Horse Sense #76

In this issue of Horse Sense:

- Tis the Malware Season
- Toys for Techs
- The Best Technologies You Still Aren't Using (But Should)
  • Defragmentation
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks (RAID)
  • Power over Ethernet (PoE)
  • Xerox Phaser Solid Ink Printers

Tis the Malware Season
Holidays are prime time for miscreants who want to infect your computer and steal your information.  In addition, this year the economy isn't so hot, so the bad guys will be using this to try to attack your wallet. Your best defense is to be aware and to know what the bad guys might try.  The bad guys often depend on our gullibility, lack of knowledge, and willingness to be helpful.  If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.  It may be in your nature to be trusting, but it won't hurt to verify credentials, will it?  Legitimate vendors will make it ridiculously easy to contact them both on line and off line.  The bad guys won't.  Financial institutions and governments will almost never send you an e mail requesting that you do anything on line unless you specifically told them to do so.  Even then, it is usually best to log in to your financial sites without clicking on supplied links.  If you are the least bit suspicious, calling someone about an e mail you got is a good idea.  Any "dire consequence" financial e mails are immediately suspect.  Almost all legitimate offers or problems can stand waiting while you check them out.  Anyone that sends you an e mail asking for personal information is suspect, especially if it seems to come from someone who should already know your information.  Spelling mistakes and obvious grammatical errors are often a give away that the sender isn't legitimate.  If the sending e mail address (check the envelope headers, not just the from address) doesn't match what you expect, the e mail is probably bogus.  Unfortunately, some of these e mails are exceptionally good and some malware delivery methods don't require you to actively do much of anything.  Keep your network and workstation firewalls up, your antispam running, your antivirus and malware protection software updated, your bad website blocking mechanisms active, your software patched, and make sure you have a good backup and a plan in case something *does* go wrong.  If this makes you nervous, good.  We want you to stay awake, aware, and safe.  And, if you need help making sure you *are* safe, call us!

Toys for Techs
I went shopping the other day and the stores had just rolled out their decorations for Christmas.  So, it is time once again to think about Toys for Techs.  Take a look at our previous articles for some ideas. The articles go back years, but many of the suggestions still apply!  I won't go into the theory and benefits of Toys for Techs here as they are already covered in these articles.
Toys for Techs sounds funny, but the results are positively stellar for those organizations that embrace the concept.  And it works well at any time, not just during the holiday season.
You might also want to consider the following:

- If you want to do something very disruptive to your network, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday periods tend to be good times to do it, if you can.

- If someone gets a new Toy, maybe their current Toy can go to someone else and become their Toy.  For example, an engineer gets a higher performance computer, while someone in accounting gets to swap out their computer for one that will crunch their spreadsheets better, and their old computer goes to a school so kids can surf the net.

- Think outside the box.  My wife really appreciated the massage I got her for a present the day of our wedding.  Training might be a good Toy.  So would install services for another Toy, troubleshooting to fix a broken Toy in the office, or consulting services to help you get the most out of your current and future Toys.  If it is a "luxury," then it may be a great Toy.

- The best Toys are ones you want to play with all the time.  Anything that will make your work life easier or more fun over a long period of time is a great Toy idea.

- Don't be afraid to think low or high tech.  A case or bag that protects your cell phone or laptop can make it much more useful and safe.  An antispam device, backup method, bandwidth manager or e mail archiving solution could also make for a great shared Toy.

- Don't be afraid to ask for something "obvious."  I call this the "Sometimes mom really *does* want a vacuum cleaner" rule.  Many people can get a faster, more capable Windows machine by upgrading their memory.  Or they can become 20-40% more productive by getting a large high resolution display or a second display.  It is even possible to put up a second display without cracking your computer case by connecting it via USB.

The Best Technologies You Still Aren't Using (But Should)

As information is written to your hard disk over time, your operating system looks for free space for file storage.  But, that free space may not be all in one piece, so files can get fragmented into many pieces across your disk.  This can result in system downtime and slow performance, robbing you of time, profit, productivity, and the ability to deal with customers.  And, the older your machine gets, the worse the problem will get.  We have actually seen database queries time out and servers fail due to excessive fragmentation.  Hard drive life can be shortened as much as 50% by fragmentation.  If times are tight, you want to do everything possible to make do with what you have and postpone upgrades.  Automatic defragmentation software can help you do that.  Did I forget to mention that Iron Horse offers risk free trial software?

