IT Best Practices

Top 10 Ways to Save Money on IT in 2009

Do not pay for software. Pay for services, and make sure that there are companies competing for your service contracts. Keep your data in containers that you control. Make sure you can plug them into products you own.

Save money – get better results.

Find out how Altamente can help you save 20% on your total IT expenditures in 2009. Call us at 314-787-8443 or 787-638-5380 or contact us here using this form.

Here we present ten ways to downsize your IT costs in 2009.

10. Make sure your IT department != to software procurement. Train them in developing solutions

A lot of these tips end with the punchline: do not pay for software. That is a common theme here at Altamente. It saves us a ton of time and hassle, but let me illustrate it thusly by the following familiar scenario.

Executive to IT department: “Hey, we need to be able to do X. Think you can get that for us.” IT guy investigates and purchases a “solution,” implements it, and the boss is happy.

Executive to IT department, “Hey, I like the new system. Can we make it do Y.”

The IT department investigates and responds, “No, the company that makes X says they will take that into account in their next version, but they do not have that feature currently.”

Typically, by the time the features you crave become available, you have to pay for an upgrade, migrate your existing data, upgrade your hardware because it will not run on your system and on and on and on. To top it off, your IT department is a glorified middleman between the software seller and your company.

Stop all of that nonsense, and choose an Open Source solution immediately. You will have the capacity now to 1). Make your own changes, 2). Avoid improper relationships between your IT department and software provider, 3). Make your IT department the owner, developer, and parent of the solution.

9. Use open data formats

Make sure your company's assets are not locked up in your software provider's locked box. People who sell software love to “hold” your data for you in formats they control. It may seem innocent enough, but when it comes time to upgrade, because of obsolete hardware or software, you wind up at their mercy and the backwards compatibility of their data formats. Try to take your business to a competitor's software, and you will find that your dataset cannot be exported, massaged, or extracted to the new product. It is your data. You developed it. Why would you choose to warehouse it at someone else's facility where they control the key?

The solution: Open Source software, and open data formats based on an open/free XML schema, an open source SQL database, or any other sensible data format that does not attempt to hi-jack your data. Try Open Office for your DOCs, PDFs, spreadsheets, and presentations.

8. Pay for services that can be transferred among providers

Just like a proprietary database controlling your data, proprietary software many times dictates the service relationship as well. If you have X software, you must use company Y's service team. Company Y is probably a Value Added Reseller(VAR) for software X, and has a vested interest in making sure you keep using software X and by default company Y. By the way, company Y holds an exclusive arrangement with software company X for your entire region. Good luck finding someone else.

Open Source changes this restrictive supplier/customer dynamic. Because companies like Altamente are not exclusive agents of Open Source software, anyone is free to provide support. If a supplier is not a good match for your organization, you can may someone else who has the exact same rights to see the software, own it, and make changes to the underlying source code. If you do not like or trust outsourcing, you can hire someone to provide the service and maintenance that you need. You are not locked into exclusive or predatory arrangements with your software provider. You control the relationship, and a convenient by-product is that your software is more cost effective.

7. Thin client computing

Do you need to set up a workstation for someone who will be accessing a web-based knowledge application, email, customer relationship management (CRM) software, and groupware? Why would you need a dedicated PC to accomplish this? Use a Linux-based thin client solution to provide an instant-on environment which is available to your employees from any free workstation. All the software is free, open, and easy to use and better yet, and has a lower total cost of ownership.

6. Reduce malware attacks

How much downtime and IT overhead go toward the battle with malware on your network? How much money would you save if I told you that you could reduce your malware attacks and IT overhead associated costs. Put your IT guys back to work creating innovative solutions for your business instead of triaging rogue PCs on your network.

5. Virtualization – Consolidation

The rise of CPU-based virtualization technology means that it is easier and cheaper to run multiple machines and services on a single hardware box. This has always been possible, ever since the first multi-user computers of the 60s, but it has never been cheaper or easier. Do you need a new Windows Server instance to provide a single application for a specific production problem? Fire up a virtual image inside of your robust redundant 64 bit Linux-based virtual host, configure Windows Server, test your app, and deploy it. You do not need new hardware. You do not need to take a trip to the server room. Win and win.

