The value of Backup and Data

I have been bad….Very BAD!!!

When I started the blog, my second article was about home backups. I started writing in and before I knew it was too long. My problem was that I was covering too much ground, and too much information was fresh in my mind.

Well, after my article in NMS I decided to write this article, which will initiate a series of backup articles. Why a series? Because there is too much information that I need to give you, and I don’t want to bore you too much, but backup is so important and people give it so little importance that I MUST convey the information.

What is the Value of Data?

This is more than anything a question you need to ask yourself. The data that is important for me, might not be important for you. And Value is even harder to assign. However there is a some easy points to quantify it.

  • Can you reproduce the data?
  • Is it easy to host someplace else?
  • How vital is to have it available?
  • What is the damage if the data is loss (economical and emotional damage)
  • How often you need it?

None of these questions by themselves can put value on data, but all together can. For example, the perfect picture of the first birthday of your first child. You might not look at the picture all the time, but if lost forever, you will remember that picture and be sad about it (emotional value). However because it is a picture, it also probably is hosted in Picasa, Flicker, Facebook or another social media. Maybe not with the same quality, but at least you could save it from there if lost from your computer. In the other hand, lets say your QuickBooks database for your small/home business. Maybe it won’t slow you down a lot if lost, but could have several repercussions when tax season arrives.

Now that we have an idea how to assign value to data we should…

Assigning Value to Backup

The Value of the backup is proportional to the value of the data. It sounds like a lot of mathematical terms, but simply, if the data is very valuable (or invaluable) to you, then the backup is as well. VERY SIMPLE, No?

Although this is simple, I am still amazed to find out most people don’t backup regularly. I know I don’t backup most things at home almost never, however, most of the data I don’t care for (even though I have TB of data), and the data I care about I have it in my desktop, my laptop, my work PC, my old PC. It is a mess, but if needed I can recover most of it.

This mess of data also brings another value for the backup. The backup will organize your data. It is more is a consequence of backing up, but when you start to plan and put in effect a backup plan, you also end up organizing your data, which later will save you time when you are searching for it.

Extra benefits of backup

When setting a backup you will have plenty of benefits, some are more visible than others, however these are the ones I can think of right now:

  • Data can be recovered
  • Data will be replicated
  • Data will be organized
  • Data will be centralized
  • Multiple versions of the same data (*1)
  • When replacing computer, moving data is easier
  • Backup can be backup again (maybe to cloud, offline, remote)

(*1) It depends on the backup, but at least you have 1 older version of a file. Some backups support more than one version. If a file becomes corrupted, or you save a change that you want to undo later, an older version is the solution.

Thinking about value

Unless you do all your work online, and you don’t care about data, there is always something you won’t want to lose in your computer. Backing up is important, and have extra benefits beyond being able to recover data, and the value of the backup is the same as the data, or even greater in most cases.

So, do you value your data? And are you backing up your data?

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Network Monitoring Service. Is it necessary?

If you are looking for the absolute answer it is NO. Why? Because if your network is working without it, it will continue to work without it.

So, is that it? Absolutely not. Think about it, in life as well in IT, we do a lot of things not because it is necessary, but because it improves a condition, or it is better in a sense.

For example, when you buy a computer, I can almost guarantee that regardless of the reason you always get a better computer. In a concrete example, your laptop gets dropped in the floor and it is completely destroyed. The laptop itself was about a year old. Do you need a new laptop? Most likely not, but it will help you so much with a ton of work, browsing the web, etc. We actually depend on our electronic devices, but they are not a necessity. To add to it, you most likely will get a better laptop, since in a year, for the same price you can get something better. Here comes another point, you didn’t need the faster laptop, but you reason that you NEED it. Confusing, right? You could  buy a used laptop way cheaper.

Network monitoring is a bit more abstract, but has the same reasoning. You don’t need it. Your network works without it, but if you have it it will help you do so many things better and faster, just like a new laptop Smile

However, there is a common misconception that network monitoring can be expensive. And it can be, but it can also be really cheap, almost free.

