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O’RourkeTech is now a proud partner of Datto, the leading business continuity and disaster recovery provider for small and medium businesses. With our Datto partnership, we are able to offer best in class service for keeping your servers available through disasters big and small.

Datto’s Hybrid Cloud technology offers the ability to quickly boot a copy of a failed server on the on-site appliance, or to spin up all of the business servers in redundant data-centers if the situation warrants it.

Even if your location was destroyed, Datto can allow us to have your servers back online and operational in as little as one hour.

Hybrid Cloud Topology

Hybrid Cloud Topology

Contact Us Today to Get a Quote for Full Disaster Recovery!


 

Why cloud services do not mean the end of IT support costs.

We’ve been working with clients for years helping them leverage both on premise and cloud-based solutions for their businesses. As a consultancy, our only real concern is that a client’s needs are met and that their expectations are appropriately set in terms of cost and results. I highly value and recommend many cloud services which provide outstanding value.

A trend on misinformation I’ve seen has me a little worried that expectations for cloud services as a panacea are starting to form. Business decision makers are becoming fooled that moving services to the cloud will reduce their IT costs related to those services to zero or very close to it as part of the subscription model.

While a cloud migration can significantly reduce costs associated with hosting a service yourself, most of the time the bulk of the benefits are in scalability and availability. While cost-savings are a nice to have, ultimately cloud providers are there to make money just like every business.

All technology is great when it is working as expected. It’s the situations where technology does not go as planned that will have the business owner pulling their hair out, or more likely relying on in-house IT resources or consultants.

Take cloud email for example…

Hosting your own email server has many costs. A 5 to 8-year refresh cycle on server hardware and software as well as IT costs associated with upgrades and support.

A cloud email service spreads those costs out over multiple clients with large servers and always has the client running the latest email services. However, there are IT costs associated with the initial migration and there will be IT costs associated with maintaining the cloud infrastructure. Even if those costs are lower than on premise costs, they are never going to be zero.

What happens when upgrades to the cloud email server causes older computers not to be able to connect? You can’t delay the upgrades; you don’t control the servers.

What happens when data on the cloud service is lost or accidentally deleted? You no longer in most cases have on-site backups.

What happens when there is a corruption in a mailbox or contact list and you need to work with a third party to resolve the issue? What if the vendor say’s that there is nothing wrong and you have to prove it?

Now that a major source of intra-office and external communication is in the cloud, you are even more reliant on your internet connection’s stability and bandwidth, requiring additional investments in reliability and redundancy.

All of these are very real scenarios involving ongoing IT costs related to a “no fuss” cloud service that are in addition to the ongoing subscription costs. Time spent upgrading client software, working with non-us based support and troubleshooting connectivity issues are going to happen, and you won’t be credited from the cloud provider in most cases. These types of scenarios carry over to other services you may be thinking of moving to the cloud.

None of this is to say that cloud services are not valuable, in many cases they are. It’s just important to go into the decision with your eyes open to the fact that if zero or even near-zero ongoing internal IT costs are part of the sales-pitch, you may want to reconsider trusting the presenting party.

Microsoft Releases Office 2016 for Apple OSX

Apple users have always complained that they felt left behind by Microsoft when it came to the office suite. I know many users today, who work in PC Centric environments that go to great lengths to run the PC versions on their MAC or have a second computer for Office or even just Outlook.

Office is Microsoft’s business productivity suite and the 2016 version for Mac comes with Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook and OneNote. The goal is to try and bring Apple users closer to feature parity with Windows and give business oriented Mac users the product they deserve.

Your first question might be “2016, aren’t they 5 months early?” and you’d be right. Microsoft is releasing the software early to Office 365 subscribers. Folks wanting to purchase the retail box will have to wait until next year. If you’re not familiar with O365, it has three basic flavors for business, one that includes the full office suite, one that offers cloud based email and one that offers both. If you’ve got either plan that includes the desktop apps, you can upgrade to the newest version for no charge starting today. Ask me if you need help signing up or getting the software installed.

Here’s my 2¢ review:

The Good:

The new design on the Mac looks good and it’s fast and responsive. For me the upgrade was seamless and easy. If you have a fast internet connection you’re golden.

The new interface supports full-screen mode and Retina displays. It does not suffer from the same resolution problems as running the PC apps on a Retina Mac where everything is either really small or really bad looking.

Programs such as the new version of Word pictured have a better, easier to understand Ribbon area that is much closer to windows. It’s more functional and the live design previews are cool.

