Friday, November 30, 2012

SOP Friday: Disaster Recovery - Simple Restores

What is a disaster? 

For a business, it's pretty much anything that causes a widespread stoppage of business. That might mean a server down, or Exchange down, or the company's commerce web site down. In this article we're going to look at a specific scenario.

Most small businesses only need to deal with three basic types of business interruption: 1) Utility outage (power outage, internet outage); 2) Server crash (some critical function on the primary server renders it unusable); or 3) building-wide disaster (fire, hazmat spill). A fourth, less likely scenario would be a region-wide disaster. This would include major floods, major hurricanes, major earthquakes, etc.

Please Note: When you create a disaster recovery procedures, it must exist as a set of written documents. Everyone in our business wants to put everything in an electronic format. Please don’t argue with me on this. This is disaster preparedness, fergoodnessake. Let’s say the emergency is a power outage. Or a failed hard disc. Or a fire. Or a flood. Or a hazmat spill that requires the neighborhood to be evacuated.

Get the picture? In an emergency of almost any kind, the kind that would require you to implement this plan, you won’t have access to the plan in electronic format! It is totally fine to have the plan exist primarily in electronic format, but there should be a printed version for the day the lights are out and the water is rising.

What is a Simple Restore?

There are many kinds of disaster recovery. In the most complicated and expensive, the goal is to completely recreate the failed network in every detail. This doesn't work well in small businesses. If your old system had three year old server and 50 machines ranging from Windows 7 to XP, you are very unlikely to recreate that environment exactly.

A second type of disaster recovery focuses on active directory. The goal is to bring back the server, with all the data and all of the network SIDs for machines and users. It does not require the exact hardware that existed before, but focuses on the most important pieces of the network, which could easily be on new hardware.

The third most common type of disaster recovery involves simply "getting your data back." That includes total server recovery in some cases. Two examples of this are very common: Recovering from a failed hard drive and restoring an entire server from tape or disc. These are simple restores.

Rule #1: Go Slow!

Disaster recoveries are always stressful. No matter how good your system is or how often you've tested it, there's always a chance that something went wrong with the last backup. Or the backup software won't load.

And then there's human error. You might over-write newer data with older data. You might not write-protect a restore medium, and it might get written to as soon as your mount it because the next backup job is waiting for it. Stuff happens.

Think. Think. Think. Go slow. Be careful. Be methodical. Know what you know. And once you completely master the technology in front of you and the resources available to you, your chances of success go way up.

Rule #2: Make a Plan

Please do not show up, slap in a new hard drive and then start to think "What should I do first?" You've already done first. Or maybe you did second or third and skipped first altogether.

A plan - a checklist - is critical to success because it guarantees that you will do everything you need to do, and in the order you need to do it. It also makes sure you don't skip the "small" steps that make life easier in the long run. For example, we like to label hard drives before we put them in the system. This allows us to note exactly where they were as we take them out. No matter how much switching and swapping takes place, we can get the system back to where it was when we showed up on the scene.

You also want to mark the old (bad) hard drive. We take a large permanent marker and make a big X across the top of the drive. Then we write BAD and the date it was removed from service.

If you are using a cloud-based D.R. system, how do you notify them that you need to execute the D.R.? And how do you actually bring that data down to an empty hard drive? What's the plan? What's the checklist?

Rule #3: Use a TSR Log
(and Document Everything You Do)

A Troubleshooting and Repair (TSR) log should be started as soon as you begin logging time on the service request. You should make a note with each important action step you take, and you should make a note at least once every 15 minutes. The TSR log will help you document everything you do and will help you troubleshoot in case something goes wrong.

These three rules will give you a high level of success - and confidence in your process.

Simple restores are just was stressful as any other disaster recovery. They are "simple" only in the fact that you're doing two basic things: 1) Fix the system, and 2) Reload the data. But those two things can be rather big and troublesome on their own, so "simply" doing them might not be simple at all.

The other thing that's nice about simple restores is that you can hand them off to lesser-qualified technicians.


That's right. Once you have the checklist down, you can have it executed by anyone. This is a bit scary until you realize how good it makes YOU. You have to be crystal clear about making sure they understand the dangers and the basic process. They need to verify that a backup job is not waiting for a medium. They need to label all the drives, including the new one and the old one. They need to be able to identify the correct media to restore from.

When you can guide them through the pitfalls and pleasures of data restore while they're on site and you are not, then you know you have a great checklist.

Rule #4: Improve Your Process

When you are finished with any "emergency" data recovery, you should take stock of what went wrong - or could have gone better. Did you know how to do a bare metal restore with this specific backup system? If a medium was bad, did you know the next best restore point, where it was located, and have it available?

Lots of people (myself included) preach that you do not have a backup until you test your restore. Similarly, you do not have a disaster recovery until you test your D.R. That means you have to learn each system you have in place well enough to actually execute a recovery. The time to learn this is before disaster strikes, not after.

So whatever needs improvement, make a note. Whatever you needed and didn't have on hand, make a note. All all these notes to the TSR log and then use them to update the checklist. What's the last item on the checklist? "Update this checklist."

Hurricanes, floods, and fires are real. So are hard drive crashes. You need to know what you need to know before you need it!

Comments welcome.

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Hiring vs. Outsourcing


Still the best Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services: 

by Karl W. Palachuk 

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Will You Take a Quick Survey For Me? 30 Seconds, I Promise

I'm doing a wee bit of market research.

Will you please fill out this form?

Thank you!


Friday, November 23, 2012

SOP Friday: Labeling Equipment (etc.)

If there's one thing a nerd loves, it's a good label maker!

Of course you can you can get carried away. But you can also do too little. The purpose of labeling is to make your life easier. To the extent that it makes your life easier, you should do it. Here are a few guidelines we use.

Labeling Equipment

As a rule, there are only a few labels we like to see on equipment. After all, you have to admit that labels are not very attractive. The basic guideline is easy: If you are standing in front of a piece of equipment and just need some little bit of information, it should be on a label.

