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.

CES 2010- Cool Stuff

I think someday I’m going to the Consumer Electronics Show, that is as soon as I figure out how to get invited. Its invitation only and you need to be working in the consumer electronics field. In any case, there were some really cool gadgets displayed there.

First of all TV’s will be changing. Some models will be controlled by hand gestures, no more losing the remote control. Example, a flick of the wrist (like turning a dial) will change the channel, while an upward flick will increase the volume. And to be released later this year is the 3D televisions. Actually the best of show product was Panasonic VT25 Series, a 3D capable, HD TV. The 3D portion is achieved by wearing glasses and using stereoscopic 3D effects. Basically the special shutter glasses alternately shut off the left eye and the right eye. At the same time, the TV is alternating images that are intended for either the left eye or the right eye. The viewers’ brain puts together the different images it sees to form the 3D image. And, for the regular view not wearing glasses – the refresh rates is so high that the alternating images are seamless.

In the Gaming world: Microsofts Project Natal – Gesture sensitive gaming (no more remotes). Play Dodge ball where people actually jump to move their characters. Microsoft’s attempt at competing with Nintendo and Wii. It’s an add on peripheral to the Xbox 360. The full body 3D range of motion is detected using an RGB camera, depth sensor and multi-array microphone. All I will say is it looks really cool. Go do a search on youtube.com for Project Natal. Let me know what you think, oh and be sure to meet Milo (he can recognize people, voices, emotions and movements).

Here are some other interesting products (Best of CES Awards):
Eye-Fi pro X2 — 8 GB SDHC, holds pictures and uploads to any folder on your computer or on the internet thru wifi.

Motorola BackFlip – google Android cell phone, keypad and display both face out and it flips all the way back so that they both face each other (like a mini laptop)

Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid notebook – when closed it looks like a slick laptop running windows 7 then you discover that it’s also a tablet. The display comes off and it’s a touchscreen tablet similar to the Skylight smartbook.

Green category: Tenrehte Tech Picowatt Wifi Smart Plug – Green technology for the home. It’s a Wifi enabled device that you plug some of your appliances into (such as: heater, dishwasher and air conditioner). Now you can control those devices through your computer or a smart phone. You can also connect your home network into this device. The intent is to save money on your utility bill since you can control the appliances being on or off.

Sorry this blog wasn’t posted earlier. There are several very interesting products that were introduced in CES this year. Check them out!

HIPAA – What’s the deal?

Star-Tech Services is now supporting computer services in physician offices. As we grow in this arena, it is important that we understand all the components included in being HIPAA compliant as it relates to the computers and data stored on the computers.

What is HIPAA? Well, it stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Does that explain it? Ok, here’s the deal. This Federal act was passed by Congress in 1996 and it does the following:

1. Provides the ability to transfer or continue insurance coverage for workers who have lost or changed their jobs.
2. Reduces fraud and abuse in the health care industry
3. Mandates standards for health care information in billing systems
4. Requires the protection and confidential of protected health information (PHI). This is defined as any data that can identify an individual, such as: name, telephone numbers, email addresses, medical record numbers, any vehicle identification…

Let’s take a closer look at how it relates to IT.

In my opinion, a big key is to document the standard operating procedures you are using. This includes account maintenance, backups, disaster recovery procedures, security (both physical and network). Here is a list of some of the items to be considered:

1. Isolate systems that either store or have access to key data (PHI Protected Health Information). Make sure the public does not have access to these systems. Store them in an environment that the public does not have access to.
2. Secure the systems from Internet access.
3. Establish password expiration policies.
4. Establish screensaver passwords. Initiate after 10-15 minutes and enable password secure.
5. Monitor access and security logs.
6. Document how data is backed up and where the backup media is stored.
7. Document the owner and administrator of key data
8. Document the network security setup and guidelines.

