Ah yes, “The Cloud”. It’s such a ubiquitous concept, mentioned in just about every IT context you can think of. However, it’s often pretty vague and can leave you wondering what on earth people are actually talking about and why you should listen.
Here’s a small but hopefully mildly interesting example of why cloud computing might be useful for you.
You may have noticed that there was a fairly substantial update to Windows 10 this week. I made the mistake of trying to install it during the day, meaning I couldn’t work on my laptop for around an hour and a half.
Fortunately, I spend most of my day working in Google Chrome or a remote desktop session to one of our servers in Microsoft Azure. The below covers most of what I need to do day to day:
Email – Outlook on Office 365. I prefer the online version to the traditional desktop client these days.
Writing requirements for my developers to work on – Visual Studio Online, accessed via the online portal.
NAV development and testing – all done on a server in Azure which I connect to via an RDP session.
Working on shared documents – SharePoint on Office 365, using the online versions of Office apps to edit them.
Other document storage – I use a combination of OneDrive and Google Drive, both have the capability of editing your documents in the browser.
Note taking – Evernote, which has a lovely online interface for reading and editing.
Tecman’s internal Microsoft Dynamics NAV – hosted in Azure, access via the web client.
Tecman’s internal Microsoft Dynamics CRM – also accessed through the browser.
I use Skype and Skype for Business to keep in touch with colleagues – both via desktop clients but both have online alternatives (albeit with limited functionality).
While my laptop was out of action I was able to jump onto a different machine and carry on working – without installing any software or even logging on as myself. I can’t pretend that working entirely in the cloud is a flawless experience (yet), but it is possible – at least for the kinds of tasks that I need to do.
At the very least it is good to know that I can access all the systems and data that I need from any machine, anywhere with internet access.
Oooooo….the Clooouuud indeed.
How quickly could you be up and running on a different machine? What can you not do working from home that you can from the office?
Find more information at https://www.tecman.co.uk/Software/Applications/Office-365
If you're responsible for running a small business, you're probably no stranger to working from locales other than a physical office environment. Whether you've grown a startup from a kitchen table or fine-tuned a proposal while on the train to a client meeting, you'll know there's more to building a business than leasing a space and sitting at your desk from nine to five.
And this is no bad thing. In fact, organisations that offer remote working are now widely considered to have a competitive advantage over their counterparts with more rigid workplace arrangements. Modern technologies have made it possible for businesses to communicate, collaborate and innovate without the constraints of an office, cutting costs and travel times while boosting productivity and growing their pool of candidates when recruiting new workers.
Moreover, it's what people want – a PwC study from July 2014 found that only 14 per cent of UK employees would like to work in a traditional office in the future, while one in five would prefer to do business from an entirely virtual environment.
If you're an agile, digital-first small business, you may in a better position to make this a reality than a larger enterprise with extensive legacy systems and pre-digital processes to content with. Here's what you need:
Deliver remote access to data and systems
Obviously, if you and your employees are to work remotely, one of your most pressing requirements is to deliver access to your IT systems from any location. If you're using Windows Server 2012, there are a handful of ways to connect to data and applications from outside your internal network. These include DirectAccess, Remote Desktop Services and traditional virtual private network setups.
However, don't forget that it's possible to run all of your IT in the cloud, which means it's hosted in a secure off-premise infrastructure, accessed via the web and paid for on a subscription basis.
You can develop and run fully-fledged line-of-business applications in Microsoft Azure, for example, saving money on hardware and physical space for your servers while providing connectivity from any location. Another option is Office 365, which gives your workers web-based access to their favourite productivity apps – Word, Excel, PowerPoint – without the need for local storage or even installation on different machines.
Equip your workforce with the right devices
A lot of remote workers prefer to stick with their own devices for business where possible, getting extra mileage out of personally-owned smartphones, tablets and laptops by using them to check email, make calls and schedule meetings, and edit documents. However, if you're investing in remote-working equipment for yourself or your employees, it's worth paying close attention to the factors that can affect productivity and return on investment.
These range from the simple – the need for excellent battery life, for example – to the more complex, like the benefits of a seamless user experience when a person switches from the workstation in their office to a tablet on the train. Another thing to think about is security: if you're working with private data on public transport and leave your device on your seat, it may save you a lot of stress if you have the ability to lock or wipe it from a different machine.
