Thursday, 30 May 2013

10 useful tools for admins which are free


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There are several pricey tools out there, but why waste money when these free and easy to use tools do the same job?

Here is a list of 10 of the most popular free tools most admins use in their day to day roles.

Winrar is widely for anyone who knows about compressed files. It handles several compressed types and formats. It is one of those programs you know to install as soon as you get your new computer. Winrar states on its web-site that there are "Over 500 million users worldwide make WinRAR the world's most popular compression tool today".

This piece of software will really impress you. It has advanced features that can deal with virtually all image formats available in the market. It is reliable and easily creates virtual drives on your computer, giving you the possibility to have endless virtual CDs and DVDs for instant access. ISO is widely used on the internet now, and although many go for MagicISO, Daemon tools does the job seamlessly without any problems. Just mount your image and you’re done.

With the security issues of today, it is important to keep a long list of different passwords for each of the accounts in order to isolate potential hacking incidents. But with so many accounts, it can be a pain to remember more than five at a time. This is where KeePass comes in. It will securely hold all your passwords in one place, taking that headache away from managing all of them. It has military grade encryption, ensuring they remain safe.

Xirrus saves time and work by checksing your WiFi network and by checking for rogue devices. It also troubleshoots connections, identifies calming connections and spots rogue networks or hotspots

Notepad++ is a handy source code editor which supports several languages. You can use it to create your html emails, scripts, compare files, etc... It’s a simple tool that does exactly what you need.

This helpful program tells you what is taking up the space on your hard drive. When your C drive is beginning to get too full and its performance starts to fall, this is the program you need. It quickly shows you what areas are taking up the most space making it easy to clean and remove unnecessarily bulky files on your computer.

This is tool you use when all else fails. Those moments where the standard antivirus/malware software can’t help or fix the problem, ComboFix is there to help. It finds and removes almost all rootkits and Trojans. Note that just like with all anti-viruses, before using it, you must make sure the others are completely disabled.

This tool allows you to quickly and easily create virtual hard disks. It also works with Hyper-V and Virtual PC. The difference between Disk2vhd and other physical-to-virtual tools is that you can run Disk2vhd on a system that’s online.

FileZilla is an FTP client, and is one of the best ones out there. It can easily move files to the network and is also cross platform. It Manages FTPS and FSTP protocols.

10. CCleaner

Most of us know CCleaner very well; it does the important task of getting rid of temporary files and Windows Registry problems. It does it much faster than most other tools, which if you have used any before, you would know the headache it causes watching that slow process bar move to the right. This is the tool to use when you feel your computer is not performing like it should and you know it’s not because of a virus. So get rid of your cookies and trackers and keep your computer smooth and secure.

Which free tool do you use the most?

Comment if you think we missed one, we would love to know more…

About the Author:
Sarah writes for Firebrand Training on a number of IT related topics. This includes exams, training, certification trends, project management, certification, careers advice and the industry itself. Sarah has 11 years of experience in the IT industry.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Global Impact Awards by Google - Cast your vote now


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The Global Impact Challenge by Google


The Global Impact Challenge supports British non-profits using tech to tackle the world's toughest problems. There are currently 10 finalists which you can vote for.

Cast your vote by May 31 for the £500,000 fan favourite Global Impact Award. On June 3, a panel of judges will unveil the public vote, and select three additional non-profits as winners of the Global Impact Challenge.




It was found that although there were over 80,000 new tech job openings in the past two years in London alone, last year, only 3,420 students took Computing A-level in the whole of England. Out of those, 255 were girls. 


One of the finalists in the The Global Impact Awards aims to tackle this enormous skills gap by focusing on the roots of the problem. 

The CDI Apps for Good project


The CDI Apps for Good project is helping kids engage in the hands-on creation of apps. This in-school learning is supported by an online platform where students interact directly with designers, developers and entrepreneurs who volunteer their time and expertise.

The project focuses on low income and underrepresented communities. Over three years, Apps for Good will reach more than 175,000 students. Their main goal is to change the future of tech education and develop a new generation of tech entrepreneurs in the UK and around the world.

Watch there video below and help support the project by voting for them in The Global Impact Challenge by Google.



Age UK


Another interesting finalist for The Global Impact Challenge is Age UK.  Their project is to inspire older people to reminisce using technology, and in doing so; deliver digital training which will help them enjoy a happier and healthier later life. 


