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Why Us?

September 9, 2015
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Why Cursed Network Corporation

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you sometimes think your network is cursed?
  • Do you find yourself working for your network instead of the other way around?
  • Do you spend more time rebooting your computers than using them?
  • Is your “tech guy” frequently in way over his head?
  • Have you thrown tons of money at your computers with minimal results?
  • Do you really know if your backup strategy is really working?
  • How long does it take your “tech guy” to return your calls, let alone show up?

You know you need computers to do business, and when they’re not working right, you’re losing money. However, you probably don’t know what you need to make your network more efficient. Maybe you’re interested in document imaging, but don’t know where to start. Perhaps you need new equipment, but are lost in the malaise of technology jargon. That’s why you need a good technology consultant.

Cursed Network Corporation offers small business the capability and availability of an enterprise-level IT department with outsourcing affordability. Our extensive network of suppliers and specialists gives us the ability to recommend, acquire, and maintain nearly any computer solution imaginable. Furthermore, our expertise and experience with small business allow us to provide comprehensive, efficient, and cost effective troubleshooting, repair, and upgrade services. Finally, our knowledge of the computer world and talent for translating even the most obscure network lexicon into plain English lets you make informed decisions for the future.

 If you’re ready to dispel your computer demons and get the reliable, efficient network and support your business need, drop us a line.

Should We Upgrade to Windows 10 now?

July 27, 2015
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Should We Upgrade to Windows 10 now? Short answer: no.

 Chris Filippi

July 27th, 2015

Microsoft has begun doling out the “free” upgrade from Windows 7/8/8.1 to the new Windows 10 operating system. This is a first for Microsoft, as previous OS version upgrades were typically performed via an upgrade disc and license key (along with a one-time purchase price).   You may also be seeing a notification on your computer indicating your computer is ready for Windows 10.

So you already know our immediate opinion, but let’s delve a little deeper as to why we’re saying “no” right now, when we’ll say “yes” (or “maybe”), and other considerations you should know before diving into the latest Windows release.

Windows 10 is fairly exciting in the tech space because:

  1. It features Cortana – Microsoft’s analog to Siri on the iPhone.
  2. It has a new web browser, Microsoft Edge, which replaces Internet Explorer.
  3. The Start menu is back (a long standing complaint of Windows 8) with new features.
  4. The schizophrenia between Windows 8’s “metro” interface and the traditional desktop has been elegantly solved.
  5. Windows 10 will reportedly work effectively the same on all devices, big and small, allowing a truly contiguous user experience.
  6. With extended support for Windows 7 ending in 5 years and the inevitable discontinuation of new systems shipping with Windows 7, Windows 10 is likely to become the de facto PC operating system for quite a while.

You can read all about the new windows here: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/features.

We’ve performed extensive testing on Windows 10 and have been surprised at how compatible it is. In fact, on one of our older test systems that we had substantial trouble getting peripherals (such as the finger print reader) to work on Windows 8, we were completely stunned that virtually every doodad appeared to work flawlessly without additional driver downloads. Furthermore, we were pleasantly surprised that the new interface was fairly intuitive. That said, it was very clear that Windows 10 had much more of Windows 8 underneath than Windows 7. Thus, we frequently found system changes had to be done the Windows 8 way instead of those familiar to Windows 7.

Windows 10 also poses some very big challenges for our clients:

  1. Since Windows 10 is much more Windows 8.1 than Windows 7, users familiar with Windows 7 will still find Windows 10 somewhat foreign.
  2. Software that works on Windows 7 but had trouble on Windows 8/8.1 will likely continue to have trouble on Windows 10.
  3. While Microsoft has made herculean efforts to provide support for virtually all hardware that works on Windows 7, there are undoubtedly countless peripherals and components that work fine on Windows 7 but will have issues with Windows 10.
  4. No operating system release in human history has been more tested than Windows 10, but it is still new and thus getting support for applications on Windows 10 from software vendors will be initially difficult.
  5. All signs point to Windows 10 becoming a “subscription-based” operating system. Thus, what is “free” today will likely become a monthly/annual renewal at some point. While it’s unclear what will happen if you don’t pay or what you get if you do, it’s safe to say that Windows 10 (and subsequent Windows releases) will not be a one-time expense nor “free” by any stretch.

 

Thus, we’re strongly advising against installing Windows 10 or purchasing systems with Windows 10 preinstalled for at least a few months for the following reasons:

