Beware: The “Feel Good” Backup

A tech savvy friend can be a great asset but they can also be a serious liability to your business.   An example is a local medical practice I recently visited; the backup system was in place and working as advertised – or so they thought.

The doctors got a great deal; the office manager had a friend who was a computer science major at FSU.  They figured it’d be a great way to save some money while giving the friend an opportunity to hone their computer skills.  The friend installed a travan 20G/40G internal tape drive, downloaded and installed software to manage the nightly backup, configured it and went off – back to school.

Each morning the office manager came into the office to find the backup tape popped out of the server – indicating that the backup had completed.  He would remove the tape and place it on the stack; grabbing the one for the next day and pushing it into the drive.

While the friend was off at college time marched on.  The medical practice upgraded the Electronic Health Records (EHR) software and then upgraded it again.  Business continued as usual.  More and more of their patient data was entered into the database; more images of lab results and more patient scheduling.  All the while the tapes kept rotating in and out of the server.

The office manager’s friend came back into town on college breaks but he was too busy and had forgotten about the doctor’s office.  He had installed the system and was paid for his work.  Done.

One day I show up.  I talk to the office manager.  They have a tape backup solution in place but he doesn’t know much about it – a buddy of his installed it for them.  They put tapes in and take tapes out like they’re supposed to.  “May I take a look?”.

Pitfall #1

Close Enough Only Counts With Horseshoes And Hand Grenades

Screenshot of tape backup log

The last backup that completed successfully was three months earlier and had already been overwritten by a failed attempt

This turned out to be the classic “Feel Good” backup.  What I mean is the office manager had done the responsible thing; they had a backup plan in place.  The “Feel Good” backup is what you have when you’re comfortable that you’ve done just enough – without worrying too much.  Feels good not to worry, right?

I discovered the last backup which had completed successfully was in December of the previous year. Also, they did not set that particular tape aside so it had been overwritten by subsequent backups which had all failed.  Sure, the log file shows that the backup completed successfully in December – but it’s now March and the tape has been written over many times.  Effectively no backup.  Their disaster recovery plan put simply; don’t have a disaster.

The plain and simple truth of it is this: data backup is an interactive process which requires human attention.  The backup “job” often needs oversight and modification (what I like to call “care and feeding”) to ensure reliability.  If you’re delegating that responsibility to someone else be damned sure they are reliable.  Make sure they have some “skin in the game” themselves.

Pitfall #2

Ronald Reagan: IT Genius

“Trust but Verify” was Ronald Reagan’s response once, when asked if he trusted the cold war Soviet empire to dismantle their nuclear arsenal.   Ronald should have worked in information technology because those are the words we live or die by.

Most modern backup software can be configured to email reports. This one shows vital information: the status of “verification”.

Verification is critical to backup because a tape backup is just a stream of information laid down on magnetic tape.  If the tape is worn or old, missing information is not uncommon.  Tape is fast and simple but you can see where writing and overwriting again and again could wear out the magnetic properties of the tape – without running the tape back across the heads and confirming what was written by comparing it to what should have been written backup is virtually useless.  I mean really, what value is a backup if you’re uncertain about it?

The medical practice wasn’t verifying their backup!  The backup job was completing but because the drive/tape solution chosen was inexpensive and slow the installer opted to skip over verification.  Really?? The failure was even worse than imagined: not only was the backup failing but even if it were succeeding the tapes themselves were not assured to actually contain a full or even partial backup.  Amazing!

Pitfall #3

Being oblivious to the obvious.

I had noticed it right away because I’d seen it so many times before.  The office staff had a hierarchy of delegation and the tape would be swapped out by the office manager unless they were on vacation or out sick in which case one of the other staff would be responsible for making sure it got done.  The tapes were all arrayed right beside the server; one for Monday, two for Tuesday, three for Wednesday, etc … with a cleaning tape there in case it was needed.  I asked if they kept any of the tapes off-site – they did not.

Picture of melted computer server

Natural disasters like floods and fires cannot be predicted. Keep your backup off site just to be safe.

Data backup is great mitigation against software corruption, virus infections, catastrophic hardware failure and accidental deletion.  A verified backup will help with any of these things but if you’re keeping your tapes on-site you’re making a huge mistake.  In the case of this doctor’s office they were doing it because they were concerned about taking personally identifiable patient information (PII) off-site which for HIPAA reasons is a valid concern.  However, if the data were encrypted securely that concern evaporates, tapes can leave the building for storage off-site and fire is no longer a threat.  If you have a backup and it’s not off-site you should consider what you need to do right now to get it out of the building.