The newest version of Outlook for Mac is night and day better than the previous version, all of the numerous issues I had with the previous versions are gone. I’d actually go as far as to say that Outlook 2016 is the best email program available for OSX. The new focus on bringing powerful design tools through styles and templates makes it easy to make great looking documents. All the complicated files I tested and created on the PC opened just fine on the Mac, and were completely editable.

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The Bad:

If you are coming from using Office 2013 for Windows, there are simply things that are missing and will annoy you. Despite being “Three Years Newer” there are numerous features from the Windows side that are simply missing. The handy “Insert Online Pictures” feature is missing and replaced with a pretty useless integration with Apple Photos. There is a new contextual menu that appears when you highlight an object on the PC, it’s missing on the Mac.

If you don’t use OneDrive or Sharepoint, which are Microsoft’s cloud storage platforms, then the office file integration window is nearly useless. There also seems to be no way to integrate other cloud storage platforms there, such as Dropbox or iCloud. This is somewhat forgivable on the PC where OneDrive is more ubiquitous, but on the Apple it is a poor choice. Basically your only option is to click on “On My Mac” which closes the current screen and switches to the Mac Finder. So basically if you don’t use OneDrive you’re stuck clicking through a useless window every time you want to open a file from Office.

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The Verdict

Overall the product is great, and a great step forward past the previous version. It’s a no-brainer upgrade for Office 2011 users, and if you don’t regularly use the PC versions it’s nothing but greatness with the exception of the “open file” window.  The only real decision is to wait for the full retail version or subscribing to 365. If you’re already a 365 subscriber, what are you waiting for? Get downloading!!

If you’re currently suffering with Outlook 2011 or trying to use Apple Mail with your business Exchange account, I’d say it’s worth the price of admission for Outlook alone.

Users of the PC Versions will feel the pain that features that they want are missing, however using Outlook on the Mac won’t be the horrible experience it once was.

They are getting closer to feature parity, heck, maybe in 2021 we can get all the same features.

Security Best Practices for Browsing

It seems like every day now there is new news about a breach of security at a company or a new breed of virus that is sweeping across the internet. While there is no magic shield we can put up to protect us from the bad guys, there are some best practices we can follow as internet users both at home and at work to keep ourselves as safe as possible.

Antivirus

It probably seems silly to say this in 2015, but, PC or Mac you need to be running antivirus software. This software typically scans and prevents established threats and may be effective against new threats that behave in similar ways to old ones.

Best Apple Antivirus:

Sophos-Anti-Virus-for-Mac-Home-Edition

Sophos Antivirus for the Mac – Free Home Edition
Lightweight, effective, free

Best PC Antivirus For Home Users

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Webroot Secure Anywhere Antivirus

Webroot has made amazing progress on over the last few years and has gone from a fringe player to offering the best possible protection for home users. This year it has dethroned BitDefender as my product of choice. As of today a 1 year subscription is only $37.99. I recommend subscribing for only 1 year. The choice for best product can easily change in 12 to 18 months.

Best PC Antivirus For Business Users

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Webroot Business User Protection

This product can be rolled out to all users easily and is administered from a cloud based interface where you (or your IT staff) can get a quick, real-time snapshot of the threats that have been blocked and the anti-virus status of your computers as well as allowing company wide policy changes to be made in seconds. The product can be configured to run in complete silience, sending all notification and actions to the cloud control panel and never bothering your users, or allowing them to disable or modify the software. A mid-year upgrade is not wasted, as this product can run along side other antivirus and give you added protection until your current AV subscription expires. Subscriptions start at $25/year for 5 workstations with additional volume discounts.

Web Browser

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As a dyed in the wool Chrome fanatic for many years, it brings a tear to my eye to say that I have personally switched to Firefox and I recommend that home users as well as businesses that allow users to control their own settings do so as well.  Firefox has changed their slogan to “When it’s personal, Choose Firefox” and have made privacy and security central to their market position and branding. Google has continued to produce a more bloated and vulnerable application with each iteration. Loving technology means loving change.

Businesses that control user’s browsing through IT restrictions should stick with Internet Explorer with content blocking and flash disabled.

Browser Add-Ons:

Security does not stop at choosing the right browser, there are many add-ons for Firefox that can further enhance security, these are the best…

LastPass:

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LastPass Lets you create a secure vault for all your passwords and will automatically log you into sites across your devices. You create a master password, it needs to be strong, and you MUST keep a copy somewhere safe. If you loose it, not even LastPass can get it back. But you only have to ever remember one password. When you create new accounts LastPass helps you create strong passwords and then stores them in your encrypted vault. For bonus points, go back and change all your old passwords too!

