3 Years is a Lifetime

We used to consider three to five years as the useful lifetime for a desktop/laptop computer and five to seven years as the useful lifetime for a server. Forget about mobile devices, which seem to become obsolete before you buy them. For computers and servers, a lifetime is getting shorter.

Since the dawn of the computer age, hardware and software have always had a push-pull effect on each other. When one party makes a significant advance in capability and/or speed, the other is forced to catch up – and maybe raise the ante. Faster, more sophisticated application software requires faster, more powerful computing systems to give you all the productivity benefits that can increase your profitability. Faster, more powerful computing systems can make you wonder why your application software is slow, leading you to demand more robust software from publishers. It just goes on and on.

For business and home users, we’re looking at three years now for the useful service life of a computer, and for businesses, we’re looking at shorter lifetimes for peripherals, such as printers. Some companies may tend to keep printers around longer because their basic function hasn’t changed. They print documents, and most printers in use today have enough speed to satisfy most offices.

But they don’t have enough processing speed to satisfy the software systems that feed them the files to print. With technology advancing at such a rapid pace, there is less and less “backward compatibility” to handle older printer drivers or to upgrade printer drivers for newer computers or software. As a result, you need to look at the useful operating life of your printers in addition to your operating system, your application software and your computer. At some point, you’ll be looking at security, too, because your OS and your printer drivers will no longer be supported with bug fixes and security patches.

At some point, too, your computer system and your Wi-Fi system will not match the speed of your Internet connection. Gigabit speeds are becoming more readily available from multiple providers, and competition will ratchet up the speed and cut the price. In practical terms, you are going to demand more speed from your equipment and network because it will increase your business’ productivity or because it will better handle all the streaming needs in your home – such as movies, TV programs and educational and gaming activities.

We can fine-tune equipment only up to a point. After that, you are going to need new hardware and maybe new software. And then, you will begin the cycle again.

As for mobile devices, they are changing rapidly, too. And as companies such as Apple and Samsung wage performance and feature wars, there will be more pressure on each of them to make significant improvements with each new upgrade they release. We’re already seeing how this war affects a company’s stock price, resulting in shareholder pressure as well as customer pressure to be better and cheaper in a shorter product-rollout cycle.Whether at home or at the office, you need to start looking at a three-year cycle for most of your hardware and software – and look at how your systems integrate with mobile devices, which are being used increasingly for tasks normally done on a computer. We can help you with a technology assessment of your business, your home or both – and look at how your systems need to integrate with mobile devices. Our assessment will give you a planning guide to devise a timetable and budget to keep your systems current with your needs. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to set up an appointment.

How Does Your IT Consultant Handle Your Info?

Today’s interconnected world is an interdependent world. No matter how many precautions you take to protect your data’s security, technology has forced you to depend on other people’s diligence to share your passion for protection. You don’t have a lot of control over the weakest link in your online chain. But asking how your IT consultant handles your information can help you gain better control where it’s possible.

So, here’s the question you need to ask: How do you handle my information, including your access to my systems?

And, here’s the discussion that needs to follow:

Your IT consultant must follow the strictest protocols available to protect all the information you provide. This includes access to your servers, routers (including repeaters or boosters for Wi-Fi networks) and computers that store your information or have access to wherever you store information.

An individual provider, such as Sterling Rose, can handle your data security differently from a large support organization. It’s not that one type of provider is better for a particular client; it’s more a matter of tailoring protection procedures to meet real-world needs and being diligent about following them.

We can keep all of our clients’ information in one place that can be accessed by only one person, and that helps us build a strong wall around (and roof over) the user names and passwords for your systems. With the ability to securely access the information from a desktop computer or mobile device, we can service a client from anywhere.

We protect that information in a number of ways. These are just a few of them:

  • We regularly use two-factor authentication, which requires more than just a password. Every two-factor system has its own set of additional requirements, but the net result is that a hacker or robotic system cannot provide the necessary response. (We’re sure somebody is hard at work to defeat two-factor authentication, but right now, it works.)
  • We use long, complex passwords with upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters. Those are always impossible to crack using the latest available algorithms – at least for now.
  • We use systems that require us to re-log in every 14 days and change our passwords and authentication information. It’s a major inconvenience for us, but it’s much more convenient than having to explain why we need to react to a security breach.

A larger IT service provider with multiple technicians available to service a client can also store information securely in one place, but all the technicians need to access it. Some questions you should ask include:

  • Where do you store my information?
  • How do technicians access my information?
  • What protocols do you follow for user names, passwords and other authentication?
  • Are you notified when my information is accessed, and are you able to track who accessed it?

Your IT consultant must be able to advise you on the best security measures to take within your own organization. They should be able to help you design and install a set of procedures for any point at which information is accessed, such as:

  • Accessing specific files or categories of files from within your office or offices that are stored on your own server or on a server hosted by a third party (a cloud provider)
  • Accessing that information from a remote location, such as a home office, where you can install and monitor security measures
  • Accessing that information from a remote location, such as a customer’s place of business or a public place, such as a coffee shop or airport, where you cannot verify the security of a network.

You may also need to set up encrypted email, which we did for an insurance business. Our client reasoned that while they can control exchanges with their clients, they cannot control what happens when their clients communicate with others. Our client needed to be able to show that their security measures would stand up to an outside audit.

If you have any questions about how we handle your information, feel free to contact us at any time by email or phone – 973-433-6676. We would be more than happy to review our policies and procedures in general and for your information in particular. We can also help you develop and implement a security program for your business – or home – system.

Listening to Kidz

One of our clients has launched a new website that looks at how kids look at restaurants. Aside from the specific market need the new website is attempting to fill, it’s also giving us a different perspective on online reviews and how they’re used.

The website, www.kidzdish.com, comes from his experiences dining out with his wife and their two daughters. He notes that his daughters are observant and notice things that would never occur to him or his wife. As parents of two children, it resonated a lot of ways for us.

On one level, it’s a great tool for teaching children how to write reviews – which we all depend on for choosing restaurants or buying ingredients and tools to make dinner at home. It helps them sharpen their observation skills, and that will be critical as they get older and as their lives become more multi-faceted.

On another level, it gives parents a good tool for teaching their children how to use the Internet, and it provides strong parental controls. The benefit for that, too, is the creation of a family activity that’s centered around the Internet.

The website has also made us more observant parents. When we go to restaurants, our kids are usually hungry, and the faster they get the food they want, the better the experience for everyone. We now notice – and can tell all potential customers – if the servers get to us quickly, how they pay attention to our kids’ concerns, and if they bring out their food before ours. That last point is key for us. As parents, we can’t eat until our kids are served, and if we have to wait, our food gets cold. So, when our kids post reviews of restaurants we patronize, that’s one factor they will use to rate the place. They’ll also discuss how they were treated by their server, such as: the server treated me like a little kid, or the server made me feel special and let me know we were appreciated as customers. Oh, yes, they also will comment on the texture and flavor of the mac-and-cheese.

As online interaction continues to play an increasingly greater role in how we live, we support the growth of websites such as this, which give our kids the chance to develop mindsets and skill sets for a communications channel that carries more information at breakneck speeds every day.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment and let us know. And if you are concerned about setting parental controls on computers or devices in your household, we can help. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or send us an email to discuss your needs.