Network Connectivity Troubleshooting – Part Two

This is part two in this series for network connectivity troubleshooting.  Confirming the connectivity with the Internet was the focus of the first three steps in our process. We now continue with the remaining steps to help you discover what the problem with your Internet connection might be.

1. Check functionality. Once the network cable has been confirmed to be working correctly, we need to see if the router is working correctly. Since you have already unplugged and re-plugged the router in and rebooted both it and your PC, that should have taken care of any automatic configuration issues that might have become hung up. High speed Internet providers can change the network address (also called the IP address) of your router at any time. This usually requires a re-boot of your router (and sometimes of your PC) in order to pick up that new address and begin communicating. Also, there are other network addresses that are used to get outside to the Internet that are automatically configured as well, but we will deal with those in a later step.

2. Test functionality. If after you have rebooted the router and PC and performed all of the steps above, but it appears that you are still having problems, make sure that you try other ways to get outside to the Internet by launching your email program (if you use one). If it works, but your Internet browser still does not, then something is preventing your Internet browser from resolving website addresses on the Internet.

3. Check virus software. When was the last time your PC performed an automatic update or a scan for viruses? Can you try to force an update now? Is it successful? If it has been a week since the last check for viruses, run a full system scan. If this does not work and no viruses are detected, move on to the next steps.

4. Try another system. Do you have another PC or laptop that you can plug in to your router to try and get out to the Internet, or do you know anyone else with a laptop PC who would be willing to bring it over to see if they can plug into your router and get out to the Internet? If so, that will confirm if you have a good working router and cabling. If you or they are able to get out to the Internet, then the problem lies with the original PC you were troubleshooting.

5. Contact your Broadband Service Provider. If you cannot get out to the Internet with another PC or Laptop, work with their support staff to troubleshoot the connectivity issue.

6. Final options. If all else fails, take your PC to another location like a friend’s house or a relative who has high speed Internet access. Plug into their system and see if the PC will access the Internet. Another option is to take your PC to a local shop to have it examined for any virus or spyware software that is not being detected but is preventing you from accessing the Internet. Usually, these local PC repair companies have the software tools to help detect and eradicate these problems.

Troubleshooting a connection for your PC can be a frustrating thing to do because there are so many variables to address. Be patient, and follow the above steps and hopefully you will find the source of your problem sooner rather than later.

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Network Connectivity Troubleshooting – Part One

To most computer support persons, having problems connecting to the Internet via a router and a high-speed connection is not a major issue. However, for those who do not understand some basic technology concepts, solving connectivity problems will be a struggle. The following will give you some tips of where to look for network connectivity problems and how to perform some basic network connectivity troubleshooting tasks.

Most of the initial steps of this process are common-sense and incredibly basic, but you would be surprised at the number of calls to help desks that are solved simply by having someone turn on a power switch or plug in a cable to a device!

1.Check the power. Make sure that the power is turned on to your router and that you can see some visible signs of that power on the front of the unit. Usually green or yellow lights flash or stay on constantly when the unit has power. If you do not have any of those, check the electrical outlet for power. Plug in a radio, clock, lamp or other device to see if the outlet is ‘live.’ If so, continue on to the next step. If not, check your electrical box to make sure that your circuit breakers have not tripped because of an overload or other electrical issue.

2.Check the router. If you still get no lights on the front of your router, then unplug it from the electrical outlet and wait for a while (15 minutes to half an hour) and plug it back into that same outlet. Most of these have what we call ‘wall-wart’ type power supplies that have the square-ish black block on the end which plugs into the wall outlet (or power surge suppressor). Sometimes these can go bad. If you cannot get any of the lights to come on at all on your router, even if you test it in a known “good” wall receptacle, it might mean that the power supply or router itself is defective.

