Comparing Internal Vs. External Website Monitoring

Any business that relies on the power of its website knows that monitoring is often the difference between minimal downtime and an extended outage. Neither is good in today’s fast-paced marketplace, but the former is definitely preferable over the latter.

Website monitoring ensures that your site or application is running at peak performance by auditing connectivity, DNS records, bandwidth speeds, and load testing under various traffic conditions along with other important metrics. Monitoring is focused on keeping your site or application operating without interruption by detecting problems before they arise and addressing them quickly when they do.

Many of these services will also rate the efficiency of your site against others to track things like memory use, page load time, processing speeds, and so on, so your site is working just as quickly and effectively as possible. That’s one of the many reasons monitoring is important; it helps you maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Like any important decision involving the success of your enterprise, you have options that you’ll want to consider when selecting the right type of service for your particular needs. You have two choices, internal or external monitoring. Both will work hard to keep your site running properly 24/7, but each has distinct advantages that are well-suited for certain types of sites and server capabilities. Let’s take a look at the two different types that are available.

Internal Monitoring

This version is done from within your server. It runs inside your company firewall and offers real time updates of the strength and well-being of your system. The service tracks all of your pertinent metrics like memory usage, disk space, CPU load, page load times, and all related processes. It will let you know when you’re running out of available memory and monitor network traffic on your server.

One of the biggest advantages of internal monitoring is having a clear picture of the health of your system. The service can keep a running tally for all the statistics of your server’s performance, giving you the ability to look ahead and see the problems that might arise before they happen. These can include issues like needing to add extra disk capacity or run necessary maintenance protocols, so you can schedule that vital upkeep with enough early warning to your customers that there will be some short yet necessary downtime on your site. Being able to get ahead of things such as these are a smart way to operating a successful website.

There are some drawbacks however, the main one being the nature of an “internal” service. Everything contained in the software of your server is running together, so when the server goes down guess what happens to your monitoring capability? That’s right, you won’t know there’s an outage until you realize it yourself, which leaves you vulnerable to experiencing significant downtime during peak hours.

External Monitoring

Think of external monitoring as a safety net. This type of service is done outside of your corporate firewall and offers all of the same tracking capabilities of your memory, load times, usage, and so forth. In addition, external services can check a whole range of other areas such as the operational integrity of various ports along the network, URL content, response times and behavioral patterns.

Perhaps the most advantageous element of external monitoring over internal is the ability to keep working even when the server goes down. If a problem is detected, no matter how small or catastrophic, the service will continue to monitor the system and remain able to diagnose the reason for an interruption. Then it will contact you in whatever method you have arranged, text message, phone call, email, all of them if you like, and you’ll know the second when something has gone awry. That way you can get started on fixing the problem immediately and minimize your downtime as much as possible.

Some external monitors will even work to solve the issue for you, which can be a relief since the very service that has been made aware of the interruption is now on the job to eliminate it and get your server running at peak performance once again. This means peace of mind for you and less downtime for your business website.

Why Switching to the Cloud Can Improve Your Network Security

The cloud offers many advantages. Cloud service providers often handle the hassle of updating software, operating systems, and hardware. They also typically provide turnkey solutions for smaller shops ready to jump right into work that requires an IT infrastructure. One of the best advantages of using the cloud, though, is that it offers small-to-medium sized businesses a secure information systems environment.

Here’s why switching to the cloud can improve your network security.

Centralized Security Management

Consider this scenario: you have a mission-critical app that all of your employees use. It’s deployed to each of their workstations. Then, one day you read a report that there’s been a security threat discovered in the app. Fortunately, the company that produced the app also has a patch for it. You have to not only get that patch to your employees, but you also have to find some way to assure yourself that each of them correctly applied the patch.

That could be a logistical nightmare.

Now, consider the same scenario except that your employees access the app via the cloud. In that case, there’s really only one copy of the app and your cloud service provider centrally manages it. The service provider will handle the task of installing the security patch and your employees won’t have to do anything. In all likelihood, they won’t even know that a threat was detected.

That’s one distinct advantage of the cloud. It offers centralized control, making security updates much easier.