Establish strong lines of communication
Finally, in order to grow your business from anywhere, you need to provide ways for your employees to communicate and collaborate regardless of their location. Solutions like Office 365 make it simple for people to share and edit the same documents, but it's also important to compensate for the absence of verbal communication and face-to-face contact when your workers are separated by physical distance.
Modern voice-over-IP solutions such as Skype for Business make it simple for organisations to conduct calls and meetings online rather than in-person or on the phone, offering features like video conferencing and file sharing as well as dial-in functionality for partners and clients on traditional lines.
It's also possible to have these services delivered via the cloud, which again, allows organisations and entrepreneurs to cut the costs associated with maintaining on-premise infrastructure and focus on what matters most: growing their business.
Citied from a recent article on the Tech Market View, security for users continues to be at the forefront of Microsoft's mind.
It is not a security company, yet CEO Satya Nadella says Microsoft pumps $1bn into security R&D annually. As a high profile operation Microsoft has long been a target for attackers, and with the cloud and mobile the baseline for the company strategy, the security stakes are increasing.
It has responded with a new security strategy and operation designed to support what Nadella describes as the need for an “operational security posture”. This includes the launch of the Microsoft Enterprise Cyber Security Group which uses a worldwide network of security experts to offer security assessments, monitoring, threat detection and incident response and the Microsoft Cyber Defence Operations Centre which will monitor security threats in real time, 24/7, hook into the community of security professionals, data scientists, engineers, developers and others as required, and utilise big data analytics for example to identify anomalies that could constitute threats. These investments are being made alongside security improvements in Windows for instance, with Windows 10 in particular making great strides, and developments in offerings such as Azure, Office 365.
Microsoft needs to protect its assets and its customers of course, but the renewed security strategy will also help push its cloud services, especially Azure. Enterprises will demand higher levels of security assurances from their cloud platform providers as they move more resources to the cloud. Microsoft's message is that it can be trusted to do its best to provide protection in a perimeter-less environment, which is pertinent given the many high profile security breaches in the last few months alone. It also acknowledges the new reality which is that with the cloud and mobile devices, every supplier has to be a security supplier – and that is an expensive and risky proposition in itself.
20 years ago Windows 95 was released, it became the standard operating system that businesses ran their IT systems on. Since that release Windows has continued to evolve with a couple of versions performing extremely well (XP, Windows 7) and couple less so! (ME/Vista)
The previous release Windows 8 was a brave move for Microsoft and took a massive step away from its tried and tested user interface, the Start menu was no more and the interface was geared for the new world of touch screens. Great for those folk who were using tablets and touch screens, but not appealing to the millions of windows users that still spent there working life at a desktop machine with a keyboard and mouse as the primary input. An update added an element of the start menu back, but it was a step too far for many businesses.
So with Windows 10 Microsoft has brought back some of the familiarity of previous versions, but also taken some of touch friendly interface it introduced with Windows 8 and the operating systems attempts to change depending what type of device you are working on.
1) The Start Menu is back (and better)
So everything you loved about the start menu from Windows 7 is back, you can pin favourite apps or shortcuts. You get branched menus, so click on Accessories drops down a further menu with all the accessories icons showing. The menu is in alphabetical order, so click on one of the letters and the alphabet pops up to select another letter that contains the shortcut you’re looking for. All the quick lists are there as well so right click on Windows Explorer and you get the last few files you’ve been working on to get quick access.
One of my favourite features, I loved the touch interface on Windows 8 when I was working on a tablet or touch device. So now when I’m on a touch device as soon as disconnect the keyboard I get the option to have a touch friendly interface. With more devices becoming hybrid this feature is ideal, you just keep on working in the most effective way that your device is set up at that moment. You also get the touch friendly menu alongside the new start menu – so if you prefer that windows 8 look its always with you.
3) Its Free!
If you are on a legit version of Windows 7 or Windows 8 this is a free upgrade for the next 12 months.
