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Dec 02
Top 10 Tech Gifts for 2015

​Tim Rondeau, Service Manager

So if you find yourself like me, you have done some shopping for your family and close friends on Black Friday but you still find yourself coming up short on presents for everyone.  You may also find that when it comes to buying tech gifts for your friends and family, it can be rather hard to find something for the person that lives in technology and has it all, or so they think.  I have put together a list of what I find to be some of the most intriguing gifts for the holidays at prices that are within most budgets.  Please note that these do not fall in any particular order.

1. Smart Lighting - $50 to over $200

Light your home or office to set the mood and tone for the day with remote controlled LED lights.  There are a number of different brands on the market such as Phillips HUE and WEMO that you can choose from.  HUE allows you to change the color of your lights using an app on your phone as well as other features.  Lights like WEMO can be controlled from anywhere via your Wi-Fi network.  You can turn them on, set them on a schedule, and even control them when you are not home.  Phillips HUE brand lights will be more expensive because of the features and ability to change color but being LED lights; either of these should last for years to come.  A starter set for WEMO lights will run under $50 with the Phillips HUE coming in around $200.​

Phillips HUE.jpg

Phillips HUE

WEMO.jpg

WEMO

(Images courtesy of Home Depot, 2015)


2. Lexar JumpDrive M10 Secure - $35 and up

For the security conscious person in your life who carries a flash drive around but is always worried about losing it or who has misplaced it in the past fret not; the Lexar JumpDrive M10 Secure is here too save the day.  This drive is secured by the user with a password which opens a 256-bit AES encrypted vault on the drive.  This will be sure to keep your everyday thief or random person out of your personal data.   Another feature I personally love about this drive is that the drive has advanced deletion protection which prevents file recovery attacks from getting to your deleted files.  The drive is available in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB sizes.  Prices start at around $35 and move up from there.  

Flash Drive.jpg

(Image courtesy of newegg, 2015)


3. Apple TV (Generation 4) – Starting at $149

Apple has always been a top innovator of products for personal use.  The Apple TV (generation 4) is another offering from the company that does not disappoint.  Apple has redesigned their remote control where you are not given a touch pad in a small hand held device that allows for scrolling and selecting of the shows and apps you wish to interact with.  Siri has been enhanced as well and does all the searching for you.  Once you setup your Apple TV and have all the apps downloaded for your HULU, Netflix, HBO, and other subscriptions or channels; simply hold the microphone button on the remote and tell Siri what you wish to find.  You could do a search like "Show me all movies with Robert Downy Jr." and within seconds your screen is filled with all the available content ready for your digital consumption.  They have also beefed up gaming on the device allowing for the pairing of a normal gaming style controller and a full library of available games.  The device is very impressive and is worth the purchase for that lover of all things Apple in your family. ​

Apple TV.jpg

(Image courtesy of Apple, 2015)


​4. Tile - $25

If you are like me or most everyone else that I know, you are constantly losing things around your home.  Whether it be your keys, wallet, purse, etc.   The simple solution to this is Tile.  Tile uses small tags that attach or that can be placed inside of your purse or wallet which allows for them to be located within your home or other location with your smart phone.  When you open the app you can tell it to have the Tile emit a tone that you can hear.  But what if you have your keys but are missing your phone?  You can use the tile to trigger a tone on your phone to aid you in locating it as well.  The system works via Bluetooth and simply pairs with your phone and the small app you download.  The devices run about $25 and are easily available at Amazon or other electronics retailers. ​

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5. Amazon Fire 7" Tablet and Amazon Fire Kids - $50 - $100

While I wouldn't say this is the best tablet out there; it is the best tablet out there for $50 bucks.  The 7-inch Amazon Fire tablet allows you stream YouTube, play Netflix, read some books, play games, and surf the internet with full Amazon App store access.  If you are looking for a solid but cheap tablet for your friends or family this is a great deal.

Along with this you have the Amazon Fire Kids. It is a bit more expensive at $100, but what is nice about this tablet is Amazon says that it is virtually indestructible.  However, if your child does manage to break it (somehow they always find a way); Amazon will replace it with no questions asked.  This one features some really great parental controls for those who want to introduce technology into their children's lives with a good amount of supervision but without the constant need for looking over their shoulders. 

