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Virtualization Benefits

Virtualization Benefits 150 150 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

What is Virtualization you ask? Wikipedia describes virtualization as “the act of creating a virtual (rather than actual) version of something, including but not limited to a virtual computer hardware platform, operating system (OS), storage device, or computer network resources.”

I describe it as “building multiple servers on one piece of hardware.”

Essentially, virtualization allows you to convert literally racks of equipment down to 1 or 2 physical hardware nodes.

virtualization_defined

Source: VMware.com

 

Some benefits:

1. Lower Power Costs

Reducing multiple servers to one hardware host reduces the amount of power needed to run the setup.

2. Lower Hardware Costs (only 1 hardware node, 2 for redundancy)

Only one piece of hardware is necessary – by purchasing a VMware license, you could implement a second piece of hardware to set up a redundant failover server in case there is an issue with the first.

3. Faster Server Reboot Times

A virtual server does not need to perform the usual hardware checks on startup (Bios , Raid checks, boot to USB , Memory tests etc.) enabling it to come back online much faster.

4. Lower Labor Cost

Once one virtual server has been created, a template can be used for all future virtual servers to save time and labor costs.

5. Ability to isolate Applications

VMware’s software allows services to be split across servers (ie. Exchange server on one, Domain Controller on another, and File Server on another). This allows individual reboots, negating the need for total downtime of services.

6. Quick server setup times

Virtual Machines can be setup in advance – with drivers installed and windows updates valid to the date of creation –  so that they can be quickly deployed at short notice.

Earlier in 2013 Greenlight undertook a virtualization project for one of our clients, consolidating 2 full server racks of equipment into one 2RU Dell Server.

This company has significantly reduced their IT costs per month, and represents just one of the benefits of virtualization.

If you would like Greenlight to look at your infrastructure and assist in the virtualization of your systems, call or email us and we can tailor a project to your company’s needs.

Microsoft Remote Desktop App – Apple and Microsoft play better together in the Cloud

Microsoft Remote Desktop App – Apple and Microsoft play better together in the Cloud 150 150 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

ipad-mini-apple-official-photo

Up until recently, the ability to connect to a Cloud Windows-based server from an Apple device was limited to relatively unsecure connections and fraught with headaches and issues of compatibility.

Whilst it was possible, the Remote Desktop (RD) client from an Apple device to a Windows-based Remote Desktop Server (RDS) had few options for creating any kind of security between the systems primarily due to the inability of the RD client to support connections via a secure gateway– meaning that if you were previously connecting to your RDS from a Windows-based device, you would not easily have had access to extra security.  As a result this lead to the development of a myriad of third-party tools and apps that attempted to provide these features.  Few of them did this well and the ones that did were not user-friendly and came with a price tag.

So users were left with few choices.  Either only being able to connect to their cloud service via relatively unsecured means, buy a third-party application for every device they would like to connect from or not be able to access their RDS environment from their Mac, iPad or iPhone at all.

Come a month ago however, Microsoft decided it was time for change and to give the Apple community the advantages and security that only Windows users had been able to enjoy.

In mid-October Microsoft released their new, polished and aptly named Microsoft Remote Desktop tool that finally provides the long needed and secure means for Apple device users to easily connect to their Windows-based cloud environment.  Built on customised acquired technology Microsoft Remote Desktop allows Apple users to connect as easily as Windows users with all the same benefits such as RD gateway security, printer and drive redirection and without the previous incompatibilities between the two systems.

The Microsoft Remote Desktop App is now available on the App Store and also works on your iPad and iPhone– and best of all, it comes absolutely free.

Greenlight has developed a Cloud Based Remote Desktop Server platform called inCloud.  This is a robust, proven, secure environment where you can host your line of business applications and data at a per user / month price point. 

Slow computer? A new hard drive may be all you need.

Slow computer? A new hard drive may be all you need. 150 150 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

Have you ever noticed how fast your mobile phone is to wake up? You just press a button, swipe, and bam, it’s ready to go! Yet your PC might take a while to think about it… Why is this?

