Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Fifteen Top-Paying Certifications for 2014

It’s always a good idea to take stock of your skills, your pay, and your certifications. To that end, John Hales, Global Knowledge VMware instructor, has outlined 15 of the top-paying certifications for 2014. With each certification, you’ll find the average (mean) salary and a brief description.

Based on the 2014 IT Skills and Salary Survey conducted by Global Knowledge and Penton and completed in October 2013, the rankings below are derived from certifications that received the minimum number of responses to be statistically relevant. Certain certifications pay more but are not represented due to their exclusive nature. Examples include Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE) and VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX). This was a nationwide survey, and variations exist based on where you work, years of experience, and company type (government, nonprofit, etc.).

Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) – $118,253
The non-profit group ISACA offers CRISC certification, much in the way that CompTIA manages the A+ and Network+ certifications. Formerly, “ISACA” stood for Information Systems Audit and Control Association, but now they’ve gone acronym only.

The CRISC certification is designed for IT professionals, project managers, and others whose job it is to identify and manage risks through appropriate information systems (IS) controls, covering the entire lifecycle, from design to implementation to ongoing maintenance. It measures two primary areas: risk and IS controls. Similar to the IS control lifecycle, the risk area spans the gamut from identification and assessment of the scope and likelihood of a particular risk to monitoring for it and responding to it if/when it occurs.

Since CRISC’s introduction in 2010, more than 17,000 people worldwide have earned this credential. The demand for people with these skills, and the relatively small supply of those who have them, result in this being the highest salary for any certification on our list this year.

To obtain CRISC certification, you must have at least three years of experience in at least three of the five areas that the certification covers, and you must pass the exam, which is only offered twice a year. This is not a case where you can just take a class and get certified. Achieving CRISC certification requires effort and years of planning.

Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) – $114,844
ISACA also created CISM certification. It’s aimed at management more than the IT professional and focuses on security strategy and assessing the systems and policies in place more than it focuses on the person who actually implements those policies using a particular vendor’s platform.

More than 23,000 people have been certified since its introduction in 2002, making it a highly sought after area with a relatively small supply of certified individuals. In addition, the exam is only offered three times a year in one of approximately 240 locations, making taking the exam more of a challenge than many other certification exams. It also requires at least five years of experience in IS, with at least three of those as a security manager. As with CRISC, requirements for CISM certification demand effort and years of planning.

Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) – $112,040
The third highest-paying certification is also from ISACA; this one is for IS auditors. CISA certification is ISACA’s oldest, dating back to 1978, with more than 106,000 people certified since its inception. CISA certification requires at least five years of experience in IS auditing, control, or security in addition to passing an exam that is only offered three times per year.

The CISA certification is usually obtained by those whose job responsibilities include auditing, monitoring, controlling, and/or assessing IT and/or business systems. It is designed to test the candidate’s ability to manage vulnerabilities, ensure compliance with standards, and propose controls, processes, and updates to a company’s policies to ensure compliance with accepted IT and business standards.

Six Sigma Green Belt – $109,165
Six Sigma is a process of analyzing defects (anything outside a customer’s specifications) in a production (manufacturing) process, with a goal of no more than 3.4 defects per million “opportunities” or chances for a defect to occur. The basic idea is to measure defects, analyze why they occurred, and then fix the issue and repeat. There is a process for improving existing processes and a slightly modified version for new processes or major changes. Motorola pioneered the concept in the mid-1980s, and many companies have since followed their examples to improve quality.

This certification is different from the others in this list, as it is not IT specific. Instead, it is primarily focused on manufacturing and producing better quality products.

There is no organization that owns Six Sigma certification per se, so the specific skills and number of levels of mastery vary depending on which organization or certifying company is used. Still, the entry level is typically Green Belt and the progression is to Black Belt and Master Black Belt. Champions are responsible for Six Sigma projects across the entire organization and report to senior management.

Project Management Professional (PMP®) – $108,525
The PMP certification was created and is administered by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), and it is the most recognized project management certification available. There are more than half a million active PMPs in 193 countries worldwide.

The PMP certification exam tests five areas relating to the lifecycle of a project: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. PMP certification is for running any kind of project, and it is not specialized into sub types, such as manufacturing, construction, or IT.

To become certified, individuals must have 35 hours of PMP-related training along with 7,500 hours of project management experience (if they have less than a bachelor’s degree) or 4,500 hours of project management experience with a bachelor’s or higher. PMP certification is another that requires years of planning and effort.

Certified Scrum Master – $107,396
Another project management-related certification, Certified Scrum Master is focused on software (application) development.

Scrum is a rugby term; it’s a means for restarting a game after a minor rules violation or after the ball is no longer in play (for example, when it goes out of bounds). In software development, Scrum is a project management process that is designed to act in a similar manner for software (application development) projects in which a customer often changes his or her mind during the development process.

