Wine, Italians and Connectivity

One of our recent new clients is Jamie Hutchinson.

He used to be in private equity investment at Apax and at Cazenove Private Equity, but long holiday car journeys as a boy through France had aroused a deep interest in wine. Early in 2006, he left the City and set up his own business, The Sampler.

He now has two outlets in London, one in South Kensington and the other in Islington's Upper Street. The latter is more or less opposite us.

The experience which tipped him into selling wine was a trip to Italy. There he saw a system for allowing people to enjoy a glass of wine without needing to buy a whole bottle. The system was initially intended for dispensing wine in bars and restaurants, but Jamie saw immediately its potential for retail sales: try a sample and, if you like it, buy a bottle or a case.

The first installation in Islington went well; however, the Italian manufacturers of the system had never installed a live installation of the system across multiple sites.

In a room above the South Kensington shop yesterday, Jamie recalled the problems.

"The Italians had great difficulties configuring the software for the Enomatic machines. Our wine customers are given a smart-card which has their details, including their email address. These cards are designed to allow us to know what has been tasted and then bought, and also what has been tasted and not bought. So the cards are important. They also enable us to stay in touch with our customers by regular email.

The principal problem was configuration of the multisite server which allows the two shops to communicate with each other, which meant we were getting daily problems.

So I walked across Upper Street to Computer Precision, told them my problems, and more or less walked back with Woody who got the system working. Since then, I've had no real complaints. It's been pretty good. The services I take from Computer Precision are block support, running the entire back office, first-line support and my internet connection."

We ask him about the use of the internet.

"Connectivity is key. If my connection goes down, the sampling machines stop working, the EPOS system also stops, so the tills don't work, we lose our emails and we also lose our local network. Planning is really important. We use BT, which probably isn't the best choice, and we have one DSL, so I'm worried about back-up."

Vish, our Business Manager, suggests a solution.

"Yes, a 3G solution or another ADSL line might give me some peace of mind over this," Jamie replies.

Once we finish the conversation, wondering if we've made an unexpected sale, Jamie takes a glass of wine and stands on the pavement for his photo to be taken. The shop is full of intriguing wines plus many well known quality names. It smells of wine and is full of light. Even if we weren't providing the IT support The Sampler needs, we'd be in Jamie's shops as often as we could.

If you'd like to know more about The Sampler, please visit www.thesampler.co.uk

This is a battle Microsoft can't afford to lose

If you look back over the past twenty years of digital technology, you'll notice some common themes.

Computers became faster, had bigger memories and dropped dramatically in price.

For most of the past twenty years, the industry has been driven by Intel's aim of "Better, Faster, Cheaper."

The consequences have been clear, especially in the extraordinary speed with which information, communication and marketing grew and became available to mass markets.

As the markets developed, so did the companies that serviced them. Initially, hardware providers had a big advantage, because they could specify what software their machines used. In Honeywell's case, it was GCOS, for example.

But with the advent of open-source software, such as Unix, smaller, more nimble companies were able to enter the market. Some of these were initially just software companies, Microsoft being the prime example, but being first to market is not necessarily a big advantage. If it was, Google would still be miles behind Yahoo!, but their UK search engine shares of the UK market are actually 90.83% and 3.21% respectively, according to Hitwise.

This gives Google a huge advantage. Google's business is the provision of information. Microsoft's business is selling licences. Additionally, Microsoft sells hardware as well as software. The hardware exists to sell the software which, in turn, requires a licence.

Google's attack on Microsoft covers many fronts, but the attention it's giving to cloud computing and virtualisation is a serious threat to Microsoft because neither services require businesses to own servers, and neither do they need to licence software if it is open source, like Linux or Red Hat. Google can simply host businesses on its servers, thereby providing a virtual IT system for them.

At the moment, we're happy to advise you on what to do for the future, but can't yet predict the speed at which change is coming. Google is widely rumoured to run slightly fewer than a million servers worldwide, so it isn't lacking capacity.

Equally, this is a fight that Microsoft cannot afford to lose. That explains why, if you're a business user with the right licences, you don't need an additional licence to operate Microsoft's new Hyper-V virtualised server.

We ought to add that VMWare is currently the market leader in this rapidly developing market, so this is not yet a two horse race, although it could go that way.

We'll come back this topic in future blogs as the shape and likely outcome of the battle become clearer.

Disaster Recovery:How to Get a Good Night's Sleep

You don't have to memorise this diagram to get a great night's sleep.

What you need is a disaster recovery plan, and a professional installation and management plan.

Recently, a well-known oil company, which probably had not been sleeping as well as it would have liked, asked us for a disaster recovery proposal. So we put Noam Lugasi, our chief IT consultant, in charge on the basis that he could do all the work and we could take all the praise.

Disaster recovery is a big issue. In former years, companies would either manually back up the day's data on a disk, or have a duplicate server which automatically performed the same function.

