Category : Uncategorized

Working from home, is that a good idea?

According to Forrester Research there are over 43 million US adults telecommuting today, and by 2016 that number will grow to 63 million, or 43% of the workforce!  Why the migration to telecommuting?  The reasons are many, but they can all be translated into the one simple fact; namely, telecommuting makes economic sense for everyone, businesses and employees.

The historic technical obstacles to telecommuting have been overcome.  Current technology has successfully addressed security issues.  The increase in consumer Internet bandwidth has improved the telecommuting experience, and that coupled with state-of-the-art remote access solutions, has made the telecommuting experience equal to the ‘in-office’ computer experience.

What about productivity? Across virtually all industries, studies indicate that workers get more accomplished when they telecommute.  In a survey of Fortune 1000 managers, 58 percent reported increased worker productivity.  The state of California’s telecommuting pilot program measured productivity increases of 10 percent to 30 percent, and American Express found a 20 percent productivity gain for off-site call center employees.

Studies of companies of all sizes and virtually all endeavors indicate the same thing; that is, workers are more productive when they are allowed to telecommute.

A few Telecommuting benefits:

  • Increased worker productivity equates to increased company profits
  • Less travel to and from the office equates to less wasted time in traffic
  • Employees appreciate the increased personal and productive time along with reduced commuting cost
  • The environment benefits from reduced pollution caused by auto traffic
  • Companies benefit from reduced travel expenses
  • Reduced requirement for company infrastructure, ie. offices, desks, etc.  In some cases the corporate offices can be completely eliminated.
  • Companies can employ people located over a wider geographical area (not limited by drive time to the office)
  • Companies offering telecommuting to employees attract more workers than those who don’t.

Everything being considered, telecommuting is the future, and the future is now.  To stay competitive in business means to utilize Information Technology to advantage, and successful businesses today and tomorrow will be implementing telecommuting solutions on a significant scale.

So, where do you begin if you’re thinking of implementing a telecommuting solution for your business?  How do you get from an office-oriented business model to one that utilizes remote access for some or all of its computer-user employees?  The first step is to do your homework.  Take the time to better understand the options available, their benefits, and their respective implementation costs.  Know the differences in the various solutions available, and learn what solutions are being utilized by businesses similar to yours.  If you don’t have the time to invest in this kind of ‘homework’ you can engage a qualified Consulting firm, with a proven track record for implementing this type of technology, and seek their recommendation.

Whether you research things on your own, or use a third party IT Consulting Company, it should be a priority to understand, because whether you chose to implement telecommuting in your business or not, your competition will.

Cool Mouse – Microsoft Arc Touch

I was at the Microsoft store in Scottsdale the other day and they showed me a really cool mouse that I think will be very popular.  This Unique, portable design has touch scroll with vibrating feedback. Thumbnail USB has innovative storage on base of mouse which is new to any mouse devise. BlueTrack laser technology allows the mouse to be used on a variety of surfaces. Ambidextrous, no skipping or staggering on different table surfaces.  The Microsoft’s Arc Touch is listed retail at $67.95 and is about as portable as you can get and adds style to the otherwise plain mobile mouse market.   The Arc Touch has one of the most unique form factors I have seen in a mouse. When off, it lays in a prone position (2.28 by 5.14-inches, WH), but to power it on the mouse sits bent; its back arched to create a comfortable structure to hold and navigate with. The mouse buttons are encased in glossy black plastic that tends to attract smudge marks and the like. Breaking up the black is the touch scroll wheel that’s encased in a silver matte plastic. The palm portion on the Arc Touch has a soft rubberized coating.  In terms of buttons, the Arc Touch is outfitted with the basics—a left and right click, and touch scroll. Most mice rolling out these days as least have the two browser buttons, but Microsoft decided to leave this extra out.

