Anatomy of a Solution

In our quest for value, we sometimes take shortcuts to an improved bottom line by buying off-brand equipment at a lower price. In some cases, it’s a shortcut to danger that can leave us walking the edge of a cliff and essentially wipe out any savings we might have gained. It’s taken a concerted effort by a lot of people to pull this one back from the edge of disaster for a new client.

The problem started early in the morning of Martin Luther King Day – and 7 a.m. is early when it’s a holiday. A manager at a new client, called to say the server was “beeping.” Their previous IT firm, which purchased and installed the server, had always told them to reboot the server, and the problem would go away. Two hours later, we got a call that the beep was still there – it was a nuisance – but worse, the company couldn’t do its work.

Phone support didn’t work, so we went to the office, and we wound up spending most of the day – plus all day Thursday and Friday – trying to solve the problem. One of our problems was that the server was not a name-brand, top quality unit. While we are brand-neutral, we believe the top brands for hardware provide the best products with the most up-to-date components, and we consider that an essential in a field where slight variations can have a major effect.

To recap a long story, we spent time on the telephone and on Facetime with the technicians at the server company. We never could get the server running, and by later Monday, our client agreed to ship the server back to the supplier – at a cost of several hundred dollars.

We next turned our attention to their customized application software and that provider. Our client had some issues at the end of 2016 with back-up space on the drive where the application was housed. The software provider claimed it was an IT problem, but during a conference call, we learned they were not providing all the service they were supposed to. They had shut off the backup services about three weeks before all the problems were discovered.

We decided to install new drives, including a “spare” that I had purchased, and began to build up the server, again. We also ordered new drives from the server company. By this time, our client had been down for a few days, and employees were manually processing orders. We worked with the software provider to recover most of the data files. But as we started to rebuild the repaired server, which had new drives, it crashed halfway through the process. By 3 p.m. Friday of that week, we had dealt with a number of issues with several vendors, including Microsoft, and we thought we had the system operational.

By the following Tuesday, we got the new drives. We shut down the system that afternoon to install them and scheduled the data transfer for that night. When it failed, we saw that the drives were the wrong ones. On one level, they met the specifications, but there were a number of internal components that were not correct – and the server provider did not verify all of the specifications involved. As we prepared this article, we had ordered a total of 12 drives – even though only four were needed, and the system still was not working properly.

Compounding the problem, the software provider had a licensing issue, which did not inspire a lot of confidence on our part. The software company had been provided access to browse the file area, but we have decided to block their access. There are too many questions about securing the integrity of the server, and this just shuts off the access until we get everything back and running. The good news is that our client has not lost any data. We appreciate the ability of the software provider to recover all the data, but we continue to have issues with some of the contractors we had to work with.

We continue to have problems with the server and with workstation computers in the company that also are not top-brand products. We also have had problems with a networking card. We are working with the client to replace the workstations, and we are developing a budget for replacements going forward.

The server presents a major problem because it is reaching the end of its warranty period. Even though some of the work on their system has been covered by the warranty, shipping costs and the extra drives were not covered. Also, our client incurred costs related to downtime. We think keeping the server will result in throwing more good money after bad. If they haven’t reached the breaking point already, it’s safe to say they’ve probably wiped out any saving that the lower cost of the hardware may have provided.

Our guiding principle is to buy top-quality hardware and software to meet your expectations of reliability. As your IT consultant, we are equipped to lay out your hardware and software options and to show you their cost-of-ownership options, including the cost of servicing broken-down systems. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to schedule an evaluation of your system and to determine the most cost-effective way improve your operating efficiency and profitability.

Who’s Watching? Internal Software and the IoT

Connected homes. Connected cars. Doing more over the internet. The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing faster and faster. And that begs two questions: 1.) Who’s watching? 2.) How do you pull the shades on prying eyes?

The answer to the first question is unnervingly simple: It could be anyone in the world.

The short answer to the second question is: Shore-up your security.

