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Office 365: Perfect for Small Businesses

Monday, October 01, 2012

Are you a small business with a couple of employees and few resources, but want to be seen as professional and dependable? Is a full server setup too much for your office?  In case you’re not ready to take the plunge into the world of Windows Server and Symantec Backup solutions, there may be a different option; Office 365!

Office 365 is a relatively new solution from Microsoft. In an effort to move everyone to the cloud, Office 365 hosts services like email, video chatting, and even Active Directory right from the web without the need to have equipment on-site. Along with those options, Office 365 gives the ability to create a central site to create, edit, and host a variety of office documents. Once these documents are added and submitted, other users in your organization can log in with their account and make changes to existing documents with the permission of the publisher. Also, due to the versatility of Office 365, these changes can be made from a computer, phone, or even a tablet without the need of having Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint installed. Office 365 gives the ability to use these Office apps right from their website. However, if Outlook or any of those Office programs are already installed, don’t worry, it’s easy to configure them to work directly with Office 365.

Fortunately, IT Resource is an Office 365 Partner and we would be happy to set up and configure Office 365 for you! Contact us at 616.837.6930 or email us if you would like more information. We'd be happy to do an on-site walk through with you if you are in the west Michigan area. Outside the area we can easily do a video conference call and get you all set up.

3G vs. 4G: Is It Worth It?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

As an employee in the IT profession, I am often asked what the latest and greatest is when it comes to upcoming technologies and services. One of the big questions is whether 4G technology on mobile phones and tablets is really worth it compared to its older counterpart, 3G. Most, if not all smart phones released today have the 4G radio built into the phone which gives access to the new network and potentially faster speeds. Each cell phone carrier (Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc) has a different 4G Network. The big ones we’ll need to focus on are LTE, WiMax, and HSPA+.

First, let’s look at a comparison chart thanks to diffen.com


These are general estimates of the speeds of 3G and 4G comparatively. Just from this table we can see that 4G is considerably faster than 3G. However, tables don’t mean anything without data. I wanted to really test the speed of 4G just to confirm this website's claim. I have a Droid RAZR through Verizon which used the LTE 4G network. AT&T recently moved to LTE as well as Sprint. AT&T also uses the HSPA+ network on their previous iPhone 4’s however it’s not as fast as LTE. I connected my phone to the 4G network and ran a speed test to find out what kind of speeds I was getting. Here are the results of that test.

This was taken from my phone while at the IT Resource office on the 4G network. My download speeds were just about 18.6 Mbps which is far above the data throughout the table above. To put it into perspective, at those speeds we should be able to download a 5 Gigabyte movie in just less than 40 minutes or a full length CD in just about a minute and a half! However, it’s not nearly as high as the projected 1 Gbps which is expected. The same goes for the Upload speed. But, these numbers don’t mean much unless they’re compared to different tests. So, following that test I removed my phone from the 4G network so I was only using 3G to test the speeds. Here are the results from that test.

Take note, both the download and upload speeds are significantly slower compared to the 4G test done previously. And for reference, that same movie downloaded here would take almost six hours and that same CD would take over 6 minutes! While this was only done on the Verizon Network, the LTE technologies between the three big carriers (Sprint, Verizon and AT&T) are similar enough to warrant similar results.

Just to compare Phone Network speeds to home speeds, I decided to run a speed test against my home Internet Service Provider which is AT&T Uverse. I have the 18Mbps plan which is advertised at 18Mbps Download and 1.5Mbps Upload. Here are the results of that test.
 While not spot on, the results I received were close to what are advertised for my contract. However, they’re still slower than what I receive on my phone. This really shows how far along the phone companies have come regarding wireless connections and speed.

While these tests shouldn’t be used solely for your phone or internet decision making, hopefully it helps with making the next choice in phone technologies. Most companies will also offer a 4G solution for your home as well if you like the speeds you’re seeing. 

Of course, if you have any questions on phone technologies offered today and what phones are compatible with your network, please don’t hesitate to give IT Resource a call or refer to the Android and Apple and Blackberry…Oh my! blog post done back in February. We would love to hear from you!

Rising Star: Kim Helmers

Saturday, September 22, 2012
People profiles give you a chance to meet our staff - the folks you may deal with on a regular basis here at IT Resource.

