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Backing Up to Azure…it’s not that bad

I’m continuing on my Windows Server 2012 Essentials kick this week. I know R2 was released last week, but the procedure is basically the same. I’ll update this post with the R2 instructions in the coming weeks.

We all know we should be doing off-site backups as part of our backup routine; see 3-2-1 Now Backup for more details about a backup strategy for your small business. And as I write this, I’m thinking, when was the last time I performed an offsite backup? Yep, it’s been awhile, because it’s a manual process and I will “get around to it”. Unfortunately, I see this too often at my clients as well, and for the same reason. It’s a manual process and it get puts on the back burner. Luckily, Microsoft made this an automated process in Windows Server 2012 Essentials, so we don’t have to think about it and if the unthinkable did happen, the data is safe on the Azure servers. Azure is Microsoft’s hosting platform. For more details about the features of Azure, see http://www.windowsazure.com/en-us/.

Now on to the how-to. Please note this is long, and contains screen shots to help you step through this process.

I started by creating an account on Azure. Go to http://www.windowsazure.com/en-us/ and sign up for an account. Once your account has been created you will need to enter the Portal and create a recovery vault in the Recovery Services module.

Launch the Dashboard from your server.

Dashboard

Click Add Ins and then Integrate with Windows Azure Online.

Add Ins

You will be taken to the Azure website.

Azure SignUp

Follow the instructions to create an account.

Azure Log On

 

 

 

 

Once your account has been created, click on the Portal link then create a Backup Vault in Recovery Services.

Storage

Once the vault has been created, your account will look similar to this:

Backup Vault

Double clicking the name of your vault (you assigned this name when you created the vault) will display the details about your vault, including the server it’s connected to.

Vault Info

At this point you can now start connecting your Windows 2012 Server Essentials to Azure.

Click on Step 2 Download agent. This will install the connector. Add the Online Backup tab on your server Dashboard. Follow the prompts to install the add in.

Add Ins

You will also have to copy your server certificate to Azure backup. To do this, access the Azure Online backup from the new Online Backup tab on the Dashboard. Click the copy button beside the certificate path.

Certificate

Switch back to your Online vault and select Manage at the bottom of the window.

Certificate Management

Click the Browse for file link and then “paste” the data from the previous copy. The certificate will be added to the vault. Your server is now registered with the Azure online backup.

If you have made it this far, hang in there a few more steps and we can setup the backup.

You can now register the server with the online backup from the Online Backup tab.

Register

Fill in the dialog boxes if necessary.

Passphrase

You are now required to come up a long passphrase. It took me 3 tries to come up with one long enough. You can reset your passphrase if you forget it, like I have.

After a few more dialog boxes your server will be registered.

Registerd

We can now finally start backing up our server to Azure! Yes, it’s been a long procedure to this point. I promise it gets easier now.

To configure our Online Backup either click the icon in the completed registration window (above) or select the Online Backup tab from the server Dashboard.

Select the appropriate files/folders for your backup.

Files

Then, how often you want the server to be backed up.

date and time

Next, pick your retention policy.

Retention

You now have the option to configure how much bandwidth the backup can use.

Bandwidth

Your server will now prepare your backup.

azure 36

Finally…we have successfully configured the online backup!

azure 37

Before we finally say it’s complete, I would suggest you start a backup and verify the server is backing up to Azure.

I have to admit this process took some time, but I think that was more my inexperience with Azure than with either product. The first time I setup Office 365 it took longer than I thought, now I can do it with my eyes closed.

Trust me, this will be worth the time and effort. If the unthinkable does happen, the company data, the heart and soul of the organization, is kept safely off-site and can be easily retrievable.

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The Case of the Missing Pictures

BackupYou all know I love Microsoft Small Business Server, and my mysterious case of the missing pictures last week highlights one of the reasons why I will implement this solution wherever possible with a permanent backup hard drive in place. First, a little background about this client. It’s a small company of about 10 employees; which do not include anyone with more than basic word processing skills. They had an XP system that was being used as a file server, and several other older desktop systems being used by the employees. A year ago, we installed a new Small Business Server Essentials and 6 new desktops. More importantly, we also installed a 2 TB external hard drive to host their server backups. When the new infrastructure was put in place, they wanted to keep most of the server folders open and editable for all users.

