Network-Attached Storage

Originally published in The Clarion | July 28, 2010
Last week I mentioned a technology known as Network-Attached Storage, better known as NAS. These systems are application-specific devices that are designed to be connected to a network for document retention and storage. As businesses rely more and more on electronic documents, the necessity of long-term document storage has never been greater. With the inevitable failure of PC hard drives, the architecture and features of an inexpensive NAS solution enable some peace-of-mind in document storage.

Most personal computers only have one physical hard drive. This drive contains the PC’s operating system, software applications and documents. With only one drive, a personal computer is susceptible to unannounced and often instantaneous failure. When a hard drive fails, more times than not, all data stored on the drive is lost forever. Odds are good this has happened to you in your years of computing. For some, especially home PC users, losing a hard drive is sometimes nothing more than a temporary headache. Hard drives can be easily reloaded with the operating system and applications if the drive is not physically damaged. In the event of physical damage, a hard drive can be easily and relatively inexpensively replaced. This is fine if you are a casual PC user. Problems arise though in office environments and in situations where your home PC is used for bookkeeping, etc.

NAS devices are a perfect solution to help ensure your documents and other files are not lost in the event of hard drive failure. Today, a one-terabyte (that’s one thousand gigabytes) NAS solution can be purchased for under $200. These devices contain at least two, often many more, hard drives that are configured where the data is either replicated across the drives or actually stored across the multiple drives, enabling the NAS system to retain data even if one (or more) of the individual drives fails. In the office place, a NAS system can be installed and configured to support all PC’s on the network. Each user on the network has his or her own space on the device. Security features of the NAS system enable access to individual user partitions to be limited to only the owner of the files or maybe to a group of users. For example, Joe can have a NAS partition that only he has access to, but he can also be a member of the accounting group which shares another partition among several users in the accounting department.

In organizations where data retention is paramount, multiple NAS systems can be installed across the network. An almost-perfect scenario would include redundant NAS systems spread across two or more physical locations. Using network connectivity between sites, NAS systems can replicate to each other. Once implemented, total loss of one site due to fire, flood or any other number of disasters would not result in total loss of company-wide data. Considering the inexpensive costs and relative ease of installation and use, a NAS system can be viewed as an extremely cost-effective insurance mechanism for both home and business systems.


The Paperless Office

Originally published in The Clarion | July 21, 2010
The idea of a paperless office is one that has been around for decades. With the advent of and eventual widespread infiltration of the personal computer, many predictions were made that the need for and use of paper documents in the office environment would seemingly disappear. Contrary to this belief though, the modern office of the late 20th Century even to today created the exact opposite scenario. Along with the personal computer came a multitude of peripheral devices including inexpensive printers, scanners, copiers and facsimile machines. Even a decade into the 21st Century, paper use in both home and office environments seems to be as prevalent as ever.

Modern technologies have changed the way organizations function in many ways. With a few exceptions, gone is the need for typewriters in the office. Today’s PC operating systems support many software applications for document production, from basic text editors to the most robust Office application suites. Document production is no longer limited to an organization’s secretary, bookkeeper and accountant. Because of this, electronic documents can and are produced by everyone in the office place. This alone is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, businesses are now more productive than ever before. Unfortunately though, the mindset of having a paper copy of a document – any kind of document – has yet to diminish.

Technologies including the Internet, World Wide Web, eMail, smartphones, thumbdrives and tablet, netbook and laptop computers have made documents more portable than ever. For whatever reason though, people simply feel they need a paper copy of a document in their hands in order to function efficiently. Facsimile machines continue to tie up phone lines and use reams of paper and toner for the sharing of documents. Printers continue to spit out page after page of documents, spreadsheets and images using untold amounts of electricity, paper and toner. Records and ledgers are unnecessarily stacked ceiling-high in long-term storage, often with no protection from environmental disaster scenarios. Minor changes in mindset can effectively boost the reliability of long-term document storage and the sharing of documents, with extensive long-term cost savings to the organization.

By using electronic devices and associated software applications, the necessity of printed documents can exponentially decrease. Network-attached Storage systems, both in-house and off-site, can efficiently store documents for very long periods of time while making those documents readily available and much easier to access when compared to paper documentation. Replacing electronic facsimile transfer of documents with eMail or any other network-based means of file transfer will reduce and eventually eliminate the need for fax machines and the associated costs that they require including phone lines, paper and toner. Document presentation via projection systems in meetings eliminates the need for paper copies of presentations. With only these few examples, the advantages of a paperless office should seem obvious. Maybe all of us will take these considerations into account and help enable our organizations save untold amounts of money and resources in the years to come.


2010 SHS Wildcats

Originally published at | July 15, 2010

 There is a buzz in the air around Scottsboro. With a disappointing 2009 season and the resignation of Coach Freddie Tidmore, speculation was rampant for weeks about who would take the reigns as the new Wildcat head football coach. After days and days of gossip and rumors, the Scottsboro Board of Education announced on January 28 the hiring of David “Swane” Morris as the 33rd leader of the Wildcat football program.

