in technology to encrypt the entire device, including the operating system and data files.
- Better security:
Windows Phone 8 supports the United Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) secure boot protocol and features improved app “sandboxing,” so the phone is better protected from malware with multiple layers of security.
- Remote management
: With Windows Phone 8, IT departments can manage apps and phones remotely, with tools similar to ones they now employ for Windows PCs.
- Company Hub and apps
: Companies can create their own Windows Phone 8 Hub for custom employee apps and other critical business info.

The Team at Sea to Sky is very excited for the release of Windows Phone 8 because it brings a great business feature set to our clients without sacrificing security. Windows Phone 8 will be easy to adopt because it uses the same Metro UI (with active tiles as seen in our video) that the Windows 8 PC OS will employ. This year is a game changer for Microsoft. The company has tested their software to an unmatched extent to make sure it works extremely well.

As always, consult with a Sea to Sky Network Solutions team member before making any IT decisions for your business. We’re here to help make sure your business or organization operates safe and secure for today and tomorrow.

- Sea to Sky Team

Microsoft Office: The Next Generation

July 18, 2012

You can expect a lot of updates on our blog referencing Microsoft for the rest of the year. The company has decided to to streamline product offerings and unify the look and feel of its products. Next on the list is the new Office software suite!

If interested, you can view this suite of products at office.com/preview.

There will be a few different versions, but you can find more detail a the Microsoft News Site

We’re very excited for this release and will update our blog as necessary. Remember, if your organization has signed up for a business subscription plan, such as Office 365 E3 or through Open Value Subscription Licensing models, you will be eligible for an upgrade and are way a head of the game! Ask a Sea to Sky team member for more details.

- Sea to Sky Team

Windows 8: What Businesses Can Expect

July 18, 2012

Windows 8 Logo

A few weeks ago Sea to Sky released an article informing our readers about end of life support for Windows XP in April 2014, but today I have good news! Windows 8 is almost here and it is packed full of features designed to increase productivity and help staff be productive while mobile. It’s important to stress that Windows XP is going to effectively die. Once Microsoft ends support for this product, we anticipate an increase in malicious activity, and, for that reason alone business should start planning an upgrade now.

While at the 2012 Microsoft World Partner Conference last week the Sea to Sky team was made aware of exactly how Windows 8 would better server clients. The information contained within this article is designed to give readers a quick overview of the features which were discussed.

So what sort of productivity gains can we expect with Windows 8? While at the conference I had the opportunity to interview Stephen Rose, a Microsoft employee and Windows expert. Here is what he had to say about Windows 8:

Key Features Include:

Custom Apps
- The new interface will allow businesses to build custom applications for the start screen to benefit employees and customers. These apps can be custom built by a developer and can do, or be, whatever one could imagine.

Consistent user interface (UI)
- Windows 8 is the first Windows platform that standardizes across devices, except phones. This means that users can move from a tablet to a computer without having to change how they use the operating system! The windows phone OS will mimic the tiles formatting we have come to expect, but it will be based on its own platform. This is not unexpected as phones use special processors and require software that maximizes battery life in a small form factor

Touch Integration
- The tiles found in the new Windows 8 OS are designed to be touch-friendly. This means that we can expect new laptops to incorporate touch. This is a great example of the natural progression of the PC

Feature Rich
- As an evolution of Windows 7, Windows 8 brings more useable features – things that we always thought should be included in Windows 7 control panel – to the user in an effort to address customization. Things like multi-monitor controls, touch keyboard customization, web navigation, and an updated control panel are just a few of the areas which have been upgraded.

Key Enterprise Features, as noted by Erwin Visser at Microsoft, Include:

Windows To Go
- A fully manageable corporate Windows 8 desktop on a bootable external USB stick. This will allow IT organizations to support the “Bring Your Own PC” trend and businesses can give contingent staff access to the corporate environment without compromising security.

DirectAccess
- Allows remote users to seamlessly access resources inside a corporate network without having to launch a separate VPN and helps IT administrators keep remote users’ PCs in compliance by applying the latest policies, software updates, is easier to deploy, and it can be implemented with the existing IPv4 infrastructure.

BranchCache
- Allows users’ PCs to cache files, websites, and other content from central servers, so content is not repeatedly downloaded across the wide area network (WAN). When used with Windows Server 2012, Windows 8 brings several improvements to BranchCache to streamline the deployment process, optimize bandwidth over WAN connections and ensure better security and scalability.

AppLocker
- can help mitigate issues by restricting the files and apps that users or groups are allowed to run.

VDI enhancements
- Enhancements in Microsoft RemoteFX and Windows Server 2012, provide users with a rich desktop experience with the ability to play 3D graphics, use USB peripherals and use touch-enabled devices across any type of network (LAN or WAN) for VDI scenarios.

New Windows 8 App Deployment
- Domain joined PCs and tablets running Windows 8 Enterprise will automatically be enabled to side-load internal, Windows 8 Metro style apps.

