5 Ways to save money on cloud services

The cloud is a great resource for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) such as yours. It provides a number of advantages, including scalability, flexibility, and cost savings. However, some business owners may not be aware of certain hidden cloud services costs. These costs don’t seem much at first, but they can eventually snowball. Prevent this by implementing these five ways to help you save money on cloud services.

No standalones

Cloud services come in various forms, including standalone platforms with rates that increase over time. If you’re looking to save on costs, it’s best to choose a cloud service provider that offers a suite of products that all work together. This option is often less expensive than investing in several standalone products. Another benefit of working with a cloud provider is that you’ll have a single point of contact to quickly and effectively resolve any issues that you may experience.

Partner with experienced cloud providers

Make sure to hire a trusted and experienced integration consultant to help facilitate a smooth transition. This is essential as integration mishaps can cause serious downtime and also cost a lot of money.

Define and prioritize backups

Unnecessary or inefficient backups waste cloud storage space. Review your cloud storage data by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How many versions of this data do I need to store long term? The more versions I store, the more it will cost me.
  • What regulatory demands do I need to meet? Some data may need to be accessible for up to three years, while other data can be deleted after 30 days.
  • How quickly do I need to access my backups? If it can wait for a day or two, I can archive data to a less expensive service or offline at the provider’s data center.

Regulate users

It’s common practice for cloud service providers to charge per user. If you neglect to regularly manage the list of users, you may end up paying for people who are no longer part of your organization. It’s ideal to schedule a regular audit of users and implement processes that remove them when they leave the company to ensure your cloud user list is always up to date.

Monitor proactively

Ask your cloud provider whether they can proactively monitor your account and notify you of potential issues before these escalate into major problems. This is especially important if you have a pay-as-you-go license that charges based on resource or storage consumption.

Utilizing the right technology resources is vital to your business’s success, and so is knowing how to prevent such resources from racking up an overwhelming monthly bill. Give us a call if you wish to enjoy all the benefits of cloud computing without going over your budget. We’ll be happy to help.

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How to optimize website images for SEO

Images are invaluable components of a website because they can help promote your products or services to potential customers. However, if your images are not optimized, visitors to your website will find it difficult to navigate through the pages because of slow loading times. This is why you need to optimize your images before uploading them.

What is image optimization?

Image optimization is the process of delivering images in the correct size, format, resolution, and dimension without compromising their quality. The goal is to improve the loading speed of websites to give visitors a better browsing experience.

How to optimize website images

Here are helpful tips for optimizing the images on your website.

1. Choose the correct file format
Digital images come in various formats, but the three most commonly used types for websites are:

  • JPEGs – JPEGs are the most widely used format for website images because they have an enormous color palette that’s ideal for showing off images with complex patterns, gradients, shadows, and colors.
  • PNGs – PNGs support a wider range of colors compared to JPEGS, making them ideal for images with more complex designs. PNGs are also the only format that can support transparent backgrounds perfect for logos and vector images. The only drawback is that PNG files are larger than JPEGs, which can make page loading times longer.
  • GIFs – GIFs are hugely popular as animated memes on social media sites but are hardly used for static images on most websites because of the limited colors — only 256 — they support.
    Therefore, they are the best option for small images that require only a few colors.

2. Name your images properly
It’s important to use relevant keywords when naming your website images because search engines like Google not only crawl the text on your website but also crawl image file names. Using keyword-rich and descriptive image file names will allow search engines to provide more accurate results to customers looking for a particular product or service.

For example, if your website is selling used cars, naming an image Red-Ford-Mustang-LX-2012.jpg will get more search results compared to a generic file name like used-car.jpg or DCIMIMAGE001.jpg.

3. Use alt tags
Alt tags are texts that appear in place of a website image that fails to load on a user’s screen. These tags allow screen-reading tools to describe website pictures to visually impaired visitors. In addition, alt tags help search engines crawl and rank your site better. Most of the time, alt tags are almost similar to image file names.

4. Resize your images
Using the wrong image size on your site can negatively impact loading times. For example, featured images in WordPress are usually 1200 x 628 pixels. Images larger than 1200 x 628 pixels will decrease the loading speed of your site. This can lead to high abandonment rates.

