Discus Systems PLC - IT Support Company in Birmingham West midlands
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Posted by Graham Keen on Tue 3rd May 2011
Linux users' proverbial cup is already overflowing this spring thanks to several recent coups for the open source operating system. Just last week, however, more good news arrived for users of the free software in the form of an announcement from Mozilla that Firefox has been given a huge speed boost on Linux.
 
 
Specifically, despite several failed attempts in the past, a group of Mozilla developers has succeeded in getting the open source browser's Linux builds to compile with version 4.5 of GCC, or the GNU Compiler Collection.
 
"We finally managed to get our Linux (and, obviously, Linux64) builds to use GCC 4.5, with aggressive optimization (-O3) and profile guided optimization enabled," wrote developer Mike Hommey on Friday.
 
"This means we are finally using a more modern toolchain, opening opportunities for things such as static analysis," Hommey explained. "This also means we are now producing a faster Firefox, now much closer to the Windows builds on the same hardware on various performance tests."
 
Though the feature is not slated to appear officially until Firefox 6, the newly improved builds should work on older Linux platforms as well, including Red Hat and CentOS 5, Hommey noted. The main thing that's required is that they come with the GNU standard libstdc++ library from GCC 4.1, he added.
 
First Firefox 5 Beta Build
 
Following the wildly successful debut of Firefox 4 in March, the new browser just exceeded 10 percent market share for the first time this past weekend, according to fresh data from StatCounter. Still ahead of Firefox 4 are just Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 and Mozilla's own Firefox 3.6, according to StatCounter's data.
 
Meanwhile, as part of its new, six-week development cycle, Mozilla just posted its first Firefox 5 beta build. Now making its way into that version are new CSS3 support and tab management along with improved HTML5 support, according to a report in ConceivablyTech.
 
The final release of Firefox 5 is due on June 21, likely followed by Firefox 6 in mid-August.
 
Katherine Noyes
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Wed 27th Apr 2011
This year, devices with embedded wireless local area networking (WLAN) capability will top one billion for the first time. By 2015, that number will double – and some people are terrified that their ubiquity will spark an electromagnetic apocalypse.
 
 
These figures come from a study published on Friday by IHS iSuppli. According to that research group's projections, worldwide shipments of WLAN-enabled devices will reach 1.2 billion in 2011, up over 35 per cent from 2010's 880.4 billion units. By 2015, IHS iSuppli projects that 2.2 billion of the devices will ship.
 
"In today's world of connected electronics, consumers expect seamless access to Internet communications, services and content in any place and at any time," said Dr. Jagdish Rebello, the research group's senior director and principal analyst for communications and consumer electronics.
 
The growth in WLAN-enabled devices has been led by cell phones, with 512.8 million units projected to ship this year. Mobile PCs are a distant number two, with 230.1 million set to ship in 2011.
 
Future WLAN-enabled device growth, however, will be spurred by newer categories of embedded devices. IHS iSuppli contends that automotive installations will lead the growth curve, with a compound annual growth rate of 98.2 per cent from 2010 to 2015. WLAN-enabled televisions will be close behind, with a growth rate of 77.8 per cent during the same period.
 
While the technorati may welcome this burst of wireless connectivity, other segments of the population aren't so sure that such an increase in wireless communication is safe.
 
Take, for example, the groundswell of opposition to Califonia utility provider PG&E's efforts to equip its customers with RF-enabled, usage-tracking SmartMeters. These benighted devices have encountered a host of non-WLAN problems, such as exorbitant bills and alleged explosions, but it's their RF-communication ability that has set sensitive teeth on edge in the Golden State.
 
SmartMeters, according to some PG&E customers, have sparked cases of "electromagnetic hypersensitivity" (EHS), with symptoms ranging from rashes to dizziness to heart palpitations to what the World Health Organization delicately describes as "digestive disturbances".
 
That same WHO report on EHS, however, concludes that "EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF exposure."
 
That reassurance, however, didn't stop the EMF Safety Network from filing a formal complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission, claiming that "Scientific studies show evidence of biological harm from RF exposure, at levels far below the [Federal Communications Commission] safety standard."
 
It should be noted that SmartMeters emit about one watt of RF, which is less than most cell phones. And, needless to say, few PG&E customers hold their utility meters upside their heads.
 
Still, with a doubling of WLAN-capable devices by 2015, expect more and louder complaints from folks who claim that their electrical meters, cars, and televisions are out to get them.
 
Rik Myslewski
 
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Wed 27th Apr 2011
 
Amazon has issued a confident revenue forecast, leading to hopes its growth in new business areas is providing returns and soothing worries over a slimmer profit margin.
 
Shares were down 1.2 per cent after Amazon reported a 32.8 per cent decline in first-quarter profits. But that was a far cry from the big sell-off when the company last reported quarterly results and shares lost nine per cent.
 
"The concern that people had, that they were going to spend more than the Street was expecting, happened," said Ken Sena, analyst at Evercore Partners. "But when you look at the kind of growth acceleration they are showing on the top line and surpassing pretty much all Street expectations, I think that clearly shows what they are doing makes sense."
 
In recent years, Amazon has fought to win market share through its Prime programme of low-cost delivery of its retail goods and by offering inexpensive electronic books for its Kindle e-reader.
 
