Are you going to let the corporations take your business?

IT people at small and medium companies don’t have the big enterprise budget, they don’t have the same depth of in-house skills and weight of numbers as a multinational company, nor do they have the datacentres and the scores of locations… so what?  Your customers don’t care. Your customers don’t sympathise. It doesn’t matter if your IT department is a small team or just one person, the market sets the bar and giving your company the ability to compete is quite simply… your job.

Ask anyone who has used the old tape backup solutions, for small and medium sized companies backup and availability of data/applications has been one of the toughest areas to compete in.  Up to this point only the largest companies have had the real estate, infrastructure and bandwidth to deliver disaster recovery across different sites with the near invincible resilience that this provides.  Up to this point only the largest companies have had the scale to perform real time, full system failover with as near zero recovery times, near zero data loss as is possible.  Not anymore.

In partnership with Arcserve, EOLAS Technologies is excited to announce the playing field just got level. EOLAS Technologies’ Disaster Recovery Service gives you the off-site resilience and instant failover of a large enterprise but without the price tag. 

  • Our experts host and manage your disaster recovery infrastructure so you don’t have to invest heavily in hardware and skills.
  • We equip you with state-of-the-art replication and deduplication technology so the cost of storage and bandwidth is massively reduced.
  • You only pay for what you use, you can turn it on and off like a subscription.
  • Your data/applications have never been more secure and so available, instant RPOs/RTOs and to any location.
  • Improve agility, employee productivity and customer experience.

 

Contact us today and take aim at the market share of your biggest competitor, your service delivery will keep you in the running.

 

Things I’m thinking of…

With the undeniable success that is Windows 7, Microsoft is ploughing full steam ahead with the next incarnation of Windows, imaginatively codenamed: Windows 8. The release of the Developer Preview has answered a few questions about new features, however there are already grumblings about the difficulty to use and the lack of support for legacy apps.

With no direct experience of it though, I’m not going to second guess or deride it here, instead, I have a couple of ideas for the next step in Windows evolution that I hope Microsoft are either a) already thinking of or b) willing to take on board.

Office

The big daddy of the document world, the most used office suite bar none. Others have tried to topple its crown, most notably Open Office, the open source alternative to MS Office and for a while it looked promising. MS pretty much ignored the shot across the bow that Open Office fired and, unfortunately, in the end they were proven right. OO can be a pig to get working right, I myself chucked in the towel one day after spending an hour trying to get the dictionary feature alone to work with no success, and I begrudgingly re-installed Office in an attempt to actually get some work done.

Google on the other hand didn’t so much as fire a warning shot as they did point Suite-seeking missiles at Microsoft and then push the big red button labelled “FIRE EVERYTHING!” (say it in a screaming Gary Oldman voice, alá Leon, for added effect!) Their Google Docs was just suddenly there one day, open to all, free to use for the basics and even if you wanted more functionality, it was available for a low cost monthly fee.

Ok, while things likes its version of Excel (simply called Spreadsheet) lacked the complexity of a full-bore MS Excel, you have to remember it’s a very small percent of users who can use Excel to its full potential. For most, Google Docs did the job and it did it without fuss, without becoming a massive resource hog, coupled with regular automatic backups preventing you from losing anything and the key factor (I believe) its availability.

Microsoft’s response was Office 365, its own, paid for, web-based Office Suite which in itself is very good, but there is no free option, Microsoft still want your money to use their product. Of course you get the free trial similar to the trial package installed on new PCs/laptop but it’s time-limited. It’s also slightly more expensive the Google Docs.

I know businesses that run on Google Docs, non-techy people who, without any network experience, set up their own shared folders, reducing the need to be emailing across the latest versions of documents that already exist in the cloud. And when their staff were out on the road, smartphones provide push email and constant access to the work office environment. No longer did you need to wait for someone to get back into the office to update a spread sheet with the latest order numbers, the staff do it on their smartphones or 3G-enabled tablets while having a coffee after a client meeting. Orders are truly live and there is minimal delay.