The most expensive part of network monitoring is the Human Resource behind it. If you want a 3rd party company to set it up and manage it, that can be expensive. However if you limit the Human Resource from a 3rd party then the cost can be manageable even for a small company with no budget. Even a non profit organization should have network monitoring.

So maybe you are wondering why I say it is not necessary but that it should still be deployed. Well, lets not get confused. Lets take this scenario as an example. A Non profit organization with 15 people that don’t have a Network Monitoring System (NMS), but they are having problems with the computers. This non-profit organization does not have an IT, but they have an unofficial “IT” person, who when needed calls a real IT, that either donates time or needs to be paid. The in house “IT” is at a loss over what could be the problem, so he calls for support, but right away is asked a ton of technical questions that he cannot answer. In the end, the “paid” IT has to visit the site and troubleshoot from scratch. This troubleshooting can be time consuming, and it is essentially information gathering. Regardless of whether the time was “donated” or it is paid, for the organization it is an expense. Donated time wasted in troubleshooting could have been used in something else for example. With NMS setup right however, a quick look could have shown if the problem is in a specific time, if it is network, CPU or hard drive related, it can be historical data on the status of the network.

An added advantage of NMS is that it will show problems before they happen. For example a hard drive failing will be recorded. A server that has high CPU usage, or low memory will be recorded as well, and then it can be remediated before it becomes a real problem.

Cheap NMS setups

There are actually a lot of NMS that can be setup cheap, but I will list the ones I know and I use.

  • Xymon/Hobbit: This is my favorite quick NMS. I can setup this from scratch at my work in about 1 hour. It does require a little more understanding about the network, and what you want to monitor, but it excels in easy to setup once the configuration file is understood (and it is quite easy). The main advantage, is that it is fast. Check the demo site. My Xymon setup is running in a 1 GB RAM virtual machine that is hosting a ton of intranet services. It monitors 88 host, in 6 pages with 399 checks.
  • SpiceWorks: it tries to be an all in one IT service, and it does it pretty well. The NMS is pretty inclusive, with reports and dashboards. Very easy to setup, however it is a bit more demanding and requires a Windows PC joined to the domain. I use it when I want to see more information. It supports Linux, VmWare, OSX, and other types of clients. You can be up and running in 10 minutes, but it takes a little longer to configure the application to the network later (fix labels, complete information, etc). The community itself is the tool I use the most though.
  • Nagios: Very powerful and popular NMS. It can also be very complicated. There is a commercial and Free edition. The commercial is free also up to 7 devices.
  • Foglight NMS: Free up to 100 devices. I haven’t actually test this software yet, but it looks interesting. Footlight does have a lot of different services, the NMS will monitor only the network in general. There are Foglight applications for more in depth monitoring of Exchange, SQL, Oracle, AD, etc.
  • BigBrother: Just like Foglight, Big Brother is owned by Quest Software, however, there is no more development for the Free edition (last update in Dec 2005). This is still a great product however, and the Professional version has attractive dashboards. I have a feeling thought that Quest is moving towards the Foglight product instead. Xymon is a fork of Big Brother, and it is still being developed, so I recommend Xymon instead.

So here are 5 products that are Free. Only requirement is to have a PC to run them from and a little time.

Observations about NMS

You can run the NMS system in different PC types, however have in consideration that they are network applications. To this extend have in mind these recommendations:

  • Spiceworks only runs in Windows and if scanning a domain, the PC needs to be a domain member (this requirement might have been removed in version 5). This means that you will need a Windows License for the machine running it. Also, it is not recommended to use the PC for something else. Spiceworks will make the PC slower, or the dashboard will be slow when using the PC.
  • In my case, we use Spiceworks in a PC that is used occasionally, by someone that is usually out of the office. This person however only does web browsing.
  • Windows and Linux have different ways to work in the network. Linux being much more efficient, mainly in the ping part.
  • BigBrother and Xymon run better in Linux.
  • Xymon has packages that are easy to install in rpm and deb format, making an Ubuntu or Mint server an easy choice (and my usual choice). Install in Ubuntu takes 10 minutes (including dependencies) and it is as easy as running “sudo apt-get install xymon hobbit-plugins”
  • fping is a must is building the NMS, mainly in Windows. The Windows ping utility can easily freeze a NetJet network card from HP for example. Fping will ping faster and reduce the latency
  • BigBrother and Xymon require a small client to check local status of remote devices, like CPU, RAM and event log, but can check other services without a client, for example SMPT, AD, DNS, etc
  • Spiceworks does not require a client, but requires access to the  machines using credentials. For a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) network is not recommended. BYOD is when the computer (usually laptop) is owned by the user, so there is no centralized login.
  • a run of Xymon in a virtual Linux server runs faster than in a Windows XP machine (and it is tons easier to setup)
  • This is not a NMS specific, but Linux has advanced a lot in the last couple of years in installation and maintenance, making it very easy, so it should not be avoided.