Weighing a scant 0.2 pounds and having such a slim profile, the Arc Touch is pretty portable. There’s even a spot to store the wireless USB adapter: On the bottom of the mouse there a small metallic strip that will securely hold the adapter in place during travel. The Arc Touch takes two AA batteries (which are included), and according to Microsoft will last up to 6 months.   The Arc Touch has plug-and-play capabilities, but for those who like to tweak their mouse speed and add different functions to their buttons you can download the designated software. Unfortunately, the software provided with the product will only work for Windows XP, Vista, and 7—no Mac support which angers me. However, the Arc Touch device will work with Mac PCs. Within Microsoft’s IntelliPoint software you can customize the mouse speed, the scroll speed and feedback, and what kind of pointer you want.   The Arc Touch comes packed with the aforementioned USB wireless receiver that transmits on a 2.4GHz frequency, which is fairly standard for mice in this category.

Windows 7 & Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack

It’s now been over a year since the release of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, so that means it’s just about time for the first service pack.  With the core operating system being based on the same code, the service pack release will be for both products.  A release candidate for Service Pack 1 is available at the link below, but I highly recommend you read the FAQ’s in the link below also.  Once you install the SP1 Release Candidate 1, there is no upgrade path to the released version of SP1. Consulting companies must either reinstall the operating system, or uninstall the RC version, which is likely not a clean process.  As usual, this service pack is a colletion of security updates and hotfixes, but there are a few enhancements as well.  The ones that caught my eye as I read through the notes are RemoteFX and Hyper-V Dynamic Memory.  First, RemoteFX is an enhancement to the already revamped Remote Desktop Services in Windows Server 2008 R2.  RemoteFX offers support for remote USB devices, 3D graphics and video, as well as enhanced encryption and management.  The idea is to be able to provide high quality multimedia experiences in a Remote Desktop session that is similar to the experience that a user can have on their local Windows 7 computer.

Second, Hyper-V Dynamic Memory is a technology that allows a Hyper-V host to dynamically allocate memory to virtual machine guests as needed.  VMWare supports overallocation of memory, which is allowing more memory to be allocated to guest virtual machines than there is physical memory.  With Hyper-V, guest virtual machines could not be configured for more memory than what is available on the host.  In my opinion, this was a critical shortcoming in Hyper-V and it appears that Microsoft has addressed this with Hyper-V Dynamic Memory in SP1.

It appears that we will have another 3 to 6 months before we can see SP1 released.  You can use the links below to download evaluations, check out the FAQ’s and find out some more in-depth information about the new features in this release.

Download
http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=194726

RemoteFX
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff817578(WS.10).aspx

Hyper-V Dynamic Memory
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff817651(WS.10).aspx

FAQ
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/evalcenter/ff384134.aspx

Securing Your Network

With the proliferation of Information Technology (Companies) and the efficiency it gives businesses today, securing your network against SPAM, viruses, Malware and Hackers  has become vital to survival.  The very technology that has allowed businesses to become so efficient and productive also brings the risk of catastrophe, if that technology fails or is compromised.  Therefore, it is vital that any business that relies on IT for its productivity make sure that they have taken practical steps to secure their network infrastructure.

There are several areas of concern when considering securing any IT network, including user access control, data backup and protection, firewalls, etc., but for the purpose of this article the focus will be limited to protecting a network from viruses, SPAM, and other Malware.

Most computer users are familiar with the need to protect their computers from viruses and most companies have antivirus software installed on their servers and workstations.  However, one of the biggest threats to network functionality comes from email.  Emails are delivered directly to the user’s desktop and can go through firewalls as well as virus scans, depending upon the nature of the Malware they may contain.  Then, if a user inadvertently opens the infected  email and perhaps clicks on the links it contains, they can infect their workstation and alow it to spread to the entire network.

To secure the multiple points of potential infection it is recommended that email be scanned by a third-party SPAM filtering, Malware, and virus protection vendor before being delivered to the company’s Exchange or mail server.  The company’s firewall should also be configured to only accept eamil from the third party scanning servers.   This will vastly reduce the SPAM  getting to the company Mail server, and stop known Malware.   Finally, the Exchange or mail server should also have virus and Malware software running on it.  Why, since the mail is supposedly checked before delivery by the third party scanning service?  Because users can bring in infected laptops and connect to the network behind the firewall, users can also access webmail from their personal accounts  and bring Malware into their computers directly.  Also, users can get Malware from websites they visit.    When this happens the virus or Malware must be stopped on the network side of the firewall and to do that requires that the proper software be installed directly on the Exchange or Mail server.  A recommended antivirus anti-malware solution for a typical small business network is illustrated below in figure 1.

