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Posted 08 August 2017: Server or NAS?

There was a time when Microsoft Windows servers did a multitude of tasks; share files, act as a print sever, act as a mail server, run databases, authenticate users to the network and maintain network security policies and user profiles. In fact, Microsoft Small Business Server was specifically designed to do almost everything 'in-house' that was required by a small business. Since the advent of the cloud, more and more IT related services previously undertaken in-house have been outsourced to data centres. The main one being the role of the mail server of course. It is our opinion that something as critical as email is best left to the likes of Microsoft with their huge server farms and data centres all over Europe and North America. As a result, gone are the days when a simple power outage or internet connection issue could lead to the loss of email.

At one point, many of our clients also ran databases on in-house servers which are catered for in the cloud these days too. Again, we welcome this as it offers our clients greater reliability and the ability to increase computing power as and when needed without having to buy new hardware and migrate in-house systems to them. In addition to this, it is often better to configure network printing so workstations send print jobs directly to a network printer using TCP routing rather than via a shared printer on a server. As a result, many of our client's servers now only undertake two roles; authenticating users to the network and file sharing. But with ever more sophisticated Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems even these roles can be done without running Microsoft servers or Active Directory. As a result, in some circumstances we will recommend a NAS over a Microsoft server. For example, in smaller business environments where the client's emailing and / or client management systems are already provided in the cloud and networking needs simply revolve around file sharing. The NAS units we deploy allow for unlimited user network accounts and a granular file security system which, when combined with Windows 7, 8 and 10 Credential Manager, allows for the same level of sophisticated file sharing that an Active Directory server offers. The only drawback is that client-side credentials are managed on each PC as opposed to centrally. However, in an environment of 10 or less computers this not a huge issue.

A major advantage of the NAS systems we deploy is the ability to access files they store over the internet. This is done via an intuitive web portal (website) or using an app that is installed on smart devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops. This means files can be read, downloaded, edited and uploaded by staff using a mobile device while away from the office. The changes they make are saved back to the NAS for the staff members in the office. Another advantage is storage capacity. The rack mounted NAS systems we supply have external disk arrays that can be very easily connected to them to increase storage capacity. NAS systems are also as easy for us to remotely manage and maintain as Microsoft Windows servers. However, they are extremely reliable and once configured require minimum ongoing maintenance. Lastly, there's cost. On average, even a high-end NAS system costs a third of a Microsoft server. On top of this, operating system updates are free and very easy to apply.

There are some circumstances when we would not recommend a NAS, one example being when the client wants to run a network based application that is only Windows compatible, like Sage Accounts for example. But other than that, there are many situations we see where a NAS system would serve a client's needs perfectly and also save the client money in terms of initial outlay and ongoing support and maintenance costs. If you are looking to implement a method of sharing your company files both internally and over the internet and were thinking of investing in a Windows server or NAS, please call us for a free consultation. We will be happy to advise you on the best solution.

Posted 01 January 2017: Remote working

With increasing travel-to-work costs, more and more congestion on the roads and higher office rental prices there has been a marked increase in businesses wanting to provide staff with the ability to work from home or other remote locations, including satellite offices away from town centres. Not by accident, this has come at the same time as faster and more reliable fibre broadband connections, widespread use of mobile devices as well as converged and unified communications technology. Itelica sees remote working as an increasingly beneficial trend for small and medium sized businesses as it offers a way to reduce operating costs while improving staff productivity and collaboration.

At the core of this is fibre broadband technology. This has allowed faster and more reliable remote access to corporate data stored in the cloud or at head offices. It has not only allowed businesses to move email and telephony systems to the cloud but also applications. It also offers benefits to businesses who don't want, or aren't yet ready, to move everything to remote data centres. By utilising remote desktop services and/or VPNs, on-premises servers can provide access to locally stored resources from the internet, reducing the need to rent as much office space by enabling staff to work from home. Rather than collaboration being hampered by this approach, mobile devices, VoIP technology and unified communications actually mean teams can work together and collaborate to a greater degree, despite being located away from one another.

In its simplest form, we have replaced space-consuming desks, PCs and telephones in offices that staff have previously travelled to on a daily basis with remote desktop terminals. Staff can then work from anywhere at times that are more flexible or suited to their lifestyle, yet access the same data and resources as if they are in the office. Combined with VoIP telephony providing remote workers with seamless access to your internal phone system and teleconferencing / video conferencing, there is no loss of teamwork, communication or collaboration whatsoever. In a more complicated scenario, we have migrated business applications, storage, email and telephony systems to the cloud, reducing the office space required by our clients to host these systems in-house and the need for staff to travel to site each day.

From an operating cost perspective, staff working remotely do not require on-premises desks with PCs and telephones. Therefore, less office space is needed resulting in lower rental, parking and travel-to-work costs. Loss of productivity due to roadworks, accidents, congestion and public transport strikes is also removed from the equation. Another upside, is the ability to offer staff more flexible working times. A great example being staff with young family commitments or women on maternity leave. Itelica view remote working as a great benefit to both businesses and staff and therefore offer flexible options to help our clients achieve this. Please contact us for a free consultation on how we can help your business and staff exploit the benefits of remote working.

Posted 14 April 2016: Upgrading to Windows 10

If you are running Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 and haven't yet upgraded to Windows 10 you will need to do so before July 29th. Since the release of Windows 10 in July 2015 we have upgraded many client's computers to this latest Microsoft operating system. There are generally no issues when doing this although it's by no means a rule of thumb as it depends what the PC is already running. We have found a common bug when upgrading machines already running Outlook 2013 and 2016 is emails failing to leave the outbox. By running a system file scan and repair the issue is soon fixed however. We have also witnessed some issue with computers running Avast Free antivirus. Our advice with this is to remove Avast before you do the upgrade and re-install it again afterwards. Alternatively you can replace it with an Antivirus program that doesn't have any compatibility issues with Windows 10. We are happy to provide advice on this.

From a user's point of view, we have found Windows 10 satisfactory. As always, Microsoft have changed some things around so you will need to learn some new ways of doing familiar tasks. One of the first things you will notice is a new item called 'File Explorer'. This is very similar to 'This PC'. In fact, it presents you with the same overall view of your system with local and network drives, shortcuts to Desktop and Documents, etc. By right-clicking File Explorer you will see the menu option 'More' which takes you through to Properties and Manage - items familiar to users going right back to XP. However, the quickest way to get to system Properties and Manage is to right-click 'This Computer' as you would have done in Windows 8 and 8.1 and select it from the dropdown list. Cortana is another new feature. Honestly speaking, we don't like it as much as the old search box that came with Windows 7 and 8. It finds some items (like Control Panel for example) but not others. If you also prefer the old search box the quickest way to get to this is to hold down the Windows key and press R. This brings the familiar search box up again which finds almost everything not immediately visible from the start menu or on the desktop. Lastly, if you do not want to wait to upgrade to Windows 10 we suggest going to here to upgrade immediately.

Happy upgrading from Itelica!