Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Is a phone still a phone?

We were out to dinner with my Mom, My wife and sister were there.  We also had a younger relative with us.  At the end of the meal my Mom pulled a calculator from her purse to figure out the amount for a tip.  The young relative looked at the calculator and was amazed to see such a thing.  Why carry that?  My Mom said she always carried it so she could calculate tips and amounts for her checkbook.  Earlier we had talked about how my Mom had to get some film developed from her camera.  It was a funny moment, and one which my Sister wrapped up by stating that all these devices (calculator, camera, checkbook) the rest of us all had on our phones... and more.  One of the only things I don’t do much on my phone anymore is talk on it. I check my email, look up websites, check movie times, deposit checks or transfer money in my bank accounts, and on and on.  

We now do just about everything on our phone.  Soon it could be the only computing device you ever need.  I mean that, keep reading.

Recently I saw this notice come across.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ubuntu-edge

Ubuntu is an operating system if you don’t know.  You know, like Windows or Apple’s OSX.  Ubuntu uses Linux as the core and the OS is free.  And apparently they want to do a phone.  Why not.  Microsoft, Apple and Google all have phone Operating Systems so why not Ubuntu based.  There are other phone OS as well.  The thing that Ubuntu is talking about however is that they want their device to be a phone at some points but also have a Desktop mode if you plug it into a full size monitor.

This could very well mean you will only have one computing device and it will be with you at all times.  It will be what you need it to be.  When you are at work it can even be your work computer.  Now that piece can become complicated.  Those of us who have been Network Administrators for a long time will need to have a little more control over the core corporate applications than what this may seem to allow.

No real worries though.  At my company, Ashmar Inc. we have a new initiative we call Pure Computing Plus.  Plus is about virtualizing the entire corporate network so that all the critical controls are in place, all the security concerns are dealt with and the business continuity is addressed.  Everything is solved.  And the beauty is that the Virtual network can be accessed by any device you desire.  It doesn’t even have to be a company controlled device, in fact many people who use a Virtual Network have implemented a policy called BYOD– Bring Your Own Device.  So if you were a customer of Ashmar’s Pure Computing Plus and you wanted to have a phone that includes a desktop mode then you would have no problems.  

Ubuntu has announced this but I’m sure we will see others do exactly the same thing.  Your next phone may well be all you need to accomplish anything you want to do on a computer.  And that can include your business computing as well.

Absolutely Amazing.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

What goes around

Way back a long time ago somebody created the first electronic digital computer.  It cost a lot of money to make.  So not everybody had one.  If you wanted to use a computer you had to go to it.  After a while somebody had the idea the computer had enough processing power to be used by more than one person at a time so they created a way for multiple stations called terminals to be added to the computer.  This was the beginning of the concept of networks.  Often the terminals were called “dumb terminals”.  They were called this because on their own they couldn’t really do much, they had to be connected to the computer to use its power and accomplish anything.  

That was a long time ago, and more recently somebody came up with the idea of a “personal computer” because real computers weren’t at all personal.  They were too expensive.  This is when I got involved with computers in the 1980’s.  Lots of people in business were buying a personal computer, because that was the thing to do.  It didn’t take long before they realized that even these personal computers should be networked.  In a situation like this you still had the main computer or what we called a Server.  But the terminals weren’t dumb, if you disconnected them from the network or the server they were still able to do something.  They couldn’t share the server based programs but they could still do things.  This was good because we often lost the server or the network for some reason and there were still some things we could get done on our computer.  Maybe work on a spreadsheet or write a letter.  

We called the business networks LAN’s which was short for Local Area Network.  It was good, but we still wanted more. Sometimes a company had workers that weren’t always in the office.  We needed to receive updates from these people however so we needed a way to get them into the LAN.  This was before the Internet was popular.  The solution was to go back to the old days of the Terminal.  Remote workers could “dial in” to the network via a device called a modem.  You did this over regular Telephone lines.  But at their fastest modems were still slow and trying to send everything back and forth over the line was just too much.  This was particularly true as Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) such as Microsoft Windows became more widely used.  One of the most useful solutions was to go back to the ideas of a Dumb Terminal.  The processing was done at the Server but the remote user could open a Terminal Session on his laptop or remote Personal Computer. This was called Terminal Services or later called Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP).  It was a solution that borrowed back from the old days of the big computers.  

