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Archive for July 2010

Business Continuity - Can your business survive the Winter?Business Continuity, Is your business disaster proof?

Do we really need Business Continuity for Small Businesses? The snow and general bad weather, at the beginning of the year in the UK, meant that many people were unable to get into work for a while. Did you loose business as a result of the weather because you weren’t able to get the phones answered, you weren’t able to deal with email or were unable to get into the office for a while?

Whilst, for the UK at least, the weather conditions were unusual there are several other problems that can cause similar problems for your business. Most people think of the major disasters, like flood or fire but what about a power cut or your ADSL line being down.

There is no reason why you should loose business as with the technology available today you can have access to email, your phone system and even your PC in the office from almost anywhere that has Internet connectivity. So how can we provide Business Continuity for Small Businesses?

What does a Small Business Continuity Solution need to provide?

How does a Business Continuity solution work and what are the minimum services that it needs to provide? Think about the way that you do business on a day to day basis, do you recieve a lot of phone calls, is most of your customer communication via email?

Make sure that your primary ways of doing business are covered, typically the immediate concern is managing existing customers and prospects – i.e. Can we continue to ‘Do Business’ ?

So for 90% of Small Companies that is:-

  • Send and receive email
  • Answering the Phones
  • Generate Invoices

Below are some of the methods that you can use to make sure that you have a business which can survive a disaster and have a viable Business Continuity plan in place.

email access methods

Webmail

If you have a laptop, or webmail access, you have probably been able to keep up with your business email, even if you haven’t been able to get into the office. One of the big advantages of email systems is that, typically, you can get access to them from anywhere that you can get an Internet connection. That is certainly true of things like Hotmail, Googlemail or Exchange Online, where all you need is a web browser.

Most companies that use Microsoft Exchange, or Small Business Server (SBS), will also provide webmail access through Outlook Web Access (OWA). OWA allows you to send email and read your company email from any web browser, you can also look at your calendar etc, just as though you were using Outlook in the office. If you don’t have access to any form of company webmail then its worth talking with your IT department to see if they will set provide you access to OWA.

Mobile devices

If you have a Blackberry, iPhone or Windows Mobile device (SmartPhones) then you can probably get access to your company email on that. In most cases it is a relatively simple task to configure SmartPhones to work via your Exchange Server and to send and receive your company email.

Don’t forget that if you send email via OWA or your SmartPhone and its going via your Exchange server then you will have a copy saved in your sent mail items and, if your signatures are applied on the server, then your email will get all of the correct footers, branding etc. that it would have if you sent if from your desktop machine in the office.

Hosted Exchange

Hosted Exchange is now a scalable, cost effective solution especially for Small Businesses. Microsoft have entered the hosted market and offer Exchange Online, either on its own or as part of its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).

In the UK you can get Microsoft BPOS for £6.71 a month, per user or just Exchange Online for £3.36 a month, per user. There is a minimum number of 5 users.

BPOS is a great way of providing a low cost, scalable, robust, enterprise grade, Business Continuity solution for small businesses.

Business Continuity and Phone Systems

If you use a hosted VoIP phone system, then you can easily make and receive calls from anywhere that you have an Internet connection. These calls will appear to come from the office number and will get billed to the office rather than your home phone number. So in the bad weather you can work from home and appear to be in the office. Even if the power is out in your office using a hosted VoIP solution means that your calls will still get delivered, as all of the redirection is carried out in the hosted PBX. If you have a softphone on your PC then the calls don’t even need to get redirected they just get delivered to your softphone.

If you don’t have Internet connectivity then its simple enough to make a phone call and get your calls re-directed to your mobile phone or home phone. There is no need not to be able to receive the office phone calls even if no-one can get into the office to answer the phone.

You can even use the Hosted VoIP solution to make sure that all of your calls still appear to originate from the office number, even if you are using your mobile to make the calls. What happens in practice is that our Hosted PBX calls your mobile, then dials the number you want to talk to – as soon as they answer the calls are connected. Its really simple to configure, in just 2 mouse clicks and is included in your base cost.

Call Me Now

Click to call meClick on the Call Me Icon, on the left, and enter your phone number and we will call you right back to discuss your requirements. Call Me is a standard part of the Voiplicity phone system, so is something that you will be able to do on your website with just a few mouse clicks.

So we can provide Business Continuity for your phone system, from anywhere with Internet access.