  1. As with all new operating systems, there are inevitably countless compatibility issues at initial release – the majority of these usually get sorted out after a few months at the expense of early adopters’ frustrations.
  2. From a productivity standpoint, Windows 10 has little improvement to offer the modern desktop. Users aren’t going to start barking orders to Cortana and the replacement of Internet Explorer is likely to create more problems in the business world than it’ll solve.
  3. Changing the user experience is never a good idea unless there’s an immediate benefit. While Windows 10 certainly starts faster than Windows 7, offers superior touch-screen support, etc., there’s very little the average user will be able to take advantage of vs. the frustration of adapting to a new working environment.
  4. Upgrading the operating system on a computer that’s currently experiencing problems is highly unlikely to solve any of them. Thus, users with slow or unreliable Windows 7 computers will likely be better served repairing or reinstalling Windows 7 than wasting time with an upgrade that may make the problems worse and increase the difficulty of repair.
  5. Since the long term costs of switching to Windows 10 are completely unknown, it’s impossible to recommend an appropriate upgrade/update strategy. Until these costs (and perceived public acceptance or refusal of said costs) are better understood, it makes no sense to risk additional licensing expense for the simple sake of having the latest Windows version.
  6. There are a number of privacy concerns with the Windows 10, the bulk of which have yet to be understood. As the nature, manageability, and intent of the data collection Microsoft has implementing is largely unknown (and highly reliant on third-party research), we cannot assure users their information nor computer use is safe.

Since Windows 7 will be supported by Microsoft until 2020, it’s reasonable to assume that all Windows 7 computers currently in the field or purchased this year be supported for their service lifetime. By the time Windows 7 is no longer available preinstalled for new system purchases (probably within 6 months), we will likely be recommending Windows 10 as opposed to Windows 8.1. At that point, new systems will have hardware specifically designed to work with Windows 10 and the majority of common software/hardware ailments should be sufficiently vetted and solved.

For those users who plan on keeping computers with Windows 7 installed beyond 2020, we have three, distinct, recommendations:

  1. Upgrade to Windows 10 after 6 months of release (or when sufficient compatibility testing is concluded) while the “free” upgrade is still available (before 7/29/2016).
  2. Purchase an OEM Windows 10 license/subscription in conjunction with a hardware upgrade sometime before 2020.
  3. Stick with Windows 7 until 2020, then purchase a new Windows license/subscription or take the system off-line.

There are a handful of situations where an end-user may wish to install Windows 10 shortly after its release this Wednesday:

  1. They have a personal touchscreen desktop/laptop, tablet, or 2-in-1 that is currently running Windows 8 and are dying for a change despite the potential consequences.
  2. They have a handicap that makes a virtual assistant like Cortana a huge time saver.
  3. They plan on using 3-D printing that requires the Windows 10 3-D Builder application.
  4. They’re an avid gamer with an Xbox One and are looking forward to the Xbox capabilities within Windows 10.

For these situations, we offer the following advice:

  1. Create a full image backup of the current system onto an external hard drive and make sure you have the recovery tools available (e.g. Windows Recovery media, bootable USB drive, etc.)
  2. Check ALL your critical applications with their respective software manufacturers to ensure they’re compatible with Windows 10.
  3. Make sure your drivers and key applications are fully updated.
  4. Run the Microsoft Compatibility Checker to make sure your hardware is supported under Windows 10. See this article for more information: http://www.zdnet.com/article/will-your-pc-run-windows-10-use-this-well-hidden-compatibility-checker-to-find-out/
  5. After installation, install any available updates from Microsoft.
  6. Test, test, test. If there are any potential deal breakers, it’s always better to find out before you invest the time in configuring your new operating system.

There’s zero doubt that Windows 10 is here to stay and will become commonplace in the modern office. However, there is no need to rush headlong into this new world – especially given how well Windows 7 works and how generally comfortable users are with it. Furthermore, there’s little risk of “missing the boat” with the “free” upgrade opportunity as eligible systems will be able to upgrade for a full year after the release on Wednesday. While Windows 7 may become the next Windows XP of 2020 (orphaned by Microsoft but still with widespread use), for the next five years it will remain a completely viable PC operating system and might just be substantially cheaper in the long run.

The End of the eXPerience

October 9, 2013
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-Chris Filippi

October, 2013

It’s official: the most successful Windows operating system (and arguably Microsoft’s best product ever) will no longer be supported as of April 8, 2014. If you’re a small business, odds are you still have quite a few Windows XP workstations in your arsenal. And why not? They work, users are comfortable with them, they run all the programs you need, and they talk to all the hardware you have. So, who cares if Microsoft is ending support? Trust me: you do, and I’ll explain why.

But first, a little history. Windows XP (short for eXPerience) was first released in August of 2001 and was eagerly anticipated as it replaced two very unpopular predecessors: namely Windows ME and Windows 2000. Though based largely on Windows 2000, XP offered a familiar, colorful, and intuitive user interface with a robust and reliable backbone, which was rapidly accepted by users, businesses, and hardware/software manufacturers alike to become the standard platform around which the post-Y2K PC world would revolve. This wide-spread approval became a self-fulfilling prophecy: as more and more users adopted XP, manufacturers and developers were inclined to make their stuff work with XP. Then in 2005 (via possibly the greatest marketing blunder since New Coke), Microsoft attempted to succeed XP with the notorious Windows Vista. Incomplete and horribly disappointing, Vista quickly became new technology to avoid. This schism led manufacturers to offer the aging Windows XP preinstalled on new systems instead of the newfangled Vista (aka “downgrade”), which was monumentally unprecedented: imagine a car salesman telling you, “We’ve had so many complaints about our new navigation system, so we’ll replace it with a Thomas Guide for free.” Faced with the overwhelming rejection of Vista and continued proliferation of XP, Microsoft extended support for Windows XP far beyond their at-the-time standard of an 8-year cycle (security fixes for 8 years and no new features after the first 4 years) to an astounding 12 years (if you’re not impressed, try going to Ikea to get a replacement door handle for the Galant cabinet you bought 12 years ago). As an added consequence, Microsoft expanded their future support policy for business applications (such as Windows and Office) from 8 years to 10 years.