I don’t remember Terminal Services being widely used because each Remote User would tie up a modem and therefore a phone line.  Most companies who did use this had to schedule their remote users and coordinate what they did to keep down the costs.  Also the Remote User had to use the Operating System of the Server and not all programs worked on that OS.  And each user connected using some of the processing power of the server to do their work so if one user was doing a lot of number crunching, that affected the speed of all the other users.  There were issues I can recall, but this solution is still used today.  In many ways what we now call Cloud Computing is based on these same ideas.  You don’t need a phone line or modem, you use a Network card and the Internet.  Your computer has a program called a browser.  Popular ones are called Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Opera.  These browsers basically make a dumb terminal connection to Servers off in a Data Center.  You do many things based on this concept.  You search databases of products on Amazon for example and buy them.  

Most of us use this computing solution daily in our personal lives.  But what about for business?  Often we still have the 20 year old style of computing in a Local Area Network while being connected to the Internet (taking many risks).  We have learned to work around many of the disadvantages of this type solution.  I believe however that we can simply eliminate many of the problems by moving back again to Dumb Terminals or Terminal Services.  But borrowing from this actually 60 year old technology and making a couple of tweaks we have improved on the process.  Instead of the limitations of a LAN or an RDP environment we now have Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).  Each user can connect to their own personal Virtual Workstation or Virtual Machine (VM).  The Workstation has dedicated resources, so that if you are crunching numbers you don’t slow down everyone else.  Your VM can be unique from others but VM’s can be deployed by simply copying a file on a Server in the Cloud.  A VM is physically in a Data Center, accessible from just about any computing device you have, and protected from the many threats that you have a hard time protecting against in your office.  Maybe at some point I will write more about the benefits of the VM.

Virtual Machines are already widely in use, particularly by large companies but I believe they will become much more popular in the Small to Medium Sized business in the next few years.  As you can imagine there is a lot behind why I say that, I’ll tell you more soon.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Virtually New Networks

Have you noticed the changes in computing in the last 10 years?  

Much has happened, is there anything we can’t do on our computing devices?  That right there– computing devices– that concept has changed.  10 years ago the desktop still ruled.  Many of us have used laptops, but the majority of the devices around were desktop computers. Today, that’s just not so.  Many people have even abandoned their notebook computer for a tablet such as iPad or Android– and a Smartphone.  They check their email on either device.  They get directions, find restaurants, buy movie tickets or anything else on one of these.  

Do you ever take time to think about how networks have changed?  A network was something you had in your office.  You probably had a server or a few servers, and your shared files and printers with everyone on your staff. You probably still do.

Today we talk about cloud computing, but sometimes people don’t know what they mean by that.  Cloud computing is really just about how the functions we do every day are now available on any device we want to use.  The device doesn’t matter, the real power is in the cloud.  That means it’s on a server but usually not like the old server.  This server is in a professionally managed Data Center somewhere– anywhere.  It is climate controlled, and protected like you can’t believe.  Most of us don’t even know where these Data Centers are.  And we don’t need to know.  It’s just there when we need it.  And we get all stressed if it isn’t around for a few hours or even a few minutes.  

Most of my work life I’ve worked with smaller networks.  These networks changed in complexity over the years but I still worked with small to mid-sized companies who were providing services for between 4 and 100 workstations.  Today I have a hard time suggesting the same setup for my customers.  Things changed.  While the cost of technology has come down, the cost of servers has gone up.  The network is really now, The Internet.  We are all connected whether we think we are or not.  Actual prices of servers are up, and the management of those servers becomes costly.  And every 3 to 5 years we need to swap it all out and do it again.  We can try to make that cycle longer, but there are all kinds of pressures to change.  It becomes very expensive and the costs are out of our control for the most part.

But the Cloud is going to help the small customer as well.  The small customer can now use the power of the Cloud for their benefit.  I hope to explore some of the ways we can benefit in follow up articles.  But basically a Network can now be purchased as a Service in The Cloud.  This is called Network as a Service (NaaS).  You don’t buy hardware to update it.  You don’t buy tape backup units, or dedicate a room to the Servers.  You order what you need as a Service.  You can scale up or scale back down as your business requires.  You don’t have to wait for replacement parts to be shipped to you, and you may not even need to worry about software licenses of standard OS or Major Applications.  You can add servers for special projects even.  Everything is taken care of for your standard monthly fee.

