Saturday, December 11, 2010

Chrome Notebooks for Small Business

A few posts back (A Pure Cloud for Small Business? How would that look?), I commented about how a small business might embrace "cloud" technology, move data and apps to the cloud, and then use cloud connected devices to greatly simplify their IT infrastructure - saving money and time (aren't they the same for most small businesses?). The following video provides a brief, but striking, demonstration on how that whole process might look, especially with regard to time savings. Take a peek:



So, if putting an end user to work (or back to work if your netbook is damaged by ice cream) is as simple as providing a new Chrome Notebook for access to your Google Apps account, does this spell the end of IT departments, outsourced support providers and system administrators? I don't think so. Does the Chrome OS/cloud computing model foretell a change in the way small business information technology is "done"? You bet it does! We in the IT support community must embrace the new methods and technology exposed by a pure cloud computing model. We must get to know how our customers use IT to do their business and help them find the right tools and methods to enable them to compete. And that's an ongoing, constantly evolving process! It is an interesting and exciting challenge for us small business IT service providers.

Is your IT service provider talking to you about ways to move your business processes to the cloud? Visit our website at http://www.sc-geeks.com/apps for information. We are talking about the cloud (and beyond!) to our small business customers.

Our Geeks On Call franchise in Charleston, SC is a Google Apps Authorized Reseller. We see our job in this new information technology support "climate" as helpers in moving our small and medium sized businesses to the cloud.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What is the cloud? Ask a 10 year old.

Many small business owners shy away from moving their business processes to "the cloud" simply because they don't understand it. They think it is only for the "big guys" or it's too complicated. In reality they should be making it a high priority to understand cloud computing and how it can benefit their business. In doing so, they would discover the cloud is for businesses of any size and it simplifies rather than complicates their systems. There is another reason they need to understand the cloud - the next generation (if not the current generation) of customers, employees and competitors DO.

Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, has produced a short video in which some pretty sharp "10-somethings" explain the cloud in simple and quite interesting terms. Keep in mind these kids have no experience of life "pre-cloud". Check it out:


At Geeks On Call in Charleston SC we have witnessed a new willingness on the part of small business to move their business processes to the cloud. Our preferred platform for small business is Google Apps for Business because it is crazy affordable, robust and simple. For almost all small businesses it is practically a "no brainer". If you are a small business owner you need to Get Google Apps Now!


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Building the Simple Enterprise

Aaron Levie, CEO of Box.net in his post Building the Simple Enterprise provides an interesting assessment of the state of current enterprise software solutions. He describes how software vendors tend to build in an unnecessarily high level of complexity in their products by trying to meet every possible need or circumstance. As a result, the software vendor can claim that their product can do many, many things with its many. many features but at what cost - a higher than necessary level of complexity.

For small businesses a higher than necessary level of complexity means lack of productivity and, usually, high cost - both unacceptable to a small business getting by on small profit margins. Small businesses need simplicity in their IT infrastructure. The "cloud" business productivity suites now available and affordable to small businesses meet this need for simplicity. These suites meet the need by reducing the complexity of backup strategies, simplifying document sharing and increasing the ability for workers to collaborate. In addition, those businesses who embrace the use of online applications like Google Docs, Office Web Apps, Quickbooks Online, Netsuite...etc., will greatly reduce the complexity of software licensing and deployment.

In the small business arena, simplicity will win out! In the simplicity "department" Google Apps currently has the business productivity suite market cornered.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Office365 vs. Google Apps for Small Business

Microsoft specifically acknowledges the IT needs of Small Business with it's Office365 cloud offering. The basic, $6 per-user per-month, offering is designed to fit the needs of "organizations with less than 25 people". The Office365 small business offering is comprised of Exchange Online, Sharepoint Online and Lync Online (formerly Office Communications Server).

So how does Office365 compare with Google Apps as it relates to small businesses. Well, first there is a fairly significant cost difference. Google Apps costs $22 per-year per-user less than Office365. Twenty-two dollars isn't a great deal of money, but most of the successful small business owners I support are acutely aware of each dollar they spend. In addition, the $6/month version of Office365 includes only the online Office Web Apps for collaboration and document sharing without additional expense. Microsoft, however, recommends a locally installed full version of Office for the "best productivity experience". This recommendation, if followed, represents a much greater cost for the small business.

For most small business "information workers" the online versions of both of the competing products (Office Web Apps and Google Docs) would adequately meet their needs. The trick is getting these workers to make the - mostly cultural -shift away from Microsoft Office (perhaps a subject for a future post!).