Disasters actually do happen.  For this reason and in the hope of being useful; Penguin Computer & Telephone Solutions will provide for your business or organization a no-obligation consultation.  Let us evaluate your current disaster recovery plan and suggest ways to improve your chances of surviving a challenging recovery before it’s too late.

Posted in Disaster Recovery, Hardware, Software | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Offering Reliable & Robust Wireless ISP Service

We Have A Secret?

Depending upon your location, your home or business can take advantage of the cost savings and greater reliability of Internet services delivered directly to your location using wireless technology.  Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) move away from traditional wired Internet services by harnessing the proven technology of wireless.

“Why would I want to use ‘wireless’?” 

Wireless services have a lower incidence of service failure and far shorter service interruptions than similar wired solutions because traditional Internet delivery methods are “mired in wire” and are subject to accidental disconnect, and other service interruptions not possible with wireless.  There are no wires!

Here’s a table depicting the uniqueness of wireless when compared to traditional technologies.

Service Provider Delivery Method
Cable Internet Comcast Coaxial Cable
DSL Internet CenturyLink Twisted Wire
Fiber Internet Verizon Bundled Fiber Filament
Wireless ISP Penguin Computer
& Telephone Solutions
No Wires

There are telephone "cans" containing bundles of individual wires. Underground wiring has to surface somewhere. This was obviously damaged by a car accident.

In contrast to wired technologies, wireless has proven reliability.  We use it every day at home, work, Hotels and Coffee Shops worldwide.  Imagine the connection you currently use between your computer or smart phone and your wireless access point.  You search for it and enter your security password to get a connection.  Easy.

Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) use radio, just like the wireless radio you use to connect inside your home or office.  Using a much more powerful radio signal and Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption the connection to the Internet is provided point-to-point using a single antenna at your location.

Traditional Internet services rely on wire, cable or fiber optic cable. Failure caused by traffic accidents and weather anomolies are commonplace.

Here in Southwest Florida we have very high humidity and rain during the summer months.  Our “hurricane season” lasts from June to December.  We prepare ourselves with storm shutters,  bottled water, batteries and food.  Most of the time we remain unaffected by the storms but occasionally a serious threat makes landfall and can take out much of what we take for granted.  The power companies pull in assistance from all over the southeast and trucks roll to get everyone back up and running; power first followed by cable television and Internet service.

A stable mount, aerodynamics and locked positioning assure wireless reliablity

Have you heard the saying, “no man is an island”?  Human beings do not thrive when isolated from others; generally speaking.  However, when it comes to Internet services this is just not true.  With traditional “mired in wire” solutions you share infrastructure.  When a cable or wire breaks (sometimes miles away) it can take out whole areas.  The uniqueness of wireless is its inherent point-to-point nature.  The connection from our Internet pipe to you is individual and direct.  The radio gear we use has a deliberately small profile making it impervious to even the strongest winds

Depending upon your location Penguin Computer & Telephone Solutions may be able to assist you with Wireless ISP services and save you some money.   Send us an email, call us directly or post your question(s) below!

Posted in Services | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

What Makes A “Business Class” Server?

If you have a successful business to run you know it didn’t get that way by accident. You’ve put a lot of energy into making sure

  • Things are happening on time.
  • A method exists to assure quality
  • Staffing levels are appropriate
  • Products and/or services are delivered on time
  • Customer expections are exceeded

If you have a successful business – you’re running a “business class” operation and you are not playing.   A business class server doesn’t play either.

What is a Server?

Dell T410 Server

A server is a computer

A server is a computer that dishes out information to all the computers in your office. Information which is centrally located (on the server) so that it can be worked on simultaneously by many people yet remain in that central location for backup.  Servers are used for sharing files (data), databases (data), printers (hardware), faxes (images), telecommunications (audio “voice mail”), etc …  the list goes on and on.  If your business is a small business; chances are you have at least one server and it’s probably a combination “file & print” server.

“Oh 0kay, a server is a computer that makes sense.  Why are they so expensive?”

Although a server is just a computer there is more to it than your average run of the mill pick-it-up-at-computerworld computer.  It’s special.  Because so many people rely on it every day in the course of business it has to have characteristics which make it far more reliable than just a run of the mill computer.  Yeah, it’s been fitted with data backup in case of disaster but it also has “redundancy”.  Redundancy is the existance of backup systems to ensure that a component failure does not bring the whole server down.

How much redundancy and what type of redundancy makes the difference between a computer, a server or a “business class” server.

Disk Redundancy

When information is stored locally it’s stored on a hard disk.  If it helps, you can think of hard disks as the old fashioned records we used to play on our record players – except they can be written and over-written many times.  They are just storage.  When we turn a computer off they hold our information in a way that prevents it from being lost.

