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Network Connectivity Troubleshooting – Part One

To most computer support persons, having problems connecting to the Internet via a router and a high-speed connection is not a major issue. However, for those who do not understand some basic technology concepts, solving connectivity problems will be a struggle. The following will give you some tips of where to look for network connectivity problems and how to perform some basic network connectivity troubleshooting tasks.

Most of the initial steps of this process are common-sense and incredibly basic, but you would be surprised at the number of calls to help desks that are solved simply by having someone turn on a power switch or plug in a cable to a device!

1.Check the power. Make sure that the power is turned on to your router and that you can see some visible signs of that power on the front of the unit. Usually green or yellow lights flash or stay on constantly when the unit has power. If you do not have any of those, check the electrical outlet for power. Plug in a radio, clock, lamp or other device to see if the outlet is ‘live.’ If so, continue on to the next step. If not, check your electrical box to make sure that your circuit breakers have not tripped because of an overload or other electrical issue.

2.Check the router. If you still get no lights on the front of your router, then unplug it from the electrical outlet and wait for a while (15 minutes to half an hour) and plug it back into that same outlet. Most of these have what we call ‘wall-wart’ type power supplies that have the square-ish black block on the end which plugs into the wall outlet (or power surge suppressor). Sometimes these can go bad. If you cannot get any of the lights to come on at all on your router, even if you test it in a known “good” wall receptacle, it might mean that the power supply or router itself is defective.

3.Check the cables. Now, if you have confirmed that the electrical outlet is working properly and you are getting lights on the front of your router, then you need to check the network cable between your PC and your router. If you have a wireless router and are having trouble connecting by that method, then you need to troubleshoot first by trying to connect with a hard-wired connection, as it is easier to troubleshoot a hard-wired connection than a wireless one (once you have successfully established connectivity through a wired connection, you can resume troubleshooting wireless connectivity). Normally, your router should include at least one network cable for connecting devices directly to it. Use this cable to connect your PC to your router.. On the front of the router are a series of lights (these differ in color by manufacturer) which indicate the presence of a network connection over the network cable (or Ethernet cable) between your PC and router. Locate the network cable which runs from your router to your PC and unplug it from the back of the router. Does one of the lights go out? If so, that is a good sign. If not, then go to the PC end of the network cable and locate where it connects to your PC. Right around this connection there are usually a set of led lights indicating a network connection. By removing your network cable from the PC, you should see the lights go out. And, with your PC powered on, removing this cable will also usually cause a message to come up on your Windows-based PC indicating that your network connection has been lost. If this happens, then it appears that at least your router and PC are ‘talking’ to each other. This is usually noted by the ‘flashing’ activity of these lights.

4.Reboot both your router and your PC. Sometimes a simple reboot will clear up any anomalies between network connections, and this will always be a step any help desk, ISP or router manufacturer’s support personnel will ask you to try.

In part two of this series we will talk about checking functionality of your router and then determining whether your problem might lie solely with your PC.

Click here to learn how Fossie Consulting can help with your network connectivity troubleshooting problems with our Reactive Response and PC Repair Services for your business in Guelph, Ontario and surrounding cities.

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5 Reasons to Implement a Managed IT Services Solution

Information Technology services are essential to the success of every organization, large or small. With increasingly competitive business environments, CEOs and small business owners are under great pressure to maintain a highly qualified staff and to make sure their technology is obtaining a better ROI than their competitors’.

These goals are not easily achieved, particularly for young or small businesses with less financial resources and time available. Having your own successful information technology department can eat up too much of the company’s budget and time resources, and eventually cause a loss of its competitive edge. These disadvantages of maintaining an in-house IT department are why companies of all sizes have turned to using managed service providers to either assist their existing IT department or become their virtual IT department, handling all of the technology involved in keeping their businesses running at optimal levels.

The benefits of using a managed IT services solution are numerous, but the top 5 benefits of managed services for business include:

  1. Benefit from the expertise of a specialist, without having to spend time and financial resources training your staff to become experts
  2. Decrease your technology risks with Managed IT Services. Your company doesn’t have to worry about losing and trying to replace trained staff members, or about repairing, implementing or replacing complex technology solutions with Managed IT Services
  3. Enjoy access to the most up-to-date, sophisticated technology solutions without having to invest in expensive equipment.
  4. Experience ultimate control over your business technology without having to manage an information technology department. This gives you the time you need to focus on what you do best: your business functions.
  5. Reduce stress and improve efficiency of your staff. When you make good use of Managed IT Services resources, your staff isn’t tied up with IT concerns and they have more time to focus on tasks that are productive for the business.

Click here to learn how Fossie Consulting can help you benefit from managed IT services in Guelph, Ontario and surrounding cities.

