Thursday, May 1, 2014

How to Die With Data

I’m sure you all have your computers backed up properly.... right, and don’t need to really worry about this, but in case you have (as we do) things like wedding photos and videos on DVDs, you might need to rethink how to save things for the future.

Let’s consider our wedding videos, which in raw footage is about 180 Gb. It’s currently on an external drive, which will likely not survive 15 years, even on a shelf. So let’s review our options:
  • We can put it on our computer, and have it backed up to our online backup service. That is going to be kinda expensive. Now we need 180 Gb of extra backup space in perpetuity, and through normal online backups we will have to buy a special package.
  • We can always save the files to our computer and keep it on the external drive. There you go, two copies. Well, wait. Now every time you get a new computer or drop your old one in a lake, you have to think “now I need to make sure my wedding videos are backed up again”. Meaning, you won’t. When that external drive dies, so do the memories.

There is another option, but it requires us to think of data storage in three different categories. The first are primary storage, the usable, active set of data probably sitting in your “My documents” folder or in your Inbox. The second are Backups.  We should all be familiar with backups, but I want to make a distinction of what makes a backup a backup. It is a redundant set of data, sure, but it is also automated. The automation is part of the appeal, after all, no matter how much we all complain about systems failing, most of the time things go wrong it’s our fault.
There is a third data store type. The archive. It is distinguished simply as long term, unchanging storage. Wedding videos. The benefit of archiving, is it almost never needs to be accessed. So much of the cost of cloud storage is dedicated to the cost of moving the data to and from your computer. In the case of archiving, that will happen so rarely, it’s not worth discussing. Whereas a backup store will have traffic every day. Because of this, there are some archive storage services that make it CHEAP to store things long term online, and the one I’m going to describe is called Amazon Glacier.
Yes, by the people who bring you impulse purchases like tube socks in two days with free shipping. That Amazon. If you weren't already aware, they are a giant in the cloud computing world, but they have always targeted the developer community rather than the general public. Glacier is what they advertise as their archiving product, and at $.01 per Gb per month, I would say probably the cheapest online backup ever. Remember my wedding videos..180Gb…..$1.80 per month.

So how do you use it? Well, as I said before, Amazon web services (AWS) really targets developers, but there are some great tutorials that will walk you right through the steps. Like this one. With a simple and free tool to upload files (FastGlacier), all I have to do is upload my videos once, then just pay the fare every month until death do us part. 

Ted Hughes
Managing Director
OCC Service Incorpoarted

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How the Grinch Stole Your Tablet

Santa heard you last year. You want a tablet. Let me be your Grinch for a few paragraphs.

                I’m not going to sit here and tell you that tablets aren't great. A year ago, I left my iPad at a friend’s house overnight. Feeling completely out of sorts, I had to turn to the methadone of Windows Solitaire.  I use my iPad every day, possibly every hour. What I do with it is the most trivial of human activities: Checking what my friends are doing, browsing amazon for stuff I don’t need, and yes… especially solitaire.  Not to say I don’t get work email on it, I do. But I reply using a computer like a grownup.

                It’s not that tablets are doomed to such unimportant applications. In fact, more and more workplaces are adding tablets into their business process. A client of ours is introducing MS’s new Surface to take patients signatures on legal forms. Others use them as an interface for retail customers, reducing the sporadic long lines that drove new business away.  You aren't going to do any of these things with yours, but you could, and that is comfort enough.

                The real reason I am being a Grinch today, is because regardless how you will use your tablet, you will certainly bring it to work. Assuming that you are a client, now we have some skin in the game. Small business networks still default to an IP range accepting 254 network devices. That would still be more than enough if the following devices hadn't started using some of those addresses: Office phones, cell phones, air conditioners, coffee makers (seriously), and tablets. That isn't to mention their computers, laptops, servers, and networking equipment. We have a client with 55 employees that is fresh out of IP addresses. The solution is simple, leave your tablets at home….. No not really.

                While nothing I've said so far is untrue, my conclusion is ridiculous. To limit the use of newer devices because of the short term engineering problems they pose or doubts about their productivity would be completely wrongheaded.  It is impossible to tell what innovations are going to be useful.  Having employees bring their own devices into work presents some experimental opportunities at low-to-no cost of the business. Every person who has ever worked for OCC started in this field because of how amazed they were with the power of these very innovations. It is power that manifests after a heck of a lot of playing around. …….. and his screen grew three sizes bigger that day.

