January 18, 2018

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)

Office 365 for Non-Profits

Hands and dvdMicrosoft has now opened the door of access to free Microsoft software and services, including Office365, to non-profits, including churches!

Office 365 for Non-Profits is a new and evolving service offering from Microsoft.  The currently available programs include the Enterprise E1 and E3 levels.  E1, which includes 50GB hosted Exchange and 25GB SkyDrive Pro access as well as web and mobile Office apps is now available as a donation (i.e., free) to qualifying organizations.  This is normally an $8 per user per month charge.  The E3 plan, which also includes desktop copies of the Office Suite (Word, Excel, etc.) is being made available for $4.50 per user per month compared to the normal $20 price.

Sign up below to receive more information including links to eligibility and how to enroll in the program.  We’ll also keep you informed on future news including the upcoming release of Office 365 for Small Business for Non-Profits:

Office 365: Double + Triple and a Half

iStock_000017122593XSmallA little over a week ago Microsoft announced it was making changes to the Office 365 Hosted Exchange offering.  Prices stayed the same with the $4 Exchange Online price point and the $8 E1 plan which adds SkyDrive Pro / Sharepoint and web and mobile office apps.  The change announced was drastic increases in the included amount of storage!

Office 365 Hosted Exchange mailboxes increased in size from 25GB (which was already huge) to 50GB per mailbox.  SkyDrive Pro cloud storage increased from 7GB to 25GB.

Anyone who has used the newest versions of Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel…) has seen the marked integration between these desktop programs and cloud storage.  When you save a document, the primary default location is to your SkyDrive.  The idea is that your documents live outside the box of your desktop computer space, making them accessible when and where you need them.  These free increases in space, 2x on Exchange and almost 3.5x on SkyDrive Pro drastically help with storage limits.

To put the SkyDrive Pro increase into further perspective: $0.50 per GB for cloud storage is a very competitive price for cloud storage.  25GB at $0.50 per GB would cost $7.50 per month just for the cloud storage.  The entire package with that plus Exchange, etc. is only $8 per month.

Do we sound excited?!?!

Security Cameras

We had a project last week for a client who wanted a simple security camera installed.  It has been some time since we last looked at cameras and we were amazed at how they have improved, how easy they are to use and install, and how affordable they have become.

There are a number of different products available, but after research and based on the needs of this client we settled on the D-Link DCS-942L with a price tag of less than $150.  This camera connects to the local wireless network, so there is no special cabling to run, and it can easily be moved or repositioned.  It has motion detection and has the ability to automatically record both still images and video when the motion detection is triggered.  It has infrared night vision that can see clearly up to 15 feet, even in complete darkness.  Using a microSD card for onboard storage you can view and review hours of recorded footage, all time and date stamped, all through the interface.

We expected the hardware to be feature rich, but we were surprised by the included software/services.  This camera is “mydlink” enabled.  This means that it not only can be viewed locally (in the office through the command console for the camera), but it also is accessible through a secure website from anywhere in the world.  Not only can you view the camera from the website, but you can also make changes to control it.  For example, you can turn on a feature that, when the motion detection is triggered, not only does it record video footage and take a snapshot, but it also emails or text messages you with the photo attached.  The web interface gives the ability to simultaneously view and control up to 4 cameras.  In addition to the secure web access, there are also apps for iPad, iPhone and Android devices to view the cameras using your mobile device.  There are not additional charges or monthly fees for any of these tools, just the one-time cost of the camera.

At this price point, it really opens the door for any small business (warehouse, storage locker, household, lake house) to implement a simple and inexpensive security camera system with very robust remote monitoring features.

Legal Pictures

iStock_000000283538XSmallA picture is worth a thousand words, especially in the world of social media.  Having an eye-catching, professional photo can make the difference on whether or not your message gets noticed and read.  While it may be tempting to simply cut and paste photos from websites, pirating other people’s copyrighted material is an unnecessary risk for the little cost of doing it right.

We use two main services for inexpensive, legal photos to complement our TechTalkTuesday posts via email and through social media.

Primarily we use a service called iStockPhoto.  You buy credits for roughly $1.60 per credit and then use the credits to purchase rights to the stock photo library.  The number of credits per photo varies significantly depending on popularity, uniqueness and size/quality.  For web publishing, the X-Small size seems to work fine, while larger pixel quality would be required for print.  Most of the stock photos we use cost 1 to 2 credits.  The one in this post was 1 credit and gave us the rights to use it on our blog, in our newsletter and on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  $3 is well worth the cost for the quality of the search engine to find just the right photo and then knowing we are legal.

For presentations where we might need a lot of photos or other graphics we use Microsoft Office Image Gallery.  There are limits on these works, particularly in regard to their use on social media sites and in print materials.  We also will use photos from the creative commons search engine on Flickr.  There are various levels of creative commons licenses and it is important to always recognize and site the owner of the work.  There are no charges for the basic use of photos from these sites.

For a small investment of money or the willingness to properly recognize copyright, using photos correctly and legally is easy and fun.

Online Meetings

Young Businesswoman on Teleconference Video CallWith faster internet connections and a more mobile workforce, online meeting tools are gaining in popularity.  Today’s laptop computer or tablet are more powerful and higher definition than teleconferencing systems that were being installed into board rooms just a few years ago.  For small business owners, online meeting tools can provide better communication, shorter and more impactful meetings, cost savings and better attendance.

Three services tend to be at the top of the list: join.me, gotomeeting.com and webex.com.  Join.me is owned by logmein, a remote desktop tool that many of our clients have used.  WebEx is owned by Cisco and GoToMeeting by Citrix.  All three have very powerful tools for both internal company meeting and webinars with clients/prospects.  All include the ability to screen share, send files, chat and provide audio via internet calling (VoIP).

