Monday 23 April 2012

30 Years ago today, The ZX Spectrum gave us games to play

Its hard to believe as I sit here typing that is was 30 years ago, to this very day that that Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k was released to the general public. I suppose that in retrospect, it could be seen as the iPad of its day as most people had one, of if they didn't, wanted one.

The previous year had seen the release of the Spectrums popular forerunner, the ZX81 which had sold a quarter of a million units by the end of 1981. But competition from rival companies such as Commodore were pushing what could be achieved with home computing, and the release of the VIC20 meant that computers with full colour capability were indeed the future, whereas the ZX81 was simply monochrome.

As such, Sinclair set about working on the follow up machine. What would eventually become the Spectrum, actually went through a number of design and name changes before the final model was that we all know and love was decided upon. Two models were released initial - the 16KB, at £125 or the much more powerful 48K version which cost £175.

Needless to say, it was a hit in schools and homes around the world, even if the keyboard was rubbish. And, for the next 2 years, the Sinclair Spectrum would dominate the home computing market, bringing along with it the delights of games such as Manic Miner, Elite and Hungry Horace. Retro gamers still love the old games and there are many Spectrum emulators around, as well as websites where you can actually play them online.

So happy birthday to the ZX Spectrum!

Personally I prefer the Commodore 64, but that's a different article.

Friday 20 April 2012

Internet Password Security Advice

The internet has come on leaps and bounds in the past few years and as such, more and more people are using it as a way to run their daily lives. Social networking is now a prominent way of communication with friends, colleagues and family whilst online shopping in now more popular than ever along with banking and other such services.

The average person may have around 30 user accounts set up on various websites and each of these accounts would require a username and password. Additionally more and more people are working from home or accessing their email and corporate data whilst on the move on devices such as smart phones and tablets. Therefore it is more important than ever to employ a strict and robust password policy, wherever possible as the internet becomes ever more popular, so does the threat of cybercrime.

Here are some tips for improving your password policies;

Don't use the same password for every account

Whilst it would be impossible to have a different password for every online account, and remember all of them, it is also important to note that if you do use only one and then someone gets hold of it, they would have access to everything you do online, be it banking, social network sites or email. There are systems out there which help manage passwords such as LastPass, an online password manager which encrypts all your passwords for you, so all you have to remember is your LastPass account password.

Change your password regulary

For the same reasons as above, it is also important to change your password on a regular basis. Most corporate IT networks enforce password changes on average about every 90 days or so. This can be done using server group policies however domestic users would need to rely on either their own memory or set themselves reminders.

Don't use standard letters

A common mistake when setting a password is choosing something and then making it all lower case letters of the alphabet. It is important to make the password as random and complex as possible. Therefore using a mixture of capital letters, lower case letters, numbers and special characters is always advisable. A good tip is to use a word, but then substitute some of the letters for numbers which look like letters. A number ‘1’ for example could be used for the letter ‘L’ or ‘I’. The number ‘4’ could also be used in place of the letter ‘A’, and so on.

Use a line from a song

Many people prefer to use short, memorable passwords with a mixture of capital letters, numbers and characters that don’t take long to enter, whereas some prefer longer passwords which are often simpler to type. One school of thought is that a really good password would be to take an entire line from a song and then just make one of the letters into a number, usually the last or first, thus making it easy to enter and quite memorable. Here is an example taken from The Beatles classic ‘Hey Jude’ - 5oletitoutandletitinheyjudebegin – You will see that the first character is a ‘5’ instead of an ‘S’ and, that the rest of the password is simply the rest of the line from the song. These type of passwords are very hard to hack.

Don't use the obvious

A common mistake many people make is using things like their pets name, date of birth, children’s names, house address etc. as their password. Having a password like this should be avoided at all costs, as should standard words from the English dictionary.

In summary, we would advise that everyone has a good think about what the implications would be if a criminal got hold of your passwords. In some cases it may not be that serious, but in others it could be devastating.

If you found this article useful then please feel free to share it with others, or if you have any password tips yourself, then why not let us know and we will include them in a follow up article.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

On the spot with Nick Ryder from CCS (Leeds) Ltd

The Yorkshire Evening Post recently interviewed our very own Nick Ryder for their regular ‘On The Spot’ feature. Here is what he had to say;

What was your first job?

