Not all hard drives are equal. Some of you still have mechanical hard drives and most of you now have solid-state hard drives (SSDs). The technologies are different, but you can manage your hard drive successfully if you have the right cloud-based backup and storage plan.Continue reading
New File Access Environment
They’re a relic from the days when we all had our own servers for our office documents. When a user clicks on it to access a file, it starts a long and involved search process for your computer that sometimes turns up empty.Continue reading
Azure – Always at Work in the Background
Microsoft’s Azure platform has been our backup program of choice for clients since Office 365 became a product for small businesses and home offices/users. We like that it’s a living system – one that continues to evolve and grow.
If you read the article Microsoft ‘Ignites’ Tech Initiatives, you couldn’t help but notice that Microsoft is throwing massive resources behind Azure as a technology platform. As we see it, Azure will become an even stronger backup resource as it helps you use your data files and apps more efficiently. That said, you need to make it your backup program – or at least one of your backup programs – if you want to take advantage of advancing technologies.
Backup is a misunderstood term in the context of IT services. We define a backup as an extra copy of data from a computer. Simply putting data in the cloud – even with OneDrive through Office 365 – is not a backup; it’s storage. Now, it can be useful – even vital – to store data in at least one cloud and on some sort of external device that’s separate from a computer or office server. But it’s not backup.
Why is backup critical? Two scenarios come to mind: 1.) a catastrophe that wipes out your computer or cloud-based server and 2.) a rogue employee or hacker getting into your account and deleting files. The big issue in both scenarios is recovery.
Azure solves the recovery issue for us because it works seamlessly with Office 365, including Outlook and its PST files for your email. For some, backing up email may be more important than backing up files.
As an IT professional, I like Azure’s ability to generate reports – with more capabilities coming online all the time. Microsoft constantly uses customer feedback to add more power to the platform. That gives us the ability to go back into our clients’ backup records to trace incidents and to restore files after a catastrophic event. That’s critical because it can be 90 days – sometimes longer – before a hack or data loss is discovered by a client. When that happens, we can go back in time through the power of Azure to find data files that help us help you recover.
As a set of powerful tools, Azure needs to have respect from users. Yes, you can go into Azure, but you can also create havoc with your systems and our work if those tools are misused. One of the things that drives me crazy is when we look like we don’t know what we’re doing when restoring files because somebody messed with the system.
That being said, we believe in educating our clients. If you want to learn more about how your Azure backup is set up and see what it can and can’t do, we’ll be more than happy to give you a remote tour. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to book your tour of your system.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
Trade War’s Perfect Tech Storm
You could see this one coming way off on the horizon. Computer users on Windows 7 are starting to move to Windows 10 as the date approaches in 2020 – it’s eight months off – for the end of Windows 7 tech support. The shortage of chips is starting to abate, but with tariffs looming on chips imported from China (which means just about all chips), prices will rise – possibly affecting supply and demand. We’re finding ways to work around the issues for many of our clients, and we can still keep options open for those who call quickly to get equipment ordered and work scheduled.
For clients still running Windows 7 who have computers with the capability of upgrading to Windows 10, we’ve been able to execute a two-step strategy. Success depends on having a good processor and enough RAM (random access memory). The first step is to install Windows 10, and the second step is to install a new solid-state hard drive (SSD). The combination of the new OS and SSD makes those computers run like new, and that will buy you time to make a bigger investment in a new computer.
The new SSDs we’re using are mostly 256 GB hard drives, and they are providing enough space for users with 500 GB mechanical hard drives – and even some with 1 TB hard drives. For those who need to store a lot of files or may want to store them, we’re installing 500 GB SSDs.
There are two primary reasons why the smaller SSDs work for most of our clients. First, SSDs are a different technology. They don’t require the space to physically access, use and store files. Second, our clients with Office 365 packages, including those with the $5, $8.25 and $12.50 monthly plans, can store files on OneDrive and access them on any device from where they can get to the internet. Personally, I have 32 GB of files on OneDrive and keep only a handful of files on my hard drive.
With OneDrive now making the storage space part of its package and integrating it with Office 365, we believe it is now a better value than Dropbox. While Dropbox has a free plan, it is limited to use on three devices, and it can easily escalate to more than $100 year just by itself. OneDrive also gives you a better feature set, including Mile IQ, which we talked about in our opening letter in the email.
With prices expected to rise because of market conditions and/or tariffs, anyone who can solve their Windows 7 and upgrade issues with a new SSD hard drive can do it at a reasonable cost. A 256 GB drive costs $125, and 512 GB drive is $200. We generally need about 1-1/2 hours of time to set up the drive, including file transfer. While we can’t predict what prices will be in the near or long-term future, we can look at Apple for some guidelines. If a new iPhone costs $1,000, a 25 percent tariff increase will raise the price to $1,250. The supply chain can only absorb so much of the increase for a limited time, and once the prices go up, they won’t come back down.
If you are an Office 365 user, see our article Setting Up and Using Microsoft OneDrive to learn how to get ready for migrating to a new hard drive or computer. We recommend you call us to help you get your OneDrive account set up, and then you can manage the transfer of files on your own.
Again, we urge all who need or want an upgrade to Windows 10 and a better hard drive to call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your best migration path, order the required equipment and schedule the work.