Their video below states that 1 million older people in the UK have not seen friends or family in over a month. And that technology can help reduce loneliness by providing access to invaluable online resources, as well as the ability to keep in touch with family and friends.



If you want to help with this project and help millions of older people connect then vote for them here: https://globalimpactchallenge.withgoogle.com/

About the Author:
Sarah writes for Firebrand Training on a number of IT related topics. This includes exams, training, certification trends, project management, certification, careers advice and the industry itself. Sarah has 11 years of experience in the IT industry.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Data Management in the virtual World


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The popularity of public cloud offerings have blossomed, and with Microsoft expanding Windows Azure globally it looks as though cloud computing is here to stay. However, there are certain drawbacks and obstacles to overcome if corporate users wish to implement cloud-based file sharing for good. A public cloud offering is great for the masses but is still not secure enough to convince CTOs at large corporations to make the switch. Data management in the Virtual world therefore becomes, a heated debate.



Cloud Management 


From chain retail locations to multinational corporations, the very mention of the word cloud challenges tradition. This is because the cloud pools multiple machines together to share resources and space on a network. But wherever there's shared space, there's a risk of security breach. Speed and reliability are also a concern for larger organizations. In the cloud, users create their own virtual server from a pooled resource; a cluster of servers strung together and partitioned off accordingly. Cloud management is potentially problematic because its reliance is dependent on a robust physical environment. 

The more data users push through the shared network, the higher the risk of network latency. Furthermore, the corporate cloud must be resilient enough to prevent network latencies from bogging down the switchgear and routers. Of course, all this info is passed through the virtual environment to servers located inside a data center facility. Even cloud providers need such a facility to house, manage and maintain this cluster of cloud servers in an effort to prevent downtime and boost security on all levels; the physical and the virtual level. So the issue of security and performance in the cloud, be it a public or private offering, is still omnipresent. So where does this leave us?



The Cloud Vs. Tradition 


Think of it this way; every online transaction eventually makes its way to a physical server. The question is, do you really want your money or precious data handled through a massive public cloud offering, without any robust level of security? Experts argue that the risk isn't much more than what we're used when we log into our Gmail accounts. So we don't care about the risk. Ultimately, the benefits of things like Windows Azure (or Gmail for that matter) far outweigh the risk of any data breach. However, CTOs at large corporations still see the cloud as an imminent threat to daily operations because of these risks. Until this fine technology comes around to improving switchgear, firewalls and virtual security, it's best to stick to tradition. 

About the author: James Mulvey, a content writer and blog director at Colocation America, wrote this post.



Monday, 20 May 2013

How to defend yourself and your company from a DDoS attack


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DDoS mitigation


DDoS stands for Distributed Denial-of-Service attacks. They have become increasingly popular and have gone up in scale, intensity and frequency.

DDoS Map
Image Courtesy of 24hourhelpdesk.com.au
There are a wide range of reasons for DDoS attacks, including political (hacktivism), criminal, or just simply for their own amusement; which makes anyone with an online presence a potential target.

If you find that your site or organization is under attack, it’s important that you report such attacks quickly to parties that are best positioned to help you mitigate, weather, and restore normal service.

Here are some steps you can take to take out the sting

Simulate your own DDoS attacks


Create a simulated DDoS attack on your network. This will help you or your management see the best options to mitigate when under a real attack. Here’s a simple video of how to perform your own DDoS attack.



Manage communications


If you do get a DDoS attack, make sure you are prepared to have a single point of contact streamless information sharing. This contact can keep more of the organisation up to date with short updates so everyone understands the situation. By already completing the simulation process mentioned above, everyone in the team will know their specific roles in the mitigation process and how they can continue ‘business as usual’.

Make a plan, and keep planning again


Make a call tree, keep it updated and in the same place so it is easily referenced. Call trees are an important part of every disaster recovery plan. They are a telecommunications chain for notifying specific individuals of an event. It is very helpful if you need to reach certain employees after hours to notify them of a situation. This is in order to make sure the mitigation process is contained and in order. It helps turn an attack into an incident as everyone will know their role after the simulation and the plan created from it. You should also have teleconference bridges (where engineers can coordinate response efforts), a troubleshoot bridge for application owners to report issues, and a security and forensics bridge. This will help with the confusion and add speed again.

