Category Archives: Uncategorized

Emails not Sending Mystery

Intermittent Email Problems are frustrating for users and can create a massive drag on productivity for your business.

A Dublin firm of consulting engineers were mystified as to why some of their emails were not sending. Users would send emails but around 40% of them would not reach their intended destination. This was beginning to be an extremely frustrating problem for everyone causing a drag on their productivity.

All users-  three Apple OS X (running Mail App) users and three Windows users (running Outlook 2016) were affected by this. This led us to believe that the root-cause was unlikely to be a mail client (Outlook, Mail App) mis-configuration issue. Most likely, the problem resided elsewhere.

We logged into their email-hosting control panel. Everything seemed fine. All mailboxes had enough space. Their MX and DNS records appeared to be in order. No anomalies  Maybe their static IP address provided by their ISP (Eir) was blacklisted? This was investigated, but their static IP was not appearing on any spam authority blacklists. After some more digging, we discovered that their email was hosted on a shared server. This is a fairly common set-up. Email hosting providers might have several clients all on the one server. The only problem with this setup is that if one or more of the entities on the server is flagged as a potential spammer, the IP address of the server gets  blacklisted. Blacklists are used by anti-spam services to block emails from “unreputable” servers. If an individual or business uses an email server which is  blacklisted, it will be very difficult to send outbound email as they get blocked by the spam-filters on the recipients side. That is exactly what was happening this customer.

The Solution

The solution was relatively simple. We migrated their email hosting from a shared server to a virtual private server (VPS). This meant they would not be sharing a server with any other entities which greatly lowered the risk of their email server getting blacklisted again.

The Follow-up

On follow-up ten days later. This frustrating email problem was solved. No more lost emails in cyberspace. No more issues with customers claiming that they never received emails. The clients had a fully functional, reliable and secure email service again.

RealClear IT are based in Dublin, Ireland. We offer  an email support service for Gmail, Outlook, Thunderbird Mail App (Mac Mail) and Office 365 remotely and on-site. Whether you’re using Eir, Virgin Media, Magnet, Vodaphone or Three – we can help. Phone us on      01 685 4833.

How to scan documents faster

 

The Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500

We recently helped a Dublin-based mechanical contracting firm with a document management problem. Their workflow necessitated the scanning of around 20 A4-sized page daily. They were using a flat-bed scanner to complete the task. For anyone familiar with a flat-bed scanner, scanning anything more than a document or two with such a device can be a time-zapping experience. A user can start at around 9am and finish just in time for elevenses. Ok, I exaggerate a little, but you get my drift. Flat-bed scanners are not efficient and are a chore to use.

Problem Definition

To help our client, we first tried to redefine the problem. Did they really need to scan documents in the first place? Was there a better way of doing it? Unfortunately, some of their customers and third-party contractors still sent them paper documents. Some of these had to be filed away, which they preferred doing it electronically. And some of these paper-based documents had to be forwarded via email to other parties. They genuinely needed to scan documents but in a faster way.

Our Solution

Given that most of their documents are in A4 format and they had no OCR (optical character recognition) requirements. The solution which fulfilled their requirements the best was an ADF (automatic document feeder) scanner from Fujitsu. The ix500 connects to their server via USB 3.0 and can scan 25 pages per minute. It can scan to iPads, iPhones, PC, Mac and Android. Because it’s an ADF scanner they can just load all their documents in the loading tray, press the “scan” button and the scanning process starts. We configured their scanner so that all the scanned versions of their documents arrived in a shared network folder on their Dell server which all users have access to. For a task which routinely took up a vast chunk of their morning, they can now complete it a matter of minutes.

How not to have a network with the same out-of-syncness as the Egyptian Army Band playing the Marseillaise.

The infamously out-of-sync Egyptian Army Band

We recently helped an office in South Dublin who were having a tumultuous time with their network. They had three offices in the same building all feeding off the same Vodafone broadband line. For all users, the connection worked, but was extremely intermittent. Sometimes the connection would be fine – other times it would start dropping out. Needless to say, these dropouts had a happy knack of coinciding with their project deadlines which made the problem even more frustrating. They were on Vodafone modem # 3 by the time they called us and but were still experiencing problems. (Vodafone’s solution to send out a new modem to business customers every time they are experiencing an internet problem seems like an extremely lazy and expedient approach to customer service). On recommendation of a business associate they called RealClear.