Off-Site Backup

As part of a Business Continuity plan we to need to consider what you would do if the office was destroyed. If you have gone done the route of Hosted Email and VoIP then you will probably be able to continue to ‘do business’, but what about all of your company records, customer details, contracts etc? How are you going to be able to access that information if the office no longer exists?

Data Backup

You should have off-site copies of your computer backups, after all there is no point in keeping your backup copy next to the server. At a minimum the daily backups should be held off site in a secure location. That could mean taking the daily tape home and keeping it safe, or using of of the many Online Backup services.

Online Backup

An Online Backup, or Hosted Backup, service will continually take copies of your data and ship it to a secure data center. Depending on the service you subscribe to this could be a continuous backup, or scheduled on a daily basis.

Most of the services allow for a local copy of the data and the off site copy. The local copy allows you to quickly restore files in the event someone accidentally deletes a file. The off-site, or hosted copies, are for disaster recovery / Business Continuity in case the office gets destroyed.

Hosted Services

If you use Microsoft BPOS, Google Apps, or any of the other hosted services then your data is held in a secure data center. It will actually be held in multiple geo located data centers, so your data is secure. In this case you can continue to work and not need to worry about your data. You also have access to your applications from anywhere in addition to having a copy of your data.

One thing about Hosted Service and Online backup services, make sure that you select a vendor who will host your data in your country, or legislative area. The reason for this is that not all countries have the same approach to Data Security and Data Protection, so you want your data where it is covered by the same data protection laws as your business.

Remote PC Access

You can also use systems like LogMeIn, GoToMyPC or the functionality built into Remote Management Systems like SystemAssure that will let you access your office PC from a web browser. Typically this type of application will let you print on your local, home, printer and also copy files and documents between your office PC and your home PC. If you are a BPOS user you wouldn’t even need access to your Office PC, as all of you data will be stored within the SharePoint Online section of BPOS.

So whatever the weather, if its snow, floods or even if you want to sunbath in the back garden rather than go into the office there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do everything that you can do from the office. You can either do this will a combination of different applications that you put together yourself or let SystemAssure take the strain and do the work for you.

Business Continuity For Small Businesses

Yes it is entirely possible to provide your small business with a cost effective Business Continuity solution. By doing this properly you also increase the scalability of your business and also remove the need to ‘step’ investments in hardware as your business grows.

Planning Business Continuity for Small Businesses from day one can dramatically reduce your need for capital investment and also give you flexibility in work practices.

Need Assistance with Business Continuity planning?

If you would like assistance in designing and  implementing a Business Continuity plan for your small business then please contact me through the SystemAssure Website.

Do you still Make Conference Calls?

Most business still have a requirement to have occasional conference calls, where you need to bring 2 or more people together in the same phone call. If you suddenly find you need to hold a conferencecall you can do so at a moment with Powwownow. Even if you hold regular conference calls Powwownow is a very cost effective way for businesses, small or large, to hold conference calls 

Phone Conference Calls

Powwownow (www.powwownow.co.uk) provide a ‘pay as you’ use system which anyone can use. Everyone in the call pays for their own part of the conference, through their phone bill. Powwownow provide 3 levels of service:-

  • Open Access
  • Enhanced Access
  • Premium Access

Open Access: you simple generate a PIN for you call. Let everyone know the PIN, Time of the Call and the Powwownow number. Its that simple.

Enhanced Access: offers great extra features all for free! Register a few details and receive the following benefits:

  • Low-cost call rate of 4.3p/min+VAT
  • Your very own personalised PIN
  • A dedicated dial-in number 0844 4 73 73 73
  • Low-cost international dial-in access
  • Free web conferencing with Showtime
  • Free scheduler tool to invite participants

Premium Access: features include:

  • Choice of dial-in number and rate (0844, 0800, 0207)
  • Unlimited conference calling
  • Free web conferencing with Showtime
  • Secure call recording at the push of a button
  • Real-time reporting for all your calls
  • Branded welcome message to greet call participants
  • Unlimited chairperson and participant PINs
  • Conference calls accessible from any location with no booking
  • Free scheduler – an easy way to invite callers
  • International access from over 100 countries

Web Conferencing and Desktop Sharing

If you need to show other people a presentation during the call they offer a web conferencing product, Showtime, you can show your desktop and demonstrate an application.

Free Online Storage

Skydrive - Free online StorageIts not often that you are offered something for nothing, but that is what Microsoft have done with their Windows Live SkyDrive.

They are giving you 25GB of free disk space to store files, pictures etc. You can keep files private or share them.

