Hmmm, No iPhone through Apple Canada

Breaking new this morning. Canadians will not be able to purchase an iPhone from the Canadian retail Apple Stores or via www.apple.ca. iPhones will be available through Rogers and Fido retail outlets however.

Reports are that Apple is not happy with the data plans that Rogers announced in late June and as a result is not selling the phones via it’s Apple stores in Canada and re routing those allocated phone shipments to Europe!

Looks like the voices of people like me and others who have said that the plans are a rip off compared to the plans offered to US customers via AT&T are being heard.

So if you want an iPhone on July 11th (although we are urging people to boycott until the plans get better) you will have to go to a Rogers or Fido retail outlet.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was looking forward to the release of the iPhone in Canada, not because I wanted one but because I thought that if similar data plans to what was being offered in the US were available it would force some competition and lower data rates for all smart phone users in Canada. Personally I am awaiting the release of the Blackberry Bold (said to be mid August) before I make a decision.

I will however be purchasing the V2.0 software (although Apple could learn from Microsoft in not charging for firmware IE the Zune) for my iPod touch. This should give me Exchange support on my Touch. If it does not I will forgo the update.

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Response Point SP 1 released!

Today Microsoft has released Service Pack 1 (SP1) for their Response Point Phone system and with that comes the official release of Response Point into Canada. Response Point is a phone system designed for small businesses that takes away the complexity of most phone systems (and the large price).

Response Point is a hardware and Software system available from three hardware manufacturers, Syspine, DLink and Aastra. Here at Sysguy Consulting we are authorized partners for the Syspine and Aastra systems.

Service Pack 1 adds the long awaited ability to use SIP Trunking (VOIP) with your Response Point system as well as using POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). Other additions include click dialing from your PC, call history and live status views of other users phones from your PC.

We have downloaded the software and the firmware for our Syspine Demo system and will be applying it soon. Once we have run through it we will be posting a more indepth review.

Please contact us if you want to see a demo of the Response Point system in your office.

Cool new Smugmug feature

This past weekend the photo sharing website rolled out a cool new feature. They have partnered with Amazon S3 to offer a new SmugVault feature.

So what is SmugVault? SmugVault is an interface built into the Smugmug site that allows you to back up your photos (and all types of documents) to servers located in Amazon Data Centres around the world. This is a great way to have offsite backups of your photos and important documents.

The cost of the service is not free however it is not that expensive. There is a 1.00 USD per month charge and then charges based on your usage. It costs .22 cents per Gigabyte per month to store your data on Amazons servers. There is also bandwidth charges of .30 per GB to transfer into Amazon and .50 per GB to download from Amazon.

Your data is accessible from any browser that you can access your Smugmug account from. If you think of the cost of these services vs. doing the backup yourself there can be considerable savings. An external drive can cost about 100.00 – 120.00 for 500 GB. In addition you have to maintain it and pay for power to keep it running. If you fill that you have to buy another drive. If you want to do offsite storage with it you have to take it somewhere safe and store it. Your cost for the storage itself is about .20 per GB as a one time charge until the drive fills up. In addition if you are away form home you can’t access your documents unless you have set up a method of accessing your home computer. Although we recommend that you store important documents in at least two places  for backup purposes (Computer and external Hard Drive).

For a little more you can have your data stored in secure data centres which protects it in case of catastrophe at your home.

Anyone can sign up to use the Amazon S3 service at a cheaper rate however you have to design your own interface to the service. There are other ways of getting the services cheaper via other offerings. Personally I use Jungledisk (http://www.jungledisk.com) to interface with S3. Please watch here for a review of the Jungledisk service in the next little while.

If you are looking for a great Photo sharing service with excellent service and offerings I can’t stress enough to look at smugmug! You can save 5.00 off your first years membership by putting my coupon code (UgaKIvXVMo0Y) in the referred by box when signing up. If you want to see some of my photos at Smugmug visit, http://www.sysguyphotography.com

You may now buy an Apple TV!

Yesterday the Canadian iTunes store added movies (for purchase or rental) to their offerings bringing us a step closer to getting what our friends south of the border have. However the TV show offerings still leave a lot to be desired, unless you want to watch Canadian shows.

