2013 Predictions

 

As I look into my crystal ball for 2013, there are a few topics I think will be hot around the water cooler and as a business owner, executive, or IT professional, it would be smart to start thinking about and planning for.

  1. We are going to start hearing a lot about the security and data issues that surround cloud computing, especially related to the intermixing of personal and work cloud applications and data.
  2. More generally, we are going to spend a lot of time on the convergence of work and home devices, mobile and desktop devices and all of the cloud components that glue them together.
  3. IT is going to become more complex on the back end, but more productivity enhancing on the front end, surprising many folks that thought cloud computing would make it all easier.
  4. Security will become increasingly expensive, challenging,and important as hackers and viruses become more prevalent, difficult to control, and sophisticated. Anti-virus and firewall software and devices won’t be able to keep up.
  5. IT skills will become vastly more diversified and expensive as teams will struggle to keep up, furthering a trend that has been in place for several years, and looks to continue for the near future.
  6. Business will continue to diversify their technology base integrated more and more solutions and approaches as flexibility and productivity take the driver’s seat, replacing the old school command/control aspects of IT.
  7. Consulting services focused on hardware and software sales will struggle to keep the pace with broader changes driven by cloud and will lose customers to more flexible true service providers with a more holistic and technology agnostic approach.

While there is always the chance that a random element could be introduced, such as a major technology innovation that could render some of these irrelevant, I think the plate is pretty much set for 2013 and these themes will play out in a way that could greatly impact IT departments and business productivity.

It is always better to be ahead of the curve then behind!

As always, it is all about staying happy, productive and supported.

Let’s practice happy computing out there!
Richard Brunke

What Does Excellent Service Mean To Me?

Everybody promises great customer service. Some seem to hit the mark, some don't but the promise is always there, because inherently it is a desirable thing, a thing we clearly want.

What is it though? To me, excellence in service is not a promise, it is a commitment.

What is the difference?

Well, a promise is a binding event, a commitment is a way of doing things, a way of being. No one can promise perfection. We all make mistakes. I work to hire the best in the industry and to enable them to do great things, yet they are humans, and technology does not always behave the way one thinks it should – mistakes get made and/or time frames get missed.

So, is that poor service?

No. No its not. That is an opportunity to show commitment to excellent service!

That commitment to great service requires not only our commitment to ensure we have happy, productive and supported customers, but also requires that those customers are committed to communicating their needs and wants if they are feeling less than fully supported. If we never make a mistake, we can certainly achieve great service. Excellent service, however, is what happens when a less than desirable outcome is turned around into an excellent outcome. How we react to a challenge is how we should be defined as service providers. People make mistakes, and things sometimes don't go perfectly, but in a partnership, we communicate these things, and then fix them.

We uphold our commitment. We make it right.

All we ask our customers to do is recognize just how much we value that opportunity to make them happy. We embrace honest feedback and ask for open communications so that we can truly keep our brand promise of making our customers feel happy, productive and supported.

Anyone can make a promise, but what happens when you break a promise? You just make the next promise.

A commitment involves more. You make them and spend the entirety of the relationship upholding that commitment, enhancing it and showing that you value it. It is the glue that holds our customers to us and us to them. It is about trying to always do it your best, and then following up to ensure you did, and if not, then making that right. Every time. For the entirety of the relationship, for excellence in service inherently requires a two way relationship.

That is what excellent service means to me – and to my team.

The cloud presents many opportunities for business to operate more efficiently and with less capital investment. Clearly, the cloud is here to stay and is part of the current language of business and technology.

That being said, it is CRITICAL to educate yourself to ensure you understand the risks (so you can remediate them) and the legal issues regarding cloud computing so you can ensure that you protect your business, your customers and yourself.

Just to give an example of how case law is just emerging on major cloud issues, until just about a week and a half ago, law agencies could seize most any data in the cloud without a warrant. Many people were unaware of this, because the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was primarily written in 1986 and technology has vastly outpaced the law which was written during a time things like cloud storage, cloud email and social networks did not exist and were not conceptualized. That left a lot of decisions regarding data in the cloud and how it could be accessed up to interpretation. New laws just passed have increased protections and ensure that a warrant must be first obtained before legal and government agencies examine your data, however, that was just a WEEK AND A HALF AGO! Think about that for a minute… the cloud has been around for a number of years and this huge issue (not the only issue to be sure) was just resolved.