Alas, the XP show must eventually close and the set stricken. So what does “end of support” really mean and how does it affect your business?

No more security fixes

Microsoft will no longer patch security holes in Windows XP after April 8th, 2014. So, when a new vulnerability is discovered (presumably April 9th, 2014), Microsoft will not fix it. Given the rapid exploit of known Microsoft OS security weaknesses, it is extremely likely that data thieves and malware authors will take full advantage of newly found chinks in the armor. This will leave Windows XP machines with internet connectivity to be highly susceptible to infection.

New software and hardware may not work on XP

With an upcoming industry-wide abandonment of XP, hardware manufacturers will be less and less likely to write drivers for Windows XP. Thus, when your scanner or printer craps out, its replacement may not talk to XP. Likewise, software companies will progressively stop supporting their applications on Windows XP. Case in point: the current version of QuickBooks for Windows (QuickBooks Pro 2014) and Apple’s iCloud for Windows will not install on a Windows XP computer.

Okay, so using a Windows XP computer after April 8th, 2014 is clearly a huge liability – what is a small business owner to do? Let’s look at some common scenarios:

“We can’t afford to replace our XP computers by April 8th, 2014”

Tread lightly my friend – you’re about to walk through a shooting range with a bull’s-eye on your back. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Relegate your XP machines to non-internet tasks as much as possible
  2. Make sure you’ve got better-than-average security software (antivirus and firewall) installed on your XP computers and keep it updated
  3. Consider purchasing a security appliance to protect your network if you don’t already have one
  4. Plan on replacing rather than repairing your XP machines as they progressively bite the digital dust

“One or more of our key line-of-business applications will not work on Windows 7 or later”

Essentially, you have three options:

  1. Upgrade your line of business application(s) to newer version(s) or replace with competitive products that are Windows 7+ compatible
  2. Keep some Windows XP computers around to run the old application but disconnect them from the internet
  3. Virtualize your Windows XP applications (e.g. using Windows XP Mode in Windows 7) to minimize their exposure and simplify recovery if disaster strikes

“My XP computers are less than four years old – do I really need to replace them?”

So you managed to get a computer with XP pre-installed just before the cut-off on October 22nd, 2010? You may be in luck – odds are your system shipped with a Windows 7 license you never used. Hopefully you still have the disc and the Windows 7 Product Key sticker is still readable – if so, get yourself a brand new hard disk and perform a clean installation of Windows 7. Alternatively, you can pick up a copy of Windows 8 Upgrade for around $100 and install it in-place: your documents should be there after the upgrade, but you’ll need to re-install all your applications.

“We don’t want to learn a new operating system”

To quote the great prophet Dilbert: “Technology – no place for wimps.” Did you really think you’d be using Windows XP forever? Do you still get regular ice deliveries to keep your refrigerator cold? Is your phone system a collection of tin cans and strings? Computers and the software they use will march on with or without you (and your users). Please take a look at my article “The Great Windows 7 Dilemma” (http://www.cursednetwork.com/Articles/TheGreatWindows7Dilemma.htm) – it will likely assuage your fears.

“Where can I get more information?”

Microsoft has published a very simple and informative website which covers the basic content of this article, albeit in Microsoft-friendly parlance at: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/endofsupport.aspx

Conclusion

XP’s time has finally come. It had a great run – far better than anyone could have expected or imagined. Nevertheless, the world has changed and Windows XP will soon be but a memory. Don’t let your network security and compatibility become a memory with it; plan your upgrade now, lest you and your IT infrastructure go the way of the Zip drive.

Replacing Your Windows 2003 Small Business Server

February 1, 2013
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Replacing Your Windows 2003 Small Business Server

This Year or Never

By Chris Filippi, February 2013

At the heart of your network lies your trusty Windows 2003 SBS (Small Business Server) box. For the last 5 to 8 years, it has received and stored your email, shared your documents, and made your information accessible remotely from the web, an iPad, or a smart phone. Like any other computer, it’s nearing the end of its service life – so you’re probably planning on getting a brand new server in a year or two that’ll be basically the same with some key modernizations and you’re set server-wise for another 7 years or so, right?

Unfortunately, this is no longer the case: After 15 years of a successful one-stop, all-inclusive server product, Microsoft will be discontinuing the retail sale of Windows Small Business Server on June 30th, 2013.   It will still be available preinstalled through OEMs (such as Dell) through December 31st, 2013.

