RIP SBS! All hail the cloud

As many of you will have heard by now, Microsoft announced late last week the end of Microsoft Small Business server as we know it. In the most recent version they introduced Small Business Server Essentials which was Pre-licenses with 25 users and included all of the key features with the exception of Microsoft Exchange and Sharepoint. The idea of this is that it would be a great introduction to small businesses into the world of a server and should they require it, then they could use Microsoft Exchange via a hosted service such as Office 365. Now with the announcement last week, this is the only version that will remain at the end of June 2013.

The end is nigh

A lot of small IT providers rely on SBS to make up a key part of their sales, hell we shift a fair few SBS servers……so is this the end? Not at all, this simply represents a shift in how we present our solutions to the marketplace moving forward. A lot of IT providers do not like using Office 365 as Microsoft ‘own’ the relationship where billing is concerned and it makes them uncomfortable. The concept that all of us aspire towards is being the ‘one stop shop’ for our clients and the Office 365 billing model goes against this as the client would receive multiple bills from different providers for services. But does this *really* bother the client? After all if we, the provider, manage the relationship for them then there is no real issue. That said Office 365 is not the only solutions. There are a number of ‘white label’ hosting providers that will allow you to provide hosted Exchange to your client with your own branding, this is something that we have done for some time now and it works well.

So it’s all about the cloud then?

Does this mean that we all need to go knee deep into the cloud? Not at all, after all there are alternatives to Microsoft Exchange such as Kerio. With fierce pricing it is a definite alternative to Exchange and more cost effective. What we need to do now moving forward is to talk to our clients and see what they are looking for in terms of their business needs and put forward a technology based solution that will work for them; all be it on premise Exchange, Hosted Exchange, Kerio or some other technology that will empower their business.

Now is a great time to be in the IT business as we see the landscape change so substantially that it will drive creativity and innovation through the IT providers that service small businesses. I for one think that this is a change for the better but like any change it *is* uncomfortable but ultimately you have the chance to shape IT solutions in the SMB workspace moving forward.

Let the good times roll!

- Rob

Posted in IT Community, small business | 1 Comment

I don’t like that!

My kids often say that when I offer them something ‘different'; albeit a different type of food or a film that they’ve never heard of. Ever time they complain I always say, ‘Look try it and if you don’t like it then that’s fine’.

But then I’ve just been thinking that as adults we do exactly the same thing. Anyone who knows me would have heard me at some point say that ‘I hate going into Nottingham’. My justification for this is that it’s too busy, or crowded or some other convincing but lame sounding excuse for what I don’t like it.

Yet here I am for the third week in a row in central Nottingham, yes you guessed it in a Costa Coffee, quite enjoying being here. I mean I drive through it every day on my way to work but now that I am actually in town I really am enjoying being here. Why?

I think there is a couple of reasons for this, the first being that it is actually quite a nice place to visit. The are some good shops, if your a shopper, and there are some good places to grab a bite to eat. While it is a busy place the people are friendly enough. The second reason is it gives me a chance to ‘step off the planet’ for an hour or so. In a really busy day it is very easy to rush from one thing to the next without actually looking at what you are doing or even thinking about it.

So my advise to you is; try something EVER day you don’t like but have never really tried……you might be pleasantly surprised!

- Rob

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Technology is easy!

For almost 18 years I have been working in IT. I guess if I think back, like all true geeks, it was always destined to be. At the age of 8 I was coding ‘Connect4′ on a Commodore Amiga 500 which was published in a magazine and like all true magazines of this time there was ‘deliberate’ errors in it that required you to solve.

As I moved forward I progressed to an Amiga 1200 and then really lost touch with computers. I got back in touch with them again when I was in my teens when I was given a 286 and from here on the storey really tells itself. Back then things were hard to do, I mean the ‘user interface (UI)’ was at it’s very early stages with Acorn and BBC Micro being the choice of education. The Windows platform was really in its earliest stages with Windows 3.0/3.1 being the norm application developers really were just starting to learn to write applications that look good and not just do a job.

Now here we are in 2012 and I find myself once again sat in a Costa Coffee (I’m seeing a trend here?) with my iPad ranting at the fact that I cannot edit a word document to send back to a partner so they can configure a VoIP system for a mutual client. Then further complaining that, on purchasing ‘Pages’ from the app store, I cannot download it as it is over 50MB so can only work over WiFi. What seems like only a short time ago we had no Internet and certainly tablet computers were just a pipe dream of the Star Trek generation but here we are and it is the norm.