What happens if the hard disk becomes physically compromised or completely broken in some way?  A “business class” server solves this question by providing redundant copies of the disk on other companion disks – called RAID.  RAID is an acronym for “Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks” and can be configured to spread your data over several different disks in many different configurations or RAID can be as simple as having two disks only – each an exact copy of the other.

 

Hot-Swap RAID Disks

A "Business Class" Server has redundant hard disks which are "hot-swappable" (shown here sticking out the front - partially removed)

There are many types of RAID but “Business Class” Servers use hardware RAID and hot-swapable drives.  There is dedicated hardware, called a RAID Controller which makes sure all the data is updated on all the disks so that everything stays in sync.  Whether your data is spread out across 5 disks or mirrored across two the controller makes sure this is happening in real time.  With hot-swapable hard disks when one disk fails an alarm is set off and the disk can be pulled out while the hardware continues to run.  Push in a new disk and the controller brings everything back into sync.  In the meantime work continues uninterrupted.

Power Redundancy

A “Business Class” Server needs to be up 24 hours a day.  During the day it’s being used by the staff in its mission critical role as both gatekeeper and keymaster – catering to all of your businesses needs.  At night it’s being backed up in preparation for a disaster that will hopefully never happen.  The “Business Class” Server has to be the solution but never the problem.  You’ve got a lot of your success riding on it.

Back of Dell T410 with one power supply removed

Two power supplies ensures the server continues to run if one fails

Redundant “hot-swapable” power supplies make sure the server continues to run.  In case of a power supply failure either one of the two power supplies are capable of keeping things running.  Because they’re hot-swapable the failed unit can be pulled out and a working power supply can be substituted – with zero downtime.

 

 

Network Redundancy

The local network is a busy place.  All the computers on your network are in constant communication with each other and with the server(s).  Sometimes you’re putting new information into your server and sometimes you’re looking up something that’s already stored there.  If your server is a domain controller it’s performing authentication to make sure people have access to what they need and no access to that which they do not.  Everyone’s hitting this thing – it’s constantly in use.

Network Cables Plugged into Separate Adapters

Two separate network connections bonded to enable instant fail-over protection

As you can imagine the network adapter which actually connects the server to your network is towing a heavy load.  For this reason a “Business Class” server solution will often share a network load across several adapters – not just one.  This is called ethernet “bonding” or “teaming” and it can take many forms depending upon configuration.  Just because your server has only one address on the network and it never changes doesn’t mean it can have only one working network adapter at a time.  Several scenarios exist to allow two or more network cards to share the burden of sending and receiving information.  Round-robin allows the adapters to take turns. Adaptive load-balancing might be used instead to evenly distribute the load.  Bonding provides options.

The average small business network has a load that’s quite manageable with one network adapter.  Most servers however, have more than one network adapter available.  For this reason we may not decide to load-balance traffic but instead configure the additional adapters as “fail-over” adapters.  With fail-over, in the rare case where the principle network adapter fails, a second or even third adapter can be configured to automatically switch into action.  The “Business Class” server solution leverages all available means to ensure your business continues to run smoothly by minimizing points of potential failure.

Raw Compute Power

Because the “Business Class” Server has so much riding on it’s performance additional energy is put into assuring it has the horsepower and torque needed to plow through reams of information.  It must be able to present it in a timely manner to many different recipients concurrently.  For this reason it has tons of memory and more than a single processor.  There is no time to wait around for one request to complete before beginning to service the next.

Inside the T410 showing two CPUs

Inside the "Business Class" Server you'll find multiple multi-core processors and lots of memory

The “Business Class” of servers are purpose built to handle the 24 hour a day punishment that’s thrown at them.  Added attention is payed to the issues of air flow and heat dissipation.  The mainboards are thicker.  The capacitors are higher quality.  The ducting is designed to keep as much air as possbile moving through the server when needed.

Conclusion

I hope after reading this you can appreciate some of the additional safeguards taken to ensure that businesses can rely on their computing environment.  Servers are far too important to chance costly downtime by saving money on the front-end with mere consumer grade equipment.   Hopefully you’ve also learned something about what makes a reliable solution different from an unreliable solution.  Backup is essential and should never be skipped but robust and reliable hardware is equally important to business continuity.  In this competitive world, solution providers have to be nimble to stay alive and there’s always a temptation to cut to the bare bone.

Penguin Computer & Telephone Solutions is watching.  We’ve got your back.

