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Mac OS X Server: The unbelievable IT budget

The Mac Mini Server with a Promise Pegasus storage array- A lot of power in a small package.

The Mac Mini Server with a Promise Pegasus storage array- A lot of power in a small package.

Update 2014 March 12: Just a quick disclaimer; I don't sell Apple equipment nor do I receive any kickbacks or commission on the sale of Apple product. In fact, I don't even own any Apple stock.

I am in the business of service, and helping business owners discover amazing options for their businesses that depend on Macs or PCs or a combination of the two is my specialty.  Ask most Mac techs what a Mac OS X Server costs to set up, and you'll likely get the same answer: "It depends."  That answer doesn't work, because you need to know installation costs are to help you make a purchasing decision.  But what exactly does installation include?  That question is exactly why most Mac techs get nervous about committing to a price.  It's a chicken-and-egg issue, even though it shouldn't be.

$500

Ask me how much does it cost to install a Mac OS X Server, and I'll give you a different answer: $500 (USD, to be precise). It's really simple: We created a service for business owners that includes preparing, configuring and installing a Mac OS X Server, that includes basic capabilities like file sharing, email, calendar and contacts, for $500.  Whether it's a Mac Mini or a Mac Pro, the server installation is $500.  

Here's what's included:

  • We ask questions up front to prevent issues and surprises. You will not have a tech asking you to call your Internet Service Provider for information on the day of service, because we'll already have the information we need.
  • We'll help you design a server setup that works for your business. This includes your file sharing structure - who has permission to which folder - up front.  You will not have someone asking you to make last-minute decision that could have been made early on.  And we will help you through the process of understanding how server works so you can make great decisions about the configuration, no matter how technical you are.
  • We'll configure everything on the server up before the installation. When we arrive we'll be ready to connect the server to your network and connect your users to the server.  With the basics already done, we can focus on training- and making sure you and your employees know how to access the server.
  • We'll teach you how to transfer your data to the server.  You won't have to pay to have a technician sit there at an hourly rate, unless you want to.
  • We'll provide documentation and training.
  • We'll tell you about all the options: Other cool stuff you can do with the server that are optional, like mobile device management, Virtual Private Network setup, Windows server running virtually on a Mac server, and more.

If you need a Mac OS X Server setup, feel free to contact me. We're happy to help and keep things simple so you can stay busy growing your business.

Digital babies

We all want friction-free™ service that saves time.

We all want friction-free™ service that saves time.

A good friend and customer, as well as fellow Provisor member called into TechRoom just a few months after service.  He had some issues with his 27" iMac and wanted to know if he should bring it in to TechRoom again. I could hear the hesitation in his voice. When he and I last talked we had a great conversation about how the Apple Store experience is really awesome with maybe one exception: Transporting your desktop computer in to the mall.  I've always seen my job as trying to engineer a solution for my customer, and if the Apple Store can help more people like me when I need them for a business matter or to answer questions for the myriads of friends who are interested in Macs, I'm going to go all out to help the GB (Genius Bar) by designing services that complement what they're all about. So I gave my friend Tom an option he didn't expect. More on that below.

The issue with transporting your computer?  It doesn't matter if it's a desktop or notebook, but desktops are worse.  It's more than just unplugging the machine. Think about all the reasons why it's a not-fun experience: What if you have a huge desk that's hard to move?  With cables hidden that could fall behind and require movers to get out? How many people even want to know about which cable goes into what plug? How do I transport it safely? What if I scratch it? Is my data safe if there's an accident.  How do I know everything really works until it's back and completely re-installed onto my network. What if you didn't need to be without your machine for a day or more?  Wouldn't it be nice to just get a professional attention on the issue on your terms, at your convenience?

I've been working closely with my team to make TechRoom service friction-free™.  That means we're thinking about each stage of the customer experience, from the very moment they notice they need service.  This means that we need to think about what our customer is doing before they even pick up the phone to call us.  Some really cool things can come out of this kind of thinking and intention.  The majority of our 27" iMac customers can get service without needing to bring their computers in to us. Some options we now have for any customer (for both Apple Macs and PCs) include:

