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Lightning, Thunder, Power Outages…Oh My!


thunder2Summer storms always remind me that this is a good time to reflect on whether your home or office has effective power protection in place – against surges, sags , blinks and outages.

In a home environment, all of your important electronics should be connected through a surge protector (not a power tap!). In addition, phone lines, cable TV, and wired internet connections should also go through a surge protector. This is to protect the rest of your downstream devices from a possible surge over these lines. For the most important devices – computers, network hardware, security systems, backup drives, game consoles or other devices that could be damaged by power fluctuations, I recommend protecting them with a small uninterruptible power supply (UPS). This allows you an opportunity to gracefully power down devices instead of allowing the power outage to do it for you. (if you are at home)

In a business environment, UPS protection is even more critical, and complex. Battery backup is essential for critical devices like servers, NAS devices, tape drives, switches, routers, firewalls — all mission critical equipment should be connected to a backup battery, NOT just a surge protector. Devices that need to run 24×7 can experience data corruption if the power is cut off unexpectedly. Having a UPS to protect the devices is critical in preventing outages from short term power loss (15 min or less), blinks, or brownouts where the power level may not be sufficient or stable.

While not critical, smaller UPS units are recommended for protection of desktop PCs that run key business functions such as security software, credit card processing, financial applications or other systems where downtime due to hardware damage from a power surge could cause financial loss or prevent critical business processes from running.

For more information on UPS devices and related technologies see these resources:

http://www.apc.com

http://www.tripplite.com

Let Your Phone Take a Cue from a Cat Scanner

QRCodeBeringerAnyone remember the CueCat circa 1999 – a hand-held barcode reader that would scan codes in printed materials and would open a URL on your computer, that provided more information on the related item? Digital Convergence had a novel, and possibly prognostic, method for providing a reader with more or updated details about a something in printed materials. More details can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CueCat  

This was a neato idea, but was sadly limited by the requirement to be at your computer (tethered by PS/2 or USB connection), while scanning the barcode. Also, there were concerns raised about possible invasion of privacy if the device collected user data.

The CueCat failed, but now we have even better technology that achieves, and exponentially leapfrogs, the intended purpose of that cute little device – Code Scanner apps that run on your cell phone!

You can find the codes nearly everywhere – in magazines and newspapers – taking the reader to nutritional information on a product, or coupons. At the recent Philadelphia Comic Con the schedule of Celebrity QA sessions of Photo Ops could be zapped from the info kiosk to your phone. Read the shipping code on packages you receive, if the sender’s label is illegible or ripped off. Wander in the produce section and scan a fruit or veggie for more info before you buy. Printed codes on T-shirts or other accessories – maybe a link to the wearer’s web site or social media page?

AT&T includes a code scanner app on their phones. Droid users can search on Google Play for “code scanner” and you will find many scan apps – some generic for several types of codes, and others specific to one retailer (Target, Walgreen’s, Weight Watchers) IPhone/Pad users also have similar options through the App Store.

Though not perfected yet – some of the mobile info sites are not well-formatted for reading on a cell phone screen – you can now use your phone like a basic sort of “tri-corder” to collect data from your surrounding environment.

If you want to generate your own code, there are sites and software available to do this: http://qrcode.kaywa.com  is one example. (Donate if you use your code for real!)

More info on QR codes can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_Code

Keep Your GAOTD Past its Expiration Date!

giveaway-of-the-day

Every wish you could reinstall your Giveaway of The Day applications again, after “the day” you downloaded them? Thanks to a GAOTD Setup Keeper, you can.

If you’re not already on the daily email list, go to http://www.giveawayoftheday.com/ and sign up for the daily email. The daily giveaway will be one of a huge variety of useful software items that you may not have ever heard about. These are applications from publishers who offer a free installation of their product, but each is only downloadable for a single day.

GAOTD Setup Keeper allows the user to install the program of the day when downloaded, and then a special configuration is saved on your computer so you can install the program again later on.

