Sep 30 2011

Keep In Touch – BizTech Quick Take

BizTech Quick Take is our weekly digital tour of the web, serving up news and notes on IT and business that you need to know — and some things you’ll simply be glad to know.

Don’t Lose Touch with Remote Workers

The key to a successful relationship is communication. And that doesn’t apply only to your significant other. As more organizations expand remote work options, it’s critical that offsite workers remain in regular contact with their coworkers and supervisors.

On Cisco’s Small Business blog, Diana Wong lists five useful tips that organizations should keep in mind when establishing telework policies. Here are a few of Wong’s pearls of wisdom:

  • Define work goals. Unreasonable expectations on either side can quickly torpedo a telecommuting arrangement. Recognize that flex time is part of the attraction for employees and don’t expect them to necessarily keep rigid office hours. Instead, experts advise that you get employee buy-in on a clear plan that requires certain results by agreed-upon deadlines.
  • Cultivate a climate of acceptance. According to a Citrix Online survey, employees value the ability to telecommute more highly than stock options. This trend will only become more common with technologies like virtual private networks (VPNs) within reach for small businesses. If telecommuting is new to your company, it might take some time to make the mental shift. That’s only natural. However, unless you have reason to believe work isn’t getting done, keep your growing pains to yourself. Remote employees will rightfully resent unwarranted second guessing.
  • Make help available. Give employees access to the company server and, if at all possible, make technical expertise available to remote workers. The latter is crucial to keeping most off-site employees happy and productive. One option might be to set up a remote support solution like Cisco WebEx so an expert in the office can troubleshoot off-site computers and step users through new applications. Another option: look to the cloud for easy access to files and applications.
  • Read the full list of tips in Wong’s post on the Cisco Small Business blog.

    Microsoft Begins Windows Phone Mango Rollout

    The highly anticipated update to the Windows Phone 7 OS has begun. Microsoft officially announced on Tuesday that it was beginning deployment of the update, known as Windows Phone Mango, which boasts improved multitasking, integration with social media and voice recognition for dictation.

    But there’s one caveat: Not everyone is getting the update right away. In a post on the Windows Team Blog, Eric Hautala, general manager of customer experience engineering at Microsoft, said the company would be rolling Mango out to 10 percent of Windows Phone 7 users initially. It will then gradually roll out the release to more users over time, provided everything runs smoothly.

    Hautala further explained the company’s reasoning behind the slow but steady upgrade:

    Why don’t we just blast it out?

    It’s a fair question. Delivering Windows Phone 7.5 simultaneously to so many phone models and carriers requires the right engineering balance. Speed is a priority—but so is quality. We’re not just delivering our new operating system but also new software supplied by individual handset makers. This “firmware” is necessary so your phone—and apps—work with all the features of Windows Phone 7.5. But it essentially means that we’re supplying not just one update, but many different ones, given the variety of Windows Phones and carriers out there to choose from.

    If a problem comes to light, it’s critical that we can isolate and fix it quickly. So we’re deliberately starting out slow. This week, we’ll be making the update available to 10 percent of customers. If everything looks good, we’ll open up the spigot a bit more—to around 25 percent. We’ll hold there for one or two weeks, then quickly ramp up to 100 percent—monitoring quality the entire way. That’s how we ensure Mango arrives both quickly and in tip-top shape.

    Read more about the release of Windows Phone Mango on the Windows Team Blog.

    The Only Thing Verified About the iPhone 5 Is Its October 4 Press Date

    According to a survey by InMobi, a mobile ad network, 41 percent of North American mobile users plan to buy the iPhone 5. And that’s without even knowing any of the official specs or features that the next-generation iPhone will offer. So it’s safe to say that whenever it’s released, the iPhone 5 will be in high demand.

    Smartphone enthusiasts have been biding their time with rumors, speculation and innuendo about the iPhone 5, and now there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Apple has invited media outlets to an October 4 press event about the iPhone at the company’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. Unfortunately, the invitation offered no new insights into what, exactly, Apple would be unveiling about the iPhone.

    The contradictory reports that have leaked from analysts and insiders have made speculation about the iPhone 5 unreliable, Matt Chan writes for OS X Daily:

    The most glaringly obvious aspect to all these reports is that nobody knows exactly what’s coming out of Cupertino next week from Apple. About the only thing anyone can agree on is the devices availability, where a mid-month release date looks like October 14, if for no other reason that it being in the middle of the month, with iOS 5 coming slightly earlier.

    Read more about the confusion surrounding the iPhone 5 on OS X Daily.

