Three Square Market offers microchips to employees

Three Square Market (32M) has received a lot of press this week over their decision to offer microchips to their employees. This takes wearable tech to a new extreme and it has its share of supporters and naysayers.  The microchip is available to all employees and their use is on a completely voluntary basis and is not a condition of employment.  They are the first US based company to offer microchips and they anticipate around 50 employees to take advantage of this starting August 1, 2017.  The microchips are smaller than a grain of rice and are FDA approved for use as an implant.  For employees that want the chip but do not want it as an implant, the microchip can be placed inside a custom bracelet or ring. The microchip will allow employees to take advantage of RFID and NFC technology and use it to unlock doors, login to machines and also make purchases in the company’s break room.  (32M has the micro markets they sell in their breakroom).  The company promises that they are not using the microchips to track locations and they have no GPS capabilities.  32M has ensured they take privacy and security very seriously and state the microchips are not a risk for being hacked.

32M began exploring the idea of microchips after meeting with one of their operators overseas at BioHax International.  Their CEO, Todd Westby had this to say about the technology:

“We foresee the use of RFID technology to drive everything from making purchases in our office break room market, opening doors, use of copy machines, logging into our office computers, unlocking phones, sharing business cards, storing medical/health information, and used as payment at other RFID terminals.  Eventually, this technology will become standardized allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, all purchasing opportunities, etc.”

The microchip implant is stirring up a bit of controversy as some people find it to be an invasion of privacy and aren’t comfortable with a company issued microchip that tracks and records actions performed throughout your day.  If the thought of having a microchip implanted stirs up dystopian Sci-Fi concerns, there are plenty of other options that can keep you connected and hands-free. Wearable tech has come a long way in the last few years and we’re well beyond items that are nothing more than a sleek looking pedometer. Even most fitness trackers on the market today are capable of some push notifications. However, if you’re looking for a more complete package, a well-equipped smartwatch, like the Apple Watch or the Samsung Gear will keep you on top of all your notifications. Both the Apple and Samsung options are enabled with their own proprietary mobile pay applications.  The latest generations come with speakers so you can take calls without having to reach for your phone.  Taking things a bit further, the Samsung Gear S3 can be used as a standalone phone if you add the LTE feature with your mobile phone carrier and the Apple Watch 2 can make calls without a nearby phone over Wi-Fi. Built in fitness trackers and GPS enabled means for a small device they pack a lot of punch and can be customized to fit the preferences of each unique user.

Again, microchip technology may not be the solution for your company but wearable tech will continue to be a trend in both the tech field and for workplaces.  According to Gartner, the number of employees that will require wearable tech as a condition of employment (as opposed to the voluntary microchip program offered by 32M) will increase to two million.  While it may seem extreme to require a wearable device as a condition of employment, it is largely impacted by industry and is mostly comprised of high risk, physically demanding jobs.  This can be a big benefit to anyone working in law enforcement, fire safety, field workers, paramedics and more.  With their employer able to monitor stress levels and heart rate, they are able to dispatch additional help when needed.  BP, in particular, is one of the larger corporations investing in R&D for proprietary wearables appropriate for the environmental conditions their employees are exposed to.  Safety is a top priority and by being able to screen the environmental conditions along with the individual’s physical condition, it could allow them to respond in a more proactive nature and mitigate some of the risks involved with working in an oil field.

Wearable tech is a great way to fuse technology, efficiency and wellness both at home and on the job.   Standalone fitness trackers can nudge you to get up and moving after long periods of sitting.  New to the market are devices aimed at checking your spinal alignment (Lumo Lift and Upright Go) can help provide relief by keeping the user’s posture in check while working.  This could be a high tech way to help employers comply with OSHA’s Ergonomic Program Standards and could possibly help or prevent musculoskeletal disorders that can develop from siting for long periods in awkward positions.  Wellness incentive programs paired with fitness trackers have proven to be an effective way to see increases in productivity, individual happiness and lower health care costs.

Training will be another area where wearables will have an impact.  Advances in VR headsets are proving they can be an effective training tool in academic, military and business environments. It’s cost effective and can be easily scaled to fit the size of the training session needed.  Walmart plans on adopting VR training and by the end of 2017 they will use VR to train all their associates making it one of the largest VR training deployments to date.