In my very short career in IT I have seen such massive changes, not only in the technology, but also in the way we work and interact with one another. I was sat next to two young ladies earlier (early twenties) that were recounting a ‘tale’ which involved ‘posting a status’ and people commenting.

I guess what I find myself doing is looking at what massive changes I have seen over a short period of time and contemplating what changes lie ahead in the next 18 years? Will we really see flying cars? Will there be teleportation devices? These are exciting times and I’m honoured to be riding the wave but how long until my generation becomes too old for all this stuff! What do you think we will see in the next 18 years, let me know your thought!

- Rob

Posted in life, Personal | 2 Comments

Alignment is key

I love my life. I think that has to be the bluntest start I have made to a blog post yet but it’s true, I do love my life. Things are finally starting to come together after some time, when to be quite honest, I never thought they would. It’s not been easy, granted, but it has been worth it. After a long haul (almost 9 months and 3 gardeners) the garden is almost done. Work is going really good at the minute and I find myself starting to enjoy things again, yes there’s still some tough stuff happening but I am really feeling content.
I have a great family and some great kids. I woke up yesterday morning, Fathers day, to find my 8 year old son sat waiting for me to wake up so he could give me his present…..I mean how cool is that. I have a great partner in Julie, she even manages to put up with when I behave like a teenager and drink far too much…..now that’s true love.

So why has all of this finally happened? Is it just my lucky day or is there something more at play here? I don’t know for sure but what I do know is that I have been reading Relax Focus Success by Karl Palachuk. For those that don’t know him Karl is a IT business owner and published author who has ‘lived it’ and has written a book to share what he did that helped him. Does it have the meaning of life, which by the way is 42 :-) Of course not but it does have some great ideas about how to create more synergy between the different aspects of our lives.

One of the areas that he discusses is the different ‘roles’ that we play in our lives and how these roles inherently create conflict between one another due to their differing agendas and priorities. One concept that Karl tries to help you to understand and to work with is to create alignment between all of the roles that you play so that you no longer play roles but there is just you; and it is the same you at work, at home, with the family, it really doesn’t matter where or when it is the same you……sounds easy? It’s not and it takes work. I know that I am a work in progress and will remain to be but in these very early stages I see the change and it’s good.

So if you find the roles in your life conflicting and feel torn then I strongly encourage you to buy the book and start reading today. It certainly helped me.

In the meantime, I am going to finish my Costa Coffee and head off to a clients.

Take care

- Rob

Posted in Business, Personal Develoment | 1 Comment

Trend WFBS Server filling hard disk

This morning I was looking into a low disk space condition on a clients server. Of a 400GB partition there was only 68GB left, now in an era of high disk usage this may not seem to abnormal but for this client it was.

First job was to locate where this was all being consumed and after a little investigation there was 113GB but used by the Trend Worry Free Business Security server, I know that Trend is known to use quite a bit of space but this was crazy. A little further digging revealed that over 100GB was being used in the “PCCSRVLogs” folder.

A quick check on the Trend knowledgebase (KB1038277) revealed that debugging had been enabled on the Security server at some point. The answer was to disable this by logging in to the Trend WFBS console on the server, once logged on you click on the ‘m’ in the Trend logo at the top of the screen.

EN 1038277 1

In the dialog that opens then uncheck the debug option and ok. Once this has been done then you can go into the folder C:Program FilesTrend MicroSecurity ServerPCCSRVLog, or whatever folder you installed to, and then remove any files that begin with ofcdebug.

As this is not enabled by default I can only assume that it has been enabled during some troubleshooting session with Trend and the tech neglected to note it down. So if you do have to enable it then ensure you make a note as it will fill the drive!

- Rob

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My life has value

What an amazing statement!

I recently started listening to the podcasts from the guys over at motivationtomove.com, which you can find over at iTunes, and one of the podcasts featured the statement ‘My life has value’. The statement itself is a very powerful and emotional one which can only be defined by the individual who chooses to consider it. What I feel gives my life value does not and will never mean the same to you or the next person, the only person that can define that is you.

For me, I believe that ‘my life has value’ when I deliver value to those around me. Now in the business context this is generally easy to see and has been discussed in countless books some of which you have probably read. However, in a personal setting then what does this actually mean and more importantly how can you achieve this?

