Essentials in Server Hardware

Servers are a critical piece of your business network and the hardware that they run on should be carefully selected to fit your specific business needs. There are a few guidelines that you should follow that will allow you to have a greater return on your hardware investment and lower support costs. From a support standpoint there are a few hardware choices you can make that will save you a lot of time and money. These include drive configuration, remote access cards, and power supply selection.

Drive configuration
Drive selection is pretty important both from a performance and a redundancy standpoint. If you’re doing onboard storage in your server it’s important that you build some redundancy into your system. This is done by using 3 or more hard drives to create what’s called a RAID. This drive configuration allows the data to be shared across the drives in such a way that a single drive can fail without any data loss. Most servers can be set up to notify you when this happens so that you can quickly replace the failed drive and the array will rebuild. This gives you a certain amount of peace of mind with your business data. This hard drive configuration also substantially increases the drive’s performance at the same time, so it’s a good hardware investment on two fronts.

Remote access cards
DRAC and ILO remote access cards are often overlooked, but they are a great little addition to your server that pay for their cost the very first time they are used. These cards are sometimes called a “lights out” card and are designed to give you remote access to the system regardless of whether the machine is powered on or whether an operating system is installed or functional. This can go a long way when you have to troubleshoot a server at a remote location. The cost is usually just a couple hundred bucks, and it’s totally worth the investment.

Power supply
The last area that I’ll mention is power supplies. There are a couple things to look for here. One is that your power supply is correctly sized for your server. Energy costs are something that most folks don’t consider on their server purchases, but being conscious of this can save you significantly on your power bills. The second thing to look for is redundancy. Almost all new servers will give you the option of adding a second power supply. Since this is one of the most common components to fail on a server, paying extra for the redundancy is recommended. The cost of downtime for most businesses quickly surpasses what you pay for the hardware upgrade.

There are a lot of other things to consider when making your server hardware purchase. What operating system should I run? How much memory do I need? What RAID configuration is best for my use of this server? There are a myriad of other considerations. If you have questions about what you need for your business feel free to contact the pros at i.t.NOW!

Outsmarting Computer Scams

We’ve talked previously about the different types of dangers that can threaten your computer. Malware, adware, spyware, and viruses can all cause havoc with your system. However, these malicious types of software are not the only avenues through which a computer hacker can access your information. If you use a computer network that is attached to the Internet, it is important to take some precautionary steps to avoid some of the most common types of computer scams. By knowing how to avoid or block them, you can keep your and your clients information safe.

SPAM is one of the most common types of Internet scams. Not only is SPAM annoying, clogging up your inbox, it can also carry types of the malicious software that can attack your computer. Here are a few easy steps to decrease the amount of SPAM that reaches your inbox.

The first step is to protect your information. Do not share any of your personal information, including your phone number and email account, with people or organizations that are unfamiliar to you. Scammers often will offer you a free gift in exchange for your information, opening up your inbox to an onslaught of SPAM.

The next step is to up your protection. Your email service should be equipped with a SPAM filter. Set the filters to the highest level possible, making it harder for unwanted emails to get through. If an email lands in your inbox from an unknown party, be wary about opening it and never click on any of the links or open any attachments.

Some email scams to be on the lookout for are chain letters, phishing, lottery scams, and scareware. Chain letters, while promising bad luck if you do not send it on, can be full of malicious code that is spread from one computer to the next as it is passed. Phishing is when scammers pretend to be sent from reputable companies (such as banks) and ask for your personal data. While they can look extremely legitimate, it’s always best to contact the company directly if you ever receive such a request. The lottery scam is an email that says you’ve been picked to win a large prize and asks you to click on a link. Finally there is scareware, a pop-up that claims that there is something potentially dangerous on your computer that the scammers program will “fix” for a fee.

The final step to avoid scamming is to actually make sure that you are not spamming others. Often hackers will break into email accounts and send out spam to all its contacts. If you think your email account has been hacked, immediately change your password and run a virus scan on your computer to ensure that your security has not been compromised.

Keyboard Shortcuts for Macs

While many shortcuts are similar on both PC and Mac computers, a Mac has a few different keys that make its shortcuts slightly different. If you are new to a Mac, transitioning from a PC, or simply want to know how to do your work faster on your Mac, here are a few of the possible keyboard shortcuts that you can do with your Mac.