5. Compress your images
Image compression is the process of reducing an image’s file size without compromising its quality. This allows you to use more images on your site. The smaller image file size also helps in reducing the time needed to download or send an image over the internet.

Image optimization is a vital part of building a successful website. If you want to learn more about optimizing website images, give our experts a call today.

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SaaS, Paas, and IaaS: 3 Primary cloud computing service models explained

As a business owner, you know that technology is essential to your success, but keeping up with the latest trends can be expensive and time-consuming. That’s why cloud computing is a great option for businesses of all sizes. It allows you to access hardware and software over the internet, which means you don’t have to invest in expensive infrastructure or even hire full-time staff to manage your IT. In this blog post, we will discuss the different types of cloud computing service models and help you choose the best one for your business.

1. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

SaaS is one of the most common and well known cloud service delivery models. Unlike software that you install on your computer, SaaS solutions are hosted on a provider’s servers. That is, when you open a mobile or web browser app, the device merely sends inputs to a data center. The data center then processes the inputs and sends the outputs back to your device. Minimal to no processing is done on your device itself. And for as long as you have an internet connection, you can access the software from any device, at any time.

With SaaS, your provider is responsible for software maintenance and updates. They’ll make sure to roll out updates once these become available so that all users have the same version of a particular software at the same time. This means you don’t have to spend time and effort manually managing software and checking for updates, which can lead you to save on related costs.

For improved efficiency and productivity, SaaS software solutions typically include document creation suites, accounting software, email services, HR solutions, content management tools, customer relationship management systems, and more.

In a nutshell, SaaS is:

  • Ready to use and available over the internet
  • Hosted on a remote server by a third-party provider
  • Scalable, with different tiers for small, medium, and enterprise-level businesses
  • Inclusive, offering security, compliance, and maintenance as part of the cost

2. Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)

PaaS is primarily used by developers who need a virtual environment for developing and testing their own custom software or apps. This means developers don’t need to build and maintain their own infrastructure consisting of networking devices, storage, servers, an operating system, and other necessary hardware and software when developing applications. This saves them time and money.

Aside from helping businesses improve the quality of their products, PaaS enables businesses to shorten their product development cycles, leading to faster time to market for new products.

Most companies that utilize PaaS do so to either host or develop their own software solutions or provide support for software used by their employees. But while PaaS is gaining popularity with many small businesses, most won’t have firsthand interactions with this type of cloud unless they need to build their own software or app.

In general, PaaS solutions are:

  • Accessible to multiple users for enhanced collaboration
  • Scalable, with various tiers of resources to suit the size of your business
  • Built on virtualization technology
  • Easy to run without extensive system administration knowledge

3. Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

IaaS is considered one of the most flexible cloud models, as it gives the most ideal options when it comes to IT hardware infrastructure. IaaS offers services such as pay-as-you-go storage, networking, and virtualization. The most popular and well-known type of IaaS is the virtual machine — a digital version of a computer or server that is accessed over the internet. IaaS gives you cloud-based alternatives to expensive on-premises infrastructure, so you can use your funds to invest in other things.

In other words, if you are looking to virtualize your systems via the cloud, IaaS is a good place to start, as it allows you to easily move existing support systems. Other solutions can then be migrated or introduced as needed.

IaaS is:

  • Highly flexible and scalable
  • Accessible by multiple users
  • Cost-effective

While the cloud offers a wide variety of benefits and solutions, choosing the service model that best fits your company’s needs can be daunting. Get in touch with us today and we’ll help you find the best solution for your business and ensure proper migration and implementation so you can focus on running your business.

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How to choose the safest web browser

The internet is filled with cyberthreats that can quickly put a company out of business. These threats often infiltrate business networks through unsecured web browsers, and using incognito mode is not a surefire way to keep you safe. To ensure your online safety, here’s a list of the most secure browsers you can use.

Tor Browser

Tor is the browser of choice when it comes to online anonymity and privacy. Endorsed by former computer intelligence consultant Edward Snowden, Tor is built with a unique connection method called onion routing. This method protects users from browser fingerprinting and keeps them anonymous regardless of what site they visit. Tor’s encryption is so good that it’s the only browser capable of accessing the dark web.

