When you make it easier for employees to do their job, you generally free up their time to get more done … and Cloud Computing can help.

Products such as Microsoft 365, (formerly Office 365), offer businesses the functionality they need to get on with the day job. Whether you require secure anywhere/anytime access to company data, the ability to set up virtual meetings or collaborate on a project with someone based miles away, cloud computing can deliver.

What issues do businesses without cloud computing face?

For some, the idea of saving your valuable documents using a software system that distributes those files across multiple data centres based far away seems risky.

Some businesses prefer to keep their files and folders on a physical server, neatly tucked away in the corner of the Office, or even on their own Laptop, which goes everywhere with them. It feels safe to keep things close, but in the case of where you save your data, it can be counter-intuitive.

Servers can be compromised, be damaged by flood or fire and if your data isn’t properly backed up to another device you risk permanently losing everything. Your laptop could break, be stolen on the train, and then not only have you lost your data, but someone could hack it.

Business that haven’t embraced cloud computing will be increasingly limited in our mobile world. They will struggle to access data and VPN connections are not as secure or flexible as the encryption inherent in Microsoft 365. In addition, businesses may want to reduce overhead costs (rent, electricity, hardware etc) by having more staff work from home and cloud commuting gives you that choice.

How can cloud computing alleviate issues and improve productivity?

Aside from the security considerations listed above, traditional ways of working where you have to be physically in the office to access data on your server, are disappearing.

Global pandemics aside, businesses need to function remotely. Employees want to read email and work on projects away from the office. They need to do this securely using any WiFi connection, any device, (including your kid’s laptop), and from any location. Cloud computing gives you that ultimate freedom with the reassurance of incredible security. It also saves you the considerable expenditure of buying a new server when the old one fails and the on-going maintenance costs.

What is included in a cloud computing service?

Depending on your business, you will need to choose the right type of cloud computing services. For the majority though, email is a no-brainer and Microsoft’s Email and Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc) have been the backbone of our working lives for years now.

In addition, how you store your data (SharePoint and OneDrive), host your Apps, (Azure Virtual Machine) and ensure your backup and security is A-class (Azure Disaster Recovery) can all be answered by cloud computing.

What is the average cost of cloud computing?

Cloud computing is supplied via licenses. For Microsoft 365, this is called Software as a Service and it is priced according to the functionality included in each ‘plan’ and is charged on a per user basis either monthly or annually.

For virtual servers, this is called Infrastructure as a Service and what you pay is influenced by a number of factors, including usage levels and data retention periods.

Cloud computing can be increased, decreased or even, in the case of archive data, switched off when you don’t need to access it. If an employee leaves, you cancel their license. Basically, you pay for what you use and scale up or down depending on your business needs.

If you want to talk to a professional who has implemented cloud computing for many businesses, saving them money, increasing their security, and enabling them to embrace remote working, call Susannah now on 02392 007850.

From Helpdesk support for every day break/fix issues to Infrastructure monitoring and maintenance, there are a bewildering variety of services you can sign up for. This article summarises the core types of IT support services, exploring their pros and cons to help you in your decision-making process.

What sort of business or size of business is IT support suitable for?

All businesses will require some form of IT support. Whether you are a small business with under 10 employees or a large corporate, you should have an IT strategy and the right structure in place. Businesses of all sizes can choose to outsource their IT. The more appropriate question is what type of support should you go for?

What sort of services are included in an IT support package?

The majority of outsourced support services for IT falls into two broad categories; onsite and remote. Onsite support usually means that an Engineer will attend your workplace in the event a problem occurs with your IT that cannot be resolved remotely. Remote support does what it says on the tin; it provides you with and telephone number and email address you can use to report issues and ask for help.

The devil, however, is in the detail. Whether you choose onsite or remote support, the price you pay for support may be predicated on a per-user or per-device basis. The majority of modern Managed Service Providers (MSPs) will charge on a per-user basis because people often have more than one device and an IT issue can be caused by one or more devices failing to interact correctly.  At Westlake, we want to make sure our clients can keep working and minimise productivity loss, so we support the person, including all the IT they might use.

What sort of services are included in an IT support package?

In addition to how your contract is priced, its important to understand what is and isn’t included. The following lists what you need to consider when appointing an IT partner:

Fixed times or unlimited access?

