Tech Tip

In-house vs Cloud Server

Deciding if you want an in-house or cloud server can be complicated when deciding which is best for you or your organization.

Cloud servers normally have an advantage when it comes to startup cost or ease of deploying certain technologies on a large scale.  Most cloud providers don’t charge you extra for upgrading the hardware to current models, but if you weigh your cost over the course of a few years,  things can add up.  In most cases, you are responsible for the software and sometimes also the operation.

If you have large amounts of data, don’t need to access files remotely, or have custom applications, it is best to host them locally thru your own in-house server.  There will be a higher startup cost because you have to purchase everything, but you can use the hardware for much longer than recommended, which allows you to save money.  One way to reduce the startup cost is to finance the hardware purchase.

You should identify how your organization will handle:

  • Email or Exchange (email, calendaring, collaboration)
  • File share (storing your data)
  • Printer service (users can print directly if it’s a small organization)
  • Custom Applications (special programs)
  • Internet (with cloud you still need Internet at your organization’s office)
  • Who will manage all of the above?
    • Hardware along with replacements
    • Software along with upgrades and configurations needs

Once you know how your organization will handle the above, you can then evaluate which type of server you like, Cloud or In-House.  The good thing about both technologies is that they are interchangeable. You can even elect to have a hybrid of both worlds.

Purchasing tablets for education

When purchasing a tablet for using at school, it’s a good idea to follow the recommendations of the school you are attending.  If you are taking classes at multiple schools or learning online, there are several things you may want to consider.

I would recommend having at least two USB connections, especially if you are going to be using a separate keyboard. If the tablet does not have a USB connection, you should make sure the keyboard you purchase supports Bluetooth. Most keyboards follow the QWERTY/traditional keyboard format for faster typing, but the layout of keys on assistive devices may differ.

What tablet operating system would best meet my needs?  Derrick’s recommendations:

  1. Android OS:  These are the most common and will give you more choices in relation to price.  They are the most compatible with both Windows and Apple hardware (for syncing with computers, laptops, etc.) and they offer a wide breadth of applications. Using software such as Evernote will allow you to sync your documents between devices.
  2. Apple OS (iPad):  Many schools are using the iPads as they are very simple to use.  You may run into trouble if you plan to do more than browse the Internet and watch videos, as Apple often restricts their service to Apple products.
  3. Windows OS: If Microsoft had more market share when it comes to portable devices I would recommend them as number one due to their market share in the PC environment.
  4. Others, systems can limit your flexibility.

Most tablets only allow you to connect to the internet via a WIFI connection. Watching a video may be okay with most connections; worst case the video will be choppy. If you’re using Skype or any other two way service you must know that you have good Internet connection speeds of 1.5MB or better.

Invest in a good headset (with a microphone if you’re using any two way service), if you’re in a public place you don’t want to disturb everyone and if it’s noisy you want to ensure you can hear.

Most new wireless printers support the ability to print straight from your device. You will have to be on the same network as the printer you’re printing to.  Most printers require you to download their application which can be found at your operating systems app store.

Agree or disagree?  Email Derrick Hall with your comments!

Performing a technology assessment of your nonprofit

When assessing your technology you should think about five major areas:

  • INFRASTRUCTURE

What computer and network style will you use:  normal ones are peer to peer and client server both can be part or all cloud based.  Will your main data be local or in the cloud?  What access to your data does your organization need? Think of storage space, speed of access, and whether multi-location access is needed.  Do you have a technology plan? If so, it should also talk about replacing or upgrading equipment as well.  What are the pros and cons to the hardware needs that you have decided on?

  • Business Software Needs

What enterprise systems will you need, such as office suites or special applications for your organization, how do you access the software? On what platforms can the software be run? Does your infrastructure support these platforms?

  • Organization Issues

Just because you have a great technology does not mean you will get everyone to use it.  Set goals for usage so that everyone knows how serious it is to use of the technology. Develop a policy and procedures for the usage of all of your technology.  A good rule is if you plug it in or it uses batteries then it is technology and you have a plan for it.

  • Website and Social Media

Some people believe that this should be under marketing, which is mostly true, but you still need to think about security along with several other aspects of them both.  Making sure both the website and social media components talk to each other as well as other platforms, can be technical.  Make sure there are roles and responsibilities assigned for every aspect of your online presence.  You should have a training plan and anyone who posts should understand the organization mission.