4) A new browser – Microsoft Edge
Internet Explorer has been the browser bundled with every copy of Windows since that Win 95 release, its got a little clunky and bloated over the years, Microsoft Edge performs faster than the usual suspects such as Chrome etc, but for me it’s a couple of the other features that have made it a really nice browser. Reading mode, how many times have you found an article online that you wish to read, but the page has loads of junk all over the screen and across the article? Well select the reading mode and the browser strips out all the on screen noise and leaves you with just the text.
It also allows you to have a reading list as well as a favourite’s list, so when you stumble across a page you want to go back to later and read just drop it in the reading list. I used to always be adding links to my favourites that I only wanted to pop back to once, but after reading it I never removed it from my favourites, that meant the list just kept on growing. Of course with the power of the cloud no matter which Windows 10 device I log onto, my favourites and reading list will follow me around, much easier for catching up on some web links on a tablet in the evening rather than a PC or laptop.
Page review. Edge allows you to take a web page then to begin to write all over it (if you have a touch device) then share that page with anyone you want. Fantastic if you’ve found some info you want to share but with notes or highlights on it
5) Action Centre
Swipe in from the right and you get a new information hub that gives you visibility of all the things you need t o know. From Wifi points, battery life, screen brightness through to new emails, app notifications, its nice to have a single place one swipe away to see everything. If you have used windows phone its similar to the experience you get when you swipe down from the top of the hone, just with loads more information points.
Another feature that found life on Windows Phone. Cortana is a digital assistant that is now built into Windows 10. You can search your device or the internet by either typing in your search phrase or just talking to you PC. Begin with “Hey Cortana” and then ask away. As with a lot of voice activated technology it’s not perfect, but it’s getting better.
What I do like about Cortana is the way it learns about your interests and also looks at your location and diary and warns you when you need to leave or if there is traffic issues that may affect you. It’s neat when it suddenly pops up reminding you that a meeting 20 miles away will take around 40 minutes so its time to go – it drops a map of the suggested route up as well. It collects information about items I have said I’m interested in so gives me a personal view when I click on the search input, next to the start menu button. Having been playing on the beta version of Windows 10 since the turn of the year, it’s been great to see Cortana improve and actual be of use in certain situations. It’s still early days for digital assistants but once again its moving in the right direction. With Cortana at the bottom of my screen i just type my query, no more firing up a browser then my search engine of choice. Its just there.
7) Xbox Streaming
Not really a business feature, but it’s cool and who doesn’t like a quick session on the Xbox One. This allows you to connect your Xbox One to your Windows 10 machine and stream your game across to the Windows 10 screen. So you can keep on playing and free up the main TV in the living room. It currently only works if your on the same Wifi access point, so you can only play when you’re in the same house, but its rumoured to be available over the internet in the future.
Quite a few of you know that when we went to the US in July all of us came back with a Microsoft Surface 3. It’s a great piece of kit with a magnificent hi-res multi-touch screen and combined with the included pen device I haven’t taken notes onto paper since.
But recently I’ve taken delivery of a docking station for it now they’ve become available in the UK and after just a few days I’m at the point where it can now be my only device. My Lenovo is going back to our technical team and my iPad is getting left at home, the Surface 3 will be my tablet and laptop in one form now on – it really does do it all.
Although only an i5 processor on mine I find it more than more fast enough. Actually using Office 365 and especially the 1Tb of OneDrive storage you get with that plus Microsoft Dynamics NAV & CRM on our hosting platform or increasingly Microsoft Azure I don’t need the ultimate power or storage locally any more – just 8Gb of memory so I can multitask efficiently and and fast communications.
The most difficult thing was figuring out how to drive multiple external monitors but a little displayport splitter means I can plus a third one in if I need to, not sure where I’d put it though.
Think this means that you’ll see more of TecMan’s people using Surface X’s going forward – sorry Lenovo not sure you will get an order for 60 units from us again.
So over the last thirty years we’ve all got used to the idea that our personal computers (PCs) double in power every couple of years and so replacing them on a regular basis drives up productivity. But is that still true these days? Where should we be spending our IT hardware budgets to get the best returns?
For years the mantra, in relation to hardware, was buy a decent machine and it will last a few years. £1,000 used to be the standard figure to spend on a laptop/PC as that got you an up-to-date processor, a decent amount of memory, a fast network adaptor and a larger screen with good graphics. Now £400 gets you that same good package but it just doesn’t seem that much faster than one from three years ago.
