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Why Windows Small Business Server Doesn’t Work for Small Business October 26, 2006

Posted by selkowitz in Networking, Security, Software.
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When small businesses think of servers, they often think of Windows Small Business Server (SBS) as the natural choice due to their familiarity with Windows desktops. Unfortunately that isn’t necessarily the best choice to provide server functionality.

The first question any small business should ask themselves when looking at a server is what functionality are you seeking? The reality is most small businesses use their servers for a few simple tasks – file storage and sharing, backup, user login authentication, calendar sharing, maybe email (often they use the webhost), and firewall/remote access. Lets look to see if Windows SBS actually fulfills these needs efficiently.

File Storage and Sharing
Windows SBS does a fine job of serving up files, but is lacking in ease of setup. It seems obvious that if you add a user you’d want to give that user straightforward access to their file share, Windows desktop does that by mapping the drive – but Windows SBS doesn’t make that a simple option! The same goes for groups to share data. Making using the server more difficult to the end user leads to people not storing data on the server but rather their desktop – meaning its probably not being backed up.

Backup
Windows SBS backup is largely worthless. I’ll give one simple example – Windows SBS backup can’t even backup Exchange data properly – and Exchange is integrated in the system! Don’t even get me started on SQL, open files, etc. Realistically recovery from a hard drive crash is days of work and thousands of dollars. Of course this can be solved by integrating third party hardware and software, at additional cost.

User Login Authentication
Windows does fine here, Active Directory is certainly complex and overkill, but not too difficult to manage or full of pitfalls.

Calendar Sharing and Email
This falls under the loved and hated Exchange component of SBS. Exchange is both powerful and complex, so much so that some people’s careers are dedicated to just Exchange administration and multiple magazines focus solely on this component. My favorite example of the difficulties of Exchange is the article “My Thirteen Days in Exchange Hell” detailing Outlook Power Magazine’s own experience in restoring their backups after their Exchange server crashed. If a magazine dedicated to Exchange power users can’t prevent or recover from a crash in a timely manner – what chance does an average small business have?

Of course no email system is complete without antivirus and antispam, which of course means more third party integration.

Firewall/Remote Access
Windows SBS Standard doesn’t include a firewall and while Premium does, I wouldn’t recommend trusting any security issue to Windows give the poor security history of the product. In which case if you use a third party hardware firewall, most include great VPN remote access capabilities – so while Windows SBS does include VPN remote access its best left to the firewall.

The Integration Problem
In cases of backup, antivirus and antispam, and firewall you’ll need to integrate third party systems to make everything work – thats where the costs and risks multiply. Third party solutions mean more setup time, more testing time, and a greater risk of conflicts. No longer is Windows SBS an off the shelf solution but instead a do-it-yourself project. Since no one vendor is testing the whole custom package, you end up paying your consultants to do this work.

The Real World
What we see in the real world is most Windows SBS installations have serious problems. In most cases they start out with the best intent, but the project snowballs and gets cut off, because unfortunately few consultants really know how to do Windows SBS right (or quote accurately) and fewer companies know what to expect or desire to pay so much to get it done right.

The often humorous oversights, lack of valuable integration, and overwhelming ability to do things wrong with Windows SBS makes it truly impractical for most small businesses. Windows SBS gives you nearly unlimited ability but at high cost and risk – ultimately limited ability that small businesses truly need in a secure and integrated package is far more desirable.

Q. What is the most reliable and/or easiest to maintain and/or cheapest way to backup the client data on my Mac? October 20, 2006

Posted by selkowitz in Backup, Q and A.
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A. Backups are a tough question no matter the platform. You have to evaluate how much changes each day, how much total storage is needed, how much user interaction you want, how fast a recovery you need, cost, and many other factors.

If you have .Mac service the Backup application that comes with it is great and can do online, CD/DVD and external drive backups.

iBackup (free) is an excellent backup program suitable for backing up to external hard drives.
http://www.grapefruit.ch/iBackup/

Apple’s Leopard (10.5  – coming in the spring) has an integrated backup called Time Machine, which is an automated backup to external hard drive. It has without a doubt the most intuitive interface I’ve ever seen and generally a seemingly good backup strategy.
http://www.apple.com/macosx/leopard/timemachine.html

Lastly Mirra is a backup appliance which can automatically backup your files on multiple machines over the network. It can also sync files between machines.
http://www.selkowitz.com/dept.asp?dept_id=06

Q. How do I burn a CD on a mac so that it can be viewed on a PC? October 19, 2006

Posted by selkowitz in Q and A.
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A. To be honest this comes as a surprise this doesn’t work with Apple’s built in burning – but I never use it to test that out! You need to burn what’s called a Hybrid CD which has both a Mac and PC filesystem (Macs can read PC filesystems, but not vice versa). Burn does a great job of burning a variety of types of disks and is free/OSS.
http://burn-osx.sourceforge.net/

Newsletter – October 2006 October 14, 2006

Posted by selkowitz in Newsletter.
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A few weeks ago I was posed the question of why we have such a diverse product line and why our product line is so different than what you’ll find in stores. I thought it was a great topic for the newsletter, unfortunately I couldn’t figure out how to make it anything but serious, but I promise it won’t happen too often.