The current (and final) release of Windows Small Business Server is version 2011, which includes Windows Server 2008 R2, Exchange Server 2010, and optionally SQL Server 2010. In its wake, Microsoft will be selling Windows Server 2012 Essentials (essentially a limited version of Windows Server 2012 Standard optimized for small business) and Office 365 (a subscription-based, hosted email solution).

Why? Cloud-based subscription services are really hot right now, and Microsoft has jumped in with both feet. Google’s rampant success with Google Docs has prompted Microsoft to go full-bore with Office 365 – an online monthly service that, at various price points, offers cloud-based email, calendaring, file sharing, and more. In essence, Microsoft wants charge monthly to do what Small Business Server does.

So what? What makes Small Business Server (SBS) so special? Simple: features, usability, and cost. In an effort to attract small business (i.e. less than 25 users) to use Microsoft software on their servers (in place of Novell, IBM, or Lotus), Microsoft released BackOffice Small Business Server 4.0 in October of 1997. It combined limited versions of enterprise-level software products previously priced far out of reach for small organizations. At its core were three key components: Windows Server for sharing files and printers, Microsoft Exchange for collaboration, hosting email, and storing personal information (e.g. calendar, tasks, etc.), and Microsoft SQL Server for hosting databases. Designed to run on modest hardware and be managed by non-IT personnel, it combined a highly affordable and flexible collection of software with simple installation and maintenance. Over the years and several iterations, Microsoft continued to provide slightly handicapped versions of its current enterprise products into SBS and effectively took over the small business server market. The product also continued to expand, ultimately allowing up to 75 users and even a second server with their Premium Editions of SBS. As a result, countless small companies now rely on SBS for hosting and sharing their Outlook data, storing and backing up their data, and running their line-of-business applications.

The value of an in-house Microsoft Exchange Server cannot be understated – it has been labeled THE killer application for most professional organizations. Aside from simply receiving and sending e-mail, Microsoft Exchange stores everything your users access in Microsoft Outlook and their mobile devices. Thus, when a user sends an email from his iPad, that email shows up in Sent Items in Outlook. When a user updates the phone number for a contact on their laptop, that contact is immediately updated on their smartphone. Furthermore, by centrally storing all that data, when a user gets a new computer everything they had in Outlook on their previous workstation is accessible without any import/export migration required. Switching from your BlackBerry to an iPhone? No problem – just punch in your user name and password on your new phone and your email, contacts, and calendar magically appear in a matter of minutes. Stolen laptop or workstation hard drive crash? All the email for the past umpteen years remains safely intact on the server. Accidental deletion? Compliance? Disaster recovery? Central storage also allows for central backup, so everyone’s mailbox can be safely stored to tape, external hard drive, or cloud storage.

SBS’s isn’t just a great deal for the end-user; it’s proved highly successful for small business focused IT firms. With the rampant growth of the small business server market, computer consulting companies now had a product that was easy to sell, install, and maintain. Technicians no longer needed extensive expertise in Microsoft Server products because Small Business Server effectively automated common tasks such as creating users, adding mailboxes, and performing backups. Additionally, small companies could enjoy enterprise-level features such as web access to their email, secure remote access to their network, and comprehensive document and data storage without weeks of training.

But those days will soon be over. Microsoft wants you to put everything you do in Outlook on their servers, not yours. By removing Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server from Small Business Server (in what is now called Windows Server 2012 Essentials), they have effectively eliminated the primary attraction of the product. And while customers still have the option of buying the full-fledged versions of Windows Server, Exchange, and SQL Server originally included with Small Business Server, they will face 2 to 3 times the costs in software licensing and need IT support that knows how to manually do all the things Small Business Server did automatically. Ultimately, succumbing to Microsoft’ new will and direction may seem like the path of least resistance, but per-user monthly costs can quickly add up and you may still need a SQL Server solution.

So, let’s take a hard look at your options:

  • Replace your server before the end of the year with the current (and final) version of Small Business Server (SBS 2011) preinstalled on a new machine.
  • Purchase Windows Small Business Server 2011 software and licenses before June 30th, 2013 and hold onto it until you’re ready for a new server.
  • Abandon Windows Small Business Server down the road and buy the Microsoft products and licenses you need separately for a new server.
  • Move your email to the cloud and replace your server when it’s time with a new server that just handles file and database sharing.

Option 1: Replace your server this year

Maybe you’re not ready to replace your trusty server just yet, but here are a few reasons why you should seriously consider it:

  • OEMs (such as Dell) provide Small Business Server 2011 preinstalled on new servers, which greatly reduces the labor cost of getting the server ready for deployment.
  • By purchasing the software with the hardware, you get OEM support for both while the server is in warranty.
  • Significant savings compared with the other alternatives, especially over the life of the server.

And here are the downsides:

  • High initial cost for server hardware and licenses.
  • Forfeiting any remaining usable life of your current server.
  • Not getting the latest, greatest version of Windows Server and Exchange.

