There’s a price on yer head

Some of you may have read that latest news that Microsoft has put out a $250,000 reward to find who is behind the Conficker worm that is said to have infected as many as 12 million computers.  They are doing this because it has taken the firm view that the creation of the Conficker worm as a criminal act.

This may seem like a bold move but it is not the first time they have done this. In 2005 they paid $250,000 to two individuals who helped identify the creator of the Sasser worm.  Rewards were also offered of $250,000 for the creators of the other three major computer worms Blaster, MyDoom and Sobig however the authors of these were never caught.

In reality this amount of money is a small drop in the ocean for a company like Microsoft but in doing so they are trying to send out a strong message to the authors of such worms.  They are simply saying that they will not sit idly by while the creators wreak havoc on their clients systems.  In reality the fact of the matter is that regardless of what Microsoft or Microsoft Trustworth Computing Group offer it seems that it will offer very little in the way of a deterrent for such authors as it is a challenge that they enjoy rising to.  What it does do is help their clients to feel that they are doing all they can to try an prevent such hassles returning in the future.

The worm itself infects a computer that is not fully up to date with the latest updates from the Microsoft Update website. If you are in any doubt then the best action is to visit the Microsoft Update website and apply all the latest critical updates.  Once this is complete continue to revisit the site until you are told there are no further critical updates. You should also ensure that your Anti-Virus software is fully up-to-date, if you don’t already have one then visit either AVG or aVast who both provide free versions for home use.

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Network woes

Today I was called to a clients that had added some new RAM to a Windows XP pc but could not access the network any longer.  What was happening was it showed a connection was in place but it would not obtain an IP address from the network nor would it workwith a fixed IP address.  The first thing to check was the physical side of the networking such as cables, network ports etc, but still to no avail.  Tried a known working connection from another PC and drew the same blank result which started to look like cooked OS which was not something I wanted as the look in his eyes said he wanted it sorting today.  So I tried a new network card in case the internal adapter was toasted but stil no good. Next option was going to be trying repairing the TCP/IP stack using the time old command of:

netsh int ip reset c:ipreset.txt

Still no joy, now things were really starting to look bleak as this was an older unit that shipped with an OS CD Rom and not the good ol’ recovery disks.  Then with a burst of inspiration I decided to try the winsock stack, as it was possible this was damaged as a standard “ping” command produced some very odd results.  The command, as before, was:

netsh winsock reset

This was followed by a restart and cries of joy (inside of course, outside it was “there we go all sorted”).  This is not a command that I have had to use before, many a time the ip reset has been used but no this one.

Anyhow, you learn something new everyday!

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Reminder: General Availability for Windows 7 Beta Ending This Week

This is a repost from the Windows Blog here:

I wanted to quickly remind everyone that this week general availability for the Windows 7 Beta will be ending:

February 10th: Starting at 12am Pacific Time, no new downloads will be available. If you have already begun downloading the Windows 7 Beta, you have until Feb. 12th to complete the download.

February 12th: Starting at 9am Pacific Time all downloads will no longer be available for the Windows 7 Beta. If you have not finished your download, you will be unable to do so.

After February 12th, folks will still be able to register for product keys for the Windows 7 Beta.

The above schedule does *not* apply to TechNet and MSDN Subscribers.

Special thanks to everyone who is beta testing Windows 7!

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The world keeps turning

Snow sceneThis week has been an interesting week for UK business.  We have discovered, surprise  surprise, that as a country we are totally unable to cope with any kind of weather outside of the standard drizzle of rain or a sparkle of sunshine.  As a Brit I am truly embarrassed to call myself a UK citizen this week.  I mean there are countries that have 5-6 times more snow in a day than we saw over the last three days and the wheels of commerce continue to turn.  But the good old UK can’t even keep the Underground running..that’s right the underground I mean what the hell does the underground have to do with snow I ask.  All buses services in London were ceased which meant most people were left with three choices; a) either make their way in cars, which for London folk is just impossible due to costs etc; b) they walk but that is too far for some; c) phone in sick/work from home.  The Federation of Small Businesses have estimated that 20% of the UK workforce, that’s around 6.4 million people did not make it in to work and as of early Tuesday morning they estimated that it had cost the British economy £1.2bn which is probably much higher.

It was not just the public transport system that failed miserably it was also the hi-tech systems that run the UK.  Mobile networks creaked heavily under the extra load of trying to call friends and colleagues, it’s reported that some of the networks experienced up to 73% more calls that usual and a steep increase in the number of picture messages being sent as snowmen make rare appearances in gardens.

There was also politicians that venture into the fray making bold statements about how sadly unprepared the country was despite having plenty of warning from the Met Office.  Liberal Democrat shadow transport secretary, Norman Baker said it was "an absolute disgrace" the country’s transport networks were unable to cope with bad weather.  He went on to say "The lack of preparedness is astounding and damaging for the economy. I have travelled from Stockholm to the Arctic Circle on a train that arrived five minutes early, yet Britain lapses into chaos at the first hint of snow,".

