Christmas Tablet Technology Guide

With every passing year, the electronic gizmos are finding themselves under the tree more often. This year, we figured we would help you with the many tablet options. The tablet field is rapidly becoming a crowded one and we now we have sizes from 7 to 12 inches. I also think it’s important to understand that a relationship with buying a tablet is likely a two to three year relationship. One consistent finding is that smaller units typically support 720p and the larger units tend to support the 1080p standard, but we were surprised by two exceptions here.  It also makes practical sense but bear in mind you can take the ‘HDMI out’ to a larger screen and there is no upgrading a device from 720p to 1080p. There’s also what might fit in your wife’s purse (hint hint).

Apple iPad Mini
At 8”, it might hit a sweet spot as most are either larger or smaller. It supports 720p video on the display, yet supports 1080p video recording.  It is available in either black or white and prices range from $329 for a 16GB version up to $529 for a 64GB version. Important to note here is that it does not have the same Retina display as the regular iPad.

iPad
Retails  at $499 for 16GB to $699 for the 64GB version and is also available in black or white and the display supports 1080p video. Additionally, it’s a few more dollars for the 4G option as well.

Windows Surface
Microsoft recently introduced the 10.6” Surface, a new player to the field that is called ‘live tiles’. It is found in Windows 8 and this particular variant, called Windows 8 RT. In short, live tiles means that those items on the main menu desktop change content based on variables. This also marks the first time in my memory that Microsoft is selling direct to the public via web site. Windows is including the SkyDrive, which is similar to Apple’s iCloud. At $499 for a 32GB model, it has double the RAM of the iPad 3 that retails for the same price. Windows also has a neat touch cover for an extra $100 that integrates a keyboard for faster everything and comes in five different colors!  There is also a 64GB version, which only comes with a touch cover for $699, which is the same price as the Apple IPad 3 with 64GB of memory.  The Surface falls short on the display as for its size- it should support full 1080p. Then again, as they state that Windows 8 comes to Surface in Early 2013 starting at $899, they have now lost me as a Windows 8RT Surface buyer as the Windows 8 RT does not appear to be upgradeable to Windows 8 Pro though it appears it’s the only way you’ll ever see 1080p on the Surface.

Samsung Series 7 Slate
At 11.6”, it starts at $1,099 and goes to a whopping $1,349. It weighs in about two pounds, but will run Windows 8 Pro and comes with an Intel  i5 processor. This reminds me of the day when someone said PCs would cost less than $1,000; but I would not have imagined that tablets are getting both heavier and more expensive. I will be interested to see how this plays in the market but in my opinion, it’s a pretty high price point, especially if you consider it only supports 720p.That’s right, $1,349 and no 1080p!

Kindle Fire HD
If the full-blown tablets seem a bit pricey, Amazon’s feature-rich Kindle Fire HD and Barnes and Noble’s Nook HD are superb options. The Kindle Fire is available in four versions but for the sake of HD, we’ll stick to three of them. A  7” HD version for $199 that supports 720p and a 9” version for $299 that does the full 1080p. If you want 4G connectivity, it bumps up considerably to $499.

Nook HD
A 7” tablet that comes in either white or smoke colors and starts at $199 for an 8GB versions and bumps to $229 for the 16GB version and support 720p HD.

Nook HD+
This is a 9” tablet and is priced at $269 for the 16GB version and $299 for the 32GB version and supports 1080p full HD.

To reward you for bearing with me, here’s something FUN AND FREE at Christmas for all. What you ask? The Amtrak Holiday Express Train

It’s 450 tons of fun !

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Windows 8 – Worth the Wait!

After finding great stability with Windows 7, I had some reflecting to do before forming an opinion on Windows 8. I had to be realistic as to the past experience and open to the future. After all, it is about the future and its possibilities. It always has been and it will continue to be.  And the new logo also speaks of a new era for Microsoft.

I am also a firm believer in not leaping to something simply because it’s new, but because it brings something to the table that has business value. Things like reducing operating costs, or gaining a strategic advantage over competition, or bringing something new that will benefit education, medicine and other disciplines that have a return, but it may be of a longer term and part of a future vision.

I had to really think back. You see, at fifty-something, I have pretty much seen it all from the start. The relevance comes into play when making comparisons of Microsoft desktop and server operating systems. You see, we may all remember Windows 3.1 as not being so great, but remember XP as being rock solid. That all may be true, but what you may have forgotten is that XP was not truly ‘loved’ until Service Pack 2. That’s right, it’s Windows XP SP2 that became the basis for stability comparisons even though it had a couple more service packs to come.