Gigabit Ethernet
Gigabit Ethernet (1000 Megabits per second, 1000Mbps) is built into most modern laptops and desktops.  However, typical networks only handle Fast Ethernet or 100Mbps speeds.  Last year, I cut a customer's time to back up his servers by almost a factor of 10 by switching his network connections from Fast Ethernet to Gigabit Ethernet.  Gigabit Ethernet switches are now available at extremely reasonable prices.  They also tend to have other advantages to offer over their older Fast Ethernet brothers, including things like better management and enhanced routing and quality of service features.  Even if you don't think your network can take advantage of a Gigabit Ethernet switch, you will want to know that any "choke point" where multiple clients need to access the same network link can cause network slowdowns.  This can happen when two switches connect or at any server.  Gigabit Ethernet can only help your network and your productivity.  What are you waiting for?

Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks (RAID)
Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks (RAID arrays) seem exotic, but they are simply a proven way of protecting your valuable information. If you aren't using RAID with the hard disks on your servers, you should be so that you can survive a disk failure and keep going.  But, have you considered using RAID on your desktop?  Most desktop operating systems allow you to mirror your disks to protect your data.  Even better, many newer generation motherboards have built in hardware controllers that allow you to do the same thing.  To add RAID protection to your desktop usually costs under $250.  Wouldn't you feel safer with RAID?

Power over Ethernet (PoE)
Setting up your computers, phones, and networking equipment in an office can be a daunting task, but that task has been made much easier with Power over Ethernet (PoE) switches and PoE enabled devices.  Normal Ethernet switches don't use all of the wires in a standard Ethernet cable.  PoE switches use them to deliver up to 15.4 watts of DC power to phones, wireless access points, cameras, and other devices at the other end.  There are many advantages to using PoE devices.  You eliminate the need to plug end devices into a power connection.  This eliminates the need for a power connection near the end device.  Besides saving you money and the construction hassles of getting power to the right place, you have much more flexibility in siting the end device.  It really matters where you put phones, cameras, and wireless antennas.  Since you don't have to plug the device into a power connection, it eliminates the cost of a separate power adapter and the clutter of another cable.  It also saves you time and decreases the number of devices that can fail dramatically.  A 24 port PoE switch could potentially eliminate 24 power adapters at the far end that might fail.  A single uninterruptible power supply protecting the switch will also power all the end devices whereas with individual power adapters, each one would have to be plugged into a UPS.  Did I mention that you won't have an unsightly power cord running across the floor so you can trip over it or up to the ceiling where you have to worry about fire codes?  If you don't want to replace the switches you do have, power injectors can provide power over those unused wires and still centralize your power delivery.

Xerox Phaser Solid Ink Printers
Xerox Phaser solid ink printers have been around for many years.  They melt droplets off ink sticks that look like crayons and deposit them onto the surface of a page to produce vibrant laser quality images. Because the ink lays on top of the page and isn't mashed and melted into it like a laser or has a chance to wick or splatter like an ink droplet, the images and graphics are consistent on practically any type of paper, even recycled paper.  You can use extremely thick paper that lasers can't handle.  Images are vibrant and clear and colors blend into each other well without artifacts like banding or streaking.  Text is also crisp.  There is almost nothing to throw away or recycle with solid ink.  Over a 4 year life span, a cartridge based printer will produce 450 pounds of waste.  An ink stick printer produces 23 pounds.  Besides drastically reducing landfill waste, solid ink's cartridge-free design and minimal packaging also means less energy used during manufacturing.  Smaller consumable size and weight lowers your shipping and storage costs while benefiting the environment.  Solid ink packages are small enough to fit in your desk drawer.  Unlike toner, solid ink won't spill, leak or smudge your clothes.  With toner based printers, you have to wait until they are empty to replace them.  Ink stick printers can be topped off at any time to avoid downtime and keep print jobs flowing. Xerox solid ink printers have a less complicated paper path than toner based lasers, so they jam less.  These printers have duty cycles of 85,000 pages a month, which is more than enough for almost any office. Xerox offers a 1 year *on site* warranty on all of its solid ink printers.  Call Iron Horse when you want to use fewer consumables, decrease your maintenance costs, or get color laser quality printing for the cost of a black and white laser.

©2008 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse