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Archive for November, 2010

Taking The Less Expensive IT Route . . . Is It Worth It?

As a small business owner, you are trying to stretch your financial resources as far as possible.  And in today’s economy, this is a bigger challenge than ever before.  IT and the “computer stuff” tend to receive a small (if any) portion of the budget. This lack of resources provides challenges for small business and the staff.

When skimping on your IT needs you may end up spending additional resources (time, money or staff) to do the same job or you may have to skip the work altogether.  Trail versions should not replace the full functioning program and usually limited by time or functionality.  The “home” or “lite” version of anything is usually not advisable for businesses, unless you know how you can work within the limits of the software or operating system.  Reusing or re-purposing older equipment is a great idea as long as the equipment can meet the current demands of the application.

Here are some examples of typical cost cutting scenarios which cost more in the end:

  • Opting for the home version of the Windows™ Operating system.   The Home version is approximately $100 less than the Pro version which makes the Home version more attractive.  A client opted for the Home version, but he was then unable to back up to a network device as this version does not support this functionality.  Additional resources had to be used to allow the backup.   Please be aware there are limitations when using Windows 7 Home Premium™ instead of Windows 7 Pro™.  A comparison chart is available at http://windows.microsoft.com/enUS/windows7/products/compare.
  • Choosing the “Lite” or “Home” version of Internet service from your ISP.  This service provides less bandwidth than may be required for your office to run efficiently.   In one case this cost cutting prevented several users from using Skype (free video calling and/or chat) at the same time.  Online application tutorials were also unusable due to choppy and lagging video.
  • Using a desktop computer as a file server and workstation at the same time.   Imagine a user trying to work on this same system and feel their frustration when the system slows to a crawl as everyone in the office is trying to access the shared files on this shared computer.
  • Purchasing a “barebones” or “bottom of the line” laptop or computer.  I know how tempting this can be.  Before you make this type of acquisition ensure all your required software will run well on the system now and in the future.   The typical result of purchasing a “barebones” or “bottom on the line” system is a computer on which applications run slowly or a limited number of applications can be open at once.  Spend a little more money for a better quality and faster system that exceeds your current needs but in most cases there is no reason to buy the latest and greatest for your everyday business requirements.

There are many ways you can stretch your IT dollar.  You can reuse older computers for storage devices.  Open Source software is free and can be a viable alternative for the expensive commercial program.  You can find many open source software that can substitute commercial current programs.  For example, Open Office is an excellent replacement for Microsoft Office™.  Gimp can replace Photoshop.  For a list of Open Source business alternatives, go to http://mashable.com/2010/06/17/fossforsmallbusinesses/.

When it comes to saving money on your IT needs, be critical of your current and future needs.  I am not suggesting you purchase the top of the line hardware or operating system but the end of line of bare bones systems may not be the most economical choice either. Any “home” or “lite” versions should be researched to ensure it meets your needs today, and foreseeable future.  Talk to your IT Specialist to determine where you can save money on your IT needs.

 

 

Categories: Small Business IT

Automatic System Updates


I ran into a friend the other day who was having issues with her laptop.  The first question I asked was “When did you last update your computer?”  The response … “Am I supposed to?”  I know system updates are not something we normally think about, but these updates are imperative to keep your computers operating system current and more importantly, fix possible security flaws.  Running an un-patched system on your network can result in damage or theft of your data.

Unless your small business has a server and updates are pushed to your systems, your computers should be set to auto update directly from Microsoft or Apple.   Unfortunately this setting can be inadvertently turned off or sometimes never turned on.  The easiest way to protect yourself, network and data is by enabling auto-update on your systems.  I have provided instructions on how to do this for both Windows and Mac systems.

Windows XP – Windows 7.  Click the Start button then All Programs and then click Windows Update.  At this point a dialog box will be displayed. This dialog box will be slightly different depending on your version of Windows. Select the option “Change Settings”. You can now change the time your system will download and install updates.  I suggest selecting “Install updates automatically” under the Important updates section.

Apple Mac OS X – Click the Apple icon then click System Preferences and then select Software Update Pane.  You can then choose when the system will download and install the updates.

Keep in mind, if you configure updates to run in the middle of the night, be sure the computer is on during this time. Sometimes scheduling updates during the day, maybe during lunch, may be a better option.

