When It All Goes Wrong.

As most of you know we deal solely with small business.  We are talking mostly, really small, circa less than 20 users.  However, those users are just as likely to delete an important file, and all the other risks are there, fire flood, server failure etc.  Arguably more so as a lot of small businesses are now located in massive buildings with many other small businesses all running equipment from god knows where, and hardly any of it installed in a professional way.   A great example is that I do not have one customer whose servers are located in a purpose build server room with air conditioning.  I know, I can hear all you engineers from big money businesses rolling your eyes.  The simple fact of the matter is the money is simply not there, consequently we are constantly dealing with make do and mend.

Traditionally small business backups have been a few, in some cases two, in some cases five, external hard disks, using Windows backup tools, which for the most part work perfectly.  We can restore an entire server fairly quickly.  This was a perfect solution for the SBS product line where there was a single server therefore a single image.  However, since Microsoft ditched the product line and made us install Exchange on a separate server this has caused a big issue, all of a sudden there are two servers, which need two lots of Backup devices even if they are installed in one VMWare Environment. 

Now we really did not want to have to retrain our entire customer base in how to check their backups, and we really wanted a way to keep a track of them, as windows no longer has a friendly way to e-mail a backup log to us each day.  Oh, I miss the SBS administrator e-mails.  So, we have had to get creative in finding a solution to this.  I know a lot of you are going say, oh that’s easy just use an online backup service.  Yeah, try and get a director to pay for that!  I was really impressed with the Datto solution, however selling it proved to be really, really hard.  Customers loved all the features, and the fact that it had built in Virtualisation technology so they could fire up a server if theirs failed in a few minutes.  But the E-brake went on as soon as the monthly subscription costs was uttered, bear in mind, for some of them, this was more than half of what they pay me for an entire month’s support.

So we had to get creative.  We have played with many different NAS devices over the years but the one that we really like is the Synology products as they really do offer something that is super affordable for small business.  The product line offers single drive, two drives, four drive and larger arrays and they include iSCSI.  Which gives us a great way to backup maintaining all the Windows incremental backups.  If you use traditional NAS then it has to backup the entire server each time, and deletes the old image as it goes.  iSCSI maintains all the history so you can go back a day, four days, ten days etc.

The way this system works, we place into the network (normally on the second server NIC) a Synology disk station, we provide two iSCSI Luns, one for each server (more if needed) of an appropriate size, which we then connect to directly from within Windows (effectively becoming a local disk) we then use these as the backup locations from within Windows Server.  The backup rolls onto this each night, no worries about users forgetting to plug the drives in, or change them etc.  Now we use the HyperBackup built into the Synology Disk Station to roll the LUN backups onto the external hard disks (which for the most part they already have)

This allows us to roll out really good robust proven backup systems for approximately ¼ the cost of the Datto system, and with no ongoing monthly fee.   Small business loves this.  It gives them a shiny box to point at, and say that is my backup.  They have emergency off-site backups.  Also, the Disk Station monitors and e-mails us to let us know the LUN’s are being backed up, and will let us know the second one of the external disks goes wonky.

Personal Mobile Phones and Corporate E-Mail

This article is aimed at upper level management decision makers for small and medium sized business.

Exchange has some awesome features, and one thing I had never considered was the following:

An employee has a personal mobile phone, onto which he has asked to have his corporate e-mail account, his manager thinks this is a perfectly reasonable request and calls me in to set it up.  Employee then leaves company, manager wants mail off the phone.  Now Exchange can cope with exactly this.  However, it does it in rather a sledge hammer nut kind of way, when adding the account to the phone, you will see a pop up screen which outlines the powers the phone is allowing the exchange server, when you issue a remote wipe from the exchange server it assumes the phone is a corporate device and factory resets it, including any data stored on it.

So now you have effectively protected your company but trashed the data of the ex-employee.  It is therefore imperative that any such device that is not owned by the company has a waiver signed by the employee to the effect of, on termination of employment the telephony equipment must either be surrendered to the company in order that company data may be erased, or by issuing the company power over all data on the device to be destroyed at will, via wireless sync.  If this is not acceptable then the request for mobile based e-mail on a personal device should be refused or if necessary the company should provide a company owned device for this purpose.

Please lets think about this before we jump in to these things.

Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment »

Security… Going Forward…

Over the last 24 months we have seen so many new virus, trojans, and attack vectors our minds are starting to boggle a bit.  However, without doubt the most destructive of all is a variant called Crypto Locker.  Basically, Crypto Locker gets into your system, it then immediately starts encrypting files, starting on the local machine and progressing to any server shares, NAS device shares, even RDP sessions in some newer cases, and encrypts anything it can find.  Once it has nothing else to encrypt it spits up a smug message proudly stating what it has done and that you need to pay something to someone to get the decryption key.

