Getting Your Business Started

You probably don’t want to hear this right now, but the festive season is fast approaching, which means a New Year is just around the corner.

We all like to come up with a resolution to mark the start of another 12 months and with the current climate, many of you may be considering setting up your own business.

But where do you start?

Getting out there and doing your own thing is exciting and frightening all at the same time. It’s your opportunity to say goodbye to your boss forever. You can work the hours you want, when you want. You are in control of your destiny.

Great! But what about all the other stuff? What about being in charge of your IT all by yourself?

Getting help

There’s a lot to think about on the IT front when starting up your business – domain names, email, social media, is your computer up to the job?

So now’s the time to get the help you need. Now, we don’t normally like to blow our own trumpet here on IT Support Blog, but considering the number of people who will be looking to go it alone in 2012, we felt compelled to tell you about the Start-Up Package we’ve put together.

To help  you find your feet, we’re offering a package that covers:

  • Half hour free consultation reviewing your needs
  • Domain name registration
  • Email hosting – set-up and configuration of Outlook
  • Bullguard Anti-virus Software – set-up and configuration
  • MPMITVault Online Backup – set-up and configuration
  • PC/Laptop Assessment/Spring Clean
  • Smart Phone configuration of domain emails
  • Set-up of business social media accounts (LinkedIn/Twitter)

What’s more, you get all of that for just £200.

Sor, if you’re looking to start your own business, make sure you’ve got all the IT boxes ticked.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Is Your Child’s IT Future Suffering?

school computers

There is no doubt that IT provision (and teaching) in schools has come a long way over the years.

Today, even some pre-schools have computers allowing the next generation to get to grips with technology from a very young age.

By the time our kids get to Primary School they’re already running rings around us when it comes to IT.

But, with today’s budget cuts, are our children really getting the tuition they need?

Historically our schools have invested in the latest IT equipment to help our children get to grips with the technological age. By instilling knowledge and confidence in computers from a young age, the age of the techno-phobe could be coming to an end.

But in this time of austerity budgets have to be cut and it would appear as though the IT department is being hit. Many of our children are now left floundering having to use IT equipment that is well and truly past its sell by date.

Recent research from Equanet (which sells into the education market) has shown that out of the 1,400 ICT school managers it asked, 41% revealed that the PCs used by their children were 5 years old or more. With 68% revealing their budgets had been cut by at least half of the levels seen in 2010.

What’s more, this looks set to worsen as more budget cuts will have to be made over the next few years. A worrying prospect that could hold back student development:

Cutting ICT budgets first is a very short sighted approach: students have become accustomed to using the latest technologies on their home PCs and even on their phones, so it’s increasingly difficult to engage with students if the technology at schools is more than five years old.” Paul Birbeck, Managing Director of Equanet.

We all know that budget cuts have to be made but short-sighted decisions could have a vast impact for years to come.

Information technology is a rapidly evolving area and one that we all have to keep up with if we are to remain competitive in the marketplace – be that in the business arena or jobs market.

Have you noticed an impact in your children’s school? If so please leave a comment below and have your say.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Dropbox – What? Why? How?

Have you turned to the clouds yet?

Cloud computing seems to be competing as the new black right now with numerous providers coming up with amazing tools to help us simplify our computer usage and data sharing.

Once such application is dropbox . To help you decide whether this is the application for you, below is a summary of Jon Honeyball’s article Dropbox: A simple way to sync files in the cloud which appeared on pcpro.co.uk in August 2010.

What is Dropbox?

Dropbox is an online service that stores files. You specify a point in your file directory tree that you want to be your dropbox, and any directories beneath that point, including all files they contain, are automatically included.

It’s important to note that your files stay on your own disk, too, just where you left them; what you’ve done is tell Dropbox to monitor that specific area of your hard disk and to send any changes up into the cloud, so if you’re using a laptop and you lose network connectivity, everything is still there on your hard disk.

Whenever you perform certain file actions (create, modify, delete and so on) within the Dropbox-monitored space, the changes are synchronised up to the online store.

The best thing is that you get the first 2GB of space for free, and if you want more you can rent it for $9.99/month (around £6.50) for 50GB, or $19.99/month (around £13) for 100GB. If you refer other people and they start using Dropbox, you’ll get a small free space increment as a gratuity or introduction fee: at 250MB per referral, this is a useful amount to add to your 2GB of free space.

Multiple computers

To make Dropbox work across multiple computers that you own, just install the software on each device and log into your account: each newly added machine automatically gets a download of the current server contents into the place that you’ve nominated on each machine to be Dropbox space.

Clearly, it wouldn’t be a good idea if all the machines on your local network had to send and receive via your office internet connection or home ADSL line, so any synchronisation takes place directly, machine-to-machine over the local network if it can see the other machines on the LAN.