Figure 1

Microsoft Considering Purchasing Adobe

According to industry reports that I have read in a few places, Microsoft might be close to putting in an acquisition bid for Adobe which is crazy in my view. The reports say that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently met with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen for what reporters are calling a “secret meeting.”  So far, neither Microsoft nor Adobe have discussed such a possibility but it would not be a surprise if Microsoft made such a play.  Their past acquisition history for reasoning falls into this category of company and segment. If anything is certain, it’s that Microsoft shouldn’t even entertain an Adobe acquisition, it makes no sense. Microsoft is clinging to the past as its competition continues to develop new and interesting technology that appeals to customers.  Here are some reason why this makes no sense:

  • Adobe Flash is not popular or prospective enough for the future
  • What market share are they really acquiring from a purchase of this nature?
  • Microsoft is focusing more on the cloud offerings and  getting spread thin with what they really do
  • Its a bad financial move, Adobe has not made good profits for the  last year
  • Microsoft is not focusing on desktop software anymore

MAC Microsoft Office 2011- Finally Got it Right

It feels like I have been waiting forever for the new release of Office for the Mac.  With Microsoft Office for the Mac 2011 (Home and Student version, $119; Home and Business version, $149), Microsoft has finally gotten it right. After a string of disappointing releases, the new Mac version of the world’s most widely-used office suite is a spectacular success, and an unexpected triumph for Microsoft’s Macintosh group. Compared with Office for the Mac 2008 and its predecessors, Office 2011 is innovative, better-designed, startlingly faster, vastly more powerful, and far more compatible with Office for Windows. It even includes a few features that outclass anything in its Windows-based counterpart, Microsoft Office 2010 ($499, 4 stars). If you’re a casual, light-duty office-suite user or a student, iWork ’09 ($79, 4 stars) is still a great option, but if you’ve got heavy-duty work to perform on the Mac, you’ll want Office for the Mac 2011.  The cost for the suite is pretty reasonable for the applications you get.

Office for the Mac still has some minor weaknesses, and at least one feature that’s less powerful than in the previous version—Office no longer syncs calendars with iCal. Overall, it’s the best office suite ever for using the Mac as a serious platform for getting work done.  Office for the Mac comes in two versions, a Home and Student Version (single user package, $119; three-user family package $149) and a Home and Business Version (single user package, $199; licensed for two machines, $279). The Home and Student version includes Word 2011, Excel 2011, PowerPoint 2011. The Home and Business version matches the Home and Student version plus Outlook 2011, which replaces the Entourage mail, calendar, and contact manager app in recent versions.

Pros: Fast, flexible office application suite. Most powerful Mac office software. Highly compatible with Office for Windows. Well-integrated with OS X. Visual Basic for Applications recorded and programmed macros fully supported. Newly-designed Outlook replaces Entourage as mail/calendar/contact app.
Cons: No calendar synching with iCal. Outlook won’t synch with or retrieve mail from Exchange Server 2003 or earlier.
Bottom Line: Office for the Mac roars back with fast, powerful application suite the best of its kind for the OS X platform.

Capabilities and Limitations of the Apple iPad in a Standard Business Network Environment

The iPad is a great device. It’s light, ultra-portable, and you don’t have to take it out of your carry-on for airport security. It’s sleek and sexy. It’s remarkably versatile. Many people wonder: can I replace my Window laptop or MacBook with it? If I add a Bluetooth keyboard, is it a netbook?

You can try, but it’s like trying to get a Corvette to replace a pickup truck: they both serve the same fundamental purpose, but they each excel at different things. You can try to get your pickup up to 180 MPH, and you can try to haul a ton of bricks in your Corvette. With enough effort, “McGyver”-ing, and aftermarket accessories, you could no doubt accomplish each. But is it a good idea? And if you think it through ahead of time, do you really want to?