In traditional project management, the request to change something impacts the entire project and must be renegotiated – a time-consuming and potentially expensive way to get the changes incorporated. There is also a single project manager.

In Scrum, however, there is not a single project manager. Instead, the team works together to reach the stated goal. The team should be co-located so members may interact frequently, and it should include representatives from all necessary disciplines (developers, product owners, experts in various areas required by the application, etc.).

Where PMP tries to identify everything up front and plan for a way to get the project completed, Scrum takes the approach that the requirements will change during the project lifecycle and that unexpected issues will arise. Rather than holding up the process, Scrum takes the approach that the problem the application is trying to solve will never be completely defined and understood, so team members must do the best they can with the time and budget available and by quickly adapting to change.

So where does the Scrum Master fit in? Also known as a servant-leader, the Scrum Master has two main duties: to protect the team from outside influences that would impede the project (the servant) and to chair the meetings and encourage the team to continually improve (the leader).

Certified Scrum Master certification was created and is managed by the Scrum Alliance and requires the individual to attend a class taught by a certified Scrum trainer and to pass the associated exam.

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Citrix Certified Enterprise Engineer (CCEE) – $104,240
The CCEE certification is a legacy certification from Citrix that proves expertise in XenApp 6, XenDesktop 5, and XenServer 6 via the Citrix Certified Administrator (CCS) exams for each, the Citrix Certified Advanced Administrator (CCAA) for XenApp 6, and an engineering (advanced implementation-type) exam around implementing, securing, managing, monitoring, and troubleshooting a complete virtualization solution using Citrix products.

Those certified in this area are encouraged to upgrade their certification to the App and Desktop track instead, which focuses on just XenDesktop, taking one exam to become a Citrix Certified Professional – Apps and Desktops (CCP-AD). At this point though, the CCEE is available as long as the exams are available for the older versions of the products listed.

Citrix Certified Administrator (CCA) for Citrix NetScaler – $103,904
The CCA for NetScaler certification has been discontinued for NetScaler 9, and those with a current certification are encouraged to upgrade to the new Citrix Certified Professional – Networking (CCP-N). In any case, those with this certification have the ability to implement, manage, and optimize NetScaler networking performance and optimization, including the ability to support app and desktop solutions. As the Citrix certification program is being overhauled, refer to to view the certifications available, upgrade paths, etc.

Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) – $103,822
The International Council of E-Commerce Consultants (EC-Council) created and manages CEH certification. It is designed to test the candidate’s abilities to prod for holes, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities in a company’s network defenses using techniques and methods that hackers employ. The difference between a hacker and a CEH is that a hacker wants to cause damage, steal information, etc., while the CEH wants to fix the deficiencies found. Given the many attacks, the great volume of personal data at risk, and the legal liabilities possible, the need for CEHs is quite high, hence the salaries offered.

ITIL v3 Foundation – $97,682
IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL®) was created by England’s government in the 1980s to standardize IT management. It is a set of best practices for aligning the services IT provides with the needs of the organization. It is broad based, covering everything from availability and capacity management to change and incident management, in addition to application and IT operations management.

It is known as a library because it is composed of a set of books. Over the last 30 years, it has become the most widely used framework for IT management in the world. ITIL standards are owned by AXELOS, a joint venture company created by the Cabinet Office on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and Capita plc, but they have authorized partners who provide education, training, and certification. The governing body defined the certification tiers, but they leave it to the accredited partners to develop the training and certification around that framework.

The Foundation certification is the entry-level one and provides a broad-based understanding of the IT lifecycle and the concepts and terminology surrounding it. Anyone wishing for higher-level certifications must have this level first, thus people may have higher certifications and still list this certification in the survey, which may skew the salary somewhat.

Citrix Certified Administrator (CCA) for Citrix XenServer – $97,578
The CCA for XenServer certification is available for version 6 and is listed as a legacy certification, but Citrix has yet to announce an upgrade path to their new certification structure. Those with a CCA for Citrix XenServer have the ability to install, configure, administer, maintain, and troubleshoot a XenServer deployment, including Provisioning Services. As the Citrix certification program is being overhauled, refer to to view the certifications available, upgrade paths, etc.

ITIL Expert Certification – $96,194
The ITIL Expert certification builds on ITIL Foundation certification. It is interesting that ITIL Expert pays less on average than ITIL Foundation certification. Again, it’s likely the salary results may be somewhat skewed depending on the certifications actually held and the fact that everyone who is ITIL certified must be at least ITIL Foundation certified.

To become an ITIL Expert, you must pass the ITIL Foundation exam as well as the capstone exam, Managing Across the Lifecycle. Along the way, you will earn intermediate certifications of your choosing in any combination of the lifecycle and capability tracks. You must earn at least 22 credits, of which Foundation accounts for two and the Managing Across the Lifecycle exam counts for five. The other exams count for three each (in the Intermediate Lifecycle track) or four each (in the Intermediate Capability track) and can be earned in any order and combination, though the official guide suggests six recommended options. The guide is available at by clicking on the English – ITIL Qualification Scheme Brochure link.

Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA) – $95,602

Cisco’s certification levels are Entry, Associate, Professional, Expert, and Architect. Those who obtain this Associate-level certification are typically network design engineers, technicians, or support technicians. They are expected to design basic campus-type networks and be familiar with routing and switching, security, voice and video, wireless connectivity, and IP (both v4 and v6). They often work as part of a team with those who have higher-level Cisco certifications.

To achieve CCDA certification, you must have earned one of the following: Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT), the lowest-level certification and the foundation for a career in networking); Cisco Certified Network Associate Routing and Switching (CCNA R&S); or any Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), the highest level of certification at Cisco. You must also pass a single exam.

Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) – $95,276
This certification ranked number 14 with an average salary of $95,505 for those who didn’t list an associated Windows version and $94,922 for those who listed MCSE on Windows 2003, for the weighted average of $95,276 listed above.

The Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer is an old certification and is no longer attainable. It has been replaced by the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (yes, also MCSE). The Engineer certification was valid for Windows NT 3.51 – 2003, and the new Expert certification is for Windows 2012. There is an upgrade path if you are currently an MCSA or MCITP on Windows 2008. There is no direct upgrade path from the old MCSE to the new MCSE.

Citrix Certified Administrator (CCA) for Citrix XenDesktop – $95,094

The CCA for XenDesktop certification is available for versions 4 (in Chinese and Japanese only) and 5 (in many languages including English). Those with a current certification are encouraged to upgrade to the new Citrix Certified Associate – Apps and Desktops (CCA-AD). In any case, those with this certification have the ability to install, administer, and troubleshoot a XenDesktop deployment, including Provisioning Services and the Desktop Delivery Controller as well as XenServer and XenApp. As the Citrix certification program is being overhauled, refer to to view the certifications available, upgrade paths, etc.

Windows Phone Builds some momentum

It has the apps and now corporate support is starting to tick up. What more does Windows Phone need to compete with Android?

Even in the days leading up to the Build conference, it was clear Windows Phone was getting some wind behind its back. Windows Phone has surpassed 400,000 apps and the Windows Store now gets 14 million downloads a day. IBM has sort-of endorsed WP as its mobile OS of choice, although not officially.

RELATED: Why IBM thinks Windows Phone is best for the enterprise

Now there are more endorsements coming in the form of company-issued phones. Nokia just announced it has struck a deal with Spanish financial services group CaixaBank for 30,000 Lumia 925 smartphones to be issued to staff, with options to upgrade to future Lumia models.

CaixaBank employees will also be able to acquire Lumia phones for their personal use and for their family and friends as part of this deal. This comes on the heels of a deal with Delta Airlines to provide their 19,000 flight attendants with Lumia 1520 phones.

The latest news is what I’ve been waiting for. Samsung seems finally ready to make an effort. It was supposed to jump into the WP market with the ATIV S, a Galaxy S III handset, but now The Verge reports Samsung will reportedly release the ATIV SE, a Galaxy S IV running Windows Phone 8.

Now, I know that I slagged the Galaxy S IV in the past, but that I felt was more due to Android and all of the extra stuff Samsung loaded on it. The hardware, at least on paper, should be high-performance. We’ll see if that’s the case with the ATIV SE, assuming Samsung doesn’t kill it right before shipping it like it did before.

The only area of contention, at least according to The Verge, is whether it will ship with Windows Phone 8 or 8.1, which Microsoft just announced at Build. Either way doesn’t matter much, since Microsoft plans to start rolling out 8.1 in the next few weeks.

So what more does WP need? It’s still hovering at the 3-4% mark for overall market share, even with BlackBerry out of the way.

Well, Microsoft is making headway on apps, with 400,000 (vs. one million for iOS and Android), and at Build, it announced an update to Visual Studio that will make it possible for a single code base to be easily ported between Windows 8.1, PC and tablet edition, and Windows Phone. Microsoft claims developers will be able to reuse 90% of code between the two disparate platforms.

That helps, but the big news is the new price for Windows Phone: zero. Just a few weeks ago Microsoft hinted this was coming by making Windows Phone royalty-free for some Indian handset makers. Now it has announced that anything with a screen under nine inches will get Windows for free as well, both Windows and Windows Phone, depending on the device.

That’s a smart move, because IDC’s tablet research shows the greatest interest is in devices smaller than 8 inches. The company projects tablets 8 inches and under to grow from 27% of the market in 2011 to 57% by 2017, compared with 8- to 11-inch tablets dropping from 73% of the market in 2011 to 37% in 2017. Tablets larger than 11 inches would only reach 6% market share by 2017, because who wants to carry something that big?