So from this Geeks On Call franchise owner's perspective - the overwhelming differentiator between Office365 and Google Apps is simplicity. Google Apps, from GMail to Docs to Sites, is extremely easy for the Apps Reseller to implement and, more importantly, for the end user to use. The learning curve for Sharepoint 2010 is much steeper for the average small business owner and workers, especially when compared to the simplicity of Google Docs and Sites. For that reason alone, I continue to recommend Google Apps for small businesses who have a need for a complete suite of cloud based collaborative products (and who doesn't!!)

Lastly, there is currently a question of reliability surrounding Microsoft's cloud offering. BPOS, Office365's parent product, suffered three major outages in September 2010. In addition, Microsoft has yet to roll out it's latest products (the 2010 versions of Exchange and Sharepoint) to BPOS. Are cloud upgrades too difficult in the Microsoft cloud "system"? Google, on the other hand, is constantly innovating and rolling out new features and improved versions of its base cloud products.

One thing for sure - Microsoft and Google competing for cloud dominance is fostering innovation and is good for small business!

Contact us on the web at http://www.sc-geeks.com to discover more about Google Apps and the Geeks On Call service model.




Thursday, August 26, 2010

Top Malware Infection Method

According to Trend Micro over 90% of malware infections are transmitted via infected web sites.  The "bad guys" just need to do two things, 1) embed some nefarious code in a web page somewhere and 2) entice a user to visit that page.  Neither one of those things are all that hard to do.

Official looking emails and socially engineered enticements leveraging our fascination with Facebook, My Space, and Twitter are just too hard for some people to resist.  Facebook and My Space scams are notoriously effective at getting people to click on a link which takes them on a one way trip to the infected website.  Heck who wouldn't want to see a "funny" video of themselves on Facebook!  Sign me up!  But, sadly, instead of yukking it up over a funny video, you find yourself staring at a fake anti-virus warning that just won't go away!  What a buzz kill!

What's an IT service provider to do? Most people are still thinking like it is 2002 (ancient history) when it comes to the transmission of malware.  I find that a significant percentage of people still think if they don't open email attachments they're safe!  From my perspective, there are two things we professionals must continue to do (over and over and over):
  1. Educate, educate, educate....teach users how malware is transmitted and how to avoid falling prey to a well crafted, socially engineered, correctly spelled, ruse which takes full advantage of a raging Facebook (My Space, Twitter,...)  addiction.
  2. Install security software that provides some form of website reputation screening or scanning.
At my Geeks On Call francise, we recommend Trend Micro Worry Free Business to our small business customers.  Trend's full suite of security protection includes web reputation services to prevent users from clicking on links to websites containing malware.  The current Symantec/Norton product also does a very good job of preventing users from visiting infected websites.

Man, it's a constant battle out here!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Pure Cloud for Small Business? How would that look?


As an IT service provider, it can be hard to take a step back and objectively examine the evolving small business IT landscape.  But unless you are a service provider whose been living under a rock (or, more likely, a couple of Dell Power Edge T310’s) for the past two years, it’s hard to miss the cloud evolution currently sweeping the land.

How will the evolution to the cloud impact small business?  Well, probably in the same way it’s impacting individuals.  Our phones and computers are connected to the internet constantly accessing data and services stored and maintained “in the cloud”. However, we still create, collect and store data on our personal PC’s and laptop hard drives. For some reason we are reluctant to let go and move our data to the cloud.

The same is true for small businesses. They too are reluctant to move their data to the cloud. Even though in almost all cases the data would be more secure and more accessible than it is on their own hard drives. Most small business owners cannot effectively articulate a specific technical reason for this reluctance. When small businesses become comfortable with providing a home for their data in the cloud they will realize significant benefits and savings in terms of IT expenditure and worker efficiency.


To make the case - lets say a small business completely embraces the concept of “the cloud” including moving their business data.  If all of their data were in the cloud, and the cloud they used was a pure cloud service like Google Apps, they could radically simplify their IT infrastructure.  They could use any kind of PC, laptop or mobile device for access to their data, email and intranets. All they really need is an internet connection (and even a connection is not necessary for synchronized data). The operating systems they use (coming soon) need only provide the connection to the cloud. Think Android, iPhone and Chrome OS as examples of a "connection only" operating system.  Even the configuration settings for the OS could be stored in the cloud.  If so, when (not if)  the user’s current device crashes, the new one would boot up looking just like the old one, with all of the user’s customizations and preferences already in place.  Instead of a day of downtime to replace a PC and a week to get the PC “just right” the worker is back to work almost immediately!  Wow, for us old “break fix” IT guys this might seem a little scary.