How does this tie into my idea for Office and Windows 8? Well, I’m in a situation that a lot of you are probably familiar with, being the only IT person in my family, it invariably falls to me to fix any issues with the rest of the families laptops, PCs and even smartphones. I once joked the only reason my Dad rings me anymore is not to chat and catch up, but he’s just lost a document off his work laptop and needs my help!

So it was little surprise when my little brother landed me with the job of setting up his girlfriend’s new laptop, during which time she felt obliged to rant and rave at me about when she was buying the laptop and the sales person said, “Ok, now you’ve picked the laptop, would you like to buy the software (MS Office) to go with it?” She was outraged, she had always assumed Office just came installed on PC’s and laptops. I argued the point with her that MS Office has always been separate and you can’t expect someone like Microsoft to give away something like Office for free when it makes them so much money, it got the stage where I was pointing out other examples of this in action such as buying the base level of a new car model and then expecting all the bells and whistles to be added for free, it just doesn’t happen, but do you know what?

She was right

Why are Microsoft still charging for full bore Office? Why not put in a bare-bones version that is completely free to use? Sure they’ll lose some revenue but it’s a bold step, a step I think, that’s needed. Microsoft is worried about losing ground to rivals apps? It’s already happening! While I’ll admit they haven’t exactly buried their head in the sand with regard to the threat Google Apps provides, I feel they’re treating the problem a little bit like the music industry is treating piracy, that is to say, going about it the wrong way.

Microsoft need to embrace what’s happening and realise people who just need Office to do the basics don’t want to be forking out €80 to €100 for a software package and only use 10% of its potential when they could have gotten something else for free that does exactly what they need it to do, it’s only breeding resentment.

The old days of Office being the only kid on the block, the only choice people had, are over. Sure, there are still people who can only think Microsoft when you say Office application suite, but think about this. The next generation are always on the way, more tech-savvy then any generation before it, you have kids learning to use an iPad before they can read a full sentence, do you think they’re going to grow up with blinkers on? Not realising they have a choice? I don’t.

Connectivity

One thing Microsoft cannot afford to overlook in Windows 8 is connectivity, specifically, cross-platform connectivity. Mobiles, texting, Twitter, Facebook, we are all connected and almost always reachable, thanks to technology, the only real bottlenecks are platform compatibilities. I’m typing this article on a laptop running Windows 7, my smartphone runs Android 2.3, the iPad 2 on my workmates desk runs Apples iOS, all very different pieces of software from very different vendors yet thanks to things like Dropbox, we can, with little effort, communicate almost anything.

This demonstrates a very important fact, just because Microsoft, Google and Apple don’t like to play ball together, that doesn’t mean they can’t. There are people out there who make a living designing, developing and implementing custom software solutions to solve a problem that, when you think about it, shouldn’t really be a problem in the first place!

The sooner the big boys realise and embrace the fact that all we want to do as a species is communicate openly with each other the better. Vendors need to stop working on ways to lock down their OS’s, to stop retreating into their own space and recognise the fact that the world out there is bigger than them.

The battle to be the best OS should be based on a balance of who has the best functionality, the most intuitive interface, it should be ease of use combined with the ability to connect cross-platform with minimal effort. Human beings like things to be easy, and while a person with an IT background might have no problem setting up a home network, the majority of people just want something to work as soon as it’s taken out of the box and admittedly, we all just want our lives to be that little bit easier.

Imagine if tomorrow, the barriers fell and going forward, things just work seamlessly. You get an email on your smart phone of a friend on holiday and instead of passing around your smartphone you whip the picture towards large LCD tv in front of you. The TV (having synced previously with the your phone) instantly displays the picture for all to see.

Software like this is not farfetched (Google search Bump for iPhone and Android) all that needs to be done is allow it to become integrated and truly cross platform compatible, we just need one of the big companies to be the one to take that first step in realising you can have an open platform and still maintain a customer base when the features of your OS are the most intuitive and user friendly.

C’mon Microsoft, step up, or step off.

Tablets – the future?