Ted Hughes
Managing Director
OCC Service Incorpoarted

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The GoDaddy Debacle: Why Email Was Down Monday

Monday morning is rarely slow for OCC. On top of that, vacations are over; our clients are back to work in full force. Around noon central time, the calls started coming in. "Email is down" was the first report, "VPN isn't connecting" the second. At the fourth or fifth, Jeff called the ISP's. Time Warner said they had been getting calls just like ours, as had AT&T... this is big......

Most clients, as is their rightful disposition, had little tolerance for our careful search for answers. They, after all, pay us to make sure the systems run as dependably as possible. Why was not a question they needed answered. After 2-4 hours of misery, it was all over of course; unsettlingly to no credit of ours.

As these things go, explanations can be equally unintelligible and overzealous. If I might attempt to avoid both pitfalls, indulge me in a simple explanation:

GoDaddy does many things, but most famously it provides domain name registration services. This allows Danica Patrick and millions of others to buy their domain names on a site that, while creeping us out on an advertising level, beats the competition on price. Domains purchased through GoDaddy typically use their domain name servers (DNS). Think of DNS as a phone book, it pairs domain names (Domain: with their number (IP: This phone book is so large that it doesn't make sense for all of us to have one, just to check with our ISP's phone book, constantly updating with all the other phone books in the world. GoDaddy's DNS suffered what appears to be an attack by a hacker. GoDaddy's "phone book" was inaccessible for a number of hours, and as the only such phone book, none of those listed in the phonebook could be reached traditionally for that time. This meant emails missed, websites down, and connections unestablished.

Hackers were at it again. A specific hacker as it turns out. To avoid adding to the desired publicity of such individuals, I will respectfully decline to include the hacker's twitter handle here. What you should know is that the individual associates with ANONYMOUS, but denies membership in the aforementioned collective (insert eye roll).  GoDaddy has often upset ANONYMOUS with its public support of SOPA, the "Stop Online Piracy Act" that the hacker group characterizes as limiting online freedom.

Then... it got even more interesting........

Yesterday, GoDaddy officially said the attack was caused by internal errors, and not a hacker. We simply don't believe it. Such a failure would be inconceivable for a provider as large as GoDaddy. It was reported on Monday that GoDaddy only got their DNS back up after they crawled to their competitor Versign to take control of some of their responsibilities, a company that also specializes in the type of attack that is suspected. Why would they lie? After all, if you had a restaurant that was set ablaze by an arsonist, why would you say it was a kitchen fire? Simply because the general public sees hacking as one thing, and one thing alone: invasion of privacy.

It's true, of course. Well at least it can be.

Hacking can come in a bunch of different varieties. The real world analogies are akin to theft and vandalism. Theft removes irreplaceable value or release of private information. This type of attack has been in the news with the Apple UDID story already in progress. Most attacks, however, are of the vandalism variety, as is likely true with GoDaddy. Known as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, these simply make services unavailable and don't entail any privacy concerns. The hackers are never privy to sensitive information, but they prevent the target from performing business as usual. To the general public, many of whom host websites and email with sensitive information on GoDaddy host servers, the word "hacked" sounds ominous.

From our position, the image is flipped ironically. If in fact a DDoS attack shut down GoDaddy's DNS servers than we expect preventative measures will likely make them a more secure DNS provider in the future. If however they were responsible for inconceivable infrastructure oversights as they claim, we will no longer chose to do business with such a poorly run operation. In short, if GoDaddy is lying, its a good thing, and if they are telling the truth, it's very bad. As it stand, we chose to wait and see what GoDaddy's next moves are before we drag our clients and reputation around an increasingly hostile environment.

Ted Hughes
Managing Director
OCC Service Incorporated

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Social Value

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, announces purchase of Yammer

Microsoft announced yesterday that it would buy Yammer, a social media company, for an estimated $1.2 billion dollars. Weeks ago, announced the $689M purchase of Buddy Media, another social media plug-in company. The stories continue from Oracle buying Virtue all the way to the biggest fish of them all: the unwitting public buying Facebook.  So why are social media companies so highly valued? What, if any, opportunity does social media present to small businesses as an information strategy?
Let’s boil social media’s value down to three abstract value points.

