Be Aware of Backup Terms & Conditions

If you’re one of our many clients using Office 365, we’ve likely put you on OneDrive, which essentially backs up some or most of your files. You also likely have another backup option or two that includes data storage in the cloud. But do you know what gets backed up to each cloud? Or how long it’s kept on a server? Or what happens in a catastrophic failure? Here’s what to be aware of.

For this article, we’ll focus on Office 365, Dropbox and Google Business Services. And while we believe the cloud is safe for data storage, the question is: How safe is it? There’s a lot we don’t know.

For example, what happens if something goes drastically wrong, such as an employee of the service going rogue, a hacker getting into the server, or a catastrophic system failure?

What happens if you lose your mind and delete a whole bunch of files – and then realize two months later that you need them?

In broad, general terms, the terms and conditions you agree to absolve them from any responsibility for any error that could possibly connected to you or your actions. None of the cloud providers covers your disasters; they only cover theirs. If there is a complete “nuclear meltdown” on the part of your service provider, they’re only required to restore data to the last point where they backed it up. If you back up your system on Wednesdays and the meltdown happens on Tuesday, you’re out six days of data.

One other problem that many small businesses and individuals face is knowing where all of their data is. They may have stored data in some account and haven’t accessed it for years. They may not even remember having the account. In many of the terms and conditions you agree to, a data storage company may have limits on how long they keep data, but let’s assume it’s unlimited. In cases where you forgot all of your access info – or maybe now use a different email address as your user name, it can be tedious, if not impossible, to verify you own the data and retrieve it.

To cover a reasonable number of contingencies, you should answer the following questions:

  • Do you know where all your data is and how to access it?
  • How much data do I need to keep? The amount of data we keep tends to expand as we acquire more storage capacity, and today’s technology makes that capacity virtually unlimited. Only you know what’s important, but your storage decision doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing proposition. You can prioritize your data and put it in different places.
  • How are you backing up your data? You can do it automatically to a cloud and/or a portable hard drive connected to your computer or server. You can also do it manually. And, you can use any timeframe from real time to once a week – or even less often, though we’d always recommend real time as the first choice.
  • To what extent do you backup your data? You may be backing up only data files, or you may be backing up application software – or both. If you have employees who work remotely, you may have a system in place that backs up their work files or any changes that they may make while using certain applications.

Once you answer those questions, we can help you design a backup and storage program that meets your needs. However, it’s far from simple, especially for small businesses. We constantly go back and forth with vendors and clients about where to back up data and whether it should be more than one cloud. We tend to put our stuff in the cloud because it’s safer, but no cloud can cover human failure (it’s in the terms and conditions).

Security is the biggest human failure. If you or one of your employees with access to data opens a security breach, there’s no cloud service provider who’ll take responsibility for that. That human error is compounded if you go two or three months or longer before you find that data is missing or compromised – and that’s almost always the case.

Our advice is to forget about terms and conditions from your provider and set a few of your own:

  • Look at the data you store and determine how much you really need to keep.
  • If you find data stored in places or accounts you no longer use, transfer everything to a place you use and close out old accounts.
  • Decide where to store your data. Ideally, if you want to cover all of your bases, you should use more than one cloud and have a physical device in your office or home, such as a server or portable hard drive.
  • Develop and institute an automated backup program.
  • Decide who has access to your data – and then institute a process to keep it safe and make sure everyone who uses the process is trained.

We can help you follow through on all the terms and conditions you set for yourself, your employees and your data. Our process includes helping you make sound decisions on what to store and where, closing up all your loose ends, designing and implementing a storage program, training employees and monitoring your storage program. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs and set up an appointment to move forward.

Terms & Conditions and Apps

Many of the companies we do business with online, especially those for purchasing merchandise, like us to use their apps for phones and other devices. We accept their terms and conditions to get it done – and we never bother to find out what data those apps share and with whom. You can sidestep the issue by going to a company’s website for the transaction. And while you’re at it, you might want to delete those unused apps that may be tracking you and feeding info to…whomever. I recently cut my apps from something like 150 to 47 – and I still only use about half of them. I was prompted to do it initially because for years, I suspected an app was screwing up my phone. So now, my phone works better, and even though my data may be shared with unknown parties, there are fewer of them watching me.