This makes local synch very fast indeed, and saves on internet bandwidth. If you want to get to your files when you’re away from your computer, then there’s a full web interface into the remote store. Just log into the service and browse around your storage space.

By default Dropbox stores one month’s worth of changes to each file in its cloud store. To retrieve an older version of a file, just go to the website and choose the file, then select the Show Previous Versions feature. You can use this to roll back changes over time, which is useful, especially for developers.

If you pay for the “Pack-Rat” upgrade, which costs $39 (around £27) then Dropbox will store all your old versions for an unlimited time. This also applies to files that you’ve deleted from your local disk (the Pack-Rat upgrade extends file undelete from 30 days to unlimited time).

Shared directories

There’s another feature that makes Dropbox interesting. If you have a friend who also has Dropbox, then you can set up special directories within your Dropbox tree that are shared between you.

This isn’t just a one-to-one share, but can be created around a group of users, which is ideal for sharing things between friends or members of a family.

Finally, the cross-platform nature of Dropbox is a big issue. There are clients for Windows and Mac, and you can get to your data in the cloud either by the website, or by using a native application on an iPhone, iPad or Android phone, with BlackBerry coming soon.

Dropbox downsides

All of this seems too good to be true, so are there any downsides?

Well, let’s start with the obvious one: the software isn’t really network-aware. Yes, it knows whether a target machine is on your local LAN and then uses the local LAN to transfer, rather than using up and down the internet connection to the server.

That’s fine, but if you’re using a laptop and you’re connected via a 3G connection, you may find you have a big synch happening in the background if many files were changed while your laptop was disconnected. This could be painful from a cost point of view, and almost unthinkable if you’ve trundled to somewhere in Europe and are on a roaming data rate.

Dropbox doesn’t offer many choices here, although pressing Quit will stop any synchronisation. However, Dropbox is set to autorun by default, and you may not notice a big synchronisation taking place in the background.

My next worry is that your data is held in the cloud, presumably in the USA, so it may be open to Patriot Act inspection, and there are implications under the UK’s Data Protection Act too.

You should therefore be careful about what you put into Dropbox shared space, because if you fall foul of the Data Protection Act you’ll be liable. It would be nice if Dropbox offered a European-hosted data service, but there’s no sign of that at the moment.

Finally, there’s no way to control any encryption on the service. Dropbox says that all file transfers are over an encrypted SSL connection, that all files stored on its servers are encrypted with AES-256, that files are inaccessible without a username and password and that Dropbox employees are unable to view any files.

All of that is adequate, but I’d like to be able to insert my own certificate into the system for all my files, to ensure that everything is encrypted under my control. This would cause issues with shared folders, for example, but I’d be happier about holding data outside of the EU.

Great overall

Overall, this is a great service for data backup, recovery and sharing. It’s considerably more sophisticated than just a simple mounted drive using WebDAV. Clearly, it’s useless for disaster recovery, but as a means of ensuring you always have access to your stuff, there’s much to commend it.

As for myself, I’ve paid for the full 100GB solution with the Pack-Rat upgrade, and have added it to my suite of backup, archive and data transfer tools.

I now find it easier to get a friend to install the free Dropbox client and then join in a share than it is to push our files on to some other online shared space. For home and small-business users, this is a great solution.

For larger businesses its lack of management umbrella control and user-controlled encryption could be a worry, but give it a whirl and you might find it incredibly useful – I know I have.

So there you, that’s dropbox in a nut shell. What do you think? Is it for you?

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Is Cloud Computing For You?

cloud

Cloud computing gives you a way of managing your data, hardware and software needs by using resources on the internet. all your documents, emails, business applications etc., are stored online ‘in the cloud’.

The major benefit of this is that everything is accessible from any computer or mobile device with an internet connection and web browser.

How cloud computing works

Cloud computing is made up of 3 elements:

  1. Large-scale data centres hosted on remote servers
  2. Services (e.g. software and hardware resources provided over the internet)
  3. Low-cost, web-enables devices (e.g. smart phones, laptops and netbooks)

Therefore businesses of all sizes can benefit from this method of data management. Plus with todays agile working practices, businesses can use smaller, lower-cost portable devices such as smart phones and netbooks that support more mobile and remote working practices.

There are 3 man cloud computing services available:

Software as a service (SaaS)

This is the most common form of cloud computing used by small businesses. It involves using software hosted on remote servers and allows you to run applications through your web browser and save, retrieve or share files stored ‘outside’ your business.

SaaS include office software, CRM systems, and tools for collaborative working which provide greater flexibility allowing you to scale your IT requirements quickly and easily depending on your business needs.

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)

This allows businesses to use virtual hardware resources to build their IT infrastructure. This includes server space, data storage facilities and networking hardware. By outsourcing your hardware requirements in this way you can reduce your IT costs as you no longer need to buy it or have the internal expertise to maintain it.

