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    Wednesday, April 29, 2009

    Cloud Computing Follow up

    Here is a follow up article to yesterday's post that talks about the popularity of cloud computing due to recession.

    The themes are the same:
    1. Low cost of entry
    2. Scale up and down ability
    3. Trusting your provider

    Let me know what you think!

    Monday, April 27, 2009

    What Cloud Computing Means for Small Businesses

    So you've heard this term "cloud computing" and you're thinking: Just a buzzword for something that has no impact on my life. Well, that may or may not be true.

    Buzzword? Yes

    Impactful? Potentially

    What I will do here is describe to you what cloud computing is (or at least my take on it) and how it may be relevant to small businesses. For those that want the short answer, feel free to scroll down to Give me the SHORT ANSWER!!!.

    What is Cloud Computing?
    Interestingly, people are still arguing over what cloud computing is, what qualifies as cloud computing and what doesn't, and what the future of it will look like.

    Here is what Wikipedia has to say: Cloud computing is a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet. Users need not have knowledge of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure "in the cloud" that supports them.

    Alright, I'm not sure that could be any more vague. But here is my $0.10 version of the definition: Cloud computing is a pay-per-use model of using services on the Internet.

    This definition includes services such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Maps, Payment gateways, and online backups.

    Hey! That's just another word for ASP, Software as a Service, or whatever the current buzzword is!

    Pretty much. In fact, if you use the Wikipedia definition, "cloud computing" has been around since the 60s where you would purchase time slices on a mainframe.

    So what's different now?

    What's different is that we can now merge all of these technologies including the Internet, virtualization, web services, and higher available bandwidth to produce offerings that make business sense.

    Additionally, groups such as the open cloud manifesto are working to develop standards that allow cloud services to work together!

    Now you're losing me. Give me an example!

    Fine. I just launched a "virtual" company called Data Knoxx. Here is the approach that I took: Invest in critical infrastructure, and go "pay per use" on everything else.

    So in my case, my critical infrastructure is my backup system. I'm not going to trust someone else with that. However, the phone system, web hosting, site monitoring, document storage, and email are all items that are peripheral, but important. The cost of entry is too high for me to invest in all of these systems, but with cloud computing (or Software as a Service), I am able to enable these systems on a pay-per-use model.

    Now, what would differentiate these services as cloud computing would be interoperability. Suppose my phone system, web hosting, site monitoring, document storage, and email platforms would all talk to each other on a standard protocol without custom programming? That would be POWER!

    This is where it gets interesting!
    Some purists will further refine the definition of cloud computing to only include data storage and computing power. So back to the main frame model, I pay for time slices on a shared server and pay by the Gig for storage used on a shared system. That's fine. I'll let the purists argue that one out.

    Give me the SHORT ANSWER!!!
    However you define cloud computing, what it means to the Small Business CIO is simple: LOW COST OF ENTRY for a PAY PER USE model.

    You do not have to invest thousands of dollars up front for you IT infrastructure. Instead, you pay a low monthly fee that increases as your usage (and hopfeully revenue) increases.

    One more example
    Data Backups. Here is the traditional model of entry into data backups:

    Tape Solution
    - Purchase a tape drive (or multiple tape drives) - $1,000
    - Purchase tapes - $350 for a 10-pack
    - Purchase tape backup software - $150 (and that's low)
    - Design a tape rotation system - 20hrs effort @ $20/hr = $400

    So that's close to $2,000 before you even call Iron Mountain to start picking up your tapes!

    USB Solution
    - USB drive - $500
    - Backup Software - $150
    - Design and implement backup system - 20hrs effort @ $20/hr = $400

    So that's a $1,000 dollar cost of entry, but make sure that your IT guy takes that drive somewhere safe every night!

    Disk to Disk Solution
    I won't go into details on this, suffice to say that the cost of purchasing and implementing a server and disk array is over $5,000.

    Cloud Computing
    - Software licensing - $0
    - Set up costs - Figure 10 hrs at $20/hr = $200.
    - Data storage - Depends on how much data. Most business plans start around $35/mo.

    So that's $235 to get in the door and the majority of that is your person setting up and configuring the software. As your data grows, the running cost will increase, but hopefully by then your revenues are increasing accordingly.

    Also, consider the effect of scaling back! Your operational costs instantly decrease as you scale back. You can't give tape drives back when you don't need them anymore!

