Should You Outsource or Keep IT In-House?

It’s nice to have an IT staffer in house who has intimate knowledge of your business, your network and your needs. However, few individuals are experts in all areas, and those who have the requisite skills don’t come cheap. No individual can be available 24/7 either. For many small and medium-sized businesses, outsourcing may be a better solution.

Maintaining the network. Ensuring remote users have access to resources. Updating virus definitions. Troubleshooting email problems. Any number of IT issues can arise on a daily basis.

So does it make sense for small businesses to hire a full-time IT staffer or outsource their IT needs? That depends. Weighing the pros and cons in both scenarios can help determine which option is likely to best serve small businesses.

In-House IT Support: Pros

Easy access: A tech support person on staff can address issues immediately. Other clients won’t be competing for your IT staffer’s time, though there may be other departments doing so.

Cost control: As a full-time employee, your IT support staffer’s salary remains the same, regardless of the tasks undertaken — for example, troubleshooting a printer problem, setting up a new server, or staying late on a Thursday night to complete an operating system upgrade. This means that your costs remain steady even as your technology needs change. This can be a double-edged sword, however.

In-House IT Support: Cons

Upfront and hidden costs: Hiring a full-time IT professional is an expensive endeavor. Providing that pro with a computer, desk, telephone extension, payroll account and benefits drives the cost up even higher. For many small businesses, having a full-time IT specialist with a full-time salary working on staff is too cost-prohibitive to even be considered a viable option. Not to mention the costs associated with ongoing training for IT personnel.

Limited technological expertise: Your IT specialist may be good with Excel and handy when it comes to figuring out why the printer isn’t working, but may not be as savvy when it comes to diagnosing network security issues or upgrading the Exchange server. It’s unlikely that one IT professional will be able to provide expertise for all of your technological needs. If having one full-time person is costly, you might not want to calculate the cost for a small team of specialists!

Outsourcing IT Support: Pros

Less expensive: All things considered, outsourcing tends to be less expensive than hiring a full-time IT employee in-house. Many costs — such as overhead — are spread over several clients via the agency model. Additionally, your small business doesn’t have to worry about costs associated with training or certifying IT staff.

Round-the-clock service: Most professional IT help desk or tech support firms offer their customers 24/7 access to tech support specialists, either by phone or through remote computer access. This means that you’ll have someone to walk you through resetting your email password — even at 2 a.m. What’s more, if your main contact is sick, there will be a substitute that you can count on.

Outsourcing IT Support: Cons

Language or cultural differences: Struggling to understand your tech support specialist can make a frustrating situation even worse. Unfortunately, many small businesses choose offshore outsourcing as their least-expensive option, while not considering the time and aggravation spent on communication issues. This can be mitigated either by carefully interviewing various offshore firms and giving them a “test drive,” or by hiring a local firm. The latter may also allow you to have the specialist on-site, which is highly recommended for handling most IT support needs.

Not part of the team: Because outsourced IT specialists are there only when scheduled or when you need them to fix a problem, you’ll spend time bringing them up to speed when issues do arise or when you want them to provide advice on future technology initiatives. Again, there is a solution: Get an outsourced firm involved in your IT needs on an ongoing basis via “managed services.” This way, the firm can help with routine help desk and tech support issues, and will be more fully plugged in to your needs and requirements when it comes time to upgrade the network.

And the Winner Is: Outsource Locally

Certainly, small businesses have a variety of options for solving their tech support issues. For most small businesses, however, outsourcing is the best option. Outsourcing tech support needs allows businesses to stay focused on their own core offerings without getting sidetracked on IT projects. It also allows businesses access to cutting-edge resources and expertise, without the costs typically associated with staying ahead of the technology curve.

For many small businesses, outsourcing to a local firm provides the right combination of cost savings, flexibility and round-the-clock support without the language or cultural issues that sometimes arise with offshore firms. Outsourcing locally also provides small business owners peace of mind that when they need on-site tech support, they can get it, thus allowing them to manage their business, not their network.


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Android ‘below expectations’ in Europe

Google’s Android mobile OS is showing slow growth in Western Europe since its launch, according to analysts.

