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Windows 10 upgrade fails with 0xC1900101-0x40017

Windows 10 is great, it really is. It is a much better OS than Window 8 or 8.1. Take advantage of the free upgrade while you can.

That said, there are sometimes issues with the upgrade. I am seeing most issues with the upgrade process when a machine has been in use for a long time but there are some machines that wont even upgrade after a complete fresh build.

A web search for the 0xC1900101-0x40017 error brings up lots of issues, lots of people see this problem but the solutions are a bit hit and miss. I saw this issue with an HP Elitebook 840 G1 that was 12m old. Rather than upgrade in place, I decided to upgrade the SSD first then install fresh from the HP OEM 8.1 disc then upgrade to Windows 10. This failed every time with the 0xC1900101-0x40017 error. I tried secure boot on and off, legacy boot, UEFI with and without CSM, upgrading from Disc, upgrading from USB, upgrading from mounted ISO and via Windows update as well as BIOS updates but the upgrade to Windows 10 failed every time.

I decided it was a driver error so upgraded all the drivers before the upgrade, still no go. sfc /scannow was run and found no issues (fresh install on new SSD). About to give up, I thought I would try to install the Windows 10 drivers on Windows 8.1 BEFORE trying to upgrade. I downloaded them all from HP and installed them all on Windows 8.1. THe only one that didnt like it was the Synaptics Touchpad driver, the rest installed without issue. During the Windows 10 upgrade (from a USB stick created with the Windows 10 Media Creation tool) I told it NOT to download updates before the install. I suspected that one of the updates being downloaded was a faulty driver for a device in the 840. Finally the upgrade went through and the machine activated with Windows 10. I may now go back and do a fresh install but it is clean anyway so probably wont bother. Luckily it was not a client PC, however it was my wife’s so was probably more important.

Hopefully this helps someone else with the same unbelievably frustrating issue. I literally tried over 10 times to get the upgrade to install.

Posted in: Business, Free Software

Windows 8, should you?

While it has been a while since I posted anything (I have been busy), I just wanted to reflect on my experiences with the latest Microsoft operating system, Windows 8 (and 8.1). I am not going to go into great detail, there are plenty of in depth reviews on the net, I am just going to quickly run through my likes and dislikes.

Firstly, if you are thinking about installing this on an older computer, check the manufacturer for Windows 8 specific hardware drivers first and if they dont exist, save yourself the hassle and dont install Windows 8.

As soon as I could get my hands on Windows 8 (through my soon to be removed Technet subscription), I upgraded my laptop. Big mistake. My Dell Precision M4500 was a bad choice to upgrade to (I have since wiped it and gone back to Windows 7). Apart from the Metro screen being a bit painful without a touch screen, much of the hardware did not have Windows 8 drivers and the resulting stability issues were difficult to deal with. I installed Classic Shell to bring back the old menus which, in my opinion, work far better with a mouse and keyboard. Eventually I gave up on my Dell.

I decided that I needed to get a touch screen device to really work with Windows 8 and bought an ex-demo HP Elitepad 900 G1 for a few hundred dollars to work with. This works very well for most things (it is not the quickest device but it is small, light, and it works). Metro is fine for the average end user who is just going to read email, browse the web, play a few games and listen to music but for a power user, it is hopeless. I keep having to go back to the desktop to do any actual work and the metro screen cant hold enough links on one screen for my liking. Microsoft should really branch Windows or default to a proper Desktop interface for the business/Pro focussed versions. The metro apps Windows ships with are not particularly great, but luckily there are plenty of options. Forcing Windows 8.1 users to log in to their computer with a Microsoft ID is just wrong, why does MS need to know everything you do on your PC?

An annoying quirk is not being able to easily manage wireless networks. I found this out when a client called me asking what their wireless key was and I just wanted to grab it from my saved connections. You can’t, now you need to use the command line or a third party app.

Personally I dont recommend it for business use but for home users, it is fine as long as you have a touch screen. If you dont, stick with Windows 7. It is no surprise that HP ships all its business computers with Windows 7 still….