There are two kinds of labels you will use. Some labels are intended for your clients. Others are intended for you and your team. A perfect example of this is with printers. You need to know the IP address and the client needs to know which way to put in letterhead (see below).

I always get a question or two about security, so let me address that up front. For most small and medium businesses, there is very little concern that someone will break into the network from the inside, reconfigure printers, etc. You need to be prudent, but don't get carried away.

At the same time, small and medium businesses have a never-ending problem of poor documentation. So very often you don't have the most basic information you need in a handy little binder next to the server. How many times have you taken on a new client who has no login credentials for their router? Or (for whatever reason) there is a password on the printer's configuration web server. Sometimes you can "fix" this by resetting the equipment to factory specs, but that often means you don't have the configuration information you need.

For example, I firmly believe that the login username and password should be labeled on the bottom of firewalls and routers. That scares some people because it is such a critically important piece of the network's security. This is not a security issue for one simple reason: No one from the Internet can see the bottom of the firewall! This is a matter of physical (access) security, not network security.

But on the day you need to get into that router, it's very handy to know that you can turn it over and get the information you need! I've come across dozens of routers and firewalls with no documentation. In twenty years, I was able to figure out (guess) the password on exactly one router.

Now let's look at specific equipment.

Firewalls and Routers:
1) Place a label on the front/top of the router that simply says "Router" in very large type. Place a label on the front/top of the firewall that simply says "Firewall" in very large type. This is very handy when you're on the phone with the client and you are walking them through some troubleshooting, such as power cycling the right piece of equipment or reporting which lights are on.

2) Place a label on the back/bottom of routers and firewalls with the login username and password. As long as you're printing out this label, make an extra copy to put on the configuration page for your Network Documentation Binder. You might also label the LAN and WAN IP addresses, although that information is very easy to discover by other means if you need it.

3) More than any other equipment, it is critical that you update the label with new login information when it changes! The only thing worse than having no login info is having the wrong info!

Unless you have managed switches, you probably don't need to label switches. If you think you might need to talk the client through some troubleshooting by phone, you might put a label on the front that just says "Switch."

For managed switches, you should use the same labeling procedure as you have for firewalls and routers.

Network Printers and Scanners:
1) Each network printer should have a label with its name clearly visible on the front. This is handy for you and the client.

2) Each network printer should have a label with its IP address (and each printer should have a static IP). This can go on the back or maybe inside a panel that opens.

3) If a printer is ever used for printing checks, envelopes, or letterhead, it is VERY handy to have a label that gives the user a clue about how to place specialty paper for printing. For example, "Face Up; Top Out." Yes, I know there's probably one of those little icons with the front or back indicator, but many clients don't see those icons, or don't understand them. Why not make their life a little easier?

1) You might have a label on the server that says "Server" or has the server name. But unless you have two servers and the client needs to know which is which, this is completely optional.

2) Instructive labels on the back side of the server are frequently very handy. For example, if you have an ILO (integrated lights out) port, a good clear label for that is useful. This is particularly true if you un-plug the cable from the ILO port for whatever reason.

Sometimes it is helpful to place a "Do not use" label across an unused NIC port so that no one plugs a cable in there and causes havoc with the network. And with some clients it's useful to put a "Do not use" label across a modem port so no one plugs anything into that.

3) Inside the computer, you should label each hard drive. This is true whether they are hot-swappable or not. All you need to put on the drive is Drive 0, Drive 1, Drive 3, etc. You may choose to label drives with Drive C, Drive D, etc. if that's useful. But the main goal of labeling drives is so you can use the labels for troubleshooting in the future.

This may be the most important set of labels you use. When you are troubleshooting RAID controllers or hard drives for any reason, you may find it useful to swap out drives. Knowing the exact configuration before you start troubleshooting can save you many hours of labor. It is also very helpful when you get an alert about drive errors or imminent failure. You can order a replacement drive, but when you hand it to the technician to install, he needs to know which slot to put it into.

Two maxims for successful troubleshooting come into play here. The first is "Know what you know." With properly labeled drives you can feel confident about the order the drives were in when you started. You can keep track of the order in which you tried various configurations while troubleshooting. The second maxim is "Slow down, get more done." While troubleshooting anything, proper labels will allow you to be completely confident about what you've tried already so you do not continually try the same thing over and over again.

4) Finally, you might have labels for other things that are helpful to your techs or your client. For example, if you have more than one power supply, you might label them. Again, while troubleshooting by telephone you can instruct the client to remove PS1 or PS2. Another example is with backup systems. On rare occasions a client might have more than one tape drive or more than one external disc system. With swappable backup hard drives, life is much easier if everything is labeled.

Desktop Computers:
1) Every computer should be labeled with its name. Whether you name machines something boring such as "Workstation 1" or more personalized such as rock stars, cities, car parts, etc., all machines should be labeled. This name should be on the front of the machine and easily visible to users and technicians. While you are making these labels, go ahead and print an extra one to put on the Machine Spec Sheet in your Network Documentation Workbook. (See SOP on Naming Your Computers.)

2) If some machines are owned by you as part of a HaaS (hardware as a service) program, they should be clearly labeled with a "Property of ..." label. Similarly, you might label machines that need to be identified as part of a leasing program or machines purchased through a specific funding source for non-profits.

Miscellaneous Equipment:
1) Modems, if you still have such a thing, might be labeled with their associated phone number.

2) Print servers should be labeled with their IP address, and possibly other access information.

3) In general, think about what happens if equip is unplugged, thrown into a box, and forgotten for six months. When you dig it out and don't have any paperwork, what key information do you need? Label the equipment with that information!

Portable Equipment:
If the client has equipment that goes out in the field, goes home, or goes back and forth between offices, it is probably useful to label this equipment for various reasons. Most of these labels are related to what the equipment is and where it lives. Some equipment needs identifying information or labels that tell when it was new or when it was last serviced.

Ownership Labels:
Lots of things need "Property of ..." labels. This is particularly true of HaaS equipment. But it is also true of any equipment that is ever intended to leave the office for any reason. Also, if you loan equipment to a client, it should be labeled as yours.


