Proudly serving Virginia, Maryland and DC // Call us today! 703.396.6120
V2 SystemsV2 Systems

By Dan Lhotka

Pay Attention! and I’m back!

Pay Attention! And I’m back!

Welcome, dear readers! I know it’s been a while since I last posted in my blog. Well, I am back writing again, and I have something that came up recently that I want to share.

So in the early days of the Internet, Network Solutions was the go-to registrar company. This was primarily due to the fact that they were the first domain name registrar, they were geared towards business, and in general were easy to work with. Their website makes it easy to setup and configure domain names, and to modify DNS, and do all the other things that a registrar provides. My parent’s domain name is on Network Solutions, and many of our older clients are still using Network Solutions for domain registration and DNS.
However, I had something happen recently that has made me start to think about moving away from them.

I had a client that wanted a new domain name. I was going to setup email services on this new domain name, and use it as the primary repository for email going forward with this client. Simple thing. We signed up for the domain using Network Solutions. I setup the A records and MX records, and then configured the email service to use this domain name. All was working as expected until the end of the month, when due to a bit of miscommunication, the bill for the domain name was declined.

One day later, email suddenly stopped working. I checked the settings, and found that the MX records were changed, and the A records for the domain were pointing to an Under Construction page. I called Network Solutions about the issue, and they told me that the domain name has been released and that another company has purchased the domain name. The company in question is called New Venture Services Corp. I checked the Whois information for the domain, and confirmed that this other company now owns the domain. Knowing that it will take time to sort out the domain name problem, I decided to setup the client with a new domain name. Within the course of a day, I bought a new domain name, changed the mail server’s MX records to point to that domain, and got email working again.

Once that was done, a whole new nightmare awaited me in order to get the old domain name back. I researched the issue and New Venture Services, and found that they were owned by web.com. Web.com also owns Network Solutions. I contacted New Venture Services Corp, and found that they wanted $300 to sell the domain back to us.
This method of buying a domain name and then ransoming it to a company that might want it for an exorbitant amount is called cybersquatting.

So what happened is this –

1. The domain was released to the public
2. Network Solutions sold the domain immediately to New Venture Services (who probably has a standing contract with NS to buy all the domains that are returned or expired for almost nothing)
3. New Venture Services charges a premium to sell the domain back.
Legal, but very shady.

I found several different forums that talk about the same thing happening to other people –
http://www.scamful.com/2014/07/warning-if-you-own-domain-names-avoid.html
http://community.sitepoint.com/t/new-venture-services-corp-network-solutions/3062/6
http://dotweekly.com/new-ventures-services-corp-who-are-they/

Interesting reads, and a serious rabbit hole to fall down.

Bottom line – Pay Attention!

Make sure your domain isn’t set to expire for a very long time. Create Calendar entries to remind you when registration is coming up. Make sure you have valid credit card information entered in.

At this point, I recommend against using Network Solutions for new domain names. Godaddy is terrible, but they at least give you 45 days to renew if your domain runs out.

Oh and by the way – about 3 months after this whole thing happened, Network Solutions sent my client an email warning them about the practice of Cybersquatting.

By Dan Lhotka

Windows XP will no longer be supported after April

Windows XP Professional is reaching End of Life status in April.  What does this mean?  Well, after April 8th 2014, Microsoft will no longer provide updates for Windows XP.  This means that security updates and fixes for the operating system will no longer be sent to XP computers.  XP will continue to run on computers past the deadline, but it will be more vulnerable to online threats as time goes on.  What’s worse is that more and more software vendors will stop supporting their products on XP after the deadline.  This includes antivirus vendors.

Microsoft has said that it will continue to supply virus definition updates to Microsoft Security Essentials.  However, just updating the definitions does not keep the computer protected.  Currently, Microsoft sends out program updates to MSE to make it more effective.  This will no longer be the case after April.

 

It is very important to replace any aging computers that are still running Windows XP.  To keep your network protected from external threats, and to keep things running efficiently.

 

For more information go here : http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/end-support-help

By Dan Lhotka

Why do I need to replace my computer every three years?

At V2 Systems, we recommend replacing your computer every three years.  There are multiple reasons for this.  Warranty concerns, Productivity concerns, and Security all play into why we chose three years as the cut-off point.