Another important new twist is the price of these new connection devices will be considerably less than the price of a current road warrior’s laptop.  Your cloud based applications, like Google Docs, would work the same no matter which device or operating system provides the connection. In addition, and of significant importance, those cloud based applications would be updated, upgraded and maintained by the cloud service provider. Last, but certainly not least, the applications are included with the service, think about the cost savings there! Potentially you could survive without a copy of Microsoft Office on every computer/device/...whatever! Whew....it certainly is a brave new world!

The small business that fully embraces the cloud today won't be considered a bleeding edge beta tester of something new and perhaps fleeting, rather they will considered simply as "ahead of the curve" (and their competitors). From this old IT service providers perspective, the cloud is the way of the future, it really is coming, and it is coming fast!   At my Geeks On Call franchise in Charleston, SC we encourage our small business customers to consider Google Apps as the most cost effective, simple and productive cloud solution for small business.  Take a close look, it makes so much sense!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Google Apps Marketplace Provides Easy and Inexpensive Access to Enterprise Class CRM to Small Businesses

One of the many things we at Geeks On Call in Charleston, SC like about Google Apps is its extensibility through many excellent business applications in the Google Apps Marketplace.  Market Place applications are easy to try and buy (many are free!) and they integrate to one degree or another with the already impressive suite of applications in Google Apps.  One class of business application available in the Marketplace is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software.  The Google Apps Marketplace has seen a rapid growth in the availabiltiy of Google Apps integrated CRM products.  Many small businesses have shied away from CRM software either due to complexity of integration with their own internal systems or due to the cost.  Google Apps addresses both of those concerns.  For a recent listing of several Google Apps Marketplace CRM applications see this recent Google Apps Enterprise Blog posting.   My Geeks On Call franchise is a Google Apps Authorized Reseller.  To contact us about Google Apps please visit our Google Apps information page.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Trend Micro is Rated #1 Again by NSS Labs

Trend Micro's endpoint security solutions were ranked number one by NSS Labs in a June 2010 test.  The benchmarking test pitted Trend against 5 other market leading Enterprise endpoint solutions from Symantec, McAfee, Microsoft and Sophos.  The Trend Micro products tested included Trend Micro OfficeScan and Worry Free Business Standard.  Trend Micro was clearly the winner in the overall testing and, in fact, the Worry Free Business product finished first in the Overall Protection category.  My Geeks On Call franchise moved to Trend Micro Worry Free Business (Standard and Advanced) from Symantec Corporate Edition and EndPoint Security several years ago.  We were impressed by the effectiveness of the product, the complete protection it provides (including URL filtering and Email Reputation Services for the Advanced product) and the ease of installation and administration.  For the small business, Trend Micro Worry Free Business is a best in class product at an incredible price point.  You can view the complete test results - HERE.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Geeks On Call Reference on the Rachel Maddow Show

Recently, Geeks On Call was referred to on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.  A few years ago a Geeks On Call colleague of mine in the Washinton, DC area was hired by Scott Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel under the Bush Administration, to wipe several computers belonging to both himself and some of his staff.  We performed a "7 level wipe" of the computers, as per our customer's request, which would comply with government security standards for "sanitizing" data stored on a computer hard drive.  Take a look at the Rachel Maddow piece by CLICKING HERE.  Bottom line - If you need IT services, you need it done right, you need it done on-site, and you need it done now - give us a call!!  1-800-905-GEEK - Geeks On Call!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Microsoft, Google Vie To Sell U.S. Cloud Mail - WSJ

Today the Wall Street Journal reports that Google has been certified by the General Services Administration (GSA) as meeting the security requirements to qualify for use by the agency.  Microsoft's  Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) has not yet been certified but is expecting certification by the agency in the near future.  Google has long been criticized as not being "secure enough" for enterprise computing, but gaining this certification from a major government agency should put a lot of this criticism to rest.  To read the entire article - CLICK HERE.
For small business, Google Apps remains an excellent collaboration suite at a phenomenal price.  It's ease of use for small business owners and employees gives it an edge over BPOS.  Geeks On Call in Charleston SC, a Google Apps Authorized Reseller, has been rolling out Google Apps to small businesses for several months and the pace at which these companies adapt and leverage the technology is astonishing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Five reasons why Google is more than ready for the enterprise - Computerworld Blogs

Does Google have what it takes to compete with Microsoft in the enterprise? Take a look at this Computer World blog for an interesting take. Can Google compete with Microsoft in the small business space? Small business owners and their employees can immediately put the Google App suite of collaboration products to use on day one. Microsoft's competing "cloud" suite is still too complicated for the average small business.