Implementing this policy is really just a matter of making everyone on the support team aware. You might write up a brief memo that summarizes your policies. Then you need two things: Label makers and checklists. Every technician should carry a label maker in their scary box. Taking this with them to every client visit is simply part of the job.

This policy is most commonly implemented by including instructions in checklists. When you build a machine, the checklist should include instructions for labeling. When you configure a firewall, the checklist should include instructions for labeling. And so forth.

The other common way that this policy is implemented is with service tickets. So, if you don't have a checklist to set up a simple printer, for example, the ticket should specifically list labeling the printer as an item in the ticket. This requires that the service manager be mindful and remember to add that action to the ticket. This amounts to habit, habit, habit.


If you have alternative policies, or I missed something here, please add a comment.

Comments welcome.

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Disaster Recovery - Simple Restores


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Monday, November 19, 2012

Cloud-Based Services Passed the "Sandy" Test

Cloud Downtime is Not The Issue; Brick and Mortar Downtime Is

One of the standard questions people have about The Cloud is downtime. What do we do if the Internet goes down? What do we do if our cloud service goes down? More and more, businesses are addicted to connectivity - not just for their servers, but for all their devices and communications that are business related. If downtime is costly and inconvenient, then outages become a major concern.

I believe we've reached the point where this question needs to be turned upside down. Hurricane Sandy made that point very clear. Many people and many businesses were visited by Sandy. The flooding in some areas affected millions. Many buildings cannot be occupied - and won't be rebuilt for some time.

While talking to some of the vendors at IT Nation, it became clear that our industry has - almost without intention - made our own businesses extremely reliant on The Cloud. We rely on hosted services, hosted backups, and virtualization to make our lives easier. I can't say we're disaster-proof, but most of us can keep chugging along no matter what happens because we have much of our business in the cloud.

Luckily for our clients, our comfort level with cloud services has given us a higher level of confidence as well. Today I posted two interesting interviews over at SMB Community Podcast. In each of them a vendor is talking about how their services were tested during (and after) Hurricane Sandy.

In fact, many IT Pros took the initiative to spin up client servers in the cloud, just in case they were needed. Well, many of those servers are still running in the cloud, so it turned out to be a good move. You've probably seen hundreds of presentations and webinars on "spinning up machines in the cloud" or "failing over to an image in the cloud."

Sandy was the big test. And apparently we (the tech support industry) passed.

One of the interviews is with Dan Wensley from Level Platforms on how their NOC services were affected by Hurricane Sandy. And of course their remote monitoring service is essentially unaffected. One of their partners did ten cloud installations in the last few weeks in order to prepare for or respond to Sandy. I asked whether Level's NOC would be ready for another disaster right away and Dan said "Absolutely."

In another interview with Raymond Vrabel and Joe Consolmagno from Continuum, the story was similar. They were able to redirect phone calls and email alerts for partners who were affected. Then we talked about Continuum Vault, a service they provide with Datto. From preparation until well after the hurricane, about 3,000 servers were spun up in the cloud.

That sudden need for services and bandwidth went off very successfully. Ray said that some of those servers are still in the cloud. In businesses that were flooded, those servers will probably stay in the cloud for some time.

Listen to both of these podcasts at

Do You Have a Cloud Strategy?

So, with this little test behind us, it will be interesting to see the report cards from DR, help desk, and NOC vendors, as well as hosting and fail-over services. Trials like this can help you determine who your partners will be going forward.

If you were in an affected area, you should also evaluate your own performance. Did your solutions work as advertised? Where were the week spots? How can you improve that? Did you know how to execute the plan? When the servers were not available, did you know who to call, who to email, and who needs to do what? Did DNS get moved in a timely manner? What changes, if any, did employees need to make in order to stay connected? Did they know the steps in advance?

Even if you didn't personally have to respond to this disaster, walk through the process and verify that you actually know how to execute your roll. It's great to sell BDRs and failover services, but make sure you and your team execute properly when the time comes.

This is a great opportunity to talk to clients about disaster recovery. Everyone saw it on the news and on the Internet. So it's a great time to push the message: This could happen to you!

It turns out that the real issue with downtime is not whether you can get to the Internet. The real issue is whether your clients' customers can get to your client's business. The real issue is whether your clients will be IN business when a disaster happens.

On September 12, 2001, hundreds of businesses that were located in the Twin Towers had their disaster recovery plans tested. Many of those businesses were large financial institutions that literally could not afford downtime during business hours. It cost them millions of dollars for disaster recovery plans that put them back in business the day after the World Trade Center was attacked.

Most of our clients cannot afford millions of dollars. But now, just eleven years later, it is CHEAP to create a system that allows client systems to be built in the cloud, or transferred to the cloud, or to fail-over to the cloud. The technology we have available to the average small business is absolutely amazing - and puts near-Zero Downtime disaster recovery within the grasp of every small business.

Thanks to Sandy for testing us. Thanks to all the cloud providers for proving that we are absolutely on the right path.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

IT Nation Podcasts: Flying Across the Oceans and Fighting a Hurricane to Get to IT Nation

The last two podcasts from IT Nation are on a special theme and we're going to address them more fully on Monday. But here are the next-to-last podcasts I recorded last weekend in Orlando.

You can find all of these posted at the SMB Community Blog:

The almost-final four podcasts from IT Nation:

1. Ian Watkins - MSP from the UK - Ian Watkins Traveled from the UK for IT Nation
- Ian flew over early to catch the "preday" training and then stayed for the conference. He's been a ConnectWise user for about seven years.

2. Kent McNall - Quosal - LabTech/Quosal/ConnectWise Killer Combo
- Kent talked to us about some of the cool things that are emerging from the linking for various MSP tools.

3. Alan McDonald - President of Xilocore - Interview: Alan McDonald, President of Xilocore
- Alan talked to us about the Xilocore products and how partners can make money reselling their cloud-based solutions.

4. Nancy Hammervik - Senior Vice President, Industry Relations at CompTIA - Wins an Award – and then Rushes to Catch IT Nation
- Nancy won a major national away and then rushed over to IT Nation. We talk about her award - and about what CompTIA is up to with Partner Education.

