Friday, October 31, 2008

Google claims the cloud is more reliable

Now this recent post by Google claims that their cloud computing email solution, Gmail, is more reliable that companies that have on premises email solutions like Exchange server. They then use that to tout the superiority of cloud computing (especially their own).



You have to take a report from Google touting the superiority of their products with a grain of salt, as you would with something from Microsoft, however I believe it does indicate the way things are moving.

I would seriously ask any customer these days why they want to have an onsite mail server. There are so many hosted solutions that do it better, cheaper and more reliably. E-mails are a constant source of issues within a business for the simple reason they let something in from outside the network. You can neither really control the flow in or out of e-mails. Many more SBS customers I speak with no longer run Exchange on SBS, they out source it for the simple reason it is too complex to maintain internally without dedicated staff. Also when it comes to things like Blackberrys and Windows Mobile Devices most businesses don’t have the expertise to make it happen.

So if the trend is for email to move to the cloud I’m sure it won’t be long before all the other components follow.

As an aside you know what I’d really be interested to see? How Microsoft’s hosted Exchange stacks up to Gmail. Personally, I reckon it would be just as reliable and probably have a much richer environment than Gmail because Exchange already incorporates, tasks, calendars and so on. However, the  bottom line is that its all moving to the cloud. Are you? 

Don’t check emails, process emails

Has your email taken on a life of its own? Is it the nexus of everything you do? Is it your to-do list, calendar, task scheduler and more? If it is then you are not doubt in a world of pain. My advice? You need to make a mental shift and realize that email is simply a medium for things to do, nothing else.

 

Everyone I know says that they “check” their email. No wonder their inboxes are overflowing and they feel constantly overwhelmed. Why? Because emails are required to be processed. That means after you have checked an email DO SOMETHING WITH IT! Don’t just leave it sitting there in your inbox. Process the damm thing and move onto the next thing you need to get done. Convert emails to actions. When you read an email ask what actions you need to take as a result of this email? Whether you delete the email, archive, respond or even defer it make sure that you have a system that allows you to process emails.

 

In reality you should aim to process your inbox to empty by the end of the day. Sure not always possible but none the less a good target to aim for. Your inbox is simply a container for emails as they arrive, it is not a container for saving them for all eternity while your procrastinate with how to best handle each one. Deal with it and move on. It is far more satisfying to finish the day with an empty inbox. You know you have achieved something!

 

You may have a laugh but have a look at your inbox right now, now look at anyone else’s inbox and I’ll bet there are many, many emails that have sat there for month even years. If you want to recover your productivity you need a system to process emails effectively and efficiently. I’ll write something about a system that works for me soon but for the time being, if you REALLY want to master your emails, start thinking PROCESS not CHECKING.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Utilizing SharePoint to improve your business

Well, as promised, I have uploaded the final draft of the presentation I gave recently at SMBNation on SharePoint. You will find the document at:

 

http://supportweb.ciaops.net.au/Shared%20Documents/SMBNation2008-GS1.pdf

 

if that link doesn't work try

 

http://snipurl.com/4ruus

 

The document is in PDF format, 22 pages in all and approximately 1.5MB. I hope that it has been able to cover my presentation faithfully and I welcome any feedback (or corrections) anyone has on what I have written.

Novembers update is almost ready

I am just completing the final touches to the November update of the Windows SharePoint Guide (http://www.wssops.com). As always, subscribers will be able to download the updates from the web. This month will include how to install a web part that allows you to to check the security of your SharePoint users as well as site inheritance. For most SharePoint administrators this should prove pretty handy since it does so in a nice graphical manner, something which SharePoint currently doesn’t do natively.

 

I believe that this is the major benefit of subscribing to my SharePoint Guide. Although you may not have expertise in SharePoint you can come up to speed very quickly using the Guide. Also, because I utilize SharePoint heavily, you are gaining the benefits of my research efforts. When you look at the cost (less than an hour or so’s work) combined with the fact that it is continually updated to incorporate best practices and available tools, it is a good investment. If you don’t believe me then read the testimonials at http://www.wssops.com.