What about the big names and expensive solutions?

They are certainly not bad, and it is not a bad investment either, but if you are considering paying for those solutions then there is no reason to be wondering if NMS is for you after all.

When NMS becomes a necessity

As the network increases NMS advantages become easier to see. A network bigger than 50 devices should have NMS, regardless of budget. The reason is that you have at least 50 different point of impact in the network and troubleshooting time alone will justify the spending time, money or both to get a good NSM in place, but as I already listed, NMS does not necessarily need to be expensive.

A local IT provider usually has hosted (remote) and monitored NMS. These can be expensive, but if there is no time, or willingness to check the NMS then it is certainly a option to consider.

Monitoring a Network Monitoring System

Although it sounds redundant, the NMS needs to be monitored as well. After all, at heart the NMS is a data gathering system. Sure, it can have rules, alerts and actions, but no system, no matter how expensive it is, is completely automated. Here is where the cost I described initially comes into play. The best scenario would be to have someone in house looking at it (over coffee for example) every morning. An offsite NMS would usually include something like that. If looking to have it externally managed I would recommend to have it monitored at least once a week, with an option to check onsite on demand. The value of the monitoring is in the value of losing service in the network and how valuable is the data (another article on Backup and Data value in the horizon).

Closing thoughts

  • Network Monitoring Systems (NMS) are not a necessity but you should still use one.
  • NMS can be free if you dedicate a little of time and love to it.
  • NMS is good even for small companies
  • NMS can even be used at home.
  • There are bigger NMS packages available for free. For example Nagios XI up to seven devices, and Foglight for up to 100 devices.
  • An old Linux box with Xymon can be a great NMS monitoring a lot of devices.
  • If more services and support are needed later on, there are packages available, but at minimum even a not fully configured NMS will save valuable time troubleshooting

So, with no excuse. In the time that it took to read this article (even if you only read the intro and summary) you could have installed a NMS.

Draw your expectations of the NMS (don’t go too crazy if no budget is allocated, but don’t short it either), and list what is important to monitor.

Now, I am throwing a shameless marketing plug. If help is required, or you need advice to put a NMS in place, please contact us.

By now you probably already know that I am a fan of no-nonsense deployments, so rest assured that your NMS deployment will be in the expected range.. This reminds me of a personal story…..

The first time I looked into NMS, I contacted a 3rd Party vendor. At the time I was serving a mid size network, with requirements of big company. However this was more of a personal project (a project that I though was good for the company, but the company did not shared my thoughts). The proposal was about $30K for a year, with an $50K optional. Sure, all the bells and whistles were good, but I needed something lower at that time. I did not let scary proposals scare me, and I kept looking. A week later I had Big Brother running (it took me 4 hours to setup at the time), but 2 months later it saved me over 16 hours in helpdesk tickets, because a lot of problems were noticed before they happened, or I was able to quickly diagnose. Would the 30K saved more time? Yes. Would I have been able to get it budgeted? No!. In this case, even a little NMS is better than no NMS.

10 tips to help improve your wireless network

From Microsoft at Home

If the Windows operating system ever notifies you about a weak Wi-Fi signal, it probably means that your connection isn’t as fast or as reliable as it could be. Worse, you might lose your connection entirely in some parts of your home. If you want to boost the signal for your wireless network (WLAN), try some of these tips for extending your wireless range and improving your wireless network speed and performance.

