3 Strategies to Help Your Business Get Smarter
Today’s business can get smarter and run more efficiently using technology.
If you truly want to run your business effectively, it all starts with understanding how its costs break down. If you are armed with this knowledge, you can make better decisions about solution procurement and operations management. Let’s examine how you can cut costs without harming your business in the process.
Outsourcing Can Help
Outsourcing is often misunderstood, but it is an incredibly powerful tool to control your costs and improve operations. If you take part of your business that is costly to run normally, then outsource it to a provider, you get more stable costs and expertise that you might not normally be able to leverage.
Businesses have all sorts of outsourcing options these days, including gig workers or managed service providers. You can outsource help desks for support, or you can outsource recruitment and payroll. The sky’s the limit, so to speak; if you can imagine it, you can probably outsource it, provided you find an appropriate vendor.
Data Allows for Better Decision-Making
The more data your business has, the more tools and resources it has at its disposal to enable better decision-making. You can look at data to learn about what has worked well in the past, what could work well in the future, and what needs to be addressed immediately. Data is key to the many types of initiatives you might have planned for the future.
Data analytics can give your business key insights into how it can be more efficient with sales, marketing, operational processes, and so on. It can help you build better consumer experiences and customer relationships, something which can increase revenue and give you more resources to work with in the future.
Keep Flexibility in Mind
You can provide greater value to your employees by keeping flexibility at the top of your mind. This means giving them tools to communicate and be productive whether they are in the office or on the move, and thanks to cloud-based resources and solutions, you can do this easily and efficiently.
Another way you can innovate and keep things flexible is through the use of artificial intelligence technology. An AI chatbot, for example, can free up employees for other tasks, focusing instead on tasks that generate revenue.
Point North Networks can help your business be more cost-effective and productive at the same time. To learn more, reach out to us at 651-234-0895.
Digital Data is Amazing, Part 2
Last time, we broke down how much data is stored in a typical book, and how much data every book in the Library of Congress contains. This time, let’s really show you what that data consists of, and some other really neat comparisons to put things into perspective. Buckle up!
A Piece of Data is a Bit, but What Is a Bit, Really?
Last time, we mentioned that data is composed of ones and zeroes, called bits. There are 7 bits in an English character, and 8 bits in a byte. Why do we break down bits by simple ones and zeroes?
Throughout most of the last 70 years, and technically even before that, we’ve stored digital information in a very simple, easy-to-comprehend way. Imagine a row of 7 lights. Any single light can either be lit up, or dark. There is no in-between. A one, or a zero. Depending on which lights are lit and which lights are dark, gives you a different character. It could be a number, it could be a letter, or it could be a symbol. Now multiply that row of 7 lights thousands, or millions, or billions of times, and you’ll have a massive array of lights that can convey large quantities of data.
For the last 70 years, most of our data storage has used this concept, mostly by using magnets.
Inside the traditional mechanical hard drive are multiple spinning platters. To the common eye, they look sort of like CDs stacked on top of each other. They spin incredibly fast, usually at 72,000 RPM. On these platters are billions of tiny little magnets. There’s a little arm that floats just over top of the platter as it spins, and it reads and manipulates the magnets as you read and write data to the drive.
The sensitivity of this device is absolutely incredible. Imagine taking a single human eyelash, and holding it in the palm of your hand. Your hand wouldn’t even recognize its weight, right? If we were to cut that eyelash into 100 little pieces, and place one of those pieces on the arm of a hard drive, it would dramatically bend it. This arm is designed to detect forces billions of times smaller than that.
Kinda makes you realize the importance of data backup, right?
This miraculous little marvel of engineering has been the cornerstone of data storage in every single computer over the last several decades.
More recently, modern computers have started using Solid State Drives (SSDs) which store data as an electrical charge in tiny little transistors. These drives don’t rely on mechanical movement or magnets, which is much better for mobile devices as it uses less electricity and can survive being jostled around much more in your pocket compared to a mechanical drive.
Either way, these devices contain billions or trillions of pieces of information.
How Much Data Can I Hold in My Hand?
Last time, we came up with the amount of data of all of the books in the U.S. Library of Congress. It was about 51 Terabytes based on our estimates. We said that, right now, you can’t really hold that much data in a mobile device. You could, however, hold that much data in the palm of your hand.