Setting Up and Using Microsoft OneDrive
Microsoft OneDrive may be as close as we’ll get to finding a safe harbor in the perfect storm created by the end of Windows 7, chip shortages and trade wars. Even without the storm conditions, it can give you smoother sailing.
We’ve found that OneDrive fits several trends we’ve seen among many clients, including more mobile computing, more collaborative work, and the need to work with larger files across all platforms. For those of you with Microsoft Office 365 plans starting at $5 per month, you get 1 TB of storage as part of your plan. If you need to access a lot of large files, including huge spreadsheets as well as photos, music and movies, this a good place to keep them. You can send collaborators links to any files in your OneDrive folder, and they can make changes, just like people do with Dropbox. This eliminates the need to send emails with attachments back and forth. As an added bonus, files are automatically saved in real time when working with a file in a OneDrive. And, finally, you can get Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other Office 365 apps for mobile devices, enabling you to view, edit and even create documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Granted, it may not be the same as on a computer, but it’s another tool at your disposal.
In addition to being free for Office 365 users, you also get a couple “blow-away” features. One of them is a version history, which is great for tracking financial reports on Excel spreadsheets or changes to Word documents. Instead of saving umpteen million versions, you can go back to a date and see the file as it was. It was meant as an autosave feature for data recovery, but it’s certainly not restricted to that.
We also like Mile IQ, which we discussed in our email for this newsletter. It works on your phone, and it senses motion when your car moves and starts to track miles. At the end of a trip, you swipe right for business use, and left for personal use. You can always go back and add details for each trip you track. It’s not a well-publicized feature, but it’s great. You can sign up through their website.
Installing OneDrive is not a particularly difficult process, but it has a few complexities in the setup. We recommend you have us help you with the setup so that you can work more easily with your file. The first two steps are:
- Select the Start button, search for “OneDrive”, and then open it. In Windows 10, select the OneDrive desktop app. In Windows 7, under Programs, select Microsoft OneDrive.
- When OneDrive Setup starts, enter your personal account, or your work or school account, and then select Sign in.
At this point, we’ll help you configure OneDrive to match your needs and get you started on transferring your files. We recommend putting all of your files on OneDrive for two reasons: 1.) You’ll have them there for recovery in case your hard drive crashes, and 2.) you can always select files to put back onto your hard drive.
By having access to all of your files but only having a percentage of them residing on your hard drive, you’ll free up space that will allow a mechanical hard drive to work more efficiently, or you’ll be able to get by with a smaller hard drive.
In operation, you’ll access your files from your OneDrive folder instead of from your File Explorer and work on them through your application program. If you turn on AutoSave, everything you do will be saved in real time, and you’ll never lose data due to a power outage or hard drive crash. Yes, if you lose your internet connection, you’ll lose OneDrive, but you can continue to work on your files and save them. When OneDrive access is restored, the changes will be saved.
If you are getting a new hard drive or computer, we use OneDrive to transfer your files. We believe that if you have an Office 365 plan and if we’re doing the work already, you are better off keeping your OneDrive and using it. You’ll find more benefits as you go along.
Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to get your OneDrive set up. If you’re an Office 365 subscriber, it’s there for the taking. If you don’t have Office 365, let’s talk and see if it’s right for you.
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.
Tips from Orlando
Although we played as much as anyone who visits Orlando, we got a lot of work done at Microsoft’s annual tech conference. When I looked at my calendar, I had booked 21 sessions for the week, each session some 75 minutes long, and I probably walked some 40 miles in the expo. I narrowly avoided DBP – otherwise known as “Death by PowerPoint – surviving to get some useful information in many places.
As useful as the sessions were, some of the best learning took place offline while walking the expo hall with fellow members of The Crew. I joined The Crew several years ago. We’re all independent IT consultants, and we stay in touch all year long through a variety of ways, including phone calls. We can turn to each other when we have questions, and my Crew members have been an invaluable resource everywhere we go.
That includes Orlando. When one of members gave a presentation at the conference, we turned up to support him – and we wound up helping him out when he experienced “technical issues.”
Walking the expo gave us access to the best and brightest in the Microsoft arena. All of the booths were staffed by software engineers from Microsoft and its affiliated companies, and we got to talk to them in depth. We could talk about problems we’ve experienced or features we like and get more in-depth knowledge. We learned about workarounds for problems and ways to use advanced features in software and hardware.
Here are my three favorite take-aways from the conference.
- Many people who use Microsoft One Drive like to use # and % in their file names, but the system would not accept names with those characters. One Drive now allows you that option, so go ahead and # and % to your heart’s content.
- The fall update of Windows 10 will include more capabilities for One Drive. You’ll be able to sync large libraries of files on demand and be able to open files without having to download them.
- You can add the ability to share calendars in Outlook or native applications on mobile devices. The feature is not automatically available; you need to re-share calendars each time you want to sync them. While it’s a bit of a pain, all you need are valid permissions for sharing, and you can differentiate each person in the group by color. We can help you set it up.
To borrow an old phrase, we passed the last exit on the information super highway light years ago. With conferences like Microsoft’s annual event, we can be the roadside service resource that keeps you moving. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us at any time with any questions or service requests.
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:
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.