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Typical SBS 2003 Upgrade Scenario

As SBS 2003 life is ending, or in some cases, has already ended, we need to start moving businesses off this workhorse. Today’s visit is a classic example of the scenario where we have the perfect opportunity to move the technology in the small business forward.

In this example, the office has 5 10-year-old desktop systems running XP and an SBS 2003 server also about 10 years old. It’s a basic setup, nothing fancy, but the client knows he needs to move forward. He also has some requirements for the solution.

1. He must be able to access the office remotely. He likes to travel and feels that you shouldn’t be physically tied to an office. And honestly, with today’s technologies, there is no reason to be.

2. He needs everything to be automated. This includes all backups. He doesn’t want to have to look after the technology, he wants to build his business.

3. He wants to make the changes in 3 steps. He would like to replace the SBS server, and 2 of the 5 desktops, then replace 2 of the others in a few months. The fifth system will not be replaced because it runs a proprietary piece of hardware that will cost too much to replace to be compatible with Win7/8. In April, when XP finally retires (yippee!), he’ll pull this system off the network and it will be a standalone unit. He has decided he’ll do manual backups using the tried and true sneakernet.

4. Exchange must not be used. He will continue to use his email hosting service. This is fine by me, but personally, I would rather have a root canal then deal with Exchange. At least with a root canal you can take something for the pain.

This is the perfect time to replace the SBS 2003 server with Windows Server 2012 Essentials, and the XP desktops to Windows 8.1. This new implementation is the ideal solution for him because:

1. It meets his requirements for remote access including his work desktop.

2. Windows Server 2012 Essentials will backup all the client computers to the server and we can then backup the server to an external NAS he already has. Off-site or cloud backups will have to be discussed.

3. We can easily implement this project in steps. This keeps the disruption to the office to a minimum and it’s easier on the budget.

4. Windows Server 2012 Essentials does not have the Exchange component as his SBS server did, but we could integrate with Office 365, a hosted Exchange account, or even Exchange server on premise (providing there’ll be pain relief). Using Windows Server 2012 Essentials does not restrict us to one option, and if his email needs change, we can easily accommodate the requirements.

These types of projects are very rewarding, because I know I can make the technology work for the client and now they can work on their business.

Windows 8.1- Keeping my fingers crossed

Windows 8.1 Preview

Windows 8.1 Preview

I’ve been using Windows 8 since November of 2012, and I really want to like it, but as much as I try to enjoy it, I really find it frustrating.

I’ve been using computers since the days of DOS (Disc Operating System) , and I skipped the move to Windows 3.1 and fought Windows 95. By the time Windows 98 was released, I had accepted that we were going to move forward with a GUI (Graphical User Interface) and mouse, but I continued to use command prompt and keyboard shortcut keys. When I finally embraced XP, it was awesome; and I can still whip around the interface with or without a mouse. XP was straightforward, nothing fancy, and did what it was supposed to do, which is why it’s been around as long as it has. I was even one of those few people who liked Vista (it ran beautifully on my Apple MacBook Pro). Windows 7 was – and is – solid, and again, I could navigate the system without the use of a mouse. When I replaced XP systems with Windows 7, a quick how-to lesson was all that was needed and my users were able to get back to business in no time. So when it was time to replace my last Windows 7 laptop, I decided to order it with Windows 8, since I had to learn the new operating system so I could assist my clients as they move off of XP. (See my first impression of Windows 8 here).

(Really if you are still on XP you NEED to start planning to move off before April 2014.)

My new system arrived and I planned to spend a few hours getting used to Windows 8 (it shouldn’t take more than that to get familiar with the operating system) and setting it up. Two hours in and I was beyond frustrated and I had clients needing assistance ASAP, and I couldn’t figure out the basics. By the time my husband arrived home that evening, I was fit to be tied. I complained about some of my struggles with Windows 8, and how I was under the gun to help my clients, and I couldn’t; and he said I was a “such a user”. Well guess what, I am a typical business user and I don’t have a day off to learn a new system.

After having to Google how to restart the system, then figuring it out, I couldn’t imagine how my clients were going to deal with it on their own. The very thought of  plopping a Windows 8 system on a client’s desk and walking away from it was terrifying. As I start replacing/upgrading XP systems, I am still recommending and installing Windows 7 for my clients.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some really cool things with Windows 8 which I really like, but as it stands right now, I know my clients will hate the interface and will experience some of the same issues I did. The biggest complaints I have about Windows 8 are:

1. Too many clicks to get access the application/file I need. Overall, I find it takes longer to get to where I need to be.

2. Too many shortcut keys that don’t make any sense

3. That horrible “modern user interface”. This interface makes no sense for business use. I never use it, and curse loudly, with words that would make a trucker blush, every time I am popped into it.

For the sake of my clients, and many others, I hope Microsoft has taken a serious look at how corporate users use Windows 7 and make the operating more business-friendly. From what I have seen so far, it looks like 8.1 will be more business user friendly.  Looking forward to trying it. My 12 yr old son has already installed the preview and is enjoying the new features.

What are your thoughts on Windows 8 and Windows 8.1?

Nas vs Server – Part 2: The Server

Last month, I posted an article about how some small businesses I work with are opting not to replace their aging servers with a current piece of equipment. For details, read “Nas vs Server – Part 1”. As I sat and watched a Windows Server 2012 Essentials be installed, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to expand on the server side of “Nas vs Server”.

SBS Install

This post outlines some of the benefits of replacing an older server with a new one, or adding a server to your small business environment.