A few days ago, the company’s “champion user” called the Bennett Business Connections Hotline in a panic; one of their event picture folders on the server had mysteriously disappeared and was nowhere to be found! The last time she recalled seeing the missing folder was a few weeks prior to her hotline call, and there was no evidence of how it was removed. As a proper Small Business detective, I assured her not to worry and that we would track down her pictures soon. To start the investigation, I logged in that evening and immediately accessed their backup. I wasn’t concerned about tracking down the data, I was worried about how far back we’d have to go to find it. To find the missing data, I launched the Restore wizard from the SBS console and started checking for the most recent backup that included the missing files. Aha! After some sleuthing, sure enough, a backup from 2 weeks prior contained the missing file. A few more clicks of the mouse and the mystery of the missing files was solved. What happened? It was elementary, my dear Watson: the files had all been accidentally deleted.

SBS is designed for the end user, and in this case (pun intended) I could have easily walked her through the restore herself while I was driving on the highway. Yes, I was using hands-free.

I do love SBS, but sometimes the design of the system allows users too much freedom to accidentally delete files. I would like to see more control and configurability for user permissions, like we have in the non-SBS servers.

Bottom line…make sure you have a good backup solution in place at all times in case a user accidentally deletes data.

PS: I did the restore while at a friends cottage overlooking the lake while tethered to my cell phone. Another great feature of SBS 2011 and Windows Server 2012 is their easy remote access.

IT – How Pennywise Would’ve Done It

Screaming like a little girl

Screaming like a little girl

Warning: some material may not be suitable for unqualified IT professionals. Some IT pros may be easily scared by the following scenario. Viewer discretion is advised.

Sometimes you walk into a new client’s site, and are amazed by what you see! I have walked into sites where everything is like a bright, sunny day; but I have also walked into some and it was like walking into a horror movie. Unfortunately, I see more bloodcurdling IT infrastructure than I’d like to. Here’s a classic that Hitchcock could have used:

Before we get into the scary details, this client is an awesome company and they are doing great work in the community; and I am very humbled and honored to be a part of their team. The first time I walked in was because the “server” wouldn’t work. (This situation was the basis of my Microsoft Technet blog post, “My IT Guy was Hit By a Bus“). Needless to say, their IT guy went missing. Locals say he was last seen walking into the fog.

What I saw scared me. I wasn’t just a little worried, I was terrified of their setup; and if I were religious, I would have said a prayer.

Their “server”, which was hosting the shared files for the 10 employees, was a homemade box (nothing wrong with this) with a mysterious copy of Windows Server 2003 installed, but not configured for server use. What made me panic like a little girl watching The Shining (with the lights off), was that all their data was stored on a portable USB drive, with a Post-It note, just barely hanging on (much like a severed limb), reading, “Do not ever remove”. Yes, you read that right! All the data was on a USB drive. Talk about a cold sweat. To ensure that nothing would happen to their data, I hunted for a backup. Go ahead, guess what I found. If you guessed “no backup,” you would be correct. This went from The Shining scary to The Exorcist scary.

By following the steps below, you are guaranteed to have a haunted server, and risk data death; and you’ll be playing the lead role in your own horror movie.

1. Server-rated hardware is overrated, just grab the first desktop you can get your bloody hands on.

2. We can always revive your hardware with electrocution, don’t bother with backup strategies.

3. Mirrored drives (and RAID) are only good for funhouses. Make sure to exclude them from your server.

4. Proper licensing is scary (it really is). Avoid it entirely! You don’t need that in your life.

5. Only hire the undead, and unqualified, IT professionals.

For the client in this situation, we immediately ordered new server hardware with a proper and current server operating system. Until the new system was in place, I manually backed up their data weekly to ensure that if the USB drive was ever possessed, we had a backup of their data.

Both the client and I sleep better at night knowing that they now have the proper safeguards in place. Your IT infrastructure should never look like it was put together by Hannibal Lecter. If opening the server closet is scarier than being slashed through a shower curtain, please have your qualified IT professional come in and rescue you from the horror of it all!