Please check out these and all the other interviews (over 50) at


IT Nation Podcasts: Vendor Education and Cooperation Highlighted

I posted up three more podcasts from last week's IT Nation. A few of them struck me as particularly interesting because they had a theme of cooperation.

You can find all of these posted at the SMB Community Blog:

Three podcasts went up this morning:

1. Jay McBain - ChannelEyes - ChannelEyes to Launch Dozens of Mobile Apps to Connect Vendors and Partners

- In this podcast we see how vendors are learning to communicate better with their partners and working with ChannelEyes to create vendor-specific apps for communication.

2. Erinn Davis - LabTech/Quosal/ConnectWise - ConnectWise-LabTech-Quosal Triple Play

- Erinn talks about her role and how the community team works to help partners get the most out of the cooperative features built into the ConnectWise family of products.

3. Geoff Parker - PacketTrap - PacketTrap and Labtech Together – A Surprisingly Good Combo

- Geoff tells us about an unexpected combination that gives partners a much deeper monitoring and reporting than either product alone. Talk about Coopetition.

Please check out these and all the other interviews (over 50) at


Saturday, November 17, 2012

IT Nation Podcasts: eFolder, Spam Soap, Symantec, and Integral

IT Nation Podcasts: eFolder, Spam Soap, Symantec, and Integral

 I's gradually making my way through the interviews from IT Nation last weekend. These are all posted at the SMB Community Blog.

Today I posted interviews with folks from eFolder, Spam Soap, Symantec, and Integral. Here's the line-up:

1. Ted Hulsy from eFolder - eFolder Adds AppAssure Integration to Their Offerings

2. Jenna Chase from Spam Soap - Spam Soap Is Much More than Hosted Spam Filtering

3. Anne Stobaugh and Dal Gemmell from Symantec - Symantec Heavily Focused on MSP Endpoint Protection

4. Kim Mann from Integral - Integral Offers Managed Services, Cloud Services, and Colo Services You Can Resell

Please check out these and all the other interviews (over 50) at


Friday, November 16, 2012

SOP Friday: DNS and DHCP Allocation - Server vs. Firewall

DNS and DHCP - On the Server or The Firewall?

A few years ago, one of the major "truths" about our business changed. It had long been the wisdom that DHCP and DNS should be served from the Windows Server, specifically from the (primary) domain controller. The primary reason for this is that we ("we" being Windows engineers) find it very convenient to manage DHCP from the same place where we manage DNS. But DHCP does not have to be served from the same place as DNS.

Because they're inter-connected, we're going to talk about routers/firewalls, DNS, and DHCP. We'll cover the first two fairly quickly because they are not really up for debate. DHCP is another topic.

Routers and Firewalls

In many documents, Microsoft simply refers to "the router" to describe whatever device you point to to move data off the local area network. Strictly speaking this is a gateway. And for 95% of all the networks we work with, that gateway is a firewall. See the diagram.

There are basically three kinds of firewalls you'll come across: 1) Old, junkie firewalls that are not very configurable; 2) Super powerful firewalls that can absolutely do whatever you want; and 3) Plug and Play firewalls that can be configured by automated scripts to do what you need them to do.

Most of the arguments in favor of putting DHCP on the server make reference to the first kind of firewall. This has literally become a straw man argument. These firewalls are almost non-existent today. This is particularly true when you consider how little we actually ask the firewall DHCP service to do.

The high-end firewalls can, by definition, do what we need them to do. The only question is whether we choose to use that function.

The third kind of firewall - Universal Plug and Play or UPnP - has evolved only recently. UPnP is defined and promoted by the UPnP Forum, an industry collaboration that seems to help manufacturers develop devices that can discover each other and configure automatically. See UPnP has been around for most of a decade. It was published as an international standard in 2008 and has been refined considerably since then.

Most consultants have not really paid attention to the evolution of UPnP. You can review the specifications at You will want to look at the specific notes under Internet Gateway:1 and Internet Gateway:2.

One of the cool things that UPnP can do is to understand DNS and become a DNS forwarder. This includes the DNS portion of active directory. Don't get too far ahead of me here, but imagine if the server could automatically configure the UPnP firewall.

DNS Belongs on The Server

This discussion will be short and to the point: Put DNS on the Server. Now, really, you could make the firewall a backup DNS controller and have it get info from the server. But since you're all on the same network, it makes sense to just go to the server.

DNS is critical for directory services. This is particularly true when the server is hosting a variety of functions, such as a Small Business Server. "//Companyweb" is not an entry you'll find in a lot of DNS servers. But if you don't have it in your in-house DNS server, you'll need to add it to a hosts file on each machine.

Microsoft pretty much requires the following:

1) Primary DNS is on the Server
2) All workstations point to the server for DNS

We like to add the following two items:

3) The server forwards requests to Google Public DNS ( and and NOT the ISP

4) Local workstations use the Google Public DNS as their secondary

Number 3 is because ISPs are horrible at keeping clients informed when they change DNS addresses. In addition, this setup means you don't have to change anything if you change ISPs or your ISP changes your IP address.

Number 4 increases the probability that workstations will be able to reach the Internet even if the server is unavailable. The only glitch is when the server is half-up, reachable by ICMP, but the DNS service is not responding. This is a very rare occurrence.


DHCP: Server or Firewall?

Without getting into details on some private conversations with people at Microsoft, let me just say that putting DHCP on the server was resulting in many, many calls to tech support. One goal for moving it was simply to create a more stable environment, thus resulting in fewer calls.

A big clue about where the industry standard is going is:
By default, all versions of SBS 2011 and Windows Server Essentials 2012 do not enable the DHCP function on the server. 
The official recommendation is that DHCP is on the router (firewall).
In fact, these operating systems automatically configure the router with DHCP.

Since SBS 2008, the server has always been able to set up UPnP routers (firewalls). But since the protocol was very new in 2008, I think there was not much noise about it. See And see

Many firewalls also serve up wireless access, and that subnet needs to have it's own DHCP. Putting both DHCP scopes on the same device (the firewall) allows that device to manage traffic between the wired and wireless subnets very efficiently.