It’s normally at this point we get the call.  Invariably we go in and confirm that the files are now encrypted, and here is the bit that shocks everyone, there is ABSOLUTLEY NOTHING WE CAN DO, with the sole exception of canning the network of all infected machines and restoring everything from a backup.  Workstations have to be wiped and re-installed, data is invariably lost, and in one case, no-one had bothered changing the backup drive for month, and you got it, it was encrypted.

Why do people do it?  Well the simple answer is money, alone Crypto Locker is suspected of generating millions of pounds in ransom fees.  People pay it because they are scared, especially home users, or people without a backup desperate to save their data.  Don’t be one of them.

To be successful in not losing your data to Crypto Locker you MUST employ a three-way defence strategy, firstly you should ensure every single system that connects to your corporate network has a good quality anti-virus installed and this should include heuristic analysis, and zero hour updates, these are features that you will not get with a “free” antivirus.  Secondly you must ensure you have a reliable rotating backup.  We do perform weekly checks on all contract holder backup systems.  But you are ultimately responsible for your company’s data and strategy.  Thirdly, if you have people bringing in their own equipment such as laptops, phones tablets etc, these can be carriers. 

I have long had the discussion with managers and directors who see no issue with giving people access to the “internet” via their Wi-Fi Connection, which in principal is fine, but that should not be Wi-Fi connected to your organisations central data network or you are opening yourself up to these devices being used as carriers for incoming viri, trojans, they can be used to steal data, most devices can accommodate a vast amount of storage space these days, just think, SD cards are available in 512Gb, which for a small business could be a vast amount of data, if not an entire copy. 

As the director, you are responsible for anything connected to your network, so for example if someone brings in a laptop which is full of “media”, which could cover anything from child exploitation, to pirated mainstream films and music, and they happen to be using some sort of peer-to-peer network sharing on that device, then who is responsible as it’s using your internet connection?  Now just think, peer-to-peer network apps have been available on smartphones for some time.

What’s your point??

Well I am trying to impress on middle to upper management, we are past the point, technologically speaking, where we can trust our company’s data security to the wind.  There are so many things out there that are ready to screw over corporate networks and are specifically designed to take your money and steal your data illegally, and there is, in 99.9% of cases, absolutely no recourse.  You have to take responsibility for your company’s data.  I know, it’s nice for people to be able to use Facebook and facetime at work to stay in touch, but if you wish to provide this service to them, get a £20 per month Internet connection with dynamic IP set up away from your corporate network and let them use that.  Keep the corporate network clean, and prevent opportunity for foreign systems and devices to even connect to it.  We can’t be responsible for a device that comes in to your building from anywhere, connects to your network, and steals data or infects your company computers with a virus. 

Does this scenario ring true in your office, someone shows you and a group of others a questionable video on their mobile phone on some weird website you have never heard of, a few minutes later that phone is plugged into a USB socket on a corporate workstation “to charge”, that connection is also a data connection, that user is now exposing your corporate network to everything it’s picked up from dodgy wifi access points, virus, trojans, exploits etc that it has ever come into contact with.

Pay for a decent reliable, branded, with support Anti-Virus, ensure Firewalls and routers are patched and rules updated on a minimum 6-month schedule.  Educate your staff what is and what is not acceptable usage of the corporate network.  Turn off USB ports where possible, have public access wireless internet access installed away from your core network, which can also provide ports for sales reps etc that come in and want internet access.  We understand the need for people to be connected, we also understand first-hand the dangers this brings to each and every business.

Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment »

Our Internal Systems … Overhaul details…

Over the Christmas period we will be overhauling our internal systems, which is why, this year, we are closing our doors on the 19th!

We will be fully rebuilding our rack with completely new equipment.  The rack will consist of the following:

1 x Dell 1950 Dual Xeon 1U Server – 32Gb RAM – VMWARE1
1 x Dell 1950 Dual Xeon 1U Server – 16Gb RAM – VMWARE2
1 x Dell 1950 Dual Xeon 1U Server – 8GB RAM – VMWARE3
2 X Dell 2950 Dual Xeon 2U Servers – 16Gb RAM – SANARRAY1 – SANARRAY2
1 x HP ML350 G5 – Single Xeon 4U Server – 8Gb RAM – ASTERISK (Phone System)
1 x HP N54L Microserver – Single Xeon 8Gb RAM – ISCSI Backup Target
1 x Watchguard X550 Firewall – Main Internet Connection
1 x Watchguard X20E Firewall – Between Main Network and SAN for management of SAN
1 x SunFIre V210 – Dual SparcIII Server running SQUID Proxy Server
1 x SAN Switch (May be Fibre, To be confirmed)
1 X Managed Gig Switch for Main Network

