ComTech: IT Support Stirling
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Are we starting to come full circle?

There was a time when people purchased a local copy of software they needed and installed it on their system (usually a Windows PC).  Then came the cloud and people started to access what they needed online and hence stopped buying software to install on their system.  Now we have apps which, you have guessed it, people purchase and install on their systems and in some ways have taken us back to the “old’ days.

When the cloud came along it was hailed as a breakthrough in IT (and it really is). You no longer needed a specific operating system to access your data.  With the cloud you can access your emails, productivity software using either Google Apps or Office 365, invoicing, remote software etc. The possibilities are endless because all you need is a browser (that is why Chromebooks work so well).

Into the fray came tablets and smartphones devices, which were meant to access the cloud services on the go, and with the tablets and smartphones came apps.  Apps are essentially programs you install on a local device like we did back in the “old” days. Apps have made it so much easier to access cloud based solutions that people are slowly turning away from using a browser.

At launch Windows RT was hammered because the Windows Store didn’t contain lots of apps. What people failed to realise was that they could still access what they wanted through a browser and that is the whole point of the cloud. You don’t need a specific operating system or piece of software to access a web based service but apps are slowly changing that.  I know of people who are so entrenched in the Apple ecosystem that they couldn’t move to Android because they would lose their apps even though most apps are now cross platform.

Apps are starting to take us back to a time when your choice of operating system was significant meaning we are starting to go full circle.

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Cisco, Windows, OS X and Linux based IT Support to small businesses throughout Scotland.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

 

The cloud and the connectivity issue

I have just spent a lovely 4 days in the Dumfries and Galloway area of Scotland. Lovely beaches, lovely people and even the weather played nice (for the most part).  This area has very few population centres with Dumfries being the largest with roughly 30,000 people.  Ideal for a holiday then but what about working down here. If you are a business in these parts I would guess you won’t be embracing the cloud very much, unless you have an office in one of the few population centres, and the reason? Mobile signal is shockingly bad.


Between myself, my wife and the inlaws we had 3 networks – O2, EE and Virgin and none of them had any internet connectivity worth shouting about.  If you are a business in these parts that needs to be online while out and about you are going to struggle.

I had this exact conversation with someone at a networking event earlier in the week.  My stance was that no connectivity = no internet while theirs was there is always someway to get online, whether it be coffee shops, Macdonalds, mobile coverage etc. I can see their point but but unless you can actually get to a Starbucks, Cafe Nero etc you will have no wifi down here.  It was the same when I went to the Western Isles last year.  The mobile coverage out there was even worse.

If you have an office with good broadband then going for cloud based solutions does make sense.  If you work near a big population centre with coffee shops etc that have free wifi and also good mobile phone coverage again cloud does make sense. If you work in a remote area then cloud is not such a good idea.

Anyone work in remote areas and use cloud based solutions? I would love to hear how.

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Windows, Mac and Linux based IT Support to small businesses in Stirling, Alloa and Falkirk.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

 

Does the US have a monopoly on the cloud?


I have used cloud based services for the last couple of years for both personal and business use and can see the benefits of it (in the right circumstances).  If the situation is right then I also actively promote cloud services (especially online backups) to my clients but one thing comes up again and again and that is the location of where your data is stored.  In most cases this is the US.

Since the NSA scandal was exposed a lot of businesses (quite rightly) have started to pay more attention to where their data is actually stored in the cloud.  If you look at the big named providers like AWS, Rackspace, Google, Microsoft, Apple etc they all store their data in various data centres throughout the US.  If you do a google search for “online storage uk” then US companies are the ones that usually get listed.

To a lot of people this is a big problem.  All the major players store their data in the US while some of the minor players use either Rackspace or AWS to host their files, meaning they also store their data in the US.

A lot of financial firms I do work for would love to move to online backups but they are restricted by where their data is stored – it must be stored in the UK and not the US.  They also want to be able to contact someone in their own country should something go wrong.  If anyone has any recommendations for UK based online storage then I am all ears!!

So the question is does the US have a monopoly over the cloud and is it restricting businesses moving to the cloud? Tell me what you think.

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Windows and Linux based IT Support, laptop repairs and computer repairs to both business and personal clients in Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

 

How not to move to the cloud


The cloud is great.  You can access all of your documents from anywhere, backups are stored offsite, applications can be run from the internet etc but and it is a BIG but you need to think the whole process through before you implement a cloud solution.  If you don’t you could end up in a right pickle.  This was evident with a client I had a meeting with last week.