More recently, it has invested heavily in areas such as cloud computing and "music lockers" where fans store their music on Amazon's servers, to take on its rivals Google and Apple.
 
Amazon expects that its investing to win market share will work. It forecast current-quarter revenue of $8.85 billion (£5.38 billion) to $9.65 billion, above Wall Street expectations of $8.7 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
 
Chief financial officer Tom Szkutak told analysts on a conference call that Amazon has to spend money to develop the technology infrastructure and distribution centres and support its growth. Revenues nearly doubled between 2008 and 2010.
 
For the company's first quarter, which ended 31 March, revenue was $9.857 billion, above the average analyst estimate of $9.57 billion and 38.2 per cent above a year earlier.
 
In contrast, data firm eMarketer estimated that US retail e-commerce sales rose 13 per cent in the quarter compared with a year earlier.
 
Amazon's sales increase was led by a 45 per cent rise in North America. Growth elsewhere was 27 per cent excluding the effect of currency exchange. Szkutak said that would have been 32 per cent if not for Japan's massive earthquake last month.
 
But net income in the first quarter was $201 million, or 44 cents per share - down from $299 million, or 66 cents per share, a year earlier. That was far below the 61 cents expected by Wall Street, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
 
The company posted an 18.2 per cent dip in operating profit for the quarter, reflecting the costs of competing in the highly promotional retail environment, with beefed-up investment in its cloud computing services.
 
Shrinking operating margins
 
Operating margin, which Amazon has said is the best gauge of its profitability given the variety of items it sells, came to 3.3 per cent, in the middle of the range it had forecast.
 
Still, that was a significant drop from the 5.5 per cent margin in the year ago quarter.
 
"It's not a revenue problem, it's a profit problem," said BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis. "But at the end of the day, you've got to remember that these guys are a discount retailer."
 
Amazon said it expects operating profit in the current quarter of $95 million to $245 million, after costs of $180 million for stock-based compensation and amortisation of assets. Amazon had operating profit of $207 million in the second quarter last year
 
Phil Wahba
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Wed 27th Apr 2011
While a company can do everything possible for its own network security, in the age of e-commerce and online banking that's not enough. Increasingly, IT managers have to ask, Is the guy we do business with the loose wire in security?
 
The answer may be "yes" because the customer, client and trading partner isn't meeting expectations about secure data-sharing, such as using encryption to shield sensitive information. And when their PCs are hijacked by cybercrooks or their employees transmit sensitive data in a way that violates regulatory statutes, suddenly it's your company's problem, too.
  
In healthcare, data related to personal health information (PHI) and personally identifiable information (PII) which is transmitted to business partners has to be kept confidential through encryption, notes Richard DeRoche, corporate director of information technology at for Lutheran Life Communities. The healthcare provider, with eight locations and 1,600 employees, provides older adults with retirement facilities, home care and nursing services in Illinois, Indiana and Florida.
 
But when Lutheran Life Communities installed a data-loss prevention device -- in this case, one from Palisade Systems -- to make sure PHI and PII data transmissions were sent correctly, the big shock was the discovery that it was business partners that had issues.
 
"85% to 90% of the violations are inbound," says DeRoche, noting that while employees at Lutheran Life Communities were, by and large, following instructions about encrypting sensitive data, the healthcare provider's business partners and even a state agency were the ones making the most mistakes in that regard.
 
That ignited debate in the legal division at Lutheran Life Communities as to whether the company should even be accepting email that appears to violate rules such as HIPAA and the HITECH Act, regulations that carry punishment and fines for violations.
 
DeRoche says the company has decided to start sending warning messages back to the originators of email that violates its security and privacy policy, saying the company can't willingly accept the messages in their current form. He notes there's a need to establish more business-partner agreements where these type of data-protection issues are spelled out in advance.
 
Lutheran Life Communities, which like many firms has not found it easy to establish a way to get myriad business partners using encryption, set up Microsoft SharePoint as an external portal intended for business partners to share confidential data with the company. It's a password- and encryption-based system that works but is a tad "awkward" for end users, DeRoche notes.
 
Banking is another industry where mistakes made by others have an unwanted impact.
 
Cybercriminals are proving adept in tricking both retail and corporate online banking customers, sometimes carrying out elaborate scams to lure victims to fake phishing sites to steal account information or even hijacking PCs with Trojan software to make fraudulent transactions through Automated Clearinghouse (ACH) services.
  
The criminals can remotely initiate large-dollar payments right through the victim's desktop computer, and these unauthorized payments end up in the bank accounts of the money mules helping them. Corporate bank customers, when they discover what happened, have to plead their case with the banks, and under the law, corporate customers don't have the same sort of fraud protections for lost amounts in this regard as consumers in online banking.
 
Some banks are moving more forcefully to try to prevent these types of attacks on their customers and the banking system.
 
For example, Fairfield County Bank, based in Connecticut, has decided in order to prevent attacks, it will require its corporate ACH banking customers -- about 80 companies with several hundred end users -- to make use of a specific security protection for ACH payments.
 
All of the bank's customers will get a IronKey Trusted Access for Banking token, which is a secure USB token that can be managed via the IronKey cloud-based service. The handheld IronKey USB device, plugged into a computer, aims to protect against keylogging and browser-based attacks and malware by essentially creating a controlled online work environment separate from the user's operating system.
 
"It will be required," says Christina Bodine, assistant vice president, cash-management office and business e-banking, at Fairfield County Bank.
 
