Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Embracing the Strategic-IT Mindset for your Business

The relegation of the IT function as a back-office function as depicted in the sitcom The IT Crowd

The IT function of your business shouldn’t be seen as a cost – indeed it could be one of your most profitable investments.

Here’s a question. How do you view your IT function of your business? Is it like something out of the IT Crowd, stuffed down in a basement to do whatever it is they do without bothering the rest of the company, or is it at the heart of your business strategy? In many cases the answer is the former, but it really should be the latter. Indeed, the health of your business could depend on it.

Technology is already transforming businesses, but that’s nothing compared to what’s to come. Digital technology, data management, cloud software all have enormous potential to reduce costs and make businesses more efficient.

Paddy Power and Micks Garage

Paddy Power and Micks Garage provide two great examples of how two Irish companies have embraced IT as a source of competitive advantage. The latter, a company selling car parts and accessories now generates most of its revenues outside Ireland shipping to 50 countries every month. All thanks to a digital-first strategy. IT is now the bedrock for their inventory control, e-commerce platform and marketing. Or, take Paddy Power a business which 20 years ago was operating in a business sector which was mature and stagnant. However, thanks to the strategic use of IT, the company metamorphosed from a chain of betting shops into a global betting giant. In 2017 alone, it generated £330 million in profits.

APIs, CMS, DNS, CDN, DMZs and Cold Sweats

Even so, many SME owners don’t feel comfortable dealing with IT, and that’s perfectly understandable. Plenty of people come out in a cold sweat at the thought of dealing with APIs, CMS, DNS, CDN or DMZs. They don’t understand it and so don’t have the confidence to take control of how the department operates.

That attitude encourages a limited view of the IT function – one which views the entire role as an area of cost.

SME owners should embrace IT as the engine room of business growth

There is another way. Rather than viewing the IT function as a necessary evil, SME owners should embrace it as the engine room of business growth. Doing so can have dramatic results.

A study by the Harvard Business Review found two things. Most companies were not making full use of their IT function and those that were scored a 40% bonus for their returns.

Almost every function of your business can benefit from IT

In a digital world in which technology governs almost every part of our lives, the IT function should be central to operations. Almost every department can benefit. Effective use of an advanced customer relationship management (CRM) tool, for example, can streamline administration and deepen the engagement between sales agents and potential customers. Enhanced knowledge of a customer’s buying history can help companies to up sell and increase their revenue per customer.

The benefits grow even more with the transition to cloud CRM. Employees can log into the central system and update information as they go ensuring up to date sales information can be viewed instantly in real-time.

Indeed, the cloud is taking on an increasingly significant role in businesses of all kinds. After years of viewing cloud computing with a mixture of fascination and trepidation, businesses are now beginning to make the move. A study from Gartner predicts the cloud computing market to grow at more than 20% year on year to surpass $300 billion by 2021.

Financial reports in minutes as opposed to weeks

This could have a dramatic impact on the way in which businesses handle data. The cloud helps an organisation to significantly boost its data management capacity. It can store and analyse structured and unstructured data to deliver enhanced analytics of the current state of the company.

For example, this could be crucial in fiscal management. Using the latest technology, firms can compile financial reports in minutes as apposed to weeks. The data is accurate in real-time rather than being days or weeks out of date.

Better IT leads to happier more productive employees

Perhaps the most significant change, though, could be the impact on the happiness and wellbeing of your staff. Across the board, technology is reducing workload and freeing up employees to work on more profitable areas.

This firstly has a benefit to business performance. Your accountancy team can spend less time on administrative jobs which have to be done, but add little to the business, and more on strategic visions which help drive you forward.

It will also make staff happier in their roles, encourage them to stay and develop with the company and will also enable you to boost recruitment. Multiple studies show that happier staff are more productive such as a University of Warwick study which revealed people were up to 12% more productive when they were content. Ever wondered why so many cutting-edge businesses and corporations embraced the iPad and Mac with such haste – primarily it was to attract and retain the best staff. They realised the important role a good IT strategy plays in having satisfied employees.

Strategic-Fit and Implementation

Unfortunately, all these benefits only come if new systems are implemented properly and this doesn’t always happen. Moreover, many IT firms over-sell solutions to their clients or sell solutions that are not a good strategic-fit for your business.

On a less dramatic scale new tech implementations often fail to deliver the expected results because businesses aren’t getting the best out of them. A shiny new CRM tool could increase revenue, but only if there is a strategic-fit there and employees know how to use it.