So Microsoft made a great strategic move. It targeted the growth market with the free OS. You could argue that it should have made the desktop OS free because it needs more help, what with PC sales in decline. But that’s a mature market and, while in decline, it will always be there and doesn’t need seeding. PCs aren’t going away. But tablets are a growth market and Microsoft is now in a position to grab some share.


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Microsoft scraps ‘Windows-first’ practice, puts Office on iPad before Surface

New CEO Satya Nadella comes out swinging on ‘cloud first, mobile first’ strategy

As expected, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella today hosted a press conference where the company unveiled Office for iPad, breaking with its past practice of protecting Windows by first launching software on its own operating system.

CEO Satya Nadella expounded on Microsoft’s ‘cloud first, mobile first’ strategy today as his company unveiled Office for iPad as proof of its new platform-agnosticism.

Three all-touch core apps — Word, Excel and PowerPoint — have been seeded to Apple’s App Store and are available now.

The sales model for the new apps is different than past Microsoft efforts. The Office apps can be used by anyone free of charge to view documents and present slideshows. But to create new content or documents, or edit existing ones, customers must have an active subscription to Office 365.

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Microsoft labeled it a “freemium” business model, the term used for free apps that generate revenue by in-app purchases.

Today’s announcement put an end to years of speculation about whether, and if so when, the company would trash its strategy of linking the suite with Windows in an effort to bolster the latter’s chances on tablets. It also reversed the path that ex-CEO Steve Ballmer laid out last October, when for the first time he acknowledged an edition for the iPad but said it would appear only after a true touch-enabled version had launched for Windows tablets.

It also marked the first time in memory that Microsoft dealt a major product to an OS rival of its own Windows.

“Microsoft is giving users what they want,” Carolina Milanesi, strategic insight director of Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, said in an interview, referring to long-made customer demands that they be able to run Office on any of the devices they owned, even those running a Windows rival OS. “The connection to Office 365 was also interesting in that this puts users within Microsoft’s ecosystem at some point.”

Prior to today, Microsoft had released minimalist editions of Office, dubbed “Office Mobile,” for the iPhone and Android smartphones in June and July 2013, respectively. Originally, the iPhone and Android Office Mobile apps required an Office 365 subscription; as of today, they were turned into free apps for home use, although an Office 365 plan is still needed for commercial use.

Talk of Office on the iPad first heated up in December 2011, when the now-defunct The Daily reported Microsoft was working on the suite, and added that the software would be priced at $10 per app. Two months later, the same publication claimed it had seen a prototype and that Office was only weeks from release.

That talk continued, on and off, for more than two years, but Microsoft stuck to its Windows-first strategy. Analysts who dissected Microsoft’s moves believed that the company refused to support the iPad in the hope that Office would jumpstart sales of Windows-powered tablets.

Office’s tie with Windows had been fiercely debated inside Microsoft, but until today, operating system-first advocates had won out. But slowing sales of Windows PCs — last year, the personal computer industry contracted by about 10% — and the continued struggles gaining meaningful ground in tablets pointed out the folly of that strategy, outsiders argued.

Some went so far as to call Windows-first a flop.

Microsoft has long hewed to that strategy: The desktop version of Office has always debuted on Windows, for example, with a refresh for Apple’s OS X arriving months or even more than a year later.

Microsoft today added free Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for the iPad to the existing OneNote.

On his first day on the job, however, Nadella hinted at change when he said Microsoft’s mission was to be “cloud first, mobile first,” a signal, said analysts, that he understood the importance of pushing the company’s software and services onto as many platforms as possible.

Nadella elaborated on that today, saying that the “cloud first, mobile first” strategy will “drive everything we talk about today, and going forward. We will empower people to be productive and do more on all their devices. We will provide the applications and services that empower every user — that’s Job One.”

Like Office Mobile on iOS and Android, Office for iPad was tied to Microsoft’s software-by-subscription Office 365.

Although the new Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps can be used free of charge to view documents and spreadsheets, and present PowerPoint slideshows, they allow document creation and editing only if the user has an active Office 365 subscription. Those subscriptions range from the consumer-grade $70-per-year Office 365 Personal to a blizzard of business plans starting at $150 per user per year and climbing to $264 per user per year.

Moorhead applauded the licensing model. “It’s very simple. Unlike pages of requirements that I’m used to seeing from Microsoft to use their products, if you have Office 365, you can use Office for iPad. That’s it,” Moorhead said.

He also thought that the freemium approach to Office for iPad is the right move. “They’ve just pretty much guaranteed that if you’re presenting on an iPad you will be using their apps,” said Moorhead of PowerPoint.

Moorhead cited the fidelity claims made by Julie White, a general manager for the Office technical marketing team, who spent about half the event’s time demonstrating Office for iPad and other software, as another huge advantage for Microsoft. “They’re saying 100% document compatibility [with Office on other platforms], so you won’t have to convert a presentation to a PDF,” Moorhead added.