By adding movies to the store for download, it now makes sense for Canadians to buy an Apple TV.  Apple TV is a box that connects to your TV and allows users to rent and buy movies, TV shows and video podcasts from the iTunes store and watch them on their big screen TV. The box can also stream video and audio content from your PCs or Macs via iTunes to the Apple TV. The original (although with version 2 software and 40 GB hard drive sells for 249.00 CDN and a 160GB version that sells for 349.99.

The Apple TV has been available for a while in Canada but without the movies on the iTunes store it wasn’t really worth purchasing.

Most of the movies available are in standard definition but if you have an Apple TV only you can rent HD movies. Movies sell for roughly the same as a DVD in stores (in some cases a little more) 14.99 to 9.99 however I have seen some movies for 19.99. Rentals cost 4.99 and you have 30 days from the time of rental to watch and 48 hours after you have started watching to finish it. After these times expiry the movie will disappear.

As with most other iTunes products you can transfer purchased content to up to 5 PCs or Macs. Purchased movies can be burned to DVD (or copied to an external drive) for backup purposes but not for watching (basically you are burning a data DVD). Purchased and rented movies can be transferred to an iPod to take with you when you head out. 

Movies can take from 20 minutes to 3 hours to download to your PC depending on the speed of your Internet connection. You can start watching once enough of the movie has been downloaded.

From what I understand video quality is not bad and the HD rentals are slightly lower quality than an HD DVD or Blu-Ray Movie.

Personally I do find the idea intriguing. I still like the idea of purchasing a movie on a DVD disk to get all of the extras on the disks as well as the portability of the disk. I can take a purchased DVD disk over to my parents place with me, not so for the downloaded movies. As for selection of movies it does not look too bad but it is limited. As I have stated as for TV shows there is not much available and if you are looking for US network shows, forget about it on the Canadian store.

One thing to note. I have heard that the Apple TV does get extremely hot to the touch. There is no fan in the system to keep it cool so it uses the case as a large heat sync. Be careful not to leave items sitting on top of it.

I might try out renting a movie by connecting my MacBook Pro to my HD TV and downloading one just to see what happens. If I do so I will post my results here and let you know what it looks like.

 

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom…My Review

About a year ago, Jan 07, Adobe introduced a product called Photoshop Lightroom. The program was billed as a Photographer’s workflow tool designed by photographers for photographers. I looked at it briefly but didn’t really pay too much attention to it.

Fast forward to December of 2007 and I was browsing the Photoshop site at Adobe for something, when I started watching a flash promo for Lightroom. The little promo film intrigued me and I thought that this program was definitely something that I could use to manage my pictures. I downloaded the 30 day demo onto my MacBook Pro and started playing with it (Don’t worry it is available on Windows too). Within an hour and a half of playing with it I was sold and ordered the full version and I couldn’t be happier.

There are programs that I like to use, but rarely has a piece of software caught my attention so much that I wanted to use it all of the time! Lightroom has become one of them.

Is it for everyone? No. But if you take a lot of digital photos, have the need to tag and organize these and want to do some processing it could help you. If you have a need for a lot of specialized post processing, it will not replace a Photoshop or dedicated image editor. It’s strengths really are for workflow and quick processing on lots of pictures. It is not the cheapest software out there either at 325.00, but it is half the cost of Photoshop. In comparison Apple sells Aperture which is a similar application for 199.00 but only runs on Macs.

What is it?

How can I describe Lightroom? Lightroom is an application that helps anyone with a large number of digital photos to organize them, tag them and perform some post processing on the photos. The best thing about the application though is that the changes you make are non destructive to the original photos until you decide to "bake" them in! In terms of the photo processing, if you have ever used any applications that utilize Adobe Camera Raw, or Canon’s Digital Photo Professional, you will have seen some of the power of Lightroom. I have heard Lightroom described as Camera Raw on steroids. Another really nice feature is that the changes also work on all image files and not just RAW formats, so you can make changes to your jpg files and tif files too.

In addition Lightroom can export your photos and your changes to files, the web, slideshows or prints. It is when you perform these exports that the changes are "baked in" to the exported files. In addition with version 1.3 that was released as a free upgrade in November, developers can now create plugins to expand the use of the software. I currently use 5 export plug-ins that allow me to export directly to my Flickr, Picasa, Smugmug or Gallery 2.0 online photo galleries. I also use the LRMogrify which allows for some editing colour correction as well as add Watermarks to the files during export. I have donated to the author so I now have the full version that allows me to export more than 10 photos at a time.

