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What Arctic Explorers Amundsen and Scott can teach us about Technology.

Between 1911 and 1912, two arctic explorers, Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott, endeavoured to reach the South Pole. Amundsen painstakingly planned his trip. He studied the methods of Eskimos and other arctic explorers. He reckoned that dogsled would be the best mode of transport for equipment and supplies. He mustered a team of experienced dog and ski handlers. He was fastidious in his attention to detail. From ski goggles to clothing, he painstakingly made sure that every piece of equipment would suit the environment in which it would be used.

His competitor, Robert Scott, a British naval officer reckoned a more high-tech approach would work best. He bought motorised sledges. He bought the most expensive goggles and clothing he could find. However, the equipment he bought was more suited to a mountaineering expedition than an arctic one.

Both expedition leaders spent a lot of money on equipment. However, it was only in the unforgiving arctic wilderness where Scott’s equipment procurement mistakes became tragically apparent. The engines on the sledges ceased working only days into the expedition. The ill-suited clothes resulted in his team developing frostbite. They developed snow blindness because their goggles were ill-suited to arctic conditions.

Scott reached the South Pole a month after Amundsen. But unfortunately for Scott and his team of four, they all perished on the return journey to base camp. Amundsen and his team all made it back safely. The worst problem they encountered was a toothache experienced by one team member.

There is a powerful lesson here for businesses procuring technology solutions. Context is everything and throwing money at “shiny box” solutions does not always work. You need to carefully examine factors such as:

  1. Is the new solution a genuine improvement on your existing technology enabling quicker and more efficient workflows?
  2. Is the new IT solution aligned with your current work flows?
  3. Is the solution compatible with the IT skill set of your team. Not everyone is IT savvy.
  4. Is the solution compatible with your current infrastructure? For example, many SMEs have bought expensive IT solutions which were reliant on high-speed broadband connectivity when their users in the field did not have access to a high- speed connection. Likewise, buying a Windows-centric solution when most of your users have Apple devices can be a common faux-pas.
  5. Will the solution be adopted by the users? Is it intuitive to use?
  6. How well does the solution protect your client, donor or intellectual property data?
  7. Is the solution GDPR-friendly?
  8. Does the proposed solution have genuine buy-in from your team? Having employee buy-in usually means a smoother transition and greater adoption rates.
  9. Does the solution suit your remote working team members?
  10. What redundancy does the solution offer in the event of failure?

This valiant expedition undertaken by Amundsen and Scott teaches us a very simple but profound message. The best technology solutions are those which are not the most high-tech or expensive, they are ones which are most suited to the context in which they operate.

Ubiquiti Wi-Fi Installation for Dublin financial services firm

A Dublin financial services firm recently contacted us with a Wi-Fi issue. The six users in their office, most of whom connected wirelessly to the internet, were experiencing intermittent Wi-Fi dropouts. Naturally, these would occur at the most inconvenient times such as when uploading files to their cloud server or during Zoom video conference calls. Moreover, there were some Wi-Fi dead spots in their building where coverage was poor or non-existent. We performed a wireless site survey. In some parts of their office building their download speeds were only 7.5 Mbps while their upload speeds were only .92 Mbps. These wireless connection speeds were sub-par.  Using an ethernet cable we connected a laptop directly to their Virgin Media modem-router – we got 121 Mbps download and 17.6 Mbps upload. These are fairly standard speeds for Virgin Media broadband in suburban Dublin. The broadband connection going into their building was not the problem.  It appeared to reside with their existing infrastructure. They were using a rather ancient Allied Telesis data switch and coupled with some equally old Linksys wireless G access points. This hardware was really not up to the job. Their existing CAT 5e cabling infrastructure appeared to be fine. But a solution had to be found.

We discussed their main requirements. They wanted a high-performance, reliable and secure network. We decided to install an Ubiquiti wireless network for them. Ubiquiti is a next generation wireless mesh network, which uses SDR (software defined networking) for management. A wireless mesh network blankets your office or home with wireless coverage. The access points (or nodes) all work in concert with each other. The UFO (or dome-shaped) UniFi access points can be wall or ceiling mounted. These AP’s deliver high-performance Wi-Fi using 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz bands. They are PoE (power-over-ethernet) enabled devices, meaning they get their power over LAN from the Ubiquiti PoE switch obviating the need for the access points to be near power sockets. In this case, we used a 16-port PoE Edgeswitch (150W). This device has a data throughput capability of 36 Gbit/s which is ideal for video streaming applications such as Zoom. We deployed 5 UAP-AC-PRO access points to give maximum performance. The same SSID and password can be used throughout the network. Ubiquiti access points use WPA2 encryption. This is all managed by a UniFi security gateway which acts as the controller.