We estimate this will take us about 4 days to fully configure and install, please bear with us during this time 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment »

Replaced Your Server? Don’t Bin It, Re-function it…

About 12 months ago we started playing around with a new product called FreeNAS. This is a piece of Open Source software. You will probably have heard us banging on about Open Source before, but for those of you who have missed it, Open Source is exactly that, anyone can download the code and play with it. Basically compiled by a bunch of volunteers and tossed into the world.

FreeNAS is an operating system that has very small overheads and turns pretty much any box into a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device. However with a little bit of IP from us we have changed this into a system that can be reliably utilized as part of a disaster recovery strategy.

It works like this, once your new shiny server is in place and the final roles have been transferred we wait, normally 6 months, however in the case of our latest server installs which have been from bare metal to VMWare virtualized environments we have scaled this back to 1-2 weeks. As the VM Convert is essentially an image of the original taking with it everything and removing the human factor in copying data. So once the VM is up and running and your server image has been converted, you are left with an old fileserver, that normally is between 3-5 years old and quite capable of becoming a host.

We remove the old server software and install our copy of FreeNAS, setting up the system to present to your new fileserver as ISCSI (This is effectively allowing the server direct access to the disk drives in the FreeNAS), providing a significant overhead advantage to traditional CIFS (Windows Shares). So if your old server had for example 4 x 1Tb disk drives we can present this as either a single 4Tb Drive, or a redundant 2Tb drive to your new server. We can then use the inbuilt windows backup to roll a backup on to this box.

If your new server has two network cards then we can present the ISCSI effectively as a SAN Array, which means that there is no overhead from this clogging up the network fabric.

We then utilize your removable drives (external backup disks) to back up this FreeNAS volume.


  • FreeNAS cost £0 as it is Open Source
  • This gives us a massive library of quick backup recovery options for files, e-mails and indeed the whole server
  • The slow process of copying on to the external device is carried out by the FreeNAS box, and so network performance is not effected by the copy process.
  • Solid redundant disks provide reliable storage for backup history.
Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment »

The Modern Backup Solution.

Firstly, and lets be absolutely clear on this, Tape Backup is Dead, Dead, Dead.

Secondly, unless you have 3 backup disks, and can guarantee that at least one is off-site at all times, and you have a cloud based backup in place (you will know as you will be paying a cloud provider or IT-MK Limited to provide a cloud based service) then we really need to talk about your backup solution. 

“According to Aveco, 20 percent of companies will suffer fire, flood, power failures, terrorism or hardware or software disaster. Of those without a DRP:
* 80 percent will fail in just over a year
* 43 percent will not even reopen
* 93 percent that experience a significant data loss are out of business within five years.”

All modern systems these days are using disk based backup,  however these can come in a number of “flavours”.  All Disk Systems have a number of advantages over the older tape systems, the most noted is in the following situation, you require the restoration of a small file, say >1Mb, now that file could be located near the end of the backup, a tape system has to read through more or less the entire tape to recover the file, a disk system being random access, can go directly to the file location.  This means that disk systems are invariably faster at recovery in this situation.

Disks sound great but what are the disadvantages?

Disks are a great way of backing up, there is no way around that, the weak link in the chain is, as always human beings, disk’s don’t always get changed, disk’s get left on site, normally next to the servers they intended to be protecting.  In the event of a fire, flood, theft or other catastrophe, they can all to easily be destroyed.  The worst case is that there is not a disk left off-site or you only have one disk!  Which is destroyed and you are unable to recover any data.

The Drawback of Cloud

Cloud based backup systems provide the best level of protection however, in a busy network with a relatively slow internet connection (ADSL for example) there can be some lag between a file changing and being backed up.  This can be exasperated if there are databases in play, as each time the database changes the whole thing has to be uploaded.

Cloud systems are notoriously slow to recover from, as what goes up via ADSL has to come back via ADSL, a whole server of data say 100Gb can take days to come back down the line.

What Are The Ways Forward?

Well there are a couple of ways forward, firstly, ensure that there are enough disks with a good image on, off-site, to recovery at least everything except the last 7 days ideally more.  Ensure that there is NO time AT ALL when ALL the disks are in the same location, this requires a minimum of three disks to achieve.