Take a look at the image above for this blog post. That’s a Micro SD card. Many digital cameras, smartphones, and other mobile devices use them to store data. At the time of writing this blog, you can purchase a Micro SD card that stores 1 Terabyte of information in a form factor that is about the size of your own thumbnail. 1 Terabyte could hold just under a 50th of the entire Library of Congress.
One of these tiny little cards can hold about a million books.
Dozens of these little Micro SD cards can fit into the palm of your hand—you could easily keep hundreds of them in your pockets.
If you weren’t the reading type, you could use your 1 Terabyte Micro SD card to hold:
- 200,000 songs
- 250 full-length movies in full HD
- 5 million pages of PDF documents
- 250,000 photos taken with a 12 megapixel camera
- Essentially every video game from the 80s and 90s.
- Or you could store 10,000 copies of Windows 95 and Microsoft Office 95.
How Much Data Has Humanity Produced?
As of the end of 2020, the entire digital footprint of all of humanity is 44 zettabytes. That would require 44 billion of those 1 TB Micro SD cards. By the end of this year, that number will have doubled. By 2025, it’s estimated that our digital footprint will be higher than 200 zettabytes.
We produce a massive amount of data. With more than 62 percent of the world population on social media, and 300 billion emails sent every day, information is constantly being moved around.
Every single minute, 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. That equates to approximately one of those 1 TB Micro SD cards every minute.
Data is Critical To Your Business
Every day, your business generates data. Your staff sends and receives emails, produces documents, updates and stores customer information, and so much more. That data is fundamental to keeping your business operating smoothly.
That’s why data backup is so important. It’s so easy to lose all of your data. Ensuring that your data is properly backed up will ensure that you can continue operations in the event of a mistake, hardware failure, or major disaster.
If you want to discuss properly backing up your organization’s data, give us a call at 651-234-0895.
Digital Data is Amazing, Part 1
Do you ever think about how incredible technology is? In a world where it’s easy to take advantage of technology and devices that were practically inconceivable just a few short decades ago, it’s really amazing to just look at how far we’ve come, and how something so small can fit so much information.
Breaking Down What Data Actually Is
Let’s go back to before there were modern computers and smartphones. The prominent form of data storage throughout the centuries has been the book.
A typical novel has somewhere between 60,000 and 110,000 words (unless you are reading something by Brandon Sanderson—his novels tend to be three or four times that).
How much data is that though? If you want to parse this down into smaller numbers, we can look at one of the most common forms of bite-sized information on the planet, the text message.
A text message has a maximum length of 160 characters. You can usually squeeze 1-3 sentences into that on average. Characters in the English language are 7-bits. A bit is represented by a 1 or a 0. The letter “A” is translated to 01000001, and “B” is 01000010. We’ll get back to this shortly.
A text message can contain a maximum of 160 characters, or 1120 bits (1120 ones and zeroes). There are 8 bits in a byte, which means a text message is 140 bytes.
There are 1,000,000 bytes in 1 Megabyte. Figure that the average word is around five characters, so a novel could have somewhere between 300,000 and 550,000 characters
Take 550,000 characters and multiply that by 7 (the number of bits in a character) and then divide the result by 8 (the number of bits in a byte) and you’ll get 481,250 bytes, or 0.48125 Megabytes.
That means a book on the larger side of things is technically around half a Megabyte of information. Once you add some of the hidden meta information, the cover, and some other data, a typical ebook sits around 1 Megabyte. If there are illustrations or images, then there is a lot more to calculate, so we’ll just assume that we are dealing with text for this thought experiment.
How Much Data Does a Library Hold?
Many books are much larger than the average novel, considering that there are textbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries, massive reference books, and a lot of other larger format texts out there. Plus, it’s easier to work with round numbers, so let’s just assume that on average, a book rounds out to about 1 Megabyte.
A typical library tends to hold somewhere between 5,000 and 500,000 books. The world’s biggest libraries tend to put their book counts in the millions. The US Library of Congress holds more than 51 million books, and 75 million manuscripts, plus millions and millions of other items.
Let’s assume those 51 million books are all text. How much data would that actually be?
