Building a Better Business Backup System

As with buying insurance or taking vitamins, committing to data backup is a hard sell. Everyone knows that storing records safely in more than one place protects the health of a business, but many companies fail to establish backup systems that will keep them running if disaster strikes.

Unfortunately, often it takes a crisis--such as a natural disaster, a theft, or a system failure that wipes out a legacy of data--to motivate action.

Back up for your data's health
Realizing that you need a new storage strategy sometimes comes less dramatically and more gradually. Very small companies are often unprepared for success, relying on backup products that are fine for individual consumers but incapable of adjusting as several months' or years' worth of records pile up.

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Green Plug Debuts Tech For Smart, Sleek Power Supplies

Green Plug hopes its tiny processor will shrink energy bills.
Green Plug hopes its tiny processor will shrink energy bills.
The move toward smarter power supplies took a step forward as Green Plug announced its Green Power Processor on Wednesday at CES. The system-on-chip technology is built to enable devices and power adapters to talk to each other.

The company hopes its creation will eliminate the need for much of the world's 2.2 billion "dumb," bulky analog power supplies, leading to electronics that waste less energy.

If adopted on a wide scale by electronics makers, the processor ideally would help end users to reduce their energy bills without having to think hard about power consumption. Dormant devices would relax their demand from the electrical grid or shut down automatically, thanks to intelligent power supplies. Imagine if you no longer had to shut down desktops, printers, and copiers manually when you leave the office.

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Cloud Migration Can Lift a Business

Cloud computing enables small businesses to offload all sorts of heavy tech lifting to a third party, freeing you to focus your efforts (and local storage space) on core services and clients. Cloud computing can mean many things, but in essence it describes IT tools delivered through Internet-based services. A growing number of services provide infrastructure, platforms, and software that lives in the cloud.

For example, many businesses find managing a data center on-site to be not only undesirable but impossible. Small companies waste money and work hours keeping heavy-duty hardware and software running. Shifting to an offsite virtual server makes those headaches vanish.

In addition to removing server management from the equation, shifting to the cloud can reduce expenses and increase productivity in connection with software. You can use subscription-based online apps in place of expensive software licensed for individual desktops, and you can give employees unlimited access to databases and other shared resources. Service-based software is flexible and easy to expand on the fly.

Case Study: Mortgage Company Set to Expand With Cloud Migration

Bridgewater Capital serves mortgage borrowers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Its staff of 12 consists of 10 employees at its main office and 2 remote workers--down from 40 workers before the 2008 mortgage crisis. Bridgewater's IT infrastructure originally worked well, as trained staff managed the company's Web, e-mail, and database servers.

The Problem

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Thin Clients Fit the Bill When PCs Are Overkill

Do you really want to manage a fleet of expensive PCs that require ongoing maintenance and troubleshooting? A growing number of businesses are saying no. Instead, they're exploring an alternative to desktops and laptops that can reduce associated hassles and expense. Thin clients give users the familiar experience of working at their own computer, but the stripped-down machines are limited to accessing applications on a server.

As small as a hardcover book, thin clients resemble smart routers. They're loaded with ports for peripherals and powered by lightweight processors and apps (or none at all). The user's monitor and keyboard plug in to the little black box, but they reach and control a remote computer on a server.

Though the market for thin clients is tiny compared to the market for PCs, it has been growing more quickly in the past few years. Some 7.4 million units will sell in 2014, up from 3.7 million in 2010, according to IDC analysts.

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Google Apps Suite Gets 10 Times Bigger

If you've been using Google Apps for work and other Google services for play, then you know the annoyance of juggling two accounts within one browser. That hassle ended Thursday as Mountain View brought more than 60 services into the Google Apps fold.

The vastly expanded Google Apps suite will include such consumer services as Picasa, Blogger, Maps, and YouTube alongside work-friendly tools including Gmail, Calendar, Voice, and AdWords.

For those integrating Google accounts, the company enables migrating data, so you can export, say, all the RSS feeds from a personal Reader account to your professional Google Apps account.

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5 Tips for the New Tech Support Pro

There are two types of tech support professionals. There's the one who, responding to a call for help, brusquely shoves the individual aside, fixes the issue, then leaves without saying a word. Or there's the type who takes time and understands that computers are something the client simply doesn't get.

If you're new to tech support work--even just for friends and family--you'll probably start out as the latter but turn into the former after just a few weeks. However, here are some tips for avoiding conflict and perhaps being a little more human when dealing with problems.

1. Suggest the Client Get a Cup of Coffee

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IT Certifications That Matter

Choosing a professional to manage your company's network, hardware, and software is no easy task. How can you tell whether the skills listed in a person's résumé reflect the tech expertise your business needs?

To the uninformed, the hundreds of tech-related certifications that IT pros use to sell their services amount to an alphabet soup of incomprehensible acronyms. Nevertheless, 68 percent of IT hiring managers regard these labels as a medium or high priority, according to CompTIA, the largest vendor-neutral certifying group.

In this guide, we'll examine which of these certifications matter, and which technical skills a given certification implies.

Which Certifications Do You Really Need?

If 90 percent of the tech tools that your office uses come from a single vendor, it makes sense to seek an IT pro with certification from that brand. But as more companies use technology from an array of vendors, and as more employees bring their own smartphones and tablets to work, that scenario is becoming less common.

"One of the challenges people run into is the circle of finger-pointing," says Barry Cousins, senior research analyst at the Info-Tech Research Group. "Was it the HP printer or the drivers on that Apple machine?"

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