As I walked around CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas last month, I looked at all the devices that are connected to the internet. I thought about all the internal software in those devices – and wondered who’s upgrading that software for security?

Software is at the heart of every device in our house that’s connected – usually wirelessly – to the internet. While we continue to encourage you to change the username and password for every device you have, it’s still possible for hackers to use an open “back door” to get inside the internal software for, let’s say, the camera systems inside and outside your house. We all need to make sure that the companies who provide all these great connected devices are updating their software security. It’s no different than the security patches issued by all software publishers.

In the absence of device manufacturers pushing out software updates, you should make it a habit to visit their websites to see if any updates are available for your products – and to download them and install them right away.

It’s also important to know what’s in your house – even if it’s wired. We visited a house that somebody was buying, and we found a mound of wires in the basement. Not only did the new owners not know what all the wires were connected to, the old owner didn’t know about all of them, either. We found the whole house had been hard-wired, and that there was an old security camera system. We connected all the access points in the house to relieve the pressure on the new Wi-Fi system we installed, and we set up the camera system and made sure it was secure. But had we not been there, nobody would have known how everything was supposed to work and if anything had been exposed to a security breach.

Automobiles, by the way, have internal software, too, and you generally need to visit a dealer to have that checked. It has been demonstrated that hackers can break into certain parts of your car’s computer system and affect your car’s operation. While there’s likely not a widespread benefit that makes economic sense for doing this, you could be an isolated, totally random victim of someone who’s just playing around with the idea of hacking a car.

If you have any questions about the security steps you need to take for your devices, gather all the information you can find about the product and call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us with your questions. If need be, we can help you find the correct software updates or get the information you need to ask the right questions when you contact your device manufacturer.

A Time and a Place to be Connected

You are picking up your child! GET OFF YOUR PHONE!!!!

The message you see here hit one mother right between the eyes when she picked up her kids at a day care center outside Houston. She posted her reaction on Facebook to this sign, and it generated nearly 1.5 million shares. I say it’s a wake-up call to a disturbing trend.

Too many people just don’t know when to put their phones in their pockets – or close their connected devices. I find it disrespectful and representative of misplaced priorities.

The sign read:

“You are picking up your child! GET OFF YOUR PHONE!!!! Your child is happy to see you! Are you not happy to see your child??”

“We have seen children trying to hand their parents their work they completed and the parent is on the phone. We have heard a child say ‘Mommy, mommy, mommy…” and the parent is paying more attention to their phone than their own child. It is appalling. Get off your phone!!”

The sign and reaction of the mother were the subject of a Fox News report. The mother said she usually doesn’t have her phone when she picks up her children. But this time, it was in her hand. She said she thought the message was awesome and decided to snap the picture and post it on her Facebook page.

Naturally, there was some pushback. One Facebooker commented that she would pull her child out of a daycare center that posted a message like that, and another said her work keeps her on call.

I don’t what kind of work she does, but this strikes me as a misplaced priority. I know there are emergencies: work, family, disasters, etc. But I also know there can be a time when we need to put our phones away and give proper attention to our families – especially to the children whose lives we are shaping by our words and deeds.

So, I applaud the sign and the mother who posted it. And, I want to take it a step farther to talk about phones in places where they shouldn’t be used, such as houses of worship.

I am not an especially religious person, but I attend a synagogue in my community, and I am always shocked by the number of phones that are out. Sometimes, they are out inside the sanctuary, and that’s disrespectful of those who want to worship. I also see children and adults alike using their phones in the lobbies of their houses of worship, and I wonder why they just don’t go outside.

It’s equally disrespectful for people to use their phones during movies, concerts and plays – even if they are just texting. It disrupts everyone nearby, and in some cases, it can affect performers.

Yes, I know it’s good to have a phone handy to handle real emergencies, but you can keep a phone on vibrate, and you can leave the building if your attention is required by someone. That way, you can maintain respect for people and institutions. What do you think? Leave a comment or send us an email to let us know.