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For some businesses a couple hours of downtime can be a problem. It can cost hundreds in lost revenue, or makes your customers unhappy. However, those businesses don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to make sure their computer systems keep working.  A client like that may need redundant internet connections, a server with redundant hard drives, and maybe an online backup solution.

But what if being down for an hour looses you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars? Some companies pay millions for multiple data centers, each having multiple electricity connections, multiple internet connections, and multiple backups to support multiple redundant servers with redundant hard drives, cpu’s, memory, and even power supplies. All that to stretch out the number of 9’s at the end of 99.999% up time.

If your company doesn’t have millions of dollars to spend on I.T. you can still get pretty close to the up time of the big companies. A few ways to do this are:

Virtualize servers in a “public” cloud- You can harness the power of these millions of dollars that cloud computing companies are spending on their data centers, and “rent” space and processing power from them. However not all servers can be off site in the cloud, and having some servers off site means you need a faster internet connection to connect to the server.

Build your own cloud- When the data you have is too important to upload over the internet, you might want to build your own cloud. This is more expensive, and less redundant than having your servers hosted in a public cloud, but you get the peace of mind that you know exactly where your data is.

Use a hybrid backup solution- You may want to keep your current servers in place since you already payed for them, and they work. The question is for how long? Computers break. That’s why I have a job. So with a hybrid backup solution you can back your server up, and if it fails you can use the backup to run a virtual copy of your server. This solution is less expensive than building your own cloud, and can be very similar in cost to hosting your servers in a public cloud.

No matter what size your business is, or how much you need top spend to make sure things keep running, there is a solution for you.

Windows server 2003 has been good to us. It has served up our files, websites, terminal sessions, etc for many years now. That is all coming to an end for most businesses. Windows server 2003 is reaching end of support on July 14th 2015 (https://www.microsoftbusinesshub.com/windows-server-2003-EOS-migration-registration). That means no more security updates patching security flaws. This could leave you business at risk and open to hackers.

Having antivirus, firewalls, and other security software can help minimize some risks, but when it comes to security flaws in the operating system you really need to have them patched. If your company has any stored information about your customers you have the obligation to keep that information private, and a breach can be blamed on you. It is not worth the risk to keep these old servers around.

If you still have a windows server 2003 based server in your business, you should make a plan to replace it before July 14th. If you switch to a new server with windows server 2012, it will be supported until January 2023 (https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/lifecycle/search/default.aspx?sort=PN&alpha=windows%20server&Filter=FilterNO)

Problem: I rent a server that doesn’t allow you to use bridged mode with virtual machines due to port security which only allows one mac address to connect to their switch. Normally, you would just use bridged mode, and assign a VM the external IP address you get from your ISP, but that won’t work here. I was told I needed to use NAT to connect my VM’s to the internet.

Virtualbox supports NAT mode, but then you have to set up port forwarding for any services you need to use. This can be an issue especially for services like FTP which when in passive mode needs port 21 for login and control, and a port range for the data channels. Most FTP services allow you to assign a range of ports to use, so you can forward them, but Virtualbox doesn’t support port range forwarding, so you have to forward each port individually. A much easier way to deal with a situation like this is to use 1:1 NAT also known as basic NAT or 1 to 1 NAT, but Virtualbox doesn’t support that either.

Solution: Virtualbox does support a networking mode called host only networking. This basically acts as a virtual switch that is connected to a virtual NIC on your computer. So if you set up windows server for NAT, you can use windows server’s 1:1 Nat abilities. Here’s how.

1. Set the VM to use host only networking in the virtualbox interface, Then set a static IP address in your VM in the 192.168.56.2-254 range. Setting a static IP address can vary from one host to another, so I won’t go into that.

hostonly

 

2. In server manager add roles and features

addrole

 

3. Check remote access

 

remacc

4. Check routing

rout

 

5. Open Routing and remote access, right click on your server and choose configure and enable routing and remote access.

conf

 

6. Choose network address translation (NAT)

nat

 

7.  Choose your NIC attached to the external network.

ether

 

8. Choose to set up dns and dhcp later

name

 

9. Once it finishes setting up RRAS expand ipv4, and click on NAT, then double click Ethernet.

ether2

 

10. Under the address pool tab click add, and add your IP address pool given to you by your ISP or hosting provider.

 

add

11. Click reservations, then add, and input the external address you want to map to your VM, and the static IP address you gave it in the first step, and check allow incoming sessions to this address.

map

 

12. Then just hit ok until you get back to routing and remote access, and you should be all set! Your static, external IP address now maps to your VM’s internal address, and any services that your vm’s firewall or security software aren’t blocking can be accessed from that IP address.

