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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IT Spring Cleaning!

With Spring here, it’s time for a little cleanup. At Roundbrix, we’re only too familiar with those items that seem to get left by the wayside, yet they  can cause significant harm. Consequently,  we thought we would share a few tidbits of what we have learned in the last ten years.

Are we backing up everything we should?  This is a big issue and we see it all the time. We all get busy and add file shares here and there, or maybe a new database and somehow get pulled away from finishing the job which means including it in the nightly backups. Oh, this could hurt!

Do the backups actually work? I once worked with an outfit and discovered for two and a half YEARS, a gal would rotate the backup tape and take it offsite. The only problem was the backup job never ran! Folks, doing a sample restore of a file that was created yesterday will give you a ton of confidence that what you believe is in place is working.

Do these people still work here? Often times, folks leave and there are leftover items. They may still be a user on your system including e-mail. They may also have been granted VPN or remote access which may greatly expose your company.  Some may even still have voice mail set up and changed the greeting to something not very nice!  Another area of weakness we have discovered is when a user actually has been given the wireless access point password. What this means is they can sit outside in the parking lot, sit on your network backbone and attempt to get into employee accounts especially if passwords and security is not rigorous.

Can we get rid of those old computers? Sure you can, but realize what you can use and what you need to destroy before handing that machine into another party’s hands. What you should keep is usually RAM, especially if you have a lot of the same model machines. There’s not a machine out there that won’t benefit from at least 4GB of RAM and if it’s a 64-bit machine, it can benefit from using even more! It’s also an inexpensive way to stretch that IT dollar on those remaining aging units. On laptops, saving a couple extra power supplies might prevent you having to throw good money after bad should one fail. What you need to destroy is the hard drive as you don’t want ANY company data going with the drive. We use the HAMMER method with a pair of safety goggles – it’s like a sport!

Who has access to what? Ok, this is a bit more of an exercise but reviewing who has access to what makes sense. We would start at the firewall and look at the VPN list and ensure that access is not granted without VPN IPSEC access. We would also look at Access Control Lists (ACL) in the firewall. Additionally, just changing user passwords and wireless and administrator passwords every six months just makes smart business sense to catch those straggling items that are often overlooked. In more sensitive environments, we recommend a quarterly review and changing of the passwords.  Here, having a documented password change procedure makes sense.

Are folks surfing on my time and my dime? The short answer is yes, but is it at a point of excess is really the question? The policy should be simply “if someone needs to get a hold of you, they can call”. Other than that, ask folks to respect that work time is not play time. If that policy doesn’t work, you can put in web monitoring and application control, which is available on many firewall platforms that can prevent excessive social media abuse on business time.

These are just a few simple steps to keep you safe, secure, well-protected and productive.  As a business, you need Spring to be a time of growth as the vacation times start coming up pretty quick in Summer!

Let us know if we can help you button things up!

The “Every Other Upgrade” Methodology

Keeping up with technology has to be one of the hardest things to do. There is a point of diminishing return, that is to say, when the cost of a project far outweighs both the benefit and the need. Here are a few cases in point, and how we work to keep your dollars working for you.

In reviewing this methodology, these are the components to consider:

Evaluate the useful life of the hardware platform. We see server hardware lasting from five to seven years on average. A little extra RAM. CPU and disk may make the difference between an ‘early retirement’ and a full life.

Look at the number of major software releases in the useful life of the hardware platform. What we mean by major is fairly intuitive to us, but not to all. Here are a few examples:

In employing the ‘Every Other Upgrade’ methodology, just follow either the Orange or Blue tracks, but not both.

Common Sense Factor. We now apply some serious common sense.
Reasons to upgrade are as follows:

  • I need the new version because it will help my business andit is worth the cost
  • I am replacing the hardware and it only makes sense to bite off the upgrade as the old hardware gives me a great fallback position for transition
  • IMPORTANT NOTE 1: If we are talking PC operating systems, you MUST make certain that ALL necessary applicationsare supported
  • IMPORTANT NOTE 2: If we are talking Server Operating systems or SQL versions, you need to ensure that the applications and databases will support the newer versions.