And who can forget Vista that was like that one uncle you didn’t quite understand then and still don’t to this day.  Being a Microsoft Gold Partner I had three major issues with Vista. First is that it was slower. Second, it was relatively unstable. The third question begged even more explanation. Why create this User Access Control (not so affectionately known as UAC) that incessantly needed my permission and other interfaces that slowed us down. The familiar ‘Select All’ was hidden under ‘Organize’. Not sure what the two have to with each other to this day.  And I digress.

So now we love Windows 7 as much as we probably can, and are fairly pleased with its ease and performance. Now, the wheel appears to have needed some reinventing. After all, if Apple comes out with a new animal-themed operating system annually, shouldn’t Microsoft as well to ‘keep up with the Joneses’? Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if you look at Apple’s Lion versus Mountain Lion, it’s really no more than a service pack-equivalent upgrade. It’s not all new, it’s just got some new features.


Windows 8 promises new features with the stability on Windows 7 and a new Graphical User Interface (GUI), that although will take some getting used to, appears to be worthwhile and will tie Microsoft desktops and mobile devices together nicely. In our first tests, we found it easy to install and use. We loaded a number of programs and all loaded quickly and easily.

To further simplify, there are only two PC versions, Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro for businesses that require better security and domain integration. Once it’s released on October 26th, upgrades will be $40 until the end of January in an effort to get folks to get an affordable upgrade. Also, a third version, Windows 8 RT, will be available for the tablet market. From experience, I would think you would be able to order Windows 7 or opt for Windows 8 until at least summer and a Service Pack 1 gets it a bit more dialed in. After that, you will need to seriously consider this platform.

As with any business, testing with a couple computers for a spell before a large deployment also makes sense. Also, checking with key software vendors, like your ERP software vendor, is always good idea to ensure you remain on a supported platform.  A little due diligence goes a long way!

 

 

 

Group Policy – Scaling without Increasing Cost

It’s no secret that when a company grows, costs rise. One simple reason might be payroll. Another might be the need for more space or additional resources. In the Microsoft suite of tools there is something called Group Policy (GPO). Simply put, this is the ability to impose security and workflow disciplines in an environment. This can be done on both a machine and user basis, and can also be grouped. Here are a few examples:

Rerouting ‘My Documents’ to a Server: At the end of the day, if a PC crashes or a laptop is stolen, what happens to the documents on it? If they were not rerouted to the server, you had better hoped they were backed-up, although this is not the case. This tends to result in some angst and anxiety as folks grapple with data loss or worse yet, possible exposure of confidential company and customer data. Had ‘My Documents’ been rerouted to the server, no such exposure would have resulted.

Mapping a Share: This can be done on individual or global levels. It means that you can maintain uniformity in your outfit, so that “Drive K” on one computer actually refers to “Drive K” on anyone else’s computer that has permissions to this share. Additionally, you can have folks that can “view only” separate from those that can “Edit, Create or Delete”. The name of the game here is to give permissions as required, but not excessively as that creates exposures.

Assigning or Replacing a Printer: Say 50 people are individually mapped to an “All In One” machine that performs copying, printing and faxing. But alas, it’s at “End of Life” and they gave you a smoking deal on a new one that does twice as much in half the time! You have two choices here. You can visit 50 desktops or you can push out the new machine with a few clicks and voila, everyone has it nearly instantly.

Preventing Unauthorized USB Devices: These USB drives are great. But when trying to contain internal security and folks taking confidential data offsite, these are among the greatest of liabilities. You can lock it down so that no USB mass storage devices are allowed, perhaps except for a few authorized individuals. Again, it’s not looking for bad, it’s about protecting the mother ship.

Forcing Password Changes: We see more Post-It notes than you can imagine with passwords. Moreover, these passwords are rarely changed. These should be changed either every three to six months or when a security breach is encountered, especially if you have systems that are accessible remotely. Group Policy makes this automatic.

Forcing New devices to have Anti-virus Software before allowing Network Access: We love this one, as folks tend to accidentally bring in infected devices, including MACs, which sometimes are not affected, but are quite effective as ‘carriers’. Regardless, we have the ability to ‘force’ compliance to ensure that those new devices requesting access to your network are compliant before they are allowed to touch any data.

Distributing New Application Versions: A new version of a client/server application is released, but now comes the laborious task of loading on 30 PCs or so. Never fear. If there is an install package, often times referred to as a MSI (Microsoft Installer) package, it likely can be distributed automatically.

At the end of the day, there’s a reason you’re on a Microsoft Network. What is key is to leverage that the functionality so it earns its keep – like the rest of us!

