Archive for October 2012

How OpenDNS Works and Why it Can Benefit Your Customers

Authors: Derrick Wlodarz

Your customers likely have little to no idea what goes on behind the scenes to make the internet a pleasant place for the non-geek. One of these important supporting factors is the technology behind DNS (Domain Name System) which acts as the invisible address book for any and every website they choose to visit. To the normal user, it’s Microsoft.com; but we all know that in reality, 65.55.58.201 is where they’re truly going.

Not to get too technical, but it’s important to understand the workings of DNS if you are going to recommend services such as OpenDNS to customers (which I’ll get to in a little bit.) The Domain Name System is indeed a clever invention, because it affords for easy navigation of the web by end users and works globally between domain authorities of all walks. If you want to place the concept of DNS in a nutshell, think of it as the webbing that ties IP namespace (xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx) to easily recognizable domain name addresses (xxx.com). Without it, we would have to do all of our own legwork to get to any publicly available website on the internet.

How DNS works at a glance


The problem with how DNS is configured for most users is that it’s usually set up by the respective ISP for a customer’s home or office. While this used to be a non-issue back in the days of dial up and the budding of broadband, now DNS can truly have a negative impact on web browsing. In general, these problems stem from one or a combination of two issues:

Geographic location of DNS servers: This is becoming less of a problem on today’s mega-sized web backbones, but still poses a relative conundrum especially when end users are making DNS requests over slower speed links. Not all DNS servers are in prime locations; this is a bigger issue for customers who are in rural areas being served by smaller regional ISPs.

Over-burdened DNS servers: Again, this is more likely to happen with DNS servers hosted by smaller ISPs or similar DNS authorities, but I’ve seen it with Comcast and ATT systems too. If an end user’s router or home PC is pointing to DNS servers that can’t handle their request load effectively, overall response performance suffers and this equates directly to what we know as “slow internet.”

If you think all DNS servers are equal, run some of your own tests. The networking & security guru Steve Gibson has a wonderful free tool available called Domain Name Server Benchmark. It is preloaded with a number of popular DNS servers in use today, but you can fully customize it to include servers from OpenDNS, Google DNS, and any other provider you may wish. If you’re purely looking for the fastest possible response on DNS queries, DNS Benchmark is truly your best bet.

Changing DNS server settings is fairly easy for any computer repair technician that has ever touched the IP settings in Windows (or MAC). But keep in mind that how you adjust DNS for a customer will impact everyone who uses a particular machine or set of systems that share connection from a common router. There are benefits to making DNS changes on the router level because:

  • Everyone will not have to adjust their systems; only the common router will need the adjustment.
  • It will speed up (and clean up) web browsing for all users on a given connection.
  • You can even offer further browsing redundancy by choosing primary and secondary DNS servers that span different providers (say, Google DNS and OpenDNS, which I recommend doing.)

Changing DNS settings on a customer’s router is my preferred method because of all of the above, but namely, time savings in configuration. If any guests come to the home or office and use the internet connection, they too will be given the benefits of utilizing custom DNS settings. Every router handles DNS settings configuration differently; I highly suggest you visit the support section on your router manufacturer’s website before making any mistakes.

Some techs may claim that ISP-provided DNS settings work just fine, and I won’t necessarily disagree. Everyone’s needs from DNS and relative performance on a given pair of DNS servers will be wildly different. Much of this stems from what I mentioned above regarding location, burden, and other factors. But it’s what you don’t know about alternative DNS solutions (especially my favorite OpenDNS) that will get you interested.

The benefits of OpenDNS technology

While Google DNS merely exists to provide a speedy alternative to what ISPs offer, OpenDNS takes this concept one step further. The company employs specialized technology that actually spans DNS requests to datacenters that are closest to your location geographically without any intervention. In addition, because they handle so many requests from different parts of the world, they have arguably the most up-to-date single repository for where everything is on the web. This significantly reduces the need for them to “ask” other DNS servers where a website or file may be located.

Another key benefit is how they provide malware blocking at the network level by literally sifting out known-infected websites and files before you can even get to them. This is beneficial because, by default, ISP provided DNS servers never filter out the responses they provide. Even if you mistakenly type in the address of a completely known and virulent malware site, chances are your ISP will take you there – without hesitation.