Cloud Service Providers Offer Excellent Security

Even if you have the space for a local IT infrastructure and can afford to buy the equipment necessary for an in-house solution, it’s not likely that you’ll match the security expertise of cloud service providers.

Simply put, cloud providers routinely immerse themselves in data security standards and make themselves aware of the most recent threats. They offer years of experience and unparalleled expertise in information systems security so that you can sleep peacefully at night knowing that you’re in good hands.

Less Threat From Unhappy Employees

Let’s face it. We live in a world where petty grievances are often settled in an unprofessional manner. Unfortunately it is not unheard of for disgruntled employees who know that their job is on the chopping block to act out. Even worse is when an employee doesn’t feel that he or she has been treated fairly and commits some type of industrial sabotage to mess up your business.

Fortunately, with a cloud solution, you can mitigate that risk. That’s because the hardware that someone would physically damage is in a remote location. If an angry employee tries to upload a virus, rest assured that the folks at your cloud service provider would notice that immediately. You’ll get a report about the employee’s actions and no damage will be done.

Many People Won’t Even Know Where Your Servers Are Located

In the event that somebody wants to physically gain access to one or more of your servers, it’s likely that the person wouldn’t even know where your servers are located. That’s because your servers would be offsite in a secure location. Heck, the servers might not even be located at the same address where you send your monthly payment to the cloud service provider. In other words, you might not even know where your servers are physically located.

Even if somebody with cruel intentions does know where your servers are located, that location could be hundreds of miles away from your business. That means the unscrupulous hacker will have to travel a very long distance just to find a way to even break into the building where your servers are located.

It’s not going to happen.

Cloud Service Providers Keep Everything Up to Date

Sometimes, older systems are more prone to an attack just because they’re older. The good news is that cloud service providers go out of their way to keep their hardware, virus protection, operating systems, and software up to date. As a result, they minimize the risk of an effective attack.

Some people think that public cloud solutions aren’t as secure as in-house solutions. However, the fact of the matter is that the right cloud service provider can offer your organization an exceptional level of security.

Will 2-Step Verification Make My System More Secure?

IT security is a growing field precisely because so many businesses lack suitable digital security. If news headlines are to be believed, no one is safe from the long arm of the hacking community. Even institutions that are supposed to employ the height of security (medical organizations, banks, and government entities, for example) have been subject to data breaches, and that’s just in the last year alone. What is the average business to do in light of such overwhelming odds? How can small and mid-size companies protect themselves from security breaches, data loss, and identity theft (not to mention the major fallout after a breach) when bigger, better-funded entities can’t fend off hackers?

In truth, there is no shortage of steps businesses can take to protect themselves and their clients from data theft. Simple steps like installing appropriate firewalls and encryption programs are a good start, as is hiring professional help like document shredding services, monitoring websites, and even managed services providers. The problem for many smaller businesses, however, is not a lack of motivation to upgrade security, but a lack of capital to devote to the project. Enlisting the aid of a managed services provider, for example, can cost a pretty penny.

One good option for many businesses looking to implement a major change without spending a ton of money is to institute a 2-step verification process for user logins for company systems. You may already have password protections in place for both employees and customers. If you’re smart, you’ve already taken steps to make this login process as secure as possible. Perhaps you require strong passwords, such as those that are eight characters or longer and that must use letters, numbers, and symbols. You may prompt users to change their passwords frequently. Maybe you even use a program that doesn’t allow users to save information and that won’t repopulate fields when any portion of the login data is incorrect.

This type of diligence is both wise and secure. However, 2-step verification can take your login process to the next level in terms of security. As you may know, offering 2-step verification means adding another step to the login process, and there are a couple of ways to go about it. You could, for example, require users to answer a security question (i.e. “what is your maternal grandmother’s name” or “where were you born”). This creates an extra layer of security by requiring additional, unique information from every user.

The other form of 2-step verification is even more secure. You could also require users to enter an authentication code after entering a username and password. This can be accomplished when users download an app that generates unique codes and refreshes after a short time frame (say one minute), providing a new code. Or you could simply send out unique codes to user phones for them to enter when they’re trying to log in to your system. It is this type of 2-step verification that most companies are leaning toward these days as a means of stopping hackers from breaking in by figuring out user login data.