Ed

SQL Database Best Practices!

SQL MAINTENANCE PROGRAM:

Having a good solid maintenance strategy as part of your SQL Server database is a necessity for any company with a business critical application. It can be the difference of being down for a few minutes vs. being down for an entire day or several days. It can also manage space on the server better and if done correctly, can improve performance of the database dramatically.

The first part of a good database management strategy is to plan your backups. For a database that is frequently used and important to the company we recommend the following standard maintenance plan. In general it’s a good idea to do a full backup twice a day and transaction log backups hourly so you can easily restore the database up to the hour within minutes.

1. Back Up Full Databases Twice Daily

There are three Recovery Models

a. Full Recovery Model   –   What Roundbrix mostly uses. Safest mode of operation for production systems.

b. Bulk-Logged Recovery Model   –   Has minimum logging for bulk import operations. Space allocation and deallocation is only logged for bulk import operations. Basically a few limitations.

c. Simple Recovery Model   –   No transaction log maintenance needed. Recoverability of the database is very limited to a specific time frame.

If a database doesn’t change often, Simple Recovery Model may be an option. (i.e. a database that imports all the data from Quickbooks from previous day, etc.). The data is only used for reporting, so the Simple Recovery Model would work fine if timed properly. (after data is inputted from QB).

2. Back Up Transaction Log Files Hourly

A database has two components, data file(s) and transaction logs. A transaction log captures the modifications made to the database. A SQL server must have at least one transaction file.

With the Full Recovery Model, it is important to backup the transaction logs frequently so the database can be restored up to the point in time when the problem occurred. A transaction log backup will truncate the inactive portion of the transaction log.

The transaction log can get large and the file size will not be reduced when it is truncated after a transaction log backup. This simply shifts the pointer within the existing file as to where the space is to be freed up.

3. Rebuild Indexes Weekly

Rebuilding indexes should be done weekly during off-hours as this can sometimes be intensive and slow down the database. It is important to rebuild the indexes to optimize performance of the database. You can think of this like defragmenting your hard drive. After it is completed, everything runs just a little smoother and faster because space is optimized properly (doesn’t take as long to figure out where a record goes during an insert or update).

4. Update Statistics Daily

It is also a good idea to create a maintenance plan to update statistics daily. This optimizes space in the tables and can have an impact on improving performance of the database. If this never gets done (which sometimes happens in databases that are not maintained) performance can slowly degrade until it becomes a serious problem, adversely affecting application performance.

TYPICAL BACKUP PLAN FOR A DATABASE THAT IS BUSINESS-CRITICAL:

PROPER AND OPTIMAL DATABASE DESIGN:

One of the most common problems we’ve seen is applications where a query takes over 30 seconds only to find that one of the fields in that query has not been indexed. Beyond looking at the queries in your application to make sure the fields that are in your “WHERE” clauses are all indexed, there are some tools that can help. Using Microsoft SQL Server Profiler in combination with Database Engine Tuning Advisor is the easiest way to find slow queries and see what indexes may be missing, which could help improve the performance of your application.

For SQL Server Profiler first, select “Tuning”. Next, select the “Events Selection” tab, and then the “Column Filters…” option and “Duration”. Select the Greater than or equal to 3000, as we want to see queries taking over 3 seconds.

After about an hour of running the profiler, stop it. You should save the file to one that can be imported into a “Database Engine Tuning Advisor”. Run it to have the tool point out what can be optimized. Usually you can accept most of the suggestions from Database Engine Tuning Advisor and see a dramatic increase in performance.

The other important thing to look at in a database is how well normalized it is. Normalization is important so that information is not duplicated. One example is a company we worked with used 12 different excel sheets to keep track of similar information. However data that was supposed to be consistent throughout the different excel files was spelled differently and listed multiple times where it should have referenced by a table with a unique ID and one consistent value. We moved these 12 excel sheets into one database and created separate tables for the columns so information was normalized. This allowed the customer to do more sophisticated and accurate queries on their data.

The information above, when properly normalized, should be put into three tables as shown below. This way, “Hardy Boys” only needs to be updated once.

PROPER NAMING CONVENTION IS ALSO IMPORTANT:

Naming a foreign key differently from the primary key that it references can be very confusing to programmers. If the fields are named properly and referenced properly, it can save countless hours of confusion. I typically name the primary key as the table name with “ID” after it. So if Book is the table, BookID is the primary key. This is a pretty common way to name primary keys which will make it easier for programmers to understand more quickly.

