Blog

May 19th, 2017

With so much technology moving to the cloud, onsite servers aren’t getting as much attention as they used to. Optimizing this critical piece of business technology is no small task, but there are a few simple things you can do to ensure the success of your in-house servers.

Mount your servers properly

Small businesses are usually forced to prioritize the here and now over long-term planning. Not for lack of caring, it’s just a fact of working on tight budgets and with small teams. This is especially evident when it comes to server planning. When your business first sets up shop, it’s tempting to plug in a server right next to your workstations -- but doing so puts your hardware in harm’s way.

Mounting servers in a rack protects them from the accidents commonly associated with highly trafficked areas: spills, crumbs and tripping hazards. Server racks keep your most essential hardware safe by organizing everything in a space that is more accessible for cleaning and management but less exposed to the day-to-day wear and tear of your office.

Server planning is all about leaving room for the future. When choosing your rack mount, make sure to leave room for the hardware you will need to expand in the future. Unless office space is a serious concern, it’s better to have a half-empty server rack than to be forced to tear the whole thing down and redesign it the moment you need to expand.

Keep servers separate from the main area

Depending on what type of servers you are running, they can create quite a bit of noise. This coupled with the fact that they are comprised of valuable hardware means that you should do everything in your power to keep your servers physically separate from your working space. If you don’t have room for a server room, consider investing a little extra in a secure rack mount with built-in sound reduction.

Never skimp on cooling

Even when your business first opens its doors, server cooling is a crucial consideration. These computers are designed to work at peak capacity and need optimal conditions to do so efficiently. Even if your equipment seems to be performing just fine, too much heat can drastically reduce its lifespan.

Make sure that your cooling solution operates outside the confines of your building’s infrastructure. If the central air gets shut off at night, or if your office experiences power outages, you need a cooling solution that switches over to backup power with your servers.

Keep wiring neatly arranged

For anyone without hands-on experience with server hardware, the number of wires going into and out of your setup is shocking. Getting the whole mess organized isn’t just about cleanliness, it also affects the performance of your current setup and the viability of installing future upgrades. Any time you are installing, removing, or rearranging your server cables, check that everything is neatly labeled and safely grouped together.

Managing any type of hardware comes with dozens of important considerations, and that goes doubly so for servers. The best way to guarantee your IT investments are getting the care they require is by partnering with a managed IT services provider. To learn more about our services, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
May 3rd, 2017

Whether you prefer a quick fix or a long-term solution, extending your laptop’s battery life should be among your priorities if you’re a heavy laptop user. Replacing an old battery with a new one or purchasing a new laptop shouldn’t be your only options, especially if you operate a business with limited resources. Here are some more economical ways to extend your laptop’s battery life.

Manage your laptop’s power settings

Computer manufacturers are aware that battery life is an important consideration for most users, which is why many Windows and Apple computers have settings that help reduce battery consumption. Windows laptops have a Power Plan setting that lets you choose either a standard setting or a customized power plan; Energy Saver under MacOS’ ‘System Preferences’ offers a setting that allows you to adjust display and sleep controls.

Adjust display and system settings

You can also make adjustments to your laptop’s display and system settings to reduce brightness, turn off screensaver, disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (when they’re not used), and trigger the system to hibernate instead of sleep. A “sleeping” laptop consumes a little energy, but a “hibernating” laptop consumes absolutely none.

Use a battery monitor and other maintenance tools

If you think your laptop battery drains unusually fast, access your system’s battery maintenance tool to check its status. If your laptop doesn’t have one, you can download an application that creates a battery health report. That report will include charge cycle count, which determines the number of charge cycles your laptop has; and battery life estimate, which states how much longer the battery will provide power based on its current settings.

Keep your laptop operating efficiently

One way to accomplish this is by managing your web browser usage. Having many tabs opened on your browser drains your battery’s power and reduces your productivity. If you really must have a handful of tabs opened, consider switching to power-saving browsers such as Windows Edge or Opera. When multitasking, close unused apps and programs -- especially those that download files or play media, as they consume the most power. This not only helps reduce battery consumption, but also helps the user stay focused on the task at hand.

