December 17, 2017

A better way to handle expense reports

More BillsHaving an increasingly mobile workforce can provide a lot of blessings both in terms of increased productivity and better quality of life compared to sitting at a desk.  However, it can also pose problems with things that were simple when everyone came in to the office regularly.  One of those items is how to handle receipts.

This was a problem Onsite Logic faced with our own team.  To provide timely solutions, Onsite Logic technicians may need to quickly purchase items such as replacement fans or hard-drives or even new computers.  But, since our technicians spend their day from client to client, we were facing issues with delayed and missing receipts.

After researching various solutions the approach we adopted was to use Evernote.  Subscribing to a business level account for $10 enables that account to set up folders and share those folders out.  Now, when our technician purchases something, they immediately take a picture of the receipt with their smart phone, attach any notes and drop it into their Evernote folder.  Our office staff has access to all of these shared folders and they can input the information onto the appropriate ticket and invoice.  Most suppliers will accept a photocopy of the receipt for returns, so even that is not an issue.

If you would like help implementing this, or identifying other projects that help you get better value from information technology and add to your bottom line, please contact the IT consulting team at Onsite Logic.

Visualize Your Address List

Pushpins on a map Onsite Logic was working on a project with a client recently where the need to visualize a set of addresses was going to be very helpful to the project.  Sometimes seeing something visually shows patterns and groupings that are not evident otherwise.

Traditionally, this would have meant getting a large map and stickpins and putting a pin on each address.

The modern equivalent to that is Google Maps and a tool we used called mapalist.com.  There are a few steps involved, but by exporting the address data from the database into a spreadsheet, we were able to overlay it onto a Google map that could be shared, printed or used on a website.

Best of all, MapAList is free and very versatile.

If you want help, our IT consulting team at Onsite Logic is happy to help with this or other projects that help you get better value from information technology and add to your bottom line.

If you would like to learn more, here is a YouTube Tutorial:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdRud5_YHBE&feature=share

OneDrive replaces SkyDrive

OneDriveMicrosoft has announced SkyDrive, the cloud based storage space integral to Office 2013 and Office 365, will be undergoing a name change to OneDrive.   This change follows on the heels of a copyright lawsuit by bSkyb.

SkyDrive Pro is being rebranded as OneDrive for Business.

Other than changing the name and base website, nothing else is immediately changing for the service.  However, we should expect more changes in this growing competitive space.  Small businesses, in particular, are leading the charge in the desire to be able to conduct work across multiple devices.  Access to data is a critical component.  Pricing for cloud storage continues to drop.  OneDrive will have 200GB of cloud storage available for $100 per year.  Some cloud service providers are still charging that ($0.50 per GB) per month.

The cloud storage services are also becoming more integrated.  OneDrive (SkyDrive) is the default file storage location in Word 2013 and items in OneDrive show up with thumbnails in the folder view.  Smart phone photos can be saved directly to OneDrive.

At Onsite Logic, we are continuing to monitor options for cloud storage.  Each need and situation are different and there isn’t a “one size fits all” solution.  We are happy to consult with you about what is currently available for your small business needs.

Drive Failure

hard-disk-attritionCloud backup provider BackBlaze provided some very interesting statistics this week in regard to their independent testing of hard drives.

Hard drive manufacturers provide a measurement called MTBF (mean time between failures) for their hard drives.  Based on manufacturer information drives should last on average, somewhere between 11 years and 110 years, following what is known (scientifically) as a bathtub curve.  A bathtub curve says there will be a very high number of failures almost immediately (because of manufacturer defects) and then a second high number of failures toward the end of life (like the walls of a bathtub).  This says drive failures are expected to be, according to the manufacturers, most common within the first few weeks or after a few years.

We all recognize that the moving parts of a computer are the most likely to fail, but assuming, as manufacturers advertise, the average life is somewhere between 11 and 110 years, we don’t worry about it.

However, BackBlaze found, from their experience, that these estimates are incredibly optimistic.  From their experience the failure rate of hard drives after 3 years ranged between 5% and 25%.  Translated: somewhere between 1 in 4 and 1 in 20 drives crashed and burned within 36 months.

According to Wikipedia, there are currently less than 8 hard drive manufacturers in the world and we continue to undergo mergers and acquisitions.  There are simply not that many options and no manufacturers that seem to lead the more or less likely to fail predictability.  According to the BackBlaze study, Hitachi drives proved best by a small margin, but Hitachi recently sold their drive manufacturing to Western Digital.

Given these failure rates, what should a small business do?

  1. Have a backup.  Anytime your data is on a single hard drive, you should have cause to loose sleep!
  2. Do not trust backup to a single backup drive, always have a local and off-site back.  Cloud storage options are now between $1 and $2 per gig per year, it is worth the investment.
  3. Centralize data.  Having important company files spread across various workstations magnifies your risk of loss.  Centralize company data to a server, either hosted onsite or in the cloud.
  4. Invest in system images.  If your employees use a number of specialized applications that take time to install and configure, invest in the few extra minutes to create a system image of their computer.  This is basically a “manufacturer reset” image, but instead of coming from the manufacturer, it is the image with all your key settings.  These images can be stored on a server or NAS for easy retrieval.

