Two interesting and unrelated things happened this weekend in my circle of influence.
First, an errant unsigned driver install caused my beloved Lenovo T60p to start Blue Screening on Boot Up. My subconscious knew what was doing on, but I got nailed anyway.
However, my tuckus was saved by Windows Home Server (again). Yeah, yeah, blah blah, Microsoft Shill, blah, blah, Time Machine, whatever. The WHS is rocking awesome. I don't even think about it until I totally need it. I booted off the recovery CD and I was given the choice of 4 different backups in the last week. I was up and running within an hour, everything working perfectly. It's like Norton Ghost and Acronis without the hassle.
Do you back up? How often? What happens if your house burns down tomorrow and your business is run out of your house? Where are your digital photos? Videos? Memories? Tax forms and insurance details? What is your family backup strategy?
Backup your computers - that means a full system image. There's lots of ways to do this and one of them is built into Vista. You likely have this on your computer (and your parent's computer) and didn't know it. Hit the start menu, type "Backup" and go to the Backup and Restore Center. Take an external drive over to your relative's house, make them feed you dinner, and backup up an image of their entire machine.
Better yet, get Mom and Dad some kind of automatic server like WHS or some online backup like Mozy. Again, I point to having a family backup strategy. I'm using Mozy now, but I'm looking for a good system that also supports Windows Home Server and won't break the bank.
The second thing was that I got a call from my cousin who works for a small (maybe 20-30 people) real estate management company. At some point in the past, someone setup an Exchange Server or some kind of Mail system for them. The truth and identity of the man is shrouded in mystery and the mists of time. (Stop me if this sounds familiar to you.) The machine runs great and the little company forgets about it. They forget about the mail server that has become as important to their little company as air and power.
Fast forward to last week and lightning strikes. Literally. Power was cut and the machines are all fried. Now the mail server reboots and reboots and they haven't gotten email in days. Who set it up? What was his name? Where are the backups? Where is this week's mail? What can we do? What was wrong with this tragic situation? Well, lots of things, but ultimately this:
They were running something in house that wasn't their core competency. They are a property management shop. What are they running their own mail server for? Historically, it was the only option and I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I recommended they look at a hosted mail solution. The couple of hundred (thousand?) dollars it's going to cost them to fix this debacle, they could pay for a hosted solution for a year.
Outsource your freaking mail. It's 2009. I use GAFYD. I've tried Live Custom Domains. Both are great and are a complete no-brainer for any business under 100 people. Some folks say these works for as many as 500 users and some Universities have happily outsourced all their mail. I use UserVoice for a Customer Feedback Forum on BabySmash. I use ORCSWeb to host my websites. My advertising is now outsourced to The Lounge Advertising Network. You can use .netInvoice to handle all your invoicing if you like. I manage phone calls with GrandCentral. I could do ALL of these things myself, but I'm not good at them.
There are so many great services that you can "netsource" for a fraction of what it would cost for you to do yourself.
I'm convinced these two basic tips/lessons/nuggets/whatever can save you piles of money when applied intelligently. Do you agree, Dear Reader?
Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.