Disk to Disk to Cloud

This is a newish concept however one that allows you to take advantage of the best of all worlds, firstly there are no tapes.  Secondly the primary backup is still a rotating disk platform with 3 or more disks, thirdly sitting behind the disk backup is a cloud based backup.  In the event of a user deleting data, there is the immediate recovery from the disk, in the event of a fire, flood, theft, then there is primarily the offsite disk that can be used to recover the information, thirdly if for some reason that disk is damaged (I have had this where a server was flooded, the on-site backups were destroyed and the user responsible for the off-site disk dropped it on the way in!) then the cloud is sitting there ready with your data.

Backup Systems

Windows Server 2003 was the last Server Operating system not to provide an Image Based backup system.  An Image of a system means that we (the IT Support team) can rebuild a server super quick, in a disaster, to different hardware.  We get another server (or high powered desktop) and simply recover the image directly onto the new machine, this is about the quickest recovery you could hope for typically >4 hours providing hardware is available.

What if I am using 2003 backup still? 

Then we really have to talk, 2003 backup is littered with inconsistency and we really should be talking now about bringing you up to a newer operating system for your server, one that contains at the least an image based backup system.  However we should really be looking at proper proprietary backup systems and software.

But my data is critical, and we can’t be down ever.

We can cope with this situation, however you really have to decide how critical your data is, and can you cope with a bit of downtime?  To provide a fully fault tolerant system, which would involve special software, geographically distributed servers, high speed leased lines between the server locations, which can prove expensive, and we are talking tens of thousands of pounds to do properly.

Why Now?

IT-MK Limited has up until now allowed customers to drive their strategies when it comes to backup.  Often the primary argument comes down to cost implications.  Over the course of the next 3 months we will be performing a major overhaul of our records on site, as part of this we will be conducting in-depth on-site reporting.  Part of this will be a report on server conditions and backup planning.  There will also be options for bring the systems up to speed.   If you would like to do this sooner rather than later, then simply drop us a line and we will be happy to oblige.  This site visit and report, as it is with a view of updating our own records, will be free of charge, we hope to have this completed by the beginning of September.

What do IT-MK Limited Use and Do You Have  A DRP in Place?

IT-MK Limited take very seriously our customers’ needs and requirements, as such we have the following systems in place:

Firstly our servers are all mirrored pairs, that is for each server we have there is another identical one ready and waiting to take over, this applies to mail, database, and file systems.  We use a system called Distributed File System so that all our data is simultaneously mirrored onto two independent non virtualised servers, these servers are from different vendors and contain disks manufactured by different providers to avoid any implication of a faulty batch of components effecting both servers simultaneously.  These servers are geographically diverse, one being located in Towcester and one being located in Milton Keynes, the link between is FTTC Optic Fibre DSL.   Each server has an APC 3000Ah uniteruptable power supply which ensures continued operation for approximately 40 minutes should the mains power fail.

Secondly each server has an disk based image backup system attached to it for immediate recovery and rapid recovery.

Thirdly we use a cloud based system for off-site backup this provides a last chance saloon recovery should things go that far!

We undertake regular updates and maintenance and perform a full image recovery test once every six months ensuring that our systems are in good, recoverable, condition.

IT-MK Limited – Now Available In Central London

We have a new dedicated department dealing with Central London the London centric team can be contacted on 0203 384 8549, and are available now to deal with your requirements.

Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment »

New Alienware Laptop Range Now Available

New Alienware Laptop Range Now Available

Check out these new top spec Alienware gaming laptops now available from IT-MK Limited, starting price is £1099 Inc VAT. Give us a call to discuss your custom build Alienware today, 01908 880 677

Intelligent Talk – Ubuntu Data Centre Goes Live

Intelligent Talk have are a rapidly expanding company based with in Milton Keynes.  They have recently undergone a rapid expansion that has facilitated the use of cutting edge Ubuntu Software as the enabler to expansion.

Ubuntu, as with most Linux operating systems is distributed free of charge and can be used for commercial purposes.

Intelligent Talk required  required a reliable, quick to implement and above all, cost effective solution for a new business requirement based within the same managed building, but in a new office.  Users need to be able to access the web based CRM system and have occasional access to the network data in order to update excel files.  IT-MK Limited  suggested a Linux based solution due to the great feature set and low total cost of ownership.  Lower hardware requirements ensured old PC’s were given a new lease of life with the latest Ubuntu Linux distribution.  An up-link to the main network was provided in the form of a fast Netgear Pro Safe Switch allowing the room expansion to be up and running, including the re-installation of 6 workstations and associated network cabling within 4 hours.   The system went live and the users took to it like ducks to water. The savings compared to traditional licensed models runs into thousands of pounds.