The majority of MSPs will provider their services Monday-Friday and within business hours, however, some will also offer premium packages covering out of office hours and weekends. Some MSPs may give you a fixed number of hours you can use per month and others may offer you unlimited access to their Helpdesk.

Variable Service Level Agreements

Some clients want a faster SLA for all or some of their employees and you will pay differently for Fast Track IT support.

Desktop Monitoring and Maintenance

Some MSPs may bundle your break/fix IT support for your employees with other endpoint services such as desktop monitoring, automated software updates and patch management. These services are usually provided by an endpoint monitoring and maintenance software system which is linked to your IT partner’s Helpdesk software and alerts them to issues with your PC estate.

Security and Backup

Another benefit that might be included in your IT support is antivirus software for your PCs and Backup for your shared data.

IT Asset Management

A good MSP will be able to audit your PC estate, ensure it is licensed correctly and patched and regularly updated. In addition, they should be able to offer PC procurement, installation and disposal services. Often these services are an integral part of an IT support contract.

Service Delivery

When choosing an IT partner, make sure you know what is included in your contract. Will you have a dedicated Account Manager? Are monthly or quarterly update meetings included? Do they have an ITIL-driven operational model and best practice mindset? Do they use Professional Services Automation (PSA) software which includes Ticket allocation and resolution tracking? Finally, do they offer monthly SLA Performance Report

How can a business identify what areas of IT support they will need?

As part of your tender process you should share as much detail as possible about your core business, your operational infrastructure, your current IT set up and your future business goals. This will enable your prospective IT partners to put together a Proposal that outlines what they think is the right IT support for you.

Why might businesses not see the value in IT support?

Spending money on something that is not your core business may seem like a nice to have, but bad or no IT planning can lose you money in the long run. The CAP EX cost of investing in physical servers is huge. What if you can get the job done with virtual ones instead?  What if your PCs aren’t licensed correctly and you are fined? What if you buy new PCs and their specification is inadequate for the job you need them to do? What if a global pandemic happens and you need your entire workforce to be able to work from home in the space of a few days? What if your office floods, and your data isn’t backed up so its irretrievably lost?

Why is IT support worth the cost?

The right IT support is strategic and proactive and should help you contain your costs so that you spend your budget wisely. The best IT support protects your business’s data, keeps you working with minimal downtime, and helps your business to grow by being an enabler and not a weight around your neck.

What is the average cost of IT Support?

Prices vary depending on the services you will receive and the only way to get a genuine idea is to compare providers as part of a tender process.

Does your business need IT Support?

Contact our team today to see how Westlake IT can help to alleviate the burden of IT from your business. We’ve been providing IT managed services to businesses like yours since 2005 and many of our customers who joined us early on are still with us today.

IT Support

You’d be forgiven for picturing fluffy white clouds floating in the sky when someone talks about Cloud computing. While the majority of us know enough about how the Cloud works to use it in our everyday lives, can we confidently answer the question “what is the Cloud?” And more importantly, just where has our data gone when we save it to the Cloud?

Before Cloud computing existed, we would go to work, turn on our PCs and open a document that could be found in one of two main places: in the My Documents folder, located on our actual Desktop or Laptop, or in a Shared folder that you and other people in your company could access. That shared folder could be located on a separate PC, but for the majority of SMEs, it would be located on a Server.

Server & VPN Reliability

Servers are linked to your PC by hardwiring your WiFi connection inside of your physical offices. If you want to work from home or during a business trip, then you’d either need to download your files onto your Laptop to take with you or log onto your physical server via a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which allows you to create a secure connection to your server using the Internet.

All good so far, but VPN connections are not always reliable and security is a consideration. Plus, if you download confidential data onto your Laptop and that Laptop is lost or stolen, not only have you lost important information, but your Laptop could be hacked, and then you’re potentially facing a whole host of IP and GDPR issues. Finally, Servers get old and cost a lot of money to replace, and what happens if your office is broken into? Or there’s a fire? If your server is fatally damaged or hacked and your back up isn’t excellent, you could lose one of your most valuable assets…. your data.