She says the mandatory security device will help protect the customer and differentiate the bank's services. Like other banks, Fairfield County Bank recommends bank customers use dedicated machines for funds transfer, but doesn't require it.
 
Another financial institution, Bank of North Carolina, is also offering the IronKey USB token -- complete with the bank's logo on it -- to customers, says Debbie Myers, BNC senior vice president of e-banking and business services manager. But the bank, which is charging a monthly service fee for it, is not planning to make use of IronKey mandatory.
 
"We're providing it as an option at this time to our customers," says Myers, adding customers are still learning about it and the bank is reluctant to make it a requirement.
 
Ellen Messmer
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Tue 26th Apr 2011
Three quarters of broadband users feel that their service has not improved over the last 12 months according to a survey we carried out of over 1,200 users. Only 21% of users believed their broadband service improved.
 
 
The survey also asked users what their biggest broadband complaint was, and there was dominating trend toward broadband speeds. Around a quarter of those questioned felt that they could not receive the broadband speeds that they had been promised and about the same again were frustrated that they couldn't get access to fast broadband. Others had broadband gripes where broadband congestion and fair usage policies or limits were an issue. The cost of broadband was the biggest complaint in only 5% of those questioned.
 
"The vast majority of users do not seem to think that their broadband experience has improved in the past year, which is not painting a good picture of Broadband Britain.
 
Broadband speeds continue to be the biggest source of frustration for many users. We can only hope that with the latest announcements on increased fibre rollout by various telecommunications providers, the next few years will see a dramatic improvement on broadband speeds."
 
John Hunt
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Tue 26th Apr 2011
Good security advice can be hard to find. Lots of security experts offer help, but not all of their tips are accurate or up-to-date, and many address PC security only. So even if you follow their advice, you may be more vulnerable than you think. That's where we come in. We've assembled a dozen simple but essential tips--a 12-step security program--to keep your PC, smartphone, gadgets, and identity safe. The steps are practical and fairly easy to perform, so you can strengthen your security without losing your mind in the process.
 
 
1. Use Virtual Credit Card Numbers to Shop Online
 
You have good reason to be nervous when using your credit card number to shop online. After all, you may know little or nothing about the company you're buying from, and your credit card information is at risk of being comprom­ised in a data breach. Using a virtual credit card number is one way to make your Internet shopping excursions more secure.
 
Essentially a wrapper for your regular credit card or debit card account, a virtual card number is good for one use only. When you use the virtual number, the bank that supplied it charges your purchase to your regular credit or debit card, but hackers never gain access to the underlying credit card information.
 
Various financial institutions maintain some sort of virtual credit card program. Bank of America, for instance, offers a ShopSafe service, and Discover has a similar service built around what it calls a Secure Online Account Number. Check with your bank or card issuer to see what options are available. Alternatively, consider Shop Shield, a virtual card number service that you can use with any credit card or checking account.
 
2. Secure Your Wi-Fi
 
Is your Wi-Fi network at home password-protected? If not, it should be. You might not care if your neighbors use your Wi-Fi connection to surf the Web, but someone with more sinister motives could take advantage of your generosity (and lack of protection) to gain access to data stored on your home PCs.
 
The easiest way to guard against Wi-Fi interlopers is to encrypt your Wi-Fi network. Afterward you'll have to enter a password whenever you connect to your Wi-Fi network, but that's a small price to pay for improved security. Most Wi-Fi routers support WEP, WPA, and WPA2 encryption standards. Be sure to use either the WPA or WPA2 encryption settings, which provide a much higher level of security than WEP encryption.
 
Another safeguard is to set your router not to broadcast the SSID (your network's name). With SSID broadcasting disabled, your wireless network won't be visible to computers nearby, and only people who specifically know your network's name will be able to find it. The procedure for locking down your Wi-Fi will vary depending on your router's model and manufacturer. Check the router's documentation for instructions.
 
3. Encrypt Your Hard Drives
 
Hard drives and USB flash drives are treasure troves of personal data. They're also among the most common sources of data leaks. If you lose a flash drive, external hard drive, or laptop containing sensitive personal information, you will be at risk. Fortunately, en­­crypting your hard drive can give your data an extra layer of protection be­­yond setting up a system password. Encryption will conceal your drive's data and make accessing the files almost im­­possible for anyone who does not know your encryption password.
 
 
The Ultimate and Business editions of Windows 7 and Vista come with BitLocker, a tool that lets you encrypt your entire hard drive. If you don't have the Ultimate or Business version, another alternative is to use TrueCrypt, a free, open-source tool that can encrypt your entire disk, a portion of a disk, or an external drive. For its part, Mac OS X includes FileVault, a tool for encrypting your Mac's home folder; Lion, the next major Mac OS X release on the horizon, will be able to encrypt a whole hard drive.
 
Another option is to buy external hard drives and flash drives equipped with en­­cryption tools. Some of these drives have built-in fingerprint readers for additional security. See "Secure Flash Drives Lock Down Your Data" for more about secure flash-drive options.
 
4. Keep Your Software Up-to-Date
 
One of the simplest but most important security precautions you should take is to keep your PC's software up-to-date. I'm not talking exclusively about Windows here: Adobe, Apple, Mozilla, and other software makers periodically release fixes for various bugs and security flaws. Cybercriminals commonly exploit known vulnerabilities, and Adobe Reader is a constant target of such assaults.
 