A rogue DHCP server will play havoc with your network . This access point with IP address of 192.168.1.253 was acting as the default gateway causing intermittent internet drop- outs

Within a few minutes of logging into their Vodafone modem-router the problem became immediately apparent. The “default gateway” appeared as a device using the IP address 192.168.1.253 when it should have been 192.168.1.1 (the IP address of their Vodafone modem-router). On any LAN (local area network) it is crucial that the default gateway is set correctly on all devices. To use a simple analogy, the “default gateway” device acts like the conductor of an orchestra, it orchestrates how all network devices work together. It also acts as a DHCP server, which distributes IP addresses to all devices on the network. In this particular case, the default gateway 192.168.1.253 was registered as a TP-Link access point which was located in an upstairs office. This access point was also operating in erroneously “DHCP server” mode. So, to extend the orchestra analogy, this was an orchestra with two conductors and the players (network devices) were more out-of-sync than the Egyptian Army Band giving a rendition of the Marseillaise.

The Solution

The solution was simple. We disabled the DHCP server on the rogue TP-Link access point. We put the device into access point mode and inputted the correct default gateway settings. A 3 month problem solved by a 20 minute fix. Like most problems, it all goes back to accurate diagnosis and sometimes seemingly intractable problems have the simplest solutions.

Remote Working – the silent revolution

A recent study by Stanford University which studied Chinese call centre workers found that they completed 13.5 per cent more calls than their office based colleagues. And this is just one of many examples extolling the benefits of remote working. For some people, the image of remote work still conjures up images of employees in the their pajamas, watching NetFlix, answering the door to Jehovah Witnesses whilst they try to reply to the odd email. The reality of remote work is quite different. Remote working is now a reality. Automatic, the company that owns WordPress (the most successful Content Management System in the world and the software on which this blog is published on) has just under 500 employees across 45 countries most of whom work remotely. Telus, a successful Canadian telco, now has seventy per cent of its 27,000 employees working remotely. Since introducing remote working, its employee engagement scores have leaped from 54 to 87 per cent. Moreover, Telus saves $40 million a year in real estate costs. The Work Foundation (part of Lancaster University in the UK) estimates that 70 per cent of organisations will have implemented remote working by 2020. Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch multinational famous for its personal care products, cleaning products and domination of the world’s ice-cream brands has almost thirty per cent of its workforce working remotely. Dell, the textbook example of a leanly run multinational has a global workforce of 110,000, 58% of which now work remotely at least one day a week. These companies are all embracing remote working because they know that it works. They can tap into talent pools of labour, which otherwise they might not have access to. They can attract talented employees from the millennial generation who now regard the opportunity to work remotely as the new normal.

More and more our customers (those in sectors such as engineering, architecture, accountancy and consultancy) are embracing remote working as a more efficient and life-enhancing way of achieving their business goals. Several factors which have been instrumental in the success of their programs.

1) First of all, organisations should examine the “why” of their motivation to implement remote working in the first place. Jumping on a bandwagon because you’ve seen one of your competitors adopt remote working practices is not an ideal motivation. Try to establish from the outset how your strategic goals can be better met using remote working.

2) Culture – Does the culture of your organisation lend itself to remote working? If you feel the need to constantly supervise employees, a remote working strategy might not be suitable. Many of the best remote working schemes which we have seen in action rely on trust and the intrinsic motivation of their employees to do great work.

3) Enable your employees with great technology which complements their workflows. In the last 10 years the Cloud has given organisations a plethora of collaboration-based software choices to enable better remote working. (A small sample of which is discussed below)

4) Remote working is not binary. You don’t have to turn your organisation into a remote working organisation overnight. Baby steps first. For example, some of your non-critical workflows can be piloted as remote tasks. This will give you the opportunity to test, pivot and fine-tune your remote working processes. Jumping in too soon can hurt user adoption and impact on productivity.

Tools which enable remote working.

The Cloud has given organisations multiple tools to make remote working more effective. It is important to remember though that cloud solutions are just an enabler of remote working processes – nothing more. You cannot improve the performance of a chef by buying him new knives in the same way that you cannot improve the performance of a football team by buying them new jerseys.

Goal / Task planning – Trello. Intuitive task tracking tool designed with the mantra “what gets measures gets done” in mind. .

Office Suite – Office 365 – Microsoft’s cloud-based Office suite. Compatible with Windows and Mac systems.