The advent of Cloud computing gave us something new. The ability to replace our onsite Servers with the immensely powerful and incredibly secure Servers, owned by providers such as Microsoft, Google or Amazon. These Servers are located in Data Centres built on ships or massive campuses and are spread around the world. Data Centres are very real, and not at all white and fluffy. It’s how we connect to them that explains the Cloud concept. We use the Internet.

Think of the Internet as replacing the cable in your office that connects your PC to your office server.

The Internet is ubiquitous, and providing your broadband strength is sufficient, you can access your files and data anywhere at any time. The security and encryption that is built into Cloud computing solutions such as Microsoft 365 far outstrips that of VPN. Your data is saved and replicated across different locations, which you can choose, meaning better resilience, faster access, with no bottlenecks and greater collaboration.

Considering Cloud Computing for your business? Westlake IT can help.

At Westlake, we have a proven track record in migrating businesses to the Cloud and we have the experience to advise you on the optimal Cloud-based solution to meet your unique business needs. Our solution will deliver you the maximum benefit with the tightest security. Get in touch today to see how we can help.

As is often the case – the answer is yes and no.

This article is going to look at Teams purely for SMEs and therefore will focus on Microsoft’s 365 Business plans.

How to get Microsoft Teams?

SMEs can access Teams in the following ways:

office 365 microsoft teams

In summary, if your business already has a Microsoft 365 tenant to provide your email accounts and office applications, Teams free is not an option.

If you want your employees to access Teams you will either need to pay for the appropriate Microsoft 365 subscription or your people can sign up for the Teams Exploratory Experience, which is free for a minimum of a year.

The Teams Exploratory Experience is designed to be activated by the end-user and is not something that can be assigned to a user by your domain administrator. Users can sign up for it by visiting the microsoft teams website.

Understanding the Teams Exploratory Experience and future cost implications

It’s important to note that the Teams Exploratory Experience doesn’t just include Teams. It also includes a cross section of applications and services that you might want to trial.

We advise you to think carefully about what applications and services you start to use and embed in your business because you will need to pay for them after your trial period expires.

The following table lists the features, included in the Teams Exploratory Experience and shows you the minimum subscription you would need to purchase to keep using them after your trial expires:

office 365 solutions

Conclusion

Microsoft’s Teams Exploratory Experience is a fantastic way for your people to trial applications and services that could enhance your business operations, but it’s vital you understand the future cost implications of the apps and services you decide to adopt.

We recommend you speak to your IT partner or internal IT department for more advice so you can make an informed choice, or contact Susannah at Westlake IT on 023 92 007850 or at susannahjeffery@westlake-it.co.uk for more advice on Microsoft Teams and office 365 solutions.

Westlake IT is delighted to announce the company has been awarded Microsoft’s Silver Partner Status. Westlake IT now joins the top 5% of Microsoft partners worldwide who have met the requirements for Silver Partner status.

To earn the Silver Partner status, Westlake IT has demonstrated consistent capability, expertise, and commitment in three core areas; Cloud Platforms, Cloud Productivity and, Collaboration and Content.

Chris Apperley, MD explains. “Cloud Platforms are virtual servers. We have helped a number of businesses streamline their on-premise IT infrastructure by migrating physical servers to virtual ones, saving money and improving operational performance and security.

“Cloud Productivity and, Collaboration and Content describe the benefits delivered by Office 365 and its family of applications including Email, SharePoint and Teams etc. Our proven track record in migrating customers to Office 365 and deploying SharePoint has been instrumental in helping us earn Silver Partner Status.”  

Westlake IT has grown significantly over the past two years, increasing turnover by 57% and its client base by 78%.

Susannah Jeffery, Westlake IT’S Business Development Director comments on some of the reasons for Westlake IT’s success. “We consistently punch above our weight, winning tenders against much bigger providers. We do this because we combine big business expertise with small business flexibility, friendliness and approachability.”

“Our clients have the best of both worlds. For example, we know our clients want the peace of mind that our Helpdesk delivers by using the latest ticketing, project management and reporting software, but they also like the fact that we are open to changing the way we work to suit their needs. ”

Call Chris or Susannah today on 023 92007850 to talk through how Westlake could transform your IT.

The Brexit date is currently set for 31 January 2020 and while Boris Johnson has already agreed a deal with the EU, it still needs to be approved by Parliament.