If you have a plug and play firewall, these Windows Servers will configure the firewall to turn on DHCP, set up the appropriate IP range, and exclude the server’s static IP. Note that DHCP will be set up with Dynamic DNS enabled. So both the firewall and the server will exchange information about the devices on the network.

On a Standard SBS Server, you have many options that need to be configured. Depending on which options you enable, the UPnP configuration will open only the necessary ports, including

SharePoint via RWW - TCP 987
VPN - TCP 1723
RDP - TCP 3389

AND it will forward each of these ports to the Windows Server. So the ports are not just fully open, but can only be used to access the server.

After the server is finished configuring the firewall with UPnP, the Windows Console collects and displays information about your firewall so you can verify it. To see this information, simply view the Internet connection properties.

NOTE: Even if your firewall does not have UPnP enabled, I believe you should put DHCP on the firewall. I only mention the UPnP information to make the point that this is the emerging default. So people with lots of money to spend on research think it's a good idea. :-)

What About VPN?

When I present this information in public, I'm always asked about VPN. Don't you have to enable DHCP on the server in order to use the server for RRAS or VPN?


The VPN service (RRAS) hands out IP addresses to anyone who dials in. If you know what you're doing, and have a reason, you can also hard code IP addresses for machines that dial in. But basically, the VPN service has it's own little DHCP-like service that hands out addresses and a few scope options (DNS, gateway) to the machine calling in.

If you are suspicious about this, enable the RRAS role but not the DHCP role. You will still be able to connect. In fact, I'll be you have some machines out there that are already configured that way and you just didn't know it.

Advantages of DHCP on the Server?

The primary advantage I hear about having DHCP on the server is that we find it very convenient to manage DHCP from the same place where we manage DNS. (See the first paragraph above.) Okay, that's fine. But think about it. You normally configure DHCP once and never again.

You might make a little change here or there if you migrate a Primary Domain Controller. But having DHCP on the firewall makes that migration a lot easier. As you muck around with DNS settings between the old and new servers, have both servers up at once, and reboot the old and new servers for various reasons, DHCP will simply hum along on the firewall - and no one in the office will know the difference.

Technically, configuring both DHCP and DNS on the same machine might be a bit easier. But since you have to open a new screen for configuring the DHCP role or a new screen for configuring the firewall, it's all the same to me.

I believe DHCP is more stable on the firewall and make the network more stable. The server is infinitely more likely to be rebooted than the firewall.


Implementing this policy is really just a matter of making everyone on the support team aware. You might write up a brief memo that says "It is our policy to serve DHCP from the firewall unless there is a specific reason to do otherwise." And then give a brief description of the preferred configuration, similar to what I posted above.


I would really like to hear alternatives to this policy. This is a topic that is very entrenched in our assumptions about networks. It's not a "religious" debate like HP vs. Dell, but really just a different view of how IP addressing will be served up going forward.

Comments welcome.

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Labeling Equipment


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Thursday, November 15, 2012

IT Nation Podcast: Interview with Arnie Bellini

Interview with Arnie Bellini

I posted up a great little podcast with Arnie and David Bellini over at the SMB Community Podcast blog.

In case you've been living on another planet, Arnie Bellini is the CEO of ConnectWise and David is the COO. ConnectWise is the sponsor of the bit IT Nation conference, held last week in Orlando, FL. In addition to providing come user-facing education, the conference also featured a lot of other educational programs.

Arnie gives some good insights into what's up with ConnectWise. Check out the podcast now: "Arnie Bellini Says ConnectWise Goes Way Beyond PSA."

For more information on IT Nation, visit

For more information on ConnectWise, visit

Please check out these and all the other interviews (over 40) at


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

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IT Nation Podcasts: PacketTrap and LogicMonitor

I posted the two more interviews from IT Nation over at the SMB Community Podcast blog.

Larry Walsh is the CEO of The 2112 Group. They 2112 Group are an analyst firm that supports vendors in the solution provider community. They provide “leadership and best practices” for solution providers. Larry brings a unique perspective to our channel relationships.

Steve Noel is a Technical Sales Engineer at Axcient. He talked to me about his role at Axcient and what the company’s up to these days. Axcient is a 100% Channel focused backup and BDR solution.

1. Larry Walsh - CEO of The 2112 Group - Larry Walsh: Vendors Sell Direct to Users: “Get Over It”

2. Steve Noel - Technical Sales Engineer at Axcient - Axcient Offers 100% Channel Focused Backup and BDR Solution

Please check out these and all the other interviews (over 40) at


Friday, November 09, 2012

IT Nation Podcasts: PacketTrap and LogicMonitor

I posted the first two interviews from IT Nation over at the SMB Community Podcast blog.

The first interview is with Jason Samples from PacketTrap. Jason was very positive about PacketTrap's place in the SMB Community - and particularly positive about how well their RMM product integrates with ConnectWise and other PSA systems.

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1. Jason Samples - PacketTrap - PacketTrap Finds Success at IT Nation 2012

2. Kevin McGibben - CEO of LogicMonitor - LogicMonitor Provides Pure SaaS-Based Infrastructure Monitoring

Please check out these and all the other interviews (over 40) at


SOP Friday: Business Cards . . . All the Details

I find business cards very frustrating. Maybe 75% of the people with business cards should never have them because 1) They never need them due to the nature of their job, 2) They don't know how to use them, or 3) Their cards are almost useless.

On the first point, there are lots of people who just go to the office and are never out meeting people or representing the company. Other than to show their parents, or pass out as "dating cards," these people never use their business cards. So get them 100 or so and don't worry about the cost per card because they'll never need another 100.

How To Use A Business Card (and Why Your Business Card Might be Useless)

At gatherings I sometimes collect business cards. Sometimes means only if I have a reason to. Believe it or not, I don't put everyone I've ever met on my mailing list. So when I collect a card I either intend to contact that person or (on occasion) I intend to add them to a list.