How it Works.

When you open Lightroom for the first time, it asks you to create a catalogue file. This catalogue file is database file that stores the meta data from your pictures as well a corresponding preview database is also created. The database file can be created anywhere on your system or external devices with the exclusion of network storage devices. Once the Lightroom catalogue file is created you can import photos into it from your computer or directly from your digital camera or other media.

Here is a tip on how I have been handling my catalogue files. When I travel I download all of my pictures onto whatever laptop I have with me as well as on to a removable hard drive at the same time. When I want to import photos into Lightroom I create the catalogue files on the removable hard drive device and import those pictures into Lightroom, selecting import from folder. Doing it this way allows me to plug the external drive into another system that has Lightroom installed on it, open the catalogue and edit the pictures regardless of what machine the files were created on. It allows me to work on my various laptops or on my desktop. In addition I could always copy the folders and catalogue files to another storage device later and keep all of my adjustments. 

I have not imported a lot of files into the same catalogue file yet either as I am not sure how performance would be or what the max size of the database is. By keeping my catalogues to all of the photos of a single trip or event, then I am using smaller catalogue files and making them easier to move around. Also if a database does get corrupted not all of my adjustments are in the one file. It does make a little trickier to search photos though as I have to open catalogue files for each group of photos that I may want to search keywords on. Lightroom does have the ability to back up and create scheduled back ups of your catalogue files as well and you are prompted when you start Lightroom with a catalogue file.

Lightroom is divided into 5 modules, Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web.

Library.  The Library module is where you can view your pictures, edit metadata (keywords copyright info), make picks as to what photos you want to process and rate your photos. You can even apply some quick development settings. You can search for keywords in your photos, sort by camera, date or even lens used to take the picture.

Develop. The Develop module is where the real power of Lightroom is. Here there are a number of settings where you can tweak and adjust your image. What is very important to note here is that any changes that you make here do not affect the original images. The editing process is completely non-destructive. All changes are stored in the database itself and not "baked" into the image until the image is exported or printed. You can also crop photos (again non destructively) heal spots and fix red eye. You can adjust White Balance (more options if you shoot RAW images), tone, tweak a tone curve, adjust colour saturations, split tone, reduce noise, apply sharpening and more. 
One thing to note though is that adjustments apply to the whole image and can’t be applied selectively, so while Lightroom can do just about everything a photographer needs, if you want to be really creative you will still need an external editor like Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.
You can select the images you want based on the criteria set in the Library module.
Lightroom comes with a wide variety of presets to apply certain effects to your images (such as converting to B&W or applying a Sepia tone). In addition you can save your own presets. This is very valuable as you can adjust one image from a shoot and then apply all the changes to all of the images from that shoot, and save it for later use.
You can save changes to a virtual copy as well so that you can save your changes as one photo and then have the original as well.
If you do need the additional power of an external editor, you can move directly from Lightroom into Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or any other Image editor. The advantage of using the Adobe products mentioned is that you can work on the image in those applications, hit save and because the data is stored in a sidecar XMP file bring those changes into Lightroom.

Slideshow The slideshow module allows you to create an Adobe PDF slide show of your photos. There are some customized options that allow you to create background images, apply your identity plate, adjust the layout and more. Again you can save presets of your favorite styles.

Print. The print module allows you to create prints of your photos. There are several layouts available as presets or you can create your own custom layouts and again save your preset for later use.

Web. In this module you can create Flash based or HTML web galleries that you can publish to your own web sites. Again there is several options for customization and the ability to use presets and save presets.

Presets.
A little word about presets. Lightroom comes with a large number of presets for every module. As I indicated you can also create and save your own presets. In addition several users are creating and making presets available on the Internet that you can download and use in your software.

My Workflow with Lightroom

I shoot a large number of Digital Photos especially using 3 cameras (Canon 30D, 40D and Powershot G9). When we travel there also also images that come from the kids cameras and my video cameras. Here are a couple of ways that I use Lightroom. One is to pick, adjust and export images from a family trip to a Photo Sharing web site and the other is how I handle shooting a soccer game where I just sort and pick images for sharing online.

