Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta IT Consulting’

Top IT Trends for 2012

January 6, 2012

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]In keeping with our new year’s tradition, we have compiled our list of the top technology trends for 2012. We scanned the available data, reviewed our previous predictions and made some leaps of faith. We are optimistic about the economy and expect many delayed IT expenditures to be completed this year. Advances in business technology continue their steady progression with many smaller businesses adopting leading edge technologies.  This year will be interesting for consumer electronics.  Maybe Steve Jobs left his next great invention in the Apple pensieve.

Local Data Centers – As Cloud Computing gains acceptance and market share, more business will move their equipment and applications to the cloud.  Companies will look for neighborhood data centers that are accessible and provide boutique services. This provides an opportunity for IT service providers and managed service providers (MSPs) because smaller businesses will be looking for help in managing their collocated equipment and cloud applications.  Many small businesses are accustomed to contracting IT services rather than maintaining in-house IT expertise and will look for service providers that can meet their changing IT model.

mCommerce – Mobile commerce is not only for impulsive buyers, but for smart, savvy shoppers looking for the best deal.  The 2011 holiday season broke all records for mCommerce and this will continue as increasing numbers of merchants and consumers embrace mobile applications.  Powerful processors will give handhelds a big boost in acceptance for those that have been reluctant to adopt the technology.  Near field communication (NFC) will take off as applications are developed that use NFC for everything from sharing contact information to reading garment labels to purchasing anything with the swipe of your phone.  In 2012, if you are in the consumer market – become an expert in NFC and mCommerce.

Speech Recognition – This could be a breakout year for speech and voice technologies.  Speech recognition has been used by medical and legal for years and widespread acceptance is just around the corner for all types of businesses.  As mobile device users embrace speech recognition for on-the-go computing, they will bring this technology into the office for a variety of efficiency improvements.

Handhelds Replace Laptops – With more powerful CPUs, handhelds can replace many of the features of laptops.  The keyboard and screen size continue to be obstacle but projection and foldable technology will bridge the gap.  One day we will think and our computer (probably won’t be called a computer) will translate our thoughts into input and output, but in the meantime virtual docking stations will be used to interface with our analog (hands and eyes) systems.

Another Social Media Surge – With Google+ claiming that it will have 400 million members by the end of 2012, we are expecting another surge as social media expands its audience. Online aficionados will continue to be plagued with spam and scams, but new strategies will emerge to catch and isolate the offenders.   The number of users and the average time spent online will increase, but there are too many platforms for the market.  Users will consolidate around the most beneficial and productive sites.  Facebook may take over the world in 2012, but then again it may not.

Disclaimer: Like horoscopes, our predictions for the Top IT Trends of 2012 are general in nature and for entertainment purposes only.

If you have your own 2012 trends, please send to me at mary@lansystems.com.

Safe computing for the holidays

December 21, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Taking time off to spend with family and friends is such a treat, but alas for many it is hard to stay away from the computer.  If you are going to do some online shopping, play a new game or check your work email, be sure to practice safe computing.  Your home computer may not have the same protection as work, so before you download that file or visit a new site make sure you are protected.

Protecting your computer

1)  Make sure your operating system is updated and all security patches are installed.  If you are using Windows, go to Control Panel Home, then Windows Update. This page will show you if you are up to date or if you need an update.  If you are out of date, follow the instructions and consider turning on automatic updates.  If you have a Mac, the update is similar to Windows so just follow the instructions.  If you have Unix or Linux, you are probably an expert and know how to patch your system.

2)  Browse safely.  Be sure your browser is current and that you are protecting against malware.  Malware are those nasty intruders that we often call viruses, trojans, worms or spyware.  For Windows, you can use Microsoft Security Essentials.  It is a free Microsoft tool that runs in the background and will alert you when a threat is identified.  Remember no protection is 100%, so you have to think before you click and be prepared to remove infections.

3)  Use a firewall. Firewalls can be hardware or software and screen Internet traffic as a first line of defense.

4)  Use spam filters. Most email programs include a spam and junk filter.  Not only can you trash unwanted junk mail, but you can disable email links (recommended) and be warned of malicious content.  There are many malicious emails that look legitimate so be careful when opening emails and never click on attachments or links unless you are certain of the source.

5)  Download safely. Only download from sites that you know are legitimate and reputable. When you download, save the file and be sure that your antivirus software is set up to scan when you open files.  A good rule to follow when opening anything is when in doubt – don’t!