Here's an exercise:
- Take out your business card.
- Turn it over and write on the back. Here's what you write:
 1=Small Biz Mixer
 2=Kid is soccer league
 3=Send seminar invite

If you can't write this on the back of your card, neither can anyone else! If that's the case, order new business cards.

If the back of your cards is glossy, throw them away and order new business cards. If the back of your card is covered with advertising or something else, throw them away and order new business cards.

I hear this ridiculous advice over and over: "You should use the back of your business card (so it's not wasted)." Bullshit. You should leave the back of your card empty enough for me to write critical information on.

As someone who really uses the cards I collect, I want that space on the back of every card. You can use some of the space for YOU (info, logo, QR code, etc.), but leave most of the space for ME. I have databases totaling about 25,000 business cards I've collected over the years. These are for personal contacts, IT consultants, potential clients, authors and speakers, services I might buy, etc.

When I come back to the office with a fist full of business cards, they need to be processed. What does that mean? It means that I put them into piles. Some I throw away. Some are very important. Some I promised to send a link or an article. A few I promised an email. Some I want to pitch an idea to. All of the "keepers" are given to an admin to scan into a database.

You get the idea.
1) They need to be sorted into appropriate piles

2) Some of them require follow-up

ALL of them need a note about where I met them, the circumstances, and anything interesting about that connection. Where do I write those notes? On The Back of The Business Card!

Oh, but wait. There's crap all over the back of the card. It's dark colored, or has a graph, or a table, it's glossy, or it has a list of useless links. The point is: I can't write on the back of the card if there's no place to write!

Seriously. There are people who collect your business cards and people who don't. The people who don't collect cards don't matter. Period. They will never see the back of your card.

The people who DO collect business cards are pretty consistent in their behavior: They turn it over and write a note about where they met you, when they met you, notes about what they promised you, and other miscellaneous notes.

Now it's up to you: Will you give them a place to write the notes, or will you take it up with self-serving gimmicks that only take up space?

Business Card "Don'ts"

Do not print your business card sideways. I believe that 90% of the people who collect business cards will not take you seriously. Some (me included), will simply throw them away.

I guess people think the business card is an opportunity for self-expression, creativity, etc. That's fine. But you don't print your resume or your letterhead in landscape format. Why? Because it's just not done that way. We live in a society where business forms are determined by the norms set down by others.

Your marketing adviser might think that sideways printing makes you stand out and be unique. They're wrong. It's not unique. It's not clever. It's not different enough to make you look like a Maverick Brainiac. If you want to stand out, change your name to an unpronounceable symbol. But print your business cards like a business professional!

There are people who collect your business cards and people who don't. The people who don't collect cards don't matter. The people who collect business cards expect a normal card. Give it to them.

Do not use Laser Perf business cards. First, . . . It doesn't matter what's first. Don't do it! Second, let's say you are a professional. Professionals look professional. And they need to look particularly professional with the things that people might associate with your profession.

Computer-printed cards are 99.99% less professional than real business cards. "Free" cards from Vista Print with a logo on the back are better than laser perf. With shipping your cost is about $.04 per card. Laser perf cards are about $.04 per card.

A recent Google search returned "About 505,000,000" hits for Business Cards. And there are more places than that. Staples has in-house printing. 1,000 cards will cost you about $.03 per card - or less. The point is: Laser perf cards are not any cheaper than real, professional cards. AND they look cheap.

And they feel cheap.

If you use high volume, the cards get cheaper and cheaper. 505,999,999 of those online printers will also bargain with you to lower the price more, if you contact them directly or order cards for everyone in the office.

There are people who collect your business cards and people who don't. The people who don't collect cards don't matter. The people who collect business cards will make fun of you if you have a laser perf card.

Do not have a glossy back on your business cards. See the discussion above. Take it to heart. Most of the time when I am handed a glossy-backed card, I try to write on the back and can't. This does two things. First, it makes you fish around for some other way to give me a writing surface or pen that might work. Second, it totally derails the conversation. Now instead of listening to your elevator speech, we're talking about your stupid business cards.

The lesson: Glossy-backed cards are completely useless. Okay. To be fair, they're useful to people who only scan cards into a database. And completely useless to the other 95% of the people you hand a card to.

I recently was in a conversation where person one was giving a card to person two so he could send something they were talking about. Glossy back. We all brought out pens and pencils to see if anything worked. Finally, I brought out one of my business cards and he wrote the message on that. Then the two cards were folded together so the recipient would remember to send the item to the person whose card was with mine.

There are people who collect your business cards and people who don't. The people who don't collect cards don't matter. The people who collect business cards will be really disappointed that you have a glossy card.

Do not use reverse print or obnoxious color combinations on your business cards. You've seen it. Dark red background with lime green ink. Your eyes take a minute to focus. Then the type begins to move. Pretty soon you have vertigo. And invariably the business is something like "Creative Solutions."

Really? How about changing your company name to Stupid Decisions or Bad Examples?

Business cards should be functional. Think of the context. You hand your card to someone and they need to quickly get enough information off of it to engage you in a discussion. They might write a note on the back. Then it goes into their pocket until it is processed and scanned.

Unless you actually have black light-enabled cards and hand them out in bars, the reverse printing is just annoying. Our brains don't work like that. Make it readable. Make it useful.

Business Card Dos

Okay, enough complaining. How about a checklist that is useful for constructing and using business cards? Great. Start here.

1. Your Name (you personally) should be clear and visible and readable from arm's length.
That means it is also easy to find. Everyone hates a business card with strange font combinations so you have to scan all over the card to find the person's name. Where's Waldo? Or whoever I'm talking to.

2. Your Company name should be clear and easy to find.

3. Contact information is up to you.
Some cards only have email or only have a phone number. It depends on how you want to be contacted. If you want to give your entire mailing address, fax number, and extension that's fine. Decide WHY you would hand out this information and what you really need on that card to fulfill your needs.

4. Company logo and slogan.
If you have a nice logo or a slogan that really helps you differentiate yourself, then find a place for them on your card. Remember: They should contribute to the goal of making your card useful and easy to use. If they detract, get them out of the way, make them smaller, move them to the side, or drop them altogether.