Tags:

Workstation Ergonomics

I am no expert in Workstation Ergonomics, this is just my recent experience. If you want or need ergonomic advice for your workstation, find a professional and do what they say. No-one is immune from this.

While I have been working in I.T. for over 12 years, I also spent a number of years before then, in front of a computer for most of my business/study hours and a good portion of my recreation time. Over the years I have experienced a number of symptoms of bad Workstation ergonomics, computer setup and general life.

The first indication that I was not looking after myself in front of a PC began with wrist pain where my wrist was rubbing on the desk with mouse use. This turns out to be a common problem, easily solved with a gel wrist rest.

The next ergonomic issue was pain under my elbow. It turns out that using my mouse right handed with a desk with a left hand return meant I was supporting my elbow by turning my arm so the elbow didnt bend due to gravity putting long term strain on the ligaments. Problem solved by changing to a desk with a right hand return and resting my forearm on the return to use the mouse.

Lower back pain followed, a combination of bad workstation ergonomics, extended periods of sitting, poor posture, lack of regular exercise and cheap seats. I now have a Therapod ergonomic chair, get out of the chair regularly (set a timer on your computer), try to sit up straight and I walk a lot (walking is the best thing you can do for lower back pain). Use a foot rest to keep the right angles on your hips, make sure the seat height is right for shoulder and elbow angles.

The latest ergonomic issues directly related to working with a computer are bad neck posture. I didnt realise but I was holding my head forward when in front of the PC putting a lot of strain on my neck. My monitor was too low and as my second monitor was my laptop screen, I was twisting my neck a lot to look at the second screen as well as looking down too much. Talking with my physiotherapist has made it clear that dual monitors can be a major ergonomic issue for necks. The recommendation for dual monitors is to swivel the chair, not your head and if using the second screen for any period of time, move the keyboard and mouse to suit at the same time. I have now purchased a dual monitor stand to keep my screens at the right height and close together. My secondary screen is in portrait mode which discourages me from using it for general use but makes it a lot more comfortable reading documents. If you have high resolution screens (most widescreen monitors are now “full HD” or 1920×1080 pixels), make sure they are not too far away to read small text or you will move your head closer to compensate. The downside is that once they are close enough to read comfortably, make sure you rest your eyes regularly by looking to the distance every few minutes or your eyes may deteriorate. Dont get glossy screens for anything, they look very pretty but glare, especially from flourescent office lighting can be really bad. Unfortunately I left a lot of this too late. I always had matte screens, and rest my eyes regularly but with my bad neck posture, I now have a bulging disc in my neck pushing into my spinal column. Thankfully it is not bad and will be able to be sorted with regular (rest of my life) stretching and exercises but the pain when it flared up was unbearable. Do yourself a favour, get your workstation set up right and watch your neck posture, prevention in this case is infintely better than having to find the cure.

Update March 2014:
Now I stand! That’s right, now I have a standing height workstation. It takes a bit of getting used to and you need good shoes and anti-fatigue mats to stop getting sore feet. Weight has dropped, posture is better and I move around a lot more during the day. If you have the space, try it out.

Posted in: Business

Business I.T. for a small startup .

If you want to start up a home based small business or work from home, you may be wondering what IT you need to get going and how far you need to go.

What does your business need to work?

Critical,
1: internet
2: computer
3: telephony
Optional,
4: Printing

What do you need to make it work?

1: Network
2: Electricity

What do you need to keep working?

1: Backups.

This may not apply completely to you but for me (and many other people I know in small business), this is what you need, both at home and out on the road. You may have some other requirements as well but these few things will cover most of your needs.

There are many ways to get these things, many options based on needs, location and resources. If you think about them before signing up to anything, you will be better off in the long run.

This is what I have for my business. I can (and do) work from home (home office, kitchen, living room etc), from my car, from other people’s offices and even from a boat while fishing (if I am really lucky).

