Backing Up Your Data in the Cloud? Here are Some Things You Should Know

So your data is stored in the cloud. That’s a good thing, right? Absolutely – if you’ve done your due diligence and fully understand the service of your provider. Asking the right questions and taking a few precautions will go a long way in ensuring that you can recover your critical data quickly should data loss occur. A few weeks ago, Amazon suffered several days of outage in its EC2 and RDS service, bringing down dozens if not hundreds of services along with it — including such high-profile sites as Reddit, Heroku, Foursquare, Quora, and many others. Although the cause of that outage has been analyzed extensively in many forums, the discussion is interesting and relevant because it brings attention to the lesson that wherever or whomever you entrust your data to—be it in the “cloud” or to a big company like Amazon — it pays to be smart about how you manage your data, especially if it’s critical to your business. Understand your options. When someone else is managing your data, it’s easy to leave the details to them. However, making sure that you at least have some understanding of what your options are in what different service providers can offer you will pay dividends later if something goes wrong, since you’ll be better equipped to make an informed decision on the spot. Things you should look at include: Who is the service provider? What is their history? Who is behind them? What is their track record? Where do they store your data? Do they own the servers where your data is stored or do they rely on someone else? Is your data stored within the local area (i.e., a drive away) or is it distributed all over the map? Do they provide a mirror of your data within your own server, or is everything in their data centers? What measures do they employ to make sure your data is safe? What methods do they employ to ensure you can get to your data when you need it? Do they provide service level assurances or guarantees to back up their claims? These are just some of the basic questions you should be asking of your service provider. Do a test drive. Often you will not know exactly how a service works until the rubber hits the road, so to speak. Ask your service provider for a demo or a trial period. Test how fast it is to back up your data, but more importantly how fast you can bring it back when you need it. This is especially important if you’re talking about gigabytes of data. Understand that doing backups in the cloud can be hampered by your bandwidth and many other components of your system and theirs. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Some service providers give users the option of storing data in multiple sites, to ensure that your data is safe if one site goes down. But why rely on just one service provider when you can get the services of multiple providers instead? Or perhaps better yet, why not manage some of your data on your own? While it may be complex and costly to reproduce what many service providers can provide today, it is relatively easy to set up a simple system to keep at least some of your really, really important data locally by using an unused computer or a relatively cheap, network-attached storage device or secondary/removable drive that you can buy at your local store. Create a plan and write it down . Unforeseen occurrences can and will happen — not only from your side but from your service provider’s as well. When they do happen, you will need to have a contingency plan ready, often referred to as a Business Continuity Plan. Make sure to document your plan in writing, and communicate it to everyone in your organization so they will know what to do in case disaster strikes. With its promise of unprecedented efficiency, reliability, scalability, and cost savings, cloud computing and storing your data in the cloud is the topic du jour these days. However, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the basic due diligence that’s necessary regardless of how or where your data is stored. Ultimately, it is your business on the line—and being prudent and proactive about how your data is stored, managed, and (most importantly) recovered in times of need will save you much grief when you actually need it.

Using/Disabling the Window Snap Feature in Windows 7

When Windows 7 was released, it introduced a new feature called Snap — which allows users to easily resize windows when they are dragged to the edges of the screen. Depending on where the window is dragged, it expands vertically, takes up the entire screen, or arranges itself side-by-side with another open window. If you find this feature more annoying than helpful, you can disable it in the “Ease of Access Center” in the Windows Control Panel. Click on the “Change how your mouse works” link, scroll down to the “Make it easier to manage windows” section, then check the box labeled “Prevent windows from being automatically arranged when moved to the edge of the screen.”

$63,000 Lost in Online Banking Attack

Many SMBs are unaware that hackers are finding online banking transactions to be profitable and easy targets for cyber-attacks because of several weaknesses in the security systems not only of both organizations, but also in the authentication protocols between them. In a recent attack, cyber-thieves managed to get away with $63,000 after they exploited vulnerabilities in the online payroll system of a small business with its bank. First, the crooks managed to infiltrate the company’s system through a piece of malware called the Zeus Trojan. This gave them access to the company’s data, including the password and username used in transacting with the company’s bank. The thieves then created several new ghost employees and created payroll accounts for them, which they sent to the bank and authenticated using the company controller’s username and password. And to cover their tracks, the hackers erased the confirmation emails regarding the transaction. This incident highlights the need for better security systems in both the business and their bank – as security experts cite online banking transactions as one of the favorite targets of cyber-criminals. Cyber-attacks such as this one exploit weaknesses in many existing systems that rely on very simple and automated authentication procedures to confirm transactions. A direct threat to your business finances is not something to be taken lightly. You not only need to review your current online banking system, but also the current security protocols you have installed, since hackers and cyber-criminals are constantly updating Trojans and other malware to adapt to changing IT protection systems. We encourage you to have us take a look at the systems you have in place to determine if you are at risk for attacks like these. Please do not hesitate to contact us and we will be happy to draw up custom security solutions that address your specific needs. References: Sold a Lemon in Internet Banking Cybercrooks Drive Away With $63,000 from Car Dealership