Importing Photos.
The start of my workflow is a little different because of the way I deal with my photos. Because I store images in a couple of places, I don’t use Lightroom to copy pictures off of my media cards, although it can. I import photos using a card reader and the Canon Media Card program. This program is set up to import my pictures to a folder created based on the date that the image was taken. Once all of my images are imported to the PC, I then copy the folders to an external drive. It is from this external drive that I import the pictures into Lightroom.

Once all of my folders are copied to an external drive, I open Lightroom. For something like a trip I create a new catalogue specifically for that trip. Likewise this year I am shooting a variety of soccer teams for my community soccer association, so I have a catalogue set up just for those images. Something that I just recently learned about Lightroom is that I can import other catalogues into a master catalogue as well.

So I have a new catalogue file and I am ready to bring the images in. In Lightroom I select the file import photos from disk option. I point the file browser to a folder that I want to import folders from. Once the folder is chosen I can choose not to import suspected duplicates. If all of the photos are from the same location and time I will add the keywords I want to use with them, If they are from a variety of subjects I will just use general keywords (like Hawaii, Trip etc). I also add my copyright information to each photo.

Once I have imported all of my folders, I go into the library mode and if I want to add specific keywords to certain folders, I use the thumbnail view and the spray can tool to add the specific keywords. Next I go into single photo view and using the arrow keys and the p key (to pick an image) I pick all of the images that I may consider exporting. Once I have gone through the folder and picked the images I set a colour flag for those images (say yellow). I then go through the images again and unpick any that I will not export using the U key. I then usually take one more pass at them. Once I have the files that I want to export I select all and change the colour flag to another colour based on where I want to export them (I have developed my own settings for example I use green for Smugmug exports).

Once I have selected my pictures I change to the develop module and filter the images that I want "picked with green colour flag" and process each one, fixing red eye, adjusting exposures, cropping etc.

Once all files are processed I use an free export plug in I have and export those photos to the site and the gallery that I want. for pictures of a soccer game that I want to export I usually use the same process but do not do any processing of the images.

In this way I can go through a large number of images quickly and export to them to the web. For example last night I went through 580 images shot at a soccer game, selected 260 that I was going to export, and exported them to Smugmug all from Lightroom. Total time for three passes to select was about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. The way I used to do this took a considerably longer amount of time, as I would import the images to my PC, then using Canon’s Image browser go through and select pictures writing down the ones I wanted. I would then select and copy those images to another folder. Then use a batch resize to make them smaller and then another piece of software to export them. This sometimes took me a couple of days to accomplish! It would have been even longer if I had wanted to process any of the images!

You can see the results of one of these processes by going to the following site Smugmug Kauai 2008 gallery.

The Future

Adobe has recently released the Lightroom 2.0 public beta. You can download a 30 day trial of the Beta now, and existing Lightroom, will be able to use the Beta until the end of August. The beta is installed separately from your existing Lightroom installation and both can be used at the same time.

Version 2 allows for localized correction, so you can work on a specific area of a photo. 64 bit support, better organizational tools, better print package functionality and Multiple monitor support. In addition if Adobe stays true to form, updates to the new Lightroom will continue to add new features as they did with Version 1.0. I really like the changes I have seen in Beta 2.0 and will probably have it within a fews day of it’s release sometime this summer or fall.

Conclusions

Once I started playing around with Lightroom, I started kicking myself for not looking into it earlier. Now that I use it extensively on both my PC and MAC I can’t be without it. It has peaked my interest in photography again and I am shooting more and more. My workflow has changed and I have switched my cameras to only shoot RAW images because they are so easy to post process with Lightroom. I still shoot jpg only for sports photography.

While Lightroom comes with a fairly hefty price tag and doesn’t replace Photoshop, for someone that takes a lot of pictures, especially of you shoot with a DSLR and RAW images. I feel that it is an indispensable tool!

 

Photo Sharing on the Web

A few years ago, I heard someone say Digital Cameras are great but they never see the pictures that people take like they did when they had prints. When I thought about this I realized that it was true.

