Thursday, February 24, 2011

The end of the IT department

My response to

That was a very interesting read, not what I would call a balanced view though and made me write;

My company is the IT department for a number of companies in the UK and I have been the IT manager in charge of departments in the past.
In part I agree there are parts of the corporate IT world that need to be relaxed, but most are based around very old fashioned thinking and cost of upgrading

The IT world is an ever changing industry, people with the right skills today need to upgrade these skills next week.

Also normally the people who work in the IT departments are not the same people that make the decisions to what can and cant be changed in the company.
If I had my way every PC, server would be replaced every year and always be patched to the latest versions of their software, this is however impractical to most companies as the cost of this is inhibitive.

Yes the 'cloud' is amazing and will lower the number of IT support staff in the building, however it just moves these people and their skills outside of the business, wont this just create a hole in the companies shared knowledge?

I have moved a number of companies to the cloud (not really the cloud, but they call it that, I call it dedicated outsourced server hosting) and they are all happy, but in doing this I had to upskill to understand the implications of these technologies for each company to make sure it will do what they need it to.
Now the big problem we are facing is the local adsl circuits are topping out and we are reliant on 100% uptime from not only an adsl line, but also the infrastructure at the other end.

So when a server goes down, exchange plays up, the problem is passed to an outsourced support company, who place the problem in their 'queue', then we wait.... we have no control or input... 9/10 I could fix the problem if I had access to the servers myself (10 years of IT support do count for something) but I cam not allowed access so we wait.....

The cloud idea is good, but I can see companies jumping on the 'save money' band wagon and then realising that moving their infrastructure outside of their control could cost them more in the long run.
one thing that no one ever asks is  "So if it goes wrong (the cloud) and doesn't work for us, how much will it cost to move everything back?" - the answer - LOTS, probably more than the move out as you will need new hardware, licensing, staff, skills...

The cloud is not for everyone, be very careful about what goes where and who controls what.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

utilising the power of 'remote'

Among other jobs I manage the IT for a number of small businesses and in a bid to not be on site very often (save costs,fuel,carbon etc), I have been testing a few remote support platforms.

The 2 that remained after testing were Microsoft Remote Desktop and Teamviewer.

All of my clients are Microsoft based, so when working on their servers Remote Desktop just made sense.
The down side is that there needs to be a public IP address linked to the server you are trying to connect to if you don't use a VPN that is.
On hat note VPN's are great, however they don't always give you the best user experience, like trying to connect across a 3G dongle to fix a problem can be clunky, remote desktop does hog a lot of resources. It can be done though, don't get me wrong. While on holiday in Kefalonia I did connect into a server over a very ropey 3G connection using Remote Desktop.

Teamvier has a citrix(y)/go to my PC feel about it and for connecting adhoc to client PC's it is fantastic.
You dont need a VPN (although it has one built in anyway), your client connects to their server which managed the authentication and initial connection. As far as I can tell it then drops the 2 connections together like a VOIP call, dotn quote me on that I have not done mush research into this side of things.

What teamviewer does do is alleviate the need for public IP address and firewall routing, it uses port 80 from both ends of the connection and encrypts the data as well.

I have been saved on a number of occasions by teamviewer, as you can install it to run when windows starts up, I can remote into a PC and fix VPN's etc without too much hassle.

The other big seller for me is the client PC's do not need to have teamviewer installed, they can download and install a 'no install' client for windows/mac and just tell me the ID and secure password, presto I am in.

There is no downside for me anyway with using teamviewer, its free for non commercial or you can buy a lifetime licence.
When you add in its ability to allow you to do remote presentation, VPN, VOIP calls, chat, file transfer etc, the cost of a single licence is quite resonable +/-£440

Just checked and there are clients for PC, Mac, Android and IPhone and iPad.... 

The most complicated thing I have had to try and do is move some files to a secure web server and my access is IP based, so I only have access from my office.
This happened while on a train;
I used teamviewer to get onto my desktop in the office (had to call to have it turned on though
Then remote desktop'd onto my clients PC that is on their office network, copy the files from the designer's PC to the server in the DMZ through the PC I was logged into.
Long winded and slow, but I did it without having to break any security by telling someone how to do it and it meant the client didn't have to wait for the job to be done the next time I was 'passing by'

If you do IT support and need a remote support platform to use (did I mention you can white label it as your own?).

Teamviewer gets a thumbs up from me.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Nokia + Microsoft ?

This morning BBC breakfast announced that Nokia was going to make a big announcement, possibly that they are going to work with Google on their next range of phones....

