Thursday, 12 December 2013

What’s the Difference Between ADSL and SDSL?

Broadband Connections affect the speed
in which you send and receive data
Every industry has its jargon and IT is no exception. In this post we want to tell you about two terms used in connection with broadband connections – ADSL and SDSL.

ADSL stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line and SDSL means Symmetric Digital Subscriber Line, with the difference related to the speeds for uploading and downloading. Asymmetric has different upload and download speeds, but they are the same with Symmetric. In ADSL, the download speed is several times faster than the upload speed, which makes it more practical for most uses, e.g. viewing internet pages.

An analogy is to think of a major road going into a town or city with a total of 10 lanes; 4 active traffic lanes and a hard shoulder each way. Most people will be going in during the morning and out in the evening, so having the same number of lanes means there will be traffic jams during the morning and again in the evening when commuters leave. If you could have an uneven number of lanes in the morning and evening then you could reduce the jams, i.e. by having more lanes going in during the morning and more coming out in the evening.

ADSL is like having this uneven number of lanes - but only in one direction. So great when everyone is going the same way but not if you need both directions. ADSL is fine for ordinary usage such as the internet at home (mainly downloading) but not so good if you have to upload data to a server frequently, such as you might do with remote workers or a cloud computing arrangement.

So organisations using cloud computing services for vital operations would need an SDSL line but ADSL is fine when there is less need for speed and capacity. SDSL is more expensive which is why ADSL is usually the default option unless requirements indicate otherwise.

There is also a third route – bonded ADSL. This involves merging two ADSL lines together which provides some additional capacity but doesn’t offer the same apparent speed as an SDSL line.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Switch Skype off When Not in Use

Is Skype Slowing Down Your Broadband & Computer Power?
Skype can be a really useful way to communicate but it can also slow down your broadband and computing power. Even if you sign out, it will still be running in the background. You might not be able to make calls, but it can still act as a drain.

How do you know if this is happening to you? Follow these simple steps, using the images as a guide:
  • Press Alt-Ctrl-Delete together to display the Task Manager.
    Open the Task Manager.
  • When the Task Manager opens, select the Processes tab. 
    Select the Processes Tab on the Task Manager.
  • This will display a list of all the active programs currently using your computer. Look for the one called Skype.exe as shown in the image. If there is a figure in the ‘Mem Usage’ column then it is using computing and broadband capacity.
    Is Skype.exe displayed?
  • The way to prevent this is to close Skype down from the System Tray after you sign out.
    Right Click the Mouse & select Quit to close the application.
The System Tray is normally in the bottom right hand corner of your screen and if it has the Skype logo as shown then it is still active in the background, even if you have signed out. If you click on the logo with your right mouse button it will provide a menu from which you can select Quit (as shown).

If you select Quit then Skype will close down completely and stop using processing power in the background. You can check this by displaying the Task Manager again and checking under the Processes Tab that Skype.exe is no longer shown.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Alternative Methods of Delivering IT Services

Ensure you choose the right type of IT support for your company.
Ensure you choose the right
type of IT support for your company.
There are two broad approaches to providing IT support and services; Managed Services and 3rd-Party Access.

Managed IT services means that all IT and related services (such as computers, servers, printers, telephony, broadband, website hosting and so on), is supplied and supported by one provider. This can simplify the perception of support as there is only one company to contact for anything IT-related.

Delivery of Managed IT support normally means that the provider will subcontract some or all the services you require to 3rd-parties and then re-sell them under their own name.  You have no access to the company actually providing the support.

The alternative, 3rd-Party Access, is where the contract lies between you and the supplier, such as the broadband or telephony company, but where an IT support company manages it on your behalf.

Managed IT services have their place and we can provide them. But we generally recommend the 3rd-Party Access model because it gives you greater control and transparency, plus it allows the most appropriate supplier and equipment for your individual needs to be used.

A managed services contract means committing yourself to one provider and there are likely to be a multitude of Service Level Agreements between them and their suppliers, any of which can affect your IT.

If you want to know more about the differences and relative advantages of each approach, we've written about the differences in more detail on our website in the article Different IT Support Methods.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Is Your Broadband too Slow?

Follow the tips to speed up your broadband
Follow the tips to
speed up your broadband.
It can feel very frustrating when your broadband isn't performing as fast as you would like. We all want it to be super-quick, so here’s some tips to help you make the most of it.

First of all, you can find out how fast your broadband actually is using this link This is particularly useful if you are trying to speed it up using any of the techniques given in this article as you can do a ‘before and after ‘test.

