Monday, 3 December 2012

Configuring a Remote Access to a Server: Research, Resilience and Ingenuity

Servers are extremely valuable tools for companies: they improve teams’ productivity and efficiency by allowing workers to share files more easily. However, the added value of a server can be increased by setting up remote access connections. It means that users not connected to the server network can remotely access documents stored in the server through the Internet. As an example, someone in the US can access a server located in Liberia.

To enjoy this feature, not only you need to buy licenses for Microsoft (one license per user), but you also have to configure both your server and computers.

NATC recently configured and installed a Windows 2008 Standard R2 Server for a client. It was a particularly complex and arduous task, consuming a lot of time and energy as we went through the following steps:
  1. Research on Microsoft support website
  2. Call Microsoft tech support
  3. Use an IT engineer based in Canada for support
  4. Extensive online research
It is only at the fourth step that our technician Jonathan Barwon found new directions and got a sense of what had to be done. It took him hours to set it up, but we can sum up all the operations in three main phases:

1) Server management: Add new roles
On the server, you need to activate the remote desktop functionality through the start menu

2) Web access configuration
On the server, in the remote desktop services, you need to enable the web access configuration

3) Connect a Windows 7 work station
Through your web browser (preferably IE), connect to the server and allow connection from computer running any version of remote desktop.

After the installation, our technician also made sure to activate the back up features of the server (i.e. shadow copies of the server hard drives), so our client data will be protected from any potential loss.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Nothing Beats Genuine Products

At NATC we make a point of supplying genuine products to our customers. Not only because we want them to use the best of what is on the market. It is also because it is better for them: 
  • Genuine products last longer
  • They produce better quality items: e.g. a printer using genuine ink cartridges will print better looking documents
  • Genuine products do not damage other items: At NATC our technicians have witnessed many times printers breaking down because their owners were using fake ink cartridges
  • If you use genuine products and something happens, you can always use the customer service/support system of the brand to which you purchased the item
Genuine products might be a bit more expensive at purchase, but in the long run they are a bargain. Plus they provide you with a peace of mind, knowing that you got the real deal.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Managing the Bandwidth Devil

Contributed by Guillaume Foutry

Internet in Liberia is slow and expensive. Even if things have improved with the landing of the fiber optic cable in Monrovia in October last year and the introduction of the 4G by Cellcom a few months ago, it is still an issue. To many organizations operating in Liberia, Internet access is critical to their business, so they have to bear the cost. The problem is that companies do not get Internet speed comparable to what you would get in Europe or Northern America: the fastest they can get in terms of unlimited data download is via VSAT for a monthly bill going up to thousands of US dollars.

So organizations want to make sure they make the best use of their bandwidth, especially for an office with dozens of employees. Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that some workers use Internet for private purposes that are bandwidth black hole such as You Tube, iTunes, music download, etc. And so no one is able to use the Internet for essential activities such as emailing or research. This creates serious headaches as we have met people being mad about it, telling us they pay serious money for their Internet and they cannot do anything.

At NATC, not only we have great solutions to provide you with Internet access but we are also experts at bandwidth management. Our favorite solution is Meraki: we connect a Meraki Access Point to your modem and them, from a web browser, we can manage who has access to how much bandwidth at what time. This give you a lot of flexibility: you can block all non-work related websites, give more bandwidth to important users, monitor employees' usage of the bandwidth in real time. It is a really easy to use and affordable system that will allow you to get your money worth and master the bandwidth devil.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Maternity Leave

The CEO, Farzana Rasheed, is on maternity leave from October 2012 to February 2013. Business will go on as usual. 

Thanks to the staff of NATC for their hard work and continuing to work towards our vision to be the best IT company in West Africa. 

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Norton Vs Kaspersky: Who Wins the Anti-Virus Fight?

I had clients asking me “Which one is a better anti-virus software, Norton or Kasperky?” That is a tough question; mostly because I am not a computer security expert  I know that some people have personal preferences for one over another, but I had never received any empirical/clear explanation on this.

