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Archive for June, 2012

Who’s Your “Bridge” to the Cloud?

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As I dive more and more into cloud solutions, specifically Microsoft Office 365, I keep hearing the same comment: “I tried but I couldn’t figure it out”, “I don’t understand the terminology”, etc.  I don’t think this has to do with anyone not being smart enough to figure it out; I think that cloud companies give the impression that it takes a few simple clicks and you’re done.  It’s just that easy!  I can almost visualize Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, in an Office 365 infomercial: “Come on folks, click here, then click manage DNS and add your TXT record and you are done. It’s just that easy folks!”

I have a client who easily setup Google Apps for Business for his small business, but the company has no idea how to use it or what they could even use it for.  Another client of mine tried to setup up Office 365, but was stumped on how to transfer his domain.  In my opinion, both Google and MS have missed the mark.

I believe most everything we do will be in the cloud within the next few years.  According to Wikipedia, Cloud computing refers to the delivery of computing and storage capacity as a service to a heterogeneous community of end-recipients. Think about what you already do that is cloud-based, Gmail, Dropbox, iCloud, Netflix, etc.

The tech industry has been pushing cloud and the benefits, including security and access from any Internet-connected device.  More and more companies are accepting the cloud technologies and are starting to embrace the technology, but are getting stumped when trying to set it up or use it. All this does is cause frustration and these same people will look at other “easier” solutions.

Cloud solution providers should provide both resources and incentives to enable qualified professionals to step in and be that “bridge” between the consumer and the solution.  Users should actively seek out a qualified resource to assist them in moving to the cloud so they get the most out of the service they are paying for.  This “Bridge” should be able to describe, setup and configure the service, allowing the business to focus on themselves, and the cloud partner to focus on providing great solutions.  In the past few weeks, I have had 40 hours of free Microsoft Office 365 training to help me assist small business transitioning to the Cloud. I think Microsoft realizes that it is not “Just that Easy!”, and that it takes time and knowledge that not everyone has.

Points to consider when moving to a cloud service:

  1. Is the service the right one for your company?
  2. Are you getting the features you need?
  3. Are you paying for features you don’t need?
  4. Can you implement it without pulling your hair out?
  5. Can the service integrate or replace you current on-premise solution?

Bringing in a qualified IT Professional or “bridge” can make the transition to the cloud much easier and ensure you and your company are getting the services you need, not just what you were sold.  The “bridge” can also help your company easily transition to the new environment.  Yes, there is a cost, but (ideally) after it is all up and running, you may never need your professional unless you need help for advanced functionality.  Which brings up another good point: have you ever tried to call Google to ask for help?  Can you even find a phone number? Your “Bridge” should be trained to give you the help you need when you need it.

Take advantage of these awesome cloud solutions, and if you need help to reach the clouds, a “Bridge” can support your transition to the connectivity of the future.

ISP Routers and How to Bypass Them

In a recent blog post, I documented how hard it was to have my clients ISP detail the instructions to “bridge” the ISPs provided router.  Life before when ISPs started providing router hardware was so much easier.  We controlled everything on the network and the ISP provided nothing but the connection. The ISPs started to provide their own hardware to make our lives “easier”.  They could look after things for us.  What they did not tell you was that they could now access your router.  Yes, they probably aren’t going to do anything except reset your password for you when you forget it, but in principal, it’s like giving your house keys to your neighbour: all you can do is hope they don’t come into your house and poke around in your stuff, but the possibly is always there.

There are several other reasons to use your own equipment besides just keeping the ISP out, including having more control over your network traffic, configuration for specific VPN connections, parental filtering and just using overall better hardware.  Personally, I don’t want my ISP to access their equipment in my home, so I am finally going to add a new router (with the functionality and control I want) into my home network.  I require parental controls and guest network access, which are not options on my ISP-provided equipment.

In order to use your own equipment, your ISP router/modem will have to be put into what is called Bridge Mode.  Bridge Mode enables traffic to pass through without restriction, allowing the equipment you supplied to control your data to your needs.  Depending on your ISP and equipment, this may not be an obvious setting.  Some ISPs would prefer that you don’t use equipment other than theirs.  Refer to the user manual or contact your ISP for assistance on how to do this.

My ISP-supplied router has a setting which easily allows me to turn on Bridge Mode.  This may not be the case with your equipment.  If you are unsure of how to change from Router to Bridge, contact your ISP or IT Professional.  If Rogers is your ISP, I have documented how to change to Bridge Mode in this article.

Bell Cisco Bridge

Enabling Bridge Mode allows all traffic to pass seamlessly to my router and I can fully control how it is handled.

Typical network layout for 2 routers. This could apply to your home or small office.

Don’t get me wrong, using the equipment supplied by your ISP is fine for your home and office, as long as you take some precautions:

  1. Change the router username and password
  2. Disable all unnecessary services and ports
  3. Change the Wi-Fi username and password
  4. Ensure the Wi-Fi encryption setting is set to at least WPA.

For more information on router security please see the article How to Secure your Router.

Also be aware that most ISPs will not support your connection if you are not using their hardware.  If you do require assistance you may need to set your router back to its original settings.  Also note that if your router is reset, all your settings will have to be re-configured.  It’s a good idea to either backup your settings (if possible) or write the settings down.

Enjoy taking control of your data and knowing you have made it one step harder for someone to access your network.

As with any changes on your network, please use best practises to safeguard your data. If you are unsure of how to secure your equipment, please contact your qualified IT Professional for assistance.

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