4. Get more from existing hardware (Server and Desktop)

On the Server: Do you need a heavy duty mid-range server for your data center? Do you need more than 4 gigabytes of RAM? If you are running Windows Server, then that is going to cost you a bundle for upgrades and licenses for the 64 bit version. How many people will access it? That is going to cost you seat licenses. Ouch. Stay away from all the licenses, costs and restrictions and choose Linux and Open Source. With Linux you can have that same server running a 64bit operating system and software stack, accessing more than 4 gigabytes of RAM (32 gigabytes makes for a very nice machine) for much less money. Did I mention there are no seat licenses?
On the Desktop: Are you buying new PCs only to find that they barely run Vista, or are you forced to buy new machines to keep up with the requirements of the newest software suite? Forget all that, and put Linux and Open Source Software and open data formats on your existing hardware. You have access to a modern multi-user, latest technology software, running faster on your older hardware. You can squeeze three or more additional years out of your hardware before you will need to repurchase. When that time comes, maybe you will select more economical and less exotic equipment to save money. You already know it will work just fine.

3. Do not write your own software from scratch

You do not have the time or the money for this unless you are a software company. You should put most of your effort into producing your widget or providing your service. But you still need software, right?

Get your IT guys to investigate a high quality Open Source/Open Data solution, and adapt it to your business. You will own it just the same, but isn't it nice that you did not have pay for those thousands of man hours it took to write it? You will save money, keep from being locked in with a vendor, and have the exact features you require.

2. Do not pay for anti-virus

Use ClamAV at the server level to filter emails and webpages. Use Linux on the desktop and you will most likely never ever have to deal with data breaches, password theft, or lost data and downtime due to malicious viruses on your network. Not only is it easier to secure Linux, but its transparent development process makes for a quick turn around when problems are found. Here at Altamente, we happily go about our business without the distractions that plague other companies. It saves us time and money that we put toward development and other projects. In these tight economic times, is it not about time you to switched to Open Source/Open Data?

1. Use GPL'd Open Source Software

I am sure it was going to be obvious what my solution for the economic downturn might be. Use Open Source/Open Data. Do not pay for software. Pay for services, and make sure that there are companies competing for your service contracts. Keep your data in containers that you control. Make sure you can plug them into products you own (Open Source software). Save money on your hardware purchases. Keep your hardware for longer at the same performance level. Avoid wasted CPU cycles running anti-virus and anti-malware applications. Take full advantage of hardware virtualization technology. Take full advantage of today's 64bit multi-core processors. Use more memory more efficiently. Run your SQL database server on 64bit software with access to gobs of memory for less cost.

Save money – get better results.

Find out how Altamente can help you save 20% on your total IT expenditures in 2009. Call us at 314-787-8443 or 787-638-5380 or contact us here using this form.

Do Not Use MAPS DUL (Dial-up User List) - Anatomy of an SMTP connection

Trend Micro recently bought MAPS, an email black hole service.  Their DUL list is wrong, out of date, and poorly maintained.


Am I yelling?  Sorry about that.  I just want to make it clear.  There is NO good reason to use a third party Dial-up User List.  You can still block dynamic dial-up users from sending mail, but you should do it through reverse DNS, the common mechanism that every sane ISP and mail administrator uses. 

What am I talking about?  Okay, first, here's a little primer on how a modern email handoff works.

A mail server receives a request to deliver mail to port 25 SMTP (actually it is a little more complicated than that, but let us just say for now that's how it works).  The mail server then checks the IP of the sender.  As a first step, my server might reject the email solely on a hard-coded rule at the IP level.  Oops, I do not accept email from your server.  Perhaps I have had problems with abuse from that particular IP before, so I might choose to reject it before even looking at it.  "Go away," and I slam the door.

If the IP passes that first check, I might process others.  Perhaps we might run a reverse DNS request on that IP.  The response might come back as or something similar.  I can at this point choose to reject the email based on the keyword PPP (dial-up user) or USER.  I can be reasonably certain that no corporate or professional mail administrator would allow his important email server to have such a reverse DNS name.