Option 2: Buy the software to install later

If you’re not ready to purchase and deploy a new server this year, you can always purchase the software and licenses now to install on a future server later. When it’s time, you can buy a new server with no operating system pre-installed. This move has the advantages of:

  • Relatively small initial cost.
  • Maximum the life of your current server.

Unfortunately, there are a few key caveats:

  • Higher deployment cost as server software will need to be installed on a “bare” machine.
  • Potential lack of support from server manufacturer as software was purchased separately.
  • Not getting the latest, greatest version of Windows Server and Exchange.

Option 3: Forget SBS – get the real thing

From its inception, Small Business Server has had some key limitations to prevent large organizations from taking advantage of the small-business-friendly pricing, such as capping the maximum number of users, prohibiting child and trust domains, etc. By purchasing the “full blown” versions of the products included with SBS, many of these limitations disappear. Additionally, you can get the benefits of the latest versions of Microsoft Windows Server Standard (currently version 2012) and Microsoft Exchange Server (currently version 2013). To summarize:

  • Latest versions of Microsoft software.
  • OEM support for pre-installed operating system.
  • Elimination of SBS limitations (e.g. multiple domain controllers, Exchange archiving, etc.).

However, here’s what you’re giving up:

  • Substantially higher licensing costs (2 to 3 times higher).
  • Higher deployment costs, as server software components must be installed “from scratch.”
  • Less user-friendly management means increased maintenance cost.
  • Some SBS features (such as the Remote Web Workplace and POP3 email retrieval) are not included with standard Microsoft server products.

Option 4: Put the e-mail in the cloud

Microsoft Exchange (which receives and sends e-mail, centrally stores users’ Outlook data, provides remote access to Outlook data, and allows synchronization of Outlook data with mobile devices) is perhaps the most desirable component of Windows Small Business Server. Since purchasing it separately, backing it up, and maintaining can be expensive, why not get someone else to host it for you? While you’ll still need an in-house server to store files, run your line-of-business applications, etc., that server will cost a lot less than an SBS box. This may suit your business because:

  • Minimal initial cost in licensing and deployment.
  • No need to buy and maintain software to back up your Exchange data.
  • Improved remote access.
  • Easier management with less server maintenance.
  • Technical support for Exchange is typically included with your subscription.

There are some major hitches though:

  • Higher long-term costs, as you’ll be paying for the service indefinitely.
  • Less flexibility, as you’ll need to abide by your host’s rules (e.g. mailbox size).
  • Higher dependency on your internet connection, requiring more bandwidth and/or a secondary connection.
  • Initial Outlook synchronizations (such as when you get a new desktop) will take substantially longer.

Analysis

Okay, now down to the real business decider: dollars and cents. Let’s take a small, 10-user SBS 2003 law office as an example and look strictly at software costs (namely operating system, licenses, subscriptions, and backup software):

Options 1 & 2 Option 3 Option 4
Initial Cost $1665 $3915 $896
5-year Cost $1665 $3915 $3296

[This model assumes: No Microsoft SQL Server; Server 2012 Standard for Option 2; Office 365 Hosted E-Mail and Server 2012 Essentials for Option 4]

Two things are clear: 1) While the hosted solution is initially attractive, the savings don’t pay out over the life of the server, and 2) the SBS licensing cost is a steal compared to purchasing the full versions of the latest Microsoft products.

Now, let’s take the above example from 10 users to 25:

Options 1 & 2 Option 3 Option 4
Initial Cost $2,639 $5,690 $896
5-year Cost $2,639 $5,690 $6,896

[This model assumes: No Microsoft SQL Server; Server 2012 Standard for Option 2; Office 365 Hosted E-Mail and Server 2012 Essentials for Option 4]

That’s right: not only does hosted solution get really expensive; the gap between Small Business Server and its full-size counterparts continues to grow, even though the core component and backup software costs remain constant.

Finally, let’s add Microsoft SQL Server to the mix. In the case of Small Business Server, this would require the SBS Premium add-on for options 1 and 2 (and slightly higher per-user licensing costs), while options 3 and 4 require Microsoft SQL Server 2012 purchased and licensed separately:

Options 1 & 2 Option 3 Option 4
Initial Cost $4,211 $12,471 $8,224
5-year Cost $4,211 $12,471 $14,224

[This model assumes: Server 2012 Standard for Option 2; Office 365 Hosted E-Mail and Server 2012 Essentials for Option 4]

So essentially, this firm would blow $8,000 in software licensing costs alone for the luxury of keeping their 8-year-old Windows 2003 Small Business Server for another two years. Furthermore, the lower startup cost for the hosted solution has vanished due to the initial purchase and licensing costs of SQL Server.