You can download GAOTD Setup Keeper here: http://sourceforge.net/projects/gaotdsetupkeep/ Follow the installation instructions carefully, especially related to the “missing” DLL files that you may need to install.

Once you install GAOTD Setup Keeper, you use its connection with the Giveaway of the Day site, to get the day’s giveaway, and then use it to complete the installation process. The setup configures the special registry entry that allows you to reinstall the application at a later time.

The lesson here — it IS ok, and possible, to keep things past the expiration date!

Save your Bacon with a Cracker – Recover Your Local Password!

lost-passwordHave you ever found yourself with a computer where the network login fails (and you already tried with cached credentials, disconnected from the network) and you REALLY need to get into the local administrator profile to fix something…you know how it happens… an employee left the company, was let go, or built the PC and simply forgot the local admin password?

One of my favorite bacon-saving utilities is the Offline Password & Registry Editor (some call it a password cracker) written by Peter Nordahl.

The source web site is: http://pogostick.net/~pnh/ntpasswd/ and there you will find the download, plus all of the details on what the program can do and how to use it. It works on almost all Windows versions – NT3.51 to Vista/Win7 32/64bit and 2008 server.

In a nutshell, you create a bootable media (CD/DVD or USB thumb drive) to boot the PC, watch some really Linux-y text scroll by, and then gain access to change any of the local account passwords (admin or others). It also has capabilities for editing the registry – for more advanced users.

Note that this only works for local passwords, NOT credentials in Active Directory, including the AD Restore password. (write it down next time!)

Sure, you could just rebuild the computer, or pull out the hard drive and pull the data to another device…but if you want to directly access the administrator’s profile or other local data, this a nice little utility that will take just a little work to get you in and get the admin password changed.

Find the Missing Software Install Keys

belarcAt some point, you may find yourself wondering, “How do I find my Office install key, or a list of all the programs on my PC??” The Windows Control Panel for Windows and Features will show you some of this information (Add Remove CP if you’re running XP), but only the basics, and not all of the system software or install keys. Maybe you are migrating to a new computer, or just rebuilding the same PC and you can’t find the license info for your currently installed software. Well, Belarc Advisor can help.

Download the tool from www.belarc.com (free for personal use) and run it on your PC. This will return a copious amount of information about your configuration including the hardware details, installed software and keys, Windows version and key, user accounts, details of your surrounding network and more. In case you’re worried about security, Belarc Advisor does not send your information anywhere outside your local computer. (no data mining)

belarc2

You can print the details or save them as an HTML file for later reference. (Print the report, and file it for later!)

This is also a useful tool for documenting your baseline configuration after you build out a new computer with your basic applications. This is great for comparison to your system a year or so later, when things start to slow down or act wonky. It makes it easier to see just how much new software has accumulated (and possibly can be cleaned out), and also what is part of the base build and needs to stay.

It’s easy to use and a huge help in documenting your PC’s configuration now, and for reference later on.

Belarc also publishes a few commercially-licensed products, intended for business network management of computers, software, and various security-related details.

Sticky Notes are Not Secure

Windows Sticky NoteWe all have too many passwords and it’s hard enough to keep track of them…but to have to invent new, “good” ones every time they expire is a frustrating exercise. Befuddled by the complexity requirements set by your employer on your network login, or concerned that your password is too easy to guess? Not to worry! Here’s a quick and easy way to create strong passwords that will be hard for others to guess, but easy to remember.

The key elements of a strong (ie complex) password are to have a string of characters that is not a simple word (like dog or cat) or your name (Bob or Sue). Also, avoid your birthday, anniversary, children’s or pets names or any other word or number set that is easy to identify with you.

The strongest passwords (and hardest to crack) combine letters (upper and lower case), numbers and the other symbols into a memorable phrase. The goal is to create a secure password that is easy to remember, so it won’t end up on a sticky note on your display or under your keyboard.

One way to immediately strengthen your password without making it impossible to remember, is to add various non-letter characters:

Weak: bobsmith

Add caps and symbols: !BobSmith#

Add numbers and an underscore: !Bob_Smith#1

Much harder to guess –still not so hard to remember – and harder for hacking tools to crack.