    So that's my take on cloud computing. I'm interested to hear other's thoughts on this new-fangled buzzword.

    In the mean time, try out this model for yourself:

    Monday, April 20, 2009

    The Modern Method of Organizing Email - Part 2

    Last week I described how to organize email and more importantly, how to get Outlook to do it for you. Now comes the fun part: reaping the fruits of Outlook's labour.

    The next two under-used features I am about to describe are: groups and search.

    ** Disclaimer **
    I will not describe click-by-click how to do this. That is what those boring blogs with numbered lists and screenshot-itis are for. Actually, help files do this well, too and while I enjoy reading help files, heaven forbid I should actually write one. I am going to assume that you are smart enough to figure out where to click, right-click, and scroll.

    What I am going to do here is actually provide some value and describe the high-level "what" and "why" and then you can follow the links at the bottom or use Google for the "how".

    ** End Disclaimer **

    If you followed my instructions last week, you created a folder called "@All Mail" and put all of your email in that folder. You also categorized all of your email using Rules.

    Now go to the @All Mail folder and group by category (See Grouping Email below).

    Pretty. Isn't it?

    If you've done things right, you should see all of your categories in pretty colours as group headers and the email related to those categories beneath the header. Almost like folders but so much better!

    You can now browse all of your email by category. If you have emails assigned to multiple categories, they will actually show up under both headings. DO THAT WITH YOUR FANCY FOLDERS!!!

    Using last week's examples, this means you will have:

    - All email related to a given project together
    - All invoices together and also broken out by project
    - All email from "The Boss" together

    "But don't I have to scroll through hundreds of email for a single project to find what I'm looking for? That's what I had subfolders for!"

    Answer: That's what search is for!

    "Now I know you don't know what you're talking about. Outlook search SUCKS!"

    Almost right. Outlook search USED TO SUCK. Since Outlook XP and Outlook 2007, you can use Windows Desktop Search to provide a fully-integrated, fully indexed search for Outlook. WDS does support older versions, but it's not as seemless.

    For versions of Outlook prior to XP/2007, your best options are really LookOut, and Google Desktop. (See here for a good comparision of Google and WDS).

    Alright, so I lied to you a little bit last week when I said these tools are "built right into Outlook". But you're still reading, so maybe you'll forgive me this one minor indiscretion.

    Now that you have a fully indexed search in Outlook, instead of waiting 20 minutes just to get mediocre search results back, email is automatically indexed and the search has become more powerful.

    The Result: It is faster to search than to browse.

    Let me repeat that in big letters, because it is very important:

    It is faster to search than to browse.

    It's true. I would say that I now search 80% of the time and browse 20%. I use browse when I want to view a set of emails in a category. Otherwise, it's almost always search.

    Remember how you stopped creating individual folders for every person that sent you email (the thought makes me cringe)?

    Try this: Go to "@All Mail" and type in the search bar "from:dave" (no quotes). This assumes you know someone named dave. If you don't, I'll assume you are smart enough to figure out how to search for email from someone named Algernon or Betsy.

    If it takes more than 2 seconds to populate the results with all email received from Dave, something went wrong. I hope that at this point, you are asking yourself "Why did I spend all of that time creating folders with people's names?" Good. That means you are paying attention.

    "Great. Now I have to learn some intricate search language with monikers, escape sequences, and regular expressions."

    Ummmm, no. I didn't. Here are the few searches that I memorized and it gets my 95% of the email I ever need to search for:
    • from:
    • to:
    • date:yesterday or date:today or date:last week
    • subject:
    • category:
    • hasattachment:true(this returns all email with attachments)
    • Or most of the time, I just start typing the keywords that I'm looking for
    So if you want to find an email from Bert that had an attachment, you can type: "from:bert hasattachment:true". See here if you want to know more.

    That's it!!! If you remember those few keywords, you will never spend more than 30 seconds searching for an email again.


    "But Adam! I hate typing! I just want to click on something and have my email appear."

    I can tell you are suffering some separation anxiety from your folders. Fine. Have you heard of "Search Folders"? They rock. Newer versions of Outlook have actually created some for you. They're called things like:
    • Categorized Mail
    • Unread Mail
    • Large Mail
    You can also create your own based on any attribute you can name:
    • Sender
    • Category
    • Email size
    • Has attachment
    Learn more about search folders here:

    Here are a few other links that tell you specifically how to do the tasks that I describe in this article:

    Creating Rules:
    Grouping Email:

    So that's how I handle the overwhelming amount of email that I receive; categories, rules, and search. If you decide that I might now what I'm talking about and give it a try, let me know how it works out for you, what challenges you come up against, or any other random thoughts you might have.