 

I’ll also let you know that I have also almost finished a document covering everything from my presentation at SMBNation in Seattle recently. I certainly hope that it does justice to what I presented. So if you attended my session on “Utilizing SharePoint to improve your business” I’d commend you to download the document and let me know if does in fact cover everything I spoke about. If you weren’t at SMBNation then I’d still commend you to read it and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear you take. I’ll post back here when the document is ready but it isn’t far away now.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Learn by looking

Want an easy way to highlight why someone needs a tool like SharePoint? Do a quick survey of your target’s office or cubicle and note how many bits of paper are stuck up on the walls, partitions, monitor, etc. Now go and do the same to anyone else in the business. If there are lots and lots of bits of paper (and there will be) like phone lists, accounting charge codes, things to do, etc ask the question – If you have an IT system why do you have all these bits of paper stuck all over the place?

 

See my point? Why the hell should someone have all that information stuck up around them (and their employees) if they are supposed to have an IT system that is designed to save just such information? Hello? Do you see the problem? Maybe Mr/Ms Customer you SHOULD learn how to use your IT systems to get rid of all this information wall paper. Maybe Mr/Ms Customer we need to take a LOOK at WHY you are doing things rather than HOW you are doing things.

 

If you want to be a ‘trusted advisor’ for you customers and prospects you better be focused on solving business issues and removing pain points rather than moving product. In tough times customers want to know better ways that they can utilize what they’ve already got. Guess what? If you throw Windows Sharepoint into the mix you have just given them an even more powerful tool for no additional cost (amazing but true). Now is that a ‘trusted advisor’ or what?

 

You learn so much by looking. You learn even more by listening. Combine these two with thinking and you just can’t lose! Why? Not many IT providers I know actually do any of the three.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Crowd mentality

We wake up every day to bleaker and bleaker headlines. We watch as governments flail in vain attempts to provide a ‘quick-fix’ solution. Everyone we talk to is worried about what the ‘credit-crunch’ will mean to them. My advice? Take a step back, stop and think whether ‘following the herd’ is such a great strategy.

 

My favourite book is ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu and the quote that really rings true at the moment for me is

 

In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace.

In essence, this means that ‘blind freddy’ could have seen the economic turmoil in which we are embroiled coming sooner or later. A smart operator would have taken the necessary steps to prepare for this, even though that would probably have gone against what the ‘crowd’ was saying.

 

So now we are facing some tough times no doubt. Every individual and every business is going to be affected. Is there much that you can do to prevent it? Probably not. The best tactic will be to develop a strategy to ride it out. However, once again the smart operators are looking beyond the current issues and preparing themselves to benefit from the next phase.

 

The best evidence of this is what Warren Buffet said recently (another commentary). Most people would agree that Warren is a pretty smart dude and knows what his talking about, his record as one of the richest men in the world (US$52 billion) certainly stands as testimony to that. Here’s what he said -

 

A simple rule dictates my buying: be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful.

In simple terms he believes prices are low and now is a good time to start accumulating quality assets that will rise in value over the long term. Sounds pretty simple but how many people will do it? It is much easier to run with the crowd isn’t it?

 

I believe that now more than ever you need to be evaluating your business and determining whether it is prepared for the upcoming financial storm AND what lies beyond. To be successful in my books you are going to have to look above and beyond what everyone else is doing or saying. It takes courage to stand up and be different but remember it is your life and your business. You need to determine what works for you! You need to cast an unemotional eye across all aspects of your business and whether the investment you are making (in time, effort and money) is actually giving you a good rate of return. If it isn’t, will it? Should you jettison it? Should you look at taking something else on to add to your ‘portfolio’ that will pay dividends in the future? Doing something that has a poor rate of return day after day after day is plain dumb.

 

Preparing for anything is not easy, it involves time and effort but if you view it as an investment you will receive far more than you ever invested. You can never hope to achieve this unless you invest in the first place. I wish you could but as they say – you can’t get something for nothing.