One of the biggest contributors to the spread of malware today is the fact that end users who truly can’t recognize bad links or search results are visiting pages on the web where they’d likely prefer not to be. OpenDNS takes the guesswork out of the process because it maintains a centralized blacklist of these sites that is in effect for all users of the service (free and paid.) For customers of mine that have bad histories with such links, OpenDNS is always a recommendation behind solid anti-malware software like NOD32.

For those that need it, OpenDNS even offers paid levels of their service for home and business customers. Home users can benefit from the parental control functionality via custom block lists and category-powered filtering of their home internet connection. I’ve recommended the service to numerous residential clients in lieu of something like NetNanny (which is installed per-PC; needs updates delivered; etc.) There’s no client software to install, no signature updates to worry about, and it affects EVERY device that wants to use internet in a home – which means any young visitors won’t be able to bypass filters merely by bringing their own computers.

The business level subscription to OpenDNS goes even further by providing advanced logs, web access control for workers, strict malware and botnet prevention options, and website blocking. One of the greatest reasons that OpenDNS is truly a remarkable product is because you can gain access to the speed and malware prevention benefits without paying a single cent – merely by configuring your router to point to OpenDNS.

If you want to switch to OpenDNS on your own router or on a customer’s setup, here are the two DNS servers that they publish (follow their instructions page for generic guidance; consult your router’s documentation for in-depth steps):

  • PRIMARY: 208.67.222.222
  • SECONDARY: 208.67.220.220

I tend to take a balanced approach in my own setup for customers which uses a hybrid combination of OpenDNS as the primary server, and Google DNS as the secondary server. You don’t have to do this, but I feel that if for some reason OpenDNS has outages across both of their systems, at least your router can then tunnel DNS requests to a complete third party. For redundancy, this is a great approach. My preferred router configuration happens to look like this:

  • PRIMARY (OpenDNS): 208.67.222.222 or 208.67.220.220
  • SECONDARY (Google DNS): 8.8.8.8 or 8.8.4.4

How you configure your router is up to you, but give the above combination a try to see if your website browsing speed is improved. You will also gain the transparent malware blocking and phishing protection that OpenDNS advertises. My own experiences have found that OpenDNS alone will not block all malware – but it does cut down on “easy entry” for about 70% of mistaken search result clicks by mistaken customers. Any extra bit helps, and I think OpenDNS has a great product for the price tag of free.

What do you think of OpenDNS? Do you prefer some other DNS service other than OpenDNS or Google DNS? Let us know in the comments section!

© Technibble – A Resource for Computer Technicians to start or improve their Computer Business
To get started with your own computer business, check out our Computer Business Kit.

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Kill the Employee Mindset or your Business is Doomed

Authors: Guest Writer

Guest Post by Ronn Hanley:
On paper my business is three years old.

In reality, it began more than 30 years ago.

The desire to own my own business isn’t new. I’ve always known that I have less control of destiny if I work for someone else. The problem is, early education, a large portion of average home life and life’s general experience doesn’t prepare you for being your own boss.

When I started my company, I did everything wrong. I gave away time and service for free. I sometimes forgot previous scheduling and had to backpedal after realizing that being in two places at the same time really is impossible. I obsessed over having to tell clients no. Despite all of this, I managed to survive by realizing that beginners have a lot to learn and trying to give myself a break.

Despite all of my ‘growth pains’ one constant thought has run through the whole process of getting to where I am now. I’ve made it a goal to be mindful that I’m doing something outside of my ‘training’.

Early life and school seem to be designed to turn us into good little automatons. We’re told to get good grades, do the right (safe) thing, graduate and then join the workforce. We’re taught to do our best for the group. Individuality is frowned upon in most instances. I’m not saying its like this for everyone, but for the great majority of us, it is.

When you start a business, no matter what kind it is, it’s very possible you are attempting to break out of 15 to 20 years of indoctrination. If you spend time in the workforce before starting the business, the problem is even worse.

When I started my company, I had been an ‘employee’ for 30 years. All I knew was how to ‘wait’ for work to be brought to me. Like most employees, I was somewhat proactive, but I never really went out of my way to do things. This was the result of being burned for trying to think outside the box in corporate settings.

