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Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview Has Been Released

Microsoft just recently announced the release of Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview. It builds on the release of the Windows 8.1 Preview which was released in June this year. It comes with additional security, management, mobility and more virtualization features that are well suited for business. The preview can be downloaded from TechNet. During the announcement, the company also confirmed the rumors that the life cycle support policy for Windows 8.1 would be the same as that for Windows 8. The support would end on 10th January 2023.

Customers would be given two years to move to Windows 8.1 from Windows 8 after the update has been released. This time-frame is seen as ample enough to allow all their customers to move to Windows 8.1. After the end of that period, the company will no longer provide support for Windows 8, but will only provide support for Windows 8.1 and above.

The preview featured many new features that will definitely generate a lot of buzz. The additional enterprise features that have been included in the list include;

– Start Screen Control. IT departments will now be in a position to control how the layout of the Start Screen on company issued devices will appear. They can control the layout to ensure that key apps are easily accessible by users. The control also makes it possible for IT departments to prevent users from customizing their Start Screen. This will help ensure consistency and uniformity in the work place.
– Windows To Go Creator enables IT departments to create a fully manageable Windows 8.1 desktop that can be on a bootable external USB drive. The drive can easily be used to support bringing your own devices to work, and at the same time, can be given to corporate staff without necessarily compromising security.

– Direct Access enables users to connect via a corporate network without having to launch a separate VPN like it was before. IT administrators can also keep the remote users’ PCs up to date by applying all the latest software updates and policies.

– BranchCache. Employees who work in branch offices will no longer have to download content multiple times from the Wide Area Network. This is because Branchcache caches websites, and files them along with any other content from the central servers locally on the hosted cache servers or the PCs.

– Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). Users will enjoy a rich desktop experience and will have the ability to play 3D games. It will also be possible to use USB peripherals and to use some touch enabled devices across all types of network whether LAN or WAN for the VDI scenarios. This has been made possible mainly because of enhancements in Windows Server 2012 and Microsoft RemoteFX.

– Applocker: With this feature, IT department can control the apps and types of files that users run on their devices. This will make their devices more secure while also increasing the security of the data the device holds.

– Windows Enterprise Side Loading: It is now possible to side-load Internal Windows apps on domain joined PCs with tablets that are running the Windows 8.1 Enterprise.

The release date of the full version has not yet been announced by Microsoft but it will not be later than August.

Getting the Most Out of Outsourcing

When you’re a small business every dollar you spend is important.  So when you have to hire outside help, especially outsourcing IT needs, how do you insure your money is cost-effective.  One word: benchmarks.

Traditionally, benchmarks have been touted by outsourcing firms as ways to compare themselves to their competitors.  For example, they would say, “we X company have decreased system downtime by Y percent on average.”  They would use these benchmarks to help set the price.  However, with the changing market, the usage of benchmarks has changed.

Today, benchmarks should be used to ask” what is the best usage of company X’s resources for me?” rather than “how much should I pay company X?”  So how do you decide what is best?

Get a Baseline

To judge how effective a project is you need to know the amount and rate of change.  That’s status after compared to status before.  Outsourcing companies can spin the after data much easier than the before data.  However, you should take a stock of what position you are in.  In the downtime example, if you’re having trouble with your network crashing, you should time how long your network is not working.

Unit Consumption

In this day and age, it’s important to know what you want.  After getting a baseline you should work with your IT service provider to decide how much per unit of improvement will cost.  That way you can zero in on what you want and what you can have.

In-Check

As always, keep yourself in-check.

Remote Technical Support: Faster + Cheaper = Better

Computers and the internet have changed the way just about every kind of service works. Hospitals share test results with doctors instantly. Banks move money electronically with less and less need for paper checks or cash. And it’s no different when it comes to taking care of the computers themselves. Nearly universal high-speed internet means that remote technical support is now very often a faster, cheaper and more effective option than onsite services.

An experienced IT provider these days can often diagnose problems in your network almost immediately without every setting foot in your office. That’s especially true for companies that have some or all of their IT in the cloud, but even if all your data is sitting on a server in the closet or a C drive under your desk, you can invite an off-site tech worker into your network over the internet. An expert working in an office miles away can operate a virus-infected computer remotely, just as if they were sitting in front of it. They can even get on the phone with you at the same time and talk you through the problem so you can watch out for it in the future. And they can do all of this in a fraction of the time it would take them just to drive to your office.

