Virtual Machine Disaster Recovery

One of the single greatest features of virtual machines is how easy it is to use for disaster recovery. If you can imagine that an entire server is nothing more than a file on a hard drive, you can easily see how easy it could be to backup and restore a virtual machine. Backup can be as simple as turning off the virtual machine, copying it to another hard drive, then turning the virtual machine back on. That’s it. No magic, no smoke and mirrors, just copy it and go just like a Word or Excel file. If you need to restore it, just copy it back, find the file with the Hypervisor software, and start it right up!

Ok, so maybe it isn’t quite that easy, because depending on how much data is packed into that file it could still take hours to make the copy of the file. What if you can’t afford to turn the server off to back it up, what then? Well, making a copy of the drive is not the only way to back up your virtual server. Backing up the server is also not the only way to recover from a disaster when you are talking about virtual machines. Virtual machines can be moved between physical servers over a network with no downtime. They can also be replicated on a regular basis to another location, and those copies of the virtual server be brought online quickly in the event of a major disaster at your office. You can force a virtual server or group of servers to move to another machine while you take a physical server down for maintenance like upgrading the memory or doing an update to the hypervisor without turning the virtual servers off and interrupting service, then move them back when you finish.

Another feature of virtual machines that helps reduce the risk of a disaster is the snapshot feature. A snapshot is a picture of everything on the virtual machine as it was when the snapshot was taken that can then be rolled back to if a problem comes up. An example would be you are installing a new version of your accounting software, you reboot the server, and before Windows loads it crashes every time you try to restart. Don’t worry. All is not lost, because you took a snapshot just before you started installing the software. Just choose the last snapshot you took in the hypervisor and roll back to it. Now it is like it never happened. If you have already experienced a bad software installation, you might consider making a copy of your virtual server and testing the installation on a copy inside a hypervisor on your laptop disconnected from your network to see if there are going to be any problems, before you do the installation live. For that matter, you could just copy the virtual machine files you tested the installation to back to your live environment and not have to go through the process of installing the software again. In this way, you have completely avoided any risk of a disaster caused by the software installation.

As much as I want you to be excited about how easy and how powerful virtual machines can be in a disaster recovery plan, it is important to note that every network is different and has different needs. The more complicated your data and applications, the more complex the disaster recovery plan will be. The plan may require all your files to still be backed up daily using standard backup software from within the guest server, or SQL databases require special scripts to be run to prepare data for backup prior to the virtual machine being backed up. There are dozens of variables that could complicate the backup and recovery process implemented for a virtual machine, and that is why it is important to work with your IT staff or a knowledgeable consultant you trust to develop and test your backup plan.

The Latest Facebook Scam

Facebook is a fantastic resource for collaboration, reconnecting with old friends, meeting new people, and discovering products and services from around the web that have a presence on Facebook. With all this new- found “connectedness” come many new ways for unscrupulous individuals to try and take advantage of the less vigilant. The latest of these attacks comes in the form of, what is called in the security world, social engineering. Social engineering is when an attacker tries to convince you of something in order to take advantage of you. An example in the real world would be an investment scam: “‘Give me money for this great company that doesn’t exist and you can’t lose!”

On Facebook, social engineers are making copies of profile pictures and creating dummy accounts using the same name as the person whose profile picture they have copied. These individuals then turn around and begin sending friend requests to the victim’s friends. Once the victim’s friends accept the request, the attacker begins posting ads and links to all manner of sites, hoping that the trust the victim’s friends have in them will lead them to click the links they post, thereby snaring their real target, the victim’s friends. This kind of attack could not only be detrimental to those who click on the links, but could also ruin the victim’s reputation with friends, clients, and colleagues they have connected with through Facebook.

To protect yourself from these profile hijackers, it is important to understand Facebook’s privacy settings and to know who can see your posts. Facebook has a resource in their help center to help users understand and use privacy settings to protect their profiles and identities on Facebook. The privacy section of the Facebook help center can be found here: Remember to always check out the profile of someone before you add them as a friend, and if you get a friend request from someone you know you have already accepted, check with them before accepting the request. As a general rule of thumb, you should never add anyone as a friend who you don’t know personally.

Microsoft’s New Office

Microsoft Office got an upgrade in January — Office 2013. To say that Microsoft has its “head in the clouds” is an understatement. The new cloud-connected, cloud-delivered, cloud-centric Office is a testament to Microsoft’s dedication to moving to the cloud. Available right now, Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium is all about the cloud. This new Office is a subscription-based service, available to home users for $9.99/month or $99.00/year. In addition to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, the subscription gives users access to Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, and Access. Microsoft throws in free with the subscription an extra 20GB of cloud storage on their SkyDrive service and 60 Skype world minutes a month. Because the Home Premium subscription is a site license, you can install office on up to 5 PCs or Macs.

What makes this new version of Office so “in the cloud?” All of the documents you create default to being stored on your SkyDrive in the cloud. The latest updates to the applications, which are expected to roll out several times a year now, are available for subscribers to install as soon as they are released, so you always have the latest version. Not using one of the 5 computers covered by the subscription? Don’t worry! All of the Microsoft Office apps can be “streamed” to the computer you are using, and when you are done automatically removed, leaving almost no trace of their ever being on the system. You can also choose to use more fully-featured Office web apps directly in your browser. There are a lot of features missing from the web apps; however, new features are being added and updated all the time, allowing you to work fully in the cloud.

