Digital Acceleration for businesses. Why 2020 was just the start

We all saw the scenes in March 2020 as lockdown across the U.K and most of Europe was announced. At a moment’s notice, businesses across the globe scrabbled to build vital communication and digital strategies that could support their business operations.

This for many included the mass roll out of new digital devices, communication tools, work place and data management tools and virtual telephony. At the time many businesses made these changes as a knee jerk reaction, simply to combat the “in the moment” problem. However, this dynamic shift in our approach to working, the working environment and our forms of communication has enabled leaders in business to accelerate IT strategies in a way they never would have been able to if 2020 had been “a normal year”. For many CIO, CTO’s and Technical Directors 2020 marked the beginning of a new chapter and the start of a very different IT landscape moving forward. 2021 is already beginning very much where last year left off we are seeing this continued trend of digital acceleration across the business landscape.

digital transformation Breaking through the red tape

Some businesses when asked about the effect of 2020 on their digital strategies have said they jumped through two years of red tape, internal approvals and cost benefit analysis in two days. This shows the systemic shift we saw almost overnight. This change has seen many business jump from traditional technologies (desktops / servers and onsite telephone systems) to cutting edge technologies emerging across the IT landscape with the likes of Public Cloud, Mix Media Devices and cloud telephony with unified communication.

This trend can easily be reflected in the numbers published by Microsoft in relation to the usage of their communication platform Microsoft Teams which jumped from 900 Million meetings held on the system per day in March 16th 2020 to 2.7 Billion per day by the end of March. That number is yet to drop and if anything will continue to rise as the pandemic runs in course and staff continue to be offered the flexibility of work space.

The Importance Of Being Ready

digital acceleration It is worth mentioning at this point for the business which unfortunately saw their trade days come to an end in 2020. Many had failed to adapt, grow and change before 2020 and where therefore unable to adapt in a way that enabled them to be flexible around the pandemic. For these business, the lack of development of IT systems lead to a perfect storm of spending requirements, insufficient time and a lack of business commitment to IT and digital development.

The importance all business must learn from the events of 2020 is that digital transformation in the modern age is imperative. A business without IT cannot function and the drive of CIO, CTO and Technical Directors has and will always remain in the development, expansion and overall success of a business. They above all others know how critical those systems are.

Unfortunately for many businesses, IT is often considered to be a “cost with little reward” which from last year we can see is ultimately the wrong way to approach the topic. IT is a business enabler and when used as such it can allow all business to overcome situations and circumstances which is never would otherwise be able to.

The right focus

As we move in 2021 with earnest, I am working with all of our customers to enable this continued business growth with the aim of removing the stigma around IT spending. The focus is on the benefits vs the cost rather than the costs vs doing nothing as was so clearly the case for many business in the years leading up to 2020.

If any business wants to strive and succeed in 2021 then the goal must be to continue the path of digital acceleration and put IT as a business focus for all. Remember, don’t just look at the short-term pains. It’s all about how we develop and implement strategies that protect businesses for many years to come.

If you want to discuss your business IT strategy or how Planet IT can help you to accelerate your growth using IT then please call 01235 433900 or you can reach out to me via DM or at james.dell@planet-it.net.

 

Technology that SHOULD shape your business in 2021

Tech business trends

While the world continues to turn day to day life upside down and “normal” is more of a relative word than ever before, I wanted to take this opportunity at the start of the year to look at the technology trends your business should be looking into and adopting in order to ensure that whatever the global or national situation, your business is safe secure and up to date.

Cloud Services

If 2020 didn’t already do this for your business you should be looking at moving services to the cloud, now this is bigger than just moving your email to Office 365 or G Suite. When we talk about cloud services in 2021 this is about moving as much of the infrastructure, it’s management and the associated risks away from your physical business location.

If we take a traditional office where you have your servers, storage, back-ups and user data onsite close to where your users where working, in 2021 this approach is illogical with staff working from home and in the office suddenly you have a single point of failure in your office environment as well as needing the equipment maintained , monitored and managed in a location which may be shut due to local restrictions.

With the move to Cloud services the aim is to push as many of these services to diverse, secure and robust providers which removes the inherent risks and reduces any downtime you might face. If done in the right way you can do this with the same level of latency that you would get in your office environment but accessible quickly for your users working from home.