Handle your laptop with care

Laptops are delicate and require safe handling and a cool temperature. With the exception of a few models (e.g., Apple’s MacBook Air), many devices are designed with a cooling system that keeps its CPU, graphics processor, and other components from overheating; and not to mention, its battery from depleting fast.

For that reason, handling your laptop with great care ensures longer battery life and better overall performance. When using your laptop on-the-go, make sure you don’t block its vents from circulating air, which means you should never put it on a surface such as a bed or similar soft surface that could prevent its cooling fans from working. And while it may seem harmless -- and appropriate -- putting your laptop on your lap is actually unsafe.

For businesses with remote workers and/or bring your own device (BYOD) policies, a laptop that lasts all day allows employees to be more productive and saves your company from having to spend on new laptops or replace batteries as a result of neglect. For cost-effective strategies on business technology, call us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
April 18th, 2017

2017April18Hardware_AFor decades, one of the most foundational principles of cyber security has remained the same: Always update and patch your software. But for most people, hardware is exempt from this process. They think of hardware as nothing more than a vessel for software to occupy -- and that’s totally incorrect. Read on to learn more about this oft-neglected aspect of IT security.

What is firmware?

Firmware is a very basic type of software that is embedded into every piece of hardware. It cannot be uninstalled or removed, and is only compatible with the make and model of the hardware it is installed on. Think of it like a translator between your stiff and unchanging hardware and your fluid and evolving software.

For example, Windows can be installed on almost any computer, and it helps users surf the internet and watch YouTube videos. But how does Windows know how to communicate and connect with your hardware router to do all that? Firmware on your router allows you to update and modify settings so other, more high-level, pieces of software can interact with it.

Why is firmware security so important?

Firmware installed on a router is a great example of why addressing this issue is so critical. When you buy a router and plug it in, it should be able to connect devices to your wireless network with almost zero input from you. However, leaving default settings such as the username and password for web browser access will leave you woefully exposed.

And the username and password example is just one of a hundred. More experienced hackers can exploit holes that even experienced users have no way of fixing. The only way to secure these hardware security gaps is with firmware updates from the device’s manufacturer.

How do I protect myself?

Firmware exploits are not rare occurrences. Not too long ago, a cyber security professional discovered that sending a 33-character text message to a router generated an SMS response that included the administrator username and password.

Unfortunately, every manufacturer has different procedures for checking and updating firmware. The best place to start is Googling “[manufacturer name] router firmware update.” For instance, if you have a DLink of Netgear router, typing “192.168.0.1” into a web browser will allow you to access its firmware and update process, assuming you have the username and password.

Remember that routers are just one example of how firmware affects your cyber security posture. Hard drives, motherboards, even mouses and keyboards need to be checked. Routinely checking all your devices for firmware updates should be combined with the same process you use to check for software updates.

It can be a tedious process, and we highly recommend hiring an IT provider to take care of it for you. If you’re curious about what else we can do to help, give us a call today!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
March 30th, 2017

2017March30Hardware_AThis month, Intel unveiled a revolutionary new type of hard drive that can work as either a storage or RAM unit, while offering faster performance than most hard drives in the market. Its performance and technical capabilities make it appealing for a wide range of applications, but is it worth the investment? Read on to find out.

Optane SSD Intel’s new standalone drive maximizes storage performance and can also serve as extra RAM for your servers. The Optane SSD DV P4800X has 375 GB of space, a data read latency of 10 microseconds, and data transfer rates (or throughput) of 2GB per second. With these specs, Intel claims users will experience faster boot times, quicker application load times, and 30% faster system performance.

All of this makes the Optane SSD perfect for hosting machine learning and analytics. Also, if your company is involved in high-performance computing, Intel’s new RAM/storage drive should be high on your company’s wish list.

Optane SSD, however, may not be the best for everyone. First of all, the latest storage drive is meant for servers. Another downside is that the 375-GB SSD is a hefty $1,520 -- almost as much as deploying your own in-house server would cost! In this case, you would probably get more value out of a conventional SSD.

SSD Consumer-level SSDs still provide fast software boot times, but will probably offer less storage space and throughput rates than the Optane SSD. This really isn’t much of a sacrifice, considering that plenty of users can afford and work with 128 GB of ‘normal’ SSD storage. In fact, a 128-GB SSD can go for as low as $50.