Not infrequently, the latest version of a popular program introduces entirely new security features. For example, Adobe Reader X, the newest version of the company's PDF reader, uses something called Protected Mode to shut down malware attacks. If you still use an earlier version of Adobe Reader, you aren't benefiting from Reader X's security enhancements.
 
Most major commercial software packages come with some sort of automatic updating feature that will inform you when a new update is available. Don't ignore these messages; install updates as soon as you can when you're prompted to do so. It's a little bit of a hassle, but it can prevent major headaches later on.
 
5. Upgrade to the Latest Antivirus Software
 
If you're running antivirus software from two or three years ago, you should up­­grade to the most recent version, even if you still receive up-to-date malware signature files for the older edition. The underlying technology for antivirus software has im­­proved significantly in recent years.
 
To detect threats, antivirus products today don't rely solely on the traditional signature files (regularly updated files that identify the latest malware). They also use heuristic techniques to de­­tect and block infections that no one has seen yet. Given how frequently new viruses crop up in the wild, the ability to protect against unknown malware is critical.
 
Not sure what to use? Consult our latest reviews of antivirus software and security suites. And you don't even have to spend money to protect yourself, thanks to various free antivirus options.
 
 
6. Lock Down Your Smartphone
 
If you use your smartphone the way I use mine, your handset probably contains lots of personal information--e-mail addresses, photos, phone contacts, Facebook and Twitter apps, and the like. That accumulation of valuable data makes smartphones a tempting target for thieves and cybercriminals, which is why the smartphone is shaping up as the next big security battleground.
 
Android phones are already being hit with Trojan horses and other types of malware, and security experts agree that mobile malware is still in its infancy. Worse, many users don't think of their phones as computers (though that's what the devices are), so they don't take the same security precautions they would with a PC. If you haven't downloaded a security app for your Android phone, you should. Most smartphone security apps are free, and it's far better to have one and never need it than to get caught off-guard and exposed without one.
 
If you have an Android phone, the first app you should install on it is an antivirus program. Besides scanning for malware, mobile antivirus apps may support such features as a remote wipe (so you can securely remove all data stored on the phone if you lose it), GPS tracking (for locating your phone if you misplace it), and SMS spam blocking.
 
Our favorite freebie in this category is the Lookout Mobile Security app. Lookout scans your phone for existing malware threats and automatically scans any new applications you install on your handset. Other popular antivirus apps, available for a subscription fee, are Symantec's Norton Mobile Security (beta version), AVG's Antivirus Pro, and McAfee's Wave­Secure.
 
Because Apple's App Store takes a more restrictive approach to apps offered for sale there, iPhone owners generally don't have to worry as much about malware, though it's always possible for something to slip through the cracks. Apple hasn't allowed any proper antivirus applications into the App Store, either, but you do have some security options.
 
One is a device tracking and remote-wipe service from Apple called Find My iPhone. It comes as part of Apple's paid MobileMe service ($99 per year), but Apple also offers it to any iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch owner, free of charge. With Find My iPhone, you can lock and remotely delete data stored on your iPhone, track the device via GPS, remotely set a passcode, and display an on-screen message with an alarm sound (so you can find it if you misplace it around your house or office).
 
One more tip: When choosing a mobile antivirus program, it's safest to stick with well-known brands. Otherwise, you risk getting infected by malware disguised as an antivirus app.
 
7. Install a Link-Checker Plug-In
 
 
Security threats may lurk in seemingly innocuous Web pages. Le­­gitimate sites may get hacked, cybercriminals game search engines to make sure that their infected pages come up in searches for hot topics (a technique known as "search engine poisoning"), and seemingly safe sites may harbor malware. Although you have no way to guard against these attacks completely, using a link checker can help protect you from many of them.
 
Link-checker tools typically show small badges next to links in search results and elsewhere to indicate whether a site is trustworthy, dangerous, or questionable. Many such tools also add a status indicator to your browser's toolbar to signal the presence of any problems with the site that you're currently visiting.
 
Various options are available: AVG LinkScanner, McAfee SiteAdvisor, Symantec Norton Safe Web Lite, and Web of Trust are all available for free. Many security suites come with a link scanner, too.
 
8. Don't Neglect Physical Security
 
A thief can snatch an unattended laptop from a desk and walk away in a matter of seconds. And a thief who has your laptop may have access to your files and personal information. A notebook lock won't prevent someone from cutting the cable, but it can deter crimes of opportunity.
 
Kensington is probably best-known for its notebook locks; it offers an array of locks for laptops and desktops. Targus is a second vendor that specializes in laptop security gear, including one lock that sounds an alarm when someone tries to pick up the attached laptop or cut the lock cable.
 
Prying eyes are a common security hazard. To prevent unauthorized viewing of your data when you step away from your desk, always lock your screen before leaving your PC unattended. To do this, simply hold down the Windows key and type the letter L. This will bring up the lock screen. To get back to work, press Ctrl-Alt-Delete, and enter your login password at the prompt.
 
Another way to shield your screen is to install a privacy filter over the display. These filters fit directly on a monitor so other people can't peer over your shoulder and see what's on the screen. A privacy filter may be particularly useful if you work in an "open" office that lacks cubicle walls. Various companies sell these filters, including Targus, 3M, and Fellowes.
 