I take a lot of digital photos myself and in the past have been publishing to my own web sites and displaying them using server software called Gallery 2. But what if you don’t have your own web site?

I use three public sites for publishing and sharing my photos now. Picasaweb, Flickr and Smugmug. Here is some info on these three Photo sharing sites

Picasaweb http://picasaweb.google.com. Picasaweb is a free Photo sharing site from Google. You can make your Albums and photos public or private. They give you 1 GB of free storage space and you have the option to buy more (1 GB equates to around 4000 pictures). You can also download Picasa photo software which allows you to organize edit and post all pictures in your collections.

One of the things I don’t like about Picasaweb however is the way albums are displayed. All of the public albums are displayed on a single page so if you have lots of albums it can take a while to load the page.

You can see my picasaweb gallery at http://picasaweb.google.com/srkennedy.

Flickr http://www.flickr.com. Flickr is a free photo sharing site brought to you by Yahoo. Flickr has gotten very popular over the last few years. They offer both free accounts and Pro accounts. Free accounts do have some limits, there is advertising, as well as a 100MB upload limit per month. You are also limited in creating collections and sets. A Pro account that has all of the limits and advertising removed costs 25.00 USD per year (well worth it in my opinion).

Again you can control who has access to your photos, add keyword tags to make your photos searchable, edit your photos online and your visitors can view the photos in a variety of photo sizes. Visitors can also add comments to your photos.

Something fairly new with Flickr is that Pro users can now also upload short videos to the site.

Flickr is a considered to be a community site. You can add your friends sites to your account and see whenever they upload new photos, as well there are thousands of groups that you can join that have photo pools where you can add your photos and discussion groups where you can ask questions related to the group and photos.

Uploading photos is easy as you can use the free Flickr uploader software or many photo editing software packages will allow you to upload directly to Flickr from the application. I have a free plug in for Adobe Lightroom 1.3 and greater that allows me to upload directly to Flickr.

One of the problems that I have run into with Flickr is that images can easily be used by others. When you upload a photo you can choose the type of license that the photo is uploaded with. This license can be private, public or using creative commons you can select different licensing terms. However there is no real way (other than making images private) that you can protect your images. I have used Flickr to find photos for my kids school projects and downloaded them (yes I only selected public images). With this shortfall Flickr is not a good choice for professional photographers.

Flickr also offers stats so you can see how many times your photos are viewed.

All in all I really like Flickr and will continue with my own Pro account for a while. If you want to see my photos please visit http://www.flickr.com/sysguy

Smugmug http://www.smugmug.com . I found Smugmug via the discussion groups on Flickr. It is a site that a lot of professional photographers use to display images for their clients as well as to sell their photographs. Smugmug does not have any free accounts but they do offer three levels of accounts, Standard, Poweruser and Pro however they do offer a two week free trial. One of the big reasons I like Smugmug is the way that they display photographs for your visitors. When you upload photos they create a flash based web gallery with thumbnails of your images and when your visitor moves through the thumbnails the selected photo appears in a larger window beside the gallery. Your visitor can also click on the photo and choose several sizes of the photo to view. As with the other sites your visitors can also view a slideshow of your photos (or you can control what and how they see).

The Standard accounts offer unlimited storage, the ability to order backup DVDs, your visitors can order prints, personalization of your galleries, the ability to hide your galleries and more. A Standard account costs 39.95 USD per year. Power Users accounts (what I have) for 59.95 USD/year, give the same features as the standard accounts, plus the ability to customize more using headers and footers, add DVD quality videos, use your own domain names and right click protect your images so they can’t be downloaded if you choose. Pro accounts (149.95 USD/year) include all of the features of the Standard and Pro Accounts as well as the ability to set your own pricing for your prints (make some money), sell digital downloads, watermark your images, create guest upload passwords and offer more protection features. If you are interested in getting a Smugmug account you can save 5.00 using my coupon code (XUgaKlvXVMo0Y), just enter this in the referred by field in the sign up. Alternatively you can add use my email address if you know it.

There are also other specials, if you are a Flickr user you can save 50% on the first year by moving your account over as well.

Smugmug gives you the ability to add keywords and captions to your photos and edit them on line. Your visitors can add comments and rate your photos as well as order prints and gifts.