“The Linux system has proven to be a great success allowing us to progress our business at a fraction of the cost of a Microsoft system.  The installation went smoothly and the users love the new system.  We are a leading provider in our field and are pleased to be leading the way at the cutting edge of IT technology with the implantation of an Open Source Software model.  We are hoping to roll this out to over 50 users in the next 12 – 18 months.  Which is going to save us tens of thousands of pounds.” — James Roberts, Intelligent Talk


Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment »

Need a No Compromise High Performance Laptop?


Alienware is a brand, now a part of the computing giant Dell.  However Dell are very careful to keep Alienware slightly separated from its main brand, why?  Because Alienware offer really serious hardware.  Take a top of the range dell system and give it steroids and now your getting close.

If you need a no compromise fast laptop then Alienware is the one for you.  High resolution, High Contrast display.  Massive hard disk capacity, lots of memory and available with the Intel Core i7 Quad Core hyper-threading processors, and distinctive, stand out from the crowd design. These systems are no compromise performance on the go.

Have a chat to us to order yours today, you will not be disappointed.

Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment »

Trust 1.3 Mega Pixel High Resolution Webcam

Trust 1.3 Mega Pixel High Resolution Webcam

“This is my first webcam, and I am very satisfied with it. The instructions were easy to follow and the picture quality was quiet good. You can adjust the focus ring.” – Abigail

This web cam comes in bright, colourful and strong packaging that will catch the eye. The camera itself is light and easy to transport however it has a strong and robust feel and would be easy to fit in to a laptop bag.
The instructions are in the form of a quick start guide and are very easy to follow. The product does not come with a CD, but instead, comes with a link to download the latest software. We had the camera up and working within 5 minutes.
The picture quality was very good and would easily cope with full screen, full frame rate video capture/stream. There are a lot of effects that can be added to the stream which include an aged photo effect along with other effects such as motion blurring etc. There are also a number of picture frames that can be overlaid.
Physically on the camera there is a manual focus ring that provides a wide degree of focusing possibilities. In addition to this, in the software suite there are a full range of adjustments such as brightness, white balance and contrast.  There are some special features of this camera that include an image capture button, and LED to warn when the camera is active and a monitor clip that will adjust to most monitor types.

Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment »

Upgrade Works

We will be upgrading our mail servers over the weekend 27 – 30th January, hence E-mail activity might be a little sporadic during this time. Normal service should be resumed by 8am Monday morning, however any further notes will be posted here 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment »

Modifying a Website

The first thing you will require is the website “FTP” details, these are available from you provider (whoever is hosting the website). These should consist of three things:

1) Username
2) Password
3) FTP Location e.g. ftp.mydomain.com

Once you have these you will require an FTP client software, a good example of this (free) would be Filezilla (http://filezilla-project.org/). Simply download and detonate the installer and then follow the on-screen prompts.
You are now in a position to “Downlad” the website code from the FTP server.

1) Open FileZilla or other FTP application
2) In the case of Filezilla enter your ftp location, username and password in the boxes at the top and then click connect.
3) You will see the FTP windows just below, the right hand side shows the contents on the Internet and the left hand side shows the local information.
4) Highlight everything in the right hand window (in the same way you do in windows explorer)
5) Navigate in the left hand side window to where you would like to store the downloaded content.
6) Right click on the highlighted files and folders on the right hand side and click download.
7) This will now start to do things, and download each file one by one to the location you have specified on the right hand side. Now you are going to need an HTML editing application, you can simply use Notepad but I would suggest “Bluefish” (Free) which is an excellent application that is available on both Linux and Windows. The Bluefish Project is located at http://bluefish.openoffice.nl/ simply click the download link and read the instructions for your operating system. In the case of Fedora (not familiar with others) you can use the package installer, or issue a yum install bluefish command.

    Making Changes

Open Bluefish, select file open and then navigate to the location you specified to download your content to in the previous steps. The main file (Homepage) will usually be called index.htm, index.html, default.htm or default.html but could be anything. Once opened make your changes in the main window and click file save to save. There are many hundreds of great HTML programming guides on the internet a good example is http://www.utoronto.ca/webdocs/HTMLdocs/NewHTML. But the safest thing to do is to try things out on a test website.

Remember this is an offline data set we are fiddling with, so if you do make a complete hash of it, then simply go back to filezilla and re-download the page in question.