Well, your mobile uses what’s called a Solid State Drive (SSD), rather than the traditional Hard Disk Drive (HDD) with a physical spinning disk and needle.  HDD’s contain several moving parts, and the needle takes time to navigate the spinning disk and read the data, which can be anything from documents, to video and photos.  Because of this, HDD’s can only really ever be so fast and are also subject to greater risk of data loss due to unexpected bumps.  A scratched disk could mean saying goodbye to your data, unless you had the foresight to back it up.

HDD-vs-SSD

Hard Disk Drive (left), Solid State Drive (right)

SSD’s are one of the best performance increasing pieces of hardware you can add to your new computer. In fact, once you’ve used a computer or laptop with a SSD, it’s really hard to go back to the slower spinning disk drives that we’ve gotten used to over the years.

The issue is that the more storage space you require, the more solid states costs. We are all used to having at least 1 TB of disk space so a solid state with 128GB seems paltry.  That said, a good option is to store your operating system and software on a smaller SSD, and other files such as movies and photos on a 1TB spinning hard disk drive.

At the time of writing this article, a Macbook Pro-compatible 128GB SSD by hardware manufacturer Samsung costs about $189 or approximately $1.50 per gigabyte, with PC SSD’s costing about the same (but with more variety in terms of manufacturers and sizes.)

In short you probably don’t need a more powerful PC unless you are playing video games or high end graphics work. You may just need a faster hard drive.

Are sluggish computers or a slow network affecting your business? Get in touch with us for a no obligation chat about how we can help your business.

Postini to Google Apps Migration

Postini to Google Apps Migration 150 150 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

Earlier this year Google announced they would be taking over email filtering previously delivered by Postini, which it had acquired in 2007.

This led to large amounts of confusion for vendors and the transitions have inevitably been delayed as customers on the Postini platform refused to move unless it was feature matched by Googles “Apps” platform.

That day has now arrived and people are moving over in droves to the new customised Apps platform. Google has done a great job of price fixing the product for customers, as well as allowing them to upgrade their platform– for a fee– at a moments notice, in order to integrate and use other Google Apps services.

During our first transition everything went smoothly, except for Outbound filtering.  Our client was no longer able to send email from their domain, as they had done previously with Postini.

The following are our findings in resolving the matter at hand, and below is the easiest method we could find to achieve secure mail flow.

Google Apps has a feature called SMTP Relay where you can input your email servers IP Address and then relay your mail out securely through their filtering. To configure for SmartHost outbound perform the following.

Login to the Google apps login page with your Postini details (once transitioned)
http://admin.google.com

Postini1

Click Settings > Gmail

Postini2

Scroll Down to “SMTP Relay Service”

postini3

Press Edit and Fill in the details with your external IP Address (CIDR Format) Tick Require TLS Encryption.

Postini4

Click Hosts, Edit to include Rules for your external IP on Port 25 and 587 (Will already be migrated but good to check)

Postini5

Login to your Exchange Server > Organization Configuration > Send Connectors

Postini6

Click Network and Select “Route mail through the following smart hosts” Press change and type in smtp-relay.gmail.com

Postini7

Open Exchange Powershell and run the command “Set-SendConnector “nameofsendconnector” -port 465
This will set Outbound to go over TLS.

Postini8

 

 

And that’s it!  If you have any issues, don’t hesitate to reach out to our IT Support Team or give us a call on (02) 8412 0000.

iPad Air First Impressions

iPad Air First Impressions 150 150 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

ipad-air-first-impressionsApple has reportedly sold a colossal 170 million iPads, controlling 81% of the global tablet market. Undoubtedly this is due to the promise of innovative design, upholding a reputation of being the ‘next best thing you simply HAVE to have’, and the 475,000+ applications that are exclusive to the iPad and the Apple market.

The new ‘simply must have’ product released by Apple this month is the iPad Air. The latest edition epitomises Apple’s ideals of faster and smaller, a smart move considering these are two very important considerations for their customers.

But how significant are these developments? With my first impressions, you’re about to find out. These personal insights into the areas that may influence your purchasing decisions, and my opinion on whether or not the latest Apple device will truly inspire awe in those around you as you play with your new iPad Air.

What’s the Difference?

Many of us were underwhelmed with the iPhone 5C and 5S, noting some improvements and changes here and there, but otherwise seeing an identical smartphone to the previous model.

With this release, we don’t get a specific innovation change in terms of practicality or affordability, but what we do get is something that is smaller, yet more powerful. And does it work? Yes.