Another option is to pick a word or phrase and replace a few letters with other characters:

ILikeCats à [email protected]

GhostHunters à Gh0stH%ntr3

Again, pretty easy to remember after you type it a few times, but hard to guess, and strong protection against password cracking tools.  So, update your passwords and throw out those sticky notes!

Tablets in the Workplace

Over the course of the last few years the computer industry has been experiencing an exciting change:  Tablets have arrived are changing the way users want to interface with technology. When the iPad broke onto the scene it was originally seen as a consumer-only product, with little interest from businesses. This has all changed, and many businesses are now welcoming tablets such as the iPad into their environments and are even starting to distribute them to users.   According to New NPD In-Stat research, some of the most common uses for Tablets in the workplace include: email and calendar management, note-taking, customer relationship management (CRM), and are presentation-equipped.

               Tablets are easy to use mobile devices that require very little training for users to be able to be productive on one. They also allow for instant-ON performance and great battery life making it an ideal tool for users on the go. One of the other benefits, is the vast array of Business and Productivity Applications available for for tablets. The online application stores have outgrown the infancy stage and have many free and modest priced applications that serve nearly all your needs. There are Apps out there to provide easy access to most of the items that business users need and provide it to them up to date and quickly.

Take Control with Web Filtering

With high speed internet being used in most businesses, employees have access to information whenever they need it. While there are certainly business benefits in utilizing the Internet, this can also provide for a diversion from their daily tasks reducing productivity and potentially putting the business at risk for inappropriate online behavior. In progressive work environments, employers may allow some latitude with non-business internet access, but at any level, this takes away from employee productivity as well as creating potential for inappropriate usage or unwanted network traffic.

Some employers have included an “Internet Usage Policy” (IUP) for employees to sign as part of the hiring process. This is an agreement outlining the acceptable ways that the Internet can be used. There are online samples of IUP’s however we recommend working with your attorney to create one as they will be most familiar with the local laws.

An IUP provides a guideline on how internet access should be used for business purposes, as well as defining the process for handling employees found to be in violation of the policy. In addition, such a policy would also inform employees that their online usage and related content is subject to monitoring at any time. This puts the policy in written form, but relies on the employee to properly interpret the intentions of “responsible internet usage”.

While this is a good first step and establishes a baseline for appropriate use, there are those employees who either do not understand or do not respect the terms of an IUP. Also, there are online resources that may contain legitimate business content, but may either link to sites or content that would not be considered acceptable. Additionally web sites can contain imbedded malware or other security risks.

With the overwhelming popularity of social sites like Facebook and Twitter, people are spending much more time online and sharing personal information that may not be in the best interest of the business. Some businesses and even educational institutions are making it a condition of employment that employees do not to post certain types of information on social sites. The line between business and personal information online has become less structured. For example if an employee is linked to your company Facebook or LinkedIn profiles it may expose their personal information to customers, suppliers and other business colleagues.

There have been instances of employees being fired for using their work internet connection to post comments on social media sites. An employee of the non-profit organization Coats for Kids in Chicago was terminated in January 2011 because of his commentary posted on Facebook. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCH33TgK8Mw)

A recent survey done by Salary.com shows that 44% of workers who responded, cited internet usage as their top way of wasting time while at work.

As a countermeasure to protect a business network from employee abuse or unintentional misuse of internet resources, many businesses have implemented web content filtering. This technology places controls on the types of resources that can be accessed online through the business Internet connection. Controls can be placed on specific web sites or categories (like blocking adult content or job sites).

A web filtering solution can also provide insight into:

o             Time spent online by employee.

o             Bandwidth utilization by employee.

o             Websites that employees are accessing and how much time was spent.

Web content monitoring and filtering can provide valuable insight into how your business is using your internet resources, as well as maintaining protection of your business assets.