Remember for great IT support in Milton Keynes contact www.it-mk.co.uk

Ignore – For Digg Verification


Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment »

Software of the Year 2010

We have had a long chat in our office and we wanted to tell you all about our choice for out “Software of the Year” award for 2010.  The piece of software we have decided to award this to is “The Gimp”.  This is essentially an image editor that contains just about all the advanced tools you would find in any decent image editor.  There are tools for touching up old photos, designing your company logo quickly and simply, creating interesting and eye catching design pices for your website and many more features.  What makes this standout?  Well it is distributed under a GNU license, and therefore is free.  Just download and install, currently it is available for both Linux (it’s home operating system) and now Windows, including Windows 7.

Below is a screen shot from “The Gimp”.  Which can be downloaded from http://www.gimp.org/

"The Gimp" Screenshot

Remember for great IT support in Milton Keynes contact www.it-mk.co.uk

Crazy January Sale!

We are helping our customers during the first two months of 2010, by offering all customers the chance to get our great services at a massive discount for January and February.  So we are slashing our labour rate until the end of February to £25 + VAT per hour, which is a saving of £20 per hour, this offer is not just for the first hour, one call out, or new customers, but for every customer new and old, for everyjob, for as long as the job takes, for as many instances and call outs as you like.

All you have to do to get this great price is quote “JANSALE” when your talk to our staff.  This is a great offer for you to test us out and see ust wht we can do for your company.  We look forward to helping you soon.


Remember for great IT support in Milton Keynes contact www.it-mk.co.uk

TV Licensing and Streaming Media

IT-MK Limited are being asked more and more about the UK rules on Licensing and streaming media, well the honest answer is we did not know the rules.  Therefore on behalf of our customers we placed a call to the TV Licensing Athority.  The official view is:

You need to be covered by a valid TV Licence if you watch or record TV as it’s being broadcast in a shop or office. This includes the use of devices such as a computer, laptop, mobile phone or DVD/video recorder.
Usually you only need one TV Licence to cover your shop or office. However, in some cases certain areas may need a separate TV Licence. Please check below to ensure you’re correctly licensed.
It costs £142.50 for colour and £48.00 for a black and white TV Licence.

So if you or somebody in your company streams “Live” media from the Internet and your company is not covered by a License then as the business owner you are responsible. 

We hope this goes someway to clarifying the situation. 

Remember for great IT support in Milton Keynes contact www.it-mk.co.uk

PATA SATA, and Disk Drive Clatter

Hard Disk Drives are as important as a staple diet.  They are involved with everything that happens on your computer, the Internet and pretty much anything you access over a network.   Hard Disk Drives like most things in computing and vary widely in type and cost.  However they all largely rely on the same basic principle,  a circular spinning platter consisting of a substrate coated in a magnetic layer, across either a, or several, magnetic heads fly on an armature to read and write information.

There are many different types of hard disk, ranging from the very first MFM type drives,  to IDE or PATA as they now seem to be called,  SATA, SCSI, and SAS, also there are some new developments in SSD Drives which we will come to later, the designation is largely but not entirely derived from the interface used to communicate with the drive.

MFM Hard Disk Drives – These were very early devices, the largest MFM drive was no larger than 100Mb, small by the standards of today, but when these hit the market they revolutionized computing.  An MFM Drive can be spotted by the use of two ribbon cables connecting the drive to the PC.  They generally had a very particular sound which was the result of steper motors used to move the head across the platter. 

IDE (PATA) – Stands for Integrated Drive Electronics, which was a result of a lot of the drive controlling hardware was moved from the controller onto the drive itself.  This gave much greater compatibility, MFM drives had to employ specific cards to interface with the computer, these cards knew how to write to specific drives.  IDE was a mini revolution in the fact that the controller could now tell the drive “Write this” and the drive itself would work out how to do that.  This made drives cheaper, larger, more reliable, and most importantly easy to upgrade.  The “P” in PATA stands for parallel which is the way data is sent to the drive.  Several data channels on the cable means that information can be sent down each, parallel to the others.   IDE Drives had a single ribbon cable which attach them to the PC infrastructure.  IDE Drivers were responsible for taking storage space from about 100Mb up to nearly 1Tb.

SATA – Serial ATA, these drives are very much like the slightly older IDE, except that they have a much smaller connector, the information is sent in a serial fashion.  SATA drives have taken home computing through the 1Tb barrier.  However they still rely on the same principle of a spinning magnetic platter.

SCSCI – SCSI Drives are normally found in servers, they have been available for as long as IDE hard disks and again rely on a spinning medium inside to store data.  SCSI Disks generally spin slightly faster, IDE disk usually spin around 5400RPM however some can go up to 7400RPM, SCSI Disks range from 10,000RPM to 15,000RPM.  SCSI was the first system to implement RAID or Redundant Array Of Inexpensive Disks, this involved using a number of SCSI Drives to do various Mirroring or Stripping Functions to provide either higher speed access or redundancy in the event of a failure.  The most common RAID level is RAID-5 which consists of at least three disk drives, in the event of a failure of a single disk that disk image can be rebuilt using a new disk and the information on the other two drives.  This provided a good level of fault tolerance for networked storage space.

