27 August 2007

Recycle Equipment to Save Capital

Many small businesses are increasingly pressured to upgrade their systems -- spending money on both hardware and software -- to keep their technological systems running smoothly. Unfortunately, there is also pressure to conserve funding and manage cash. Consejo, like many of our customers, faces this challenge as well. However, we've found one small way to do both -- upgrade our hardware while spending less.

As a consulting firm, we perhaps have more hardware and software demands than the average small business -- technology is literally our business. As a result, we're constantly upgrading, changing and moving hardware and software. However, we do not have always have all of the funding necessary to meet our immediate needs. To balance our need for faster hardware and our ability to "pay for it," we suppliment our new equipment with used and/or refurbished equipment. The sources of this equipement tends to be varied, depending on our needs and expectations, but the cost discounts over the equivalent new equipement help us manage our funds more effectively and give us the needed hardware performance boost.

For those of you who might interested in some of the places you can find refurbished and/or used equipment, I have provided a list the categories below. In each category, I have tried to provide an example. Please understand that any vendor listed in this blog entry does not imply a specific endorsement. In addition, you should absolutely do you own research to ensure you find the right vendor for you firm.

  • Off Lease Equipment
    Lots of medium and large organizations lease their equipment to help them manage both cash and keep their infrastructure current. Once the equipment comes off lease, the financing companies that held the note will auction off the equipment. Occassionally this is done through the equipment manufacturer or sometimes through a used equipment dealer. Either way, smaller firms can acquire this equipment, which is typically 2 to 3 years old, for 50% to 70% off the original pricing (sometimes more). On example of an "owned" (owned by a financing company) reseller of off lease equipment is 2nd-Byte.
  • Vendor "Factory Outlet"
    Major hardware manufacturers often have a refurbishment program. Refurbished machines ("refurbs") come in two varieties: a) equipment that was damaged or flawed during the manufacturing process and repaired or b) equipment that was purchased by a customer and returned (once the equipment is unboxed, it can not be sold as new). Typically, refurb customers can save 20% or more off the cost of similarly configured new equipment. Also, this type of equipment tends to be more technological current when compared with other sources of "not new" equipment. One example of a factory outlet is Dell's Factory Outlet.
  • Used Equipment Dealers
    The name says it all -- previously used equipment being resold. Used equipment dealers market all sorts of used equipment and their sources for this equipment are varied (unlike the off lease companies). However, they tend to be a good source of "quality" used equipment, meaning that they tend to ensure the equipment is operational prior to being shipped to their customers. Further, some vendors offer warranties on the equipment of varying lengths -- sometimes as long as new. One example of a used equipment dealer is Stallard Technologies.
  • EBay
    Good old EBay. What can't you find there? Ebay tends to host a lot of used equipment "stores" as well as being a source for individual sellers of used equipment. Obviously you should check the seller feedback scores before buying, but you can find some great deals on equipment. In most cases, the sellers offer a DOA ("dead on arrival") warranty, but that is usually it. As a side note, Dell officially sells some used and/or off lease equipment through EBay through the member ID dell.computers.
While keeping up with the technological Jones' can be difficult, judicious purchasing of used or refurbished equipment can lessen the investment, but provide most or all of the value of new equipment. The next time your firm needs to upgrade equipment, you should consider these or other sources before you buy new immediately. As an additional benefit, buying used or refurbished equipment will keep that machine out of a landfill that much longer and help reduce the global landfill footprint for old computer equipment.

13 August 2007

REVIEW: Remote Access with GoToMyPC

Often being involved in or running a small business requires you to be in many places at once. You need to take a meeting with a customer, but you're meeting at their location, not yours. However, you still have to access data that may not be portable, simply not loaded on the laptop you have with you or you don't have your own machine immediately accessible. Alternatively, what if you're home (not actually working) and need to access a file on your computer in the office? What do you do? If you're like many customers I meet, you either have to anticipate your need (loading that valuable data on your laptop or a USB thumb drive) or you do without (in many cases this really isn't an option, but more a consequence). You could also turn to a "corporate" solution of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that allows you to remotely connect to your businesses network to retrieve your data. Certainly a VPN is the ideal solution for true remote network connectivity, but it also comes with the burden of being somewhat complex to setup/configure and requires you to spend more money on equipment and/or support. Further, VPN-type connections are frequently blocked by corporate networks and, sometimes, your local coffee shop's WiFi network. So what can you do? The answer could be a web-based technology like GoToMyPC.

GoToMyPC is a technology that was aquired by a Citrix a few years ago, but has been around for quite some time. Essentially, it enables a user to remote control a PC using a web-based Java application. What does this really mean? Well, no matter where you are, if you have an Internet-connected computer and a web browser, you can access that machine at home or work or somewhere entirely different. GoToMyPC allows you not only to control the machine, but also transfer files between the "guest" (the machine that is controlling) and the "host" (the machine being controlled). Having tested this service under a number of different circumstances (and connection speeds), I can attest to the utility of the service. The following is just a partial list of some of the ways I've used the service:

  • Remote access to files stored on my office desktop
    I travel a great deal and occassionally will put something on my desktop while I'm in the office, but forget to pull it off of that machine before I leave. With GoToMyPC, I just connect to that machine and transfer the data I need.

  • Accessing applications not loaded on my laptop
    I have been using QuickBooks to manage my business since Consejo started. While I've recently started using the Online version of QuickBooks, I had previously used the Professional version. Since the data can only realistically exist in one place, I needed a way to access the application when I wasn't in the office. I could have loaded it on my laptop, but I also didn't necessarily want sensitive financial data "out in the world" where something bad could happen. Using GoToMyPC, I was simply able to "dial in" to my office desktop, do what I needed to do in Quickbooks and get out.

  • Remote Support
    When you're the "technical" guy in the family, you tend to get a lot of "help desk" calls from relatives. In my case, I get these kinds of calls frequently enough to warrant a solution where I didn't necessarily have to step my relatives through a troubleshooting process. It's often much easier for them to simply call, tell me they're having a problem and I remotely connect to their machine. Once I've connected to their machine, I have the option of "showing them" how to correct their problem, simply fixing the problem for them or scheduling a time when I can connect later to do some more investigation.

This list is obviously not exhaustive, but it is a realistic picture of what I've used the service to accomplish. I can honestly say that I use the service a few times a day for almost all of the applications in my list. While it is clearly targeted at controlling a single machine, once you're connected to that single machine, you have the option of using a Windows-included technology like Remote Desktop to control other machines within the remote network (this is good for remote network administration of servers or other machines connected to the same network as the host). For me it has been well worth the $179/year subscription fee (you also have the option of paying around $20 monthly).

In short, GoToMyPC is an excellent technology for providing secure and relatively reliable (as reliable as the Internet connection you have) remote access.