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

MacOS is changing with BigSur. Not only does the OS X era really end at 10.15 as we are introduced to BigSur (11.0) around late September, but the fundamentals of the operating system will change too. But why is this important to me, you ask?

Well as your average Mac user, as soon as Apple press the big red “Go Live” button on BigSur, you will see little red icon appear on your system preferences, as well as a nice little banner on both your notifications and App Store telling you to upgrade now to the future with MacOS BigSur. Believe me, I understand the excitement of a new update! And with all of this the temptation, it will be really easy to simply press the button and see what the future holds.

However the reason for writing this article is to implore you to wait…. BigSur will be the start of what ushers in the ARM based Mac era. However, with this a number of your current business applications will have to be altered or may not even work at all, this is the big unknown with a change of this magnitude. While Apple and 3rd Parties can try their best to work together to ensure functionality there is an inherent risk that, at launch, a number of your key applications won’t work as expected.

This apprehension is born from initial findings and decisions by Apple to change the way that the OS functions, the biggest impact will be seen to 3rd Party Security software or Anti-viruses. As they will no longer be able to directly talk in the way they have previously to the Mac, this means for many vendors a rush to produce a whole new Antivirus solution that works on the new MacOS BigSur.

So our advice is simple, HOLD OFF! 

I know we usually recommend to keep all devices up to date, but please don’t rush to upgrade your device this time. If you use it for work in anyway you are going to want to stay on the latest secure update of 10.15 MacOS Catalina for a while. We intend to notify our customers and followers once we have been able to establish that it is in fact now a safe time to migrate. This will be in the form of another blog just like this so keep your eyes peeled.

I 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

Planet IT scoop Sophos UK Mid-market partner of the year for second year running

Planet IT has won the UK Mid-Market Sophos Partner of the Year Award, again.

The Milton Park, Oxford, based IT services company retained its crown at the Sophos Partner Conference in Manchester. The award recognises Planet IT’s client delivery, advisory service, expertise and commitment to offering customers next-generation network and endpoint protection.

The annual conference celebrates the successes of Sophos partners throughout the UK. Sophos, which has its HQ in Abingdon, Oxford, is a world leading cyber-security software company.

Sean Smith, director at Planet IT said: “Planet IT provides a best-in-class service to our clients and we ensure we always offer the most up to date and relevant IT consultancy advice. This award is testament to the dedication and delivery of our fantastic team, and we are very proud to a long-standing Sophos partner. Our partnership with Sophos enables us to provide our clients with the very best support and products on the market.”

Gavin Jones, director at Planet IT said: “To have won UK Mid-Market Sophos Partner of the Year for the second year in a row is a great achievement. We are proud to have worked closely with Sophos for more than a decade and achieved Platinum Partner status. A key part of our success has been our team and technical engineers undergoing Sophos training to gain an in-depth knowledge of the products and become fully accredited. It has enabled us to provide expert advice to our clients daily.”

At the 2019 Discover conference members of the Sophos executive leadership team delivered keynote sessions on Sophos strategy, its partner commitments and the broader future of the IT security industry in front of more than 150 attendees.

Ensure you have email continuity during a Microsoft Office 365 outage

The recent issues with Microsoft Office 365 served as a timely reminder that no system, no matter how robust, is susceptible to failures and downtime.

In this case Microsoft suffered a networking issues in one of its data centres which in turn caused some users to suffer restricted or no access to the platform. This scaled from no access to e-mail through to complete access denial while Microsoft worked to restore the services.

This highlighted for many organisations how critical these systems have become to every day functionality and how a small amount of downtime can have catastrophic effect of the overall function of the business, operationally and financially.

With more and more organisations making the move across to Office 365 it is now critical that we look at how best to enable an organisation to protect itself from such downtime windows and how operational continuity can be maintained.

Office 365 is built on a robust and diverse data centre and DR arrangement, but at the core of it the technology is open to failure, just like any other platform. Because of this companies like Mimecast, Sophos Central and Barracuda have introduced companion cloud applications which integrate with Office 365 to provide a level of protection that cannot be offered by a single vendor solution.