But we are not done wringing all the secrets from the IP address.  Next I will check the reverse IP, get the host name, and then check the forward IP. might not exist as a forward record and again, I might reject the email based on the fact that the network of origination is completely messed up.  Messed up DNS is a good indication this might not be a network from whom I wish to accept mail.

Now that I have established that your email server has a correct reverse/forward IP and you are who you say you are, I might also check to make sure that your server is the correct MX (Mail exchanger) for the domain in question.

So far so good.  We are almost there, but now we must pass the content filters, a gauntlet of truth so to speak.  My server will now tell you to proceed with your SMTP stream.  We will carefully parse it for bad info, viruses, obvious references to scams, Viagra, and general spamminess (all SMTP is text, by the way).  At the end of the SMTP stream, I will announce I have accepted the email for delivery and issue a code 250 (it's an older code, but it checks out.  I was about to clear them).  If, on the other hand, I choose to reject, my server will issue a code 553, a catch all for general errors, and I bounce your mail or drop it.

The reason you should never use a third party DUL list is quite simply this: reverse DNS already neatly identifies the type of host from which a mail connection originates.  It (reverse DNS) is maintained by the ISP and is distributed throughout the world via the wonderful system called DNS.  At no point do you need to set up a separate private company to maintain this list (and introduce one more layer of record keeping and error).

Don't fall for it.  Specifically ask your email provider what they use for their DUL list.  If they answer reverse DNS, then you have found a provider who knows his stuff.  If not, I suggest you keep looking.  Why don't you start here:

Remote Backup Service Saves the Day

My phone rang and I picked it up.

"I just deleted my entire accounting system." He sounded frantic. I could empathize. I imagined the panic that he probably felt at having lost his entire database of a couple of hundred employees. "Do you have the backup?" he asked.

"Of course. Which directory did you lose?" I quickly logged in to the remote backup server.

This particular client does stevedoring mainly for car cargo. Because of the way he deals with the union he has hundreds of employees in his system. Re-entering them would have been a nightmare. Frankly, I believe he felt that all was lost. There would be no way he was going to come back from this. In the IT world, backups are notoriously unreliable. They become unmaintained. No one has the time to test them. They become low priority as the risk is assumed to be low.

But when things go wrong, it all comes rushing back. The fear that a critical step has been overlooked now haunts all of management. Did we test this? Did the software lapse or somebody damage the data on the tape drives? Who has the CD's? Did the software lapse?

"Okay, here's your directory. You want last night's backup?"

The panic subsided. I could still tell there was a little bit of skepticism, but I figured we would fix that in no time. "Yes, last night is fine. The only thing I did today was erase the entire database."

"Give me a couple of minutes to synchronize the directory. Please exit the program while I restore it." We chatted a little bit about his business, payroll taxes, employee deductions. He liked the way this particular program allowed him to do all his employee W2 and local payroll taxes without having to contract it out. It was maybe a little too easy to delete everything, but then that is where Altamente comes in. Altamente provides an automated remote backup service that is managed by their Altabox network appliance. No need to worry about CD's, tapes or software licenses.

"There you go," I said. "You're all back up and running. Go ahead and enter your program to verify that everything is okay."

"Just a sec... oh, will you look at that. It's all here. Thanks. You just saved my life."

"I appreciate that. It makes me feel good to have been useful."

And in the spirit of John "Hannibal" Smith I say, "I love it when a plan comes together."

If you would like the Altamente team (A-team) to help you with your company's back up plan, please fill out this request form or give us call at 787-638-5380.

Drupal Wins Overall Open Source CMS Award, 2007

The Content Management System (CMS) that Altamente uses has won the best of the year in Open Source Content Management Systems.

I have used Drupal for years. It has a steep learning curve, but its tight security model and object oriented codebase keep everyone happy.

It's a Good Time to Buy Hardware

We at Altamente have been really enjoying the heated competition between AMD and Intel. First we got 64 bit computing which expanded memory limits to the unimaginable, then as if that was not enough, we got dual cores - and then quad cores. Where will the madness stop?

These things may not make much difference to the home user or gamer. Single user multi-threaded applications are just not that trivial to write. Most applications have not yet taken full advantage of multi-core or even 64 bit computing.