The longing to replace a laptop with an iPad is easy to understand. An iPad travels well. It’s simple to connect it to a Wi-Fi network, and you don’t have to wait for it to boot up. The battery lasts. When you’re not working, you can use it to play music, movies, or games. It’s a terrific reader for news and e-books. It’s a great email client for Gmail, AOL, and (if your company’s mail system supports it and the corporate policies allow it) Exchange mail, calendar, and contacts using ActiveSync.

But it’s important to remember that the iPad is NOT a laptop or a tablet PC. And, despite being an Apple product, it’s NOT a MacBook. It isn’t built on Windows or Mac OS X – its operating system (iOS) was originally developed for the iPhone. The interface uses multi-touch gestures and an accelerometer, making possible applications that can’t run on a PC or Mac. That also means that applications written for a PC or Mac can’t run on an iPad – unless the author specifically develops a version for iOS. Even then, they would need to publish their application through the Apple App Store (thus sharing their proceeds with Apple) – or you would need to jailbreak your iPad, voiding the warranty.

Importantly, the iPad (like the iPhone and iPod Touch) does NOT support Adobe Flash or Java, meaning that websites that use those technologies won’t behave as designed. Why not? Apple CEO Steve Jobs called the Adobe product insecure, buggy, battery-intensive, and incompatible with a touch interface.

The iPad is better at consuming information than it is at creating it. It’s great for creating and editing smaller emails and documents, but you’ll want a PC to create large or complex documents. Another challenge: once you’ve created or edited the smaller documents, you can email them from the iPad, but only one file per email. To send multiple files, you need to send multiple emails. This can be pretty cumbersome. You’ll note that as you explore the iPad you won’t even encounter the concept of a “file” as you would on a PC or Mac.

To think of the iPad as a replacement for a netbook, notebook, or MacBook is like thinking of the Corvette as a replacement for a Ford F350. Is it fair to call the iPad an overgrown iPhone? No. It’s a terrific multi-function device with some very valuable business purposes in specific situations. Should you expect it to behave like a Windows machine or Mac? You’ll only end up frustrated if you do.

Love the iPad for what it is, and don’t hate it for what it isn’t. And don’t expect your IT consulting company to help you make it do what it’s not designed to do – they can’t fit a ton of bricks in a Corvette, either.

So… what CAN the iPad do in a business network environment? In other words, what is reasonable to expect your company’s I.T. team to support?

  • Email access. If your company allows remote email access from a smartphone using POP or IMAP protocols, you can do it from your iPad. Note, however, that it’s up to you go get the iPad connected to the Internet on the remote Wi-Fi. If you have a 3G iPad, getting it on the Internet is strictly between you, Apple, and AT&T.
  • Calendar/Contact synchronization – if your company has a fairly new Exchange server and the network is configured to allow ActiveSync access. If you have a non-BlackBerry smartphone that wirelessly syncs Calendar/Contacts, your iPad can also.
  • Remote Desktop to a Terminal Server – if your company has a Terminal Server. If you have access using Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection software for either Windows or Mac, you can have access from your iPad. Be sure to get a good RDP app such as iTap RDP, which makes it easier to operate a Windows desktop from with the iPad’s smaller display, and makes the best use of the iPad’s direct manipulation and multi-touch gestures.
  • VPN access. If your company allows VPN connections from other devices, such as an IPSec VPN tunnel to a Cisco firewall or a PPTP connection to a Windows RAS Server, you can have the same connection from your iPad. You might use it to establish a Remote Desktop Connection to your office workstation, if your company’s policies allow this.

Now… what CAN’T you expect your company’s I.T. team to support? Pretty much anything not listed above. At its heart, the iPad is a consumer device, and is probably not included in the list of officially-sanctioned “clients” for your company’s server-based applications. There’s no doubt that the iPad will continue to evolve, and new apps are released every day that enhance its functionality and usefulness. But, as a mobile network device, it presents challenges in terms of data security, bandwidth usage, and compatibility. These translate into significant I.T. support costs, so don’t be too surprised if your company won’t support it.

