Today’s Trendy Software Solutions

Mark Byrne-Quinn Comments
Posted in Articles, Technology
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Too often people purchase the latest and greatest products without fully understanding why they need them and how best to use them. This is especially true with technology.

Do you understand the latest trends in software, connectivity and data storage for the self-storage industry? Have you seen what your vendors have recently introduced, and have they explained its importance, how you can save money and establish better efficiencies for your customers?

Connectivity

Traditional self-storage facilities have a computer in the office with access and security controls connected via a serial or RS232 cable. The controller then runs a wire communicating via RS485 to remote devices such as keypads, relay boards and multiplexers.

For the past 30 years this solution was the standard; it had connectivity and bandwidth limitations, but worked for small installations. However, recent developments with mega firms like Dell and Microsoft are forcing companies to move away from this solution. Did you know that new computers shipping without the familiar DB-9 serial connector and the Vista operating system won’t support drivers to run communications through the interface? This means if you purchase a new computer, your older controller won’t work.

The latest controllers, keypads and cameras come with an RJ-45 Ethernet connection and communicate via TCP/ IP. If you have a broadband connection, this is what connects you to the Internet. How will this connectivity help your self-storage site?

First, you no longer have to connect the controller to the same computer as your access-control software. Instead, it will connect into the network just like any other computer at your site, making it easier to install the controller in a secured closet.

Second, you can access the controller board via a virtual private network (VPN), which allows you to manage your site anywhere via Internet connection.

Third, you can use standard Category 5 cables available at any electronics store. Most camera vendors have introduced IP cameras; Category 5 cables connect together and allow IP-camera viewing from any place via the VPN. An all-IP site provides the ultimate in flexibility and control for owners/operators, such that we’ll probably see more facilities transitioning to this in the future.

Another new and upcoming technology will soon improve this connectivity even more: Power Over Ethernet (PoE), allowing users to run power over two unused wires of the Category 5 cable. It requires a specialized POE switch but will allow a single wire between the switch and camera or keypad for communications and power, dramatically simplifying installation. Look for these devices later this year!

Data Storage

Most likely you depend on data to keep track of customers, do the accounting, create advertising, and manage partners and accounts. What would happen if you lost all this information?

Recent studies by the Disaster Recovery Institute indicate 40 percent of businesses that lose primary data never open their doors again; 80 percent of the survivors fail within two years. The primary reasons companies lose data is not from a natural disaster, but from a disk-drive failure. Disk-drive failures occur at an alarming rate and, once they fail, can cost thousands of dollars to attempt data recovery, which isn’t always possible. The good news is technology is available to ensure your data is backed up and protected against these risks.

Most consultants will recommend keeping primary data (what you access and update daily) at one facility if you run multiple sites. This protects the data and your business. Third parties are excellent for back-ups but they do not share in your risk if anything happens to data.

Primary Protection

Most small businesses have one or two personal computers running at a facility. If you have multiple locations, you may have a server that consolidates data. If all data is stored on a single PC, you’re at risk.

For security, consider purchasing a second hard drive and installing it in your computer; configure your system to mirror data between the two drives. If one fails, you can use the other.

Another option is to purchase an external disk drive that connects via Ethernet or USB. Most of these come with a back-up application, letting you select the files and directories to back up as often as necessary. Connect the drive, configure the software and you’re set to go.

For larger sites, you can use a redundant array of independent drives (RAID) or network attached storage (NAS) devices that store terabytes of data and have detailed mirroring or back-up applications. These data-storage solutions can be complex and require an IT professional to install and configure.

Offsite

Until a few years ago an offsite data back-up consisted of a manager running a back-up to a tape and then physically moving the tape to a secondary location, usually his home. This process incurs many problems including how the data is secured at the secondary location. What happens if the tape is lost? Moreover, up to 50 percent of all tape-restores fail. Then what?

Today you can back up to CDs or DVDs, but you still have the problem of storing disks. A new service is now available to small businesses from data-storage professionals such as LiveVault and CommVault, which will back up your data to their secure facilities over the Internet. These companies charge by the capacity stored and whether you want data encrypted or not. They generally load a simple application on your facility’s computer; you decide which software folders and how often they should be backed up. Their software takes care of the rest. This is an excellent solution if your facility is in a disaster-prone region such as the Gulf Coast or Southern California.

Keeping up with the latest technology trends allows you to create a better and more secure environment for running your business. If you are unfamiliar with these new innovations, contact your access-control, management-software or security vendor and inquire. Learn how new equipment can make your job easier as well as protect your most important business asset: data. 

Mark Byrne-Quinn is marketing manager with PTI, a leading developer and manufacturer delivering complete solutions for access control, security and site management to customers worldwide. Prior to PTI, he was a data-storage consultant and worked for leading companies such as Intel, QLogic and Compaq. For more information, visit www.ptisecurity.com

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