Virtualization – The Hypervisor

Last month I talked about virtual machines and virtualization in general. This month I am going to go into more detail about the hypervisor. A hypervisor is the core of a server virtualization solution. A hypervisor is a very small program or operating system that runs on your server and allows your server to run multiple virtual servers at the same time.

Once the hypervisor is installed on your server, you can begin building and running virtual servers. As each virtual server is turned on, the hypervisor provides a set of resources to each virtual server based on the settings the virtual server was created with — a digital mirage of sorts, telling the virtual server you have X amount of memory and X amount of hard drive space. Once a virtual server is turned on, the hypervisor continues to monitor the virtual server and can be configured to make sure all of its needs are met by the physical hardware, allocating the needed amount of physical resources to the virtual server as they are needed and releasing them when no longer in use.

The hypervisor can be controlled remotely using management software designed to make monitoring, moving, and backing up virtual machines easy and intuitive. This management software can tell the hypervisor to pause or shut down a machine. It can tell the hypervisor to begin moving a virtual machine from one server to another or to begin backing up.

VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix all have hypervisors capable of running virtual Windows servers, as well as Linux and other server operating systems. Each hypervisor provides the same basic functionality, allowing you to create virtual servers and run them. What you might not know is that free versions of these hypervisors are available to download. Your company could begin virtualizing its servers today for free. It is important to mention that Microsoft has a number of licensing requirements that should be followed when virtualizing their operating systems. These licensing requirements are different for each edition of the operating system. Before you put any virtual Windows Servers into production, make sure you are in compliance with the license requirements.

An e-Sign Of The Times

Paper credit card receipts, pens with ink, bills signed into law with flesh and blood pushing the pen — all going by way of the Dodo (you know, the flightless bird that became extinct because it was not able to change with its surroundings)! I recently read an article stating that President Obama has signed several bills into law electronically. Granted, the technology that the President used is not quite exactly what you might be using with your clients, but it does signal an on-going shift to electronic or e-signatures.

E-signatures are continuing to gain momentum every day. Almost everyone has e-signed something at this point. If you don’t think so, take this into consideration: Have you ever signed for a UPS package? Have you ever used the little pen and pad at the store to sign for a credit card purchase and your signature was printed on the receipt? Odds are you said yes, which means you have digitally signed a document. Digital signature capture is not the only way to electronically sign a document, though it does seem to be the way we are most comfortable with today. There are a number of cloud services that allow you to send an electronic document to an individual or group of individuals, allow them to sign the document by verifying their identity and recording their intent to sign the document and then return it to you and no one ever had to pick up a pen. The service providers have various ways of preforming these tasks, but the most important part is that the process is secure. Another way to sign a document is to attach what is known as a digital certificate to it. Think of this as being similar to a scroll bearing the seal of an individual, such as a king or noble in medieval times. This process not only allows the signer to show intent to sign the document, but also provides a way to secure the document so that changes to the document render the signature void, protecting the signer from changes being made after they sign the document.

These methods of signing documents have been tried and tested to hold up in courts all over the world. Government agencies are adopting technologies to sign documents internally and from the public, such as the IRS and your electronically-signed and submitted tax returns. Times are changing, and the world is becoming more digital every day. E-signatures allow a company to be more efficient and to use less paper. If your business uses contracts or any other type of document that requires a signature, now is the perfect time to make the transition to e-signatures.

CES 2013!

As I am writing this newsletter, the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is preparing to get underway in Las Vegas. CES is one of — if not the — largest venues for the makers of all of the must-have tech gadgets to unveil their latest creations and technologies. This year is no different. Already, the Internet is a buzz with news about what is being debuted by manufacturers like Panasonic, Intel, and Samsung. I am so excited to see what new gadgets this year’s CES will bring.

Some companies have already begun product unveilings, like Sharp and their new display technology called IGZO and improvements to their Quattron color technology. Lots of new TV and display technologies are expected this year at CES. There was speculation that a clear, that’s right you can see right through it, display from Samsung would be unveiled. The see-through displays may be science fiction, but Corning Inc. (the makers of much of the glass used in displays from smartphones to TVs) believes it is coming at some point. Will this be the year? I guess we will have to wait and see.

There are lots of other cool things at CES; tablets, phones, wearable Bluetooth fitness monitors, new technologies from auto manufacturers, like Siri integration and Pandora radio for your car. If you thought the see-through display rumor was over the top sci-fi, then the Vuzix Smart Glasses will really put you over the edge. These smart glasses are a hands-free display for your smartphone that you wear on your head. Another technology that will be making its way from the realm of sci-fi is the 3D printer. For several years now, DIY inventors known as Makers have been tinkering with printers that can create 3D objects by printing layers of plastic one on top of the other. 3D printing is great for the inventor in need of a way to get a prototype of a part out of the computer and into the real world, but what might the average household use one for? Well, some of the projects I have seen are for printing designer home accessories like a vase or decorative artwork. I have also heard of individuals getting files to print replacement parts for toys or other common plastic parts that have broken such as gears or buttons. Today the base model 3D printer will run you $1200 — pricy for most, but the price continues to drop as more people adopt these cool little devices.

Manufacturers at CES will certainly be bringing a lot of very cool and useful new gadgets to consumers this year, and I look forward to sharing more information about some of the coolest ones with you in the next issue. I expect to see lots of new gadgets for the home network centered around wireless and audio/video streaming. Hang on technology! 2013 is shaping up to be one wild ride.

Employee Security Awareness

In many cases, the first line of defense against a digital security breach is not your antivirus or firewall, but your employees. Your employees play a vital role in dealing with and preventing potential security breaches. It is my strong belief that every computer user should be taught how to be safe when using a computer on the internet and to know what to look for in order to avoid potential risk. I am going to discuss some basic issues that your employees should know in order to be safe on-line, based on my experiences and tips from the security industry.

Frequently, I find that many small businesses have no way to manage software updates and ensure updates are done on every computer. This lack of update management leaves the task of regularly updating the computer to the user. It is important for users to allow their computer to update when updates are available. A better option is to set Windows and any other software that is capable of automatic updates to update on a schedule without user intervention. If scheduled automatic updates are not possible, it is important for each user to be trained to update software on a regular basis.

I also find that most employees know very little about their computers outside of the applications they use every day. This lack of knowledge and familiarity with other software running on the machine has resulted in users blindly trusting fake antivirus alerts, as well as other Trojan style attacks such as fake updates and hard drive crash messages. There are a number of viruses out today that pretend to be Microsoft Antivirus updates or claim that your hard drive is crashing and if you download the tool from Microsoft and pay a small fee it can be fixed. These are all scams, and it is important to be familiar with antivirus and other software on your machine and how they communicate problems to you.

Research online and recreational browsing at work can lead users to all kinds of information on the web. Try to avoid sites that use pop-ups. Many sites allow advertisers to run ads that pop up in new windows. These ads can be dangerous because they can contain code that is designed to take advantage of security flaws on your computer’s software. Check your browser settings to make sure the pop-up blocker is turned on; and if you do encounter a site that still pops up ads, you should close the ad and leave the site to avoid any more potential risk.

Be aware of other types of scams called “phishing.” Email and websites will try to lure you into giving them information about yourself such as passwords or credit card information to verify who you are or your eligibility for some reward. Reputable companies will never ask you for this kind of information.

It is in a company’s best interest to make sure that their employees know how to safely use their computers and navigate the internet. A little time spent now could save a lot of money and headache later. At the beginning of this article I have included two links to sites that can help you understand how to develop a training program for your employees. I also recommend working with a computer or IT Security professional to help you develop and deliver this information to your employees.