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Who’s Managing Your Back End?

Increased usage of personal devices – smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc. put an increased strain on your infrastructure. How can you best support these?

They call it the Wireless Explosion and it’s coming to a home, business, or school near you. If your network seems slow since the return to school, guess how many students and staff found a new phone, tablet, or laptop under the tree this Christmas? One prediction is that there will be an average of 3.3 wireless devices per person within the next year. eSchool News, in an article entitled Six ed-tech tips for district CIOS, warns that schools need to “double down on security”, and “stay abreast of technology trends”. How is your school preparing for and managing these changes? In this article, we address three key infrastructure components for your school network: servers, wireless access, and firewalls.

Most organizations use a server to manage users – to allocate network resources (e.g. printers), to monitor who does what, and to provide personal and shared storage locations. Although many resources (including email) can reside in the cloud, there are good reasons to have an on-site server:

  • to provide faster access to files that are needed daily or by a class of students. Think about multimedia files.
  • to provide a level of accountability for authorized users
    to back up mission-critical data
  • to install programs. Although there are great choices on cloud-based apps, many program’s functionalities may require local storage or data processing resources.
  • provide printer access
  • manage user desktops and devices with Group Policy or MDM (mobile device management)

A server is much more than a place to store your data – it can provide all of the features mentioned above without the internet. You need to ask yourself whether any of these can be of benefit to your school.

Only a few years ago, wireless access meant a trip to the nearest office supply store, connecting the wireless router to your network, and handing out the wireless password. And when the demand increased, you repeated the purchase and installation. However, that solution required constant monitoring of the wireless router and logging into every device to update firmware, change the password, and set bandwidth restrictions (if at all possible) – and restart the device many times per day. With today’s new generation of wireless access points, you get a great feature set at a very reasonable cost: cloud/web management, multiple SSIDs per device, bandwidth restrictions, user load balancing, and the freedom to roam without reconnecting. If you want to support a growing mobile environment (laptops, netbooks, Chromebooks, tablets) you need to begin by taking a close look at your current wireless equipment and its capabilities.

With more users on your network and more wireless clients connecting to the web, you need to consider upgrading your firewall, or in some circles, what is called a unified threat management (UTM) device. At a minimum, a firewall manages the flow of web traffic into (and out of) your local network. However, a firewall also allows you to provide safe web browsing for individuals or groups of users, to block specific categories of websites (social media, video, adult, hate, etc.), and to provide the first line of defence against hackers, malware, and viruses. Since the content on the web changes daily, it is important that your firewall receives regular updates so that your students and staff can use the web safely and confidently.

Make sure that you consider these and other areas of your IT infrastructure. Your staff, students, parents, and volunteers may just assume that your IT infrastructure will be robust and capable enough to meet whatever needs they require. Taking care of the back end will help ensure a reliable and consistent experience for them!

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Beyond XP

Is it worth taking the risk of continuing with a product that is no longer updated or supported?

The Microsoft Website reveals the following about the end of support for Windows XP in April 2014:

“An unsupported version of Windows will no longer receive software updates from Windows Update. These include security updates that can help protect your PC from harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software, which can steal your personal information. Windows Update also installs the latest software updates to improve the reliability of Windows—new drivers for your hardware and more.” – from windows.microsoft.com.

There are many schools in which the primary operating system continues to be Windows XP, and for good reason. It has been the most stable and reliable Windows platform for thirteen years. But the question for schools is whether it is worth taking the risk of continuing with a product that is no longer updated or supported. Your school might be running computer lockdown software, and wonder if that is good enough protection. Yes, your computer will revert to its “clean” state when you reboot; however, once you connect to the internet, your computer and network will be vulnerable to attack again. This approach is not just unsustainable; it puts your students, your critical data, and your network at risk.

Cost, which has been a significant stumbling block to IT replacement in the past, is not really an issue in 2014. There are a number of ways to move beyond XP easily and affordably:

  • The minimum requirements for Windows 7 are a 1 GHz, 32 or 64 bit processor, 1 GM RAM, 20 GB Hard Disk, and a DirectX 9.0 graphics card. There are programs in place to update your current operating system with Windows 7.
  • Off-lease desktop PCs from Dell, HP, and Lenovo are priced under $200 and come with a full, three-year warranty. Ask about purchasing or leasing these rugged and reliable Windows 7 desktops.
  • A great option for older computers is to run Edubuntu, a linux distribution designed specifically for education. It is free, it installs on very minimal hardware, and it is not affected by malware, viruses, and other attacks that focus on Windows products.
  • Many schools are moving away from desktops and are choosing a mobile computing solution – tablets, laptop PCs, or chromebooks. If you are not sure about investing in desktops or computer labs, this may be a great option for you.

