Tag: windows

At last! A Mac Mini Server!

There have been many arguments over the years about Macs being more expensive than PCs and though I have often thought that the arguments justifying this opinion are mostly without base, they seem to have stuck quite firmly in the minds of the consuming public and the business community in particular. In one area though the reverse, since the release of OS X, has always been true: a Mac Server is significantly less expensive than a Windows Server.

However, a Mac Server has generally remained mostly outside of the purchasing range of a small businesses, especially those focused on low-cost, due to the general need to buy a Xserve, a rack, and all the associated costs. Now for those in the know, a Mac Mini accompanied by a copy of OS X Server (10 user version) has for many years been the easy route around this problem, but required a bit of know-how and was certainly not an off the shelf purchase.

Now this has all changed with the release of a new Mac Mini Server by Apple. For the low price of £799 (inc. VAT) you can have your own dual 500GB, 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, with 4GB of RAM and an unlimited edition of  OS 10.6 Snow Leopard Server. Now that’s affordable. Even for a small business with only a couple of computers. And off the shelf and with you within 3 working days!

Mac Mini Server

Now for those Borg lovers who are already going blue at the notion that a Mac can be cheaper than a PC I have one reply: it’s the licences stupid. With the Mac Mini server you get an unlimited copy of Apple’s server product, no user restrictions, fully featured, add as much as you dare to the little powerhouse and if you need to add a second cheaply (and no rack required just a 12″ square of desk space).

Now back to the licences. Appleinsider has a great example of the cost comparison between the new Mac Mini Server and a similar SME orientated Windows servers:

mosxs vs sbs

See how cheap? I can’t wait to have an opportunity to install my 1st Mac Mini off the shelf server. If you’d like to read an indepth review I highly recommend the Appleinsider review by Daniel Eran Dilger. Read it here.


Macminiloco has published it’s annual “The State of the Mac Mini”, which gives an excellent breakdown on the new Mac Mini. Read it here.

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Never rely on one backup solution

So continuing my posts on my virus stricken computer drama, see the earlier posts “Poking a hornets nest” and “Dropboxing my way out of a crisis” I had decided after the crisis with iSure (which we had been paying £8.30 a month for the privilege of using and had replaced with a free 2gb dropbox account) to see if we could place the accounts files in the dropbox.

Unfortunately it became clear after a day or so that this solution would not work. As the accounts files (Quickbooks Pro if you need to know) were accessed from two different computers very quickly duplicates started to appear. So it was off hunting for another solution. Fortunately I had one up my belt. I’d been using Mozy since it first went into beta on the Mac and I thought it’d be ideal for this.

So again taking advantage of another free package, some 2gb before you need to pay, I installed it on the accounts computer and went back to sharing the file over the company network. So dropbox might have failed in my enterprise to handle these particular files (I suspected it might, but c’est la vie) but Mozy came through for me and provided a quick and easy solution to my problem.

In most of my personal dealings I use Mozy’s free service to backup the libraries of my MBP, whilst using dropbox to manage my files (I have a lot of files so I am using the 50gb account for that) as a type of replacement NAS as my one of my good friends @tsmarsh termed it. And I have to say it’s worked well for me so far and helped me out of a few sticky situations, so I’d recommend it to anyone who is looking for a peace of mind.

The benefit to these services when used free is that you can recommend them to your friends and family and get a little extra space each time someone takes up your referral, meaning it can satisfy a great deal of your needs without you having to spend a dime. All in all using this solution for my client has led them to a saving of £99.60, which in a recession the pennies truly count.

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Dropboxing my way out of a crisis


So in my previous posting “Poking a hornets nest” I had to deal with a dead XP box at a clients. Fortunately for me I had moved the company files over to dropbox a couple of weeks prior. So when this computer went down I knew not only did I have copies of their files independently on two other computers I had a copy too.

After a comprehensive check of the other PC in the office I established that the virus had not spread, I have to say I did have some concerns that dropbox might make such a spread easier, but fortunately for the moment virus writers haven’t seemed to cottoned on to this method of transferring viruses! Phew. But I think that this is something they had perhaps better consider as a potential risk in the future.

One of the reasons I spent so much time in attempting to restore this PC rather than wiping and starting again was the accounts files for the company were stored on it and we had been using a service provided to the company for the last couple of years by Barclays Bank called iSure, though Barclays had sold them an unlimited account, it’s primary purpose was to backup the accounts files.

Not only was there limited documentation in their business subscription pack telling you what to do when a disaster, like the one we were experiencing, happened, an hour or two worth of phone calls to their support line (where I had to give limited security information (it would be very easy to fake)) I managed to log onto their site and find the files we needed.

Unfortunately although the computer was left on 24/7 so that backups could run twice daily and it had gone down on a Friday morning, the most recent copy of the accounts they had was from the three days earlier. So to save having the work done that week have to be repeated, as well as the lost days, I had to recover the data from the hard drive that had been affected.

If we had been relying on this to backup the company’s main set of files, some 30,000 files or so they would all have had to have been checked for validity. And though files might not be changed on a daily basis we would have needed to check just to be sure. Though I had to rescue the account files, with the others once my re-install was complete I just added the new computer and hey presto the files downloaded. Genius.

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Poking a hornets nest

So I’ve been absent for over a week now from posting, with good reason. One of my clients who still uses Windows caught a nasty virus. Oh how I love viruses. Trojans in particular. Naturally as I was managing the system I ensured that they had adequate virus protection in place, we were running the free version of AVG (cost conscious client), as well as the Spyware Doctor Starter Edition provided by Google Pack for XP.