SAS – Are the modern serial replacement for SCSI offering smaller footprint drives, higher reliability and cheaper hardware.

SSD – Stands for Solid State Disks, in these the entire substrate and head mechanism has been replaced entirely with electronics so there are no moving parts at all.  These give much better power consumption, faster access times, and hardly any weakness with relation to mechanical shock.  However they are (correct at the time of writing) very expensive.   Usually found in systems which require maximum throughput where cost is not a factor, and very high-end laptops (Sony VGN-TZ32VN) as an example.

MTBF – This stands for Mean Time Before Failure, hard disk drives although technology has made them more resilient, faster, larger, and generally better.  However the fact that the manufacturers still quote a Mean Time Before Failure time should be your first clue about the reliability of hard disk drives.  They are not, they can fail for many reasons, however when they do the results can be spectacular.  Every IT company out there will have a story of someone who did not see the point in backing up, as they had not done it for three years and nothing has gone wrong and then bang, the hard disk fails, and they have lost all of their information.  If a hard disk is exposed to mechanical shock the head con hit the platter quite easily the tolerance between the two is microns.  When this happens you might not notice any side effects, it could have happened in an area of the disk that may not be is use.  If this is the case then the PC may seem normal, until the unit tries to store something in that area of the disk, and then can’t retrieve it.  Ok so I lose a file, big deal, well not exactly, see that is maybe ok if it happens to be a user file which is stored there, but now take the example where it is not, maybe it is a registry file.  Next time you boot your PC it fails.

What can I do to look after my Hard Disk?  Well being extra careful around them is a good start, mechanical shock is the largest killer.  The biggest thing to remember is to back up your files no matter how reliable your system is, and how trivial you think this may be, things can change in the blink of an eye.

Platter Clatter – This is the term which has been coined by IT professionals to describe the noise a hard disk makes shortly before the read/write head takes a final, but fatal, nose dive into the platter of the disk.  This is a very specific sound which is sometimes a clicking noise or a scraping noise.  If the drive can still be accessed this is the time to take a final back up and get the hard disk drive unit replaced.  If you continue using the disk drive then chances are at some point within a short space of time it will stop.

There are a lot of data recovery companies out there who can recover data from broken hard disk drives, the Open University suffered a major fire which wiped out a hard disk drive which contained important information, a recovery company was able to recover around 90% of this information with a single shot read process.  This is a single shot process which totally destroys the disk being read.

An engineering company in Corby suffered a failure on two RAID drives with in a very short space of time, however a data recovery company was able to recover all of the data from the RAID Array however the process cost a little over £20k.

If your in doubt about your hard disk drive give us a call, we have some tools in our toolbox which will enable us to scan the unit and let you know if there are any problems, most disks can be scanned within an hour, and the cost of replacement hardware should your disk be damaged is very low.  So why delay?  Check out our website for our contact details:

Remember for great IT support in Milton Keynes contact www.it-mk.co.uk

Smart Phones Are They That Smart?

Need your e-mail on the go?  Like to keep track of your appointments and to-do lists?

Then you may be in luck. By using a smartphone and a Microsoft Exchange server this dream could be closer than you may think. We have been busy this week testing a new breed of smartphone, the Samsung S8000 or Jet.

Samsung S8000 Jet

The Stunning New Samsung Jet

The Jet features an 800Mhz processor, slick AMOLED display, and all the usual trimmings you would expect in a phone from one of the worlds leading manufacturers.  The unit integrates tightly with Microsoft exchange meaning that your e-mail, tasks, contacts, and to-do list is synchronized via the mobile network with your corporate Microsoft Exchange Server from wherever you happen to be.  This means that you will always have an up-to-date diary and people at the office can book appointments for you knowing that in near realtime they will appear in your phone diary.

As a phone, the units we tested were connected to the Vodafone network which produced excellent coverage with second to none call quality.  The phone was able to produce a high quality bluetooth link to our TomTom devices providing all of the features including Traffic Updates and Hands-Free calling.

Application availability is a little limited, however there are promises from Samsung that more applications for this unit are on the way, currently there are nowhere near as many applications as there are for the Jet’s main competitor, the iPhone.

The screen is crisp and high-resolution and produces and easy to read display in all of the lighting conditions we tested it in.   Mobile web-browsing was adequate, the one touch zoom feature was invaluable.   However, mobile web-browsing is still limited and in no way a substitute for a laptop and 3G card.