  • Risk management and security

Most organizations under-invest in this area. You don’t want to be the organization that has to pay millions to fix a data leak or have your reputation tarnished.  Always ensure that you have a malware system installed (Antivirus/Spyware) on each client machine.  People ask which one out there is best. This can vary with your needs but you want a company that is responsive.  Most new viruses are found because something got attacked or infected.  You should have a backup/disaster recovery plan in place. It is not good enough to just have your data in two places. You must know how you would retrieve it in a disaster.  Are you dealing with personal information such as social security numbers or medical records?  Always use complex passwords. For front facing access to your network, such as websites, limit administrative access to them.  Patch and update on a regular basis, this will help you stay secure.

In each of the categories you must always think about the price and budget.  Evaluating your technology plan on a yearly basis helps you to see that it still is in alignment with your organizational needs.

Network Notebook

It is important when working with a third party IT company or volunteers that you have an onsite person from your organization who has full access to all your technology.  It is also important to have any third party IT company fill out something similar to what we call the Network Notebook.  Your onsite person should keep a copy of this information as well.

Some of the items in this Network Notebook are:

  • How your network is configured
  • Backdoor access to your network (for emergencies)
  • Server and Workstation configuration
  • Important software for your organization
  • Who is your ISP service, account number, phone, etc.
  • Who is your Hosting provider, and how to access them

Selecting IT support

When selecting an IT support company, things can get confusing really fast, especially when you don’t have anyone on the hiring team with an IT background. Here are some thoughts on what you should look for when searching for an IT company.

Needs assessment

You should assess what your organizational needs are for IT help, review your internal team and find out what technical skills they have.  There may be someone in your office with some technical skills who only needs help with the more complicated matters.

Before searching, take time to assess your needs:

  • Your internal equipment, i.e., computers, servers, web site and network
  • The skill level of your staff; ask, they might surprise you.
  • Will you or they research and procure equipment for you; do you let them do their jobs?
  • Will they take the time to walk through and understand your organization and its needs?

To whom should the IT person report?

It is important to figure this out and include them in the selecting process.  For example:

  • General manager (CEO/ED)
  • Accounting person
  • Technical support staff, if you are large enough to have one
  • Administrative assistants (best in the On Demand service model)

Paid vs. Volunteers

Paid:

This is best option, but make sure you get what you order.  Some companies are actually individuals  who will charge you little but offer limited experience.  Others can charge you a lot, but give you services that your organization doesn’t need.  You should test out a company on a small project before committing to a long term deal with them.  There are two major IT support models from which to choose. Whichever model, the contact person in your organization should have administrative rights and access to any technical documents.

Manage IT Service

In this model, the IT company normally monitors something within your network. This is the best option when you have no or limited IT staff and have services you need to be up, such as servers. Think of this organization as your IT Department.  Normally you build a relationship with a person(s) within the company who understands  your organizations goals. Make sure they plan to be around for a while.

On Demand Service

This model is best if you have someone who understand IT in your organization and needs help with more complex situations.  If you go with this model with no one to support your day to day needs, this model can be more expensive making it hard on the budget.

Volunteers

It is important to remember that volunteers are just that. They come and go.  You don’t want them to go when they are the only person with the working IT knowledge of your organization.  If you have a volunteer as your principle IT person/company, you should have them fill out a document that overviews your whole organization. The document I use is called a network notebook.  Stay tuned next month, when I cover this.  But if you don’t use the network notebook or need something sooner, make sure that:

  • The volunteer documents everything
  • You share your plans so they understand your goals
  • To get them in a position to be proactive, not reactive
  • To have them provide you with a cheat sheet of common tasks they do
  • To get them to commit for a period of time, such as one year

As a nonprofit, you will discover many organizations that are willing to provide you with some level of support for low or no cost.  Remember, IT support can be rather expensive compared to others you may hire, but with the right support these expenses will help your organization grow.  With paid or volunteer help, you should always ensure that you have access to copies of your organization’s administration data, should the relationship end.

No matter if you choose Manage Service or On Demand or Volunteer Staff, you should share your organization’s vision and goals, allowing them to give you their thoughts on how they can help you achieve them, in terms of technology.

Password suggestions

I am sure you have heard this a million times by now.  Make your password hard for others to guess but easy for you to remember.  Most systems you access today require you to change your password on a regular basis,  which can cause you to forget what pet you used last as a password.  There is a way to make your password easier for you to remember but hard for others is to access.

Most systems require/recommended that your password:

  • is 8 characters or more long
  • has a punctuation in it like .,!,@,&, etc.
  • has at least one character capitalized.

