She Asks IT, He Answers IT

Fix It or Nix It? When to End a Tech Relationship

She Asks IT

Today, we essentially marry our technology.

When we buy a computer, cell phone or other equipment, we expect a long-lasting relationship. When we turn it on, we expect it to work – and work exactly the same way it worked the last time. We want that “’til death do us part” vow.

I took that vow with my first laptop about 10 years ago. With that spiffy new blue and silver Dell Inspiron, it was love at first boot.

Sure, we had our little spats. A power cord issue here. A screen lock up there.

After about 5 years, though, the quarrels became more frequent. He took forever to boot up. He ran far too slow. His fully charged battery now lasted less than an hour. And his hard drive was filled almost to the brink.

One night, Charles said, quite unemotionally, “You’re going to need a new one.”

A new one?  It hit me like a ton of motherboards. But all my “stuff” was on this one! Charles helped me pick out a new model, but I knew it would not be the same.

I was right. It was better!

I was shocked at how easily I fell in love again. My new laptop came with a webcam, DVD player/burner and a Chiclet keyboard that I absolutely adore. It also has a lightning fast processor (at least, for now) and plenty of hard drive space. The best part? Charles transferred every document and photo from the old hard drive onto this one before I even touched it. I wondered why I waited so long.

So, when do you know it’s time to say goodbye to the old and invest in the new? What are the “life spans” of various pieces of equipment, like laptops?

In other words, when should you stop paying for technology counseling and start considering divorce?

He Answers IT

One major goal in business is maximizing return on investment.  No single answer exists for every technological device, situation or office. Generally, when it comes to technology, the investment is much easier to quantify than the return on it.

For instance, you know you spent $1,000 on a computer three years ago, but what return are you getting on that investment today? Chances are it is far less than you were getting when you bought it. Sure, you just upgraded to this brand new application that is supposed to do everything but make you morning coffee, but, because it is running on older computers, it runs twice as slow as the application you were using.

Hardware and software should exist in a symbiotic relationship. They depend on each other. To operate properly, that new software package may require an upgraded or entirely new server. It may require additional memory in your workstations. You may need to make the switch to gigabit Ethernet to really make your new software shine.

But new hardware brings its own set of questions. If you need to install a new server, will all of your data transfer and run correctly on the new operating system? Will you have to upgrade some of the software on your workstations?

Or can you simply stick with your old system and “make it work” with a workaround?

Before I ran my own business, I was willing to deal with less than optimal technology. Now, though, I do not have time (or patience) for much inefficiency. I know I will pay for that lack of maximum efficiency one way or another. Plus, I am too old for the headaches that come with trying to “workaround.”

Some of the businesses I have encountered operate with the cheapest and the oldest technology they can get away with. I sit down at computers that I would not use in my own office because they are too slow and/or problematic.

Many managers just do not know other options exist or how much they will cost, even though, in many cases, they might be surprised at how economical a new solution is. In most cases, it is probably worth having an expert at least look at it and give a recommendation.

For example, Cheryl and I lived in our “new” home for three years before I had the air conditioner serviced. It was old and, frankly, I was afraid of what the technician might recommend. The unit did not run at peak efficiency, of course, but was it really that bad?

I recently paid a local HVAC company $75 to service the air conditioner. Our bill dropped about 30 percent immediately.  With the 100+ temperatures we are having, I estimate that I will save at least $75 dollars this month and completely recoup my investment. Plus, my hot-natured wife is much happier, and so am I. Those things are priceless.

Just like everything in life, a steady, balanced approach to technology replacement is usually best. I have no desire to sell anyone anything they do not need, but I also know that huge improvements can be made with a few focused expenditures. Business networks contain many components. They do not have to all be upgraded at once.

Find out your options, gather the relevant information and make good business decisions. Give me a call and let me discuss the solutions available for your business. It may be less costly and painful than you fear and more rewarding than you imagine.

Remote Access: Get to Your Data Anywhere, Anytime!

She Asks IT

Advances in mobile devices and wireless technology have completely re-defined office space. In fact, according to a recent article by BusinessNewsDaily’s David Mielach, offices are on the verge of “extinction.”

An office used to be an easily identifiable, four-walled area. Desk with computer, monitor and printer…check. Filing cabinet filled with labeled manila folders…check. Stapler, paper clips, pens and Post-its…check, check, check, check.

Those checklists are now non-existent. Simply turning an orange “open” sign to “closed” and locking the door no longer means work for the day is done. Customers may need help. Emails may need attention. Emergencies can happen. So, business owners and managers need access to their data anywhere, anytime.

Laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other devices have, in essence, created “virtual” offices. I myself have worked online at desks in hotel rooms, booths in McDonalds, even in the driver’s seat of my car (safely parked, of course.)

But what if I want to access more than just the Internet? What if I desperately need to access company files, important emails and/or presentation documents on my business’s server from another state or another country? How can I ensure that no unauthorized person has access to the same data?