Top Reasons Why Internet Explorer 9 Will Remain The Most Used Browser – Is Microsoft Internet Explorer The Most Used Browser – Why IE 9 Is Better For The Enterprise | BVA IT Consulting Blog

It is still left to be determined but so far so good. BVA has seen a few problems with integration with third party custom applications as well as add-ins but for the most part this new browser is pretty good.  We have it in production with over 15 clients across different market segments and feel confident in the product.  What’s funny is that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer doesn’t get much love in the advanced IT Solutions industry. A lot of people complain and fault it for its security problems. They say it doesn’t work as well as competing browsers.  With the release of Internet Explorer 9, it’s becoming clearer that the chances of competing browsers like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox beating Microsoft’s latest browser anytime soon seem unrealistic and most likely not going to happen.  Internet Explorer 9 might be in its infancy, but this new browser edition ensures companies will stick with Microsoft. Here’s some documented reasons:

1. It’s much faster

Internet Explorer 8 and other previous versions of the software loaded Web pages very slowly. In fact, Google’s Chrome browser easily bested Internet Explorer in speed tests. But Internet Explorer 9 is quite fast, thanks to Microsoft’s decision to utilize the computer’s graphics processor. The result is a browser that for most companies will deliver the speed needed.

2. It’s taking aim at Chrome

Speaking of speed, it’s clear that Internet Explorer 9 is taking aim at Google Chrome. The browser has taken on a cleaner, Chrome-like look, making it easier to navigate. Plus, it has ditched the search box, in favor of a single box that allows users to input a Website’s address or search for content. And by improving Internet Explorer 9’s speed, it seems clearer than ever that Microsoft views Google as its top competitor in the browser market.

3. Security hasn’t mattered in the past

Internet Explorer 6, for example, is widely considered one of the most insecure browsers ever released. But as those security problems persisted, companies continued to stick with Internet Explorer. So, while security is commonly a reason Internet Explorer critics give to try to persuade companies to switch from Microsoft’s browser, it would seem that most companies haven’t cared in the past. And if Internet Explorer 9 still suffers from security problems, it’s unlikely that many companies will switch.

4. It’s a vastly improved design

Internet Explorer 9 will likely deliver a far better experience to the average employee. Whereas previous versions of the browser were difficult for novice users to perform basic tasks, the new and improved design in Internet Explorer 9 provides power for advanced users and simplicity for novices. That alone should make Internet Explorer 9 a fine choice for companies looking to improve their browser productivity.

5. Solutions still rely on it

As more Web-based solutions make their way to the enterprise, Internet Explorer becomes even more important. In fact, several products currently in use by companies rely upon Internet Explorer to work. That alone makes Internet Explorer relevant. And it will likely ensure that Internet Explorer 9 will be the browser of choice for companies going forward.

6. The competition can’t cut it

Google’s Chrome and Mozilla Firefox are outstanding browsers. For consumers, they are arguably a better option than anything Microsoft puts out. But the corporate world is a different space. And for most enterprise customers, Chrome and Firefox can’t match Internet Explorer 9 in compatibility with enterprise applications, especially custom corporate applications. They don’t deliver the same experience.

7. The download manager is vastly improved

Microsoft made a major update to its download manager in Internet Explorer 9. When a user attempts to download something from the Web, a new “reputation” feature kicks in. It evaluates the source of the download, and if it doesn’t have a solid reputation, the warnings related to the download are made abundantly clear.  It’s not a guaranteed security safeguard, but it should go a long way in making IT Managers feel more comfortable giving employees access to the browser.

8. It’s an extension of Windows 7

Although Internet Explorer 9 won’t work with Windows XP, it’s a vastly improved extension of Windows 7. In fact, users can “pin” sites to their taskbar, giving them easy access to pages in the future. Those pinned items also boast added functionality in some cases. It seems that Microsoft is attempting to make its browser a viable component in Windows’ functionality. That’s a good thing from an employee-productivity perspective.

9. Microsoft’s cloud vision works for now

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has been saying for months that his company views the cloud differently than some other firms. He seems to think that users are going to need a rich client, like Internet Explorer 9, to interact with the cloud, rather than a thin client. Some would disagree, but for now, Microsoft seems correct in that assumption. Internet Explorer 9 will work exceptionally well for a user’s cloud services. It will provide the kind of functionality most companies are looking for related to their cloud endeavors.

