Declare your freedom from slow computers, downtime, and more!

American flagIt’s July 4th. Are you free from tech worries? A new trend in network support services is intended to do just that – free you from the stress and concern of computer problems, breakdowns, viruses, and security threats.

It’s a concept known as managed services. Companies like ours fully manage your network using sophisticated tools that watch over your systems 24/7 and alert us to any looming issues, usually before they become serious.

This approach has many advantages, but the biggest by far is limited downtime combined with no-surprise fixed price billing. If you think about it, traditional tech companies are rewarded when your systems break. That’s when they get to bill you a ton of money.

With managed services, we’re rewarded for preventing your systems from going down in the first place. In fact, the more proactive and efficient we are, the more money we make. That means we go out of our way to keep things running smoothly, and isn’t that exactly what you want?

There are many flavors of managed services, which makes it difficult to do an “apples to apples” comparison. Some companies manage your server onsite; others host it in a data center. Some companies bundle a broad array of options to provide a complete subscription package. These include items such as anti-virus, intrusion detection, and high-end backup services. And of course the tools different companies use vary widely in capabilities.

If you go this route, you may see less of your tech. This is another efficiency of managed services – with the right tools, up to 90% of your maintenance can be done remotely. Not only does it make scheduling more efficient, it saves us drive time and gas, and we can pass that savings on to you. We have to come onsite for hardware changes but not much else. We like to plan in monthly reviews and quarterly strategy meetings to ensure we’ve covering all your needs, but not everyone does that.

Some people shy away from managed services because costs are perceived as higher. When we sit down with most business owners, we find that averaging their costs over the course of a year or two illustrate that the difference is not that great. Combine that with the value of quick response, limited downtime, and predictable costs, and most find it to be a bargain they can’t afford to pass up.

add to del.icio.usDigg itStumble It!Add to Blinkslistadd to furladd to ma.gnoliaadd to simpyseed the vineTailRank

Your very first network

Simple networkMost small businesses that have more than one computer start out with a peer-to-peer network. This means there is no server – the computers talk directly to one another, as peers. If you have Windows XP or Vista, setup is fairly easy and can be done entirely through wizards. With older versions of Windows, the mechanics are a little more complicated, especially for the novice, but it certainly can be done.

Why bother? Networked computers can share not just your Internet connection but also printers and files. You can even backup files from one computer to another.

While you can connect two computers directly together, your network will be much more reliable if you purchase a router, around $50. Linksys, Netgear, and D-Link are popular brands. A router will manage your network for you, by “routing” the signals between your computers and your Internet connection, much like a traffic cop. In addition, most routers have a built-in firewall that will provide basic protection against hackers.

Spring cleaning, geek-style

Spring cleaning

In the mood for a little geek-style spring cleaning? To keep things in tip-top shape, spend a few minutes on your computer every few months.

The easiest place to start is your monitor. Use a microfiber cloth to dust your monitor, or try premoistened screen-cleaning wipes for more stubborn spots like fingerprints. Avoid traditional glass cleaners—some LCD and laptop screens are too delicate for these strong solutions, and drips can be devastating to electronics. And never spray cleaner directly on the computer–spray the cloth you are using instead.

Got crumbs in your keyboard? Canned air can blow them away, or you can try special vacuum attachments. If it’s really beyond help, spend $20 – $50 on an upgrade to a new wireless or multimedia keyboard. If you keep coffee or soda close by, consider a spill-resistant keyboard to help prevent disastrous accidents.

If you have an old mouse with a rubber roller ball, you can open it up for cleaning. Pull out the ball and use a little alcohol on a cotton swab to clean the rollers. Or, even better, skip the cleaning and purchase an optical laser mouse instead. Then there’s no cleaning required and you’ll find it’s a much smoother mouse experience.

Feeling adventurous? Desktops, especially those sitting on the floor, tend to accumulate a lot of dust inside the case. If you have pets, you may be shocked at how much fur you find. Your computer will run much better without it, so open up the case and blow out all the dust with canned air once every year or two. Unplug it first, of course, and be careful not to jostle any parts. A dust-free PC will stay cooler and run much more smoothly.

The difference between a server and a desktop computer

Dell server farmAren’t servers just souped-up desktop computers? Not exactly. If you are in charge of your company’s technology, you need to know what makes them different.

Server Software

Regular computers usually run some flavor of Windows, like XP or Vista. Macs of course run Mac software (OS X), and there are also open source desktop alternatives such as Linux.

Servers generally run more powerful operating systems that can handle networking, email, internet/intranet hosting, file sharing, databases, and more. Windows Server and Windows Small Business Server are quite popular in small and mid-size businesses. Mac offers OS X Server if you want to run your entire network on Macs.

Linux servers are also a popular choice. Because this is an open-source option, there are many different choices, referred to as distributions. Popular examples include Red Hat, Ubuntu, and SUSE. Some distros are better suited to handle server requirements while others are intended as a desktop operating system.

With Windows and Mac, there’s one more software component you’ll need: client access licenses (CALs) that allow computers on the network to connect to the server. In most cases you need one for each computer; they are usually sold in packs of 5, 10, and 25.

Server Hardware

The second major difference between computers and servers: better hardware. You’ll generally see better quality parts and more redundancy (duplication of hardware). The reason? If a desktop goes down, it impacts a single person. If a server goes down, it can easily impact dozens, even hundreds of people at once.

Better quality parts used to be something you could take for granted. However, if you purchase a no-name brand or even a really low-end name-brand, the quality difference will not be great. You often get what you pay for, and it’s difficult to do a true apples-to-apples comparison.

Redundancy is easier to check up on. RAID is a must even on a budget server–it stands for redundant array of inexpensive disks and keeps your server from crashing if a hard drive dies. More expensive servers add a wide variety of features from hot-swap removable drives to dual power sources. Multiple processors and plenty of memory (RAM) keep things running smoothly even for resource-hungry software applications.

You can select a tower case, just like a normal desktop computer, or a rack-mountable case. This is largely a question of convenience. If you have several servers, it is most efficient to mount them in a space-saving rack. If you have just one or two, it may not make much difference.

Vive la difference!

Now that you know the difference, you can shop smart, balancing price and reliability to get the server that best meets your needs.