alt tag

Posts from December, 2015


Macs Are Here to Stay. How Well Are You Managing Them?

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

apple-691282_640

Before you take your teenage kids to see the new Steve Jobs biopic, ask them what Jobs’ first successful product was. Don’t be surprised if they answer “the iPod”! For most of their generation, the original Macintosh is ancient history.

Today’s Mac computers don’t command prime Apple Store floor space dominated by trendy gadgets like iPhones and the Apple Watch. But decades after Microsoft was generally crowned victor of the landmark “Windows-Mac war,” Macs still hold a solid 17% share of the desktop computer market.

The powerful top-end Mac desktops are widely preferred by graphic designers and other “creatives,” while the sleek MacBook is a popular BYOD choice among users for whom the premium price tag is no big deal—from top executives on down.

Does Your IT Team “Speak Mac”?

While Apple devotees insist on sticking to Macs in their workplace wherever possible, many IT departments actually have a hard time managing them within their company networks—simply because they’re not Mac experts. Their day-to-day “comfort zone” revolves around Windows-based systems, from server-level architecture to standard software. The Macintosh operating system, Apple’s OS X, is a completely different language from Windows, requiring different skills and expertise. It’s literally a case of apples vs. oranges.

Mac Security: The Weakest Link?

In this age of relentless hacking and cybercrime, IT managers deploy every defense they can find, from anti-virus software to heavy-duty firewalls. But when they’re generally less familiar with Macs and OS X, how safe is the overall network?

A recent study released by identity management software maker Centrify uncovered some startling statistics regarding “unmanaged” Macs:

  • While 65% of Macs in the workplace regularly access “sensitive or regulated customer information,” only 35% utilized any type of data encryption methods—including simply activating the FileVault option which is built into OS X.
  • Over half have no software enforcing strong hack-resistant passwords.
  • 72% of Apple devices (Macs plus iPhones) used for work-related activities have no company-supplied device management software whatsoever.

At the same time, cyber-threats specifically targeting Mac OS X are on the rise.newly released report by security firm Bit9 + Carbon Black reveals that strains of OS X malware detected in 2015 have rocketed to five times the number recorded in the past five years combined. Meanwhile, Patrick Wardle, director of research at another security company, Synack, just delivered a widely publicized presentation at the Virus Bulletin 2015 conference in Prague detailing major vulnerabilities in Gatekeeper, OS X’s built-in frontline defense against trojans and other attacks. Once Gatekeeper is compromised, a Mac is a sitting duck for malicious hackers everywhere.

How many of your employees prefer Macs, and how do they affect the efficiency and security of your company network? Share your concerns with us here.

Blurring the Lines: Hybrid Devices in the Workplace

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

macbook-606763_640

Apple announced the iPad Pro in September of 2015. Microsoft announced the Surface Book just a month later. Both devices are blurring the lines between tablets and laptops, offering interesting new opportunities for technology use in the workplace and resolving many of the issues present in the current two-device work model.

Tablets have increased productivity in the workplace when assigned to specific roles. Laptops function as all-purpose work horses that aren’t tethered to a desk. You can think of tablets like miniature Swiss Army Knives, offering a handful of useful tools; laptops are more like massive Swiss Army Knives, with more tools than you could ever possibly use. It can be a major inconvenience to lug around the larger knife, making the smaller knife better suited to some tasks. Many SMB employees find themselves carrying a laptop and tablet to work. It’s here that the Surface Book laptop and iPad Pro step in, eliminating the need to carry more than one device.

The Growing Role of Tablets in the Workplace

According to eMarketer, the number of tablet users across the globe will surpass one billion by the end of 2015.

However, they are still largely considered a consumer device, with business use accounting for just 14% of all tablet sales. Still, tablets are finding their way into the workplace. According to IDC, 40% of workers in France, Germany, and the U.K. were using a tablet as their only business device as of July 2015.

In order for tablets to succeed, the devices have differentiated themselves from the traditional laptop/desktop computer model. Tablets, for example, are useful tools for delivering presentations, point-of-sale situations, trade show booths, and recording information on the go. In such cases, a larger device (such as a laptop) is not practical or necessary.

What Holds Tablets Back

Steve Jobs was correct in saying that tablets were great for media consumption. However, he cleverly skirted issues related to content creation. Many SMB reps see other businesses implementing tablets successfully and rush out to buy their own. Unfortunately, tablets often amounting to little more than an expensive personal Netflix streaming device, only useful for small, uncommon jobs in a given work environment.

Tablets lag behind laptops when it comes to sitting down at a desk to perform day-to-day work. Their shape and design aren’t well-suited to a long day of typing, and the screens are too small to show multiple open windows. And, as many tablet owners have learned, you can’t just strap a keyboard and touchpad to a tablet and expect it to function like a full-fledged laptop.

On top of the functionality issues, IT consulting and managed services often encounter OS issues with tablet devices used in the workplace: sharing network servers, as well as files, is more difficult than with laptops or desktop computers.

Hybrid Devices: Relieving Workflow Headaches

Both the iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface Book are implementing strategies to resolve the major productivity hang-ups associated with the tablet platform. For example, the iPad Pro has taken strides in allowing multiple apps to run simultaneously so the user doesn’t have to switch apps or screens constantly, or refer to multiple devices. Early impressions indicate that it’s targeted toward creative professionals, such as video editors. The device also introduces an improved, attached keyboard accessory to address typing efficiency issues on a touch screen. However, the iPad Pro is notably missing external mouse and USB support.