Document fidelity issues have plagued Office competitors for decades, and even the best of today’s alternatives cannot always display the exact formatting of an Office-generated document, spreadsheet or presentation.

Both Milanesi and Moorhead were also impressed by the strategy that Nadella outlined, which went beyond the immediate launch of Office for iPad.

“I think [Satya Nadella] did a great job today,” said Milanesi. “For the first time I actually see a strategy [emphasis in original].

“Clearly there’s more to come,” Milanesi said. “It was almost as if Office on iPad was not really that important, but they just wanted to get [its release] out of way so they could show that there’s more they bring to the plate.”

That “more” Milanesi referred to included talk by Nadella and White of new enterprise-grade, multiple-device management software, the Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS).

“With the management suite and Office 365 and single sign-on for developers, Microsoft is really doing something that others cannot do,” Milanesi said. “They made it clear that Microsoft wants to be [enterprises'] key partner going forward.”

Moorhead strongly agreed. “The extension of the devices and services strategy to pull together these disparate technologies, including mobile, managing those devices, authenticating users for services, is something Microsoft can win with. It’s a good strategy,” Moorhead said.

“This was the proof point of delivering on the devices and services strategy,” Moorhead concluded. “And that strategy is definitely paying off.”

Office for iPad can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store. The three apps range in size from 215MB (for PowerPoint) to 259MB (for Word), and require iOS 7 or later.

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3 easy Linux alternatives for Windows XP refugees who don’t want a new PC

Keep your old PC, and keep it safe, with one of these Linux distros. After all, a free, user-friendly OS is better than an unsupported one.

Windows XP’s refugees have two choices on April 8, when Microsoft stops supporting the decade-old operating system (for consumers, anyway). This is assuming a new PC with a new operating system (even Windows 7) is, for whatever reason, out of the question. They could cling desperately to their old Windows XP system and face what could be a hacker feeding frenzy, something we don’t recommend even if you take precautions. Or they could keep the old PC but install a new, free, and safe operating system–otherwise known as Linux.

Linux has a reputation for being designed for geeks only, but that’s old history. Many modern Linux distributions exceed the user-friendliness of XP, and they’re free to download. If you don’t like the feel of one, you can easily switch to another. What’s more, each Linux distribution comes loaded with useful software such as productivity suites, modern browsers like Chrome or Firefox, and photo and music management apps.

A note about installing Linux
The three Linux distributions we’re recommending for displaced Windows XP users are all based on Ubuntu, which is widely considered to be the world’s most popular version of Linux.

Ubuntu provides a solid, well-maintained software base that works well on older hardware, and its Live CD installer is a breeze to get up and running. Combine that with Ubuntu’s stocked Software Center–which features one-click app installs–and it’s an obvious, easy solution for migrating XP refugees.

Take heed: Although these Linux distributions are designed for aging PCs, they may still be too much for truly ancient PCs that have somehow survived intact until 2014.

Thankfully, each Linux distro below comes with an option to “try before you buy” by booting and running the OS directly from an installation CD or USB drive. When you’ve chosen one, you can fully install it to your hard drive–after backing up all your personal files, of course.

Ubuntu’s website has a tutorial on how to burn your own Live CD using Windows XP. Note that running an OS off a Live CD tends to be much slower than running an installed OS. Pay less attention to responsiveness and more attention to how you like the software and interface of each distro.

Zorin OS
Official system requirements :
1GHz or faster processor
5GB of hard drive space
512MB of RAM
Graphics card capable of 640-by-480 resolution

Beyond its modest system requirements, Zorin is one of several Linux distributions that offers a “Windows XP” mode to ease your transition, approximating the general look and feel of Windows XP as best it can. To activate it, click on Start (Z) > System Tools > Zorin Look Changer.

In XP mode, The “Z” button in the lower-left corner mimics an XP-style Start menu, organized similarly to Microsoft’s OS–including the all-important option to power down the PC. Zorin’s Start-menu doppelganger also has an All Applications option, along with quick links to your Documents, Pictures, and Music.

Likewise, the panel at the bottom of the screen behaves like the Windows taskbar, complete with a notifications area that shows the time, battery power, current keyboard language, and other system functions. All of these interface clues should comfort XP refugees as they arrive in this foreign environment.A Zorin uses Google Chrome as its default web browser.

But Zorin, like all other Linux distributions, is definitely not Windows XP. The file system is not organized in the same way. Traditional Windows software doesn’t work on Linux (though our guides toA popular Ubuntu software,Linux Office alternatives, and Linux gaming can help you find all the programs you need for work and play alike). Finally, though Ubuntu’s user-friendly Software Center helps–it lets you install apps with just a few clicks–installing apps using the Linux-style package system is nothing like installing via a Windows EXE or MSI file.A A

Our Ubuntu guide for displaced Windows users can help you get over the learning curve if you wind up needing help with any of these Ubuntu-derived operating systems.