File Sharing – Dropbox is the classic cloud-based file sharing application. If you’re looking for something a little more heavy-duty, ShareFile can handle larger size file formats in its stride. (But what about iCloud I hear you ask? Unfortunately, we don’t consider Apple’s iCloud application robust or secure enough for enterprise-level file sharing. It’s fine for sharing pictures of puppies and nice sunsets though…)

Communication
– Teamwork Chat is a free Irish-developed application for quicker and smoother inter-team communication. Has the potential to save your team time-consuming games of email tennis. It’s like Slack only better.

Cloud-based whiteboard – Conceptboard acts as your virtual whiteboard in the cloud. Fantastic software for annotating documents and drawings during projects.

Online scheduling – Make sure everyone is clued into their team’s schedule with Google Calendar.

Capturing serendipitous moments – Many detractors of remote working claim those serendipitous water-cooler conversations don’t happen. Campfire app was designed to facilitate those shoot the breeze moments where ideas and insights can be shared quickly easily amongst remote teams. See, there’s an app for everything these days…

The security of remote working

In this post-Snowden era, no discussion about data storage would be complete without mentioning security. And rightly so. You’re giving employees access to company data from anywhere. This needs to be secure. Many organisations have now adopted a hybrid-model of data storage. Their internal data (financial data, etc.) gets stored on their own in-house storage devices whilst the rest of their data is stored in the cloud. At the very least, connections from in-house servers to remote clients should be tunneled using a VPN connection (SSL or IPSec recommended). VLANs along with ACLs should be used to securely segregate restricted files from normal non-sensitive ones. Using an RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) connection as your primary data exchange channel for remote employees is just too risky. RDP uses Port 3389 on your router and is frequently scanned by malicious bots (controlled by hackers) looking for an “open door” to your network. Even changing your RDP port to use a non-default port still does not mitigate the risk sufficiently. As for securing cloud-based services such as storage and email, ideally these should be secured using two-factor authentication. 2FA means that even if one of your remote employees has their computer hacked and their credentials for Dropbox stolen, for example, the hackers will still be unable to login. 2FA necessitates that users prove their identity using a second means of authentication such as a one-time code sent to their phone.

The pay off

Implemented correctly remote working offers many benefits to your organization, including more engaged and happier employees, lower transport and property costs, reduced commuting time, increased productivity and a even a smaller carbon footprint for the environment.

What budget airlines, a supermarket chain and a car manufacturer can teach you about your IT infrastructure.

Complexity is a scourge which affects the IT infrastructure of many organisations both large and small. Usually, a complex IT setup stems from being oversold IT solutions, implementing badly devised IT strategies or is simply the result of having no coherent IT strategy. Complexity in your IT can take many forms, but let me start with your network. Some organisations have a network which resembles a standard 3-bedroomed semi-detached house with 8 rooms extended onto it. Some of these rooms have been built on the roof. Others have been built out the back and the remaining rooms have been built in the front. Three different teams of architects and builders used. And, for good measure, for each extension different plumbers and electricians have been used. Invariably, the result is going to be a mish mash of different structural modifications, different plumbing and different wiring – a sprawling mess in other words. Unfortunately, the exact same phenomenon happens with IT networks. There is one “core” network and bolt-ons which have been added throughout the years. Data switches and wireless access points from different manufacturers. Then maybe a couple of VLANs and a firewall. All of setup in custom configurations from varying IT technicians who all have their own vagaries of doing things and all of whom left no documentation of their endeavours.

But complexity does not stop at the network layer. Take for example, operating systems. Some businesses will still have a Pandora’s box of operating systems running on-premise from Windows XP, Vista, Windows 8 and 10 to various flavours of OS X. In terms of office productivity software; some of these systems will be running Office 2011, Outlook 2013 or Outlook 2016 whilst the Mac systems might be running Office for Mac. Then, for critical processes like backup – multiple systems being backed up to multiple (un-labeled) backup devices using sometimes multiple types of backup software. As for security software, some IT setups will again suffer from the complexity problem with a potpourri of endpoint security solutions (anti-virus, encryption etc.,) being used from different vendors.