More Companies Want Your Collaborative Efforts

Dropbox has entered the collaborative space by adding a host of new tools to help you and teams share files. We see it as a big leap for a company that started as a file-sharing provider, but we don’t see it as the equal to Microsoft OneDrive.

Two areas where we see OneDrive as far superior are cost and feature sets.

The cost of OneDrive is built into the cost of the monthly subscription of Office 365 for all but the most basic plans. For most of our clients, plans range from $5 to $12 per month, and the key benefits are access to the most widely used business and home applications, such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The subscription provides updates for security patches and bug fixes and performance and feature updates. OneDrive almost comes across as a throw-in, but Microsoft has recognized the value of keeping its massive user base in the family. What was an extra-cost feature set is now a way to provide tools and features, such as collaboration and file backup tools and useful apps from other providers. We covered some of them last month.

Depending on your plan, the cost of Office 365 with OneDrive includes the ability to store terabytes of files, which can be set up as shared files when needed. Collaborators can make changes, and the files are immediately updated, so everyone knows they are working with the most recent file. This capability has been available through Google Documents and Dropbox, but by keeping it all within Office 365, it’s about as seamless as a process can get.

Dropbox has always made a limited amount of file storage free, now 1 terabyte, but you need to be on a plan if you need more. The cost of the additional storage, for most of our clients, is roughly the same cost as having Office 365 without having the applications and tools included. In effect, you pay twice for the same capabilities.

As for capabilities – and features and tools, Dropbox can argue that by teaming up with Google, Slack and others, you can benefit from a broader range of ideas. Yes, that may be true, but here are two considerations:

  1. In the course of all the things you do, what are the tools and features that matter most to you? If you have Office 365 and it does all that you need it to do, you might be better off keeping it in the family.
  2. For a business or network of volunteers, how much training and retraining do you want to do? Learning a system is a lot like learning a language. The more you use it (or speak it), the better you become. That translates to better productivity.

Yes, Microsoft can be a big, plodding giant, but we believe its standardization works best for consistency, and that’s a huge advantage for businesses and volunteer networks. It’s easier to keep everyone together.

Finally, we like OneDrive’s file transfer capabilities better. Prices for cloud-based services can change at any time, and it can be difficult to move and verify the transfer of large volumes of files. We share a concern that this could make it difficult to migrate from Dropbox because the transfer process is too complex. Part of this may stem from changes made to a computer’s registry, where Microsoft, Dropbox and other applications are waging a war for the limited number of overlay icons to show file status. Each app changes its name to claim a spot in your Registry Editor, which Microsoft allots in alphabetical order. This could potentially create registry problems, which are all difficult to resolve.

We can help you set up OneDrive and transfer files from your computer and Dropbox. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your options and begin the process.

The Azure Workaround

When Azure, Microsoft’s storage cloud, was hit with a problem that rolled around the world, it affected some of our clients who use it for storing and accessing data and apps, especially with remote access such a key need. Microsoft hasn’t been the only cloud provider hit, and this won’t be the last problem. But nothing needs to shut you down.

The Azure problem essentially locked people and businesses out of their data and apps. In the most basic terms, any Azure customer using Dev Ops and Office 365 who depended on two-factor authorization to protect their Azure accounts couldn’t log in. We were affected as a customer of both services.

At the time we were affected, we were doing a setup at a client and needed to get a big file, which we store through Azure. When I logged in to get it, I got no access; I just got a message they would send a text. I had an external hard drive with an old version of the file, and that was not suitable. Transferring the file remotely from my office computer would have taken too long. We solved the immediate problem by transferring the file from my computer to my Dropbox account and then downloading it from there.

We worked around the problem, but we operated in a vacuum. As an IT service provider, we got no information about anything that was happening, and that was frustrating. We later learned – along with the rest of the world – the problem started in Asia and made its way westward as organizations in Europe, Africa and the Americas began their workdays.

It took a few days for explanations and suggestions to reach everyone, and it didn’t take long (in the grand scheme of things) to return to normal operations. The problem centered around a breakdown in the two-factor authentication process. We and our client were fortunate that I had the capability – files stored on a computer I could access and Dropbox – to initiate a solution. But not every user has the resources I had.

