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Homework…it’s not what it used to be

Jamie at 2

Jamie at 2

Think back, way back, to high school. For me, it was all about big hair, parachute pants, and blue mascara. Now that you’re sitting there feeling the teenage angst and acne, think back to when you had partner or group projects. You had to figure out who’s house you were going to and how you were going to get there. Just getting the group together to work on the project was a project in itself. Well that is quickly changing.

As some of you know, I have a daughter in Grade 9. She’s been on computers since she was in diapers.  or her, the computer is just a tool. We’ve been lucky in elementary school that her teachers have always encouraged the use of computers (not so much for my son who’s still in elementary school). I have been pleasantly surprised on how much she has been able to do online in high school. She accesses her textbooks online, submits her papers, and even music compositions, via the school private cloud. Her teachers upload her marks to a secure website which the parents have access to. But last was the first time I had noticed her collaborating on a paper online. Yes, she chats with her classmates and they have emailed papers back and forth, but tonight I noticed she was editing a document real time using the school board’s Google Drive cloud. Her classmate was on the phone and they were discussing the changes and editing on the fly together, and they could see each others edits. For my daughter this not new, she is my editor (you read her work whenever you read one of my blog posts), and we co-edit pieces all the time, but this was the first time I had seen her do it with a classmate. She and my son are usually way ahead of their peers when it comes to technology, and they are usually helping their classmates, and sometimes teachers, with technology in the classroom.

The one thing that puzzles me about last week was why on earth were they using the phone? Talk about old-fashioned.

Categories: Cloud, Education Tags: , ,

Is the cloud really that scary?

As I sit here putting together a presentation for this week on Office 365 (another great product), I know I’m going to get some questions about cloud technologies and subscription-based services. I love cloud-based technologies, but I do understand the hesitation. Here’s a list of the most common concerns I hear and my responses:

1. What is cloud? Ok…now I think my industry has done the general public a huge disservice. We (not me in particular) have made the cloud into this magical fairy dust and rainbow place, that is just out there. NO! In basic terms, the cloud is just servers sitting at a datacenter. Nothing magical there. IT, as an industry, has stop turning technology into a magical thing. Yes, what we do with technology can seem like it’s magic, but it takes skill and hardware, not fairy dust.

2. Is cloud safe? Yes! As long as you choose a reputable provider. Personally, I wouldn’t purchase cloud services from a company I didn’t know. Stick to the big names and you should be fine.

3. Are they reading my data? I don’t know the answer to that. I like to think my data is more secure at Microsoft or Google then on a USB stick that I left in a clients system. This would be up to you to determine what you want to store at these sites.

4. Do I need an Internet connection? For the most part, yes, you do. But depending on your solutions provider, you may have offline access.

5. Why is it subscription-based? Overall, IT is moving to a subscription-based model. For a small business, this planned expenditure eases the burden of unforeseen expenses. Remember, you are not only getting the service, but also the infrastructure behind it. Your small business no longer has to worry about purchasing the hardware, hiring technical staff, updating the server, or dealing with hardware issues. This is all part of your subscription fee.

6. Does the cloud service cost less than the on-premise solution? Sometimes, but again it depends on the solution provider. In the example of Office 365, with the level of functionality that is available, the small business used to be only available to the business that could afford to have everything in house, including IT professionals. With the subscription-based model the “big business” tools are available to the small business at a fraction of the price.

7. Is cloud just a phase? Personally, I don’t think so. If we look at how much we do online compared to even 3 years ago, it’s staggering. Take a moment to think about how much you do online every day both at work and at home. Could you work if you didn’t have Internet?

Cloud solutions are great, but they may not be the right solution for your company. Talk to your IT professional and they will be able to help you determine if it’s time to move the cloud.

Categories: Cloud, Customer Satisfaction Tags:

Email Affairs – My Version of “50 Shades of Grey”

Gmail Intro

My first kiss with Gmail.

I have a confession.

As you may know, I am in a committed relationship with Gmail. I met Gmail about 5 months after he launched, back in 2004. Gmail and I have been together for almost 9 years now. It’s been a great relationship. He gives me lots of email storage, and a great interface. As our relationship grew, he gave me a wonderful calendar, then communication and collaboration tools. Yes, there have been some disappointments in our relationship, such as Google Wave, but there have been some great fun times too like “do a barrel roll”. (Really, if you haven’t done this, go Google it now.) Gmail has always had my back, he automatically saved all my documents at his house, with his brother Docs. (It’s a great app called Google Cloud Connect; unfortunately it broke when I moved to Office 2013.) Gmail kept all my information safe and secure there and he gave me the key so I could access my stuff when needed. He understood what I needed, and he even provided the directions for me to get there. He gave me great communication tools and an easy way to share my stuff. It was the perfect relationship. We even expanded our family when I added Google Apps For Business.