If Parliament approves Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill then the UK will exit the EU on 31 January 2020. Trade talks with the EU would begin soon after. If a new trade deal is ratified by December 2020 then the UK will begin its new relationship with the EU in January 2021. If a trade deal is not agreed then the UK will have two choices: Extend the transition period or leave the EU without a deal in January 2021.

Clearly while we now have more certainty that Brexit will happen, there is still a long way to go. Trade deals can take several years to negotiate and an 11-month time frame is very tight. This time next year we will yet again face another crunch point. If, by December 2020, the UK has failed to agree a new trade deal with the EU then the UK would need to decide whether to ask for an extension to trade agreement negotiations or default to trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms.

The good news is that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit early next year is less likely, but it’s not off the table. Should the UK fail to agree a new trading relationship with the EU and we exit without one in place in 2020, it will very much feel like a no-deal Brexit scenario.

Staying informed and putting plans in place remains pivotal for SMEs throughout 2020 and beyond.

When it comes to dealing with uncertainty, SMEs do have size on their side. Being smaller than their corporate counterparts, they are more agile and can adapt quickly to changing market conditions. But there is a flip side. SMEs that rely on cross border trade are especially vulnerable to disruptions to their supply chain. Stockpiling is expensive, takes up space and therefore is an unlikely option. SMEs are also more sensitive than larger businesses to how trading conditions impact their cash flow.

How can SMEs mitigate the impact of Brexit on their ability to operate?

Use free advice and resources

There’s no need to use precious resources to reinvent the wheel. We recommend using what’s already available to help you plan:

  1. gov.uk carries detailed advice and information which is business sector specific. It also provides guidance on subjects such as IP and funding. (www.gov.uk/get-ready-brexit-check)
  2. The Federation for Small Businesses’ s Brexit Hub, has guidance available covering the import and export of goods, the employment of EU staff, the transfer of data in and out of the EU and much more (www.fsb.org.uk/standing-up-for-you/brexit-home/brexit-hub)
  3. The British Chamber of Commerce has a useful download checklist that covers everything from the impact of Brexit on your workforce, cross border trade, taxation and insurance, IP, compliance and funding. (www.britishchambers.org.uk/page/brexit-hub)

Ask your suppliers about their Brexit plans

We recommend contacting your suppliers and asking them about their Brexit plans. For example, if your industry is dependent on the import or export of goods then you need to know how your suppliers will keep trading post Brexit:

  1. What are your plans to mitigate port delays for imports and exports?
  2. How will you manage changes in tax liabilities and shipping tariffs?
  3. What is your policy regarding increasing your stock levels?

Don’t forget Brexit affects data transfers as well as cross border trade

European data protection laws, including GDPR), will be incorporated into UK Law post Brexit. Under GDPR any transfers of personal data from the EEA to a ‘third country,’ (which is what the UK will become, post Brexit), are referred to as ‘restricted transfers.’ Restricted transfers  require ‘appropriate safeguards.’ If you use cloud storage, software applications or outsourcing to process or store personal data, you may be making transfers to data centres outside the UK and theses transfers require appropriate safeguards. An example of this would be Microsoft Office 365 which uses data centres across the world.

Talk to your IT providers about data transfers

Do your IT providers transfer data in and out of the UK? If they do, you need to ask:

  1. What safeguards do they have in place?

You will then need to ask your IT providers to evidence the exact type of safeguards they have in place:

  1. Does the destination country have an ‘adequacy decision’ in place? An adequacy decision is a determination by the European Commission that the country in receipt of the data transfer offers an adequate level of data protection.
  2. If your software or cloud provider transfers data to or from the U.S.A does that provider participate in the EU-US Privacy Shield? Remember the U.S.A does not have an overarching adequacy decision in place.
  3. If your US-based provider is not covered by the Privacy Shield then you need to check your contractual terms and conditions to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place.

As an IT provider we are most interested in the impact of Brexit on the availability of IT hardware and on where our customers’ data is stored. Ensuring our customers’ data is safe and secure and that we can supply the equipment they require to operate is pivotal for us.

If you need advice on keeping your IT systems safe and compliant, call a professional now on 02392007850.

Westlake advises businesses to review their PC Infrastructure well in advance of this deadline to understand if they are impacted.