Amazon Fire.jpg

Amazon Fire Kids.png

(Images courtesy of Amazon, 2015)


6. BB-8 Droid by Sphero  - $150​

Star Wars fans big and small will love this little guy.  He can race around your house like a omnidirectional remote controlled car using your smartphone as the controller.  It looks really awesome and the reviews are good with the only downside being that the sounds come from your phone and not the droid itself and he is much smaller in the toy form than he is in the movie.  Either way, this is sure to be a hit this holiday season. ​

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7. LG Rolly Keyboard - $120 on Amazon

Gone are the days of old when you had a rubber keyboard that could roll up when traveling with a table.  The worst thing about those old keyboard in my opinion was their feel and the feel of pressing the keys.  You never really knew if you pressed the key enough to register as everything was made of rubber.  ​

Now you have the LG Rolly Keyboard!  It rolls up into a small roll the size of a small stick but features fully tactile keys just like a normal keyboard.  So while it is small and portable, you don't give up that nice solid feeling of knowing when you have pressed the key correctly.  

LG Keyboard.jpg 

(Image courtesy of LG, 2015)

8. Livescribe 3 SmartPens - $150 and up

How many times have you taken notes in a meeting and found that you need to put all those notes in a computer or email so you can send them out as meeting minutes or something else?  How about scratch drawings you made diagraming something or its operation during a meeting?  Welcome Livescribe.  This little pen allows you to draw and take notes just like any other pen but it also allows for live feed directly into Microsoft OneNote as well as your Android or iOS device.  

Livescribe.jpg

(Image courtesy of Livescribe, 2015)


9. Native Union NIGHT Cable  - $40 on Amazon

For those who have experience the defeat of a broken or frayed iPhone cable or for those who just hate how short and flimsy the factory provided charging cables are here is a wonderful alternative.  The Native Union NIGHT Cable is a 3 meter long braided cable with a weighted knot anchor which helps to keep your cellphone from falling off of night stands and tall tables.  Not only that but it's a 2.4 Amp Cable.  Apple's standard cable is just over 1 Amp.  Couple this new cable with a 2 Amp charger and your phone will charge twice as fast.  This cable is listed as being compatible with iPhone 6, 6s, 6 Plus, 6s Plus, 5s, 5c and 5, iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad mini with Retina display, iPad mini and iPad (4th gen), iPod Touch (5th gen), and iPod Nano (7th gen). It can be found on Amazon for about $40. 

Night Cable.jpg

(Image courtesy of Amazon, 2015)


10. ARC Blackout Buddy H20 by eton - $20 for 3 devices

Last but not least, I came across this little item on Amazon and that it would be gr​eat for those who like to constantly add new technology to their survival bags or home emergency preparedness kits.  The Blackout Buddy H20 is a light emitting device which replaces candles and emergency lanterns.  It is small and can fit just about anywhere and is environmentally friendly.  It is water activated and the LED lights which give off no heat or smoke run for 72 hours once activated.  If the light starts to fade simply give it more water.   You can pick up a three pack of these for about $20 on Amazon.​

Blackout Buddy.jpg

(Image courtesy of Amazon, 2015)


Well, that concludes my review of some of the top technology products that I found interesting for the holiday season.  Please remember, these are just highlights and reviews of some great gift ideas and this article should not be construed as an endorsement of these products by myself or ANC Group, Inc.  I hope you enjoyed this month's blog and found some new technology gifts or sparked some new ideas for each one of you.  The ANC Group staff wishes everyone a Happy Holidays!!!


May 29
If your organization's defenses were breached, would your data be safe?

Today's users demand a wider and more unhindered access to company data. Are your devices and data fully protected and encrypted?  


For the month of May, we teamed up with Sophos to bring you our Joint K-12/Business webinar focusing on Encryption and mitigating your organization's risk.


Ever wanted to learn more about these topics? Check out our webinar and we'll show you why it's so important!

We're proud to have partnered with Sophos to bring you this webinar. The video covers:

  • Why your organization should use disk encryption to protect your data
  • The threats of unsafe data and how encryption can help
  • Using whole-disk encryption and file-based encryption for your organization's needs
  • Securing data stored in the cloud
  • Compliance obligations and encryption​

 


Jan 30
Data at Rest (DAR) and Data in Motion (DIM) - The Importance of Security and Encryption in Your Enterprise

Tim Rondeau MISM, MPM
Systems Engineer / Project Manager


For some time now I have been a proponent for the need of encryption solutions within all enterprise environments.  I am sure that everyone has heard the old moniker knowledge is power.  Well what is knowledge but a collection of information stored in your mind. However, knowledge is broken down into pieces of information. So one could say that if you control the information you have the power that information affords you. 