Also available is a subscription for college and university students, faculty, and staff. The subscription is only $79.99 for 4 years of use and allows you to install the applications on 2 PCs or Macs. Besides these 2 differences, the University subscription has the same features as the Home Premium subscription.

Students and home users are not the only ones to get a new Office subscription service. On February 27, the Office Small Business Premium subscription will be made available. This subscription gives users access to several apps and services not available to the home and educational users. Small Business Premium adds Microsoft Lync and InfoPath, as well as video conferencing, online document sharing, shared calendars, 25GB of email storage, 10GB of shared document storage, and 500MB of personal storage per user. The Small Business Premium Subscription also differs from the Home and University subscriptions in that it is a per user subscription, so for each user in your business it will cost either $12.50 per month or $149.99 annually per user.

Not interested in jumping on one of Microsoft’s new subscriptions? Microsoft has also released perpetual license versions of their Office suites and individual applications. These perpetual licenses are what we are used to seeing and buying preinstalled on our computers; however, they do not benefit from many of the extra cloud features or services associated with the new subscriptions. My guess is that over a relatively short period of time, Microsoft will begin retiring these perpetual licenses and in a few years the only choice will be one of their cloud subscriptions for Office. Personally, I think this is the way to go though I do look to Microsoft to reduce the cost of the Home Premium subscription just a little more before it becomes as attractive to home users as this model is to large corporations.

The Apple-Powered Family

I am a stalwart PC user. I know and love the Windows operating system, but over the last few years my family, like many others, has become more and more dependent on our Apple iOS devices (iPhones, iPads, and iPods). Our used iPhones have become iPods for our kids, and we have an iPad the entire family shares. In what seems like the blink of an eye, my family has become Apple-powered, and my wife and I were unprepared. My wife asked me the other day, “How can we manage how the kids are using the internet and apps on our devices and keep them safe?” My response was, “Let me find out.” I have done my research and now I would like to share the fruits of my labor with you.

The first thing that you need to decide is who needs an Apple ID. Apple IDs are used to log you in to do all things Apple: buy/download apps, purchase music and movies from iTunes, and use iCloud. For my wife and I, it was easy – she and I each needed an ID. We figured that since our children are very young, they don’t yet need the level of independence an Apple ID would give them in the Apple world of “stuff.” We use our Apple IDs to keep our devices backed-up in the cloud and to distinguish who is who in our shared iCloud Calendars. This is a great feature for an Apple-powered family. Create a calendar in iCloud and share it with the entire family to keep track of everyone’s schedules. When someone updates the calendar, it shows up on every device instantly.

Calendars aren’t the only thing we can share. We use cloud services like Skydrive to share files and documents, with iOS 6 we share photo streams from our devices over iCloud, and we share our music and movies using iTunes. I found that built right into iTunes are features that allow me to share all of the music and movies I have on my computer with all of the other computers and devices I have in the house. I don’t have to buy that “Party Rock” song 5 times for everyone to listen to it. Apple has 2 ways of sharing your digital media on your home network: iTunes sharing and Home Sharing. Turning on iTunes sharing allows up to 5 computers on your network to watch or listen to any music or videos in your iTunes library. The only hitch is that you can’t take the file with you. Home sharing is a little different. When you enable Home Sharing, streaming movies is extended to your iOS devices and to Apple TV. You can also copy between computers, great for taking that new movie or playlist on a trip, using your laptop. You will also be able to copy media imported from a home share to your iOS device and take it with you. The iOS devices don’t seem to count against your authorized computer count.

Now let’s talk about the kids. iTunes and iOS devices have some very handy parental control features. Parental controls on your computer can be found on the Parental tab under preferences in iTunes and under Restrictions on the General page of the Settings app on an iOS device. In iTunes, you can disable access to things like the store and iTunes Radio. You can restrict access to apps, music, and movies based on content ratings and lock it all up with a password so kids can’t change the settings. iOS devices allow you to hide apps you don’t want kids to have access to, in addition to the same types of content restrictions as iTunes. You can disable in-app purchases or disable access to the store all together. These are just a few of the settings available to make iTunes and iOS devices safer for your kids. If you have created Apple IDs for your kids but don’t want to give them unlimited access to your credit card to buy apps and music, you can use the iTunes Store Allowance to purchase apps and media. At any time, you can go back and change the monthly amount, suspend, or cancel the allowance. The one place that iOS devices seem to have fallen short in the parental control department is safe web browsing. For $3.99 from the app store, the Kid Safe browser app has the solution with all the safe web browsing features you could ever want.

Apple devices empower people to do things they never did before and now, as families get more ingrained in the Apple ecosystem of devices and content, Apple has empowered families to share, learn, entertain, and be entertained in a new way. Many people think that electronic devices are pulling people further apart, but with the right know-how families can learn and play and learn to play together in a new way that works with our digital age and do it safely. For more detailed instructions on how to setup home sharing, calendar sharing in iCloud, or parental controls, visit the blog @ or ‘like’ us on facebook @ facebook/JacobsCompanyBITS, where I will be posting How-To tutorials.