9. HTTPS Is Your Friend
 
When you're browsing the Web, protect yourself by using HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) whenever possible. HTTPS encrypts the connection between your PC and the Website you're visiting. Though HTTPS doesn't guarantee that a site is secure, it can help prevent other parties from hacking into the network and gaining access to your account.
 
 
Many sites use HTTPS by default: When you purchase an item online or log in to online banking, for instance, your browser will probably connect to the site via HTTPS automatically. But you can go one step further by enabling HTTPS on Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail.
 
To use Facebook's HTTPS feature, log in to Facebook and click Account in the upper-right corner. Select Account Settings from the drop-down menu, and look for ‘Account Security' on the resulting page. Under the Account Security heading, click Change, check the box next to Browse Facebook on a secure connection (https) whenever possible, and click Save.
 
For Twitter, first log in to your account. If you're using the new Twitter interface, click your account name in the upper-right part of the screen, and select settings. (If you're still using the old Twitter interface, click the Settings link in the upper right of the window.) From there, scroll down to the bottom of the resulting page, check the box next to Always use HTTPS, and click Save.
 
To enable HTTPS on Gmail, log in to your account, click the gear icon in the upper-right corner, and select Mail Settings from the drop-down menu. Next, under the Browser Connection heading, select the button labeled Always use https. When you're all set, scroll to the bottom of the page and click Save Changes. To learn more about Gmail security, visit Google's Gmail Security Checklist page.
 
10. Avoid Public Computers and Wi-Fi
 
As convenient as free Wi-Fi and publicly available computers may be at, say, a public library or café, using them can leave you and your personal information exposed. Public computers might be infected with spyware and other types of malware designed to track your movements online and harvest your passwords.
 
The same is true of open Wi-Fi networks. Cyberthieves may set up rogue Wi-Fi networks that look legitimate (for instance, one may be named for the café that you're visiting) but enable the crooks to collect your personal information. Even legitimate open Wi-Fi networks may leave you vulnerable. For an example, look no further than the Firesheep plug-in for Firefox, which allows just about anyone to hijack log-in sessions for various social networks.
 
Sometimes, you may have no choice but to use a public computer or Wi-Fi network. When you do, don't use it to check your e-mail or social network accounts, conduct online banking, or perform any other action that entails logging in to a site. If you have access to a VPN, use it.
 
11. Be Password Smart
 
You probably know already that using obvious or easy-to-discover passwords like "password" or your pet's name is a bad idea. But how can you make your passwords significantly more secure?
 
First, you need to use a different long, strong password for each account. Hackers often attempt to break into accounts by employing a "dictionary attack," which involves using words straight from the dictionary to guess your password. So don't use standard words as your passwords; instead, try creating them from a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. And don't simply replace letters in a word with a symbol (for example, using the @ symbol in place of an A); it's too common a trick. You can also strengthen your passwords by using a mix of lowercase and capital letters.
 
 
Basically, the more complex a password is, the better. But try to use something that you'll be able to remember--a mnemonic of some sort that incorporates various alphanumeric symbols--and that nobody but you would know.
 
Remembering multiple passwords can be a challenge, which is why many people find that a good password manager is indispensable. KeePass is a good, free password-management option that works on Windows and Mac OS X systems. Another possibility is 1Password ($40), which can generate and manage passwords for you.
 
12. Check Your Credit Report Each Year
 
Unfortunately, even if you do everything right, bad guys might still succeed in stealing your identity. After all, you can control who has access to your personal information, but you can't control how well a company that you do business with secures its personal-data records.
 
Nevertheless, you can limit the damage that would result from undetected identity theft by checking your credit report regularly. Periodically checking your credit report is a good way to make sure that no one has opened credit card or bank accounts under your name.
 
If you are a U.S. citizen, you're entitled to receive one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit agencies--Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion--via AnnualCreditReport.com. The service will let you examine and print out your credit report for free, but if you want to obtain your actual credit score, you'll have to pay for it. Since your freebie credit report is just a once-a-year affair, it's a good idea to insert a reminder in your calendar to check in again with AnnualCreditReport.com in 12 months.
 
Nick Mediati
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 19th Apr 2011

 

Discus Systems plc

 

 

The Discus Diviner

April 2011 

 

We do hope you enjoyed the first edition of The Discus Diviner. This month, the beginning of a new financial year for many companies, the challenge of sticking to the coming year's budget will be a worry. In this edition we have looked at how three of our services can help you save money and fix your costs.

 

The IT Support Guy finds himself in a tricky situation - having to solve a pedantic academic's 'Cloud' problem.

 

Damien has also provided a few 'hints and tips' to help you in your business.

 

 

 

The IT Support Guy

 

Victor can't miss the nameplate. The big gold letters on the door scream the importance of the office's occupant.

  

DR. THADDEUS STRINGFELLOW

VICE-CHANCELLOR

 

This is Victor's first support call on the Vice-Chancellor. Stringfellow was Ted 's customer - until Ted suffered his recent nervous breakdown. Could the two be connected?

 

He raps on the door, hoping no one is at home. The sound of a chair scraping across the floor puts paid to that. The door opens to reveal a pair of bifocals perched precariously on a nose filched from Pinocchio.

 

'You are?' says a thin mouth, lurking in the shadow of the nose.

 

Victor holds out his ID card. 'I am.'