Your enterprise environment could host data for any number of individuals or systems.  You may store information about clients, contracts, students, teachers, financial information, tax documents, or any other type of sensitive information. Much of this data is highly personal and could damage a person’s way of life if the wrong individuals were able to gain access to it. This data could be in the form of names, addresses, account numbers, social security numbers, pictures and scans of documents or databases housing all of this information.

Your main goal as IT administrators should be to securely store this data and provide it to the systems and personnel that need it for the operation of the organization while keeping it safe from those that would use it for nefarious purposes.  So, as information technology specialists, we patch our servers and endpoints, update anti-virus and malware protection programs, secure our firewalls and limit access control to our networks and systems in the name of security.  But are these really enough? Are you falling into the “good enough” solution crowd?  There is never a 100% fully secure system! 

So when you are finished patching, updating, scanning, and securing; what else can really be done to secure your data?
First let’s examine what I refer to as the two states of data using terms that some may be familiar with; Data at Rest (DAR) and Data in Motion (DIM).  Data at Rest refers to data that resides inside your network on your servers, storage, and endpoint systems.  It is hosted there for internal use for day to day operations within the organization.  Data in Motion refers to any instance where your data leaves this environment and travels outside of its normal space. 

 This may mean files were copied to a disk or removable flash media, or even more so a mobile device such as a laptop once it leaves the confines of your facility.  You see, mobile devices can be both DAR and DIM classified devices depending on their location.  
Let us examine a scenario that could happen to any organization today.  A blackhat has infiltrated your network through some means and gained access to your systems.  He has somehow managed to acquire administrator permissions and now has full access to discover, scan, and steal as much information as he desires.  

All that personal information or PII (Personally Identifiable Information) in the form of social security numbers, names, addresses, phone numbers, health information, and/or financial data; is at his or her fingertips.   You might be thinking this is a long shot because you secure your network so well. You have multiple layers of protection to keep those types of individuals out of your infrastructure.  Well what happens when you discover that the person was someone within your own organization.  

Security experts will tell you that the biggest threat to any enterprise is from insiders. This may be employees with a grudge against the company or someone who has left a backdoor for access after being laid off.  Maybe they want to cause problems to guarantee job security or to be the hero to save the day by solving the problem they secretly caused.  The reasons are infinite and the threat is real; the biggest threat to any organization in fact.   

Next, let’s imagine one more scenario.  Your newest system administrator has just been given a task to move files from one location to another.  They include a large database copy that has to be moved to another location.  In the process of getting things ready they are given a task to take some new desktops to the facility across town or in the neighboring city and discover that it’s the same location where the files need to go.  Rather than transferring across the network which could take hours they volunteer to take everything with them to the new location since they are headed there anyway.  They upload the data to a large capacity flash drive or portable hard drive and set off for their destination.  During their trip they stop to use the bathroom or get a drink or some gas.  They get back in the car not realizing that the flash drive containing the database full of personal information fell out of their pocket or that while they were inside the store they left the car unlocked and someone came by and stole the drive out of their car. Even if immediately discovered, that data is now lost in the world for anyone to find and will more than likely find its way onto the internet at some point in the future.

With so many threat vectors outside of normal patching, network security, and anti-virus solutions; how do we secure our data as responsible IT personnel while providing data availability to the systems and personnel that need it?  The answer is simple; encryption.  Not only any encryption but specifically designed encryption that can be tailored to meet the needs of your organization.  

I remember imaging and securing windows computers for government organizations and using Windows Bitlocker feature to enable whole disk encryption on government computers.  We would have to encrypt the drive based on the user assigned to that system and then export a copy of their encryption key to be stored within a locked safe on a removable storage device.  Those are the systems of the past.  Today there are systems with secure key repositories that are specifically designed and secured to enable encryption of your entire enterprise.  Any data moving or resting would be encrypted.  Now you would not want to run whole disk encryption on your severs because it would cause a huge decrease in performance as the server would have to decrypt the file differently based on each individual user key that was presented to it.  