Adding Value with IT

IT can change the way you do business, much in the same way that the Internet allowed Apple to invent iTunes to sell music online. But to make IT a business tool, it needs to add value. To learn how it can do so for your business, you’ll want to look at all the activities your business performs that earn profits. Differentiate your company and increase your profits — with IT It’s easy to think of IT as a tool that comes with a cost — but doing so is a big mistake. That’s because IT, when used properly, can be a strategic asset. It can make your information more accurate, improve your employees’ response time, and even differentiate your company in the marketplace. To make IT a strategic asset as opposed to a tool, it needs to add value. To determine where to make improvement, you’ll want to look at your value chain, which includes all the activities your business performs, and ask which ones earn profits. For example, if you’re a manufacturer, better IT could result in more efficient supply purchasing. If you’re a retailer, better IT could result in fewer units needing after-sales service and repair. Focus on improving IT in those areas and you’ll likely improve profits. An added benefit of this exercise: The use of IT in a new way may create even more opportunities for your company. For example, the Internet allowed Apple to invent iTunes, and now mp3 downloads have overtaken CD sales. Even small businesses can experience this. Case in point: The invention of iTunes has given many startup software companies a distribution channel for apps that otherwise may not have been invented. But the idea doesn’t have to be visionary in this way: YourLittleFilm.com, a small business that creates custom short films, used customer relationship management (CRM) software to help follow up on business leads , and got a 10 percent response rate. How and where you add value with IT developments will depend on your business model. There is little point, for example, in automating production if your customers cherish hand-made products. However, you might find that investing in a CRM system might give you a more efficient way to track your customers’ preferences and provide them with a more personalized service. Using your IT as a strategic asset gives you tools to manage clients worldwide, increases your visibility, and lets you compete with much larger players. Contact us to find out how you can use technology to gain an edge.

Handy Google Chrome Commands

Google’s Chrome browser has special commands that can show you basic browser settings and info from within the browser’s main window. This can be helpful since it presents browser information in one neat page that can easily be searched. For example, to view bookmarks, type “chrome://bookmarks” in the search or URL box. To view downloads, type “chrome://downloads”, and to view your history, type “chrome://history”.

ROI Basics (The ROI Series—Part 1)

Calculating the ROI of a Technology Investment, The ROI Series—Part 1: Cost savings are always important to small businesses — but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on technology. New technology may be necessary for the survival and growth of your business, and may not be as expensive as you think when you consider its return on investment (ROI). In this four-part series, we’ll explain what ROI is, help you understand the types of ROI, and provide guidelines for predicting and measuring the ROI of a technology investment. PART 1: ROI Basics There are two ways to look at the value of technology: total cost of ownership (TCO), which quantifies only the cost of a project, and return on investment (ROI), which quantifies both the cost and expected benefit of the project over a specific timeframe. Traditionally, businesses have used TCO when analyzing the cost of internal infrastructure projects such as upgrading an e-mail system. But even with internal systems, ROI can be a better method. If your old e-mail system goes down, for example, your sales team can’t contact customers electronically and must spend more time making phone calls. If your employees spend two more hours on calls than they would on e-mails, you’ve actually lost money by not upgrading your e-mail system. As an example of how ROI works, consider the case of a small, high-end electronics boutique. The current point-of-sale (POS) software is beginning to show strains from the company’s expansion and increasing inventory, and customer service issues are arising — a problem since the company’s mission is to provide exceptional service. The company’s owner believes implementing a new POS software program will help address these issues, but deploying it will be costly. The key question is which will cost more in the long term: spending the money to provide a solution, or the losses the boutique will incur by not doing so? That question may be easier to ask than to answer. As important as determining ROI is, there is still little consensus about how to measure it accurately. That’s because ROI has many intangibles — things that don’t show up in traditional cost-accounting methods but still maximize the economic potential of the organization, such as brand value, customer satisfaction, and patents. In the next part of this series we’ll discuss these intangibles