So I decided to spend some time searching for answers on Google, checking dozens of different forums/websites/specialized magazines. I came up with two answers:

  1. Both of them are excellent softwares: They do the job pretty well at defending your computer against spyware, virus, Trojan, malware and adware. They regularly update themselves and have reliable customer support services.
  2. Norton = mother; Kaspersky = soldier. Norton constantly reminds you of things you do not necessarily want to do at that time, but that are necessary evils. Sounds like a good mother to me, but that can be annoying now and again. Kaspersky is different: it will ask you for instructions the first time you install it and will be pretty much autonomous, only concerned by completing its mission. Sir, yes Sir. However it means that over time it will make decision by itself on what is best for your security. So if you want to have a 100% control on your machine, that might not be for you.
So the main difference between the two softwares is mostly philosophical. That means you need to think about the type of user you are and what you expect from your anti-virus before making a decision. Or you can talk to NATC and we find what is better for you and your company.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Story of a Printer and Some Baby Hair Clips

By Haresh Karamchandani

We supplied a HP Deskjet 1050 3 in 1 Printer to a client about a month ago and the client called saying that the paper was not feeding properly and needs to be checked.

We sent our expert Printer Expert to check out the problem. There was no electricity at the client's residence, and the printer was brought over to the NATC workshop for diagnostics.

Our initial suspicion was that the gears may have broken or misaligned so we opened up the printer to check. 

And, this is what we found inside the printer!!!

Either the client has a cute baby at home or they were using the printer as a Baby Clip storage box. 

The clips have been returned back to the client along with a working printer and a word of advice:  “Find a safer place for the printer”. 

Friday, 5 October 2012

The Case of the Vanishing E-mails

What should you do, in case all or some of your Microsoft Outlook emails disappear from view!!! – By Haresh Karamchandani

Yes! This is exactly what happened to me! One peaceful afternoon at the office, I just returned back from a client site and switched on my Dell XPS M1330 Laptop.

The first thing I normally do after my laptop comes on, is click on Microsoft Outlook to check my mails. I did so and to my shock and horror – I could not see ANY mails in my inbox. For a second I thought, maybe this is some other folder, I confirmed it was indeed my Inbox, but nothing, no emails!! It would show that I am supposed to have over 11,000 emails in the inbox, but in the view pane, all I could read was “No Items to View”.


Microsoft Office comes with an inbuilt Inbox Repair Tool. But before that, I noticed that my McAfee Anti Virus programme was misbehaving. It would show that the computer is at risk due to the Firewall being turned off. I would turn on the Firewall, and a few seconds later the Firewall would go off and the computer would be at risk, automatically!! This was obviously a very able virus, that McAfee was not able to counter or quarantine.

I was so upset with Mr. McAfee. I had paid £30.00 during my last trip to the UK for this antivirus and I still had over 225 days subscription to go. This antivirus was not doing a good job at all.

I got down to using the Microsoft Repair Tool:

Step 1: Exit Outlook, if it is running.
Step 2: Go to My Computer> C Drive> Program Files> Microsoft Office> Office 12> SCANpst.
Step 3: Once you are in the SCANpst you will be prompted to enter the name of the file you would want to scan/repair. For this go to account settings in Outlook and under email accounts you will see Personal Folders and the Directory for Data Files. In my case it is: C:\Users\SCCI\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook\Outlook.pst

Copy this directory and paste it in the SCANpst box and click on Repair.

Now its time to relax, sit back, have a coffee, play a game of Settlers of Catan and Microsoft Office Repair Tool will do all the work. This process takes a few hours.

After the system has been scanned, Microsoft would ask you if you want to Back-up the repaired files. You must do this.

Once the repair is complete, restart your computer.

Now, if you go to your Outlook, Lo and Behold! All your emails would have been restored!!

Note: I have banished Mr. McAfee, removed him from my Program Files and now I have loaded Norton 360 Anti Virus. Hopefully Mr. Norton will be a better performer.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Meet our Hardware Expert

Contributed by Farzana Rasheed

NATC recently hired an experienced hardware expert to handle our in-house and on-site diagnosis and repairs on a part-time basis. Alexander Baryou's expertise lies in repairs of all range of printers including heavy-duty network printers and plotters. Alexander is also an expert in handling other hardware issues for laptops and desktops. 