1 hr later I get to work and in that time Uncle Steve (Boom baby thats what we are talking about) Ballmer announces that Microsoft and Nokia are forming a strategic alliance.

I like the nokia handsets, the OS has been getting increasingly out of date, so I moved to windows phone 7, as a developer the plan was to build some apps and get rich and famous.
I haven't done any of that, but I have realised that MS is onto a winner with their mobile OS, I thinks it really good and possible even better than the competition.

But what does this alliance really mean for the day to day phone user?
Probably not much unless you are a symbian OS developer, maybe more flexibility and choice as Nokia do make cool handsets.

WIll be interesting what Nokia say later on today.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Company acquires new business - Q: Do we run two website targeting the same people?

I was asked over a bottle of wine what I thought the best thing to do when 'Company A' buys 'Company B' and they now have 2 websites targeting the same consumers on the net.

This is a great question and although I can remember my exact answer (blame the wine), the question keeps popping up in conversations with other clients.

Some history on search engines (mainly google)
It used to be that if you had a site and somebody copied the content (think CTRL+C then CTRL_P) the SE would think its you trying to do bad stuff. Somtimes the new site would actually beat the older site in the ranking as it was new and fresh etc. Other time both sites would be penalised and would see their result standings drop, or disappear.
Index updates would be 'rolled out' every few months, and we would all sit and wait to see where we ended up in the results, and then have 3 months to fix it and wait, then fix, wait....

Duplicate content across multiple site's was bad and I would have said back then to drop one of the sites Company A owns and permanently redirect the traffic to the other, keep it neat and clean.

Fast forward to now
SE's are super smart, they update their index faster than the sites can be created.
The idea of sites of the same content is normal, sites are sharing XML feeds, mashing up data and content onto their own pages etc.

SE's can also check domain ownership, location of hosting server, location of company who owns the site, location of the people who visit the site.
Even if the sites have identical content, an SE can see they are different sites (okay there will be instances where they are the same but that's covered later *)

With 2 sites that are relatively the same  (the 2 sites are travel/trip based), Company A has a great opportunity to maximise their traffic, across two competing sites.
Both sites are already ranking okay in SE results and have their own brand that consumers are aware of, so is there really a benefit of combining them straight away - I don't think so.

There are a lot of caveats and maybes from here on in, so have that pinch of salt ready.

If it was me I would;

  • set up SiteA and SiteB to interlink where appropriate
  • link to/from other 'intra company sites'
  • each should (if possible) target slightly different customers
    • set them to target different demographics (one high value trips other low?)
    • find out if either of the sites is being hit from any particular geo location, if so use this site to target this area. (this is very easy to do)
    • if targeting geo location, use local phone numbers
  • use meta data and page control the content on both sites so it is NOT exactly the same
    • use different staff is possible to write the content for each site, sounds a bit extreme, but web content writers always have 'accents' in the copy they write
  • don't be afraid to send customers from A to B, add pages on each site that are specifically set up to send the customer to the other. If they buy, who cares which site they do it th
  • leave the sites hosted where they are for the time being
  • run regular benchmark reports to see if 
    • sites are working in harmony (traffic/ vs sales vs enquiry)
    • SE results are being helped by having 2 sites
    • customers are getting lost between 2 site
Once you know how the sites are working together you can decide where to go with the sites.

Obviously if one of the sites is new or has no SE value and no one ever uses it, then I would say kill it and focus on the other, but if the sites are both strong then its a waste of SE value to just get rid of it.
Its very hard to put a price on SE value, but it can cost a lot in time/£££ to get a site up to the level of a site that has 'some' value.

These are just my opinions, they could be wrong or they could help you, either way comment and ask questions.

* I see my site twice in the results
This can happen if you have sub domains that are displaying the same content ie and have the same content and are hsoted onthe same server, same owner etc.
In this instance I would shut down the duplicate sub domain and redirec the traffic to the main site.

There is no use setting your own site and sub domain as competitors

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

SQL Server does not handle comparison of NText, Text, Xml, or Image data types.

When adding XML to an XML field in SQL server via Linq to SQL it all works fine, however when you try and update this XML field, you get this error;

SQL Server does not handle comparison of NText, Text, Xml, or Image data types.

Fix to my solution was to edit the dbml and set the updatecheck to false

<column canbenull="true" dbtype="Xml" name="OrderXML" type="System.Xml.Linq.XElement" updatecheck="Never"></column>

Works like a dream now.