Charities! Build your IT infrastructure FREE on Amazon Web Services

amazon web servicesThere is quite a big offer available to charities at the moment from Amazon Web Services (AWS), the cloud based IT services arm of the retail giant through the software ‘donation’ site Tech Trust or tt-exchange.

In fact you could build your organisation a cloud based IT infrastructure with remote desktop server, webserver, database engines and cloud storage and still have free credit left over.

For £142 plus VAT, eligible charities get $2000 credit with AWS to use on their storage, computing and database products and it is renewable each year. Now my own experience with a charity client that successfully moved their remote desktop server onto AWS a year ago and also uses their cloud storage – their bills will be completely covered by this offer. Needless to say, they’ve applied.

But it’s also the way that this resource can be quickly used to create a trial application or to work out some new infrastructure without having to buy lots of kit where AWS excels even before this offer. You pay for what you use.

We all know that Amazon have a way of avoiding paying tax to the countries where they operate and AWS is part of that. So this is them giving to charity. If you can stomach that… dig in.

(By the way, from what I’ve found out so far, this offer doesn’t extend to other businesses selling value added products for AWS through the AWS marketplace – but I think all pure AWS products are included)

 

Last chance to upgrade to Windows 10 for FREE

duck
Frightened to get your feet wet?

For what it’s worth, fewer of my customers have been upgrading to Windows 10 before the deadline of 29th July than I expected and seem happy enough to stay with Windows 7. After all it’s not a ‘bad’ version, like every alternate revision. (98, Millenium, Vista, 8.0)

It is hard to see what the great advantage in upgrading is on a non-touch screen desktop machine other than that Microsoft will stop support and  security updates after 2020. Although that is important of course, especially when, if XP is anything to go by, anti-virus support disappears a year later.

My line in the first instance is that Windows 10 Pro will cost £189 per machine after July 29th which for most voluntary organisations is not do-able. So their options are

1. To upgrade machines to Windows 10 before that date
2. To stay with Windows 7 (or 8) until the machines become defunct with age replacing machines as they expire or become security risks.

Despite appalling (correctable)  privacy settings on the default installation, Windows 10
has, on the whole, been widely welcomed by adopters for better usability – after the poor reception for Windows 8 and 8.1. Microsoft say it will be the ‘last’ Windows version, thereafter having  a continual upgrading process carried out automatically by the operating system itself – giving the same experience on a desktop, laptop, tablet or phone.

Like so much upgrading that users have to do, the biggest convenience in the new arrangement is for Microsoft itself… but there are still important reasons to consider upgrading.

  1. The life of a machine may be 3 years in the commercial sector but it’s more like 8 years in the public/voluntary/3rd sector
  2. Trustees will worry about acting with due diligence if they allow machines in their sphere of responsibility to have security holes un-patched and incomplete/non-updating virus protection after 2020
  3. Having to buy all your new machines at one go is impossible in many 3rd sector scenarios

Older machines with small discs and processors before Intel i3 perhaps won’t upgrade happily but other machines which need disc space but have good capacity (say 100G) or need more memory (which is cheap and quite easy to fit) can be adapted without too much pain. My very simple installation guide would be

  • Not got 20G spare on the disc for an upgrade? go to accessories-system tools and use the disc cleaner to get more space. Failing that, there may be all kinds of old backups, system dumps or temporary deposits of photos, movies and god knows what. Just don’t monkey with the windows folder. The free app TreeSize from Portable Apps is useful here
  • Too little memory. Investigate with Crucial Memory’s tester. Crucial are pretty competitive and reliable too for purchase and support for installing
  • The process is reversible if you don’t like it
  • The process takes time (3 hours per machine) – so the best way to proceed is to do it once on a ‘typical’ machine, to get the sense of it and then roll it out across the others. Start off the group of machines on the upgrade at the end of the day,  going home with them churning happily away downloading, installing and rebooting and hopefully they will be finished the next morning.
  • Some anti-virus will be uninstalled during the upgrade, so be ready to reinstall that.

And don’t forget – if you get incompatibilities or problems…. searching the web will usually show that you are not alone and some geek has considered a fix. The worst is that you have to bust it back to Windows 7.

 

 

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!

IMG_4430Well it’s probably the Russians or the North Koreans or people in the next street calling themselves the Russian Guardians.

Whoever they are, they took this web server down good and proper. 3 weeks of work putting it all back together so as not to give them the satisfaction of getting a ransom from us.

And you know that the reason why the crime stats are down is because it’s all on the internet and it’s not being reported.