Five reasons why Google is more than ready for the enterprise - Computerworld Blogs

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Important Parental Control Google Feature, Safe Search � Geeks On Call | 1-800-905-GEEK

Google's Safe Search feature provides additional controls for your children. With Safe Search enabled you can control the content returned in a Google search for your children. Please click HERE for additional information including a video presentation about how Google's Safe Search feature works. It is simple, easy to setup and well worth the effort to help protect your children from inappropriate content on the web. As always we at Geeks On Call are available to help you with all of your computer and network needs (including Google Apps for Business and telecommunications). Call 1-800-905-GEEK or visit http://www.geeksoncall.com/618.

Important Parental Control Google Feature, Safe Search � Geeks On Call | 1-800-905-GEEK

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Parent's Guide to Internet Safety

Are you a parent?  If so are you aware of the many dangers children face on the internet?  Have you ever heard the term "cyber-bullying"?  Are you pretty convinced that your children are constantly exposed to, and will continue to live in a world where communication with anyone and information about anything is literally at the tips of your fingers?  If these questions concern you then you need the Geeks On Call Parent's Guide to Internet Safety.  It's free and a reference no parent should be without.  I am convinced it will answer many of your questions and perhaps even open your eyes for the first time to some important issues.  You can download a free copy of the guide from Geeks On Call by clicking on this link - Geeks On Call Parent's Guide to Internet Safety.   Or visit the following URL - http://www.geeksoncall.com/downloads/pgtis-gen.pdf.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Google Apps a Winner for Small Business

On the whole it appears that Google Apps will win the hearts and minds of small businesses.  "Out of the box", Google Apps is much simpler to use, easier to implement and less costly when compared to Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).  The biggie in the previous sentence is the "much simpler to use" proclamation. With Google Apps, end users can use Google Docs either as a full suite of productivity software (at least word processing, spreadsheets and presentations) or as an "in the cloud" storage location for any document in its native file format - all in a familiar, intuitive interface.  Microsoft SharePoint, hosted or not, is still not as friendly for the end user (read that as - small business owner and staff) without the help of outside expertise. Google Apps users, at least in the small business environment, just get up and running much quicker with Google Apps.  At our Geeks On Call franchise in Charleston, SC we have recently added Google Apps Authorized Reseller to our shingle for the reasons cited above (and others). You can find us at www.geeksoncall.com or by calling 1-800-905-GEEK

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Email is a critical application for businesses both large and small.

Customers, potential customers and vendors alike increasingly rely on email as a means to communicate with you.  Your email “solution” needs to fit your needs, your budget and it must be reliable.  Another consideration is how does your email address affect your “brand”?


Here are some thoughts:

There are several reliable and affordable email solutions for small businesses.  Let’s look at a few of the more popular ones:

First, there are on-site, on-premise solutions such as Microsoft Exchange Server or Microsoft Small Business Server.   Both of these solutions are full-featured, excellent products but require a fairly large amount of professional care, so are somewhat costly in terms of overhead.  You will need an Information Technology (IT) professional (like your local Geeks On Call franchisee!!) to routinely attend to the Exchange server.  As a payoff, however, you get one of the most extensible and flexible collaboration tools (not just email) available to small businesses.  Microsoft Exchange is definitely worth a look!  In my Geeks On Call franchise, we usually ask our customers to indulge us by walking through a process to justify the business need.  We want to make sure they are not spending more than necessary to meet their needs.  We've installed many Exchange and Small Business Servers over the years.  Many of those customers use Microsoft Exchange to its fullest extent and can easily justify the additional overhead.

A second option on the list, and one gaining a great deal of traction lately, is email that is hosted “in the cloud”.   The term “in the cloud” simply means that the computer actually doing the work is in an internet based data center, or more likely spread across several.  You connect to it over the internet as if it were really on-site (simple enough…right?)  I personally think this option will gain a strong foothold within the small business community in the next few months/years.  One great example of cloud computing is the fairly new Google Apps offering.  Google’s cloud-based services include huge mailbox storage and the ability to share calendars and documents.  Several of our customers elect to go this route.  Most of the “in the cloud” service providers like Google have developed migration tools that make the transition to the cloud quick and efficient.   If you have not looked at the “cloud” option, I would encourage you to at least keep it in the back of your mind for the future.  By the way, Microsoft’s cloud computing offering has hit the market recently and it looks as if they are here to compete!  We (Geeks On Call) can help you understand this option better should you need further information.