HDD Your other choice would be the standard hard disk drive (HDD). Though these storage devices are far more common and much less expensive than the previous two, HDDs are slow to boot, noisy, and susceptible to hardware damage and data loss. The only thing going for the traditional hard drive is its storage capacity. For $50 dollars, users can buy a 1-TB hard disk drive.

Although HDD may not be ideal in terms of speed, it’s a good choice for any business on a tight budget. Most people actually pair SSD with their standard HDD to get the best of both worlds. Operating systems and critical applications can be stored in SSD for faster boot times, while regular files can be stored in HDD.

Even with this crash course on hard drives and SSDs, you will still probably need a storage professional to help you pick the best device for your business. For all your storage drive queries, installment requirements, and IT maintenance needs, contact our IT consultants today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
March 15th, 2017

2017March15Hardware_AMost people have a vague idea of what a network firewall does. But some business owners are easily fooled by promises of quick and easy solutions that can be installed and managed right from your desktop. In the software vs. hardware debate, there’s a clear winner when it comes to your security. Let’s take a look at what the differences are and why they matter.

Software firewalls

Calling a piece of software a “firewall” is a bit of an exaggeration. Installing it on a local hard drive is more like locks on a door than impenetrable walls. When data is scanned for threats by a software firewall, the information it contains has already been passed through your router, network switch, and finally your local hard drive.

Once the whole cycle has finished, software firewalls can prohibit risky activities based on blacklisted IP addresses, known malware definitions, and suspicious application requests.

Although these solutions do have value, they can’t guarantee that malware won’t spread to other systems before each packet of data can be scanned, unless they’re standing guard at your business’s gateway to the internet. And whenever the computer with the firewall is powered off, everything it protects is left unguarded.

Hardware firewalls

Because the drawbacks of a software-based firewall are centered around their inefficient network position, a hardware solution is the safer option. Hardware firewalls sit directly behind your router, so every single packet of data coming from the internet must pass through your gatekeeper before landing on any of your internal drives.

Most of these solutions include far more sophisticated controls than just web filtering and basic data scanning. Like most developments in the IT industry, newer hardware firewalls focus on “intelligent” functions that analyze huge datasets to recognize malware and cyberattacks based on irregular activities instead of relying solely on cataloged viruses and attack vectors.

Another benefit of hardware firewalls is that they’re always on. There’s no need to worry about whether the workstation hosting your solution will crash because these devices are built for 24/7 protection. The only downside to this type of solution is the level of monitoring and maintenance it requires. Hardware firewalls are extremely complex and managing them is no easy task.

“Cloud” firewalls

The most recent, and undoubtedly best, solution to network perimeter security are “cloud” firewalls. These are on-site pieces of hardware with software interfaces that can be managed remotely by certified security professionals.

This service model means that experts will monitor your network performance and security for anomalies while your team goes about its business as usual. No need for onsite tweaks and updates -- all of it can be done remotely.

You may hear a lot of experts telling you that the age of on-site hardware has passed and everything can be done in the cloud. Remote administration may be the next wave in network services, but the need for hardware will never go away. If you need someone to manage your physical devices, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
February 23rd, 2017

2017February23_Hardware_AThis is not a question often asked by anyone who has ever used a printer. Given the increasing sophistication of hackers’ capabilities, the discovery that cyber thievery can, in fact, be performed through some popular printer brands hardly comes as a surprise. One study reveals that at least 20 printer models are vulnerable to Distributed Denial-of-Service and other types of attacks. Let’s take a look at this chilling development in cybersecurity.

Which printers are prone?

Based on the study made by Ruhr University Bochum researchers, printer brands such as Hewlett Packard (HP), Brother, Dell, Samsung, and several others are prone to different types of cyber attacks. Online printers from these brands could serve as cyber criminals’ path in which to steal credentials, corrupt a printer, or leak sensitive data from printed documents obtained through a printer’s memory.

Printers serve the basic purpose of turning computer documents into paper and have never been a typical entry-point of hackers’ attacks. Government and corporate offices, business establishments, non-profit organizations, and homes own one, and when you think about the fact that most printers are linked to computer owners’ internal networks, this expansion of cyber theft to printers begin to make even more sense.

How can attacks be made?