6)  Have a computer expert you can count on.  If you are unfamiliar with computer protection, be sure to have someone who you can consult for advice and help.  It seems complicated, but there are many tools that are easy to configure that run automatically to keep you safe.  Be sure you are protected so that you can enjoy the holiday season with your family and friends rather than fixing your computer.

7)  Be sure you have a current backup.  Just in case the worst happens, you can restore to your latest backup.

Online information and help is abundant, but be cautious that you don’t get fooled by malware that pretends to offer help.  If you get a pop-up that claims it will remove an infection from your computer for a price, stop and call your expert!

If you need help or have comments/suggestions, please feel free to contact me at: mary@lansystems.com.

All of us at LAN Systems wish you a safe and joyous holiday season.

Hard Drive Prices Skyrocket

December 8, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]By now you have heard that hard disk drive (HDD) prices are increasing rapidly because of widespread flooding in Thailand. The monsoons of 2011 brought factory production to a standstill. The human toll has been devastating as hundreds have perished and millions have been displaced. The World Bank estimates the financial loss at 45 billion dollars making this the fourth most costly disaster in history. Thailand is the second largest exporter of HDD producing about 40% of the world’s HDD.  It is surpassed only by Singapore.

Supply and demand economics govern computer electronics and the inelasticity is apparent in much higher prices at least for the short term.  Not surprisingly, prices have doubled and tripled for HDD in the recent weeks. There are several price watch sites to compare prices online. For now, the estimates of when full production will return in Thailand are pessimistic.  The supply will return as Thailand plants resume production and competing manufacturers ramp up, but prices may be inflated for an extended period depending upon how the global market responds.

So what should you do without jeopardizing your system or data integrity?

Don’t want to pay more – If you are price inelastic, meaning you don’t want to pay even a small increase for a server, PC or HDD, wait to make a purchase and monitor prices.  Only choose this option if you can safely delay making an IT purchase without losing productivity or data integrity. Remember that a few hours of being “down” can cost considerably more than the price of new hardware.

Have to purchase now – If you have to make a purchase, spend time comparing prices to get the best deal.  You can explore the refurbished market for cost savings, but even those markets have sharply increased.

Buying refurbished electronics – If you buy a refurbished HDD, be sure that it has a warranty and that you have a spare.  Think about your backup and redundancy needs and be sure that you are covered in case of unexpected failure.

Compromise and choose less capacity – You may be able to choose a smaller hard drive for a price you are comfortable with and look to upgrade later.   Only choose this option if less capacity works for you without lots of extra work.  You can easily spend the cost of the HDD in administration costs to move and verify data.

As always, make sure that you have a good backup, just in case.

Requiem for the Blackberry

October 17, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Last week’s Blackberry outage has caused lots of withdrawal pains.  The blogs and message boards are filled with comments defending and vilifying Research in Motion (RIM) Blackberry’s creator.  Network interruptions are inevitable as we have seen with Sony, Google, Microsoft and Netflix. Someday we may have uninterruptible networks, but the departure or threatened departure from Blackberry seems to be more about the availability of multimedia, cooler mobile devices than a network disruption.

For years Blackberry has been the choice in mobile devices for corporations. You can argue that this is because they are more secure because of how RIM handles encryption or the limitation of online features. Certainly iPhone and Android users can be more social online because their devices support many more apps.  They can access Facebook, Tweet, Farmville and Angry Birds from anywhere that they have a signal.  The available apps make it easy to stay connected.  But with the convenience of being online all the time, some sacrifices are made in being secure.  If you want a real scare, google “mobile device hacking” and read some of the recent hacking successes and access your vulnerability.

It really comes down to which device you are most comfortable with and how easily you can change.  Corporations like Blackberry for many reasons including solid systems and the ability to regulate users. Often corporations don’t change their infrastructure because of the expense of installing new equipment and training employees to use and support the new system.  Rationale always states the benefits of one technology over the other to support the choice, but equal arguments can be made for practically any technology choice.

As interesting and amusing as it is to read the comments from the technology aficionados, it is as important to balance the arguments with facts.  Facts may not change the product choices we make – that’s a subject for another blog – some products will win and others will lose based completely on preference and little on the superior technology.  Blackberry once led the pack but is now struggling for market share in a sea of products that offer more. The loyal followers of Apple and Google are happy to share their opinions on why their choice is the best and the features that make mobility fun and efficient.

