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Oct
24th

Choosing a server – how to future proof your server

So far in this series of blog posts looking at how to choose a server, we’ve looked at processors and RAM, and then at space and hard drive size. Now, for our final post let’s look at how to future proof your server…

Choose your hard drive size wisely
You need to ensure that the server you choose has the scalability to cope with your future growth, and the best way of doing this is to choose a server with as much storage as possible. We touched on this in Choosing a server – space and hard drive size. You need to be sensible about it, of course. And you need to remain within budget, but as a guideline, work out how much storage you require, and then double it to allow for growth. This may seem like overkill, especially if you’re just starting out, but allowing for growth at this stage will be more cost effective than upgrading your server as and when you need more space. Upgrading your server drives as you go along could bring you all sorts of problems – the extra storage might not fit in your current server, the engineering time involved to make the upgrade could prove costly, you could even end up needing a full server rebuild or replacement. So to minimize cost and prepare for future growth, choose the most (sensibly) affordable storage you can.

Go virtual
Another option, is to look into virtualisation. With virtualisation you run multiple servers virtually, on one physical box. You can find a full explanation here. This is a great way to allow for future growth as you can increase the number of virtual servers that you’re running as your requirements change. So for example,  if your number of users increases, your data increases…you can create further virtual servers within that same physical box, even running different operating systems if necessary. Of course, you would need more RAM and the space within the physical box can run out, but virtualisation gives you a superior way to future proof your server. Virtualisation can take place on premise – so the physical box is located within your premises, or it can be in the cloud, which provides an even greater level of flexibility when it comes to scalable solutions.

Look after your server
And finally, to help prolong the lifespan of your server, you need to treat it well. We touched on this in Choosing a server – space and hard drive size. Keep your server in a cool room, with air conditioning if possible. Give it plenty of space, don’t pile boxes, files and papers around it and don’t leave it in a location where it could be accidentally kicked or damaged. If you need to power it down, do so gracefully and use a USP or surge protector to protect it from fluctuations in power.

You server needs to not only meet your current needs, but support your future investments and business development.

If you need any guidance on the best server for your business needs, get in touch with us here or check out our hardware service offering here.

Oct
16th

Choosing a server – space and hard drive size

Welcome to the second post in this series of blogs looking at how to choose a server. If you missed the first one, you can check out Choosing a server – processors and RAM here.

This time, we’re looking at space and hard drive size.

Space
So what do we mean by space? Well, it seems like an obvious one, but you need to make sure you’ve physically got enough room to store your server correctly. Think about where you will keep it. It needs to be accessible to your IT staff at all times. If you buy a rack-mounted server, you need to make sure you do actually rack-mount it for ventilation purposes. If you go for a tower server, you need to keep it out of harm’s way – you wouldn’t believe the number of helpdesk calls we get because somebody has accidentally walked into a server, kicked it and powered it down. And remember, servers like it cool. In an ideal world you need to keep it in an air-conditioned room. If this isn’t possible, it needs plenty of ventilation. Keep it away from heat sources and don’t pile papers or folders around it. Increased humidity will also affect it so if your office is prone to condensation it might cause you problems down the line. Try to maintain a consistent temperature in your office if possible. If your server overheats it can lead to permanent failure.

Hard drive size
There’s no definitive answer to this one, because it of course depends on what you’ll be using your server for, the number of users, and which operating system you’re planning to run. Some of the space will be taken up by your operating system, then you’ll need space for data. So really, it depends on how much data you have. Are you data heavy? A company in the creative industry with lots of data heavy images will need a much bigger drive than a smaller business with fewer files. The servers that we supply as an IT solutions provider, tend to have between 1 – 2TB of storage, (remember the operating system will take up a good 60-100GB of this). This could be overkill if you’re a small business, but our advice would be to go for the overkill. Upgrading server drives down the line can be tiresome to say the least. The extra disks might not fit, it might mean a server rebuild, plus all the engineering time to get this done makes for an expensive job. It could even mean a server replacement job. So if you calculate that you need 1TB of storage, go for 2TB. This will be more cost effective than starting small and trying to upgrade. Go for the most sensible and affordable storage overkill you can to allow for growth and to minimise cost.