So why was this country so unprepared?  I don’t have the answer just an opinion; that is that we are just British, no matter what type of “extreme” weather we experience we just panic with hosepipe bans in summer while pipes lay leaking gallons of water per hour.  The economy stops when snow falls because a lot of people see it as a great way to get out of work.  Either way we need to sort ourselves out and get prepared as the country cannot afford too many of these “snow” days..

Posted in Business, insane stuff, life, Light relief, small business | 2 Comments

Just plain insane

snowpics

This was the scene in Nottingham today.  Not too bad considering how bad the weather gets in other countries but as true Brits we were totally ill-equipped to cope with the snow.  Still it was fun and apparently there’s more snow on the way, lets hope so then the media can blame the recession on Snow!!!!

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Fixin’ stuff

Over the weekend it was time to re-install the work laptop, which isn’t too much of an issue however the data need to be taken off first.  So the first job was to try and find somewhere to dump about 40gb of data, nothing too major but the state of modern computing shows that your average desktop/notebook typically has more storage than servers.  The best place to put this data was going to be on the host for our three virtual servers but for some reason, following the installation of VMWare 2.0, network access to this server stopped altogether.  The server itself could get out but nothing could get back into the server itself.  What transpired after a number of hours of testing was that during the upgrade to VMWare Server 2.0 it changed many of the policies in the Routing and Remote Access Service which meant that there was not NetBIOS access to the host server but the virtual servers were still accessible which was more confusing.  The end result was to downgrade VMWare Server to a previous version and then to disable the Routing and Remote Access Service.  Following a reboot of the host everything came back on fine and network access to the host was fully restored.

All that was left was to reinstall Vista back on the laptop which went very smooth, so much so that I now have a dual boot to Windows 7 Beta configured so that I can start and give it some serious testing.  More to follow on this one.

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Where does all the time go?

As I posted recently we are in the process of implementing Autotask which is not a short process however even in this short period of time it is proving to be well worthwhile.  So what have I learned from this process so far?

Business automation is a not a simple process. This quite simply is because the processes which we have in our businesses, regardless of size, are complex and each step is usually dependant on a series of processes which have been completed beforehand. The next thing which has become apparent is that there is a great deal of work which we undertake which is “rationalised”.  You may wonder what the hell I am talking about so lets give an example;  A client calls to say that they have a problem with a notebook and they need us to take a look, we arrange to visit the client at site and take a look.  This visit, only including time onsite, takes 1.5hrs as diagnostic work is performed onsite but the unfortunately the unit has to be removed from site and reinstalled.  It is then brought back to the office to be reinstalled, the client did not have the recovery disk, this process takes a further 3 hrs including updates, drivers etc.  Then the unit is returned to site for final configuration and demonstration to the client to ensure they can see it is working which takes a further 1.25hrs.  All in the process takes a total of 5.75hrs however we know that the client is not going to pay that much for the work to be performed so we only charge for 3hrs.  Some may see this is as being too generous by not charging for this time but we believe in being fair with our clients, sadly the client still thought this was expensive but then you can’t please everyone.

The moral of this is that once you start to account for all of your time then certain things become clear and lessons to be learned.  You may not like these lessons they will ultimately benefit your business, while you still may continue to make these time concessions they will be done knowing what time is being given for free and what is being charged for.

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What drives you?

Drive and motivation typically go hand in hand but it’s something that typically does not come naturally.  I love running, in fact the only thing that I love more than running is cycling, but with the hectic lifestyles that we lead today it is difficult to find the time to do these kind of activities especially when you have a young family.  One of the reasons that I love these sports is just the sheer love of the outdoors and the fact it is just a little time where I don’t have to think, just simple primal instinct.  The other reason is that it keeps me fit & healthy which ultimately is better for me.  In order to fit this in though 3 mornings a week I get up at 6.15am and I’m out on the road by 6.30am.  On Thursday I got up as usual and on this night we had carers staying over to look after our little boy (see www.potter-tate.co.uk for more on Danny), when one of them said “I wish I had the dedication to get up at this time and exercise, perhaps you can give me a little of your dedication”.  This got me thinking why do I got up at this un-godly hour and run in the cold, rain snow or whatever the weather brings.  If fact most of my friends think I am insane for doing it but I still get up and I still run.  Don’t get me wrong it’s hard, it’s tiring and sometimes I just feel like stopping and walking back home but I never do.  So why do I do it?

There’s no simple answer I’m afraid, but what I can tell you is that the need to run/cycle is NOT enough.  I want to stay healthy and more important I started about a year ago to struggle, and I mean really struggle to get into my clothes.  This bothered me a lot, I mean I am about 5′ 8″ and was weighing in at just a touch under 14 stone (196 pounds) which was just TOO much.  I thought of dieting but to be honest I love food, all sorts of food and the I couldn’t handle the concept of limiting it through traditional diets.  What I did know was I need to loose it. So I decided that the way to do it was to exercise so I started the Couch to 5K runner plan which too you from nothing to 3 miles in just 9 weeks and it was great.  By summer I was running 3 miles regular in about 30 mins but then I got pains in my legs which too me out so I started back on the bike.  I was cycling 14 miles a session 5 days a week which took about 45 minutes to do and I loved it.  Sadly the bike broke in late November last year so I am back running again which is great.  Throughout all of this, the thing that got me out of bed each morning was the fact that I wanted to be fit & healthy for myself and for my kids.