In April 2013, Prolexic (a DDoS mitigation service provider) mitigated a sustained DDoS attack peaking at 160 GBPS and 120 million packets per second - which is a very heavy attack. In the video below they explain and show you how they did it.


Source: Prolexic


Defend your business with a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) professional

EC-Council CEH logo

You too can learn how to perform DDoS attacks and help companies like PayPal defend themselves against it. Become a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and earn on average £42,750 in the UK (ITjobswatch.co.uk). The CEH certification from the EC-Council is widely recognised as the entry into the hacking world. As an ethical hacker, you’d attempt to penetrate the networks or computers of your organisation or any organisation that hires you. "White hat" ethical hackers are widely sought after to help find and fix the vulnerabilities that would otherwise be exploited by "black hat" criminal hackers.

About the Author:
Sarah writes for Firebrand Training on a number of IT related topics. This includes exams, training, certification trends, project management, certification, careers advice and the industry itself. Sarah has 11 years of experience in the IT industry.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

What to do when your projects keep failing


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Failing, over-running and budget-crashing projects are causing businesses billions in lost revenue.

Businesses up and down the land are wasting tens of billions of hard-earned resources in projects that run late, cost more than they should or fail altogether. 

A British Computer Society study in to project failure by Dr John McManus and Dr Trevor Wood-Harper looked in detail at 214 big IT projects over a period of seven years and found  nearly a quarter of all projects  (23.8 per cent) were cancelled  before they even got off the ground.

A more recent IDC report shows that things aren’t getting any better “Improving IT Project Outcomes by Systematically Managing and Hedging Risk,” by Dana Wiklund and Joseph C. Pucciarelli, revealed that 25 per cent of IT projects fail outright. Meanwhile, 20 to 25 per cent don’t provide ROI and up to 50 per cent require material rework.

The knee jerk reaction is to blame the problem on the programmers and the coders. However when you dig down into the figures however you find that it’s not the IT that’s at fault or the people creating and testing the code, it’s actually project management where the problem lies. The statistics show that 54 per cent of IT project failures can be attributed to project management, whereas only 3 per cent are attributed to technical challenges.

The obvious solution therefore is to do something about the project management, but what?  The answer according to an in-depth study “The Benefits of Training and Certification” by analysts IDC is to invest in training.


The IDC research shows (see graph above) an undeniably tight correlation between training, team skill, and project success and the research found that the three most important variables for predicting project success were;

  • The overall skill level of project teams
  • The percentage of project budget spent on training
  • The number of hours of training per team member

Increasing or reducing any of the three variables would directly have an impact on the project success. Projects allocating 7% of the budget to training were significantly more successful than projects where only 4% of the budget went to training In fact, managers of IT project teams that meet most or all of their objectives provided each team member with 40% more training than managers of teams that achieve little or only some success.

The numbers required don’t need to be that significant; when preparing for a project, teams receiving 40 hours of training per member met their significant project objectives three times as often as teams that received 30 hours of training or less.

Finally the report also looked at the type of training that the teams received and found that there was also a close correlation between project success and certification.  

The research found that every relevant certification increases a teams performance with an "average" team performance achieved only when more than 40% of the team (see graph above) is certified, with 100% success rates achieved when over 60% of the team achieved certification.

The report should be a wakeup call to anyone embarking on a large IT project – or for that matter any large project.  If you want success then get your staff trained to expert level and make sure they have the certificates to prove it, if you don’t then be prepared for the same old failures, over runs and costs spiralling through the roof. 

About the Author:
Stefano is the co-founder and head of strategy education at Firebrand Training. He has 20 years experience in IT operations and services support, and worked in financial markets supporting IT infrastructures.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Business as usual is an opportunity - eating monster


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If you had to make the choice between innovation and business as usual, I’m willing to bet that 99.99% of you would plump for innovation. So why is it that businesses spend so much time fire-fighting and so little time being innovative?  For most businesses the answer is ‘because we have to.’ Systems will always need updating and fixing and things will always go wrong and you need to fix them, servers fall over, disks crash and users – bless them – get a little confused and accidentally delete things they shouldn’t or forget their password.

