Tuesday, October 20, 2015

UCG VAULT400 BaaS Clients Have it ALL!

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You can’t say your data protection is complete until you have a disaster recovery plan that is itself complete and tested.


Consider these best practices when evaluating data backup, DR, and cyber security options:

  • Reliability. Up to 71% of restores from tape contain failures. Best Practice: Use disk-to-disk technology for backups. With disk-to-disk technology, your backup data resides on disk drives, proven to be far more reliable than tapes. When your backup completes, you know the data is secure and accessible on the disk drive. With tapes you never really know if your data is usable until you try to restore it, at which point it’s too late
  • Breadth of Offering. Choice in product and service offerings meet your business’ needs. Best Practice: Don’t settle for less than what you need. Vendor offerings vary widely. Some are designed primarily for consumers and others for enterprise data centers. Choose a solution that scales (see scalability below), and offers the features you need to provide the level of service you expect. De-duplication and delta-block technologies will improve performance, reduce your data footprint and save you money. Find out if their de-duplication offering is at the file level or the block level. Make sure the solution can back up servers, PCs, and laptops as well your applications.
  • Security. 60% of organizations using tapes don’t encrypt their backups. Best Practice: End-to-end encryption with no “back door.” Using encryption with tape makes backups run slowly and often takes too long to fit within a backup window. As a result, most people simply turn encryption off, creating a security risk. Even with the physical safety of disk-to-disk backup, encryption is essential. Look for 256-bit AES. Find a solution that encrypts your data during transmission and storage. Make certain there isn’t a “back door” that would let someone else view your data.
  • Cyber Security. More than 80 percent of U.S. companies have been successfully hacked, according to a recent Duke University/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook Survey. Best Practice: Regular cyber security training and phishing tests for all employees using company email are essential to your organization. Your end-users are the weak link in your network security. Today, your employees are frequently exposed to advanced phishing attacks. Trend Micro reported that 91% of successful data breaches started with a spear-phishing attack. Be sure your vendor of choice includes cyber security training as part of their backup and DR package.
  • Accessibility. Companies waste thousands of hours waiting on tapes. Best Practice: Ensure that you can get your data back with minimal delay. You should have direct access to your backups, with no time spent on physical transport (no trucks, no warehouses). Your restores should take minutes, not hours or days. Set yourself up to work with your data, not wait for it. Make sure your solution provider can meet your Return-to-Operations (RTO) and Recovery Point Objectives (RPO) which determine how quickly you can recover your data and maintain business continuity. Inquire about onsite and offsite replication that provide both improved performance and a solid disaster recovery strategy.
  • Scalability. Some backup systems can’t scale readily. Best Practice: Invest in a data protection architecture that can grow with your business. You should be able to back up your data no matter how large it grows. Starting small? Look for an option that handles your backups automatically. Then, as you grow, gives you tools to manage complex environments. Look for “changes-only” and compression technologies to speed backups and save space. And insist on bandwidth throttling to balance traffic and ensure network availability for your other business applications. Make sure that their solution offerings rely on common technology to scale easily as your business––and data––grow.
  • Cost-effectiveness.  Companies lose an average of $84,000 for every hour of lost activity. Best Practice: Calculate the true total cost of tape-based back up. When you do the math, the dollars make sense: Go with disk-to-disk. Unlike tape, there are close to zero handling costs—no rush deliveries, loading, accessing, locating, or repeated steps. And there’s one benefit you can’t factor directly: Reputation. Reliability and security can make an incalculable difference with just one avoided breach or failure. 
  • Compliance. Most companies have problems satisfying privacy, security, and data retention regulations. Best Practice: Choose a data protection partner who has deep know-how about compliance, and the technology to ensure it.
  • Disaster Recovery. Most companies lack a comprehensive, tested plan for disasters. Best Practice: Find a vendor that delivers a complete DR solution. You can’t say your data protection is complete until you have a disaster recovery plan that is itself complete and tested. Your backup vendor should have both the product mix and professional services team to help you prepare for a worst-case scenario. Make sure they can help configure your backups so you rebound quickly. Best bet: A vendor who can train you to deal with disasters confidently, based on your company’s actual configuration.
  • Ease-of-Use. Some companies don’t —or can’t—manage their backups from one place. Best Practice: Get control and reporting you can use anywhere, with ease. Managing your backup environment should be simple, and the software you use should eliminate any guesswork that could lead to lost data. You should know at all times if your data is protected across your entire network—including remote offices—by simply looking at a dashboard. The software should be simple to configure using wizards, yet powerful enough to meet your specific needs with customizable views, job propagation, and roles-based security.
  • Operating System and Platform Support. Most backup vendors support a limited range of OS, server types, and applications. Best Practice: Look for broad and deep technology that supports your complete environment. Your backup solution should accommodate your environment, not vice versa. Demand a single solution to protect your laptops, desktops, and servers regardless of the platform and applications they’re running. Beyond the broad claims, check the fine print, and the level of protection offered for applications such as Exchange. For example, can they restore individual mail messages or contacts, and can they support Exchange running on a Microsoft Cluster?
  • Customer Support. Backup vendors’ product support varies widely. Best Practice: Find a vendor whose support is passionate, maybe even slightly obsessed. Customer support should be one of your vendor’s main selling points. You shouldn’t have to wonder if they’ll be there to help when you need them most. Do they offer phone support or email only, and who exactly are you talking to when you call that 800 number? Find a vendor that will treat your data as if it were their own.
  • Reputation. Does your backup vendor have a quality reputation and the financial resources to stay in business for the long haul? Best Practice: Find a vendor with strong financial backing and customer references. There are a lot of vendors that have come and gone. When you consider a service provider, look for one that has strong financial backing, a solid business plan and the ability to be in business as long as your data needs to be stored. Ask for customer references and case studies as their customers are the best validation you can get.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Nine States with the Most Dangerous Weather