The Surface Book line has traditionally performed well in the workplace, cooperating with network software and VPN connections. If you need Windows-based software to do your job, these are a great option. In addition to offering plenty of processing power and a larger screen, the Surface Book also has a trackpad on the keyboard, a big plus for some users. The trackpad is great for people who do a lot of text editing, eliminating the pinch-zoom, tap-and-pray experience many users have with tablet cursors.

These two devices, and other third-party Windows devices, have the potential to bring some SMB workplaces back to a single-device workflow. The iPad Pro takes a more tablet, less laptop approach, while the Surface Book is more laptop, less tablet. Depending on your preferences, both platforms offer enticing, game-changing options.

Your local IT Managed Service experts can provide great insights into which platform may be right for your business.

Busting Dust: The Overlooked Cause of Crashes

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

keyboard-72789_640

Your business can take a productivity hit and incur unnecessary expenses because of a very common, often overlooked problem: dust buildup in computers.

Dust inside computers can decrease their efficiency and even their operational lifespans.

These microscopic particles are everywhere—and unless your cleaning crew has superpowers, they’re unavoidable.

Preemptively addressing dust buildup in your team’s computers can shorten the time your employees spend on individual tasks and keep them up and running for longer. Regular internal cleaning can help you avoid crashes and premature system failures. Invest a little time and effort on minimizing dust—you’ll be glad you did.

Symptoms of Dust Problems

There are several potential symptoms of dust problems:

System Crashes

Dust is actually the culprit of a substantial number of recurring computer crashes that can’t be explained by software failure. If your computer randomly powers down and seems to work fine when you turn it back on, dust may be to blame. Dust inside your computer can prevent its cooling system from maintaining a safe operating temperature. System crashes can also spring up from dust buildup between computer component electrical contacts.

Slow Performance

Sometimes computers will lower their operating speed to reduce heat and avoid an automatic shutdown. Instead of crashing, the computer will operate slower than usual—possibly much slower.

Won’t Power On

Substantial debris buildup in vital computer components (such as the system RAM) can prevent the computer from powering on. The motherboard will refuse to turn on if dust has unseated the memory, since it can no longer access this essential component.

Dust Damage, Short-Term and Long-Term

Occasional performance issues may not seem like a big deal. But dust can do significant damage in both the short- and long-term:

Higher Operating Temperatures

Dust blocks computer airflow, which causes the CPU to run around 30 degrees (F) hotter than normal. CPUs produce more heat as they work harder. A CPU that gets too hot will turn itself off—or, in a worst case scenario, permanently break.

In the short term, the higher operating temperature pushes the device further away from its safe operating temperature and closer to the overheating range. If you do something especially demanding, like encode a video file or analyze a massive database, the device may ultimately overheat and malfunction.

Reduced Device Lifespan

It’s difficult to gauge exactly how much dust buildup reduces a device’s operating lifespan—but with enough dust, it is possible to kill off a device with a 10-year operational span in just one week.

This is unlikely to happen, of course, unless you deliberately pack a computer tower with dust. And while it is a safe bet that dust will not defeat your computer on its own, it can contribute substantially to wear and tear. When dust is present, fans have to run faster and can wear out motors. The CPU and GPU will also wear down faster from gradual heat damage.

These problems wouldn’t be immediately noticeable. But when a computer that should have lasted for five years stops working in three, it becomes apparent. Fortunately, well-implemented cooling functions can minimize the problem.

Thermal Paste Breakdown

Thermal paste is a substance that connects the CPU to the heatsink so that heat can efficiently flow out of the CPU and into the air. However, thermal paste doesn’t last forever, and often breaks down faster when exposed to higher temperatures. When the thermal paste wears down, it can’t move heat away from the CPU, causing it to run hotter and slow down performance.

Corrosion

It’s not a common problem, but dust can corrode the electrical connectors between computer components. Once the connectors are corroded, the components can no longer communicate with each other and must be replaced.

Dealing with Dust

Dust-related problems can’t be solved by patching software or changing system settings. The only way to deal with dust is to remove it.

In all cases, a canister of compressed air is your best bet for clearing out debris. Laptops are much easier to keep dust-free than desktops because they are exposed to less airflow, minimizing dust exposure. Desktops, however, require much more care.

You can take care of a laptop’s dust buildup in most instances by blasting it away from any vents on the device using the compressed air. Make sure to turn the laptop off while cleaning it to avoid damaging any fans.

Cleaning dust out of a desktop computer is a little bit more complicated:

  • Turn off the computer and disconnect all peripheral cables.
  • Move the computer to an open area that’s free of carpet and other fabrics.
  • Remove the side access panel.
  • Blast out the surface dust from all internal components, fans, and vents.
  • If you’ve been experiencing unexplained crashes and are comfortable with disassembling computer hardware, remove all expansion cards, RAM, and hard drive connection cables, clean the connection points with compressed air, and reconnect all the components.
  • Use an electronic-friendly cloth and 91% (or higher) isopropyl alcohol to clear off debris buildup that the air can’t clean.

It’s recommended to repeat this process every three to six months. Also, avoid using air compressors instead of canned compressed air, because the machines may shoot out tiny metal scraps that could create unwanted connection bridges and break the system. Avoid using vacuums, and be mindful of static electricity.

You can also avoid dust-related problems with computers by limiting how much builds up in the first place. Pull your desktop towers out from those old, confined cupboards and put them on open desk surfaces. The computer should allow clear air flow to all system fans, with an ideal 6-inch clearance on all sides. Dusting the desk area around the computer can help keep debris from working its way into the system.