Weathering Storms in the Cloud

September 12, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Twice over the past few weeks Microsoft’s Office 365 suffered interruptions.  The first occurred on August 17th and was reported as a network interruption.  Several blogs reported the cause as faulty Cisco equipment, but that fact was not verified by Microsoft.  The interruption lasted for three hours and Microsoft has offered a 25% discount to Office 365 customers for the trouble. The second interruption was on September 9th and seems to be tied to the widespread Western US power outage.  Any discount has yet to be announced for the second occurrence.

Microsoft is not the only Cloud service to see outages. Clouds, networks, communications and power that make up the Internet have all been down either briefly or for extended periods.  Although it is frustrating, it is part of the risk we all accept in using and being dependent on technology.

Power and phone outages have always been disruptive to business.  If the power and phones are out, often you have not choice except to close the store or the office.  Only in rare cases are backup generators used and then only to keep essential systems like emergency lights and security systems on until the building can be cleared.  Hospitals, data centers and essential services are the exception, but even hospitals have limited backup power.  Our modern power system is extremely reliable, but it is not faultless. That’s why we keep candles and flashlights in the kitchen.

Cloud Computing relies on centralized servers and the Internet to receive and deliver data to the users. If the servers or the Internet are down, the users experience an interruption.  Just like you have a power out kit in your kitchen, you need a Cloud out kit for your office.  Your Cloud power out kit should consist of a computer or mobile device so you can continue to work offline locally and save your work until the system is back on.

When email is down, you just have to wait whether you are using a Cloud service or your own email server.  If the server didn’t confirm receipt of the email message, the sending server will usually try again for a couple of days before giving up.  That means that for short outages, it will be delayed but you’ll get your email.  It is always surprising that people perceive email as more reliable than FedEx and as verifiable as Certified Mail – it is not.  Email is a great tool and 99.44% of our mail gets through but you have to allow for the .56 % that gets lost.  Certainly, the email that you can’t miss will be in the later.  Use delivery and read receipts to make email verifiable.  (The Ivory soap reference to 99.44% is a bit of humor.)

During an interruption, if you still have access to your computer or mobile device, you can compose messages but will have to wait for the system before you can transmit them. With Microsoft Office 365, you can use your Office products offline and transmit to the Cloud when available.  For other Cloud products, you have similar options to work offline and locally.

Using Cloud Computing gives you economy of scale and the benefit of redundant systems that you probably don’t have in your home or business. Most problems with power or communications will still be on the user side so be sure you have the ability to work offline locally to prevent disappointment and loss of productivity.

Talk Like a CIO

August 1, 2011

Talk Like a CIO[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]The Chief Information Officer (CIO), sometimes called Chief Technology Officer (CTO), coined in the early 1980s is a rather recent addition to the corporate governance structure. It makes sense that the position coincided with the technology explosion as companies implemented IT to gain competitive advantage. Arguably, what was once IT competitive advantage is now essential for daily operations. Even so someone has to evaluate IT investment to be sure that it serves the organization by providing benefits at an affordable cost. Without that oversight, technology projects would be rapidly become science projects that few, other than the IT department, could understand.

No disrespect to IT folks. As an engineer, I have seen this phenomenon many times. A concept to make the organization more efficient, a product more user-friendly or automate manual tasks spirals into the depths of a techno-black hole with little hope of escape. As an engineering manager, I always put two engineers on a project as a way to get a product suitable for the end-user. Often one engineer working alone would come up with solutions too complicated for the casual user. Technical elegance usually trumps corporate benefit in the technology mind. For the company to realize a return-on-investment from any technology project, someone has to watch the ROI and that’s where the CIO is essential.

The CIO doesn’t have to be a technology expert. In fact, many of today’s top CIOs don’t have a computer science, engineering or programming background, they have a business background and leadership skills. They have learned how to apply technology to solve business problems, foster change and manage the bottom line.

Although definitions will vary, here is a short list of common terms so that you can – Ay oh whey oh, Talk like a CIO.

ROI – Return on Investment is not a uniquely CIO phrase, it is spoken freely by all C-levels and is specific to the investment efficiency required by an organization. Every company defines its payback period and specifics for an acceptable ROI. Often a technology project does not generate revenue so the ROI can be tricky to quantify. Here is where the CIO can be creative and use avoided costs or cost savings to frame the ROI discussion.

Payback Period – The amount of time that it takes to make up or payback the cost of the project. Usually used for revenue projects, but the same rules as in ROI can apply.

Technology Proposal – Whether you are developing a Request for Proposal (RFP) to bid the job or completing the job in-house, you need a proposal that has a statement of need and cost-benefit justification. The CIO is critical in ensuring that the proposal meets the organizational needs and obtains budget approval.