The client has 10 employees, 5 of which are office based while the rest work remotely throughout Scotland.  They need all employees to have access to company files and to save any changes automatically.  The owner likes to dabble in his tech and decided to implement Dropbox for Business as he currently uses this for his own personal files.  I have implemented Dropbox for Business to a number of my clients and it does work well but in this case it would not be a good solution for his business.  If you read on you will understand why this is the case.

Problem No 1

Dropbox for Business costs $795 per year for upto 5 users.  The client didn’t check the limit on the number of users and so thought 10 users would cost the same as 5.  For 10 users it cost him $1420 per year.  Not checking the fine print cost him a lot more money than he had anticipated.

Problem No 2

Everyone needs access to the same files at the same time.  Dropbox can’t handle this as everytime you change the file locally it is synced with the online servers.  If everyone has access at the same time it would be difficult to keep track of which version of the file is current.  A vpn like LogMein Hamachi only allows one person to access a file at the same time hence no current version issues.  This would have been my suggestion to the client.

Problem No 3

The owner set himself up as the admin for Dropbox for Teams thinking he would be able to see everyone else’s files.  This is not the case.  As the admin you can set passwords, quotas etc but only the team member can see their individual files unless they share them.

Problem No 4

The office has 5 MB of broadband speed which could just about cope with the constant Dropbox synchronization but the Cat 5 cables can’t!! All office computers are connected to a 10/100 switch but all the cables are Cat 5 (10 Meg).  The owner didn’t understand why the network had started to grind to a halt since he setup Dropbox.

In this instance Dropbox (or any other online backup solution) doesn’t really work on its own.  What the client should have implemented was a central server which everyone in the office had access to coupled with a vpn solution (something like LogMein Hamachi) so remote workers could access the files they needed.  Dropbox could have been installed on the server to backup the files online rather than be used for file sharing as it was before.  The switch and cables should also be upgraded to Cat 6 and 10/100/1000 allowing for more bandwidth and if possible the client should also switch broadband provider to get a faster download speed (if possible).

The client in his haste implemented a solution which was not ‘fit for purpose’ and ended up costing him and his company a lot of money (and time).  I am still waiting to see if my recommendations will be implemented.

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Windows and Linux based IT Support, laptop repairs and computer repairs to both business and personal clients in Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

 

 

Will Windows 8 be the last of the ‘traditional’ operating systems?


As always it starts with a comment and this time it was “I hate Windows 8 it is ****!!”. “Here we go again a client who hates Windows 8” I thought to myself.

The client had bought a new laptop for his business and naturally it came with Windows 8 (you can still get Windows 7 but it is becoming harder) and he was not happy.  This particular client had been on XP for ever and doesn’t like change at all.  Trying to explain to him that Microsoft is trying to have one operating system on all devices whilst also trying to get customers to move into the cloud was like trying to pull teeth from a crocodile.  It wasn’t going to happen!!

To me Windows 8 is a transitional operating system.  Tablets by design are consumption devices and consumers at the moment love them. Microsoft are trying to tap into this market by offering a device that consumers want (ie tablet) but also a device which allows them to actually do some work on and the best way to achieve this on a tablet is to offer work based apps like Office 365.  Windows 8 is designed with this in mind as it can run ‘Metro’ apps just as comfortably as it can with traditional software.

Windows 8 is also trying to stay true to its roots and run local applications on laptops and PC’s as not everyone is willing to give up their software just yet, but how much longer will this happen? Windows 7 and its predecessors were all about running applications like Microsoft Office on your local system. Future operating systems will be all about accessing applications in the cloud and Windows 8 is the transition in the middle.

Whether this is a good thing for everyone is debatable as without sufficient broadband speeds consumers, and businesses alike, would struggle to access online applications.  I guess only time will tell.

So over to you. Will Windows 8 be the last of the ‘traditional’ operating systems?

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I am Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Windows and Linux based IT Support, laptop repairs and computer repairs to both business and personal clients in Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire.

For a list of what I can offer you why not visit my website www.comtech247.net where you will find a list of my services, testimonials, blog and much more!!