Things have moved on since then. Many companies now operate 24 hours a day every day, so they need continual backup. But continual backup is expensive if it's every second. In our potential oil client's case, they agreed to a snapshot, or recent work backup in other words, every two hours.

Do you have a disaster recovery capability? Do you have a plan?

If you don't have either, here are some things to consider

  1. What would be the impact on your business if you lost all your data? A fire or a flood can easily mess up your business.
  2. How are you currently having your data backed up? Is it secure? Can it be hacked? Who is looking at it? And who has privileged access to it? Do you know them?
  3. What's the pathway between your servers and the backup server? If there's only one, you are still vulnerable. You'll need to have both some sort of secure socket tunnelling protocol, which will probably be Site to Site VPN, as well as a secure internet connection.

If all this seems like hard work, don't worry: that's our job.

The chart at the top of this page is not really that complicated, but the installation and implementation does require professional help.

Which is why we're writing this blog.

If you are not very happy about your Disaster Recovery Plan, please call us.

We'll analyse the degree of your vulnerability to total data loss, and then agree a plan with you. We'll then monitor it, fix problems, and let you know what we have done. And, if you do have to suffer the pain of an IT meltdown, we'll make sure it's painless.

Sleep well.

One other thing.

The oil company appointed us.

They'll soon be sleeping well.

Not so sure about Noam.

How To Cut Your IT Costs

We're often asked by our business customers to suggest ways of reducing their IT costs.

The surprising answer is that they ought to get rid of as many of their servers as possible, and move to server virtualisation.

This means using just one server, removing substantial running costs.

IT managers are sometimes sceptical about this, and ask, "What if that one server goes down?"

Well, it's good question, but it's not as much of a risk as you might think, for the following reasons:

  1. Modern servers are very reliable
  2. Our remote monitoring service usually fixes problems before you even know that your server needs attention
  3. Effective data back-up combined with system-recovery solutions enable systems to be very quickly and reliably restored.

One of IBM's recent advertising campaigns concentrates on the company's range of Blade Servers. You might remember seeing some of the TV commercials.

The point of the advertising was to launch a system which made considerable savings in running costs. The system does this by consolidating many small physical servers, replacing them by one larger physical server, principally to increase the utilisation of costly hardware resources such as CPUs, or central processing units.

Although hardware is consolidated, operating systems are not. Instead, each operating system running on a physical server becomes converted to a distinct operating system running inside a virtual machine. The large server can host many such guest virtual machines.

If you or your organisation are running a number of servers, you ought to consider a physical to virtual transformation.

At Computer Precision, we have plenty of experience in designing and installing virtual systems as well as actually building bespoke servers.

If you want to know more, please give us a call and we'll discuss what the benefits are likely to be. If we need to make a site visit, we'll do this at no cost.

Top 10 reasons to try Office 2010

Office 2010 was launched in May this year after an extended beta test.

Microsoft says that 7.5 million people downloaded various versions, and that these generated 650,000 individual reports.

And that means Office 2010 is a very reliable upgrade for both Office 2007 and earlier versions.

Office 2010 comes in three versions: Office Home and Student, Office Home and Business, and Office Professional.

Reviews have been universally excellent. Technology review site Tech Radar says:

"There might not be any one feature that you'd buy Office 2010 for, although search in Outlook comes pretty close and collaborating in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and especially OneNote through SkyDrive is compelling. But put them all together and you get a hugely powerful suite of apps that's still easy to work with."

Here are our Ten Top Reasons for adopting the software which enables you to:

  1. Express your ideas more visually
  2. Accomplish more when working together
  3. Enjoy the familiar Office experience from more locations and devices
  4. Stay connected to your business and social networks
  5. Get your message out instantly
  6. Create powerful data insights
  7. Manage large volumes of email with ease
  8. Deliver compelling presentations
  9. Store and track all your ideas in one place
  10. Work your way faster and more easily

If this sounds attractive to you, come and visit us at 185 Upper Street, and we'll demonstrate Office 2010 for free. Or call us on 020 7359 9797, and we'll come round to your office.

Finally, one of Tech Radar's site visitors, Kate Lowe, put the following post on the site:

"Microsoft Office 2010 offers some brilliant updated and upgraded features too. Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 in particular has been greatly enhanced, offering features such as co-authoring, embedding videos, the option to link PowerPoint presentations to the web as well as improved picture editing tools. A great improvement."

Toshiba Bets on Realiability

If you are looking for a new laptop, Toshiba has got a very confident offer for you.

Here's the deal.

Buy one of Toshiba's specified laptops any day you like up to 30 September 2010. If the laptop then breaks down in warranty, the repair will be carried out for free. But that's not all.

Toshiba will also refund the purchase price. Yes, the whole price.

Why? Because Toshiba does not expect its laptops to break down. How about that for confidence?

The offer applies to selected laptops, and is only valid when you register your purchase with Toshiba, but don't worry about that.

Come in and see us, select the laptop you want, and we'll register your purchase while you're with us. You can do this with complete confidence because we are a registered Toshiba dealer, and have been been so ever since we started the business.

