Business,WiFi

SMB WiFi Applications23 Sep

In the near future, we are going to see most people walking around with WiFi enabled phones. Despite the fact that we can’t get iPhone service in Montana, the iPhone’s success is pushing cell providers to allow WiFi on their phones. So this will happen, even here in Billings.

The next step will be to have WiFi networks readily available. While Billings is working on a WiFi network, and we all know where hotspots are. But it’s going to be a long time before public networks (here or anywhere else) are the rule.

I think an opportunity will exist for progressive SMBs to turn the WiFi trend into a competitive advantage through creative uses of their own hotspots. So I’m going to start a recurring post on this site containing possible WiFi applications for consumer oriented SMBs.

I’ll start off with a real simple one:

Collect instant customer feedback via a 1-click satisfaction rating. SMBs and consumers will subscribe to an as-yet-unbuilt-service with a short catchy name. The SMB will get a short code and some window decals to place by their door. Customers will do a few quick clicks on their way out to provide feedback on their experience. For this effort, they will be provided with a coupon for that or some complementary store. The SMB will receive the feedback instantly and will get the customer information for their marketing database.

Billings

WiFi in Billings, Montana?22 Sep

If you haven’t heard, Bresnan Communications is setting up a WiFi network in downtown Billings (Gazette article, InfoWeek article). I think this is an interesting experiment, especially in our normally behind the times town. The targeted area includes the medical corridor, downtown office buildings, and the revitalized art/business district on Montana Ave.

I know of at least 3 free hotspots in the area, but I’m still happy to have the option. Of course, I’m a Bresnan customer. Those living in the area who aren’t may be less enthusiastic when Bresnan someday announces how much the service will cost for non- subscribers.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen the project publicly funded. There’s a big push in Billings to improve the appeal of downtown, draw companies to locate down here, and increase the non-work activities available. A county/city sponsored service with sponsorship by the businesses in the Downtown Billings Association would have better served the people of Billings.

Disaster Recovery

Preparations Aren’t Enough20 Sep

Considering my recent post on technology failure preparation, it was quite ironic that one of my clients was a victim of a system failure today. This incident shows that even the best laid plans go awry if someone’s not watching carefully.

It all started with a call first thing this morning. One of those “I can’t believe I just did this…can you help us” calls. This organization uses a Sharepoint intranet and there are a couple very proficient super users who have full control access to the site. But mistakes happen, and they accidentally deleted one of the departmental sites.

Windows Sharepoint Services 3.0 (WSS) has a very useful new feature appropriately called the Recycle Bin. Just like the Recycle Bin on your desktop, it exists to save your hide when you delete something prematurely. Documents, list items, images. Most everything you delete from WSS goes into the Recycle Bin. Most everything, of course, except sites.

So we couldn’t just undo the mistake. But no problem, their Managed Service Provider (MSP) had scheduled daily backups of all their servers. Get the tape, grab the SQL database files and do the restore. We’d only lose a few hours of information assuming the backup ran successfully last night.

Oh man. The database files haven’t been backing up because the backup software couldn’t get exclusive rights to the database. Not a single backup over the past 4 months.

We explored restoring from transaction logs but that wasn’t going to work either. Eventually we just realized that the site was going to have to be rebuilt.

So what went wrong? Well, the first thing was the action to delete the site. WSS gives you a confirmation page to make sure you really want to delete the site. But if you’re busy and not reading closely sometimes even that’s not enough. I don’t think you can easily turn off the ability to delete sites. If you can build them, you can delete them.

Next, as the primary WSS support for the client, I should have been more active in the ensuring the backup process was working. I assumed the tape backup would be sufficient. I should have been much more involved in ensuring that the applications I support are fully covered. I’ve got a Sharepoint backup scheduled now.

Finally, the MSP reports monthly on overall network performance. They’ve been reporting that a full backup has not been successful since June. There are just a few files that have not been backing up so it was never a major concern. Now they know that some of those files are very important. I’m sure they won’t be glossing past the errors any longer.

No less than 4 of the 16 tips I posted earlier this week were relevant and implemented in this situation. I only wish those preparations could have prevented this unfortunate incident.

Solutions

SAP Business ByDesign20 Sep

Although I’m not a huge SAP follower, I saw the announcement on Tuesday that SAP was going to announce a hosted solution. I believe hosted ERP suites have great potential in the SMB market. SMBs don’t typically have a significant IT staff capable of keeping up with the configuration, maintenance and integration of typical ERP products. But their needs are not that much less complex than much larger organizations.

Currently, NetSuite seems to be the leading the way in the hosted ERP industry. Microsoft has a hosted Dynamics GP option. And SalesBoom has an intriguing solution although I have to admit that my knowledge of it extends only to what I’ve read on their website and found through other Google searches.

So I was eager to learn more about this service which is dubbed SAP Business ByDesign. The SAP website is very sparse. And I hate registering on a site just to receive marketing material, so I haven’t gotten in too deep. But I saw these two questions in the FAQ document:

15. How much does SAP Business ByDesign cost?
SAP Business ByDesign will be offered on a subscription basis, priced per user per month for the specific capabilities being utilized. Pricing starts at US$149 per user per month in the United States and China or €133 per user per month in Germany, the United Kingdom, and France.

16. What is the minimum and maximum number of users for an SAP Business ByDesign installation?
We expect the typical SAP Business ByDesign customer to have between 100 and 500 employees. There is no maximum user limit; however, a minimum of 25 users must be licensed.