 

 

 

 

To cloud or not to cloud? That is the question


To cloud or not to cloud? This is a question I am getting frequently asked by clients and there is no right or wrong answer.  As with everything else it depends on what your circumstances are and whether it is feasible for you at that time.  For example if your broadband is only 1 Mb (which still happens in parts of Scotland) then going to a fully cloud based system for everything would not be a great idea.  On the other hand if your data is confidential and can’t be stored outside of the UK (for instance) then using a cloud based backup like Dropbox would not work as their servers are based in the US.

Apart from the internet in general small businesses rely on three, maybe four things to be productive. These are emails, productivity suites (eg Microsoft Office), backups and maybe databases. You can run onsite versions of all of them or you could choose to use the cloud versions instead.  Lets take a look at the differences.

Emails

Every business not matter what their size relies on emails. As a business you basically have two options – have an email server on site and host your own emails or you pay a company somewhere to host them for you.  Unless you have a large number of users and the onsite expertise I would recommend you pay a company to host your emails as this is usually the most cost effective way.  If you really need to keep control of your emails then you need an Exchange server and someone to maintain it which is not cheap.

Productivity Suites

At the moment chances are your business will be using some form of Microsoft Office.  The advantage of the desktop version is clear – you switch on your laptop or PC and you can edit files while being offline.  You don’t need an internet connection.  But what happens if you use a tablet, Linux, Mac or even a smartphone? This is where online productivity suites come in.  For a monthly fee you can access Office 365 or Google Docs (main two at the moment) through a web browser from any device.  You files are stored on either Google Drive or Skydrive which means so long as you have an internet connection you can access them. The obvious downside is that if you don’t have access to the internet you can’t use them, however both Office 365 and Google Docs have offline modes (to varying degreees) which minimise the impact.

Personally I like to keep a local version of a productivity suite (in my case Libreoffice) on my systems.  I do like the thought of accessing your files from anywhere which is why I use Dropbox (more on that later) but I like to edit them on a large monitor (call me old fashioned) using a mouse and keyboard.  If you or your business does a lot of document editing on the move (ie tablets, smartphones) then an online productivity suite might be right up your alley.

Backups

For me this is the big one.  I strongly encourage all of my clients to backup offsite and this is where cloud backups (like Dropbox) are ideal.  You backup all your files into a single folder which automatically syncs online.  The advantages should be clear cut.  If anything happens to your business premises then your files are stored securely online and you can easily access them from any device connected to the internet.  The disadvantages are that you pay a monthly fee for the previlege of having your files online and your data might be stored on servers which are located in countries you might not approve of.

There is nothing stopping you from using onsite backups (ie backup to a server which itself is backed up onsite) if that is what you want but you need to understand the risks.  If the premises burns down or is flooded you lose everything.  In this instance I would seriously take a look at online backups.

Databases

These can be online or onsite and again this depends on your circumstances.  Online databases give you the advantage of accessing them from anywhere without needing to use VPN’s.  If you are worried about data security then invest in an onsite server and a VPN solution to access the database from anywhere.

The cloud is here to stay and does offer some tremendous advantages like accessing you files from anywhere on any device. As with everything though it also has its disadvantages, mainly that if your broadband speed isn’t very fast your experience will be less than rosy. Don’t forget that if you lose the internet you cant access your files or emails either.  Choices choices!!

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Windows, Mac and Linux based IT Support to small businesses in Stirling, Alloa and Falkirk.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

 

 

 

 

Why the cloud doesn’t always add up


The Cloud.  These two words have been thrown about so much in the last couple of years that it is very hard to get away them. From a distance the advantages of the cloud look great – access your data from anywhere, offsite backups, reduced hardware costs, no upfront software costs etc however there are some drawbacks which I shall outline below.

1. No internet no files

Without a working broadband connection the cloud doesn’t work.  You have no emails and no access to your files.  If you use an online productivity suite (eg Google Docs) you can’t work on your files either.  You may be thinking “everywhere has broadband these days” but I can assure you the speed varies significantly.  For instance I know of a company up in Inverness in the Highlands of Scotland who are trying to run their office off 1 Meg!!  Online file storage would not be an option for them as they don’t have the bandwidth to accomodate it.

2. Where exactly are your files stored?

I know they are online but where? For instance some cloud providers (eg Dropbox) store their clients data across multiple servers in multiple locations (in their case across the US).  If you work for the military would you want your data stored in a different country? Don’t think so!!!  For the small business it may not be such a big deal but it is definitely something to consider.