This would be an enormous task for a system to have to add to its work load and it would impact system performance.  
Now we have tools that allow you to encrypt and decrypt files on the fly using the client system rather than the server but while the files sit they are always encrypted.  It basically allows you to encrypt your information or have it encrypted in a constant state even when on a server while offloading the tasks to the user endpoint laptops and desktops to keep your organizations infrastructure performance at its best.  By encrypting your data you ensure that you secure it from loss, theft, or accidental exposure.  

Some newer encryption systems integrate with your Active Directory infrastructure to allow you to designate which users have access to which files.  All files are encrypted but users in specific Active Directory Organizational Units will be able to decrypt files based on permissions on the encryption server.  Say for instance that Joe Snuffy, who works in human resources, somehow finds that he has been inadvertently given access to financial data in another department.  He has access to the shared network drive and he can see the files and their file names. He is interested to see what is out there because of general human curiosity; but without permissions on the encryption server that manages the encryption keys, he will not be able to read the files.  He could open them or attempt to open them but he wouldn’t see anything but the encrypted data; a bunch of gibberish. 

This is what would happen should a blackhat enter your network and gain access to systems.  All the access in the world does no good if you don’t have the ability to decrypt the information that you have access to.  This holds true as well for that insider threat who thought he would steal some information for a competitor on his way out the door.  Too bad your encryption system prevents him from decrypting it because he doesn’t have permissions to decrypt any of the contents in those directories. This is the same for those files lost in the second example. The device is gone but the data is protected and so are your users, customers, and those who trust you with their information.  

At ANC, we partner with leading vendors in the IT security space that offer advanced solutions that can be tailored to meet your needs in today’s evolving IT landscape.  We understand that not every solution is a fit for everyone, but we have the expertise to find and tailor a solution to fit your needs now and into the future.  We would be happy to help make your environment more secure while helping you protect your customers.  Contact us if you would like more information about how ANC can help you with your security needs.
Jan 16
The Top Reasons to Virtualize Your Datacenter

​Timothy Rondeau, MISM, MPM 
Systems Engineer / Project Manager

The information technology landscape of today is not the same that it was a few years ago.  As a matter of fact, it has changed much in just the past year.  With the landscape in such a constant state of flux it is imperative that you have the ability to constantly evolve your enterprise to meet the needs of your customers while maintaining operational capabilities, security, and redundancy. 

In the traditional datacenter of old you would find racks upon racks of servers running a variety of hardware specific operating systems.  What many people never realized, was that these servers were massively overpowered for their intended roles and most of their available resources would never be used.  For instance, if you have a server that cost $7,500 when you purchased it just sitting in the rack running at 10% capacity, you might feel good about knowing you have room to grow.  However you aren’t using 90% of your investment and probably never will.  You might as well lay all that money out on the table and throw $6,750 of it away because it will never bring you value in a situation like this. It was wasted on something you would never actually see utilize its full potential. That is money you could have invested in other technologies for your organization.

In many of today’s modern datacenters, and especially those constantly preparing for the future, you will find them leveraging virtual server technology solutions.  These technologies allow you to run multiple operating systems on a single physical host system that can also be clustered together.  On a single server you could have Windows and Linux based machines running at the same time with a density of 5 to 10+ operating systems per physical CPU, depending on your hardware specifications.  These solutions come from a variety of different vendors and each solution has its own merits.  I will give a summary of my two top picks for virtualization solutions that are currently available.  We will then discuss the top reasons to virtualize your next server project. 

VMware, which is the juggernaut of the virtualization landscape, has exceptional products packed with features but their pricing and licensing model sometimes sets them outside the reach of many small to medium organizations with smaller upgrade budgets. Running on a stripped down and highly secure Linux based kernel, you only get what you need to run the system making the installation footprint and resource utilization for the hypervisor very low - even runnable from a SD card on some servers. This also increases security by reducing possible attack vectors against the virtual host machines. 

Microsoft Hyper-V is more cost effective for those who already have or are purchasing licensing agreements with Microsoft compared with VMware product offerings but sacrifices are made in some areas with less available features.  Hyper-V comes as part of Windows Server 2012 when licensing is purchased for either the Enterprise or Datacenter editions.  Hyper-V operates differently than VMware because it runs on top of the Windows Server operating system.  That Windows 2012 server can be running in either Server Core or full GUI mode.  While the initial operating system installation does take space and system resources, it is still a great option for virtualization. The price point also puts it right where many organizations want to be because you get it for free if you purchase licensing for Windows Server 2012. 