More and more I find myself reaching for my tablet when it comes to work-related issues, to the point now where I’ll actually bring it to meetings and client site visits instead of my laptop. It was not always this way, initially, like a lot of people, I wrote off tablets as a fad that would soon burn out, how wrong I was.

The reasons for this up-take in new technology are many, not least that Apple managed to package the tablet computer in a beautiful shell and work their marketing magic on it when they gave us the iPad! But if you look beyond the Apple-spiel (and the price tag) there seems to be a tablet for everyone’s budget out there from sub €100 units right up to mid-spec personal laptop prices, but when you look at it, you get so much more bang for your buck…

Weight saving

This is a no-brainer, my tablet (a Motorola Xoom) weighs in at 730g (1.6lb) compare that to my Dell work laptop which is 3 times the weight at 2.8kg (6.1lb). I know which one I’d rather be lugging around.

Ergonomics

I’m pushing 6’ 3” and the one thing I dread about travelling is not getting a seat in the emergency aisle on a plane, that extra tiny little bit of leg room makes all the difference. Unfortunately I’m usually not the only one thinking along those lines on the Dublin to London early morning flight. Trying to do any work in a standard seat on a 737 is awkward to say the least, especially if you’re flying Ryanair who seem to have made an art form out of jamming the most amount of people into the smallest spaces on a plane! Working on a tablet saves me contorting into yoga-like positions in an attempt to get some work done. Tablet makers everywhere, my fellow passengers and I thank you as I’m no longer elbowing the people around me in an attempt to use keyboard shortcuts!

Battery life

Blows my laptop out of the water, it’s rare I’d go through a full charge on the Xoom, in fact the only times I’ve ever been caught short on battery life was due to me not charging the tablet the night before. I regularly get 2 days of light use out and even then it’s not screaming for a charge. My days of playing the last minute dash to find a power point are over.

User experience

Being the IT Guy in the family, it falls to me to provide training on all things techie (even if I’ve never seen the thing before, like the new microwave with digital display and controls, I’m instantly expected to know what buttons to press to defrost 2 frozen pork chops, but I digress…) The thing with PCs and laptops is they’ve evolved to the state where they’re trying to balance functionality with user friendliness and somewhere along the way, they dropped the ball.

Graphics have gotten sharper and therefore, smaller, programs have tried to jam so much functionality into their product, it can be hard to find the function you’re looking for. It doesn’t help they’ve moved its location since the last release! Here’s an example of a recent exchange I had with an older relative and their different experiences of accessing their email on their PC versus a newly purchased tablet (which I’d set up)

 

On the PC:

Me: Ok, open Internet Explorer.

Older Relative: Where’s that?

Me: There should be an icon on your desktop (I then look at desktop and realise she has 80 shortcuts on her desktop, most to broken or non-existent files) Eh, never mind, click on the Start menu.

OR: Where’s the Start menu?

Me: Bottom left, looks like a button with a colourful window on it (then mutter a few choice expletives about Windows 7 under my breath)

OR: Oh right, oh yes, Internet Explorer, there it is.

Me: Great, now in the address bar, type in gmail.com

OR: Where’s the address bar?

Me: Its right up the…wait a sec, where’s your address bar? Did you press F11 recently?

OR: What’s an F11?

Older male relative: I think it was a fighter jet in the 60’s!

Me: YOU’RE NOT HELPING UNCLE DAVE!! Sorry, sorry (takes a deep breath, reaches over and presses F11, screen returns to normal) Now, there’s the address bar, now type in gmail.com

OR: Okey dokey! (Types in address, presses enter, the username and password have been cached & I say a silent thank you to the Gods of IT as it’s just saved me another 3 steps!) Oh, there’s my email!

 

On the tablet:

Me:  OK, unlock the tablet and press the Gmail icon

OR: Oh, there’s my email!

Bang for Buck

Currently the top of the range Xoom is about €550 (with 3G connectivity which we’ll discuss next) a similar spec  iPad is €699, which is mid to hi-spec personal laptop territory, but considering business laptops usually run much higher than that you’re already making a saving. There’s also the fact you’re getting the kind of battery life that could only be achieved by adding an additional (expensive) high capacity battery and already the tablet is looking like the smart investment.