The problem with all of this complexity is un-smooth workflows, frustrated employees and time-consuming downtime. Poor interoperability between systems means they are more likely to break down. Having, for example, wireless access points all from the same manufacturer, in general, makes your wireless network more reliable. Employees using the same operating system version makes file-sharing problems less likely. Having IT security software all from the same vendor makes it easier to maintain and to spot security problems. Having standardised backup software means configuration errors and failed backups are less likely.

One only has to look at the success of the budget airlines to realise how removing complexity from a system makes things run smoother. While some legacy airlines use 12 different types of aircraft, the budget airlines use only one model. This makes aircraft easier to service, makes staff easier to train and means having to keeping less parts in inventory. Moreover, it means employing less technicians and results in greatly lowered operating costs. In the world of car production, Toyota has become a world-class leader in complexity elimination. For all their car ranges (Toyota and Lexus) they use just 13 platforms – foundational designs that can be easily customised. The sharing of parts and assemblies means that problems are spotted quickly and procurement costs lowered. Scania Trucks of Sweden, one of the most respected and profitable truck manufacturers in the world use half the number of unique parts compared to Mercedes trucks. All thanks to a culture of complexity reduction. In supermarket retailing, Aldi, the German retailler, stores on average only 700 different items in each store. Compare this to 15,000 items stored in competing supermarkets. This makes everything from logistics, inventory management to marketing leaner and more efficient.

Reducing complexity in your organisation is the gift that just keeps on giving. It means lowered IT costs, less downtime and happier staff.

RealClear IT @ OWASP EU Belfast

Great OWASP EU conference last week in Belfast highlighting some of the most dangerous IT security risks currently out there. Ironically, on the second day of this conference a lot of message alerts could be heard throughout the conference halls as news of the NHS cyber-attack attack was beginning to break.

Apple Macs and Paris Syndrome

In the mid 1980s, a Japanese psychiatrist working in France noticed a disproportionate number of his holidaying fellow countrymen and women being submitted to Paris hospitals with accelerated heart beats, shortness of breath and disorientation. After some investigations, he discovered that these tourists were in a state of shock. They had grown up all their lives with an idealised image of a city of beauty, culture and romance. But when they arrived, they discovered the reality was quite different. They found Paris to be noisy and unclean – at total variance with their idealised image of the city. He dubbed this condition “Paris Syndrome”. As a result, the Japanese embassy set up a helpline in Paris to assist their citizens experiencing this condition.

This sort of phenomenon is not restricted to Paris or iconic tourist locations. Over the last two to three years, we’ve seen this sort of inflated expectations happening with newbie Mac users. Individual users and business users buy Apple Macs with the expectation that, if they buy a Mac, all their computer woes will be over forever and ever in a fairytale-esque sort of way.

They buy an iMac or MacBook and bring it back to their office or home and then cannot understand what all the hype was about. And while they might not have accelerated heartbeats, shortness of breath or disorientation (well, maybe just a little bit…), they are in a mild state of disappointment that their computer problems have not magically disappeared. Some of these problems are pretty basic but very annoying. Take for example, a user who buys an expensive iMac system and discovers that is cannot maintain a stable connection to Wi-Fi, when their Windows system connected just fine. Or, the user who discovers that Mail.app keeps on losing connection to the IMAP server, resulting in emails that can neither be sent nor received. Or, they find that iCloud is continually misfiring with it comes to syncing data between devices. Or, they discover that with each OS X update, a plethora of frustrating side-effects is incurred. Or, they discover that the Spotlight search feature can’t seem to find anything. Or, they discover that the iWork office productivity suite which has so many bugs it in, it should feature in National Geographic magazine.

Just like Paris, Apple devices are really nice to look at. But they are certainly not perfect and don’t provide a computing utopia.

RealClear IT support are based in Dublin, Ireland and have been fixing Mac computers with love since 2003. Like fixing an old jalopy, fixing the quirks and foibles of Apple hardware and OS X software does actually grow on you! Most the problems mentioned above can be remedied.

Best Way to Install Windows on a Mac

Lately, many Mac users have been asking us about the best way to run Windows on their Apple Mac system. The Windows operating system is still needed by some users to run Windows applications that still cannot run natively on a Mac such as Sage 50 Accounts, Sage Instant Payroll, SolidWorks or Revit to name but just a few. So, rather than deploying both a Mac and Windows system, you can configure your Mac to run the two simultaneously whilst enjoying the best of both worlds.

