Pine Cove Pulse

Challenges in Wireless: (Part 5 of 5: Additional strategies)

Posted by Rick Vancleeve

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QOS and Layer 7

We’re continuing to explore key challenges in wireless network design: How do we get the maximum wireless coverage with the least interference and the best throughput?

In our last post, we looked at VLANs, band steering and other ways to maximize throughput. Today we’ll show you some additional strategies.

Quality of Service

The need for a constant data stream for certain applications has lead to the development of Quality of Service (QOS) protocols, to allow administrators to set priorities for the different types of traffic that travel over their networks.

Most often, phone (VoIP) and video conferencing are set at the highest priority. They need priority one because if the phone keeps dropping packets, people can’t understand each other and will hang up.

Communications to your accounting software and, in schools, online standardized testing, are often priority two. We sometimes suggest that our school customers bump testing up to number one during annual testing weeks, then turn it back down when the week is over.

Simulation clients, scenarios involving communication with a virtual desktop, and terminal services all have to have a high priority because, if they drop a connection, users have to log back in and start over.

Often the lowest priority is web browsing because, if you’re on a page and the service drops out, you can click that link again and it will work. The page will almost always resend the packets.

Low data rates

We have found that it can be very helpful to set minimum data rates for a device to connect wirelessly. Often those that connect at a low rate will affect others running at a high rate. In a perfect world, if we could have everyone running at 5 Mbps, they would all run better because the weakest link sets the rates for everyone.

Edge protection

The Internet edge is the network infrastructure that acts as the gateway to the Internet and the rest of cyberspace.

Keeping bad traffic out of your network is a discussion of its own, but for here we just want to point out that it’s not only a security risk, but it can causes a huge amount of chatter in your network. In doing so, it can significantly compromise your network’s throughput.

Today, a Layer 7 firewall is the best protection available.

Conclusion: Honeycomb network design

We’ve looked at a number of factors affecting coverage, interference and throughput, but we thought we’d conclude with a starting point for your network design.

Here’s what we call the honeycomb design in the simplest scenario possible: an office building with equal-sized offices or a school where the classrooms are all the same.

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As you can see, we’re putting an access point in every other room, but a cable drop in every room.

The design offers good coverage, low co channel interference, and a good chance at achieving maximum throughput. It also provides the flexibility for moves, adds and changes with open cables in each room.

Obviously this is not the only way to design a wireless network, and it’s never this simple given that rooms are different sizes and non-symmetrical, but it’s generally a good starting point.

You’ll want to input it into your predictive heat map, then modify as needed.

Topics: wireless

Ransomware today: How to protect against Locky and friends.

Posted by Brandon Vancleeve

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Missed the Webinar: Ransomware today: How to protect against Locky and friends.

 
 
 
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Here are some key insights:

Ransomware has become one of the most widespread and damaging threats that internet users face.
Since CryptoLocker first appeared in 2013, we’ve seen a new era of file-encrypting ransomware variants delivered through spam messages and exploit kits, extorting money from all types of organizations.
Today, Locky ransomware is wreaking havoc with at least 400,000 machines affected worldwide.

What you will learn in the video above:

  • What’s behind this current wave of ransomware
  • Anatomy of a ransomware attack
  • The latest ransomware to rear its ugly head: CryptoWall, Locky, TorrentLocker, CTB-Locker
  • Practical steps to protect your organization from ransomware threats

 
Want a one-on-one demo? Contact Pine Cove Consulting

Topics: security

Press Release: Pine Cove Consulting Receives National Recognition

Posted by Brandon Vancleeve

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Pine Cove Consulting Wins National Cybersecurity Award

Pine Cove Consulting was recently awarded a national partner award from its industry leading security partner, Sophos, for outstanding work in the Cybersecurity arena.  The award recognized complete security knowledge and expertise, as well as personal and company-wide certifications and continued education.  This award is contended for across the country, and has historically been awarded to larger companies in more urban areas.  

"This is important to Pine Cove and our area to show that a local company can compete and succeed regionally and nationally.  We try to explain to our customers and vendors that living and working in Bozeman is a choice, and we believe we possess all the business tools we need here.  Our team has set this as our goal since last May and couldn't be more excited that we reached it," said Brandon Vancleeve, Pine Cove Consulting’s Vice President.