It is also important to make sure you keep an ER (Entity-Relationship) Diagram. This is very easy with SQL Server by right clicking on Database Diagrams and selecting “New Database Diagram”. Then you can link the primary/foreign keys here and also add/update fields to the database-making database management tool very easily. Make sure all the tables are in the diagram and connected properly to the other tables that they should be connected to.

By following the tips above, you should have a solid robust database that will allow your company to grow without having to worry about database issues. For a free database analysis call the experts at roundbrix at 949.273.5200.

Ed

Roundbrix is Hosting an AVAYA IP Office Demonstration . . . and feeding you!

To me, there’s nothing like “seeing is believing”. I’ve been in telecom and computers, well, let’s put it this way. When I was a kid, I used to go to Thrifty’s drug store and test my vacuum tubes to see which one had failed so I could get my Zenith shortwave radio working again to listen to Chick Hearn in his early years – and I digress.

 

Flash forward, I have been in IT 30 years and we’re all over what is new. But newer is not always better, as so many of us have learned. The key in entertaining any new voice technology platform is asking a few simple questions:

 

Is what we have now at or near “end of life”, meaning we’re looking at a replacement anyways?

Is it better than what we have now, and if so how? Will it help us be more efficient in a tangible manner?

• What if we don’t do anything, what might be the downsides?

• If I get this, will it scale for my needs for many years downstream?

• Does it have a useful life of more than 5 years, thus lessening my annual total cost of ownership?

 

Then I put on my IT and voice hat and ask a few other questions:

 

• Can I get the best of both worlds – that is less expensive digital phones inside and VoIP for remote sites or remote users and the

functionality is basically the same for both?

• Can I leverage existing CAT3 cabling so I can use the CAT5e for data at 1Gbit (as although some IP phones have 1Gbit switch, they

come at a cost premium)?

• As handsets tend to be about half of the hardware cost, can I leverage any of my existing handsets so I can upgrade the ‘core’ now,

and handsets later to hedge costs?

• Can I use packet-tagging if using VoIP so I don’t have to create VLANs?

• Can it “follow me” so it stays current with my mobile world?

• Does it integrate into my Microsoft environment and have functionality such as Unified Messaging?

• Are the phones full duplex so they don’t cut out while on speakerphone?

• Does it have conference bridge ability and automatically adjust levels so everyone can be heard?

• Can it use remote IP phones in a widely distributed environment of both remote sites and individual users?

 

Lastly, I have an additional consideration for those contemplating or in process of moving. If you are moving, is your money to move your phone system better spent on a new one? Remember, to move the phone system you’ll have to pay cash, but when buying a new system even the labor can be bundled into the lease, so your out-of-pocket during the expense of the move can be reduced, at least on the voice end.

 

So being an authorized AVAYA IP Office Reseller, we figured the best way for you to know if this is something you might want or need, is to tell you about it, show it to you, and feed you to limit your out-of-pocket time!

 

To attend, please RSVP to Shani Griffis at 949 273 5220 or shanigriffis@roundbrix.com . We have limited space so please reply promptly to ensure a spot!

Cloud Computing. The Basics, Upsides and Downsides

The buzz word in IT today is Cloud Computing. This simply means applications are hosted off-site, right? Well, not exactly. The hardware is offsite. The applications are offsite. Your data is offsite. Backups are offsite, but are they really occurring? We explore the ins and outs here. To the Cloud!

Cloud Computing 101

It’s all about not having to shell out a lot of money for infrastructure, yet getting a ton of functionality and big infrastructure capability. Also, all applications (we’ll call them apps going forward) are web-based, so they can be run from any browser, anywhere and anytime. HTML, JavaScript, CSS and Ajax are all terms you may already know, but these are the basics behind delivering web apps that behave very much like more traditional client/server apps. The reason this has gained more popularity recently, is there are more things like Ajax, which allows a single data field to be dynamically updated, instead of an entire web screen refresh every time a piece of data changes. In other words, the web has grown up to match, and in some ways exceed, what was once done with client/server architectures.

Browser plug-ins, extensions, and open source make the ability to have feature rich apps that can be edited easily to add specific or additional functionality as well. It’s become a more flexible world. Also, applications, anti-everything (spam, junk, virus), and operating systems are supposed to be always seamlessly and currently patched. Surely, there will be some issues in this area as data needs to be ‘frozen’ for some platform migrations.

Microsoft’s Office 365 offering

Cloud Computing on the Microsoft 365 platform, which is still in Beta, provides a number of offerings, with a few different configurations. This seems to be a very favorable option for many. Sure, we’re a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner with a stake here, but the reality is that the applications Microsoft packages together actually integrate well, as has been the Microsoft Model. This integration is a good thing!