In Friends We Trust

I recently got engaged and since the announcement, my fiancĂ© and I have been asked the standard “how did you two meet?” question an awful lot. Our answer is boring and predictable – ‘Through friends’. Yes, people meet in bars as strangers all the time, but the majority of relationships, personal or professional, begin through the introduction or recommendation of someone we already trust. Our brains are just built this way. The difficulty for businesses trying to reach new customers has always been that they are strangers at the bar; unpredictable, potentially dangerous, and likely to take advantage of you. Through social media, advertisers hope to receive willing endorsements, transforming the relationship to “friend of a friend”. Certainly advertisers spend years and billions trying to make their brand warm and inviting, but this may prove to be a convenient shortcut. Well, that is the hope anyway. The industry is so new that predicting its value is quite difficult. In fact, the advertising industry would have to change completely in order to validate the high expectations that have already been levied into Facebook’s IPO price point. 

We Are Our Habits

Social Media companies never want to talk about this side of their business. It’s the most stable and proven value the companies possess. It is at once the most boring and controversial. It’s data. Market research is as old as markets, but it has never seen a boom like the one it is experiencing right now. Companies like Facebook and Twitter track data that can present new insights into our habits and desires. The problem, from their perspective, is that market research is vanilla when it comes to startups. It’s a predictable industry with fairly steady revenues. Nothing to get investors excited about. Additionally, from the user's standpoint, irresponsible distribution or collection of data is a big worry. Concerns over personal privacy are understandable, especially when minors are participating.

A Better Mousetrap

Email has been around for over 20 years.  We have been able to send communications around the world, instantly, and at no cost (strictly speaking).  We were always able to send messages of 140 characters, more if we liked. The lure of social media has been a better way to communicate. But how much better could it really be? I would like to point out that for small business, this is where the REAL value lies in social media. It’s all about capturing an audience. Facebook, for example, creates a semi-public audience by capturing those who would most likely be interested in your public utterances.  As a business on Facebook, I can address only the customers that are most likely to make a purchase. Choosing the public media platform (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook) to pour your time and effort into has more to do with the type of mouse you are trying to trap. B2B sales? LinkedIn. Recipe book? Twitter. Interoffice communication? Microsoft hopes Yammer is the answer.
I would not be surprised if we looked back in 5 years and came to the conclusion that this social media buyout phenomenon was nothing more than an arms race to calm panicky shareholders. After all, shareholders want to see their investments keeping up with the crowd. With all of the benefits that these tools present, count me on the naysayers list. It seems that these companies fall in a third generation of technology booms. First it was Microsoft, Apple, Dell; companies that sold tangible products. Next it was Google, Amazon, EBay, and PayPal. All of these are essentially the virtualization of existing business models. There is no doubt that the social media's effects on culture, politics, and life have been profound. While I believe that social media will have a significant effect on how business is done, I doubt the current expectations of an Arab Spring for industry will materialize.

Ted Hughes
Managing Director
OCC Service Incorporated

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How the Cloud Changes Austin

If you are in the IT world, you must be as sick of these stories as we are. Cloud Computing Set to Change Everything et al. As ubiquitous as these proclamations have become, the excitement has some real justification. Let’s take a look at what the cloud means to you, us, and our city.

The cloud is by definition, nebulous. Ask 50 people what it is, and you will get 50 different answers. 49 of them will be correct. Generally, the cloud is an effort to distribute resources in order to gain efficiency. Any strategy falling under this generality may be called a cloud solution. Specifically (and in plain English), cloud solutions most often means taking computer power out of homes, offices, and pockets, and putting it all in massive data centers that benefit from multiple dimensions of scale. Faster internet connections, better IT oversight, efficient use of hardware, and above all, lower costs per unit. Of course most of us have used cloud resources for years. Hotmail, Gmail, IM, even the most of the internet itself have always been cloud services. The real trend here is that what used to be done on your home pc, taxing rarely used but expensive processors, can now be done online. Your home computer might eventually be nothing more than a web browser, all of your applications may exist online.

Who is likely to benefit from such a change? In a word, Google. Yes, obviously Amazon is likely to see the most direct benefit, as they operate the largest cloud offering to date (AWS), but Google’s business model is absolutely predicated on growth of web-based services. Small business will be a close second. Scale does get you lower cost in the cloud, but the savings are much lower than you might expect. Most cloud services have pay as you go models, dramatically reducing barrier of entry by virtually eliminating large initial investments. Who is likely to suffer from such a change? Well, anyone selling products. Microsoft is way behind the curve with its existing licensing model. PC manufacturers are likely to see stagnation too in the absence of yet unimagined innovation. After all, if you need less processing power and storage space than you did the year before, why would you need a faster computer?

