Cradlepoint

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Downtime … Disconnecting … Remote

These are all words that can be fabulous if you are looking forward to your next vacation, spending time with the family during the holidays, or headed out hunting. NOT if you are in business or an educator. Those words mean your staff can’t work as efficiently. That means your clients can’t reach you or worse, BUY from you. It means students can’t research. And if you are a remote business or school, it means you may be completely cut off from communication.

At West Valley Technical Services, we pride ourselves in finding the best solutions for your business or school. We know that means taking time to do an in depth analysis of your needs, resources, and current equipment. When a hardware need is found, we at WVTS like to find the most reliable equipment for your needs at prices that work with your budget. Idaho is home to some of the best technology companies in the country. So finding a plethora of suppliers is great for us, but might be a bit daunting for you. How do you know who has the best reputation without necessarily paying for ‘name?’

On our list of preferred suppliers is Cradlepoint, located right here in the Treasure Valley. “IT professionals are increasingly seeking network solutions that offer enough flexibility to evolve with the organization while maintaining ROI, performance, reliability, security, ease-of-use, and maximum speed-to-deployment. (www.cradlepoint.com)” With fabulous solutions for machine to machine (M2M), In-Vehicle devices, and both permanent and temporary networks, Cradlepoint allows West Valley Technical Services to help meet or exceed your connectivity expectations without exceeding your budget.

If you think it might be time for a device upgrade or network solution analysis, contact our office today to have your technician schedule an appointment. Maybe you know someone getting ready to establish a new location or expanding their needs. We welcome referrals and will make certain to be worthy of your recommendation.

Frequently Asked Questions (Part 11)

Q) How much Hard Drive space should I have in my computer?

A) This is a bit of a moving target, unfortunately. In an office setting, more and more data is being kept on central servers, so you don’t necessarily need a huge hard drive in those instances- I think about 250GB should suffice. In a home environment with or without an office, you might want to consider something larger. Hard drives come in a few different types that you should be aware of, too. The fastest but most expensive type is Solid State Drive or SSD for short. If you can afford it, this is the way to go. Your computer will run 4 to 10 times faster if you do. The middle of the road option is called a hybrid drive that has a small SSD built into it, with the rest of the storage being on an older Spinning Disk, which is the third and cheapest type. Just know that the Hybrid drives can perform as well as SSDs in certain circumstances, and traditional Spinning Disk drives tend to be cheaper, but perform slower. As a general rule, 2TB tends to be a good capacity for home computers that you don’t use with a server.

Q) Inkjet or laser printer?

A) It used to be that you would go inkjet if you wanted color printing and laser if all you needed was black and white. In the last few years, color laser printers have come down in price enough to make them competitive, however. The rule of thumb I use is to always get a laser if all I need is black and white, and I would ask myself how much color printing I needed to do before choosing between ink and laser. If you’ll be doing a lot of color printing, laser is a better investment because the total cost of ownership over time will probably be cheaper than buying ink all the time!

Q) Should I lease or buy equipment for my company?

A) The most common technology equipment that gets leased to organizations that we’ve seen would be modems, phone systems, and copiers. Some organizations will lease servers and desktops, but we don’t recommend that due to how commoditized (i.e. cheap to buy and replace) computer equipment has become in recent years. The only time it makes sense to lease with maintenance agreements would be when repairs would be costly due to the price of parts or labor or both. This makes sense in the case of copiers, might make sense if you have a complicated phone system, and not at all when it comes to modems, but ultimately you need to ask yourself a few questions before deciding which way to go. How old is the equipment? How much does it cost per hour to pay someone to work on it? Do you have a large emergency fund to address unexpected expenses should it break down? Remember that lease/maintenance agreements are like insurance policies designed to transfer risk of repairs to the provider. If you can “self-insure” against issues that come up, maybe purchasing makes more sense for you

Traffic Flow

Imagine Parent Pick Up at School, except with EMAILS!

Photo Credit: http://www.tcschools.org/

How are teachers and administrators communicating with students and parents

We are past that first few weeks of school and trying to get through the notorious ‘parent pick up and drop off.’ Ugh. Makes me shudder just thinking about. The lines are running more smoothly now and pick up times are improving.

But just like the crazy lines outside the school, communication to and from the school, between teacher and class or parents, or with the office can be complicated by the few users that abuse the system or are not following the rules. Imagine your teachers coming in before school to 50 or more emails, because they have been spammed by a parent’s email address. Your teachers don’t have time for that. Maybe a parent didn’t receive an email until it was too late because they don’t check until they get to work the next day.

We know about the phone calling system that lets some of the districts communicate about weather related closures, upcoming events, etc. Some schools are starting to use a text system that will send a text to parents about any announcement the school deems fit if the parents have opted in.

What about the teacher? What similar resources do they have that can be trusted?