Brave

Developed by JavaScript creator Brendan Eich, Brave comes with Brave Shield, which automatically blocks ad trackers. Additionally, the browser doesn’t auto-collect and sell user data, allowing users to keep their information safe and private from third parties and malicious entities.

Mozilla Firefox

Unlike browsers like Safari and Google Chrome, Firefox is open source, which means cybersecurity experts can review its source code for any potential vulnerabilities. Firefox is updated regularly and comes with various security options that let users configure different levels of protection, such as:

  • Anti-fingerprinting
  • Improved tracking protection
  • Data breach notifications
  • 256-bit encryption

Epic

Epic browser was developed with built-in safeguards against third-party widgets, cryptocurrency mining scripts, cookies, and ad tracking scripts. It connects to the internet using an encrypted proxy server to hide a user’s browsing activity and IP address.

Epic is also designed to block calls that carry the risk of leaking your IP address, even if you’re using a virtual private network (VPN). Lastly, this browser comes with a feature that allows users to see who’s tracking them and what trackers have been blocked.

The key to protecting your online data and browsing the internet safely is a secure browser. As to what constitutes as the “best” secure browser depends largely on the needs of your organization. Call us now if you want to learn more about secure browsers as well as other security solutions you can implement to keep your data safe.

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A checklist for avoiding WordPress website issues

Maintaining a WordPress website is not as difficult as it may seem, but there are certain tasks that should be done on a regular basis to ensure optimal performance. In this blog post, we will outline six essential maintenance tasks that all business owners should follow. By following these, you can avoid common problems such as sluggish load times, potential security vulnerabilities, or search engine delistings.

Create complete backups of your website

One of the most important things you can do to protect your website is to back it up periodically. This will allow you to restore your site if something goes wrong, such as a hacker attack or server crash. There are several ways to create backups, including using plugins or manually copying your files and database. But while plugins like BackUpWordPress and hosting servers like SiteGround automate the backup process, performing manual backups may still be necessary to cover all your bases.

Verify your backups

Just because you have backups doesn’t mean they’re doing their job. You should test your backups regularly to make sure they are working properly. This can be done by restoring a backup to a test site or simply downloading the files and checking them to make sure they are complete. The last thing you need is for your backups to fail on the day you need them most.

Perform daily security scans

One of the best ways to stay ahead of potential security threats is to monitor your website closely for any signs of compromise. A good way to do this is to perform daily security scans, which will help you track any changes or suspicious activity. There are a number of different tools and services that can help you with this, and one of the most popular ones is Sucuri. Not only does this plugin carry out inspections, but it also sends an SMS to notify you of any suspicious activity and emails you a daily status report of your website’s security.

Scan for malware

Cyberthreats are growing in both number and sophistication. With every passing day, new strains of malware are developed and released onto business networks and systems. Unless you are a bonafide hacker yourself, detecting malware might be a little tricky. WordPress plugins like Wordfence keep your website safe using the latest firewall rules and flagging the latest malware signatures and malicious IP addresses.

Conduct page speed audits

Slow and steady may be qualities valued by some, but not when it comes to your website. Plugins like Google Pagespeed Insights test how fast your site loads. If it takes more than five seconds, you should consider implementing caching and other measures to speed up your site. Slow sites put off visitors, and that further lowers those sites’ search rankings.

Review your site’s structure and content

Just as you should periodically review your website’s security, you should also take a look at its overall structure and content. Are the pages well organized and easy to navigate? Is the content relevant and up to date? If not, you may want to consider making some changes.

Forbes, National Geographic, and The New York Times are all powered by WordPress, which means you are in good company. By sticking to the checklist, you too can harness the power of this online, open-source website creation tool. Or, instead of signing up for half a dozen services that need daily check-ins, why not have us take care of all of it for you? If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to send us an email or give us a call!