3.Check the cables. Now, if you have confirmed that the electrical outlet is working properly and you are getting lights on the front of your router, then you need to check the network cable between your PC and your router. If you have a wireless router and are having trouble connecting by that method, then you need to troubleshoot first by trying to connect with a hard-wired connection, as it is easier to troubleshoot a hard-wired connection than a wireless one (once you have successfully established connectivity through a wired connection, you can resume troubleshooting wireless connectivity). Normally, your router should include at least one network cable for connecting devices directly to it. Use this cable to connect your PC to your router.. On the front of the router are a series of lights (these differ in color by manufacturer) which indicate the presence of a network connection over the network cable (or Ethernet cable) between your PC and router. Locate the network cable which runs from your router to your PC and unplug it from the back of the router. Does one of the lights go out? If so, that is a good sign. If not, then go to the PC end of the network cable and locate where it connects to your PC. Right around this connection there are usually a set of led lights indicating a network connection. By removing your network cable from the PC, you should see the lights go out. And, with your PC powered on, removing this cable will also usually cause a message to come up on your Windows-based PC indicating that your network connection has been lost. If this happens, then it appears that at least your router and PC are ‘talking’ to each other. This is usually noted by the ‘flashing’ activity of these lights.

4.Reboot both your router and your PC. Sometimes a simple reboot will clear up any anomalies between network connections, and this will always be a step any help desk, ISP or router manufacturer’s support personnel will ask you to try.

In part two of this series we will talk about checking functionality of your router and then determining whether your problem might lie solely with your PC.

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How to Save on IT Costs During a Recession

Here are some tips to Save on IT Costs during a recession:

Individuals become more frugal as the economy dips. Businesses who learn how to reduce their operating expenses are far more likely to survive economic downturns and recessions than those who continue to operate “business as usual”. For many business owners, information technology costs are expensive; here are some tips to save on IT costs during a recession:

Switch to VOIP Phone Lines: Are you still paying high phone bills to make sales calls, handle customer service, or hold teleconferences? This is an expense that almost all businesses can save simply by switching to VOIP lines instead of your landline or cellphone service. From Vonage to Packet8 to Skype, there are numerous options that help you eliminate expensive long distance charges. Most businesses report a savings of around 60% when switching to telephone lines that operate through their internet connection.

Consider Switching to a Less Expensive ISP: Depending on your business needs, you may not require all of the features your current Internet Service Provider is offering. Why pay for something you don’t need? Check other ISP’s to see if you could be saving money.

Consider Dropping Your Merchant Account: Most businesses require a merchant account in order to accept credit cards as payments from their customers. With the increasing merchant account expenses, though, this is often a costly expense. You could still accept credit cards if you switch to an online payment processor, like Paypal, and avoid paying statement fees and monthly fees that are typical of regular merchant accounts. Online payment processors charge a higher fee per transaction than a standard merchant account, but depending on the volume of credit card transactions you may pay less overall than you do with your current merchant account. Run some numbers to see if the savings are significant enough to warrant a switch.

Use a Laptop: If reasonable, use a laptop instead of a full PC. A laptop consumes 90% less energy than the desktop version, and for many businesses, a laptop can do the job as well as a desktop.

Share Stuff: Do you have a computer and printer at every workstation in your office? Sell the individual printers and get a single printer that operates on the network. All computers in the office can print from the same printer and eliminate maintenance requirements on each individual printer, as well as reduce the energy required to power the printers. Think of other computer components that could be networked instead of used individually to further cut costs and set up a more efficient office.

Use Freelancers: When you discover you have a need for someone to complete a project that falls outside the scope of your current employees – instead of hiring another full time or part time employee, consider using a freelancer. Freelancers don’t require office space, do not receive the employee benefits you provide to your current staff, and can be hired on a per-project basis instead of placed on salary.

Downsize Your IT Department or Re-evaluate Your Current Outsourced IT Service: Consider using a flat rate IT support service rather than maintaining a full IT department on payroll, or maintaining a reactive outsourced IT service whose monthly costs are unpredictable. Flat rate IT service providers allow you to budget for and reduce your monthly and overall costs, increase your profits and act as your virtual IT department so you can focus on running your business and not the technology that supports it.