If your company uses Line of Business applications, or requires specific shares or configurations for your applications, a server may be the only option. However, if most of your workflow is cloud-based and minimal in-house file storage is required, a NAS may be the better solution. When I refer to a server, I am referring to a computer with server-rated hardware and a proper server operating system, such as Small Business Server, Server 2008, etc. I am not referring to a Windows XP/7 computer, that is being used to share files to other users.

Today’s small businesses servers are relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and provide many benefits to the small business. Here’s a list of just a few advantages of adding a server to your environment: (For a full list, please see the Microsoft Server 2012 Essentials website.)

  1. Security – Allows you to control who has access to what data, and how they access it from both outside and inside the organization.
  2. Line of Business Applications – Store shared application data in one central location, such as Sage, PC Law, or other 3rd party
    applications.
  3. Remote Web Access – Users can securely access their data and desktops from outside the office (there goes snow days).
  4. Automatic Desktop Backups – Users no longer have to think about backing up their desktops. The server takes care of this for them, ensuring that their data is always backed up.
  5. Patches and Other Security Actions – The server will push updates to the users, and from an easy to read Dashboard you can see what systems are lacking current security measures.

There are many options for small businesses. If your workflow is mostly cloud-based, a server may not be necessary, and your resources could be better utilized in other aspects of your business. But if you need more control, flexibility, and growth a server may be your best solution. Talk to your qualified IT professional to see if a small business server would be a good and necessary addition to your IT environment.

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?

Windows 8 – Still Not Convinced

Love the Lenovo.

Love the Lenovo.

If you read my previous blog post (click here), you know that my laptop died a few weeks ago.  I knew it was coming, and decided to make the jump the day it died ( I ordered the new system then my current system over-heated for the last time later that same day) and purchased a laptop with Windows 8.  My husband has been using it since the preview was available and he loves it.  Plus, I was at a Microsoft event the week prior and liked what I saw.  I knew I’d have to learn it at some point, so it seemed like a good time to dive in.

My new laptop arrived the following Tuesday night and I planned to set it up (transfer files, etc) the next day, since it was my scheduled “work at home day”.  I expected I would have the time to figure it out, get used to it, and play with it before I got started on any work.

By 9 am Wednesday morning, I had two client issues I had to deal with, and I still hadn’t transferred my files, or even had Office 2013 (which I am really liking) installed or configured.  Luckily, I had been working in the cloud during my non-laptop period, so I continued working, using web-based services on my new laptop until I could find the time to set it up for my workflow.  I assumed I would just be able to carry on, Windows is Windows, right?

Soon, I encountered a problem: not only was I trying to help my clients with their work, but I was trying to do so on a new operating system (which I was struggling with) without my standard “go-to” applications and I was becoming very frustrated.

Once I had my clients hiccups resolved I configured the system for my use.  I noticed some great new features in Windows 8 that I love, such as image mounting (awesome), and the fast boot-up time.  I can’t wait to jump-play with Hyper-V (I know that will be a huge plus for me).  And when I have some free time, I’ll play with Windows to Go.

Despite all the pluses, I am not sure I am really liking it yet.  As I mentioned before, I had to learn how to navigate Windows 8 on the fly.  Heck, I even had to Google how to restart it.  The interface formerly known as “Metro” is confusing, and I don’t understand why it’s on a non-touch device.  I find “searching” the requires more clicks/keystrokes.  Switching between “Metro” apps and the desktop is confusing and requires more clicks.  I am not even sure if Skype is open!  For a standard 9-5 Monday-Friday job, I am not sure I would recommend Windows 8.  My husband said I was being such a “user”, but if I am struggling, then I know my business clients will as well.

I’ll follow up in a few weeks with my feelings after a month of Windows 8.

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

Why Skimping On IT Will Cost You Money

ImageOne of my biggest challenges as an IT consultant is trying to convince small businesses to upgrade their hardware and software.  IT is looked at as an expense, and because we are all trying to save a few bucks, you may think that keeping your older hardware and/or software is the best cost-saving solution; but trying to hold on to old equipment or outdated software may cost you more in the long run. Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. Productivity – If users are waiting for a program to load, or can only run a specific number of applications, they are not nearly as efficient, and worse: they can become very frustrated trying to do their job because the older and limited technology is slowing them down.
  2. Security – As technology advances, so do the threats.  Old and unsupported software may not be secure and patched, therefore putting your data and company at risk.
  3. Maintenance – The cost of keeping old equipment up and running is expensive.  After a few visits from your IT Professional, you could have replaced the equipment at the same cost, and you wouldn’t have to worry about it later on. On average, desktop PCs should be replaced every 3-5 years.
  4. Support – As software ages, the “experts” who know how to manage older software become harder to find, and because of this, will charge more. It also becomes much harder to acquire older components.
  5. Functionality/Compatibility – Updated versions of applications and software are easier and faster to use.  In some cases, older versions of the same software may not be compatible with newer versions.

I am not recommending that you toss out your current IT infrastructure, but I do recommend you evaluate what you own and consider updating/replacing older equipment. Start with a plan to replace/upgrade the oldest systems in your office.  Your IT Pro can help you design a roadmap for updating your systems and software. He/she will be able to assist you in creating cost-effective solutions for your budget, customized for your current needs and workflow.

By taking the time to be proactive now, you can save yourself many future issues, including unforeseen costs, hardware failure, and other unpredictable difficulties.  You never know what could happen when you are using out-of-date equipment; and it is always better to have a plan in place than to be hit with a huge and unexpected IT bill.  Take the 5 minutes and call your IT Pro today to determine how to best protect your company’s future plans.

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