Okay, so what about the other factors like IT costs, maintenance, server hardware, etc.? In the case of Option 3, these are higher across the board, so let’s forgo that one. Instead, let’s look at a small 5 workstation, 5-user law firm that’s considering replacing their SBS 2003 server. To keep it really simple, let’s assume they only need Microsoft Exchange functionality, centralized back up, and simple file and printer sharing:

SBS 2011 Replacement 2012 Essentials + Office 365
Initial Server Cost $5,000 $4,000
Server Deployment $1,800 $1,200
Email Migration $0 $500
Total Initial Cost $6,800 $5,700

[This model assumes: Dell PowerEdge T420 with 3x2TB HDs and 16GB RAM vs. PowerEdge T320 with 3x2TB HDs and 8GB RAM, and labor @ $100 / hr]

Now, let’s assume typical server maintenance and services over a 5 year period:

SBS 2011 Replacement 2012 Essentials + Office 365
On Site Maintenance $3,000 $2,000
Remote Administration $3,000 $1,000
Hosting Subscription $0 $1,200
Internet Access $8,100 $12,600
Server SSL Certificates $360 $0
Backup Email $132 $0
Anti-Spam / Email Filtering $562 $0
Total 5-year Cost $15,154 $16,800

[This model assumes: a single cable modem connection for SBS and a cable + DSL connection for Office365]

Because the hosted option requires every interoffice email to be sent to the cloud and then pulled back down (such as scanning a document on your copier and emailing to yourself or forwarding that 50-page PDF to your partner), internet bandwidth becomes a major factor. Thus, this additional bandwidth costs 50% more per month and is the driving element in the above cost analysis, effectively killing the initial savings within 5 years.

SBS 2003 vs. SBS 2011

So other than being newer, what does SBS 2011 have over your existing SBS 2003 server you’ve been happily humming along with? Two big things: support and compatibility. Microsoft doesn’t release security updates and patches for its products indefinitely. In fact, mainstream support (i.e. addition of new features to work with new technologies) ended on July 13, 2010. Extended support (i.e. patches to security flaws) will end in March, 2015. That means that if a security issue is discovered after extended support ends, Microsoft will probably not fix it. Windows Server 2008 R2, upon which SBS 2011 is based, has mainstream support through March, 2015 and extended support through January, 2020.

Being able to connect all your workstations and mobile devices to your SBS 2003 server is likely one of the main reasons you’ve kept it around for so long. However, this connectivity will become more and more limited as your computer environment changes. For example, if buy a brand new Mac with Microsoft Office 2011 Home and Business (which includes Outlook), you will be unable synchronize your contacts and calendar, because Outlook 2011 doesn’t support Exchange Server 2003. These incompatibilities will only multiply as time marches on.

Here’s a quick summary of the key advantages of SBS 2011 over SBS 2003:

  • No 75GB Exchange database limit
  • Compatibility with Macintosh software (e.g. Mail, iCal, Outlook 2011, etc.)
  • Better smartphone support and management, including the ability to remote wipe lost devices
  • Vastly improved Outlook Web Access
  • Improved spam filtration and email transport customization
  • Remote Web Workplace with SharePoint, which lets you create a fully-customized internal intranet site, such as an office calendar, photo album, bulletin board, etc.
  • Faster search from Windows Vista, 7, and 8 computers
  • Stronger security for local and mobile users
  • Improved server management tools, making it easier for non-IT personnel to create new users, reset passwords, etc.
  • Backup to external hard drive now includes full server imaging, allowing restoration of the entire server after a hard drive crash or other catastrophe

Regrettably, there are two capabilities you’ll lose moving from SBS 2003 to 2011, namely:

  • Integrated tape support for backup is no longer included, so if you want to backup to tape you’ll need 3rd party software, such as Symantec’s Backup Exec
  • Fax services are no longer compatible with Windows XP – if you use your SBS 2003 server as a fax machine, computers with Windows XP will be unable to send faxes through the server or view the fax server’s inbox

Compatibility with software and hardware the same era as your SBS 2003 server is also a major downside. Since SBS 2011 is only available in a 64-bit version, older hardware (such as label printers, copiers, etc.) may not have available drivers, prompting additional hardware replacements and/or upgrades. As with any operating system upgrade, older software may no longer be compatible, especially older server applications (such as QuickBooks 2007 Database Server). It goes without saying you should check with your software vendors and IT support to ensure your line of business applications are compatible, and what’s involved with upgrading or replacing them if they’re not.

Other Considerations

SBS is by no means a server panacea: by limiting the installation to a single server (or two in the case of SBS Premium) larger organizations cannot implement Microsoft Exchange clustering to spread the workload over multiple machines. While SBS 2011 no longer has a constraining cap on the amount of data the Exchange Server can hold (SBS 2003 is limited to a maximum of 75GB), a company with 50 workstations can experience significant delays if too many people are hitting the server at once. Also, companies with sizable branch offices cannot implement satellite servers, forcing branch users to authenticate with the main server directly, resulting in performance hits and connectivity issues if their link to the main office breaks down. And a solitary server means a single point of failure – since the SBS server cannot be clustered for fault tolerance, if the server goes down it effectively takes the whole network with it.

However, keep in mind that SBS is intended for what Microsoft considers a Small Business: 25 users or less. Though SBS 2011 can support up to 75 users, the server hardware required to support upwards of 50 users on a single machine can easily prompt IT managers to opt for multiple, less expensive servers to distribute the burden to provide better performance and redundancy. Additionally, with virtualization technologies becoming commonplace, companies with high growth expectations should certainly consider keeping the hardware out of the equation and focus on scalability.