  • Remote Quick-Fix™.  We can address any problem, including third party software and Internet service issues like email configuration (even in Outlook- gasp). You name it. So many problems can be resolved in a few minutes with the right attention. Best of all, if we identify a problem that requires hands-on service, the $50 fee applies to your carry-in diagnostic within one week if its for the same issue. It's a win-win-win for our customer.
  • TechRoom Transporter™. We are so spoiled in Orange County. We don't have the artery-clogging traffic that's pandemic in Los Angeles. So we tend to drive everywhere.  But could you do something better than drive a couple hours for one errand?  How about having a technician pick up your computer, meticulously noting and diagramming the connections and taking steps proactively to prepare for the computer's return and reconnection, so you don't have to?  It's a professional technical courier that would make Jason Statham nod in approval.
  • AppleCare On-Site.  It still blows my mind that not everyone in the world knows that Apple provides on-site coverage for many issues. When Apple provides labor coverage, we reduce our fees accordingly. One CEO in San Clemente has enjoyed watching in own TechRoom technician repair his MacBook Air Ultimate, right in his office while he works.  No travel, minimal downtime.  And an amazing opportunity to test everything out right when we're done: All devices, iPad, iPhone, bluetooth keyboard and magic trackpad, wifi, you name it.

We're still coming up with some great new ideas for 2014.  One of my team mates said it best when she said, "These aren't just computers, people are bringing in their digital babies to us." I think about that all the time now. I hope some of the options above can save you or a friend or colleague a few hours this year.  

If you need service, call us at (949) 706-5852 or email service@techroom.com. Or if you refer someone, please let me know.

Happy 2014!

The business owner's guide to the Mac Mini Server

Apple's Mac Mini Server can quite literally sit on a shelf.  I have four of them on the shelf next to me as I write this.

Apple's Mac Mini Server can quite literally sit on a shelf.  I have four of them on the shelf next to me as I write this.

Apple's Small Business Secret Weapon

When it comes to Apple in small business, the iPhone and iPad tend to get all the attention.  The Mac Mini Server, when it is discussed, is rarely understood, and, in my experience, almost always set up by the wrong person. A qualified technician should configure the Mac Mini Server, but it's the business owner who should understand and set direction for how it will be set up for the business.  This is because the Mac Mini Server, in a small business of Macs and/or PCs, with iPhones, iPads and even other competing smartphones, is one of the business owner's most powerful tools to improve profits, capture more customers, and make their customers and employees more satisfied.

One note regarding my position on Apple: I don't sell Apple products, and I receive zero financial compensation from anyone's sale of Apple products.  I don't even own  Apple stock.  I am a service-only provider, and I am in the business of making customers more successful and business owners more profitable.  If an Apple product or technology isn't going to help you, I would steer you clear of it without hesitation.

The most misunderstood Mac

After configuring (and reconfiguring) hundreds of Mac Mini Servers across hundreds of businesses, it's my observation that maybe 1 in 20 are configured correctly for the business.  The other 19 are not only producing poor results without the business owners knowing it, they're also ticking time bombs when they break down because of a lack of understanding how to maintain them.  I receive at least one escalation per month from a business where an Apple software update was run, either automatically or because someone thought it would be harmless, only to find out that half or all of what they depended on for communication with their customers and information for their employees was no longer available.  The Mac Mini Server, like a Mac Mini, is still a Mac, and often enough the same customer takes the Server to the Genius Bar, or expects Apple to take care of the issue like any other AppleCare break/fix issue.  That's the worst time to discover that server software issues, network issues, data preservation issues, and other similar issues are not covered under AppleCare.

A Mac Mini Server blog series for business owners

I'm starting a blog series on the Mac Mini Server.  I want to show you what you have to gain from using one.  And I want to show you how to design your Mac Mini service strategy for your business, taking advantage of Apple's support and also how to leverage third-party service and support for issues not covered by Apple.  Even more critical, I want to show you how to prevent the most common problems so you can avoid needing support in the first place. Over the course of the next several weeks, I'm going to post new topics to this blog related to Mac Mini Servers, including:

  • Do you need a Mac Mini Server?  What are the alternatives
  • How a Mac Mini can return time back to your employees and to you
  • Wiki on Mac Mini Server: Enabling seamless communication like you've never before experienced in and out of your office
  • Prerequisites for your business to use a Mac Mini Server
  • Common security issues and how to prevent them
  • Mac Mini Server data preservation (read: backup) planning
  • Service and support issues that can cripple your business and how to prevent them
  • Using a Mac Mini Server to prevent downtime for your employees and your business
  • How AppleCare works for the Mac Mini Server - and what it doesn't cover
  • Introducing a Mac Mini Server into an all-Windows environment
  • How Mac Mini Server can enable you to control and manage all your iPhones and iPads from your desk

What you've got to gain

Would you like your business to be more profitable? Do you want more and happier customers?  How about even happier employees?