There are still many issues that must be considered. The seizure of servers and massive numbers of hard drives with customer data in the Megaupload case early this year is a great example. These servers were legally seized by the government as part of an action against Megaupload. Even before you get to the questions regarding what access the government will have to the data on these and what actions they could take against data owners (all in a quest to prosecute the original case against Megaupload of course) there is the question of 'what if that was your data'. How do you get it back, what if you used them as your only place to store that data, etc.

Additionally, there are issues like HIPAA which requires data never leaves US soil, that you are accountable that the cloud provider meet the HIPAA physical security standards, questions around how data is erased(deleted or wiped), Patriot Act issues that are in conflict with HIPAA when gag orders are placed by the government and client access rites and abilities.These issues are complex enough with a storage array sitting in a locked room onsite, but infinitely more complex when the data is shared to servers that are often around the world.

What about business continuity issues that could result by cloud vendors shutting down unexpectedly, whether by legal issues, financial issues, or natural disaster? Is your data backed up somewhere other than the single vendor or single location? Do you know?

None of this should indicate that the cloud is unsafe for business.

It should, however, cause you to slow down and really invest in understanding the implications of moving data to the cloud, and ensuring you have all the right solutions and steps in place to take part in the best of the cloud while protecting yourself against the risks. Jumping into the cloud without doing homework is risky, and potentially very costly to your business and possibly even customers. There are financial AND legal implications to consider, so make sure you understand what your choices are, what the risks are and what the proper steps to remediate those risks appropriately may be. The cloud is the next big thing to be sure, but it ADDS complexity in as many or more areas than it reduces complexity, and that too must be considered alongside capital and total expenditure issues.

Keep up the happy computing, on land or in the cloud!

Richard Brunke

Happy Thanksgiving!

As we go into the long holiday weekend, I just wanted to really thank everyone who works with ISOutsource, and everyone who works at ISOutsource. It is my privilege to work with so many great people who put forth their best every day to provide world class support to the hundreds of wonderful companies we provide IT support services for.

Whether we are your sole IT source, a project partner, or a partner for your internal IT department, we are thankful for the opportunity to work with you, support you, and help you grow your business!

Happy Thanksgiving – and Happy Computing (when you get back)!

Richard Brunke

Cloud Simplified

One of the most challenging aspects of the current push towards cloud computing is the confusing marketing aspect of it. The answer to every question is 'cloud' and there is little clarity around what is meant.'Cloud Computing' has become as much a marketing buzzword as it is a technology.

So, let's simplify the cloud a bit and make some sense of it!To start with, there are really 3 layers to the cloud offerings – At the base is infrastructure as a service (IaaS). This is basically getting hardware through the cloud, such as computing power itself,storage and networking components. Companies use this layer to avoid purchasing servers or storage, opting to pay for what they need instead. 

Next is platform as a service (PaaS). This is the platform that enables the development of applications without investing in the actual hardware and software that would otherwise be required, enabling the testing and deployment of software. 

Finally is software as a service (SaaS) which is the most commonly thought of part of the cloud. These are the applications we use,including many common ones such as Salesforce.com, twitter, Netflix, hulu,Office 365, Hotmail (now Outlook.com) and others.  

Basically, for most of us, the cloud looks just like our internal environment, servers, tools, and applications, right? 

Exactly! Nothing mysterious about it. However, there are 5 characteristics to the cloud that fundamentally differentiate it from on premise computing! Cloud Services are:
1.  On Demand Self Service. A consumer can provision computing capabilities automatically without requiring human interaction with the service vendor. Specific expertise may (often will) be required, but it is done by your IT staff, not the vendors.

2.  Broad Network Access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms such as mobile phones, laptops, computers, or other mobile devices.

3. Resource Pooling. The provider's computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand.

4.  Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be rapidly provisioned, in some cases automatically, to quickly scale out and rapidly released to quickly scale in. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be unlimited and can be purchased in any quantity at any time.

5.  Measured Service. Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service. 

    From an IT perspective, items 3 and 4 are the real differentiators. On premise computing and applications simply don't act that way, you have to buy hardware to ramp up, purchase licenses, and live with the fact that your computing power may be sub-optimized or overwhelmed based on specific timing of user need and quality of hardware purchased. Item 5 is what makes it all work from a business perspective, enabling us to pay for exactly what we used when we used it. 