The above images are all clickable to showcase what the offers are, but here’s the deal. There are no large infrastructure upfront costs, but instead, a monthly recurring charge for services provided. These costs will range from $6 to $27 per month per user, depending on what is needed, as it’s a tiered pricing structure.

Microsoft’s distinct advantage, though clearly not OpenSource, is that these are the apps that most of us run, namely Exchange and Office specifically. But integration with Sharepoint can be sweet, as can be Cloud collaboration efforts.

Who is the Perfect Candidate?

1. Smaller companies with great technology needs and a small budget are prime candidates up to about 25-50 users.

2. Geographically-displaced workforce, sales teams with needs to share and connect would benefit the most. Imagine doing a PowerPoint Presentation without the need, or cost, of other 3rd party packages.

3. Startups can minimize their cost to get started, while appearing large in form and functionality. It gets you up and running fast and for little coin. A good thing if you’re working towards a strong presence.

4. Companies that are not large, but have infrastructures that are clearly at or beyond end-of-life (EOL) and think maybe there’s a better and cheaper way. They get not only current technology, but new technology as it gets roiled out, preventing another round of obsolescence every few years.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

It really depends on the cost/benefit equation, which we can help you establish. Say it’s for 25 users and you need the Cadillac package from Microsoft for $27 a month. So, $27 x 25 user x 12 months is $8,100 per year. This excludes startup costs, which surely cost more for data migration, then a fresh startup. So far so good, right? So multiply that by 5 years and were at $40k. That excludes any annual price increases.

The value proposition comes into play when you ask yourself if you could have done more for less. Technically, most of the servers you deploy today have a 6-year useful life, so if you can live with one version of Exchange and other apps for 5-6 years, you might win on that front.

But there are a few questions that add to the TCO formula here, as well as some foreseeable challenges, outlined below.

What is the cost to move to the Cloud?

How safe is your backup? Are they in more than one site for disaster recovery?

Are backups being performed and if not, would you be notified?

How solid is the data recovery model?

How secure is your data from being leaked, possibly hurting your company? (Price, customer list leaked)

If you have to leave the Cloud provider, how hard/costly will it be?

If you’re late for paying the bill, will you be shut down?

Foreseeable Challenges

As with every technology or service provider, there are premier offerings and substandard offerings. A premier offering would hopefully be doing everything correctly. In my 25+ years’ experience, I would expect the difference between the two to be as follows:

Premier Cloud Provider

Fully Redundant Hardware

Backups confirmed

Server to usage ratio reasonable

Good performing

Strong bandwidth and transfer ability

Little to no downtime

Stable pricing, small increases

Reciprocally equitable contract

Solid, tested power backup strategy

Good, prompt service

SubStandard Cloud Provider

Non-Redundant Hardware

Backup not confirmed/may fail without notice

Server to usage ratio excessive

Mediocre to poor performance

Mediocre to poor bandwidth and transfer ability

Numerous downtime incidents

Pricing increase may be larger

Possible ‘hostage’ contracts, making leaving expensive and tough

Poor power backup strategy

Mediocre to poor service

Summary

In summation, it’s clearly a good thing and the way of the future. But as with any technology, put a foot or two in the water before jumping in. You’ll be glad you did, regardless of the decision.

If you are interested in a demo, please send an e-mail to support@roundbrix.com, and once we are up with the Cloud environment, we’ll gladly demo it for you!

Ed

Don’t Ask Us, Ask Microsoft!

I think the true test of whether an outfit is worth its salt, is when you aggregate data after business relationships are well-established. Then, ask folks how they really feel in a confidential , well-controlled survey by an outside agency, reporting the results to Microsoft.

 

After all, we may think we’re good, but it’s really how our end customers feel. We decided to publish our survey results for the world to see how well we rate against all Microsoft Partners.

 

In the survey, conducted this month, 95% of clients feel we’re champions to their cause. The rest of the data speaks for itself. As a matter of record, we have an average customer tenure of over six years. Not bad considering we have been in business since 2002!

 

The reasons are many, but knowing what the word ‘Partner’ means is what’s key here. Through thick and thin, good times and challenging times, a partner stands not just by you, but with you. Simple stuff like not raising rates during the last few years, or proactively finding ways to reduce the bill without being asked to, or even answering the phone on weekends.

 

 

So when selecting a Microsoft Partner, go with one that is willing to share their CSAT scores and aren’t afraid to let you speak to their customers. Call us today and either talk to us or get a callback today. It’s a day of new values and we’re delivering them!

 

Ed