The main benefits of an Ubiquiti Wi-Fi network include:

Corporate-grade high-performance, secure Wi-Fi, but without the corporate price tag.

A Ubiquiti network is easily expandable. More access points can be added as your requirements change.

Ubiquiti can manage multiple SSIDs and VLANs with ease. This makes network segregation and guest access easy.

No recurring license fees – Some wireless hardware equipment manufacturers (like Aruba and Meraki) charge a license fee every year. With Ubiquiti, it’s just a one-off charge.

After installation and testing, the staff road tested the new network for themselves. They were over-joyed with the fast and reliable performance. There was no longer any wireless dropouts and their Zoom video conferencing worked smoothly and without lag. Files could be uploaded to their file server reliably and quickly. There were now in Wi-Fi heaven…

RealClear IT provides an Ubiquiti wireless (Wi-Fi) network installation and troubleshooting service for both business and residential customers in Dublin. We can configure your Ubiquiti (UniFi) network to work seamlessly with your broadband provider whether that be Virgin Media, Eir, Vodafone or Sky. Enjoy secure, high-performance and reliable Wi-Fi today!

Fix iMac with Flashing Question Mark

The dreaded and always unwelcome macOS flashing question mark screen…

Turning on your iMac only to discover that it’s displaying a flashing question mark can induce that sinking feeling in most users. This especially true if you have not recently performed a backup of your system.

Typically, the flashing question mark appears when there is a problem with your iMac’s hard disk. Many users encountering this problem will often attempt to use the “command + R” in order to initiate a reinstallation of their operating system. Unfortunately, this rarely fixes the issue and often just compounds the problem.

In a substantial number of cases when the “flashing question mark” appears the underlying problem is a failed or failing hard disk. Your disk might have bad sectors, firmware problems, read-write head problems or PCB (printed circuit board) issues. When your iMac looks for the files needed to boot your system up – it cannot find them. Hence, your iMac will display the “flashing question mark” icon.

Only last week, we helped a Dublin medical practice with this problem. Their iMac, which they used in their reception area, displayed this rather unwelcome screen. The last Time Machine backup which they had performed was well over two months ago. Our diagnosis revealed a failed S-ATA hard disk in their 2013 21.5” iMac. The problem being extensive bad sectors (14,591 in total) and a corrupt HFS+ disk volume. We were able to perform a complete data recovery for them.

The lesson as always in these cases, is backup, backup and more backup. We set them up with a robust, automated and GDPR-compliant backup solution so this problem would never be repeated.

Mac Upgrades make Workflow Easier for Dublin Management Consultancy.

iMacs upgraded with the latest SSD technology mean they run significantly faster

RealClear was recently helping a Dublin management consultancy firm with their slow Apple desktop computers. Their 2013 iMacs were running macOS Mojave but were just crawling along and were proving a real productivity killer. For instance, when booting up, the progress bar at the Apple logo screen would take longer to load than the time it took for a kettle to boil. In fact, you could probably have boiled the kettle and have fully imbibed your favourite hot beverage by the time these systems fully booted up. And when they did eventually start, they were molasses slow. Applications ran with the same speed as a traffic jam on Dublin’s M50 on a Friday afternoon of a bank holiday weekend after an accident. Searches in Finder would be glacial, application icons would bounce in the Dock more times than a teenybopper at a Justin Bieber concert. Moreover, their iMacs kept freezing and there were more “spinning wheels” on display than at the Isle of Man TT.  They would frequently have to resort to using the Force Quit command just to get the system back to a half usable state again. These were certainly not systems you wanted to be working on when you had deadlines to meet or had a Ryanair flight to catch but had not yet printed off your boarding card.