In terms of e-mail protection, the above-mentioned platforms use a system of continuity which allows mail to continue following in and out and staff to continue operating as normal while Office 365 is out of action. This would prevent any risk to the financial and operational stability of the organisation. We saw this come into its own during the downtime last week, while some of our Microsoft 365 customers who choose not to purchase these platforms where offline when Microsoft suffered the outage, the customers who had the platforms continued to work.

Can your organisation risk the impact of downtime that a failure on the Microsoft Office 365 platform would cause? If not give one of our Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery specialists a call today.

The importance of IT budgeting in education

In recent years budgets in education have been getting tighter and more strained, leading to serious challenges for IT managers in the sector.

The issue has impacted on most education establishments, from primary through to higher education, with some suffering budget cuts by as much as 80% and capital investment being frozen. I have experienced this process first hand through my time as an IT manager in the education sector and am alert to the dangers. By making the right decisions in the beginning and planning carefully future costs can be managed and minimised effectively.

For many education establishments Information Technology, especially infrastructure feels like a never-ending pit they throw money into, with IT managers and IT staff constantly demanding additional funding to support the infrastructure they have or to strive to improve it. As a senior manager, senior leader, head teacher, finance director or bursar it is hard to comprehend why IT is so expensive and why equipment needs replacing so frequently.

 

Education is not unique in these challenges but in many other organisations IT is seen as the most critical component of the business after the staff and without it many business know they would simply not exist. Whereas, in education other priorities take precedence not least the education of the students. However, education inherently faces a challenge that many businesses don’t, with the outside world evolving and technology changing the way we operate across the board education establishments must adapt and evolve to include these technologies into teaching and learning, where any other business can wait for a strong business need to change.

This is compounded by the constant battle that is the solution is never finished, you could upgrade all your servers tomorrow to meet your needs of today, but as soon as this is complete you are going to stretch the resources you have and further down the line be forced to invest again to update your purchase for your new challenges. We see many educational establishments doing this on a bi-yearly basis, only looking at the next 12 months and the demands on the system now, rather than creating a robust five-year plan. In most cases this is due to budgetary pressures. An investment of £10,000 is easier to get signed off than an investment of £30,000 based on it lasting 5 years. But this may result in having to spend £10,000 every year for four years and when you reach year five you will likely need to start again.

 

On their other hand there are an increasing number of educational establishments which have not invested for many years. We are seeing organisations approach us who have not invested in infrastructure for 10 years and are now feeling major pains; as the problems with the slow outdated system they have not only affects the business’s operations but impacts on the educational experience and overall teaching and learning. Not investing in your infrastructure on an annual basis will see you hit with a much larger bill when you must invest, be that due to incompatibility, additional consultancy costs or the sheer volume of work that is required to bring your organisation up to date.

 

The opposite side of the coin to the lack of investment is an organisation which has just completed an upgrade in the last 12 months and as such has now removed capital spending on IT for 5 years. This can result in just the same effects as not investing at all, as the lack of committed funding will result in shocks to the business when in year 5 you need to invest heavily to refresh your infrastructure and don’t have the capital or the will in your senior management to spend on it, because you haven’t done so for the previous years.

Two other areas I have seen have a drastic impact on an organisations ability to budget properly is where decisions are made to ‘cut corners’ on software licensing and hardware purchasing. This can be as simple as removing upgrade and support from your software or hardware purchase. Many software vendors as of 2018 have started including current release only support meaning if your product is out of date and needs updating you won’t be able to get ad-hoc support from them. If you have opted to not purchase software updates with your product you can suddenly find yourself facing a ‘buy back’ cost where a vendor will charge you anywhere up to 100% of the cost of the upgrades for the time you choose not to purchase them. This can mean to resolve simple issues you could end up being fronted with a c£1,000 bill just to pay for software upgrades you chose not to take. The same risk applies to hardware, for organisations that cut corners by purchasing refurbished, end of life or reconditioned hardware to achieve an initial saving face a large outlay midway through the products life as it fails, falls out of support or is not up to the task you require of it.