You can get your own SkyDrive by going to http://windowslive.com/online/skydrive and signing in, if you have a Windows Live account. If you use Windows Messenger you already have a Windows Live account, so you can just start saving files to your SkyDrive.

Free Online Storage for Travelers

If you are traveling on business and want to make sure that you have copies of important documents, save a copy from your laptop to your SkyDrive. That way even if your laptop is damaged whilst you are traveling you will still be able to access those important documents. Its also safer than leaving a copy of your documents lying around on a USB drive, which anyone could get at.

So get your 25GB of Free Online Storage with the Microsoft SkyDrive today.

Does your Business Ban Access to Facebook & other Social Networks? 

Do you let your business users have unrestricted access to the Internet and social networks during the working day? Do you know if they are spending their time surfing the ‘net or on Facebook, or any of the other social networking sites, when they should be working?

Why would you ban Facebook and Social Networks at work?

Facebook and social networksThis is a difficult business decision, get it wrong and you either; loose the trust and respect of your employees or have your employees spending too much time on the Internet during the working day. Some of this will depend on what your business does and whether the information from the social networking sites is relevant to the way that you do business, take a look at our blog on Xobni and social networking.

Really you have a couple of choices:-

  1. Ban access to social networks altogether during business hours.
  2. Only allow access to social networks during lunch hour.
  3. Allow your employees unrestricted access to social networks, but monitor the usage. 

Option 1 is going to alienate a lot of people and human nature says that people will find other ways of accessing social networks, such as using mobile phones etc. So this is probably a self defeating policy.

Option 2 may work but you then need to know when everyone is going to be on a break and have to implement a service which will allow you to give different users access to different sites at different times of day. This will probably be complex to manage and will cost some money to implement.

Option 3 is the most sensible approach, however if you are going to monitor your employees usage of the Internet you need to tell your employees in advance. Form a legal perspective and good HR practice point of view you will need an ‘Acceptable Usage’ Policy that states when they can use social networking and what is excessive usage and you will need to inform your employees that the company is monitoring Internet usage.

So should you ban access to facebook and other social networks?

In most businesses there is no practical value in banning access to social networks.

If you must do something than option 3 is really the best way, can be implemented at very little cost and is a good compromise. It shows that you are a reasonable employer, that you allow your employees flexibility, but also that you are keeping an eye on overall usage of social networks and will intervene should people start to take advantage.

Looking for Specialist Computer Books?

If you are looking for Specialist Computer Books, or Training Manuals and courses then most people will tend to start with Amazon. For books this is a good place to start, but they won’t necessarily have the specific book or be able to offer the online course you are looking for.

Office 2010 - Specialist Computer BooksIf you are looking for the latest book on Microsoft Office, or some of the Enterprise Server products then you may need to look further than just Amazon. AKCSL have teamed up with Computer Bookshops to provide an online resource dedicated to providing specialist computer books, online training courses and CBT (Computer Based Training).

We can provide training books for all computer disciplines cover home users and computer professionals for Microsoft, Linux, Cisco etc. So whether you are looking for a product primer, background information in a topic, Microsoft Official Curriculum, the latest on Office 2010, Online Training Courses or a Certification Training we have the solution for you.

Discount Prices

All of the Specialist Computer Books, Training and Manuals, along with the online courses are available at a discount. Generally at least as good as those offered by Amazon, sometimes more. We even provide the online training at a discount, so why not take a look.

Specialist Computer Books

Whether you are looking for the latest training on Windows 7, Office 2010, Windows 2008 R2, or the System Center Suite, you can find the range of the best computer books and Microsoft Official Online training courses at http://akcsl.cblearningdirect.com

Send Large Files to Customers

Just imagine the situation, you have just finished preparing a PowerPoint presentation and you want to send a copy to one of your clients. So you zip the presentation up and email to your customer, along with a message telling them that they need to unzip it.

A couple of minutes later you find the message in your inbox, along with a message from the clients email system stating that they don’t accept large emails. Now what are you going to do! You promised the client that you were going to email them the information and now you can’t get it to them.

Why does this happen?

Lots of companies set file size limits on email, so that their system doesn’t get clogged up with large files being sent back and forwards. Exchange allows you to set several different limits, a default maximum send size, a default maximum recieve size and then override sizes for specific people – like the MD. So how are we going to get round the problem?

What are the different ways of getting round the problem?

