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Our Holiday Gadget Gift Guide

Thursday, December 05, 2013
If you're looking for a few gift ideas, we've once again put together our staff picks for the best gadgets of the season.

Tile: The world's largest lost and found. This is a Bluetooth device you attach to items you may lose such as keys, a bike, a laptop case, backpack, etc. It uses sound to alert if you’re nearby and gives you the last known location. If you’re out of range, it uses crowdsourcing (other people who have the app on their device and are within 150’ of your tile) to help you locate it.

Google Chromecast: Everything you love. Now on your tv. Only $35 and allows iPhone, iPad, Android, and Chrome to send media to a TV with an HDMI port. It supports Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and other services.

Innergie PocketCell Rechargeable Portable Battery or HALO 2800mAH Pocket Power Charger: Universal mobile batteries. Both provide power to all USB powered devices such as phones and tablets on the go so that a wall cord is not needed while traveling.

FitBit: Small gift. Big impact. This is a wireless tracker that tracks steps and calories burned and syncs to any smartphone automatically - an effortless way to keep track of your activity and calories burned.

BackBeat GO 2 Bluetooth Earbud Headphones: These headphones by Plantronics feature Bluetooth technology which allows for audio streaming from any Bluetooth device. Wireless ear buds are a great gift for someone who stays active and enjoys listening to music but does not want to deal with the hassle of plugging in or untangling headphones. 

Mophie Powerstation: This power station is similar to the portable batteries mentioned however this option is more heavy duty with a battery capacity of 4000mAh. This product is slightly larger than most other portable power chargers but work great for power hungry tablets or any USB device. 

Nest Protect: This device tells you when there is a problem in your home. It uses human voices to tell you what the problem is and what you should do. Problems that it detects are smoke, carbon monoxide, heat sensor, ambient light, humidity and three activity sensors. The Nest Protect also alerts you via the Nest app, available on any smartphone.

Epic Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard: This virtual keyboard laser projects a full size keyboard onto any flat surface. This compact device even simulates key click sounds as you type. It is Bluetooth enabled and is compatible with tablets and smartphones.

Slingbox: Never miss live tv again. This gives you the ability to watch and control your own TV from anywhere with any smartphone, tablet, or TV. Even when you’re not home, Slingbox lets you watch live and local channels right from your tablet or smartphone. This is a perfect gift for a sports fan, a frequent traveler, or anyone on the go.
So tell us, what's on your holiday wish list this year?

Big Technology Tax Incentives

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

As the year comes to a close, many businesses begin to look ahead at budgets for the upcoming year. Instead of waiting until 2014 to purchase new or used equipment, you may want to do so within the next 4 weeks so you can take advantage of some great tax incentives. Section 179 of the IRS tax code permits full write offs for qualifying purchases!

On or before December 31st, 2013, you can take advantage of these tax breaks:
  • If you purchase, lease, or finance new or used equipment you may expense up to $500,000 in the first year!
  • Assets purchased in excess of $500,000 may be eligible for 50% bonus depreciation. This is available on “new” equipment only. 
  • The maximum that can be spent on equipment before the Section 179 deduction begins to phase out is $2,000,000.

To learn more, go to section179.org or consult your tax advisor. Contact your account manager or lead consultant at IT Resource to take advantage of this great year-end tax break savings!

Bringing Your Own Device is Not Just a Trend

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

If you think the concept of bringing your own device to work (BYOD) is just a trend, think again. A recent study by Gartner predicts that by 2017, half of employers will require employees to supply their own device for work purposes. This statistic follows a global survey of CIOs by Gartner, Inc.'s Executive Programs indicating that 38% of companies expect to stop providing devices to workers by 2016.

"BYOD strategies are the most radical change to the economics and the culture of client computing in business in decades," said David Willis, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "The benefits of BYOD include creating new mobile workforce opportunities, increasing employee satisfaction, and reducing or avoiding costs."

Being able to work remotely has been a springboard for increased mobility and collaboration and BYOD just adds to the potential. By increasing the number of mobile application users in the workforce, a business is able to give employees a more immediate way of collaborating, and helps close the productivity gap created by globalization. We're seeing benefits far beyond the traditional email and phone capabilities. Many common company applications are being used in this scenario, all to help with productivity. Essentially, you're allowing an employee to use a single device for both personal and work purposes, which many folks see as a benefit. We're seeing this system used in large enterprise level businesses, but it has advantages for the SMB market as well.