Couple at a laptop reviewing wireless channels

1. Position your wireless router, modem router, or access point in a central location

When possible, place your wireless router, wireless modem router (a DSL or cable modem with a built-in wireless router), or wireless access point (WAP) in a central location in your home. If your wireless router, modem router, or access point is against an outside wall of your home, the signal will be weak on the other side of your home. If your router is on the first floor and your PC or laptop is on the second floor, place the router high on a shelf in the room where it is located. Don’t worry if you can’t move your wireless router, because there are many other ways to improve your connection.

Bad router and good router placement comparison


2. Move the router off the floor and away from walls and metal objects (such as metal file cabinets)

Metal objects, walls, and floors will interfere with your router’s wireless signals. The closer your router is to these obstructions, the more severe the interference, and the weaker your connection will be.


3. Replace your router’s antenna

The antennas supplied with your router are designed to be omnidirectional, meaning that they broadcast in all directions around the router. If your router is near an outside wall, half of the wireless signals will be sent outside your home, and much of your router’s power will be wasted. Most routers don’t allow you to increase the power output, but you can make better use of the power. If your router’s antenna is removable, you can upgrade to a high-gain antenna that focuses the wireless signals in only one direction. You can even aim the signal in the direction you need it most. Consider a Linksys high-gain antenna—they’re powerful and easy to install. Or shop for other high-gain antennas.

Standard antenna and high-gain antenna examples


4. Replace your laptop’s wireless PC card-based network adapter

Laptops with built-in wireless networking capability typically have excellent antennas and don’t need to have their network adapters upgraded. These tips are for laptops that do not have built-in wireless networking.

Wireless network signals must be sent both to and from your computer. Sometimes your router can broadcast strongly enough to reach your computer, but your computer can’t send signals back to your router. To improve this, replace your laptop’s PC card-based wireless network adapter with a USB wireless network adapter that uses an external antenna. In particular, consider a Linksys Wireless-N or Hawking Hi-Gain Wireless-N USB network adapter. These add an external, high-gain antenna to your computer and can significantly extend your wireless range.


Wireless router and wireless repeater

5. Add a wireless repeater

Wireless repeaters extend your wireless network range without requiring you to add any wiring. Just place the wireless repeater halfway between your wireless router, modem router, or access point and your computer, and you can get an instant boost to your wireless signal strength. Check out the wireless-N repeaters from Linksys, Hawking Hi-Gain, ViewSonic, D-Link, and Buffalo Technology, or shop for a wireless-N repeater.


Wireless channels

6. Change your wireless channel

Wireless routers can broadcast on several different channels, similar to the way radio stations use different channels. In the United States and Canada, these channels are 1, 6, and 11. Just as you’ll sometimes hear interference on one radio station while another is perfectly clear, sometimes one wireless channel is clearer than others. Try changing your wireless router’s channel through your router’s configuration page to see if your signal strength improves. You don’t need to change your computer’s configuration, because it can automatically detect the new channel.

To find your router configuration page, consult this quick reference table, which shows the default addresses for common router manufacturers. If the address is not listed here, read the documentation that came with your router, or visit the manufacturer’s webpage.

Router

Address

3Com

http://192.168.1.1

D-Link

http://192.168.0.1

Linksys

http://192.168.1.1

Microsoft Broadband

http://192.168.2.1

Netgear

http://192.168.0.1

Actiontec

http://192.168.0.1


7. Reduce wireless interference

The most common wireless technology, 802.11g (wireless-G), operates at a frequency of 2.4 gigahertz (GHz). Many cordless phones, microwave ovens, baby monitors, garage door openers, and other wireless electronics also use this frequency. If you use these wireless devices in your home, your computer might not be able to "hear" your router over the noise coming from them.

If your network uses wireless-G, you can quiet the noise by avoiding wireless electronics that use the 2.4 GHz frequency. Instead, look for cordless phones and other devices that use the 5.8 GHz or 900 megahertz (MHz) frequencies. Because 802.11n (wireless-N) operates at both 2.4 GHz and the less frequently used 5.0 GHz frequency, you may experience less interference on your network if you use this technology.