Platform as a service (PaaS)

This involves using online application development capabilities to build and adapt applications to suit your business needs using software development tools and hardware known as ‘cloudware’.

What are the benefits of cloud computing?

In comparison to more traditional approaches, cloud computing has a number of benefits:

  • Reduced IT costs – you don’t need to install and set up software, you can reduce your hardware/software needs, and you’ll reduce your operational costs as you no longer require in-house technical expertise.
  • Scalability of service.
  • Access to new technology – upgrades are managed by your service provider on your behalf.
  • Flexible working practices – documents etc., can be accessed anywhere.
  • Enterprise level back-up.
  • Environment factors – a more environmentally friendly approach to your IT requirements.

Data protection and cloud computing

With cloud computing the main data protection risks for your business are:

  • Loss of data by third-party service providers
  • Unauthorised access to your data
  • Malicious activities targeting your service provider (e.g. hacking or viruses)
  • Poor internal IT security compromising data protection

A risk assessment of these potential hazards and their impact on your business should be undertaken before introducing a cloud computing system.

Don’t forget, as a UK business you must comply with the Data Protection Act when holding personal data about third parties.

As cloud computing applications require high levels of data protection you should check your contract or service level agreement (SLA) to find out what security measures your provider takes to protect your data and the levels of responsibility the provider will take for security, functionality and continuity of service. You also need to know if there are any provisions for compensation in the event of a security breach.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Can You Run Windows 7?

windows7

Are you fed up with your OS?

Do you battle daily with Vista or an aged version of XP? Perhaps it’s time to give your computer an early Christmas present and treat it to a nice new shiny Windows 7 upgrade.

Before you leap up from your desk, grab your car keys and dash off to your nearest software outlet are you sure your computer’s up for the challenge?

Here is a quick run down of the system requirements you will need to run Windows 7 on your machine.

To run Windows 7 this is what it takes:

  • 1 GHz or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 GB RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver

Additional requirements:

  • Internet access (fees may apply)
  • Depending on resolution, video playback may require additional memory and advanced graphics hardware
  • Some games and programmes might need a graphics card compatible with DirectX 10 or higher for optimal performance
  • For some Windows Media Centre functionality a TV tuner and additional hardware may be required
  • Windows, Touch and Tablet PCs require specific hardware
  • HomeGroup requires a network and PCs running Windows 7
  • DVD/CD authoring requires a compatible optical drive
  • BitLocker requires Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 1.2
  • BitLocker To Go requires a USB flash drive
  • Windows XP Mode requires an additional 1 GB of RAM and an additional 15 GB of available hard disk space
  • Music and sound require output

If you run a PC with multi-core processors you’re in luck as Windows 7 was designed to work with today’s multi-core processors. All 32-bit versions of Windows 7 can support up to 32 processor cores, while 64-bit versions can support up to 256 processor cores.

If you run a PC with multiple processors (CPUs) such as a commercial server, workstation and other high-end PCs, Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate allow for 2 physical processors to provide the best performance on these computers. Windows & Starter, Home Basic, and Home Premium will recognise only one physical processor.

If you are in doubt the best option is to contact your local IT Support company who will guide you through the upgrade process.

Don’t Let Your Laptop Become a Pain in the Neck

 

pain in the neck

It’s official! Laptops are bad for you.

OK that might be a slight exaggeration but according to Adrian Lee in The Daily Express the increased use of these portable computers is being blamed for a large rise in neck and back problems because they encourage bad posture.

Adrian tells us that according to Tim Hutchful of the British Chiropractic, laptops are only designed to be used for short periods. But many people spend hours at a time on them as they are being increasingly used in the home as substitutes for desk computers.

The main problem is that whereas a desktop computer has a separate screen, keyword and mouse, laptops don’t and their users are forced to hunch over and look down to view the screen which places a lot of stress on the neck, shoulders, arms and back.

“The average weight of a human head is between 8 and 10 pounds,” explains Tim. “You don’t have to bend over a laptop for very long to begin placing strain on the muscles by overloading them. Compared with standing up there is twice as much load.”

Extensive and prolonged use can cause chronic nerve damage to the spine, neck, shoulders and arms while slipped back discs are another issue. Also resting your wrists on the edge of a laptop can damage tendons and even leg pain can be a result of poor posture.

How to maintain good posture while using computers

For many of us, the use of computers is an everyday occurrence. So how can we minimise the risks of neck and back problems?