Topics: Pine Cove

Benefits of wireless technology and doing it the right way: (Part 4 of 4)

Posted by Rick Vancleeve

We’ve been considering how to design wireless networks properly. In our first post,, we examined the need for a clear mission for your network, in our second, how to analyze its requirements, and in our third, the design process.

In this post, we’ll look at installing the network and making sure it works properly.

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Installation 

We’re now ready to install your Wi-Fi network. As with any network installation, industry best practices for handling copper and fiber optic cables apply, and you will want a neat and careful installation of your cable plant.

Be sure to inform all of your network users and administrators when you will begin the installation and when you will finish, being careful to specify the dates and hours that network speed and traffic will be affected. Be sure to check for any conflicts before you start.

Training

Once the installation is complete, you’ll need to train your users on how to gain access to your new network. Which subnet should they use? Are there any special considerations to be aware of?  

Remember, if you don’t provide adequate training, your network will not work properly for end users.

Evaluation  

One of the most critical pieces of the network installation is evaluation and testing.

We created a predictive wi-fi heat maps of network coverage, but now it’s time to do an actual heat map that shows you where you’re covered, where you’re not, and where you have a lot of interference. At Pine Cove, we go back to our AirMagnet package to create this map, walking the facility while the software records the signal strength, data rate, interference and other parameters of our network. You’ll make additions and changes to the network based on what you learn.

You’ll also want to poll your users for their initial experiences. Is the network robust? What issues are they having? Chances are, a number of problems will arise that you haven’t anticipated. If not addressed, they will prevent you from enjoying the improvements you worked so hard to achieve.

Remediation is a huge piece of any Wi-Fi project, and it has to happen on an ongoing basis. You’re in a living, breathing environment, and as conditions change, you’ll want to take the needed steps to keep your network at peak performance.

REVIEW PART 1:
Part 1: Benefits of wireless technology and doing it the right way: (Part 1 of 4)

REVIEW PART 2:
Part 1: Benefits of wireless technology and doing it the right way: (Part 2 of 4)

REVIEW PART 3:
Part 1: Benefits of wireless technology and doing it the right way: (Part 3 of 4)

Topics: wireless

Benefits of wireless technology and doing it the right way: (Part 3 of 4)

Posted by Rick Vancleeve

We’ve been looking at wireless networks and how to design them properly. In our first post, we examined the need to define a clear mission, and in our second, how to analyze user behavior, measure the environment, and consider external threats, including interference from other networks and security threats.

In this post, we’ll overview the design process and related issues.

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Network design tools 

Once you’ve done your preliminary research, it’s time to start putting your cable plant and access points on paper.

At Pine Cove, we use a use a tool from Fluke Networks called AirMagnet Wi-Fi Analyzer Pro to create predictive Wi-Fi heat maps of the entire facility. The inputs are the floor plans and dimensions of each room, the materials in the walls and our data requirements. The output is a set of predictive heat maps showing wireless coverage, signal strength and data rate in each area.

Next we manually add the additional bandwidth we may need for certain areas that we determined in the user analysis.  

It’s important to provide a reasonable amount of flexibility for future growth in network use. We often will use a larger cable infrastructure than we need today, trying to anticipate the organization’s needs in 10 years or even longer.   

When you choose hardware, you may want to consider its ability to provide multiple subnets to separate traffic by their security requirements and type of use. For example, you may have an employee network with full server access and a guest network with Internet only. 

We most often will run extra cabling from the backbone into each ceiling as well, so that if a room is used more than expected, it’s easy to add another access point. For this reason, good network design is something of an art form, drawing on the designer’s knowledge and experience, as well as the numbers generated by the analysis.

That said, it’s extremely difficult to predict how technology will change beyond three to five years.  While we will try to design a longer-lasting infrastructure, you should expect your access points and other hardware to have a three to five year lifecycle. Let Pine Cove help with your network consulting.

Properly scaling the Internet

One of the most important uses of any Wi-Fi network is Internet access, for email, file sharing, research, entertainment and a host of other purposes. If you’ve carefully analyzed your user base, you should have a pretty good idea of the total bandwidth you need today.