Will this truly make your system more secure, though? Unfortunately, 2-step verification isn’t entirely foolproof. It definitely adds an extra layer of security, and will therefor stymie a certain segment of the hacking population, which will likely move on to easier targets. However, there are some flaws in the system that data thieves have learned to exploit.

The main problem can be account recovery. Suppose a user loses data and cannot access an account, commencing the process of account recovery. Businesses don’t want users to lose their accounts and the data they’ve generated, so most simply bypass the verification system or disable it in order to allow users to create new login information. With minimal data, hackers can exploit this process to gain access to user accounts, thus nullifying 2-step verification.

The hope, of course, is that users will be smart with their own data management, creating unique passwords and optimal protections for all of their accounts so that hackers can’t gain access to recovery data. However, this is not always the case. In the meantime, 2-step verification is just one more way to add protection. For companies looking for relatively affordable ways to increase security, it’s a great option to explore.

Ensuring Your E-Commerce Site Stays Up over the Holidays

The holidays herald an uptick in traffic, and not just on the highways and in the airport. With more and more people avoiding Black Friday crowds and electing to do their holiday shopping from the comfort of home, many e-commerce sites are being bombarded by traffic from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. If your site suffers downtime during this crucial sales season, you could miss out on major opportunities to make sales and impress prospective customers.

There’s no denying that website downtime can cost you. While you might not suffer the same losses as a mega-corporation like Best Buy, Amazon, or Macy’s, you could still see prospective losses numbering in the thousands of dollars should your e-commerce site crash for any length of time. You’ll not only lose sales, but you could also irreparably damage relationships with customers. Online shoppers can be fickle, and it only takes one blackout on your site to send them running to competitors.

The good news is that you can take steps to decrease the potential for downtime, catch problems early, and plan accordingly so that you’re back up and running before anyone has noticed a service interruption on your site. Here are some tips and tricks to ensure a hassle-free holiday season where your e-commerce site is concerned.

Assess Your Hosting Service

If you’ve had trouble with downtime in the past, now may be the time to consider switching to a more reliable hosting service. You’re probably not going to find a web host that guarantees up time, but you should be able to find vendors that offer some kind of plan to deal with unscheduled downtime, and possibly even reparations should you suffer excessive downtime.

It’s also a good idea to consider a vendor that offers managed hosting services. These professionals can not only host your website, but they can also offer you cloud storage and off-site data back-up, as well as system maintenance, network monitoring, and management. You’ll pay for these additional services, but it might be worth it to avoid downtime and keep consumers happy during the busiest shopping season of the year.

Scale Up

Most businesses plan to increase products and sales during the holiday season when consumers are spending like crazy. This could mean adding more pages to your website and/or your online store, as well as fielding requests for new memberships. As a result, you may need more storage space than you currently have.

In addition, you need to prepare for an increase in traffic and online sales, which could mean increasing your bandwidth to accommodate more customers. The right web host will offer the scalable solutions your business needs to account for a bump in holiday traffic and sales.

Beef Up Security

Nothing will affect your uptime more than hackers sneaking in and wreaking havoc with your website, so it’s best to examine your security to determine if you need an upgrade. There are several steps you can take to increase security.

You probably already have basics like a web application firewall and some kind of encryption in place, as well as a password system for employees and customers to log in securely. However, you may be able to do more.

For example, you could require strong passwords and prompt users to change passwords periodically to reduce the chance of hackers cracking passwords. You should also implement a system that wipes out all fields if a username or password is entered incorrectly (instead of leaving a correct username in place and making a hacker’s job that much easier).

You can also ask your managed services provider to monitor and report back on usage as a way to ensure that you know immediately when improper usage is occurring, signaling a breach.

Hire a Monitoring Service

Comprehensive managed services providers can be expensive – too expensive for some businesses. There is an equally appealing option, though, that will save you some money and help you to minimize downtime. You can hire a monitoring service to let you know immediately when your site is down.

An appropriate service can monitor several different aspects of your online operations, alert you when downtime occurs, and provide you with detailed reports to help you avoid downtime in the future. All of this is designed to minimize downtime and help you better manage your website during the holidays, and throughout the year.