 

So become a ‘smart operator’ and look beyond the emotional crowd mentality that currently rules almost everything we hear these days. Learn from the masters of their game (Sun Tzu and Warren Buffet to name but two) and prepare for what lies ahead rather than simply reacting to what is happening now. Yet above all remember this last piece of advice from Sun Tzu -

 

You have to believe in yourself

Something I forgot to say

At my recent Sharepoint presentation at SMBNation I failed to mention a really great quote I found from management guru Peter Drucker -

 

“We have to extend the range of human beings through tools they have to work with rather than through a sudden quantum jump in human ability.”

 

I think that this really encapsulates what we need to be doing with technology. Most businesses I have come across simply EXPECT their employees to be able to use the tools they are given. The reality is in fact that most people only use a tiny percentage of the full potential of an application simply because they do not know that all the features of the product. It seems to me that most businesses simply expect their employees to be ‘experts’ in things like Windows, Word and Excel. The reality is quite the opposite from what I have seen.

 

The issue is that most businesses have the tools but they fail to utilize them in an effective and efficient manner. Note how I said effective and efficient. Why? Simply because it is not much use being efficient if you aren’t firstly effective. You need to ensure that the task you are attempting is worthwhile and provides value. What’s the point of being efficient in something that has no value?

 

For all the benefits that technology has provided us it has also lulled us into some very poor habits. We continue to store vast amounts of unnecessary information simply because we can. When we run out of space we get more space rather than examining the necessity of what we have already saved and how to store that more efficiently. However, I think the single greatest fallacy of technology that people reinforce everyday is poor time management (or low productivity).

 

In simple terms they allow technology to dictate their routine and their responses. ‘Bing’ – Oh great a new email, I’ll interrupt what I’m doing to see what it says. How is that being productive? It is simply being Pavolv’s dog! Another great time waster people fall into is that when they want to procrastinate they’ll go to their email and scroll up and down for a while till they find an email they’ll reply to or delete. I know of many, many more examples like this and it is not the fault of technology per se, it is just that technology makes being unproductive so much easier and the vast majority of people continue to fall into this trap everyday, simply because they haven’t be shown how to be anything else.

 

I totally agree with Drucker’s statement but I would add that any use of the tools needs to be done effectively and then efficiently, but in essence people are not suddenly going to become smarter or more efficient by themselves are they now?

Friday, October 17, 2008

SBS2008 Best Practices analyzer

New from Microsoft:

 

Windows Small Business Server 2008 Best Practices Analyzer

The Windows Small Business Server 2008 Best Practices Analyzer examines a server that is running Windows Small Business Server 2008 (Windows SBS) and presents a list of information and errors that administrators should review.
The Windows SBS Best Practices Analyzer examines the server and collects configuration information from many sources including:
• Active Directory Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI)
• Registry
• Metabase
After collecting information about server configuration, the Windows SBS Best Practices Analyzer verifies that the information is correct and then presents administrators with a list of information and issues sorted by severity. The list describes each issue and provides a recommendation or possible solution.

 

http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=86a1aa32-9814-484e-bd43-3e42aec7f731&displaylang=en&tm

 

Haven’t run it myself yet but will be doing it soon.

Normal programming will now resume

Things have been quiet on the blog for a while as I took a holiday from technology for a while. Now I’m back on deck so you should start seeing more posts flowing through.

 

The slides from my recent SMBNation presentation are now available to attendees to download. You will find them here:

 

http://www.smbnation.com/events_listpage.asp?Category=SMB~Nation~Fall~2008&Category2=Presentations

 

You’ll need a login and password to gain access since they are available to conference attendees. For those who were unable to attend I have created a PDF copy of the slides which you can download. The PDF copy is only low-res, if you want the hi-res version just contact me.