As prices of drives come down and size of storage goes up, the quality and reliability is sliding.  Hard drive reliability is something many of us have taken for granted, but as this study shows, failures are becoming more and more the norm.

Virtualized Office Environment

amazon-workspacesAmazon rolled out a new service this week that provides an insight into what the future of small business computing may look like.

Many of us think of Amazon as an online retailer.  Behind that electronic storefront is a massive computing infrastructure, and, for several years, Amazon has also been in the business of renting virtual slices of their network.

Amazon Web Service (AWS) and Amazon Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) provide the backbone storage and server operations behind many major organizations.  As they have ventured into the small business market their server pricing is beginning to approach a comparable level to buying the server, but without the up-front costs and with significantly better redundancy and security than most small businesses can afford on their own.

This past week Amazon rolled out Amazon WorkSpaces.  WorkSpaces provides a local area network (LAN) in the cloud.  Basically, a user remotes in to their WorkSpaces computer running a Windows 7 like operating system and they conduct all of their business on that WorkSpaces computer.  The WorkSpaces computers of multiple employees are networked together and can be connected to an Amazon virtual server or servers through EC2.  Programs such as Quickbooks, MS Office and other business apps can be installed/licensed into the server and WorkSpaces.  Users can share files and folders, access shared databases, and run client/server applications.  Basically, it provides the ability to create an entire business office that is virtual and scalable and accessible from anywhere.

This ties into a BYOD (bring your own device) work environment.  Employees can remote in to their WorkSpaces computer from any device, PC, Mac, tablet, iPad, smartphone and have full access, as if they were sitting at a business computer.  From a business security and proprietary information standpoint, all information stays on the WorkSpaces computers and EC2 servers, not on the employees’ personal devices.  It also corresponds with the virtual employee and “laptop lifestyle” approach where a team of workers can work together from anywhere in the world at any time.

Prices are heading in the right direction.  Before this new announcement, creating this type of environment would have cost about $80-$120 per month per employee.  Starting price for Amazon WorkSpaces is $35 per virtual computer per month.  It also removes capital expenses allowing for much greater flexibility in scaling up or down.

For example, an entrepreneur is considering launching a new business venture.  Previously, they would have needed to rent office space, purchase or lease furniture, buy computers, servers, software, networking equipment all to be able to hire their team.  With this option, that all can go away.  They contract or hire workers, equipping them with voice-over-IP phones or cloud based PBX hosting to their cell phone and providing them with a virtual WorkSpace computer that they remote into from their personal PC or mac.  The team has the ability to do everything they could do if seated together in cubicles, but without any of the purchased infrastructure.

We expect pricing to continue to decrease.  If you would like more information, please contact your friendly computing experts at Onsite Logic.

CryptoLocker Ransomware: Prevention is Key

8717900094_7180247c62We try to avoid discussions about the latest scary viruses on our Tech Talk Tuesday, but every now and then something comes out that requires an alert.  The current item is called CryptoLocker and it is a form of ransomware.

Ransomware has been out for a few years with the fake FBI and Interpol warnings infected computers would receive trying to trick someone into giving them their credit card.  But this one is different.  Instead of just being a scam, this actually locks people out of their files.  As explained in CIO-Today: “If a victim is infected, the malware encrypts all files containing certain extensions with a locally stored 2048-bit RSA key and then again asymmetrically with a 256-bit AES encryption key it gets from its command-and-control server Relevant Products/Services.

“Once the encryption is completed, the malware displays a pop-up notice demanding the victim pay a ransom for the blocked files he is trying to view. The cost to unlock the files: $300 — and there’s a time limit of about 100 hours to pay up.”

The virus is spread by email and shared folders.  Once a computer is infected on a network it quickly spreads to others that open files from a shared folder that have been accessed by that computer.  Each infected computer then overlays another layer of encryption with an additional $300 ransom each.

AppRiver, a spam filtering company, has logged 56.6 million infected emails.  This is the highest volume rate for malware in several years.

Small business owners should be doing 3 things to protect against this growing threat.

  1. Ensuring strong email and system security protection, including spam and virus filtering, is in place for all email accessed on company computers.  This not only needs to be installed, but steps taken to ensure it is updating correctly.  This is a key part of the Onsite Logic 24/7 System Health Monitoring and Business Security program.
  2. Make sure you are making actual backups of your important business files.  A copy of the files from one shared drive to another or from the computer drive to a mapped drive is not sufficient.  For example, using synch program or making a copy of files from your computer to your mapped server S: drive.   With this virus, it is probable that all of the mapped/shared drives would become encrypted and held for ransom by the virus.
  3. Deploy or set a policy on the servers and all workstations that prevent executable files from launching from the “appdata” folder.  This is a hidden, system folder from which the current virus launches and spreads.  Onsite Logic technicians have a policy settings checklist we can use with you to deploy this change.

photo credit, Flickr Creative Commons: lamdogjunkie

Keyboard Shortcuts

5609005485_41f1eb8082One of the things that separates the hunt and peck computer user from the power user is the use of shortcuts.  Since its beginning, Microsoft Windows and Windows programs have been ripe with key combinations that speed things along.  While the most recent versions of the program are built around touch or mouse click graphics, the underlying shortcuts are alive and well and growing.