Businesses that incorporate BYOD can save money by housing software and hardware systems on a server, thus eliminating the cost of updating each individual device. Additionally, the cost of purchasing a laptop or mobile device for your traveling employees is eliminated when you allow them to use their own device.

On the flip side, a common concern we hear from our customers is the need for increased mobile security. These concerns can be alleviated by building a solid infrastructure and putting proper mobile security functions in place. Deploying a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) model delivers applications and data securely on BYOD devices. All components of the traditional desktop are virtualized, which allows for a highly flexible and much more secure desktop delivery model, regardless of the BYOD device (including smartphones, tablets or laptops). VDI also supports a more robust desktop disaster recovery strategy as all components are essentially saved in the data center and backed up. If an employee loses their device or it is stolen, all the components of that user’s desktop will be present at login from another device.

However, even with a solid infrastructure that supports VDI for BYOD, as a business owner you must set forth expectations as to how the device should be used, and make sure employees understand who is responsible for managing and securing the mobile device. Having a corporate policy on BYOD applications, monitoring your company’s mobile devices and having a BYOD use policy will help communicate with your staff what will and will not be monitored, what apps are dangerous to the company, what kinds of devices and operating systems are allowed, manage privacy expectations and what to do when a device is lost or stolen.

Offering a BYOD program certainly offers many advantages to a business owner, but the proper steps must be taken to ensure a secure and productive environment. Given the trending numbers, if you're not already on board with BYOD, you'll no doubt want to begin looking into the concept in the near future.

Software Audits On The Rise

Monday, June 17, 2013
As reported in a recent Grand Rapids Business Journal article, the number of software audits targeting local businesses have been increasing, forcing businesses to react, sometimes very quickly, in order to avoid costly licensing and penalty fees. At the same time, software vendors continue to change their existing licensing rules and requirements while introducing new licensing models, such as cloud-hosted and subscription-based licensing services. And this is not only a local issue, the trend continues throughout many parts of the country where we support customers.

The good news is we can help you understand what licensing you have and help you avoid the audits. With the IT Resource Remote Monitoring and Reporting (RMR) program, your business will always have up-to-date and detailed information on exactly what software applications are installed on every device on your network at any time. In fact, this solution can also insure compliance by automatically uninstalling non-compliant software should you require that feature.

If you are a current IT Resource RMR customer, we recommend you review your current software licensing status at this time. To receive your report, simply send an e-mail to help@itrw.net and request a ‘Software Audit Report’ which will be provided to you at no cost. If you are not currently enrolled in our RMR program and would like to learn more about what it offers, please contact our Sales Account Manager Molly Reid at (616) 837-6930 or mollyr@itrw.net.

The entire Grand Rapids Business Journal article can be found here.

Women in Technology: Turning the Tables

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

When it comes to women in the workforce, society and the media traditionally place them in nurturing or social fields such as nursing, teaching, or administration positions. With time and a savvy business acumen, that stereotype is changing as we are seeing a shift in women joining fields that are traditionally held by men. June is National Women in Science and Technology Month, it celebrates the roles females play in what is traditionally considered an industry dominated by males.


In the United States, only 20% of jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are held by women. As technology begins to take over every aspect of our personal and business lives, it only seems natural that more women would, in one way or another, find themselves embracing the field, and allowing their own career paths to lead them towards technology.

The Tables are Turning
“When I was growing up there was a scarcity of women in leadership and highly visible positions in STEM, other than women teaching science and math and even then, the men outnumbered the women in those departments,” explains Carrie Borchers, Director of Sales at IT Resource. “Today, we have Meg Whitman (Hewlett-Packard CEO), Marissa Mayer (Yahoo! CEO) and Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO) all over the news so it will be interesting to see if this plants seeds of opportunity in young minds.”

As more women fall into the technology field, whether it be on purpose, or by way of a happy accident, we will see more of a shift. Amanda Regnerus, Vice President, Marketing, US Signal Company, explains that historically woman have worked in help or service industries. “I'm sure statistically, there are less than 20% of jobs in the service industry that are held by men. As time goes on and we continue to move toward gender equality in the workplace, these numbers may even themselves out.”