Making Macs and PCs Play Nicely with Each Other

Technology has progressed to a point where now it’s easy to have both Macs and PCs together on the same network. Read on to find out how easy it is to share files between the two systems, share printers, have them communicate to each other on the same network, even run the same applications on both systems! Unlike a few years ago when Microsoft’s Windows operating system virtually dominated office desktops everywhere, today we are increasingly seeing the use of other operating systems in the office. Typically these other systems are some model of Apple’s Macintosh running its own operating system called the OS X. The OS X, known for its sleek graphics, great multimedia handling capabilities, and easy-to-learn user interface, has gained favor among many users and businesses. Sometimes, however, problems arise when having to use different systems in the same office or network environment. Here are some tips to eliminate common issues your users might face when working with others on a different system: File Sharing . There was a time when transferring files between a Mac and a PC was a painful process requiring understanding different file system structures, resource forks, file name limits, and other such nonsense. Thankfully those days are over. Many Mac applications today can open files created on a PC and vice versa — such as office documents, images, video, and more. Getting files from one system to another is also easy as you can transfer via a removable drive. Both systems should recognize the file system on the drive — especially if it was formatted using Window’s file system (doing it the other way around might be a bit more difficult). OS X “Leopard” Macs can also read or write to drives that have been formatted using a special format from Microsoft called NTFS, and other freely downloadable utilities can also help. If this sounds like too much work to understand, you can also simply burn a CD or email files from one system to another — or better yet, set up a network for file sharing. Making Macs and PCs talk on the same network . If you’re a little more tech savvy, you can connect your Macs to your PCs directly or via a network. Typically this requires a network cable connected to both devices and having network sharing turned on. Enabling network sharing is outside the scope of this tip, but many online resources are available to help you connect a PC to a Mac or a Mac to a PC. Running the same desktop applications on both a Mac and a PC . For really advanced users, did you know that you can run Windows on a Mac or OS X on a PC? The former is bit easier and more common, thanks to techniques such as dual booting or virtualization. In dual booting (what Apple calls “Boot Camp”), you essentially install both operating systems on a Mac and on power up, you can choose which operating system to boot. Virtualization on the other hand is way slicker as you can run both operating systems at the same time. In virtualization, you boot Windows in a window within OS X, allowing you to effectively run Windows applications on a Mac. There are also many commercial applications that can help with this. The future: Cloud Applications. As we all start to access more cloud-based applications, the operating system you use is no longer as critical. As long as your systems have an Internet connection and a browser, then you can use different systems and it doesn’t matter what operating system or hardware is being used. So running both Macs and PCs in the same office is not necessarily a bad thing, as it has been in the past. Dozens of options exist today to make the situation manageable, if not downright easy. If you need help, don’t worry — we’re here to assist. Call us today to find out how you can get Macs and PCs to work together for your business today.

The Epsilon Incident and How It Affects You

A recent incident in which Epsilon – one of the largest email service providers in the world – fell victim to phishing has highlighted the need for companies, big and small, to pay more attention to their security protocols lest not only their business data be compromised, but also that of their clients. There’s been a lot of buzz recently about Epsilon, one of the biggest email service providers in the world, as it suffers from the backlash of allowing itself to be a victim of phishing efforts – which has affected the business data of as many as 50 major companies who are clients of theirs. Reports are also citing Epsilon’s failure to heed an alert from a business partner which advised the provider to be on its toes against potential attacks from cyber-criminals targeted towards email service providers. The damage estimates vary, with Epsilon citing only about 2% of their data being stolen, but the impact is undeniable. Cyber-criminals now have access to a sizable number of personal data stored through Epsilon – passwords, account numbers, and even the purchasing / buying habits of the customers of Epsilonงs clients. Many of Epsilon’s clients are now sending out messages to their own customers, warning them that their email addresses may have been compromised. It’s a lesson to companies, big and small, to pay more attention to beefing up their security protocols, since all it takes is one breach to endanger all of your data. In addition to having the right security software, it also helps if you require your employees undergo proper user training to make sure that they won’t be easily baited by scams like phishing, and will be more aware of how to contribute to the safety of your business data. Failing to do so puts not only your company, but also your clients, at risk. If you’d like to make sure your systems are safe, call us and we’ll evaluate your current security measures and suggest ways to make critical improvements.

Recommend a Link? +1 it!

Google once again introduces a very exciting innovation in the way we look at Google search results. Through an experimental initiative called Google +1, users are able to recommend websites from search results simply by clicking on a +1 icon beside every Google search result. While still in the experimental stage, there is a lot to be excited about with Google’s new thingamajig, Google +1 from Google Labs. Google +1 is essentially a button next to each search engine result that you can click when you want to recommend a particular link or website. Google describes it as something you use “to give something your public stamp of approval, so friends, contacts, and others can find the best stuff when they search.” The program is not available for everyone just yet, but participating and testing it out is easy. You’ll need a Google profile to participate, then just go to google.com/experimental and click the “Join this experiment”. After a few minutes, you’ll begin seeing a +1 icon / button beside results on any Google search results page. Click the button for sites you want to recommend, and Google will ask you to confirm. On your Google profile, you’ll have a tab where you can see the sites you’ve recommended through +1. You’ll also have the option to uncheck the box that will allow Google to use your +1 information to send you targeted advertisements. Especially for businesses, a +1 for your website can maximize your SEO capabilities as well as lend credibility to your website. Anyone can +1 your website – colleagues, clients, and even friends – so the more +1s for your site, the more visible it becomes. Try Google +1 and see how it works for you.

Launching Multiple Instances of the Same Software in Windows 7

There are times when you might want to open multiple instances of the same software program quickly, such as when you need to work on multiple documents in Word or Excel, or when you want to launch multiple windows of your browser. In Windows 7, you can do this easily. Just press and hold down the SHIFT key while left-clicking on the first instance of the program in the Windows taskbar, and a new instance of the same program is opened.