Official system requirements:
Pentium 3 processor or better

LXLE’s claim to fame is that it’s capable of reviving an old PC by minimizing the demands it puts on system resources, and it has even more accommodating hardware requirements than the already-lightweight Zorn. LXE is based on Lubuntu, which is the official “light” variant of Ubuntu.

Just like Zorin, LXLE offers a Windows XP mode that you can choose right from the login screen, though LXLE also includes options to mirror OS X and an interesting netbook mode. In XP mode, LXLE doesn’t go quite as far as Zorin does in replicating the Windows Start menu, but it collates all the options you’d expect to find.

The LXLE panel serves admirably well as a stand-in for the taskbar. LXLE’s simpler interface lacks the flashiness of Zorin–a trait that may appeal to some. LXLE hands web surfing duties over to Firefox by default.

Official system requirements:
700MHz processor
Minimum display resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels

Of the three distributions covered here, Ubuntu is the least similar to Windows XP. In fact, it’s pretty much nothing like XP at all. But since it’s the most popular Linux distro around, Ubuntu’s certainly worth including in this discussion–especially since it’s free and has minimal hardware requirements, just like Zorin and LXLE.

Ubuntu is closer to the look and feel of Apple’s OS X, so Windows XP immigrants may feel a little lost. Ubuntu has a very user-friendly design that can be learned in short order, however, and that’s augmented by a large body of helpful support resources, including forums, blog posts, and live chat rooms.

One major Ubuntu difference that could flummox XP users is the way you access your software. The operating system hides its programs under a search feature called the Dash, which is opened by clicking on the Ubuntu logo in the upper-left corner.

Ubuntu is not designed to show you a Start menu-esuqe list of apps, though. Instead, like OS X’s Spotlight, the Dash lets you search for a program quicklyA by name and then click on the result to open it. That’s a very different approach than the Windows standard practice of clicking on “All Programs” and opening your software from there. Ubuntu’s Home Folder lets you browse your hard drive in Windows File Explorer-like fashion, however.

Like LXLE, Ubuntu’s default browser is Mozilla Firefox. And did I mention you can make Ubuntu look like Windows 7?

Stick with XP at your peril
These three versions of Linux may be the most friendly choices for displaced Windows XP users, but there’s one more worth considering. Puppy Linux is a popular option for running an OS on older hardware. With three variants available at any given time, however, figuring out Puppy is not as easy as Zorin, LXLE, and Ubuntu.

So there you go: If you can’t or won’t leave Windows XP behind, give one of these Linux distributions a try. All you’ve got to lose is an aging operating system that will soon be thrown to the wolves.

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The paranoid’s survival guide, part 1: How to protect your personal data

Who says privacy is dead? While it’s true that marketers, the government, data aggregators and others are gathering and analyzing more data than ever about every individual, you can still exert some control over what’s out there, who’s tracking you and what they do with that information.

From the NSA’s admission that it is capturing and analyzing metadata on every American to Facebook’s appropriation of users’ posts, likes and images for use in product advertising endorsements, privacy concerns are now top of mind. According to a December Harris Interactive survey commissioned by privacy consultancy Truste, 74% of Internet users are more worried about privacy now than they were a year ago. Some 74% also say they are less likely to enable location tracking on the Web, 83% are less likely to click on online ads and 80% say they are less likely to use apps they don’t trust.

Consumers’ privacy concerns
What people are most afraid of. All percentages are up compared to last year. The study was conducted by Harris Interactive, on behalf of Truste, with more than 2,000 U.S. internet users polled in December 2013.

Online shopping – 93%

Online banking – 90%

Using social media – 90%

Using mobile apps – 85%

Truste 2014 Consumer Confidence Privacy Report
Computerworld asked nine people who live and breathe privacy what steps they recommend to get a handle on your personal data footprint — both offline and online. Some steps are easy, while others require both time and expertise to set up.

The key, these experts say, is to know what your goals are and go for the low-hanging fruit first. “If your goal is perfection, you’ll end up doing nothing. Look for good enough,” says Jules Polonetsky, executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum.

There are three primary reasons why people want to reduce their footprint, Polonetsky says. One is to hide from marketers. Another is personal security. Some people have good reason to be cautious about their identity, including those worried about domestic violence or stalkers. That takes a bit more work.

But the most extreme measures are generally reserved for people who have reason to worry that they might be targeted by the NSA, or by law enforcement, or be the subject of civil proceedings. For the latter group, Polonetsky says, the required measures are more difficult to set up and use — and the techniques may degrade the user’s experience online.

Fortunately, most people don’t need to go to these extremes. “Complete privacy is very difficult and expensive to achieve. But reasonable privacy — minimizing your footprint — is easier to achieve than you might think,” says Rob Shavell, co-founder and CEO at privacy software vendor Abine.