Noted analyst firm IDC has stated that while Android’s market share has grown in this region, from 4.2 per cent to 5.4 per cent in the July- September period, consumers are still shying away.

“Consumers steer clear of Google’s OS and sell-out is below everyone’s expectations. Consumers recognize the Google brand, but still do not understand what Android is,” IDC analyst Francisco Jeronimo.

Lack of awareness

“The lack of devices available didn’t help to raise awareness, though this is expected to change, with more handsets from LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, and other vendors hitting the market soon.”

It’s worth noting that Android is still pretty nascent compared to other operating systems – it’s barely a year from release, and in relative terms, a 1.2 per cent increase in three months can be interpreted in a number of ways.

However, the number of ‘headline’ handsets has been minimal, with the Hero the main phone consumers will be familiar with. Android is still also early in the development stage, meaning elements consumers take for granted in other phones, such as full Bluetooth support, aren’t added until later in the development cycle.

Symbian – the operating system used for years by Nokia in its smartphones and more recently in Samsung and Sony Ericsson models – has 48 per cent of the market in Western Europe, but many predict this to decline as other competitors raise their game.

Windows Mobile is still the mainstay of the business market too, and although the iPhone and Android handsets are growing, it will take a larger range of more compelling devices to properly take on the established players and move Android from ‘Geek Chic’ to a genuine contender.


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Yahoo, Microsoft finalize search deal

Yahoo and Microsoft have finalized their agreement to install Microsoft as the exclusive search provider for Yahoo’s network of sites, the companies announced Friday.

The deal, first reached in July, still needs to be approved by the U.S. government before it becomes final. But the companies said in October that they needed more time to complete the deal due to the “complex nature of this transaction,” and Friday’s announcement is likely the result of hundreds of hours of painstaking review from expensive lawyers.

At least company executives didn’t have to rack up the frequent-flier miles to finalize this year; they signed it virtually, with Microsoft’s Qi Lu and Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz representing their respective companies on the licensing agreement and Ballmer and Bartz inking the definitive agreement, according to sources familiar with the deal.

Under the terms of the deal, Microsoft will provide search technology to Yahoo for up to 10 years, also gaining access to Yahoo’s search technology assets and several hundred employees. It will then pay Yahoo a significant portion of the ad revenue generated alongside those searches.

A Yahoo representative declined to comment on the specifics of what held up the final approval of the deal. Both parties said they still expect the deal to become final in early 2010, although the government is sure to take a long hard look.


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McAfee warns about ’12 Scams of Christmas’

Retailers aren’t the only ones gearing up for the holiday season. Criminals are also out in force.
To highlight the increased crime during the holidays, security company McAfee has come up with the “12 Scams of Christmas” ranging from bogus electronic greeting cards that deliver malware instead of cheer to fake charities that steal your money and your identity. It’s especially important to be extra careful this time of year, says McAfee’s David Marcus. “The bad guys know people are spending more time online, they’re paying more bills online so [the criminals] stand a chance of being a bit more successful this time of year.

In a podcast interview (scroll down to listen), Marcus counted down the 12 scams of Christmas starting with:

1. Charitable phishing scams: Marcus warns consumers to be wary of e-mails that appear to be from legitimate charities. Not only will they take your money and deprive charities of needed funds, but they will also steal your credit card information and identity.

2. Fake invoices from delivery services: During this period, scammers will send out fake invoices and delivery notifications appearing to come from Federal Express, UPS, the U.S. Postal Service or even the U.S. Customs Service saying that they were unable to deliver a package to your address. They ask you to confirm your address and give them credit card information to pay for delivery.

3. Social networking friend requests: Bad guys take advantage of this social time of year by sending out authentic looking friend requests via e-mail. Marcus recommends that you not click on those links but sign into Facebook and other services and look for friend requests from the site itself. Clicking on a link could install malware on your computer or trick you into revealing your password.

4. Holiday e-cards: Be careful before clicking on a holiday e-card, especially if it’s from a site you haven’t heard of. This is a way to deliver malware, pop-ups, and other forms of unwanted advertising. Some fake e-cards will look like they come from Hallmark or other legitimate companies, so pay close attention and make sure it’s from someone you know. If you’re going to send an e-card, be sure you’re dealing with a reputable service lest you risk infecting yourself and your friends.

5. Fake “luxury” jewelry: If you see an offer for luxury gifts from companies like Cartier, Gucci, and Tag Heuer at a price that’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. These links could lead you to malware and take your money or merchandise that will probably never arrive (or be fake if it does). Some of these sites, according to McAfee, even display the logos of the Better Business Bureau.

6. Practice safe holiday shopping. Make sure your wireless network is secure and be sure you’re shopping on sites that are secure. Though it isn’t an iron clad guarantee, you should look for the lock icon in the lower right corner of your browser and make sure the Web page starts with https. The “s” stands for “secure.”

7. Christmas carol lyrics can be dangerous: Bad guys know that people are searching for holiday related sites for music, holiday graphics, and other festive media. During this time, they create fraudulent holiday related sites.

8. Job search related scams: With the unemployment rate at 10.2 percent, there are plenty of job seekers looking for work. Beware of online offers for high paying jobs or at-home money making schemes. Some of these sites ask for money up front, which is a good way for criminals not only to steal your “set up fee” but misuse your credit card too. Marcus said that some “get rich quick” sites are all about money laundering, asking you to accept an inbound financial transfer and pay them.

9. Auction site fraud: McAfee has observed a rise in fake auction sites during the holidays. Make sure you’re actually going to eBay or whatever site you plan to deal with.

10. Password stealing scams: Criminals use low-cost tools to uncover passwords, in some cases planting key logger software to record keystrokes. Once they get your passwords, they gain access to bank accounts and credit card accounts and send spam from your e-mail accounts.

11. E-mail banking scams: A common type of phishing scam is sending out official looking e-mails that appear to come from your bank. Don’t click on any links but type in your bank’s Web address manually if you need to access your account.

12. Files for ransom: Hackers use malware to gain control of your computer and lock your data files. To access your own data you have to pay them ransom.

Bottom line–Don’t let the eggnog and holiday cheer keep you from using your critical thinking skills when you go online during the holiday season. And, of course, make sure your operating system is updated and that you’re using up-to-date security software.


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Hands on: Office 2010 review

Office 2010 is due in a few months, but the beta release is available now. It has interface changes, bug fixes, one secret new feature – and although it’s still a long way from being finished, it shows much more clearly than the technical preview what you’ll be waiting for.

Like Windows 7, the Office line-up has gone on a diet; instead of six different versions, there are just three (for home users).

Office Home and Student 2007 sold a copy on Amazon every 90 seconds at its peak last year; the 2010 version has the same apps (Word, Excel, PowerPointand the under-rated OneNote) and the new Home and Business version has those apps, plus Outlook.

Office Professional 2010 includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access and Publisher. There’s a free version of Office that you’ll only get on new PCs called Office Starter. This replaces the ageing Microsoft Works and gives you versions of Excel and Word without all the business features, plus a small ad for Office on the task pane (that doesn’t go away).

There are also new ways of buying Office; you can buy a “product card” with a licence key to unlock a trial copy of Office on a new PC (particularly useful for PCs with no optical drive) or you can install a streamed version called Click-to-Run.

We tested the business version, Office Professional Plus 2010 which has Access, Excel, SharePoint Workspace (the Groove replacement with added SharePoint features), OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher, Word and InfoPath (Visio and Project are still separate apps).

Some of the changes from the technical preview are small; others are more significant.

CNET Review


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IBM: Computing rivaling human brain may be ready by 2019

According to IBM, ‘BlueMatter, a new algorithm created by IBM researchers in collaboration with Stanford University, exploits the Blue Gene supercomputing architecture in order to noninvasively measure and map the connections between all cortical and sub-cortical locations within the human brain using magnetic resonance diffusion weighted imaging. Mapping the wiring diagram of the brain is crucial to untangling its vast communication network and understanding how it represents and processes information.’

Computers capable of mimicking the human brain’s power and efficiency could be just 10 years off, according to a leading researcher at IBM.

According to the researcher, Dharmendra Modha, the manager of IBM’s cognitive computing initiative, scientists from his company and some of the world’s most prestigious universities have already managed to simulate the computing complexity of the feline cortex, a feat that could augur a day not too far off when it will be possible to ramp up to what the human brain can accomplish.