Still, you need to be careful, because bandwidth is highly determined by your Internet Service Provider. It’s true that if you tell your ISP that you want to double your bandwidth, they’ll be happy to agree – but you may be shocked at how long they will take to create the necessary connections. Because they’re slow, you have to foresee what you will need 12 to 18 months in advance, then work with them to make sure they’re ready when you are. It’s crucial that you understand that many network installations fail because of the months an ISP may require to provide the necessary service.

Another important consideration is how critical Internet access is to your organization. If it’s truly mission critical –and that’s more and more often the case– you’re going to want a redundant connection, so that if one line goes down, your second can take over. Then too, if your ISP provides two lines, you have to ask, are they truly separate lines? Many organizations today contract with two or sometimes three providers, so that if one goes down, they can automatically roll to the next.

REVIEW PART 1:
Part 1: Benefits of wireless technology and doing it the right way: (Part 1 of 4)

REVIEW PART 2:
Part 1: Benefits of wireless technology and doing it the right way: (Part 2 of 4)

Topics: wireless

Benefits of wireless technology and doing it the right way: (Part 2 of 4)

Posted by Rick Vancleeve

We are considering wireless networks and the factors involved in properly designing them. In our first post we looked at the wrong way to install Wi-Fi and the need to carefully determine your network’s mission.

In this post, we’ll overview the other steps you’ll need to take before you begin the network design.

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Analyzing users 

Before you can design your network, there’s a crucial series of questions to ask about who your users are and how they’re going to use wireless.

For example, are they employees or guests? Are guests a relatively small percentage of the user base or, as is true for a hotel, the majority of users?

Is usage static or dynamic? That is, will users stay put throughout the day or are they roaming around your facility? If they’re roaming, will they congregate in certain areas at certain times? Think of that lunch room, where you might have three users hitting an access point at 10 a.m. but 70 or 100 at noon.

The applications people use are crucial to your understanding of network needs. For example, many  hotels were caught off guard when Netflix expanded its streaming services in 2011 and 2012. Even today they’re having trouble keeping up with demand, given that streaming services account for more that 70% of Internet bandwidth during peak evening hours.

At Pine Cove Consulting, we use the answers to these questions to create a report detailing our client’s users and their bandwidth needs. Among other things, we document the peak expected demand in each area and any special needs for our Wi-Fi hardware. This is a crucial step if we are to design a network that meets their demands.

Measuring the environment

As you get a better picture of your users and your mission, you’ll want to start looking at your physical environment as well. When we begin planning the network itself, we’re going to need the dimensions of each room, including ceiling height, and the materials in the walls. (Most often we will input the architect’s floor plan directly into the software we use.)  Of course, if you want network access to extend outdoors, we need the dimensions of the outdoor areas and the materials in external walls.

Whether a wall has wood studs or metal, or whether a masonry wall has steel reinforcement is important too, because it’s going to affect how well a wireless signal will be able to penetrate it.

If you’re adding or upgrading your network in an existing building, do we have access to add new cable? It’s great to say, we want access points here and here, but can we put them there for a reasonable cost?

If it’s a new building, you’re going to want to be sure to have all the cable and conduit you need in place before drywall is installed. Generally speaking, over-installing cable will nearly always save you money down the road. That’s because the cost of installing cable in new construction is significantly lower than the cost of going back and adding it later.

Considering external threats

There are two more items to consider before we can begin designing the network.

First, how much interference can you expect from other wireless networks? If you’re in a building downtown, you may have 30 – 50 other networks within range of your network, whether from other floors, other tenants on the same floor, or other companies in nearby buildings. All of those are fighting for bandwidth.

Security is an issue as well. How great is the threat from people trying to access your network from within your building or even from your parking lot?

REVIEW PART 1:
Part 1: Benefits of wireless technology and doing it the right way: (Part 1 of 4)

Topics: wireless

Pine Cove Consulting welcomes Joey Lovell, Janel Morgan, and  Kelsea Kimerly as our newest Consultants!