Despite a historically slow start to tornado season in 2015, more than 400 tornadoes were reported in May alone, roughly double the average in recent years. May was also the second most active tornado month since 1950. While some states are more susceptible to violent weather than others, all states could be struck by a natural disaster at any time.

Using data from the National Weather Service (NWS), 24/7 Wall St. reviewed weather-related fatalities from 2010 through 2014. Nationally, 2,950 people died from natural disasters over that time, or fewer than two people per million residents in each of the five years reviewed. In Alabama, 12 people died per one million residents over that time, the most of any state. These are the states with the most dangerous weather.

Tornadoes are some of the most fatal natural disasters. From 2010 through
2014, twisters killed 723 people nationally, or 25% of all weather-related deaths. Oklahoma, the state with the seventh most weather-related fatalities, lies in the heart of Tornado Alley, which runs north from Texas to North Dakota and is the most active tornado region in the world. At least 57 Oklahomans died from tornadoes from 2010 through 2014, 49 of them in 2013 alone.

States outside of Tornado Alley are also susceptible to twisters. Alabama, the state with by far the most weather-related fatalities over the period reviewed, was hit in 2011 with 62 tornadoes in a single day, killing 250 people and causing roughly $3 billion in insured losses. This was the second most costly tornado in U.S. history.

Extreme temperatures — both hot and cold — are another major contributor to weather-related fatalities across the country. Nationally, nearly 600 people died from heat stroke over the five-year period reviewed. Nevada, the majority of which is covered in desert, accounted for a substantial share of heat-related deaths across the country.

Flooding can also cause many fatalities. Flooding particularly impacts northern states such as Wyoming and Montana, where warmer spring temperatures can cause snow to melt faster and overrun riverbanks and levees. Heavy rainfall can also cause floods.

In addition to being deadly, natural disasters are also responsible for billions of dollars in crop and property damage each year. From 2010 through 2014, severe weather resulted in more than $93 billion of damage, the bulk of which was to properties.

In each year from 2010 through 2014, fewer than 600 people died as a result of severe weather. Often, a single, extremely deadly storm can have an outsized effect on a state’s weather-related fatality rate. This was likely the case in Tennessee and Mississippi, which were each hit hard by a single storm over that time, despite having relatively few weather-related deaths during most of the period.