 

I’d love to hear any feedback people may have on what I presented, whether they attended the conference or not. The only way to continually improve, I believe, is through feedback – so let me have it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

SMBNation – Day 3

Location: Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

Weather: Damp

IMG_0054_2_156D6997

 

Well Day three of SMBNation kicked off even earlier than the previous two days (groan). After yesterdays breakfast disappointment I decided to grab something to eat at the place across from my hotel. As I sat looking at the morning drizzle I was joined by Kevin Tobey from Tobey Consulting Services, another SMBNation attendee. We had an excellent chat and that is really what I have gotten the most from at the conference, the networking.

 

We then strolled to the conference center and watched the keynote – Microsoft Solutions for the Small and Mid-Sized Business customer given by Cindy Bates. Not surprisingly the major thing I took away was they want partners to sell hosted solutions from Microsoft. If attendees haven’t got the message by now then ….

 

Next up was – Secure Remote Access with Windows Server solutions by Dana Epp. Look Dana’s stuff is always great and I was interested to see what options are available but towards the end I was trying to focus on my presentation Utilizing Sharepoint to Improve your Business.

 

Hopefully I was able to provide information that was of value to people who attended. I appreciate all the positive feedback people gave me afterwards so I think that I achieved my aim. As I said in my presentation I thank Harry and SMBNation for giving me the opportunity to present, especially given it was first time at the conference.

 

IMG_0055_2_156D6997

 

The final event of the conference was a round of speed dating. This is where an ‘expert’ sits at a table and attendees can come and speak with that person. When the gong sounds you move to the next table. This event is difficult to co-ordinate with so many people but I think it was very positive. I really enjoyed talking with the people who took the time to speak with me and I hope I wasn’t too blunt in my opinions.

 

All done, all finished I headed back to my hotel for a quick refresh and then back out to a party organized by a vendor. Nothing flash just some drinks and food at a local bar. It was good to unwind and chat with some more attendees.

 

To everyone who took the time to give me their business card or ask me Sharepoint, my business or make fun of my accent I say a big thanks. Like I said earlier it is really the networking and contacts that I will take away as the big plus from this experience. Safe travelling to all attendees returning home and once again thanks Harry and SMBNation for putting on such a great event. I hope to get the opportunity to return.

Now that the conference is over

I am free to tell everyone who attended my SharePoint session at SMBNation that I have developed a product called the Windows SharePoint Operations Guide that helps you install, configure and maintain Windows SharePoint on a variety of platforms. If you want more information see:

 

http://www.wssops.com

 

The guide is an annual subscription for which you get over 800 pages of information specifically focused on Windows Sharepoint as well a DVD that includes installation files, training and marketing material to help you or your customers get up to speed with SharePoint quickly.

 

The guide is available from me or via SMBBooks. Since it is a subscription I update the documentation every month and for the price it is an easy way to get a swag of information on Sharepoint that normally would take hours to find, test and implement.

Monday, October 6, 2008

SMBNation 2008 – Day 2

Location: Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

Weather: Wintery

 

Upon arriving this morning attendees discovered that “breakfast” was available in the vendor’s hall not out in the meal tent as yesterday. We also found that the selection was limited to a few pastries, bread to toast, coffee and juice. Probably worst of all there was nothing to sit down on or stand around. This meant we all had to crowd around garbage bins and other flat surfaces as well consumed our meal. My conversations with other attendees reinforced my feeling that this was indeed very poor. Many also told me that this was going to be their last conference as the main thing they came for was the networking but even that didn’t seem to be provided for now. So, if anyone from SMBNation is out there I would suggest that having a good breakfast spread is very important to attendees and if it ain’t done right attendees are going to bitch about it all day!

IMG_0053_2_16980FD0 

 

This morning kicked off with a session from Trend Micro about their security offering. Have to admit that I had heard it before and was a little distracted because the wifi in the hotel last night wasn’t working. That was a problem simply because all there appears to be on the TV every time I turn it on is a commercial and I’d like to be able to do something before going to bed!