These days most servers support drives with high-speed Serial ATA or SATA interfaces, but for a better performance go for a server that supports Serial Attached SCSI or SAS drives. Both SATA and SCSI will have built-in RAID technology (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) which helps protect your data to different levels. RAID 1 for example, works by duplicating the same data over two disks by way of a backup (although you’ll still want to make sure you’ve got a full external backup solution in place) whereas RAID 5 has the ability to rebuild data from a failed drive. And if you want the ultimate top-dog performance, go for a Solid State Drive (SSD). These are based on flash memory rather than spinning platters and are a much faster type of hard drive. Really, it’s a game of cost vs speed vs size to work out the best type of drive for your needs.

If you need any advice choosing your business IT hardware, you can get in touch with us here or check out our IT hardware and software services page here.

And look out for the last in this series of blog posts which will look at future proofing your servers.

Oct
14th

Join us for business networking in Macclesfield…

Oct
7th

When should I defrag my computer?

If you’ve ever hung around with a techy, then you’ll have heard them talk about defragging. In days gone by, we used to have to do it a lot. But changes in technology mean that these days, it tends to be system automated.

But what is it, and do you need to worry about it?

Well defrag is short for “defragment,” and it’s a type of maintenance required by your hard drives to keep them running smoothly. Hard drives work by using spinning platters to store data, and as you access these files over time, they end up placed in a random order all over the drive, rather than in the nice neat and easily accessible fashion that they’re supposed to be in. This slows your hard drive down, which in turn slows your system down. But a quick defrag puts them all back in order again, and Bob’s your uncle, as they say.

So how often should you defrag?

Well that depends on what operating system you’re using, and what type of hard drive you have. If you’re lucky enough to have a Solid State Drive (SSD) in your machine (SSDs are based on flash memory and are a much faster type of hard drive), then you don’t need to defrag. Ever. In fact defragging an SSD will start to decrease its life. Because they’re flash based, they don’t use spinning platters so it doesn’t take any extra time to access data from different parts of the drive. So with a Solid State Drive, you don’t need to think about defragging. Take note though, SSDs do still need maintaining,

If you’re using Windows 7 or Windows 8 (and you DON’T have a SSD), then the systems will automatically defrag for you, so there’s nothing to worry about there. BUT! If you’re on Windows 7 and you DO have a SSD, then you’ll need to double check that the auto-defragging is switched off. Otherwise, you’ll damage your SSD. Usually, Windows 7 will detect that a SSD has been installed and will adjust itself accordingly, but sometimes it doesn’t and in this case, defrag will need to be manually disabled and something called TRIM status will need to be enabled.

To check whether it’s enabled, follow the below instructions:

Check TRIM status (Elevated Command Prompt): fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify

If the response it 0, it is enabled, if 1 it’s disabled

Enable TRIM: fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify 0

You can also go to your SEARCH facility, type in “DISK DEFRAG”, go to CONFIGURE SCHEDULE and manually turn off the defragging.

Windows 8 will always automatically detect an SSD and enable TRIM status (this just means it will turn off the auto-defragging function).

If you’re on Windows XP (and if you are, you might want to read this blog post about why you shouldn’t be! – there is now NO support for this product, leaving you vulnerable to a whole host of risks),  then you’ll need to defrag the drives yourself.

To do this, go to your START menu, click RUN and type Dfrg.msc. Hit ENTER to open up the Disk Defragmenter and then defrag your drives individually.

How often you need to do this depends on how much you use your PC. Try once a week and see how you get on. To make things easier you can also use the Task Scheduler to set it to defrag every week, every two weeks, every month etc. Whatever works best for you.

If you’re an Apple addict, then defragging isn’t really a concern for you. Macs on OS X will defrag automatically. You might need to look at defragging if you have a large amount of very big files on your system, but generally, Macs look after themselves on this front.

If you need any more advice or hints on how to speed up your computer, give us a shout or catch us on Twitter with your questions.

Happy defragging!

Sep
30th

Choosing a server – processors and RAM

servers

In this three part series of blogs we’re going to be looking at the various elements you need to consider when buying a server. Starting with processors and RAM, then moving on to space and hard drive size and finally, how to future proof your server.

So what is a server, and why do you need one?

Well you might not. If you’re a small business with a handful of users, it’s not entirely necessary (depending on your line of business), but once you get to about five users and you need to work together, sharing data on a network, then you’ll need a server.

A server is a piece of hardware that a group of computers (or network) connects to and is used to store and process data, run software and act as a central location for users to share and manage company data.