Our virus protection was good enough to detect the virus, but unfortunately not good enough to just heal it. So after disconnecting the machine from the network I switched over to my MBP to google my way out of the situation. I found out that I was dealing with a generic version of a normal everyday trojan, the type that patches and replaces your windows system files. And generally does lots of nasty stuff.

At first it looked like AVG had the solution and had a specific remover for the file. So off I went, read the instructions, downloaded the file and ran the remover. I rebooted the system. And voila a non-functioning machine. Great. I had to drive over to my house and grab some more specialist software to deal with the problem. After a quick search on trusty google. I figured out that it was probably most likely that I was dealing with a corrupted registry.

Anyway after a couple of hours of running diagnosis software and playing with the Windows terminal via booting by CD. I stumbled upon a great mess, apparently the person before me had left a previous hard-drive installed in the machine with XP installed on, and inadvertently because the primary hard drive was connected via SATA rather than PATA my XP boot disk was ignoring the SATA drive and booting straight into the PATA drive.

So after most of an afternoon wasted. I went back to google to figure out how I might be able to resolve this. The answer came in creating a new boot disk. So I downloaded nLite and set about creating my own custom boot disk. Then to add a little more power to the mix. I installed Ultimate Boot CD and created my own special mix of Windows busting fun.

Unfortunately this sort of work is boring, time consuming and irritating. And it wasn’t until my seventh pass with UBCD’s anti-virus software I was finally sure that I had rid myself of the virus. I spent my time checking the other computer wasn’t infected (fortunately not) and looking for their startup and installation disks, in case I had to do a wipe and re-install. But joy of joy no disks.

I had started on a Friday morning, worked through Saturday and was now looking at having a delightful Monday. I was a bundle of laughs that weekend I can tell you. Though I did have time to conduct a complete re-organisation of the company’s shared files. Fortunately I had moved them off this computer to the wonderful dropbox a couple of weeks earlier. As I waited I gave them structure. No more dumping files in a single folder!

So come Monday. I was left with no choice but to wipe. The tech support on this was going to be too expensive. So I booted up with UBCD and wiped away. Wiped both drives to be sure. I then installed XP on the PATA and allocated the SATA as a backup drive. A much more sensible solution. But with no software CDs I was left with an interesting experiment, what should I buy to replace the software that was lost?

I’ll return to that in a later post, as well as assessing how well the backup routines we had in place to ensure no data was lost performed. Suffice to say I think that this is salutary lesson in why PCs are more expensive than Macs. It’s the IT support silly. At £25 an hour, three days of tech support to restore that PC had been expensive. It might have been cheap to buy but it ended up much a much more expensive purchase than a virus free Mac would have been.

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Dropbox Gallore


I can’t help but love dropbox.

A couple of years ago whilst working for a property developer based in London, with offices in Brighton and Manchester I was instructed to bring a unified file system in place for the three separate offices, at minimal cost. This proved to be a difficult task. In the end I ordered three external hard drives and on a Friday after close of business I copied all of the core data from the London office onto the one of those drives.

First thing Saturday morning I got on a train and headed to the Brighton office  where I copied and merged the data from the two drives and spent an inordinate amount of time organising the files into the new filing system we were going to be simultaneously deploying. I then installed a great little piece of software I had found based on rysnc and configured it’s syncing capability over an ssh connection to the London office.

I plugged in the hard-drive, ordered a courier and sent off the hard-drive destined for the Manchester office and headed back to the train station and to the London office. I configured the London office and plugged in their hard drive. I then set the system up and configured the first sync between the two systems and left for the day as it required a great deal of time to go through the first sync.

Come Monday morning I was on the phone to the Manchester office, which had to refrain from using files for the day and began their sync. All in all the process took the better part of three days and required me to travel between two offices. As well as plenty of overtime, which I suppose was good for me, but was a great deal of unnecessary hassle.

The system itself was also very resource intensive, requiring the three computers that managed the service to be left on at night and spend sometimes hours at a time syncing the files. It also always lagged 24 hours behind the data system that monitored the creation of files. It was however a significant improvement over the duplication between the offices and cut down on the faxing and emailing of files back and forth.

At the time I dreamed of a solution like dropbox. It would have handled the synchronisation of three separate file locations without blinking and in real time, not with a 24 hour delay. The idea of having a copy in the cloud is also ideal, not only are backups taken care of, as well as permanent records of what has been deleted (after all who hasn’t deleted a file on a computer and then realised they needed it? try managing that replicated by a dozen or even half a dozen)

I’ve also found it incredibly useful adding in new computers, they’re up and running in minutes and download in the background. I eagerly await the ability to sync over wifi and then I can really start to centralise downloads of large software updates etc between computers. Or add it remotely from home and have it become available at multiple peoples computers for installation at the end of the day. Dreamy.

That’s all without touching on wonders such as 1password synchronisation, which has made flipping between my MBP and iMac at home as easy as pie. I am constantly stumbling across other innovative uses on a regular basis. I know for some the level of such data replication seems crazy, but hey space is cheap.

Trusting the cloud with confidential data also seems worrisome but as I tell my small clients if someone actively wanted to steal your data they so easily could. WAP cracks in what less than 60 seconds, WEP too now and most of them have offices where it wouldn’t be impossibly hard for someone to wander in and stick in a usb stick and steal their data. As a small business owner its simply not possible to protect against everything.

Dropbox is developing fast and I can’t wait to see what the future will bring for it. It is sure to make my life and the lives of my clients more easy.

Share the dropbox love and if you haven’t already signed up for an account do so now: www.getdropbox.com

PS For more info about what you can do with dropbox checkout this lifehacker article.

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