 

After yesterday’s disappointment with the technical tracks I decided that I’d try attending the business track today. This kicked off with Red Ocean/Blue Ocean by Henry Craven (Australian MVP). It was based on the idea that it doesn’t make sense to try and compete in an already cut throat and saturated market (Red Ocean), you need to perform some systematic analysis of your business and work out where the opportunities are that provide growth without competition (Blue Ocean). This does make a lot of sense in the current context of the changing face of the SMB IT Market.

 

Next up was – Own your business don’t let it own you by George Sierchio. A very practical common sense, down to earth assessment of whether you should be in running a business or working for some else. This stuff always sounds very basic but in many cases it is too easy to overlook. Things like measuring what you do and the fact that you as a person are the average of your surroundings. This is simple terms means that if you want to be successful you need to hang around with people more successful than you, likewise if you want to improve your golf don’t play with people who you can beat, play with people who are better than you. Again, some very good material was presented here and I got real value from attending.

 

After this was – Total small business management using OneNote 2007 by Todd Colbeck. This session was easily the best of the day for me. Even though I have used OneNote, I had my eyes opened the possibilities it provides when applied to clients to better help them improve their productivity. I have a much greater respect for the potential of OneNote now and have some great ideas for building a revenue stream around its implementation, especially when teamed with the addition of Sharepoint.

 

Lastly was – Proven steps to get your marketing in shape by Derek Brown. Although Derek hadn’t been told that the session was scheduled to run for 90 minutes his presentation was excellent and provided some real value for me. Some of his experience in email campaigns and web site usage I can see having direct application to my business. Now because Derek hadn’t planned for the full time he was allocated Todd Colbeck from the previous OneNote session stepped in to ‘pinch hit’ (see my American is improving) and discussed the development of a referral program. The input from the audience was also golden and I came away with a swag of information about how to better market my business.

 

So in summary, was today worthwhile? – You Bet! Was it better than yesterday? – You Bet! Now I’m sure that those who attended the technical sessions would probably have said the same thing. This is the great thing about SMBNation, it isn’t totally technically focused and it provides the resources for people to learn more about improving their business, their skills or a combination of both. Today I walked away with some real value that I will definitely implement in my business and this more than made up for the poor start (i.e. breakfast).

 

So tomorrow is my turn on the big stage. Wish me luck.

SMBNation 2008 – Day 1

Location: Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

Weather: Moist and windy

IMG_0049_2_21224380

Well the first official day of SMBNation 2008 kicked off with breakfast on the pier outside the conference center from 7 am. Have to admit that I was a little disappointed with the offering, it was pretty basic. This sentiment certainly seemed to be echoed by other attendees.

 

From there we moved into the conference centre proper. The first session on offer was a key note from Intel. Although their hardware offering is impressive I think that the blade system they demonstrated was a little out of the league of most attendees business. Maybe I’m wrong here but it is certainly aimed at the multi-server businesses.

 

Next up was Jeff Middleton speaking about migration to SBS 2008. His session was titled - The good, bad and ugly of migration to 2008 platforms. Although I was aware of many of the issues he raised I did learn that the migration is going to be more difficult that you think, especially Exchange server. Good news is that Jeff expects to have a 2008 migration product available from his SBSMigration site BUT it will only be available to people who have already purchased his previous SBS 2003 swing migration product. The reason for this is simply that you are going to need experience with swing migration before the swing migration to 2008 will make sense. Bad news is that it probably won’t be an overnight process. The ugly is that Exchange migration is going to be tricky because you can no longer simply fork lift the mail stores onto the new server, they will need to be sync’ed object by object.

 

The next session was given by Amy Babinchak called – Decisions, decisions, decisions. Making the Firewall choice for SBS 2008 since both versions of SBS 2008 no longer come with a firewall and only support a single network card. She ran over what the threats faced and what the perceived threats are from both the IT and business owners perspective. Again, I must admit that most of the information here was nothing new or earth shattering and any integrator worth their salt should be aware of this. However, it is good to have all these issues presented in a concise manner.