Posted in Hardware | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Lemonade

First, I got lemons …

Earlier today I was doing some web development for a client.  This involves searching though stock photographs and images on the world wide web.  Sometimes I use clipart or photographs – slightly modified – or traced and recolored.  The images have to be appropriate to the site design and I find myself spending a good bit of time on Google, searching through the volumes of material for that needle in a haystack visual that can make or break the site.  This usually ends up being a combination of different images arranged to bring the correct effect.

I was scrolling through a deluge of useless stuff trying to find the right image and I got distracted in the boredom.  In and amongst all these mind numbing images was a single stand-out.  A pretty lady at the beach in a bikini.  I hovered over it … and then clicked in for a closer look – nabbed!

I was immediately reminded of all the times over the nearly two decades I had stood in front of someone who needed help because their Windows PC was infected.  Probably the most common question I received was, “how did this happen?”;  they always seemed to want to know why their computer was suddenly unusable.

… then I made Lemonade

I retraced my steps and created this video.  It’s not much but it does show how someone could become “infected” with Anti-Virus 2011.

 

Remember, even though I was lucky and happened to be using Linux as my computer operating system the steps are exactly the same.

  1. Surf the Internet
  2. Get unwelcome software installed on your (Windows) PC

The anti-virus 2011 software is a program that’s designed to run on Windows PCs.  Your anti-virus software sees it in much the same way it sees anything else you try to install on your computer.  It just sees an installation program and allows it to install.

Anti-Virus 2011 is a well known “trojan” program in the world of Windows.  It’s been around for years and it changes constantly to avoid detection.  It’s very hard to remove and can actually disable the legitimate anti-virus you purchased!

This video is my lemonade.  I happened to be surfing the web using my Linux computer and I happened to fall into this Windows trap.  I was spared only because I was using Linux.

Today I saved hours of potential down-time by simply not being just another Windows user.  To use that time I decided to retrace my steps so you can see how easy it would be for this to happen to you.  Hopefully, you can also see what people mean when they say if you’re using Windows it’s not a matter of whether you will become infected, it’s a matter of when.

 

 

Posted in Operating Systems, Software | 2 Comments

Goodbye FLIP Camera – GPL?

I purchased a FLIP camera a couple of years ago.  The Flip is cheap and very easy to use.  Shoot video – plug USB into computer – upload video to Vimeo or Youtube or any of the other hosted video sites – share.

The Flip - $590 Million Dollar Mistake?

Since then I’ve seen them come out with HD models, more memory capacity and additional colors.  I see the compact little cameras everywhere; not surprising since they have 35% of the market share for video camera/camcorders.  Currently they’re the No. 1 best-selling camcorder on Amazon.

Two years ago, Cisco bought Pure Digital, the company that made the Flip, for $590 million dollars. This week, on April 12th 2011, Cisco announced that it’s shutting down the whole division and laying off 550 people.  Cisco killed Flip.

Cisco’s official reason for killing the product has something to do with fears that the smartphone in your pocket will soon replace the specialized little camera.  They also say they’re really not a consumer focused company and they want to concentrate on their strengths – like the enterprise market.

Cisco is getting out of the portable personal video recorder business okay, but why not sell it off to Kodak or someone else who’s still in the business?  Why throw away a half billion dollar investment?

Something smells fishy.  I personally think this has something to do with the software which runs the camera.

To understand why; let’s look at the lesson Cisco learned when it purchased Linksys a few years back.  Linksys was retailing a model number WRT54 in their home wireless router series.  After Cisco purchased Linksys and their product line,  it was revealed that the WRT54 was in fact running the open source Linux operating system.  Linux is copyright protected and released under the GNU GPL license which requires that anyone selling a product which uses Linux must provide their source code.  Source code is the human-readable language that gets updated and recompiled to create bug-fixes, feature enhancements, etc..  this is not normally provided with proprietary products as it is considered the “Intellectual Property” of the manufacturer’s

The Linksys WRT54 Running Linux

Cisco was sued for violating the terms of the GPL license over a five year period.  They finally relented and came into full legal compliance by providing access to the source code of the WRT54; a free public download from their website.   This release of source code enabled programmers to create their own open source and software freedom extending versions of the original software.  Projects like dd-wrt and openwrt were born.

These projects eventually extended the capabilities of the original Linksys router well into the territory of wireless router features that were traditionally far more expensive offerings.  Features like the ablility to create client-bridges, utilization of WDS, QOS and optimization features for VOIP and VPN use.  Features that folks used to have to pay hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars for!

To this day, savvy technical people can purchase pre-owed $30 wireless routers from Ebay and turn them into something more special – no additional charge.  Why purchase a more expensive Cisco product when you can get similar functionality – cost free.

