Resellers..do they offer value?

Having been working in IT for around 25 years now, I’ve seen a lot of changes to technology and how people work. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s there was the Tech Boom, where IT companies of all sizes with specialist knowledge of applications or platforms were making an awful lot of money from their customers selling consultancy by the day.

I’ve paid anything up to £1500 for a day, and I’ve changed up to £1000 a day because the knowledge and experience of a certain piece of software, with bespoke configuration for a client saves them hundreds if not thousands of hours trying to do in-house.  It represents value for money too.

This changed considerably after 2000 when companies made huge investments into their IT infrastructures to avoid the Y2K bug, and found that in-house IT support was actually cheaper than using 30 consultancy days a year and meant that problem resolution was much quicker.

Since Cloud Computing became the latest buzz work in industry, we’ve now turned full circle, with anyone….and I mean literally anyone able to offer cloud services to their customers and they don’t even have to have a clue what they do.

A client of mine was recently invited to view a demonstration of virtual desktops which could revolutionise the way that they work (said the salesman).  The salesman actually provides phone systems and telephone lines, and has no IT experience at all, they could just see £££ selling a cloud service that they make a commission on.

My client watched a wonderful demonstration for an hour, then contacted me to find out why I hadn’t shown this to him, and would it work.  The answer was no it wouldn’t be economical due to the job his people perform, and I hadn’t shown it too him because he could never gain the hour of his life that it took to demonstrate something completely useless to his business back.

The reasons… 85% of his staff use specialist design software, which isn’t available to virtual desktops.  Even if it was, the PC’s he has are a mixture of Intel i7 and Xeon Processors with between 4 and 6 cores, this would cost a premium on virtual desktops.  His machines have between 8 and 16GB RAM, which again is a premium on virtual desktops.  Some of his machines require SSD’s, which again is a premium on virtual desktops.

The reseller trying to offer the virtual desktop service has no idea about my customers business. They have no idea about the work that they do.  They have no idea about the software they use, the size of the files, the amount of daily changing data, or the hardware requirements. They just wanted to sell single core virtual desktops with 2GB of shared RAM and 60GB of disk space for £25 a month x 40.

Having a look at Microsoft Azure virtual desktops, it would cost in the region of £200 per machine per month to get the right specification machines.  This is not even close to economically viable when we pay around £1000 per machine.  3 years of virtual would be £7200, 3 years of physical would be around £1150 including support. Multiply that by 30 and you’ve got some idea of costs for a system which would be no better than he already has (it would be a lot less flexible though…)

So resellers, do they offer value?

Yes and no.

If the reseller uses the product, and supports the product, there are some fantastic systems which can enhance your business with only a single point to call for support, sales or advice.  We offer Office365, we are a Microsoft Partner, we setup the system, we migrate your data and we support you going forward.  There is no interaction between our clients and Microsoft, that’s what we’re for.

If the reseller is selling something that makes them a commission, they don’t use it, they don’t know how to use it, they are the sales contact but don’t provide support or advice, stay well clear.  You’d be better going direct to the supplier rather than a middleman with nothing but commission on their mind.

To Cloud or not to Cloud..that is the question

Cloud_Computing

The latest IT buzz word which has been promoted to death is Cloud computing, which is about as new as AOL (which isn’t really new at all).

For those that have been bombarded by the marketing people and still don’t have a clue what they are on about, Cloud Computing is basically being provided with services such as E-mail, CRM systems, SharePoint and File Storage, Instant Messaging, Virtual PC’s or even online backup storage without having to buy the hardware…you just share someone elses.  This means that for the good providers you get a small chunk of some really good hardware with first rate support, for others…well you should be able to guess.  It’s the old adage of you get what you pay for!

The concept of Cloud computing is about as old as the internet, if you’ve ever had a home broadband connection, or used dial up with your modem to access your emails in Outlook Express, then you’ll be familiar with downloading your emails which are stored in your own little mailbox out on the internet.  That’s essentially where it started, but with the improvement in internet connectivity speed, and the greatly reducing price to provide high speed access, then there are a lot of companies jumping on the bandwagon by setting up with a couple of servers in a cheap Data Centre and calling it Cloud Computing.

However there are some real big players out there in the market, Microsoft for example have their Office365 offering which is a ridiculously cost effective means for any small business to start off. Buy a domain name, link it to Office365 and pay £2.50 a month for 50GB of email storage.  Increase that to £9.40 a month and you get Office Small Business on up to 5 devices, 50GB mailbox, Online Conferencing, Instant Messaging, 1TB of online storage per user, 10GB SharePoint for collaboration and a few other bits. That means to setup a small business, you could buy a cheap £300 laptop, buy a £6.50 domain name and be up and running with the latest version of Office and Exchange for £9.40 a month.