Internet: A good internet connection is vital in this day and age, especially for an IT consultant. At home I have an ADSL 2+ connection with Annex M (faster upload speed) and about 14mbps of bandwidth. I have a static IP address on the internet so I can always get back into my home PC from outside. There are advantages to having a static IP as well as disadvantages, most users wont need one. When on the road, I have a 3G SIM card built into my laptop for internet access from anywhere with mobile coverage as well as a 3G USB stick with a different carrier as a backup (I can also use my mobile phone as a modem via bluetooth if required). I dont recommend using 3G cards all the time, if you need internet at home, a permanent ADSL or cable connection will be much cheaper, faster and more reliable. If you want service, support and the best stability, sign up for a business plan (usually a bit more expensive), business support tends to be much better. Run your email in the cloud, eg start with free Gmail and use the free 2GB version of Dropbox as a centralised repository for files.

Computer: Get whatever you need, laptops are portable but less upgradable, fixable and powerful. I have a desktop at home that is permanently on as well as a laptop that is my primary workstation. If you are at a desk a lot, get a docking station for your laptop and get a large screen to go with it, even two if you have the space (dual screens is great), and full size keyboard and mouse. Dont cramp yourself in close to a laptop if you dont need to. Business grade laptops will have docking station options, consumer grade laptops dont. If you are using it for business (ie long periods of time), get a business grade laptop (eg HP Probook/Elitebook, Dell Latitude, Lenovo T Series etc), they have better warranties and are designed to run for long periods without overheating. Mac laptops do not have docking stations available.

Telephony: Obviously start with a mobile phone, get one that does email well (proper smartphone). If you use it a lot, either get a car charger for it and/or carry a second battery. A heavily utilised smartphone can struggle to make it through a day on a charge. Get yourself a bluetooth headset for use in the car or while at a computer. I have a Nokia E72 with a BlueAnt headset which both work very well. When at my desk, I have a standard desk phone to make calls on rather than use my mobile. I dont recommend getting extra phone lines, just get a VoIP service and handset and plug it into your internet connection. I am paying around $200/yr for two VoIP lines and two numbers with 100 untimed calls to fixed lines and 100 minutes of calls to mobiles per month. Any voicemails to my VoIP landlines are forwarded to me via email (and received on my mobile phone).

Printing: Some people need printing more than others. Dont waste time and money on inkjets for business use, get a cheap black and white laser printer. I got mine on Graysonline for about $50 and 3×8000 page toner cartridges for about $100 and 3 drum cartridges for $60. Enough for my printing needs for well over 12 months.

Network: Spend a little bit extra and get a Gigabit network. A small network may just be an ADSL router with 4 network ports. This is all you need to get going, they come with wireless as well. If you use wireless, make sure you set the security up. Gigabit is very fast and will make all the difference if you have a network attached storage device (NAS) for backups.

Electricity: Get a UPS to protect your IT investment and also to keep you able to work if the power goes out (for a while). The more you need to run the bigger the UPS needs to be, I have a 1500VA UPS tht can run my desktop, phones, internet and network for nearly two hours.

Backups: You cannot have too much. I operate my business files and email in the cloud but regularly backup copies locally. All local file are backed up to a NAS regularly and anything on the NAS only (it serves media to my Home Theatre PC as well) is backed up to a dedicated 2000GB drive in my desktop. Vital items such as photos of the kids are regularly burn to DVD as well as having a copy on a portable hard drive that stays with me when I am out on the road. Important sensitive or personal information on portable media should be encrypted with TrueCrypt.

Posted in: Business, Hardware, The Web

Microsoft BPOS vs Google Apps – My Move to “The Cloud”

You have probably heard the term “The Cloud” and how it is the way of the future for IT but what can it do, how does it work and why should you consider it? Google and Microsoft are two companies that are investing in web based services for business. I have tried both in a couple of different ways and discovered that you get what you pay for.