There’s also the available apps for tablets, granted, a lot of them are useless to you from a business sense but don’t forget a lot of the ones that are useful are also free! There’s also Angry Birds, need I say more?

Connectivity

As mentioned previously, the higher spec tablets come equipped with 3G connectivity, meaning you’re not relying on public or client Wi-Fi to be able to connect to your office systems or catch up on the latest news headlines. The current offering is 3G but 4G is coming down the pipeline, promising speeds of up to 12mb/sec. Now, while I’ll believe that speed when I actually see it, 4G will no doubt be faster than current 3G speeds and to be honest, once you’re in decent coverage, 3G is actually quite good for connecting to the cloud or your service of choice so things can only get better (touch wood).

Last minute use

Hands up if you’ve ever done the following, approximately .01 of a second after you’ve hit Shut Down on your laptop, you remember one final email you had to send and now have to go through the whole boot up process, let windows load, let your startup applications load, open the resource hog that is Outlook and finally type up and send off that email.

Tablets on the other hand are the closet thing we have to instant on technology, they wake from hibernation with lightning speed thanks to the fast solid state drives and small processing power required by the OS. In short, you’ll be finished your work that little bit quicker and get on with other important things…like checking Facebook & Twitter.

Summary

Like them or not, tablets are here to stay. Sure, they take a bit of getting used to, but as the market grows and more manufacturers take it seriously, you’ll start to see the lines between tablet and laptop blur a little. Yes the on screen keyboards can take some getting used to but there are already devices such as the Bluetooth keyboards for iPad and Android by Logitech (amongst others)

Tablets have laptops firmly in their sights and while they will never truly replace laptops, it may not be long before they replace them as the business tool of choice for today’s user.

This article first appeared in our Eolas Newsletter we send out once a month,

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Being Secure on Public Wi-Fi

Being Secure on Public Wi-Fi: VPN, Firewalls, File Sharing

With a dash of technical knowledge and some preparation, you can safely use a public WiFi network. Public Wi-Fi security is a very different thing.

Wi-Fi networks that you setup and control be it at home or in a small business, start with an assumed safe group of users. The main security objectives are encrypting data traveling over the air and keeping outsiders out.

On a public wireless network you also need to be concerned with encrypting data coming into and out of your computer, but the solutions are very different. On top of this, public networks add new threats because you are now sharing a network with total strangers as opposed to a trusted group.

Encryption

Encryption is easy on your own network but a major pain on a public network. Home networks configured with WPA (more technically WPA-TKIP) or WPA2 (more technically WPA2-AES-CCMP) get their encryption for free, so to speak. As a user of the network all you need to do is enter the password and everything is encrypted.

Public networks typically don’t use WPA or WPA2, leaving you to implement your own when it comes to encryption.  The simplest solution is to use secure HTTPS web pages. For example, when I’m traveling for short periods of time, I use secure webmail for my email.
However, some webmail systems only encrypt the page where you enter your user ID and password. They do not encrypt the pages where you read and write messages.

Most web pages are not secure, no doubt including some that you would prefer everyone couldn’t tell you were viewing, the Internet is much more than just web pages.

Question : How can you encrypt everything on a public wireless network?
Answer: A Virtual Private Network (a.k.a. VPN).

Virtual Private Networks

What WPA and WPA2 give you on your home network, a VPN gives you on a public network, encrypting everything coming into and out of your computer. I suspect there are millions of computer users that could and should be using a VPN but aren’t aware of it as an option.

VPNs are often couched in brutally obscure techie lingo. In part this is because their market has always been networking techie’s at large companies. But no more, newer types of VPNs are simpler to implement and are available to a newer audience: you and me.
The classic VPN linked the network in one corporate office to another. Perhaps the most common use of VPNs is for traveling employees to make a secure link back to their home office.

There is another type of VPN for people who are not employed by large companies and/or who don’t have a home office network they need to connect with. For lack of a better term, I’ll refer to them as consumer VPNs.