Official Title: Sales & Marketing Assistant

But this title sounds much snazzier: Administrative Maven and Event / Campaign Planner

What do you do at IT Resource, and do you have any special certifications: I support the sales and marketing operations in any way I can. I am gaining practical experience and knowledge of the business functions at IT Resource while learning valuable sales and marketing skills.

What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail? I would open my own coffee shop & roastery, but then I would probably drink most of my inventory

Do you have any hidden talents? Yes, but if I told you they wouldn’t be hidden

What is the best part about working at IT Resource? The people. Everyone is very friendly, funny, and easy to get along with.

How long have you worked at IT Resource? Since September, 2012

If you knew then, what you know now, what piece of advice would you give yourself? The more you procrastinate, the more stressed you become

What do you want to be when you grow up? I am still trying to figure that one out.

What is the most interesting job you’ve ever had that was not IT related? I worked at a lodge near the lakeshore and once had to take care of 18 children with 1 other woman while all the parents had a night on the town.

Tell us something your colleagues don't know about you. My favorite band is Led Zeppelin

Are You Ready To Play? Welcome to the World of Cloud Computing

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Undoubtedly you’ve heard all the hype around cloud computing and how “Everybody’s doing it”. Yet, despite all the hype, there can be some confusion around what cloud computing actually is or how it can help your business. But it’s time to change all that. 

IT Resource has recently partnered with US Signal, a midwest leader in technology, to help our customers and prospects understand the cloud and plan their journey. Our goal is to provide business owners and executives simple, yet effective information that will explain the fundamentals of cloud computing, how it can help your business and if so, what you need to know when choosing a cloud provider. Our playbook uses simple terminology to help you understand how to play in the world of cloud computing, and understanding the importance of utilizing a good team along the way.

Cloud Computing in a Nutshell: Everybody's doing it.
So if the “cloud” is all the rage and everybody’s doing it, what exactly are they doing?

Cloud computing means different things to different people. Some define the cloud in basic terms like virtual servers available over the internet. Others expand this idea and state that anything consumed outside the firewall is in “the cloud”. While the debate about defining the cloud continues to grow, we believe that all organizations need to ask themselves the following: 

• How secure is my customer and employee data?
• Can I turn up a new server environment in a matter of hours?
• Does my current backup plan protect my data and business?
• Do my employees have the ability to access company applications at anytime from anywhere?
• Do I have hardware sitting in a closet with capacity that isn’t being utilized?
Understanding the cloud is much easier when you have a trusted partner on your side. In addition, the cloud can incredibly benefit your business. Let IT Resource and US Signal help you understand the cloud and plan your journey. You can learn more at our lunch and learn events, held in Grand Rapids on October 17 and Livonia on October 18. Click here to get more information and sign up for our tailgating events. Rumor has it there will be free wings and a chance to win a pair of NFL tickets. Now that's what we call teamwork!

Microsoft Serving up Changes

Friday, September 07, 2012

With the buzz around the release of Windows 8, less attention has been paid to the new version of Windows Server 2012. Codenamed Windows Server 8, Windows Server 2012 will be using the same clean and modern Metro Style User Interface as Windows 8 and the Windows 7 phone. Microsoft is leaning toward the new Metro User Interface to be friendlier with touch screen computers and phones. Along with the graphical changes, Microsoft also introduced a long list of other improvements to the operating system including changes to Active Directory, a new version of Hyper-V (Microsoft’s virtualization solution), a new file system to improve on NTFS, and something called IP Address Management (IPAM). IPAM will discover, monitor, audit, and manage the IP address space used on your network. It has the ability to look for existing servers and identify the roles they use to improve management. It can also track IP address changes and display usage across the network for easy monitoring. Windows Server 2012 included changes and improvements to help IT professionals like IT Resource to better serve our customers.

Fortunately I was able to get a hold of an early test version of the software to mess around with myself. I had an older computer sitting around that I wasn’t using so I decided this was a good opportunity to get acclimated with the new software. 
Current health and monitoring of Server Roles, Local Server, and all servers on your network:

New Start Menu and added items
Small icons have been changed out for larger ‘button’ type icons that are placed in a grid within the start menu. These icons display the frequently used tasks and can be completely customized. As with any new release, a revised user interface has an adjustment period, however, I feel it will be more handy than not. The Task Manager has been redesigned to focus on resource usage and ease of use. Using meters and percentages, the new task manager will change the color of a particular task depending on how resource intensive it is. This makes it nicer to monitor the tasks and which pesky program is consuming your memory!