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Your SMB will enjoy the flexibility provided by hybrid cloud platforms

Hybrid cloud platforms are a great way to improve a business’s agility and flexibility, as they can be used to host business components in an affordable and low-impact manner. But what exactly is the hybrid cloud, and what are its specific advantages for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs)? Read on to learn more.

Hybrid clouds are a combination of private and public clouds. In private clouds, data and applications that require tighter controls are hosted either internally or privately on an off-site facility. Meanwhile, public clouds are managed externally by third-party providers with the express purpose of streamlining a company’s IT infrastructure.

Benefits of a hybrid cloud setup

Here are three significant advantages of hybrid cloud environments.

Adaptability
Having the ability to choose between internally or privately hosted cloud servers and public ones lets you pair the right IT solution with the right job. For example, you can use the private cloud to store sensitive files while utilizing more robust computing resources from the public cloud to run resource-intensive applications.

Cost efficiency and scalability
Does your business struggle to meet seasonal demands? With a hybrid cloud solution, you’ll be able to easily handle spikes in demand by migrating workloads from insufficient on-premises servers to scalable, pay-as-you-go cloud servers whenever needed, without incurring extra hardware and maintenance costs.

So if there are last-minute computing demands that your hardware can’t support, or if you’re planning for future expansion, you can easily scale capacity up or down with a hybrid cloud solution.

Security
Last but not least are the security advantages of a hybrid cloud solution. You can host sensitive data such as eCommerce data or an HR platform within the private cloud, where it will be protected by your security systems and kept under close watch. Meanwhile, routine forms and documents can be stored in the public cloud and protected by a trusted third party.

How to set up a hybrid cloud

The following are the different ways to set up a hybrid cloud model based on your SMB’s requirements and the providers available to you:

  • Employ one specialized cloud provider who offers comprehensive hybrid solutions.
  • Integrate the services of a private cloud provider with those of another public cloud provider.
  • Host a private cloud yourself and then incorporate a public cloud service into your infrastructure.

Our experts can help you transition to a hybrid cloud solution without interruption and huge costs. Contact us today to learn more about the business benefits of a hybrid cloud.

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The value of AI to eCommerce businesses

Over the past few years, eCommerce has experienced rapid growth, with more and more consumers preferring to do their shopping online. In 2022, the industry is expected to grow further with the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) by e-tailers worldwide. Here’s how AI will change the face of eCommerce and fuel its growth in the coming year and beyond.

Personalized recommendations

Machine learning (ML) is a branch of AI that enables software applications to more accurately predict outcomes using data and algorithms. In eCommerce, ML can be used to identify customer habits and interests based on search histories (both inside and outside a specific eCommerce business’s site).

With proper configuration, ML can be used to analyze shopping behaviors to customize the online shopping experience to specific users. This enables e-tailers to make product recommendations, pairings, and promotions that target individual customers. As a result, customers’ overall experience improves and, in turn, businesses’ sales significantly increase.

Improved search capabilities

Voice and image searches in eCommerce are gaining widespread popularity. By integrating voice and image search tools into eCommerce sites, e-tailers make it easier, faster, and more convenient for consumers — especially those using mobile devices — to find the products they are looking for.

To start a voice search, customers can simply click on the microphone icon on an eCommerce site. Using AI voice recognition and natural language processing, the website will identify what the user said and display all products relevant to their search query. On the other hand, to initiate a visual search, all a user has to do is upload a photo of the item they are looking for or something similar to it. AI will then make suggestions based on the data from the uploaded image.

More efficient inventory and warehouse management

AI-powered demand forecasting solutions can help e-tailers better keep track of their supplies, ensuring that they don’t run out of or overstock particular items. Such solutions enable this by leveraging sales trends and consumer behaviors, projected increases or decreases in demand, or possible supply chain issues that could affect inventory levels.

Many eCommerce businesses are also deploying AI robots in their warehouses. These robots can be programmed to retrieve products once an order has been placed or to store items once they’ve been delivered to the warehouse. This facilitates product dispatch and delivery, so customers receive their orders on time.

Better customer service

eCommerce businesses can leverage AI chatbots to deliver more efficient customer support. These bots can be programmed to facilitate simple transactions that simulate conversations with a live agent, such as questions about when orders will be delivered or the availability of an item. This frees up customer service representatives to focus on addressing higher-level or more complex issues.