5. Titles  . . .  hmmmmm.
Some people need titles. But most of us don't really need titles on our cards. They're just one more thing that needs to be changed if you change jobs. I tend to put titles on my Great Little Book cards. But over at America's Tech Support, Mike prefers no titles.

Does a title do something for you? If yes, put it on the card. If not, leave it off.

I once worked with a client who let everyone pick their own titles. So people had business cards that said "Goddess of the Third Order," "Grand Viseer," etc. It was all fun. Most of these people never met with a client and no one saw their cards except each other. So it was more of a team building exercise than a business decision.

Sometimes we feel obligated to put something on the card for a title. If so, make it descriptive and useful. Or bland and boring. But whatever you do, do it intentionally and not because you feel you need to put something there.

6. Other Information (QR Code, Facebook ID, Fan Pages, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, AIM, Pinterest, 4Square, Yelp, Flickr, Reddit, RSS, Technorati, StumbledUpon, Digg, Yahoo Instant Messenger, Jagg, blog, Klout, etc.).

I bet you know where this is going.

There is simply too much miscellaneous stuff to fit it all on a tiny little business card. So if you want to put something else on there, be picky. Choose a few things that don't take up much space AND that contribute to your marketing goals.

7. Use the back Wisely. Or leave it blank.
Remember, the back of the card is not for ten little tips, quotations, IP Subnet calculators, etc. The back is primarily for notes. You can use some of the back for links, logos, QR code, etc. But leave at lease half of it blank - or lined for notes.

8. Make your business card scan-able. You should have a business card scanner. If not, visit your more successful competition and borrow theirs. Make sure that your business card is clean and clear enough that it scans well.

This little tip will go a long way to making sure you've addressed several of the points in this article. The fonts and colors won't be crazy. The text is actually legible. The card is printed correctly (not sideways). And so forth.

The Strategic Use of Business Cards

Step back a minute and ask yourself: WHY do you have business cards? What will you do with them? How do you expect others to use them? What role do they play in your business? Here are two examples.

At America's Tech Support, we hand out business cards very freely to anyone who might be a potential client, partner, or be able to connect us with a potential client or partner. The office manager hardly ever uses them. The techs rarely use them. Mike and I are the primary users/distributors. These cards have full contact information because they appeal to a local audience (address, phone, email, etc.).

At Great Little Book / Small Biz Thoughts, I have several brands and some of them have business cards. My cards are intended to give someone a way to contact me. I mostly use them at conferences so that people have my email address and web site. No matter which web site they start at, my goal is to eventually get them to add themselves to my mailing list.

The card I hand out the most (Small Biz Thoughts) does not have a phone number. I don't want people to be irritated if they don't know that I never answer my phone. So it's email and web site. The other card is for authors and speakers, and people who might potentially hire me to speak. This card does have the phone number. These people still use voicemail as a primary means of communication. I still don't answer the phone, but they have a place to call. These cards have no address information. It's irrelevant.

You have to figure out why you need business cards, what role they plan in your business, and therefore what they should contain. And to be honest, if you hardly ever hand them out, the more basic the better. Don't spend a fortune with cards that no one will see.

Here's one big tip about business cards: Don't act like they cost $1 each! They are the cheapest advertising you can buy. At America's tech support we get ours 100 or 250 at a time. For Great Little Book, I buy them 1,000 at a time. I am the Johnny Appleseed of business cards - scattering them everywhere I go.

How To Buy Business Cards

If your local printer can compete with online digital printers, great. If not, go find an online place you like. I've had both good and bad experiences with Vista Print. I have to say that their cards are first rate with regard to paper. And I like the default "flat" finish. It can be hard to get printers to understand that you want a glossy front and a flat back.

I have used several times and been very pleased. Even if they do something wrong, they fix it no questions asked and super fast. They have a variety of downloadable templates (MS Word, Adobe Illustrator, etc.). I also like because they do a nice job with rounded corners and interesting die cuts. Just make sure you pick a shape that will successfully go through a business card scanner!

If you are not proficient enough to use Publisher, Illustrator, or some other program to design business cards, please hire someone who is.,, and a million other places can get this done for cheap. You might even hire an intern from the local design school for $10/hr. It's more than they would make working for McDonald's, and it builds their portfolio.

Many sites (most sites?) have wizards so you can create your cards online. Click-click-click and you're done. Upload your logo and away you go. Generally speaking, if you produce your own design, you will upload it as a PDF file. Be sure to embed the fonts so it doesn't get kicked back to you.

Organize Your Business Cards

I know this will shock you if you're a regular reader, but we have a standard location for all business cards and related files. On our primary drive, it's under \Marketing\Business Cards. That's where we keep copies of the source files, source graphics, QR codes, etc. Illustrator and PDF files are named after the person with a date embedded in the name. e.g., "Biz_Card_KarlP_20121130.pdf" We use the underscore in case spaces cause a problem with the machine we're uploading to.

Keeping all your cards in one place makes it easy to create new cards that are completely consistent with everyone else in the company. It also makes it easy to change formats for all cards if you make a company-wide change. If you have a generational change like that, you should put the old format into a sub-directory.

- - - - -

I think that's it. If not, I'm sure someone will post questions.

Comments welcome.

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

- - - - -

Next week's topic: DNS and DHCP Allocation - Server vs. Firewall


Check Out the All New Book:

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Welcome to IT Nation!

I am in Orlando this week for IT Nation, the user conference for ConnectWise . . . and a lot more.

As I was traveling here yesterday, I was chattering on Facebook with a few folks. People chimed in that they'll see me soon, see me there, gotta grab a drink, etc. My good friend Nancy chimes in. She wants to know why we're all headed to the ConnectWise conference. Well let me explain.

First, IT Nation is a major conference in our space. I'll get the numbers from Jeannine or someone, but hundreds of very successful IT service providers are in town this week. They're working on their businesses in peer groups and attending a major conference.

Second, this conference might be a bit PSA-centric, but it is populated with all the major vendors who want to engage consultants in the SMB space. That means opportunities to see what's new for 2013, which programs I might want to join, and so forth.