Now that I have outlined my top two virtualization technologies, we will move on to why you should utilize one or more of them in your next modernization project.  I believe that each of the below points are very important and valid topics that should be considered when planning your next server and infrastructure refresh project. 

Cost – When it comes down to it anyone will tell you that money talks and projects are won based on implementation and maintenance costs displayed as a ROI, or Return on Investment.  Virtualization technologies give you a better ROI because they allow you to fully realize the potential of your systems capabilities and available resources.  By fully utilizing one system, you reduce the overall amount of physical resources you need within your environment, thus reducing your overall implementation and maintenance costs. With less physical resources you have less hardware to carry warranties on and schedule maintenance for.  With less hardware comes reduced power costs within your datacenter which also reduces heat buildup which then equates into reduced costs in cooling.

Redundancy – Having system redundancy is very important for systems that require High Availability within your enterprise.  These systems may process production information, run assembly lines and machines, process email, or many other very important tasks.  It is important to ensure that if you have a hardware problem that these systems continue to function.  In the past if you had a hardware problem your system would fail and along with it your operating system would go down.  A simple hardware failure could bring your business to a halt for days while an Exchange or other issue was fixed or servers were rebuilt and restored.  With virtualization solutions you have the ability to configure High Availability right into the server clusters.  Multiple virtual hosts are clustered together to offer the ability to migrate and restart VMs on different hosts.  This means if host A goes down the system detects this and restarts the virtual machines registered on host A on hosts B and C.  You can still experience an outage for a few minutes if the power is pulled on the host or if the host just crashes but the system stands those running virtual machines up on the other hosts in a matter of minutes.  This puts you back in business within minutes instead of hours or days.  This is available when you have your hosts clustered and you are utilizing and storing your virtual machine files on SAN storage that is connected and configured to the cluster so all hosts within the cluster can see and access the storage. 

Maintenance – Ah maintenance windows.  These are the bane of administrators everywhere because they require work to be done within a specific window while the machine you are working of is of course probably offline or has user remote login disabled to prevent issues from occurring that can cause data corruption.  It is always good to run checks on your servers periodically. Check their hardware, upgrade firmware, and or reactive maintenance if you find one of the failover channels within the server has gone back and you need to replace it before the second one bites the dust.  In this situation, on a normal server, the server and OS would be down while the hardware work was being completed which could bring added pain to your problem.  Think about when these things happen in the middle of the work day and there is no warning.  Well, in the same manner as the redundancy above we find that we can migrate the running virtual machine instances from the host to other hosts within the cluster and then power off that host for maintenance.  This means that the production operating systems your organization relies on to keep operations running and products and services flowing are not interrupted while you fix your system.  This can save time, money, and resources and will also give you the peace of mind to know that short of a full power outage or natural disaster you should have over 99% uptime on your servers aside from their own OS specific maintenance windows. 

Going Green –   The push to Go Green is bigger now than it has ever been.  With increased focus on the topic of global warming and more and more greenhouse gas emissions regulations each year we see that more and more companies are trying to not only prepare their enterprises for the future by implementing cutting edge technology within their infrastructures, but they are doing it in an environmentally friendly way and taking on the “Green” label.  When a company has a datacenter that draws increased amounts of power for their systems it creates a drain on the power supplier who must increase production of power to fill that need in their area.  This increased production produces more greenhouse gases which in turn harms the environment and anyone breathing these emissions in if you live in a populated city center.  So how much would an organization save in costs while also helping the planet by reducing greenhouse gas emissions?  I have used VMware’s Green Calculator to give you a picture of how much these savings can add up for both your organization and the environment.  The calculator requires Flash be installed and can be accessed here


VMware Green calculator
        Image courtesy of VMware© 

I am sure you can see the many benefits of utilizing virtualization within your environment for your future infrastructure needs.  Not only do virtualization solutions reduce your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) but they increase your Return on Investment (ROI) while reducing operating costs and your organization’s environmental impact.  There are so many more benefits to server virtualization that I simply just can’t cover them all in this blog.  

However, if you would like more information on how virtualization products and solutions could help you take your organizations enterprise to the next level, please feel free to contact us and we would be happy to meet with you to discuss your company’s vision and infrastructure needs. 

At ANC, we stand ready with both Microsoft and VMware Certified Professionals and Engineers with years of experience who are ready to meet the needs of our clients both now and in the future.