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Posts from May, 2015


Is Tape Storage (Completely) Dead?

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

IT SF Bay Area discussion on using tape for backup & archiving of data.

If you’re over 40, you probably remember the original Sony Walkman—the freedom of listening to a single cassette tape in portable stereo. Even if you still have a few favorite cassette tapes packed away somewhere, where could you listen to them today? Tape is just so… ancient. Ask your kids.

Magnetic tape used for computer data storage dates back even further, introduced by IBM in 1953. Those first reel-to-reel contraptions would likewise give way to the convenience of portable cassettes, which would largely be replaced by hard disks, and most recently storage via the Cloud. But tape storage hasn’t quite gone the way of the dinosaurs just yet. In some cases, it might still be a favorably economical storage option, particularly for small businesses.

When we talk about “data storage,” we need to divide it into two distinct areas: backup and archiving.

Backup

Backing up essential day-to-day files and applications, as we’ve talked about, is necessary for disaster recovery (DR)—getting your company back up and running as soon as possible following a major catastrophe (from acts of nature to hostile computer viruses to simple human error). We strongly advocate that each of our customers develops a comprehensive, hybrid Cloud and on-premises Disaster Recovery solution.

Archiving

Archiving involves the secured storage of “cold” data, rarely used files which still need long-term retention (typically for regulatory requirements). For many small companies, as much as 85 percent of stored data is never accessed again after 90 days. It either takes up valuable disk space on an onsite server or gets uploaded into a Cloud data center—where the provider charges monthly for every last gigabyte.

As antiquated as tape storage may first appear, it still holds a few advantages over other media:

  • Tape is cheaper. Purchasing new cassettes (as low as $30 each) for a single DDS/DAT tape drive is less expensive than multiple hard drives/servers or additional Cloud data storage.

  • Tape lasts. A stored index of tapes lasts up to 30 years undisturbed, requiring none of the constant power and cooling requirements of an active computer.  Of course, you need to keep the tape drive equipment and software around.

  • Tape is secure. Archived data remains off the IT network until it’s needed—so it’s virtually hack-proof.

The “tape vs. disk vs. Cloud” debate still rages in IT circles. It doesn’t need to be an either/or proposition; archived files on tape can be a cost-effective supplement to storage on your server or in a Cloud data center. How well might a hybrid on-premises/Cloud/disk/tape solution fit into your company’s data storage needs? Ask us.

Cyber Insurance: Good for my Company?

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Cyber liability insurance to cover IT hacking attack financial losses:—a blog for San Francisco, San Mateo, San Jose.

We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about cyber-attacks—from nuisance hacking to data theft to virtual electronic terrorism—and the steps your company can take to defend itself. But what if, despite all your best efforts, you one day discover you’ve still been hacked? An insurance policy may be the best option.

“Cyber liability” coverage has actually existed in the insurance industry for over a decade, but most companies simply didn’t give it much thought—until those high-profile data breaches at Target and Sony flooded the news. As the number of reported hacking incidents continues to soar, many insurance carriers are now specifically excluding electronic data from the “tangible assets” covered in their standard liability policies. And cyber insurance policy sales are increasing.

Even for small businesses handling confidential customer data (particularly financial services), a single cyber-attack can be a major financial hit.

As Bloomberg reported last year, a nationwide survey of small businesses revealed almost half the respondents had already experienced some type of security breach, with the average cleanup cost near $8,700.

Cyber Insurance: What Does It Cover?

Most cyber liability insurance coverage available today generally revolves around these key areas:

Cleanup. Cleaning up the results of the incident can be expensive, especially for a small business. IT experts often have to be brought in to find out what damage occurred, how to resolve it, and how to keep it from happening again. The consequences of a single virus attack could affect your business to the tune of several thousand dollars.

Cyber Extortion. Coverage of “ransom” payments made following credible extortion threats, plus applicable prosecution expenses.

Virus Liability. Compensation to victims who received a virus or malware via a business’s compromised website.

Asset Protection. “Reasonable” costs associated with recovering or replacing lost or corrupted data.

Loss of Revenue. Estimated gross revenue losses during a full or partial interruption of a business’s computer network due to a denial-of-service attack or other act of cyber terrorism (typically covering an outage of up to 48 hours).

Data Breach/Privacy Crisis. The costs associated with notifying people or companies whose data was on the affected servers (as mandated by law in many states including California) and establishing a call center, plus offering complimentary credit monitoring/identity theft restoration and associated legal expenses.

Regulatory Civil Action. Reimbursement for financial penalties imposed by government agencies for violations of protected data laws, such as HIPAA or HI-TECH (the fees themselves and/or court costs).

Getting the Best Deal

Annual premiums for cyber liability insurance can begin around $7,000 for every $1 million of coverage—but as more major carriers enter the growing cyber liability market, expect competition to drive those costs down. And just as an individual may get a better life insurance rate by not smoking and watching their cholesterol, businesses can earn premium discounts by adding advanced security measures such as superior firewalls, encryption, and antivirus software. It pays to shop around for the best coverage at the best price. Better yet, find an insurance broker who specializes in cyber liability.

As hackers grow bolder and even more relentless, the levels of malicious cyber-attacks will get worse before they get better. Just as home, auto, and health insurance are now looked upon as staples, cyber liability insurance may become a necessity for any business, large or small.

Changes Ahead for Windows: A First Look

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

New version of Windows is on its way in 2015: San Francisco, San Mateo, San Jose.