Consider the amount of time and money that schools spend on ensuring the safety of students: locked doors, sign-in/sign-out, fire and lockdown drills, and staff first aid training. Even things like testing fire extinguishers, changing alarm codes and passwords, and marking emergency exits help to ensure student safety. Playgrounds, buses and athletic equipment benefit from ongoing improvements in safety. What’s stopping you from realizing the benefits of moving beyond Windows XP – not just in student online safety, but also in user experience and functionality?

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The End of Windows XP Support – Implications for your school?

Microsoft support for Windows XP ends on April 8, 2014, but what does this mean for your school? The short answer is that you are on your own; there are no security patches, no hot-fixes, no paid support options, and no online technical updates. The more serious implication is that both your computers and your network will become much more susceptible to online threats – malware, viruses, and network intrusion. And these threats could seriously compromise the day-to-day operation and efficiency of your administration, staff and students.

Windows XP was first released in 2001. Other notable events from 2001 include: the start of George W Bush’s presidency, the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre, and Enron’s bankruptcy filing. Technology stories from 2001 include the first artificial heart, the shutdown of Napster, the advent of satellite radio, and the invention of the Segway. Why the walk down memory lane? Because Windows XP is a 12-year-old operating system; it has been a very good and reliable product, but it is at the end of its life cycle. And it is time to move on.

What are the alternatives to Windows XP and what is involved in moving to one of these options? There are three good options available for schools at this time:

  • Replace XP desktops with Windows 7 – the pricing and warranty on off-lease or refurbished desktop Windows 7 computers has never been better. If continuing to work in a Microsoft environment (Office, SharePoint, Office365) is a must-have for your school, this is a very good option.
  • Repurpose XP desktops with Edubuntu (an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution). You can likely use existing hardware to run the current desktop version of Edubuntu (with application packages for both elementary or high school). Although you still have aging equipment, the cost of moving from XP to Edubuntu is very reasonable – both in time and finances. If your school is ready to move to Google Apps for Education, Edubuntu is the most cost-effective way to get there in terms of end-point device support.
  • Move to a mobile computing environment in your school – whether this consists of school-provided laptops, netbooks,Chromebooks, and tablets or it is implemented through a BYOD policy, your planning and spending focus is on the infrastructure side, not on replacing computer labs. And a mobile computing environment allows you to pick from any or all of the Windows, Apple, Google, and Linux platforms as your operating system environment.

The time is now to act upon the replacement of your venerable – but increasingly risky – Windows XP environment!

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Today I Saw The Future –

When JavaScript inventor and Mozilla.org co-founder Brendan Eich states that , “Today, I saw the future…”, one just might sit up and listen….

Mozilla and OTOY (which AutoCad vendor Autodesk acquired sometime ago) have announced a JavaScript library that allows native desktop apps to be run in the cloud and then delivered to your web browser via streaming. Their code library, called ORBX.js allows Linux, Mac OS x and Windows applications to run on hosted servers and be accessed via any of the 5 major web browsers, using HTML5.

How important is this? JavaScript inventor Brendan Eich says that, “Today, I saw the future…”. He recently demoed a hosted Epic Games Unreal Engine 3 running at full frame under a FireFox browser using this technology. If you do not play games, how else might this benefit you?:

  • Run Adobe Premiere or Photoshop on your 7” Android tablet
  • Run Windows Office suite applications on your iPad or ChromeBook
  • Run a MAC OS x app on your Windows laptop through a Chrome web browser

Compare the hosted HTML5 session below with the Native PC session:

 

Brendan states that this is not just remote desktop technology. All of that power that has traditionally resided on the GPU on your PC’s or laptop’s graphics card can now be rendered and delivered in the cloud. Because this GPU in the cloud can watermark the frames, even the need for Digital Rights Management (DRM) might be eliminated. As applications become more powerful, real-time collaboration, say, on video editing, or other multi-media applications can be conducted in separate, distant sites – from office to office, or between remote school classroom to classroom in another country.

Of course, there might be licensing challenges to overcome, especially from Microsoft and Apple when OTOY CEO Jules Urbach muses that…”we’re at the point where you just don’t need a Windows PC anymore.” Another reason to get those BYOD policies into shape?

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Progressive Security Layers for Classrooms in Google Apps

When Google Apps for Education are introduced into a K-8 school, administration, staff – and especially parents – may have some concerns about security and protection for their children. With a little planning, there are ways to substantially partition off successive layers of access to email features within your school’s Google domain….