How it got started
Years ago we didn’t sell very much equipment, like most computer consulting companies we mostly installed and managed what people bought online or at the computer store. The problem was people often bought the wrong thing or poor quality products and often things didn’t work as well as our clients or I desired. Ultimately if our clients were going to hold us accountable for their systems, we had to pick the equipment.
Is it the consultant or the product?
Technology is often seen as being difficult and unreliable and sometimes that’s definitely the case. The question is why – I think its combination of configuration, consultants, and equipment. We could be greatest consultants on earth, but without the right configurations and equipment the systems we sell and maintain would still be problematic. The right products and setup is vital to good systems – and we can’t depend on Frys, Dell, or CompUSA to offer them.

How we pick products
When we pick a product there are many factors we look at:

  • Availability – we need to know we can reliably and quickly get a product to a client.
  • Ease of setup/use – we know you won’t use it if its too complex and frankly even we prefer simpler installation and management.
  • The right features – having every feature and the kitchen sink just makes systems more difficult and unreliable, we evaluate what features businesses really need and find the product that fulfills those needs best.
  • TCO – total cost of ownership, we look at the cost for the lifetime of the product and even migration to the new system. People look too much at cost of purchase without looking at the installation cost, maintenance, downtime, repairs, and life-span. The lowest TCO usually comes with a moderate purchase price.
  • Warranty – warranties are evaluated both on duration and how they’re fulfilled. For example some companies will run you through hoops and make you wait a week for a replacement unit, while others overnight a replacement no questions asked.

We evaluate these aspects by consulting other people in the industry, reading reviews, studying manuals, talking to the vendor, and even bringing in test units. Needless to say picking a product or vendor does take a fair bit of time, but in the end its worth it. One of the side benefits is our staff knows the systems we sell best – we can configure them blindfolded, we know the little tricks, and we know how to resolve problems quickly. I know we’ll do a better job every time with the equipment we know and trust – what’s why we sell what we sell.

Buy an iPod for AIDS
Apple just released a new red iPod Nano with a portion of the profits going to the Global Fund to help people affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa. Of course I doubt iPods will cure the world’s ills, but hey, every little bit helps and its a nice little bonus. We sell iPods at our Apple Store – we’ve got free engraving and free shipping too!

http://www.selkowitz.com/images/apple/atstore.html
– Kevin Selkowitz

P.S. next month I’m planning a christmahanaquanzika tech gift report. I can’t believe its almost that time again…

What’s Really Involved in Picking and Changing ISPs September 30, 2006

Posted by selkowitz in Networking.
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Hardly any business can survive without internet access, yet as critical as it is most businesses underestimate the complexity of choosing or switching internet service providers (ISPs).

What makes this oftentimes more complex is the companies selling internet service (phone companies and cable TV companies) usually don’t have salespeople that understand computer networks.

Here’s a few issues in picking a provider:

SLA
An SLA or service line agreement is a promise the ISP makes regarding uptime, performance, and repair times. Not all services have SLAs and your company may not need it – but its a consideration. Any service without an SLA is “best effort” and their definition of “best” and “effort” may not be yours.

Support
Support varies incredibly, some companies a large, well trained staff available 24/7 and others will get back to you in a few hours or days. I’ve even had the case where the one guy who could handle hosting issues was out for a week, so email couldn’t get setup! Ask some serious questions here and even call the support line to see if you get a menu, human, or voicemail.

Network
Not all networks are built the same – some have better equipment, better backbones, lower utilization, etc. Even who’s on their network can matter – for example if your business service runs on the same network as residential service you may see slowdowns in the afternoons as kids get home from school.

Features
Issues like dynamic or static IPs, bridged or routed mode, etc are very important and not all providers support all options (or charge excessively for them).

Speed
Speed is the issue most advertised, but while its an issue, its often misrepresented. For example yes, Cable has a much faster theoretical download speed than a T1, but no guarantees. Plus a T1 delivers significantly greater upload speeds which is important for VPNs, mail servers, and any business sending out files. Not to mention the latency issues when running VPNs or RDC.

Once you pick a service and provider, you may need to change quite a bit – and chances are your new ISP won’t help.

Firewall
If you use static IPs, you’ll need to have someone on hand to reconfigure the firewall.

DNS/Hosting
If you’re switching your web hosting to the new ISP, you’ll need to migrate hosting and change DNS settings with your registrar.

MX Records
If you run a mailserver, you’ll need to change your MX records with the webhost to continue to receive mail. Ideally you have both the old and new MX IPs in the DNS during the change to make the change smoother.

Reverse DNS
If you run a mailserver, you’ll also want to request a reverse DNS entry from the ISP to help your mail be properly identified as legit instead of spam.

