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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?

1: internet
2: computer
3: telephony
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.

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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.

Website Hosting

There are so many options available for you to get your website online that many people dont know where to start. I will run through a few (non-exhaustive) options for you, from limited and free to powerful (and expensive).

You can run a website from your home PC via your home internet connection. I wouldn’t do it though but it can be done and in the early years of the internet, many sites were run in exactly this way via dial up modems. I am not going to detail how as it is now so cheap and easy to organise proper web hosting that it makes no sense, for anyone.

Before you begin, you need to have your Domain Name registered and ready to use.

When you have your Domain Name ready to go, you should have a bit of a think about how you intend to use your web site. Do you imagine the web site scaling to handle very high numbers of users? Do you have a preferred platform (Windows or Linux are the two big options) or preferred programming language and database system that you want to use? Basically Linux hosting will always be cheaper than Windows but cannot be used for Dot.NET applications or SQL Server databases. It can be used for PHP programming and MySQL databases though which are very widely used online. Windows can also support PHP and MySQL but in my experience, shared hosting of PHP and MySQL on Windows hosts seems slower than on Linux, possibly due to licencing costs meaning more sites are hosted on each Windows server.

To begin with, you can host your website with pretty much anyone you like. Make sure they have an online reputation ( is a good place to start) and can support what you need (if you want to use a free Web Content Management System like Joomla, Drupal, WordPress, MediaWiki etc, it must support PHP and MySQL). This site costs around $6AUD/m to host on Linux servers with unlimited space and bandwidth (I havent fully explored the concept of ‘unlimited’ though) but I would probably be asked to leave or have my site restricted in some way if it became so popular that it affected the performance of the other sites hosted on the same server. Some hosts are ‘free’ but make their money with ads etc, others are quite expensive and offer Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) regarding server up time. I have found Australian hosting to be considerably more expensive than hosting offshore and the performance impact of being located in the US vs Australia is negligible. Once you have signed up, delegate your domain name to them (or point it to them if you host it elsewhere), upload your website to them and it will just go live on the internet.

If you have some specific hosting needs, the next step up is a dedicated hosted server, probably a Virtual Server in a data centre. A Virtual server is completely self contained but many of them share the same physical server (as average utilisation is always a small fraction of peak performance, this is a much better use of a physical server). You can treat this like your own server, you will be given full access to it as if it was your own (but if you stuff it up, you have to fix it too). A dedicated server can usually handle a larger volume of traffic and users than a shared server as well.

A dedicated physical server is your next step up, you can lease one from a hosting company or install your own into a data centre. The prices start to rise with this option with data centre space being expensive and increasingly scarce (In Melbourne anyway).

Above this is the redundant server farm with load balancing. The sky is the limit once you get here in terms of how much you could potentially spend. Google has spent billions of dollars on their infrastructure but any level of load balancing and fault tolerance does not come cheap. This level of hosting is out of my league and more often than not would just be overkill for most business web sites.

Regardless of who you host with, make sure you keep regular back ups of your website. If your hosting company goes under, you may need to get up and running with another host on very short notice and may not get a chance to pull down a copy of your website before it gets turned off.

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Domain Names

What you need to know

Your domain name is the online identity for your whole business, most importantly your email and website. For example, I currently use this one,, a variation on it to stop anyone else taking it,, and my personal name, which I registered many years ago (late 1990’s – you would be lucky to get your name these days, especially the .com).

You probably have a domain name already but if not and you want to register one, there are a few things you need to do.

  1. Decide what domain name you want and see if it is available.

    To check if a domain name is taken, the first thing to do is try (or or .net etc) in your web browser. This will tell you pretty quickly if it is in use. It won’t always show you if it is taken though, as many names are registered and never used. Reasons for this include stopping someone else using it, or hoping to sell it later to someone who really wants the name (as they can be bought and sold like any other asset. One of the highest, if not the highest price paid was $12M USD for Australian domain names are not worth anywhere near that.).

    To do a search for an inactive registered domain name, you need to do a WHOIS Search. There are plenty of options to choose from (eg or If the search does not return a match then there is a good chance it can be registered. You may also like to review the list of names soon to be purged from the registry, at the official domain drop list. Before you do, think about what you want the name to mean to web users. Make it relevant to your business or name ( require an ABN to register), make it easy to type and remember if possible (most three letter acronyms are already taken, don’t make it too long if possible). Try to avoid unwanted words when you join words together (eg a couple of famous joined word domain name blunders are Pen Island, Experts Exchange which has since been hyphenated, Powergen Italia, Therapist Finder, the list goes on. For a laugh, you might like to read). Check for conflicts with other registered business names and trademarks as well (for Australian businesses you could begin by checking the Australian Business Register.

