Smart Business and Technical Strategies for Today's IT Professionals

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A Game Plan for Protecting Stored Data

An effective data security policy is critical now more than ever, as data is increasingly stored in a variety of devices. But even though IT decision-makers put stringent security strategies in place to patch operating systems, secure the perimeters of the network and protect data, breaches are everyday news. The potential harm involved, in terms of negative press and financial losses, when companies lose laptops, backup tapes and other devices containing private information can be staggering.

To prevent theft of sensitive assets, it’s critical to follow security best practices and adhere to a set data security policy. Here’s what to consider when creating one for your company.

Use the Right Technologies
As the Yankee Group has observed, storage networks are becoming more complex and have matured to the point of requiring additional perimeter and internal security services to ensure data integrity. In addition to encryption, IT decision-makers should consider implementing the following:

  • Access controls. Corporations must institute data security policies regarding who can access databases. Monitoring software is also key -- it helps track who has accessed data.
  • Filtering software. Tools from various vendors help you watch the way content is accessed -- via email, instant message and file transfer protocol (FTP), for example -- and inspect the content for policy violations. Some tools block or quarantine violations, and others offer the ability to block outbound email.

Put a Strategy in Place
To protect corporate data, your strategy should focus on physical access controls, data network transport protection, host defenses, and system and application authorization, says Rich Mogull, director of research for the Gartner Group.

In addition, you should perform regular audits of your security practices. You should also establish a specific policy for protecting data, data management, backup and audit frequency. It is important too to consider internal access to corporate data: Gartner estimates that 70 percent of security incidents that cause loss involve insiders.

Determine How the Data Should Be Protected 
Extremely sensitive data, such as confidential customer information and credit card numbers, should be encrypted before being designated for storage. Not all data must be encrypted, however, according to Mogull. “Use encryption to protect only data that moves physically or electronically, or to enforce segregation of duties for administrators -- for example, encrypting credit card numbers in a database to prevent database administrators from seeing them," he says.

Ensure Compliance
Companies in certain industries, such as health care, must ensure that their data backup, storage and recovery policies comply with government regulations. The Gramm-Leach-Billey Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) require more stringent corporate governance and controls. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires corporations to be financially accountable; it doesn't specify the amount of time specific data should be stored or how, but because it does require integrity of data, it motivates IT executives to determine their own policies and be more vigilant about backing up and storing corporate information.

Apple's MacBook Air: A Review for Small Business

At first glance, Apple’s recently upgraded MacBook Air looks no different than the model launched last September.

It’s what’s under the hood that’s garnering the most attention. That and the fact that it’s the first to ship preloaded with OS X Lion, the latest operating system refresh, which adds a number of new features and improvements over its predecessors.

The new MacBook Air is available with an 11-inch LED display (from $999) or a 13-inch one (from $1,299). As with last year’s models, the MacBook Air is just 0.11 inch at its thinnest point and 0.68 inch at its thickest, and it weighs only 2.38 pounds for the 11-inch model (just under 3 pounds for the 13-incher).

A Tool for the Mobile Worker
Because it’s thinner and lighter than most other laptops, it’s ideal for on-the-go businesses -- not to mention it delivers up to seven hours of battery life for the 13-inch version (up to five for the 11-inch). The large, multi-touch glass trackpad is still the best in the industry, especially with all the new gestures added to the OS X Lion platform to help you get more done in less time.

Instead of a hard drive, the MacBook Air models use Flash memory -- similar to what’s inside an iPad -- yielding faster startup times and data access, better battery performance and lighter weight. Flash memory is more durable than a hard drive, but it can’t store as much data as a hard drive. The MacBook Airs start at 64 GB and go up to 256 GB (the latter for $1,599). Even with 256 GB of memory, this is only about half the storage offered by most hard drive-based laptops.