External Access
If you access the network externally by IP instead of domain name, you’ll need to change all those settings to once again connect. This most likely will affect VPN users.

Its not to say the companies selling internet service are bad for not helping – this is highly complex stuff which varies by each network, making it best left to your own IT staff or consultants. Obviously since we sell phone and internet service we provide this service to our clients often at no charge, but we’re rare in doing this.

How To: Transfer User Profiles to a New Computer September 10, 2006

Posted by selkowitz in How-To.
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Lets say you bought a new Windows PC, here’s the easiest process to switching.

Overview
With the advent of Windows 2000 and XP, each user of the system got a “profile” which contains all their files, settings, emails, favorites, etc. Not long ago we found a way to copy these profiles so setup would take less time as all the user’s stuff would remain the same.

Programs are not transferred in this process, those must be reinstalled by CD/download again. You can try to copy the programs folder, but the programs won’t actually work.

These directions work for Windows 2000 and XP only and will work between them – for example transferring from 2000 to XP or XP Home to Pro. Macs already have an easier and more powerful migration tool built-in.

The Steps:

  1. Setup the new computer and make accounts for any users you want on the machine.
  2. Remove the hard drive from the old PC
  3. Connect the hard drive to the new PC via the internal hard drive connectors (don’t disconnect the new drive) or even easier use an external USB2 hard drive adapter.
  4. Once the old drive is mounted, open up two explorer windows to the ‘Documents and Settings’ folders – one to the new drive and one to the old drive.
  5. In the documents and settings folder you’ll see the profiles for each user, copy from the old machine to the new one.
  6. Download Forensit’s “User Profile Manager,” install it, and reboot.
  7. Open up the User Profile Manager in the Control Panels. Check the “Show Unassigned Profiles” checkbox. Select one of the unassigned profiles you copied over, then click assign. Enter the name of the user you created in step 1 to assign the profile to.
  8. Assign all the profiles, log out, log back in as one of the users who’s profile was migrated – prepare to be amazed!

MacBook Impressions June 22, 2006

Posted by selkowitz in Uncategorized.
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I’ve had a black MacBook for a few days now and have many impressions to share. In general the system is very slick, fast, attractive, fast…did I mention fast?

Out of the box the system helps move everything over from your old Mac (OS X only) which works very well. Surprisingly it didn’t bring over my VPN connections though. Aside from that, quite flawless. Performance right off the bat was poor though – it had migrated a bunch of autoloading PowerPC applications which run slower since this is an Intel Mac. Once those were removed/updated the system was significantly faster.

For the first day I ran on the stock 512MB RAM, which is less than fun for someone who runs a dock full of apps all the time. I dared not even try Parallels. The machine was however snappy with a few Universal apps open.

One thing I noticed off the bat was amazing WiFi range. I’m seeing more networks and far better strength than with my older 12″ Powerbook.

Once I got my 2GB Edge RAM upgrade installed (easy as pie) I was VERY happy with performance. This thing is fast. Damn fast. Even fast when running Windows XP in Parallels.

The screen is great, I was a bit concerned about the glossiness, but its just perfect. Not so glossy that it always has glare (Sony) but easier to read and more vibrant than my Samsung desktop LCD.

All in all I definitely love the machine and think its the best laptop for most people under $1500. Though I always recommend AppleCare which adds $249 but extends warranty and support to 3 years.

If you’re looking to buy a new Mac, I highly recommend them over PCs. Email me to get 5% off your new Mac.

I Love Mirra June 17, 2006

Posted by selkowitz in Backup.
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I love Mirra. There, I said it. How many women I dated didn't think I had it in me. 

Mirra is a backup appliance, just plug it in the network, install software on your Mac or PC, pick folders, and Mirra does the rest. Mirra technically isn't perfect as the data is stored onsite, but the reality is few homes or small businesses back up and an affordable, high capacity, automated onsite backup is way better than nothing. 
Of course you can buy Mirra at selkowitz.com

Funny Answers to Serious Questions May 12, 2006

Posted by selkowitz in Business.
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A funny thing I've learned is serious business questions don't always require serious business replies. People call me on the phone all the time and the question of our rates often comes up. My answer: "as much as possible." Most people will laugh, the conversation gets less serious and we start building a relationship instead of getting judged by their list of questions.

Ultimately you should give the serious answer afterwards, but now the rate is a relief because their expectations were humorously set very high! 

Just when you think everything works together… May 12, 2006

Posted by selkowitz in Software.
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Long ago software caused conflicts left and right. With the advent of modern operating systems and software standards we've come to expect a world where software plays nicely with each other. 

Turns out ACT! and Microsoft Office 2003 didn't realize what millennium we're in. If you have Outlook 03 with the Business Contact Manager installed, it royally messes up ACT!'s ability to do all sorts of things. Why? Sounds like something to do with the Microsoft Desktop Database Engine. The cure? Don't use both. 

When will they learn to just make stuff that works?