When my son was in Kindergarten, the teacher relied upon another teacher to update her class blog so that our class knew what was going on. But unfortunately the parents weren’t told to look at the other teacher’s blog so we spent half the year in the dark. This year, the teacher doesn’t just send out email notices but will text the class with reminders about tests, events, homework, birthday celebrations, using a simple app that allows her to send broadcast messages to any parent that has opted in! She has also created her own blog that isn’t part of the school website. This can be great, but what if every teacher chooses a different blog provider, or format. Are these blogs being hosted by the school server and taking up space?

Some teachers take advantage of new technology. Some are resistant. Some don’t even know those services are out there. And what about that overloaded email box the teacher walked into this morning?

Does your school have a mass communication system via email, text, and or website?
Are your teachers’ email boxes filtered and protected from spam?
Are your teachers using a cohesive method of communication or are they left to use their own resources?

Don’t think we have forgotten about our business clients. The same can be true for you as well. What is the most effective and reliable tool for communicating with your employees and clients? What methods are considered acceptable in your industry?

For smaller districts and businesses this can be a challenge to analyze the needs and the resources to provide the staff, teachers, and parents with the best, fastest, and most effective means of communicating with one another. Don’t try to go it alone. Allow your West Valley Technical Services consultant to survey your systems and present you with the most effective methods fit for you district or business. Let us recommend reliable free and affordable programs to help you navigate your communication needs.

Frequently Asked Questions (Part 10)

Q) What can I do with my old PC’s? How can I safely donate or get rid of my old PC and protect my data?

A) If you have replaced an aging computer and are wondering what to do with it, there are a few options to consider. You could re-purpose the old machine into a computer that your kids or house guests can use by loading a less resource-intensive operating system on it like CloudReady, which effectively turns any computer into a Chromebook, for example. If you’re set on getting rid of the device, you can find a local recycler by doing an online search for “computer recyclers” in your area. Just make sure that they will erase the hard drive before they try reselling it if that’s what they intend to do with it. You can also donate computers to any local school district to get a small tax deduction at the end of the year worth up to $200. Once again, make sure they will erase the hard drive just to be safe.

Q) Is cloud storage like Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, etc. safe for my company or personal files?

A) “The Cloud” is really just a marketing term that describes any software or service that is provided exclusively over the Internet. The technologies used to provide these services have come a long way with regards to security, and for the most part can be trusted for things like storing your pictures in Google Photos, for example. All traffic is typically encrypted and generous amounts of free storage are provided in most cases. For example, our company uses Dropbox to store our sensitive documentation and manage who has access to them. This way we can access the information we need from anywhere, as well as control who can get to them should a team member join or leave our company. I also personally use Google Photos to store my family’s personal pictures so I don’t have to maintain manual backups of everything on my home computer. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any specific questions about what might work for your specific needs!

Q) How much Memory should I have in my computer?

A) The short answer is “as much as you can get for a reasonable price.” You can think of memory as the amount of space you have on top of your physical desk at work. The bigger the space, the more things you can be doing at the same time. Likewise, the more system memory -or RAM- your computer has, the more programs you can have running at the same time without the computer slowing down. As of this writing in 2016, we typically recommend getting computers with no less than 8GB of RAM as a general rule. This will probably increase as new operating systems that are released in the future will most likely be designed to run on computers with more and more memory…

Minecraft – plusses and minuses of having closed network clubs in your school

Minecraft Steve and Alex

Photo credit http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Oh no. Another Minecraft blog.

Well, kind of. But probably not what you are thinking.

Minecraft has become a wildly popular game amongst a wide age range of youth. My son, for example, an 9 year old, is already very interested in taking classes on coding and how to do the modifications in Minecraft. You can understand why young children tend to be so obsessed with the game when you consider that Minecraft is a living world, allowing children to have a sense of control over an environment when they are barely learning to control the real world around them.

You have probably read a dozen articles on what the educational benefits of Minecraft can be for students. As stated in the iD Tech article, How Minecraft Doesn’t Block Girls Out, “One of the best ways to introduce girls to STEM subjects is by providing a character they can identify with. … For most of Minecraft’s existence, this was arguably the one area in which it fell short.” With the main characters available being Steve and Alex, you can understand why boys tended to gravitate to it in the beginning. But with the advent of skins and other mods available, girls are now able to create characters of their own. Which is fabulous news! Now the game is becoming exactly what the designers intended in the first place – a gender neutral world.

So you may be aware of the educational elements of Minecraft. And you might have even thought about it from a social development aspect. For example, the Meridian Library hosts an event once a week for 8-13 year olds to come and play in a closed circuit network. That means that a group of up to 16 kids can play in a safe environment, controlled by the proctor, while also learning from the others in attendance. They also host a class on early introduction to modifications. The events are wildly popular.

Imagine setting up this type of club in your school! Allowing students to interact and learn from each other in a safe, friendly environment, using equipment that is most likely better than what they might have access to at home, AND is safer than if they are on the internet versions of the game. But does your staff have the ability to set up this network or utilize a current computer lab to facilitate group play?

If you would like to consider offering this type of learning play at your school or in your district and are unsure how to get it started, please call your West Valley Tech Services technician to see if we can help you get started today.