 

Next up was a session of the Gotcha’s of SBS2008 – Real world SBS 2008 deployments with Susan Bradley and Ofier Shimrat. This session covered topics as choosing the right sort or hardware, how to configure it and what issues you may face. There was plenty of information on offer here but in some respects maybe it was too much as the session ran well overtime. Perhaps the session tried to achieve too much and should have focused on smaller set of topics but none the less I did get some good information here.

 

Probably the highlight session of the day was the How to do software as a service with Grant Thompson and Scott Barlow simply because it demonstrated to me how many resellers, even here, that are fighting ‘cloud computing’ tooth and nail. It was very interesting to see how many resellers are running scared of the changes that are happening in our industry. I picked a number of techniques that would help resellers sell software as a service to customers and explain it to them in a language that they can understand.

 

Overall I can’t say that the sessions on offer were of a particularly high value to me personally but they do have to cater for a wide variety of attendees which I can understand. I would say however, that I did receive value out of the day but by far the greatest value I received on the day was from the networking with other attendees. It is extremely interesting to talk about their business, their customers and the solutions they have deployed. It clear from talking to many of them the more progressive ones that they are embracing the move to ‘cloud computing’ and facing the reality of this as a business model for themselves and their customers.

 

So that’s it from Day 1 of SMBNation and I look forward to providing you an update from tomorrow.

The writing is in the cloud

Can we believe this?

 

Microsoft will soon release 'Windows Cloud' OS, Ballmer says

 

To quote - “Within a month, Microsoft will unveil what Ballmer called "Windows Cloud."

 

If nothing else it is going to raise the profile of ‘cloud computing’ with everyone, including customers. If you currently sell IT hardware stuff to clients, ‘you better watch, you better not cry, you better be good ‘cause I’m telling you why. Cloud computing is coming to town’ (and it isn’t even December yet).

Saturday, October 4, 2008

SMBNation 2008 – Preday

Location: Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

Weather: Rain

IMG_0036_2_176B49C0

First task of the day was to register for the conference at the Marriot Waterfront, just across from the Bell Street Pier & Conference Center (where the conference will be held).

 

Registration was a snap and I received a nice tote bag full of vendor paraphernalia (some light reading for later on). One of the available events today was a full day on Making the most of the HP BladeSystem and Windows Essential Business Server Solution Opportunity. Rather a mouthful and couldn’t see myself getting any value out of spending a full day on this stuff honestly. However, I was interested in attending a session later in the evening called – Battling the Borg of the Internet with Scott Pinzon.

 

So, I returned later that night with about 50 or so other attendees for what was an interesting, rather than informative session. During the session of 90 minutes the session focused on the types of Botnet’s, how they operate, are constructed and deployed. The more sophisticated ones are now moving to Peer-to-Peer (P2P) control so there isn’t a central command any more. Some are even using encrypted ICMP (i.e. ping) traffic to communicate with each other. I also learned they Bot-herders (a.k.a. Bot-masters) use things like fast flux DNS to make it extremely difficult to their network to be tracked and disabled.

 

The speaker said that the greatest methods of Bot and spyware propagation is via celebrity fan sites (so no more Britney Spears for customers!).

 

I did pick up some stuff that will need some research but in the end the ‘standard’ security best practices provide the best defence. Simply keeping machines up to date, having a defence in depth strategy, scanning all Internet traffic incoming and outgoing as well as a clearly defined, circulated and understood security policy put you ‘ahead of the game’. In simple terms, it reduces your target surface area. I wil tell you what tho’, these Botnets are very sophisticated these days and all aimed at making money.

 

Apart from that, here’s two things I learned:

 

1. http://virusscan.jotti.org/ – is a site you can submit a suspect file and it will be scanned with all major anti-virus programs and provide you the results. The speaker demonstrated how malware is packaged, encrypted and run through scanners like this so it won’t be detected.

 

2. No longer is the response to a technical question to RTFM (i.e. read the f***ing manual). It is now JFGI (just freely Google it). So that at least has been something I’ve learned today.

 

So tomorrow is the first official day of SMBNation 2008 and I hope that I can bring you all the details and some photos as well.