Chris Apperley explains, “Some businesses may be able to upgrade their Windows 7 PCs to Windows 10, but only if they are compatible and it comes at a cost. Alternatively, they will need to buy a new device. As the majority of machines running Windows 7 will be greater than 5 years old, this is a good opportunity to refresh ageing hardware too.”

While businesses can continue to install and use Windows 7 after the End of Support deadline, they will no longer be protected by security updates and therefore will be more susceptible to security breaches and viruses. Just one device running an unpatched version of Windows 7 on a network could open up other machines to security breaches.

Chris Apperley adds, “When you have a network with lots of machines all connected to it, viruses can spread quickly and easily. One unpatched machine could cause issues for your whole business if it became compromised so the risks of retaining Windows 7 machines post end of support are considerable.”

Westlake IT urge businesses to review their PCs and network infrastructure and plan accordingly. Should a business need to purchase new devices it’s important to be able to manage that process cost effectively and to minimise disruption. Another important consideration will be the impact Brexit may have on the PC supply chain. Businesses should factor in the potential for increased costs, low stock availability and increased waiting times post 29 March.

To speak to an IT professional call us now on 02392 007850.

Westlake is advising businesses to review their existing server infrastructure in advance of Microsoft’s End of Support deadlines and, if they are impacted, to put plans in place to either migrate their on-premise servers to Azure or, if they are eligible, to purchase Microsoft’s Extended Security Updates.

Chris Apperley explains, “Doing nothing is not an option as once Microsoft withdraws support for these servers, they will no longer be protected by patches and security updates which may expose businesses to compliance and security risks.”

Microsoft are offering a number of options to businesses so they can continue to operate securely:

One option is to migrate 2008 and 2008 R2 to Azure Virtual Machine and benefit from free Extended Security Updates for both SQL Server and Windows Server 2008 and R2 2008 for three years after the deadline.

Another option is to move to Azure SQL Database Managed Instance which will provide access to continuous security updates, as this is a fully managed solution. Eligible customers can use the Azure Hybrid Benefit (available to customers with active Software Assurance or Server Subscriptions) to obtain discounts on the license of Azure Virtual Machines or Azure SQL Database Managed Instance.

The final option is for businesses to purchase Extended Security Updates for on-premise servers. Businesses are eligible if they have active Software Assurance or Subscription licenses for their servers. Extended Security Updates can be purchased annually for three years after the End of Support date.

Chris Apperley concludes, “We urge businesses to contact their IT partner or work with their internal IT department to put the right plans in place for you. The trend is now very much towards cloud computing as the costs associated with purchasing, licensing and maintaining a physical on-premise server are very high compared to moving to a monthly subscription model for your IT services. That being said every business is different and it’s important that your business needs drive your IT strategy.”

To speak to an IT professional call us now on 02392 007850.

On 29 March 2019, the UK is scheduled to formally leave the EU and the final agreement on the terms and conditions of the UK’s withdrawal will need to be agreed by that date or the UK will potentially face a No-deal exit. On 15 January MPs voted decisively to reject Teresa May’s Brexit deal and the UK continues to live in an era of political and economic uncertainty.

Now more than ever, it is, therefore,  extremely difficult to predict what might happen, and the impact Brexit, and in particular the very real possibility of a no-deal Brexit, will have on businesses. The uncertainty that remains around our trade agreements and regulatory frameworks means that we are urging businesses to prepare for reduced stock levels, longer ordering timeframes and potentially increased costs. 

In addition to time delays, there is also the potential for price increases. While the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Information Technology Agreement promotes zero tariffs on all IT products, the UK can’t sign up to it while we’re a part of the EU. This means that should tariffs be imposed on imported IT products those costs will be passed on. 

Due to continuing levels of uncertainty we are advising businesses to review their IT infrastructure and identify any PCs or Network items such as Firewalls, that may need replacing in advance of 29 March. 

Chris Apperley, MD commented, “We’ve already communicated with our customers offering them a free Asset Audit, detailing the age and operating integrity of their Hardware infrastructure so they can make an informed decision about replacements or upgrades. We urge all businesses to do the same.”

To talk to an IT expert, call Westlake IT today on 02392007850. We’re happy to help.