I worked on my parent’s milk round which was good, honest, hard work and gave me a sprightly start to the day before school. It was also a good way of staying fit.

If not in your present job, what would you like to be?

I think that without question I would be a psychiatrist. The human mind and the way people behave has always fascinated me, we are such complex creatures and infinitely interesting.

What was your worst mistake and why?

Probably misguided trust in someone but then I learnt a lot from that incident so I did take away a positive from it too.

What would be your ideal day out of the office?

A day in a spa. It’s one of the best places to relax and I have always loved being in or around water.

Name one person you would like to have dinner with and why?

If he was still alive then it would be George Harrison. From what I have heard he was a fiercely intelligent and spiritual person who also had a great sense of humour.

What was your best subject at school? 

Very predictably it was maths and music, which is odd because music is considered to be an art form and my career in the IT industry, is very much about numbers and figures as well as a lot of problem solving.

What’s your top time-saving tip?

Invest in a hands-free car kit for you mobile phone.

What would you do if you won the Lotto?

I would carry on as usual but own a bigger TV.

What is your favourite time of day and why?

Getting home after a long day at work and seeing my family. Why? Because they are my world.

What would you like your epitaph be?

Oh, I don’t want to think about that just yet, thank you very much. 

This article appeared in the 17th April edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post and the original article can be seen here.

Friday 13 April 2012

How we add value to our services

Nick Ryder and Paul Hollingworth

Hollingworth & Moss, the Leeds-based traditional bookbinding company, is forging its way into the 21st century with a £250,000 investment in new services and technologies with help from us.

Family-owned Hollingworth & Moss has been based in Leeds since 1966 and continues to use traditional bookbinding skills and craftsmanship, hand-making a wide range of books for customers including universities, local authorities, companies and individuals.

At the heart of company is the world’s fastest automated book scanner. Capable of capturing a massive 3,000 pages per hour, the book rests gently in the ‘SmartCradle’ dynamic book handler, which keeps the book open at exactly 110 degrees thus providing low-stress support for rare and fragile books. This means there is no need for de-binding thereby preserving the integrity of the original documents.

The new state-of-the-art technology at Hollingworth & Moss required a high quality infrastructure to support the amount of data which the company handles across its divisions, and that's where CCS came in, to create a bespoke IT solution for the company which saw all their data being moved from four servers on to one, which was specially configured for their needs. The result is a server which works faster, has more storage capability, and can handle a huge amount of data 24/7.

Nick Ryder, our technical sales manager, said: “The servers Hollingworth & Moss had previously were too slow to cope with the amount of data they now needed for their new services. They had basically outgrown the installation and something needed to be done if they were to be able to offer a fast, efficient service.

 “We looked at their processors and identified a number of weak links. We have replaced hardware and configured it in such a way that creates a system which works faster, is automatically backed up and therefore safer in case of power failure, and enables multiple operations to take place at the same time.

 “It has been a very rewarding project and in some ways has been a challenge – bringing together a great amount of technology for different applications – to allow Hollingworth and Moss to embrace new technologies and create new strands to their business.”

Thursday 12 April 2012

Phase 2 has begun

We are pleased to announce that phase one of our new Data Centre is now filling up fast, which means that we now have to bring forward our plans for the second phase, 3 months earlier than originally planned.

The expansion into the next suite means that we now have an addition 30 full racks available, all with twin power feeds which are backed up by our intelligent power distribution systems, UPS and generator backup which has enough fuel to power the whole Data Centre for 72 hours in the event of a power failure.

Our eco-friendly cooling systems have already been extended into the new suite so the next few weeks will be spent finishing off the network cabling and monitoring systems.

If you want to know more about our Data centre please follow this link or alternatively give us a call on 0113 294 6699 to arrange for a tour around our facilities.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Everything you want to know about colocation - Part 1

Hello, I guess you’re reading this because you don’t know anything about co-location and you want to know everything, or you do know everything and you want to see how much I know, or you know a bit but need to know more. In any event I will attempt to explain, in simple terms what it all means and pose some hypothetical questions which I will then answer.