Posted by Brandon Vancleeve

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Joey Lovell grew up in the Panhandle of Idaho in the small picturesque town of Sandpoint. With many activities based around the 4 seasons Sandpoint has to offer, Joey gravitated to the golf course. After high school he pursued a collegiate golf career at Boise State University while earning a bachelors degree in Business. Joey's professional golf stint included qualifying for the National Pro Tour and playing in as many professional tournaments as he could. Joey relocated to Bozeman, MT in the fall of 2013 and is now enjoying his Business degree while using his golf skills to become a better salesman. When he isn't golfing he enjoys spending time with his better half Kelly hiking around the local trails and snowboarding during the winter months. 

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Kelsea Kimerly is the new consultant for Pine Cove Consulting, based out of the Bozeman office.  Kelsea grew up in Columbia Falls, Montana and then went off to Carroll College in Helena, where she double majored in Communication Studies and Public Relations.  After graduation, she drove off to Hollywood, California for sunshine and adventures before coming home to her Montana roots.  She now lives in Belgrade with her fiancé, Jonathan Jensen.  When they aren't traveling across the state for softball or bowling tournaments, they spend most Sundays playing board games or horseshoes with the Jensen family in Manhattan. 

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Pine Cove Consulting welcomes Janel Morgan as their newest Consultant for the Billings office.  Janel grew up in Billings, Montana where she studied Psychology and Business Management at  MSU-Billings.  She then made her way to Kalispell, MT where she completed her mentor-ship for Real Estate Appraisal and spent 7 years in the field before pursuing a career in sales.  She has since relocated back to her home town to be close to family.  Most of her time is spent raising her 7 year old daughter, Shayda.  They enjoy baking, mountain biking, camping, 4-wheeling, and spending time with their 1 year old Boston Terrier, Shine.  

Topics: Pine Cove

Benefits of wireless technology and doing it the right way: (Part 1 of 4)

Posted by Rick Vancleeve

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The Challenge

You realize your Wi-Fi network is not what it needs to be. Your employees, students or guests all have wireless devices, but they don’t work as well as they should on your network. So you decide to make some improvements.

The wrong way to install wireless

Most people, in this situation, start by saying, “We don’t have enough coverage.” They come in after hours or over the weekend, add a few access points, test it and say, “Great! Everything is at five bars.” But then on Monday morning, the Internet keeps dropping and, when it’s working, they can’t get the speeds they need. So they think, we have great coverage, but we must need more access points, because they’re overcalled.

Saturday they add more access points. Monday the problem is worse. Monday night they add even more, but the problem gets even worse.

Why would that happen?  More is not better in the world of wireless.

Designing a network from scratch

The issue behind this scenario is that people are using wireless exponentially more today than a year ago, and usage is still increasing. Consequently, you can’t just patch up your old network. You may be able to reuse your existing components, but you’ll need to fit them into a comprehensive new plan.

Doing it right is a multi-part process. In this post, we’ll look at the first step.

Defining your mission

When looking at wireless, it’s tempting to say, “I want good, robust Wi-Fi in every corner of our building,” and start to plan from there. That’s not enough, because it doesn’t help you put the value of your network in perspective or make hard decisions on cost versus coverage and other issues 

If Wi-Fi is a profit center – that is, you’re charging guests to connect to your network– it’s relatively straightforward to calculate the ROI of any improvements. But that’s not the case for most organizations.

At one extreme, you may see wireless mainly as a convenience for employees. They have wired connections at their desks and will use Wi-Fi only when they bring their laptops and tablets into a meeting room or the lunch room. If this is the case, you may not value Wi-Fi very highly or value it only in certain locations.

Wi-Fi takes on more significance if wireless devices are crucial to your business, or if clients or other important guests depend on wireless when they’re on your premises.

Whatever the case, there’s no way your solution can accomplish your mission if you haven’t defined that mission carefully. We have learned, over the years, that the biggest reason that network upgrades fail is that people don’t really know what they’re trying to accomplish.

Topics: wireless

10 Ways Your Phone System Improves Your Customers’ Experience

Posted by Brandon Vancleeve

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Business competition in today’s economy is fierce. Your customers expect the highest level of customer care, and you and your staff need to be reachable, professional and customer focused at all times –  no matter where you’re located.

If that’s your business model, is your phone system serving you like you serve your customers?

