Archive for Cloud Computing

Spam aimed at Office 365 Users

I had this email through this morning. For about a second, I almost believed it! I know that currently Microsoft are making a number of improvements to Office 365.

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Cloud Computing on the cheap… on the “very-very-cheap”

One of the big positives about cloud computing is reducing costs.  As mentioned in another post, one of the savings is that smaller leaner equipment can be used, such as tablets and very basic PCs;  because the data storage and much of the processing in done in the cloud.

IPI am pleased to report as 2013 dawns that I have been able to access my emails and stored documents on my Office 365 account using nothing more than a ‘Raspberry PI’ – costing about £38.  This very basic computer aimed at the educational market, uses a Linux operating system and comes with three different browsers pre-installed.  One of these ‘Midori’, is the only one with the functionality to display office 365. Using it I was able to check and reply to my emails, as well as open documents on SharePoint and edit these using Office web apps.  For more information on the Raspberry PI see http://www.raspberrypi.org/

On the downside, the experience did prove quite slow; and with Office web apps there is less functionality than with a fully installed Office suite.  But it does demonstrate that one can add users to a cloud environment quite cheaply.Outlook

Sure enough you need to have a spare monitor, keyboard, mouse etc. or purchase these.  Some of the items cost a few pounds, but a new monitor would cost twice as much as the PI itself!  But you can hook it up to a TV set.

Death and the Digital Environment.

This may seem a fairly gloomy topic to be writing about, but it is one of the few certainties about our life is that it will eventually end. So it a good idea to think about what will happen when you are no longer here.

Your family and friends will know of your parting; and if you have prepared there will be a will indicating your wishes about how your property, assets and other matters are dealt with.

But have you considered your online life? Accounts on social networking sites, such as Facebook, remain active, how will your online friends know of your passing? Maybe you participate in online strategy games, or regularly contribute to forums under a pseudonym. This digital existence will continue drifting endlessly, if silently, though cyberspace. More importantly are things such as online bank accounts; and accounts with online businesses with which there may be a recurring subscription.

All of these need to be closed down gracefully, but unless ones nearest and dearest know of their existence and how to access them, this may prove very difficult, if not impossible. Many organisations expect you to deal with them almost exclusively online, so unless you provide your executors, or another appointed person with the means to access these accounts, it can be very difficult to sort things out after you have gone. It becomes tantamount that in addition to leaving a will, you nominate a trusted person to deal with your ‘digital legacy’, and you must leave them with the wherewithal to do this.

But how do you achieve this? Those of us who “cyber savvy” will use strong passwords, online banking usually needs a card-reader or dongle in addition. Leaving a list of instructions in a sealed envelope with this ‘trusted person’ or your solicitor is one option, but a very poor one; you may live for many decades yet and the computing environment never stands still. Some organisations insist on password change at least every 12 months. In fact, as I prepare this post, I am waiting receipt of a new security device from one bank, which will be the 3rd such change in log-in security in the past 5 years. So you would have to keep supplying our trusted person with updated instructions!

Online Services

There are several online services which permit you to store password securely, where you can keep them regularly updated. But that would mean supplying your trusted person with the password for such a service, whilst you are still alive and can you trust them? Even if you do trust them, and you find unusual transactions on your bank account, the first question that the bank will ask you is “Does anyone else have access to your passwords?” Once you mention that your daughter or nephew has the key to everything, they will dismiss your complaint without further ado.

SecureSafe

But everything is not lost; I have come across a Swiss based web service which takes care of this. They have a very cool way of protecting this information whilst you are alive and fully compos mentis, yet allowing your executors or other ‘beneficiaries’ after you have departed or become incapacitated . This mechanism is a ‘time-lock’ which you can set for a particular number of hours or days.  Should someone attempt to use it inappropriately, you get an alert via email and SMS giving you time to block access.  On the other hand, should one no longer be in the land of the living and capable, once the time period has expired your chosen beneficiaries will have access.

The service is SecureSafe, and you can sign up for FREE by visiting SecureSafe

However, the free service is quite limited, only 50 passwords and only one beneficiary -whereas in most circumstances one would want a fall-back person. Thus I strongly recommend using the paid service.

 

Cloud Computing can reduce your IT costs

Cloud computing is a rapidly growing area, and as their future plans for Office 265 and Office 2013 demonstrate; Microsoft is committed to the cloud.  Office 2013 is being marketed as a cloud product – although the boxed version will also be available.

But did you realise that one of the major benefits of using cloud computing is better control of your IT costs.

  • The business pays a fixed monthly subscription – which they can increase or decrease to match staff changes.
  • They save money by not having to install, configure and maintain a back room server. This in turn will need replacing every 5 years.
  • With cloud providers offering guaranteed uptime – in the case of Microsoft’s Office 365 this is 99.9% – there is less likely hood of sudden surprises, with bills to match.
  • You can access your data on cheaper leaner devices such as netbooks or tablets.
  • You have reduced IT support costs with the cloud provider handling all maintenance and updates.
  • With no back room server running 24/7 and using smaller machines, one can say that is it also greener

The Price of WiFi

When business people are travelling, they frequently need to keep in touch with their business, and submit reports etc.  In fact some may be required to do so.  Nowadays, with Cloud computing, staying in touch is easy for many businesses.  The options for this are either mobile broadband, which can be slow and expensive or WiFi at the hotel or venue.  But WiFi charges can also be high and there are wide variations in the cost.