What does this mean for the world of IT consultants such as our firm? It’s without saying that it will have a major impact on the direction of the field. We have placed our bet on integration services and system wide design and security. There will be many years until that day as many integral services are still without a practical cloud based solution. Domain services are utterly impractical to elevate to the cloud just yet, as are most services that benefit from speedy transactions. As bandwidth improves (and gets cheaper) more of these dominoes will fall. Many clients have reported to us that they have security concerns about moving services to some out-of-sight data center. Breaches in security on cloud services have been well publicized, but when compared to the horrifying record of small business security, they seem nearly impenetrable.

What does this mean for Austin? As a city identified with IT innovation, we have been successful in growing cloud services as part of our technology sector. UT just this month announced it would partner with SunGard Availability Services in order to create an Exabyte-scale data center on campus. The research implications of such an investment might be similar to that of SEMATECH, the semiconductor consortium instituted in 1986. Inevitably, technology changes in unforeseen ways, and cities grow and shrink on unpredictable, or unpredicted trends. With this drought expected to continue for a decade, here is to hoping that Austin might benefit from the clouds on the horizon.

Ted Hughes
Managing Director
OCC Service Incorporated

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Hidden Shortcuts; Windows Productivity

Anyone who has ever managed a bank can tell you that the speed at which employees can perform everyday tasks is directly correlated to their use of the keyboard for commands. This compared to the tedious search and click that accompanies the use of a mouse. If we all took a closer look at how we use our keyboard, we could all benefit from the same efficiencies. Luckily, one of the most overlooked benefits to a windows operating system is it vast array of shortcut keystrokes. Think about all the time you hunt through the “programs” menu; in Windows 7,  just press the windows logo (WL), and start typing the program you want to open. Press WL, release, and then type “out” for outlook, or “calc” for calculator.  I have compiled a short list of underused shortcuts that will certainly bring a smile to anyone as impatient as me.

Windows Logo (WL)   

WL + D (or WL+M)

WL + L

WL + R   


CTRL +/-

WL + Home

WL + Up/Down



WL + C

WL + Space

Shift + Delete

WL + Shift + Right/Left
Opens the start menu. This is great in Windows 7 and Vista, because your cursor immediately goes to a search box. Type in whatever you want to open.

Minimize all windows and show the desktop

Lock the computer (require password)

Run dialog box

Switches to the last window open. Very useful when navigating between a web page and a word document

Zoom in and out

Clear all windows except the active window

Maximize/Minimize Current window

Undo the last thing you did


Opens the control panel

Make all windows transparent (Windows 7)

Delete file permanently (don’t put in  recycle bin)

Move windows to your other monitor (dual monitors required)

Ted Hughes
Managing Director
OCC Service Incorporated

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Windows XP won't die, still the leader

According to CNET research, the 10 year old leader in operating systems has held its place, much to the dismay of its designers, Microsoft. Hitting the shelves and OEM’s on Oct 25th 2001, XP was heralded as a critical victory for Microsoft, who found themselves newly vulnerable to a resurgent Apple (under recently rehired Steve Jobs). XP was a major improvement over the disappointing Windows 98, and the abject failure of Windows ME. Its stability, speed, and broad esthetic appeal launched it to the #1 ranking in just 4 years.  With Windows 7’s launch already two years in the past, and critical acclaim its credit, the new OS still has some ground to make up before overtaking XP as the dominant OS of business and home users. From its peak in ’09 at 72% share, to its current position at 48%, Microsoft has been pushing hard to move users to the fledgling, if soon to be replaced Windows 7. 

Why are so few users willing to part with the OS of the 2000s?
The economic downturn certainly has some effect. While not having the impact on overall IT spending as might have been expected, some cosmetic changes such as desktop OS upgrades may have been shelved in order to invest more in infrastructure.
 The second reason for the delay was angst over the flop that was Windows Vista. A much awaited jump to prettier navigation and intuitive design fell flat when device compatibility and security flaws emerged with the short lived OS. Microsoft was eventually cowed by OEMs to continue to install XP on new devices until the release of 7 in ’09. It might be reasonable to expect that the bad press made XP users reluctant even after its latest product launch.
The final reason of the continued use of XP today, is probably the most important. The increased stability and user-friendly additions to Windows 7 have been balanced with the higher demands for hardware and resources required to run a larger OS. This calculation, or at least intuition, has left many IT departments waiting for a downside to complacency. 
 That downside will at long last come in 2014, when Microsoft finally stops supporting XP, leaving it vulnerable to new security threats left unpatched. By that date, Windows 8 (no release date yet) will almost certainly be available in stores and on new PCs.

 Ted Hughes
 Managing Director
 OCC Service Incorporated