Check your router

Your router will dictate how fast you can connect to the internet. Even with superfast broadband, if your router isn’t up to the job you won’t be getting the fastest you can. Ensure it has sufficient capacity for what you need it for and buy the highest quality you can afford for the capacity you need.

Your router will also deteriorate over time and require ‘firmware updates’ as broadband technology improves, so if it seems to be running slow, you may need a new one. You can check the speed it is operating at via the link above. If the speed you are getting is less than your broadband provider tells you that you should be getting, it might be time to replace the router.

Give the router a rest

Routers use a piece of computing technology called Error Checking Codes (ECC). These are great for speeding up processing tasks and preventing data corruption, but they can slow equipment down if not given a chance to reset and recharge. Routers use ECC so should be switched off periodically for 15 minutes. When it restarts it will have reset the ECC and be back to operating normally again.

If your router is used constantly all day every day, a useful good practise is to connect it to a timer that automatically switches it off in the middle of the night for 15 minutes then back on again. A standard timer that you might use for the lights in your house is sufficient for this. When everyone returns to work the next day, all internet connections should be faster.

Check what’s running in the background

You can think of broadband like a pipe in that only a certain amount can go down it at any one time. If it isn't full, it’s fast. But the fuller and more blocked it gets, the slower it will be.

Check what programs are
running in the background.
One computing equivalent of a pipe-blocker is programs that use the internet to check for updates in the background whilst you are using your computer. Many programs have auto-update facilities checking to see if there are any updates needed, such as Adobe or Java. In additions, programs such as Skype run in the background unless they are actively switched off. Check the system tray to see if the Skype icon is there. If it is but you’re not using it, it will be using your broadband in the background. 

Check for malware and viruses

Anything of this nature will compromise the performance of your equipment, so make sure you scan regularly to remove anything that shouldn’t be there.

As ever, if you need help with anything, talk to us or another reputable IT support company.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Is Your Software Legal?

How legal is your software?
If not, an organisation called The Software Alliance (BSA) may be contacting you.

The BSA is a trade group representing the rights of major software providers such as Microsoft, Apple, McAfee and Adobe. One of their tasks involves finding companies that do not have the correct licensing for their software.

There are two significant points to take into account about this. The first is that many software products, such as those provided by Microsoft, aren't actually purchased by you, they are licensed. This gives the software owner certain rights, such as ownership and tracking.

Secondly, the license is only legal if purchased from a licensed official reseller. So if you bought a copy of Microsoft Office from Ebay for example, it might not be legal. The same could happen if you purchased or used a computer with software already on it (such as second-hand or a company device that had a previous user) as you might not know where the software originally came from.

You may also find yourself in possession of illegal software if you have lost the product key or if end-users are able to install their own software without appropriate checks and authorisation.

A BSA investigation will mean you receive a spreadsheet of data held on you that you are then asked to check. This is where the licensing of software comes in because that’s how the providers know what you have.

If everything is legitimate and legal, then you will be fine but still have to go through the checking process. If you don’t respond or anything is found, they can take legal action against you for software piracy and theft on behalf of the software providers.

There are two ways to ensure that you stay on the right side of the law.

  1. Only buy software from official licensed resellers.
  2. If there is a chance that you may have software which might not be entirely legitimate, conduct a software audit. Microsoft provide a free tool that will help you do this, but it will also capture data on everything your computer does. Unless you trust Microsoft implicitly, we suggest purchasing software to do the audit that doesn’t involve sending data electronically to Microsoft.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Are you an Involuntary IT Manager?

Is it time to evaluate your IT Support?
The phrase ‘Involuntary IT Manager’ refers to an employee responsible for delivering IT Support in an organisation, but who is not an IT expert and who has to do it alongside their other duties. Having such an employee is a common way to cut costs and keep control in-house, but a recent survey by Microsoft has highlighted some of the dangers of the approach.

In summary, the Microsoft/AMI-Partners report estimates that it costs small businesses a whopping $24 billion a year globally in wasted productivity. Every minute an employee spends trying to fix or resolve an IT issue is time that they are not spending doing the job they are paid to do. 

In addition, the survey also found that:
  • 36% of those surveyed think IT is a nuisance,
  • 26% do not feel qualified to deal with IT,
  • 60% want to simplify their IT to reduce the difficulty of managing it on a day-to-day basis.

Taken together, this means there will be a big impact on their motivation and ability to address IT issues. Given that IT is such an important part of any business, the message is clear; using an involuntary IT Manager, or IITM for short, is detrimental to any business.

