Horse Sense #55
Got questions? We've got answers!
Although our claim to fame is that we make managing networks easier, people often forget that we can help them in other ways as well. For example, one customer buys hundreds of mice and keyboards from us in a year. Another primarily buys backup tapes, CD/DVD media, and laser toners. A third buys lasers. A fourth buys Cisco maintenance agreements. A fifth buys memory and digital cameras. And a sixth doesn't buy any product from us, but has us keep everything running with our services. You get the idea. If it goes in, on, around, among, or between your computers, we can probably help. We have a saying here that if you manage to stump us, you are either (a) good (b) in trouble (c) both. Even if we can't help you, we'll do our best to refer you to someone who can. That said, go ahead and ask us for the easy stuff as a change of pace. (grin)
Adult industries get their own domain
Adult industries pioneered many technologies and were one of the first real money making industries on the Internet, paralleling a similar track record with VCR recording. They now have access to their own top level domain. The number of top level domains unrelated to countries has expanded a great deal of late. For an interesting take on this pioneering industry and how entrepreneurs worked in it and influenced others see: <expired link>
Macroeconomics and flat panel monitors
Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) have taken a precipitous drop in price over the last few months. Analysts are now saying that they have reached a bottom. Six months ago, we sold low end 19" LCD monitors at prices 30-40% more than they are now. Since LCDs are a big part of the cost of portable PCs, their price has dropped quite a lot as well.
We recommend a 17" or 19" monitor for your desktop. Typically the native resolutions of these monitors are 1280x1024. With a 19" monitor, the images and lettering will be bigger. The monitor may look brighter as well. Given the choice, buy a 19" model. Because of the current price drop, our customers are starting to transition to these LCDs because they are easy to read, even at the back of the desk. Better LCD monitors have higher brightness, so you can see them in well lit rooms or in sunlight. They also will have wider viewing angles, faster response times, digital or TV inputs, the ability to rotate an image, etcetera. Note that a 15" monitor at 1024x768 resolution and a 19" monitor at 1280x1024 resolution have an almost identical number of dots per inch at 85 and 84 respectively. This is low when compared to print quality lasers which are 300, 600, or more dots per inch. The higher the dpi, the sharper the character, and the easier it is to read, as long as the type is big enough. You want to run LCD monitors at their highest resolution whenever possible as lower resolution images will be less clear because the monitor will have to approximate them and/or shrink the image. However, as the number of dots on the screen increases, the characters can get smaller. Higher resolutions can actually decrease readability if the type size is too small. We recommend the 15" 1024x768 and 19" 1280x1024 monitors for better readability, but user preferences vary.
Don't buy an LCD if you need to deal with fast moving images, if you need to color calibrate your monitor, you need high brightness, or you need to display multiple resolutions frequently. A standard CRT is a better choice.
Why buy from a value added reseller (VAR) like Iron Horse?
Simply put, buying from a VAR is a good deal for a customer. Although you could buy from the manufacturer itself in some cases, it often isn't a good idea, for many reasons:
(1) A better price. A VAR will often offer pricing that is less than the manufacturer for the same product.
(2) Better selection. Often, only certain models will be offered for sale directly. Your VAR may offer many others.
(3) More flexibility. Your VAR can offer you credit terms, ancillary products, warranties, and models that a manufacturer can't.
(4) Better technical support. If you buy from the manufacturer, you have only one place to go for help. If you buy from a VAR, you have two. Often, the VAR's ability to resolve issues will be much better than yours. He will have contacts and sources of support both internally, at his distributor, and at the manufacturer that are more diverse and often much higher level than an end user could reach. Manufacturer representatives available to the general public often have little insight into how their products work with others.
(5) More service options. Manufacturers don't install, configure, or manage their products. They do limited troubleshooting and can't directly resolve integration issues. VARs sell solutions. Manufacturers only sell products.
(6) Better, less biased advice. A manufacturer may not tell you that their product is a bad idea in your case, because they have nothing else to offer. They are typically unconcerned that you need it by next Thursday, because if you want their product, you'll get it when you get it.
(7) Better error handling. Manufacturers have a higher error rate than VARs and don't handle errors and problems in a timely and effective manner when compared to VARs.
(8) The manufacturers think you should. They have invested a lot of time, effort, and money in training VARs to represent their products. They wouldn't do this if they thought it were a much better idea for everyone to buy directly from them.
(9) Commitment to you. VARs work for you, not the manufacturer. You pay them. Your business is important to them, even if you aren't buying a specific manufacturer's products. They are going to look beyond the single deal and try to do what is good for you in the long run so you will keep doing business with them forever.
(10) Time savings. With a manufacturer, you generally have to do all the research yourself and order by specific part numbers. With a VAR, you just tell them what you want to do and you can work out the answers more quickly together. They do this type of work all day long, every day. You don't. They will often have the answers you are seeking at their fingertips.
