Advertisement

Small/Home office? Computers down? Who ya gonna call?

September 02, 2016

Max The Magnificent-September 02, 2016

The cyber world is getting to be a very tricky place. If you work in a small office environment or from your home -- unless you are an expert -- you really need to consider the advantages of paying professionals to take care of your computer and network systems.

Generally speaking, all fares well in Max's world (where the colors are brighter, the butterflies are bigger, the birds trill sweeter, and the beer runs plentiful and cold -- you'll have to come visit sometime). Every once in a while, however, it has to be acknowledged that there is a disturbance in the Force -- a burp in the fabric of space-time, as it were.

Such was the case yesterday morning when, out of nowhere, I found myself cast out in the cold, adrift in cyberspace, bereft of any IT support.

"But how did this dire circumstance come to pass?" I hear you cry. Well, I'm glad you asked, and all shall be revealed, but first we need to set the scene (cue visual and sound effects indicating a passage back into the mists of time).

Originally trained to be one of the finest engineers the world has ever known (at least, according to my mom), I now spend my days slaving away over a hot keyboard, researching, writing, and posting my own articles and copyediting and publishing contributed pieces.

In theory I am based out of a home office, but I find it hard to work at home. My wife (Gina The Gorgeous) is a realtor. She works Wednesday through Sunday and is off on Mondays and Tuesdays. On occasion she has asked "Can you work from home on Monday?" This is generally coupled with sweet smiles and false assurances along the lines of "I promise I won't disturb you." The problem is that she can't help herself (bless her little cotton socks).

Imagine the scene. I'm sitting at the kitchen table in the middle of wrestling a recalcitrant article into submission. I'm mind-melded to my computer when she bounces into view and trills something like "Do you know where I put the clean tea towels?"

This is where I'll wrench my attention away from the screen, look up with wild, bloodshot eyes, and exclaim "What?" Then Gina will pout her lips, say "I was only asking a question; there's no need to be snippy", and flounce back out of the room. When I return my attention to the screen, it looks like it's filled with Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Nothing makes any sense. So I start reading from the beginning, re-immersing myself in the piece, gradually working myself back into "the zone." Then I hear Gina warbling in the background "Don't worry; I've found them!" Now picture a man putting his head into his hands and starting to cry...

The long and the short of it is that I rent an office in a building owned by an engineering company that specializes in building rugged portable computers. Quite apart from anything else, it's nice to have folks to greet in the morning and to take turns brewing the coffee and suchlike. Each workday, I get up at 6:30am, potter around the house, drive into work, and remain ensconced at my desk (or working at my desk treadmill) from 8:00am to 5:00pm. It's almost like having a real job.

With regard to work, I have four main computer systems. First, I have the notebook provided by AspenCorp under which the Embedded.com, EETimes.com, EDN.com, and EBN.com publications reside. I primarily use this machine for internal company communications like emails and IMs, and it's fully covered by AspenCorp's IT department.

Next we find my Tower computer bosting a quad Intel Core i7 running at 3.4GHz with an eye-watering amount of RAM and a humongous SSD driving three 28" monitors. This is the machine I use to do most of my work. I also have a notepad sitting on the desk treadmill in the corner of my office and another notepad I carry around with me "just in case." All of my data files are synchronized across all four of my machines via DropBox.

In addition to my office itself, I've also been allowed to ride on top of the company's Internet and to use their phone system. Although IT support was never officially part of the deal, there's never been a problem when I've asked the guy who does their IT for a helping hand... until now.

Like many small companies, they don't have an IT department per se. In fact, they don't actually have an IT professional. What they do have is a guy called Tim who knows more than the rest of us. The problem is that they've recently gotten some big orders in and started ramping up production, resulting in all hands -- including Tim's -- being 100% occupied (of course this would generally be considered to be a good thing if only it wasn't negatively impacting yours truly).

The bottom line is that the company has decided to outsource its IT to a Managed Service Provider (MSP). This first I heard about this was yesterday morning when I mentioned to Tim that my computer was attempting to install the same update night-after-night and I asked him if he could come take a look at it. Somewhat apologetically, Tim explained that he was no longer performing IT tasks, that everything was now outsourced, that I wasn't covered by the outsourcing deal, and that I was pretty much on my own in an uncaring world.

I'm sorry... I just need a moment... I promised myself I wouldn't cry...

Tim went on to say that since the MSP -- On Deck IT Services -- was already covering the rest of the building, I should try calling them to see if they would be interested in having me as a customer also. As a parting gift, Tim shared the contact details of the president of On Deck, one Russell Barlow.

So I called Russell and introduced myself and asked if he could tell me more about On Deck's services, if they would be interested in having me as a client, and -- most importantly -- how much all of this would cost. You can only imagine my surprise when Russell said that, rather than discuss this over the phone, he'd be happy to come around to my office and chat in person. I was even more surprised when, no more than ten minutes later, he strolled through my door. It turns out that On Deck's offices are just down the road in the same business park as us. How jolly convenient.

Even more surprising was the fact that I recognized Russell's face. As fate would have it, a week or so earlier, my chum Mike and I had come into the office on Saturday morning to work on our Caveman Diorama. Usually we're alone, but that Saturday the office was like Grand Central Station. Bob from the office next door was in doing his taxes. Ivan from the bay across the hall came in with his 12-year old daughter and her friend to play with my virtual reality system. Willie and his son were ambling around doing something. And my chum Rick Curl and his friend stopped in on their way to the Huntsville Hamfest.

On top of all this, Russell and his colleagues were meandering around the building stringing new Ethernet cables, exchanging and rewiring Ethernet switches, swapping out wireless routers, and generally making nuisances of themselves (LOL).

The thing is that I'm currently enamored by virtual reality, so visitors have to be very light on their feet to get through our bay without trying "the beast." Thus, one reason I remembered Russell is that I'd persuaded him to take a virtual reality tour and that he'd had a jolly good time. I'm not sure, but maybe this explains why Russell offered me what I consider to be a very sweet deal for maintaining the IT health of my three personal work machines (either that or -- like so many others -- he took pity on me realizing that I was ill-equipped to survive on my own in the wilds).

OMG! What a difference a day makes. While he was here, Russell installed some management software on each of my computers and instructed me to leave them on overnight. This morning, I found them all upgraded to Microsoft Windows 10 and Microsoft Office 365. The idea behind 365 is that you pay a monthly fee for which you receive perpetual upgrades. I was a little downcast by this until I discovered that this fee is already covered by what I'm paying On Deck (Hurray!).

I've only been an On Deck client for a day, and already I'm basking in the rosy glow that comes with piece of mind. I no longer have to worry about updates to my software or drivers -- On Deck takes care of all of that for me. They are also constantly monitoring my RAM and disk drives for errors (so they can spot a troubled unit before it fails) and my CPU for suspicious spikes in its usage. They also monitor the CPU for locked processes and kill them, plus they've augmented my existing anti-virus and anti-malware applications with their own industrial-strength versions.

The thing is that it's getting to be harder and harder for individuals and small offices to stay on top of all this stuff. I know quite a few small companies who have run into dire straits when their network crashed or their email server went down or they were hit by a virus, and whoever had been delegated to be in charge found him or herself to be totally in over their heads. The folks at MSPs like On Deck undergo constant training to keep abreast of developments.

When I was first told that I no longer enjoyed IT support from the company who owns the building in which I have my office, I thought I was going to experience a real "bad hair" day. Now, just one day later, I think it was the best news I've had in a long time. What about you? Do you work from home or for a small company? Do you manage your own systems, do you outsource said management, or are you thinking of doing so?

Loading comments...