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Legacy clearout? Not all at once, surely. Keeping tech up to snuff in an SMB

Anonymous Coward

One model of PC or laptop?

Sure, if you get to start from nothing, that's a no-brainer, but trust me, if you're working for an SME, you're buying these things one or two at a time as their predecessors wear out. Whilst it would be nice to get the same model for Sandra as you did for Dave, there's an infinitessimally low chance of it still being available six months on. Sticking to the same manufacturer is wise. And supported by Dell? I went off them (in my previous SME) when they wouldn't give me a credit account for a less than 10k spend.

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Re: One model of PC or laptop?

Couldn't agree more. I've been at my current employer for nearly a year and we've been through 3 generations of Lifebook already.

At a previous employer, they told me that they had upgraded all of the PCs and they were state of the art... Turned out they had upgraded to Windows XP in 2003, which is when they bought all the PCs. I started there in late 2009. They were still convinced that the kit was all new and up-to-date! As for new kit / replacements, it was whatever was cheapest at the local refurbisher. :-(

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Re: One model of PC or laptop?

A short while ago Dell had docks you knew would be supported for years that worked across a load of different models. Not any more.

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Re: One model of PC or laptop?

A short while ago Dell had docks you knew would be supported for years that worked across a load of different models. Not any more.

To be fair - If you consider the USB-C port to be a docking connector (which it pretty much is) then that era is returning - potentially with docker ports that are compatible between different vendor's products as well...

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Re: One model of PC or laptop?

All USB-C docks suck ass.. just read the reviews of the Dell TB15, then for anything half decent your looking at £200-300... I still swear by my eport replicator, worked flawlessly for the past years, across 5 generations of laptops.

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Ah, the drip-feed of new kit

A contract I was on some time ago (OS/2 Warp had just come out) was to move from dumb terminals to PCs. Finance department went first and got IBM PS/2 Model 56 (55?) with Intel 486 CPUs and we could only buy kit for two weeks of installs at a time. By the time we got everyone done, all the new staff were getting Pentium machines so you have the Finance Director trying to steal the PC from his new office Junior because he demanded he was in the first group to get 'new PCs'

So, a single roll-out project had one brand of PC but 4 radically different models...the supplier loved us as each batch was bought with no discount as there were no guarantees we would be buying any more.

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This article was Supported by Dell

'nuff said.

Ah yes - and put your mail into the cloud, that's so cheap and reasonable.

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Madness indeed

'I’ve long been a huge believer that possessing and running an in-house email platform is the first sign of madness, because the cloud-based alternatives are so solid, so flexible and so reasonably priced that I just can’t see why you wouldn’t cloud it.'

If you can afford the licenses and a few VM's on site exchange seems (for me) to be vastly more reliable, flexible and cheaper than the current cloud offerings ?

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Re: Madness indeed

But if you are a small business you suddenly then need maybe half an FTE to run the VMs and the mail. Actually you need two half FTEs cos they get sick and have holidays - mayb e three to be on the cautios side. And then you need to recruit them, putting strain on HR that you don't need with the cloud, and give them pensions, and benefits and stuff. And give them desks and recruit cover when they get pregnant and blah blah blah.

And then these VMs and mail need firewalls, spam filters, DLP, a server room, power, air con and DR.

I haven't compared the pricing but if you haven't got a couple of staff in place already that have the skills and the time to run the email why would you begin to even think of hosting and running it yourself.

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Re: Madness indeed

>And then these VMs and mail need firewalls, spam filters, DLP, a server room, power, air con and DR.

Ok, who runs their business without firewalls?

Spam filters... even rudimentary postfix controls appear to deal with spam for me, but this could be an issue I suppose. I'm guessing Facebook is a larger timewaster than clicking the spam button.

Dlp? Most enterprises don't do that.

Server room? You'll need all that stuff anyway.

Yes the cloud is better. The question is whether it is better enough to warrant the cost.

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Re: Madness indeed

I'm not clear as to exactly what Dave was recommending here. If he's suggesting - or it gets interpreted as suggesting - that the business just sign up for a bunch of gmail or outlook or (let's really go for it) TalkTalk or Yahoo addresses then it's not particularly a good idea. Because that looks so professional. At the very least go with a mail provider who can provide you with email addresses on your own domain.

Isn't it amazing that all these allegedly net-savvy SEO specialists don't have their own company domain but spam from gamail.

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"Acknowledging what you don’t know"

The main reason why Cloud is so popular.

"Knowing" what can happen putting everything out in the cloud? The reason why there is a cult group of techies who cringe every time someone brings that crap up.

How quickly everyone has forgotten "Battlestar Galactica"...

My two cents.

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Anonymous Coward

Standard hardware

Standard models of laptops are great, you learn the quirks of each model/manufacturer and work around them. Peripherals like power supplies can be interchangeable (Dell used to be great for this, not so much in the last few years).

Re-image on failure? You're in the "M" part of SMB then (or you use "small business" the way the US Dept. of Labor does, as in <500 employees = "small"). No way I buy enough laptops at a time to make imaging worth the hassle.