 

With all of the above in mind there are some simple solutions from my experience I can offer to help you not only forecast the costs of your IT to ensure you can budget to maintain it but to also make smart savings where at all possible.

 

Solutions:

Road Map

Have a clearly defined IT plan. If you take the time to look at all your systems, including end of life dates and usage, alongside your organisation’s growth and development plans, you can forecast an estimate of when each system will need upgrading and replacing and budget effectively. At Planet IT we will complete this for all our managed service customers and can work with you to help build the road-map. With our teams’ years of experience will can advise on the right products, current trends and genuine costs to ensure you make the right investments.

Solutions

One area educational establishments can save on their IT budgets is by making smart investments. Looking at hardware vendors, software vendors and technology trends to pick a solution with is not only future proof but will see the right solution placed into your infrastructure. We can support you with this, we can bring vendors to you, who will pitch their solutions and then allow you to make the right choice.

Fixed Costs

By assessing your current environment, you can make a sensible budget to cover the software or hardware you know you must maintain. This becomes critical when looking at licensing for software such as Microsoft or Adobe who offer annual commitments which do increase year on year, if you’re not careful you can under budget for these changes and thus end the year with an IT budget deficit before any other costs have been incurred.

Investment

The most critical aspect of IT investment and budget management in education is looking to lock in capital investment for IT every year. If you can dedicate a sizeable amount of your capital spend to IT, then you will never be left in a situation where a system needs replacing and you don’t have the cash. In many situations after doing this for 3-5 years you will start to see a decrease in the capital required by the IT budget as the constant investment will keep IT systems healthy and supporting your needs.

Do you need some more advice? Would you like to speak to one of our education specialists who can assist your establishment in making smart IT investments and maximising your IT budget? Then call us today on 01235 433 900.

James Dell works as Planet IT’s lead IT advisor to educational organisations. He previously worked in IT in education for 10 years for 4 different organisations, as a dedicated safe guarding lead and IT Manager.

How to improve Office 365 security on your mobile phone

Since launching in 2011 Microsoft Office 365 has become the pinnacle of cloud services. At Planet IT we are seeing 70% of Microsoft licence renewals moving to Office 365 and nearly all new customers entering straight onto the platform. The scalability of the platform provides flexibility and diversity in the ways it enables you and your business workforce to operate. But this comes at a cost: security.

Users now allow data to exist on devices we would never have previously considered allowing it to reside on, prior to the mass shifts towards a more dynamic workforce. The biggest and every growing IT security risk area is e-mail. Thanks to the ease of connectivity that Office 365 provides people are connecting multiple devices, which invariably run on different software platforms, accessing e-mail via different applications. They all feature different security settings, known vulnerabilities and inherent risks and the more devices used the greater the risk.

For example, users using either iOS or Android devices and the built-in mail client, can download to their device all the data that is held on the corporate system. From a compliance point of view this is a nightmare. If, say, the HR Manager of a company had synced all their e-mail history to their phone and they leave it on a train, potentially all the e-mails could be hacked. Even if the data is not taken, they would still have ‘lost’ the data and must report it to the ICO under the requirements of GDPR. At this point they would have lost complete control of the data on the device.

With different versions of Android comes different security levels and authentication methods, this again begins to open the void in security measures as you look from device to device. Without any form of uniformity across platforms, devices and applications your base risk level increases massively and positions your business is a risky position.

Our recommendation to all our Office 365 customers and anyone who is using the platform is make the move as an organisation to using Microsoft Outlook Mobile application. It can be downloaded from the App Store in iOS or the Play Store on Android. The application is specially designed to protect you and your data with features built in to the system like; secondary authentication, containerisation and encryption.

These features put a natural break between the native device and your data, providing the extra layer of protection your data needs. The application is specifically designed with protecting e-mail on mobile devices in mind, removing the risks and offering a familiar interface for all of us who use Microsoft Outlook or Office 365 Outlook web app daily. The application mirrors nearly all the other features you see in Outlook on your desktop really enabling it to act as a productivity tool rather than being another obstacle to efficient working.

Not on Office 365 or interested in finding out more? Call Planet IT today and speak to one of our Microsoft Office 365 experts who can help guide you.

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