Unfortunately most businesses can’t afford the luxury of having dedicated people on standby should a server fall over or an application crash or a price needs changing on the website. The consequence of this is your IT department and the development teams get called off the new revenue generating projects to deal with the crashes and the problems.  In a nutshell, business as usual is a great big opportunity-eating monster.

By and large IT departments were not created to fix old applications, mend failing hardware or to answer the dumb-ass support questions of the rest of the business. They’re there to serve the business, creating IT solutions, making the business more efficient and to bring in new revenue. Alas over the years this role has been forgotten and instead the IT departments now spend their time waiting on business as usual and attending to her every need, and she’s a demanding customer.

So what can a business do to improve the situation? The answer is to give the business as usual problem to someone else better suited to deal with it and to make sure that when you build the applications they’re built and managed properly, and that the people fixing the problems are capable of fixing the problems.

A report by analysts IDC showed that experts ie trained IT professionals with certification spent far less time on business as usual, and were able to spend more time on being innovative. According to the survey, experts in archiving and retrieval teams spent 28% less time fixing problems, data backup and recovery experts spent 21% less time fixing problems and security experts had 20% more time to spend helping end users.

It’s a no-brainer.  If you are being swamped by business as usual then get an expert to handle the jobs, either in-house or in the cloud, or send your IT and business teams on some training courses and set your IT team free to become revenue generators and not a business overhead.

About the Author:
Stefano is the co-founder and head of strategy education at Firebrand Training. He has 20 years experience in IT operations and services support, and worked in financial markets supporting IT infrastructures.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Thank Firebrand it's Friday - Fifth Edition


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Welcome to the fifth edition of TFiF (Thank Firebrand it's Friday). This week we look at cyber-warfare, the death of an internet giant and App creation for the web coding challenged. Let's get to it.

The death of an internet giant


Last week saw the quiet passing of an internet legend. After 16 years of dedicated service, Hotmail was finally put out to pasture by Microsoft to be replaced by the metro styled Outlook.


Source: Ryan Majeau
Final transition from Hotmail to Outlook saw the migration of more than 300 million live Email accounts, which equates to more than 150 petabytes of data (1 petabyte = 1000 terabytes). No doubt a majority of that data fell into 2 categories, social media notifications or Spam.

"Sir I have won lottery, need bank account to transfer my many millions, will give you 5%".....seems legit, here's my bank details and 4 digit pin code.



The real risk of cyber attacks

In recent years we have seen the rise of cyber crime and the increasing insurmountable danger in a world seemingly dominated by computers. Only last week Hackers compromised Twitter accounts from the Associated Press, causing Stock Markets to tank for following a false tweet claiming an attack on the White House.

Former Department of Homeland Security, Paul Rosenweig warns us that future attacks could result in far more severe consequences. Below are a few disturbing scenarios from his recent publication:


  • Industrial Control Systems could be hacked disrupting dams, oil refineries and the national grid. Think of the riots following the New York blackout, or when that dam collapsed and Superman had to race to save the town from the onrushing flood (ok the second happened in a movie, but you see my point).
Source: www.complex.com
  • Satellite based navigation systems could be manipulated affecting GPS data, planes provided with incorrect locational data, or you end up in a field instead of Tesco car park!
  • For those that have seen Fight Club a similar scenario could play out where London, Tokyo and New York Stock exchange data could be wiped out. Did anyone say sextuple dip recession?

A free Windows 8 App creator...


Enough of the doom and gloom, ever wanted to tap into the App market but lack the programming skills?

In steps the Zipapp web site, this free resource allows you to create your own app without ever having to write or learn a single line of code. The web based platform allows you to create a variety of static pages within the application, using feeds from Twitter/YouTube/Facebook and any compatible RSS feed.

So if you want to create a Windows 8 version of your Wordpress / Google blog and have an active Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels, in quick time, Zippapp can help you achieve this.

Check out this 8 minute video, it really is simple.


So there we have it, another week of Thank Firebrand it's Friday in the bag. Join us next week for more news, reviews and hopefully whacky goings on.

About the Author:
Edward is a member of the Marketing team overseeing the Content Strategy for Firebrand. Working in the Industry for 2 years, Edward has experience with Microsoft Technologies including SharePoint 2007 and Windows Server 2008 R2. Edward writes for a variety of Blogs and Publications on all things Technology. 