Researchers identified security vulnerabilities that would enable hackers to corrupt common printer languages such as PostScript and PJL, which they could then use to launch Distributed Denial-of-Service attacks or reset the corrupted printer to its factory defaults, also termed as ‘protection bypass.’ Other ways in which hackers could exploit their access are through print job manipulations, which could lead to minor cases of printing corruptions or persistent printing distortions, and information disclosure, the leaking of sensitive information.

What safety measures are being developed?

The researchers who discovered the vulnerabilities developed the PRinter Exploitation Toolkit (PRET), a program designed to determine if a printing device is a likely target. This toolkit ‘connects to a device via network or USB and exploits the features of a given printer language, and is complemented by a wiki page that documents attacks made. It’s worth noting that more printer models and brands haven’t been tested due to the team’s lack of resources. But with this open-source toolkit, vulnerabilities of many brands and models may soon be identified.

Stealing information online is far from being a novelty in cyber security. But to do so through printers requires a special set of skills. It’s too soon to tell whether this form of cyber thievery is going to pose serious threats in the future, but regardless of how further studies progress, failing to implement security protocols for your network can cost you dearly. Get ready for any security threat by contacting our security experts now.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
February 8th, 2017

2017February8_Hardware_AIn the near future, the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to usher in an era of connectivity and efficiency on a global scale. Many small- and medium-sized companies, however, assume IoT has no application to their business. To dispel those false assumptions, we’ve compiled a list of four ways your business can benefit from using IoT devices.

Improved logistics With IoT sensors, supply chain management and order fulfillment processes improve markedly to meet customer demand. For example, sensors on delivery containers and trucks in transit give managers real-time status updates, allowing them to track their items and ensure they reach the right location at the right time.

Streamlined inventory IoT also presents automation opportunities for businesses that need to manage and replenish their stock. When data recorded from IoT devices are tied to your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, you can accurately monitor your inventory, analyze purchase and consumption rates of a particular product, and automatically reorder items when IoT sensors detect that supply is running low. This minimizes out-of-stock incidents and prevents excess stock build-up.

Fast payment Given how most payments are done electronically via point-of-sale systems or the internet, IoT has the potential to revolutionize the way businesses process transactions. We’re already seeing a few examples of this today as ApplePay not only allows users to purchase goods and services using smartphone applications, but through wearable technology as well.

Soon enough, IoT devices might even allow restaurants and retailers to register or charge their customers the moment they walk through the door.

Market insight Businesses that can somehow make sense of IoT-collected data will gain a competitive edge. Marketers, for example, can gather valuable insight into how their products are used and which demographic is utilizing them the most. This information can then inform future marketing efforts and give businesses more direction on how to improve their products and services for their customers.

Although businesses will certainly face many challenges in implementing the Internet of Things, those who manage to overcome them will reap all the benefits of this burgeoning technology.

Want to know if an IoT deployment is right for your business? Contact our certified IT consultants today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
January 23rd, 2017

img-cloud-printing-170px-op1When you picture cloud computing and printing devices, you might think of endless copies of clouds flying out of the printer. But that analogy wouldn’t quite apply for Google’s Cloud Print service, though. This cloud-computing hybrid allows you to access both regular and internet-enabled printers through the Internet. What are the benefits? Are they worth looking into? Read on for additional insight.

First things first, the printer needs to be connected to your primary computer (the one you’ll use to access the printer in the future). Once connected, the computer can be added to Cloud Print. If it isn’t already installed, you need to install Chrome for Windows or Mac. From there, type chrome://devices into the address bar to bring up devices Chrome can work with. Click “Add printer” and make sure the printer you want to link is ticked.

From the same screen, you’ll be able to configure printer settings. Click Manage next to any of the listed printers to upload new print jobs, rename or remove printers, or share a printer with someone else. This allows you to give certain people access to your printer.

If you need to print something off your mobile device, you can do so with the Cloud Print app on Android, where a print option should appear in the Sharing menu. It’s slightly trickier on iOS, but you can still cloud print from Google’s iOS apps using the Google-recommended file management, transfer and printing application PrintCentral Pro to bridge the gap. And as expected, Cloud Print works seamlessly with Chromebooks as well. Just choose Print from the main menu and voila!