If you do a lot of work in the cloud -- that is, accessing, sharing and collaborating on files stored in cyberspace -- a Flash-based computer may be all you need. But if you need to carry around a lot of files, you may opt for a small external hard drive to use when needed.

Speedy, but No Optical Drive
The new Intel Core i5 and Core i7 dual-core processors are about twice as fast as last year’s models -- which were no slouch either. Aside from the entry-level MacBook Air ($999), which has 2 GB of system memory (RAM), the others have been upgraded to 4 GB of RAM (at 1333 MHz); all machines offer Intel HD Graphics 3000 technology instead of a dedicated video card. For the purposes of this review, I put the old and new 13-inch MacBook Airs side by side and launched and ran the same programs at the same time. Without question, the new MacBook Air was much speedier. (Note: I also updated the older MacBook Air to Lion to compare apples to apples.)

Another issue for some might be the MacBook Air’s lack of an optical drive. Therefore, you can’t load CD-ROM software, play a DVD or burn to a recordable disc.

New Thunderbolt Technology
Also new is a high-speed Thunderbolt port on the right side of the MacBook Air. Thunderbolt allows for incredibly fast transfer speeds between compatible devices (up to 10 gigabits per second, or about 20 times faster than USB 2.0), plus it can also be used to connect high-definition displays, such as monitors and televisions. There aren’t many other Thunderbolt peripherals yet, and it might be some time before we see them.

The new MacBook Airs include a built-in FaceTime camera, so you can make video calls with those on an iPhone 4, new iPod Touch or Mac.

Is It for You?

MacBook Airs aren’t the cheapest solution around. For example, the 13-inch MacBook Air with Core i5 (1.7GHz), 4 GB memory and 128 GB Flash storage costs $1,299. But you can buy a new Dell Inspiron with Core i5 (2.3 GHz), 6 GB memory and 640 GB hard drive for $649.99 (with a DVD drive too). But the Dell weighs 5.4 pounds, is 1.4-inches thick and mostly plastic (compared to the more durable aluminum of the MacBook Air). Plus, there’s an argument to be made about the operating system reliability and vulnerability, Thunderbolt I/O, backlit keys and the differences in trackpads.

However, the MacBook Air is not for everyone, especially if your business runs on Windows software or requires an optical drive. Only after you assess your needs and budget can you decide which laptop to invest in for you and your employees. One thing is clear, though, about this product: Although it’s not flawless, Apple has once again struck an excellent balance between mobility and performance, and is giving its legions of users even more power and features with which to play.

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5 Smart Tips for LinkedIn Self-Promotion

Smartly executed self-promotion is the key to career advancement, and in our hyper-connected days, LinkedIn is one of the best tools to help you do this. The question isn’t whether you should be on LinkedIn, the mega-popular professional networking service, but rather, how to best take advantage of this powerful medium to separate you from the pack. After all, with more than 80 million registered LinkedIn users, standing out among your peers can be a daunting consideration.

"Not doing something with LinkedIn is like leaving money on the table," says Debra Forman, a certified executive coach in Toronto, Ontario. "You don't need to pay for the upgrade -- the free service is all you need -- but the key is getting people to land on your page."

To get the right people to view your profile and to wow them while they’re there, consider these tactics:

  1. Get connected. "The key to LinkedIn is being found and being fabulous," says Irene Koehler, a social media consultant in San Francisco. Koehler says the first step is to make relevant connections. "Understand that the number of connections you have directly impacts how easily you can be found," explains Koehler. Forman agrees but believes there should be quality along with quantity: Don’t add more connections than you can keep up with, she says.
  2. Say something. Take advantage of the "Share" tab on your profile page, which lets you share insights, a website link or other information with your community. "Draw people into whatever you're doing, and it'll go out to all of your connections," says Forman, who promotes a monthly video in this fashion. "Remember, you might only have, say, 100 people in your network, but you could reach millions because every one of those connections has connections who can see what you're up to as well." Using the "Share" tab is a good way to be proactive in the search process, as if raising a hand above the crowd. Another way to be heard is to regularly answer questions in the question/answer component of LinkedIn, establishing your expert voice.
  3. Be a joiner. Belonging to a LinkedIn group that's relevant to your expertise opens up new opportunities, says Forman. "The beauty of groups is you can promote yourself, get work and be noticed.”
  4. Be a wordsmith. "Unless you optimize your profile, which includes using good keywords, you'll be the world's best-kept secret," says Koehler. "Understand which keywords are best to use, which speak to who you are and who you're trying to attract. Use the terms employers are using, says Koehler. "For example, if you're a Web designer, you'll want to use searchable words like 'web,' 'html,' 'graphics,' 'design,' 'designer' and so on. The top key words should be in the summary section of your profile page."
  5. Show, don’t tell. Aim for compelling text on your profile page, such as, "You've only got that one moment to impress them," says Koehler. Your profile should not look like a resume with bullet points; instead, potential employers should hear your voice and understand how you approach this job differently than the next person, she adds. Include links to your work-related blog and import feeds from Twitter if you offer commentary on IT issues.

It’s not just what you have to say, however. Recommendations from others who know your work in IT are important too, says Koehler. "We all think we're fabulous, sure, but it's more powerful to have others offer their perspective."

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The Drive for Real-time Collaboration

It's becoming a familiar scene in companies of all sizes: A team works closely together, jumping from instant messages to video conferences to over-the-phone meetings. They collaborate and accomplish goals side-by-side every day -- without ever actually meeting face-to-face.

Real-time collaboration tools not only connect teams more effectively, but also provide considerable cost savings to your organization. As a result, IT managers are increasingly recognizing the need for real-time collaboration among team members -- no matter their location. "The value of collaborating is about community. You have to be where people are to make it work," says Jon Arnold, an analyst and principal of J Arnold & Associates.

According to Ted Schadler of Forrester Research Inc., what’s driving the need is the growing trend of distributed organizations, the rising number of remote workers, and the upsurge of business-to-business teams. Here's what experts say you need to know about real-time collaboration tools and best practices for implementation:

1. Know the real-time collaboration tool landscape.
When it comes to real-time collaboration tools, the theme is "synchronous." Tools need to allow teams to truly communicate in real time. Among the real-time technologies becoming mainstays in many organizations are:

  • Advanced messaging. IM has grown beyond chat. Now, employees can send each other files without size limits, switch into video chatting or create a live conference with multiple co-workers on the spot

  • Smartphones. Employees can now stay seamlessly connected to their team via email, texting, document sharing and calls -- all on their smartphones

  • Screen sharing. These tools allow teams to actually see each other’s desktops at the same time. Some services even let you take control of someone else’s desktop, making it easy to work on projects at the same time, on the same screen

  • Virtual whiteboarding. The entire group can share a common sketchpad, easy for sharing ideas and files on a blank canvas

  • Telepresence or Web conferencing. Emerging telepresence tools create the illusion of teams interacting in the same room, even when they are miles apart. Webcams that enable one-on-one video conferencing also fall into this category. Many programs now offer recording features too, which are useful to play back later to note explicit directions and follow up with others

2. Know how tools solve common problems.
All teams don't need all real-time communication tools. And each communication tool does not need to have all the above features. The key is to offer and support the right mix that increases productivity (and ideally lowers costs) without creating distractions. "Look at key processes that can be improved by real-time collaboration," says Smith. "Maybe it's customer service -- like you can speed up the time it takes to answer clients.”

3. Know who is driving virtual collaboration.
Forrester recommends taking stock of so-called "alpha collaborators," or employees who are already using collaboration tools. “They are your greatest resource for identifying new tools, driving adoption and testing new scenarios," reports Forrester.

For employees, the expectations for real-time collaboration tools will only continue to expand. “People are living with these tools in their personal life,” says Arnold. “And they are bringing those expectations to the workplace."

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/alexsl