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Why Your Company Needs an Email Policy

Email is an important and necessary part of your business. It provides an economical and instant means of communicating with staff, customers, and vendors – that’s both simple to use and enables increased efficiency. An email policy is required to protect this necessary business tool.

An email policy is a legal document that details your organization’s definition of acceptable use for the company email system. It should indicate who emails can be received from or sent to, as well as outline what constitutes appropriate content for work emails.

In addition, having a company email policy will:

Protect the Organization from Liabilities: When all employees read and sign an email policy, it proves they are aware and agree to the information contained in that policy. Should an email be sent that is not considered appropriate content according to the email policy, the employee, not the business, would bear the brunt of liability for any damages or suits brought as a result of their sending an inappropriate email.

Promote a Professional Environment: If email is used only in a professional manner in the workplace, you can be sure that embarrassing mistakes will not occur. For example, if staff are using work email to communicate with friends, the content in those emails are likely to be sloppy, unprofessional, and informal. If those emails accidentally get sent to clients or other professionals – the company image may become damaged. If an email policy does not allow for personal use of the work email system, your staff will remain in a professional mindset and eliminate the potential of personal emails going out to customers.

Increase Productivity: Email tends to be a distraction for employees who are using it for non-professional reasons. If an email policy prohibits the use of work email for personal use, your employees will stay on task more and avoid the distractions that come from sending and receiving personal emails during work hours.

Establish Systems for Email: If the email policy outlines appropriate content for an email sent during work hours over the company email system, it can also help establish systems to ensure all staff members are contributing to the brand or image of the company. Have each staff member use a template for email responses and set up signature lines that appear in all outgoing emails to further establish the company’s professionalism and image in the eyes of individuals who may receive email from your staff. Setting guidelines for content and use of email creates a single, comprehensive image of the company that helps keep the organization aligned with its mission.

An email policy is a document that provides your business with certain legal protections involving misuse of the email system by employees. Because it is a legal document, many businesses elect to have a lawyer draw up the email policy, or at the very least, review the policy before it is implemented within the organization. Having a lawyer review or prepare an email policy may seem like an unnecessary upfront cost, but has the potential to save you in legal fees in the future.

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Hackers Get New Tools… Managed IT Services Providers to the Rescue?

Two companies have released software that mines information about individuals on the Web. Core Security Technologies dropped its Exomind application, while Paterva released its Maltego program. Can Managed IT Services Providers Respond?

Both applications have one thing in common. They can be used to collect information on individuals from snippets of data dropped all across the web. Of course social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace make that job easy already, but these programs can piece together broken links to create virtual profiles that mimic your real world persona. They can identify who you know, where you shop and what you do for a living.

While Exomind was built to assess the negative impact of social networks on privacy, Maltego claims to have a much loftier purpose, the building up of corporate digital footprints to display relationships and reveal trends, which can be used to take corporate competitiveness to another level.

Individuals and companies alike need to be aware of the dangers of this type of software. The existence of Exomind and Maltego promises to revolutionize the way information is assessed on the web, which means that the user must rethink what they put out there.

Whereas before an individual might keep a Facebook profile for personal use and a LinkedIn or Ecademy profile for business purposes and feel fairly confident that the two were being kept separate, the emergence of this technology smashes this sense of security.

On a corporate level it means that sensitive data is exponentially easier to leak to the competition because they may have access to technology that can interpret spikes in communication between different parties or even pick up on blether on forums and in chat rooms.

How Can Managed IT Services Providers Help?

Managed IT Services Providers can step in to fill the gap in the need for more security. When superior protection is needed it is best to trust the industry giants to do the job. The most popular MSPs in the security business are Symantec and Verizon.

Symantec has a range of service packages tailored to meet the needs of small, mid-sized and large enterprises. They offer a wide range of services from data protection to spam prevention and endpoint security.

Verizon is comparatively new to the internet security business, having acquired Cybertrust in 2007, but they are prior recipients of the Global Product Excellence Award for Internet Security so they have a huge stamp of approval.