Of course, you might opt for a cloud computing approach to running your business, in which case you might not need any servers, because all of your data is hosted on the servers of your cloud provider. Or you might decide to keep a small server/NAS (network attached storage device) on-premise to act as a file server.

What do you need to look for when it comes to processor and memory?

Processors
The better the processor, the more tasks your server can handle at any one time. So, say you ask your server to go and get x number of files out of the filing cabinet, it is the processors job to handle that request – thinking about where the files are located, finding them and bringing them to you. So the better the processor, the more of these requests your server can handle at any one time. It depends on your needs – number of active users, amount of data etc. A good Intel Core or AMD multi-core processor – 2.4Ghz or higher – should be perfectly adequate for most small business needs, or you could look at server grade processors such as the Intel Xeon or AMD Opteron if your needs are greater.

RAM
RAM, which stands for Random Access Memory, is your server’s memory. And the more it has, the better the performance. 4GB RAM should be your absolute minimum, and you need to make sure that you get the processor-RAM balance right. High-speed memory in a machine with a slow processor will probably result in burn out, as would low-speed RAM with a high-level processor. Your memory and your processor need to be synchronised in order to work properly. And remember, server RAM is different to PC RAM. Server RAM is selected during the manufacturing process for higher quality and greater reliability. This is because your server will be powering the software that runs your business, not to mention holding the business critical data that enables you to run your company. You don’t want it to fail. It also needs to be capable of running 24 hours a day, so server RAM is more expensive than desktop RAM, but with very good reason.

Look out for the next post in this series which will look at space and hard drive size, and if you have any questions about how to choose your server in the meantime, get in touch or check out our hardware services here.

Sep
24th

How often should you upgrade your computers?

How often should you upgrade your computers? It can be a contentious issue. Because of course, it often comes down to finances. We’d all love the latest all singing all dancing tech, well, most of us would. And let’s be honest, with the pace that technology is changing, most of the time our devices are out of date by the time we’ve got the bill. But sometimes it just isn’t feasible. So what’s realistic? How often should you upgrade your computers?

How long should they last?
As a general rule of thumb, expect your desktop to last a good two – three years. Modern computers can actually last more like five. It depends what you’re using them for. For example, if you’re doing a lot of video or photo editing, creating music – anything that’s really data heavy, then you’re going to do best to look at an upgrade or replacement within two – three years.

How do you know you need to take action?
Is your computer sluggish? Programmes taking ages to load? Does the machine take a long time to boot up to desktop? If you notice this sort of behaviour and you’re nearing the two – three year mark, you need to thinking about making some changes.

Upgrade or replace?
Some of the problems that come with the age of a computer can be rectified fairly cheaply and easily with an upgrade, which should buy you a bit more time before replacement is needed.

If your computer is slow to boot up and shut down and sluggish when performing tasks, the problem could be your hard drive. It might be full. Try uninstalling programs that you don’t use anymore, removing any unnecessary large files and try a Windows Disk Cleanup. Switching to a solid-state drive (SSD) is a good option. SSDs are based on flash memory and will give you some real speed benefit. But take note – there is no recovery if a SSD fails, so check your backup solution is viable.

Another possibility is a memory upgrade. Most computers come with at least 2GB but depending on your machine your might get away with an upgrade to 4 or 8GB. And really, you shouldn’t be looking at anything less than 4GB these days.

If your hard drive has loads of free space and the PC has a good amount of memory, yet performance is still pretty dire, it may be time to invest in a replacement.

If you’re using a laptop, then upgrade is far less likely. Laptops are more difficult to pull apart and upgrade and in most cases you’ll be looking at a straight out replacement. In this day and age, a laptop is pretty much a throw-away device.

A point to note – make sure that it’s financially viable to upgrade, rather than opting for a replacement. You’ve got the cost of the parts, plus any labour or engineering time to take into account, unless you perform the upgrade yourself (which we would not recommend without experience or training.)

And remember, sometimes the cost of maintaining old kit can run away with itself – reduced productivity, endless engineer call outs – it will all mount up so try to find a middle ground and when you run out of options, don’t put your replacements off.

For hardware upgrade options, take a look at our hardware services page here or contact us for further advice.

Sep
17th

Challenge Graham – Ironman Wales, complete!

He did it! Last weekend our Graham completed Ironman Wales. An impressive 3.8km sea swim, with waves breaking over the top of him, followed by a 180km cycle, where the hills just don’t give in, and finished with a killer (and very hilly) marathon.