Why is that? Well there are two factors. Firstly Intel, who make the processors, has failed to keep innovating at the same rate of progress as previously.
However the bigger factor is that the software is no longer pushing the boundaries of power as it did in the early days. Running Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office, which is the majority of work most machines process these days, does not test its speed any more.
That doesn’t mean you don’t ever wait for your computer! It’s rare your machine operates on its own any more, it’s just the interface to a whole network of machines that the information is passing through – and that’s what often slows things down.
Even if you are operating just locally, look closely and you’ll see that it’s not the processing of calculations that holds things up. The little hard drive light flickers on while the programs and data are retrieved.
So what is our advice now most machines have fast processors and plenty of memory (4Gb+)? Where should you spend your hardware money?
Here’s Technology Management’s top 3 hardware investments tips to help make you more productive;
Solid State Disks or SSDs. Instead of spinning up a mechanical hard drive, spinning up a drive made of chips is much faster – reducing start-up and programme load times to just a few seconds. And it removes the flickering hard drive light wait described above.
It gives the processor the information it needs to process much faster. We’ve already seen clients fitting these and seen dramatic speed improvements – like we were used to in the nineties. From just £125 to purchase they are typically smaller in capacity than traditional drives but don’t let that worry you – when was the last time you ran out of space on your local PC?
Multiple, large & high resolution screens. So we all have a complex about being seen as NASA mission control but the about of time we waste scrolling across screens, or flicking from our email back to our order processing and then back to our email, need to be measured to be believed.
A study at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the US (not sponsored by a screen manufacturer either, I’m just as cynical as you are!) showed that productivity increases are 50% of the increase in the screen size.
So that means that going from a 17” screen to 22” which is a 30% increase in size gives a 15% increase in productivity. Adding a second 22” screen gives a 25% increase in productivity over a single 22” screen. However it’s not just the pure size that’s the secret, it’s the resolution i.e. the amount of information that can be fitted on a screen at once and seen without any mouse movement.
So buy the biggest, highest resolution screens you can and as many as you can. Remember screens have a typical 10 year life, much longer than the rest of the PC, so it’s a much more cost-effective payback over the long term.
Faster connectivity – link your machine to a fast network. Install intelligent gigabit network switches to connect to the local network. Then get the fastest internet connection you can possibly justify – as once it’s implemented you’ll find so many uses for it that you’ll never question it again.
Look to see if fibre is available and, if it is, get it. And make sure you have great upload speed as well as download speed (unlike normal broadband) because with more and more services going online you’ll need to upload a lot more data going forward.
Mars Horescare recently approached Technology Management about a new project, where they were looking to directly interact with horse owners via an ecommerce site with Dynamic NAV 2013 as the back end dealing with the financials.
It was decided to have NAV 2013 in the cloud for various reasons, not least as it was the most rapid way to get up and running, and the lowest investment, as software is paid per user per month and no hardware is required.
We are pleased to to see the site and the solution go live in February 2013 and adds to the growing list of companies deploying NAV in the cloud with Technology Management.
We are one of the few UK based partners providing the hosting platform and the deployment/configuration of the software. This results in confidence for the customer that we can control the performance and support of both the cloud platform and software support. This way you are never caught between the NAV partner and the hosting provider when they blame each other for issues. For more information around NAV in the cloud please click here
If you are a horseowner, then you may want to check out the website, offering nutritional supplements for horses.
As we approach the Christmas holidays many organisations will be closing until the New Year. However we know that some of our customers will continue to work across the festive period. Technology Management will continue to offer office based support across all our products except for bank holidays (December 25th,26th & January 1st ) For customer’s with 24/7 business critical support the lines will be manned throughout the entire holiday period.
We would all like to wish all our customers a very Merry Christmas and look forward to working with you again in 2013.
As we are about to enter our 21st year in business, still growing and evolving, it’s difficult to give customers or prospects a summary about Technology Management’s services and our ethos. With this in mind we designed some infographics that make up an “at a glance guide to Technology Management”
It gives some numbers around our hosting services, (although they continue to grow each month!) re-enforces our technical bias with 86% of the workforce being IT professionals and hopefully gives a snap shot of where we are at after 2 decades.