New Task Manager
In the short amount of time I have tested this OS, I have found that Microsoft is making great strides to add functionality to their server line of operating systems along with increasing navigation to improve efficiency and performance. In the coming months as the Server 2012 is released, IT Resource will be sure to put it into practice as soon as we have fully tested it and deem it fit for our customers. We want to make sure our customers are up-to-date on the latest, stable technology!

Make Miracles Grow & Help Them win $250,000!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Gary Comer Youth Center is not only a fantastic customer of ours, but also a pillar in their south Chicago community. Starting today they are participating in Chase Community Giving 2012, a charitable contest sponsored by J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, where they are eligible to win up to $250,000! By voting for Make Miracles Grow you can help the Gary Comer Youth Center expand their urban agriculture and teen employment programs.

Plant Your Vote to support teen jobs and educational programs! There are two ways to vote: click here and/or visit Chase Community Giving (Chase customers only) and search for Make Miracles Grow!

About Make Miracles Grow Foundation & Gary Comer Youth Center

The Make Miracles Grow Foundation, founded in 2010, is dedicated to urban agriculture and youth education on Chicago’s South Side to serve as a model for sustainable urban farming methods and youth career and education development.

Having opened its doors in June 2006, the state-of-the-art Gary Comer Youth Center (GCYC) offers positive extracurricular alternatives in a welcoming and safe environment. The mission is to provide the support for all members to graduate from high school, prepared to pursue college and careers. Located on Chicago’s South Side, the Gary Comer Youth Center draws its primary membership from the youth of the South Shore Drill Team, Gary Comer College Prep, Paul Revere School and youth throughout the local community.

West Michigan Users Group – Cisco UCS

Monday, August 27, 2012

This summer, Carolyn Martin from the IT Resource Sales Team went to Davenport University to attend a West Michigan Cisco Users Group meeting. As a Cisco Sales Expert, her hope was to increase her knowledge on some of the technology solutions today and how they can benefit our company. The topic of that particular meeting was Cisco UCS (Unified Computing and Servers).

The main idea behind Cisco UCS is to have a central location where users can access their ‘Desktop’ from anywhere. Instead of having a local computer users log into when they’re at work, they will log onto their account from any computer and have access to all of their files, settings, and saved work no matter where they are. This is incredibly useful for employees traveling or users who work from home. Since the workforce is moving toward mobile computing, it would make sense to move with it!

Here are some of the benefits to Cisco UCS
• Centralized Management for IT
• Any Device can connect – Android, iOS Devices, Apple Computers, Windows PC’s, Linux PC’s, etc…
• Secure Universal Access
• Constant Experience delivered to users
• Smaller and less hardware (Blade Servers)

The big names in VDI (Virtual Desktop Interface) right now are VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix. Cisco’s UCS supports all of these hypervisors on their hardware and each work in different ways depending on the hypervisor. IT Resource has many Cisco devices and some of our engineers are well versed in Cisco certifications. The technology world is moving in the virtual direction and Cisco UCS is leading the way!

If you are interested in learning more about the West Michigan Cisco Users Group, this month is the perfect time to attend as IT Resource will be the featured sponsor at their August event, which takes place on the 29th at 5:30, at Davenport University, 6191 Kraft in Caledonia. For more information visit WMCUG, or contact Carolyn.

Helping West Michigan Businesses Save Time, Money, and Headaches

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Imagine being able to save your company both time and money, and reduce the amount of headaches while you're at it. Aligning yourself with a qualified IT partner can get you just that. When proper IT systems are not in place it's very easy for a company to lose valuable time and money, and not even realize it until it's too late. We often come across businesses that don't know where to begin when it comes to assessing their current situation. Some know they have an issue that needs resolving and others are just looking for ways to upgrade their current system. Either way, we're always happy to come in and help. 

Let's do lunch!

We often set up lunch & learn events to meet with businesses who have questions on certain IT solutions and products. Our technical sales team will determine your needs, educate you on services and products that would make your business run smoother, and show you how the proper IT solutions will save you money, time, and hassles in the long run. These events are simply a learning process. Are you wondering whether virtualization is right for your business? Do you wonder if your current IT staff has the time and experience to take on a large project or if it would be more cost effective and less disruptive to work with an IT consulting team? Do you need the assistance of an IT professional on a regular basis, but don't have the resources to hire them on as a full time employee? These are all things we can help you with.