A corporate or business VPN treats the entire Internet as the enemy and encrypts everything between the traveling employee and the home office. A consumer VPN only treats the immediate area (typically a public wireless network) as the enemy. That is, the goal of a consumer VPN is to offer the same level of security you would have at home by using a wired Internet connection. Thus, a consumer VPN encrypts everything between you and the servers of the company offering the VPN service. After data gets to the VPN company’s servers, it is decrypted and dumped on the Internet.

To illustrate, assume that you are in Dublin using a VPN service from a company in Cork and listening to a radio station streaming from Galway (again, a VPN encrypts all traffic, including streaming audio). Data coming into your computer travels unencrypted from Galway to Cork. The VPN company then encrypts the data (your favorite radio station) and sends it from Cork to you in Dublin. Software on your computer then decrypts the data.
The goal here is that the network you are connected to in Dublin, be it a public Wi-Fi network or perhaps a wired network in a hotel, only sees encrypted data. No one in Dublin has any idea what you are doing on the Internet.

Firewalls

Another issue when sharing a computer network with strangers is keeping them out of your computer. The first line of defence here is a firewall program running on your computer.

A firewall program is basically a bunch of rules about what type of data is allowed in, and with better firewalls, what type of data is allowed out. In this case, the issue is incoming data. A good firewall should block all incoming unsolicited data.

Does your firewall program do this?

Unfortunately, this can be a very hard question to answer. Configuring a firewall, even for someone familiar with the basic concepts, can be maddening. Perhaps the best user interface I’ve seen for configuring the firewall rules is the firewall in Windows XP. As a firewall, it’s lightweight but it’s good enough for many people. Older versions of ZoneAlarm also had an easy to understand user interface.

File Sharing

One of the bad things that can happen as a result of a hole in the firewall is that bad guys on the shared Wi-Fi network can see and copy files on your computer.
As a second line of defence, consider disabling the file sharing feature in your operating system. For example, Windows XP users can bring up the properties of their wireless network connection from the Network Connections icon in the Control Panel. There is a checkbox for “File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks.” Turning this off provides another hurdle for the bad guys to get through.

If you never share files or printers on a network, then you can disable the underlying services in Windows. However, this prevents file sharing on wired networks and may be a pain to debug when a year or two down the road you want to start sharing files or printers.

Who Are You? (The Fake Name)

My last piece of advice concerns the names of wireless networks.
Anyone setting up a wireless network can name it anything they like. Thus, if you find yourself in a Starbucks coffee shop and want to use their free Wi-Fi, is their network called “SBwifi,” “SBwireless,” “starbucks” or “free public wifi”?

The only way to know is ask someone who works for the store. Don’t make any assumption about a wireless network based on its name. The last choice, “free public wifi” is infamous for not being what the name implies.

It takes work, but it is possible to be safe and secure on a public Wi-Fi network.

For information on how we can help secure your WiFi Connections and provide VPN services give us a call on 1850 88 79 79 or email [email protected]

Stop Windows Update rebooting your machine

Attention Microsoft, during development of Windows 7, when you all sat around a table discussing how to work the windows update portion, I would like the name of the person whose idea it was to make the update and reboot mandatory. I want to ask if they wrote in a little piece of code that makes sure you’re flat out busy when this box appears:

What kind of jackass makes a reboot mandatory? What’s wrong with waiting until I’m finished my work day? I’m struggling to put into words here the frustration this feature causes and the disbelief that you all decided that this was the best way forward.

Instead of hunting you all down one by one, I’ve gone with a different course of action, I fixed your screw up. For anyone who is interested, here is it is:

  1. Open a run command by pressing Windows Key + R
  2. Type regedit and hit enter, if you get a security warning just ok it
  3. Browse to the following string HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\WindowsUpdate\AU
  4. If you get as far as Windows and don’t see the rest of the string, right click and create them
  5. Create a new 32-bit DWORD value named NoAutoRebootWithLoggedOnUsers and give it a value of 1 to prevent automatic reboot while users are logged on
  6. If you want to disable this feature, just delete the value