Warranty

Most computers ordered by us come with a 3 year warranty.  After that time period, if hardware within the computer goes bad, then we are stuck with replacing the part out of pocket, instead of relying on the warranty.  With laptops, this is especially a concern, since many of the parts within a laptop are customized and can only be obtained from the manufacturer. 

Productivity

Productivity is the main reason for why the three year cutoff.  Computer technology changes so quickly that a computer built three years ago is quickly obsolete.  Each generation of hardware increases the speed of the computer, and each generation of software uses more of the hardware to do what it does.  After three years, something that took 1 minute to do now takes 5 minutes to do.  This problem gets more and more prevalent as the computer ages.  Four minutes of lost time daily equals 20 minutes a week, which equals roughly an hour a month, which turns into 12 hours a year.  Twelve hours in which someone can do something a lot more productive than sit and stare at a computer screen.  I have heard of computers that take 15 minutes to boot up each morning.  Imagine the time recovered in lost productivity if that boot up time was reduced to 30 seconds.  More than enough to recuperate the cost of a new computer. 

Security

Lastly, newer operating systems and programs are more secure from security threats than older computers.  As time passes, software companies find and fix security holes.  Granted, new ones are found and exploited by hackers.  But, the fact remains that newer operating systems are much more secure than old ones.  This leads to less work required to clean the computers when they get infected, and less of a chance of getting infected overall.

 

We want computer users to use their computer efficiently.  We don’t like it anytime a user has to wait to do something on their computer.  In order to accomplish this, though – the computer has to be replaced on a schedule.

By Dan Lhotka

Virtualization

 One thing that we use frequently, and that users frequently have trouble wrapping their heads around, is virtualization.  This is commonly used on servers, and to a lesser extent, workstations.  It is used because it is a way to evenly distribute hardware resources, and provide service separation.  What does all that mean?

 

Around 2005, the first dual core CPU was introduced.  For the first time, computers got more powerful through parallel processing rather than sequential processing.  These new chips were not much faster at executing a single application than the CPUs before them, but they could run multiple applications much faster than earlier CPUs.  As time progressed, software developers looked for ways to distribute computing more and more, to take advantage of the advances in parallel computing.  Computer virtualization was born.

 

Virtualization is the process of running one or more virtual computers on one piece of hardware.  The RAM, CPU, hard drive, network card, and all other devices in the hardware computer (referred to as the Host) are shared with a program that mimics those resources to a virtual machine.  Using the virtual machine, it works and runs as if it was a separate computer, but it is still software located on the Host. As the diagram shows, doing this lets someone utilize the resources of the hardware much more efficiently than before virtualization.

One of the things we run into many times is problems where a single program is messing up, but in order to fix it, we have reboot the server and disconnect everyone.  Virtualization helps solve this problem.  Instead of having one server that stores files, keeps track of users and user permissions via Active Directory, and provides internet access, we have three servers.  One hardware server, with two virtual machines.  One virtual machine stores files, while the other one handles Active Directory and internet access.  That way, if a problem requires a reboot, we can just reboot the affected server and leave the other alone (unless, of course, the problem is on the Host!).  This is called service separation.

 

In some cases, service separation is required.  Microsoft requires Active Directory to be on a different server than an Exchange Server, for example.  Microsoft also recommends SQL (a database program) be on a separate server from Active Directory.

With desktop computers getting more powerful, virtualization can be done on them as well.  The most common example is Windows 7 XP Mode.  XP Mode is a virtual machine that runs Windows XP that works with Windows 7 computers.  It is a great way to run old programs that may not be compatible with the changes in Windows 7.

 

 

By Dan Lhotka

CPU : AMD vs Intel

Last month I posted an article discussing how to pick out a new computer. So let’s begin the promised deeper discussions of the various hardware components mentioned in said article.  The first component of significance is the CPU or central processing unit.  Many many people refer to their entire desktop as the “CPU” which is understandable as the actual CPU pretty much drives all the functions of your computer.  It is what allows the operating system to run all your programs.  But in reality the CPU is a small gizmo of silicon and gold (yes there is gold in your computer) that acts like your computer’s brain.  And like our human brain the CPU uses electric signals to tell the other computer components to do things.  It’s pretty cool actually.