This was reported though. The local plod came round and said ‘What’s a server?’. 10 days later CID came round and said ‘So these discs, are they CDs?’. I don’t think it’ll ever get as far as the cyber-crime unit. They must be truly inundated. We heard of 5 hackings in the UK just like ours on the same day.

And then the following week, 2 sites suffered the Crypto Ware hack. The same day. June 29th. Organisations recruiting for staff open a CV attached to an email – bang – all Excel and Word files on any mapped network drives encrypted!! Ransom will get you the key. ‘OOh I saw that on the telly in that play about lawyers!’. That’s right you did, only the clever lawyer on the telly hacked them back.

So for all our clients that have suffered in any way, we are very sorry and we are trying to make sure it won’t happen again.  And if you think it’s racist to point to the Russians on such flimsy evidence, you’re probably right. – although they did do the Sony hack (it wasn’t North Korea) and Obama’s email and the Russian PM’s twitter account and…..

Web Services that impressed me in 2014

These are some of those things that mean that along with Google Drive I spend more and more of my time in the cloud even though I rarely go near Facebook and Twitter!

awsAmazon Web Services

Astonishing range of services, so much better (and better value) than their rivals with good tech support which you can turn on and off as you need it. I’ve used their servers, storage and database services mainly – what you’ve got to get used to is seeing computing services like a flow that you can turn on and off.

trelloTrello

I was told about this by a friend who found it was the best system for following jobs that might have loads of forms, photos and other attachments as well special inputs from a team of engineers. I just use it as a glorified to-do list but I love it. Great for team work where there might be danger of losing detail on a project.

duoDuo Security

Dual Factor security (typically where you login using more than one device – e.g. laptop and phone) is requested by clients more and more as a pretty iron-clad form of system security especially for remote work. Duo have an offer that is reasonably priced for small organisations and reliably straightforward, working through either smartphone apps, telephone calls, texts or those horrible RAS keys.

backupbuddyBackup Buddy

This WordPress plugin makes backing up and restoring (or transferring) a WordPress site about as easy as it can be. What’s so hard I hear you say, just copy the file structure and backup the mysql database. But this makes it so straightforward, timed or on demand, and reliable and you can restore single posts rather than the whole site if necessary. And their pricing structure allows networks like common Knowledge to have unlimited site backups for a reasonable once-and-for-all fee.

ZenDeskZendesk_logo_RGB

Such a nicely constructed Support Ticket system. No installation, it looks good, it’s so easy to understand and work with, has a good phone app and it has a limited ‘starter’ edition for just 3 agents which if you’re running a tiny freelance operation like me – is all you need.

(p.s. – all copyrights acknowledged)

MS365 Cloud follows Google’s lead – free to charities

ms365So now for charities Microsoft will keep your mail on their cloud servers under your own domain name for free, just like Google did – and they are giving you space to save Office files created in their on-line apps with the added advantage over Google docs that the native format is the same as most NGOs are using on their desktops.

Apply on-line here … I suspect it helps if your organisation gets software already through TT-xchange (used to be CTX) because they’ve already done the checks. I notice faith-based groups are now eligible too.

The idea is that while they’re deciding about your eligibility you can be trialling it. If you’re confident, you can set up the lot – point the domain MX (mail exchanger) DNS records to their servers, set up the users. The trial is on their E3 scheme but when you get approved you have to move your users over to the E2 scheme as the trial ends in a month…. by which time you’ll know.

what to do with all these old windows xp machines?

    It pains my heart to see machines that have given good service jettisoned for no better reason than MicroSoft can’t think of a way to make money out of them any more. The machine works but it becomes a security hazard for the organisation using it.

This picture shows 62 days to the launch of Windows XP back in September 2001 but at the time of writing there are just 32 days before Microsoft stop providing security updates for XP. Whilst they are offering some kind of support to anti-virus companies for another year, managements are anxious that they will not be showing due diligence if they continue to use it.

If the organisation is running a Windows Remote Desktop (Terminal) server, as many of my clients do, there may be life in the old dog yet.

  1.  Replace Windows with a form of Linux because Linux will run on these machines more securely without the need of an anti-virus program and is regularly updated
  2. Use a Linux distribution like Lubuntu because it is lightweight and will run fast even on old kit.
  3. Install it so you don’t have to login and so the remote desktop program loads automatically – this way the first login box the user sees is the one that will create their session on the terminal server
  4. A remote desktop program like RDesktop or Reminna is not part of Lubuntu because the basic installation is very minimal but these can easily be downloaded and installed using the built-in installer. These programs are fine for most aspects of a remote session that users will need (accessing company files, using local printers and so on)
  5. So it’s very like the session they are used to logged into the company server via the remote desktop server. What other programs should they use the Lubuntu machine for? Web browsing is often more responsive if using a local machine (Firefox is bundled into the Lubuntu installation) – on a terminal server it can be slow because of all the screen redrawing.
  6. There should be no need for office or email programs but they are available if they are needed.