Businesses can get the enterprise edition that allows you to manage your business passwords for accounts across the web, then give a Last Pass user account to an employee. They can log into the sites for the business but never see the actual passwords. If they leave, you can simply disable their LastPass account and they no longer have access to your company accounts and never knew the password to begin with.

The Ad Blocker:

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uBlock Origin has eclipsed AdBlock plus as my blocker of choice. If you’ve never used an ad-blocker, it filters out annoying ads that appear in pages all over the web. Unlike AdBlock Plus, they don’t allow advertisers who pay them to show you ads. It is also quite lightweight and fast.

The Track Blocker

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Disconnect is a great piece of software that blocks tracking and hacking attempts and prevents unwanted and possibly infected content from entering your browser. As a bonus, it highly reduces bandwith in doing so and can speed up your connections and page loads considerably.

The Script Smacker

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The last plug-in on our list comes with a small warning: IT WILL ANNOY YOU FROM TIME TO TIME. However, it will protect you from literally 90% of all known and unknown attacks online. Many attacks these days come from emails or other communications that contain a link that when you open it, takes you to a website that has a malicious script of some sort. This is how attacks such as CryptoWall work. It is our reliance on convenience that often leaves us vulnerable.

NoScript is an add-on that changes the default behavior of Firefox to block ALL scripts. You need to specifically click the icon and then allow a site to run scripts on your computer. The idea is only to allow content from sites you trust. It will even allow you to block scripts coming from suspicious locations on pages you trust. Most of the time you can get all the info you need to decide that email was a scam without allowing a script to load. Once you have set up the tool to allow sites you trust, you’ll hardly even notice it. Until you click on that bad link and see a suspicions page with blocked content, you’ll be happy you had it.

 

O’RourkeTech Now Certifed Grandstream Reseller

We’re proud to announce that we are now certified Grandstream resellers. This means we now have access to the full line of their innovative Voice, Video and Surveillance products. We’re all about providing our clients with solutions that meet their needs while keeping things affordable. That’s why Grandstream is such a great match.

When working with us to integrate, you can rest assured that we have priority access to support and the backing of the manufacturer.
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Grandstream certified reseller

O’RourkeTech Joins Thumbtack

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Thumbtack is an online resource that links people who are searching for professional services with qualified professionals in their area. If you’re a member, why not stop by my profile and leave a review or request a quote.

 

network administrator

Creepy… See where your android (and you) have been.

Google’s promise to not be evil is something that I really do believe in still, I think they had the best intentions when they made this creepy, creepy feature.

Your Android phone records your location and that data is stored by Google. If you would like to see what your phone, and by extension probably you, have been up to head over to the android location history page. 

And use the calendar to see where your phone has been. Anyone with access to your google account can see this if they are logged in. People at google can also use this information to do things like provide location-based suggestions and information to your Android through google now. If you’ve ever wondered how your phone knows what your daily commute time will be its about mashing up your location history with traffic data.

If you decide you do not want Google to track your Android device’s location history, the service is opt-in and you can find instructions on how to disable it there is a page here that offers:

Location History Disable

  1. Open Google Settings from your device’s apps menu.
    • Devices running Android 4.3 or lower: Touch Location > Location History.
    • Devices running Android 4.4: Touch Location > Location services > Google Location Reporting > Location History.
  2. Slide the switch ON or OFF.

Amazon Web Services Overview

Most people know Amazon as a great place to buy products online, and possibly to soon get a drone to fly to your front door. What many people outside of the tech world don’t know is that Amazon also hosts a great deal of the content on the web and has a myriad of services under the umbrella of Amazon Web Services or AWS for short.

AWS is a very complicated array of services and even looking at all those icons, much less knowing what each one does is honestly still giving me a headache. So here is the dimestore version, AWS is a central portal for a growing array of Cloud-Based computing services. Cloud based essentially means things that the services are out there in the internet and not at your office. You access cloud based services through your computer, smartphone and other devices and they are great for certain applications.

This site is intended for SMBs and I’m going to focus on a few services that are probably of interest to you, some of the other ones may be more interesting to your web developer or other tech staff, but as an owner, knowing about these is a good step into learning about cloud computing.

Amazon EC2

This is the center that lets you manage and create virtual servers in the cloud. They range in power and configuration, but basically, instead of building a physical server at your office or going to a hosting company and getting limited access to a virtual or dedicated server there, you can launch a virtual server (instance) and have full root access to it via SSH as if it were sitting in your office. Well, almost. You do need to use a special command to get root privileges, and you can’t just flip a switch if something goes wrong, but in practice its the next best thing.