51 million Megabytes is 51 thousand Gigabytes, which translates to 51 Terabytes. It’s pretty common to buy 1 or 2 Terabyte drives for a home PC, so if you were conservative about your data, you could easily fit the entire Library of Congress book library in a pretty small office with 25 or so computers. Of course, you could just put multiple 2 TB drives into your workstations and store the entire Library of Congress on fewer machines too, or build a media server with an array of high-capacity drives… you get the idea.
We’re not quite to the point where a mobile device can hold that much information, but we’re getting there.
Keep in mind, this is just assuming we are taking the text. If instead, you wanted to scan every single page as a grey-scale image, you would be looking at an average size of around 8 Megabytes per book, so it would take about 408 Terabytes to store the Library of Congress. At that point, you’d be looking at a large rack-mounted device or a very small section of a data center.
How Much Data Does Your Organization Produce?
We’re going to make this a two-part blog since there is still a lot more to talk about! Next time, we’ll break down how much data human beings have ever produced, how much data you can fit into the palm of your hand, and more! Be sure to subscribe and bookmark our blog and keep coming back for more!
Hundreds of Applications Could Potentially Expose Data Through Basic Errors
At the beginning of September, it was revealed that a relatively simple issue existed in nearly 2,000 mobile applications that potentially exposed some (read: a lot of) sensitive data. Let’s take a brief, basic look at the situation to see if there are any lessons that can apply to your business.
Trust us, there will be.
In Essence, the Issue is One of Access Permissions
Let’s go over how these apps generally work.
Naturally, the apps that you use on your phone aren’t fully hosted on your device. Instead, they are commonly hosted in cloud services. In theory, the application you install effectively just contains hardcoded access credentials that allow you to access the data or the service that the application provides.
Notice that we said, in theory. Research conducted by Broadcom’s Symantec Threat Hunter team revealed that these purportedly single-purpose logins were able to access all of the files that a cloud service contained—including company data, backups of databases, and system controls.
Worse, if multiple apps included the same publicly available software development kits (SDKs) or were created by a single company, these login credentials could potentially grant access to numerous applications, exposing the infrastructure and user data of each.
So, let’s say that an attacker happened to obtain these access tokens. With the situation being the way it is, that would give the attacker access to all of the applications—and more critically, the user data these applications contain—that the access tokens granted access to.
Between the Android and iOS platforms, researchers found almost 2,000 applications that had their credentials hard-coded to Amazon Web Services—three-quarters of those granting access to private cloud services (and half of those granting access to private files), with about half containing access tokens found in completely unrelated applications.
So, What Does This Have to Do With Your Business?
Let me ask you something: who in your business could potentially access your payroll information, your employees’ private information, or all the financial data you’ve collected from your clientele and workforce alike?
This idea that certain information is accessible by those who shouldn’t have access to it is the crux of the issue. You need to ensure that your data and files are only accessible to those who need them for their work responsibilities. This is known as the principle of least privilege—basically, all access and information are distributed on a need-to-know basis, based on the responsibilities of the individual users.
In short, much like these applications should have been doing, you need to ensure that access to this data is locked down. We can help.
Give us a call at 651-234-0895 to learn more about how we can help you.
What You Need to Know to Get Through a Data Disaster
A disaster recovery plan is a strategy that allows a business to return to normal after a disruption of some type. Some data disasters are brought on by outside attacks, some are the result of a natural disaster or environmental issue, and some are simply a return to normal after an internal problem interferes with business operations. Today, we’ll take a look at a few things you need to know about disaster recovery to help you mitigate the negative effects of a data disaster.
In IT, disaster recovery is focused on the safeguarding of data and information systems, but for the business it is a wholesale strategy that protects a business’ ability to function after it has dealt with an often avoidable issue. With companies now dealing with much more data than ever before, as well as customers who don’t respond positively to data breaches or downtime, having a comprehensive disaster recovery platform in place is essential to getting through tough situations that may affect your business. Let’s take a look at three things you need to know to properly manage your disaster recovery plan.
Planning is Imperative
The first misconception that most people have about disaster recovery is that it is a massively complex strategy that has a lot of moving parts that need to be handled before you can go on business-as-usual. This isn’t the case. For most smaller businesses, it could simply be a strategy highlighted by a comprehensive data backup and recovery plan. As organizations get larger, however, more detail will be necessary about how to recover systems, applications, and working conditions.