  1. We could just increase the maximum file size that we can send, that should work. – As you can see from this case we were able to send the email, it was the clients system that rejected the email due to a policy set by their System Administrator.
  2. We could copy the presentation to CD and pop it in the post. – Not a very quick solution nor a particularly Green solution, but it would work.
  3. We could use a service like ‘YouSendIt’ www.yousendit.com

YouSendIt

YouSendIt is designed specifically so people can send large files to customers. YouSendIt has  couple of different services with different costs varying from Free to $30.00 a month.

  • Lite – Basically a free option for occasional use – max file size of 100MB
  • Pro – $10.00 a month with a max file size of 2GB per download
  • Business Plus – $30.00 a month same sizes as Pro but designed for teams of users.

The full details are on the YouSendIt website.

They even have plug-ins for Outlook, so that if you try to attached a file greater than a specific size it will automatically upload the file to your YouSendIT account and put the download link in the email, so you don’t have to think about it or change the way that you work. https://www.yousendit.com/outlook-plugin 

How YouSendIT enables you to Send Large Files

Send Large Files with YouSendIt

1Easily select and send your large file, or document, quickly and easily by uploading it through a web browser, from your desktop or right from within your favorite application such as Microsoft Outlook. If you use the Outlook integration, then even if you ‘attach’ the file to your email it will actually be sent via YouSendIt 

2The YouSendIT system store your file(s) securely on the YouSendIT servers and then sends an email to your recipients containing a YouSendIt link for them to click on and quickly and easily download the file.

3Your recipient receives the email notification, clicks on the link in the email and downloads the file. Done!

Green Business

Help to make your business a Greener, more efficient, Business by cutting out the need for Couriers, CD’s etc. By using a service like YouSendIT to send large files and documents you can also improve the turn around time to customers as well as saving money and reducing the Carbon Foot print of your business.

Website Analytics

Google offer Free website tools which help you find out how to optimise your website to improve visitor traffic. If you have a website you should be measuring the number of visitors that your site receives, how they found your website and also how long visitors stay on your site. Knowing something about your site visitors and their activity allows you to work out the best ways of improving your site.

Free Website Tools from Google

Google provide Free Website Tools which enable you to monitor the site visitors and also tell you if there are problems with the site. These tools are:-

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Webmaster Tools

Google Analytics

You can sign up for a Free Google Analytics account, so you can see how many people visit your website and how they found out about your site at https://www.google.com/analytics/reporting/

Free Website Tools from GoogleGoogle Analytics shows information about the number of visitors, where the traffic comes from, how long people stay on the site etc.

It also provides information on how people found your website, if they came direct to your site, if they came via a Search Engine and if so which search phrases they used.

Using the Free Website Tools from Google you can see the trends of when people visit your site and how long they stay on the site.  You also get information on the entry and exit pages and what route they take to navigate your website. All of this information helps you to work out if your website is properly designed and whether it makes it easy for people to do business with you over the Internet.

Don’t forget to regularly check on your website statistics so that you can see what needs to be done to improve things on your site.

 

Free Website Tools from Google

Free Website Tools from Google

Google Analytics is a great tool for looking at the traffic your site generates. It provides detailed insight into the visitors and their use of your website.

Even if your website is a WordPress site, and you are using the Free WordPress.com stats facility the more in depth analytics provided by Google is well worth the investment in time.

The information gained from using the free website tools from Google can help you to improve your website, gain more visitors and turn them into customers..

Get A Free Website Monitor Right Now?

SystemAssure Google Search ResultsMost companies spend a lot of time, money and effort making sure that their website content is correct. That the site is attractive and will engage visitors.

They might even have spent money on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to make sure that their site comes out near the top for people searching with Google, Bing etc.

However if when your, potential, customer clicks on the link in Google to go to your site they get an error message, or the site just doesn’t display then all of the money spent on getting people to the point of ‘clicking’ is totally wasted. If your site is not available they have no means of contacting you and will simply click on the next available link.

How can you make sure your website is working?

There are lots of tools available which can provide different levels of website monitoring, all at different prices, which provide different services. SystemAssure automatically includes basic connectivity and availability monitoring for up-to 5 websites. We check the connectivity every 2 minutes from several different locations. If you sign up for SystemAssure monitoring for a server we include the website health and availability monitoring for up-to 5 websites for free.

Free Website Monitor

If you want a Free website monitor, simply go to the SystemAssure site and follow the instructions at the base of the WebSite Health Page. The Free Website Monitor will test the availability of one website every 10 minutes. If the site isn’t available then we will send you an email, so you know about the problem before your customers.