The most important shortcut key on a Mac is the command key. The command key has a symbol of 4 interconnected loops and many also have the Apple logo. There is a command key on either side of the space bar. While a PC often uses the CTRL key, the Mac depends on the command key. The command key often combines with the letters on the keyboard, generally the same ones that are used on a PC in combination with the CTRL key. Here are some of the most basic command key shortcuts using command key:

  • Command+C: Copy
  • Command+X: Cut
  • Command+V: Paste
  • Command+Z: Undo
  • Command+B: Bold
  • Command+U: Underline
  • Command+I: Italic

Command also combines with some of the other keys in order to accomplish many simple tasks:

  • Command+Option+Esc: force quit the current program on your computer
  • Command+ Tab: cycle through the applications that are currently open on your screen
  • Command+F4 will close an open document.

There is a long list of more complex keyboard shortcuts available at apple.com. You can also program your own shortcuts for the functions that you use the most. Just go to Tools – Customize – Keyboard to get started.

Keyboard Shortcuts: Windows

For those of you who love your PC and are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve your performance, this is a list for you. Keyboard shortcuts can help improve the speed with which you perform basic functions, helping you eliminate the clunky necessity of moving back and forth between your keyboard and your mouse.

Some of the most basic keyboard functions help you when you’re in any of the basic programing.  All of them involve the Control (CTRL) key, so make sure you are familiar with its location.

When moving information back and forth between different programs, copying, cutting, pasting and undoing are all important functions.  Here are the keyboard shortcuts for all of these actions:

  • CTRL+C: Copy
  • CTRL+X: Cut
  • CTRL+V: Paste
  • CTRL+Z: Undo

Some of the other most popular keyboard shortcuts help when you’re bolding, underlining, or italicizing words or phrases in your documents.

  • CTRL+B: Bold
  • CTRL+U: Underline
  • CTRL+I: Italic

Outside of the basic programs, there are many keyboard shortcuts for your everyday computer tasks. CTRL+ESC will open the start menu, while CTRL+SHIFT+ESC will open the Windows Task Manager (letting you see and close any open programs).

Next up are the function keys. These are located at the top of the keyboard and listed by the letter F and a number. Each has a specific function by themselves and many perform additional functions when combined with other keys. Here are some of the most helpful keys and combinations:

  • F1: open Windows help
  • ALT+F4: closes the current window
  • ALT+F6: switch between multiple windows in the same program
  • F10: activates the options on your menu bar
  • SHIFT+F10: the same as right clicking on a mouse, opening up the shortcut menu for the selected icon.

Lastly we’ll look at a few shortcuts featuring the ALT key:

  • ALT+DOWN ARROW: open a drop-down list box
  • ALT+TAB: switch to another program that is currently running
  • ALT+SPACE: display the main window’s system menu, which gives you the ability to manipulate that window (moving, resizing, or closing).

By memorizing these simple shortcuts, you can give yourself the freedom to accomplish more from your keyboard, cutting out unnecessary steps in your workload.

The Importance of Computer Security

Too often, computer and network security is not thought about until a problem arises. At this point, a breach in security can cause huge and potentially harmful problems to your business and/or your customers. By setting up a security plan and an emergency action plan, you can know that the information held in your computers and networks is safe and secure.

The first step is to protect from potential outside problems. Cyber criminals, hackers, and identity thieves present real and dangerous threats to any online system. Your IT solution should always have adequate firewalls, antivirus software, virtual private networks, and intrusion prevention. You want to make sure that all your security components are communicating with each other, making you aware of any potential gaps or breaches in your security systems. You also want to make sure that all your employees are aware of the dangers of opening attachments or web links that are sent by unknown parties. These emails can be a dangerous activity known as “phishing,” with hackers trying to access or steal passwords and other private information.

The second level of security is inner security. Depending on the type of business you run, it can be helpful to set up different levels of access throughout your computer systems. These access levels ensure that important or sensitive information is only available to those who have the right level of clearance. Make sure that your employees know how to pick strong passwords, which will help keep their individual accounts secure.

Despite your precautions, it is always possible that your system will be breached. This is why it is important to have an emergency action plan, a plan that is devised to shut down and protect your system in case of an attack or breach. Make sure that all pertinent personnel are aware of the plan in case you need to implement it. This plan will help contain any damage or unintended sharing of private information, allowing you to keep control of the situation.

Effective IT reporting can help your bottom line

Having reliable data is a critical component of running a successful business. It can help you to make really good decisions and prevent you from making really bad ones. One area of business information that is often sorely neglected and overlooked is technology data and reporting. Having some good data on the status of your network, hardware, and support can allow you to make smarter business decisions.

Let’s talk about hardware first as it’s a good example to start with. Research has shown that the most cost effective way to manage hardware on an organizational basis is to purchase business class hardware that is covered by warranty and then cycle it every 3-5 years. This gives you the best ROI on equipment purchased with the lowest total support costs.