Here are links to a few of our favorite printable lists of shortcuts:

Windows 8 Keyboard Shortcuts

Windows 7 Keyboard Shortcuts w/ Word, Excel, Outlook

Windows 7 Little-Known Shortcuts

Mac OS-X Keyboard Shortcuts

If you have others you know and love, pass them along to us so we can share them.

 

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons BFIShadow

Accountability Program

2905410970_35fd115e3bSmall Business owners tend to give their employees a lot of freedom.  They hire people they trust and they do not want to put unnecessary restraints in place that might interfere with their ability to work.  That, however, does not mean they quit managing their employees and the work performed on the tools and equipment the owner provides.  It is often the case that minor controls, reminders and systems help encourage positive behavior by bringing to light negative behaviors quickly and clearly.

Onsite Logic has partnered with Awareness Technologies to install tools at a number of our clients.  One of these solutions is Interguard Web Filtering.  The program has three main advantages:

  1. It works whether the device (e.g. laptop/tablet) is on the company network, at home or in a hotel.
  2. It provides not only the ability to block, by category or keyword on a webpage, but it also records all visited webpages and searches and includes not only the URL address, but also an actual screenshot of pages visited.
  3. All of this information rolls up to a management website console so the business owner does not need to access the employee computer to review or print reports.

Few business owners want to “monitor” their employees’ web use and no one wants to be seen as “big brother.”  But, the knowledge that web usage is being recorded is often enough of a deterrent to keep work tools for work purposes.

Business owners should care about this because:

  1. Non-business related web usage is the #1 source of virus and malware.
  2. Inadvertent revelation of an accidentally stored webpage or graphic can give a negative impression to a client or lead to a lawsuit in the workplace.
  3. Web activity can be a sign of addiction problems and other issues that can drastically impact employee performance and well-being.
  4. The business owner may be responsible for any illegal or inappropriate activity done on company equipment or company accounts (e.g., an inappropriate post on a website from an employee account).

Interguard Web Filtering is priced per device and can be installed on one or all company computers.  It takes less than 15 minutes to install and runs invisibly in the background.  For more information and/or a demo, call or email Onsite Logic.

 

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons: Chispita_666

Gigabit WiFi: What it Means for Small Businesses

WiFiWireless 802.11ac devices are beginning to hit the stores.  This is the 5th generation in WiFi and, once again, it provides significantly faster connection speeds, with speeds potentially surpassing even the fastest wired networks.

WiFi, since its inception in 1997, has seen rapid improvements in max speed:

1997 802.11a = 2 Mbits/s
1999 802.11b = 11 Mbits/s
2002 802.11g = 54 Mbits/s
2007 802.11n = 600 Mbits/s
2013 802.11ac = 3600 Mbits/s (first devices in the 1.2 Gbits/s range)

For each solution, speeds decrease with distance and interference.  Under 802.11n, average speeds hover around 150 Mbits/s.  With the first devices using 802.11ac this average speed will double to quadruple.  Much of the internal network wiring is still using 100 Mbps.  Higher end, gigabit networks, can reach max speeds of 1000 Mbps.  The new 802.11ac has the potential to reach or exceed those speeds and some are already calling the new standard “gigabit wifi”.

Maximum range on the new standard is about 95 meters (a football field) with maximum speeds in the <35 foot range.  This is less cut and dry than older solutions because of the inclusion of a technology called “beamforming.”  Where prior transmitters sent out signals equally in all directions, the new 802.11ac transmitters identify where devices are on the network and focus the signal strength to those devices in a way that helps increase power and reduce other interference.

Using a vehicle analogy, 802.11n saw a drastic increase because it changed from allowing a single passenger per vehicle to allowing up to 4 passengers per vehicle.  This is a technology called MIMO.  802.11ac increases that to 8 passengers per vehicle.

In addition, all prior standards only allowed 1 vehicle in 1 lane of traffic to proceed at a time.  Think of this in terms of stop lights allowing one car at a time.  802.11ac, however, has the ability to talk with up to 4 devices all at the same time, moving from single lane to 4-lane highway.

While many of the devices coming on the market will be backward compatible, to see the full increases in speed will require 802.11ac equipment on both the sending and receiving end.

The new standard is expected to create a significant lift in implementation of VoIP over WiFi.  Quality of Service (QoS), which had been an issue, is greatly improved as is packet handling.  This should be a boon in the move to cord-cutting office phones and will have significant impact on office phone equipment and phone line expenses in the future.

If you can benefit from faster, more reliable and broader-band WiFi abilities at your business, Onsite Logic is happy to help with recommendations and installation.

 

(Photo Credit – Flickr Creative Commons – Manolo Gómez, Tupolev und seine Kamera)