    So, cloud computing is not complex, it is just offering the same capability set we are used to from on premise in a different model. Most of us have been using cloud for years (anyone use Gmail or Hotmail?).  

    To keep this brief, I want to close with one other reality check – the question to ask is not 'cloud or not' but what should be in the cloud and what should not. For the vast majority of business, the cloud will simply be an integrated part of our computing strategy, not a replacement for on premise. There are many complexities and capabilities that are not best managed via a cloud solution. However things like collaboration, off site backup and storage, and perhaps in many cases key applications or email may be perfect fits for the cloud. 

    Make the discussion around cloud part of your annual IT planning discussions. If you lack expertise in house, bring it in and ensure you have a clear understanding of how cloud computing should and will be part of your company's future! 

    And always make sure you are practicing happy computing!
    Richard Brunke

    Windows 8 Part 2

    Lots of talk about Windows 8 recently (not surprisingly). As I blogged earlier, I am a fan, but there are considerations that need to be considered when determining if you want to move to the new OS.

    First of all, I tested it using a touch device with a keyboard. Really the way this OS shines. I find myself naturally using a combination of touch and keyboard controls for a nearly seamless experience. If you took away the keyboard, I think that it would still be very compelling from an ease of use standpoint (once you figure out the basics). So, it is really at its best on a mobile touchscreen device, which is why I think the tablets and phones using Windows 8 will do so well (coupled with the rest of the productivity ecosystem of Microsoft).

    But, if you take away the touch screen, is it a good operating system? Yes, it is. But, not as compelling as it was with a touch screen. Windows 8 is a move forward in many ways. It is a lean OS that boots fast and lacks a lot of the bloat that previous versions suffered from (in terms of performance). It is visually appealing. Heck, boot times and leanness alone would make me interested. But, without that touch screen, there are actions that are more challenging, and you may find yourself learning some keystroke combinations to take certain actions with. Not a huge deal, and all things that can be learned quickly, but still not the full experience.

    On the desktop with a standard monitor you will have a fast OS that looks great and is well organized. You will also have to unlearn a few things and relearn them. Closing applications is different. Opening applications is different. Not worse really (unless you define different as worse), but defiantly new.

    If you are considering the upgrade, just make sure you ask yourself (or your IT professional) what you are hoping to achieve. Perhaps consider upgrading to touch screens where you can. There are a number of choices in touch screen monitors like the Acer T230H 23" monitor you can add for your PC that would enable optimal use of Windows 8. Even if you are not ready for new monitors, the speed and visual impact may be enough. I'd recommend if you upgrade you upgrade the whole office and conduct training so that you don't suffer from the slow dribbling of issues that come with learning a new OS. Make the change, train the staff, and move on.

    Or wait a while until you can buy touch screens, or until a service pack comes out. Either may be the right strategy for you, it depends on what you are trying to achieve!

    Just make sure you are focused on happy computing!
    Richard Brunke

    After using my Microsoft Surface RT tablet for a week, I think I am ready to do a brief review!

    The biggest concern I have heard around the web is the lack of apps available.

    Honestly, this complaint seems to show just how little some reviewers understand this tablet. I am never loading Angry Birds on this tablet, nor any of the thousands of other fun apps. I have an iPad which is great for those apps. Nor am I going to read books on it or watch movies. I have a Kindle Fire for that, and it does a great job!

    The Microsoft Surface is not about apps… it is about THE KILLER applications – Microsoft Office. This is THE tablet I can create and edit spreadsheets using Excel (which I use all day every day). Yes, my iPad and my Droid tablets have apps to do this… sort of. Formatting is lost, graphs don’t show, and it is almost impossible to really build a spreadsheet. But on the Surface it is just like working on my work PC, especially with the addition of the Surface Touch Keyboard. When you add in the other built in applications (IE 10, email, calendar, maps, contacts) you have a monstrous productivity tool!

    When you combine the access to Microsoft Office and a keyboard to the integrated use of SkyDrive, things really get going. SkyDrive is Microsoft’s cloud storage solution that  enables you to very simply share files across multiple PC’s or devices. I work on a spreadsheet in my office, hit save (to the SkyDrive) and then continue later on my Surface tablet. Save it again and pick up where I left off the next morning at work on my PC again. Wherever I am, my docs are. Cool!