Two-factor authentication is one of the key ways we can protect our data and app security, and the technology is evolving as we move toward password-less access to cloud servers and other websites that house highly sensitive info, such as banks, shopping sites and healthcare organizations. As hackers get better, our industry needs to stay ahead of them.

We don’t believe that shutting off two-factor authentication is a good solution to a random-access problem, but when it comes to your Microsoft accounts, you can turn it on and off as needed. That might be an effective workaround.

Microsoft’s website has step-by-step instructions for all who have a Microsoft account.

  1. Login to
  2. On the home page, click “Security & Privacy”.
  3. On the “Security & Privacy” Page, click on “Manage advanced security” link.
  4. Look for a page where you will find a link to “Set up two-step verification” or “Turn Off” Two-step verification

If you have any questions about the process or need a walkthrough, contact us by phone – 973-433-6676 – or email. We can also help you with two-factor authentication with other systems and help you with other solutions to maximize your data and app access and security.

By the way, this is not a Microsoft-specific issue. Other cloud services, including Google and Amazon, have had access problems. Service outages will happen again because we will continue to use cloud-based services and because…stuff happens. Looking at big picture, the cloud has too many advantages, such as access from any internet connection and the best possible security measures available, to pull everything back to individual computers and servers

Save Your Vacation with Additional Storage Capacity

OK, I’m as the frugal as the next guy – maybe even more frugal than most. But not spending a buck or three per month to store all your vacation images in the cloud can be penny wise and pound foolish.

Let’s begin this discussion with one certainty: No matter how much your vacation costs, you’ll never be able to replicate the exact conditions or scene that you photographed or videoed. That makes your photo or video priceless.

Automatically sending your photos and videos to a cloud-based storage facility is the best insurance you can have, and for most people, spending $0.99 to $2.99 per month will take care of all your needs. We’ll talk mostly about Apple’s storage plans because more and more of you are using your iPhones (and sometimes iPads) as your primary camera and video recorder.

iPhone users typically get 5 GB of storage space in the cloud for free. That’s for a lot of photos and videos for many. For the most part, nobody pays attention to storage until you get that nasty little notice on your phone that your storage is full. The notice usually refers to your available iCloud storage, and when it’s all full, the camera basically stops recording new photos or videos until you have sufficient space. However, you can remedy that by buying extra storage space on the spot, as long as you have internet access. If you don’t know your Apple password, you can always reset it.

Your least expensive option is get 50 GB (10 times the free storage) for $0.99 per month. Two other plans are 200 GB for $2.99 per month or 2 TB for $9.99 per month. That last one may be overkill but put it in perspective. If you can travel the world and want to keep your memories safe – or share them with anyone at any time – a little less than $120 per year is a cost-effective option.

Apple and iPhones are not the only options. Android users can tap into Google Photos with Google Drive, which gives you 15 GB of free storage to use across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos. You can also use Google Photos with a computer or iPhone/iPad. You can get 100 GB for $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year or 1 TB for $9.99 per month or $99 per year. Amazon offers all its customers 5 GB of photo storage free and unlimited storage to it Prime customers.

There are also numerous websites that offer storage and the ability to share with family and friends. In addition to storage and sharing, they offer you and registered family members and friends the ability to buy photos, photo books, coffee mugs, etc. Some also will sell your photos online. Some of the better-known websites include Flickr, Shutterfly and Photobucket.

Camera technology is also keeping pace with the online world. Whether you have a compact point-and-shoot camera or a professional DSLR, manufacturers are adding wireless capabilities, so you can upload photos and videos directly to the cloud or store copies on your mobile device, though they can cut those file sizes to 2 MB. Also, be aware that when you delete photo and video files from your devices, you may also be deleting them, too, from your cloud storage. Check for settings that keep the files in the cloud, and if you can’t set that up, be careful about what you delete – though many of the servers keep your files for 30 days.

Every year, we get calls to try to recover photos and videos. Sometimes, recovery is not possible. But it is possible to prevent the problem. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to help you select the best available storage program for your needs or to help set up your storage. It could save your vacation.

