Monthly Archives: June 2015

To cloud or not to cloud that is the question

midlands-it_cloud_computingFor those that have been bombarded by the marketing people and still don’t have a clue what they are on about, Cloud Computing is basically being provided with services such as E-mail, CRM systems, SharePoint and File Storage, Instant Messaging, Virtual PC’s or even online backup storage without having to buy the hardware…you just share someone else’s.  This means that for the good providers you get a small chunk of some really good hardware with first rate support, for others…well you should be able to guess.  It’s the old adage of you get what you pay for!

The concept of Cloud computing is about as old as the internet, if you’ve ever had a home broadband connection, or used dial up with your modem to access your emails in Outlook Express, then you’ll be familiar with downloading your emails which are stored in your own little mailbox out on the internet.  That’s essentially where it started, but with the improvement in internet connectivity speed, and the greatly reducing price to provide high speed access, then there are a lot of companies jumping on the bandwagon by setting up with a couple of servers in a cheap Data Centre and calling it Cloud Computing.

However there are some real big players out there in the market, Microsoft for example have their Office365 offering which is a ridiculously cost effective means for any small business to start off. Buy a domain name, link it to Office365 and pay £2.50 a month for 50GB of email storage.  Increase that to £9.40 a month and you get Office Small Business on up to 5 devices, 50GB mailbox, Online Conferencing, Instant Messaging, 1TB of online storage per user, 10GB SharePoint for collaboration and a few other bits. That means to setup a small business, you could buy a cheap £300 laptop, buy a £6.50 domain name and be up and running with the latest version of Office and Exchange for £9.40 a month.

Extend this to 5 staff members and your annual costs (excluding internet connectivity and hardware) are a mere £564.00.  To buy Office Home and Business 2013 for 5 staff would be £950.00 alone without email provision and all the rest of the products that come with the Office 365 Small Business Premium subscription

Compare that to the cost of a server with SBS 2011 which needs a lot of RAM and some IT support to put it in (I don’t care if Microsoft think it’s the easiest server to install, as trust me, as soon as you want something that doesn’t require Next Next Next, such as allowing someone to send as a distribution list, or adding an SSL certificate that doesn’t use remote” in the web-address, the world stops being simple)

Your server is going to set you back the best part of £5000 with someone coming in and installing it and setting it up as you require.  Then you need the office licenses which will be about £950 for 5 users, then you need the anti-spam / server anti-virus for another £150 and some backup hardware which will be about another £250 to ensure an offsite copy.  Add some IT support hours if there is a problem which will be about £1000 per annum and a small business has got a lot of work to do just to try and pay for their upfront costs.

That gives you the setup cost for 5 users for the first year of £7350 plus their hardware and the domain name….that’s a HUGE difference.

Don’t need 5 members of staff, just reduce the licensing, want to add more staff, just increase the licensing.  See it’s flexible too. You only pay for what you use.  That’s the joy of Cloud computing.

So to cloud or not to cloud, that is the question.

If you already have hardware and licensing, then it makes no sense to make wholesale changes unless you’re experiencing problems.  It seems a bit silly to throw away hundreds if not thousands of pounds of licensing and hardware just because you’re not part of the in-crowd that are using internet based services already. If you want an off-premises solution for core services such as email,  which not only provides a robust solution for issues such as powercuts or loss of internet connectivity to your server, then look at Exchange Online. We have a number of clients using it rather than an on-premises solution which they are licensed for, because they can access email anywhere on any device and aren’t reliant on a single point of failure.

If you’re just starting out, it makes no sense to go any other way but by using cloud services (if you want to go even cheaper…check out Google’s offerings, but don’t expect the functionality…..). The return on investment is clear, big business infrastructure, low up front costs, professionally managed systems with limited or no end user maintenance required.  Al you need is a competent Cloud Partner to make sure what your looking to achieve is possible within your budget, and it’s scalable so you can expand without having to change plans or platforms.

Cloud computing has some huge benefits, it’s a way that small business systems can match those of larger businesses, without having to invest thousands of pounds to do so.  Stick to the bigger brands, as they buy hardware at a fraction of the cost that smaller operators pay, so you can guarantee that it’s resilient, robust and won’t go down for days on end.  It also means buying a small chunk of a bigger operation usually works out cheaper in the long run, and the service offering generally improve very rapidly to keep you custom.

If you have any questions about Cloud Computing, please don’t hesitate in contacting us

Recovering Data from a formatted encrypted hard drive

I’ve recently been testing drive encryption for external hard drives and a number of USB devices as many of our clients travel around with data on laptops and flash drives.
I came across Diskcryptor which is a free open-source disk encryption program which is actually very effective now the TrueCrypt is no longer available.
I’ve tested it on a number of 2.5″, 3.5″ flash drives and external hard drives, but what I really wanted to see was how secure was the data on the drive after I’d finished with it and decided to wipe it.
For this I’ve used an old laptop hard drive which was around 30% utilised. I formatted the drive, then encrypted it using a combination of AES-Twofish-Serpent encryption with a 40+ character key, which is apparently uncrackable.
Once encrypted (500GB took around 7 hours) I then formatted the drive again and went about trying to recover the data on the drive using a variety of tools.
On the formatted partition, after a number of hours of analysis, most of the tools could see there was something there, but recovery was impossible. Tools used were Yodot Recovery, EaseUS Partition Master, UFS Explorer and Recuva. Some of these I’ve paid for and some are the free versions (Yodot and UFS Explorer I’ve paid for).
I then re-encrypted the drive using the same algorithm and key as before and used Yodot to analyse the drive. Now given that the data was formatted before encryption and after encryption, and had had a number of files deleted from there over time, Yodot was able to find everything on the drive once it has been re-encrypted using the same key.
Now the caveat. This was only possible because the drive was encrypted using the same version of Diskcryptor, and using the same key as before. If a different key was used it would not be able to read the drive. Yodot is a great recovery program, it takes a while to complete especially on large drives, but the results are brilliant on encrypted drives.
The secret however is that if you do encrypt a drive, or device, be very careful what you do with it. If you wipe the data, be mindful that there is a high probability that you will not be able to get it back unless you are using an encryption program that isn’t that clever (as DiskCryptor creates the key based on the password rather than a unique code plus the password).
Recovery is possible in this instance because the encryption software and recovery software are happy working together once the drive is mounted. That will not always be the case depending on your encryption software. Things like Sophos Drive encryption and products which rely on a server or domain key plus a user key are a nightmare to get round but can be done given the right hardware being available (usually another Sophos encrypted machine, an external drive bay, access to the Sophos server and a user account which had access to the drive in the first place)
Hopefully this might give you some assistance in recovering lost files from formatted encrypted hard drives.