With businesses that implemented cloud services in 2020, they saw an decrease in running costs of up to 50% and an increase in uptime and productivity up to 99.99% which is beyond what any onsite system can deliver and this is due to the scale and depth of the product line of some of the cloud services on the market.

work from home

The Human Firewall

The trends we saw in 2020 made it very clear that we need to invest as much time into training our staff to be safe and secure as we do into finding the right technology to support them. That is why in 2021 one of the key areas of development we believe all business should be looking at is the human firewall. By this we mean training your staff to know what is safe and is not safe in the digital world and how to prevent risks to the business.

We saw the effect that phishing can have on business with an increase of 667% in March last year when COVID first became a major issue for the U.K. and scammers took in their waves to try and use peoples vulnerabilities against the businesses they work for. These attacks continue today following trends of presenting vaccination options and emails about furlough schemes all designed to capture business information and defraud businesses.

Now with this there is no one size fits all approach but there is a logical approach which will prevent your business being open to risks that exist on your doorstep. If we can teach our staff in 2021 to stop, deal with and report these problems then we increase the ability of a business to be robust and secure and remove the guess work from the technology we need to ensure a business is safe, for me 2021 is the year of the Human Firewall.

human firewall

Zero Trust Networking

As we move to a more dynamic way of working, both now and post COVID, we need to think about how the new fleet of devices we operate as businesses are managed, controlled and protected. The physical borders of your office space are no longer 4 brick walls but unlimited by the connectivity we have in place. Because of this we need to look at how we secure and control our devices, users and data across such a wide spectrum of use cases.

Now this can start with the simple steps of Mobile Device Management, Cloud based anti-virus technology but very quickly we need to be thinking about virtual connections to datacentres, home broadband and wireless security and cloud access control.

This is why in 2021 I believe all businesses need to review their approach and look to embed a zero-trust approach into all aspects, and while some people will see this approach as intrusive and over the top, it has been proven time and time again to not be. You only have to look at the speed in which a home wireless network can be broken into to realise that you are not safe trusting peoples home set ups.

In conclusion 2021, like 2020, is going to be a very different year, with the cyber criminals and the threat landscape changing everyday. However as business owners, technical professionals or employees we need to switch our approach and ensure we are using these changes to make our business ready for this continually changing landscape as we move forward.

 

If you want to talk to one of our experts about how we can help you in 2021 then please call 01235 433900 or you can email enquires@planet-it.net or if you would like to speak to me directly you can reach out to me via DM or at james.dell@planet-it.net.

2020 – The Technology Winners & Losers

Technology Winners

We all know that 2020 has been a challenging year for businesses and it is no surprise to anyone at this point late in the year that the digital landscape is very different to what it was 12 months ago.

So today, rather than a simple review of the year, I am going to look at some of the technology winners and losers of 2020.

Winners

 

Microsoft Teams and Zoom

Well obviously, right?

These two companies have enjoyed a dramatic rise to relevance as businesses moved (were forced) to an all-digital approach this year.

The reason these two thrived where others struggled is what makes them winners: both platforms offered the services for free for most of this year as part of their COVID support packages. Because of this they now have thousands, or even millions of new customers who won’t leave them in 2021. Teams and Zoom are now critical to many organisations and are part of their business models moving forward.

Not only was this smart marketing by the companies it has allowed both parties to learn at speed about what features we all want from these tools, I think this is clear when you see the number of changes that Microsoft have made to Teams this year, it’s certainly not the clunky product we were trying in 2017 anymore!

Microsoft Teams

AMD

AMD came out the gates swinging this year and they certainly had no intention of holding back. With the Ryzen 3000 series they have cemented their return to relevance making their CPU’s affordable and, in nearly all cases, faster than those coming from Team Blue (Intel).

However, this year they would go on to show why the 7nM process is so important and why Intel still pushing an 10nM process was going to cause them issues, this came in the form of Ryzen 5000 series, which wiped Intel off the top spot in nearly every scenario, and it did so a month after Intel announced their “best processor yet”.

This position was made even stronger when AMD managed to get both Dell and HPE to add their AMD EYPC processor to their server ranges giving customers the choice when looking to buy new servers. This is not only a win for AMD but also for consumers and businesses. We now have a better variety to choose from and can finally start to move away from Intel’s dominance, where the price point or performance does not make sense.

 

Apple Silicon

Continuing on the theme of CPU’s, Apple closed the year off by showing us all what can happen when you own an end-to-end process with the release of the M1 processor and the new range or M1 Apple devices.