    Converging Storage Is the IT Equivalent of Urban Renewal

    Societies have a natural, but messy, habit of cycling through periods of infrastructural growth and consolidation. The same is true for IT. Just look at the shift from the mainframe to the PC and now the cloud.

    In a guest post on the Around the Storage Block Blog, Lee Johns applies the societal analogy to IT by comparing it to what he predicts is a trend toward converged storage:

    Think of data like people. Data lives on storage devices, data works on servers and PCs and mobile phones and tablets. Data gets to and from work on an expensive and complex highway, the IT network. This was not always the case. We had the mainframe. But the mainframe was high priced and inflexible real estate and over time we separated where data worked and where it lived to improve the “quality of life” of the data. We could maintain the security of the data in a nice “gated community” and we had plenty of network bandwidth to ship it back and forth to where it worked when we needed to.

    Now fast forward to the data explosion and the need for immediacy of data access anywhere on any device and we have a need for urban renewal in the datacenter. The improved power and performance of industry standard compute platforms lets us run data and applications on a single device, virtualization enables easier mobility of workloads, new media offers affordable ways to improve data access and restore times. End users demand less latency in turning data into information and this collapses the network. This all points to more need for the convergence of servers and storage.

    Read more about the power of converged storage in Johns’ post on the Around the Storage Block Blog.

    Paying by Smartphone Could Be the Future with Google Wallet’s Debut

    Technology’s creative destruction storm is headed for a wallet (or purse) near you. That’s right, your smartphone could potentially replace your wallet. After all, it’s already replaced your watch and digital camera, hasn’t it?

    Smartphone users in Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea have been making payments by phone for some time. But the United States has largely been behind the curve on this trend. Now, Google is taking a bold step to move the U.S. market toward payment by phone with the announcement of its new product, Google Wallet.

    Steve King of Small Business Labs thinks that the announcement of Google Wallet is a sign that the mobile payment trend is coming. Retailers who adopt early, he writes, could reap the rewards:

    Google Wallet opens up lots of interesting possibilities for retailers. It quickly will become the place consumers store digital coupons and loyalty cards. It will also enable location-based services of all kinds and be the system used to deliver the growing arrays of "daily deals."

    It's another step on the path to a world where the smartphone is our "remote control for life."

    It's time for small businesses to start to better understand and plan for the world of mobile payments. Yes, it will still be a couple of years before it's common for consumers [to] have NFC/Google Wallet enabled phones. But 2012 will see a lot of early adopters — Gen Yers and techies in particular — buy phones with these capabilities.

    For more on Google Wallet and mobile payments, read the full story on Small Business Labs.

    Surviving Work Without a Notebook

    Work on the go is a must for many workers these days, and nearly everything you can do on your desktop can be accomplished on a notebook computer as well. After all, notebooks run all of the productivity suites and OSs that desktops run.

    But Craig Roth, an analyst for Gartner, recently found himself without his notebook when he reached the airport for a trip to London for a conference. He thought about turning back and getting it but ultimately decided he would have to do without. Now, having survived the experience, Roth writes that it actually wasn’t so bad.

    His experience leads him to believe that there will soon come a day when most people will do their computing through mobile devices rather than notebooks or desktops:

    I think we’re rapidly approaching a tipping point where enough work can be done on these devices that the official work PC is no longer where the majority of work is being done. When that tipping point is reached, many assumptions get called into question, such as who pays for the devices or their plans, official sanction of certain devices, addressing information security more formally, cross-device app development, weighting of mobile capabilities in RFPs, training, culture change (haves vs. have-nots, etiquette, GenY and millennial impact), and more.

    Last year I half-jokingly suggested that in the future you might only append those “Sent from my …” signatures when sending from your desktop, as “Sent from my iPad, Blackberry, etc.” will be assumed otherwise. After this week, I am now only 25% joking. When I’m not joking at all, that means we’ve hit the mobile tipping point.

    Read more about mobile computing in Roth’s post on the Gartner Blog Network.

    Don’t Stress Out About Hard Drives

    Hard drive failures are a headache that no IT worker enjoys facing. And woe to those who fail to have a backup and recovery solution in place for any failed hard drives.

    But one step every IT worker can take to prevent hard drive failures is to pre-stress the drive. This will enable you to make an informed decision about whether the drive is prone to failure. The good news is that many free and commercial solutions let IT workers pre-stress hard drives and evaluate them thoroughly.

    Mitch Tulloch highlights five pre-stress options in this article from BizTech.

    To learn more about great must-read business IT content, check out our list of 50 Must-Read IT Blogs.