The Mac Mini Server is small, but has incredible power and features that can enable a business to be more profitable.

The Mac Mini Server is small, but has incredible power and features that can enable a business to be more profitable.

The Mac Mini Server is one of the most important small business devices Apple sells.  It has the potential to return hundreds of hours, even thousands of hours, back to the owner and employees of a business; Dollarize that time and you'll find that it means three things and one very good formula for the business bottom-line:

1) Reduced expenses + 2) higher sales = 3) profitable growth.

When a piece of technology gives you back more time, it's time that previously was a cost to you without a sale or money attached to it.  That time back means that you can spend more time with customers, get more work done in the same work day, and therefore your expenses can go down and your sales can go up.  Less cost and higher dollars coming in means you're making more money.   But there's another way to look at it, and I consider it equally important, because profits can only happen if you have customers, and happy customers.

Time back to you and your employees is usually time that was previously doing things manually, or looking for things in your email instead of a common place to find things, or not knowing what the standard operating procedure is and therefore confusing a customer who was used to the way someone else in your office did it versus how it's being done now.   The time returned back to you by a Mac Mini Server doing what it's supposed to do for you usually means you can spend that time doing a better job.  This leads to higher customer satisfaction. Higher customer satisfaction can lead to positive Yelp reviews, and more important, referrals of more customers to your business. And you've got more time to handle the customers, right?   You will, once I show you what a Mac Mini Server can enable do for your business.  Stay posted and sign up for my newsletter.

Backup Basics #1: Do it now.

Think of the most valuable data in your life:  Photos of your baby, your kids, your family.  Company financials. Your work documents, email, contacts.  

Now imagine losing it all at 5PM today.

You have until 5PM today to take the most important first step to preventing data loss, and it takes less time than your lunch hour.

You have until 5PM today to take the most important first step to preventing data loss, and it takes less time than your lunch hour.

I want you to take that feeling and act on it.  You don't need to be technical. My dad proved that to me.  He once dug a hole in the ground out at Joshua Tree in the middle of the night, but the brand new Ironman Triathlon watch I had given him into the hole, covered it with dirt, marked it with a stone "duck" so he could find it in the morning, and went back to bed.  He did this because he couldn't figure out how to turn off the alarm.  Dad was so non-technical I sometimes called him "Mr. Analog". He had two hard drive failures, but he never lost data because he practiced Backup Basics #1: Do it now.  And I'll even make it easier for you (see the bottom of this post).

Later I'll share how to make your backing up bulletproof.  Today you just need to do something.  Here are a few things you can do, right now, that will give you greater peace of mind tonight and through the weekend:

Everyone: Go get an external hard drive.  

Whether you're a stay-at-home parent or a Fortune 500 CEO, you can go get an external hard drive today, plug it in to your computer, and copy most if not all of important files, getting them in two places.  Think risk management here: If your hard drive were going to die at 5PM today, would you rather have a mostly complete backup or none at all because you put it off because you didn't know how to do it according to what a technology guy would call "correct".   I'm suggesting this for anyone, including the most non-techie people in the world.  

On a Mac, you can either use Apple's Time Machine function built right into your system preferences, or if you want to keep it really simple, just drag and drop folders containing your important stuff into an external hard drive.  Want a tool that's really easy to use?  Try Bombich's Carbon Copy Cloner.  It's the most powerful, lease expensive application for backing up I've ever used.  If you can find your hard drive in one pull-down menu, and find an external hard drive in another pull down menu, then that's all you need to back up.   For Windows users, right-click and copy-paste folders to an external hard drive (copy, don't cut!) or if you feel a little adventurous, try Roxio's Back on Track application.  It's the closest equivalent to Carbon Copy Cloner I've found for the PC running Windows.

Remember, your hard drive could die at 5PM today.  In reality, it could go anytime- age doesn't matter that much with hard drives.  Go get an external disk now. Not sure what to get?  Send me a message via the contact form on this page and I'll be happy to provide suggestions.