Again Smugmug has all kids of tools that you can use to upload your photos and you can upload directly from several photo editing applications. I have a plug in that I use from Adobe Lightroom 1.3 to upload directly.

Privacy is very easy on Smugmug as you can create Smugislands that protect your galleries from search engines and other users stumbling across it. In addition you can password protect your galleries as well. This is one of the reasons I chose Smugmug as I have an assignment coming up that will allow me to post the images privately in an unlisted gallery (the viewers will need the exact url to see the gallery) and  I can also password protect the gallery.

Smugmug also is a community based site so you can add friends or families accounts. Your visitors can also get an RSS feed of your galleries and they can view any uploaded photos in their RSS reader.

Smugmug’s stats can show you how often an image has been viewed and in what sizes.

At first I found Smugmug a little difficult to figure out, but after playing a little bit I am getting more comfortable with it.

If you want to see what I have dome with Smugmug visit my site at http://www.sysguyphotography.com

If you are interested in becoming a Smugmugger please be sure to use my coupon code, XUgaKlvXVMo0Y to save 5.00 off your account.

Drobotized!

What? OK let me explain. Last week we got our demo Drobo unit from Data Robotics. We ordered a not for resale version via distribution and have it to review and show off to clients. Sysguy Consulting is happy to announce that we are an Authorized Drobo Partner!

So what is the Drobo? The Drobo is a USB based enclosure that protects your data. The box itself is a little smaller than a shoe box and it has spaces for 4 Sata Hard Drives. You simply install a couple of hard drives, power up the unit and connect it to your computer. After being formatted the drive spans your data across the hard drives that are installed in the unit, protecting it by basically making copies of the data to both drives. This might sound like a standard Raid 5 configuration but it is not as there are some key differences.

With a Raid 5 set up you need a minimum of 3 hard drives, all of equal size (or the only the size of the smallest drive will be used on all drives). With the Drobo you can start with as few as 2 hard drives of any size (not necessarily matched) and both sizes will be used to the fullest. Also with a Raid 5 device expanding the size of the array means that you have to remove any data, add the additional hard drive (again same size as the others) and then rebuild the array. With the Drobo it is simply a matter of popping in an additional drive of any size and it automatically gets added to the storage pool! OK what if there are 4 drives in the Drobo and I want to increase the size? Again no big deal. Pop out one drive, replace it with a new larger one and the size increases.

The data is protected by Data Robotics Raid 5 like proprietary system so redundancy is spread across all of the drives. You do lose some of the space on the drives but this ensures that your data is protected. There are 4 drive lights on the Drobo. Each one indicates green if the hard drive status is fine. If you start running out of space and have empty bays the indicator light will turn yellow on the Drobo indicating to add a drive there soon. If the drive fills the indicator light will turn red in the empty bay indicating to add a drive right away. If the light is flashing red it means that the indicated drive has failed and should be replaced ASAP. Simply replace the bad drive with another of equal or greater size and the unit will automatically add the new drive to the system. It makes Data Protection simple for any user!

Out of Box Experience

As indicated we picked up our demo unit last week. As well we also picked up 4 Seagate Sata 500 GB drives for the unit. Set up was simple. Unbox the Drobo, remove the magnetic front plate, unpackage the hard drives and slide one in to each bay. I downloaded the latest version of the Drobo Dashboard Software  from the Drobo support site site, installed it on my Vista Ultimate laptop, plugged in the Drobo via USB and the device was recognized. To this point it took about 5 minutes.

The dashboard software popped up and asked how we wished to format the unit. This is where you have to think a bit (although it is easy). You have the option if formatting as NTFS or Fat32. If you will be connecting the Drobo to an XP PC or a Vista PC select NTFS. If you will be connecting the unit to Windows 9X systems, XP or Vista systems and Macs select FAT32 (although there are some restrictions such as file sizes with Fat 32). In less than 5 minutes the unit was formatted and ready to go.

Vista sees the drive as 2 Terabytes of storage, however the Drobo Dashboard indicates that there is only 1.35 Terabytes available as some of the space is being used for data protection. Below is a screen shot from the dashboard software.

drobo5

Performance wise, reading and writing to the Drobo seems no slower than writing to any external USB drive.