Adapt or Die

To harness technology to its fullest extent, therefore, you should ditch your pre-conceptions that IT is a cost. It’s understandable that SME owners have a phobia of technology. Everyone has their own strengths and specialisations. But if your company isn’t getting involved, it creates an opportunity for your competitors. Embracing technology, therefore could be a case of ‘adapt or die’.

 

 

How to Archive Old Apple Mail Emails

 

 

Many Mac users have been contacting us lately experiencing a problem with Apple Mail being slow. In all of these cases, the problem could be attributed to their mailstore folder being too big. Most of these users have been using Apple Mail for the past four or five years, their mail folders were bursting to the seams with old emails. But here is the rub. They cannot just delete these old emails because all of these clients (bar one) is obliged to keep them under new GDPR regulations.

Manual Solution

You can manually backup Apple Mail by right-(control)-clicking your Inbox and wait for the Archive Mailbox option to pop-up. It will ask you for a location and your mails will be backed up in .mbox format. This works but is a process most users might not remember or have the time to perform frequently enough.

Automated Solution

Thankfully, you can download Mail Backup X from InventPure software which will do the donkey work for you. This application will archive your emails as soon as they arrive.

Result

Apple Mail, when not choked with emails, will work much faster and smoother. Moreover, with a smaller size mail store foler the risk of .mbox database is also reduced.

Fix Outlook’s IMAP “subscribed folder” synchronisation problem

We recently helped a Dublin architectural firm resolve an issue with their slow email. They had 5 Dell Optiplex computers in their office all running Windows 10 Pro. These systems were using Outlook 2016 as their email application which synced with their Blacknight email server. However, all of these systems were exhibiting the exact same problem: namely Outlook 2016 would hang after pressing “send and receive”. So, instead of emails flying into their inbox and emails flying out of their outbox – users would get a message about “synchronizing subscribed folders”. This would pop up on their screens and stubbornly linger there for around 90 seconds (sometimes longer) until the IMAP sync had completed. In a busy architectural practice this problem was, quite understandably, beginning to irritate some users. One user described the problem like rushing for an appointment only to have traffic lights continuously turn red along the route. A solution had to be found and quickly!

We performed some diagnostics. Their Virgin Media broadband speed was good both downstream (62.1 Mbps) and upstream (4.1 Mbps). The Blacknight domain, on which their website and emails were hosted, also showed no issues. Communication between client PCs and their IMAP server was stable with all ICMP requests being responded to quickly. Our suspicions were now turning to Outlook 2016. As a whole, this is a fairly reliable application, but it does have its foibles (like corrupt store folders and other quirks). In this case, we could safely rule out PST file (personal storage) corruption or Outlook user profile corruption because, while it was possible the store folders or the application itself was corrupt, it would be unlikely that all 5 users would have this problem simultaneously. Something else was at play here and we were determined to pinpoint it.

We pressed “send and receive” a few more times and each time we could see the same sequence of events happening. The blue progress bar would laboriously travel across the screen as their IMAP folders synced. Some configuration issue was causing the sync process to be extremely slow. After 1.5 hours of troubleshooting, we found the issue.

  1. Go to the Send/Receive tab in Outlook 2016
  2. Click on Send/Receive Groups dropdown arrow.
  3. Now click on Define Send/Receive groups followed by Edit.
  4. Untick box with “Get folder unread count for subscribed folders”
  5. Under Received Mail Items – tick the option for “use the custom behavior defined below”
  6. In the next dialogue box, only select “inbox” and “sent” items folders.
  7. Click “ok” and exit.

This solution was applied to every system in their office and now their Outlook is performing optimally again. To avoid this problem happening again in the future, we also configured Outlook’s “autoarchive” feature in their systems to keep their “inbox” and “sent item” folders nice and slim without being bogged down with old emails. This also helps them keep compliant with GDPR guidelines on email archiving.

What to do when OneDrive will not sync

 

OneDrive is a popular cloud hosting solution offered by Microsoft. Recently, a user of this application contacted us to report that it no longer synced for them.

This is a common complaint. We were able to offer the customer remote IT support using TeamViewer. The solution we implemented was relatively simple: Onedrive just needed to be reset. You can do this following the steps below:

Press the Windows key + R
Enter this text into the Run window and press Enter:
%localappdata%\Microsoft\OneDrive\onedrive.exe /reset
This will reset OneDrive.

Reboot your system, wait 3-4 minutes and the  OneDrive cloud icon should show in the system tray.

If it doesn’t start, open Start, find OneDrive and manually start it. A quick solution to a very common problem.

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.