I suppose the starting point is how do we spell it? I’ve already referred to it and co-location and colocation – spot the difference? Some like to call it Co-Lo, colo or even collocation with a double ‘L’. At the end of the day it all means the same thing and Wikipedia has this to say about it;

“Colocation (business), the placement of several entities in a single location.”

Not very helpful I know, but essentially true.

The best way to illustrate what co-location is is to use a hypothetical example like this;

You have a computer which needs to be switched on all the time and be in a secure and controlled space which has the appropriate cooling and power backup systems to keep it up for as long as possible. You also need it to be connected to a high speed and reliable internet connection. Your own premises may not have the cooling, redundant power routes or a reliable internet connection so instead of keeping it there, you choose to ‘collocate’ it in a purpose built facility such as a Data Centre.

The reasons for colocation are many and varied and probably the most common application is web site hosting. As of November 2011 there were about 366,848,500 websites on the World Wide Web and most of these are sitting on a server somewhere, which is being collocated in a Data Centre. Other reasons may include online backup servers, hosted email services, SPAM / Virus filtering services, disaster recovery servers and many more. But, it all comes back to the fact that Data Centre’s are purpose built so as to guarantee a maximum uptime as if there was downtime then it usually means that someone is losing money.

The ‘Cloud’ is a recent buzz word and refers to making data and services available from the internet as opposed to a server or computer which is sat in your office. What the ‘Cloud’ or ‘Cloud Computing’ means is that the server previously sat in your office is now being collocated in a Data Centre, as it is often more cost effective to do it that way and due to the speed of the internet being so quick, we can now access that data and those applications in the same manner.

For some, the up-front costs of owning their own server can prove to be too expensive, which is why many Data Centres offer a server rental service which is often referred to as ‘Dedicated Servers’.  The cost of renting such a device can be spread over a number of months and they can be flexible in terms of the customer’s requirement, and in most cases would be built to a bespoke specification. They often come with a minimum contract term so that the Data Centre can ensure that they recover the original hardware costs.

Everything you want to know about colocation - Part 2

Your typical Data Centre will have a number of measures which will significantly reduce any potential downtime such as;

Cooling – Servers can and do get hot. If the temperature gets too hot then it can start to affect and damage the internal hardware components. As such they work much better in a cool environment and it is this reason that a good Data Centre will always have a robust air conditioning system in place which will alert should the temperature increase above a certain level.

Power – It is equally important to have a number of power and backup power options. Most Data Centres have at least 2 incoming power feeds which would then be fed into a power distribution control, which in turn is supported by UPS (uninterruptable power supply’s) batteries and diesel generators. The UPS devices will also protect against power surges and spikes whilst the power distribution board will intelligently route power from the appropriate device in the event of an external power failure.

Internet – Since collocated hardware is always somewhere on the internet then it also makes perfect sense to ensure that the internet is always available in a Data Centre. Therefore it is usually the case that there are at least 2 (depending on the size of the facility) high quality, fast and reliable internet feeds coming into the Data Centre building. These are in most cased provided on fibre connections and can offer speeds of up to 10Gbp/s typically.

Security – You need to know that your equipment will be kept safe and that it will not be tampered with by others. Many Data Centres provide lockable rack space so that only you and the Data Centre staff have keys to access your server or servers. In some cases it is not feasible to have dedicated lockable rack space (certainly if it is just one server) so a number of clients may share a rack. In this instance it is commonplace for the Data Centre staff to accompany any user visits so as to ensure that they are only working on their own equipment. Many Data Centres have complex alarm systems and are manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

There are so many services now that are turning into ‘Cloud’ based services which means that the demand for good quality Data Centres is on the increase. Just recently we have seen the introduction of the video streaming service from Netflix, Apple’s iCoud service, hosted Exchange and Microsoft’s SkyDrive, these are all services which run on servers, somewhere in the cloud, or more accurately on some hardware sat in a Data Centre.

Everything you want to know about colocation - Part 3

So, you have a great business idea for selling Cloud based services and have invested money in purchasing your new server hardware and software. So what happens next?