Remote technical support can sometimes even work for physical problems with your hardware. With smartphone cameras and webcams, it’s easy to share images of your machines. A technician can diagnose a problem based on data from the network, tell you just where to point a camera and then explain the problem they see. They may be able to tell you to switch where a cable is plugged in, or order you a new piece of equipment to replace something that’s on the fritz.

What’s the benefit of this switch? It’s the same as in any industry. Doing things over the internet—moving data from one place to another—is quicker and cheaper than moving a person the same distance.

FundaGeek: Financing the Future of IT

So you have an idea for a great app.  What now?  You need capital to get started with development.  A bank is an option, but you’d probably get laughed at when you explained your idea.  Apps are very high risk ventures.  You could try Kickstarters.  But you’d probably be drowned out by all the movies and bands looking for funding.

Now there’s Fundageek.  This site focuses entirely on connecting micro-investors with projects. One aspect of the IT world that can really benefit from crowdsourcing is open source software.  Small groups and individuals can now seeking funds for working with open source.

IT and the Customer Experience

In the world of free enterprise being better than your the competition is the name of the game.  However, how do you measure better?  Price is a major factor, but that’s often out of your control.  Quality of goods is another facet; however, you and competition have access to the same manufactures so that’s wash.  What can you do?

You could provide a superior customer experience.  What’s that you ask?  Well according to Adam Richardson of the Harvard Business Review, customer experience is essentially the interaction between you and your customers.

This includes everything from face-to-face meetings, ad views and when a customer pursues your website.  All these areas of interaction are call touchpoints and they are an element that you have control over.

Well, how can an IT consultant help you with that?  A simple example within your brick-and-mortar store is setting up an Easypay account so people can pay with their smartphones.

Another simple example is logging onto a social networking site and seeing what everyone is talking about.  If everyone is talking about the big game, it might be time push certain merchandise.

A little more forward thinking and investor heavy is seeking out new in-store technology.  Walmart has been planning on deploying new near field communication technology.  The idea is giving their customers more ready access to information about the products they are viewing.

Though I believe they may be developing this convenience so they control what information their shoppers first see. Caveat Emptor!

The Economics of Tech Businesses

Everyone seems to be talking about the economy.  Politicians, school teachers, and even that guy holding up the sign at the street corner are all asking if we are better than we were four years ago.  At the core of that question is faith and belief.  Publilius Syrus once said that, “Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it.”  Recently, the Nasdaq reached its highest levels since 2000, when the Internet bubble burst.

Many fault the slow economic recovery to low demand.  However, major tech companies are still chugging money into R&D.  Both Google and Apple are preparing for major product launches.  A Piper Jaffray report stated that Apple may be able to sell 10 million iPhone 5s in a week.

Not only is demand for hardware on the rise, but also for the consumption of data.  A Motorola executive, Daniel Woodward announced that there are 15 million users and counting on LTE services when talking about the new Droid Razor coming out.

 

Meet Jobe Diagne, Tech Support Engineer

Jobe Diagne

Jobe Diagne

Jobe Diagne grew up in Cambridge. When he went to college, he thought he’d focus on marketing and communications. But then he took part in Year Up, an intensive training program for young people from the city. The experience introduced him to the technology field, and he’s never looked back.

“I just knew I wanted to be in IT,” he said. “I love what I do.”

Jobe is 32 now, and he’s worked in the field for eight years, largely in the IT departments of large corporations. He’s been at ComputerSupport.com for just a few months, but he’s finding the environment a pleasant change.

“I just like the management style,” he said. “They’re open to suggestions and changes.”

Another aspect of the work that he likes is seeing how different areas of IT operate. His job mostly consists of dealing with client issues, from simple things like resetting passwords to responding when a server goes down. Eventually, though, Jobe wants to get into networking and systems administration. Since ComputerSupport.com works as a team, he’s able to start getting involved in that area as well.

“This, to be honest, is the best stepping stone for me,” he said.

