Digital Developments

News and commentary on networking and wireless technology.

Virtualization – What does it buy you?

Computers are great tools.  Workstation operating systems allow you run application software which allows you to be wonderfully productive.  The problem is that these two entities – the hardware and the software – are very interdependent.  If you’ve ever had “driver issues” when you add a new component to your computer or after a “system update” you’ve seen this in action.  So what happens when the computer fails?

Computer failures can happen for a lot of reasons.  A chip (anyone of hundreds on the main-board) may just die.  Or, it may be killed by an overload from a power line surge, a lightning strike, or by physical trauma like dropping the computer, dropping something on the computer, or some other form of malady like coffee or coke.  The result is a “brick”.  Now what?

Well, you buy a new computer, reinstall operating system, reinstall all the applications, restore all of your data, and poof you’re back to work.  Never mind you’ve just spent a lot of time and money and potentially missed a lot of deadlines.  Now imagine that didn’t happen to your workstation but the server that you and all your superiors and subordinates use to conduct the daily business of your company.  Quite a large impact in most cases, even for a small company.

Virtualization fixes this by severing the dependency of your operating system to your hardware.  How it does this is quite interesting and very clever but the bottom line is that works.  Even more importantly than that is the allows the entire computer to backed up, to be copied, or to be moved as one file.  Awesome, to say the least.  The advantages are great, the difficulty in fielding a stable working virtual environment is not trivial.  Nor is it beyond the capabilities of most reasonably technical individuals.  If you would like to explore this technology or if you need help implementing it, give us a call.

Backup – Who needs it?

If you have never lost any of your business data you are the luckiest person on earth.  If you have suffered a loss you are keenly aware of the pain that it can cause as well as the cost both in time and in dollars to recreate it.  Well that is nothing compared to threat posed by what is known as “ransomware”.

Ransomeware is easy to get.  If you visit a web site designed to propagate the virus, you’ve got it.  You probably wouldn’t go there intentionally, but the whole science of “social engineering” is exploited by bad guys to trick into doing just that.  If you visit a web site that uses advertising banners, you could get infected by a bad add.   If you go to a good site, without advertising banners and that site has been compromised, you get it.  And just because the last 99 times you’ve visited that site doesn’t mean you are save on the 100th visit, it could have been compromised in between visits.

It is difficult to know if you have gotten ransomeware.  It can sit in your computer waiting for the end of the day or end of the week before doing its work.  So you leave work Friday and everything seems find only to find out Monday morning that not only not fine but that it is a disaster of epic proportions.

Once ransomware goes to work, it scans your computer for files.  Each file it finds it encrypts with an unbreakable encryption key.  When its done with your system drive, it methodically goes through all of the other drives on your computer.  When it is done with your computer, it methodically goes through every network share you have access to and does the same thing.  That can include peer-to-peer shares on other computers in your area or file servers.  It can also encrypt any shares you have access to in the “cloud”.

And if that isn’t bad enough, then your backup(s) run.  The backup program dutifully makes a perfect copy of all of that unreadable data.  And the real kicker is, that if your backup destination did contain a good backup it gets over written with a perfect of copy of unreadable data.

So, Monday morning comes and you find out that your data is gone AND your backup is gone too.  Time for a cup of coffee and time to rethink your approach to backup.

There is a solution.  Use a backup scheme that includes versioning.  What is that?  It is the solution to all (well almost all) of your data loss prevention problems.  A versioning backup program records not only all of your files, but all of the changes to each of those files. This allows you to “simply” restore from a “version” that existed before the malware tried to wreck you would.  “Simply” can still be a day’s worth of work, but at least it is doable.

There a lot of good backup programs that do versioning.  If you need help finding one, give us a call.

By the way.  Just because you have a good versioning backup program doesn’t mitigate your need to test it, verify it, and monitor it on an ongoing basis.  If you can’t or don’t want to do that, give us a call.

Data rates and the speed of light.

Compared to most things that move in the real world, light is really fast.  But compared to other things, like computers and networks, it’s not so one sided.  For example: most people these days run gigabit LANs.  A gigabit is a billion bits per second.  The speed of light is 300000000 meters/second.  That means that that a “bit” as it travels down your Ethernet patch cord is a voltage pulse about one foot long.  Or if you have a ten foot patch cord connecting your computer to the wall outlet, at any point in time there can be ten bits racing through that cable from your computer to who-knows-where.

As networks move to 10 Gb/sec (the Internet is already there), the same ten foot patch cord would hold about one hundred bits.  All at the same time.  All moving rapidly to their destination.

I just think that is interesting!

The same physics applies to wireless, like WIFI or cellular.  The new 802.11ac WIFI standard supports transfer rates over one gigabit per second (although you have to be really good to get that in the real world).  By the same mathematics, when you send an email the bits that comprise that email are racing through space from your laptop or phone to the WIFI or cellular tower as pulses of radio waves one foot apart.  This would mean that a hundred word (500 character) message would be about a mile long sequence of pulses as it flies through the air.  (OK, I know the complex modulation schemes needed to achieve those data rates on narrow (80 MHz) channels isn’t really as simple as I’ve made it out to be.  But then if you know that, you already get the point of this post.)