Samsung have added a 5 Megapixel camera to the Jet which does produce great images for a phone, again however the lack of a xenon flash unit ment that the Jet did struggle to maintain good picture quality in low lighting conditions.

Video calling worked very well providing a good clear view of the remote person and excellent audio, however it should be noted that both units need excellent 3G or better coverage to achieve this.

Overall we were very impressed with the Jet, so much so that we now have a fleet of them here at IT-MK!  We found that the niggles with the user interface were outweighed by the Jet’s sheer speed.   This is easily one of the fastest phones we have seen.  The unit is more than capable at flicking through screens without too much lag between touching the screen and things happening.  We would happily recommend this unit to our customers as it feels well made, works quickly, integrates with exchange and yet still maintains excellent, useable phone features.

Internet Cafe – Are You At Risk?

An Internet cafe or a local Wi-Fi Hotspot may seem like the ideal place to catch up on your correspondence and friends but how safe are they?  Well the answer for most is not very.  There are a combination of things going on which means it coud be potentially dangerous to use them without first knowing a few facts and how to protect yourself.

Firstly with many people connecting to a single access point there is an inherent risk that one of those people may not be simply checking their e-mail.  In the networked world there is software called a “Network analyser”.  This software has the sole job of enabling IT professionals track down difficult network problems they work by allowing us to see the information which is coded onto the network cable or travelling to and fro from the access point.  This software also allows a cracker to look at packets of data in the same way.  A small amount of juggling and the cracker can happily see all of the unencrypted data which is traveling to a fro from each device connected to the access point. 

Now our legitimate user logs onto say a web-based e-mail application and checks his mail.  The username and password that is sent to the web mail site is sent down the wire in an unencrypted format, this means that the cracker can simply read the username and password.  It is that simple.

The way to protect yourself against this is simple.  Use an encrypted VPN tunnel to a trusted site.  So now our legitimate user logs onto the same wireless access point inside his favorite cafe, however this time, as soon as they are connected they establish an IPSEC Encrypted VPN tunnel back to their office.  This sends al of the traffic from the laptop including internet traffic to the VPN endpoint, for our example this is the users office.  Now all the cracker can see is an encrypted hash of information.  Even if the site has no encryption, the information is still encrypted, sent down the VPN, unencrypted and passed to the website. 

If you would like to know more about safety on the Internet and from public locations please contact one of our team who will be happy to help.

IT-MK Partnership with Microsoft

IT-MK today became a partner of Microsoft.  This gives our staff access to the latest training and white papers from the technology giant.  In turn this mean that IT-MK can continue to bring you the high quality solutions you are used to, and it will allow us to extract even more value from your infrastucture.  IT-MK Limited are comitted to bringing down the total cost of ownership as much as possible while support our customers to remain on the cutting edge of technology.


microsoft partner logo

microsoft partner logo

We Have Moved!

We are pleased to announce that we have completed both our Office move and technology upgrade, this has included a Cisco phone system, new servers and network structure, and new workstations throughout our infrastructure.   We are confident that this will enable us to respond quicker to the changing needs of our customers and to provide an even better ongoing service.  Our corporate ethos remains the same, which is that of first class customer service.

Should you have any computer or network related issues that you require addressing please contact us either on the number below or via e-mail: info@it-mk.co.uk and we will be happy to help.  In addition to this you can find out more about us on our website: www.it-mk.co.uk.  We look forward to hearing from you and working with you in the near future.

IT-MK Limited can now be found at our new office address:

L30, MK:Two Business Center,
Barton Road
Water Eaton
Milton Keynes

Our phone number remains the same which is: 01908 880 677, which is now 8 lines.

Information, Information, Information

We have had some new information packs printed.  If you would like one please contact us on +44 (0) 1908 880 677, and one of our staff will get one in the post to you.

We Are Moving!!!

IT-MK Limited would like to take this opportunity to let all of our customers know that we are moving into slightly larger offices between the 21st September 2009 to the 28th September 2009, this means that there may be a slight dissruption at times to our phone services.  We will try and keep any outages to a minimum.  During this time, you may find our telephone number rings a little longer than normal.  Our Office move should be complete and fully operational by 29th September 2009, at which time all operations will be carried out from our new Office:

L30, MK:Two
Barton Road
Milton Keynes

Our phone number will remain the same and is: +44 (0) 1908 880 677

We would like to thank our customers for their patience during this time.

Welcome to the new IT-MK Limited Blog

Check back here for latest news, tips and tricks, and many other exciting articles which we feel may be of interest to you.