As technology continues to advance, security threats will only get more and more ubiquitous, so it is wise to leave the protection of data to the professionals. MSPs are a smart and affordable solution to what promises to be a persistent and costly problem.

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Cloud Computing – How Will it Affect You?

happy-woman-working-on-laptopWe are always on the watch for the ‘next best thing’ when it comes to technology and the Internet. Certainly no one can doubt that Cloud Computing and the next generation of the Internet has had a dramatic affect on how people interact and connect with each other – both from an individual standpoint and a business one.

The hottest emerging concept that has the power to change how we perform tasks is taking place before us – and it is Cloud Computing. Simply put, it is the ability to use resources and tools via the Internet without actually owning or being near them. The only requirement is to be able to access them.

The term ‘Cloud’ is used to indicate the whole of computing services accessible via the Internet. It is an all-encompassing description of the complex internet-connected networks that exist in datacenters all over the world that power services and applications behind the scenes.

The concept of utilizing resources in these networks is being adopted by businesses both large and small. These resources are categorized to describe their function, and include:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS)
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Web 2.0

In the most general terms, Infrastructure as a Service means that companies may no longer need to own and house their own back-end servers and other network computing infrastructure besides an internet-connected PC or laptop in order to maintain business functionality. This capability can be purchased on a subscription basis from entities that market these services in a ‘virtual’ manner. This allows businesses to keep their costs low by not having to purchase, maintain and recycle their own equipment for this purpose, and also mitigates the possibility of business interruption due to the highly available nature of these solutions. This equates to increased uptime and profitability for Infrastructure as a Service customers.

Platform as a Service is also known as ‘cloudware’, and refers to the availability of development tools in creating web applications and services to the end user. Like IaaS, you never ‘see’ the inner-workings of this environment unless you are a computer programmer or IT resource, but it exists nonetheless and again affords those who use these tools the ability to reduce costs while running their businesses.

Sofware as a Service is defined as software applications that are subscribed to and accessed only through the Internet, and not installed on local PCs or laptops. Applications built by and accessed via Google fall into this category, as well as the many photo sites to which you can upload your pictures and videos, edit and share them with others. These solutions are gaining tremendous popularity, because end users do not need to install, update and maintain software locally – only connect to it and use it when the need arises.

Web 2.0 describes the whole of the social networking movement on the Internet, and includes but is not limited to destinations such as Facebook, MySpace, eHarmony, LinkedIn and Twitter. These sites offer the ability for people all over the world to share common interests, stay connected and learn more about each other – and these sites aren’t just for the young. Statistics show that the over 50 generation is logging onto these sites in greater numbers than ever before. In fact, in one month alone, Facebook adds over 17,000 new members.

The next time you are on the Internet and upload a photograph and use the online tools to modify that picture, you are participating in ‘cloud computing.’ The picture is probably loaded to a site that uses IaaS for their servers, PaaS in order to provide the visual interface in which you modify the photograph, and SaaS applications you’ll use to access your email program and social networking sites in order to send it to or post it for those with whom you would like to share the picture.

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Cloud Computing Security: Is the Cloud Ready for Your Confidential Data?

What is Cloud Computing?

You can’t look anywhere these days without reading about “cloud computing.” The term seems to be popping up everywhere. So, what exactly is cloud computing? A simplistic definition is computing on the Internet. It allows users the ability to access everything on the Internet, from software to their stored data, without having to store anything on their actual computer. The user only needs a computer with a web browser in order to access the cloud.

What is So Great About Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing has the potential to allow small businesses or businesses on a budget the ability to have high quality computing at a lower cost. Business owners no longer need to invest in expensive IT equipment or pay an entire IT staff that would normally be required in order to keep a computer system running. Storing data in the cloud would help reduce IT costs while still allowing businesses to grow.

What Cloud Computing Concerns Does Your IT Service Provider Need to Address?