Alexander received his technical training at Booker Washington Institute (BWI) in Kakata, Margibi County where he studied general electronics for 4 years. He is currently employed with a printing business situated on Broad Street, Monrovia where he has received excellent working knowledge of hardware issues in terms of diagnosis and, where and how to source replacement parts. Working for 4 years in hardware has made Alexander into a real expert!

Since we got to know him, we offered him a part-time job at our company so that we could rely on his expertise and, better streamline our services. 

To date, Alexander has already successfully handled the following machines for us without breaking a sweat:

1) HP Design Jet 510 Plotter
2) HP Laserjet M4555 MFP Printer
3) HP Photosmart C5500 Printer
4) Canon iR2016 Copier
5) HP Laserjet 4345 Printer

So, I really wanted to pick Alexander's brain and ask him about what common issues he encounters. See below: 
  • One recurring problem affecting the malfunction of a printer is an over-used roller, a part inside printers 'picking up' your A4's. Nearly all rollers have a limited life and eventually need to be replaced in order to lengthen the life of a printer. 
  • Another common problem is that the software/firmware gets corrupted and, needs to be re-installed. This involves looking for the original CD that came with the printer (usually lost!) or going online, identifying and downloading it.  
  • Another common problem is over use of the printer which damages the fuser unit, a part which is responsible to dry the ink on the sheet. In smaller desk printers, the printing head acts as the fuser unit and gets over used and needs to be replaced. In bigger printers the fuser unit get damaged due to over use. They have a limited life and can be replaced so the printer is restored to almost new. 
  • Fake cartridges can also affect the functioning of a printer. In smaller printers, the ink from these cartridges spills out and damages the print head and in larger ones, it can damage the gear system's alignment. 
  • Lack of maintenance on a printer for an extended period results in a very dusty printer that can adversely affect nearly all functions and parts of a printer. Usually a thorough 'clean up' using a clean cloth, a compressed air can and a blower does the trick.  

Sourcing parts to repair printers can be tricky but there is a network of resourceful hardware technicians in Monrovia that can be relied on. These technicians, including Alexander, keep parts in their workshops 'harvested' from condemned printers for such scenarios. So far, Alexander has been able to find all the parts he needs to get a sick printer cured. In case the part is not available, we can order the part from our NATC office in the US. 

By having a dedicated person to handle printer issues on our team, NATC is going to be able to respond to our client's needs much more efficiently. 

Here are a few pictures of the expert in action!

NATC is now an ISP

Contributed by Farzana Rasheed

NATC is pleased to announce we have signed our first V-SAT contract with one of our premium clients! This represents NATC's entry into the V-SAT market. 

Although the fibre optic cable has landed in Liberia, it will take some time before it is commercialised and operationalised in Monrovia. We imagine it will take even longer for areas outside of the capital. 

An article in the FT's recent Special Report "Doing Business in Liberiadiscusses the expected positive changes that will finally arise out of the submarine cable's landing since last year:

Last November, the 17,000km Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable, managed by France Telecom, made landfall in Monrovia, and will eventually link 21 countries along the west Africa coast and western Europe. Ericsson, the Swedish telecoms company, is building the “dry” fibre-optic network on land that will connect to the undersea cable and offer the first genuine broadband service in the country. The system is expected to go live in December.

The article indicates that the first to enjoy broadband will be government institutions and large businesses such as banks. 

Our question as a business operating in Liberia is how can IT companies participate? Who will be 'selling the broadband'? What kind of pricing and standards can we expect? 

Meanwhile, we at NATC are very much cognizant of the ground realities i.e. it will take time before even the first few are able to enjoy broadband in Monrovia, let alone Liberia. December sounds too good to be true!

Internet is still going to be quite pricey for time to come and, only available through V-SAT technology or via GSM for users in Monrovia. As for the rest of Liberia, where the real acute challenges of building infrastructure from scratch lie, V-SAT and GSM technologies are going to be the only options. In other words, in a country with few or non-existent roads, how are we going to bring broadband to the bush?