However, many businesses don’t have any way to track their current hardware inventory or to manage it on an ongoing basis. The best scenario would be to cycle ¼ of your hardware every year, but how do you know how old your hardware is and who has what? This is where IT reporting is essential. It can help you to plan expenses. Business should have their accounting department depreciate hardware and software assets to take advantage tax breaks at the end of the year. All of this starts with knowing what you have and where it
is. That data can save you thousands of dollars on organizational benefits, tax breaks and support costs by managing hardware lifecycle.

Another benefit to good IT reporting is that it helps you to make strategic decisions and plan major infrastructure changes. Awareness breeds success. For example, say you know that you have 3 of your main production servers that are out of warranty this year as well as a main business application that has been deemed end of life by the manufacturer. Your hand is being forced to make a change with the software, but it just so happens that the server it runs on also needs to be replaced. The timing is fortunate, but if you’re
not aware of the facts you could easily approach these items as two different projects and spend way more than necessary. Data is everything.

Reporting can also be a great way to find areas where you have recurring problems that are costing you in support costs. Good support reporting can break down the different support areas into a more granular level so that you can evaluate things at a 500-foot level. If you realize that you’ve had 17 issues with wireless on your network in the last month, it’s a good indicator that you have a bad piece of hardware that needs to be replaced. If you’ve spent hours and hours over several months with different users trying to get remote access working correctly it lets your IT expert know that he or she should focus efforts on finding a root cause and a permanent solution. This kind of reporting can also tell you which applications are costing you a fortune in support costs and help you make organizational changes where needed.

If you’re not getting reporting from whoever it is that is providing your IT solution currently, than you’re missing out on crucial business intelligence that could help your company be more efficient and help out your bottom line. If you want help to get some critical reporting pieces in place, contact the pros at i.t.NOW.

Why you should Install Windows Updates

We’ve all had Microsoft Windows pop up and let us know that it needs to be updated at one point or another. What are those updates? Are they important? What happens if I don’t do them? They are important, and they do need to be done. Here’s why.

Microsoft updates are basically broken into 4 different categories.

  • Security Updates – These updates patch security vulnerabilities that could allow a system to become compromised. Security updates are classified as critical, important, moderate, low, or non-rated. Critical security updates are perhaps the most important updates to apply to your system. Ignoring these could leave your computer or server extremely vulnerable to hackers and malicious code.
  • Critical Updates – Critical updates fix any major issues that are found in Microsoft products that could cause software errors or unexpected behaviour. Together with security updates, they form the “high priority” category of updates from Microsoft and should be set to download and install automatically.
  • Software Updates – Non-critical issues, such as extended features and minor bugs, are addressed using software updates.
  • Service Packs – Service packs contain a rollup of all patches to date for a specific piece of software or operating system and usually have additional feature changes. For example, Windows XP Service Pack 3 is the latest service pack for XP and addresses all updates prior to its release as well as a small number of new features.

Why update?

Microsoft updates prevent problems. They fix known issues in the software and plug security holes that hackers have found. Since Microsoft Operating Systems are so commonly used in business, they are a huge target for hackers that want to get your businesses financial data. Patches help eliminate the vulnerabilities that are built into the software and make your environment more secure and virus free.

There are several ways to apply patches. You can turn on automatic Windows updates, you can use centralized software to push out updates, and you can leave it to the pros.

Automatic updates have their pros and cons. This will apply all high priority updates without any intervention. This may sound like a good idea, but they can sometimes conflict with installed software or may fail and cause other issues. Other updates are not applied automatically, and they must be applied manually. Thus if you simply turn on automatic updates they can be missed. Another organizational problem with Automatic updates is that they can be disabled by the user. If you are managing machines for your entire business this could be a big problem to track and ensure machines are kept up to date.

The next method is to use centralized update software to push out updates to the network such as (Windows Server Update Services (WSUS). This can resolve many of the issues that come with having each machine managed on an individual basis, but still has some limitations.

To set up WSUS you need to have advanced knowledge of how patches and updates work. You’ll need to be able to install WSUS, configure rule sets, memberships, approval policies and more. This can be pretty tough if you’re not an IT guy. You also need a server for WSUS to run on which takes resources that could be used to run other parts of your business. Lastly you should really have IT staff to manage and maintain WSUS. This can add more complexity to your network and workload for your staff. The easiest and most effective way to ensure that your network is maintained and that all critical updates are applied in a timely basis is to leave it to the professionals. i.t.NOW offers basic network maintenance services that include all patches and security updates for a minimal cost each month. Contact us for a free network evaluation. 801-562-8778.

How Secure is My Password?

You hear all the time about identity theft and online fraud.  But you think you’re not at risk, right? Think again. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing Internet crimes!  The easiest way to protect yourself from identity theft is with a strong password.  You have one of those, right?