(ETA: oh, and Dell, yes, I know my warranty is expiring on that laptop I bought last year, I don't care, I don't need 10 emails/system trying to sell extended warranty).

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Outsource it all!

That's a main problem in this industry today. People are in a hurry to outsource so that there's a "single point of blame" if something goes wrong. You can wipe your hands of it and say "Not our fault; they were paid to do it and messed it up." It also lets people with zero IT skills end up in IT management positions by just hiring every aspect to other people. The remaining IT staff is then just a liaison between the organization and the external companies.

If you have thousands of users you have no business using outsourced email. You should have the IT talent on board that can capably run an email system. "Cloudy" backups are fine but they better not be your only backups. I couldn't convince a former employer that if a contractor could manage printers and printing supplies for X amount, we could do it in-house for cheaper since they're making a profit at that price.

Universities have outsourced their student email systems to Google for free. Well, we all know Google doesn't do anything for free. They promise not to mine the emails for targeted advertising. I guess it helps them build advertising profiles that will follow these people forever. You've got all their vital information *and* their college grades and know everyone they communicated with. What could go wrong with that?!

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Re: Outsource it all!

"If you have thousands of users"

The article was about SMEs. If you have thousands of users this article is not the article you are looking for.

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Angel

Consultant inception

"I’m absolutely convinced that not enough SMBs take good advice when making investments in technology. Spend money with consultants to get it right at the beginning, and you’ll save in the long run: and shop around for a consultant because you can get good ones for non-ridiculous money"

So you don't advocate shipping around yourself for technology as you wont understand it enough or do the research, but do shop around for a consultant. Is there a consultant consultant we can consult to pick the right consultant?

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Re: Consultant inception

"Is there a consultant consultant we can consult to pick the right consultant?"

Exactly, everyone recommends the stuff they can make the most money with anyway.

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Re: Consultant inception

The correct term is Insultant as all they are insults to the human race.

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possessing and running an in-house email platform is the first sign of madness,

What about privacy, security and client data laws?

What about access when the internet is down? Big issue as small companies may only have a single domestic ISP connection.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: possessing and running an in-house email platform is the first sign of madness,

When you work in an SME, you get smart; everyone has their own internet connection these days - the hotspot on their phone. If you lose the corporate one (or experience some other sort of network failure) you switch it on and connect to Office 365/Gmail that way or you use the free wifi in the cafe down the road or at home.

What's that? You're network's down and you're unable to connect to Exchange on prem? Better hope the IT guy isn't on holiday...

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Slightly off the main topic but...

Not that they all do the updates, mind you: I have an entertaining photo I took the other day of the Windows XP crash screen on a well-known retailer’s Point Of Sale terminal …

WinXP POSReady isn't EoL until mid-2019 so the fact that they're still using it in mid-2017 isn't really evidence of being "behind" with anything.

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Anonymous Coward

I agree with a lot of the article but I can't agree with the cloud for the email. Maybe for smaller businesses where email isn't critical but lets look at a few things.

Why could onsite email be a problem? Staff, Equipment and archiving due to amount of data.

Will the cloud work for this? You don't need the staff or the equipment but you do however need the connection for any of it to work and as we have seen this is not what it's cracked up to be. Then we get to real crux of cloud and that is the amount of data, sure all these introductory offers due to competition look very good value for money when compared to in house systems but what happens when you have 200 employees using email every day? How quickly do we think they will burn through those GB's if you have to keep the emails say for financial reasons? It's not like it's going to be easy to differentiate so you keep them all. What happens when your total data is too big to move back in house as you have to pay a huge fee and that cheap cost per GB is increased? Then you are stuck.

That's my opinion on the cloud. Please feel free to pick it apart.

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I agree with you to a certain extent. But as per my previous post (a bit) if you a small business that hasn't currently got an IT department then theres a huge set up cost in terms of infrastructure and skilled people to get your own infrastructure up and running. And then the ongoing cost of running the infrastructure and keeping the right people in place to run.

I am the most anti outsourcing person for big companies - its a false economy, but if I was starting my own little business tomorrow with say 50-100 employees then everything except the PCs, the LAN and connection to the internet would be in the cloud..

If I was successful and my business started to grow over 500 employees then I might start to think about the benefits of setting up my own hosting.

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Part of the issue with onsite email is that the "most popular" (as in most used, not necessarily popular) email client is Microsoft Outlook. This application effectively only works "correctly" with an Microsoft Exchange Server. Microsoft Exchange Server is one of the most overly complicated, horribly inefficient server processes around. While it's usually stable these days (it's taken a long time to get there), the obscene complexity of configuring something that should be considerably less complex takes its toll on the installation and ongoing management processes.

Hell, if the PowerShell interface was consistent between remote and local sessions (seriously) it would be a start... And yes, I'm aware that it's remote PowerShell management is not officially supported for (stupid). All this is before you get to the sheer enjoyment of tracking down various parameters in the GUI and the PowerShell interface which don't actually agree between themselves what the configuration actually is, or are liberally strewn around the object tree(s) with conflicting values and meanings.