Third, I love connecting with my HTG friends. The Heartland Technology Groups are peer groups whose members are focused on building their businesses. They help each other and support each other toward their mutual success. That means these folks are a slice of the SMB space that is willing to invest in their own business. One way to be successful is to hang out with people who are successful.

Fourth, this conference is an opportunity for me to "sharpen my saw" with regard to business skills and practices. You've heard it a million times, but you need to take time to work ON the business and not just IN the business. Whether it's advice from the front of the room or exchanging ideas with folks over lunch, I always know I'm going to learn something.

I don't want to sound completely selfish here. But I am in business to make money. So finding new products, new services, new techniques, . . . and a positive attitude of success . . . goes a long ways.

Fifth, this is a community. The ConnectWise "family" includes LabTech and some other products we're going to explore this week. This is also the annual gathering place for the HTG members. So it combines two community groups altogether at once.

I had dinner with Frank, one of my coaching clients last night. We were discussing the people who do NOT participate. There are people who do not join groups, do not attend meetings, and don't even go to Microsoft events. Some of them just don't understand why a conference like this is useful as a business owner. Some of them are afraid that everyone they meet just wants to steal their "secret sauce."

Whatever, dude.

Here's the secret about secret sauce: It's not a secret. You always have more to gain my operating in a community of people who share the same challenges than you do from sitting in your office guarding the gold coins you have hidden under the floorboards.

So why am I at IT Nation?

Great company. Great people. Great opportunities. Great community.

. . . (and I'm hoping to get an interview with Arnie Bellini).

My Agenda:

So here's my plan, in case you want to follow along. I am going to be posting podcasts over at SMB Community Podcast, blogging here, and playing around with pictures and more on

Feedback always welcome.


Friday, November 02, 2012

SOP Friday: Sales Tickets and Sales Queues

This post assumes you have a ticketing system of time kind. You may or may not have a CRM (customer relationship management) system, or a PSA (professional services automation) with CRM built in. But you do have a ticketing system.

Many people use QuoteWerks or Quosal or some other tool for getting out quotes. Some people use the CRM module of their PSA. Some use or another stand-alone CRM system. But many small shops don't do enough quotes to justify buying or investing time into these tools.

This article gives some tips on managing the internal communication around sales within your ticketing system. Our primary goal here is to make sure nothing gets lost, dropped, or forgotten. Our secondary goal is to smooth out asynchronous communications between sales staff, sales engineers, front office, and technicians.

First: Sales Queue/Sales Board

Depending on your PSA or ticketing system, you should either have a queue or a board devoted to sales. Sales means everything from RFQ (request for quote) to quote, negotiation, sale, payment, or ordering the hardware and software. In other words, it's everything that happens right up to the point where an actual service request is created so technicians can go do the work.

Whether you have a sales person or do it all yourself, it's a good habit to have sales activity take place in the sales queue. That way the sales person doesn't lose anything and the technicians don't have to worry about it until they need to do something.

Second: The Flow of the Sales Process

As you define statuses that make sense for your organization, it is helpful to plot out how a prospective sale flows through your ticketing system. Here is a typical flow:

- Client requests a quote for a new desktop.
 - - Technician acknowledges the service request. The ticket is placed in the Sales Queue, assigned to the sales person, and the status is changed to "Sales."

- The sales person generates a quote and sends it to the client.
 - - The ticket status is changed to "Waiting on Client."

- The client asks for options regarding hard drive size. The sales person changes the status to "Sales" unless he is able to turn around a revised quote in short order. In either case, the status goes to "Waiting on Client" after the revised quote is produced.

- The client approves the quote.
 - - The Sales person generates an invoice and puts a note in the system about what is coming.
 - - The Sales person EITHER moves this quote to the appropriate service queue or create new tickets in the appropriate tech support queue. In either case, the ticket status is now "Waiting on Client."

- Client payment is processed.
 - - The front office puts a note in the ticket that payment has been received.
 - - Assuming the sales person does the ordering, the status is changed to "Sales."

- Equipment and software are ordered.
 - - The ticket status is changed to "Waiting on Parts."

- Equipment and software arrive.
 - - The ticket status is changed to "Schedule This."

Note: At this point the sales person is out of the picture, the front office staff are out of the picture, and the service ticket is now in the appropriate service queue.

Note that this flow allows all departments to "communicate" with each other through the ticketing system. At no point are two departments required to sit down and talk through all this face to face. If they get a chance (and that's very likely), great. But nothing in this process allows the flow to get stuck just because two people couldn't be in the same office at the same time.

At the end of this flow, the ticket is no longer in the sales queue but in a support queue (e.g., Level I). And the status is Schedule This, so the service manager knows it is ready to work on.

Migrations and Complicated Tickets

In more complex cases, a sales process might result in a series of service tickets. In this case you will definitely not covert one sales ticket into a single service ticket. For example, our migration process results in seven distinct service requests. Even a simple new office installation might result in tickets for

- Firewall configuration
- Server Build
- Server Setup
- Data Migration
- Workstation Build
- Workstation Delivery
- Printer Setup
- Testing, Documentation, Fine-Tuning

The never-ever-ever-ending rule is that you cannot lose anthing or "drop" anything. The system you design must work so that everything in the quote is entered into the system as some kind of action (order the right equipment, set it up, train the users, etc.). And the minute all items are ready for action, the status will reflect that to the tech department.

If you do have some kind of quoting module in your PSA or CRM system, I encourage you to learn that and see how well it works for you. Many of these systems have no way to convert CRM/quoting activity into service tickets. But some do, so explore that option.

Whether you implement a sales flow similar to this in your ticketing system or not, you really need to have some kind of sales flow. It should allow you to make sure quotes (and pieces of quotes) don't get lost. It should also facilitate communication between the departments. Start by literally drawing out this flow on a piece of paper. Then create a Visio or other diagram so that you can visualize the flow. Finally, create the processes within your ticketing system to make this happen.

Ad of course you have to document your process.


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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

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Next week's topic: Business Cards . . . All the Details