How's that for service?

Are You Sure You Won't Catch a Virus

We opened our doors for the first time in 1986. By chance, this coincided with the world's first computer virus, Brain, being written in Pakistan.

What an innocent world it was then.

People wrote letters rather than emails, carbon copies were still used, and SnoPake looked as if it had a vigorous future.

IT systems are now the bedrock of business. We all depend upon them to function reliably and cost effectively. Keeping your system running is a key part of our own business

But the threat to IT systems seems to grow exponentially every year.

How do you cope with it?

There are some simple steps you can take. For example:

  1. Never download an attachment on an email unless you know and trust the sender
  2. If you receive a promotional CD, DVD or USB stick, do not plug it into your computer. It may contain a virus or other malware which, possibly, could cause serious damage to your business
  3. Make certain that you have a comprehensive protection system which is regularly updated and maintained like Sophos.

Founded in 1985, Sophos is a privately-owned company and is based in Oxford, and in Boston, Massachusetts. Unlike other security companies, Sophos does not produce anti-virus and anti-spam solutions for home users, but instead has always focused on the business market. The company has over 100m users spread across 150 countries.

We strongly recommend its systems.

If you are worried about your IT system's vulnerability to external attacks, please come and talk to us. We'll happily advise you what your options are.

And, If you're not convinced about your current level of protection, it's probably time you moved Sophos.

John Wayne Sent Me

We have customers who have been with us a long time.

It's not surprising. We've have been in business for twenty-six years. And that, for businesses in Islington's Upper Street, is a long time.

We've been in business a good longer than many marriages last. We've seen governments come and go, Boy Bands implode and then re-form in their middle age, and Communist China move from collectivism to vigorous capitalism.

All this from the tranquil comfort of 185 Upper Street, Islington.

We've been going so long that several of our customers can be referred to as digital pioneers.

Well, those frontier days have gone. We now assemble PCs in our workshop with a computing power and memory many, many times more powerful than possessed by the original US Space Shuttles.

You no longer have to worry about memory, crunching power and reliability. We'll do that for you, especially since we can monitor the health of your IT system remotely, and can also fix a problem before you know you've got one. We have IT support running through us like a stick of Brighton Rock.

All this makes us wonder if there are other potential customers who'd like to meet us but don't know we exist.

So, here's an offer.

If you are an existing and satisfied customer, do yourself and us a favour, please.

Recommend us to a friend, colleague or relative.

Let's say your name is John Wayne. We've selected this name because, as far as we know, none of our customers have this name, but who knows?

Anyway tell your friend to visit us with a PC or laptop and say, "John Wayne sent me." In your case, substitute your name for Big John's

We'll then service your friend's machine. And we'll reduce the invoice by 15%.

That's not all.

For you, we'll credit your account with £20.

Why, you might ask, is this a good deal for us?

The answer is, we very rarely lose a customer.

Service is Our Bussiness

Hallo, and welcome to our blog.

At the beginning of this year, we decided to ask our customers what they thought of us. Rather than hear what they thought we wanted to hear, we decided to use an independent consultant to ask the questions for us.

We gave him a list of topics we wanted covered, names of people who might be willing to take part, and told him not to come back until he had something interesting to say.

Two weeks later, he returned. And what he told us was very interesting indeed.

Your probably know that we build our own computers. We fix your hardware when it goes wrong. We install and maintain networks. We clean your hard drives of broken links, temporary files, viruses and trojans. We maintain systems. We install new software. And we're here, usually, when you need us.

So what did our customers say was the most important thing we do? What is it which keeps them and, possibly, you loyal?

The answer was customer service.

Here are some quotes from the research:

If something goes wrong, I ring Woody. He puts on his running shoes and is here in five minutes. Can you imagine PC World doing that?"

"Yes, I've bought quite a lot of kit from them. The kit's fine, I wouldn't know really. But I buy their kit because I know they've got Motki and Woody just round the corner. I'm a customer because I know they'll keep my system running."

"I suppose you can best describe me as an anxious old bloke. All my business is held on a server. What do I do when everything suddenly goes quiet and there's some message on the screen in DOS telling me the system is down? I'm in Barnsbury, and they're in Upper Street. They can be here before my customers notice, and get me going again."

This was a slight surprise for us. We knew that our service mattered, but we didn't realise that our customers valued it more than any other service we provide.

So, if you have anything to say about our business, and especially about our service, please let us know. Just post a comment. We will read it with close attention.

Secondly, if you are a potential new business customer, here's an offer to help you try our service.

We'll give you 5 hours of IT support for a measly £99 plus VAT. This usually costs £375 plus VAT. You can use the hours any time up to 31 December. The support covers maintenance and repair both at your location and at our workshop at 185 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 1RQ. This offer is limited, within reason, to the N1 area and a radius of two miles from our workshop. But we're happy to make exceptions.

If you're interested, just give us a call on 020 7359 9797, and ask for Vish or Benny.

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