Regardless of what type of organization you run, you need to understand that if you are enacting your disaster recovery plan, there are some serious issues that are affecting your business and you need to confront them head-on. Planning out scenarios can help your team be ready to do what needs to be done to get your business back up and running fast after a disaster. You will need to know how your backup system works, who is in charge of the different parts of your DR platform, and set a responsible recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) to pinpoint how far back your recovery needs to go to get stable applications and data back and how much time you have to get that done.
Test Your DR
One of the biggest problems organizations have with their disaster recovery platform is that they haven’t tested it. In fact, nearly a quarter of businesses have never tested their disaster recovery plan. Failure to test opens up a litany of issues, including the DR platform falling on its face and leaving your organization clutching at straws. You don’t have to test the platform monthly, or even quarterly, but ensuring that your DR platform is tested at least once a year can help you avoid a lot of would-be headaches.
Since testing your DR strategy can disrupt your business and cut into productivity, some business leaders won’t want you to do it. It’s this reason that IT administrators have to push back and ensure that the system is tested at least once annually. Any time you test any system, you will inevitably find problems with it. It stands to reason that your DR strategy will have some issues, but every test provides an opportunity to fix problems. As a result, updating the DR plan with lessons you’ve learned during testing will be invaluable if the real thing needs to be enacted.
The Human Element
You may think of your disaster recovery strategy as an IT issue, but your entire DR platform is handled by humans. A comprehensive DR strategy has to include contingencies for employees. For instance, if your business’ location is compromised for whatever reason, do you have the ability to get them access to company data they need to do their jobs?
Take the COVID-19 pandemic for instance. Not many businesses had “global pandemic” on a list of their DR contingencies and it cost many organizations greatly. With governments handing down shelter-in-place mandates in the early part of the pandemic, many businesses had to invest a lot of capital, often capital they didn’t have, to ensure that their businesses could continue. Regardless of what you do with your technology, businesses are mostly human endeavors and ensuring that your policies cover eventualities like work-from-home strategies can make all the difference between being profitable and closing up shop.
Don’t get caught in-between. If you would like to have a conversation about business continuity or disaster recovery with our IT experts at Point North Networks, Inc., reach out to us today at 651-234-0895.
A Basic Understanding of Informatics
Many professionals see the word “informatics” and think of one of two things. First, what the heck is it? Second, isn’t that just computer science? While the two certainly are similar and often used interchangeably, they are quite different. Let’s take a deeper dive and see what the field of informatics entails, how it can be applied to computer science and business, and why it’s important to consider for your organization.
Pinning down informatics is a bit of a tricky one, as it is most commonly used when referring to healthcare. In regards to medical informatics, Merriam-Webster defines it as “the collection, classification, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of recorded knowledge.” Now, we know what you’re thinking. Wouldn’t that definition be applicable in just about any other context? Well, you’re not the first one to think of this definition in a fluid manner.
The definition of informatics has shifted throughout the years to reflect this more abstract line of thought. Generally speaking, informatics can be referred to as the study of any system, artificial or natural, and how it shares or processes information of some sort. If we zoom out a bit with our definition, you can see how informatics can be applied in many different ways, whether we are discussing natural systems in the biological world (like neuroscience or the study of the brain), or computing systems (like computers or algorithms). By now it should be clear why it is so commonly used synonymously with computing, but what are some of its applications?
Informatics in Computing
In the case of computing, you can boil informatics down to the way that data is shared across either your internal network or across multiple networks (like the Internet). Data is spread out across your network, collected, classified, stored, retrieved, and distributed to workstations as applicable. This happens on a micro level on a day-to-day basis, but the scale and scope at which this happens is very flexible.
One of the best examples for how informatics can be applied to computing is through the use of big data. Traditionally, big data as a term refers to a large mass of data that is too expansive to analyze with traditional data analysis tools but can be used for the purposes of interpretation and extrapolation. Thus, businesses can learn a lot by analyzing their big data; they might even be able to identify trends that can be leveraged for growth in the coming years.
How Can Your Business Benefit?
Too often businesses sit on a treasure trove of data that can be analyzed, extrapolated, and applied to various operations or business functions. Point North Networks, Inc., can help equip your organization with the tools to take full advantage of its data, from storage to dissemination. To learn more about how we can help your business, reach out to us at 651-234-0895.