Join.me and WebEx both have free level plans and GoToMeeting has a free 30 day trial.  Join.me currently has the most competitive pricing plans, offering 10 participants in their free plan and up to 250 in their paid plan for $13 per month, compared to a limit of 3 people for free in WebEx and 8 people in the $19 per month plan.  GoToMeeting starts at $49 per month.

Besides the number of participants, the key benefits of going with a paid plan include the ability to pre-schedule meetings, record the meeting for future playback, provide dial-in phone numbers, and the ability to swap presenters.  Meetings can be attended via desktop computer, laptop, iPad/iPhone or Android phone and the presenter can even run the meeting directly from an iPad with no other equipment needed.

For an annual investment of less than $150 it is easy to see how online meetings can quickly pay for themselves whether you are meeting with your employees, with your accountant, with your suppliers, contractors or customers.

We would love to hear about what online meeting tools you have used and found beneficial.

Windows XP End-of-Life

cc468658.end-of-support(en-us,MSDN.10)We have approximately 8 months until the April 8, 2014 end-of-life date for Windows XP.  What does that mean and what should Onsite Logic clients do?

Windows XP based computers will continue to work after 4/8/14.  They don’t become disabled or experience any new issues on that date.  End-of-Life or End-of-Support means that Microsoft will no longer release any patches, updates or hot-fixes for the Windows XP system after that date.

Since most of the patches and updates are issued to close security vulnerabilities, the biggest risk of continuing to operate Windows XP machines on your local network will be security issues.  For some industries, such as financial services and medical services, this may translate into non-compliance.  For others it will simply mean that as time progresses and more security holes are left open (unpatched), your systems and data are more prone to being compromised through viruses and hacking.

Windows XP machines will also have compatibility issues with new software and websites.  Programs such as Microsoft Office 365 and Office 13 will not run on Windows XP after the 4/8/14 date.  This includes Hosted Exchange through Office 365.  Microsoft will also not upgrade the Internet Explorer browser in Windows XP beyond IE8 which means websites using features of the new browsers will either not open or not display properly.

The most important thing Small Business owners should be doing is planning.  Onsite Logic recommends planning for a maximum of a 5 year life-cycle for most of our client’s workstations.  This means that if you have 20 computers, you should be budgeting and planning to replace approximately 4 computers per year.  If you are using Hosted Exchange/Office 365, you’ll need to replace all XP machines within the next 8 months.  If you are not, we would still recommend a plan to replace them as soon as possible and no later than year end 2014.

iBackup and QuickBooks Backup

A handful of our clients use a cloud backup service called iBackup.  We do not have an affiliation with iBackup, but we have not experienced any significant issues with the program.  It is one option that supports the ability to have cloud backup for both desktop computers and servers.  Many other services do not allow the backup of server hardware. iBackup.com is running a promotion through tomorrow, August 8, where they have dropped their pricing by 90% to $0.10 per GB.  This is priced less than Carbonite which has been one of the price leaders in server cloud backup.  According to their website this promotion expires tomorrow.  If you are interested, you could place the order for space today or tomorrow and still get things setup within the next couple of weeks.

Also in regard to backup, many of our clients use QuickBooks.  The most recent versions of QuickBooks have included a content management system.  You can now attach scanned images such as receipts, contracts, invoices, employee documentation, directly to the related account, bill or employee in QuickBooks.  However, these attachments are not integrated into the QuickBooks company file.  They are stored in a separate folder.  If you backup of QuickBooks only includes the QBB file, you risk losing these attachments.

Backup: BDR Appliance – Part 2

Panic ButtonDoes your company use server based programs as an integral part of your daily work?  If that server goes down, what does it cost you in terms of lost productivity, customer dissatisfaction, missed orders or appointments?

Backup and Disaster Recovery (BDR) Appliances were designed to provide the redundancy needed to keep that downtime from occurring.  The approach is very simple.  The appliance runs special software that creates a system state image of your server.  This includes an image of the operating system, settings, drivers, programs, user configuration, data, etc.  Then, periodically throughout the day that image is updated.  These images and updates are also copied off-site to cloud storage.

In the event of a server failure, the appliance takes that image and boots it up as a virtual machine.  A virtual machine is basically a computer running inside the operating system of another computer.  In this case, the appliance is running its operating system and then, inside it, it boots up the image of your server.  It grabs the same IP address, the same name, the same everything.  To any other computer in the office it is as if that virtual machine image is your physical box.

While your office continues to operate on the virtual machine on the appliance, the appliance continues to take snapshots of itself.  When your server hardware is repaired or replaced this image can be copied back over.

The cost savings from this can be huge.  Downtime if virtually eliminated.  There are no strange and costly work-arounds.  There are no lengthy interruptions to your staff or customers.  And, when the hardware is repaired or replaced, the costs of reloading the image back to the box is minimal.

But what about a fire or tornado or disaster that takes out not only the server, but the appliance as well?  This is where the BDR Appliances get really cool!  The system image that is stored in the cloud can be booted up as a virtual machine image, running in the cloud, and computers/laptops (working from home or a temporary office) can connect to it over a secure VPN connection through the internet and work as if everything was still there!

All of this costs $149.99 per month per server.  You can either buy the hardware appliance or rent it as a monthly add-on charge.  That price includes 300GB both locally and in the cloud.  This is plenty of server backup storage for the vast majority of our clients, but additional space is available for a nominal monthly fee.

This is more expensive than a data backup alone, but compared to the cost and pain of downtime it is a very affordable investment for those companies running centralized software such as accounting systems, production systems, customer relationship systems or Exchange.

For more information or to see a demo in action, call or email us at Onsite Logic.