Cloud computing is such a new technology that your IT Service Provider will need to complete a thorough assessment of your business needs and identify all cloud-related security issues. Some of these concerns are:

  • If you store your valuable business documents in the cloud and your Internet connection goes down, how do you continue business activity?
  • The stability of the Cloud vendors you engage with.
  • Where your company located and where your data physically be stored. If your data is stored in another country, is that country required to comply with the same security standards that you would expect from your home country?
  • Who is in charge of storing and managing your data?
  • How secure is the login? Would hackers be able to easily gain access to your data?
  • Is your data encrypted so that others cannot easily view it?
  • Is the cloud storage company willing to undergo a certification process and willing to comply with certain security standards?

At this point, working with your IT Service Provider to develop a plan to resolve these issues is required, as cloud computing has so much to offer businesses from flexibility to growth potential to tremendous cost savings.

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Eight Ways To Keep Your Small Business Secure

If you own and operate a small business, lowering costs is an important part of keeping your company in the black. Cutting costs on your IT budget could inadvertently compromise your company’s security. Even though small businesses may not have all of the resources that large corporations do, they are still just as vulnerable to the same security threats. Here are some ways to help keep your small business secure:

Purchase Anti-virus Software

Every computer is vulnerable to the wide variety of viruses, trojans, and worms that are on the Internet. These malicious software programs can do anything from damage your computer and files to steal your password and other important information stored on your computer. Purchase a good anti-virus software program and make sure that it is always up to date. Also, check to see that your anti-virus software checks for spyware, adware, and any other type of malware that could be hiding on your computer.

Avoid Phishing Emails

It is important to discuss with your employees the importance of not opening spam email, attachments or forwards that could possibly contain viruses. Make sure that your email has a filtering system that helps to filter out spam and other malicious email. Responding to phishing emails can be another costly mistake. Phishing emails are disguised as legitimate emails that then request login and password information. Changing passwords monthly can help to lessen the damage should an employee accidentally respond to a phishing email.

Minimize Damage From Dishonest or Disgruntled Employees

It is often difficult to predict if one of your employees will become disgruntled or dishonest, but you can put some safeguards in place to help minimize the damage should you find that you have one. Thoroughly screen your employees before hiring them, especially if they will have access to any confidential or financial company information. Limiting the number of employees that have access to this confidential information and changing your company passwords often can help to prevent former employees from accessing company computers.

Secure Your Wireless Network

Make sure that your wireless router is encrypted, and that your business is using WPA2 wireless security. A firewall is another important key to protecting the security of your small business. A firewall will allow access only to authorized users while blocking unauthorized access to the computer.

Have An Internet Use Policy

Aside from the obvious lack of productivity that personal Internet use can cause for your business, it can often be too easy to click on websites that contain malicious software that could easily infect your company computer and shut your system down temporarily or even permanently.

Avoid Having Everything on One Computer

Purchasing computer equipment is costly, so many small businesses will try to get away with fewer computers in order to save money. If you have your financial information on the same computer that your employees are accessing their company emails, you could risk losing everything that is vital to running your business should an infected email slip through.

Have a Data Backup System

Be sure to have some type of data storage and backup system in place in the event that your current system goes down. Having all of your files readily available to you in case of an emergency can ensure that your business will retain customers and continue to run smoothly no matter what the disaster.

Minimize Damage From Stolen Equipment

It difficult to prevent break-ins or equipment from being stolen from your home or office building, but you can have some security by ensuring that all of the information on your computer is encrypted and password protected.

Trying to scrimp when it comes to your small business’s computer security can be a costly mistake. Arm yourself with the knowledge of what your business could be up against and take steps towards prevention. The investment will give your company the security necessary to keep your information secure.

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Proactive, Managed IT Services Save Small and Medium Businesses Thousands of Dollars Yearly

Every dollar a small business spends needs to have an immediate and quantifiable return. This is especially true for critical services such as I.T. support. If you are one of the millions of small businesses that depend upon your technology to keep your business running, proactive Managed IT Services will save you money, improve your efficiencies and reduce your downtime.