We cannot wait for the final release of Windows 8! It’s going to be great software for businesses. The new interface is going to be very useful because it represents a solid platform which is designed to grow and be customized by business owners and individuals. Keep an eye on our blog for updates! And, as always, consult with a Sea to Sky Team member before making IT decisions for your business.

- Sea to Sky Team

WPC Day in Review – July 9, 2012

July 10, 2012

What a great first day (July 9th) at the Microsoft WPC 2012 Conference! We started off with a very educational and exciting keynote speech presented by top-level executives at Microsoft in the Air Canada Centre, but not before a performance by Cirque Du Soleil, which was amazing! Once the festivities were over the event quickly moved on to business where further details of new product offerings were shared; think cloud productivity and new software (i.e. Windows 8). Once that was over, the Sea to Sky business development team toured the booths at the convention hall where it was clear Microsoft’s new products have been embraced by innovative R&D firms. Microsoft is driven to become an all-inclusive business technology vendor – providing software, hardware (phones and tablets) and services – to help our clients increase productivity, no matter the number of employees they have.

We ended the day with a few seminars to help us better understand the new products that we will be implementing over the next year. We also met with Microsoft Partner companies who are creating complementary products for what we deploy and manage to enhance business productivity with key services like SharePoint and Lync.

Please note that shortly after this week-long event, Sea to Sky will post more comprehensive articles outlining the specifics of Microsoft’s 2012-2013 deployment year; stay tuned!

- Sea to Sky Team

Microsoft WPC 2012 Preview

July 3, 2012

Over 15,000 people from 130 countries are expected to attend the 2012 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto this July. This annual event is designed to inform and educate Microsoft’s partners, such as Sea to Sky Network Solutions, on the latest product developments and best practice implementation methods. This conference will provide our clients with the absolute best advice and solutions for today and tomorrow.

With so much change coming down the line we expect WPC 2012 to be a milestone in business technology innovation. Sea to Sky’s business development team will be updating our blog as milestones are announced. Anticipation of this event is palpable and we look forward to sharing the latest IT innovations with you!

The event begins July 8th and ends on the 12th. Keep an eye on our blog during this time for updates. Based on our predictions, readers can expect feature-rich software for workstations and servers. Finally, we expect very exciting news for cloud-based productivity. Stay tuned!

- Sea to Sky Team

Windows XP Support Ends April 2014; Upgrade Deployment Plans Should Start Now

June 21, 2012

Microsoft has released an official date for the end of Windows XP support, including security patch updates and incident support from Microsoft directly. While most of our clients have since upgraded to Windows 7, there are others who have not for various reasons. The point of this article is to note that this is a good excuse to begin planning a company-wide upgrade now.

Many organizations use Windows XP because they use older software that may not be compatible with newer version of Windows OS. Now that XP support is ending this older software officially becomes obsolete and unsupported. Migrating to a new operating system is not as easy as copy and paste in some cases. That is why your IT consultant, ideally Sea to Sky Network Solutions, should be brought in plan a migration.

Chris Di Lullo of Microsoft | TechNet wrote a great article with more detail as to why the switch is a good idea. Check out his article here:

Tick, Tock…Getting Close to the End of the XP Clock, Chris Di Lullo, Microsoft | TechNet

As always, if you have questions, please feel free to speak with a Sea to Sky team member for information on how you can prepare. April 8, 2014 is upon us sooner than you may think and businesses should being their upgrade plan now.

- Sea to Sky Team

The Hybrid Cloud; Things to Consider Before Deployment

May 10, 2012

Sea to Sky Network Solutions Logo

Cloud computing is here to stay and the team at Sea to Sky is more than pleased to embrace this new way of doing business. The cloud offers businesses economies of scale to help keep prices low without sacrificing service delivery to the end user. However, it is important to note that, for now, most businesses will continue to require the ability to connect to a local server to run some third party software. The fact is that hosting all software offsite is not an option for every company.

Building a hybrid cloud environment will allow a business to use its third-party software on a scaled-down server to save money, while taking advantage of the latest advances in hosted email and file management technology. Microsoft has invested a lot of resources into building an infrastructure that allows for integration with the cloud and onsite environments. Working with a Microsoft Partner, like Sea to Sky Network Solutions, will help make sure the transition goes smoothly and everything actually works. For most clients we highly recommend a cloud, or hybrid cloud, solution because it can save thousands of dollars in upfront hardware costs. Other sources of savings include the cost of ongoing hardware management fees and lower costs to store data offsite, thereby deflating a key financial barrier to entry for most SMBs.