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The ec2 management panel makes it easy to create, manage, restart, clone and backup any of your instances. Some good uses for virtual servers are web servers and web application hosts since the cloud is generally more available and resilient than on-premises.

Amazon S3

At it’s most basic, S3 is a set of buckets to store your files on the web. These buckets are redundant and are a great place to back things up or store files in the cloud that you need access to from multiple devices. A lot of people set up servers to back up their data to S3 so that if a premises is damaged or compromised as secure, encrypted backup exists off site. S3 is very affordable and off-site backups are priceless in terms of peace of mind. You can even host a simple website right from an S3 bucket if all you need is a simple html directory.

Amazon Glacier

Glacier is where you can backup your data really cheaply if you don’t need it back in a hurry as requests for retrieving data take several hours to process.

Current data storage pricing at the time of this post is:

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Just doing the math for you to backup a 1TB dataset would be $95 per month on Standard and $10 a month on Glacier

Obviously this is just scratching the surface of what you can do with AWS, much more to come on this blog.

Asterisk Adventure – Part 1

Asterisk Adventure goes back in time to detail my very first Asterisk Installation.

I need to figure out how to handle the transition from the old-school system to a better one and I work for the cheapest organization in the history of the world so I have no budget.

Luckily I had enough VoIP hard phones for everyone in the office from a previous attempt by the Phone Provider From Hell – PFH for short at sort of transitioning us to a fully VoIP system. For reasons I will not get into this system involved everyone having two phones on their desk and the new phones did not do everything that the old ones did because the PFH sucks at VoIP.

These were hosted phones and the hosting was some odd homebrew looking crap that the PFH just rebranded from some white-label solution that they knew very little about. It sort of worked, but it shared our office data connection with no QoS (Prioritizing the VoIP traffic so it works better) and it just sucked. Also my users are technophobic and having a new phone was scary, and letting them keep the old one doomed everything. Also the system did not do very simple things like park calls or intercom.

I looked into trying another hosted system for a bit but I ruled it out. Hosted VoIP service basically moves the PBX out of your office and into the cloud. It has its advantages,  but they generally nickle and dime every little thing you need to do like add more mailboxes and auto attendants etc…. With all of the bizarre configuration requirements that we have, it was cost-prohibitive and clunky to do hosted.

I looked into getting a turnkey VoIP PBX from about a billion vendors, including through an actual telecom company that would have handled the whole project. Their quote, including equipment was $20K. The cheapest turnkey solution was like $3-4K for the bottom of the line and that still required a ton of configuration.

My exploration into FOSS solutions for the project led me to consider many options, but in the end I chose to go with Asterisk, and more specifically with an implementation called Elastix.

Elastix is a pretty slick web-based GUI made by Digium that configures a basic PBX pre-built on Asterisk it also uses uses freepbx at times (another GUI for asterisk).

To all the linux/Asterisk gurus out there, I will get it over with now, I chose to use a GUI because I am a total noob and you are all better than I. Also because if I really messed things up I could buy support from Digium.

Plus also lets be real. Open Source projects on linux are never fully GUI based. If i was afraid to write a shell script or to edit some configuration files I would have gone turnkey or with a vendor.

Configuring On-Demand Call Recording in Elastix

Took a little fussing to get On-Demand Call Recording to work in Elastix.

This setup should be phone agnostic, but I am working with SNOM 320 phones (Elastix Certified), these phones send a silent SIP INFO command to Asterisk when a record button is pressed but would also work with any phone that supports DTMF or similar SIP INFO with a configurable (non silent) default of “*1” on the dialpad.

Elastix places recorded calls into

/var/spool/asterisk/monitor/

There is a GUI option to change this default directory as well.

and by default records the files as .WAV

Once you have configured a user account in elastic and associated it with the extension the used can login to:

https://yourserverip/

Provide credentials and then open the PBX tab and monitoring sub-tab to see the calls (don’t forget the handy dandy star shortcut to bookmark this location to the user’s home-screen.

 They can manage their recorded calls and download them, listen, etc.

In order to set up call recording you need to set it up for the extension in the PBX tab

 

 As well as in the feature codes tab if you want to use *1 or whatever you choose.

 

Now the tricky part is that you need to change the setting by hand and put “wW” in the Dialing Options on the PBX>General Settings Tab. This was not well-documented in the Gui but it only worked after doing this.

Now you are on your way to recording to your heart’s content!