Many small businesses I work with have grown from nothing with minimal I.T. knowledge until they have reached a point in their business life cycle where things start to get harder. Changes to systems become painful to implement, things are no longer working properly and they blame their I.T. While it can be argued that I.T. is in fact the problem, it is more due to poor implementation of I.T. rather than technology itself. Usually when this happens, it is time for some centralisation of services and files. Enter the cloud.

Historially, the usual step at this point was to hire an I.T person, spend a few thousand dollars to put in a server, upgrade the network, and start to think about how it is supposed to work and make it happen (central Anti-Virus, central shared storage, network backups, perhaps an internal email server, domain controller, automated policies etc). This is still quite common, I am still doing these types of rollouts myself but is it really necessary? A few years ago, yes it was but now there are some alternatives with Cloud Computing (such as offerings from Google Apps, Microsoft BPOS, HyperOffice, Salesforce and many more). Basically the business decides what it needs from a storage, communication and collaboration perspective and simply subscribes to these services online (in “The Cloud”).

There are some down sides to working in the cloud. You need a reasonable internet connection, your data access will be slower than a local server, some functionality may be limited, security and privacy is not totally in your control etc. There are also many up sides to operating this way. You dont need to finance a server (monthly fees are often far easier to fund), you can quickly and easily scale the services with your business growth, your data is managed and backed up for you, you can access all your services from anywhere on any computer with an internet connection and more.

My own use of cloud computing for business began with Google Apps for business, the free version, and only with email. Using Google Apps I was able to synchronise my desktop, laptop and mobile phone email and calendar at all times, something that is only possible with some central control (eg a server). I then began to use Google Docs for file storage. The free version of Google Apps is very good for a free system but moving up to the Premier edition gives more storage space, no ads and access to the Google Apps Sync tool for Outlook. This works pretty well and I was happy until I began my first client implementation…

The problems with Google Apps began, in part, with the slow internet connection upload speed in the office. Trying to push gigabytes of email into the cloud took a considerable period of time during which a significant amount of email just was not available. It took nearly two weeks before email sync stabilised.

Problems then followed with synchronisation between Google Apps and mobile phones, in this case iphones. Email worked fine but there were many issues with contacts, they would fail to sync, often they would delete off the phones and then re-sync, contacts were not replicating back from the phone to Google Apps and then to the desktop (contacts added to the phone would be deleted on the next sync) and a few other quirks. The contacts sync was only solved by manually exporting all contacts from all locations to a local CSV file, manually editing it to ensure all formatting was consistent, deleting all contacts from Google Apps directly, waiting until the sync deleted them from the phone and desktop then importing directly into Google Apps from CSV. Once this was done, contacts began to work reliably.

The next issue was the email limitations that applied, mainly the 10MB message limit. Another client had problems with the number of recipients per email as well. The final straw though was when a key email account was shut down for 24 hours without warning “due to suspicious activity”. There is then no-one to call and no way to speed up getting the account unlocked. There is supposed to be an email address, ‘[email protected]’ that you email to fast track an unlock but it didn’t seem to help.

I have since moved to Microsoft BPOS and after migrating with the $10USD/account service from Migration Wiz and moving my MX records, I am now happily online with Exchange and Sharepoint for $17AUD/account/month. The online setup was not the easiest, especially as the local BPOS system is managed by Telstra but now it is operational, it is working without a hitch. There is no need for a sync client for Outlook or phones (that include MS ActiveSync) and a “Single Sign On” app runs on my PC’s so I dont need to log in each time. It is roughly 3 times the price of Google Apps (when you include Sharepoint as well) but based on my experience so far, it is worth it.

I have since begun moving some clients to Microsoft BPOS and the feedback has been very positive. Personally I now seamlessly sync a desktop and laptop PC, a Macbook, an iPad and an Android phone (I finally ditched my old Nokia E72, actually I ditched my telco, Three, after their dismal performance recently since the merger with Vodafone). I have a number I can call where a real person can help me and after a recent minor glitch where one of my accounts became corrupted and needed to be recovered (one of a lucky 3 people in the entire world apparently), both Telstra and Microsoft’s performance in fixing the situation and keeping me informed was excellent.