One thing for certain is that companies have plenty of wearable tech options to choose from.  As the wearable tech market grows reframing your definition of tech equipment to include wearables provided by the company has the potential to increase productivity and offer new benefits to your staff.   Midwest IT can help you identify which options best suit your needs and budget, reach out to us today to set up an appointment to review your needs.

Microsoft Windows 10: We’re Here To Help

As of July 29, 2015, Microsoft launched Windows 10 for PCs and tablets, which is a free upgrade to Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users.  According to Microsoft, Windows 10’s features include:

 

  • Cortana: A personal digital assistant tool that learns individual preferences to provide users with recommendations and access to information. In addition to voice commands, you can use Cortana to set reminders and add calendar events.

 

  • Microsoft Edge: A new, customized browser that offers content and results based on individual interests and preferences. It features a text-only reader mode, annotation tool, and Cortana integration.

 

  • Windows Hello, Microsoft Passport, and Windows Defender for anti-malware and spyware protection.

 

So how can we help with all of this?  Partnering with an MSP can maximize usage, and smooth out your transition to Windows 10.  The most important benefit is to make sure the network and operating system is ready for Windows 10.  The personal touch and customer service of a Managed Service Provider can facilitate that transition and give you peace of mind when it comes to not only transitioning your operating systems, but also your employees.

 

What We Can Do:

 

  • MSPs can help you stay organized and ahead of the game by letting us, the experts, control the computer and network aspects of your business.

 

  • System compatibility. Are the PCs in your office ready for Windows 10? Having an MSP proactively monitor and maintain the network will aid in making sure your system is ready to be upgraded.  Regular network assessments will also prepare you for not only Windows 10, but other technological transitions you may have.

 

  • Questions or Concerns. MSPs can showcase their Windows expertise, and customer service, by answering customers’ questions and concerns about Windows 10.

 

In conclusion, having an MSP on your side during this transition is beneficial for your business as it allows you to focus on your business critical functions that help you grow.  Let us, the experts, help you get organized and prepared to prevent downtime and confusion for you or your fellow employees.

Cloud Computing: The MSP Advantage

It’s no secret that cloud computing is the future of computer and network care for businesses worldwide.  “The cloud” eliminates the need to have physical servers and hardware in your office. Cloud computing focuses on maximizing the effectiveness of the company’s shared resources, as well as being effective in heightening companies’ day to day tasks with multiple users.  It is a highly efficient way to store your company’s data in one place at a flat monthly cost, as opposed to worrying about the large capital investment of new network equipment on a regular basis.

Cloud adoption and cloud-based file sharing are becoming increasingly popular among the general public, but can cause concern among CIOs. Unfortunately, IT organizations are having a hard time keeping up with large, public cloud providers.  According to an article from Business Cloud News, a recent survey conducted by Fruition Partners of 100 CIOs found that 84 percent believe cloud adoption reduces their organization’s control over IT.

About nine in ten believe unsanctioned use of public cloud services has created long-term security risks. This is troubling to CIOs because it can lead to possible information leaks or other data security breaches. In addition, 79 percent of CIOs believe that there are cloud services in use that their IT department is not aware of.  This reiterates the danger of losing grasp of the company’s technology while using a large cloud provider.

Partnering with a Managed Service Provider (MSP) can help prevent these worries from arising.  A proactive relationship with an MSP gives you the ability to aid in, or fully move, to a private cloud option.  It ensures that your company will be working with a partner that has experience with many cloud networks, therefore providing the highest level of support possible.  This is crucial when it comes to the transition of moving your company’s data and file sharing for all users within your company at an affordable cost, while at the same time, preventing downtime on the network.

In conclusion, the value of having an MSP on your side to aid in cloud based technologies for your business is second to none.  Small to midsize companies can focus on the core competencies of their business that make them money, while letting the experts control all business technology in the cloud.

Public Wifi

If you watch HBO’s Silicone Valley you may have seen how on the show they used WiFi Pineapples to hack into a tech conference’s WiFi and have their Pied Piper software collect the attendee data they needed.  Sure it’s only a TV show but WiFi Pineapples are real and super accessible (they cost about $100 a piece). Though it’s highly unlikely a massive tech conference would have such flimsy network security and other protocols in place, this is a good opening to talk to your staff about their real life public WiFi usage and data security.  In real life, it’s actually pretty common for hackers to take advantage of large scale public networks like the ones in, hotels and shopping malls. 