Anna Fassano, Founder and CEO of A. Fassano & Company was concerned about how employees were utilizing the Internet. She also wanted to be proactive in controlling the types of online content that could be accessed from the business network. We worked with Anna to implement a web filtering solution by Barracuda Networks, a leading provider of this technology (Barracuda Web Filter).

“We needed to get a better handle on how the Internet was being used and be able to identify any inappropriate usage so we could address it. We also wanted to be proactive in placing some controls on how the Internet is used.

The Barracuda Web Filter gave us feedback right away on Internet usage. It also made the topic more visible the company discouraging any inappropriate use. It allows us to control the sites users can access by web address and by category and allows us to place more restrictive controls on users who need lower levels of access to the Internet.

As the principal I feel better knowing these controls are in place and that we are using the Internet for business purposes.”

In addition to the data that can be collected and the greater visibility of the solution to the end users, the intuitive management interface, makes it easy to adjust settings as business needs change. General Manager and Co-Owner of DCT Industrial Supply Company, Julie Gahwiler, also utilizes a Barracuda Web Filter.

“Barracuda Web Filter allows me to control and monitor the web activity of my employees. The software is very easy to navigate, even for someone without an IT background. It is important to me as a company owner for my employees to be productive, but even more important is that they are protected from unsolicited information in the work place.”

There are many options for web content filtering, and Beringer Associates can help you improve your employees’ productivity, as well an gaining an understanding of how your internet resources are being used. Click here for more information on web filtering solutions.

Differences in Microsoft CRM Deployment Models

There are 3 deployment models for Microsoft CRM; On Premise, Online and Partner Hosted. There are both usability and cost differences with each model, this article summarizes each model and points out some key differences in the models. With Microsoft you have the flexibility to switch models easily as your needs and requirements change. Whether you need to expand or leverage the application for different areas of your business, or if you simply need to scale the solution as you grow your business, Microsoft Dynamics CRM will be able to accommodate your evolving needs.

On Premise – This is the traditional way software was implemented in businesses. Licensing is purchased along with any necessary infrastructure. And installed at the customers office (or a co-location data center). Purchase is made upfront (or on a lease) so it is a capital expenditure. There are potential tax advantages to this model as you can depreciate this investment. In this model you own the hardware and software and fully control the data. Ongoing expenses would be for Software Assurance (maintenance from Microsoft) and maintenance for the hardware that Microsoft CRM runs on. Additional soft costs would be for internal IT resources to manage the infrastructure (including making sure it is backed up on a regular basis). For Microsoft CRM On Premise you would typically need two servers (for a small deployment) and SQL Server and client licensing.

The On Premise model gives you the most flexibility with things like deeper level reporting/analysis, data integrations and customization of the application.

Microsoft CRM Online – A cloud based pay per user/month subscription model. The benefits to this model are low startup costs (the current pricing is $44 per user/month), no infrastructure costs (servers, SQL etc.) and the ability to scale easily as Microsoft handles the hardware infrastructure and maintenance. The downside is that you do not have unfettered direct access to the SQL database so deeper levels of reporting and customization are more difficult and sometimes not possible. You also cannot store custom code on Microsoft’s CRM servers so if you will have custom code related to Microsoft CRM it will need to be hosted elsewhere. Finally there are limits to data storage (5 GB per company, NOT per user). Additional storage is available for an extra monthly fee.

Partner Hosted – A hybrid model offering the On Premise licensing but available on a pay per user/month basis. It is hosted on servers in a data center normally by a Microsoft CRM provider (we offer a Partner Hosted model). This model gives you all the capabilities of the On Premise model with the ability to pay on a monthly basis.


3 Year Cost Comparison Based on a 25 User Implementation:

CRM-Cost-Comparison-On-Premise


As you can see there is only a $166 per user cost difference over a 3 year period between the On Premise and Online models. In a lot of cases a customer will start out with the CRM Online model to reduce the upfront investment and choose to later migrate to On Premise as Microsoft allows you to change models as needed.

Only after a full needs analysis is performed can a formal recommendation be made on the best deployment model but we hope this article gives you some guidance. If you have any questions please Contact Us.