Some recent projects we’ve done to help customers leverage their IT investment include moving a customer to Microsoft’s cloud based Office 365, reducing their overall expenses on Microsoft Office licensing; we also completed a 17 physical server consolidation and virtualization project which resulted in a cleaner footprint with energy cost savings, and reduced Total Cost of Ownership of physical devices in their Data Center.

Contact our sales team at sales@itrw.net to set up a time to do lunch - we'll come to your office and learn about your IT systems. These events are perfect for businesses who are based in the greater Grand Rapids, Muskegon, or lakeshore areas, have 20+ employees, and are looking to revamp, upgrade, or increase their current IT systems.

The Dirty World of IT

Thursday, August 16, 2012
The ubiquity of mobile devices and their ease of use have left many of us with oft-forgotten, but still occasionally used desktop computers languishing in the corner. Turned on or off, these workstations are magnets for dust and debris that can reduce the lifespan of your system and negatively impact performance if not properly maintained. Fortunately, this problem can be resolved with a few simple steps.

Dust and other airborne particles aren’t often discovered in a computer case until it’s too late; after the grinding and vibration from a struggling fan have long ceased. Power supplies, video cards, and the case itself all have fans to provide airflow, cooling components to a steady operating temperature. Static electricity attracts a general buildup of dust and dirt which reduces this airflow causing hardware to overheat and malfunction. Unless you build your own computer, chances are the manufacturer has not provided a fan filter found on some custom built rigs.
True to form, bunnies seem to multiply inside computer cases


Unobstructed airflow keeps computer parts cooled and running smoothly

There are a variety of tools available to keep our computers clean inside and out. The most common is a can of compressed air. While it can be expensive ($5/can), the tradeoff is convenience – it’s portable and found at most grocery stores. If you need to remove any adhesives from the case, 99% isopropyl alcohol is best as it dries quickly and will not leave a residue. Another great product is CyberClean, a reusable, putty-like substance you can smoosh into your keyboard or other areas to remove grime and gunk which could slow down your words per minute. 
 
As tempting as it may be to take a vacuum to the inside of your case, the belt may cause a buildup of electrostatic discharge which could damage the electronics. Save the hoovering for the aftermath of the dust settling. If you’re really hardcore, you can use an air compressor with a nozzle and set the output to no more than 20psi – we want to ensure all soldered parts stay that way.
Granted this is an older PC, but it was in an office environment, not a home

Once you have turned off, unplugged, and opened your computer, discharge any static electricity before reaching into the case. Using the can of air, use short, sweeping blasts to blow out dust from the inside of the case. Keep the can upright and be sure to gently hold any fans in the center so they do not spin while you are cleaning to protect the bearings.

After you clean your computer, check it one month later. If all seems relatively clean, it’s safe to say you can probably get away with only opening your case a few times a year – more so if you keep your computer on the floor and/or near a heating or cooling vent, or if you happen to catch your pet taking a snooze on your keyboard.
Keep the cat (hair) on the outside of the computer case

If you think your PC is bad give us a call and we'd be happy to take a look at it for you. In the meantme, check out these other cringe-worthy candidates.

Automation Nation: Labtech Software User Conference

Thursday, August 09, 2012

In June of this year, one of our leaders here at IT Resource headed out to Orlando, Florida to attend a conference called Automation Nation, regarding our ticketing and monitoring software. Leo Reap spent two days with plenty of other IT partners and business owners to learn the ins and outs of our monitoring software. By attending this conference, Leo received firsthand experience and information regarding the software and how it can benefit not only our company, but our customers here in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin as well.

By better utilizing the software we use here at IT Resource, we can put what we learn into practice and learn even more. Leo spent the two days taking in new information about best practices, monitoring, and execution of newly learned abilities. Not only did he attend meetings on various topics throughout the two days, he was also able to connect with different partners who also use similar software, and chat about what works and what may need more attention. An event like this is great for getting new information and meeting new people for future references as well! Plus, it’s not all just sitting in lectures all day. Some fun is had, too!

This event runs every year around this time, so hopefully next year Leo can attend as well and learn even more as the product continues to grow!