Now, your probably wondering why the life story?  Well the thing is most articles that guide you in goal setting they don’t usually help with real world examples so hopefully my experience will you.  The thing with goal setting is that you can meet the stages short-term but if you want to continue on day-by-day then you have to have a long-term goal that these little steps go toward.

I don’t have the answers to real goal setting, but I know what worked for me and maybe this can help you.  Any question then please feel free to drop me a line.

Posted in life, Personal, Personal Develoment | Leave a comment

Making work-flow

Before we, as a business, moved into managed services I looked into how it was being done and the various software that is typically used to implement a managed services practice.  There are two core elements that were being repeated over and over again and these were:

  • Desktop/Server agents – these will typically be used to provide the necessary features to make delivering managed services easier and more importantly efficient.
  • PSA Software (Professional Services Automation) – this is the software that will be used to manage your deliverables and help you to ensure that you are delivering on your promises to clients.

The first point that we looked at was the management software that was on offer.  The key player at this time was Kaseya who at this point had a very large share of the desktop/server market.  The software itself is very compete as a package but we found that it did not lend itself well to small deployments in a cost effective manner.  This led our search deeper and it was then when we found Zenith.  At this time a relatively new player but none the less a very powerful toolset and extremely cost effective.  The product also did not have a steep learning curve which meant that the tech’s were able to quickly get on board with the product.  This meant that we were sold on the product that we’d use to manage our clients site’s, next it was on to the PSA.

The next hurdle was to be the decision on what PSA software we would be using to manage the clients.  As with many MSP’s we initially decided to start by running a relatively manual system by keeping notes which involved a combination of both spreadsheets and completed paperwork that is then filed.  Within a short period of time we found that we started to outgrow this manual system so we then had to undergo the process of looking a tools that would be able to manage this a little cleaner.  The first product that we tried was osTicket, this worked great for simple ticketing based on email transaction as well as web based entry.  Now to be fair this worked fantastic at what it did but we needed more from it, we required more integration of the fringe elements such time tracking for onsite work as well as site documentation.  Next we looked at Shockey Monkey, this is a project being developed for the community Vlad Mazek (OwnWebNow) which is shaping up to be an amazing project but unfortunately we were quickly being over taken by our needs which meant that we needed to look for a ready made package.  After much searching we have finally settled on AutoTask.  This will truly help our business moving forward as the whole workflow will be managed from end-to-end.  From the moment the call comes in a ticket is created.  From here and work done is added to the ticket, if onsite work is required then a site visit can be added to the ticket.  For any work done on the ticket it is allocated a code which allows us to govern what charges are applied and if they have a Managed Service Agreement then the time is allocated to the account and is tracked through the account.  This means that we can see very quickly that our accounts are profitable or not.  When the work is completed we can then make any adjustments to charges and the post it for invoicing.  The final step is then to import the invoice into QuickBooks directly.  If terms of the techs onsite, they can now fill in the work as soon as they leave site from a PDA/handheld device which means we have the most accurate information possible as it is still fresh in their mind.

All of this works to make our business run smoother and more importantly make my life easier which I am all for.  Many of the lesson I have learned others have learned and documented before me, so why listen to me?  No idea, but for what it’s worth I didn’t listen but sometimes you have to work things out for yourself 🙂

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If a jobs worth doing…

The old saying goes that “if a jobs worth doing, it’s worth doing well” and never a true word was spoken.  The world we live in today is fast moving and sometimes you feel as through you are in the wake of an avalanche with no way of stopping.  People today do not spend enough time on things and it is all too often the case that they will procrastinate until it is too late to do a good job.  Sometimes it is frugal to procrastinate as it gives us time to plan the work that we are  undertaking, allow the creative thought process to run so we can create the work at hand.  However, more often than not this time is not required and more importantly it is wasted with resulting work being typically of poor standard.  A classic example of this was this evening my son said that he had homework to do.  This had been given to him on Friday but he had not done it, he also didn’t have the assignment as another child had taken it from him.  Creatively enough he decided to create a document which discussed various plants as he knew this was the topic.  The resultant document was not so impressive as he had copied parts from the Internet without formatting he text correctly and more importantly he had copied one section three times.  The resultant document was just rushed and had no real effort put in to ensure that what was being presented was correct or of reasonable quality.  This may seem a harsh analysis of his work but I was raised with the understand of “If a jobs worth doing, it’s worth doing well”.  So with that I assisted him in making the necessary corrections and explained that what he had done was great but he needed to be more conscious when doing this sort of work.

The fact is that we are all judged by the work that we do for others.  This could be something as simple has helping over the phone, guiding a customer to the right place in a store or it could be a new network installation.  Whatever the task we, as individuals, should always try to strive to better ourselves and stand out above the crowd by going that extra mile to make our client happy.  Always remember that it takes a lot to impress people today but it doesn’t take a lot to disappoint them, which do you want to do?

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