    After that, you must think about how you are protecting your email from accidental deletion or system failure.

    Saturday, April 11, 2009

    The Modern Method of Organizing Email

    Every small business owner, IT Professional, account manager, or really anyone in the business world these days gets email; a LOT of email! This is not news to you. What may be news to you is that there are easy and effective ways to manage your email without installing fancy addons like Xobni or Google Desktop. They're built right into Outlook.

    Many people take one of two approaches to handling the deluge of email:

    The Architects

    You create an intricate structure of folders with hierarchy organized by sender, date, project or some other logical grouping. Then you spend anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes a day creating folders, moving emails, and arranging them. When it's all done, you sit back and enjoy the aesthetically pleasing structure that you have architected.

    Just hope that when you're looking for a given email, the property that you chose for your structure is the one that you're using to search with.

    Hey Architects! I have news for you:



    The Ostriches

    The other popular method of dealing with email is to leave it all in your Inbox and hope that you can find that needle in the haystack when you need it. Let's call this method the ostrich method because you're really just sticking your head in the sand.

    Actually, you may find this surprising, but I find that the ostriches are actually somewhat more evolved than the architects. The ostriches tend to find the "search" capabilities of Outlook rather quickly and train themselves to start typing in the search bar before then even think to reach over to the right for the scrollbar. So if architects are in the 1700s, then the ostriches have discovered the industrial revolution. Progress, but they still haven't reached the 20th century, nevermind current technology.

    So what should you do: Organize or Search?

    Answer: BOTH!!!

    There are two features in Outlook going back to Outlook 97 that not enough people have found: Categories and Rules. That's 12 YEARS people! Grow up! Live a little! Try out the "new" features.


    For those using Gmail, you know everything I'm about to say because categories are really just "Labels" in Google-speak. Categories can be applied to emails to indicate the grouping that they belong in. For example, you can create categories for:

    • Projects

    • Clients

    • Vendors

    • Document Types (like invoices, status updates, e-Newsletters)

    • Personal vs. Business

    Assuming each email is assigned a category (or two, or three), you can easily group them and browse for them. All emails already have a sender/receiver and date/time associated with them, so creating categories for those attributes is redundant.

    "But Adam, doesn't that mean that categories are really just folders except without the pretty hierarchy?"


    What categories offer that folders don't are:

    1. An email can have multiple categories assigned to it. So if you have an "invoice" from a certain "vendor", you can group it by both properties instead of having to pick one.

    2. Your email can stay in the Inbox but already be categorized with pretty colours (that's right, "ou". I'm Canadian).

    3. Did I mention the pretty colours?

    Suppose I architect a folder hierarchy organized by project. Maybe I even have a subfolder for invoices. I put all invoices from the vendors in the "vendor name"/invoices folder. Now, every time I need to see invoices for that vendor, I just look in that folder. Great.

    But now I want to see the invoices from all vendors over the past month. Uh oh. My aesthetically pleasing folder hierarchy just failed me. All that time I spent building folders has actually cost me time because now I have to go through 1 folder per vendor to find all of the invoices. That's an O(n) operation for the Computer Scientists. For the non-computer scientists, it's a waste of time.

    Now if I had categories for vendors and "invoices" with all of my email in one big folder, I just change the grouping depending on what type of email I'm looking for.

    "But Adam, doesn't it take just as long to assign all of those categories as it does to create folders and drop the emails into them?"


    And that is why we need that second "new" feature called Rules.

    Don't run away! You're not going to have to spend two weeks learning an advanced programming language and setting up complicated scenarios and conditions.


    And you don't have to jump into the deep end. Try this: next time you start a project or start communicating with a new client, take the first email you get, right-click on it, and select "Create Rule".

    This next part depends a bit on your situation, but think about the commonalities between the emails you expect to receive from this client or new project; remembering that sender and date/time are already done for you.

    Some examples are:

    • All emails from this domain (

    • All emails with a given word or acronym (or either) in the subject

    • All emails with a given word in the email text

    On the next screen, assign a category; create a new one if you have to.

    Activate the rule and away you go! Now every time you get an email related to that big project, it is automatically categorized for you.