Do you have a topic you would like to see us cover? Email your ideas to office@wvtechservices.com

Photo courtesy http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11573763/Minecraft-video-game-maker-finally-gets-that-girls-can-game-too.html

Frequently Asked Questions (Part 9)

Q) Do I need a server?

A) This is a question that can have a couple answers depending on your situation. Servers are primarily used to provide central storage for small computer networks, and other features like central account management in larger network environments. In a home environment, generally speaking you don’t need a server. In most cases, you can use an existing computer as a server to store your videos, pictures, etc. and share them over the network. It would make sense to use a storage server specifically when maybe all you have are laptops that are taken to work regularly, or if you need more storage than a single computer can provide. In larger environments like a company, we generally recommend making the move to using an Active Directory server or servers when you have around a dozen computers and/or users. If you’re unsure if a server would be a good move for you, just drop us a line and we can chat with you about what you are wanting to do and steer you in the right direction. The call is free 🙂

Q) My friend has a copy of Microsoft Office. Can they share it with me?

A) Generally speaking, software licenses are either for the computer it comes with, or the user that purchases it. The home and student version of Office does give you 3 installation licenses, but it is expected for you to utilize them all in the same household. If paying for software is something you have a hard time with, you might want to consider free alternatives to Microsoft Office such as LibreOffice, Google Docs, or WPS Office. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions about your options…

Q) How can I be safe shopping online?

A) Anymore, websites that offer shopping carts tend to outsource their technology to established “e-commerce” payment providers like Stripe or even Amazon. Basically, as long as you see “https://” at the beginning of the website URL that you are shopping at and it is not red (indicating something is wrong with the security of the site), you can be reasonably certain of the safety of the site you are doing business with. While security breaches do happen regardless of how many precautions you take, fortunately it’s generally pretty easy to remediate anything that happens as a result (reverse any fraudulent charges, get a new card issued, etc.)

Windows

Windows in front of a window

If you mention that your office has a window, most people smile at you and tell you how nice that must be. But say ‘Windows 10’ and it seems like saying those two little words can strike horror in the average computer or tech device user.

Add to that other terms like “cloud,” “server,” “enterprise” … and you created the perfect recipe for chaos in an office if you don’t know what to expect or how to implement changes.

Microsoft recently announced the move of its server and engineering team into the Windows and devices group. What does that mean?

“As we advance our goal to build operating systems that provide the best experiences from the smallest IoT devices to the largest scale server deployments in public and private clouds, the Windows Server team will move from the Cloud and Enterprise Group to the Windows and Devices Group. These groups already work closely together, and we believe this move will help us bring even more value to our customers as we deliver our most cloud-ready server OS with the Windows Server 2016 launch this fall.” Click here for article

Not only is there a new server OS being released in September, sources say, but there is also a slated launch for Windows 10 Anniversary edition.

Not sure how these launches may affect you, especially if you just recently upgraded to Windows 10? Make sure you have our phone number and get in touch with you tech specialist so you can plan for your next software integration.

Frequently Asked Questions (Part 8)

Q) How do I convert a PDF file to something I can edit?

A) While most people do not have PDF editors (there’s rarely a need to edit PDF files, and they cost money), Microsoft Word (part of the Microsoft Office Suite) is on pretty much everyone’s computer (or something compatible like Open Office or even Google Docs.) There are programs that can convert PDF files to something Word can open (called a DOC or DOCX file), but you run the risk of installing malware along with them. Instead, we would suggest using an online file converter. In other words, there are websites where you can upload your PDF file and then they either allow you to download a DOCX version, or they email it to you. This way you aren’t installing unknown software on your machine. You could do a Google search for “online PDF to Word converter” but we would recommend using http://pdf2doc.com/ instead. It allows you to upload multiple files at the same time and doesn’t require your email or surveys to download the converted files.

Q) How can I tell if an email is a scam?

A) With how much malware is spreading through email, this is a very good question. First, look at the return address. Not the friendly name, because anyone can put anything in there. The actual return email address. If it’s an email claiming to be from Amazon, but the return address is anything other than “someone@amazon.com” there’s a good chance it’s a phishing scam. Next, see if the greeting is something generic like “Deal Client” instead of your name. If it is, that’s another red flag. Another helpful tip is to hover your mouse over any links in the email (without clicking on them!) While the link may say something like “http://amazon.com” when you hover over it, you’ll be able to see where the link goes down in the bottom left corner of your screen. If the two don’t match up, you can bet it’s a scam of some sort:

Q) What kind of Internet service should I use?

A) This might vary by region, but in our area we basically have a few categories of Internet service to choose from: Fiber (best but most expensive), Cable (great for businesses that use VOIP phones), DSL (great for home users who need unlimited bandwidth each month), and Satellite (last resort for areas that you can’t get any of the others.) Generally, most people get the most bang for buck with Cable in our area, so we generally advise our customers to go with Cable if possible, and DSL is Cable isn’t available in their area. We only recommend fiber for larger organizations like schools. Satellite and consumer wireless are pretty terrible, so only go with that if you have no alternative