Google Apps is pretty good, it is pretty reliable but its lack of true business support (no phone support, far too restrictive email limits and no options if the system locks down an account) means that, for now, I dont recommend it for business use. For a very small business or family able to work within its limits, it is great but in my opinion, it is still some way off being truly ready for business use.

I have also moved a client to HyperOffice with reasonable success although their reliance on IMAP for email gets pretty slow for users with multiple large accounts connected. Their business model is far less “self service” and they are there to help with a well integrated and executed system that is well suited to a widely dispersed workforce. It is pretty much all web interface driven which has its quirks as well. It is more expensive but their goal is to remove the need for IT staff and they are targeting a different market than Microsoft or Google.

Microsoft Office 2010

I have just installed Microsoft Office 2010 on my work laptop. This may or may not have been a good idea, time will tell.

After attending a launch breakfast of Office 2010 a couple of days ago in Melbourne, it looked good enough that I had to give it a go, if only to be able to support my clients as they move up to it.

As I dont tend to use any add-ins and I run Windows 7 x64, I decided that Office 2010 64 bit would be the way of the future. If you have any add-ins, more than likely they wont run in 64 bit.

The first issue I had was that I found that I did in fact run an add-in, the Google Calendar Sync application to maintain my appointment calendar between my desktop, laptop and mobile phone. Google doesn’t support Office 2010 yet until the official public release (regardless of the fact that open/volume licenced businesses have had access to it for a month already) so I had to find an alternative. I did a quick Google search and found GSyncit, a cheap ($14.99USD) Outlook plugin that supports x64 Outlook 2010 for syncing calendar, contacts, tasks and notes with Google. Even better, it works.

First Impressions: The addition of the Office “Ribbon” to Outlook is a bit different but pretty good, grouping by conversation (like Gmail has had since day 1) is nice, the ability to clean up redundant messages in a conversation and ignore conversations is also useful. Powerpoint’s built in image and video tools and functions are a great improvement and the web publish feature is great for quick small presentation sharing in real time. Word looks pretty much the same, I would need to have Sharepoint available to take advantage of its multi-user simultaneous editing features (minimum 5 users @ $10USD/m each for Microsoft hosted Exchange and Sharepoint, could be worth it in the future when I start employing staff. It turns out that in Australia, the MS hosting is managed by Telstra (bad) but they allow a single user @$16.95AUD/m. Will give it a go).

Overall, it seems to be an improvement on Office 2007 but most likely, unless you are a power user or want the latest, there is probably no need to upgrade for the sake of it, you only use a fraction of any of its apps anyway. One feature which may be of benefit is OneNote is now standard across all versions of Office 2010. In Australia there are still (as of June 10th 2010) some Office 2007 Small Business edition retail boxes going very cheap (~$230AUD) that are eligible for a free upgrade to Office 2010 Professional which is the cheapest way to get it (cheaper than an update licence). Update June 13th, this software is nearly impossible to get now, looks like the word got out.

I will edit this post with more updates as I find out more about it, good and bad.

Update: Where did my auto complete addresses go??? It tuens out Outlook 2010 no longer uses the NK2 file that I have so diligently copied, backed up and restored over the years so none of my auto complete email addresses are there any more.

To import .nk2 files into Outlook 2010, follow these steps:

1. Make sure that the .nk2 file is in the following folder:
%appdata%\Roaming\Microsoft\Outlook

Note The .nk2 file must have the same name as your current Outlook 2010 profile. By default, the profile name is “Outlook.”

2. Click Start, and then click Run.

3. In the Open box, type outlook.exe /importnk2, and then click OK. This should import the .nk2 file into the Outlook 2010 profile.

All my auto complete email addresses are back now. Happy me.