10. It’s a familiar experience

In the end, Internet Explorer 9 isn’t so drastically different that users won’t feel at home. In fact, the browser provides a familiar experience that most enterprise employees would feel comfortable with and that’s a good thing. It should help Internet Explorer 9 enjoy the kind of success that Microsoft hopes it will achieve.

Data Storage For Small To Medium Sized Businesses – Data Solutions That Meet Compliance Standards – ProStor InfiniVault Storage System Breakdown and Review | BVA IT Consulting Blog

In working with a few different architectural firms and medical agencies, BVA has learned of several types of backup solutions that lean toward hitting compliance standards.  Being able to store large amounts of data for a specific period of time is crucial.  We have found that tape is a great solution but the problem that we see is the restore time in case something took place.  Even with an LTO4, the restore time would be quite substantial which could be very painful when we are talking about a terabyte of data.  In looking around for different solution we found a DISK based solution, GB, that really shortens the gap of restoring.  The product is called ProStor InfiniVault and is an array full of disks that are removable which is great.

ProStor InfiniVault is a storage system designed to balance the need to cost-effectively manage increasing amounts of information over extended periods of time. This is the storage solution for terabyte-years.  You can restore data fast with reliable retrieval of information from a choice of local online, removable offline or replicated locations.  The backup system comes fully equipped with what technology consulting companies and administrators need to manage their data for the long-term. There is no extra cost for software features and RDX disk drives can be added when storage needs grow, without having to purchase expensive disk management tools or new system infrastructure.  Data is organized into vaults allowing fast access through a standard NAS interface. The system automatically manages data retention, compression, encryption, and single-instancing de-duplication. It also maintains data integrity for the user so that data is available for years to come.

The intelligent software engine automatically protects itself – there is no need to back it up. The software stores multiple copies of each file to RDX removable disk cartridges, allowing near-line and offline data protection with removability for seamless integration into current workflows. The software provides several features that allow organizations to comply with the rules and regulations that govern their business, such as:

  • Hardware-enforced WORM for immutability
  • Audit trail with chain-of-custody reporting
  • File indexing for search and rapid file retrieval (eDiscovery)
  • Data retention and automatic deletion
  • Automatic copies
  • Legal hold enforcement
  • Data encryption and key management

The backup software has a web-based management console and provides a simple interface for configuration and management.  The disks used to store the data is called RDX.   Over 130 Petabytes of data can be stored on RDX disks today, RDX is the market leader in removable storage. Organizations can trust that the technology is here to stay.  RDX has such world-wide acceptance because of its cost-savings benefits such as:

  • RDX uses less energy: RDX disks are powered down when not in use, thus reducing power and cooling costs.
  • RDX disks are cost-effective: Capacities can be intermixed, and the interface will remain compatible well into the future. Organizations can purchase the latest capacity cartridge at the current best market price.
  • RDX is built to last: Each RDX cartridge has a 30-year shelf life, along with protection against drops and static electricity.

Models and Hardware Specs:

Online Backup Case Study – Tomahawk Automated Offsite Backup Test Results – Step by Step Guide for Testing Tomahawk Automated Offsite Backup | BVA IT Consulting Blog

Here at BVA we were recently going through the process of trying to find a suitable online backup solution that would fulfill all of our business needs. Specifically the ability to do bare metal restores, system state backups, and brick level mailbox restores using an online utility. The solution I have decided to test is Tomahawk Automated Offsite Backup which does offer all of these features. Tomahawk also offers “Seed Copy Assistance,” which for backup sets over 40GB they will send you a USB drive, you do a local backup using their software, and then send it back to them.  NOTE: The online utility does not actually do the bare metal restores or system state restores itself, it utilizes functions already built into the Windows OS to complete the tasks.

Some of the other features that I am going to be testing are the exchange brick level restores, 2003 system state backups, 2008 bare metal restore, and the Shadow Protect restore option that they have available with their service.

I will be updating this blog continuously as I step through the testing process.