Perhaps another reason we see such an unbalance in the workforce is because of the gender roles created by media and other family members. Kim Helmers, Sales and Marketing Assistant at IT Resource explains that if women follow the career paths of other females in their lives (sisters, mothers, etc.) who held positions in healthcare or retail, they may have a lack of interest in the technology fields simply because of what they were exposed to at home.

Is Gender A Barrier?
Being the minority in your field can come with its own set of struggles, but the outcome is directly related to how you handle the situation. Lori Brandt, Help Desk Manager at IT Resource, fell into technology, then followed up her self-learned knowledge with a related college degree in the field. She explains that she feels her degree validates her knowledge, but the path didn’t come without resistance. “I don’t feel that I had many struggles once I made the decision to base my career in technology. Doors were always open to me, but they did not open on their own. I had to make the effort to go to the door and open it.”

Most of the women I spoke to did not see their gender as being a barrier for their success in this field. In fact, a few even pointed out that it’s not so bad being the minority. “When I go to an event or environment when there are one or two women and 50-60 men, it’s a lot easier for people to remember me, as opposed to one of the many ties and flys,” said Borchers.

Along those same lines, Regnerus indicated that she thinks it’s a great opportunity to be a part of a field that is always evolving, growing, changing and continually challenges you to learn new things. “I love the field of technology and don't look at my gender as a barrier.  But, that's just me, I don't really look at anything outside of myself as a barrier to success.”

I began to see a common trend among these women. All successful in their own right, and each understanding the skills it takes to succeed in the workforce. Molly Reid, Senior Account Executive at IT Resource, explains that in a field that requires a plethora of skills to survive, she is happy to be someone that can critically think to handle problem solving, decision making, and  analysis for her customers. “I love to see a client that has a problem, get it resolved and know that the engineers and I helped so that they can focus on making their business thrive,” says Reid.
Abundant Opportunities In An Ever-Changing Field
Whether women are interested in technology in college, or fall into the career later in life, there is always opportunity for them to thrive in this ever-changing field. Catherine Lazarock is the owner of Symplicity Communications, a Grand Rapids based telecommunications company. She encountered a lot of criticism when generating her start-up, but she believed in what she was doing and seven years later she is running a successful business. She recalls how she stumbled upon the technology field and how it changed her career path. “My background was public relations and marketing and a job change brought me to the door step of the technology industry.  I like to think that I was pushed off the cliff,” says Lazarock. “This industry is so exciting, with fast, evolving products and a huge market, what’s not to love?  I literally can go anywhere in the world and sell technology services.” 

Women Can Make A Statement
Given the hurdles and challenges these women have faced, would they recommend this mostly male field to up and coming females? Sarah Van Elderen, Marketing & Event Coordinator, US Signal Company, says young females should not be afraid of joining a field where they are the minority. She indicates the most important thing to remember when selecting a career is to find something you love. Van Elderen says she came from a techie family so she had always been interested in the field, but it wasn’t until she landed at US Signal, which she describes as a “right place, right time” situation, that she embraced the technology field as a career. “I came in as a Pricing Analyst with no telecom experience, and learned everything about telecommunications, network services, and cloud hosting from the ground up,” says Van Elderen. “My biggest accomplishment is more of a general feeling of success. When I look back to four years ago when I started at US Signal, it’s amazing to me how much I have learned and how much I have grown.” But, VanElderen explains, there is a flip side. “My biggest struggle has also been the amount of information I have had to learn. Because technology is always changing, there is always new information to learn.”

While there will be struggles, when you enter an ever-changing industry, Lazarock says “Embrace it!  There are so many opportunities for women in technology. Because it is dominated by men, women can truly make a statement, and quickly, within this industry. Because we are the minority, naturally we are going to stand out if we create a solid niche and move forward with strong integrity.”

The advice and beliefs that each of these women shared was not simply related to the technology field. As successful business women, they all think on a global scale, which translates across many platforms when it comes to advising other young women.

A New Image For “Tech Geeks”
Technology is an industry that’s here to stay, and the image of the lone “tech geek” working in the basement is being overtaken by a new wave of intelligent, up-and-coming people who are paving the way for this flourishing industry. This field is changing the way we think, the way we live, and the way we work.