But unlike humans who only have one brand of brain – squishy – CPUs have two:  Intel or AMD.  So the question facing most new computer shoppers is “which brand is better?”  Frankly it’s not an easy choice.  Intel has more brand recognition and better performance.  But you pay a lot more for that slight edge.  AMD is more of an underdog – their CPUs come close to matching Intel’s performance but just fall a little short.

And for the average home user that performance difference does not negate the significant price difference.  The AMD CPU will usually save you about $200 over its Intel match.  Yeah that is a lot of savings for a home computer.  But here’s the kicker – Intel CPUs are more efficient at what they do.  This does not mean they run your computer better – it means they take less energy to perform functions and generate less heat.  Which translates to less wear and tear on your computer as whole.  Remember that computer life span I discussed in previous article?  Intel CPUs contribute to a longer life span for your computer.  AMD CPUs run very hot inside your computer which degrades the motherboard, the hard drives, the power supply, and the network/component cards.

Now we’re back to the question of what you do on your computer – if you use your home computer in short bursts then the AMD CPU isn’t going to be much of a problem and you can put those dollars you saved in the bank.  But if you like to spend a couple hours a day taking care of your personal business and surfing the Internet then ultimately the AMD CPU is going to cost you computer life.  Which means another big purchase is closer than you were expecting.

It’s a matter of upfront cost vs. long term cost.  AMD is cheaper up front but more expensive long term.  Intel is more expensive up front but cheaper over the long run.  Let’s break that down a little.  Let’s say you buy a new desktop with an Intel CPU for $1200 that you use for 4 years.  That’s a per day cost of $.82.  Now let’s say you buy a desktop with an AMD CPU for $1000 and try to use it for 4 years.  But in year 3 the motherboard and power supply finally died so you wound up just buying another new computer for $1000.  So to get to 4 years of computer usage – you had to drop $2000 or $1.37 per day.  That’s a difference of $200 per year!  Which is exactly what you thought you were saving yourself with the AMD CPU.

Well let’s end on a positive note.  I’m not saying AMD CPUs are bad – they are very good performers for most of the home computers out there.  Again the best thing you can do for yourself is figure out how you want to use your new computer and then weigh it against the information I’m providing.  In any case I’ll be posting additional articles soon!

By Dan Lhotka

Microsoft and You

There are many different versions of Windows and Office, it can be confusing to those not in the industry to pick out what does what.  In this month’s blog, I will explain the differences between the different versions of Windows and Office.

First of all, Windows and Office are two separate products.  Windows is the operating system, and Office is a productivity application.  Office does not come with Windows, it must be purchased separately.

 

Office 2013

There are 4 different versions of Office 2013.  The main differences are whether the version has a repeating cost, and whether Outlook is included or not.  Office 365 is Microsoft’s subscription based product.  It has a yearly cost of $100 per year. For that cost, you can install it on 5 computers at home, have email access, and constantly get the latest version of Office.  It is pretty cost effective, assuming it is used at home, and that your household has multiple computers.  For businesses, the most common solution is Office Home and Business.  Unlike Office Home and Student, it has Outlook, which is the email program most used by businesses.

Windows

Currently, the operating systems available are Windows 7 and Windows 8.  User interface differences aside, there are several different versions of the OS themselves.

Windows 7 has three different versions – Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate.  Home Premium is the least expensive of the three, but it has limitations.   Those limitations make it difficult to repair from spyware infections, and make it so the computer cannot be controlled from a central server.  This second issue may not seem like a big deal, but it definitely is when you start factoring in shared folders and printers, and things of that nature.  Bottom line, we recommend Professional.  It is easier to work with, and has more flexibility.  Ultimate works fine, but is more expensive than Professional, and doesn’t give you too many additional features.

Windows 8 has two different versions – Windows 8 and Windows 8 Professional.  Like Professional for Windows 7, Windows 8 Professional is needed for networking and talking to a server.  So, we always recommend Windows 8 Professional.

As always, if you have a topic you would like to be brought up in next month’s IT News, send an email to newsletter@v2systems.com

 

By Dan Lhotka

CrytpoLocker – a Dangerous New World

Most spyware we have encountered messes up the operating system.  It makes the computer slow, infects other computers, and throws up popups.  But most do not affect your data.