The key to a successful tablet is the harmony of comfort and functionality. An easy fit in your hand on the train, sits nicely on your lap on the couch, holds its own standing up on your desk; all the while doing what it’s supposed to– playing video, browsing the internet, typing a document, or playing a game.

Of course with the iPad Air being thinner and smaller in size, the comfort factor is totally satisfied. Additionally, the increase in power and functionality – although expected – is certainly an innovation for its size.

Below are some of the key improvements, making the iPad Air the sleekest and slimmest tablet available yet:

 

20% thinner 10 hours battery life
Weighs just 469g (WiFi) or 478 (LTE) Facetime HD Camera
New 64-bit Apple A7 Chip with M7 Motion Retina Display
MIMO WiFi Technology

How Much?

Now that we have seen the advantages of the iPad Air, the question is how much will it set you back? Apple is known for its benchmark price tags, but it is also known for its innovative and desirable products.

The iPad Air starts off at $598, for 16GB storage and Wi-Fi only.

It is also available in 32GB, 64GB and 128GB for Wi-Fi only ($699, $799, $899 respectively), as well Wi-Fi + LTE in all 4 storage options ($749, $849, $949, $1049 respectively).

For a side note comparison, these are the prices equivalent to the starting prices of the iPad 2 back in 2011 (didn’t seem that long ago right?)

To Buy or Not to Buy, That is The Question

So, we’ve looked at what’s new, what’s different, what’s better and how much. Now the deciding factor, is it really worth it?

In the past, I’ve been less enthusiastic about purchasing the new tablet than I am about the newest phone available. While yes, there are some pretty cool features added and improvements that have, well– improved– ultimately I feel like it’s not necessary to consider buying this as soon as you can.

For me, I think not about what’s better and how the newest technology surpasses the previous one in my hands right now, but of what’s wrong, with the technology I’m currently using. Right now I’ve got the iPad 2 which I’ve had for almost 2 years now… and it’s still fantastic, it does what I need it to do, and I’m more than comfortable with it.

But still, I’ll definitely be considering a new tablet in the next year or so because that’s just the kind of enthusiast I am about these things.

And so, if I didn’t own a tablet but were in the market for one, I believe the iPad Air is certainly superior in many ways to the other options available in the market today. It’s slim, it’s fast and it’s guaranteed to do what you need it to do, and then some.

 

Time for a Website Security Check

Time for a Website Security Check 150 150 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

Unfortunately, the internet is not always the safe haven we would like it to be.

For whatever reason, there are people out there that write scripts to probe the internet in search of websites with security vulnerabilities. Once a site is compromised, the breach may be used to redirect your visitors to alternative websites, deploy malware, or in worse cases, steal information about your customers.

While it easy to simply hope that it never happens to us, as business owners it is always in our best interest to proactively prevent such breaches from occurring, rather than dealing with the consequences afterward. It’s not as difficult as you might think. Here are some of the areas that your IT administrator might want to look at.

The Web Hosting Control Panel

Most shared hosting companies provide a web based control panel, common ones are cPanel and Plesk. While it is usually up to the hosting company to make sure that their host is up to date (and this is one thing I would be asking any potential hosting provider), as a customer you can still make sure that the password for the control panel is relatively hard to guess and certainly not left as a default such as ‘password’.

File Permissions

One trick that hackers use is to upload a new page onto your website. If you ask you web host to make the directories on your web site ‘read only’ then it is impossible for hackers to modify your web site or upload malicious code. You may even be able to do this from your control panel or FTP client. If you have a VPS, this can very easily be done from the command line.

Use Encryption

Sites that use https:// rather than http:// encrypt all the data that is sent between the web browser and the web site. This is particularly useful for filing in forms where a customer has to log on. Your web browser will issue a security warning if you do not your own SSL certificate, but there are relatively cheap these days, and this is an absolute must if you want to do any sort of online transaction.

Use a CDN

Content Delivery Networks have come a long way. Not only do they keep a local copy of parts of your website to speed it up, the more sophisticated ones have value added features that also act like a firewall. This allows them to detect spambots and the like to prevent inappropriate posts to your blog and other malicious attacks. They can also provide a whitelist of IP addresses to restricted parts of your website, such as the administrator pages.