To determine the states with the most dangerous weather, 24/7 Wall St. compiled data from the National Weather Service on total weather-related fatalities for each year from 2010 through 2014. Because many of the numbers are small and susceptible to large fluctuations, our rank is based on the annual average number of weather-related deaths over the five-year period reviewed. Using population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, we calculated severe weather fatalities per 1 million residents. Also from the National Weather Service we reviewed the total value of damage caused by natural disasters, as well as breakdowns of the kind of weather responsible for the death: extreme temperature, flooding, lightening, tornados, wind, and winter storms.

Do you live in one of the nine most dangerous weather states? 
Find out by downloading the PDF:

 Nine states with the most dangerous weather.  

Source: Alexander Kent, 24/7 Wall Street

Thursday, October 08, 2015

UCG Associate Success Story: Michael D. Powall, VP

As UCG approaches its 28-year anniversary in December, we’ve taken a look back at the people who helped shape and grow the company, and have gotten to know them through a series of interviews titled UCG Alumni Success Stories.

In this article, we are switching gears to highlight our longtime associate, Mike Powall. Many of you know Mike and have worked closely with him over the years. If you've not yet met, we are pleased to introduce Michael D. Powall, Vice President of UCG. Mike has been with the company since July 1993 when he was hired as a Systems Consultant. Twenty-two years later, he remains a major contributor to the success and growth of UCG.

A little background.

This story begins with two friends from Wickliffe, Ohio who went their separate ways after high school. Mike Powall went to Bluffton University, while Jim Kandrac attended Cleveland State University. Jim graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor’s degree in marketing; Mike graduated in 1986 with a Bachelors degree in Business.

In 1987 at 26 years old, Jim founded United Computer Group, Inc. Before long, this startup technology company began to take shape. As it gained momentum, Jim needed help and began to build his team. At the time, Mike was working for a UCG competitor, and he and Jim reunited while competing for a deal! Jim was impressed by Mike’s competitive spirit, extensive computer sales and leasing experience, can-do attitude, and admirable work ethic. Jim knew he would be a great fit and offered him an opportunity.

Fast-forward twenty-two years.

“Mike is truly a thoroughbred racehorse. He wins the short sprints and has always been it it for the long haul. He is dedicated to UCG and handles authority and his responsibilities like a true gentleman. Mike can be counted on 100% and has been a true friend and valued business associate for over 22 years.” 
                                                                                       - Jim Kandrac

                                                   Mike Powall

“I have truly been blessed to be part of the UCG team for the past 22 years. The company and I have grown tremendously throughout my tenure. It would not have happened without the support of Jim Kandrac. Jim has provided me with the tools and environment required to thrive and succeed.”

Mike Powall, VP UCG

Mike, where were you working prior to joining UCG, and what type of work were you doing?

I worked for five years with Leasing Dynamics Inc. in Cleveland, Ohio. I was responsible for leasing and selling IBM Systems Hardware and Software.

Can you describe how everything came together back in 1993 when you began discussions and joined Jim at UCG?

Jim and I actually became reacquainted competing against each other on a large System deal with a local Cleveland company. It was a very intense and challenging transaction with many players. Jim observed the way I competed and frequently asked if I would like to work for him. As fate would have it, after the deal was complete I ended up joining UCG. 

What was it like to work for UCG in those early years when the company was just six years old, but beginning to grow?

I had to start over in the business which was not easy. I was fortunate to have a great support staff at UCG plus valuable experience that was gained at Leasing Dynamics, thanks to my cousin Bob Delaney who introduced me to the successful Cleveland Company. With that great combination I was able to hit the ground running.

Please tell me about some of the responsibilities and tasks you were involved with initially as a Systems Consultant, and how your role evolved over the years.

I started out consulting and selling in specific accounts locally and in the surrounding Ohio states. I started small, selling computer peripheral products to my accounts. Eventually that led to Installation and sales of large systems.

And some of your greatest challenges?

The toughest challenge when I first came to UCG was starting over. I was not able to call on existing customers because of a non-compete agreement. With a lot of faith, the support of my wife, and hard work I was able to succeed.