“The term “girl geek” is actually somewhat of a compliment to me. In recent years, the term “geek” doesn’t have so much of a negative connotation anymore. A geek is now someone who is incredibly intelligent and ahead of the game on technology,” says Van Elderen. “To be referred to as a girl geek would make me feel as though I’m part of the inner circle of technologically savvy people in this era. I don’t think I have reached girl geek status yet, but I hope I’m on my way!”


Contributors:
Carrie Borchers, Director of Sales, IT Resource

A Solid Investment: SSD Drives

Monday, March 18, 2013

As time moves forward, technology is close behind; always advancing and changing. Computers have been around for years and we’ve seen them decrease in size but increase in power. We’ve seen new operating systems and better screens, but the one thing we haven’t seen at a consumer level is the change in hard drive technology. While early super computers used Solid-State Drives (SSD) and similar technology, the high price and larger storage options for traditional electromechanical disks made them a popular option for both enterprise and consumer-grade systems. In a traditional hard disk drive, a set of metal platters spin at anywhere from 5400 rotations per minute (rpm) to 15000 rpm providing storage capacities upwards of 4 Terabytes. In fact, you can check out what a spinning hard drive in slow motion looks like to really understand how quickly the data can be read/written. However, moving parts mean hard drives have an expiration date. Also, if a moving hard drive is dropped, there’s a good chance that drive won’t function correctly again. So, what’s the next step in hard drive technology? SSD.


SSD’s are essentially large flash drives that replace existing platter hard drives. The name is misleading however, as there is actually no disk of any kind, but rather a circuit board! Today, they are down to a more affordable level and can be purchased in a variety of sizes. Due to the nature of the drive there are no moving parts therefore the risk of damage from fall and abuse is greatly reduced. Along with less risk, the drive is also much faster so boot times are shortened greatly. Waking a computer from sleep and starting programs once logged in go much faster, since the drive doesn’t have to spin up. The drives also run much cooler along with no noise. Compared to traditional hard drives of today, SSD’s are definitely a bit more expensive, however with a lot of our files and applications moving to the cloud, we won’t need as much storage space available on our personal machines.

So, the next time you’re in the market for a new machine for work, or for home, check out solid-state drives and see if they come as an option for the machine you’re interested in. And as always, if you’re ordering a new machine through IT Resource, request that your new machine have this feature and we can make it happen!

Pandora Unlimited Mobile Listening Has Disappeared

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Unfortunately, the time has come for Pandora, the beloved online music channel to introduce a cap on our mobile listening experience. Over the course of one month, users will only be allowed to listen to 40 hours of music before they’re prompted to pay an additional amount to continue listening. If they decide not to pay more, the user will have to wait until the next month before continuing their listening.


However, Pandora’s Blog mentions that the change should affect less than 4% of their total monthly active listeners at this point. In reality, most of us reading this blog and Pandora’s blog will probably never hit that limit but it’s still something we will now have to watch out for. According to Pandora, the average listener spends about 20 hours listening to their online radio across all devices (Computer, Phones, Blu-Ray, etc…) in any given month. This isn’t necessarily something that Pandora wanted to do, however due to rising per-track royalty rates over the past few years and the expected rise over the next two years, they've been forced to recover those costs by limiting our monthly usage without increasing our ads.

In the unfortunate event that the limit is reached, there are a couple ways to get around issue. The easiest way would be to jump onto a computer and listen from your desktop or laptop which is still unlimited listening. Another way would be to pay the $0.99 and continue listening for the rest of the month. Of course, there is also the option of paying the $3.99 monthly charge for Pandora One and you can get unlimited listening on all your devices without commercials.

So, don’t worry, your music isn’t going anywhere! While Pandora may have put a slight limit to your online listening experience, there are plenty of ways to keep listening once the limit is hit.

Tablets Replace Laptops?

Thursday, February 21, 2013
Over the past few years tablet computers have entered the market and made their way into many of our homes and businesses. In fact, I myself own a tablet computer. However, many users today have laptops they use at home and don’t necessarily find a need for a tablet as well. Granted, a tablet may a bit easier to use while reading a book or looking something up quickly, but in reality, a laptop can do those tasks as well. So, is a tablet worth it? Do you find a necessity with a tablet in conjunction with a laptop, or even in place of a laptop?