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Anonymous Coward

The cloud is a no-brainer for email; online storage volumes are going up as disk space gets cheaper, so running out of space is only a risk for a tiny minority of scenarios. Adding disk space to an Exchange server is not a trivial task and, as it's likely to be done infrequently, do you trust your techies to do it with no risk to the business?

Whilst you need a decent internet connection, remember that one of the main benefits is that users can connect from anywhere, over anything - MacDonalds, personal hotspot, hotel, in-air wifi even; all without the headaches of a VPN.

Remember, we're talking about SMEs here; what price keeping a redundant (i.e. multiple bodies) pool of resource to install, maintain, upgrade and replace email infrastructure when it can be done online with the click of a button and flash of a credit card? As techies, we may not like it, but these kind of jobs are not coming back; it's up to us to upskill and make ourselves more useful and more valuable to our employers.

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Anonymous Coward

Outsource...

There is a good reason SMB's like to keep things in house. Because it works.

We have an IT company that provides support. Right money in fairness and mostly ok. Mostly.

Moved to New PC' s running Windows 7. Our version of sage would not run. Told them to use dosbox (it was an old version of sage, one that HMRC are no longer that acquainted with...) that didn't work. Told them to use the version of dosbox with lpt printer support. Didn't work. Despite me having used the same version for another legacy program that needed to print. But hey ho, I had wanted to upgrade Sage for years anyhow so 600 quid plus a support fee and porting fee later that was sorted.

Email and voip phones are in the cloud. They work most the time. Last outage was actually caused by support company trying to play with the firewall without anyone telling us of this.

Had a few issues with virus, so asked them to sort it and check everything was patched. They said doing such was not in the SLA. Had to point out I had never seen an SLA and that I had specified a totally managed network so it should be done. We don't even have admin accounts or passwords.

Of course every time that we NEED to get hold of them to sort something out, there is no answer from the office. We end up calling every mobile number we have.

All that being said. An entire months support for ten users is a weeks wages for me and you can bet that without their help I would be spending more than one week a month sorting out IT shite... the MD did moan about the cost of it all until I pointed out the cost of 10 x MS office and an in house IT chap on a min of 25k a year.

As with anything in life, the bigger a system is the more open to entropy it is. That's just life.

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Same box, different contents

Many years ago I ran internal IT for a SMB that grew aggressively. I eventually got them to standardise on 2 specs for machines from a big-name vendor with the intention of doing automated installs of Windows and various applications. After 2 years, although we had the same boxes on the desks with the same labels they all had different insides, needed different drivers in different combinations, had different spec CPU and memory.

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Angel

Drink the Cloud coolaid

Dave's comment about getting good advice really is spot-on, especially at the planning/architectural level of deciding what sort of stuff you might want to do in cloudy setting, what you can use consumer-grade fit-and-forget and what could be done on-premise with some level of support and the points at which it makes sense to switch between those options.

I wonder if there could be a use for some sort of organisation that can put small business or people thinking of starting one in touch with people who have some professional standing and knowledge of the subject. I dunno, something like a professional body for IT similar to the ones the lawyers, architects and real engineers have.

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Re: Drink the Cloud coolaid

Register's readership may love the idea of pulling in consultants to advise on this sort of thing, but if there already are in-house staff, they probably already spent a lot of time thinking about how to do this stuff - and they are committed to the organisation like consultants aren't. In Dilbert cartoons, for instance - which is not the SMB case - the consultant, usually "Dogbert", either tells very client to buy the same thing, or finds out what in-house staff think is needed, and pitches that. But they get believed by mnagement because they're the consultant.

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The problem with outsourced email ...

... is that you get what the email provider wants you to get. Unfortunately, it seems to be almost universal for email providers to provide a system that's defective by design - in that it's designed to not reliably deliver your mail !

Why do I say that ? Well in a previous job I spent some effort getting "pre acceptance" scanning set up so that I could take an "accept it and deliver it or reject it outright" approach. Pretty well the whole world of large providers takes the approach of "accept stuff and then decide whether to deliver it". Obviously, they can't bounce stuff they don't deliver because that makes you part fo the spam problem - so you hit the "email disappears into the bit bucket" problem.

I know that right now, my previous employer is busy moving everyone off that server onto Office 365 - because "that's all they do". As already pointed out, you need to be careful taking advice from people with an interest in what you spend with who - there's a tendency to push what they make the most on, or are most familiar with, not always what's most appropriate for you !

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Security

In the midst of the "hand it over to someone else, sponsored by Dell" article I noticed

In the same survey I just mentioned, 35 per cent of businesses say they have consultants to advise them on security solutions, with 37 per cent choosing their own. That doesn’t strike me as very many (though I’m more frightened about the 15 per cent who say their employees choose the security solutions themselves). Are the 37 per cent following the DIY approach suitably informed on security? Some are, and I bet some aren’t.

Given the number of major businesses that have been hacked, and the track record of consultants in general I doubt you're any worse off setting up a pfSense firewall and taking your chances. The smartest consultants will likely work with major companies for big $$$, the SME ones will more than likely be the used car dealers of the sector. You may luck out and get a Sysadmin overlord doing some play-money work in the sunset of their career.

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