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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.

 

 

Sep
4th

How to remove in built OneDrive from Windows 8.1

Here is a quick and handy guide on how to remove in built OneDrive from Windows 8.1

1. Make sure you have local admin rights on the machine and are signed in as local admin

2. Go to Run (Windows key + R)

3. Enter gpedit.msc

4. In Group Policy Manager navigate to;

a) Administrative Templates
b) Windows Components
c) OneDrive (or Skydrive)

5. Click into OneDrive on Group Policy

6. Click on Prevent the Usage of OneDrive for File Storage.

7. In the window just opened, change the setting from Not Configured to Enable

8. Apply, then OK the window

9. Close Group Policy Manager windows

Sep
1st

Is pirated software safe?

Pirated software. The temptation of being able to obtain a product absolutely free of charge can often prove too much for people to resist. In theory it sounds great doesn’t it, a costless method of being able to achieve your business objectives without having to draw out of the already thinning wallet. However, the real truth is that there is almost always a hidden “price” that comes with your so called freebie, and it’s not cheap.

Pirated software

The real cost of illegal software

Although everything looks perfect and it seems as if you’re getting a good deal, don’t be fooled, pirated software can actually end up setting you back a costly sum. Here’s why:

Firstly, when using pirated software your computer is more likely to crash. The coder who pirated the software can engineer the application to attack or drain on the system, slowing down your computer leading to its inevitable crash. As a result, this will cost you time and you could potentially lose your files or any data on the computer that could be damaged and irretrievable. Need I say this could have catastrophic effects on a business. Moreover, if you thought it couldn’t get any worse, there is even the possibility of the counterfeit software causing irreparable damage to your PC and all other software installed, rendering it useless meaning you will need to go out and buy a new computer which, I imagine, is probably going to cost you considerably more than what you would have paid for the non-pirated software in the first place.

Secondly, one of the nastier problems of using counterfeit software is that nine times out of 10 it will contain some form or another of either spyware or malware which loads onto your computer and reports personal information without your knowledge. This information can be anything from credit card and bank account details, to passwords, telephone numbers and addresses – all of which can be exploited by what are known as identity thieves.

An identity thief is a person that will steal anothers identity in order to pose as them and have access to the benefits of that person.

Finally, one thing cyber thieves are good at is testing software in order to find vulnerabilities in it which allows them to exploit certain aspects of a supplier’s software. More often than not these exploits come to the awareness of the official supplier/creator who will provide patches in order to fix these vulnerabilities and protect those using their software. Although, if your software is pirated, you will not be eligible for these updates and thus will not be incorporated into the protection of the official supplier. Due to this, your computer could be vulnerable to attacks from cyber criminals trying to exploit your system which can lead to your PC becoming rendered useless, your data being lost or stolen and ultimately, your business being quite seriously damaged.

If you still haven’t seen reason; a recent study by IDC (International Data Corporation) found that global enterprises have a three in 10 chance of infection from pirated software, spending approximately $114 billion per year dealing with the impact of malware-induced attacks, and incurring potential losses of $350 billion due to data breaches.

And let’s not forget, this software is illegal. You’re breaking the law and using pirated software could land you with a hefty fine – perhaps even worse.

What you can do to protect yourself from Pirated Software?

Need I say, it’s more than advisable to get all of your software from its original producers or at least any vendors that they support in the sale of their product or service.

When shopping online it is important to ensure that the websites you are using are legitimate. You can check this by looking for “Https:” in the URL address. This means that any information submitted on the website will be encrypted (although it might not mean it’s legitimate). Aside from this, you can also check for a padlock at the start of the URL address too which does prove the legitimacy of a company.

Always use your common sense. If a price or an offer seems too good to be true it is more than likely it is and I can almost guarantee there will be a hidden cost or threat in order to balance this out.

So, if you are considering or even currently using pirated software it’s important that you get rid of it. It’s an immediate threat and not worth your time or money to have to deal with the consequences.

Act now, protect the future of your business.

Aug
26th

How to stop Nokia Lumia freezing during Windows update

If you’re having a problem with your handset freezing on the spinning cogs screen during a Windows update, try this to fix the problem.

1) Charge your phone for a minimum of 60 minutes.

2) If the phone won’t load up the start screen, reset and restore your phone as follows but PLEASE NOTE! This restores factory settings deleting all personal content!

Switch off your phone and remove the charger. If the phone won’t switch off, simultaneously press and hold the power and volume down keys for 10-15 seconds. Release and the phone will restart.

As soon as the handset powers back up, press and hold the volume down key until an exclamation mark is shown on the screen. Then let go of the volume down key.

3) Press the volume and power keys in this order: Volume up > Volume down > Power > Volume down.

4) Wait for your phone to reset. As it resets you will see gears rotating on the screen for up to 5 minutes. The screen will then go blank for 30 seconds and then restart.

5) Go through the initial phone setup. If the date and time are shown, make sure the values are correct.

The update should now continue without any issues.

Aug
21st

Axon – An Intern’s Journey

Hi, my name is Dominic Bentley. I’m 17 years old and I am currently a sixth form student at All Hallows Catholic College in Macclesfield where I study Geography, History, Business & Economics and Spanish.

On 1st July this year I decided to take some time away from my regular school life to gain some work experience and so began work at Axon. It was to be a six week internship and quite frankly I was extremely nervous at first, because I had never had a job before let alone been in a serious working environment – so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

As my first day came around and my Dad (kindly) dropped me off I came to be stood outside the doors to the Axon office. I was swiftly buzzed through the doors by the wonderful Claire who was very accommodating and moved me through to a waiting area where I anxiously awaited my first meeting with Tim Mears, one of the directors. Whilst waiting my eye was drawn to a newspaper article in front of me which described the success of Axon during 2013 with a turnover of over £1.5 million and a revenue increase of 40% on the previous year’s trading. I was suitably impressed as I started to get a feel for Axon and the magnitude of its operations.

Before I could indulge further, I glanced up to see Tim who led me through the middle of the office to the conference room. Instantly I could see that a lot of work had gone into the business with the funky and modern design of the office allowing it to be both comfortable to work in and practical. (In fact they invested £100,000 in the redevelopment of the office). I sat down to speak with Tim and we quickly got through preliminary matters.

Afterwards, I was walked around the office and got introduced to everybody and it quickly became apparent that everyone was extremely nice and laidback giving the office a very hardworking yet chilled out atmosphere. Although, it did take a couple of days to remember everyone’s names, especially considering there are three Tim’s, two Peters and two Richards!

Next, things began to kick into action and I was given my first job to complete. Over the course of my six week internship I was involved in many different activities including working with the technical team in database auditing, supporting the financial team through analysing sales, overhauling the CRM system into a more capable and accessible tool, assisting with the marketing through research and blogging, and I even worked with engineers to build computers.

Needless to say, I believe from the work I was allowed to be a part of I have gained not only some real knowledge and understanding of the IT sector but the notion that a hardworking and reliable work ethos really can help a business succeed – an idea that I will take into later life. I have seen several of the employees here at Axon miss multiple lunches because they are engrossed in their work, I on the other hand was introduced to Alan Partridge by the office which meant lunchtimes in the break out area were a must as he became a frequent highlight of my day!

All in all, I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Axon and really do feel at home and if given the opportunity would love to come back.

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