Well, here are a few suggestions:

  • Maintain good posture while using your computer by siting back in your chair, keeping your ears directly over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips with your screen at eye level.
  • If you regularly use a laptop, buy a stand and separate keyboard and mouse.
  • Take breaks every 40 minutes. Set the timer on your cooker to ensure you have to get up as moving around refreshes the flow of blood to your muscles.
  • Drink plenty of water – the added bonus of this is you will have to take regular toilet breaks!
  • Take micro-breaks. Sit back in your chair for a few seconds, shrug your shoulders and allow your arms to drop to your sides.
  • Don’t use your laptop sat on the sofa. Working at a table or preferably a desk is much better.

But it’s not just computer usage that can cause problems. If you use the phone while working, invest in a headset so you’re not tempted to wedge the receiver under your chin while taking notes.

There, I bet you never realised how bad for your health computers can be. But being sensible about how and when you use then will keep back and neck pain to a minimum.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Data Storage – NAS Drives

NAS Drives

We all know the benefits of backing-up our computer files.

Whether you opt for an external hard drive, USB stick, or other method, it pays to have your documents, pictures and music backed up in case of computer failure.

But there is a way of backing up all your family’s files so anyone in your household can access the files.

An external hard drive will allow you to backup the files from the PC it is attached to. But a NAS (Network Attached Storage) Drive plugs directly into a computer network. This therefore allows other devices on the network to access the information stored on the drive.

Because all your PCs, laptops, games consoles, televisions, media players and sound systems can all access it, the NAS Drive is becoming increasingly popular with home users. Plus many NAS Drives come with built in RAID which allows a number of discs to appear as one. Therefore if one of the disks fails it can continue to operate. Once the faulty disk is replaces, the drive is immediately back to full status without any loss of data.

4 reasons to try a NAS Drive

1. Shared storage

Because a NAS Drive connects to the network (unlike a conventional USB drive), it is simultaneously accessible through all connected Mac and Window computers. Therefore anyone in your network has access to the data.

2. Access anywhere

You can even access the content anywhere over the internet. If you have a broadband internet connection and home router, your NAS Drive can easily be configured to provide secure access to its stored files remotely via the internet.

3. Optional ‘spare’ hard drive

To add an extra layer of safety, an optional second hard disk drive can also be installed. Should the worse happen and the first hard drive fails, the second retains an extra copy of all your data and instantly takes over.

4. Supports most file types

Utilising advanced media streaming support, a NAS Drive can directly serve media (with no PC required) to devices such as Sonos® Digital Music System, Logitech SqueezeboxTM , Apple iTunes®, Sony Playstation® and Xbox 360®.

Therefore the NAS Drive offers a great alternative to traditional external hard drives. Its greater flexibility enables all network users to access the same data anywhere in a safe and secure environment.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

What’s Your Customer Service Like?

customer service It’s tough out there. Customers are more demanding and the amount of competition is increasing, so delivering a great customer service is even more important today. Providing an excellent service time and again they can rely on is the best way to encourage customer loyalty. So what’s the best way to ensure your company always delivers?

Well, here’s our 4 step guide to great customer service:

1. Be interested

Always show an interest in your customers business. Find out what their expectations are. If it’s your first visit make sure you find out exactly why they’ve called you in. If it is a routine visit, make sure you constantly revisit the customer goals to make sure you are on track.

Quite often customers need guidance, advice, a solution or reassurance that you can help them with an appropriate solution. More importantly, they’ll want to know you will be there for them when they need you.

2. Be happy to be there

That might sound a bit odd and we all have customers who rub us the wrong way but, no matter who they are, you have to want to be there and remain focused on delivering a great service – even when things don’t go well. If you turn up wishing you were somewhere else, the customer will pick up on it which could make the situation a whole lot worse.

Sometimes you may not have the answer (you can’t possibly know everything) which is why having a good helpdesk you can rely on in an emergency is worth its weight in gold.

3. Fulfil your promises

If you say you’ll do something at a certain time by ringing or visiting your customer, make sure you do it. If you promise a third part will contact your customer directly, make sure they do by chasing them up and finding out what happened.

In a nutshell, treat your customers how you would like to be treated yourself.

4. Find a safe pair of hands

If you are a small company offering a big service, you will need a break from time to time. So finding a third party you can entrust your company’s welfare too is essential. Vet them to ensure they have the same customer service standards as you. That way you can take a break safe in the knowledge that everything is being taken care of and there’ll be no nasty surprises when you return.

When you do return to work, meet with your third party supplier to get a full breakdown of what happened in your absence so, next time you are called to a customer for a site visit, you are fully informed of what’s happened.

So, if you want to increase customer loyalty you need to:

  • Find out their needs
  • Make time to listen
  • Take care in solving their problems/concerns by providing an efficient service
  • Have a good backup service in the even of annual office closure

MPM Computer Consultancy offers IT services and training to sole traders and small businesses based in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages. They won the ‘Exceptional Customer Services Award 2009’ for Best of Bury St Edmunds.