The real HIPAA struggles come from the conflict of keeping individuals’ health information private and protected, while still allowing some data to flow to health related research. I’m sure there will be modifications made to the rules as it’s studied. One change will probably be in defining methods of removing personally identifiable information while still submitting the key components on to research. The complication is that in some research, it may be necessary to include personal information. How do they get around this? I’d suggest that the organization doing this study must be approved by a board and demonstrate that they have all the protection safeguards in place.

And, one last item to further confuse the matter, there is a lot of room for interpretation of the HIPAA rules, especially amongst different types of health organizations.

So, what’s the answer? I don’t know. What I do know is that Star-Tech Services must have a set of procedures that it follows to be HIPAA compliant as we support computers in physician offices.

All About Me—LOL!

So, you know I started a residential and small business computer repair business in New Jersey.  Remember Star-Tech Services, “Taking Care of All Your Computing Needs”  — OK, OK, no giving in to cheap advertising.   How about a little about me.

I have been in the computing industry for over 20 years.  Yep, I believe you can officially call me a “Geek”.  Anyway, I’ve been in several different industries – including Pharmaceuticals, software development and the consulting industry.   The past 10 years (at 2 different companies) I have been the only technical resource on the site.  So, that would imply that I’ve been responsible (hands on) for all aspects of the data center (hardware/software on servers, network, security, VOIP, end user computing – helpdesk).

Interesting being a department of 1:  I managed myself and the data center.  Ok, I did have a manager – of course, other than company directives and initiatives that I may not have been privy too, I was responsible for setting my goals for the data center and helpdesk support.   I would do things like create/test the disaster recovery program, improve the QA labs, and set the schedule for software/hardware upgrades.  All right, this stuff is a little boring.

The really interesting and sometimes challenging part is when there are problems.  You better have sharp troubleshooting skills and be very resourceful.  Think about it, there is a problem, everyone is waiting on you and there is no one else to bounce ideas off of.  You need broad shoulders, confidence in your abilities and a little bit of luck doesn’t hurt.  I’ve been helped by having solid thinking about what’s best for the computing environment balanced with what’s best for the company, when to take a calculated risk and when to go back to the drawing board.  Think smart, think conservatively and think logical!

How about some fun stuff?  I’m getting a little older now, so I’ve retired from the company and recreational softball teams.  But I do still play volleyball.  In general I’m a sports nut – I’ll watch any sport (at least for a little while).  I am a huge Dallas Cowboy and NY Yankees fan.  I also have been doing Crossfit, a high intensity workout program (check it out:  www.crossfit.com).  I’m a member of the Rotary Club and a volunteer at a community theatre.  Oh, and did I mention, I also founded a computer repair business!

Next post will probably be interesting facts about computers:

Ex:  the 1st portable computer was the IBM 5100 invented in 1975, cost between $9000-$20,000, weighed 55lbs  and  RAM (between 16KB-64 KB)

Hello world!

HI,

This is Sherri from Star-Tech Services.  It’s our first blog so I thought I’d start by introducing ourselves.  Star-Tech Services provides computer and technical services to residential, non-profit organizations and small businesses.    We provide customizable, personal and quality technical computer support in an affordable, reliable and quick manner.  Our clients will feel that by the end of the service call all their needs have been met.

Our focus is on our customers and we will do what is necessary to make sure they are very happy with our service and customer focus.

We are fully insured and provide our services to central and northern New Jersey.

you can find out more about our business at:  www.Star-TechServices.com or to inquire about our services send an e-mail to:  Info@Star-TechServices.com

Our future blogs will be less of the business message and more along the line of interesting  facts, tidbits and news in the computer world.  It may be things like:

An Amd 1400 chip running without a heatsink gets as hot as 370 degrees.

Or, maybe detailed steps about the proper way to clean the inside of your computer (it can get a little scary opening a computer that hasn’t been cleaned in over 5 years!)

Hope our future blogs will be beneficial and interesting… stay tuned