When Google Apps for Education are introduced into a K-8 school, administration, staff – and especially parents – may have some concerns about security and protection for their children. Some may not even want an ability for children to have an email account, while teachers may desire an email account for their student to facilitate usage of a particular application, or student-student, student-teacher, student-parent communication. What can be done?

I once thought this might be an all or nothing approach, but a recent session at a Google Apps for Education summit convinced me otherwise. While not a matter of a few clicks here and there to set this up, with a little planning, there are ways to substantially partition off successive layers of access to email features within your school’s Google domain. Here’s one way of tackling this:

  1. Create a suborganization for every graduating year possible for your school. For an initial setup, this would include the current graduating year, plus an additional 8 or more years to cover Kindergarten and JK. In this example, you would create suborganizations for 2013, 2014, 2015, and up. Think carefully about this – your users (students, staff, committee member, administrators) can only belong to one suborganization at a time. If you organize them here for other purposes, you will need to consider your main usage of suborganizations. The settings for creation of sub organizations and user assigment to these can be found under the <Users> section on the administrative app for your Google Apps site.
  2. Move your (users who are) students into the appropriate group for graduating year. This will rarely change. The idea behind this type of organization is that as the graduating year approaches, you can decide to progressively allow more email features to that graduating year group.
  3. Here’s where the fun and decisions can now be made for what you allow. These settings can all be found under the <Settings> menu on the top, then by selecting <Gmail> from the sidebar, selecting each suborganization by graduating year, and then modifying the settings found in the <Compliance> section.

Here’s what some of those settings control:

  • Append footers – You can set up outgoing email footer text for legal compliance, informational or promotional requirements. This might not be too relative to what is being discussed here.
  • Restrict delivery – here you can whitelist (include) or blacklist (omit) whichever email domains that you want allowed for delivery and receipt of emails. You could , for example, only allow delivery and sending of emails that belong to your school’s email domain…..and bypass it for internal-only messages.
  • Content compliance – this setting states what action to perform for messages based on predefined sets of words, phrases, text patterns, or numerical patterns. It scans messages for content that matches rules that you configure. Messages can be rejected or delivered with modifications.
  • Objectionable content – similar to above, inbound or outbound messages can be modified or rejected, based on content matching word lists that you define.
  • Attachment compliance – Attachments can be filtered based on their file type, name, or size.
  • Receiving and Sending routing – interesting options here – one capability is that any email sent from outside of the sub organization’s group to any member of the group can be routed to one person . You could, for example, force all emails sent to a group to go (only) to the teacher or principal.

Between all of these, one can see that you can force email communications within any one grade to only members of that grade, and / or include a teacher, parents, or others (another ‘partner’ school, for example). Couple this with the content filtering, and you have a quite impressive, albeit somewhat tedious-to-setup control on email usage for your Google-based organization.

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Improving Workflow in Google Apps for Education

If you are one of the schools (I know of more than a few) that are using Google Apps for Education (Google Docs), then you might be pleasantly surprised at the capabilities and power lurking just beneath the surface of those apps….

If you are one of the schools (I know of more than a few) that are using Google Apps for Education (Google Docs), then you might be pleasantly surprised at the capabilities and power lurking just beneath the surface of those apps. I recently attended a Google Apps for Education Summit in Kitchener, and there were many great sessions conducted that attested to the potential use of these tools within an educational environment.

The first I want to mention was at the end of the weekend (and thus freshest in my mind), entitled “Google Docs – The Ultimate Workflow Applications Suite”. The session was designed to illustrate features found in google docs that assist in the process of content creation, publication, and collaboration. Our very capable instructor (Ken Shelton) led us through 2 main parts:

Staying within the document while accessing external resources – How many times have you written a document – even within Google Docs – and gone out to your browser, searched for an image, downloaded or copied the image, and then pasted it back into your document? Google apps enable access to the search and embedding of an image all from within the menus and interface of the application. Talk about saving key strokes! Ken went on to show how to get easy ‘inline’ access to online references using the Tools, Research menu item. You can access and search through online dictionaries, article citations (with automatically generated footnotes!), maps, images, videos, quotations.

20 Slide Collaborative Presentation – from scratch – in 15 minutes – While I’ve seen multiple users in a classroom working on the same Google presentation – in of itself impressive – Ken notched this up by showing us how to do this on somewhat of a whim:

  • with little preparation (numbering off participants as 1, 2, 3… )
  • no requirement for participant login, no requirement for a google account
    (Share > Who has access > change > anyone with the link > Access > Anyone, no sign-in required)
  • how to get past looooong URLs when sharing the location of the presentation and more (using the Google URL shortener.) Great stuff for when your instructional time is limited.

These few items alone can go a long way in increasing the speed and utility of Google Docs within your class environment. Give them a try!

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