Extend this to 5 staff members and your annual costs (excluding internet connectivity and hardware) are a mere £564.00.  To buy Office Home and Business 2013 for 5 staff would be £950.00 alone without email provision and all the rest of the products that come with the Office 365 Small Business Premium subscription

Compare that to the cost of a server with SBS 2011 which needs a lot of RAM and some IT support to put it in (I don’t care if Microsoft think its the easiest server to install, as trust me, as soon as you want something that doesn’t require Next Next Next, such as allowing someone to send as a distribution list, the world stops being simple)

Your server is going to set you back the best part of £5000 with someone coming in and installing it and setting it up as you require.  Then you need the office licenses which will be about £950 for 5 users, then you need the anti-spam / server anti-virus for another £150 and some backup hardware which will be about another £250 to ensure an offsite copy.  Add some IT support hours if there is a problem which will be about £1000 per annum and a small business has got a lot of work to do just to try and pay for their upfront costs.

That gives you the setup cost for 5 users for the first year of £7350 plus their hardware and the domain name….that’s a HUGE difference.

Don’t need 5 members of staff, just reduce the licensing, want to add more staff, just increase the licensing.  See it’s flexible too. You only pay for what you use.  That’s the joy of Cloud computing.

So to cloud or not to cloud..that is the question.

If you already have hardware and licensing, then it makes no sense to change unless you’re experiencing problems.  It seems a bit silly to throw away hundreds if not thousands of pounds of licensing and hardware just because you’re not part of the in-crowd that are using internet based services already. If you want an off-premises solution for core services such as email, then look at Exchange Online, which we have a number of clients using so they can access email anywhere on any device and aren’t reliant on a single point of failure..i.e. their E-mail server or internet connection.

If you’re just starting out, it makes no sense to go any other way but by using cloud services (if you want to go even cheaper…check out Google’s offerings, but don’t expect the functionality…..)

Cloud computing has some huge benefits, especially for small businesses and I would encourage businesses of all sizes to explorer the possibilities that are available…even for larger IT investments such as CRM systems and finance systems.

If you would like any advice about cloud computing, please contact Mike Webb

Recovering Data from an encryted Diskcryptor hard drive

I’ve recently been testing drive encryption for external hard drives and a number of USB devices as many of our clients travel around with data on laptops and flash drives.

I came across Diskcryptor which is a free opensource disk encryption program which is actually very effective now the TrueCrypt is no longer available.

I’ve tested it on a number of 2.5″, 3.5″ flash drives and external hard drives, but what I really wanted to see was how secure was the data on the drive after I’d finished with it and decided to wipe it.

For this I’ve used an old laptop hard drive which was around 30% utilised. I formatted the drive, then encrypted it using a combination of AES-Twofish-Serpent encryption with a 40+ character key, which is apparently uncrackable.

Once encrypted (500GB took around 7 hours) I then formatted the drive again and went about trying to recover the data on the drive using a variety of tools.

On the formatted partition, after a number of hours of analysis, most of the tools could see there was something there, but recovery was impossible. Tools used were Yodot Recovery, EaseUS Partition Master, UFS Explorer and Recuva. Some of these I’ve paid for and some are the free versions (Yodot and UFS Explorer I’ve paid for).

I then re-encrypted the drive using the same algorithm and key as before and used Yodot to analyse the drive.  Now given that the data was formatted before encryption and after encryption, and had had a number of files deleted from there over time, Yodot was able to find everything on the drive once it has been re-encrypted using the same key.

Now the caveat.  This was only possible because the drive was encrypted using the same version of Diskcryptor, and using the same key as before.  If a different key was used it would not be able to read the drive. Yodot is a great recovery program, it takes a while to complete especially on large drives, but the results are brilliant on encrypted drives.

The secret however is that if you do encrypt a drive, or device, be very careful what you do with it.  If you wipe the data, be mindful that there is a high probability that you will not be able to get it back unless you are using an encryption program that isn’t that clever (as DiskCryptor creates the key based on the password rather than a unique code plus the password).

