October 20, 2017

Compute Sticks

In the spirit of keeping an eye on new technologies that can revolutionize business, this week’s TechTalkTuesday is about Compute Sticks.

This is a very interesting new technology that has been around for a little less than a year. Basically, it is an entire computer in a device only slightly larger than an USB flash drive. It connects to a TV or monitor via the HDMI plug. It includes WiFi to connect to the network, connectivity to a wireless keyboard and mouse, 2GB of RAM, 32GB drive with an MicroSD card slot for expansion storage on the device and it runs the regular Windows 10 operating system.  There is even an app so you can use your smartphone or tablet as the keyboard and mouse if you want.

This device is not like a computer, it is a computer, and it costs less than $150.

Obviously we probably aren’t going to replace desktop computers with Compute Sticks, but there are niches where this could be very helpful. Think about digital signage either for customers or for your own staff that can access and run any of your system dashboards or powerpoint or other programs. Think about the conference room TV (or projector) that could now become a fully functional PC.  Think about connecting a webcam to the USB port on the Compute Stick and you have a conference room teleconferencing solution. Think about a doctors’ office with a simple monitor in the patient room and the doctor has full access to any of the systems or files on the network. Or a dentists’ office with a monitor above the chair where you can show not only slide shows and videos but digital x-rays, appointment calendars, etc.

If you are interested in learning more about Compute Sticks or other new technologies that might revolutionize your operations, call Onsite Logic. We get excited about finding ways that new technologies can help you achieve and exceed your business goals.

What is the Cloud?

Cloud computing on blackboard Discussions about the cloud have been going on for several years. However, even though it is a term many use, there also seems to be a lot of confusion about what it actually means, both in terms of trying to define it too narrowly or too nebulously.

In the simplest sense, the cloud is a collection of networking and server infrastructure that is “out there” as opposed to the “in here” like an organization’s local area network. One of the key characteristics of the cloud is that you can’t physically put your hands on it. However, just like clouds, the fact that you can’t touch them does not mean they are not real or have great purpose and value.

Anything you can do on an “in here” network you can do on the “out there” network of the cloud. You can store files and folders and databases. You can run servers and desktop computers. You can launch and run programs/applications and interact with them. You can secure and encrypt and backup and protect things the exact same way you would on an “in here” network.

The two biggest drivers of the cloud are:

  1. You only pay for exactly what you need and use. With a physical network, you make decisions and buy hardware and software based on 5-7 year projections. With cloud networks, you can size the resources (space, servers, processing, memory, etc) up or down in less than 2 hours.
  2. Operation and maintenance are included. I’m yet to meet the business owner who will say they got into business because they really wanted to own a server closet. It has been a necessary component, but, for most owners, not an enjoyable expense or worry.

We’ll have more TechTalkTuesdays over the coming weeks discussing some of the terminology and providers of cloud services. We’ll also be discussing how small businesses are using cloud to improve their operations, expand business and save money.

We welcome your thoughts and questions.

You Need Dual Monitors

dual two monitor screen stocks programming coding web deskOver the past few years the price of computer monitors have continued to drop while their quality has risen. At the same time it has become standard on computer towers and laptop docking stations to include 2 video ports and operating system software has built in capacity to manage multiple monitors. Plugging in a second monitor is as easy as, well, plugging in a second monitor.

There are also a number of University studies that show a productivity increase between 29% and 74% from multiple monitor use. Granted, these studies were funded by monitor and computer manufacturers. However, you will be hard pressed to find anyone using multiple monitors who would switch back to a single monitor.

The key to the productivity boost is in the applications that you commonly use. If there is a main program you use, such as a business dashboard or accounting program (Quickbooks) or key website (stock prices) that you use throughout the day, dedicating a monitor to the application significantly reduces the time and effort of maximizing and minimizing windows.

What program that you use throughout your day would it make sense to dedicate a monitor to? If you need assistance, please call 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

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)

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.