The best passwords, according to Microsoft, follow these five steps:

  • Don’t be complacent and use things like 12345, or something similar in a password.
  • Know what makes a bad password. Using your name or the names of a spouse or children makes it easier for hackers to break your password.  You also shouldn’t use words that can be found in the dictionary, even foreign ones.
  • Become proficient at creating good passwords.
  • Keep your password to yourself.
  • Change your password often, multiple times a year.

You still might be thinking, “my password is a good one.” If you really want to know just how secure your password is, visit this site. It will tell you just how fast a personal computer could hack a password. By all means, don’t use an actual password you use, but a similar one to give you an idea of how vulnerable you may be.

This writer’s favorite password, one he’s been using for years, could’ve been cracked in 52 seconds! Time for a new password!

What is Jail Breaking?

Jail breaking is the process of hacking a device (typically a smartphone or tablet) to bypass the digital rights management software usually installed by the hardware’s designer.  This software exists to limit the type and amount of software or apps that can be run on a device.  By jail breaking a device, users can have the ability to “tweak’ their device’s operating system or run unauthorized software.

In technical terms, jail breaking can be defined as installing a modified set of software patches that allow you to run unauthorized code or apps.  While jail breaking can give the user more freedom in customization and usability, it can also create risks.

Is jail breaking safe?
For many, jail breaking a device lets a user travel outside the traditional bounds of an operating system.  But the risks associated with jail breaking can include malicious software attacks, decreased battery life, slower device processing speeds, and increased data plan usage.

Is jail breaking legal?
The correct answer is yes.  The U.S. Government currently says it’s legal to jail break a digital device. But, the debate surrounding the topic is a fierce one.

Hackers and activists claim that jail breaking is a right, using the analogy of car modification. Car modders are not seen as breaking the law when they make changes or additions to their cars. Why should programmers?

Corporations like Apple, on the other hand, continue to lobby for more strict laws regarding jail breaking. But, currently, the most they can do is claim that jail breaking violates their user agreements and voids a device’s warranty. Whether or not this will change remains to be seen.

How to jail break
According to TechHive.com:

“Generally, jailbreaking tools come in the form of OS X or Windows desktop applications. Currently, the only tool to jailbreak the A5 processor-based iPhone 4S and iPad 2 with iOS 5.0.1 is called Absinthe. Other tools, such as PwnageTool and redsn0w, are only able to jailbreak older devices running iOS 5.0.1. The renowned iPhone Dev-Team released the very first jailbreak tool, and the group is still central to the iOS hacker community; its blog is a good place to go to see what’s new in jailbreaking tools.”

How to Defragment Your Hard Drive

If your computer is running slower lately, it might be time to defragment your hard drive.   A computer’s hard drive has more moving parts than most of your computer.  And if you haven’t cleaned up your hard drive in a while (or ever), it can take a long time to load programs or data.  If you want a relatively quick way to speed up your computer, a defragmentation of your hard drive might be the best answer.

What is a fragmented hard drive?
A hard drive works by storing data on a spinning disk (unless you have a solid state drive). Your data is stored on the hard drive in rings, making it easier for the hard drive’s arm to read the data.  Over time, however, data can be stored in multiple rings because of updates and deletions, making it harder for your hard drive to access the needed information.  When you defragment your hard drive, you’re helping to repair the fragmented data, which makes your hard drive run faster and reduce wear and tear.

How do I defragment my hard drive?
Luckily, Windows has a hard drive defragmentation tool already installed on your computer.  Whether you have Windows XP, Vista, 7 or 8, it’s a fairly easy process.  Here’s the easiest way to find it in Windows XP:

  1. Click on My Computer
  2. Right click the hard drive you wish to defragment, and click Properties.
  3. Find the Tools tab, and click Defragment Now.
  4. Click Defragment.

On Windows Vista or newer, it’s much easier.  Click on the Windows icon in the lower left.  Enter Defrag in the search box, and it will bring up the program.  Open it, and click Defragment Disk.

That’s it for Windows users.  It should be noted that a hard drive defragmentation consumes a lot of your computer’s processing power, so if possible, do it while the computer is not in use.

For Apple users, there are multiple third-party systems that can help with this process.  Apple claims that its operating system is designed to limit the need for hard drive defragmentation.  It does this by designing the system to download whole programs, instead of adding new pieces like Windows, and by using larger, unused hard drive space for new programs.  If you feel that a hard drive defragmentation is needed, a third party application should be used.

By defragmenting your computer’s hard drive, you’ll help increase your computer’s speed, eliminate unnecessary files, and help prolong the life of your hard drive.