There are some factors to consider when planning a hybrid network infrastructure. It is important to understand the purpose of your business network before purchasing hardware or software. A responsible IT provider will ask questions, such as:

1. What software does the business plan on using?

A lot of third party software is not cloud-ready, and our clients are sometimes surprised when they discover this. In time, all software will be available in the cloud, but for now, that is not the case. When a software firm designs a new product, they use the tools available to them at the time. Cloud computing in the business market is only a few years old; therefore, some software does not support the necessary integration. If a business is planning an upgrade, it might be a good time to look at a solution that utilizes the cloud. The best part about the cloud is that your software will always be up to date as the payment method is perpetual.

2. What problems might the organization face during implementation or migration?

Integration is the key component to consider when mixing hosted and onsite solutions together. In the past, Sea to Sky has worked with clients who rely on custom software designed before Y2K. In some cases, it makes sense to use this old software, but in most cases we advise them to consider a new cloud solution. The good news is that, moving forward, all software should become cloud compatible. In fact, there are some solutions, such as CRM software, that have moved to a completely hosted environment. One of the first examples of this is SalesForce CRM or Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM. These solutions integrate with Microsoft Exchange and allow the user to easily organize their work life. Now is a good time to consult with your IT provider and begin the first steps of drafting a plan to upgrade old software to something with cloud integration. In the future, those who are left behind will be at a distinct disadvantage when compared to their competitors.

3. What type of ongoing management will the network require once it is set up?

Cloud solutions drastically reduce the ongoing management costs of a network, but that does not mean ongoing assistance has fallen to the wayside completely. Companies will always need someone to help manage user accounts and implement new features as they are released. In the hybrid-cloud environment, the recurring cost of hardware maintenance and management are lower, but they still apply. Make sure to discuss maintenance and management of the hosted solution with your IT provider. You may find that a hybrid solution is not as cost effective as keeping all of your services on a local server, although this is very rare now a days.

This list of questions is not exhaustive, but it should get the decision-maker at your organization headed in the right direction. The team at Sea to Sky Network Solutions is very excited for the future of business networks. We get a lot of enjoyment from helping our clients become more efficient in the information technology products and services they use. Planning on how to deploy your IT services may be ambiguous right now, but the Sea to Sky team can help direct any SMB towards their custom path of maximum productivity. Contact us for more details!

- Sea to Sky Team

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): Benefits and Concerns Surrounding Personal Technology at Work.

March 9, 2012

Bring Your Own Device - BYOD

Should a business allow staff to connect, and use, personal devices on the office network? The idea of BYOD, or bring your own device, has become more popular in recent years. However, there is added risk if fundamental services, such as email and file sharing, are not configured and managed properly. A business’s primary concern should always be to protect its data when searching for cost saving trends. One of the leading justifications for BYOD is that it moderates hardware procurement and monthly service expense. A business may financially benefit from implementing a BYOD policy, but, before adoption, it is important to evaluate the advantages and apprehensions with a Sea to Sky technical team member.

Advantages:
At first, there seems to be very little argument against transferring financial risk from the business to the individual. Businesses do not have to worry about lost/stolen/broken hardware device replacement fees, managing monthly billing, including notorious overage charges, or device upgrade fees. It frees up extra cash for the business, which can be used for other growth strategies. As a point of interest, we find that most employees are willing to pay for their own service fees if it means they get to choose the device and carrier they want.

Generally, businesses who adopt this policy find that users purchase the latest technology, which provides a competitive advantage in speed, functionality and connectivity. Specifically, we have found that users who own their devices upgrade or update their personal hardware more frequently than a business.

Apprehensions:
On the other hand, there are issues related to BYOD that should be addressed before the topic is ever brought up within an organization. BYOD adoption disassociates the IT department with what happens to a user’s device. More importantly, the business becomes less able to control what hardware joins its network. As a result, some hardware/software configurations may generate security concerns that can cost more in the long-run.

BYOD policies must outline, in detail, what is and is not acceptable in an office environment. An accepted use policy should be drafted, presented and signed by the staff before foreign devices start joining the network. This policy should involve the HR department, the IT department and the executive team to make sure all technical and legal angles are covered. It is important for an organization’s staff to acknowledge they understand the rules surrounding personal devices at work.

From an IT perspective, a BYOD policy must discuss company data storage and data ownership expectations. We have found that BYOD-type trends make it much harder for an organization to retrieve their data after an employee is let go. The reason for this is that the employee is not required to surrender their devices after they leave. Sea to Sky can implement solutions that help an organization retain more ownership of their data with BYOD considered. We can help segregate data from a staff member’s personal device with, or without a server; ask us for details!

Conclusion:
Personal devices will continue to make their way into the business environment with or without formal approval. This can be a very dangerous prospect for a business, but Sea to Sky Network Solutions can help build a master plan to manage IT systems with BYOD in mind. Use discretion before making the decision to an IT trend such as BYOD.

Sea to Sky Network Solutions is an IT provider, based in Vancouver, focused on helping businesses make the right IT decisions. Each business has unique needs and requirements as they relate to cost, security and data ownership. Our team can help you create an IT plan for today and tomorrow. Contact a Sea to Sky team member for more information.

- Sea to Sky

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