Jobe lives in Worcester, and when he’s not working he spends plenty of time with friends and family. In May, he became a first-time uncle when his twin brother had triplets.

“I don’t look at a computer when I’m out of work,” he said.

Meet Lane Smith, Technical Support Engineer

Lane Smith

Lane Smith

Lane Smith got his start in IT back when he was in elementary school in Arkansas. His father was a student at the time, and he had a job at a university IT department. He brought Lane with him sometimes, and the boy found the work didn’t look that difficult.

“At that point it was just kind of pushing ‘next,’ ‘next,’ ‘next,’” he said.

Lane discovered he could use even a little bit of technical expertise to his advantage. For school projects, he started building websites, and he found his teachers were impressed.

“In five minutes, I could have an A on a report,” he said.

These days, at 25, Lane has much more substantial expertise in technology. He needs to, because his job involves addressing all sorts of client issues, from minor hardware issues to server problems and email glitches.

“You have to be kind of proactive, staying up to date,” he said.

Lane has been with ComputerSupport.com for a little over a year, and he said one of the things he likes about the job is that there aren’t any low-level employees who have to follow a script to respond to issues. “Everyone kind of knows what they’re doing,” he said.

That means when clients call in, their questions get answered quickly, and the work environment stays calm.

Aside from working with customers remotely, Lane does on-site work at various offices a few times a week. “It’s kind of nice to see how the buildings are set up,” he said. “Kind of put a face and a name together.”

Of course visiting outside offices isn’t always possible. With one client in Sweden, Lane uses a webcam setup to take a close look at their equipment so he can diagnose whatever issues they’re having.

Lane isn’t just a computer person. When he’s not in the office, he’s studying history at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. He’s especially interested in the beginnings of the Cold War after World War II.

And beyond being a student and a full-time IT pro, he finds time to brew his own beer. One of his favorites is a strong winter ale. On occasion, he’ll even bring a few into the office for everyone to enjoy after finishing up the work week.

Meet Ditmar Tavares, Network Engineer

Ditmar Tavares

Ditmar Tavares

Ditmar Tavares is from Cape Verde by way of Canada, and he now lives just five minutes away from work in Framingham, Mass. While many of us think of Canada as a calmer version of the U.S., Ditmar lived in busy downtown Halifax, and he said he appreciates the more relaxed atmosphere in Framingham.

“Massachusetts is perfect for me,” he said.

He also likes the work he does at ComputerSupport.com. Although he was trained as a software engineer and got his first job in that area, he said he finds dealing with networks and servers more rewarding.

“I enjoy this work a lot more,” he said. “In this field there are a lot more interesting things to do. “

Ditmar said he’s a detail person, and he loves studying all aspects of IT.  “I spend a lot of time reading and researching, and sometimes spending my own money going for further education,” he said.

In fact, Ditmar said, it’s not unusual for him to work from 8:30 to 5 and then go back home and study from 6 to 2 a.m.

Aside from his technical training, Ditmar, who’s 30, said he’s working on his language skills. He speaks English, Portuguese, Spanish and Creole. While his English is already excellent, he’s trying to perfect it so he can work more comfortably with customers. His goal is to eventually start his own company.

“I hope I can own a business pretty close to this one,” he said.

IT Spending to Reach 3.6 Trillion

As more and more business is done in the digital space, firms are spending more on IT than ever before.  A Gartner-Forbes survey showed that 64 percent of all companies surveyed will increase their IT budget. Key experts agree that investing in business technology is key for a competitive advantage. “Board directors clearly have a top priority to invest in IT and leverage IT for competitive advantage,” said Jorge Lopez, vice president and analyst at Gartner. “These forward-looking and proactive attitudes are being made although more than half of the survey respondents replied that they are preparing for a market recession.”

Overall, global IT spending will reach a total of 3.6 trillion dollars a year.  This money is spent on things like IT support and AWS and Azure consulting. The influence if informational and technological services are playing a major factor in this increase in spending.  Ninety-percent of respondents claimed that IT is a, “strategic contribution” to company operations. Half said they agreed that IT can, “change the rules of competition” in their industries.  The saying, those who fall behind are left behind comes to mind.