 

This is not how you want your corporate traffic to look

facebook-usage

 

When you pay your employees, I bet you don’t like the thought of paying them to socialize with friends on Facebook. How about paying for the devices and bandwidth they use to socialize? That doesn’t sound like something I’d want either.

The good news is you don’t have to. Content filtering at different levels is a very achievable goal. A proxy can be used to block social media traffic at the network level, and web filtering can be used to block it at the application level. Together you can almost eliminate any unwanted internet use.

Of course it doesn’t have to end at social media. web filtering can keep your employees from infecting computers, shopping online on company time, or even keep them from causing HR issues with other workers.

Over the years we have had a few customers who grow to the point where they hire an on-site I.T. person. At that point I usually get the “We won’t need you anymore” speech, and I say “Congratulations! You have my number if you need any help.”

Sure enough we usually do get a phone call at some point when either the person they hired can’t do something or fix something, they let that person go, or they are just looking for advice on one thing or another. Sometimes They like to hire someone with less experience or skills at a lower rate, and just bring us in for the problems and projects they can’t handle.

Our managed services can also be very useful even if you already have an I.T. staff. When you can get managed antivirus, managed backup, or any of our other services for the same price as a non managed solution, it can only help your I.T. staff with upkeep and maintenance, that otherwise might take up a big chunk of the day.

As many business owners know, your employees don’t always have the mindset and/or viewpoint needed to be as efficient as you’d like. Having a 3rd party look at your I.T. processes, and make suggestions can save time and money.

If you don’t have someone with enough knowledge and oversight to manage your I.T. staff, and you are just trusting them to do the best job possible you are probably leaving money on the table. That is when an I.T. Consultant can come in handy.

Don’t let an internet outage stop your business

internet-outages-internet-300x163

For many of our customers, and internet outage brings their business to a halt. We hear: “I can’t send any emails!” “My VOIP phones don’t work!” “I can’t access __________, so I can’t do my job!”. If your business relies on the internet for anything from the first quote or contact from a customer to sending the bill when finished, you are not alone in being dependent on your internet connection. Just like everything else in life, you don’t know how much you need it until it’s gone.

Recently when a local internet provider went down we got a ton of calls from customers who were out of business without the internet. Some even sent their employees home for the day. Others however were not affected at all, or were affected much less. How? are they less dependent on the internet to run their business? No. They simply planned ahead with a little help from us.

We can set up one or more redundant internet connections with different carriers that can both spread the load across carriers, and if one goes down it can fail over to only use the connection that works. This means that at most, you are probably only going to be slowed down by one connection failing, and not blocked from getting your work done all together. If you think about the costs associated with having all your employees sit there and twiddle their thumbs while waiting for the internet to come back up, you might realize the value in having this in place.

Don’t be caught in this situation next time the internet goes down at work, plan ahead, we can help!

What are Managed Services?

backup

Lately I have been talking to our customers a lot about managed services. We offer packages for managed security, managed backup, and managed workstations, and they can save companies a lot of hassle and money, but very few of our customers know what managed services really are.

Managed services is outsourcing the maintenance and monitoring of your computer systems. For one fee per computer we can monitor and manage every piece of technology your company depends on. we find problems before they even know they are a problem, and fix the problems before they interrupt the operations their business depends on.

Simply put, if you lose money when a computer system goes down, as most businesses do, you need managed services! Our customers that sign up for managed services see a fraction of the downtime of break fix customers.

Last week one of our customers who uses our managed services got an adware infection from one of their employees playing games on their work computer. I was able to spot the infection and clean it before it became too serious. Another one of our customers who is under a break-fix agreement got a very similar infection, but when their antivirus said it cleaned it they believed it and kept using the computer. That computer ended up needing to be re-imaged, and was down for a whole day.

Managed antivirus and software patches from us costs about the same as your standard stand alone system, but you get our expertise behind it. I would recommend this to anyone who’s antivirus is up for renewal, or will be up for renewal in the near future.

Should I Get A Tablet Or A Laptop?

laptop-tablet

I’m frequently asked this question, and generally there are a few easy questions to ask that will get you an easy answer. Tablets are great little devices for games, reading, movies, apps, etc. Laptops are great for writing papers, editing videos, editing pictures, playing games, watching movies, etc

So which one should you buy? That depends on what you want to do, and how much you have to spend.

Do you want to create something for others to watch or to read? a tablet doesn’t have a keyboard, and the external keyboards you can buy are usually too small to be useful in writing anything longer than a paragraph or two. A laptop is much more useful in this scenario, or even better, a desktop with a full sized keyboard, and a bigger screen. The lack of a big screen, precise controls such as a keyboard and mouse, and power also makes a tablet less useful for making and editing videos and pictures. While there are video and picture editing apps for tablets, they don’t even come close to the power offered by programs for the mac and PC, and the input method of a touchscreen is not accurate enough.