16 gruelling hours, one massive achievement.

Well done Graham! Here’s a few photos from the day, and if you’d like to sponsor Graham for this challenge, all the funds raised will go directly to Axon’s charity of the year – Macclesfield Neonatal Unit. Click here to access our JustGiving page. And huge thanks to everyone who’s donated so far.

Well done Ironman Fern!

medal

Sep
15th

Why do you need a robust data backup strategy?

Backup. We all know it’s important, but do we all take it seriously? Why do we need a data backup strategy, and what happens if it fails?

Backup key

What’s your data worth?

Let’s start by thinking about your company data. The value of it. And by that I mean, what does it mean to your business? Your files, folders, documents, emails, contacts, financials, images, databases, calendars, customer information, orders… all of it. Now think about what would happen to your business if all of that disappeared. Would your business continue to run? Do you know how, and how quickly you could get that data back?

Is your data business critical? Does it carry a high value?

What are the risks?

So the chances of losing your data are pretty low, right? Well, we’d like to think so, but when you consider some of the threats, it would be dangerous to think it won’t ever happen to you…

Ok, so some of these risks are (hopefully) very low, but the number of customers that ring us up having fallen for a malware or phishing scam, downloaded viruses or simply overwritten data by accident proves that data loss can, and does, happen to anyone.

What should you do?

Well, it depends on your business needs. There is no “one size fits all” solution. But to point you in the right direction, you should aim to…

  • Make copies of all your data regularly (at least once per day)
  • Automate it (to remove the risk of human error)
  • Keep the backup away from your main business premises (there’s no point keeping your backup on top of your server if your offices then burn down)

  1. Best practice, would be to opt for a remote online backup solution. This automatically backs up your data to servers in a secondary location – usually those of your IT provider, and usually in a secure data centre. It means that you don’t need to remember to run the backup manually each day, and it means that your data is replicated away from your main business premises so if anything does happen to your offices or your on-site hardware, you have a second copy ready to be restored. And restoring from an online backup is quick, so you’ll be back up and running in good time.
  2. Alternatively, you might prefer to backup to a physical storage device in your offices – a removable USB drive such as a NAS for example (the exact device would depend upon the amount of data you have), but you would need to remember to take this device home with you each night. And ideally, you should run the backup to multiple devices, so x2 NAS to reduce the risk of hardware failure (if your NAS fails, and then somebody downloads a virus that wipes all of your data, there would be no further options if you only have one NAS in place.) Data centres have multiple failover procedures in place so if you opt for a remote online solution as explained in option one, you don’t need to worry about this risk. You also need to think about your retention period here. Set it to a minimum of one week if possible. This means that your backup will only overwrite once a week, rather than every day. So if, for example, you lose part of your data on Tuesday (let’s say somebody accidentally deletes an important folder), it’s available for restore for one week rather than being overwritten the following day. This gives you more flexibility and greater peace of mind.
  3. Then there’s the cloud. If your business is already using cloud computing, then in the majority of cases your data backup is already about as good as you’re ever going to get it. Office 365, which is Microsoft’s cloud computing offering, stores all of your data off-site on Microsoft servers, which are backed up multiple times across the globe from data centre to data centre. Microsoft offers a financially backed 99.9% SLA that your data will be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

With cloud, none of your data is stored on-site in your offices. It completely removes the risks and in doing so provides you with a business continuity plan that protects you against everything from a problem with your offices, to a drop in your connectivity. Simply move to somewhere with an internet connection – emergency office space, your house, the local coffee shop – and it’s business as usual. Your data is there, accessible and as far as the customer is concerned, the transition is seamless.

So if you’ve got any questions about your data backup, or you’re looking for a data backup company in Cheshire, why not get in touch?

Sep
11th

Challenge Axon – sponsored wall climb for Macclesfield Neonatal Unit

Today was the day that Abi, Anna, Tim (Massey) and Andy (stepping in at the last minute for Peter, who couldn’t make it) embarked upon a 30 foot wall climb in aid of our charity of the year, Macclesfield Neonatal Unit.

Who’d of thought, 30 foot is actually pretty high…

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The wall. It’s high. Really high.

Andy and Tim were up first…. Tim flying up the “easy” side (we were told it was easy by some soldiers, so that means it was actually really difficult), while Andy had a go at the (really) difficult side. They both made it to the top. They did brilliantly.