A way to make sure your password is secure is to do something like the following.

Let’s say in the 90’s you used a password like “puppies.” As you know, today this password would be hacked within minutes. On top of being a security risk, most systems will ask you to change the password, not letting you change it to “puppies” again.

You can change the password “puppies” to look like this:

01Pupp!e$2015. This is easier to remember than you might think.

01 = the current month

Pupp = you’re spelling puppies but you ccapitalize the “P”

! = instead of using the letter “I” you used “!”

e= Is just like you wanted

$ = instead of using the letter “s” you used “$”

2015 = the current year we are in

Now you will always know what month and year you are in, so all you would have to remember is the root password “puppies” and the fact that you change certain characters.  Now when it’s time to change your password, just change the date portions to reflect a new year.

Please note, I strongly suggest from time to time changing your root password, which letters you choose to change characters, and capitalize.  This will help you ensure your password always stays secure.

Reboot Restore recommendation simple protection

Reboot Restore Rx integrates Reboot-and-Restore, a simple concept designed to keep computers fully functional and optimally configured. Without restricting the computer’s access, the users have full access to all computer functions. Regardless of what the users do, including erasing critical system files, hacking the system registry, downloading apps — the PC will restore to its predefined baseline every time the PC is restarted.

Reboot Restore Rx is Freeware! You can install Reboot Restore Rx on as many PC’s as you like.  It’s Freeware, designed for computer labs and sites with limited IT staff.

Having a software like this reduces computer maintenance and protects public computer environments.

Reboot Restore VS

Imaging PC’s, saves lots of type.

Deepfreeze

Of course, depending on the version you buy, there may be some bells and whistles that you get but the base protection is free with Reboot Restore.

You can find out more information about Reboot Restore at Horizon DataSys http://www.horizondatasys.com/en/products_and_solutions.aspx?ProductId=18#Features

 

Windows 7 commands for every administrator

In Windows 7, lots of administrative features are harder to get than in Windows XP. Administrators of small organizations may have to work on a computer locally, not using a manage service type software. Here are some command prompt programs you need to know. Please note that some of these commands need to be run in administrators mode.

  •  ipconfig: will show you the IP address of the computer.ping: Can verify if that machine can see the internet/network, sometimes browsers have cache pages.
  • sfc: Will scan your core files for changes that may have been changed by malware.
  • nslookup: Can verify if DNS services are working and if that severer is pointing to the right place
  • sigverif: Will scan the signature files of your system and check to see if they are digitally signed. Most vendors will digitally sign the software for their hardware, but may not sign their drivers.
  • driverquery: Will list all the drivers installed on your machine.
  •  tasklist: will show you the task that are running on your computer just like task manager.

You can always add the switch /? At the end of any of the above commands to see what other options you can select, i.e., “sfc /?”.

If your computer responds with too much data to be able to read through, you can always run the program with a > FILE.txt at the end, i.e., “driverquery > drivers.txt” and open the drivers.txt file in notepad.

Tips for browsing the Internet

computer_key_BackspaceIf you want to go back a page, don’t use your mouse to go back, just hit the Backspace key.

(Alt+left-arrow key also works for Back, and Alt+right-arrow for Forward. In this article, if you have a Mac, substitute the Alt key with Option.)

If you are searching for something, you can type a word or phrase into a Search box, and then hit  Enter. This also works with searching inside of Windows Vista and above.  When hitting Enter, it works just like the “Go” button when you type it in an address/search bar.

On brand-name web sites like Seattle.gov, Facebook.com, Amazon.com, etc., clicking the upper-left logo to return to the site’s home page.

Capturing error messages

When there is an error on your computer, it is helpful to be able to show what you see.   You can capture the images on your computer screen to show someone else the error message or give visual examples of how to do something.

In Windows, use the Print Screen key (normally on the top right hand side of the keyboard) to copy the screen image into a graphic. It will go onto your invisible Clipboard, then you can paste it into an email or other type of program, such as Word. You can also use the Alt Print Screen key, which copies only the window.

On the Mac, press Command-Shift-3. (Command is the key with the propeller on it, next to the Space bar.) You’ll hear a snapshot sound, and you get a graphics file on your desktop—a picture of the entire screen image. If you press Command-Shift-4 instead, you get a crosshair cursor.  You can draw across just one portion of the screen. Or, if you now tap the Space bar, you turn the cursor into a little camera icon. You can now click on just one window or toolbar that you want to copy.