Last year, IBM and five universities were awarded a DARPA contract to work on a cognitive computing project aimed at eventually achieving that goal. Just a year later, Modha said, his team, working in conjunction with the universities’ scientists, have achieved two major milestones.

The first was a real-time cortical simulation that achieved more than 1 billion spiking neurons, as well as 10 trillion individual learning synapses. According to Modha, that exceeds what a cat’s cortex is capable of.

Second, the scientists created a fresh algorithm they’re calling BlueMatter that is aimed at spelling out the connections between all the human brain’s cortical and sub-cortical locations. That mapping is a critical step, Modha suggested, for a true understanding of how the brain communicates and processes information.

The human brain, Modha said, is fundamentally different from today’s computers in power and size, and he and the many scientists he is working with are eager to learn from the brain how to build new kinds of computing architectures. Part of the reason, he added, is that as our world gets more and more complex, a “tsunami” of data is being produced and analyzing those data demands “a new kind of cognitive system, a brain-like system, to make sense of it.”

To achieve the goal, Modha and his fellow scientists are combining supercomputing, neuroscience, and nanotechnology research to demonstrate what’s possible. The work they’ve done has progressed in just a year from the granting of the DARPA contract to today’s achievements.

Modha said that examples of what could be done with computers working at this scale are realistic analysis of the world’s water supply systems, or financial systems. The idea is to detect causality behind phenomena, and to make those connections quickly and effortlessly, the way the human brain works. Writing such a program using today’s computers would be impossible, he said, but these future computers would be able to quickly distill answers to these kinds of enormous problems.

There’s no promise, of course, that Modha and his colleagues will be able to advance the difference between the power of the cat and human cortexes in the next decade. After all, there’s a difference of a factor of 20 between the two. But he sounded optimistic that a decade is a realistic goal.

But regardless of the timing, the aim is clear: reverse-engineer the human brain and learn its computational algorithms. And then deploy them in a bid to solve some of the world’s most complicated computing problems.


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LHC Shut Down Again — By Baguette-Dropping Bird

LHC“Is Douglas Adams scripting the saga of sorrows facing the LHC? These time-traveling Higgs-Boson particles certainly exhibit the sign of his absurd sense of humor! Perhaps it is the Universe itself, conspiring against the revelations intimated by the operation of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider? This time, it is not falling cranes, cracked magnets, liquid helium leaks or even links to Al Qaeda, that have halted man’s efforts to understand the meaning of life, the universe and everything. It now appears that the collider is hindered from an initial firing by a baguette, dropped by a passing bird: ‘The bird dropped some bread on a section of outdoor machinery, eventually leading to significant overheating in parts of the accelerator. The LHC was not operational at the time of the incident, but the spike produced so much heat that had the beam been on, automatic failsafes would have shut down the machine.'”


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Hackers create tools for disaster relief

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.–Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo may be tough competitors when it comes to Internet software and services, but they are putting their differences aside to build a developer community to tackle bigger picture problems like saving lives in emergencies.

The companies have joined with NASA, the World Bank, and PR agency SecondMuse to organize the first-ever Random Hacks of Kindness event, which was held at a warehouse space-cum community center called Hacker Dojo this weekend. For two days, coders worked on ways to use technology to help solve real-world problems, such as how people can get information and find each other during disasters.

 The event came about after representatives from Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo attended a Crisis Camp conference for emergency and disaster relief groups in Washington, D.C. in May. The technologists decided that they would join forces to create a community of developers to build tools to help emergency workers.

Developers worked on a dozen or so tools that could help disaster and emergency workers in times of crisis. Several tools took advantage of social media sites, like Twitter, and SMS for information sharing. One project envisioned using laptops, routers, mobile devices, USB keys and Wi-Fi to create a mesh network for times when normal networks are down.

Several projects explored the use of maps, including one group that built a widget that allows a user to click on a point in a map to have the coordinates automatically inserted into a message that can then be posted to multiple social networks at once via the HelloTXT service.