The ‘other’ costs to always consider are the business interruption time, new software relicensing costs, and the labor – both in house and outsourced. In other words, there may be a ‘better’ time to do this from the cash flow and business cycle (slower time) that may make more business sense.

If you need any help in your decision-making, give us a call!

 

Basic, Managed and Complete Hosting Options – Choose Wisely!

You won’t get an argument from me when it comes to the cost-effectiveness of hosting. It’s a really good thing and a no-brainer in many cases. With the new “Cloud” word, which is defined differently by so many outfits, we’re going to take a closer look at the options here and the risk versus benefit equation. You need to ask yourself a few questions:

Do you want your server in house or hosted with true oversight?

Do you need dedicated hardware and bandwidth?

Do you want to manage your servers or do you want them managed?

Although there are many flavors of hosting out there, the two types of I think most often are Basic Hosting and Managed Hosting. But at the end of the day, we feel another option is necessary that significantly completes the entire picture, and that is Complete Hosting, which Roundbrix offers to its clients. You’ve heard the term you’re in good hands with Allstate. The same applies with Roundbrix Complete Hosting offering. Let’s review the options in more detail.

Basic Hosting is defined as providing air conditioning, electrical, Internet access and a secure space where you can place your equipment. You are responsible for all hardware, software, backups and network security issues. You’re also responsible for all failures and remediation. Think of it as an empty apartment with utilities. The biggest downside to Basic Hosting is that those very same resources that are shared to give you the most bang for buck can also swing the other way. An example might be that some hosting providers put too many customers on a single server in an effort to maximize their profit, but you may experience intermittent performance problems as a result. Another example is they may pool too many customers on a smaller internet connection, providing a lackluster experience for those trying to access your systems, whether it is an end client trying to access your website, or your employees trying to access a hosted application.

Managed Hosting is defined as looking after the hardware (if it is provided) and ensuring it’s up 24 x 7 x 365. It provides you with the same climate-controlled, clean power, internet circuit and physical security as Basic Hosting. The difference really comes into play by providing additional services of value, like providing dedicated hardware (at a cost), system backups and providing the option for dedicated bandwidth. If hardware is being leased or provided, it’s up to you to clearly understand when things break, who fixes it. Some outfits may monitor performance, but again, the name of the game here is no assumptions. When there’s an issue here, it may be that it’s not ‘their’ issue, leaving you with a bitter taste or scrambling to find a resource to help resolve the issue. Unfortunately, we see this a lot more than you might think. Your issues are important to us and we will always address them in a timely manner.

Complete Hosting includes the remaining pieces, many of which can hurt or cause unexpected stoppages or risks. This becomes a matter of total ownership. Additionally in my mind, Managed Hosting should also include managing the backups, disk space, looking at network and server performance including RAM and CPU, staying on top of maintenance contracts and other expirations and renewals, anti-virus, strategically planning for replacement of firewalls, switches, and servers at the core of your infrastructure. With complete hosting, you also have more flexibility at every level.

Due Diligence for Managed Hosting. At the end of the day, it’s important to weigh your options wisely and make the right choices. For the ultimate peace of mind, Complete Hosting is the best way to go, but know who you’re dealing with and where your data is, including backups. Remember, your customer lists and financials are likely very sacred and need to be held close to the chest. Ensure you know the answers to these five questions before moving forward with anyone:

1. Where are my servers and systems and are they shared, if not customer provided?

2. Where exactly is the actual call center and what are the hours of operation?

3. If they perform backups, where are the backup stored? And for how far back?

4. Is the bandwidth dedicated or shared? How much dedicated or bursting up/down speed?

5. Am I notified promptly when there is an issue?

With computing infrastructures, much like life itself, nothing is perfect, but stacking the cards in your favor clearly lessens your risk. At Roundbrix, we are unique in that we will manage the entire enchilada and work with you to stay on the correct strategic path, allowing you to focus on your business. From our shop to yours, you’re in good hands!

Ed

Allstate and “Good Hands” are a registered trademark of Allstate Insurance Company.