Update: I just discovered that Outlook will send an email from whichever account you are in at the time regardless of your default settings… I have also signed up for Microsoft BPOS (Exchange Online) so have a full exchange server behind my Outlook instead of Google. It seems to work well, albeit difficult to set up. Will post about it specifically another time.

Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)

Do you need a UPS? YES!

A UPS is basically an additional insurance policy for your electronic equipment and vital for maximum life of your hardware. It will not only stop most power spikes and surges from getting to your hardware. A UPS can also provide a battery powered backup in the event of a power brown-out or blackout for a period of time as well as voltage correction if the power supply voltage is too high or too low.

While most businesses already have a UPS protecting their critical equipment, few households do. Small but capable UPS’s are now cheap enough that there is basically no reason to not get one. An entry level UPS is now under $100AUD but I would recommend spending around $150-250AUD for a home PC system to give a bit more battery run time.

The big names in UPS’s are APC (Americal Power Conversion) and Eaton. Eaton consumer grade UPS’s are branded as “Powerware”. There are some other good brands such as Nikko but there are also some cheap and nasty ones that should be avoided.

Things to look for when deciding what to buy:

  • Easy battery replacment – Batteries are a consumable item and last 3-5 years, most UPS’s use readily available gel lead acid batteries
  • Compatible sockets – APC tend to use the universal IEC C13 connector which need a IEC cable to connect to a device or a converted to connect to a powerboard, Powerware use Australian standard sockets.
  • Connection (USB usually, network on commercial systems) to PC being protected – allows normal system shutdown when battery level gets critically low
  • Run time and load requirements – Run time at full load is only a few minutes, if you want more run time, buy a bigger unit. APC has an online run time calculator to calculate run time for a load for their range of UPS’s. Larger commercial grade UPS’s can have extra battery packs added for extra run time.
  • Online vs Line interractive – Most are line interractive (cuts over to battery if the supply fails) but some of these types do not like being run from a generator. If a generator backup is required (small petrol or diesel off the shelf unit, not purpose built), an online UPS (supply charges the internal battery and all output comes from the battery at all times) is generally better but also can be more expensive.

For extra surge protection, supply your UPS through a surge protected powerpoint or double adapter. Surge protection is cumulative, a single device may not be able to stop a big spike (>1000 Joules) but two or three (rated at 500+ Joules each) in line may be enough.

Passwords

I am generally concerned with the use of very simple passwords that I come across regularly.

I recently ran a password cracking tool over all passwords in one workplace to get a feel for how secure their passwords were. The results were not ideal considering there were less than 70 staff.

  • 19 passwords were found within 1 second;
  • 40 within 30 seconds;
  • 52 within 60 seconds;
  • 55 within 3 minutes.

Passwords discovered (apart from the ones which were the users own name) included:

  • abc123
  • surfer
  • thursday
  • fuel01
  • bulldogs
  • password
  • pink01
  • gold65
  • mushroom

And the list goes on. If you recognise any of these passwords as similar to your own, you should recognise why there is a need to make passwords a bit more secure. Sometimes the people with the extremely simple passwords have remote VPN access directly into the work network which is a massive security issue and puts the entire network at risk.

There are great security differences between a non-secure password (eg apple12) and a (more) secure password ([email protected]).

You need to make up a password you can remember. Use a pass-phrase to help, use a combination of upper and lower case, numbers and special characters. Use substitute characters, eg use 1 instead of i. If you normally have two numbers at the end of you password, randomly substitute the number’s special character, eg instead of 24, use @4 or 2$. I dont want to make this so hard you end up writing down your password and sticking it on your screen so you get it right as this kind of defeats the purpose.

An example of a strong complex password is [email protected] which could be remembered with the pass-phrase – “my two dogs names are spot and rex” or “M(y) 2 d(ogs) n(ames) @(re) s(pot) a(nd) R3x
Your password protects your IT, the longer and more complex the better. Security paranoid people recommend 20 characters or more but in reality, make sure they are a minimum of 8 characters long and as varied as possible and change them regularly (a few times per year or more often).