What lesson did Cisco learn from the WRT54?  If they sell a product which uses GPL licensed software or the Linux operating system, they will have to provide source code to the product they sell.  Knowing this, it would be ill advised to sell the Flip product line off to another company without disclosing this.  It would also be unwise to continue to sell a product in voilation – especially because they got pinched for this once before.

Is it possible Cisco didn’t know when it bought the product from Pure Digial that it was using a video codec or operating system or other component software application that was Linux or GNU GPL software?  Maybe they don’t want a repeat of their last misstep selling products using copyrighted software they don’t own?  I think it’s possible, especially in light of the way they’re simply “killing” a very popular and profitable product.

They’re not talking about it – maybe because no one has asked.  Nevertheless – something smells fishy.  590 million dollars down the drain?  Not if they stand to lose far more!

Cisco stopped selling the product – killed it completely – and with it their liability.

Posted in Hardware | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

A Virtual No-Brainer

What Is Virtualization?

In the computer world virtualization is the process of replacing your existing server hardware environment with an equivalent software environment.  This “tricks” the server into thinking it’s running on bare metal (your Dell or HP server hardware) when in reality it’s running entirely in a software environment that acts like server hardware.

This is accomplished by using a software layer with generic device drivers which allow your server to work without having to care about the specific server hardware.  In virtual-server-land the only thing the server itself still communicates with directly is the server’s processor(s) (CPUs).  Everything else is software emulating hardware – a “virtual” server.

Backup – The Hardware Server Way

Prior to virtual machine technology a server had to be running for it to be backed up.  Sometimes this could be a bit of a problem, especially if key files were “in use” as the server was writing to the backup – sometimes these files had to be skipped, especially in the case of databases which like to protect their data by locking files.  This had the undesired effect of preventing the backup software from backing up the entire filesystem or database.  Expensive add-ons were made available for most backup software suites which will allow “snapshot” backups of popular databases (example Microsoft SQL Server) but what if your database wasn’t that popular?  Was it being backed up properly?

This is the way we would did it in hardware-server-ville.  We try to get everything to backup properly including:

  • All Applications & Databases
  • The Operating System (Windows Server)
  • Security Patches Applied to Date
  • System State
    • Active Directory
    • Registry
    • System Files
    • SYSVOL
    • COM+ Class Registration Database

In reality the data gets backed up for sure – because that was the important part of your computing infrastructure.  The operating system and environment were backed up too.  If for some reason it wasn’t we’d still recover completely – it’d just take longer.  This was the part that sometimes cost more and sometimes cost less.

How could you be sure everything could be restored and function properly? We could’t be 100% sure.  How long would it take (how much would it cost) if they server itself had to be replaced?  It would depend.

 

VirtualBox has been in the enterprise for years.

Backup – The Virtual Server Way

There are many reasons why you should consider virtualizing your server infrastructure as soon as possible.  If we were to distill it down to it’s most basic form we could sum it up in one sentence.

Hardware is less expensive than labor

That’s not the only reason but it’s a big enough reason to begin gaining your return on investment as quickly as possible.  Hardware is going to continue to get cheaper while labor is going to remain expensive.

Here are some of the attributes that make virtual servers better than bare metal servers.

  • You can run many guest virtual machine servers on a single hardware host server.  Need another server?  Fire one up in software!
  • Once a server has been “virtualized” and shut down it is made up of flat computer files – just like Microsoft Word documents or Excel spreadsheet files.  Easy to backup – easy to encrypt – easy to check for corruption.
  • Virtual servers have “virtual disks” which can be as large as you like and yet take up only as much space as your actual data.  Think you’ll need a 1 Terabyte disk in your server?  Create it today – without using the space.

A virtual server can be brought down (shut off) and backed up entirely to tape and/or network attached storage – everything.  No file locking considerations, no files in use that can’t be backed up, etc …   The entire server, applications, installed security patches and data are backed up and portable.  If disaster warrants you replace your hardware we simply install the virtual machine software layer on the replacement hardware and the virtualized server just works.  Your virtualized server doesn’t care that it used to be running on Dell hardware (for example) but now it’s running on HP hardware … or any other hardware!

Other Considerations

HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley and other initiatives are requiring (or suggesting) that personally identifiable information (PII) is encrypted in the case of off-site backup.  Are you backing up all of your PII?  Do you even know where in your sever’s file system the PII is located?  Are you sure?

With virtualization there is no doubt.  We can encrypt the entire server because it’s nothing but a bunch of files.  Also, since the server is not running while it’s being backed up we can be sure we’ve got it all.  It can be fully verified.  We can do an entire server backup each night.