Cost Benefit Analysis – Exactly what the name implies, to determine if the project is worth funding. In any economic analysis, do nothing is always a choice.

Bleeding Edge Technology – Technology so new that the risk and expense is high.

State of the Art, Leading Edge (or Cutting Edge) Technology – Technology that is at the pinnacle of available solutions. It may or may not provide competitive advantage. This term can be synonymous with Bleeding Edge Technology.

Buy In – The commitment of stakeholders to support the decision.

Send me your terms and definitions that help you “Talk like a CIO.”

A Giant Leap for Quantum Computing

July 24, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Today’s computers are the product of a digital revolution.  When we talk about computing, we talk about an environment of ones and zeroes that add up to all the programs, graphics and communications that we use. Often we tease, it’s just ones and zeroes but that small concept has enormous and far-reaching implications. 

In the early days of computers, there was a competition between analog and digital computing for a practical, supportable, calculating machine.  Actually, analog computers go back to ancient times and were used to calculate the position of stars and planets.  Probably the most familiar example of an analog computer is a slide rule. But as analog slide rules were replaced by digital calculators so were analog computers replaced by its digital competitor. Analog computers are powerful because they have multiple states and are not constrained by just ones and zeroes.  They can solve very complex equations. But in that power is a complicated framework not easy to mass produce.  Transistors and later solid state and integrated circuit technology made the digital computer ubiquitous.

The digital computer has a new competitor in the quantum computer. Quantum computing is not really new, the concept has been around since the 1970s, but it is a complicated structure based on quantum mechanics. Most of the work in quantum computing has been theoretical because the technology was not available to take the idea from a dream to reality. 

The recent announcement that Lockheed Martin will purchase a quantum computer from D-Wave Systems is a giant leap for this emerging technology.  Experts are already speculating on the quantum gains in computing speed as exponential and tens of thousands of times as fast as the fastest digital computer.  It is an exciting time to be a technology aficionado. It is a time when anything is possible and the universe has no limits.

Why does China want your gmail account?

June 2, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Google is certain that the latest hacking attempt comes from Jinan, China as a phishing scam to obtain gmail passwords. This type of attack happens all the time, but since senior level US government officials, military personnel and political activists were targeted the intent seems much more sinister. The attacks were common phishing schemes that are not very sophisticated opening speculation that this was testing the water and that the information may be used for broader attacks.

If someone has your username and password, they can hijack your account.  Not only will they have access to your email, but they can change account settings, forward email and send email as you.  If you are unaware that your account has been compromised, the hacker can play havoc with your information and identity.

Certainly, you have heard these warnings: create a strong password, don’t divulge username and password information especially from email requests, use a good anti-virus, have malware protection and keep a good backup. This cannot be stressed enough – create a strong password for your important accounts.  Next, use a two-step verification or authentication whenever possible.  This is another way to prove it is you.  Google uses a strategy where they will send a unique code to your phone that is required to sign in. The problem with this security measure is that it is not convenient as it takes another step and more time. Often users choose convenience over security.

When you use more than one email address and if you send to a mobile device, be sure that you use security measures that adequately protect your information.  The more valuable the information, the more protection is needed. and just like physical security, use barriers as deterrents.  In the digital and virtual world, barriers are passwords, tokens, PINs and other information that only you will know.

To learn more about the Google 2-step verification, go to http://www.google.com/support/a/bin/answer.py?answer=175197

Social Media Tactics: Part 2

May 6, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]By Katie Sewell, TAG and Mary Hester, LAN Systems

social_media_tacticsThe second part of our tactics for social media includes LinkedIn and blogging.  LinkedIn is widely used by business professionals to promote their business and to job search.  It’s easy to set up  a personal and/or business LinkedIn page and you can keep it current using built in tools that won’t take too much of your time.

Upon creation of your LinkedIn profile, be sure to craft a flattering position summary for your company to promote.

Deciding how you will accept connections is important, as well. LION (LinkedIn Open Network) members connect to almost anyone that requests whether they know them or not. More conservative members only link to people they personally know. This is your choice and you can adjust your settings to share or hide your connections. There are many security settings that control how much or how little of your information is shared. If you are concerned about sharing information, start with very secure settings and adjust as needed.