 

'Hmmph. Come.'

 

Victor follows the nose into the room. Every surface is covered in books. Closed, open, tumbling off shelves, strewn across the floor. The only place where there is none is a large, leather-covered desk in the middle of the room. The top is occupied by an overflowing in-tray, a 22" monitor, a wireless keyboard and a mouse.

 

Stringfellow eases himself on to the edge of the desk, peers at Victor over his spectacles. 'You took your time, young man.'

 

'Got stuck in traffic.'

 

'That's what Ted used to say. Are you his apprentice?'

 

'Er, no.'

 

'Only it might be a complicated problem, you see. Beyond your experience?'

 

Victor feels his mouth tighten. 'What's the problem? The ticket says "difficulty with The Cloud".'

 

'That would be my diagnosis.'

 

Smiling inwardly, Victor gives Stringfellow his sympathetic look. 'Very tricky. It's been giving us a lot of problems recently.'

 

'It has?'

 

'Yeah. Incredible. worse than any virus. Completely takes out the internet.'

 

Stringfellow's jaw drops. 'No!'

 

'Fortunately I've had all the training. Otherwise . . .' Victor draws his fingernail across his neck, 'that would be that.' He gets down on his hands and knees, crawls under the desk, says to Stringfellow, 'This Cloud problem often happens after the cleaners have been in.'

 

'That's remarkable! They were in here first thing this morning!'

 

Victor rolls his eyes, plugs the router power cord back into the socket.

 

NEXT MONTH: Victor gets a call from the farm 

 

 

 

 

Wayville Trading chooses Discus

  

We are pleased to welcome Wayville Trading Limited, a brand new company formed by Phil Brown, formerly the Managing Director of Pearse Complex Alloys and Consolidated Stainless Recycling. Phil has used Discus for IT support in his two companies for over 13 years and chose Discus to setup the IT requirements for his new venture based in Bromsgrove.

 

 

 

Save Money and Fix Costs No. 1:

IT Support for a Single, Fixed Monthly Fee

  

For a fixed monthly fee we provide unlimited IT support and assistance, both on-site and remotely. No matter how much you use the service the fee will remain the same during the contract period.

Our TotalCare® package offers:

  • A fixed monthly fee - budget with confidence, no unexpected costs
  • A negotiable contract period - no 'tie-in'
  • A single service option - no confusing alternatives
  • Problem resolution before it occurs - no disruption to your business
  • Regular reporting updates in plain English - no indecipherable jargon


For further information email
u2us@discus.co.uk or for an informal discussion call Terry or Martyn on 0800 880 3360 

 

 

 

 

Save Money and Fix Costs No. 2:

Hosted Telecommunications Service

  

This is not an offer to shave a few pounds off your organisation's telephone bill by switching from one telephone service provider to another. This is an offer to reduce your annual expenditure on telephones that you will find hard to resist.

 

How? By utilising our hosted telecommunications service you can save up to 30% of your annual bill. Yes, thats' right. Up to 30%. And we guarantee to save you 15% on call charges alone.

  • 100% guaranteed call quality - no loss of speech
  • 30 day contract- no 'tie-in'

Saving money isn't the only benefit:

  • Make and receive calls to VOIP phones, mobile phones. PBX phones, PSTN phones
  • Route calls to VOIP phones, mobile phones. PBX phones, PSTN phones, PCs and MACs

Special Offer for April! Take advantage now of a free, no obligation trial.

  

For further information email u2us@discus.co.uk  or for an informal discussion contact Terry or Martyn on 0800 880 3360

 

 

 

 

Save Money and Fix Costs No.3:

Hosted Microsoft Exchange Service

  

As our hosted service is deployed over the Internet, there is no need to modify your existing e-mail infrastructure, install and maintain any new hardware or specialized software, or invest in training for IT staff or end users. You can begin using Microsoft Exchange right away.

Our hosted service provides online tools to help your organization protect itself from spam and malware, satisfy retention requirements for e-discovery and compliance, and encrypt data to preserve confidentiality.

For further information email
u2us@discus.co.uk or for an informal discussion contact Terry or Martyn on 0800 880 3360 

 

 

 

 

Moo Time

Down on the Farm

 

To end on a different note . . .

You may hear strange noises in the background during your phonecall.

There are many pleasures to be had from working in the the countryside - clean air, wonderful views, easy parking.

However, life goes on, and cows are no exception. So allow me too apologise in advance for the sound of new bovine life entering the world. It's temporary only! 

 

I hope you enjoy our newsletter.

Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any comments or criticisms.

Sincerely,

Terry Biddulph

Managing Director

Discus Systems plc 

 

In This Issue

The IT Support Guy

Wayville Trading chooses Discus

Save Money 1: Fixed Cost IT Support

Save Money 2: Hosted Telecommunications

Save Costs 3: Hosted Microsoft Exchange

Damien's Tips 'n Tricks

The Hampton Joker

 

 

 

Quick Links

  

 

Damien's Tips 'n Tricks 

Damian

How to improve your Wireless Signal!

 

Reposition the router to a central location in the house - for example, the centre of the house.

 

Place the router away from any large objects or walls.

 

Make sure the router is raised - i.e. not on the floor

 

Place the router away from anything which is metal.

 

Keep it well away from the microwave!

