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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

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

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

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