Why you should run disk defrag

When you first buy a PC it seems nice and fast, everything happens so quickly. Then over a period of time it seems to start to get slower and slower. Why is that?

Disk Fragmentation

Part of the answer is disk fragmentation. When you first get your PC the disk is nice and clean and ordered, then you start using it to browse the web, download files, install software, write documents etc.

Each time you use your PC files get written to the disk and then, generally, deleted when you close the files. Web browsers ‘cache’ images in case they are used again on the site, this is done to improve the performance of the pages so that the web browser doesn’t have to download the same image multiple times.

As the files get written and delete and new files get written again they don’t always fit neatly on your disk, so they start to leave spaces. The next time a file is written it tries to fill in the spaces. If the file is larger than the space then part of the file is written in the space and the rest of it is written in another space – so that file is now fragmented. The larger a file is the greater the chance that it will become fragmented. That is why you should run a Disk Defrag on a regular basis, to keep your computer working at its optimum and as fast as when it was new.

How do I know I need a Disk Defrag?

In the example here the black colour is the free, or empty, space on the disk.

Disk Defrag to improve performanceBlack: empty
Green: regular files, un-fragmented
Dark green: spacehogs, un-fragmented
Yellow: fragmented
Red: unmovable
White: busy
Pink: MFT reserved zone (NTFS only)
Gray: in use by unknown data

So you can see that not all of the free space is in a nice contiguous area, it is spread through the disk. There are also some files, in yellow, which are fragmented and need to be de-fragmented to improve performance.

The reason that fragmented files slow your computer down is to do with the way that disk drives work and how they access their data. If you have a loose leaf file with 50 sheets of paper in it that are in sequential order its very easy to read through the document. If however the pages are all out of order it takes you much longer to read the document, as you need to keep moving backwards and forwards through the file. This is exactly what happens when a file on your computer is fragmented, so it takes the disk longer to read all of the data and assemble it for you. The same is true when the file is saved if the disk has to keep stuffing little bits of the file into small spaces and remember where it has put everything.

How to run a Disk Defrag

Disk Defrag on Workstations & Laptops

Windows XP, Windows 7  & Vista have defragmentation programs built into them. On an XP machine you have to run the program manually, on Vista or Windows 7 it will schedule itself to run every so often.  The problem is that on most office systems the schedule will probably be due to take place outside office hours, when the machine is turned off.  You should de-fragment your disks on a regular basis. How often you should de-fragment your disk depends on how much you use your computer and how full the disks are. For most people every month will be sufficient, if you have a lot of files changing on your computer with downloads etc then you may want to do this more frequently.

Disk Defrag on Servers

Servers suffer from Disk Fragmentation in the same way that workstations do. In some ways its worse on servers as they tend to be file repositories for lots of users. The problem here is that Microsoft doesn’t make it simple to schedule a disk defrag on a server, so in most cases you need to use an external utility to do this. Also files cannot be defragmented when they are open, so if you runs a Database or Mail Server you will need to stop these applications to be able to fully defragment your disks. Most of the Managed Service Providers, or IT Outsourcers can automate this process for you so that these tasks take place outside business hours.

Defrag Utilities

A couple of good Free Disk Defrag utilities are:-

MyDefrag to Defrag DisksMyDefragwww.myDefrag.com works on XP, Vista, Windows7 and the Windows Server range. This includes everything from Windows 2000 through to Windows 2008. MyDefrag was previously known as JKDefrag,

MyDefrag is written by the same person who wrote the original JKDefrag..

Defraggler to Defrag Disks

Defraggler from Piriform www.piriform.com works on XP, Vista, Windows7 and the Windows Server range. This includes everything from Windows 2000 through to Windows 2008. Piriform produce several other products which help to improve the performance of your computer, the best known of which is cCleaner.

Both MyDefrag and Defraggler are available as free downloads. Make sure that you read and accept the End User License Agreement (EULA), this is true for any software product – even though most people never bother.

Automating the Disk Defrag Process

If you like the idea of having your disk defragmented on a regular basis but don’t feel comfortable doing this then SystemAssure can help to get round this and keep by your computer working at its peak performance creating an automated schedule for your disk to de-fragment. If the computer is powered off we can, in most cases, wake the PC up, de-fragment the disk and then put the computer back to sleep again. If you are running an Exchange Server we can stop Exchange before we defragment the disks and restart it once the defrag is completed. You will also recieve a report on the process.

Find out more about how SystemAssure can automate your disk defrag at www.SystemAssure.co.uk