If you’re interested in hearing more news on Google’s Cloud Print function or staying up-to-date on the IT world, feel free to let us know.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
January 5th, 2017

2016december26_hardware_aSo you've got the next big thing in technology sitting in your office: a program you customized for your business or a hardware you came up with on the side. When is the right time to license your product for outside sale? Read further to learn the ins and outs of licensing and why the best decisions for your business can often be contrary to common sense.

There is a fine line between successful licensing and a failed attempt. You certainly don't want to risk selling prematurely, when the software doesn't yet have enough appeal in a large market to succeed. On the other hand, you don't want to "lose" the market altogether by selling the sale rights to someone else who will “overtake” the product.

Questions to Ask Before you Commit to Licensing Anything

Before you make the decision to take your hard-earned product and send it to the masses through licensing, consider:

The value of your new product and its potential

If you believe you have a truly unique software, it may be best to keep it under wraps and exclusive to your company. However, if it is a product in a highly competitive area wherein technology changes quickly, it may be worth thinking about how best to capitalize on the changing market.

Its fit on your business market

If your software is a time management program and you run an internet security firm, there's a chance that you may have to spread yourself thin to market the new product and maintain your own business focus. In this case it might be smart to find a company to license your product that is more aligned with the product's purpose.

The levels of licensing

It is possible to allow a company to license your product on a non-exclusive basis, which will allow you to maintain control of the product in some form. The decision to pursue licensing of a software or hardware should be made carefully.

If you need advice on what to do with a new software or piece of hardware created by your business, give us a call. We can help you maximize the benefits of your design.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
December 8th, 2016

2018december8_hardware_aYour employees are some of your business’s best assets. With that in mind, it is imperative that they work with high-performance computers that will unlock their full potential and contribute to your business’s profitability. If only it were that simple. Selecting a computer often involves several factors such as mobility, quality, and price – there are simply too many things to consider. Choosing the right computer requires careful thought, and this is what we’re here to discuss.

Laptop or desktop?

Laptops are highly portable, efficient, and inexpensive. If these are the most important qualities your business requires in a computer, then by all means, choose them. Clearly, desktops aren’t built for mobility, but what they lack in portability, they more than make up for in storage, processing capacity, and security. Although laptops make perfect sense for small businesses with great need for portability, they are much more prone to security threats and are not as easy to upgrade and maintain, unlike desktops.

Processor

The Central Processing Unit (CPU), or simply processor, determines the speed at which you can access your data and perform business-critical tasks. Speed is measured in Gigahertz (GHz), and a processor that runs from 2 to 4 GHz should be plenty for small enterprises. Arguably the most important item on the list of a computer’s specifications, the processor plays a crucial role in your computer’s speed and efficiency.

Storage

As critical hardware components, hard drives indicate how much information you can store and use. Storage capacity typically ranges from 128 gigabytes on “light computers”, all the way up to 2+ terabytes on more critical machines. If your business doesn’t need to store large files such as videos and images and will be used mostly for email and a few applications, 250- or 500-GB storage should do the job. If processor speed is number one on your list of computer requirements, it’s followed closely by hard drive storage.

Operating System

Operating system (OS) decisions often boil down to choosing between Windows or Mac. It might help in your decision-making to know that Windows remains the most widely used OS mainly due to its high compatibility with business software, not to mention, its relatively cheaper price. Macs can perform just as brilliantly as Windows-operated systems can. And although Macs are usually more expensive, they’re well known for their own outstanding features, such as being less prone to crashes.

Other Components

Not to be confused with storage drives, a computer’s Random Access Memory (RAM) is only used to run open applications. It is responsible for keeping your computer performing at optimum speeds, especially when you’re working with several applications or programs at once. For small businesses, a 1200-2600-MHz RAM should suffice. The higher the MHz of your RAM, the higher its performance will be. To keep your basic programs running, 6-8 gigabytes of RAM is often satisfactory.

Ready to Buy a New Computer?

Deciding which computer to buy is an important business decision. While there are a handful of factors to consider, what you aim to accomplish in your business’s day-to-day operations should be your main consideration when choosing a computer. Businesses that require plenty of remote and mobile work should definitely go for laptops. Those that require regular transfers of large datasets could benefit from the increased storage capacity associated with desktops.

Do you need expert advice in choosing the best computers for your small business? We’re happy to guide you in every step of your purchase decision. Give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware