Cloud Storage — should I use it?

Cloud Backups, should I use it? What is cloud storage? From a users’ point of view, it’s simply an endless amount of disk space that resides “in the Internet” and is available for you to store your files (including music and photos). This space is secure, cheap and highly available for all your backup/restore needs. Remember, Cloud is a metaphor for the Internet. Technically, it’s networked online storage accessed through the internet (or WAN) connection. Its several servers or nodes clustered together forming large storage pools. The architecture is scalable, economical and manageable. But, you don’t really need to be concerned with this part – this is what the hosting company does.

There are several products available that provide this service. I recommend searching the Internet for products, features and pricing. One starting point is to get an idea of what your storage requirements are and what features you would like. Pricing varies based on the initial amount of storage you are going to use.

Advantages of using Cloud backup software:
• A copy of your data is stored offsite (outside of your house). Storing data on an external hard drive is still vulnerable for hardware issues and house related issues (such as floods and fires).

• Many services monitor your file changes and will back up the files as they change without your intervention (you don’t have to worry about scheduling backups). There is a small product that gets installed locally on your computer.

• Files can be accessed from anywhere with an Internet connection and the proper account information

• Scalable, you can increase storage limits as needed.

Concerns using Cloud backup software:
• Security (see below for more information)

• Performance is slower than local hard drives because you are going through a network connection.

• Point of vulnerability is your Internet connection

• There can still be hardware issues with the solutions provider, cloud computing is not infallible.

Security – deserves a paragraph on its own. Whether it’s your business or personal data, everyone is nervous about moving their data to an external provider. Are you willing to give control of your data to someone else? Most providers will encrypt the data in transit as well as when it’s at rest. Double encryption equals harder to crack. And, each customer should have their own encryption key.

Large providers, such as Amazon and Verizon vs. smaller startup type providers. Obviously, you should have more stability with the larger providers. Although, I have had a few issues with cloud instances being unavailable for several hours (but, that’s a different issue). There are so many small vendors that you have to question whether they will all be around in a few years. So, I wouldn’t put anything critical on the smaller providers sites. How would you feel if, the vendor suddenly went away and you no longer had access to your data?

There are also different types of software that use cloud storage. One is strictly for backup purposes and the other is for file sharing. You should consider your needs and make the decision accordingly. Pricing is comparable – it’s just a matter of what functionality you need.

There is another cool option for safely storing your data. There are now external hard drives that are both fire and water proof. They hold large amounts of data for about $150-$200. If you really don’t want to store data in the cloud and don’t have a need to share files with people outside your house – this may be the best option.

I’m sure I’ll be posting more about the “Cloud”

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Search engines can do so much more!

I’m a Google user but most of the information listed below will work in most other search engines as well.

How do you use Google?

Ok, so you need to search for something on the Internet. You go to Google.com, start typing some words to search on and then you start looking through the sites that came back from that search. Did you know there are many tips to help refine your search? We’ll get to some of these in a minute. But, did you also know that you can use Google as a calculator or a world clock? There are many tricks to discover I’ll list some of them out for you.

Lets first go through some techniques for searching:

The most basic way of refining your search is to include many words in the search field. By default, Google will only return the websites that contain all the words in your search. As a quick aside: You can use the word “Or” in the search field to expand your search. But, let’s try to get a little more sophisticated with our searches:

You can search for a term and all related terms by putting a ~ in front of the search. Ex: ~nutrition will also return information about health and food.

What if the item you are searching for has a couple of different meanings –such as Mars – that can be candy, a planet, a store or Roman God. Try using the exclude function: mars –candy –store. This search will return the sites that have the word Mars in them and don’t have the words candy or store.

Want to search for a particular phrase? Simple, put that phrase in quotes. Or, you can string together your words with a phrase connector (hyphens, slashes, periods). An example: mother-in-law or men-are-from-mars

Ok, nothing to exciting there. But, check this out. Want your search to be focused on only 1 site. Enter mars site:space.com . this will return all the matches for Mars specifically on the site space.com.

Or try this: allintitle:mars (return all sites that have Mars in the html title) or allintitle:mars planet (this will return sites with both mars and planet in the html title). You can also use the operands allinurl and allintext to return searches that contain the words in the url or the body of the website.

You can search with a number range. Example: mars 1960..1970 will return information about mars between 1960 and 1970. Want to narrow it down further, put some of these operands together. Try this: mars 1960..1970 site:space.com now you will receive information about Mars between 1960 and 1970 from only the site Space.com

Would you like to see images of your search? Try this: go to Google.com/images and now enter mars in the search field. Or, go to Google.com, enter your search and then click the images link along the top row. Try some other image searches such as New Jersey or Microsoft.

There are other ways you can use Google.com:

As a calculator: Simply type in your math problem in the search field (ex: 100*(150/5)).

As a spell checker: start typing your word and Google will suggest spellings for you.

Want a definition: just enter the word define first: ex: define:mars

As a world clock: want to know what time it is in Venice, Italy –type: time venice

As a currency, metric and bytes convertor calculator: want to know how much $100 is in euros, simply type 100 dollars in euros.

As an area code lookup: simply type in the area code in the search field.

Get the status of an airline flight: simply enter the flight number in the search field and the up to date status will be displayed

Get the current weather conditions for any location: enter the location:weather (ex: venice:weather)

Get up to date stock quotes: enter stocks:symbol ex: stocks:ge

See, there are some cool things you can do besides a plain text search. Have fun and let me know if you have any other Google tips.

Internet Security: What do you need? Free version or spend the $$$

Internet Security: What do you need? free version or spend the $$$

Remember when virus security meant not opening an e-mail attachment from someone you didn’t know. Well, the game has certainly changed from those days. Now you need to be concerned about viruses, spyware, malware, adware, worms, bots, Trojans, Internet attacks. Well, some of these terms overlap – but you get the idea. So what software do you need: Anti virus software, Anti-Malware, Internet Security software, an appliance firewall? Here is where you need to have an understanding of exactly what you are looking at.

Definitions:

Virus: A program that is copied onto your computer , boot sector or document. It can be transmitted through attachments, downloaded files or reside on a CD.

Malware: “Malicious Software” – a program that installs itself on your computer without your permission. It comes in many forms such as viruses, worms, Trojans, adware and spyware.

Spyware: a dangerous form of Malware. It can steal private information stored on your computer.

Worm: A virus that replicates itself by resending itself as an e-mail attachment or as part of a network file.

Firewall: will monitor all the network traffic (transmitting behind the scenes). It’ll block unknown and unsolicited traffic from entering your computer, thus protecting you from hackers, worms and viruses. A Firewall provides the first line of defense.

Most Internet Security Suites will cover all the bases for you- that is: they come with anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall and usually parental controls. Most of the free software only covers 1 or 2 of these topics. So, when choosing this route you will probably need to download each component separately. You also need to verify that the programs are compatible with each other. You may run into a scenario where a firewall from one vendor is not compatible with the anti-virus program from another.

You still have more work to do: you should get an anti-virus program that has real time protection, on demand scanner, auto updater, Heuristic analysis, Email protection and automatic online upgrading.

Make sure your malware program has real-time protection, heuristic scanning, on-demand scanning, quarantine controls and online upgrading.

And, don’t forget about the firewall.

Why a firewall? Well there are worms that spread through ports from other computers on the network (or Internet) without the help of any program. They transmit behind the scenes. The firewall will block this unsolicited traffic. This is why anti-virus software is simply not enough to protect your computer on the Internet.

The most basic firewall will detect and prevent intrusion to your computer from unsolicited network traffic. It can also make your computer invisible to others on the Internet, makes it harder for other computers to find you. There are many other features that come with firewalls that cost you some money. These include 2-way firewall, anti-phishing, identity protection and parental controls.

Is Windows firewall good enough, do I really need added software? One key question is: do you want to put your security in the hands of Microsoft. There are some studies that have shown some data leakage through the windows firewall. I’m a believer in using multiple vendors to help cover all the bases. So, my vote is to go out and get a firewall from a vendor that specializes in security.

And just one note about MAC’s: Just because you are running on a MAC, doesn’t mean that you are not vulnerable to viruses. One theory for why you haven’t heard about viruses on the MAC’s is because the hackers were going after the pc world since pc’s hold an overwhelming market share over the MAC. It’s no fun to attack a small crowd. But, as the MAC increases its market share –the viruses are starting to become more prevalent. Nothing to panic about, but it is something to be aware of. Funny, some experts tell MAC users not to open E-mail from someone you don’t know, don’t launch any program that looks suspicious and use password protection. Isn’t this where security for a pc started?

And, of course, make sure that the software you are planning on using is not Malware itself!

Why not spend $50 for full suite protection (anti virus, anti-malware, 2-way firewall, identity protection, parental controls and anti-phishing). Seems to me, spending $50/year to help ensure that your computer and identity data are safe is money well spent. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very good, free products on the market. You need to do your homework to make sure you are completely covered, that all components are up-to-date and working properly. It is your responsibility to make sure your signature files (key data files) are up to date.

And, when I say up-to-date – I mean daily!

Anti-Virus going to the Clouds

Cloud computing is a type of computing where the resources are provided as a service over the Internet. One example that I’m sure you’ve used is mapquest or Google maps. There are services that offer Office type products over the Internet. So, how will cloud computing be used for security and anti-virus. Many of the lead vendors have anti-virus products using the Cloud on the market now.