Do you need really long battery life? Tablets generally have much longer battery life than a laptop, because their less powerful hardware takes less battery power to run. Some tablets can run 8+ hours on battery alone, while 3 hours on battery is really good for a laptop.

Do you need to store a lot of pictures and/or videos? Tablets generally don’t come with much storage, so if you want to keep a lot of pictures and/or videos, a laptop is the way to go, and make sure you get one with a big hard drive.

Do you need to show a presentation on a projector or tv screen? While there are some technologies to allow you to do this using a tablet. The only way to ensure compatibility is to use a laptop, and have any adapters you need to go between hdmi, DVI, and VGA.

Generally neither a laptop or a tablet is very good at taking videos and pictures. The built in cameras might be acceptable, but they are rarely as good as those found in even point and shoot cameras or cell phones.

Most of the time it comes down to content creation, or content consumption. If you want to create something, use a laptop or desktop, but if you all you want to do is consume media, then a tablet will work better than a laptop or desktop.

What’s A Website Get Me?

top of google

I get people all the time who ask me why their website isn’t at the top of Google’s search results. Of course this is a really complicated question, which is not easy to answer. Usually the question that follows is well what do I pay you for every month? To which the answer is simple: Hosting. Buying a website gets you the website itself, and the content management system it’s based on which allows you to easily edit the site on your own. Hosting fee’s pay for the server on which your website is held, the software that runs it, the maintenance that keeps it secure, and the bandwidth that is used to allow your customers to visit the site.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a service that companies offer to try to get your website a higher ranking with search engines. This involves knowing and understanding an ever changing algorithm that search engines use to choose which order to display results in. Every time the search engines change their algorithm companies that offer SEO race to change the way they optimize sites. Because of this for most markets SEO is a constant task, not a one time job.
You can do some SEO yourself, such as making sure you use key words on your pages as often as you can without being tacky, using any SEO related tools built into your website such as URL rewriting, keyword tagging, etc, and keeping your content on your page fresh and up to date. Keeping your site fresh is big because search engines assume that new content is more relevant than older content.

SEM (Search engine marketing) is when you pay search engines to be at the top. these are the results that are separated from all the rest at the top, and some times have paid result or something right above or below it.

Social media marketing is using twitter, facebook, linkedin, ect. to drive traffic to your site or business. There are companies that offer services ranging from consulting on setting up your accounts, to helping you make posts.

The simple answer to what’s a website give me is a presence on the internet. From there, there are many tools to market your business, but first you have to have a presence. I like to compare it to renting space. you can rent a store front, but you need to get people to go to that store front with marketing and advertising.

If you have any questions, or are interested in a website or a service to market your website feel free to give me a call!

Finding The Balance

access denied

When it comes to employee productivity, there are a million different ways you can configure your computer systems to keep them on task. Some companies want the computers open and unrestricted so their employees aren’t restricted in how they do their job. They believe that employees really just want to do their job, and if you allow them the freedom, they will find the best way to get the job done.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article Christopher Mims says

If you’re like me, the first thing you do when you join an organization is figure out how to avoid the Kafka-esque nightmare that is the company’s own IT system. Because let’s face it, in most organizations, what should be the simplest tasks—purchasing, booking travel, even email—are Byzantine compared with how we accomplish them on our own.” –https://online.wsj.com/articles/keywords-let-staff-go-rogue-on-tech-1402268202?KEYWORDS=mims

He says that users should be allowed to try out new services and software for themselves, and if they find it useful, and it meets the companies security policies, it will be adopted by the companies I.T. department. This is a catch 22 for I.T. professionals, because it’s their job above all others to keep the computer systems up and running smoothly, and they can’t know that an end user has the know how to choose software and services wisely.

I have seen systems on other end of the spectrum also. When a company is too lenient with employees many resources can be wasted on entertainment such as games, videos, shows, and movies. I have seen companies bandwidth usage chop in half after blocking sites like facebook, twitter, youtube, etc. Eventually after blocking those sites the employees found other sites to waste time on, and we ended up using a whitelist to give them access to only websites they could go to rather than blocking sites they couldn’t. Their productivity also went way up.

There has to be a good balance between freedom and productivity/security. It is different for every job, and every company. Some of this is dependent on the wages of your employees, their sense of job security, and even their morale. Because ever company is different, I don’t believe there is any cookie cutter answer for this. It’s a balance that needs to be reached mutually between the I.T. department and the rest of the employees or one side will always be unhappy about it.

I help many companies come to reach this balance every day, one step at a time. I consult on, and implement solutions from strictly security  restrictions, all the way to “My employee’s can’t focus unless I take away all distractions”. If this is something you’re interested in, feel free to give me a call!