This product, born from the legacy of the A Series mobile chip found in iPhone and iPad, is Apple’s first desktop processor since the days of PowerPC (Let’s not talk about it!). The important thing about M1 is not only is it built on the 5nM process but is also mind-blowingly powerful for a CPU which seems to simply sip on power rather than drain your battery in minutes. This, of course, is in part due to the fact that Apple own the eco system and can simply optimise every single instruction set to be smarter by working the CPU with the OS in the exact way they want, but they still have to be considered winners for this…

Also, who doesn’t want to run iPad apps on their Mac?

Apple Silicone

Public Cloud

Another rise to relevancy this year came in the public cloud drive, as customers seeking a solution to closing their offices and working across the country and the globe looked to the once distrusted Public Cloud as a saviour.

I have long believed the future was public cloud and 2020 was maybe the wrong way to prove a point, but we have seen a dramatic uptake in public cloud services. A huge number of large business are moving across and an even larger number of companies are planning through 2021 to close their datacenters and server rooms and put their workloads with Microsoft, Amazon or Google instead.

This move has co-existed with the drive by the big three to make the platforms more affordable and reduce the work to onboard to the platforms. This is only going to continue now as we slowly move away from onsite systems.

 

Losers

 

Intel

Now I already mentioned the bad year Intel is having in passing when coming up against AMD, but this year has been an all-round kicking for team blue.

This year also marks the beginning of the end of the Intel based Mac, which while only a small part of their revenue is sure to shake the foundations of what they are doing with other system integrators and device creators – not least Microsoft, who this year pushed AMD surface devices ard ARM based Surface Pro X devices.

Intel is not having a good year, but they need to learn from that their dominance in the CPU sector was on legacy born from innovation. Since the launch of the Broadwell generation of the i3-7 line up they have slowed down sticking until this year with 14nM for nearly all of its processors and simply looking for ways to push the clock speed on the devices. Now this year we reach the point where pushing clock speed is of less and less benefit and in 2021 we know Intel are going back to the drawing board to try and refine the 10nM and move to a smaller die process.

Good luck in 2021 Intel, otherwise it’s going to be another Team Red year!

Intel

Apple iPhone

Now the iPhone isn’t a looser in 2020 just because I left and moved over to the Android side!

This device is a looser because it lost to a phone half its price in a photo shoot-out between the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the OnePlus 8T in a blind test run by MKBHD . Now, the importance of this test is massive as it shows that you don’t get perceivably better images by using an iPhone as Apple would have you believe,. It also shows consumers in a very tight financial year that you can get a great camera for less than half the price.

Will this change people’s minds about buying a new iPhone? Maybe not. But it hopefully will make Apple sit up and think as both the iPhone SE and 12 didn’t make it through the first stage of the process, showing that the issue may be with the way Apple handles the images and less about the quality of the camera. Either way the iPhone (13) or whatever it’s called needs to make improvements on this and be a big step forward for Apple in 2021 as their dominance is slipping and the Android market is out for their crown.

 

Onsite Infrastructure

The office has taken a bit of a beating in 2020. It’s becoming, for many businesses, a way to spend money for space you are not using,. This has caused a number of businesses to decide now is the time to change the way they interact with office space we have seen a massive increase in businesses looking to either move to co-location or into public cloud.

This has meant that the days of the larger projects for onsite deployments have slowed, so I think it’s fair to say 2020 has been a bad year for on-premises solutions but a great year for anything cloud!

 

There have been many more winners and a lot more losers than I could cover in this article, however I think the major take away for 2021 is that the IT landscape has changed far more in 2020 than in any year prior to it, as an IT professional I don’t expect business to slide back into old habits and things to switch back as we slowly return to more normal times.

Whatever 2021 brings I am excited to be at the forefront of matching our customers to the latest and greatest technical solutions.

Again, big changes coming with macOS Big Sur – be careful for now

macos big sur

macOS Big Sur is about to release to the public and as we have highlighted across several of our blog posts in the last few months, this brings large scale changes.

If you are running any of the following on your macOS device;

  • Antivirus or Antimalware software
  • Encryption Management software (File Vault Management)
  • Virtualization Applications
  • Dual Booting / Boot Camp
  • Containerized Applications

The we strongly recommend you hold off updating when the update is released, this follows several press statements from major software vendors like this one from Sophos. In which they detail the challenges of the short time frame and moving to Apples new API approach.

If you have any concerns of about your business software or upgrading we recommend that you speak to your Planet IT account manager who will be able to assist you with compatibility guides and information from the vendors specific to your business. If you’re not already a Planet IT client, then feel free to reach out to me directly on james.dell@planet-it.net

The landscape and support for macOS Big Sur WILL improve. We do not expect this to happen in the next few weeks but do expect most vendors to have support by the end of 2020.