Inside the guts of an Apple iMac – new SSD on right hand side

Solution

The roots of this problem go back to the way Apple have designed their latest operating systems. MacOS Sierra, High Sierra and Mojave are simply not optimised to run on spinning hard disks (disks pre-installed by Apple when you first bought your system). Instead, the latest versions of MacOS are optimised to run on solid-state disks. These next-generation SSD disks contain no spinning parts and provide an incredible performance boost with disk access times that are up to ten times faster than spinning hard disks.

We disassembled their iMacs, removed their old Seagate spinning hard disks and installed the latest generation of 3D NAND SSDs. We then deployed the latest version of macOS Mojave (10.14.3) and then migrated their old applications and files.

Result

Their iMacs are now flying along. No more “spinning wheels” and no more freezes. The team can now get their workflow done quicker without the stress and the productivity overhead incurred by slow computers.

iMac of MacBook running slow? RealClear have been repairing and providing support for Apple iMacs and MacBooks in Dublin since 2003. Our Mac upgrade service in Dublin breaths new life into your system. Our service can upgrade the RAM (memory), the OS and the storage (hard disk). Bring the joy back to using your Mac again.  

Why do my emails keep on getting rejected?

We’ve had a couple of inquiries recently from users who informed us that their emails were repeatedly not sending to certain recipients. Remotely, we checked their email applications (Outlook, Mail App etc.) and the status of their email servers. Everything appeared to be fine. The only commonality with all these users was they all used random letters in their email username. In terms of email send-ability this is a big No No.

So, if you own a business and your name is John Ryan –  don’t ever be tempted insert to middle name initials in your email address.

In terms of spam filters – random letters in the middle of an email username are like a red rag to a bull. Spam filters will get triggered and will treat your emails as suspicious. And suspicious emails will get redirected to the recipient’s Spam folder or will get filtered upstream and won’t reach your intended recipient at all. When devising a new email address – keep it simple – don’t use random initials in your email address. While you might get away with one – use two and your emails will probably end up in a Spam folder somewhere.

Set-up of Wireless Network for Busy Dublin Dental Practice.

The ability to quickly and securely share files between employees can lead to enhanced productivity in your business.  Even in 2019, there are still businesses in Dublin where team members email files to each or worse still, using a USB drive for file sharing. Not only is this messy and time consuming, it’s insecure.

Last week RealClear helped a busy North Dublin dental practice overcome a file sharing problem – in this case it was the sharing of x-ray images. They were using a non-networked x-ray machine. Every time their dentists needed to examine patient x-ray images, a dental nurse had to visit the x-ray room, download the image from the machine, put it on a small slide file and bring it into one of the surgery rooms. While this process was only taking around 10-12 minutes per patient, cumulatively it was wasting over 90 minutes a day. Time which could have been spent on more billable work. They needed a better solution.

The Challenge

First of all, they invested in a new TCP/IP network-able Carestream dental X-ray machine which could be attached to a server. This means that, given the right set-up, they could make images directly viewable from all workstations in their 3 surgery rooms. The only problem now was they did not have a) a network infrastructure in place b) a server to attach to their new x-ray system to and c) did not have any workstations in any of their surgeries.

Solution

After discussing their objectives and workflows in more detail,RealClear recommended a suitable Windows 10 Lenovo server and three Lenovo workstations running Windows 10 Pro. They were happy to procure this hardware themselves using one of our recommended suppliers. We then set them up with a hybrid network (wired and wireless). Because their x-ray room was lead-lined, the wireless connection between it and their router was severely attenuated with data packet loss rates of up to 25%.  So, we ran a CAT 6 LAN cable from their x-ray room to the reception area where their router was located. (This reduced packet loss to zero) The rest of their network was configured to work wirelessly employing WPA2-Enterprise encryption. (For additional security, their “Guest Wi-Fi” was isolated from their main production network). On their new server, we mapped the folder containing x-ray images making the patient images accessible from each workstation with just one click.  

Result

The team at the surgery cannot believe how they put up with the old setup for so long! Their process for taking patient x-rays has been completely transformed. Without the file sharing network, it was a time-consuming ritual, now it can be done in a snap.  Moreover, staff can easily reference old x-ray images more quickly. The new network has made their workflows smoother with their staff having more time to serve their patients in a more efficient and time-effective way.