The Solution

With the advent of new monitoring tools and the ability to remotely deliver help desk services to small businesses all over the world, Managed IT Services Providers have developed proactive maintenance plans for their clients that maximize their uptime and reduce I.T. costs over time. By implementing newly available automated processes, systems can be patched and updated overnight without the need for onsite visits, or disrupting an organization’s work day.

In addition, remote help desk tools and technology allow Managed IT Services Providers the ability to react immediately and assist users when they experience day-to-day problems, without forcing them to wait for an on-site service call.

Forward-thinking Managed IT Services Providers are also implementing proactive remote Network Monitoring tools and services, which evaluate the performance of systems 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and alert these Service Providers of potential issues before they become work-stopping problems for their clients.

The Details

Implementing and receiving the benefit of these solutions is painless for the Small Business Owner, as Managed IT Services Providers can begin delivering these cost-saving and efficiency-improving services soon after deploying specialized software agents on all managed equipment. These agents report device health, service pack and operating system, anti-virus and anti-spyware update information back to the Managed IT Services Provider’s monitoring systems, allowing real-time analysis and proactive management to occur.

Specialized software applications installed at the Managed IT Services Provider’s location also track all problems reported by their monitoring systems and end-users, and are used to document all steps initiated for resolution. These applications provide a ready knowledge-base of information which grows over time, allowing swift resolution for issues that have been previously documented.

The Benefits

Benefits from Managed IT Services enjoyed by Small Business Owners are many, and include increased operational efficiency, the ability to reduce and control their operating costs and gain access to Enterprise-level support. In addition, these Small Business Owners are now able to focus on running their businesses, and not their networks, and receive the peace of mind that comes with the knowledge their networks are being monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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4 Tips For Getting the Most Out of Your Technology Investment

Touching TechnologyHow many times have you purchased new software or hardware, and avoided the help menu or user manual? Experts reason that about 90 percent of all features included with software go unused! Much of this comes down to lack of training for individuals using the technology – they use what they know and need most, and avoid anything that would require study or practice to implement. It’s human nature to take the path of least resistance, but with a little motivation you could better benefit from the money spent on technology for your business.

How to get the most out of your technology investment

Instead of letting your technology investments continue on underutilized, here are 4 tips for getting the most out of your technology dollars:

1. Put the client in the driver’s seat of communication.

You can improve the quality of customer service offered by your company through the use of simple technology. The more connected you are to your clients, the happier they are with your work. Use technology to give your clients a way to initiate discussion with you, either through blog interaction or a discussion forum. Set up instant messaging so clients can contact appropriate staff members as necessary. It’s simple technology, but will result in improved client retention, repeat customers and better communication.

2. Create a business culture of continuous improvement.

One of the most amazing aspects of technology is how quickly it is updated and improved. Just when you think you have the best of the best, new technologies and processes are created to improve productivity. Even in the sometimes mundane office environments, new ideas will enhance efficiency and productivity. Encourage staff and consultants to let the new ideas flow – continuous improvement is the key for making the most out of your technology.

3. Take advantage of training opportunities.

If the cost of sending staff to training courses is a bit much, and you’re unable to conduct monthly training seminars on your own – consider bringing in vendors and experts whenever a new version of software is released. You can also have managed service providers deliver training virtually as needed, in order to keep your staff up to date with the programs and tools used in the office.

4. Internal email newsletters with tips.

Most businesses recognize the value of sending newsletters to their clients to keep in touch and establish relationships, but what about internal newsletters among staff members? Send a weekly email to your staff with a single technology tip that explains how to do something that will improve their productivity or make their lives a little easier. Keep it fun and add a cartoon or a quick quiz to keep the staff looking forward to their weekly newsletter. Your ideas for topics can come from training and seminars you attend, or from questions staff ask the IT department. If one person doesn’t understand something, there are probably a few others who also don’t understand – but aren’t speaking up about it.

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