The Microsoft report was commissioned to support the development of cloud computing but we see it as a bigger issue; ineffective and wasteful IT support. From our perspective it’s not about whether you use a cloud or traditional solution, it’s about making sure the IT support you have is effective and appropriate for your needs.

As Peter King, the Director of SMB Hosting and Cloud Services at Microsoft says, “While many small businesses see dedicating IT support to an existing member of staff as a way of saving money the truth is they are actually stifling their business. As the research shows, IITMs are less productive and this can have detrimental effects on sales and revenue.”

Regardless of whether it’s a cloud or traditional set-up, you need the expertise, motivation and experience to deliver the support you need. It is unlikely that this can be delivered by someone ‘doing IT’ on a part-time basis alongside their other job, they need to be a dedicated professional. We first wrote about this back in March 2012 in Employees in an IT Support Role – maybe the world is starting to catch up with us!

Friday, 24 May 2013

New Business Continuity Solution - Storagecraft

Ensure you have a plan
in the event of an emergency
Regular readers of this blog will be aware of the importance we place on business continuity and disaster recovery for our clients. We’ve already produced a number of articles on the topic, to find out more visit What is Disaster Planning & Business Continuity? and How to Help your Business Survive Disasters.

We’ve recently partnered with an additional provider of solutions called Storagecraft. The beauty of the Storagecraft product suite is that it can restore servers and workstations in minutes, rather than hours or days. If providing a seamless service is important for your business whilst you recover after a disaster, Storagecraft is worth looking at.

With all disaster recovery and business continuity systems, the secret lies in prior planning. You can’t implement these approaches after the disaster has struck, you need to have planned and arranged it in advance. Then, when you need it, the recovery can be activated. Systems such as those provided by Storagecraft mirror your existing equipment so that they can be switched on quickly and reduce your downtime.

They can’t replicate the data saved on your systems, but they can ensure that your business doesn’t cease whilst you wait on replacement equipment. You don’t have to wait until after purchase, delivery and installation before you get up and running again, you simply switch over to the mirrored system and carry on whilst you get replacement equipment.

You’ll still need to replace any data you’ve lost (which will have required a robust off-site back-up routine), but at least you can get moving quickly again. It has been suggested that 70-80% of businesses cease trading within 18-24 months of a major disaster incident, so it’s worth spending some time considering how you might deal with the situation.

For examples of how Storagecraft have helped businesses like you, read their Case Studies.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Reducing the Pain of Switching Broadband or Hosting Provider

Before Making A Switch Ensure
You Know What You're Getting
Moving to an alternative website hosting company or broadband provider is a serious proposition. We explored some of the pitfalls in doing so in our last posting Thinking of Switching Hosting or Broadband Provider? and in the article Changing Premises and Suppliers. Here, we want to explore some of the techniques you can use to potentially mitigate the effects.

Start early. We can’t emphasise this enough. Setting up alternative arrangements and ensuring a smooth transition will take longer than you expect and could cost, so start considering the implications before you make the decision to change, rather than afterwards.

Do a complete back-up before the process starts. Then, if anything goes wrong or there are problems restoring the systems, you have a ready-made status quo to return to.

Consider implementing disaster planning and business continuity initiatives in advance. Techniques such as Virtualisation and Mirrored Servers ensure you can carry on in the event of a disaster and they can also get you up and running quicker afterwards. They can also be very useful in helping with a move such as this. These were explored further in What is Disaster Planning & Business Continuity? and How to help your business survive disasters.

Creating a Checklist Can Help
The Transition Run Smoothly
Create an alternative internet access system. You might need to use a Wi-Fi system or be temporarily located elsewhere whilst the changeover takes place.

Use cloud computing facilities. If visualisation and mirroring techniques are outside your budget, the cloud may provide a viable alternative through tools such as Google Documents, Google Calendar and Gmail or other web-based systems. You will need to ensure you have an alternative means of accessing the internet to use these systems and you may want to tell those with whom you communicate regularly to use a different email address during the period. You can read more about cloud computing in Introduction to Cloud Computing.

Consider email continuity. This system creates, in effect, an ongoing copy of your emails which can be activated automatically in the event of your email system crashing. If set up in advance, and used alongside an alternative internet access method, it can help to ensure that you retain access to emails whilst the changeover is taking place.

Using some or all of these techniques together can help to reduce the inevitable impact of switching providers. As ever, our advice is to take the advice of a competent and experienced IT support company before making the decision to switch, so you can be both knowledgeable and fully prepared beforehand.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Thinking of Switching Hosting or Broadband Provider?