Currently security products run locally on your PC. They consume resources and are not always as up-to-date as they should be. Even the vendors have a difficult time staying on top of all the latest potential threats. Anti-virus programs developed in the SaaS (Software-as-a-service) model take the burden off of home users and small to mid size companies. These companies probably aren’t paying for a high end security solution and don’t have the resources to dedicate to data security.

Most lead vendors have released or are developing the next generation of security using the cloud-client content security infrastructure. The client is a light weight client, beneficial for your local pc’s. Trend micro has a product called “Smart protection network”. They use several statistics to help determine the condition of the files. Some of there tests use web reputation scores, email reputation and file reputation scores. The file will be blocked in the cloud if the reputation scores are at a high level. Ex. Incoming email can be tested based on the senders IP address, if they are on the suspect list then your email will be blocked in the cloud. This is determined through behavioral activity software running in the cloud.

CloudAV, developed at the University of Michigan during 2008 uses the concept of running multiple search and behavioral engines. Each engine is run on a virtual system, thus resolving the issue of multiple antivirus engines running on the same system.
CloudAV also uses cache analysis. This can increase processing and access time because once a file has been scanned it won’t need to be scanned again. The history of each file scan is saved and as new viruses are discovered, a retro scan is run. So, a file may have a virus that the anti virus vendors haven’t discovered yet. In this case, it will be caught when the vendor discovers the file and a retro scan is run.

Some of the benefits for cloud antivirus protection are: The signature files will be as up to date as possible, use of multiple search engines and less local resources used.

The disadvantages of using a model like this are: you need a strong Internet connection, there may be a lot of data transferred and do you want your files moved to the Cloud? While the engines will use a hashing mechanism(won’t have to transfer the whole file) for scanning, the fall back when there is a detection will probably be to transfer the whole file.

I think the biggest question is do you want your files out on the cloud? Fundamental question that you need to answer for yourself or your business.

Cloud computing, what is it?

Cloud computing is defined as using web based applications and storing the data at a hosted site. Thus, the user doesn’t have to have any expertise in the applications that are running on their pc. They simply connect to the internet and have access to their files and applications.

Why use the term cloud? If you haven’t seen a network diagram, typically a picture of a cloud is used to depict the Internet.

There are actually 3 different types of Cloud services, I’ll list them out for now, maybe another time I’ll come back and go into detail on these services:
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Iaas)
Platform-as-a-Service(Paas)
Software-as-a-Service(Saas)

And, these can be provided from either a public or private network. A public cloud, sells its services to anyone on the Internet. An example of a public cloud is Google Apps and Amazon Web Services. Typically, public cloud services are sold as an “on demand” service. Pay by the minute and pay by the volume of storage. So, a private cloud is where services are provided from within the organizations data center and are only available to employees of that organization. IT departments must now focus on state of the art technology in the data center. Cloud computing puts all the onus on having a smooth and efficient data center.

So, what kind of PC do you need to be a Cloud user? The answer, at a minimum a very lightweight computer. As a user, all you really need your computer to do is connect you to the Internet. Almost all the processing and computer resources you use are at the providers’ site. Enter the Netbook, lightweight, low cost laptop. Did we take a step back, remember when all computing was on mid to large mainframe systems and you used a dumb terminal to connect to your resources. Well, isn’t that where cloud computing is going?

What options do you have with the Netbook. The Netbook comes with either windows XP or Linux. FYI, it doesn’t come with Vista because Vista uses too much memory and the Netbooks typically come with 1 GB ram. Some Netbooks are starting to come with more memory, although I think this deviates from the intent of the Netbook (remember, dumb terminal). Technically, any application that runs under Windows or Linux will work on this PC, however with limited resources, performance will suffer. One note on storage, you can also use your local storage as a backup.

There are also simplified operating systems currently being developed where the primary goal is to give you a desktop browser environment that will connect you to the Internet and give you access to your “cloud” applications. One example is Google Chrome OS. It’s a lightweight OS with primary focus on the browser. Remember, Chrome, googles’ web browser? Well, it’s the central piece of their operating system. And, yes, it’s initially designed to run on a netbook. So, what’s Microsoft doing? Well they are working on Gazelle, this could be the rival to Chrome.

So, what are the advantages of cloud computing for a typical user:
Low cost – lightweight systems are all you need
Good performance – since the provider is responsible for this.
User doesn’t have to be a computer expert
Increased data reliability
Device independence- you can use any system that can connect to the internet.

And, what are the disadvantages?
Requires an Internet connection- Internet connection goes down, no apps for.
Need a high speed Internet connection – although most people are all ready there.
Cloud apps need work – although they are closing in, Google Presentation doesn’t have all the features as Microsoft Powerpoint.

Same question I asked before, are we stepping back into the world of super data centers and dumb terminals?