But for most small businesses with an existing SBS 2003 server, the factors above simply do not apply: while the workforce may certainly expand over the next 5 to 7 years, a company with 20 users is unlikely to balloon to 60 overnight. And if it did, the additional infrastructure required would likely quickly overshadow any previous technological investment. Furthermore, any small business with substantial server overhead probably outgrew their SBS 2003 box ages ago. Finally, if the hardware running your SBS 2003 server is as old as the operating system itself and you’re still getting along, it’s safe to assume a new SBS server will easily sustain your server needs for quite a while.

Conclusion

SBS is a licensing bargain. If you have an aging 2003 Small Business Server and are reliant on Microsoft Exchange, replace it this year or at least buy your licenses now so you’re ready when you’re existing server’s time has come. Putting your email in the cloud is very en vogue and for $4 per user, per month it can be very tempting. But even if a new SBS 2011 server lasts 75% as long as you’re existing SBS 2003 box, you’ll still be ahead of the game.

The Great Windows 7 Dilemma

August 1, 2009
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By: Chris Filippi

You’ve heard about Windows 7. They say it’s got all the problems of Windows Vista fixed. You know you soon won’t be able to buy new systems with your beloved Windows XP preinstalled. They say 64-bit computing is the way of the future. You have users who reject change. They say Windows 7 is stronger, faster, better (cue “The Six Million Dollar Man” music)…

“I like things the way they are…Why do I have to change?”

Computers, unlike typewriters or microwave ovens, are not static entities. They live in a constantly changing world, despite your users or your current software. Security vulnerabilities are discovered, then patched or exploited. Web sites create new ways to experience their content, web browsers are updated to deliver that content. More and more of the people and companies you interact with adopt new file formats, more sophisticated documents, emails, and presentations. New malwares get introduced every day to bring your business to a screeching halt, forcing you to buy more advanced protection to secure your systems. Over time the net sum is: your computers get slower, your Internet bandwidth becomes inadequate, and everyone wants a new computer.

It’s inevitable…but not necessarily scary. The information below, typed by me personally (not copied and pasted from a Microsoft website) should help you drag your network kicking and screaming into the future.

“Why should I embrace Windows 7?”

  • Friday, October 22nd, 2010 – The last day you’ll be able to get a new computer with Windows XP preinstalled. While you still may be able to install Windows XP on a new system after that, you’ll face the following:
    • Drivers may not be available for your new system, limiting its capability and potential.
    • OS support will not be available from the system manufacturer. If there’s an incompatibility with Windows XP and your new computer, the manufacturer can’t help you.
    • It typically takes 2 days of computer time and 2 – 3 hours of billable time for us to replace a computer’s operating system, adding significantly to your new computer’s price tag.
    • The simple fact that you’re installing an 8 year old operating system on a brand new computer.
  • Windows 7 is actually faster – In our tests, across multiple system types, Windows 7 is consistently faster to load and more responsive than Windows XP and Windows Vista on identical hardware.
  • Windows 7 is more secure – Despite all the wonders that are Windows XP, it is quite susceptible to modern malware (e.g. viruses, Trojans, spyware, etc.). Windows 7 has numerous features built-in (i.e. no user intervention required) to prevent infection.
  • Windows 7 has useful new features – Windows 7 incorporates several new tools to make using a computer faster and more efficient. Here are just a few:
    • Jump Lists allow you to quickly access your favorite files, folders, and programs.
    • Snap makes organizing multiple windows on your screen a breeze.
    • Search lets you find programs, emails, and documents right from the Start button.
    • Taskbar Preview lets you see what’s going on in your open windows without having to switch out of your current window.
  • New stuff works better on Windows 7 – With a new driver model and an improved API (aka Application Programming Interface), modern programs are less prone to crashing and stalling.
  • Old stuff still runs – The vast majority of older programs run without a hitch on Windows 7, regardless of whether you’re running a 64-bit or 32-bit version. And for those few stubborn programs (such as QuickBooks 2005), every copy of Windows 7 Professional and higher comes with a free virtual Windows XP machine to run them.
  • Tons of old hardware is supported – Unlike the dreaded switch from Windows 98 to XP, most of your old printers, scanners, and peripherals work fine under Windows 7. You should still check your hardware compatibility before migrating, but by in large most hardware made within the last 5 years will operate as normal. And yes, your trusty HP LaserJet 4 from 1993 will work fine as well.
  • You don’t need to upgrade everybody – Windows 7 plays nicely with Windows XP and Vista, as well as Server 2000 and 2003 on the same network.

“How will my users react to Windows 7?”