Keep Your Pictures in Multi-Device World

With mobile-phone cameras getting better and better, it’s easy to click away and then download your pictures to a computer. And when you max out your phone’s storage, it’s easy to delete them from your phone and click away some more. Just one problem: if your phone and computer are synched, you could delete the files from your computer, too.

The problem came up when an employee of one of our clients told about her daughter losing pictures she thought she had saved on her Mac. The daughter had been in Europe for a study-abroad program, and she traveled after school ended. Lots of kids do it, and lots of kids have iPhones and computers.

Naturally, as her phone’s storage filled up with photos, our traveler decided to download them onto her Mac. Just about all of us who travel with a computer do the same thing so that we can keep on clicking away. You never know when you’ll get back to a travel destination, and you want to collect all the memories you can; you can sort them out later.

That’s what our young traveler was told to do. With the magic of wireless connections, she was able to sync her phone and computer so she could save her pictures to her hard drive. With pictures safely stored on the computer’s hard drive, it was a simple matter to delete the photos from the phone and free up space for new pictures.

However, there was a catch. The way her sync was set up, deleting from one device deleted from the other. So, when she came home and sat down to share her pictures, they weren’t there. But they were somewhere. Using Mac’s time machine, we were able to find previous back up files, and we were able to send the computer to Apple. Their technicians were able to recover the pictures, but it took a while for them to get all the pictures, and it was a very stressful time for our student.

Here are some steps you can take to avoid the problem:

  • If you have an iPhone, you can set your phone to store photos in an iCloud photo library and keep them there when you delete files from the phone. If your phone senses a Wi-Fi network, it will upload the photos automatically.
  • You can optimize your storage so that you can leave a thumbnail of your photo on your phone. Then, you can use the thumbnail to identify photos you want to retrieve.
  • If you are traveling with your computer, download the photos manually and turn off any synchronization that deletes files from your phone and computer at the same time.

I download photos all the time from my SLR camera, but it uses SD cards. I can get some redundancy by downloading the pictures to the computer and keeping all the images on the SD cards. I can also upload them to the cloud. When you add up all the costs of a vacation, this is a relatively small expense.

More and more point-and-shoot cameras have SD cards, too. But if you’re using your cell phone or an older camera with fewer features, you’ll have limited options. If you or any family members are getting ready to travel, we can help you make sure your gear is all set up to keep your photo and video memories safe and secure. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to get set up.

The BYOD Hangover

Some businesses got drunk on BYOD – Bring Your Own Device. They bought heavily into the idea that they could cut costs and get more work out of employees by letting them use their own mobile devices and computers. Now we’re starting to see more problems for businesses, individuals and everyone they touch electronically.

Ten years ago, the benefits were clearly present for businesses and their owners/partners and employees. As the first generation of smartphones, mostly Blackberry, took hold, busy people and small businesses found they could untether themselves from office systems. Tablets, starting with iPad, increased their freedom because their bigger screens and keyboards made it easier to read spreadsheets, written documents and email and update files or respond to email.

  • Salespeople could access pricing lists, customer records and just about any critical information they needed to provide better service.
  • Everyone with a smartphone – and soon after, a tablet – could respond with increasing capabilities.
  • Busy parents could stay in touch with the office, giving them more flexibility to manage their lives.

In our business, IT professionals could respond to client or corporate information management needs from anyplace that had cellular service.

As Wi-Fi and all forms of communications networks grew and more smartphones and tablets came to the market, along with various carriers, the ways to stay connected lost all technical limits. And because everyone wanted to have their own personal technology – smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer – to use on their own time, businesses of all sizes met the demand. Employees no longer needed to have specific products. IT managers were able to incorporate everyone’s devices, and employers were happy to give everyone 24/7/365 work capability.

It was intoxicating for everybody. Now, it’s intoxicating for hackers and cybercriminals; everyone else is having a big, bad hangover. The problem is security.