I decided to go through the process of simulating a drive failure to see what would happen. Here is a screen shot of the drive status before the test.

drobo1
 

Next I removed the magnetic front plate and popped a drive out. There is a brief time while the data protection is partially unavailable as the unit reconfigures itself as indicated in the screen shot below. It only for about 2 or 3 minutes but there was nothing on the unit yet either.

drobo2 

After the 2 or 3 minutes the dashboard changed to this screen and data protection was again available.

drobo3

Getting the unit back to it’s original status was as easy as pushing the drive back in. Something to note is that the unit was powered on the whole time that I was doing this. I did not have to turn it off or disconnect it at all from the laptop.

Uses

As a serious amateur photographer and a small business owner I plan on using the Drobo to back up and store my digital photographs on it as well as my Adobe Lightroom catalogue files.  I also will use it to backup some of my various machines. The Drobo works well with folder sync utilities such as the Microsoft Sync Toy or Allways sync. In addition you can use it with Windows backup or drive imaging software such as Runtime Software Drive Image XML. If formatted with Fat32 it also works with OSX Leopard’s Time Machine backup. You can connect it to a server or PC and share folders on it directly (if attached to a domain server you can add NTFS security to the shares) or use something like Microsoft Foldershare (foldershare.com) to access it on your network or across the Internet.

One of the knocks I had against the Drobo when it was first released was that it was a local only device (connected to one PC). Data Robotics sort of answered some of my concerns in January when the released the DroboShare product. The DroboShare is a small box that connects to your network and has 2 USB ports on the back so that you can plug in up to 2 Drobo units to share on the network. The DroboShare retails for 225.00. While this allows you to share your Drobo on a home network, there is a performance hit because the Drobo still operates as a USB device and this causes the unit to be even slower than hooking it up to a PC and sharing it out. As well there is no active directory integration or DFS support so it would not function well as a Network Attached Storage device in a large domain environment.

I plan in in the near future hooking the Drobo up to a Windows Home Server to see if it will work with that.

Comparing Drobo to the Dlink DNS-323

While there are some differences in the devices I would like to compare the device to my DNS-323 from D-link. The DNS-323 is a Network Attached box about 1/3 the size of the Drobo with space for 2 SATA hard drives and a 1 GB Ethernet port as well as a USB Print server port. The DNS-323 can be set up with 2 drives as two individual drives, two mirrored drives, both drives (can be different sizes) configured as 1 Hard Drive or a striped raid (requires identical hard drives where data is written to both drives functioning as 1). Cost for the enclosure is also cheaper than the Drobo.

Once you have chosen what type of drive you want to set up with the DNS-323 any changes to the configuration require removing data re-configuring and reformatting the drives. In fact D-Link warns that even to upgrade the firmware you should back up the unit in case the firmware update reformats the drives. this is not the case with the Drobo as mentioned above.

Across the network though the performance is better for writing and reading files on the D-Link product than a shared PC attached Drobo or a network shared Drobo. The D-Link also offers many other features built in.

The DNS-323 has it’s own security software built in (it’s basically a Linux file server) so folder level control can be assigned on the unit itself. In addition it features an FTP server (for Internet Access to your files), a UPnP media server (stream media content on your home network), an iTunes server (share music via iTunes). Recent firmware (May 08) has added BitTorrent support so the device can download torrents and some other enhancements.

I have been using a DNS-323 for almost a year now and have been very happy with it. It has allowed moving files between systems easy and with it’s built in security it is an ideal product for a small office that may not want a full file server. However it does not offer the same protection and expandability that the Drobo does.

There are several other NAS RAID 5 devices available on the market. While these should perform better they also suffer from the standard RAID 5 limitations for upgrading and scalability.

Drobo Wishes

There are a few things that I really hope to see in upcoming Drobo releases.
I would like to see Firewire 400 or 800 added to the Drobo unit and the DroboShare unit. This would address some of the network performance issues and would make this a killer product when connected locally to a PC or Mac.

Alternatively I would like to see a NAS Drobo unit with GB Ethernet built in. Again I would be very happy with this configuration and it would make it an ideal product for small businesses. Make it Active Directory and DFS aware and nothing could touch it!

I have tried to find out what may be in store for the Drobo, however Data Robotics will not talk about future product releases.