Again, for me, this means taking actions to improve the lives of those around you. In your family this may mean something as simple as being there for your kids school plays, maybe taking your wife out for lunch once a month, finishing work early once a month or maybe even do some volunteer work. Whatever it is that you do, you will know when it happens because it is something that will make you feel good, something that does not feel like hard work or a chore as it’s just a pleasure.

Every day life gets in the way; there is no way around the fact as it does get in the way. What we have to do is stop and find a way to look around in order to change the course of the day and make a difference. It’s not easy to do as it requires taking a little time and effort but it is so rewarding.

So take time out today and look around, so what you can do that will give your life more value and maybe those around you.

- Rob

Posted in Personal, Personal Develoment | Leave a comment

Good days and bad days

Ok, so the title does sound a little doom and gloom but it wasn’t really meant to be that way.

In another 5 months the business will be 9 years old. When I started the business, like many other business owners, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I had this glitzy and starry eyed impression of running my own business and being my own boss. I would ride into a clients on my trusty steed and make all of their IT systems work and when I’d finish I would furnish them with an invoice that they would happily pay. On those days where work was quiet I would take the time off and spend time with my family or maybe go for a bike ride but on the whole it would be great.

The reality is often very different and a raft of new skills that must be learned and plethora of emotions in dealing with clients. Often I would find that I would get a call to resolve a issue on a clients network which I would rush to attend only to wait long periods to receive payments for. I soon learnt that I would be working longer hours than ever before for what seemed to be significantly less pay. But it’s not all doom and gloom as I have been very privileged to work for and with some amazing people who do value the work that I do for them.

So what is this post actually about?

A sanity check for me? A way for me to rationalise a situation in my own head? Maybe, but hopefully it may help others facing the same situation.

The last few weeks have been some of the toughest times personally in business that I have had this week whereby I learned that sometimes the best client is not always the best client. There have been a great many sayings that coin the situation best and all of which say it all on paper, for example:

“You can have the biggest contract but it’s worthless if you don’t get paid”

“Some lessons you have to pay to learn”

The fact is that when you are on the outside looking in then it is all very black and white; you can look at what is happening and say “you should do this…”. However, what makes us human is our emotions and it is those emotions that will always betray us as they will remove rational thought in what would normally be a simple situation. If we look at the first saying, the rational side say “cut them loose”, “why would you keep servicing a client if you don’t get paid?”. But the emotional side happens when you have a relationship with someone in a position of power in that business who assures you “yes I understand but it’ll be sorted next week, we’re just waiting for …..” or “it’s in the post”. As human beings we want to hope for the best in people we know and ‘trust’ and this is where blind faith comes in. Even when all rational thought is crying out that something is not right you still *want* to believe that it is all going to be alright. Is this just blind faith or just a case of avoiding the reality….who knows. The next problem comes with the following saying:

“Business is business…..it’s never personal”

But it IS personal because that is what makes us different. After all, I know all of our clients personally so why would it not be personal? To remove that personal element would make us no different to any other IT business. Ultimately when things are great you are BUZZING but when they are not so great you will take it home at night. It will sit with you on the drive home, it will be there while you are watching TV, it will be niggling away at you as you go to sleep, it’ll be in the back of your mind while you read bedtime stories to your kids, it will keep niggling at you.

The answer?

I’m afraid I don’t know what the answer is. If there was one single answer it would be to switch your emotional side and say “this is just business” but there are very few people who can do this and those that can have been to this ‘school of hard knocks’. For me the answer comes from those who I surround myself with, friends, fellow business owners. But probably the most relevant person of all is your wife/husband. They can be your voice of reason in a very methodical way and while you may not feel any better about whats happening it helps to know that someone close to you feels the pain with you.

Also, for me anyway, it helps to write posts like this and hope that my lessons may help someone else to not feel so isolated when it happens. No matter what happens you have to remember that there is no point in keeping a client that does not pay for the work/good supplied or takes well beyond their payment terms to settle their bill.

My pearl of wisdom…..surround yourself with people that will revel in your successes and be there for you when things are not so good. You know who those people are, you’re already friends.

Posted in Business, Personal, Personal Develoment, small business | 3 Comments

Communication is key

There is a famous saying by Stephen Hawking, which was quoted in the Pink Floyd song ‘Keep talking’, which goes All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.