Here are some sobering concerns:

  • While we can help our business and professional services clients secure their networks and access to the data on their corporate servers, we need to educate employees about programs to control security. A business really needs to depend on its employees to keep their individual devices and computers secure. One hole can be an entry point to sensitive data anywhere.
  • Mobile phones and tablets are becoming more vulnerable to security problems. Why? That’s where the money is. With people conveniently accessing critical data over cellular and Wi-Fi networks all the time, hackers are finding more ways to penetrate security measures. Everyone needs to make sure they know that anybody in the world can take a peek at their business on any unsecured public network – like one in a coffee shop, hotel lobby or airport.
  • Even if you take every available security step in your corporate and personal systems – strong passwords, strong firewalls, up-to-date and active anti-virus and malware software – anyone with access to your system who doesn’t follow the same precautions puts you at risk.
  • The convenience of publicly accessible storage sites, such as Dropbox, can lead to the loss of privacy of your data. When you give someone the ability to download files from a storage site onto their own computers or tablets, you effectively give them ownership of that data. That means an employee can “own” client lists, financial information, etc.

With the horses already out of the barn and out on the open range, you can’t corral them and bring them back. But there a number of steps you can take:

  • Educate everyone in your organization about the need for security and what they need to do:
    • Have strong passwords and change them often
    • Be aware of when they are on unsecured public networks
    • Keep their own personal technology protected with up-to-date, activated anti-virus and malware programs
    • Understand that any holes in their own security systems can open holes for hackers to get into your business’s system and the systems of anyone or any organization they’ve ever contacted over the Internet – and that it can go viral from there
  • Require strong passwords (combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters) to access your data files wherever they are
  • Require frequent password changes
  • Determine which files need to stay on a secure server that you control
  • Backup data securely and often
  • Monitor your backup

We can help you with all of these steps:

  • Lunch ‘n’ Learn programs about security
  • Audits of your system’s security
  • Monitored backup services

Contact us by phone – 973-433-6676 – or email to keep your data clean and your systems sober in the BYOD environment.

Smart Photo File Management

If you’re like one of our clients, you may have a huge number of photo and video files from your last vacation, and you may be getting ready to add more as your family gathers for the upcoming holidays. If you’re also like this client, you may be wondering where to safely store all your accumulated pictures and videos without paying an arm and a leg.

We can never recommend strongly enough that your precious memories are safest when stored on the cloud. Those large servers have built-in redundancies to protect your data, removing worries about crashing hard drives, whether they’re in your computer or external. Your storage on your own devices are suspect because:

  • Your computer’s hard drive can crash.
  • An external hard drive can crash.
  • Removable storage media (thumb drives and DVDs) can be damaged or lost.
  • Your smartphone can be lost.
  • Your camera, with its SD card, can be lost or damaged (which means you might want to find a way to upload photo and video files daily by one means or another).

In addition, photo and video files can take up a lot of space on your hard drive, and at some point, they will slow down your computer’s performance. If you have an iPhone, you can free up space by managing your storage; just go to Settings – iCloud – Storage, and you can delete files from your old phone. Android and Windows phones have similar capabilities.

So, let’s deal with all those photo and video files. Here are some options:

Free-storage sites all come with various limits, such as file size, types of files you can store and download and exposure to ads or privacy limitations. Some will allow you to upgrade to paid storage for more space and options.

Some of the more notable free-storage sites include:

  • Flickr
  • Shutterfly
  • Smugmug
  • Dropbox

While one of those sites may work for you, our mission here is to give you storage options that give you the same capability to store and retrieve files just as you would if they were stored on your hard drive.

Google gives you 15 GB of free storage, and you’ll always have it no matter how much additional storage you buy. Only monthly plans are available, and you have lots of flexibility. You can buy 100 GB for $1.99 per month or 1 TB (terabyte) for $9.99 per month. You can change your plan or cancel it before your next bill.

Google has apps for uploading and downloading image and video files from a computer, iPhone or Android phone. You can upload RAW files, which is critical for serious photographers who use SLR cameras, and high-quality j-peg files for equally serious photographers who use higher-end point-and-shoot cameras.

Apple gives you 5 GB of free storage and offers 50 GB for $0.99 per month, 200 GB for $2.99 per month or 1 TB for $9.99 per month. Again, you can upload all of your files in their original formats and can invite people to view selected files. You can edit files and still retain the originals, which gives you a Photoshop mulligan.