    This is not the ‘do everything’ tablet. Yes, it has games, yes you can consume media… but those are things other tablets do better. Frankly, that is just fine with me. I don’t want the kids on this one. It is my tablet – a real ADULT TABLET. It serves as a bridge between work and home for me, in a way that simply exceeds the capabilities of any other device. Yes, I could use a laptop, but that is not as efficient for me. I do a lot of hauling kids around, a lot of on and off, and frankly that is not optimal for a laptop. Instant on, do something, and then off again – that is what tablets do so well.

    I think Microsoft is on spot here, and believe that they got ahead of the market. This device represents bringing hardware, software, and cloud computing together in a way that is compelling and simple. It works, and it makes me more productive. Comparing this device to iPads and Kindles is pointless – sort of like comparing TV’s to Computers. Each has a different fundamental purpose, though there is overlap in functionality in many ways. You need to determine what you are trying to do, and buy the tablet that fits the core best.

    For me, the Microsoft Surface is going to bring about a lot of Happy Computing!
    Richard Brunke

    So, Windows 8 is out, and Microsoft is making their big push to make us all aware of it and hoping we all love it. I've been using it a bit, and certainly reading all of the various reviews, and I have to both agree, and disagree with what I am reading.

    First of all, one has only to do a little web searching to see that every release of a new version of Windows is followed at first by derision and moans of 'this is the worst ever, and the current is the best ever' which slowly change to 'this is the best ever… so much better than the last one'. I suppose its about change… and in general, we don't like change. Nonetheless, this particular change is for the better in my opinion. I found Windows 8 very intuitive, actually, and did not go through any 'steep learning curve' (which many reviewers seem to allude to). It took me about 10 minutes to figure out where everything was, and I was good to go.

    I love the live tiles, they make so much better use of my home screen than the current Windows setup. They help me feel up to date and make it easy to keep relevant live content in front of me.

    I think Microsoft nailed it. Windows 8 definitely shines in a touch screen environment, but even in a typical desktop environment, it brings plenty of goodness to the table. I still think that waiting a bit to upgrade (for businesses) may be sensible – perhaps awaiting a service pack release, but I have to admit I am eager to have it installed on my work PC, and may not wait.

    Call me 'pleasantly surprised'!

    Keep on practicing Happy Computing!

    Richard Brunke

    This is the final year that Microsoft will be selling its SBS server, a product tailor made to the needs of the 36 million or so small businesses (up to 25 users and 50 devices) which needed a cost effective method for deploying a Microsoft computing environment including Exchange for email as well as all the basic management tools needed for a computer network. It took a lot of functionality and packed it into a server package at a price that made sense for small business. And yes, Microsoft will be ceasing sales soon.

    Moving forward, Microsoft will be adopting a blended method of supporting small business, using their cloud based offerings combined with their new Windows Server 2012 Essentials. This product will offer the server operating system, data protection, remote access capabilities, health monitoring, workload flexibility (the ability to chose which apps you will run on premise vs the cloud), and extensibility (allowing other vendors to build add on capabilities through Web Services API's).

    The key missing element is Exchange (and SharePoint to a lesser degree).

    You can either add exchange server separately, or (and this is where most companies will go) use Hosted Exchange and 'go to the cloud'. Microsoft is betting heavily on the fact that the flexibility of their cloud offerings will drive heavy adoption. From an Exchange and SharePoint standpoint, they are likely right. It makes a ton of sense for a small growing business to pay for what it uses only, and be able to add or remove users in real time. It reduces up front costs and reduces ongoing IT costs.

    In this area, the cloud has arrived, and is ready for business.

    But, not everyone will be able to go in this direction, at least not fully. It is possible to go 100% to the cloud, but regulatory requirements, line of business applications, or integration issues may make this impossible. Blended environments, such as the onsite essentials server with cloud based offerings for email and possibly even other applications (ERP, CRM, etc) may be a more likely path into the cloud.

    The fact of the matter is, despite all of the hype and marketing, cloud computing is here and here to stay, and moves like this by Microsoft are actually pretty forward thinking and will drive further cloud adoption. There is no question that for many small businesses, moving to the cloud for email and collaboration is a very sensible move. There is nothing mystical about the cloud. We have all been using it for years (Hotmail or Gmail anyone?) These types of changes, along with Windows 8, which makes some aspects of cloud computing more natural and efficient, will continue to drive forward cloud initiatives.

