An Apple “Genius”

Much of my time here in Texas, at work, has been spent catching all the computers up to speed. System updates, hardware upgrades and troubleshooting problems that have gone unresolved.

We have in the past, up until recently, had a former Apple Genius as the office IT guy. We were referred to him by an Apple Store in Austin where he had worked before going independent doing contract work in the city.

Our office is just outside Austin by about two hours, he didn’t mind getting paid to drive out here and the relationship seemed to be a match made in heaven. Previous IT guys had been pretty underwhelming and unreliable, though none had been cheap.

The new guy worked great for a good while, but as the honeymoon period began its end, and as I became aware of his style of work… well let’s just say he no longer works here.

As far as a cost-cutting IT guy, he was probably the worst. He purchased unnecessary hardware and software and inflated his hours worked significantly. He would consider setting up an automated backup system a job that lasted until the backup was complete. Never mind it’s more of a set-it-and-forget-it kind of deal.

With some people having a laptop and a desktop computer, the question on how to properly keep them in sync came up. Having one computer with a necessary document and then needed it on the other computer… well it just wasn’t a good system. Emailing files back and forth between the computers was a waste of time, and as we all know, time is money.

His solution was to buy a synchronization software/hardware combo kit. Basically a double-ended USB cable that would connect two computers together and synchronize specific folders.

In theory this works but in reality, not even close. It neglected email. It required both computers to be in working order, turned on, next to each other, with open USB ports and a user to manually hit sync each and every time.

No one ever did this. Each computer duo cost $100 for this and not a single person used it. Well that was a waste of money. The system was stupid enough that I don’t really blame anyone who decided to just continue emailing themselves.

My solution?

Switch email from POP to IMAP. Switch server from our webhost to Google‘s hosted apps. Now all email accounts are kept in sync between their computers and the web interface, which is the best webmail interface I’ve ever used. Better than WindowsLive, for us at least.

Synchronizing computers was as simply as Syncplicity (until it left the Apple market.) Now we use SugarSync. For the price of the USB device our “genius” bought for each computer, we have two years of backup and synchronization service from SugarSync. Not only are all the users’ files kept in sync, their versions are kept in sync as a sort of historical sync. Accidentally made a bad design choice in a document that you’ve just saved? Go to the file manager and select a previous version! It’s that simple. Plus you can access your files from nearly any cellphone on the market with special apps available for iPhone and Android phones.

There have been literally dozens of cases where this former Apple Genius just totally screwed up but tonight the kicker was just beautiful.

He bragged and bragged about the system he had setup to backup our server. He said how he had it backed up twice so if one drive failed, the other would be safe, if the computer crashed and took an external drive with it, we’d have another backup… backup.

What he failed to notice was the absolutely critical flaw in this system.

The OSX server had scripts running to backup the entire server to two separate external hard drives. One drive was on FireWire, the other USB 2.0. Everyday at 9pm, the FireWire drive would make a copy of the entire server disk. As soon as that script completed, the USB 2.0 drive would do the same.

Two copies, two backups, sounds good right?

Ahh, but what if, now hear me out on this, what if someone deleted all the files off the server? A disgruntled employee logged in from home and decided to wipe us out, a virus writes the main hard drive as 000000000000000000 then 11111111111111111 then 000000000000000000 again. We’ve got two backups right?

No. We have two empty drives. Why? Because at 9pm the FireWire drive wrote itself 000000000000000000. Then, an hour or so later, the USB 2.0 drive wrote itself 000000000000000000.

We now have three 000000000000000000’d hard drives. Hooray! No data whatsoever. This kinda reminds me of the old OLD IT guy that reused magnetic tapes over and over again to backup our server, then placed the stereo that served up the music for the office phones/lounge area next to it. The magnet in the speakers connected to the magnetic backup machine erased the data off the tapes just as quickly as it was putting it on there!

My solution?

The FireWire drive will
syncronize every night at 9pm. Synchronizing means it won’t be re-writing the entire drive every single night, just the changed files. This puts less stress on the drive and decreases the chance of error and drive failure.

Every week at midnight, the USB 2.0 drive will backup the entire disk. By backing up the entire drive, and not synchronizing, it can have two copies of the disks. One for every week and one that’s updated every month.

Now, if the server turns into a whole bunch of 0’s from a bug, hacker or former employee (hopefully former at that point!) the backup hard drive will have the previous week’s backup as well as the previous month’s. The FireWire synchronization drive may or may not have been compromised, depends on the time of day really. If we fail to catch the hack or attack, the backup drive really has us covered. But what if the backup drive fails and the sync drive has been rewritten as a bunch of 0’s?

Well, the entire server is now being backed up online via SugarSync. We can access the files at anytime, from any computer, but only admins have read/write. Employees at home have read only access. This provides a safe, secure, offsite backup in the case of catastrophic damage.

Now, the system isn’t foolproof by any means. If someone wrote 0’s to the server and the sync drive followed suite, and so did SugarSync, and then they deleted, damaged or stole the backup, or if its drive just flat out failed, we would be SOL. But that’s entirely unlikely.

For a former Apple Genius, this guy sure wasn’t smart.

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3 thoughts on “An Apple “Genius”

  1. I really want to move our email and stuff to Google Apps for the business, especially now that my mom/boss has a Pre and you can only have multiple calendars if you use Google Calendar or similar. (After years of having cal categories on their PIM devices, you’d think Palm could get it right with the Pre. Then again, this is the same Palm that hasn’t updated Palm Desktop for Mac since 2005ish.)

    I should definitely look into it more, if for nothing else than the calendar, and possibly email (since some users report “missing” emails that aren’t in their inbox anymore; current solution involves a duplicate account and searching via webmail for missing messages). How has your experience with Google Apps from a business perspective? (And do you use the free one or pay? The encryption stuff looks nice, but not for $50/yr/person and we don’t come close to the 50 user minimum.)

  2. We use the free version and have had no hiccups so far. I’m really not sure it is any LESS secure than any email provided by a webhost or ISP. In fact, I’d more likely argue that it is more secure as Google has so much more to lose than a small ISP or webhost, if there was a hack.

    Security vs. MSExchange is different, but then again, we’ve lost so many emails, just disappeared, that it was worth it. We’ve lost EVERY email sent over the last month and a half! No one from our host knew what happened or had a resolution. That was the reason we ultimately left for Google. What good is security on your inbox if you sent box lost every email for 45 days and your inbox is known to burp a few away every-now-and-then? haha

    The move has been seemless, now it’s just training people to use the Calendars. Wish CalDav worked more seamlessly with iCal. There is a free Google app that will set it all up, my complaint is how it ends up looking in your iCal. Instead of just your calendars, there’s what appears to be a subscription to each calendar under it’s own drop down.

    Not slick at all, but it does allow integration between multiple users and devices so I’ll suck it up. Just so used to MobileMe managing my calendars with sync and ease.

    We are all glad to have moved over to Google for email though.
    .-= Justin´s last blog ..Shot from the Photoblog =-.

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