My biggest issue to overcome – and if its your’s as well, you’ll understand – is putting the employee mindset in its proper place.

I’ve consistently caught myself saying WE towards my clients, as if I were something more than a vendor. It’s hard wired into me to make myself part of the ‘group’.

On the face of it, the mindset isn’t a bad thing. I’m able to quickly acclimate myself to whatever setting I find myself in. It allows me to connect to my client and get the job done faster with less awkwardness.

The problem is, once its time to sever that cord and move on to the next job or client, I sometimes run into an emotion wall. This issue tends to show up with my long term clients or for those that I have intense daily interactions. I tend to blur the lines of what a client should be. I look at the client more like a co-worker than what they truly are – a client that’s paying me for a project or my services. I’ve never noticed this issue with clients I don’t have daily interaction.

My largest client is also my oldest. In a lot of ways they are more like a job than a client. I know their goals, strengths and weaknesses. And I honestly wonder if I should know what I know about this client. If I’m just supposed to be a vendor, shouldn’t I keep it in the realm of – do a job, invoice them and keep it moving?

But that’s not what happens. I find myself emotionally entangled with their company goals and problems. During meetings or jobs I find myself saying WE a lot.

And this was my original point. The WE comes from my training to be a good team player. 30 years in corporate and private America has left its mark on me. Chances are you have a similar story.
If you’re wired this way you have to be actively aware every day that a certain distance is necessary – this means home user clients as well as businesses.

It doesn’t mean you have to be some kind of emotionless machine. Your clients are people who need to see the confidence and humanity you bring to the table as a problem solver. BUT the minute you violate that boundary you set yourself up for all kinds of problems. Their issues aren’t your issues (to the extent that their issues don’t interfere with your ability to do what they contracted you for).

I remember a conversation I had with the very first IT contractor I ever met. I was working for a heating and cooling company in Portland, Oregon and he had come by to fix some computers. During a break, I found myself talking to him and I mentioned a problem that we were having in the office. He stopped me before I really got going and said – “Please don’t tell me about the problems here, I don’t involve myself with my clients internal issues. I don’t have the time or energy for it.”

At the time I thought he was being an arrogant jerk, but now, all of these years later, owning my own business, I get it.

Your business lives or dies based on the way you conduct yourself around clients. I don’t mean just acting like a professional, I mean actively keeping yourself from getting drawn in and sidetracked by clients internal issues. I can’t imagine a faster way to reach burnout than ignore the trained in employee mindset while you’re trying to build a business.

A few things I do to help me ‘keep it real’ include:

  • Plan for my business to solve problems for more than one client. If I wanted to help only one entity I’d get a job.
  • Realize that my clients have issues have NOTHING to do with the growth and continued operation of my company. (I know this sounds like Duh, but its harder than it looks when you truly care.)
  • Realize that my clients can only see within their own little world. As a business owner I have to see in different spectrum’s.
  • Stay mindful that my employee mindset is a trained response and its stronger than it seems
  • Remind myself (sometimes daily) that one client won’t pay the bills or allow for me to grow this business to what it could be, no matter how nice they are or how much they seem to need me.

Good luck.

Guest Post by Ronn Hanley: Ronn is a technology enthusiast from way back, during the dark ages of the Arpanet and the Purple monochrome monitor screens. His first computer was a Commodore PET and his first laptop was the size of a suitcase. Despite that, he loves computers and technology to distraction and has been working in the tech world for almost 10 years full time, currently as the owner of a Desktop and Network support company in Atlanta, Georgia.

© Technibble – A Resource for Computer Technicians to start or improve their Computer Business
To get started with your own computer business, check out our Computer Business Kit.

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Randy The Tech Professor

Hello everyone,

I started a computer repair/tech blog about three years ago. I was experiencing so many different repair scenarios on a daily basis that I wanted to write about them.

I have always liked to write and teach as well as share any knowledge with others. If you would like to check out the blog you can do so here: http://randythetechprofessor.com

Any comments, suggestions, additional tips, etc. are very welcomed and appreciated.

Best wishes,

Randy Read More…

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Disk2VHD – Turn Physical Disks into Virtual Machines

Authors: Bryce Whitty

Disk2VHD is a free application that will make a copy of a hard disk from within the OS using Windows’ Volume Snapshot capability. This copy can then be mounted in Windows as a ‘disk’ or run as a Virtual Machine.