Posted in: Business, Security

Intranets

Most organisations should have an Intranet. I say most because a two person business running out of homes probably doesnt ‘need’ one but if you are employing people, especially in different locations, an Intranet can (and should) become an integral part of your internal business communications.

What is an Intranet? Think of it simply as a private website for your staff. You can have one just for you if you are just starting out, it can be a central repository of what defines your business and can grow with you. A Wiki is an excellent place to start as it is simple and quick to learn and use. Once the limitations of the Wiki are reached, the Wiki can still have a place in your business process documentation while the Intranet itself can be moved to a Web Content Management System

WordPress or Joomla make great platforms to build your Intranet (see the link above), they are free and very flexible and there are many free add-on/plugins for them to add functionality with no need to know any coding. Joomla has a steeper learning curve but ultimately is more powerful. If you have Windows servers, you could build your Intranet on Windows Sharepoint Services but the initial setup will be the hardest and the learning curve the steepest but the end result may be far more powerful. If you want the full Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server (MOSS), expect to pay for it, it is not at all cheap to buy, customise or maintain.

What can your Intranet do? An Intranet can do anything you want it to do. If you treat it like a consistent homepage only, then that is what it will become. If you limit yourself to not spending any money on it, you will reach a different level of usage, if you see it as the basis for all your company’s internal operations, then that is also what it will become. It is only limted by your imagination. Anything that can be done online can be done in an Intranet, often more as you have a more defined/controlled environment to work with. The Internet’s communications systems are very well designed to be efficient and therefore any remote users or remote offices will often benefit from improved performance with an Intranet based system as opposed to a traditional application. You can use your intranet for company news, internal blogs, documentation, centralised forms and documents, events calendars, discussion forums, training, managing projects, sharing internet links, Client Relationship Management (CRM), process automation (eg Leave applications), testing future web sites etc. (and more).

Your Intranet can be as flashy or as understated as you like but it should reflect your businesses culture and values honestly. Often an Intranet is modelled on the company web site but this is not always a good thing, your staff (internal customers) have very different needs than your external clients. Your staff should be able to contribute easily, either directly or through a few known content Editors. If you make it an integral part your busines, something that has to be used by everyone everyday, it will then be able to become even more. There is nothing more demoralising for staff than a static intranet that is not useful or used for anything that is forced on staff as their browser homepage that has not been updated since it was created, often many years ago where a fresh, relevant and changing Intranet gives a feeling that things are happening in the business.

Posted in: Business, The Web

Daily Backups

Regular backups are very important for anyone, especially businesses. While a home user may lose some music or photos if their backups are not up to date, a business may lose invoices, orders, emails etc which cannot be replaced and may have a long term effect on the business.

You really cannot go too far with backups, depending on your risk profile and budget, your backups may be a simple file copy once per day or real time backups pushed to multiple locations. Obviously the more you do the more it will cost but the lower the risk of data loss if something happens.

Before I go into the options, don’t think that it wont happen. It will. Hardware fails, computers die, laptops get dropped or stolen, power spikes occur etc. If you go into this expecting the worst, you are usually in better shape when it happens than those who are not ready for it. Once you have had a significant failure and your backups are not good enough, you tend to take it more seriously in the future.

* Hard Drive Backups

As a bare minimum, and I mean bare minimum, a portable hard drive is a cheap and convenient option to back up your data from one or more locations. It can be a bit manual and does require some discipline but is much easier than burning to CD/DVD. Many come with backup tools but having seen some of them in action, I recommend using a simple backup script to maintain full control over the backup process. Windows (from Vista onwards) ships with a utility called Robocopy which, while small, is one of the best free applications ever to come out of Microsoft. Older versions of Windows can also use it but it needs to be downloaded as part of the Windows 2000 or Windows XP “Resource Kit”. To use it, simply create a folder (call it “scripts”) and create a blank text file, call it “backup.bat”. If you have Windows XP or earlier, you need to put the robocopy.exe file into the same folder. You need to edit backup.bat (right click and edit or it will try to run it). The way you use it is to call robocopy, give it a source location and a destination location and tell it what you want it to do, one command per line. eg robocopy “c:\email” “f:\email” /MIR will use robocopy to “MIRror” the c:\email folder to f:\email assuming that your portable hard drive is allocated drive F:. The /MIR or “mirror” option will delete target files if they no longer exist in the source. This is useful to ensure your backup drive doesnt grow bigger than your data drive but you run the risk of data being lost if the source file get accidently deleted then a backup is run. A better option for a portable hard drive is to have two backups pushed to it, one with the /MIR switch to mirror it and one without which will copy changed files and new files but will not delete anything.