Apple also has apps for uploading from iPhones, Macs and PCs, and you can easily create photo books from your library.

Amazon gives you 5 GB to store “non-photo” files, such as videos and offers 5 GB for a free three-month trial. After that, it’s $11.99 per year. You can scale up to unlimited storage – also with a free three-month trial, and then you can pay $59.99 per year. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you already enjoy unlimited, secure photo storage plus 5GB of free storage for videos and files at no extra cost. You can upgrade to the Unlimited Everything plan at any time.

Again, you can view your files on a computer or mobile device through Amazon’s Cloud Drive.

We like the big three of Google, Apple and Amazon because they have well-earned reputations for safe, secure storage. The pricing is cheap – especially when you compare it to high value of photos and videos that are irreplaceable. Each site has its own peculiarities about setting up an account and uploading files. If you have any questions or need a hand to hold, contact us by email or by phone – 973-433-6676. And while I find them all device-neutral and platform-neutral, we can answer questions you may have about compatibility and raise your comfort level with your choice.

Two Essentials to Take Care of Business

Backing up your data files and keeping them from prying electronic eyes are essential. We have the tools and tips you need to take care of business at the office and at home. Here are some things to keep in mind.

The first tip is: Backup your data offsite. We never like to consider the “unthinkable,” but bad things do happen. A story from a recent sales call, a non-profit organization, drives home the point.

Non-profits can get a lot of software free or at a greatly discounted price. So, our client wondered why they needed to spend money to back up software on the cloud. As we were talking, the client mentioned that they had considered buying the house across the street from their office and converting it into their own space. They didn’t do it, and at some time after they made their decision, that house burned down.

We never talked about the cause of the fire. If the house was old, some failure of its electrical wiring, for example, could have played a role, and all of our client’s “free” stuff would have been gone. The cost of replacing and reinstalling all of their hardware and software – especially when you add the value of their time and the cost of lost service to their clients – would have been huge.

We’re happy this is a “could-have-happened” story, and we can’t emphasize backing up data offsite enough, but we have a tool to keep your data safe.

Our managed backup program includes automatic backup to the cloud through local data centers and daily monitoring. It is far less costly than post-disaster recovery and much more reliable than putting all of your data and pictures on an external drive that can fail or be lost in a fire or flood. It’s a proactive form of insurance.

Our second tip is: Never sacrifice protection for performance. In today’s hack-happy world, you can’t protect your data and yourself too much, but you must understand one thing: Any system can be hacked by any hacker willing to spend the time and effort to do it.

Just as you need doors and windows to enjoy the world outside of your home, you need pathways from your computer to the Internet. And, just as you have locks on your windows and doors to keep out most bad people and just as you take safe routes on trips, you need to use firewalls and passwords to lock your computer and data access, and you need antivirus software, malware protection and common sense to travel safely on the Internet.

At a recent security seminar, a presenter pointed out that people are agreeing to take on more bandwidth from providers for a free or a small fee. (You know our feelings about free stuff.) You can face problems if your firewall or Wi-Fi devices can’t handle the increased performance, and that can leave your security vulnerable.

We get questions from time to time, for example about the safety of storing data on Dropbox. Our question back to that is: Who hasn’t been hacked? Yes, Dropbox is as safe as you can make it as long as you and Dropbox take all the precautions and safeguards you can.

So, in this day and age of hyperactive hackers, how are you protecting yourself? Are you reading emails carefully before clicking on any links or attachments? Are you careful about signing up for online offers that are almost too good to be true? What kind of antivirus are you using?

We’ll address that last question. We have our partners, but no matter whose system you use, make sure they give you regular updates and act with blinding speed to fix a problem as soon as it’s discovered. Subscription services generally offer you better protection and faster fixes, and they are more likely to automatically update your virus and malware definitions.

If you accidentally click on a site or open an attachment, our recommendation is to push the power button on your computer or device IMMEDIATELY. This will stop any activity right away, and hopefully limit any damage. Then, call us without delay to find and fix any problems.

We can help you with all of your backup and antivirus needs, including installation of valid software and setting up automated functions. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs and put a solution into action.