Update your CMS

If your website is built around a commonly used Content Management System like Joomla, Drupal or WordPress, it is really important to update the core application as well as its plugins. This is no different from deploying a security update on your PC. Fortunately most of these will self-update at the click of a button from the admin section, but don’t forget to re-enable your file permissions back to read/write while you do this, and then re-secure the site again.

While we can never guarantee that a website will never be compromised, taking some (or all) of the initiatives I have mentioned may deter potential hackers to search for easier targets. If you’d like a free assessment of your website security, feel free to get in touch.

Why IT System Integration Can Be Your Worst Nightmare

Why IT System Integration Can Be Your Worst Nightmare 150 150 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

system-integrationI commonly speak with companies looking for assistance with system integration projects, to allow their multiple software systems to work with each other. For example, financial systems like Xero or MYOB working together with their line of business applications like their CRM (Customer Relationship Management) or ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning).

While some systems integrate well out of the box, in most circumstances there will be some customization required. It’s somewhat of an abstract concept, so let’s look at an analogy for a moment.

You could compare system customization to renovations on your house. The builder sells you the dream, but once they get started, the costs start adding up. If the builder does a less than stellar job, the next builder won’t want to touch it. What you’re then left with is a half-finished project that can be a money drain.

So let’s talk about some important things you need to consider, as customization can have a few catches.

Firstly, there is a cost. It’s always chargeable labour, and the bigger software companies will make it worth their while. Customizations through original software vendors will generally cost several thousands of dollars– if you’re lucky.

On the other hand, if you use a smaller developer, you will have to consider what will happen if that person leaves your company. If it is heavily customized, we must also consider who gets the source code.

These facts need to be carefully considered before getting excited about a spiel like “it can all be done with customization no problem, just sign here”.

When looking at systems and integration, carefully consider the facts. If you can see it is working the way you want it to, then go ahead.

If you have not managed system integration or customisations projects before, it’s best to have an IT expert with experience that is on your side. This will help to steer you though the decision making process, and avoid unnecessarily high costs or a ballooning in project scope. If you’re looking for experienced help with your next technology project, give us a call on (02) 8412 0000 for a free quote.

Malware Attacks – Is Your Business Protected?

Malware Attacks – Is Your Business Protected? 150 150 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

Earlier this month antivirus companies discovered a new and exciting, quite nasty piece of malware on the Internet. Short for malicious software, malware is often used to gather access to sensitive information, or to infiltrate and disrupt computers and networks.

Those pesky cyber criminals have been hard at work, creating a nasty program that will essentially lock all of your files with an uncrackable password. But don’t worry, they will return to save the day with the password and a hefty price tag!

The malware is generally deployed to people via infected websites and via phishing emails. They know how important data is to your business, and that’s why they are targeting small and large companies.

Think of it like this:

  1. A virus infects your computer, generating a public key.
  2. It then scours your computer and network, gathering all the data it can find.
  3. The virus contacts the keylogger’s server, and requests a private key.
  4. This private key is simply a super password that cannot be cracked (unless of course you are the NSA).
  5. Now they have something you need. Something that you would pay to get back.

 

malware-explained

It’s like having two locks on your data, and a criminal organisation wants you to pay for their key to access it.

 

You may have read about some instances of this kind of cyber fraud that have been leaked to the public. One in particular that shocked us the most was a medical practice in Miami, Gold Coast. The malware virus that infected their systems forced them to roll back 1 year of patient records – the virus had even encrypted all of their backups. Scary stuff.

Here are a few tips and tricks I recommend to companies who want to avoid this nasty:

  • Conduct regular Offsite backups
  • Conduct user training on phishing emails
  • Carefully read emails
  • Check all links in emails before you click them
  • Do not open dodgy or questionable attachments

Below are also some handy articles we recommend you read or pass onto staff:

http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4933

And here is a great article on some examples of this exact attack happening to companies:

http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/security-it/web-hijack-gangs-hold-businesses-to-ransom-20121223-2bsj4.html

Make sure you keep your computers and network up to date with all the latest security patches. If you’d like an assessment of your IT infrastructure, feel free to get in touch with us.