Business owners and CEOs

If you read my blog post about your budget, then you already know that your go-to technology person or resource is probably busy fixing something today. There's nothing wrong with that, but if if that technical person's single highest priority is not data preservation, then your entire business is in danger.  I'm talking business interruption danger that could lead to going out of business.   I have a very simple step you can take to make sure you're safe, without having to get technical and without having to take your time away from other areas of your business:

Take everything else off your technology guy's agenda today except backing up.  Tell your tech you want a current backup of the company's data on your desk for you to take home before 5PM today, together with a list of the sources of data that got backed up.  Remember the saying "work expands to fill the time allotted"? There's no shortage of things to be fixed, and fixing things feels good.  Backing up is boring.  It tends to get on the back of the IT person's list, and most business owners feel that they probably wouldn't understand the list (or it makes their head hurt trying).  

It's that simple.  No other work is to be done. Backup on my desk by 5PM please.  Thanks.

So while your IT person's getting that done, go get a hard drive for yourself over lunch and get your own files copied over.

Do it now.

Notice I didn't say please.  Remember in my recent post I shared that after working with thousands of customers, I've learned that you can lose data for only two reasons:

  1. You put it off and never got to it.
  2. You think you're backed up, but you're not.

I want you to make progress right now, today, by taking an action. In my repair business at TechRoom, I cringe every time a mom or dad comes in for recovery of photos of their baby's first few years of life. A liquid spill on a notebook or a hard drive upgrade I can deal with.  Broken computers are repairable.  We're great at recovering data, but not every recovery is successful.  Lost data is permanent.

I want you to act on this, right now, today.  I don't care where you go, so long as you take the first step. To help, if you call TechRoom and mention this blog post I'll give you 20% off any TechRoom service between now and Wednesday November 21, including carry-in and remote access service to set up and verify your backup. 

Five things about AppleCare you probably don't know (that could help or hurt you)

Transient

Chances are, even if you're a Windows user, you probably own an Apple product, whether it's an iPhone, iPad or even another Mac at your home or office.  Like any product we outlay good money for, you want to make sure it works and that it lasts. When you buy an Apple product, you'll usually hear about  AppleCare, Apple's extended warranty and support for your Apple product.  In my experience, very few people understand what AppleCare actually covers, which means most people are missing out, or paying too much when problems do occur.  If you own or are considering owning an Apple product, there are five things you need to know that could save you time and money, and even prevent you from losing you personal information:

1. On-site service for your home or business

If you own a desktop Mac (iMac, Mac Pro, Mac Mini) you're entitled to on-site AppleCare, which means you can request and expect that Apple will send an Apple-certified technician from an Apple-Authorized service provider to your home or office.  At TechRoom, we have the option of performing AppleCare repairs for desktops at our customer's home or office.

In reality, most customers calling in to AppleCare get referred into their local Apple Store for service, and the option of on-site service is rarely provided.  The other day I spent 20 minutes at the Apple Store at Fashion Island, in Newport Beach, California, watching at least a dozen customers hauling iMacs and Mac Pros out of their cars and up escalators.  

If you own a Mac covered by a 3-year AppleCare protection plan, and you would prefer repair be done in your home or office, make sure you tell the phone support rep it's what you're expecting.  And make sure you read #5 below, about what you need to know to protect your data and personal information during the repair.  You have to do this, because Apple won't.

2. The benefits (and dangers) of AppleCare phone support

During my recent iCloud data breakdown, where I couldn't get access to all my data, the level one AppleCare phone support advisor tried her hardest to get me back up and running.  During her phone troubleshooting, when every possible attempt to restore my iPhone from my iCloud backup failed, she asked me to try signing in to iCloud to see if my contacts and photo stream and other iCloud "related" data was there. I was happy to comply- and it wasn't a surprise to me that it worked- because my iCloud access to certain sync data was working on my notebook as well.  She thought the problem was resolved, and asked me to turn on iCloud backup on a freshly restored and partially-configured iPhone.  

I politely declined.  She thought the problem was solved, when she didn't really hear what the problem was in the first place.  What she was asking me to do would have backed up my partially configured iPhone that was missing almost all my backed-up data (my camera roll, audio memos, application data from Genius Scan+, etc.). This would have pushed my last backup further back, or possibly deleted it if enough backups happened first.  Her innocent attempt at helping me would have made me lose 1388 videos and photos of my family and priceless memories.  I told her why I respectfully said no to her, and she promptly escalated me to level-two AppleCare support.   

Whether it's an iPhone, iPad or Mac, remember that the AppleCare support representatives don't know what they don't know, and they don't know what you don't know.  You need a technician that is absolutely going to commit to you preventing accidental errors and take steps to protect against them.  See #5 tip below for an example of how to protect yourself in a lot of these situations.