Other Robocopy options can make your backups work better or be a bit more flexible. eg

  • robocopy “source folder” “destination folder” /MIR /w:2 /r:2 will wait for two seconds (/w:2) and retry twice (/r:1) if a file is in use and cannot be copied. The defaults are wait 30 seconds and retry 1,000,000 times which will not always be useful.
  • robocopy “source folder” “destination folder” /S /log:logfile.txt will copy from the source to the destination including subdirectories (/S) (but not empty subdirectories use “/E” if you want empty subdirectories as well) and will log everything it does to logfile.txt
  • robocopy “source folder” “destination folder” /S /XF *.txt *.tmp will copy but will exclude files (/XF) that end with “txt” or “tmp”

Other useful switches are /XD (eXclude Directory), /MOVE (MOVE files and folders, ie delete from source after copying) and /PURGE (delete destination files that no longer exist in the source – used with /E has same effect as /MIR)

A full list of Robocopy options can be found by opening a command prompt and typing “robocopy /?”

The next step up from a USB/eSATA hard drive for disk based backups is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device. This can be a single drive like the USB connected on or can be a RAID array connecting via NAS, FTP, iSCSI etc depending on your needs and budget. Openfiler can convert pretty much any hardware to a NAS device that Robocopy or another backup system can access for backup storage.

* CD/DVD backups

If you need or want archives of your data for long term storage, DVD backups are cheap and relatively reliable (CD’s as well but since DVD burners and blank DVD’s are so cheap, there is little point persevering with CD’s). A standard blank DVD holds 4.3GB of data which should cover most of your important stuff (documents and emails) for some time. They take up very little space and are readily readable. They do, however, require more work to create, the process cannot be as automated. DVD burning software like Infrarecorder is required (most DVD burners and PC’s will come with some form of burning software which will usually suffice). You will need to know where your data is stored and how much space it takes up.

* Tape Backups

If you have a lot of data and need archiving, the most cost effective solution is a tape backup unit. They are relatively expensive to buy but in Dollars per Megabyte, they are very cheap. The tapes are also very portable which makes it easy for you to transport your data if required (having the most recent tape in your bag each night is better than leaving your tapes onsite if there is a fire!). Tape drives run from a few hundred dollars for slow DAT format tape drives which will do 20GB or so, up to a few thousand for a high speed LTO 4 format tape drive that can hold over 1000GB of data on a single tape (the tapes are more expensive too). They also go much, much higher than this if you decide to opt for a tape library where the backups can span multiple tapes and tape changes are done automatically but I am not going to go into Enterprise class tape libraries here. My rule of thumb is to calculate the storage space you need now, at least triple it and buy a tape system accordingly. While it is possible, I strongly recommend ensuring that your backups dont run longer than a single tape over the lifespan of the tape unit and tapes (you should be able to assume that a DAT drive will last at least 3 years and LTO 4-5 years, the tapes will last longer than this).

* Offsite Backups

There are a number of backup services which, for a fee, provide a quantity of space on the internet where you can upload your files to keep a copy offiste where you can access them as you need them. While they are generally considered reasonably secure, if you are uploading sensitive information, your data should be secured before uploading. Zip archives can be secured with powerful encryption, 7Zip has this functionality built in, simply select the encryption option and put in a secure password and the file will be both compressed (for easier upload) and securely password protected.