In business and in life communication is the key to everything that we do, without it everything else falls down. In the modern age of the Internet and mobile phones it has never been easier to communicate with someone, for example you can communicate with someone via

  • Phone
  • Email
  • SMS
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Letter

This is just a few of them. But what actually happens when communication between a two parties actually breaks down?

This happened to me recently personally and it has been a very frustrating experience to put it mildly. Last summer we decided to have some work done in the garden, a job the to be quite honest I have not got the time to get done but really wanted done as it would be much better for the kids. So I did the natural thing and asked around if anyone knew of someone to do the job and sure enough someone was put forward. So he came along, I explained the job to him and we agreed a price. In mid Autumn we finally gave him the go ahead and off we went. Since he agreed to do the work he had got a new job and was training but still wanted the work so it was agreed that it could be fit around his new job. So on the first day it all went well and a lot was done, before leaving he said when he would be back and sure enough he was back again working on it. After he left again, I couldn’t recall when he said he would be back so I texted him to check and he let me know. After the third visit again he left but did not say when he was coming back so again I was chasing to find out when he was coming back. This pattern continued until the fifth day on the job where he hit some problems that was causing some major issue. He said he need to go off and have a think about it. That was in November 2011, since then I have repeatedly attempted contact without out success. The just before Christmas I had a reply to say he would be on it ASAP. I then chased it up a couple of days later but no reply. I chased it up again after the new year and got a reply back to say work had been manic and I had not been forgotten.

Now the work itself does not need to be finished until spring as the garden is not used in Winter but the issue is I have not got a clue what is happening. When my partner says ‘is it always going to be a building site?’,  ’It was better before he started’ and ‘so when is he coming back’ I have no idea what to say as I am not being told anything. The point is that all of the stress and aggravation could have been alleviated by setting the expectations at the outset and along the way. While I may not have been happy with the time frame I would at least know what to expect and more importantly be able to explain what is happening to other people when asked.

The moral of this story is just keep talking. When working with clients I always try to keep the client up to date, whether personally or via one of the team, on what is happening and when they can expect the next action to take place. Always remember; failure to communicate is a communication of failure.

- Rob

Posted in Business, IT Support, small business | Leave a comment

Manyana

One thing of that you come to realise as you go through life is that there is this belief that there is always ‘manyana’, tomorrow. This is seen most prominently in procrastinators and the levels at which this appears varies in the individual. The reality is that putting something off until tomorrow invariably ends up being put off for days, weeks or even months which will always end in you feeling miserable that you didn’t do what you set out to do.

Manyana is something that I have struggled with for sometime and I have tried a variety of methods to overcome this, from paper to-do lists, to electronic to-do lists, task lists in Outlook as well as many more. What all of these methods have in common is that they all rely on personal accountability, which basically means ‘how do you keep yourself accountable for not achieving the work you set out to do?’.

The curse of the procrastinator is that they will put off whatever task or work that needs to be done until such a time that putting it off is more painful than actually doing it. So the question must be, how do I ensure that it doesn’t come to this point? Well the answer to that is very personal and you must explore what works for you as there is no simple answer. For me the answer is to be accountable to others; being accountable to yourself works well for some people but not so good for others. The key for me is to make the statement on what I need to do to either friends, family, work colleagues etc, that way if I do not set out what I aim to achieve then I have to answer to others why not. Now that, for me, tends to have more pain than not doing what I set out to do in the first place. It’s not a perfect system but it is as good as it gets for now.

I’d love to hear what other have done or currently do to battle their demons.

Posted in Personal, Personal Develoment | 1 Comment

Good service

I, like many of the people that I associate with, strive to deliver good service to our clients. Indeed my basic hiring criteria when taking staff on is they must have the right attitude and personality, everything else can be taught. That may seem a little out there but I don’t think so as I run a people business that happens to do IT not an IT business that happens to deal with people.

Bad service will ALWAYS be discussed by many with the storey repeated many times. By contrast a good service will only be discussed with a select few people but they will be raving fans. In the last few days I have had a bad service from a company, I won’t go into it here, but suffice as to say I will not only avoid using them ever again but I will ensure that everyone I know does too.

As a friend of mine likes to say ‘you are only as good as your last job’…..wise words.

– Rob

Posted in Business, Personal Develoment, small business | Leave a comment