The $150/user/month seems like a reasonable base price point. But the 25 license minimum? I have a real hard time picturing a 100 employee company spending $45,000 per year on this software.

ERP

16 Ways to Be Prepared for Technology Failure19 Sep

Someday you are going to have to recover from a failed hard drive, stolen laptop, server failure, or some other permanent loss of your technology assets. It’s inevitable, so you might as well take steps today to minimize the impact.

Here are 16 ways you can make that experience as painless as possible:

Use redirected folders to store files on a server instead of local PCs and laptops
My laptop is setup so that my “My Documents” folder is actually stored on my server. All those files are synchronized locally, though. So I can work as normal when I’m not sitting at my desk. If anything happens to my laptop, I’m only at risk for losing those files I’ve created or changed since I last connected to my network.

Use thin client PCs or Terminal Services
If you have an environment that’s highly dependent on data entry or transaction processing, a thin client PC may work well for you. All the data and systems exist on the central server and not your PCs. So thin clients are cheap and easy to swap out if needed. Microsoft Terminal Services is another option to shift computing requirements your central server.

Backup PCs and laptops regularly
Even if you use redirected folders or Terminal Services, there may still be some files on your local PCs that you’ll want backed up. For example, Outlook doesn’t work well with the mailbox file redirected to a server. So every week, I still backup certain files to my server. I’ve got this scheduled so I never have to remember to do it.

Keep a spare PC or laptop available
If you’re doing a bulk order for your SMB, order one extra to have when it’s needed. If my laptop goes down, I’m going to be out of commission for a couple days. But when I upgrade my laptop next year, I’ll keep this one around as a spare.

Move business critical applications off your old PCs and servers
Every business has those old PCs sitting around that only do a couple very important things. If those things don’t happen, somebody (a client, customer, partner) is affected. Yet it’s never the right time to move those applications to more stable resources. Just suck it up and do it. You’ll sleep better at night.

Configure your server disks with RAID
This is a no brainer. When you order a server, make sure you’ve got some type of disk redundancy. There are many different ways to configure this. Get help from an expert on what makes the most sense for you.

Install virtualization software on your servers
Server virtualization allows you to run multiple servers on one physical box. Everything about the virtual server is stored in one big file. So if you back that file up, and your physical box gets destroyed, you can restore your virtual servers onto any other box and be back up running in no time. Check out the solutions from VMWare and Microsoft.

Use a remote offsite backup service
There are many options to backup your files to a server connected to the internet. If you just have a PC or two and no servers, XDrive or Carbonite could work well. If you’ve got more PCs and some servers to backup, checkout the options from iBackup. PC World did a review of 17 online backup services last year.

Purchase a tape backup system and make sure backup tapes are taken off site at least weekly (preferably daily)
An alternative to online backup is to get a tape backup system. These systems backup your servers and PCs on a scheduled basis. Then you can have the tapes stored off-site somewhere safe. If you’re highly transactional and generate a lot of data, daily is best. If you only take your backups off-site weekly, then have them run overnight during the week. Then you can grab the tape when you leave the next day instead of having the tape sit in the backup system over the weekend.

Maintain an inventory of technology assets (hardware and software)
If a laptop or other property is stolen, you’ll need to know details about the equipment for insurance purposes. But you’ll also need software installation CDs, serial numbers, license codes, etc. Having this information compiled in one place will make your recovery efforts much simpler.

Use hosted services where appropriate
If hosted services such as Salesforce or NetSuite fit your business, you’ll be much less impacted by local technology issues. You can begin work again anywhere you can get an internet connection.

Use server performance monitoring software
Network monitoring software such as OpManager can help you identify trouble spots before they become a big problem.

Automate server and PC maintenance
Use the built-in Windows Scheduler to schedule Disk Defragmenter, Disk Cleanup and Check Disk on your PC. It’s easy to do. Verify with your system administrator or Managed Service Provider that server maintenance occurs regularly.

Automate/streamline PC setup
If you purchase PCs regularly, having a standard PC setup is essential. No matter how good a person’s memory is, they’re not going to setup two PCs exactly the same. A network administrator I used to work with reduced the time to get a new PC up and running from 3 hours to 20 minutes. Not only was that faster, but when a PC needed to be rebuilt or replaced, the user was back up and running in minutes with a PC that looked exactly like what they had.

Partner with other firms for continuity planning
If you belong to a cooperative association of similar businesses, chances are that some of them are using the same core systems you do. Arrange an agreement to help each other out in the event of a major catastrophe. For example, your partner may allow you to restore your core systems to their servers temporarily while you arrange for more permanent hardware replacements.

Understand your vendor SLAs
Know what your warranties are and what service levels you can expect in an emergency. If you absolutely can’t wait 4 hours for a response when you have a problem, you need to pay more for support. And keep documentation on how to engage your vendors in the event of an emergency.

That’s my list. Some are simple, other require some technical assistance. But implementing the right mix can help make sure you won’t be scrambling when your next PC or server dies.

Contact Me

Granite Peak Systems, LLC
PO Box 80892
Billings, MT 59108
Tel: 406-672-8292
Email: trupsis@granitepeaksys.com

Kiva

Since 2007, I have funded a Kiva account in recognition of my clients. Whenever I get a new client, or find a microloan that relates to the industries my clients serve, I contribute to the account. You can see my lender profile here:

http://www.kiva.org/lender/gpsclients