Can you find all the scary references? And which movie scares you the most?

PS: I love scary movies, but seriously, your technical infrastructure should not be a scene out of one.

Outlook, Google Apps for Business, and BB…What a Challenge

A few weeks ago, one of my clients handed me his new Blackberry Z10 and told me that it wouldn’t sync to his calendar or contacts via Outlook. Honestly, I thought he had lost it, how could BB release a product without this core functionality. Well he was right! It didn’t sync via Outlook at all (since this incident, BB has added this functionality in its newest desktop update). The client would soon be leaving for an overseas trip and needed a solution asap.

My clients company uses Google Apps for Business (free version), and had previously connected their phones to their systems, via a USB cable, to sync their calendar and contacts. (I am amazed at how many of my clients still sync their phones using a direct connection.) Because he hasn’t moved to the paid version of Google Apps, we are unable to use the Google Apps Sync, which syncs your Google accounts with Outlook, and in turn, syncs wireless to your device. Luckily, we had just purchased a sweet ultrabook with Office 2013, which gave us the tools we needed to come up with a solution for him quickly.

First, we created an Outlook.com account and connected it to Office 2013.  Then we copied all of his contacts to Outlook.com.

Contact Sync

Next we added his calendar events to the Outlook.com calendar.

Now, we added the Microsoft Outlook.com account to his BlackBerry. He was now able to see his contacts and calendar. Moving forward, he adds all his new contacts and calendar events to the Outlook.com accounts via Outlook.

Outlook Calendar Sync

This solution has been very successful. He can access his contacts and calendar anytime, and no longer needs to plug his phone in. One less cable to carry. This also provides a backup for his critical data. Our next step is to start using the SkyDrive integration to share files while he is on the road.

PS: Microsoft has released the Hotmail Connector for Office 2007-2010 which provides the same integration. Here is the link for the free program http://office.microsoft.com/en-ca/outlook-help/microsoft-office-outlook-hotmail-connector-overview-HA010222518.aspx

 

Side Note:

I have been finding that as each service updates, it’s getting harder to have these services work together as seamlessly as it has in the past. Personally, I feel the providers are forcing the users to pick one environment, whether it’s Microsoft, Google, or Apple.  All this does is frustrate the users, because it takes away previously had functionality and forces the user to pick a service which best meets their needs; and they may have give up, or modify, workflows to get all the functionality they used to have by combining the services.

Nas vs Server – Part 1: The Nas

As I move more small businesses to the cloud, my clients’ dependence on an in-house server continues to decrease, and more of them are choosing not to replace outdated servers with another one, but instead, with a NAS.

I recently worked for a client who had a server that needed to be replaced.  After determining their current and future needs, we decided to replace the server with a NAS (Network Attached Storage).  This company has 8 employees, 5 of which who work on-site full-time, with 7 out of 8 employees using laptops.  95% of the businesses’s workflow is cloud-based;  and they keep very little data on-site.  The employees only need to share their documents with one another and have them available for future reference.  In this case, a server would have been overkill for their needs, but if the company’s line of business applications were on-premise, a NAS would not be suitable.

Every business is unique.  As a guideline, I have listed some of the benefits of a small business NAS:

NAS Benefits

  • Cost – for the most part, a NAS is much less expensive than a server and its licensing.
  • Hard Drive Redundancy – NAS manufacturers offer a choice of RAID options within the device.  For the small business, I recommend RAID 1; this means both hard drives contain the same data, therefore if one hard drive fails, the data is still available on the second drive.  Keep in mind, this configuration is not a replacement for off-site backups, and an off-site backup should always be part of your data recovery strategy.  For the “3-2-1 Backup Strategy,” click here.
  • Access Control – you can control and customize each users access (if any) to the data stored on the NAS.
  • Other Options – remote access, online backups, desktop backups, etc.

A NAS may be the perfect solution for your small business, but talk to your qualified IT professional before investing in this technology.  A NAS is a great solution for businesses that require basic file storage and limited functionality, but it is not a substitute for the advanced functionality and security of a server-based environment.

Stay tuned for NAS vs Server – Part 2: The Server

Does someone else have your data?

