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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

TrueCrypt – File Encryption

If you have personal or sensitive business information, especially on a portable device such as a laptop, USB stick or portable hard drive, you should consider encrypting this data. If you lose any of these devices, any un-encrypted data on them can quickly and easily fall into the wrong hands. One solution is a free and relatively easy to use encryption utility called TrueCrypt which can encrypt to some of the most secure levels of encryption available.

You have a couple of encryption options from complete system encrytion (fully secured laptop), an entire physical drive or the more simple and user friendly encrypted virtual hard drive which is simply a file on your device that appears as a hard drive when you put in your password. You decide what data will be stored in the encrypted file. It is not as secure as a fully encrypted system but is a far better option than nothing at all and will take an enormous amount of effort to decrypt without the right password. I generally have an encrypted volume on any portable device and any personal or important information sits in that. I also keep the TrueCrypt installer on an unencrypted part of the drive so I can install it if required (I also use a portable version that does not need to be installed)

Windows Vista and Windows 7 high end versions (Ultimate) have BitLocker encryption built in if you want to encrypt your laptop. While this is built in, you have to have bought the expensive OS’s and the encrypted data is not as flexible. With a TrueCrypt “Volume”, it can be mounted on pretty much any operating system (Including Linux and Mac) and can be put on a USB stick or portable hard drive which makes it portable. It cannot be read unless the right password is used.

With encryption though, the end user is the most likely weak point.

TrueCrypt can be downloaded from http://www.truecrypt.org/

Posted in: Free Software, Security
Tags: Tags: , ,

7Zip – Zip software

While most people have heard of Winzip compression software, many don’t realise that you are supposed to pay for it.

Compression software allows you to a number of things:

  • package multiple files into a single file to make it easier to send to someone (via email, the web or disc).
  • Chop up a single large file into multiple smaller files for easier transport that can be easily put back together again
  • Compress files so they take up less space (for emailing or archiving)
  • Secure files when used with encryption (most compression software supports some level of encryption)

7Zip is a free open source alternative to commercial compression tools that can read and open most archive formats as well as create “.zip” files and also use its own native open protocol compression format, “.7z” which is more efficient than “.zip”. It supports virtually uncrackable 256bit AES encyption. 7zip can be downloaded from http://www.7-zip.org/ in both 32bit and native 64bit versions. It integrates into the “right click” menu in Windows allowing files to be compressed and uncompressed easily. It can also be accessed programmatically allowing scripts to compress or decompress files automatically (I often use it from a VBScript to compress web server logs and SQL Server backup files to minimise space)

Posted in: Free Software