Conclusion

We’ve touched on a few reasons why virtualization should be on your mind – if not now very soon.  This technology is fully mature and in use throughout the enterprise today.  There are a lot of really amazing features of virtualization that we didn’t even mention!  Smaller businesses are beginning to adopt virtualization slowly.  You should be too.

Give Penguin Computer & Telephone Solutions a call.  We’d like to show you how virtualization can benefit your business.  You’ll save money on real peace of mind!

 

----------------------------------------------
    backup_to_nfs.sh© Copyright 2010
 Penguin Computer & Telephone Solutions
          ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
        WWW.PENGUINCOMPUTEL.COM
----------------------------------------------
Fri Mar 11 23:00:01 EST 2011 - begin backup
Fri Mar 11 23:00:01 EST 2011 - volume mount verified
Fri Mar 11 23:00:16 EST 2011 - backup-02252011.tar deleted
Fri Mar 11 23:00:17 EST 2011 - shutting down guest os
Fri Mar 11 23:02:11 EST 2011 - guest os safely shut down
Fri Mar 11 23:02:11 EST 2011 - sleeping for four hours - tape backup
Sat Mar 12 03:02:11 EST 2011 - tape backup should be completed by now
Sat Mar 12 03:02:13 EST 2011 - begin the NFS backup
Sat Mar 12 03:02:13 EST 2011 - datestamp prior to midnight
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s132.vmdk
---------------- snip --------------------
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s024.vmdk
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2.vmx
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s252.vmdk
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s014.vmdk
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s247.vmdk
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s059.vmdk
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s046.vmdk
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s082.vmdk
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s129.vmdk
Sat Mar 12 05:57:33 EST 2011 - sleeping for five minutes
Sat Mar 12 06:02:33 EST 2011 - restarting the quest os
Sat Mar 12 06:02:49 EST 2011 - sleep for two minutes
Sat Mar 12 06:04:49 EST 2011 - guest os is fully started
------- NFS backup directory contents ------
total 609G
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup       1.1M Sep  5  2010 PET105-BIOS_LX_01.04.04.BIN
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup       103M Sep  5  2010 VMware-server-1.0.10-203137.tar.gz
-rw-r--r-- 1 administrator libvirtd      102M Jun 18  2010 VMware-server-1.0.4-56528.tar.gz
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        15K Sep  5  2010 VMware-server-2.0.2-203138-update-2.patch
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup       453M Sep  5  2010 VMware-server-2.0.2-203138.x86_64.tar.gz
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        38M Sep  5  2010 VMware-vix-1.6.2-203138.x86_64.tar.gz
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar  1 05:58 backup-02282011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar  2 05:59 backup-03012011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar  3 05:57 backup-03022011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar  4 05:59 backup-03032011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar  5 05:57 backup-03042011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar  8 05:58 backup-03072011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar  9 05:58 backup-03082011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar 10 05:58 backup-03092011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar 11 05:58 backup-03102011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar 12 05:57 backup-03112011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup       4.6K Oct  1 11:39 backupedge.keys.tar.gz
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup       9.5M Sep  5  2010 firefox-3.5.3.tar.bz2
-rw-r--r-- 1 administrator administrator  17M Dec  7 20:27 recover_edge_cdrom.iso
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        18M Mar  1 13:07 recover_edge_cdrom_03012011.iso
----- end backup directory contents ----
Sat Mar 12 06:04:50 EST 2011 - backup is complete
Posted in Hardware, Operating Systems, Software | Leave a comment

Is Your Medical Practice ANSI 5010 Compliant?

ANSI 5010 Coming SoonANSI 5010 is the new version of HIPAA transaction standards that regulates the electronic transmission of healthcare transactions. The 5010 standards will replace the existing 4010/4010A1 version of HIPAA transactions and address many of the shortcomings in the current version, including the fact that 4010 does not support the newer ICD-10 coding.

By January 1, 2012, practices will need to complete electronic transactions in an ANSI 5010-compliant format. These electronic transactions include claims, eligibility inquiries and remittance advices. Failure to comply may result in denied claims, slower payments and increased customer service issues.

Significant changes have been made to practice management systems to comply with the new ANSI 5010 standards. These changes affect the amount of data and the way data is stored in the systems as well as your practice workflow. If you are on an older version of your EMR software, the implementation of the compliant versions will be more complex and time-consuming than a typical upgrade.  In addition, testing of the new ANSI 5010 standards has already begun.  Depending upon your provider you may be able to upgrade now to take advantage of the testing period and ensure that your claims are compliant; in advance of the deadline.

ansi compliantPenguin Computer & Telephone Solutions can assist your medical practice in meeting the ANSI 5010 transaction standards.

Don’t wait to start preparing.  We can help.