The information out there about you out falls into three basic categories, Shavell says:

Data that’s implicitly collected, such as the many services that track your browsing activity online

Data that’s explicitly collected, such as when you knowingly give out your email address and other data when signing up for a service online

Publicly available information about you that can be harvested by data collectors online, such as your phone number and address, Twitter feed, Facebook profile and public posts, court and property deed records and so on

The first step toward minimizing your online footprint is to know who’s tracking you. Tools like Disconnect and Mozilla’s Lightbeam, which visually show who’s tracking you as you visit different websites, can help, says Sid Stamm, senior engineering manager for security and privacy at Mozilla.

Mozilla’s Lightbeam
Tools like Mozilla’s Lightbeam visually show who’s tracking you as you visit different websites.

“The second thing is to figure out what the risks are that you’re trying to protect yourself from,” he says. Do you care who reads your Facebook updates? Or if someone you don’t know can read your email? The more data you want to protect, the more work you’ll need to do.

“The third layer is control, and that’s the hard part,” Stamm says. For example, if you want to hide all of your Internet traffic and your identity, you’ll need to use Tor or a VPN all the time. Most people, however, just want a reasonable amount of privacy.

Ready to minimize your data footprint? Here’s where to start.

The basics: Six standard operating procedures for online behavior

Draw the line: Decide what’s personal
The traditional definition of personally identifying information (PII) — health records, credit card numbers, social security number, etc. — is so 20th century. The big data age of the Internet is upon us, and even data not previously considered to be PII can feel very personal when viewed in a broader context. “Bits of data, when combined, tell a lot about you,” says Alex Fowler, chief privacy officer at Mozilla. Those aggregated bits, which constitute the new PII, may include such information as your email address, browsing history and search history.

“The definition of PII — information that a person has a legitimate interest in understanding and protecting — is going to be broadened as we move further into the information society,” says Fowler. “It’s a different footprint than what your parents ever thought about.”

“Think about what you consider personal information,” Fowler adds. “You need a working definition.”

Don’t share your personal information — even when asked
Are you responding to surveys by phone or online? Filling out warranty cards? (You need only your receipt to make a warranty claim.) Providing optional preference and demographic information when signing up for an online service? “Most of us give out information trivially,” says Abine’s Shavell, not understanding that all of that information ends up in profiles that may be used by the collector and later shared with data aggregators and others.

When you absolutely must remain anonymous
Tor is an essential tool to use when the sender needs to disseminate information and anonymity is essential. “It is the perfect tool for political dissidents who don’t want their names attached to information,” says Robert Hansen, a security researcher and director of product management at the vendor WhiteHat Security. (Tor also appeals to organized crime and other people who don’t want the law to catch up with their activities.)

But, there’s a cost to using it. “It’s a hassle,” and it can degrade a person’s Web experience, says Casey Oppenheim, CEO at anti-tracking software vendor Disconnect.

Tor consists of an open source browser you can download and a network that acts on your behalf to conceal your identity by preventing others from tracing network traffic back to you.

“Tor tunnels your traffic through a volunteer network of 5,000 relays spread around the world. Tor protects your content in transit by wrapping layers of encryption around your data without modifying or touching your data in transit,” explains Andrew Lewman, executive director of the Tor Project.

Your data keeps hopping from one node to another until a limit is reached. At that point it exits the Tor network and continues on to its destination. (The last node to handle the data is called the exit node). “Tor is essentially a very large, distributed VPN that’s free,” and it works well when used properly, Hansen says.

But it can also be dangerous if you don’t understand how to use it properly, as the Tor Project’s warnings make clear. “Tor can help you remain anonymous — if the account you logged into on the other end isn’t tied back to your real identity,” Hansen says.

“That last machine, the exit node, knows who you are if you submit your information in plain text, and that can break your privacy.” Users should understand that all of the nodes in the Tor network are operated by volunteers, Hansen says. If you’re logged into a service such as an online loan application, the owner of the exit node may be privy to all of that information.

It’s also not a good idea to use Tor to download an executable unless you can verify it hasn’t been tampered with, Hansen says, because the owners of the exit node could, if they wanted to, modify the content and change it to a malicious binary. But, Lewman points out, “Tor exit nodes are no more risky than your ISP’s caching proxy servers and other points along the path.”

Hansen’s recommendation: “Use Tor only over HTTPS, and only when you don’t want your name associated with whatever is going to happen over HTTPS.”

Even then, he says, it is important to remember that some entities out there, such as certain government agencies, may still be able to decrypt the message and identify you.

– Robert L. Mitchell

Lie. About. Everything.

Many online services demand that you divulge some information about yourself if you want to do business with them. If you don’t want to share, you can either choose not to use that service — or you can provide false information. Don’t use your real birthday, email, address and phone number on social network sites, and don’t use real answers when creating answers to challenge questions, says Robert Hansen, a security researcher and director of product management at the website security consultancy WhiteHat Security.