 

When purchasing or specifying your router, ensure you look to upgrade the aerial or antenna to a hi-gain one. If you use the standard aerial you'll have your wireless signal directed outside the house. With a hi-gain one it is designed to focus its signal actually at the device you want to connect to and from!

 

Upgrade your machine's wireless network adapter with a new USB version. (Laptops with built-in wireless normally contain outstanding antennas. They do not usually require to be upgraded.)

 

Add a wireless repeater to extend the signal range.

 

Change the wireless channel/frequency to increase its signal strength. You can do that through the configuration page of the router. The computer will detect the new channel itself.

 

Reduce wireless interference by avoiding wireless electronics which use the 2.4GHz frequency. You should use cordless phones which use the 900MHz or 5.8GHz frequencies.

 

Update your firmware updates for your router through the manufacturer's website.

 

Update your network adapter driver through the Windows Update feature of Windows 7 and Vista or visit the website here for Windows XP.

 

Upgrade 802.11b devices to 802.11g or buy a new 802.11 g equipment. It is five times faster than an 802.11b device!

 

 

The Hampton Joker 

Tech support: How may I help you?

The Joker: I'm writing my first email.

Tech support: OK, and what seems to be the problem?

The Joker: Well, I have the letter 'a' in the address, but how do I get the little circle around it?

 

**********

The Joker: I can't get on the Internet.

Tech support: Are you sure you used the right password?

The Joker: Yes, I'm sure I saw my colleague do it.

Tech support: Can you tell me what the password was?

The Joker: Five dots.

 

**********

Tech support: Good day. How may I help you?

The Joker: Hello.. I can't print.

Tech support: Would you click on 'start' for me and . . . The Joker: Hey, don't start getting technical on me! I'm not Bill Gates!

 

 

 

Discus Systems - providing IT support throughout the West Midlands,

covering Birmingham, Coventry, Solihull, Sutton Coldfield, Lichfield, Tamworth,

Wolverhampton, Dudley, Bromsgrove and Redditch.

 
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Tue 19th Apr 2011
Dell makes a lot of noise about its bespoke servers cobbled together by its Data Center Solutions unit, and this gets under Hewlett-Packard's skin a bit considering that it is the largest shipper of servers in the world and it has its own quasi-custom, dense, energy-efficient servers aimed at hyperscale customers, too. So you might think that HP would make some noise about the new ProLiant SL machines at one of the recent press and analysts events it has hosted.
 
 
Nope.
 
Instead, HP has done a soft launch on a revamped lineup of cookie-sheet servers that slide into the ProLiant SL6500 rack-mounted ovens enclosures. By "soft" I mean it's talked to key analysts and journalists about the machines and then just plunked the feeds and speeds out there on the corporate web site for people to find.
 
"We don't beat our chest about it as much, but four out of five of the world's largest search engines are powered by ProLiant servers," director of marketing for service providers and high performance computing at HP Glenn Keels tells El Reg. He adds that HP can and does build custom servers "where needed, and at scale."
 
The ProLiant SL6500 Scalable System chassis is not any different from when it was announced last October. The chassis is 4U high and allows for half-width server trays that are 1U or 2U in height to slide into the chassis.
 
There are also now full-width blades that can slide into the enclosure, and you make be asking yourself how this differs from an enterprise blade server that has been tipped on its side. The answer is simple: a cookie-sheet server does not have a midplane that blades and switches plug into and that a management controller in the chassis uses to control all of the individual nodes. Cookie-sheet servers are just funky ways of packing in free standing servers (as far as networking goes) but having them share power and cooling.
 
There are four new server trays that slide into the SL6500, two of them based on Xeon 5600 processor from Intel (of course) and two based on processors from Advanced Micro Devices. This is the first time the ProLiant SLs have had Opteron options, and considering that the Opteron 6100s came out in March 2010 and Opteron 4100s followed in June, you might be wondering what took so long. The sales cycle for the SL family of machines is a bit different from the general-purpose market and HP wanted to make sure the SL idea flew before it started expanding the lineup.
 
The two new Intel-based cookie-sheet servers are the ProLiant SL160s G6 and the ProLiant SL390s G7. The two new Opteron-based nodes for the SL6500 chassis are the ProLiant SL165s G7 and the ProLiant SL335s G7.
 
The SL160s G6 is still at the G6 generation because it has the iLO 100 service processor on the server node rather than the full iLO 3 card that is included with the G7-series servers in the ProLiant family aimed at enterprise-class data centers.
 
It is a full-width tray that can have one or two Xeon 5600 processors on its system board, which is mounted on the front left of the tray. The mono for this server node has 18 memory slots and can support a maximum of 192GB of main memory. You can only use a dozen of the slots with 16GB memory sticks to 192GB; with 18 of the 8GB sticks, you top out at 144GB.
 
HP is supporting Xeon 5600s with either four or six cores in the node. The SL160s G6 tray has room for six 3.5-inch SAS or SATA disks or ten 2.5-inch SAS or SATA disks or solid state drives. (Fat 3.5-inch SSDs are not supported.) The drives are not hot plug, and given the distributed nature of the applications that are run on these types of servers, they don't need to be. The system has two expansion slots and has one integrated Gigabit Ethernet port; it also has an on-board, six-port SATA RAID controller.
 