Call us today at 239.963.4680

Posted in Hardware | Leave a comment

Go Ahead Click Away!

I just finished reading an article at Low End Mac dot com entitled “Sick and Tired of Windows” in which the author Dan Knight muses about how he and several other folks he knows are just tired of Windows computers and all the inherent problems that come with them.  They’re switching to Mac.  Never mind the brain-deadness of bothering to write an anti-PC editorial for a site called “Low End Mac”, what struck me was getting to the third or forth paragraph of his piece and realizing that the word Mac could easily have been – and definitely should be – supplanted with the word Linux (or GNU/Linux for those in “the know”).

Of course it’s true that everyone, at this point even Microsoft apologists, agree that the Windows platform leaves quite a bit to be desired.  Apple with their Mac brand has been piling on for quite a while and I doubt there’s a person left on the planet who hasn’t seen a Mac v. PC commercial.  Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see a college student toting a slice of electronics brandishing a bitten apple.  So young.  So hip.

The PC has been a job creator for more years than my son has walked (or even crawled) the earth; he’s 13 years old now.  In that time we’ve all seen how indispensable a tool it has become.

So here we are in 2011 and we see that the business of computing has come to be less about excellence and more about bolstered mediocrity.  It’s created jobs for sure; small cottage industries of anti-virus, internet security, et al have grown to become titans.  Anti-virus subscriptions are the methadone most needed by 90% of the world who grew up on the cheap and ubiquitous PC.  Too late now, businesses are entrenched in Windows and they hate it.  School systems are paying 40,000+ a year for anti-virus software and two thirds of the electricity needed to power a computer is used to make sure the other one third continues to run actual applications.

The Ubuntu GNU/Linux software center lets you search for the software you need and install it all pre-packaged and cost free. Don't like it? One click removes it.

Is the Mac the answer though? Do you need to purchase a completely new piece hardware to break the cycle. Short answer, no. It’s not a secret, you don’t need a new computer when yours becomes slow.  You don’t have to purchase a Macintosh computer to get a computer that’s virus resistant and you sure don’t have to spend your hard earned money on software!  The answer is Linux. Once you’ve made the switch to Ubuntu or Fedora or SuSE or Mint GNU/Linux (take your pick, software freedom is about choice!) – you get:

  • The full power of your hardware. No ANTI-(insert threat) needed
  • Thousands of cost free applications – install/uninstall with a single click
  • Built-in backup utilities (notice that’s plural – yes not just one – you get a choice!)
  • Full Support – Ubuntu has Ubuntu ‘Advantage’ support (for example)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


We’ve all grown up using PCs and we’re used to blaming ourselves when something goes wrong. Many, many times folks have asked me, “what did I do wrong?”.  I always explain they’ve done nothing wrong. How could it possibly be your fault – unless actually using your computer means you did something wrong? Preposterous! There is no sane reason why someone should have to worry about whether they’ve clicked on something they shouldn’t have – or opened an email attachment. With GNU/Linux these concerns evaporate – go ahead and click away, computing is safe again!

Posted in Operating Systems, Software | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Does Your Office Need A Fax Server?

In keeping with my policy of introducing one super exciting subject per year I want to now talk about facsimile, otherwise known simply as fax. No corny jokes about ‘just the fax’ or anything else related to 60s crime dramas, absolutely not. I’m only going to address fax and how you may benefit from having a fax server in your office.

.. but you say, “Fax is yesterday’s news. Haven’t you heard, there’s email?”

Fax is over one hundred years old. Did you know that? It didn’t become popular until the 1970s when costs came down but it’s very old. There are aspects of facsimile that make it well suited to businesses. Things of importance that cannot be replaced simply. For example in the medical industry, the push now is for electronic records. Hospitals and doctors receive an enormous amount of lab results and billing related documentation by way of facsimile. Because fax transmission happens over telephone lines there’s a constitutionally protected expectation of privacy and that also happens to make fax HIPAA compliant – something that’s important if you’re in the business of health care delivery.

Realtors, bankers, attorneys, mortgage brokerages and insurance companies use facsimile every day. Faxes are legal documents. A fax is a “writing” and it is just as valid and admissible in court as is any other writing. The California Court of Appeals held in Hofer v. Young, 38 Cal. App. 4th 52 (1995), that a fax was just as good as sending a letter. These are not the only reasons, but they’re large enough reasons to assume that other technologies for example email – won’t be replacing fax any time soon.

If your office does not have a dedicated fax server you’re probably handling facsimile in one of three ways.  Let’s look at some typical scenarios.