Meanwhile, making an entry into the V-SAT market is a sound direction for NATC since many of its clients have offices and sites of operations outside of Monrovia. 

We have been working on our first deal for almost a year now - convincing our client to ditch their existing ISP and give us a try! We are in fact handling almost all their IT needs - from supplies to all on-site services and back support. We are even helping our client to better control their bandwidth through an ingenious web-based platform. After at least 2 years of full support, having built their network, and provided continuous support across their offices, we felt we were in a position to become their ISP. In fact, we won the contract for Internet Services in a competitive bidding process. 

What was interesting was that we negotiated a deal with the satellite provider to give us double the bandwidth at a much more competitive rate. 

NATC is quite excited to have secured our first V-SAT deal and, look forward to implementing it successfully to our client's satisfaction and beyond. 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

A Typical Day at NATC

Contributed by Farzana Rasheed

The typical day at NATC is quite hectic: we are busy attending phone calls, dispatching our technicians to site, running off to meetings, following up on supply orders, reading and responding to e-mails and, drinking lots of tea! 

Yesterday, was an especially challenging day. We met with our Bank to review our account, clarify some pressing concerns as well as discuss further financing. It was a long but productive meeting. 

This was followed by some heavy-handed negotiations with our landlord at our office and, all I will say is 'you win some, you lose some!' 

The rest of the day was spent in being present at our client's site to confirm a consignment of Xerox machines and consumables was offloaded and received. This was a large supply order we recently executed successfully. The goods were sourced from Xerox, USA directly and shipped by sea. Since the client has duty-free privileges, the container-size order was shipped in their name and, the client would clear the container themselves. Although the goods arrived at the Monrovia Free Port since at least mid September, because of bureaucratic delays at the client's end, the container was only finally received by the client yesterday. This was a relief since we can finally receive payment. 

Last but not least, we have also been ensuring that our first V-SAT deal and contract gets off to a smooth start! This has us busy coordinating with the UK-based satellite provider and, ensuring our client was 'live.'

We took a few minutes to take some casual pictures of ourselves and, here they are:

The CEO and Head of Operations share a friendly moment.

The Head of Operations, Haresh, busy on the telephone as usual.

One of our new trainees, Cheayee, jotting down a few important points.

A new member of staff, Alexander, who has been hired part-time to handle all in-house and on-site diagnosis and repairs of hardware. 

The boys of NATC

Ms. Patience and the boys of NATC share a friendly moment.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Meet one of NATC's Trainees

Contributed by Farzana Rasheed & Cheayee Gee

One of NATC's strategy for developing and nurturing a professional team of IT technicians is to hire young, talented persons with an aptitude for IT. We refer to these youngsters as Trainees who go through on the job training and hopefully, proceed to more permanent and responsible positions in the company. This process can last between 6 months to 1 year.

We would like to introduce a new Trainee at our company by the name of Cheayee Gee. Cheayee was hired through reference by one of our business partners and after interviewing him, we found him to have a satisfactory educational foundation as well as the right attitude. 

Here is a short self introduction by Cheayee along withis photo:

I am Cheayee, a 22-year-old Liberian who did all his schooling in Accra, Ghana. I came back home because I really wanted to live and work in my own country. I am very lucky to have come across NATC through the recommendation of a friend from Electro Shack. 

I have completed senior secondary school. I also have a diploma in computer hardware; a certificate in CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate); an MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist); and an MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT professional). I received these certificates and diplomas from various institutes. 

Working with NATC as an IT Trainee is so far a good experience for me because I only have a basic knowledge in IT from school. Now that I am working with real materials on site, this will give me more practical knowledge and experience. And also, taught me how to deal with clients from different sectors. 

When you come back to your country and do not see what or how you thought was there it makes you feel kind of bad. To compare Monrovia and Accra, I would say there is a big difference. To get a car to go where you live at night in Monrovia is very difficult. Students pay money to pass exams. They even go to the Internet cafe to do assignments since there is no computer lab at most schools. These are some of the observations I have made. Nevertheless, one day I know that things will improve and will be fine