Morris comes to the Wildcats after a successful 9-year tenure at his alama mater Gaston High School. While at Gaston, Morris achieved a 65% winning percentage while going 9-8 in the state playoffs. Known for his defensive mindset, Morris brings leadership and a strong work ethic to the Wildcat football program. Reports from spring practice and summer conditioning emphasize Morris’s hard-nosed approach to coaching. His philosophies of determination and hard work have brought a strong sense of optimism to the Wildcat family over the last several months. With the student body and community behind him, the 2010 season of Wildcat Football should prove to be one of great excitement.


Internet vs. WWW

Originally published in The Clarion | July 14, 2010
In using the Internet and more specifically the World Wide Web in our day-to-day computing, I imagine little to no thought goes through our minds in considering where, why and from whom our Web-based technologies came to be. All that most of us are concerned with is that our Internet connection works well when we need it for whatever uses we have. Unfortunately, the terms “Internet” and “World Wide Web” are frequently used interchangeably in our vernacular. Let’s take a look at what the Internet is, what the World Wide Web is and why they are not one in the same.

The Internet is an inter-connected network of hardware devices and associated software which collectively creates a global communications system. Contrary to semi-popular belief, Al Gore did not invent the Internet. The Internet began as a project in 1958 by the United States Advanced Research Projects Agency in response to the USSR’s launch of the Sputnik spacecraft. After years of development and use by the US government, the Internet spread into the Academic realm where universities country-wide and eventually worldwide were inter-connected in order to share research and technological data. While a functional data network, the Internet was nothing more than a crude way to connect one computing system to another for sharing data. All of that would change beginning in 1980 thanks to a British man named Timothy Berners-Lee.

Berners-Lee, while working for the European Organization for Nuclear Research (better-known by its French acronym CERN), saw a need for a simple way of linking similar data within the organization over their existing computing systems. His idea was to take existing text documents and empower them with hypertext – the same mechanisms used today in Websites – to “link” words or groups of words in one document to other related documents. After a few prototype software applications, Berners-Lee developed a software application that he simply named “World Wide Web”. To say the world would never be the same is quite the understatement.

Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web application grew beyond the internal needs at CERN and was modified to make use of the Internet. Software was written to run on dedicated servers – eventually known as Web Servers – which hosted hypertext-enabled documents in the newly-created HTML format. Along with the relatively new Domain Name System and the existing Transfer Control Protocol, web servers were connected to the existing Internet and suddenly, as-if overnight, the World Wide Web was born.

In 1994, Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where development of the WWW proceeded and continues even today. The evolution of the WWW, using the Internet as the backbone for communications and protocols like TCP, IP, HTML and HTTP to tie everything together, has continued at an exponential rate. Because the World Wide Web is something we can’t seem to live without, credit is due to one man – Timothy Berners-Lee – for his insightfulness and determination that brought about, to all of our personal and commercial delight, the World Wide Web.


Open Source Operating Systems

Originally published in The Clarion | July 07, 2010
This week we will take a final look at free software for your PC by considering Open Source Operating Systems (OSOS’s). You may recall from several weeks ago that an operating system serves as the “Master Control” of your PC, bridging the gap between your software applications and the actual PC hardware. Without the operating system, your favorite web browser would not be able to communicate via your dial-up or Ethernet Internet connection to access the World Wide Web. This is just one example of many which can describe how the operating system ties all of the pieces together to give you a friendly and functional PC.

By far, the most prevalent operating systems in use today are the Windows offerings from Microsoft. As previously mentioned, a majority all PC’s come pre-installed with a version of the Windows operating system, at an undisclosed monetary cost to the consumer. However, over the last decade or so, OSOS’s have become more and more functional in the Desktop PC realm and are now, without a doubt, a fully-functional, reliable and possibly best of all – free – alternative to the Windows products from Microsoft.

Through licensing, OSOS’s must be free to acquire (download, borrow, copy, modify etc.) and free to use. Some of the most popular OSOS’s today are Ubuntu, Fedora and OpenSuse. Are there others? Absolutely – hundreds, if not thousands. Many (including these three that were mentioned) are spin-offs of other OSOS’s. While each “flavor”, if you will, has various benefits over others, over the last few years Ubuntu has taken the lead in popularity. It just so happens Ubuntu is the operating system of choice for my day-to-day computing needs.

Outside of the basic attractiveness of OSOS’s, Ubuntu has mastered the ease-of-use trait, making it the leader of the pack. The system comes pre-packaged with all of the essential software a typical desktop PC user might need and has made it foolproof when it comes to installing additional software applications that are not included in the distribution. With hardware drivers available for a plethora of PC and peripheral components, odds are good that within an hour of beginning the installation, you will have a fully-functional – and don’t forget free – desktop operating system to work with in your daily computing.

For your next PC purchase, or even better yet – to get more life out of your existing PC hardware and extend its usefulness, a free Open Source Operating System may be worth considering. Some of the larger PC manufacturers now sell new hardware with OSOS’s pre-installed and OSOS’s have also proven to work very well when installed on older PC hardware. The choice is yours, and it’s a choice that is relatively new when considering a PC purchase or determining what to do with that aging, slow, sluggish and unreliable Windows PC.