Best Website Hosting Provider in Ireland

Your website is your shop window. It is often the first touchpoint that potential customers make with your business. While good website design and content is needed, your choice of hosting provider is equally important. It impacts on website performance, security, search engine ranking and email reliability.

All hosting providers are the same, right?

It would be easy to view hosting providers as being all the same, but in reality, the choice is a little bit more nuanced. While it might be tempting to subscribe to a yellow pack hosting package, a bad choice of web hosting provider can result in untold problems and frustrations for your business further down the line.  

Some factors to consider when choosing a hosting provider

There are a couple of factors to bear in mind before choosing a hosting provider.

What is their uptime like?

  • A website which continually goes offline website does not project a good image of your business, can result in lost business and may even lead some customers to think you’ve gone out of business. You should be looking for a hosting provider with at least an uptime guarantee of 99.90%.

Where are their servers located?

If the server hosting your website is located on the East Coast of the USA and your customers are primarily in Ireland – your website is at a distinct disadvantage for ranking well in local search results (e.g. search results from google.ie). This is because Google ranking algorithms take into account hosting location when deciding where to rank a website in the local search results. So, if your customers are Irish, having your website hosted in Ireland is always a good idea.

How security conscious is the hosting provider?

  • For most standard hosting packages, your website will be hosted on the same server as hundreds of other websites. For hosting providers this is a more efficient use of resources, in the same way that an appartment block can house more people than a housing estate This is a wholly standard practice followed by some of the most reputable hosting providers. However, if neighbouring websites are involved in nefarious activities such as sending out spam, porn, hate sites, illegal gambling, etc., the IP address of the whole server can get blacklisted by so called “spam-authorities” (These act as a kind of automated police force for the world wide web). This can result in your business emails getting treated as spam and not reaching intended recipients. Unfortunately, this is a common problem faced by businesses who’ve gone with “cheap” hosting providers. Quality hosting providers normally prevent such nefarious tenants from residing on their servers in the first place or will take swift action if they detect that one of their servers is a candidate for spam authority blacklisting.
  • And because shared hosting is such a common practice among hosting providers, using a security conscious hosting provider is important. Some hosting companies employ weak inter-customer boundaries on their servers. This means that if a hacker does infiltrate a server, they can move laterally across the server “directory trees” of other customers’ websites more easily. It is not unknown for Irish businesses have their website compromised, defaced or totally wiped out by such a hack over the space of a week-end.    

Do they employ fast and optimised servers for hosting?

  • A good hosting provider uses servers which load web sites quickly. In fact, a recent study from Akamai has revealed that you could be losing nearly half of your visitors if your website loads slow. Customers like fast loading websites. Slow websites repel customers like DDT to mosquitoes…  

What is their customer support like?

  • No matter how good your hosting provider, there might be a time where you might need to contact them for technical support. Do they answer their phones or emails within a reasonable amount of time? Are their staff knowledgeable? Do they treat their customers honestly and fairly?

And our award for the best hosting provider in Ireland goes to…

RealClear has been liaising with different website hosting companies since 2003. We can wholeheartedly recommend Blacknight hosting based in Co. Carlow. Their secure Irish-based servers have the same reliability as an expensive Swiss watch. Their support team has been consistently responsive, knowledgeable, friendly and a pleasure to deal with. We make this endorsement without having any affiliation to them, we just want to save people the hassle and frustration that can ensue by signing up with a bad hosting provider.

Important Caveat:

A favourite ploy of some hosting providers is to use words like “free” and “unlimited” extensively in their marketing. Unfortunately, these are the very same hosting companies that use mountains of small print in their terms and conditions.  Those too-good-to-be-true offers are often just that. It’s always nice to deal with a hosting provider who is upfront and honest about pricing from the start.

Moving over to Gmail for Business (GSuite)

Since its inception in 2004 Gmail has to be proved an extremely popular email service in Ireland and across the world. Following the massive success of the platform, in 2009 Google rolled out their Gmail for Business service (now integrated into the GSuite platform).

The problem with bundled email services from hosting providers

For the most part, the email service that accompanies with your website hosting package from providers such as Register365, Lets Host or Blacknight can only be described as adequate. Hosting companies typically give you a bare-bones email service without any frills. (Most users fail to remember they are primarily buying a hosting package not an email service) Ten years ago, these bare bone email services met the needs for most SMEs. But with the proliferation of spam, email-borne security threats and mobile computing these basic email services have proved insufficient for most Irish SMEs.