The latest spyware out there, CryptoLocker, is much different.  It will take the data on your computer and on the server you access and encrypt it.  It then stores the encryption key on its servers, and displays a ransom.  Pay $300 or lose your data. 

This is a very dangerous piece of software, because once it infects your computer, you have two choices – pay the ransom, or restore from backup. 

From what we can tell, the most common infection source is through email.  Emails sent to company email addresses that pretend to be customer support related issues from Fedex, UPS, DHS, etc. These emails would contain a zip attachment that when opened would infect the computer. These zip files contain executables that are disguised as PDF files as they have a PDF icon and are typically named something like FORM_101513.exe or FORM_101513.pdf.exe. Since Microsoft does not show extensions by default, they look like normal PDF files and people open them.

What to do :

1. Make sure your backups are up to date. Restoring from backup will allow you to recover your files.  For those people with V2 Systems Remote Management and Maintenance Agreements, we check your backups daily. 

2. Don’t open zip or archive files. The usual warning; don’t open attachments from unknown senders, or accept downloads you weren’t expecting. Don’t accept video codecs a website tells you are necessary. If a site tells you that you need a Java update or a new copy of Flash, check that it’s coming from Oracle or Adobe respectively.

3. If you get infected, and don’t have a full recent backup, then pay the ransom – but use a disposable prepaid debit card.

4. If you’re not sure if you are infected, or need assistance, call us at 703-361-4606 we will check things out for you.

5. Tell everyone in your organization, and be forceful; this is no joking matter.

We have also begun reaching out to our Monthly Service Agreement and Remote Management and Maintenance Contract clients, to implement a Group Policy Object to prevent the execution of CryptoLocker.
If you want more information about CryptoLocker, and how it works, read here:

http://www.bleepingcomputer.com/virus-removal/cryptolocker-ransomware-information

By Leilani Wardle

I need a new computer – now what?

Being an essential service IT support does not stop once the workday ends.  Much like the doctor who gets asked to look at a suspicious mole at the family dinner party; our friends and families like to reach out and ask for advice.  By far the most frequent question is “What kind of computer should I get?”.  Seems like a simple enough question and yet buying a new computer is a complex maze of components, cost, and quality that can overwhelm the most well informed buyer.  And technology buyer’s remorse is the worse right after buyer’s remorse for a car.

As an IT support provider we frequently help our clients update and replace their workstations so we’ve developed a few simple questions to help us match workstation to business function.  One, what is the computer going to be used for the most?  Two, how long does the computer need to last? And finally, what would I like to be able to do with it?  The first question requires a little personal reflection – it’s important to be honest with yourself on this one.  Of course everyone is going to use their home computer to write letters and make budgets and track schedules.  But really that is only going to be 15% of what you will do on the computer.  More than likely the majority of the computer’s time will be spent playing movies, or watching videos on you tube, or playing facebook games, or going through the vacation photos from last year.  And you shouldn’t feel bad about that – your home computer is a tool and a toy all wrapped together.  You don’t feel bad because your car takes you to both work and the movies right?

So what does this personal honesty about how you really use your home computer get you?  The freedom to save money on one part of your computer configuration and invest it in other parts that will provide the best daily performance.  And here’s the professional tip: invest in memory, CPU, video card, and hard drive speed.  Don’t be seduced by a large hard drive or fancy software.  You can save a lot of money by selecting a small hard drive with 7200 RPM write speed that will let your computer run very quickly and smoothly.

The second question determines how much memory, CPU and video card you want to buy.   If you want your computer to last a long time (long time for computers usually means 5 years) then you want to upgrade to the maximum number of cores in the CPU you can afford.  Cores are individual processors within the CPU which means the CPU can work on 2, 4, 0r 6 separate tasks at the same time.  The lowest number of cores you should get is 4 and if you are looking at running heavy duty photo/video editing and office software; you are going to want to up those cores to six.  It also means you should up the memory to maximum the motherboard will support.  And for longer computer life – don’t do the integrated video card.  An integrated video card means that it’s built into the motherboard and you cannot upgrade it without upgrading the entire motherboard.