There will be times when you will have a system which has automatic updates turned off.  Usually this is because rebooting the system without warning would be disruptive.  In this case, checking and manually installing updates is highly recommended.

If you are unsure of your system is current, please speak to your IT support member to ensure all your systems are kept up to date.

Categories: Small Business IT

A Wired and Wireless Network Primer for the Small Business

When you started your small business, you may have only had a handful of devices in your office. These devices were probably connected directly to the router for internet access and the printer was connected to one pc and “shared”. But as your office grows so will your network connectivity needs. This article will explain the basics of wired and wireless connections for your office.

When planning your office network layout there will be several factors to consider.

  • Will you have wireless devices, i.e. laptops, tablets?
  • Will you require streaming capabilities?
  • Will you have desktops, printers or servers?

I will assume you already have or will be arranging for internet access to your site. You will also require a router to control your network traffic if you do not already have one. Your ISP (internet service provider) may provide a router as part of their service. If this is the case be sure to discuss the features of this equipment with the service representative. In some cases the supplied router is only a basic unit and additional features are not included. If your router lacks specific functionality you may need to upgrade the device the ISP is providing or supply an additional device for more control. Stay tuned for a “router” blog post in the next few weeks, which will explain the different router options available for the small office.

When using a wireless router you must secure the device, to prevent authorized access to your network and data. If you are unsure of how to secure your router, you should have an IT Specialist configure it for you. You should also include a firewall in your network if your router does not include this one. Again, your IT Specialist can assist you in determining and configuring a firewall which best protects your network.

Your network will probably have both wired and wireless devices and look similar to the schematic. For the most part your office will have a combination of wired and wireless connections. This layout assumes a firewall is included as part of the router.


Wired

A wired device is one which is physically attached to the network with a cable. A network cable is usually blue or gray with what looks like a phone jack on each end. The connectors are called RJ45’s and these ends connect to the various devices in your office. There are several grades and types of network cabling. For an exhaustive article on the different cables you can follow the Wikipedia link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethernet_over_twisted_pair. Today you will usually only find Cat 5/e and Cat 6 cabling in most offices.

When installing or replacing network cable I suggest you use Cat 6 cable. It will cost a little more initially but you will have a better network experience. If you plan on streaming, gaming or using VOIP Cat 6 is the superior product. Transfer rates will be faster, video will be smoother and you experience less lag. Video conferencing would also benefit from a wired network connection.

Cat 5 and Cat 6 have a maximum cable length of 100 meters or 328 feet. If the cable connecting devices exceeds the maximum distance a repeater will need to be added. For most small business the 100 meter limit is more than adequate for their offices.

“What needs to be wired in?” When considering which devices should be on the wired network my rule of thumb is “if it does not move it should be physically connected to the network”. This rule would apply to servers, NAS devices, desktops, and printers. VOIP phones will not be discussed in this article. Contact your IT Specialist or Telephony Specialist for VOIP implementation.

Wireless

A wireless network is a network in which the devices are connected wirelessly to your office network via a WiFi connection. Wireless networks have given us mobility to work from someplace other than our desk (personally I like the couch). Unfortunately we have to give up some of the benefits of the wired network for this freedom.

Wireless networks do not perform as well as wired networks. This may not be an issue depending on your needs. If you are planning on streaming or having video conferences a wired network is preferred. This is not to say you can’t stream, game or have a video conference, but you may notice a performance decrease. This is usually characterised by lagging or choppy audio/video.

Wireless networks are also subject to interference, including microwaves, baby monitors and cordless phones. If you are experiencing “hiccups” on your wireless devices check to see if any of the offending items are in the area.

The placement of the router can also affect your signal strength. Wireless Access Points/Routers should be placed within line of sight and in the most central location of the building whenever possible. The fewer obstacles the signal has to pass through the better the signal strength. For larger areas or offices with a number of walls additional wired access points can be added to increase the coverage area. The more users you connect to the wireless network the less bandwidth each user will be able to access. Check your router documentation for the maximum number of users.

I hope this article has provided you an overview of when it’s best to use a wired or wireless connection for your office devices. For additional help in planning your network talk to your IT Specialist about what is right for your company now and in the future.

Categories: Uncategorized
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