Let’s take the spam issue first. Wading through emails can be a time-consuming affair but add spam to the equation and the email checking process transforms into a time-devouring ritual. Using the email service from your web-hosting company, you quickly discover that the level of spam filtering they provide is minimal.

Then there are the security threats. Email has become a rich pipeline for phishing scams, malware propagation and crypto viruses. And in recent years these phishing scams have become highly sophisticated. They’re no longer just about Nigerian princes who have landed an inheritance and want to bequeath some of it to you. They’re now tailored to target specific industries and are sometimes even localised as to appear to be emanating from an Irish sender. With such threats in circulation you need some robust filtering.  While your hosting company will probably provide a level of security filtering – it probably won’t be enough to mitigate all but the most basic of threats. If you’re reading this thinking “well that is the job of my anti-virus” that assumption is unfortunately misguided! From an IT security perspective, you want threats processed further upstream by your email service provider rather than getting threats filtered by your endpoint security software. This should really be acting as the defense of last resort.

So aside from the spam and security threats, there is also the issue of mobility. Let’s face it, in today’s environment you need to the ability to send and receive email when you’re out and about. Again, the email service provided by your hosting company for this purpose is probably not sufficient as most hosting companies provide email services which are still heavily geared towards POP3 and SMTP not IMAP (the latter being the mobile-friendly email protocol).

Gmail (GSuite) to the Rescue

To overcome all these deficiencies, you can use a service such as GSuite. This is Google’s version of hosted Outlook 365. It means you can still use “yourbusiness.ie” domain and access it through the Gmail interface. Your email address (e.g. info@yourbusiness.ie) will remain the exact same, but the user interface and backend infrastructure will be powered by Gmail.

Benefits

  • Spam-filtering – Gmail possibly uses one of the worlds smartest and most powerful spam-filters. Cumulatively, this has the potential annually save you and your team hours of productivity.
  • Phishing-filtering – Thanks to Gmail’s huge user-base and smart phishing algorithms, phishing attacks can be detected fairly quickly.
  • Mobile-friendly – Gmail performs equally well on a Windows or Apple computer as it does on Android or iOS (iPhone or iPad).
  • Powerful search functionality – Not surprisingly, as an offshoot of Google, Gmail has a powerful email search facility. Trying to find an invoice from 3 years ago, but only remember the name or location of the customer? Just enter it into Gmail’s search facility and you should be able to retrieve it with within seconds. Again, this can be a real time-saver for a busy office or very handy if trying to find an old email while on the DART.
  • Reliability – With Gmail, you no longer any need to worry about a PST (email store folder) getting too big or becoming corrupt. Your emails are stored on Google’s servers and are mirrored on your devices.
  • Data Privacy – Gmail uses STARTTLS for encryption. You can benefit from enhanced security by downloading the FlowCrypt plugin for your Chrome browser. This encrypts your email using PGP end-to-end encryption.
  • Desktop or Browser– For those who don’t like accessing email through a web-browser you can still set up Gmail using Outlook, Mail App or Thunderbird.
  • Integration with GSuite Calendar – Using GSuite you get to access to a powerful and reliable shared calendar feature. This makes team scheduling and planning easy. (This calendar is relatively free of the annoying quirks and flakiness you would find on iCloud’s calendar).
  • Teamwork and Email assignment – There are some excellent third-party tools on the market to truly make Gmail a part of your team. For example, if you’re using  info@yourbusinesss.ie as your primary email address but have 5 team members you can assign messages to certain team members. You can also find out if a particular email enquiry was already handled by one of your colleagues.

Setting up Gmail for Business (GSuite)

To setup GSuite, you need to subscribe to the service. Typically for one user, it costs less than €5 a month, which represents excellent value. Once you have subscribed, you will need to change the TXT and MX records at the back-end of your website. Then you’re ready to experience email Nirvana!

Need help moving to Gmail (GSuite)? RealClear (Dublin) offers a complete IT support service for Gmail so you and your team can enjoy a great, reliable and secure email service. Contact us on 01 685 4833.

Windows Password Recovery the Easy Way

In the age of information overload, forgotten login passwords for Windows and Mac is a common problem.