Many catalog and Internet resellers have similar shortcomings when it comes to dealing with customers. Return rates, for example, tend to be as high as 15-45%. Iron Horse, on the other hand, can boast less than a 0.2% return rate over the last three years. We are often called on to rescue companies who have problems installing a product or who didn't get everything they needed to make a solution work.
Iron Horse belongs to several organizations dedicated to improving the skills and capabilities of their members, so that, in turn, we can serve our customers better. Having met many other VARs, it is amazing to see how much these people care for their customers and their long term success. We belong to the following groups, for example: The Springfield Chamber of Commerce (http://www.springfieldchamber.org/), TechSelect, and ASCII (www.ih-online.com/Ascii.html).
Spyware is losing ground
Spyware has been a real problem for the antivirus vendors. For a while, none of them wanted to write antispyware because they felt they could be subject to laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and be both civilly and criminally prosecuted. They weren't wrong. Many of the spyware companies are suing the antispyware companies right now. Besides, spyware usually didn't meet the definition and characteristic of a virus, trojan (some would question this), or worm. Now, the problem has gotten so bad that legislators have promised enabling legislation to help protect these companies against prosecution. The profit potential is good enough that the big manufacturers can now take the risk of providing us with antispyware products.
Most of the major antivirus companies, like Trend, Computer Associates, Symantec, and McAfee are offering antispyware products. Many of these products have short track records, primarily because widespread spyware attacks are a relatively recent phenomenon. Most antispyware, even if it isn't from the giants, is sold separately. Some vendors are also offering gateway solutions to protect you against spyware sites as well.
Of the desktop solutions, Symantec has taken an interesting tack. They rolled antispyware into their antivirus product. They don't have a different antispyware product, and it doesn't cost anything extra to get the capability. In fact, they didn't raise their pricing with this new version. If you have a maintenance agreement on your current product, you can update to the new version for free. If you don't or own a competing product, you can update the antivirus and get antispyware with it. They have also redone the definition process so that fix capability is downloaded with recognition capability. Previously, most viruses that were already present on a machine could be detected and the offending files could be deleted or quarantined, but that's where the cleanup stopped. The new antispyware system allows removal of all the traces of the spyware from your machine. And, it works. We had a machine infected with a couple of spyware varieties that Microsoft, Adaware, and Spybot could detect and theoretically remove, but they kept coming back. Symantec Antivirus version 10.0 nuked these pernicious pieces of spyware after the first scan. The downside of strong antivirus and antispam on the desktop is that it chews up CPU cycles. The new definitions are ballooning in size because of all the new information regarding removal. And, there have been enough changes in this version and the new Client Security version (firewall + antivirus), that there are still some warts to iron out. Still, you can manage it centrally and it is even better at dealing with spyware and viruses. Cool. I'll trade a few CPU cycles for more safety and security.
One of the real downsides to installing anything these days is that remote installation is much more likely to fail. Installs are becoming more labor intensive because of the Windows XP firewall and other firewalls people are using to protect their systems. This can be a big issue if you have to roll out programs or patches to a large number of machines. Symantec Antivirus version 10 is quite different from earlier versions and isn't recommended for older operating systems, but older versions of Symantec Antivirus software can be installed on those machines and managed in version 10. Of course, we recommend our on site and remote support services to those customers who can take advantage of them to avoid problems.
For Symantec's take on spyware, see: http://enterprisesecurity.symantec.com/article.cfm?articleid=5427&EID=0
For information on Symantec Client Security: http://enterprisesecurity.symantec.com/products/products.cfm?productid=154
Classes of common security risks: http://securityresponse.symantec.com/avcenter/security_risks/
[Iron Horse is an Enterprise Security Partner for Symantec and has enterprise authorizations for Computer Associates, McAfee, and Trend Micro as well.]
We know that that machine contracted the spyware via Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Live and learn. Now we use the more secure and faster Firefox browser whenever we can. Get it for free at www.getfirefox.com.
Spam takes a beating as well
Iron Horse really understands Internet e mail. Its customers literally have millions of mailboxes protected by various antispam and antivirus solutions. Symantec offers the most comprehensive offering in this area. They can cover the four possible control points, the end user desktop, the e mail server itself, a separate filtering gateway appliance, or a service that profilers mail before it gets to the network. Trend, Computer Associates, F-Secure, GFI, and Barracuda Networks all hold their charms for different customers. We are an enterprise reseller for all of these, and others as well.
Currently, our customers purchase mostly Symantec product for antivirus and antispyware at the desktop. Few use antispam controls at the desktop because that requires downloading the spam in the first place. Barracuda Networks outsells all others when it comes to gateway antispam and antivirus. The combination of a low price point, unlimited mailboxes, reliability features, compatibility, easy setup, low management overhead, and flexibility have our customers singing Barracuda's praises.
If you need help with antivirus, antispam, antispyware, firewalls, VPNs, SSL-VPNs, or even a few mice, call us!
©2005 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse firstname.lastname@example.org