On to business promotion:

  1. Create a company page with your logo, overview, specialties and statistics. Make sure current employees link to the page and that you have included your website.
  2. Look for groups to join that are of interest to your customers. There are many groups on LinkedIn that you can easily reach the 50 limit set by LinkedIn. Of course, you can join groups that are of personal interest, but if you are promoting your company the best groups will be those of interest to your customers.
  3. Create a group based on your subject matter expertise and promote to your contacts. It is best to approve new members rather than have an open access.
  4. Start group discussions and keep the conversation going. Some groups will be very active and others will need prodding. Be sure to monitor messages for appropriate content and spam. You can remove abusers.
  5. Look at the open Q&A discussions. Even if you choose not to participate, take a glance at the types of questions and answers that are being posted. You may want to experiment in this open forum before starting your own group. If you are (or want to be) a subject matter expert for your company, search this forum for questions to answer.

Blogging  – Choose the type of blog and your voice.  Try to be consistent in your post frequency and blog personality.  Remember what’s said on the Internet stays on the Internet!

  1. If you’re not ready to start your own blog, contribute to others.  This is an easy way to get started and test if you really want to be a blogger.
  2. Pick a schedule and try to stick with it.  If you have lots of demands on your time that are not blog-related, you may want to start with a monthly or weekly blog.  Entries can be informal or traditional depending upon your style and your business.
  3. Use your blog to point readers to your web site, Facebook or Twitter account.
  4. Try to engage your readers in a dialogue by encouraging comments and feedback. Respond to comments and questions quickly.  Many readers will not post comments, but will correspond with you privately.  If it starts as a private conversation, keep it that way unless both parties want to go public.

Hope that you have enjoyed our short series on Social Media. Please share your experiences, ideas and comments!

Social Media Tactics: Part 1

March 31, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]By Katie Sewell, TAG and Mary Hester, LAN Systems

social_media_tacticsBy now you have heard that Social Media is a revolution.  A big change is coming in the way businesses market and communicate their message.  To understand Social Media you have to spend time studying the concept, method and strategy.  Don’t worry if it seems complicated and time consuming at first.  We have a few proven strategies that we personally use to give your social media campaign a boost. We’ll start with Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter – Twitter is a social networking site which enables news sharing and connectivity among people and businesses through short updates. It’s hard for some to understand the Twitter sensation.  Why would anyone tweet their lunch menu or location? There is a great deal of self-indulgence on Twitter and you should always be conscious of your personal safety. Try these few tips to propel you to the top.

1)      Be interactive – reply to and retweet items of interest.  Post articles about you and your company.  Give information of interest to your community.  Minimize the sales pitch.

2)      Use and create hash tags for topics and events.  TAG promoted the 2011 Technology Summit with #GTS2011 on Twitter.  You can use the hash tag term to search and it may “trend” on Twitter which is similar to going viral on YouTube.

3)      Keep it real and meaningful – don’t tweet just for the sake of tweeting.  Automated tweets and pre-canned quotes and messages are obvious. Twitter is a conversation that you have in your own voice.  The voice can be business or personal, but be genuine.

Facebook – If you are going to use Facebook for business, be sure to keep it separate from your personal account.  Being on the Internet is like being in a magnified fishbowl where every imprudent act is available to all and kept forever.  Even with the risks, Facebook can be a fabulous business tool if used wisely.

1)      Create a company Facebook page where you can write about your company values, events and people. Post tasteful pictures and items of interest.

2)      Invite Facebook users to “like” your page.  Remember, it’s about quality here, not quantity. While it’s important to have a high number of “likes” on your company’s page, it’s more important to keep the content fresh and updated.

3)       An important goal to have for your organization’s social media sites, especially Facebook, is to encourage interactive behavior from your users. A good way of accomplishing this is to have contests where a prize is given. When you want feedback and user interactivity, offer a reward or prize that makes it worthwhile for the user to participate. LAN Systems is having a contest for a copy of Microsoft Office Pro 2010 for liking its Facebook page. We’ll let everyone know how it turns out on our page.

4)      Share links and Tag others in your posts and status updates. This creates exposure from both sides. Be polite and considerate when sharing.

5)      Like and or comment on photos, articles and posts. Depending upon your online persona, you may want to avoid controversial topics.  In any case, always review your posts before submitting for content, spelling and grammar.  A typo isn’t the end of the world, but it can be embarrassing.

Once you create your Twitter and Facebook page, it’s important to check on a regular basis. Your company needs to appear to be responsive to the users. Answer messages and keep the conversation going!

Next time, tips for LinkedIn and Blogging.  Until then, please send us a comment or leave a message.