Sure there may be some things that are outside of the standard fee but the basics are generally handled.  This changes how you make decisions about your local (or virtual) network.  The rules are completely different. Some are already using Software as a Service (SaaS).  Maybe you use a hosted version of your accounting program or your email.  If so, you have already made one step.  Why not move the whole network?  It makes a lot of sense as the next step.

You don’t have to worry about what used to frighten you.  You now worry more about your business and not about the Network.  As I say I have some follow ups from this concept and lots to share, but for now this is a good start.  Just know that it can all be much easier.  The small business can act like a big business.  And the small business can actually afford it.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Transfer Large Files

I needed to transfer a 300+ MB file from one computer to another over the Internet.  Typically there a a few options available to me for this purpose but in the particular case none of those worked.

So I begin a search for Transferring Large files and I found an article that reviewed some tools for doing this.  I tried to leave it up in a browser so I could post a link to it but last night my computer loaded some updates and reboot and now I can’t find it again.  If I do I will post it. 

One of the options I came across and have used before was yousendit.com .  The problem was this has a limit of something like 100 MB and most of the solutions have such a limit unless you pay for a subscription.  I don’t need a subscription to do this like 2 times a year. 

A couple of the options caught my eye because they allowed for pretty large files and you didn’t even have to register or give them your name.

One that I tried was transferbigfiles.com this was pretty cool.  I believe it would transfer 1GB files for free.  You tell it the file name and give them an email to send it to.  They upload the file to their storage using Amazon S3 technology (which is basically Amazon selling huge amounts of internet storage for little money).  The only problem I had was not knowing it it was uploading.  This size file would take over an hour to upload and the status meter just froze.  Of course as the site says this is in Beta so it may or may not have been working but I wasn’t patient.

The winner, and the one I ended up using was pipebytes.com.  It worked great.  You tell it which file to send and it gives you a web address for the recipient to go to to begin the transfer.  You don’t give them  any other info and the file doesn’t go onto their servers.  It is transferred directly from one computer to another.  And the best news is it gave me a progress meter that worked (but it is also still in Beta).  It’s free too.  However for free you only get a transfer rate of 512 Kbps.  I suppose that could be adequate but I went ahead and  bought what they called a speedpass.  I was under the gun and it was getting late so didn’t want to take a chance that it would be super slow.  With a speedpass it will transfer as fast as 3 Mbps (depending on the sending and receiving network setup).  I purchased a 24 hour speedpass for $.99.  Less than a dollar and my 300+ MB file transferred in about 1 hour.  It worked like a charm and I thought I would share it.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Sometimes life just meshes

So We’ve been working on a test.  This test went well.  We started about 7 months ago or so but I don’t remember the exact date.  Here was the issue…

We are a small business with a few computers in the office, Laptops are key because we take them with us wherever we go.  But like a lot of people we don’t have great backups.  We don’t have a server currently (although we have in the past).  We also don’t have a good tape backup system in case everything crashes, even though I recommend them for some customers our resources don’t require it.  In the past we kept files on the laptops backed up to the server.  We bought an external drive to keep some files backed up but only had one drive to share between computers which doesn’t really work that well.  Also it doesn’t work great to have an external drive for each computer because it becomes difficult to know where a file is or should be.  We are small but do need to share files sometimes which without a server didn’t work well.  Then a hard drive crashed on one laptop and although many files are on the External drive there were still some key things lost.

So we had tried a few different ways of working around these issues and then I came across an notification of a new product by Microsoft called Mesh (www.mesh.com)  They say Sync, Share, Access.

I thought this could help.  So first step was install the mesh app on our laptops (need a Live ID for this such as a hotmail account etc.)  So by doing that and setting up some mesh folders for my important docs I now have an Internet backup of my files for free up to 5 Gigabytes.  This is very cool -- one big problem down.  Now if my hard drive crashes I still have my files in “the cloud”.  I previously played with Microsoft’s Skydrive and this is a cool tool but you have to upload the files you want to backup and download them if you want to use them.  Skydrive can work well for archiving files that I don’t access regularly or for placing files I need when at a customers office such as drivers or some work files.  However with Mesh I just use the files on my computer (in the mesh folders) and if I change them they are automatically synched for me.  I hope they expand the size to 25 GB like Skydrive did. 