To read more on this story you can see our previous blog posts on the subject here:

This might sound controversial, but resist that big MacOS update, for now!

macOS the big change with Big Sur

We know this goes against the usual advice you might hear from us or other IT experts, so in the meantime if you would like to discuss with myself or any of the highly skilled team here at Planet IT about how to keep your business operating, secure and safe in the changing world of the Mac you can reach us using the contact details below;

Contact me at – LinkedIn Message James Dell or Email : james.dell@planet-it.net

Talk to the rest of the team – Call 01235 433900 or Email : enquires@planet-it.net

The 6 Tech Trends of COVID-19

Since the start of lockdown in March, the business landscape has dramatically changed, the pull to virtual spaces, new technologies and accelerated upgrade plans. As an IT service provider we have been inundated with requests, projects and new developments, and it now seems the time to look at these changes and talk about the top trends that COVID-19 has brought upon the business world.

1) The office is dead. Long live the virtual space!

February this year feels like a long time ago and for most businesses it was unimaginable that less that 6 months later nearly all businesses would be working from home, with flexible working relying so much on virtual meeting technologies like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Cisco WebEx – and not to only operate but to socialise, keep in touch and continue to build that company ethos. For some businesses this was a challenge. For others they have adapted and grown with the change. One thing is certain for many senior managers and business owners however: the future looks like one where less people visit the office and more are working from home.

2) Do I really want my servers in my office?

With the trend of moving over to virtual spaces another question that has seen itself thrust into the forefront of IT management is server locales. Previously IT managers and senior management would strive to keep their data close to them, with spaces from corners of offices, cupboards and full-blown data center rooms being constructed, powered and cooled with-in businesses existing spaces. However, when the tables turned and staff where out of the office connecting back to critical data via VPN technology, it became very clear that this set up may not be optimum. As such we have seen a huge increase in business interest for private cloud datacenters like our PlanetCloud service, or customers looking at public cloud or even a hybrid solution. The main driver being to remove that single point of failure and connectivity and drive performance and the ability to work anywhere.

3) The device refresh is here and we need it now. 

Just as many businesses where not prepared for the move to virtual working, many where sitting on legacy IT equipment which was either due a refresh this year or the business was trying to extend into 2021, however with the need for equipment that can support your users while working at home it has become critical that they are working on fast, safe and secure devices. As such we have seen many business moving forward their device refreshes opting for Device as a Service offerings which allow them to spread the cost over the term of the product and turns CapEX into OpEX expenditure.

4) Cyber criminals don’t care about pandemics 

One thing this pandemic has taught us is that cyber criminals have no morals and they will use any situation to manipulate and scam you. This has never been more apparent. During this crisis phishing attacks have gone up 400% and all of these attacks in some way link back to COVID-19, either posing as HMRC, the WHO or informing you that you have COVID-19 and to ring a premium rate number. The level of villainy and lack of humanity these criminals have never ceases to amaze me and my colleagues in the cyber security world.

This also raises the question of how we protect against these attacks and the honest answer is training. No product will be 100% perfect every time but if you invest in your human firewall then you can overcome the ever changing threat of these criminals and protect your business.

5) Broadband is key, but why is my home wifi so slow? 

If like me you have been working from home while your family consume Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney + . You will have no doubt been dealing with slow connections, overload and sometimes even calls dropping out on Teams, Zoom etc. Well this is for a good reason, aside from the fact the whole broadband infrastructure has been heavily loaded, home broadband circuits are not designed with the same level of protected overhead as business lines. This is in part due to the contention ratios that are allowed on home circuits vs the guaranteed head room on business lines. With this we have seen a number of business purchasing broadband for their staff and having them put into their homes as dedicated business lines, the cost is low and the service is guaranteed. This allowing your family to stream away without effecting your meetings.

6) Board room procrastination has to stop, and businesses need to upgrade, adapt and move forward now. 

From experience I know that the boardroom is often where IT projects go to die. Long have the powers that be, procrastinated on an upgrade for it to never see the light of day. This was a common theme in businesses across the U.K with senior management favoring investments elsewhere to IT for their perceived value. In the last 4 months this has changed dramatically with the focus being more on IT now than ever before.

With companies choosing to invest now and heavily, knowing that it iss IT that has kept them operating over the last few months. Directors now realize that technology is critical to the business long term success. We have worked with a number of business who have revived, accelerated or even created IT projects that were previously on the long finger but now urgently brought into a 2020 timeframe on the request of the board.