In other words, what exactly can I access remotely and how can I access it securely?

He Answers IT

In today’s business world, there is no such thing as “too much” access - or, at least, “too much” secure reliable access by your “need-to-know” employees. Depending on what kind of access your business needs and from where, simple, effective, and secure remote access solutions are available, and they are probably more affordable than you realize.

So, what information can you access remotely? Absolutely everything. And what kind of devices can you use to access “absolutely everything?” Smartphones, iPads, MACs, laptops, home PCs, or entire remote offices.

I have helped a client use a MacBook to securely access marketing materials on an office server hundreds of miles away – and I have never even met the client, except over the phone. Your business's account representatives can update expense reports in QuickBooks from an interstate rest stop, using wireless internet cards from AT&T or Verizon. If you can imagine it, you can do it today with computers.

Your data may reside in two places: inside your private network or outside in the “cloud.” Either location may be accessed remotely.

To enable remote access to data on your private office server, you should first install a good hardware firewall. This will monitor and control access to your private network, and it can easily be integrated into your existing infrastructure. Remote Desktops and Virtual Private Networks (“VPNs”) are common methods of connection to corporate networks. All connections can and should be secure and encrypted. This is possible with just a little setup.

People are getting more comfortable with cloud computing and rightfully so. Large, reputable cloud providers excel at securing their customers data, mainly because they know they have to go the extra security mile in order to “secure” their users’ trust. These cloud servers can be accessed from any device with an internet connection. The most common cloud solution is remote hosting a large software application, but other services are available, such as Exchange email and the company collaboration portal, SharePoint. (For more details on what the cloud is and available cloud solutions, click here to read our recent blog post on the topic.)

Every company’s remote access needs are unique. What you need to access and how you will work with that data will determine how you should implement your remote access setup. But, rest assured, if you do find yourself requiring a way to access to company information away from the office, Relia IT can help you find the right secure and affordable remote access solution to get IT done. 

Preventative Medicine: Keeping Your System Healthy & Protected


She Asks IT

I don’t have time for my computer to take a “sick day.”

I literally use my laptop all the time. I rely on it to perform business processes, everything from bookkeeping to marketing. I also use it to keep up with news and to store my important documents. It is a crucial part of my professional life.

And, with one click of my mouse, a virus could hospitalize, cripple or, even worse, kill my computer.

Viruses are everywhere, often disguised as posts or emails from friends or business associates. No place is safe. Not the internet. Not my inbox. Not even my Facebook wall.

“Wow! I can’t believe that you can see who is viewing your profile! I just saw my top 10 profile peekers and I am SHOCKED…You can also see who viewed your profile here:”

If you clicked, you just got a virus – and probably encouraged your entire Facebook friend list to catch it, too.

In addition to viruses, I am concerned about the security of my data. Ads on different websites can now not only point me back to a previous site that I visited, but show me rotating recommendations on products that I’ve recently viewed and others that might interest me.

That’s amazing – and scary.

So, what are some ways I can protect my computer from viruses? What are some other areas of security concern? And how can I effectively secure my data from spying eyes?

He Answers IT

There are no simple answers to these questions. Effective data protection and security require the use of a variety of tools and policies.

Viral infections create some of the most common security holes. Whatever anti-virus solution your company chooses, make sure it is up to date and running correctly on all systems.  Software makers, however, recognize that, now, viruses are not the only system attackers. Today, a more robust and complete solution is not only preferable, it is necessary. Businesses need solutions that protect against viruses and spyware and also: (1) block malicious content on the web and in email, (2) prevent access to web content by categories, and (3) intercept spam. There are quality, affordable solutions that do all those things and more.

In addition, data security in a small business must go further to be considered “complete.” A good network perimeter firewall will inspect all data coming into and leaving your local network. It will also deny any unwanted traffic. These devices enable you to comprehensively control who and what are allowed on your network.

Patch management is another facet of data security that should not be overlooked. In simple terms, this means keeping all software up-to-date. “All software” means not just Windows Updates, but actual operating system upgrades and application updates. These contain critical fixes that increase security by plugging application security holes and patching vulnerabilities. Patch management requires the most attention of the three security areas we have discussed, but can pay off big. In addition to patching software vulnerabilities, it will also solve many other compatibility issues that crop up in a computing system.

One last caveat: your particular business determines your required security level. For instance, health providers require more stringent security measures. So do businesses that accept credit cards. The ways personal patient data and credit card information are used and stored create special security concerns. So, the short list of security items I have provided is by no means a complete one that will prove satisfactory for everyone.  It is, however, a pretty good starter checklist which many businesses have not completed.

It does no good to only lock three doors of a four-door car. If you securely lock three doors, make sure you take time to reach over and lock the forth. Your business will be better off if you mind the basics of network security. They will keep you safe and running efficiently without a malicious payload hitching an uninvited ride.