What skills and experiences would an individual need to enter and excel in your specific industry?

A college education, hard work, and humility.

What do you envision for the company over the next five years?

I see our company continuing to grow. Since we began offering our VAULT 400 cloud backup and disaster recovery solution many years ago, we have proven that we can grow exponentially while adding resources as required.

What person/people, living or dead, do you admire most, and why?

I admire my Mother and Father the most because they brought me into this world. They provided me the personality, faith and work ethic to succeed in all facets of life.

Last but not least, can you share some of your most memorable moments at UCG over the past 22 years?

My most memorable moments at UCG happen with every transaction we complete with a new or existing client. It thrills me to offer a service, a system, software, or a solution that helps their company, and in turn helps UCG and enables me provide a very nice lifestyle for my family.

"I grew up 
in Wickliffe, Ohio in a family of nine; my parents, four brothers and two sisters. 

Without a clear objective yet in mind, I went to Lakeland Community College after graduating from Wickliffe High School in 1981. While working at my Father’s bar (Sonny’s Side of the Street), I graduated with an Associate degree in Applied Business and a Minor in Communications. I realized I still desired a higher education and wanted to play college football at any level.

After visiting multiple colleges in Ohio, I chose Bluffton College (now Bluffton University). I played football in my Junior and Senior year on a successful NAIA Division II football team. I credit the university, the football program, and the Head Coach, Carlin Carpenter, for believing in me and giving me a wonderful experience and most importantly, a quality faith-based education.

I reside in Highland Heights, Ohio with my beautiful wife Connie and my three children, Jake, Danielle and Hannah. Without them my life would not be complete
.” – Mike Powall

Learn more about Mike Powall and Jim Kandrac.

Interview conducted by Francine Ciaccia, MoMo Companies Ltd.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Keeping Ransomware Out of the VAULT

by Alex Woodie, IT Jungle

Cyber-criminals are increasingly targeting small and midsize American businesses with ransomware that encrypts the contents of a PC or a server until the victim pays $500, $1,000, or more in untraceable Bitcoin. After several of United Computer Group's VAULT400 customers were hit with ransomware scams, the company decided to team up with the security training company KnowBe4 to teach VAULT400 customers how to avoid falling victim to a ransomware scam.

A ransomware epidemic is spreading across the country, impacting organizations of all shapes and sizes. "Never before in the history of human kind have people across the world been subjected to extortion on a massive scale as they are today," the security software company Symantec says in its recent whitepaper on ransomware.

UCG chief executive Jim Kandrac tells IT Jungle that several VAULT400 customers succumbed to ransomware attacks recently--mostly by clicking on malicious emails sent as part of a spear phishing attack. The compromises didn't involve the IBM i servers or data. Instead, the attacks resulted in the hard drives of Windows PCs and servers being encrypted.

While UCG could have helped the customers by recovering their data from backups stored by VAULT400 (the company backs up up data from Windows servers and other platforms too), most of the victims choose to pay the ransom rather than recover their data. According to Kandrac, the problem comes down to lost time, which is lost money in the business world.

"We can wipe their system and restore the data, but it takes a bit of time--two to three days if they don't have high availability," Kandrac says. "The other thing is, they can pay the ransomware, but if they don't have a Bitcoin account, that can take up to three days to set up."

Kandrac was hesitant at first to get involved. "This isn't our marketplace," he said. "This isn't what we do. But more and more it affected us, and we genuinely felt bad because we've got the data protected, but these guys are getting hit."

The FBI shut down a big CryptoLocker server last year but other ransomware scams remain.

So UCG turned to KnowBe4, a Tampa, Florida, company that specializes in training employees how to identify and not fall victim to the various cyber-scams circulating on the Net. Today, all VAULT400 customers get access to KnowBe4's ransomware awareness training for 25 to 50 users as part of the base subscription.  

Read full article in IT Jungle.

Sign up for a Free Phishing SecurityTest at ucgrp.com/KB4

Related blog post: UCG Partners with Leading Cyber Security Firm KnowBe4