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Increase in cloud adoption and multi-cloud use



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A survey from Cloud-management provider RightScale, shows an increase in both cloud computing usage and multi-cloud adoption.

Larger companies appear to be adopting cloud computing more so than companies with less than 1,000 employees. 77% of the larger companies had adopted cloud in some way whereas 73% of companies with fewer than 1,000 employees had adopted cloud according to the recent survey of 625 businesses, and IT development staff from RightScale.

The survey also found that 68% had deployments spanning more than just one cloud. The interesting area is in the increase in the provisioning of resources on multiple clouds. Over three quarters of larger companies adopted clouds, 77% of those are deploying across multiple clouds.

At a meeting with reporters and representatives of RightScale customers, the CEO Michael Crandell said he believes the use of multiple clouds has been steadily rising. “I think it was lower (before the first survey),” Crandell said. “That’s my gut instinct.” You save money, and multiply different applications to run on different hardware or to focus on core competencies. Cloud represents a lot of possibilities for companies.

However, security and compliance with regulations still seem to be a problem for a few companies. Crandell said it can come down to legal issues. Businesses might not want to risk putting their own customers at risk of data breaches. Crandell stated “It’s their attorneys who are dealing with that as well as ours.”

About the Author:
Sarah writes for Firebrand Training on a number of IT related topics. This includes exams, training, certification trends, project management, certification, careers advice and the industry itself. Sarah has 11 years of experience in the IT industry.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

IT hiring at four times the rate of retail - Online sales boom



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There was a 12% rise last year in hiring for IT and web design compared to a 3% rise in retail hiring according to research by specialist technology recruiter Greythorn. It was also found that growth in online retail sales is well above that of traditional retail.

The number of IT and web design roles has gone up by 32,000 over the past year. The largest growth has been in in the number of web designers, which went up by 19.4% (31,000 to 37,000 roles). The number of IT business architects and system designers has risen 18.8% (85,000 to 101,000).

  • 32,000 IT and web design jobs created over the past year – a 12% rise
  • Retail jobs rose only 3% over the same period
  • Online sales growth two and a half times the pace of total retail growth
  • Falls of up to 2.39% in retail pay, and steady increases in IT

Growth of Online Retail

According to the British Retail Consortium, there was a 10.9% increase in online spending in the year to February 2013. That’s over twice of total retail sales (4.4%).

Official statistics are not good for high street stores. The figures show that January had an 8.7% increase in online retail sales, whereas retail sales saw a 0.6% year on year fall in overall, according to ONS.

This is the reason for large online retailers significantly boosting up their IT teams, such as John Lewis who announced they hired 100 new staff in January 2013.

Research from Greythorn also shows a growth of 89% in IT roles placed in online retail over the past year, compared with the previous twelve months.

Mark Baxter stated “The list of high street insolvencies is becoming a roll-call and there appears to be no end of famous names struggling or going under. It is undoubtedly sad news, but there is a silver lining in the growth of IT roles. As online shopping grows, companies are increasingly investing in improving the customer experience and the back office operations supporting online sales. It is a key stage in transferring to a high tech economy. The number of specialised new roles is growing and that is only good news for IT professionals.”

Larger Salaries


IT job vacancies in the UK are at a record high (see our recent blog post), causing IT salaries to be, now in often cases, higher than those in retail. The average salary of an IT system designer is £37,092 whereas the average salary for a Retail Manager is £21,237.

Mark Baxter continued: “A career in IT is potentially very lucrative and the number and diversity of roles is growing rapidly. Obviously, there are specific technical skills that are needed, but it is a candidate’s market for experienced IT professionals who are either already in online retail or those in other sectors with transferrable skills. For people looking to retrain, web design and online retail offer excellent opportunities that will only increase as people vote with their feet and choose to stay at home rather than shop on the high street.”

Reeds 2013 ‘Salary & Market Insight Reports’ has been released and offers great insight into the IT sector. Andrew Gardner, Director at Reed Technology, explains the most in-demand skills for technology professionals this year in this interview.





You can download the Reed report here.

About the Author:
Sarah writes for Firebrand Training on a number of IT related topics. This includes exams, training, certification trends, project management, certification, careers advice and the industry itself. Sarah has 11 years of experience in the IT industry.