With all of this said, it is important to remember the positives that we have gained from this experience and the level of transformation this has forced upon businesses, it is by no coincidence that many attribute COVID-19 as the biggest driver of change in their business over, IT managers, CTO and Technical Directors.

The reason for this is simple, businesses have been forced to adapt or disappear from the business world. The importance now is to ride the tsunami of change and not be washed away by it. If you continue to drive forward and innovate you won’t be left behind and you won’t be left vulnerable to cyber criminals and technology weakness that comes from standing still.

If you would like to discuss with myself or any of the 60 IT experts here at Planet IT about how you can better protect your business, should that be with new technology, strategies or even better backups, you can reach us using the contact details below;

Contact me at – LinkedIn Message James Dell or Email: james.dell@planet-it.net

Call 01235 433900 or Email: enquires@planet-it.net

4 Steps to the Perfect Backup Plan

Backup Plan

Today is World Backup Day, for many it’s a day to be celebrated, but for just as many, it’s a stark reminder of the dark omen that is an uncertain backup environment or plan.

We all know the basics of backup right? The things we all want to achieve

  • Retention
  • Redundancy
  • Recovery

I could happily go on for far longer than any of you would care to read on each of these topics! Today however, I want to talk about the practical elements of making sure your backups and overall disaster recovery plan are the best they can be. Starting with some basic questions.

  • Are you backing up your whole environment?
  • Are you running your backups daily?
  • Are your backups retained for the right amount of time?
  • Do you take backups off-site?
  • Are your backup sets fully automated?
  • Are your backup jobs encrypted?
  • If you have cloud resources (Office 365, Azure, AWS) are these backed up?
backup servers

In an ideal world, you would want each of the above to be a confident and resounding YES! However, this is not always the case – we often hear the ill-fated “I don’t know”.

So, what can we do to be certain on the above and confidently rest knowing our backups will be there for us should the worst occur?

Step 1 – Check the List 

Firstly, I would start by checking your infrastructure or approach your IT Team to get the answers to the above questions. Understand that if the answer to any of them is no, in this first step, it’s less important to know why, just to understand the position you are currently in. Once you’ve established that, let’s move on to step 2.

Step 2 – Check the Kit 

Once you have a firm understanding of your overall backup integrity, it’s time to push past the smoke and mirrors and figure out exactly what you are working with. Check your storage, check your software and make sure it isn’t letting you down. There are so many options available in today’s market, but a quick search of your products and the competition should help you understand if you need to make any changes.

Step 3 – Make your Plan

At this point, you’re either happily relishing in confidence… or you’re not.

If you’re not… bear with me, I promise, we’ve just ripped off the worst of the band-aids and from here… the only way is up. When making your plan, it’s important to work out what you need first, what you want second and then figure out the cost implications (if any) your business will need to work towards. Everyone loves a good deal (or better, a free deal!) but sometimes investment is required to ensure you have the right infrastructure for your plan. When making your plan, make sure you are referencing the list from Step 1 and work out the following:

  • How long do I want to keep my backups?
  • What is my off-site storage plan?
  • Do I have Cloud Resources that need to be backed up?
  • How efficient do I want my backups to be?
  • How long can I afford to be offline in the event of a disaster?
  • How much data can I afford to lose in the event of a disaster?

The answers to these questions will help you to understand how much storage you need, whether you need a cloud or second-site storage plan, if you need high performance equipment and your Recovery Point/Time Objectives. Know that even if the plan is loose, it’s more than you had at Step 1 and it will help you enormously when collaborating with your teams, suppliers and peers to achieve the best outcome.

Backup plan relax

Step 4 – Reach Out 

At this point, we’ve gone from scratching our heads, to having a clear understanding of the potential issues, a goal to aim for and a plan to get there. Now it’s time to reach out.

Speak to your team and your suppliers and get them on board with your plan. From this point forward, you’re taking control of your backup & disaster recovery plan. You’ve worked out what you want to achieve and you’re making it happen. That, or you were happy from Step 1 – either way, grab a coffee and your favourite lockdown biscuit, you’ve earned it!

Remember, if you ever have any questions, just ask. I, or one of the team here at Planet IT, are always happy to be used as a sounding board and can offer our expertise for your specific situation.

Similarly, check out our BDRaaS page for more information

Feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn or email me at michael.davey@planet-it.net.

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