Some of the reasons why you would want to do this is to make a backup of the OS, test a repair in the virtual machine copy before you do so in the live environment or move an existing OS installation into a new or different one. For example, backing up a clients install of Windows Vista, doing a clean install of Windows 7 and then allow the client to run their old Windows Vista install in a Virtual Machine.

The application is small, fast, portable and very easy to use. Simply run the executable, choose the location where you want to backup the Virtual Machine image to, tick the drives you want to make an image of, and press “Create”.

As the name suggests, the image gets turned into a .VHD file which is native to MS Virtual PC. One downside of MS Virtual PC is that it only supports a maximum virtual disk size of 127GB. However, other software such as VirtualBox can also open .VHD files and support much larger image sizes.

In my own tests, I made an image of my C: drive which took around 5 minutes. I opened up Virtualbox, pressed “New” and went through the Create Virtual Machine wizard. When the Hard Drive stage came I chose to “Use an existing virtual hard drive” and chose the .VHD file that Disk2VHD created for me. I got a Blue Screen of Death when I first tried to boot the VM but the solution to this was to go into the virtual machines settings, goto Storage, remove the .VHD file as a SATA controller and add it back in as an IDE controller. After I made that change and booted the Virtual Machine everything worked fine.

Screenshots



Downloads

Download from Official Site – 812kb

Special thanks to 16k_zx81 on our forums for recommending this one.

© Technibble – A Resource for Computer Technicians to start or improve their Computer Business
To get started with your own computer business, check out our Computer Business Kit.

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Apple’s iOS 6

Authors: Bill

OnForce Pros weigh in on Apple’s iOS 6 and a personal experience on an iPhone 4.

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How To Shop on Behalf of Clients as a Computer Technician

Authors: Bryce Whitty

If a large part of your client base is residential then you may have been asked “shop around” on a clients behalf. The client knows they need to purchase something but want to do it alone because they want to make sure they dont purchase the wrong one or get ripped off. This usually occurs in two ways:

  • 1. The client tells you what they want, you look around for an item that does what they need and gives them the best bang for their buck, then they purchase it through you.
  • 2. The client already had a store in mind to purchase the product from (usually a Bigbox store) and wants you to help them choose the right one.

While this sounds like an easy way to make money, how do you charge? Do you charge for your time or do you place a markup on the product?
Well, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this and if you get it wrong, you can end up wasting a lot of time or upsetting your customer.

The client will generally let you know whether they want to purchase through you or purchase from another business but you may have to ask. Here is what to do in each situation:

The Client Wants To Purchase From You

If the client wants to purchase the product through you, then you simply to treat this like you would with any other stock you carry, where the markup makes it worth your time. You do the research for your client, you buy the product through your business and place your markup on it that is appropriate for the amount of time you spent, and the client never knows who your suppler was.

The Client Wants To Purchase From Another Business

If the client has another business in mind like BestBuy or Newegg, you need to charge based on your time rather than have a markup. Marking up a product is difficult to do in this situation without looking like like you picked a price out of thin air.

For example, which way sounds sounds more legitimate?

  • “Here is the screen from BestBuy which cost $150. That’ll be $200 please”
  • “Here is the screen from BestBuy which cost $150. It has been an hour at fifty dollars an hour, so that’ll be $200 please”

The first looks like you plucked a price out of thin air, the second sounds fair enough.
The best way to go about this is to shop with them either physically or using remote support software to shop with them online. This way they know they are taking up your time and that you need to charge for it.

Otherwise, if you tell them what to purchase after you put in the time researching for them, it is possible that they will just go buy it from a Big Box store and circumvent you entirely. There was a topic similar to this in the Technibble forums recently where Lisa from Call That Girl said: “We tell the clients to pay us for our shopping time. Remote time with me is our normal rates, $59-$79 to shop online together, or they can take my lead tech to Microcenter and he’s $125 an hour. We save people money by shopping with them.”

Following the simple guideline above, this should help prevent you from getting stung when shopping on behalf of your clients.

© Technibble – A Resource for Computer Technicians to start or improve their Computer Business
To get started with your own computer business, check out our Computer Business Kit.

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