Well that’s one way to use these great old machines.

Another is as Network storage. See this good article  in my colleague Paul Craig’s InfoSys newsletter.

 

at last! google apps and more available to the charitable 3rd sector free!

google app logo icons in a group
(c)Google

Well, well .. it surely wasn’t due to my previous posting on this site but Google have extended the offer they make to US non-profits to the charitable sector in the UK. This is a seriously beneficial development for the whole sector provided you’re happy to share your data with this behemoth. http://www.google.co.uk/intl/en/nonprofits/

As well as the afore-mentioned and seriously useful Google Apps with it’s myriad forms – most importantly EMail, Group-working, Shared Calendars and Cloud-based documents that can be shared in real time there are now 3 other charity specific offers.

  • ‘Google Grants’: Using the feature that made Google all their money, charities can target keywords that people search for to throw up adverts that target their own websites and internet-based donation mechanisms.
  • YouTube : The ability to ‘brand’ a YouTube channel and have donation tools that work with the videos you put up of your organisation’s work
  • Google Earth (Outreach Grants): Free licenses to use Google mapping tools that allow customised maps of, say, charity project sites with the ability to add resources behind the map. Parts of this offer may only currently be available to members of this programme if they applying for a google grant.

Although the programme is called Google for Non-Profits, eligibility is dependant on being Charity Commission registered – so campaign organisations, CICs and so forth will still have to pay £33 + VAT per user per year to get the Google Apps package. 

google apps costs money now for everyone in UK

No, this isn’t about how we pay big-time for Google not paying tax in the UK. That’s something Eric Schmidt won’t be taking to his board very soon, I suspect.

Google Apps imageIt’s about the ‘standard’ version of Google Apps, domain based computing for organisations, which used to be free for up to 50 users (but with adverts on the web interface), then in spring 2011 they reduced that to 10 users and now they’ve done away with it altogether. If you already have a ‘free’ account, that remains. This applies to new trade.

So those clients of mine that were able to make use of the free offer are OK. Because by and large it’s a pretty good product.

Google mail  is always up and running and the spam control is excellent. It is easy to set up calendars to share across the organisation. The cloud based document system called Google drive has great sharing potential where you can see multiple people editing the same document in real time – with 100% revision history.

And those are just the standard apps. The other things like video chat, photo stuff, form creators, intranet sites are going to be more or less important depending on the organisation. And then there is a substantial market of business apps that can be added to the Google Apps system.

Now voluntary sector organisations of any size are going to have to pay £33 a year (plus VAT) per user to get this service. It’s still good value. It would be better value if they paid proper corporation tax in the countries that made them their billions of profit.

p.s. Does anyone know where they do pay tax on their profit? Is it Switzerland? Eire? USA? Nowhere?

 

Infobulletin – a really useful newsletter

Co-operative Systems InfoBulletin logoFor some time I have been meaning to give a plug to the InfoBulletin newsletter written by my friend and common Knowledge colleague Paul Craig for Co-operative Systems . It’s one of the best, if not the best, newsletters on small-scale office computing.

The newsletter is available to anyone and is written in a clear non-techhy language. It covers trends, specific programs and equipment and helps you get a handle on new concepts or software or web-services. It’s helped me loads of times.

It’s not all new stuff. Two regular features are  Q&A (a guide to desktop techniques in the operating system or software) and Clicks of the Trade which gives useful advice that circuit riders like Paul and myself have learnt, often the hard way, over the years.

So if you’re an office or operations manager – or take an interest in such things you can look at the current issue and then sign up. And while you’re on the site, check out the archived index.. I defy you to look down that list and not open up a least one of the articles!

German schoolchild with IBM PC
Thanks to German Federal Archive – Creative Commons

Historical note: Co-op Systems, the more elderly amongst us will remember, was a real co-operative back in the days when the GLC used to grant-aid voluntary organisations with an IBM PC with 2 5.25″ floppy drives, EPSON FX 45 dot-matrix printer,  WordStar 2.3,  SuperCalc4 or Lotus 123 & CardBox. Training free from ComputerCraft (another co-op) and the computer maintenance in the first year by Co-op Systems.  Microsoft was pretty small beer in those days  – today’s Co-op Systems though not a co-operative any more, still specialises in helping the 3rd sector and is a MS Gold partner.