8. Update your firmware or your network adapter driver

Router manufacturers regularly make free improvements to their routers. Sometimes, these improvements increase performance. To get the latest firmware updates for your router, visit your router manufacturer’s website.

Similarly, network adapter vendors occasionally update the software that Windows uses to communicate with your network adapter, known as the driver. These updates typically improve performance and reliability. To get the driver updates, follow the instructions for your operating system:

Windows XP

  • Visit Microsoft Update, click Custom, and then wait while Windows XP looks for the latest updates for your computer.

  • Install any updates relating to your wireless adapter.


9. Pick equipment from a single vendor

Although a Linksys router will work with a D-Link network adapter, you often get better performance if you pick a router and network adapter from the same vendor. Some vendors offer a performance boost of up to twice the performance when you choose their hardware (like their USB wireless network adapters). Linksys has the SpeedBooster technology for its wireless-G devices, and D-Link has the 108G enhancement for its wireless-G devices. These enhancements can be helpful if you have wireless-G devices and you need to transmit over a long distance or you live in an older house (old walls tend to block the signal more than newly built ones do).

If speeding up your connection is important to you, consider the next tip—upgrading your wireless technology.


10. Upgrade 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g devices to 802.11n

Although wireless-G (802.11g) may be the most common type of wireless network, wireless-N (802.11n) is at least twice as fast and it has better range and stability. Wireless-N is backward-compatible with 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g, so you can still use any existing wireless equipment that you have—though you won’t see much improvement in performance until you upgrade your computer or network adapter to wireless-G, too.

If you’re using wireless-B or wireless-G and you’re unhappy with your network’s speed and performance, consider replacing your router and network adapters with wireless-N equipment. If you’re buying new equipment, definitely choose wireless-N. Linksys Wireless-N routers, for example, are powerful, secure, and simple to set up. So are Linksys Wireless-N USB wireless network adapters.

Find out which wireless technology is installed on your computer:

Windows 7

  1. Click Start, and then click Device and Printers.

  2. Right-click the icon of your computer, and then click Properties.

  3. Click the Hardware tab. Scroll through the list until you see your wireless card or adapter. Under Name, you will see 802.11n or Wireless-N, 802.11g or Wireless-G, or 802.11b or Wireless-B.

Windows Vista

  1. Click Start, click Network and Internet, and then click Network and Sharing Center.

  2. On the left, under Tasks, click Manage Network Connections.

  3. Double-click Wireless Network Connection, and then click Details. Under the description, you will see 802.11n or Wireless-N, 802.11g or Wireless-G, or 802.11b or Wireless-B.

Wireless networks never reach the theoretical bandwidth limits. Wireless-B networks typically get 2–5 megabits per second (Mbps). Wireless-G networks are usually in the 13–23 Mbps range. The average everyday speed for wireless-N equipment is about 50 Mbps.

Don’t forget—the security of your wireless network is as important as its speed and performance. Learn about the different security methods.

Help make your network more secure:

One note in Android

I have been using One Note a lot lately (in the last 6 months). It is a nice application to save quick content, keep lists, and best of all, it makes it easy to share workbooks with other people.

The only grip I had, is that I could not use it with Android. Well, I got my new phone this week, and I have been installing apps. Because the new phone is faster I have also been readying more and keeping up to date.

Here is the RSS article I read

 

Today, we’re excited that the Office team is making OneNote for Android available in 57 markets worldwide with easy access to your notes on SkyDrive. The app also offers key OneNote features like checklists, image capture, table editing and support for hyperlinks. Please note that not all Android devices are created equal. You currently need to have a device running Android 2.3 or higher and with access to Android Market to use OneNote for Android.

OneNote for Android offers key features

If you have an Android device, we also encourage you to try other apps from partners built using SkyDrive APIs. For example with Browser for SkyDrive or Cloud Explorer for SkyDrive, you can view, access and upload documents or photos on your Android phone. Portfolio for SkyDrive lets you organize and upload photos from your Android phone in batches to SkyDrive. If you want to add SkyDrive support to your app, site or device, please visit our developer center.

Full Story At Source