Scenario One

Sometimes fax machines are “plain paper”, older models used rolls of special paper that was heat sensitive

The dedicated fax machine is probably the most popular low cost way to send and receive faxes. A surprising number of small business and some pretty large business depend upon the stand-alone desktop type fax machine. They’re manufactured by a number of popular companies and range in price from $300 to $1000 dollars. This is the initial cost of the equipment but it’s not the total expense, for that you have to factor in the supplies and the maintenance. Toner or inkjet cartridges are usually pretty pricey and of course they’re proprietary so you have to use the right one – no substitutes accepted.

I once worked for a small records storage company that catered to the local medical establishment. They received 350 individual faxes a day from just one of their clients. The records storage company had three stand-alone fax machines in rotation with the local Sears repair shop. They’d run ’em until they broke and send them in for repair; replacing them with the one they just received back from the repair depot. This created a lot of paper that took up a lot of physical space. Not ideal.

Scenario Two

The monolithic copier is used in a lot of larger offices where people have to look through the pile for their fax

Many offices have huge monolithic copiers (usually leased) which include fax capabilities as well as copying, printing and scanning functionality. Many companies that use this solution find themselves at a practical standstill when the copier breaks – until the repair man shows up. Most of these giant copiers have a telephone cord attaching them to the wall and they simply print any faxes they receive and if you fax something out the machine will dial out to a receiving fax machine at the other end.

Some manufacturers include the capability to save faxes to a network share thus obviating the need to print every one but I still find few copiers capable of being configured to do this. Generally everything sent to the copier is printed. People check the tray periodically to see if anything “came in”. The process is mostly mechanical.

Scenario Three

Computer workstations are capable of sending and receiving faxes also but few actually configure their computers to do this. Microsoft Fax has been available on PCs for a dozen years or more but the need for configuration coupled with the fast pace of business and other obstacles – like the need for dedicated telephone lines – has caused them not normally to be used for this purpose. Many laptops still come with internal modems capable of sending/receiving faxes but again, almost no one does this.

Enter the “Fax Server”

The fax server is a dedicated server that receives and sends faxes from a central location and saves/distributes them as images. It can be configured to print them or deliver them many different ways. In the case of inbound faxes the image can be automatically converted to an Adobe Acrobat Reader document (.pdf) and attached to an email which is then delivered to the correct recipient in your office. A different delivery method may include placing the inbound fax image on a network share that is owned by someone and is access controlled to make it private – everyone having their own fax machine right there on their computer. Everything stored electronically as files – print them only if you need to, otherwise import the files into your industry specific software for storage and referencing again later or even open them in a PDF editor and write notes directly on the document! Save the changes and store the fax – without ever printing a thing.

Outbound? The fax server is shared by everyone in the office for the purpose of sending faxes too. Faxes can be sent by way of the Microsoft Fax service if you’re using Windows. There are other similar methods with Mac, UNIX and GNU/Linux. Once configured each individual computer has it’s own fax printer. Want to send a Word document or any other document? Just click Print… and select FAX, follow the wizard to optionally add a cover sheet, then click Print. Moments later you’ll receive an email confirming that the fax server has successfully sent your fax.

True Benefits

Some benefits of having a fax server are obvious for example paper savings, toner savings, time savings and lower traffic congestion at the office fax machine.  Other benefits are being able to print or reprint fax only when needed and the often overlooked ability save faxes the same way you save the other data your business produces – back it all up!  When you have a fax server the faxes received are just image files that can be stored and referenced later;  back them up the same way you’re already backing your important data – tape, optical or removable disk, on-site or off-site – add them to your current backup solution!

Check out: The Penguin Fax Server Solution

Getting a handle on facsimile is easy with the correct tools.  If you have any additional questions or information I’ve overlooked please let me know.  Reply below!

Posted in Hardware, Software | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Customer Service

It’s been a really busy week for us.  We had a couple of shipping setbacks because of the snow up north and Shameen, one of our customers, needed her computer – so I met her in a parking lot halfway between her home and the office today (Saturday).  That’s right – I transacted business with a customer in an actual parking lot.  How weird is that?  It’s a strange place to hand-off their upgraded computer but hey – what is customer service?

Another Happy Customer

Shameen picks up her upgraded Dell computer

Personally, I think customer service can be all that separates a good experience from a not so good experience.  People are looking for value, especially in these tough economic times – that’s a given.  The other side to that is no one wants to feel like value came at the expense of service!  So here we are in 2011 trying our best to give folks both value and service.  I know Shameen is happy and I hope all of our customers are as happy as she is.

Please, let me know what you think?   Will customer service be the vehicle that propels Penguin Computer & Telephone Solutions to the top?  What else should we concentrate on?

Posted in Hardware | Leave a comment