Use this checklist to evaluate if your phone system gives your customers the experience they now expect from their chosen providers.  Any items you can’t check off may signal that you could be getting more out of your phone system.

Reachability and professionalism

  • Customers can access your sales staff anytime and anywhere with mobile capability that directs incoming office calls to be received on your sales staff’s mobile phones
  • Outbound calls look professional, coming from the main company number, even when your employees are using their smartphones
  • Customer focus is enhanced by connecting your CRM tools with Outlook to give you conversation history with your client
  • Employee productivity is increased by merging call records with customer records to improve sales trending projections and staffing optimization

Employee productivity

  • Employees and partners can communicate in ways that are easy and intuitive through audio and web conferencing, regardless of where they’re working
  • Employees use presence features to be reachable by establishing if they are in the office, out of office, or in a meeting by using presence features
  • Teamwork is made easy with voice and video calling, including screen sharing

Cost effectiveness

  • Ongoing administration, such as adding a new employee is easy, not labor intensive
  • Local support is available to train your staff to use features that improve customer experience
  • You have the option of outsourcing your phone system management to an experienced local company

How did you do? Depending on your responses, here are some things to think about.

  • If you scored an 8-10, you’re using your phone system to improve your customers’ experience as they work with you.
  • If you scored a 5-7, there may be some phone system features you can use to improve your company’s competitive positioning and your customers’ experience.
  • If you scored less than 5, it’s time to look at phone system capabilities you can bring to your company to help your staff be more reachable, professional and customer-focused.

You want your employees to function effectively while improving company productivity and increasing customer satisfaction. Your phone system should help you do all that – and boost your competitive advantage.

If you’d like to discuss your phone system’s capabilities and see what’s possible for your business, give us a call at 800.432.0346.  You can also learn more about our phone solutions and our company at  http://marketing.pinecc.com/blog/topic/phones

Topics: phones

New ‘Locky’ Ransomware Virus Spreading Rapidly

Posted by Dan Russell

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At Pine Cove we are creating awareness about a cyber threat that is spreading like wild fire.  This blog isn’t intended to scare you, but rather create awareness.  By now I’m sure you have all heard of “Crypto Locker” which was pretty popular a few years ago where someone would click on a link and accidentally download the executable and it would encrypt their files and any mapped drives they had access to.  The only way to recover was to either restore from a backup, or pay the ransom (Sometimes up to $1,000) to get the key from the hacker to un-encrypt the files.

This new variation called “Locky”, takes things to a whole new level.  It was just released last week and stats show that it hit around 60,000 PC’s in the first 24 hours and doubling and tripling daily.  Locky works in a similar fashion where a user clicks on a Word Document received via email titled “Invoice”.  When a user clicks on it, it will tell them they need to enable Macros, once that is clicked the infection begins.  Where this variant differs from the old Cryto Locker is this one spreads.  It will reach out into  your network and any computer it sees, whether its Windows, Mac, or Linux and encrypt the files on it and shared drives.  Similar to Crypto Locker, you either have to pay a ransom to get these files back, or recover from backup and clean up all the infected machines it has spread to.

Things you can do to try and prevent Locky:

  • Make End-Users/Employees aware
  • Disable Macros from being executed on a machine either by Group Policy or Machine by Machine
  • Make sure PC’s are patched with the latest security patches
  • For current Sophos Customers reading this:
  • We have made sure your Firewall is running IPS and ATP (Intrusion Prevention and Advanced Threat Protection)
  • We have turned on Country Blocking to block all Countries except “USA, Canada, US Virgin Islands”
  • We can create exceptions to single entities if there is a provider that needs accessed outside the U.S


Please let me know if you have any questions regarding any of this and I would be happy to discuss.  Again this is not to scare you, but to make you aware of the threat and spread the word to employees to be extremely cautious opening anything that might look suspicious.

We will keep everyone up to date as we know and find out more.

If You Need Help:
If you need help with identifying your current risk or adminstering any of these recommendations, please reach out to our team at sales@pinecc.com or call 800.432.0346 and our team of consultants can quickly advise.

Below is a link that provides more detail into the Locky Virus.
https://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2016/02/17/locky-ransomware-what-you-need-to-know/

Topics: security