It was about a year ago that Microsoft officially ended support (most importantly, automatic security patches) for Windows XP. Particularly for business users, running a computer on XP after April 8, 2014, became about as wise as leaving keys dangling from the front door.

Many XP die-hards stuck it out until the very end, refusing to “upgrade” to the notorious nightmare that was Windows Vista or the radical changes in Windows 8—an operating system that was aimed primarily at the notebook/tablet market, yet made nobody particularly happy.

When Microsoft finally pulled the plug on XP, most of the remaining XP users settled on Windows 7 (even downgrading new computers from Windows 8), with its familiar Start menu and minus the “tile” interface which most longtime Windows users simply found too confusing.

But if you were one of the last XP refugees to settle upon 7, don’t get too comfortable—Microsoft has announced the final cutoff date for extended support of Windows 7: January 14, 2020. Generally, Microsoft commits about ten years of support for every version of Windows (as opposed to Apple, which follows no fixed timetable and may halt OS X support in as little as 4 1/2 years). While 2020 is still just under five years away, we know how time flies by.

It’s not too early to plan your next OS migration and look at a few of the changes Microsoft has in store.

From Windows 8 to … 10?

Oddly enough, Microsoft has decided there will be no Windows 9, skipping directly to Windows 10. Scheduled for release midway through 2015, Microsoft touts Windows 10 as a “ground up” reinvention of Windows, optimized for a traditional keyboard-and-mouse as well as touchscreen devices. The revamped user interface includes the welcome return of the Start menu ( YES!!), as well as the addition of Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s voice-activated “digital assistant” Siri (we wonder, though, how comfortably business users will verbally communicate with their PC in the middle of a workgroup).

Another major advancement in Windows 10 is biometric authorization—replacing typed passwords with users’ fingerprints or iris patterns. Though enterprise-level biometric security will likely require upgraded cameras or scanning peripherals, we see this as quite possibly a strong line of defense against password-hacking and the pandemic of cybercrime we’ve talked about.

Free for You … but Not Your Company

In an obvious break with tradition, Microsoft intends to initially offer Windows 10 as a free upgrade for current users of Windows 7 or 8—most likely as a “make-good” for the poor reception of Windows 8. However, business users of Windows Enterprise editions can still expect to be charged for upgrade licenses and support during the “transition” period to 10. Perhaps the good news here is that legions of home users will uncover Windows 10’s inherent early bugs before most business customers choose install it.

Windows 10 remains in beta testing and we won’t fully know its overall pros and cons until its official release. Let’s hope Microsoft learns from past mistakes and delivers a product that leaves customers thinking “change is good.” In the meantime, look ahead to your company’s next OS upgrade and avoid the last-minute headaches that came with the end of XP.

Apple TV for Presentations in the Workplace

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Apple TV for best conference presentations, San Francisco, San Mateo, San Jose.

Apple TV, typically used as a video content streaming device for Netflix, YouTube, and iTunes, is fairly common in homes across the U.S. However, this crafty little device that can fit in your palm also has some impressive applications in an office setting through its AirPlay screen mirroring features. With an Apple TV, you can display whatever you want from an iPhone/iPad to a conference room TV—and it only takes a few seconds to set up. This device is a great way to increase productivity by practically eliminating downtime related to presentation hardware configuration.

Unwired Presentations and Easy Configuration

Dragging a computer to the conference room every time you plan to show a PowerPoint presentation isn’t practical. Yes, you can connect your laptop to a DisplayPort, HDMI, or DVI connection, but laptops aren’t always conveniently portable and the cables may be a nuisance. Installing a desktop computer in the conference room specifically for presentations can also be a burden when it proves uncooperative in transferring presentation files between systems or encounters compatibility problems. If it’s a dedicated laptop, it might rarely be used, becoming an unproductive resource.

Screen mirroring the content from an iPad or an iPhone via AirPlay to a wall-mounted flat panel display or TV offers the same presentation output with software such as PowerPoint and the rest of Microsoft Office without the configuration headache associated with a traditional computer setup.

In some meetings, you may not plan initially to use the conference room TV—but what if something comes up and you want to share, for example, a YouTube video? With AirPlay, you can simply access the video on your iPhone and share it on the big screen.

Without a wired connection linking the presentation device to the screen, you (and other presenters) are free to walk around the room with the presentation device at hand. As an added bonus, MacBook users can use AirPlay on Apple TV to share their screen without connecting cables. Apple TV is also great for guest presenters that may forgo a laptop for presentations because tablets are easier to carry.

Sharing Control

With Apple TV, you can move from device to device on the fly. For example, if someone in the room has taken a video with their iPhone camera that happens to be relevant to the presentation, they can take control of AirPlay and show the video without having to transfer files between devices or reconfigure presentation hardware. This advantage can turn a five-minute time waster into a five-second transition. This kind of versatility may be a great productivity booster for open-ended meetings.

Wide Support

Apple TV is compatible with almost every High Definition TV (HDTV) because it uses the HDMI connection standard. Computers feature a range of video output types and often require dongles and adapters to modify the connection to screen share. If you want, you can even conceal the Apple TV by mounting it behind the TV or in another room.

PC and Android Alternatives

PC laptop, Android phone, and tablet users aren’t left out in the cold here thanks to screen-mirroring devices like Chromecast, which also uses an HDMI connection to interface with a TV set. Most HDTVs feature multiple HDMI connection ports, so it’s possible to accommodate both camps at once. For more information on how Apple TV or Chromecast can boost your productivity, get in touch with MPA Networks at www.mpa.com.