    You have just saved yourself HUNDREDS OF HOURS of categorizing emails as they come in. And for you ostriches, you have added zero work, but are just as organized as the architects. Now every time you receive an email that isn't automatically categorized, create a rule for it. Try to be as inclusive as possible with your rules.

    "But Adam, that will take FOREVER!"

    No it won't. I was receiving hundreds of emails a day and one week after I started this method, 90% of my email was auto-categorized. If you invest 30 seconds upfront, it will literally save you hours of manual organization and search later.

    That's ONE HECK of an ROI!

    "But do I just leave everything in my Inbox?"

    Not even close

    Here are the rules:

    1. The Inbox is for email requiring action
    2. No email stays in your Inbox more than 7 days.

    "So where do all the emails go?"

    Fine. You architects get to create one glorious folder. This is the last folder you will ever create, so enjoy it! Your folder is called "@All Mail". It starts with '@' so that it will always appear at the top of the list.

    ATTENTION: Stop here if you are in "Inbox camper"
    Inbox camping: Process of repeatedly checking your email to see if there is something new to check up on. Especially common as a task-avoidance behavior, and enabled by Outlooks “new post” popup. (

    Now for those disciplined individuals who check your email less than once and hour (see just about every time management book out there), pick one of the following options every time you go through your email or at the end of the day:

    1. Grab all emails not requiring action and drag them into the "@All Mail" folder

    2. If you like flags (I do), flag the emails requiring action and drag all email from your Inbox into "@All Mail" leaving a beautiful, empty, Inbox.

    "But won't Outlook puke with thousands of emails in one folder?"

    Maybe. But I've never found that limit. One reason is that I archive any email older than 6 months. For all you pack rats out there who just had a heart attack after reading that last sentence, rest assured I don't delete them. But I do set Outlook to get them out of my working area and out of the way until that odd time when I need to mount the archive.pst folder and search it.

    I recommend you do the same or Outlook will eventually slow down to a crawl and you'll post nasty comments on my blog saying that I killed your computer.

    "OK smart guy, I did what you said, now I have no folder structure and I need to find my email. What now?"

    Now you practice for a week and then check in on Part II: Email Browsing and Searching.

    In the mean time, you might also want to think about what you're doing to protect your email from system failure or accidental deletion.

    Monday, April 6, 2009

    Small Business CIO First Post

    Welcome to my Blog. Before we get started, let me help you decide if this blog is going to be worth following for you.

    This blog is for you if:

    • You make IT decisions for a small or medium sized business. As a general rule, that's anywhere from 1 to 100 employees.
    • You are the IT lead for a company and make recommendations or design solutions that you bring to the CIO.
    • You aren't the IT lead or decision-maker, but want to be.
    • You think I'm cool and you want to read what I have to say.
    OK, if you're still reading, that means that you fit one of the above criteria (hopefully the last). Now that I have told you about you, how about I tell you about me? That's what the style guides say I should do in order to build that little thing called "credibility".

    Why Should I Believe anything Adam Kehler has to say?
    Well, you don't have to listen to anything I say, but I do believe that I bring some pretty good experience to my writing. You see, I've been making IT decisions for small businesses for a while now. My first implementation ever was in 1993 and it was called Novell Netware 3.12 implemented on Windows for Workgroups 3.11. You youngsters may not recognize the names, but it was the prize of its time. And boy did I not know a THING! Fortunately, I kept at it, did some more system administration, then after graduating with my Bachelor of Computer Science, moved into software development for a few years.

    It's when I became a consultant at one of the "BIG 5" consulting firms that I really got to see what companies were doing in IT and how they could do it better and more cost-effectively. More recently I've spent 4 years implementing and supporting data center solutions for everyone from the mom and pop shop to large credit card companies (I shouldn't say the name, but it starts with V, ends with A, and the middle is...).

    Now I have launched an online backup provider which I will probably plug in some of my writings, but I'll try not to be too overt about it.

    OK, So What?
    So I have seen a lot of different solutions to a lot of different problems; some good, some bad, some terrible. All that I'm trying to do here is share my thoughts on specific IT topics that may help some of you small business IT professionals make those decisions that you have to make every day.

    I hope you find what I have to say entertaining and at least somewhat informative. Please give me feedback and I would love to hear about the types of topics that you want to hear about!

    My first word of advice: Have fun!