Reaching dual-operating system nirvana

The two principal ways of reaching this dual operating system nirvana include using Apple’s native Bootcamp or third-party virtualisation software on your Mac such as VMware Fusion or Parallels. However, there are pros and cons to each approach. Going down the Bootcamp route means that each time your Mac is powered up, you will be presented with the option to boot into OS X (Mac) or Windows. This usually works fine. But for some users, it can be extremely time-consuming continually rebooting their Macs just to access their Windows partition from their Mac.

The virtualisation route

This is where VMware Fusion or Parallels virtualisation software come into play. Using these applications, you boot into OS X first and initialise Windows with the click of a button. Windows opens up from within your OS X operating system (in the same way that any Mac application would) negating the need to reboot your Mac. The virtualisation route offers slightly slower performance than using Bootcamp but running an application like Sage 50 Accounts the difference is barely perceptible.

Which is faster VMware Fusion or Parallels?

From our experience, the speed of VMware Fusion or Parallels can vary depending on what applications you intend running or whether you’re using a mechanical or SSD drive. Performance can also be determined by what version of the virtualisation software you’re using. A bit like a grape harvest, the performance offered by the two stalwarts of Apple virtualisation software varies from year to year. Some years VMware’s offering has the performance edge; other years Parallels offers a faster Windows-within-a-Mac experience.

iMacs and MacBooks disconnecting from Virgin Media wireless network (Thomson TWG870 router) after sleep mode

Computer systems disconnecting from WiFi when trying to get some important work done can make for an extremely exasperating experience.
We recently helped a Dublin advertising agency with such a problem. Their iMacs and MacBooks would stay connected to their Virgin Media Thomson TWG870 WiFi router for hours. But as soon as their Macs went into sleep mode and transitioned to “normal” mode, the operating system would wake up but not the wireless connection leaving users in the office frustrated and cursing like sailors. Unfortunately, this is a glitch in many versions of OS X (10.8 – 10.12) which Apple have still not remedied successfully. However, in most cases, the solution is nice and simple.

This problem occurs because OS X seems to “forget” which wireless connection it had established before going into sleep mode. For example, there might be four of five wireless networks such as “hotel wifi”, “meeting room wifi”, “guest wifi” etc. stored in the network settings but upon waking from sleep mode OS X does not know which one to connect to. To remedy this, go to System Preferences > Network > WiFi > Advanced. Then go to the “Preferred Networks” panel and delete all networks listed here using the “-“ button, followed by “ok”.

Now go back into the Network panel and click on “Locations” followed by “Edit”. Click on the “+” and give your network location a new name like “New Office Network”. Click on “Done” followed by “Apply”. This helps to “lock in” a wireless network to your iMac or MacBook meaning that next time it goes into sleep mode it will not lose its wireless connection upon waking.

On follow-up a week later, all users were relieved to have a robust wireless connection. They could continue their work uninterrupted by internet blackouts or by swearing colleagues.

If you’re having wireless network problems with your Apple Mac in Dublin, RealClear are here to help. We work with most wireless networks including those from Virgin Media, Eir, Three, Vodafone and Magnet. You can contact RealClear on 01- 685 4833.

Why you should not be using indigo.ie or eircom.net for your professional email.

We are still shocked at the amount of business owners (legal professionals, consultants, etc.) who contact us about with problems with their indigo. IE or eircom.net email address. Whilst we can help these users to get their email fully operational again, using outdated domains such as indigo.ie as a professional email address is wrong for so many reasons!

1) The indigo.ie domain along with iol.ie were one of the first native email providers in Ireland when the internet started to become mainstream (1994 – 2000). (The eircom.net domain coming on stream circa 1999). The email service provided by these domains served a purpose back then for basic email but times have now changed. Most email services now need to support the IMAP protocol, which is needed for email on mobile devices.

2) Domains such as indigo.ie and iol.ie have long since changed hands from their original owners. Their new owners give these email domains only skeleton maintenance and support.

3) Using older domains like indigo.ie means you get very poor server-level spam filtering. This means a time-consuming nuisance to wade emails from Nigerian princes, but it also poses a security risk.

4) Using an indigo.ie or eircom.net email address does not project a professional image for your business.

5) You are at the mercy of their new owners. For example, the current owners of indigo.ie, Eir, might decide to pull the plug on indigo.ie any day leaving you in the lurch.

RealClear can help migrate your business to a more robust and reliable email platform which offers spam-filtering and higher levels of security