The final question helps you figure out how to balance how much hardware and software you are going to buy and what kind of computer you are going to get yourself.  For example – would you like to be able to take a computer on vacation with you to upload photos to your sky drive and watch movies on the plane?  Well then you are going to want a laptop that is light and has wireless.  And has at least 8 GB of RAM with a 1 GB video card.  Windows 32 bit can only support 4 GB of RAM so now you know you are going to have to get the 64 bit version.  What if you truly just want to manage the family business and not do much else – well then a small desktop with 4 GB of RAM and integrated video card will suit you nicely.

So that’s it – this is how these simple questions help IT help their clients.  Buying a computer can be really simple if you know what you really want and need and what to focus on.  I’ll be posting additional articles that focus on the ins and outs of the various hardware components discussed in this article.

By Dan Lhotka

The Cloud

 

The Cloud

One of the buzzwords in IT is “The Cloud”.  “What is the Cloud?” is something I get asked many times.  However, the answer is not as easy as most things. This is because the Cloud is difficult to describe.  The best way I can think of that describes it would be :  a virtual network hosted via the Internet.  The idea is that you move mission critical functions and programs to a remote network on the internet.  According to NIST, there are five essential characteristics of cloud computing :

On-demand self-service. A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider.

Broad network access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick client platforms (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and workstations).

Resource pooling. The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand. …

Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear unlimited and can be appropriated in any quantity at any time.

Measured service. Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service (e.g., storage, processing, bandwidth, and active user accounts). Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported, providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service.

So when someone talks about “going to the cloud”, they mean that they are moving their critical infrastructure or service to a virtual network on the internet. 

Cloud computing is cost effective, and provides much more capability than traditional networks.  However, there is one drawback to it.  You are totally dependent on your internet connection.  If internet is down for any reason, the critical software or service will not be available.  This may not be a big issue for some people.  Our email is hosted on the cloud.  If the internet is down at the office, I can go home and access my email with no difficulty.  However, it is something to think about and take into consideration when moving to the cloud.

Once again, if you have a question that you would like for me to answer during next month’s IT News, please send an email to newsletter@v2systems.com

 

By Dan Lhotka

Hard Disk Drives vs Solid State Drives

  This month, I am going to highlight hard drive technologies.  Namely, Solid State Hard Drives.  Hard disk drives have been used in the computer world since the inception of the personal computer, and in that time, their method of operation has been pretty much the same.  Incased in each hard disk drive is a magnetic disk.  A mechanical arm with a magnet on the end of it moves to different sections of the disk, and changes the polarity of parts of the disk.  This is how data is stored on a hard disk drive.  This is also why hard disk drives eventually fail.  The motor that controls the arm could go bad, the motor that spins the disks could go bad, in addition to random electromagnetic spikes that corrupt sectors on the drive.  Over the years, the speed of the disks has been upgraded, the number of disks has increased, and the size of the “magnetic spots” has gotten smaller, making newer hard drives faster and hold more data.  Yet at the heart of it, the basic operation has not changed.

Enter Solid State Drives.  Solid State Drives use flash memory, similar to what you would use in a camera in order to store data.  The benefit of this is that you have no moving parts like you would in a hard disk drive.  That translates to better power consumption, much faster speed, and better resistance to physical shock. 

However, there are disadvantages as well.  First of all is price.  SSDs are expensive, and you don’t get that much storage with them.  A 300GB SSD costs about $250, while you can get 1500 GB HDD for about $100.  More importantly is the longevity question.  Since the SSD is made of flash memory, it has the same limitations as flash memory.  That is that there are only so many “writes” that each sector of memory will support before the sector is no longer good.  SSD companies compensate for this by creating “extra” space in the memory chips specifically for bad blocks, but eventually even that extra space gets used up.   What this translates to is an estimated life space of 5 years for a SSD.  Whereas regular HDDs have been known to last longer easily.

My recommendation?  Have your cake and eat it, too.   Have both a SSD and a HDD on your computer.  Install your operating system and programs on the SSD.  Store data such as files and email on the HDD.  The SSD should ensure that the computer runs quickly, while having data on the HDD ensures that it will last a long time. 

Once again, if you have suggestions on topics for me to talk about for next month’s IT newsletter, please send an email message to newsletter@v2systems.com.

1 2