Is it for me?

If you have read any of my backup posts on this blog, you will have seen that I am a very strong proponent of making sure your data is backed up somehow both locally and offsite. While the Drobo doesn’t handle offsite backups, it can be a valuable product if you use it to store your critical data (pictures, accounting data etc) on it. Professional Photographers have flocked to the Drobo and swear by it. As someone who has been backing up to external USB hard drives for years I must have close to 15 of them in various sizes and all full of data. With the Drobo I can use one unit and just add a larger hard drive as needed instead of buying a new USB enclosure. My old enclosures will be re-tasked with storing data that I want to back up offsite.

While the Drobo is not the least expensive option for backups it is one of the safest. The Drobo unit itself retails for 499.00 and the cost of the hard drives will vary depending on configuration. For my Drobo I picked up 4 500 GB Sata drives at a local retail store for 84.00 each. Compare this with the cost of your memories if your system hard drive fails and all of your photos and personal information is lost.

Conclusion

I am very impressed with the Drobo unit to date. I have solved some of the sharing problems on my home network by using Microsoft’s Foldershare and the performance on small file transfers across the network has been fine. While it may appear to be a little pricey to begin, the expandability and flexibility of the unit make it worth the cost, especially if you have sensitive data to protect.

You can learn more about the Drobo by visiting http://www.drobo.com. You can actually check out the Drobulator that will show you available storage space with a variety of different drives. Or if you wish to see the unit hands on, we would be glad to arrange a Live Demo for you.

Interested in purchasing? Call or email us and we can help!

 

Microsoft Response Point Coming to Canada in June 08

I attended a Small Business IT conference in Toronto a few weeks ago and we were fortunate to see get first Canadian Partner look at Microsoft’s Response Point system. Response Point has been available in the US for about a year now and with the service pack 1 release it will now be available in Canada.

So what is Response Point? To put it simply, Response Point is a hardware and software phone system designed for small businesses (1 to 50 phones). The software is developed by Microsoft and embedded into the hardware phone system. There are three approved hardware manufacturers making the handsets and base units Syspine, D-Link and Aastra.

The system works with your existing telephone lines and with the release of service pack 1, also with VOIP providers.

The handset plug into the Ethernet port in your office and then your computer can plug into the handset. With this configuration, you can make calls using the client software on your PC by clicking on your contact list. The client software also shows you the status of other users using the system on your network.

The strong point of the system though is it’s voice recognition features. You can pick up parked calls, transfer calls or dial calls using voice commands.

Other features that come included in the system;
Automated Receptionist
No answer call transfer
Voicemail to Email
Forwarding to Mobile devices
Ability to pick up parked calls from anywhere
Easy setup and changes
Built in Voicemail
Music on Hold
Power over Ethernet handsets
Integrated Caller ID that works when call is transferred to another user.
Three way calling

The price of the system is affordable for most small businesses. For example a base unit and 4 handsets can be purchased for approximately 2500.00. Additional handsets (can be mixed and matched between vendors) can be purchased for as little as 139.00 each.

Because it is a complete hardware and software system, many new features can be added via software updates.

While there are some limitations in version 1 and in SP 1 (lack of fax handling, no Active Directory integration, no direct Outlook integration), for most businesses these will not be deal breakers.

We here at Sysguy Consulting are currently trying to get one of the Syspine Demo kits to test and demonstrate the system. We will write a more detailed review once we play with it for a bit and again after the SP 1 release. If you are interested in learning more about Response Point please feel free to contact us.

CA Anti Virus/Internet Security Version Upgrade Available

 

If you have a current CA Anti Virus or Internet Security 2007 Suite with a current subscription, regardless if you purchased from Sysguy Consulting or not, this is a notification that there is a new version available for download. The new CA Internet Security 2008 Suite is available for download now. If you registered the software log into your account at http://store.ca.com where you can get your new license keys and download the new version of the software. An interesting thing that I found was that my single user AV was converted to the 3 user version with 2008!

This is one of the great deals about CA Security products as they include software upgrades in the yearly subscription as well as just signature downloads, unlike some of the other vendor products that make you buy a new version every year.

If you are interested in getting CA Antivirus or Internet Security Suite 2008 please contact us.