I believe a lot of companies are starting to realize that many people would rather stick with their gently used laptop than run out and purchase a new tablet. However, at the same time, I believe that laptops, in a sense, are disappearing due to declining popularity. When a user’s laptop dies, instead of spending $800 on a new laptop, they would rather spend the $500 on a tablet. The problem lies in the tablet companies getting their devices in the hands of users who need laptop replacements and people who would rather have a laptop instead of a tablet.

To combat this, many tablet manufacturers like Microsoft are releasing tablets that have the option for a keyboard to be attached. One of these machines is the Microsoft Surface Pro. Pictured above, the Surface Pro has laptop-like speed and capabilities along with an easily detachable keyboard/mouse to suit your needs, depending on the activity you’re currently working on. The keyboard helps when typing up an important document or working within a spreadsheet. However, removing the keyboard gives you just the screen for ease in browsing the internet or playing a touch based game. It’s not just Microsoft that has the keyboard for their tablet. Asus has an optional keyboard along with the popular Apple branded iPad.

So the overall question: do the tablets of today make a compelling argument to switch from a laptop to a tablet? Do the faster processors and detachable keyboards make them a good alternative to their heavier, more bulky counterpart? What do you think? Would you replace your current laptop with a new tablet?

Your Roadmap to IT

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What does your IT roadmap look like? Is your business on the path to efficiency, or are you staring at a wrong turn sign? As we begin a new year, now is the perfect time to ask yourself those questions.

As a businessowner you understand the importance of a solid IT infrasructure, but in order for your organization to run efficiently, you need a trusted partner who can handle those vital aspects of the company. Imagine how smoothly your business would run if you had continuous optimal communication lines amongst each employee. Or, how important a solid and speedy internet connection would be to your entire organization. It's not just one or two projects that require the assistance of a trusted IT partner, it's truly the entire backend of your business.

You see, at IT Resource, we understand that so many aspects of business rely on technology. That's why we've implemented a staff that has specialities in networks, software, hardware, and everything in between. We look for clients who we can partner with on a full scale level. When we are brought on as a member of your team we can insure that your business is running as efficiently as possible. So often companies have leaks that can really add up over time - slowly robbing your business of valuable time and money.

As we begin 2013, your objectives may include taking a look at upgrading your software, adding on to your facility, or purchasing new hardware. When you involve IT Resource from the start, we can work with you to insure you are making the best investments for your business - saving you time and money in the long run. We look for clients who we can team up with - call us today to see how we can help you start your year off right.

Java Targeted by Attackers

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Thursday the 10th of January, Java came under attack once again with a Zero-Day vulnerability. The immediate advice of Oracle (the company that maintains Java) was to promptly disable Java running on any machines to minimize the damage done. A Zero-day vulnerability is a flaw in the software or code that the creator or maintainer isn’t aware of at the time of the attack. This means, at the time of the major attack on Thursday, Oracle had no idea the vulnerability was being exploited and thus had no way to fix the issue right away.

According to InformationWeek, this isn’t the first time Java has been under attack in the recent months. Last year, over 600,000 Apple Mac computers were infected after another Zero-Day vulnerability was discovered. Java is installed on all sorts of machines ranging from Macs to Windows PCs and even Linux machines. The latest vulnerability found affects all three major operating systems and can be used to ‘execute arbitrary code.’ This means the attackers will be able to run pieces of code on your system that normally wouldn’t be run. Attackers would then have the ability to do any number of things to harm your system and spread the virus out. At this point, it is believed that 34% of all PCs are running a version of Java 7 which in turn could show the vulnerability on up to 400 million systems.

As of Tuesday the 15th, Oracle has released a patch to Java that fixes this vulnerability and relieves the stress on the company just a bit. Apple took a different approach on Friday and updated their operating system OSX to disable Java if not in use within 35 days. Firefox also updated their software so Java wouldn’t run automatically. Now that Java itself has been updated, users should be okay to re-enable Java and continue to use it as normal. Just confirm that it’s updated to the latest version through the Java Automatic Updater and the vulnerability will be patched!

If you have any questions on whether you’re affected or how to keep yourself safe, give IT Resource a call at 616.837.6930 and someone will be able to answer to your questions.