  2. Register your new domain name.

    To register a domain name, you need to find a domain registrar. There are plenty to choose from. Don’t be too concerned about which registrar you use in Australia, only accredited registrars may sell a The list of accredited registrars can be found on the website and they can also (usually) register other domains as well such as .com, etc. You can change your registrar later if you really want to but it is much more difficult than registering the name in the first place. You will receive a domain name password or key when you register your domain name, KEEP THIS SAFE! It is the key – if you lose control of it, you can lose your domain name. Without it, you will be unable to make changes.

  3. Delegate your domain name to a Domain Name Server (DNS).

    Just registering is only the first step. You then need to decide which name servers are responsible for looking after your domain name on the internet. Often your web site hosts provide this service as part of your hosting package and this is usually easier than managing it yourself as they know what they need to make your web site appear on the internet. After registering, you need to enter the DNS settings of the name servers that will look after your domain name with your registrar. They usually have a web page where you can do this that you will be given details of when you register. The DNS server must be ready to receive your information before you put in the details with your registrar so you will need to find some website hosting first. If you want to look after the domain name yourself you will need to know what you are doing in step 4 below.

  4. Set up your DNS settings for your web site and email and anything else you need it to do.

    If your web site host will look after your domain name for you then you can skip this section. They will set up your web site and email. If you are doing it yourself, you need to know about IP Addresses, MX Records, A Records, CNAME records and subdomains. You also need a DNS host that has a web interface for you to manage the records.

    1. IP Addresses are the numbers which correspond to an address on the internet. DNS Servers point domain names to the IP addresses. The IP address is the location on the internet, but a domain name is easier to remember and use. An IP Address is a sequence of 4 numbers between 0 and 255 (roughly) separated by a period (.), eg this site’s IP address is which is the address of the server hosting the site.
    2. MX Records are the servers that are responsible for your domain’s email. There should always be at least two (primary and secondary MX records) and there are often more (tertiary MX records). These are simply the mail server’s IP addresses and a number called a Metric determining the order that other mail servers should use to try to deliver email (lower comes first). I use Google Apps for business for my email so I have 7 MX records corresponding to different Google servers able to receive email on my behalf.
    3. “A” Records are basically the same as MX Records but are not for email, rather internet addresses. Your website will have an IP Address or a server address that you will want your domain name to point to, that is an A Record. I have the A Record “” pointing to
    4. A “CNAME” Record is an alias for an existing A Record, eg I have the A Record “” pointing to and a CNAME alias for “www” pointing to “” so an end user can type in “” or “” and both will go to exactly the same web site.
    5. A subdomain allows you to use different prefixes for your domain name for different things. Often a subdomain like “mail” or “mx1” (rather than the more familiar “www”) will be set up as an A Record to point your MX records to. I have set up to point to Google Apps for business which then redirects me to the webmail interface for my email. You can set up as many as you need for different purposes.

    If your web site host is looking after your DNS for you and you want to change your email host (for example I use Google), then you need to give them the details they need to make the changes on your behalf.

  5. Wait for the changes to propagate then test your domain name.

    The internet is huge and while things happen pretty fast, some things still take time. One of these things is the propagation of your domain name to all DNS servers around the world (there are literally thousands of DNS servers controlled from central core of 13 “Root Servers” ). While the general rule of thumb is to allow up to 48 hours for worldwide propagation (it is not in real time, all servers check for updates periodically), in reality pretty much all servers will be updated within 12 hours and in Australia alone, I would be surprised if it took more than 2-4 hours to spread across the country.

    To test your domain name set up (whether or not you have set up your web site or email yet), you can use a tool built in to all operating systems called “Ping” as a quick check. In Windows, open a command prompt (Start- Run – “cmd” then enter) and type in “ping” and press enter. If you receive a message “ping request could not find host” then it is either incorrectly configured or has not propagated yet. The name should resolve to an IP address eg “pinging [] with 32 bytes of data”. If you get nothing back (request timed out) don’t worry, it is the name resolution that is important here.

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