Recovery is possible in this instance because the encryption software and recovery software are happy working together once the drive is mounted.  That will not always be the case depending on your encryption software.  Things like Sophos Drive encryption and products which rely on a server or domain key plus a user key are a nightmare to get round but can be done given the right hardware being available (usually another Sophos encrypted machine, an external drive bay, access to the Sophos server and a user account which had access to the drive in the first place)

Hopefully this might give you some assistance in recovering lost files from formatted encrypted hard drives.

 

How to spot counterfeit Microsoft Office 2013 Product Key Cards (PKC)

There is a huge increase in counterfeit Microsoft Office software being sold on the internet.  Many websites such as Amazon and ebay are enabling the sales, although this is through the way their business models work, rather than on purpose.
We have made a number of test purchases through Amazon UK to see if the offers of cheap Microsoft Office are too good to be true…and the answer quite simply is YES.

Of 5 purchases we made of cheap Microsoft Office Professional 2013 and Microsoft Home and Business 2013, every one of them was a counterfeit product.

On first glance the products that arrived appear to be genuine.  The boxes look just like you would expect and are sealed as new product should be, but that’s where it ends.

On closer inspection of the top of the box where the label and certificate of authenticity are located, on fake products these are printed labels which do not change colour when you move the box, and the strip does not contain the word Microsoft (it should also not be smooth). Below is an example of a fake versus real certificate of authenticity

Fake-and-genuine-office-label

The box at the top is counterfeit. Note that the strip across is a single colour, rather than dual colours, it does not contain the word Microsoft, and the certificate of authenticity label is brown and does not change colour when the box is moved around.

Inside the box you should not have a DVD. PKC means “Product Key Card” so it does not require any media.  If the package you receive does contain media, it is highly likely that it is counterfeit.

Below is an image of a real product card versus a counterfeit key card

Fake-versus-real-Office_PKC

On the left is a fake Product Key Card, on the right is a genuine card.

Genuine cards will direct you to http://www.office.com/setup to redeem your purchase.  This is the only place you can redeem a product key.  You will be instructed to setup an account and download the software directly from Microsoft.  In the event of a machine failure, or you want to move the license to a new machine, all you need is the details of the login account you created at Office.com, and you can move the license.

If you are directed to any location other than www.office.com, you have purchased counterfeit software.

If you have already installed the product and you aren’t sure whether you’ve installed a counterfeit version, there is a really easy way of telling whether it’s real or not and that’s by checking the version you have installed.

Open any of the Office programs (Office Home and Business only comes with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook.  If you have more than that, you’ve probably got a counterfeit version).  Click on File and Account.  The following screen will appear with your Office version

Volume-Licensed_Office

 If the product installed is either Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2013 or Microsoft Office Standard 2013 then you have counterfeit software installed.  These are volume licensed products and are only available to purchase through selected Microsoft Partners who only sell to businesses.

If the product is Microsoft Office Home and Business 2013 or Microsoft Professional 2013, then you have the retail boxed product and is probably genuine.

If you think that you have purchased a counterfeit copy of Office you can report it here

If you are looking to purchase Microsoft Office 2013, make sure you purchase it from a reputable reseller of the product.  Any company showing the Microsoft Partner logo will be able to provide you with authentic licenses.  You can also purchase from established technology companies such as Comet / PC World, or from Amazon (make sure you are buying from Amazon itself and it doesn’t say “Fulfilled by Amazon” which means they are just delivering it, they are not selling it to you).

If you have any questions, you can contact us

 

AutoCad 2015 Error 0xc0000142 Resolution

AutoCad_2015 0xc0000142 issueWell today was full of surprises, not least an issue that one of our customers had with AutoCad 2015 not loading.

They had been using the program for about a month following an upgrade, but the program had suddenly failed to load that morning.

They had uninstalled the program, reinstalled, repaired, and everything was saying the program was fine except it wouldn’t open.

The error message they received was:

Autocad error 0xc0000142

There is a handy little tool on Technet called Autoruns, which shows you programs which are configured to run at bootup or login, so you can see what is blocking the program from running

After running Autoruns on the machine,(you can download Autoruns here) it was quite obvious that the problem was due to a program which had been downloaded the previous day that was blocking AutoCad 2015 from running.

Once loaded, you click on the AppInit tab and have a look at any programs listed there.  It just so happened that the Trovi search and Conduit Search programs had been installed the previous day along with a program the user actually wanted.

All programs were removed, and as if by magic, AutoCad 2015 loaded without a problem.  Really quick fix and worth knowing as AutoCad requires local admin rights on the machine for the end user if you have different fonts etc, which means these kind of problems due to packaged malware are going to be on the increase.