The base SL160s server comes with a single four-core Xeon E5620 processor spinning at 2.4GHz and 6GB of main memory; it costs $1,475. Using a slightly faster six-core X5640 running at 2.66GHz and putting in 12GB of main memory boosts the price to $2,545. Kicking that up to two Xeon X5672 processors (quad core running at 3.2GHz) and bumping up memory to 24GB raises the price to $5,745. These SL machines are not in the online store configurator, so you can't see the effect of choosing other processors and adding disk and SSD options.
 
Timothy Prickett Morgan
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Mon 18th Apr 2011
Universities, government labs, and sometimes IT vendors donate their excess supercomputing capacity through grants to academics to help advance various sciences. Now Google is letting boffins loose on its systems.
 
 
In a blog post, Alfred Spector, vice president of research and special initiatives at the Chocolate Factory, said that Google had created an academic research grant program called the Google Exacycle for Visiting Faculty, which will donate one billion core-hours to science.
 
Google says that this level of computing is orders of magnitude more computing than most academics can get their hands on, no matter how big the endowment is at the university or how much research they do for government.
 
Google is not just giving away compute cycle on its massive server clusters to get a tax write-off on unused capacity, but to blind us with science. "Google Exacycle for Visiting Faculty is not a conventional grant program," the company claims. "We aim to stimulate advances in science and engineering research by supporting the computational needs of projects that push boundaries and reach for remarkable breakthroughs."
 
Google is not giving all of the billion core-hours to one lucky researcher. The plan is to solicit distinguished researchers and postdoctoral scholars from all over the globe and award them grants for jobs that can chew through at least 100 million core-hours.
 
Those who win the grants will do their work from Google offices and sign an employee agreement with Google for the term of the simulation. You have to pay your own travel, lodging, and living expenses while the simulations run.
 
The company says that large-scale genomics and protein folding simulations are the kinds of jobs it expects to most benefit from such a large number of cores to frolic upon; embarrassingly parallel jobs will do best, and "pleasantly parallel" jobs (yes that is a technical term) will work.
 
"The higher the CPU to I/O rate, the better the match with the system," Google says, and jobs that have minimal communication between nodes will do best. (Sounds like Gigabit Ethernet to me.) Your program has to be coded in C/C++ and compiled via Google's Native Client SDK, its tweak of the open source GNU C++ toolbox. Sorry, no Fortran or Java apps need apply. Researchers have until May 31 to apply for the capacity.
 
Looking ahead, Spector says that Google is thinking of extending CPU capacity grants to businesses in various industries, including biotech, financial services, manufacturing, and energy. Spector did not say that these grants would be free – he didn't say Google would charge for them, but it makes sense that it would – and is soliciting ideas from industry now on what jobs companies might want to run.
 
So just how much is a billion core-hours in terms of HPC capacity?
 
The largest cluster of Xeon machines in the world not using a proprietary interconnect of some kind is the Pleiades supercomputer at NASA's Ames Research Center. It uses Intel's old quad-core Xeon 5400 processors from two generations ago in two-socket machines; the cluster has 81,920 cores running at 2.93 GHz and links the servers together with an InfiniBand network.
 
Those chips can issue four floating point instructions per clock cycle per core, which works out to over 960 teraflops of aggregate peak number-crunching power. (On the Linpack floating point test, the Pleiades machine delivers 772.7 teraflops of actual performance.) If you ran the Pleiades machine flat out for a full year, you are talking about 718 million core-hours.
 
A grant of 100 million core-hours is around 11,408 Xeon cores running for a full year, and with modern six-core Xeon 5600 processors, you are talking about Google giving 950 server nodes. (Obviously, if you want to run that job in three months instead of 12, you have to quadruple the server node count.)
 
Google has millions of servers, so this is a tiny fraction of what the search giant has running in its 36 data centers. Depending on how fast you want to burn those cores, the virtual HPC cluster that Google will grant you could be rated from one to several hundred teraflops.
 
So the Google grants may be a tiny piece of Mountain View's capacity, but the capacity Google is putting up for grabs is a lot more than most researchers can get their hands on
 
Timothy Prickett Morgan
 
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Posted by Graham Keen on Mon 18th Apr 2011
The UK is expected to pass 250,000 high-speed broadband lines this month according to broadband analysis firm Point Topic. The company has projected figures based on December 2010 data to determine that the number of broadband lines with a speed of greater than 25Mbps at the end of March was 236,000, and should exceed 250,000 in April.
 
 
"We went on from [first-generation broadband 10 years ago] to reach over 13 million broadband lines within five years. Now we have over 19 million. It's dangerous just to assume that history will repeat itself, but it's still a good pointer to what will happen to superfast broadband in this decade."
Tim Johnson, (Chief Analyst) Point Topic
 
The majority of these connections are Virgin Media customers which make up an estimated 146,000 at the end of March. Virgin customers can receive 50meg or 100meg broadband through Virgin's fibre-coax hybrid network. 86,000 were estimated to be from what Point Topic refer to as 'BT networks' with the large majority of these being BT Infinity customers who have BT's up-to 40meg broadband through fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC). Around 4,000 are other BT Wholesale customers using FTTC. Only a small amount of these customers (around 3,700 in December 2010) were thought to have a full fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) based connection offering 100meg or above.
 
With TalkTalk to launch their FTTC products next month, the number of connections and rate at which these are added is only likely to increase, and this will continue as other broadband providers come on board.
 
John Hunt
ThinkBroadband
 
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