Disaster Recovery Plan: Think Before Not After – Redundancy (Part 3 of 3)

Disaster Recovery Plan: Think Before Not After – Redundancy (Part 3 of 3) 150 150 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

Redundancy

The final critical aspect of a solid disaster recovery plan is the planning of the IT infrastructure itself. Whilst you may not always have the luxury to do this from initial systems implementation you can always upgrade and attach redundancy to your existing infrastructure further down the track. 

Backup Redundancy is essentially tech-speak for having contingencies. It’s about setting things up right, so that when disaster DOES strike, the recovery phase is as fast and reliable as possible.

High Availability (HA) and fail-over redundancy is particularly important for large businesses with enterprise-grade infrastructure. In this case the cost of implementing redundancy for critical systems is a significant factor and must be considered in the design phase. The scope of such projects should make the deployment of highly available systems more economically viable as the cost of a disaster would outweigh the cost of the initial setup.

HA and fail-over setups can be implemented in many different ways depending on the systems involved and the desired level of redundancy but they all perform the same function and that is to eliminate system downtime. They basically do this in two ways:

  • Multiple system nodes in place and online simultaneously performing the same function and managed by a load balancer. If one node goes down the load balancer redistributes its tasks over the remaining nodes in the cluster and the loss of that node is effectively invisible to end users.
  • Two or more system nodes designed and configured to perform the same function but only one is online or “active” at any given time. In the event that node fails the redundant node(s) is either automatically or manually brought online and becomes the active production node. This type of fail-over is not always seamless to end users but downtime is largely negligible.

As with most aspects of a disaster recovery plan, the kind of High Availability or fail-over setup that would be suitable for your business needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis and tailored to the requirements and desired redundancy of the client. However, in general some level of redundancy should always be employed with your IT infrastructure because at the end of the day you need to weigh up what the value is of creating/implementing a disaster recovery plan versus the cost to business continuity in a disaster situation.

When considering what should be done in planning for those scenarios you hope never arise just remember. It’s your business and your livelihood. As you probably guessed by now, we do provide backup & disaster recovery services.

This is Part 3 of our 3-part Disaster Recovery Plan feature– skipped ahead? Check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Disaster Recovery Plan: Think Before Not After – Monitoring (Part 2 of 3)

Disaster Recovery Plan: Think Before Not After – Monitoring (Part 2 of 3) 150 150 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

disaster-recovery-plan-monitoringMonitoring

Not only does well setup monitoring alert you to impending disaster before it happens, it also provides the peace of mind that all systems are nominal. 

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

So it’s all well and good to have your servers and backup systems in place but they can’t be expected to cry for help without some form of monitoring and notifications. Knowing your disaster recovery plan will be there when you need it is crucial, and that’s where proactive monitoring and testing comes into it.

There are many reliable, effective and low-cost monitoring solutions available that provide everything from daily email notifications to real-time, comprehensive alerting to an email, SMS and dedicated monitoring screens.

What your business specifically requires again depends on your particular infrastructure setup but there are several vital system components that should always be included in even the most basic of monitoring solutions:

  • Hardware: Notification of failed/failing hard disks (or SSDs) in both your production and backup systems is of utmost importance. Your systems should be designed to cope with one or more drive failures but being notified of the state of the disks ensures you can act on an alert before it leads to a system failure.
  • Software: Alerts/warnings from the backup software itself are just as important so you know whether the jobs are running, whether they succeeded or failed and contain useful error reports in the case of the latter. Assuming backups have been running without incident is never a good idea as you do not want to be presented with the scenario of a system failure and then discover your backups have not been successful for weeks.
  • Operating Systems: In the case of monitoring the production environment itself you can install agents on the servers that will report in real-time if critical services or hardware components experience issues or go offline. In the case of virtual platforms, at the very least you should schedule scripts that interrogate the hypervisor’s hardware sensors and report alerts accordingly.

When it comes to a comprehensive disaster recovery plan the best practice is not to have only one or two sides of the triangle meaning that if you are implementing a well-designed backup solution spend the time and resources to set up adequate monitoring as well. If you disregard monitoring in conjunction with your backup system you are undermining your own efforts in staving off disaster.

This is Part 2 of our 3-part Disaster Recovery Plan feature– check out Part 1 here or Part 3 here.