The first-place prize went to a group primarily from NASA that worked on a mobile notification app that can be used when regular cellular networks are so bogged down people can’t make phone calls. Using the “I’m OK” app, people can easily notify friends and family members that they are safe via SMS by clicking one button. The “I’m OK” message is then instantly distributed to everyone a user has designated on a pre-set contact list.

Separately, NASA coders have created a GeoCam tool that was used by people fighting California fires earlier this year to place photos of burn areas that were taken by GPS-enabled cell phones on maps so workers can see what damage is like in specific locations.

In addition to training AMES Research Center employees to be first responders in disasters, NASA wants to offer developers use of the satellite and other earth science data collected by its space crafts, which comes to about four terabytes per day, said Robert Schingler, a project manager in the office of center director at NASA Ames research center at nearby Moffett Field. NASA also has tools to analyze the data, which provide information about things like sea surface temperatures, ice sheet activity, and aerosols in the upper atmosphere, he said.

“We’ve got 40 years of data,” Schingler said. But, NASA needs a good application programming interface (API) so developers can make better use of it, he said. Meanwhile, the tools developed at Random Hacks of Kindness events could be used by workers at the World Bank and other agencies.

“It’s a perfect opportunity to mobilize the technology community to work on issues such as sustainable development and disaster relief,” said Emma Phillips, a consultant in disaster risk management and sustainable development at the World Bank. “This is a first step in building community, and bringing together the public and private sectors for a common goal.”

The next Random Hacks of Kindness event will be early next year in Washington, D.C.


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Google Chrome OS To Launch Within A Week

Google’s Chrome OS project, first announced in July, will become available for download within a week, we’ve heard from a reliable source. Google previously said to expect an early version of the OS in the fall.

What can we expect? Driver support will likely be a weak point. We’ve heard at various times that Google has a legion of engineers working on the not so glamorous task of building hardware drivers. And we’ve also heard conflicting rumors that Google is mostly relying on hardware manufacturers to create those drivers. Whatever the truth, and it’s likely in between, having a robust set of functioning drivers is extremely important to Chrome OS’s success. People will want to download this to whatever computer they use and have it just work.

We expect Google will be careful with messaging around the launch, and endorse a small set of devices for installation. EEE PC netbooks, for example, may be one set of devices that Google will say are ready to use Chrome OS. There will likely be others as well, but don’t expect to be able to install it on whatever laptop or desktop machine you have from day one. Google has previously said they are working with Acer, Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba on the project.

We’ve seen convincing and not so convincing screenshots of Chrome OS over the last several months. The good news is the speculation is about to end, and you can try it out yourself. If you have one of the supported devices, that is.


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Some types of technology are about to bite the dust, says study

As technology advances at a phenomenal speed, there are bound to be some casualties as new devices supersede the old ones, even though the old ones are not really so old.

DVD players, satnavs, smartphone chargers and dongles could all end up obsolete and dumped by the wayside as soon as next year, according to the latest research from Pixmania, the largest electronics retailer in Europe.

Pixmania have made up a list of the top 10 technologies they say are “endangered” and aren’t likely to make it as far as 2012 — and some on the list might surprise you.

Top of the list is DVD players. They will be superseded by Blu-Ray, movie streaming and game consoles.

Next in line for the chop are fax machines, which will not survive due to other technologies taking on their role. Basically, they’re no longer required.

Satnavs are likely to be replaced as smartphones and location-based software rise up and take on the task of guiding us where we want to go. I mean why would we buy another gadget when the ones we have are perfectly capable of doing the same job for us, and just as well?

Wii-motes will be blasted into oblivion as soon as Microsoft’s Project Natal takes off, which is expected before the end of next year, and of course the landline phone is at risk as we rely more and more on our mobiles to communicate.

“We’re always talking about the fast pace of technology but 2009 has truly seen us take huge leaps forward and even greater developments are expected in 2010.

“Things that have been making life easier for a generation are about to be replaced. It’s a shame to see an old classic like the DVD face the threat of extinction; it will be gone, but not forgotten,” says Kieran Alger, the editor of the gadgets website.

Other gadgets on their way to finding a place in the history books include the dongle, the computer mouse, chip and pin credit cards, the mobile phone charger and analog TV.

Are we sad? Well, some people might be but there’s no time for nostalgia, we’ve got a future to build — a future where new technology is king.

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