Low-Cost Upgrades for Your Office Systems

When an office system doesn’t seem to perform at the warp speed it once did, your instinct may be to replace it. We won’t call that “warped” thinking, but you can get more mileage out of your equipment. It’s been a good way to get off to a great start with new clients who come to us with a sense of desperation.

One client came to us after their server crashed. In discussing the problem, we learned that most of the company’s people worked from outside the office. They used GoToMyPC to log in, access their files and do their work. The limited access meant that employees had to schedule their time to access the server and their files, and that was grossly inefficient.

The client wanted to add more applications and files to the system, and they were ready to buy a new server to accommodate all they wanted to do. We showed them that it was unnecessary.

Our solution was to set up a Dropbox system. It eliminated the need to schedule server access, simplified the process for getting files and made life much easier. Dropbox is one of many applications that use off-site storage for files – aka The Cloud – but it’s the one that worked best in this situation.

We also made life easier for Michelle at another new client’s office. Michelle is not a person; Michelle is a desktop PC in a three-person office, and the problem was that the three people in the office couldn’t access files when they needed them.

Our simple solution was to install a network drive in Michelle. Now, everyone can work efficiently.

Of course, there are times when a new server – and little reorganization – can solve the problem. One client had a number of printers with identity crises. Some of the printers had the same names but served different functions, and some that served the same functions had different names.

By installing a new server and standardizing the nomenclature for all the printers, the server can assume administrative responsibilities, allowing all the technology to run as it’s supposed to.

By the way, if your office has Macs and Windows-based software, we can set up a virtual PC that can run the software faster than a regular PC.

Do you want to find less expensive ways to have a more efficient office? Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your current setup and your productivity needs. It might be an easier fix than you think.


Which cloud-storage service is right for you?

Cloud storage gives you 24/7 access to your documents, photos, music, and you can access them wherever you are and on whatever device you’re using. It also makes sharing photos, videos, and documents easy. Even better, a number of services are free. Here’s the scoop on four of the biggest cloud services:

Apple iCloud: Best for Apple users. Apple iCloud is built into many Apple apps, including Keynote, Pages, and Numbers. You can start writing a to-do list in Notes on your iPad, for example, and finish it later on your iPhone. iCloud also syncs your e-mail, contacts, and calendar on whichever Apple gadget (or Windows PC) you’re using.

Other cool ways iCloud automatically syncs your stuff across all of your Apple devices: Snap a shot with your iPhone, and you’ll find it on your Mac. Buy a song on iTunes on your desktop, and it downloads to your iPod Touch. Bookmark a site on Safari on one device, and it updates your bookmarks list on all of your gadgets. 5GB of storage is free; you can add more starting at $20 a year for 10GB.

Dropbox: Best for sharing files. Store and sync documents, photos, videos, and other files on your computer, tablet, or smart phone, then invite others to download. Just be aware that your allotted free storage includes data others share with you, so clean out your folder periodically and ask people who have shared their folders with you to remove them from your account. 2GB is free; add 100GB for $99 a year.

Google Drive: Best for collaborating in real time. Two things distinguish Google Drive from iCloud and Dropbox; first, you get the tools you need to create presentations, documents, spreadsheets, and drawings right from Google Drive. And once you create a file, you can not only share it with someone else, but you can also work collaboratively on it. When you make a change, the person you’re sharing with sees it right away.

It works well for work but has handy personal uses, too. For example, you and your siblings can work together on an anniversary-party invite for your parents, even if you live miles apart. Whenever your device goes online, Google Drive automatically syncs the latest versions of all of your documents. 5GB is free; add 25GB for $2.50 a month.

Microsoft SkyDrive: Best for Windows fans. It’s a no-brainer for Microsoft users, but SkyDrive has another big upside: It’s the best deal of these services. You can collaborate on projects and edit documents with free online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. SkyDrive works on computers using Windows 8 (including Surface tablets), 7, and Vista, and Mac OS X Lion. You get 7GB free; add 20GB for $10 a year.

Some final advice: Always be familiar with your chosen service’s policies. And never use a cloud service as the only storage for files you can’t afford to lose. Your best option for backing up everything on your computer is still an external hard drive.

This story originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of ShopSmart magazine.