Well, there are a few things to think about before a server can be collocated such as;

How will the server physically fit into the rack? – All hardware equipment in a Data Centre is kept in rack space. These racks have mounting brackets so that servers with rack mounting kits can be screwed into position. Some servers are not rack mountable and would therefore require a shelf within the rack to sit on. Rack shelves usually cost extra as they are non-standard but that said, most modern servers do have rack mount kits available as an option along with side rails so that they easily fit into the racks themselves.

Who will install the server? – Some Data Centres will insist that you deliver and install your own equipment whilst others are more flexible and may offer to arrange for a courier to pick up your server and then install it on your behalf, at a cost of course, whereas others may include free installation so long as you sign up for a minimum 12 month contract term.

What about IP addresses? – When you have a device on the internet, it will need an address so that it can be contacted. The internet uses ‘IP Addresses’ for this purpose and your Data Centre can supply these as part of your co-location package. Sometimes more than one IP address is required and in some cases addition IP requirement cost extra or require written justification as to the need for many IP addresses. Some Data Centres however include a reasonable amount of addresses at no extra cost.

How much will I have to pay? – How long is a piece of string? It all depends really and there are many different factors which can affect the price for collocation. Some Data Centres charge for physical space i.e. the more rack space the equipment takes up, the more it costs to co-locate. Others charge on power consumption so it is worth bearing this in mind when purchasing hardware, especially if it is second hand or older kit as they are usually are a lot less energy efficient and can cost a small fortune to co-locate. Some Data Centres will also charge for high bandwidth or data transfer usage whilst some will use a mixture of all of the above to calculate their prices. As a rough guide most Data Centres start their collocation packages at around £50 per month and this would be for a 1U* server with low to average power consumption of around 0.5amps.

What is a service level agreement (SLA)? – Typically a SLA is a guarantee from the Data Centre that they will provide a service that will be consistent, reliable and have a realistic uptime. Failure to meet the service level agreement often results in a financial penalty in the form of a refund or credit for the Data Centre, which means that it really is in their best interests to ensure that the core services such as internet connection, power and cooling do not suffer or go down. Most Data Centres have efficient alerting systems in place so that they can catch any problems as soon as they occur and either fix or use an alternative method to deliver the faulty service.

How will my server be protected from hackers? – The most obvious answer to this is to use some kind of firewall device, one that can protect against such attacks. You can supply your own or, if you have limited firewall experience, most Data Centres can offer a managed firewall service at an additional cost. There are also many software firewalls available, especially with some of the open source operating systems such as Linux.

How do I choose the right Data Centre for me? – The best way to get started is to search on Google for collocation, colocation or co-location in your chosen locality and you will get a good range of options. Some will have an online price calculator or perhaps a list of standard package prices so you can get an idea of how much it is going to cost you. However, I would recommend asking yourselves these questions before contacting them;

  • Do I need easy access at short notice?
  • How long would it take me to travel to the Data Centre in the event of an emergency?
  • How long a contract term am I prepared to commit to?
  • What are the Data Centres chances of going out of business?
  • Do the staff seem knowledgeable from a technical point of view?
  • How will and how soon will I be alerted if there is a problem?
  • Do I need to give notice if I wish to cancel my contract and if so, how long?
  • Will my data transfer requirement increase over time?
  • Is there onsite technical help in case of an emergency if I can’t physically get to the Data Centre?

I also think that it is important to speak to the people who are running the Data Centre so you get a feel for what they are like as people, or better still try to arrange a site visit so that you can look at the facilities and make sure that they meet up to any expectations which are portrayed on their website. A good Data Centre should have systems in place so that very little, if anything at all goes wrong which means that regular contact and support issues are kept to a bare minimum.

The need for collocation is increasing on a daily basis as internet connections become faster and more reliable, the benefits are becoming all too clear and companies are buying into the concept of ‘Cloud Services’. I hope this article has shed new light on what co-location is and how it plays an integral part in the Cloud.

*”U” or “RU” refers to a defined unit of space within a data rack and ‘1U’ occupies 1.75” or 44.45mm of space. In more simple terms it takes up 3 hole spaces on the standard rack side rails. Some servers can come in 1U sized cases and are often referred to as ‘pizza boxes’ as they do resemble an actual pizza box. Most full height racks are 42U so in theory they could host 42 1U sized servers.