We recently helped a high-end retailer on Dublin’s Grafton Street who were locked out of their Windows 2003 server.

Their creeking server was about to be decommisioned. However, there were still some imporant accounts files (Excel and Sage) which needed to be retrieved. Staff tried to guess every possible permutation of password but to no avail. Their previous IT support company never left any documentation!

Windows Server 2003 uses both an administrator password and a domain controller password to authenticate the login. The passwords for Windows Server are stored in C:\Windows\System32\Config in files called “SAM” (Security Account Manager) and “SYSTEM”. These passwords are not stored in plaintext, they are hashed to thwart any unauthorised users. For end-users this can complicate any password recovery attempts.

Thankfully RealClear technicians carry some industrial-strenght password recovery tools to recover lost Windows login passwords. While there is a plethora of so-called “password recovery tools” available to download from the internet – a lot of these are gimmicky and do not always live up to expectations. Moreover, most of these tools cannot recover a domain controller password as found on many Windows server systems.

Lost or forgotten your Windows or Mac login password? RealClear (Dublin) offers a password recovery service for Windows 10, Windows 7, Windows XP for most major brands including Dell, HP, Asus and Micrsoft Surface. Our password recovery service also covers servers; Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2016. Our service also recovers lost passwords from Apple iMacs, Mac Minis and MacBooks (OS X 10.5 to OS X 10.14).

 

 

The Value of Proactive Advice

Proactive advice is what often separates an exceptional service experience from an       average one.

 

A couple of months ago I needed to get my racing bike repaired. There was a problem with the gears. They had developed a rather annoying problem of slipping when transitioning from low-to-high gearing. The first bike shop I took it to implemented a fix but their solution never got to the root of the real problem. But perhaps the most distasteful aspect of this experience was that during the course of their “repair”, they recommended that a new set of front brakes be fitted – not just the brake pads but a whole new braking mechanism. I was flabbergasted, I explained how the brakes worked perfectly for me. I asked them to further elucidate on the “problem” which they found. For a few seconds the technician stumbled for words and then said he would have to call me back. Miraculously, within the space of twenty minutes, the brake problem disappeared with the technician sheepishly declaring “those brakes should be ok”. The next day I collected the bike with the intension of never darkening the doorway of the business again.

Two weeks later the exact same gearing problem had manifested itself. I took it to a second bike shop and the experience could not have been more different. They identified the problem immediately and implemented a solution which is still working perfectly 4 months later. Moreover, the technician fixed (gratis) a problem with the handlebar stem which he said might give problems in the future.  He also gave advice on how to prevent the gearing problem from re-occurring. He also fine-tuned the gears which made gear changes go from being crunchy to silky-smooth. I asked for his professional advice on the front brakes – they were perfect. The repair was completed for a fraction of the price which the first shop charged.

This experience got me thinking about IT support and some of the qualities which make a service-based business not just good but exceptional. First of all, it’s nice to do business with people who are honest and don’t take their customers for mugs.  Secondly, it’s nice to do business with people who are passionate about their craft.  They’re not just going through the motions to generate an invoice at the end of it. These service providers don’t have to do much selling or marketing. A core group of customers already knows there’re good and their marketing is done for them. And the third thing which my bike shop experience highlights is the importance of proactive advice. Whether you’re dealing with a dentist, car mechanic, accountant or any other service provider, proactive advice is what separates an average service experience from an exceptional one. You appreciate the car mechanic who tells you your brakes only have another few months left in them when you instinctively know he isn’t trying to up his bill. You value the dentist who spots a problem with your teeth, which might save you a lot of pain (and money) down the line.

In the context of IT support, it’s nice to be warned that your backup disk is running out of space or to be told your security software is not doing its job properly. This is much better than trying to resolve an IT problem in midst of preparing for a tender deadline or completing a job for an important client. Service professionals who dispense proactive advice not only show their passion for their job, but they also garner the trust of their clients. In a city like Dublin, which is really just a big village inhabited by people who love to talk, these qualities are more important than ever.

RealClear IT have been dispensing proactive advice to their clients since 2003. We provide IT solutions for Windows, Apple, networking, Office 365 and offer a complete range of IT security solutions. You can contact us on 01- 686 4833.