    But don't panic, life after the cloud looks a lot like life before the cloud. Just more efficient in some ways, more cost effective for some businesses. Onsite servers are not going away in most cases, but they may in some! It is all about knowing what questions to ask. That is where a credible IT consultant comes in (shameless pitch, but hey, its my blog).

    So, Windows SBS is going away – its time is done. But the functionality it embodied is here to stay with the new offerings, which may better serve small business. Take note, Windows Home Server is going away also (for the same reasons, and replaced by the same products as SBS).

    I've been impressed by Microsoft and their approach to cloud this year. Less hype, more function. More integration. More manageable IT costs and environments. Believe it or not, I am a big fan of that. IT is not going away, but its role has always been to support business in achieving its goals, including profits, and in many cases, this will help us help our customers with that. We'll still be here, and our customers will still need us, but the focus will shift and efficiencies will be gained.

    It is all designed to bring about more happy computing!
    Richard Brunke

    Pre-orders have begun for the Microsoft Windows RT tablet. However, the Windows 8 tablets are not yet available. But wait… isn't Windows RT windows 8? Well, yes, sort of.

    You see, Windows RT is a version of Windows 8 created to run on ARM devices, such as tablets and phones. These are low power consuming chips created specifically to be optimized for these devices. These are the same chips used for the plethora of Android tablets out there. Now, that being said, it is indeed Windows 8 and will be exceptionally similar for most users, but there are some key features that you should be aware will only be in the full Windows 8, which will come out on the Intel based tablets due out soon. The missing features are:

    1. Windows Media Player will not be present in RT
    2. Windows Media Center will not be present in RT
    3. HomeGroup creation is not possible in RT
    4. Domain join is not possible in RT

    To go up a level, it is critical to understand that the RT version is not compatible with prior versions of Windows, and the only apps you can run on it are those that come with it, and those you purchase through the Windows App Store. Much like an Android or iPad (which each require you to purchase apps through an app store). If you want to run specific applications you have purchased for existing Windows PC's or laptops, you will need a full Windows 8 device, not the RT.

    But, what makes this a compelling device to me are two simple things:
    1. The keyboard cover. Sure, you can type on the screen, but if you are doing anything that requires quick and frequent changes from letters to numbers, or simply a lot of text, a keyboard can be a life saver. And one that acts as a cover and folds out of the way when you don't need it is a fantastic idea.
    2. The inclusion of the Home and Student version of Office 2013.

    For me, item #2 is what turns this into a personal productivity power house instead of just a media consumption too. I have a Kindle Fire. I have an iPad. They do some things well, and I use them both. However, when I need to work on a document, or edit a spreadsheet, it is Microsoft Word and Excel I want. Period. And this device is the ONLY one that brings that.

    They had me at 'Office 2013'.

    It is not a perfect device, and it is not the device Microsoft has created for seamless integration to a work environment. That will be the full Windows 8 devices. But those will be heavier, thicker, and have less battery life most likely. This is the perfect middle ground for me – a device that can do all of those nice media consumption pieces AND lets me to the real stuff I need to do in the way I want to do it when productivity time comes around. I'm not buying it for Angry Birds (though I'm sure it will be available). It is all about Office for me, combined with the new Windows 8 interface, which I believe to be optimal for mobile tablet computing. Yes, I like the live tiles.

    Keep in mind, no Outlook here. It has an email client, and of course you can use Internet Explorer for the fully fleshed out Outlook Web Access experience (again, only on a Windows device can you use OWA the way it was meant to be used) but it is not going to have Outlook. Why? Because, that is a full business solution and that is NOT what Microsoft has positioned this device for. Again, that will be an application you can buy (no Office apps will be included with full Windows 8 devices) and install on the Windows 8 device.

    All in all, it appears that the Windows RT device is a compromise device (in a good way). It will do a few things exceptionally well that no other device can do and do everything else just fine. It is those things (Office application use and keyboard) that make this perfect for me. It is a true personal productivity device. Full on business productivity will be full Windows 8 devices, but that is not what I am looking for. Use a laptop or a desktop for heavy computing. This is on the go, document viewing and editing goodness, as well as access to email and all the types of content you could want.

    I like the RT device as a nice middle ground between what will ultimately be the Windows 8 ultra books (with detachable screen – aka tablets) and the current bevy of useful but not perfect tablets.

    Learn more about the product and differences here:

    Microsoft Surface Store

    Buy one or don't, but always continue to practice
    Happy Computing!
    Richard
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