But, like I said before, I have a confession. I’ve been seeing someone else. I never intended to have these feelings, but they crept up on me.

You see, way back in 1997, Microsoft launched a fresh new email host called MSN Hotmail and I signed up for an account. Now, this was several years before Gmail stole my tech heart. There may have also been a short stint with Yahoo mail during this time (I don’t talk about it much). For those of you too young to remember, in the early days of email service, it was all about experimenting with different services, and not committing to just one. We were all so young and had multiple email accounts at the time. Gmail and I seemed to click, so settled down with him in 2004.

Every so often, over the years, I would check in with Hotmail and see what he was up to. Did he settle down, expand his offering? You know, the general stalking of a previous love. At first, it looked like Hotmail kept the status quo. Nothing new and exciting. But his sexy younger brother, Office 365, was breaking some new ground with small business. I have to admit, a new technology targeted right at my clients caught my interest. Not only did Office 365 target small businesses, but it also had a built-in relationship with my guilty pleasure, Microsoft Small Business Server. This was getting interesting. Then things changed in July 2012. Outlook.com launched; I guess Hotmail decided it was time to try something new and get back into the game. I started spending more time with Outlook.com.  And I was impressed. I loved the way he kept my stuff organized in folders, and it was so easy to share my files. He also has a built-in relationship with my desktop version of Office 2013. The more mature Outlook.com is looking more and more attractive with each new feature.

I haven’t committed to Outlook.com yet, but he is slowly growing on me. I still love Gmail, but his controlling and sometimes pushy attempts to keep me locked to him are starting to bother me. Outlook.com needs to take a few pointers from his younger brother, Office 365, and add instant communication tools, such as Skype. If Outlook.com can meet most of the functionality I currently rely on in Gmail, it may be the end of Gmail.

PS: I have never read, or intend to read, 50 Shades of Grey, so this may not be as exciting as the book to some.

From Jammies to Bathing Suits: My First Step at the 4-Hour Work Week

ImageIf you are familiar with me or my blog, you know that I am a huge fan of my jammies (my blue flannel ones are my favorite). I am also a firm believer in working remotely, and I don’t believe going to an office is always necessary. I regularly help my clients develop solutions that enables them to take extended vacations, but still be productive and a part of the office. I show them that we have a variety of options to all them to work remotely and securely so they do not have to sacrifice their jammies or bathing suits in order to work when necessary.

When I setup my small business clients, I always try to incorporate a secure method of remote access for me to access their systems. For my clients with Small Business Server, I use Remote Web Access (included in the server); for others, Logmein (if I have to); and I am now trying Microsoft Intune with a handful of clients. I believe that if I do my job right, my clients should very rarely see me. I can usually resolve most issues from the comfort of my home office, or any other location, using my laptop and phone. The only time I really need to be on-site is for hardware issues, which rarely happens.

Last year, I became so comfortable with not being “physically available,” that I went with my daughter on a school trip for 3 days. The facility had Wi-Fi and I was able to work when necessary. This spring, I am going to take another step toward a work-life balance, and I’ll be taking my children to Cuba for a vacation. I think most of us have read (or at least heard of) Tim Ferris’ book, “The Four Hour Workweek” and dream of being able to work from wherever, whenever. In my last full-time position, I had the privilege to travel for business on a regular basis and kept in touch with the office very easily.  This will be the first time I will have worked for my own clients while enjoying a vacation.

This week-long trip will be my first step at becoming able to really balance work and family. In preparation for the trip, I ensured Wi-Fi would be available, as this is key to being productive without incurring additional costs; connecting via my phone provider will cost me a fortune. I’ll take a netbook (leaving my laptop at home), and access all required documents, and etc. via cloud storage. This means that if my netbook is lost, stolen, or damaged; all my personal and client files will not be compromised. My phone will be packed just in case I really need to get Internet or make a call to a client, but more importantly, I really hope to get 3 stars on each level of Star Wars Angry Birds while getting a nice healthy dose of Vitamin D.

It will be nice to be able to use my experience to assist my clients in achieving a work-life balance of their own.

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

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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