The third option is to host your email with various email providers that cannot be considered  real “cloud” platforms.  Their offering is usually limited to very basic email without any of the collaborative add-ons you find in the true “cloud” offerings.   Typically, email storage limits are quite small by comparison.  These email service providers are, at least in my opinion, quickly losing ground to the competitors in options one and two above.

The last thing to consider (but perhaps the most important) is the effect of your email address on your “brand”.  If your email address is something like joesplumbing@yahoo.com then perhaps you are not representing your business in the best possible light.  Using an email domain (the part of the email address after @) other than one owned by your business lacks a degree of professionalism that you can easily obtain.  It was OK in the 1990’s to use any old email domain, but today it just doesn’t appear professional, even for the smallest of businesses.  In addition, you are missing an opportunity to market your business with every email you send.  If you already own your own domain name (like joesplumbing.com) then we can set you up with professionally branded email addresses in practically no time at all.  If you don’t have a domain name yet, then it will take us only slightly longer.  Bottom line: if you don’t have your own domain name then it is time you get one and put it to use.

We at Geeks On Call in Charleston, SC work with our customers each day sorting out the intricacies of email and the internet.  You can find us at www.geeksoncall.com or by calling 1 800 905 GEEK (4335).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

It's Not Your Father's PC Virus


The world of computer viruses has evolved extensively over the past several years. Gone are the "good old days" of viruses written by precocious, young computer gurus to garner attention and gain fame among their peers. Those old viruses were bad enough - sometimes destructive - but often just an annoyance.

Today's viruses, better termed malware, are different. They are in it to make money. Organized crime operations in other parts of the world, commonly Eastern Europe and China, are coming after your money and your identity and they are doing it through your computer. These organizations are well equipped and have mission statements, budgets and staff meetings! And, if you are not careful and alert, they may soon have your credit card number and other vital personal information.

How are they doing it?

These "bad guys" endeavor to infect your computer by sending you an infected email attachment or by enticing you to visit a web site specifically coded to exploit a vulnerability in your computer. (Methods of malware transmission is a topic for a future newsletter.) Once your computer is infected, the bad guys can have your computer do their bidding. Here's some of what they can do:

They turn your computer into one of their "bots" (as in robots). The "bot" checks in with its master controller server, somewhere on the Internet, and gets further instructions. Perhaps your "bot" (disguised as your innocent little computer) might become a SPAM server, sending out thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of SPAM email to people around the world. It's unlikely you'll know anything is amiss except maybe your computer has suddenly slowed down. On another occasion your bot joins a network of other bots to shut down a website whose owners are being extorted for money or political reasons. By some counts, 15% to 20% of computers worldwide are "bots".

The master server might direct your PC to pop up a virus alert; something like - "AV 2010 has detected 34 viruses on your PC. Click here to remove." (or words to that effect). When you "Click Here" you get a warning stating you don't have the full version of their "product", and that you must purchase the full version in order to remove the viruses - "Enter your credit card number here and click Next". Don't do it! This tactic has given rise to a new term - Scareware. We at Geeks On Call in Charleston see this scenario several times each week.

The bad guys have even been known to extort money from legitimate web sites by using their massive "botnets" to launch an attack. They send so many web page requests in such a short time that the legitimate web servers are overwhelmed and cannot respond to any more requests. Perhaps you've heard the term "Denial of Service attack" - this is an example. It sounds crazy - and it is - but it's true.

What can you do?

Here are a few simple things you can do to protect yourself:

Keep your computer up to date with all of the latest Microsoft Security Updates. The easiest way to do this is to ensure the Automatic Update feature of your PC is turned on and functioning correctly.

Arm your computer with a reputable Security (notice I didn't just say Anti-Virus) product. Make sure it is working correctly and is always up to date. Reputable security software vendors send out automatic updates for their software daily, or more often when the need arises.

If you are a business owner who relies on your computers and your vital business data, you need professional assistance. We are ready to assist and it is time well spent.

Make sure your vital data is backed up. Remote Data Backups is a world class automated, offsite backup solution. Vist their website for further information.

Educate yourself about these dangers and how to protect yourself.

Geeks On Call can provide you with reliable, professional, onsite service for all of your computer and network security needs. We can help you protect yourself and your identity and provide you with peace of mind. Call 1-800-905-GEEK (4335) to make an appointment. (Or visit our website at www.geeksoncall.com)