 

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Next up were Abi and Anna, who both did really well, making it to the half way 15 foot mark. They only have little arms, and just couldn’t reach some of the climbing pegs! After giving it a good go, plummeting into the tarmac a good 25 times each, they were forced, with shaking hands, broken nails and grazed fingers, to retire.

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Epic tarmac plummet

Next up, Tim gave the (really) difficult side a try, getting within inches from the top before a pretty impressive spinning abseil to the ground. All with his safety helmet on backwards. Oops.

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So there we have it. In summary, 30 foot is high. Climbing walls is (really) difficult. And falling from a height of 15 foot, dangling off a rope and landing on a soldier is pretty funny. (That one was Abi. Anna landed in somebody’s rucksack).

Good fun, and all for a good cause. If you’d like to contribute, you can find our JustGiving link here. Watch this space for further charity events! Graham’s Ironman competition this weekend, and a charity fun run in December.

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Sep
9th

10 reasons why cloud computing makes good business sense

business man with laptop and look sky and cloud

Wondering whether cloud computing is a good idea? Check out our top 10 reasons why cloud computing makes good business sense…

1. It’s flexible
With cloud, all of your company data is hosted by your cloud provider and you access it via the internet. This means that you, and your employees, can effectively work from any location with an internet connection – the office, from home, a conference, exhibition, meeting, hotel… Instant flexible working.

2. It’s cost effective
Cloud is typically based on a per user per month cost. Think of it as pay-as-you-go computing. This reduces cap-ex significantly and helps with budgeting and cash flow. With cloud you also only use the server space you need, so no need to purchase large, costly on-premise servers that you don’t use to capacity. When you need more space, you increase it accordingly. Computing on demand.

3. It’s scalable
Like we mentioned in point 2, you can increase and decrease the amount of storage space you need as necessary. You can also increase and decrease the number of licences you have. It’s fully scalable meaning with cloud, your IT solution grows seamlessly with your business. And with far less expense than you’d have to grow an on-premise solution.

4. It’s secure
There’s often debate over the security of cloud computing. People get anxious when their data isn’t in the corner of their office on their servers, where they can see it. But what cloud actually does, is give smaller businesses access to enterprise-level security. Microsoft has spent some $15 Billion on its data centres. Our data centre boasts CCTV, 24/7 security personnel, key fob access, two national grid feeds, two 2MW generators providing enough energy to sustain a seven day outage….can you say the same about your offices?

5. It’s always up-to-date
When you move to a cloud solution, you can forget about the worry of updates, licencing, security patches and software upgrades. It’s all handled by your cloud provider, meaning you’re always up-to-date.

6. It reduces your energy bills
So if your cloud provider is hosting your data on its servers, you don’t need your servers anymore – or certainly don’t need as many. Hence a reduction in your running costs – air conditioning to cool them, energy to power them – all reduced.

7. It boosts productivity
Companies that switch to cloud report a marked increase in productivity. The flexibility that cloud brings means that the hours previously lost to conferences, travel to meetings, time waiting around in airports, days at home waiting for the gas man, are suddenly regained as staff work on the go, wherever they are. You’ll also find that staff read and respond to emails and catch up on work at home in the evenings, because they can.

8. It provides business continuity
Cloud provides an instant business continuity plan. Imagine all of your data is on your server in the corner of your office, and you lose that data to theft, fire, flood, hardware failure, data corruption…even with a reliable back up it’s going to take time to restore and get your business up and running again. Now imagine you’re on the cloud, and you lose the use of your office to burglary, fire, flood… simply head to somewhere with an internet connection – temporary offices, your home, the local coffee shop – and everyone can keep working. And don’t worry about loss of data to hardware failure or corruption. Cloud computing providers boast such sophisticated back up systems that the risk of downtime due to data loss is practically non-existent.

9. It’s environmentally friendly
As we’ve already mentioned, moving to cloud reduces the number of servers you need, meaning your energy bills are reduced. This, of course, also decreases your carbon footprint.

10. It’s competitive
Cloud makes it affordable for SMEs to opt for an enterprise-class IT infrastructure. In the SME world this can set businesses way ahead of the competition giving companies access to faster, more efficient and more reliable ways of working which increase productivity which in turn, boosts profits.

If you’re looking for cloud computing companies in Cheshire you can contact us here, or to find out more about our services here.

 

 

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