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my clients’ dependence on an in-house server continues to decrease, and more of them are choosing not to replace outdated servers with another one, but instead, with a NAS.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

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

3-2-1 Ready…Now Backup!

It’s Thursday morning and an acquaintance emails saying that she can’t load Windows.  After troubleshooting via email, it was decided that a full clean re-install was required.  Unfortunately, she lost all of the pictures on her system.  I asked if she had a backup, and you can probably guess the answer.

Yes, we have all been there, a hard disk fails, you can’t find the USB you put the critical files on, etc.  In the tech industry, there is something we call the 3-2-1 backup strategy.  It’s a very simple procedure to help keep your data recoverable if something was to happen.

Ready…here we go.

3 – You must have 3 copies of your data.  One copy should be on your hard disk (your working copy). The other 2 copies could be on an USB drive, an external hard drive or a cloud service.

2 – You must have your data on 2 different media.  Again, one copy would be on your hard disk, the other could be on an USB drive, or DVD.

1 – You must keep one of the copies off-site. You can accomplish this by taking a backup set of DVDs to a friend, or use a cloud service.  Consider this: if your office was to experience a fire or flood etc, would you be able to recover your backups?

Both Windows and Mac have built in backup software to help make this procedure easy and automatic.

Following these 3 simple steps will help keep your data safe and recoverable.   If you are unsure of how to best keep your data safe, please contact your IT Professional.  He or she can help develop a backup strategy that best meets your needs.

Don’t learn the lesson the hard way.

Categories: backups, Cloud Tags: , , , ,

Saturday Night, Popcorn, Wine and Backups

Saturday night had finally arrived after a long week of nonstop work.  I was comfortably dressed in sweats and a tee, complete with fuzzy slippers.  The family was getting ready to watch The Avengers, which none of us have seen before. The popcorn was popping, a bottle of red had been opened (for the adults), and I was just finishing up some emails.  Then it happened.

My work phone rang.  I looked at it, then the wine, kids and hubby who was just finishing up the popcorn.  Do I answer it?  I had been working 14-18 hour days for the last few weeks and was beat.  Downtime was a necessity at this point.  But I answered it anyway.

An acquaintance was calling about her laptop.  It had just crashed, and she needed to retrieve her files ASAP.  The client’s Monday morning presentation was on it, and she desperately needed those files, and she had not done a single backup.

Ever.

After some discussion and a few attempts of pushing power buttons and pulling the battery, I knew I would have to be on-site to recover the data.

I packed my bag with my recovery discs and off I went, looking at the wine, listening to the family settling in to watch what happens when Bruce gets mad, and smelling popcorn as I closed the door behind me.

I arrived at the client’s house and, luckily, I was able to boot the laptop.  Our first priority was to backup her critical files to a USB key.  But we both knew that a local backup was not enough, and she needed an off-site backup as well.  We quickly created a Dropbox account and moved her files to the cloud.  Her laptop will probably fail any day now due to a hardware issue, but at least she knows she has a copy of her files that she can access from any Internet-connected device.

 

Here are 4 quick, easy and free cloud solutions to backup your files to:

  1. Cloud Storage – Dropbox offers 2 GB of free storage (there are similar online services, such as box.com).
  2. Google Drive – another cloud solution.  Sign up for a free Google account and take advantage of the 5 GB available to you.  A great addition to this service is Google Cloud Connect.  This add-on automatically syncs your Office documents to your Google Drive storage.  Personally, this is what I use and I can’t count the number of times it has saved me.  I have mine setup to automatically save to Drive every time I save the document.  I then have at least 2 copies, one locally and one in the cloud.
  3. SkyDrive – this is the Microsoft alternative to the Google offering.  You can access 7 GB of free online storage (but as far as I am aware, this currently does not have the same Office Suite sync feature that Google does).
  4. iCloud  – the Apple solution for those who enjoy the iDevice ecosystem.  It has 5 GB of free storage, and has similar (but not identical) sync features as the Google and Microsoft solutions.

Luckily, with today’s technology and resources, off-site backups, or just backups in general, are easy and very inexpensive.  Call your IT Professional (during the day) to discuss a backup strategy that works with your budget, files and workflow.  Trust me, it’s much cheaper than calling on a Saturday night.  But if you do end up having to call me on a Saturday night, a good bottle of red would be nice.

I prefer a shiraz.

Who’s Your “Bridge” to the Cloud?

Image

As I dive more and more into cloud solutions, specifically Microsoft Office 365, I keep hearing the same comment: “I tried but I couldn’t figure it out”, “I don’t understand the terminology”, etc.  I don’t think this has to do with anyone not being smart enough to figure it out; I think that cloud companies give the impression that it takes a few simple clicks and you’re done.  It’s just that easy!  I can almost visualize Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, in an Office 365 infomercial: “Come on folks, click here, then click manage DNS and add your TXT record and you are done. It’s just that easy folks!”

I have a client who easily setup Google Apps for Business for his small business, but the company has no idea how to use it or what they could even use it for.  Another client of mine tried to setup up Office 365, but was stumped on how to transfer his domain.  In my opinion, both Google and MS have missed the mark.

I believe most everything we do will be in the cloud within the next few years.  According to Wikipedia, Cloud computing refers to the delivery of computing and storage capacity as a service to a heterogeneous community of end-recipients. Think about what you already do that is cloud-based, Gmail, Dropbox, iCloud, Netflix, etc.

The tech industry has been pushing cloud and the benefits, including security and access from any Internet-connected device.  More and more companies are accepting the cloud technologies and are starting to embrace the technology, but are getting stumped when trying to set it up or use it. All this does is cause frustration and these same people will look at other “easier” solutions.

Cloud solution providers should provide both resources and incentives to enable qualified professionals to step in and be that “bridge” between the consumer and the solution.  Users should actively seek out a qualified resource to assist them in moving to the cloud so they get the most out of the service they are paying for.  This “Bridge” should be able to describe, setup and configure the service, allowing the business to focus on themselves, and the cloud partner to focus on providing great solutions.  In the past few weeks, I have had 40 hours of free Microsoft Office 365 training to help me assist small business transitioning to the Cloud. I think Microsoft realizes that it is not “Just that Easy!”, and that it takes time and knowledge that not everyone has.

Points to consider when moving to a cloud service:

  1. Is the service the right one for your company?
  2. Are you getting the features you need?
  3. Are you paying for features you don’t need?
  4. Can you implement it without pulling your hair out?
  5. Can the service integrate or replace you current on-premise solution?

Bringing in a qualified IT Professional or “bridge” can make the transition to the cloud much easier and ensure you and your company are getting the services you need, not just what you were sold.  The “bridge” can also help your company easily transition to the new environment.  Yes, there is a cost, but (ideally) after it is all up and running, you may never need your professional unless you need help for advanced functionality.  Which brings up another good point: have you ever tried to call Google to ask for help?  Can you even find a phone number? Your “Bridge” should be trained to give you the help you need when you need it.

Take advantage of these awesome cloud solutions, and if you need help to reach the clouds, a “Bridge” can support your transition to the connectivity of the future.

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