Public WiFi connections are readily available in most places today and they can make life so much easier.  But common doesn’t equate to secure and not all free WiFis are created equal. It’s actually very easy for a hacker to pick up your credentials just by being on the same network.  Of course the best protection can be just to avoid connecting to public WiFi completely and just use your phone’s data.  But if you don’t want to use data on your smartphone to connect or tether your PC to, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Gauge which connections available to you, airport or shopping mall WiFi connections are potentially more risky that your neighborhood coffee shop or small chain retailer.  Large or high traffic networks are also at more risk for hackers who use WiFi Pineapples to redirect them to their fake network.  Be wary when scanning for a connection and you see similar WiFi network names pop up.  If you’re device is ever connected to a pineapple they try and intercept your information.  You can prevent this by only using HTTPS pages since they can see everything you do when connected to HTTP. 
  • On top of using HTTPS, make sure you have SSL enabled for all applications that access the internet.
  • Always pick a connection that requires you to enter a password.  These types of connections will have at least a basic level of encryption.  On a totally open network, anyone can see everything you’re doing. 
  • Three letters: VPN.  With the FCC’s privacy rulings being recently overturned, VPNs should be used whenever possible, even while at home or in the office. 
  • Turn off file sharing and printer sharing.  If you have it turned on, you’re just making it that much easier for a hacker to slip in and look at your personal information or possibly plant some malware.   
  • Common sense, just use it.  Blogs, new sites, general browsing is fine.  Feel like doing some online shopping or banking? Forget it, just wait until your back in a trusted WiFi network. 
  • If you’re on a laptop, make sure your firewall is enabled.
  • Keep your antivirus and antimalware up to date on all devices. 

If you need help double checking any device settings, make sure you reach out to us for additional counsel. 

New Breakthrough in fiber optic creating opportunity for faster, more affordable Internet Speeds

New Breakthrough in fiber optic creating opportunity for faster, more affordable Internet Speeds

This article points to a study done recently that could drastically change the way we use the internet.  This should allow for a more balanced approach between Cloud and on premise solutions.  Right now the 5 year cost of a server replacement & maintenance are about half the cost of moving your server environment to an IaaS solution (Virtual Cloud based Servers).  Usually these solutions require an expensive Internet solution and even with the upgraded Internet, the performance is slower.  With faster, cheaper Internet, more people will start using the option.  When more people start using the Cloud Solution, providers will lower their pricing.  I suspect the pricing with start to noticeably drop, making the solution a more viable option.

 

Check it out <a href=”http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/06/28/fiber_bandwidth_breakthrough/”>Here</a>

Midwest IT asks: Why is Managed Services is the right answer for your network?

If you’re a traditional small to medium sized company, the idea of managed services provided by a vendor may seem an unlikely solution. But then how do you explain the trend toward outsourcing pieces of IT and in some cases, all of IT?

It has become obvious that some companies in the SMB market have nobody on staff that really knows or understands the technology they are using, even though they are running mission critical business applications.  Businesses end up spending money needlessly on things they do not fully understand.  Many times a break fix IT vendor may have a customer implement technologies that make more sense for them to sell($$$), than it does for your company to buy.  The other issue can be the “IT guy” that wants to use your business network to test cool new technologies. Either way, it is not smart spending. In some cases they have very skilled operations people, but they are ready to retire. Those soon-to-retire staffers understand their network environment well, however replacing these people is difficult. The MSP generally does not have a large financial interest in a solution that you are attempting to implement, which gives you an unbiased staff of professionals the assist your company in making smart IT decisions for your business.

In the world of MSP’s or Managed Service Providers, there is a flexibility that companies can benefit from. In most cases with an MSP, there is a general “Flat Rate” cost for your IT Services.  The best ones are able to package together their “best practices” and provide the client with a number to budget for their IT costs that allows them to stay close to their budget.  This is a major benefit to the customer, as they do not have all of the peaks in spending that comes with non-budgeted break/fix IT. With companies that are using break/fix, you gain an engineer/account manager that makes decisions in YOUR best interest. In the case of having an employee that is soon to retire, an MSP can implement tools to get the clients network onto an MSP platform, while allowing the current IT person to continue their day to day tasks.  Then, when the retirement happens, the customer’s network has a seamless transfer over.  The users have a new help desk to contact for issues, but the environment stays the same.  No large headaches or expenses.