Recently, on holiday in Gran Canaria, I wanted to use my Windows 7 phone to check emails each day.  Data roaming charges on the mobile connection can be extremely high, and in this instance network seemed to be blocking roaming data connections anyway.

So in order to do my 5 or 10 minutes email checking each day, I had to use the hotel WiFi.  This cost either €4 per day or €29 for the week.  Even at that price it was only available in the lobby, not the bar area or my room.  So I had to irritate my other half, by going off periodically for my 5 minute browse.   So a big thumbs down to the Maspalomas Princess, and I presume all the other hotels in their chain.  On the other hand; I say ‘well done’ to one hotel near me, the Statham Lodge.  Their WiFi is hotel wide and free; no login required, but you need to get the encryption key from reception; which means that your communications are also secure!  Many pubs and cafés can offer free WiFi

If hotels can provide soap, shower gel and complimentary ‘nibbles’ with your coffee, then why not provide complimentary WiFi?  Depending on the size of the establishment, the costs to the hotel of providing this service can vary from £10 a month to several £100s.  But for a 300 bed establishment, even £500 per month would be a small dent in their budget.  So why can’t it be free or at a realistic price.  Or maybe the providers are ripping off the hotel’s customers – installing the service for free and using the hotel as their agent?

I did once, in the early days of WiFi, set up a hotel client with BT Openzone.   This was very reasonable, the hotel paid just a few hundred pounds upfront and then no on-going costs.  Instead they received a proportion of all the revenue generated by that site, whether people used their own accounts or purchased time online.  What is more the time purchased through BT Openzone is portable; you can use any remaining at your next venue.

All this makes expensive non-portable WiFi seem like a rip-off!

 

The Telegraph recently had an article on this topic.

Office 365

Office 365 is the latest ‘cloud computing’ service from Microsoft. It includes many of the features of Windows Small Business Server; including Exchange for email, and SharePoint which allows you and your co-workers to share and collaborate on a variety of documents.  It also includes MS Lync (instant messages, video conferencing) to help everyone stay in touch. Read More →

Cloud Computing

What is it and what are the benefits?

The ‘Cloud’ is this instance is the internet.  Since the very earliest microcomputers and then the PC’s; software has been stored and run on the desktop, and any data stored there as well.  With cloud computing the software is run from a server somewhere on the Internet and your data is stored there also.

Whilst “Cloud Computing” might be something of a buzz-word – it has actually been around for some time.  Web based mail services such as Hotmail are instances of cloud computing, and there are several online photographic services which will store your photographs, and allow you to organise them in albums, manipulate them and do basic photo editing.

What is new is that now there are mainstream services aimed at businesses. These include accountancy software, customer relationship management (CRM) or for corporate email and collaboration; such as Office 365 from Microsoft.

Benefits of Cloud Computing:

  • Being a subscription service means that there are no upfront costs for software, or paying for upgrades every few years.  You merely pay a regular fee (usually monthly)
  • Scalability: As your workforce grows or contracts you can change the number of licenses (or seats)*.
  • Reduced IT support costs, the service provider is responsible for ensuring that everything is working smoothly.
  • Your workforce can access the service from anywhere using a standard web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox Safari etc.) This is useful if you have a dispersed or mobile workforce, or senior staff members need to check on things from home.
  • Independent of devices. – the service is frequently accessible via a smart-phone or Tablet.
  • If your PC should crash, you can keep working on a different machine

*some providers may have a minimum contract terms or be less flexible in changing down. Microsoft bills monthly for the number of seats in use.

Issues to be aware of:

There are some concerns which prospective users might raise, mainly centring on availability and data security and these need to be considered

  • Availability – most service providers have service level agreements guaranteeing a 99% uptime or above.  Usually the data is replicated on alternative servers, in case of power failure.  However if your own broadband service is intermittent or slow (probably because premises are some distance from the exchange); Cloud Computing may not be an option for your business.
  • Data Security – your data is stored with the service provider, not by you.  If you use a well-known and trusted provider such as Microsoft, this should not be an issue.  But what happen should they be taken over or cease trading? Equally you might wish to move to a different provider, can you transfer your data?
  1. You should study the terms and conditions and see what they say on these matters.
  2. Do they make regular backups?
  3. Is there a facility for exporting your data to a local copy on your PC or company server, so that there is a backup copy which you control / own?
  • Data Security 2 – All that is needed to access your business data from anywhere in the world is a user name and password.  But this convenience comes at a price: If a user name and password leaks out then your data might get into the public domain or be at risk.  Prudent behaviour is important and avoid lax practices.
  1. Make sure that the roles you set, or the permissions you give, to individual workers are just sufficient for them to operate.
  2. Give them security training so that they use Str0NG passwords and know not to disclose them, even to co-workers.
  3. They should also be aware of ‘phishing’ emails purporting to come from a trusted outside agency such as the service provider.  At present the majority of phishing emails are targeting bank accounts etc. but in the future agencies involved in industrial espionage may target businesses in the Cloud.
  4. Security of desktops and laptops to protect them from malicious software remains vital. Even though they don’t store your critical data, Trojans with keyboard logging software may give away passwords to someone with criminal intent..
  5. If borrowing a ‘foreign’ PC, don’t select the box to ‘remember password’.
  6. Should you have to ‘let a member of staff go’; reset their password, or delete their account whilst they are clearing their desk.

If the above issues are addressed, then Cloud Computing may be the way forward for your business. One product which Córas IT is able to offer is Office 365 from Microsoft.  This provides a hosted Exchange server for company emails and SharePoint to allow staff to share and word collaboratively on documents.