Contact Us

Remote Assistance

Powered by TeamViewer

Rate Us!

How did we do? Rate us on WOMO!


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.

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 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