Currently, I am working with a wonderful company that specializes in taking old computers and reselling them.  They are a not-for-profit organization and the proceeds go directly back to the community.  (Watch for a follow-up post on this amazing company and what we did to get them back on the right tech track.)  I had a chance to chat with one of the volunteers who mentioned that fully-functional systems come in with user data still intact.  The company wipes their hard disks without looking at the data, then they resell them.  Over the years, I have purchased several used computers, many of which with user data still accessible.  I have also seen companies toss, give away, or donate their old systems without wiping the system hard drive(s).  How would you feel if someone got their hands on your company data?

Now, you may be thinking that any reputable organization will be completely wiping the hard disks. Think again.  In 2011, Staples Canada was found to be re-selling computers with the previous owners data still intact.

Consider how much personal and private data you have on your computer.  Everything from banking information to email correspondence, from online purchases to other delicate data.  And I don’t know about you, but I used to have a bad habit of clicking the “remember my username and password” button on websites.  If I had given away or sold my system, the new owner would have had access to a variety of websites, including my bank and email accounts.

Before saying goodbye to your system, you should always wipe the hard drive, or even destroy it.  If your local repair shop or IT Pro has replaced the hard drive, ask for your original back or ensure the data on the original unit has been erased.  If you want to do this yourself, click here for a great how-to.  If you are uncomfortable doing this yourself, most IT Pros will do it for minimal cost.

Taking the time to wipe your hard drive protects you, your data, and your privacy.

What would you do if your new system had somebody else’s data on it?

Practicing What I Preach

Netbook

Awesome netbook, not a laptop.

If you know me or have seen me talk, you know that I love the cloud! I give entire talks about the cloud, how it can help you, and why you should use it.  I encourage small businesses and individuals to use it whenever possible.  It’s no surprise that I try to use the cloud as much as I can.  Here is my “real life” cloud story:

Last week, my laptop died.  It’s been giving me grief for the last few months and I knew it was coming, so I ordered a new laptop the morning of a couple weeks back.  That afternoon, my dying laptop overheated for the last time.  Of course, I had to wait a while for my new laptop to arrive (awesome black Friday sale).  I was without my own laptop for 4 days, and had to use my 4-year-old under-powered, slow, small netbook.  Although the netbook is not a full-fledged desktop, I wasn’t concerned about my work.  Since I use the cloud for just about everything, I could get through the weekend and early week, no problem.  And for the most part, I did.  I grabbed my little under-powered and non-Office-installed Acer netbook and promptly accessed my documents and mail, using a variety of services, including: Gmail (personal), Google Apps for Business (business account), Dropbox (additional storage), and Microsoft Live (personal).  My non-laptop experience highlighted three rolls of thunder in my cloud:

1. When I could pull what I needed from a various service to an application on my laptop seamlessly, it was fine.  But as soon as I had to start transferring files between various cloud services, things became a little cumbersome.  Going forward, I am going to settle on one cloud service to handle all of my data (email, documents, storage, etc.)

2.  My next big obstacle was Outlook, or should I say, the lack of.  As much as I love Google, I really don’t like their web-based mail experience.  I use Outlook for all of my mail, tasks, and scheduling.  Because of the amount of mail I have to manage, I found Google’s lack of folder structure overwhelming.  If I were to use Gmail, I would have to modify my email workflow severely.  By day two, I had to install Office on the netbook so I could have the basic functionality to work effectively.

3.  The third “roll of thunder” was not being able to access my financial application.  Okay, I always manage to find an excuse not to do paperwork, but I have to admit not being able to see my company financials bothered me.  I am considering moving my financials to a cloud-based service for this reason.  On a side note, when I went to bring my financial backup from cloud storage to my new laptop, the file was corrupted.

This experience didn’t change how I feel about the cloud, if anything, it validated my push to encourage others to use the cloud.  My cloud services allowed me to continue working, even if it was at a snail’s pace.  Luckily, I was able to retrieve all the data from my old drive and was up and running with all my programs and data within a few hours.  Now, if I could only figure out Windows 8…

Click here for blog post on my Windows 8 struggles

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