3. Who actually owns your data and how is it used?

I am guessing that at this point you are thinking “the files are mine so it must be me” however  as it turns out it depends who you store your data with.  Taking Dropbox as an example all the files you store with them are yours – final.  They don’t look at them they just store them. Now lets take Google.  Any files you store with them are still yours however they can use the data you store with them to improve their services.  This is detailed in their terms and conditions.  I bet you didn’t know that did you?

4. Subscription Charges.

Instead of laying out a large sum of money right at the start for software like Microsoft Office the cloud allows you to use online productivity suites for a monthly subscription.  This is designed to help you spread out the costs.  Sounds good but lets dig a little deeper.  For example say you have 5 employees using 5 PC’s each requiring a copy of Microsoft Office 2010 business at a price of £120 and you expect to use it for 5 years.  The total outlay would be £600.  Now if you considered switching to online productivity suites you would probably use either Office 365 or Google Apps (please feel free to correct me if I am wrong).

Lets take Google Apps first.  Google Apps for Business is straightforward in its pricing.  It costs £5/user/month so in our example it would cost 5 * 5*12*5 = £1500 (5 users at £5/month for 5 years) which is considerably higher than the £600 it would have cost to buy 5 copies of Office 2010 in the first place.

Now lets have a look at Office 365.  Microsoft is somewhat more confusing in its pricing but for our example the best package would be Small Business P1 which costs £3.90/user/month.  So for our small business with 5 employees it would cost 3.90*5*12*5 = £1170.  Again significantly higher than purchasing the software.  So why would you pay the higher charges? The answer is mobility.  You can access your files and edit them from anywhere with a broadband connection.  Only you and your business can decide if this is worth paying the extra for.

So to round up the cloud has a hell of a lot of advantages but just be warned it can have some major disadvantages too.

About the Author

Hi I am Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Windows and Linux based IT Support, laptop repairs and computer repairs to both business and personal clients in and around Stirling.

For a list of what I can offer you why not visit my website www.comtech247.net where you will find a list of my services, testimonials, blog and much more.

 

 

 

 

 

The Cloud

What is the cloud?

The cloud is basically offering computing as a service with all data stored on remote servers which can be accessed over the internet. Take google mail as an example. You access your email through a web broswer or email client with all data stored online on googles servers.

Advantages

  • Pay as you go. You pay a monthly subscription to access the software online instead of buying individual licences.
  • Accessibility of software. As long as you have an internet connection you can access the applications that you require.
  • Installation, troubleshooting and upgrades are all provided by the service provider meaning you no longer require dedicated onsite IT support.
  • Overall cost of hardware. You don’t require the latest quad core with 10 Gb of ram to access applications online. You don’t need on site servers either.
  • Easy implementation of applications. The structure is already there online and so can be rolled out to companies quickly.


Disadvantages

  • Security concerns. Service providers claim that they can implement tighter security protocols than individual companies could. Some data (eg MOD) can not be kept on servers in certain counties either.
  • Control of your data. If you delete a file online how do you know if the service provider has actually deleted the file.
  • Costs could actually spiral out of control if usage turns out to be far greater than anticipated.
  • The whole setup doesn’t work if you can’t connect to the internet.
  • Security updates could change security settings, change privileges etc
  • Legal issues (ie who actually owns the data?)
  • Communication with peripherals and connected devices. Would your end devices (eg printers) work with cloud applications?

Who provides this service?

More and more companies are jumping on the bandwagon to get into providing services for the cloud. For a full breakdown go to

http://nanospeck.hubpages.com/hub/Best-Cloud-Service-Providers

Overview

There are many benefits making entry to the cloud look quite attractive, however, at least for some the negative issues will far out-weigh this. Companies who are used to hosting their own applications may find it very hard to give that up. In the long term the cloud is likely to complement rather than replace existing traditional systems despite claims to the contrary. We’re not about to experience a cloud revolution with everyone putting all their data in one big basket.

About the Author

Hi I am Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Windows and Linux based IT Support, laptop repairs and computer repairs to both business and personal clients in and around Stirling.

For a list of what I can offer you why not visit my website www.comtech247.net where you will find a list of my services, testimonials, blog and much more.

 

 

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