Learn more about AI and how it can foster your business’s growth by getting in touch with us today. We’ll tell you all about AI and other innovative technologies that will enhance your operations and improve your profitability.

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Speed hacks for Google Chrome

While Chrome is many users’ browser of choice because of its speed, it does consume a lot of system RAM. Additionally, there are times when it feels slower than normal. Fortunately, these problems are simple to fix. Here are some speed hacks for Chrome.

Use the latest version of Chrome

Google continually optimizes its products, so make sure that Chrome is always updated to keep it working as fast as possible.

Disable or delete extensions

Extensions are downloadable programs from the Chrome Web Store that you can add to your browser to give it more functionality and a personalized touch. For example, you can add an extension that blocks ads, one that shortens URLs, or one that shows your most important tasks of the day. While these extensions are useful, they can slow down Chrome if there are too many installed at once.

Most extensions are accessible beside Chrome’s address bar, and you can quickly uninstall them by right-clicking on their icons and selecting Remove from Chrome. You can also manage all extensions by typing chrome://extensions in your browser’s address bar and hitting Enter. From there, you’ll find a list of all the extensions you have. Simply scroll through the list and click Remove to delete the extensions you don’t need.

Close unused tabs or put them in sleep mode

The more open tabs you have on Chrome, the more processing power the web browser requires from your computer. The best way to reduce your browser’s workload is to close unused tabs.

As of this writing, Chrome can’t yet put tabs on sleep mode like Microsoft Edge can. To be specific, that feature is still in the experimental stages. If you’re willing to try that feature out, then follow these steps:

  1. In Chrome’s address bar, type chrome://flags/ and press Enter.
  2. Type Freeze or Reduce User-Agent in the search bar.
  3. In the drop-down menu next to the Reduce User-Agent request header, select Enabled.
  4. When the Relaunch button appears, click it. The relaunched browser will detect inactive tabs and put these on “sleep” mode.

Chrome warns users to save their work before proceeding — and with the feature being experimental, there may be yet-unknown bugs that may ruin your Chrome experience. If you don’t want to take those risks, you can use Chrome extensions like Session Buddy and Tabby to help you manage the processing power consumption of your tabs. There are other extensions available, but these may be riddled with bugs, so choose carefully.

Shut down unnecessary tasks

Unbeknownst to you, Chrome may be running resource-intensive tasks that you no longer need. To close them and make your browser run faster, do the following:

  1. At the top-right corner of Chrome, click the More button (i.e., the circular icon with three vertically aligned dots inside).
  2. Click More tools > Task Manager.
  3. Click the Memory footprint heading to sort tasks by how much memory they use.
  4. Select the task you want to shut down, then click End Process. Keep in mind that you’ll lose any unsaved work that that task was doing, so think before you click.

Clear your browsing data

Chrome stores cached copies of websites you visit so it can load pages faster when you visit them again. It also keeps a database of your browsing history and cookies for the same purpose. As you visit more and more websites, these pieces of data accumulate in Chrome and can slow the browser down.

Thankfully, the solution is easy: clear your cache. Simply access your browsing history by entering chrome://history in your address bar. From the left panel, select Clear browsing data. Choose which data to delete by clicking on the checkboxes of all items you want deleted, like cached images or cookies. You can also select the time range that will be affected by the deletion. You can delete your history for the past hour, the last 24 hours, the last seven days, and from the beginning of time. Once you’ve selected the files you want to delete and their corresponding time range, click Clear data.

Remove malware and ads

Sometimes, Chrome slows down because of malware or adware extensions. Extra toolbars, recurring pop-up ads, and web pages redirecting to other addresses are clear indications of these. To remove the unwanted software, type chrome://settings/cleanup in your browser, and click Find to detect and remove harmful software on your computer.

A top-performing web browser benefits your business in many ways, including enhancing your employees’ productivity and speeding up communication. If your web browser is performing poorly or takes forever to load a page, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us so we can identify and fix the problem right away.