Now the next step in the test.   Sync was taken care of now for Share.  We created a folder which we can share.  So we have files in this folder which all of us can work on.  If I open the file and make a change I then save it, once it is synched the others can open it and see the changes I made.  Very cool and we don’t even have to be in the same building on the same network.  Of course these days everybody is all on the same network and that is the point isn’t it.  So Share worked out great for us.  We work on the same files without having to worry about version copies or duplicates getting confused.

The next step is Access but I haven’t played with that because I always have my laptop around and I don’t need to access it remotely.  Maybe someday I’ll test that feature as well but just with the Sync and Share I’m a happy person.  A lot of problems are solved and Microsoft has a winner.  This is the future of the Internet, there are other takes on the subject and we will see more done in this world of mass-collaboration.  This one is simple and worked wonders for me.  Solves some of my problems and if you think ahead actually provides many new opportunities for me to collaborate with others.  Maybe someday you and I will have a shared folder.  Then our lives will Mesh!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Make sure your business is listed in an Internet search!

Last Sunday I found out about another great tool for businesses. And it’s FREE! Ever go searching online for a local veterinarian or plumber? Remember how cool it was when you typed the city, state, and business category … and …voila – a list of businesses appeared for you to research? I probably use that type of search every day for one reason or another. In the back of my mind I’ve wondered if I could list my business there as well. Turns out I can, and so can you.

Google and Microsoft (Bing) both offer the opportunity to plug businesses into their search engines for local business searches. Google’s option is in their Local Business Center (http://www.google.com/local/add) and Microsoft Bing is in their Local Listing Center (https://ssl.bing.com/listings/ListingCenter.aspx). The two services are virtually identical and allow you to create a business listing for your business complete with address, phone, website, email, and a brief description of your product or services. They even show where you are on a map! I think that’s pretty cool. I don’t know why, but all this technology stuff still excites me! You can also input additional details about your business including your business category (type of business), operating hours, and the payment options that you allow. Upload a video (next on my list!) or pictures; input other information such as parking availability and the brands that you carry. They even leave some blank fields for you to add information relevant to your business specifically. Your information is validated with a phone call (Google - be sure to be right by the phone because they call immediately) or by mailing you a post card (Google or Bing). Simple as that. Oh, did I mention, IT’S FREE!

If you have a business and don’t want to pay a fortune (I mean a fortune!) to advertise in the yellow pages, this is the way to go. I mean how many of you actually go to one of those old paper phone books that they still to this day deliver to your doorstep when looking for a business? Not me, when I’m looking for someone to repair my leaky faucet, the first place I go is to the internet. And the search engines I use are Google and Bing. Now when your prospective customers are looking for your product or service, maybe they’ll see your Local Business Listing and give you a call. That big phone book is good for other things though, like giving your little ones a boost at the table or killing flies! Save a tree, list your business in the online search engines. Being internet savvy is being “green”!

[Chester Adds] On the Google Local Business Center you can also enter coupons! That’s right you can offer a special deal on your super-duper whatever for the month of August and hopefully generate a little extra business from the people who find you in a search. Google AdWords will cost you, but these Local Business Center Coupons are also… FREE. Ok, maybe you already knew all of this and if you did, how come you didn’t tell us? We want to make sure all of you who have small (or even big) businesses know about this feature. Even if you run a side business out of your house you can list your business, direct people to your website or blog, and offer coupons to first time customers without doing anything more than spending a little of your time to set it up. And I would like to see Kristin kill a fly with a phone book… a person could hurt themselves doing that.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Costco refills InkJet Printer Cartridges

Ok maybe you already knew this.  I’ve seen places that refill Ink Cartridges but my thinking was I wonder if you really get a good deal and if the quality is any good. 

Then I’m walking in Costco and saw a sign that says we refill print cartridges now.  I didn’t go WOW or anything but it somehow stuck.  My wife says to me, “we need to purchase some new ink cartridges for the printer” and POP there came back the memory.  Extra bonus was that my wife had been saving cartridges because she was going to donate them or recycle them or something.  So I take the cartridges over to Costco and they refilled them in about 20 minutes.  One of the color cartridges wouldn’t refill properly. 

So the whole thing cost about a third of what it would have cost to buy new.  I trust Costco more than some other place.  Apparently not all Costcos provide this service.  Also from calling around a little I found that some of the Costcos send it out to a store that does do it and it can take 3 days to turn them around.  Usually this service is done in the One Hour Photo section of the store. 

I thought this was pretty cool.