Plan Ahead When Considering
Changing Hosting Provider
A natural reaction when organisations want to reduce costs is to look at changing their service providers. We wrote about this in more detail in Changing Premises and Suppliers.
We wanted to highlight some specific issues with changing broadband provider and website hosting companies. As these are both competitive markets, we’re seeing more and more organisations wanting to do it. It’s not always cost that drives organisations to switch, sometimes it's additional facilities or services. But regardless of the reason, the pitfalls to be aware of are the same and include the points given below.

Loss of internet access. If you change broadband provider, you’ll not be able to use the internet for several days, so no emails, websites or web-enabled applications unless you set up a separate means of access such as Wi-Fi.

If you use any cloud-based applications, you’ll also lose them. So if you have Google Documents, Googlemail, remote off-site back-ups or specific cloud-based software, you’ll lose access during the handover period.

Loss of website and emails. If you’re changing the organisation who hosts your website or provide your email adresses, you’ll also lose your emails and company website during the handover period. We don’t mean you won’t be able to access websites in general – you can do that if you have an alternative arrangement such as Wi-Fi. We mean that your customers can’t access your website, which could be disastrous for sales and service.

It also means that you won’t get your emails. It doesn’t mean they will be held in a server somewhere and you can access them when the system comes back on, it means they are lost forever with no way to get them back. You’ll never get them.

Changing hosting company or broadband provider is a serious proposition. We’re not saying don’t do it, there might be very good reasons why you want or need to. But you do need to plan it carefully in advance. In our blog posting next month - Reducing the Pain of Switching Broadband or Hosting Provider, we’ll highlight some of the techniques you can consider to mitigate the effects experienced the handover period.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Seamless Mobile Working

IT Solutions for
Mobile Working
Many companies have an IT network based in the office but also have employees who often need to work away from the office. Whilst they might have mobile phones and tablets that enable them to work wherever required, there are a number of aspects that need to be considered, including:

  • Back-ups. Anything done on a laptop, netbook, tablet or mobile will not be backed-up unless you specifically do it – it’s not automatic in the way it might be in the office. So anything done on a device will be gone forever if you lose or damage it, unless you have consciously and specifically performed a back-up.
  • Sharing. Items stored on a server or computer at the office cannot be accessed via a remote device – unless you specifically make an arrangement to be able to access it. It can get very messy and annoying trying to access the documents you want.
  • Accessing company-wide systems. You might have a system or software used across the organisation, such as email, calendars or a specific application. Unless you integrate your mobile and IT systems the two will remain separate, meaning you can’t access the company calendar or the essential software you need when out of the office .
  • Business continuity and disaster planning. If something happens and staff can’t get into the office, perhaps because of weather disruption due to snow and ice for example, they might be able to work from home or another location - but only if you have set up the arrangements in advance for them to do so. It’s often too late to create this ability after the event has happened. We have created some useful articles to help you understand more about the alternative ways of doing this which you can access at What is Disaster Planning & Business Continuity? and An Introduction to Remote Working.

None of these issues are insurmountable though, and a good IT support company will be able to advise on the best solutions for your organisation and its circumstances. With the growth in mobile devices and remote working, we would suggest ensuring your IT company has suitable experience in integrating mobile and IT systems, otherwise you might find yourself dealing with multiple organisations and incompatible systems.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Watch YOUR TV Anywhere

Use Your Home Sky Box
To Connect To External Devices
Have you ever been frustrated when staying in a hotel overnight or on holiday and unable to watch your recorded programmes from Sky+? Watching the hotel’s Freeview channels or paying for the movies just doesn’t cut it, not when the big game is available via your Sky channels – at home.

Slingbox is a solution to this. It’s a device that plugs into your home TV device, such as your Sky+ box, which then makes it available via external devices, such as smartphones, netbooks and the like, as well as desktops.

It has two variations:
  • Solo, which is the standard product,
  • Pro-HD, if you have a high-definition device at home.

You’ll also need SlingPlayer Mobile to watch your TV on your smartphone or tablet.
Prices and ordering are available from their website  

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Transferring Notes from an iPad or iPhone to Your Computer

The problem with remote working is that you’re not always connected to your server. So important notes can get left on your remote device rather than transferred to your desktop PC, unless you retype it.

One organisational-wide solution is SafeSync which we wrote about in a recent blog posting Sharing & Backing Up Across Multiple Devices. But if you have the Notes App on your iPad or iPhone, there is another solution which isn’t dependent on your organisation having something such as SafeSync.

This video tutorial demonstrates how it’s done, in simple, step-by-step fashion with screen shots and instructions.

Uploaded to YouTube by iTechTutorialVideos.