3. How Apple measures - and compensates - their service providers 

You may not know this, but Apple doesn't rank their service providers purely by how great their customer service experience is.  Why does this matter to you? If you've ever designed a compensation plan for an employee, or if you've worked for commission, then you know that the employer gets what they pay for.  Apple pays their service providers labor based on a program called AppleCare Service Excellence, which is based on a few key metrics: 1) Parts per repair, 2) First time fix, 3) Repair turnaround time and 4) First-time fix.  It's a brilliant system at it's core, because each one of these metrics can be affected positively if the service provider has the right priorities.  For example, if my technicians are awesome at diagnostics, you can assume that we'll probably only replace parts necessary, and probably get it right the first time.  To the customer, this means one service repair, not coming back a second time.

But the danger in metrics is the "be careful what you wish for" problem: An accurate diagnostic doesn't necessarily mean only one part is needed for a complete and thorough repair.  What if the customer was procrastinating on a low-priority, non-crucial issue- like a non-crucial key on the keyboard not working? When you have to come in for repair, that keyboard has to be replaced!  It's now important.  That dings the service provider score.  So you can guess what the potential danger is here.  

4. The difference between certification and authorization

This is pretty straightforward:  You don't have to be Apple Authorized to be Apple Certified.  Anyone can go take a test and get Apple Certified, but even with certification, you're not allowed to work on Apple products without Authorization, which only happens when you're employed by an Apple Authorized service provider.  A lot of service issues appear to be software that aren't, and lead to large bills by consultants before ultimately getting referred back to an Apple Store- where the customer's now frustrated, and penalized, because the tech either couldn't diagnose or handle an issue that Apple would compensate an authorized party to handle.   Being certified and authorized at TechRoom sets us apart from other consultants because we can own any issue- regardless of who needs to compensate us at the end.  This is better for the customer.

5. How to protect your data and personal information

You need to know that AppleCare covers the computer, not your data.  Sometimes the appropriate step to repair a computer- or a server- is to replace a hard drive, and in doing so, wipe out the data.   Or even before the repair, a standard diagnostic measure is to reinstall your operating system.  Either way, all the settings, applications, and other data is at risk.   Steps and measures need to be taken to preserve and protect your data, and this isn't covered under AppleCare.  Make sure the technician or Apple representative you're working with knows this fully informs you of any potential or real danger to your information.

With these five things in mind, you'll not only protect your data and your productivity, but you'll also  potentially save tons of money and time and get more from your AppleCare protection plan.  If you don't have AppleCare, and you're still in your first year of warranty, go call your Apple Store business manager and get it while you can.  It practically pays for itself the first time you need it.

Seeking an expert Mac tech who's ready to grow.

Are you an expert at repairing everything Apple? Are you the authority to the techs you work with? Do you get deep satisfaction from making customers happy and working with great coworkers?

  • What if you could take your skills to the next level, in a job with almost limitless options for your growth?
  • What if your employer made your growth a priority, with training, certifications and learning an actual part of your job every week?
  • What if you could choose your development path, expanding your skills beyond just Apple to all the technologies that work with the Mac?
  • What if this job came with true Professional Services hours during the day, great pay and even profit sharing, and an insanely great benefits package designed for our employees and their families?

If this sounds like what you've been looking for, TechRoom may have the perfect job for you.

TechRoom is Apple-Authorized, which means we perform work for customers both in-AppleCare warranty and out of warranty.  But we're different than most companies- we're service-only. We don't sell computers. We refer customers who need product right back to the experts, our awesome friends at the Apple Retail Stores, so we can stay focused on what we do best: Service. And because we're service only, we have zero limits. We can do whatever it takes to create solutions for our customers.   We are certified experts on Mac and PC, and with five separate technical development tracks, you can grow your skills beyond your wildest dreams.

We're looking for an awesome person who is an expert at Mac repair.  The person we're looking for will want to take their skills to new heights.  The successful candidate will also be incredibly service-oriented, and derive happiness and personal satisfaction at the end of the day because of the positive impact they've made on our customers' lives.

The pay is exceptional, the benefits are awesome.  TechRoom work hours will allow you time to have dinner with your family, and have a life after-hours.

Are you ready to take your career to the next level? Email me at jcoleman@techroom.com with your resume, and your reasons for applying. I look forward to connecting with you.