In other cases, some companies are employing a full time IT person when they really do not need it.  I have seen companies with 25 to 50 users pay $60,000 – $100,000 for salaries + benefits. Sample MSP pricing would be  $40,000-$50,000 range for 25 users and 50 users would be $75,000-$85,000.  These numbers usually also include software the client is also paying for.  (Backups, spam filtering, offsite storage, etc)  This means that companies are paying $20,000 to $30,000 more to have someone onsite every year. Owners and managers of companies this size should really look at this.  With many of these companies, the owners or decision makers are made to believe that their network is “special” or more “complex” than most.  In a few rare cases, there is a justified reason for having someone on staff, however, most times, this is not the case.   Given that the MSP can provide a quality level of service, how much better would the company be doing investing that money back into their technology, instead of paying labor costs.

Business owners should at the very least do the research and see. Usually at no cost you can have an MSP come out and evaluate your current IT situation.

Ubiquiti Networks Receives $31.67 Average Target Price from Analysts

Midwest IT has been using Ubiquiti Networks hardware recently for things such as Wireless Access Points, Security Cameras, Point to Point Wireless, and POE Switches.  Their pricing to this point has been great and the equipment has held up to the standards that we expect.  The Security Cameras that they offer have been very nice.  The camera equipment is affordable and the interface is easy to manage and very powerful.  Look for future writings on their products soon!

 

Here is the article…

Ubiquiti Stock Analsys

Are “Zombie” servers draining your precious resources?

Have you ever heard that loud rumbling noise coming from your server room?  Is it your IT infrastructure hard at work helping you to increase profits or is the sound of the “zombie” server?  A zombie, or comatose, server is a physical server that is running but has no external communications or visibility and contributes no computer resources; essentially it consumes electricity but serves no useful purpose.  For something you have most likely never heard of; it is a big problem.  An estimated one in three servers in North America falls into the “undead” category.  Given those odds, chances are most businesses are running servers that are no longer doing anything relevant and could be decommissioned.  IT is not only at the center of your organization’s operations it is also a key line item in your budget.  You certainly do not want to cut corners when budgeting for your IT needs; but are you wasting your money on equipment that is giving you no value whatsoever?  Enter the nefarious “zombie” server.  According to the Wall Street Journal, estimates show upwards of 10,000,000 unused servers remain plugged in and drawing power.  The 4 Gigawatts of power consumed by these undead machines is equivalent to the “power from eight large power plants; power used by 3,200,000 households, roughly the number in New York City”.

But these zombies are not just a drain on your electric bill.  There are a myriad of other costs you must consider.  These include but are not limited to: cooling/heating, data center space if applicable, Network Ports, SAN Connections, Back Ups, Monitoring, Operating System licensing, Database Licensing, Maintenance agreements, Administration and support.  In fact, according to the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, the average cost to support a mid-tier server is $2,000 per year.

All business owners know that their IT needs change over time, as does their IT infrastructure.  With changes in IT, sometimes no one is really clear what the server does.  If an employee does know what a particular piece of equipment does and believe it can be decommissioned they often do not do so out of fear.  Fear of creating downtime, or interrupting something that may be relevant.  In reality, many servers can be re-purposed, licenses put back into the pool, and physical parts and storage space can be reclaimed.  The more servers you have, the more consolidation you’ve done, the more the risk that this is an issue in your organization!  Think about the efforts you go through to save a few hundred dollars here and there.  You cannot afford to continue to overlook this potential drain on your resources.  While you realize now that identification and eradication of zombies is important, even in a small business it could easily add up to many thousands of dollars.  But you do not have the time nor the expertise to go through and audit your servers, in search of zombies.  You need to get Midwest IT Solutions on your side.  As experts in the area of IT Cost Optimization we can not only identify where zombie servers are wasting your IT budget dollars; we can help you to strategically procure or negotiate your complex IT infrastructure needs.  Don’t let zombie servers feed on your wealth, contact Midwest IT Solutions today!