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Web hosting: A brief overview

Creating an online presence usually starts with building a website, but to access your website on the internet, you need to partner with a web host. This blog post breaks down the basics of what business owners need to know about web hosting.

What is a web host?

A web host sells or leases memory space on its servers so your website can have a virtual location on the internet. Their services include online storage for all of your site’s files and web pages.

Many web hosts also offer domain name hosting, which creates a web address that users can type into a web browser to access your website (e.g., google.com, inc.com, etc.). Combine these two hosting services and you have the main foundations for your website.

You can also get domain-based email addresses (e.g., robert@acmeenterprise.com) and website databases from web hosts. Essentially, your web host can store everything your website needs.

When you sign up with a web host, you will usually pay a monthly fee, which the company uses to maintain and invest in new servers for hosting, increase access speeds, and provide better services.

What are the two most common types of web hosting?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of web hosts around the world, but they usually fall into one of two categories:

  • Shared hosting – Multiple, different websites are stored on one physical hosting server. Sites have their own partition (section of storage) that is kept separate from other sites on the same server.
  • Dedicated hosting – One website is hosted per server. This means you have all of the server’s capacity to yourself.

Which hosting type is best for my business website?

Most websites use shared hosting because it’s more affordable while still offering generally stable access and access speeds. This is the ideal hosting type for most small- and medium-sized businesses with fairly simple websites.

If your website is going to be large (e.g., thousands of pages) and you are going to host complex features like advanced eCommerce, streaming, communication portals, and other web applications, then it would be best to opt for a dedicated hosting service. Examples of large sites include Google, Amazon, and government sites, among others.

With numerous web hosts out there, selecting the right fit can be quite challenging. But with our IT expertise and solutions, we can help you find the web host that will work best for your business needs. Contact us today to get started with your online presence.

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5 Website conversion ideas for your business

Do you need a website that’ll convince people to sign up for your services or buy your product? The solution to conversion is simpler than you think. Here are five easy website essentials that will surely encourage conversion.

1. Optimize your website for mobile devices

More people are now surfing the web via smartphones and tablets. If you want a piece of this traffic, you need to make your website’s design responsive to all mobile devices.

To give your visitors a seamless mobile experience, make sure your website design fits the screen of any device. Additionally, all elements of your website, including inner pages, resources, and call-to-action buttons should be easily accessible. If not, visitors will get frustrated and move to another site.

2. Make it easy for customers to contact you

Displaying your phone number in the upper-right corner of every page and providing a simple contact form is crucial for conversions. While some people prefer not to give up their email address for fear it will be picked off by spambots, it can serve as another contact option for those who hate web forms. At the very least, your customers will have more than one way to contact you.

3. Keep it simple

People don’t always have time to navigate a complicated website, dig through dozens of pages to find a contact number, or figure out what it is that you’re selling. So when it comes to design, simplicity makes sense. When producing a simple website, every page, word, and image you create must have a singular purpose: to get visitors to contact you. Don’t distract them with excessive information, silly games, or flashy animations. Instead, have a nice clean layout so they can quickly understand what you’re offering and can contact you in just a click.

4. Include original photos whenever possible

Imagine having to choose between two different websites that sell the same thing and look virtually the same. The key difference is that one uses real photos of the owner and his or her staff, while the other uses stock images of business people.

By using original and authentic photos, visitors can get a better sense of your company as well as its products and services. It also gives you better control over how you can compose your photos and determine how you want your company to be perceived. So the next time you need images for your website, invest some time and money in having quality pictures taken by a professional photographer.

5. Move social media icons to the bottom of the page

Everyone loves throwing social media icons on their websites. And while it’s not a bad idea to show your credibility, putting social media icons at the top of the page makes your visitors more likely to click on them immediately. When this happens, you just gave them a reason to leave your site and never return, and we all know how easy it is to get distracted on social media.

Instead, place your social media icons at the bottom of the page or in the footer area. Remember, the goal of your website is to convert. If your visitors leave before they get a chance to explore your services, content, and offerings, you’ve lost them before you even had them.

For more tips on enhancing your digital presence, give us a call and leverage our IT expertise for your business today.

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