  • Novice users (e.g. people who never use the right mouse button) won’t have much trouble. As long as they have an icon on the desktop for their software, they’ll be fine.
  • Intermediate users (e.g. those who know how to browse for files, install software, etc.) will likely need a little help. Fortunately, Microsoft has gone to great lengths to get users acquainted with Windows 7 quickly. Microsoft’s “What’s New” website has several 7-second videos illustrating how to use the new features (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/what-is-windows-7.aspx).
  • Experienced users are likely to be so excited about getting Windows 7, they’ll jump in with a huge smile and be more productive than ever.

“Okay I’m convinced. What edition of Windows 7 should I get?”

  • Windows 7 Professional is the best choice for small business.
  • Windows 7 Home Premium is good for home use or small peer-to-peer networks (e.g. 2 or 3 computers). Home Premium does not include XP mode nor fax software and cannot join a domain network.
  • Windows 7 Ultimate is only recommended UNIX users, users requiring alternate languages, and laptops which require hard drive encryption not provided by the manufacturer.

“What’s up with 64-bit and 32-bit?”

The “bits” refer to how much information the computer can address at a time. Thus, more bits allow for bigger chunks of data to be manipulated more efficiently. In modern computing, large files (over 1 GB in size) are not uncommon: most Outlook data files we see are easily that big.

64-bit vs. 32-bit is the computer equivalent of having four hands instead of two. Certain tasks, such as giving your significant other a back scratch, are instantly more productive while others, such as dialing a phone, are not…yet.   Software programmers are adapting to 64-bit architectures and the increased performance and capability that lie in wait. Unfortunately, most current desktop applications are not yet written for 64-bit platforms. To use the example above, until there’s a telephone that can accommodate four hands, you can’t dial a number any faster than you could with two. Therefore, while you will likely not see any improvement in performance with existing 32-bit programs on a 64-bit machine, you can still run the 32-bit programs and will be ready to reap the rewards if and when a 64-bit version is available.

Software development lagging aside, 64-bit operating systems do offer a significant benefit right now: the ability to use 4GB of memory or more (most 32-bit systems top out somewhere between 3.2GB and 3.8GB). While most systems currently run fine with 2GB of memory, it is inevitable that 4GB will be commonplace in a year or two, and an absolute must in 3 – 5 years.

So it would seem choosing 64-bit over 32-bit is a no brainer, right? Unfortunately, there are a few caveats.

For one, you need 64-bit drivers to run hardware on a 64-bit system. So, if you have an old scanner and the manufacturer doesn’t provide 64-bit drivers for it, the scanner won’t work. While most 32-bit programs run fine on 64-bit platforms (in fact, we have only discovered a handful of programs that simply refuse to work properly and must be run in “Windows XP Mode”), you should make sure that your core applications work in a 64-bit environment.

To summarize: if your software and hardware will work with a 64-bit version of Windows 7, go with 64-bit on your next new computer. If you depend on older software or hardware that you can’t afford to upgrade just yet, go with an inexpensive 32-bit system knowing that you will likely need to upgrade or replace it in 3 – 5 years.

“What if I can’t determine if one of my essential programs is Windows 7 and/or 64-bit compatible?”

CNC currently has a limited number of computers with Windows 7 32-bit and 64-bit installed, along with popular office applications such as Microsoft Office and WordPerfect. You may borrow one of these systems for a maximum of one week to try Windows 7 on your network. You will be charged a flat fee of $75 to cover the cost of re-imaging the system once you’re done with it. Any integration or customization on-site will be billed at the usual hourly rate.

“Where can I get more information?”

Microsoft has a very elaborate and user-friendly site to answer just about any Windows 7 question you may have:

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/default.aspx

As always, if you have any additional questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at:

chris@cursednetwork.com

Thank you for your attention. I sincerely hope the above has clarified The Great Windows 7 Dilemma allowing you to make informed decisions with your future computer purchases.

What’s with the name?

July 13, 2004
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What’s with the name “Cursed Network” anyway?

7.13.2004

by: Chris Filippi

In all my years of computer network consulting and maintaining, I’ve noticed one common trend in small business: They need computers to function, and go nuts when their computers don’t function as expected.

It’s the unexpected frustrations that create the impression of the “cursed” network. Some invisible, malicious force is hard at work to make your company’s computer experience miserable.

“How does my computer know when to crash at the worst possible time? Why do I always have trouble printing when I’m on a deadline? I’ve thrown tons of money at it the problems just come back. It’s like my network is possessed.”

I’ve heard similar mantras from countless new clients. The answer is simple: computers are inherently complicated, self-destructive devices that are deceptively easy to use and nearly impossible to do business without. Fortunately, with the right tools, attitude, and assistance, your network can prove to be the asset you bought it for, not the money-pit liability it seems. This is where Cursed Network Corporation comes in.

We dispel your network demons in three important ways. First, our extensive knowledge of computers and their countless quirks allows us to fix your existing problems quickly and efficiently. Second, our network of suppliers and specialists allow us to provide solutions the usual “tech guy” is totally unaware of. Finally, our proactive approach and ability to translate computer lexicon into plain English allows you to make informed decisions to keep your network running smoothly and plan for the future.

So instead of turning to a priest to exorcise your network woes, try a better technology consultant instead.

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