“Never give out any real information about yourself unless absolutely necessary. Lie about everything. That’s basic operational security,” he says.

You may, of course, need a working email address to validate an account. You can create a webmail account specifically for this purpose, or you can use a service such as DoNotTrackMe, which creates “disposable” proxy email addresses and phone numbers for this purpose. Yahoo Mail also offers disposable email addresses.

Create personal and professional personas
Stamm creates and maintains separate personal and professional online profiles for browsing the Web. Specifically, he uses separate instances of Firefox for each persona. “The experience is less noisy,” he says, because his personal and professional web histories aren’t mashed together.

Casey Oppenheim, CEO at anti-tracking software vendor Disconnect, recommends using one browser for Web surfing and another to log into your online accounts like Facebook, Google or Twitter — to reduce cross-site tracking.

Understand how much you’re paying before signing up for “free” apps and online services
By now most people realize that the price you pay for using “free” online websites, apps and services is measured in data collected about you. The question you need to ask is: How high is the price?

Understand exactly what data you are giving up and weigh that against the value of the app or service you’re receiving in return. For example, you might need to share an email address for your Facebook account, but you don’t need to share your telephone number and location data, or allow search engines to index and link to posts on your timeline. You can lower the price somewhat by taking advantage of available privacy controls that let you limit the types of data collected or how it’s used and shared.

But privacy policies can change at any time, and no one knows what will happen to that data in the future. If the developer of an app goes out of business, for example, your data may be sold. Which is why you should always…

Delete your unused online accounts
Do you leave a trail of orphaned accounts behind you as you try different online services? Close them down, or that trail of digital relationships might come back to haunt you. “There are dozens of social networks that came and went over the years, and I think I signed up with every one of them along the way,” says Mozilla’s Fowler.

Many of the services you sign up for eventually disappear. “When they do, that information about you will be sold to someone at some time as an asset,” he says, and the value of those assets is based on how many users they had and what they know about them.

The deeper they got with their customers, the more valuable the assets. “You have no idea how it’s getting used or where it might resurface at another point in your life, so it’s important to take this seriously,” he says.

Tips for surfing the Web silently

Block “third-party” cookies
The publisher of the site you visit isn’t the only organization that knows about your online browsing activity. Many pages have third-party widgets on them that track your computer’s online activity as you move from one site to another on the Web. They do this to sort people (or more specifically, the cookie IDs associated with each person’s computer) into groups that can be targeted with “behavioral advertising” based on interests gleaned from your Web-surfing habits.

One way to minimize your exposure to this kind of marketing and data collection activity is to turn on third-party cookie blocking in your browser. Safari enables this feature by default, while Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and other popular browsers offer it as an option. If you prefer not to have your browsing activity tracked for behavioral advertising purposes, you should also turn on the “Do Not Track” option found on all popular browsers. This feature sends a “DNT” signal from your browser to Web publishers when you visit their sites.

Go private with your browsing
If you want to minimize your data footprint at home or in the office, or wherever others have physical access to your computer, consider using a secure browser such as WhiteHat Aviator, Dell’s Kace Secure Browser and Comodo Dragon. Alternately, you can use the secure browsing mode in Chrome, Firefox, Safari or IE. This will block third-party cookies, delete first-party cookies at the end of a browsing session and leave no trace of your browsing history and search history on your computer.

“Blocking cookies and clearing them regularly stops most cross-site tracking,” says Brookman.

Be aware, however, that some sites, such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, offer single sign-on for all services. So when you sign onto your Gmail account, for example, all of your information — user name, password, webmail, images uploaded, etc. — persists on the provider’s servers.

In addition, your search activity can be tied back to your account and the search history maintained, along with your activity on all other services — unless the provider’s privacy policy precludes it or the vendor offers privacy controls you can use to prevent that information from being stored.

Bottom line: Once you log into a service, all of your activity across all related services from that provider — from webmail to searches — can be tracked back to your account. So log in only when you need to, and be sure to log out when you’re done.

Use anti-tracking software
Unfortunately, blocking third-party cookies doesn’t block the activities of all tracking scripts, and many advertisers ignore the DNT signal, so Hansen recommends installing anti-tracking browser add-ons.

“Something like Disconnect blocks ads plus third-party tracking pixels” and has the added benefit of speeding up Web page load times by removing all of that extraneous tracking activity, Hansen says. Disconnect, Abine’s DoNotTrackMe, Ghostery and other consumer-friendly anti-tracking tools don’t block everything — doing so can break things you want to use — but try to strike a balance for the best user experience. For example, Disconnect doesn’t block Google’s third-party advertising network DoubleClick when you’re using Google services. “Google is already tracking you when you log into, so blocking the request wouldn’t stop any tracking, and is likely to break the page,” says Casey Oppenheim, Disconnect’s co-CEO.

If that’s not good enough for you, Hansen says, “The extreme level is to use NoScript or RequestPolicy. “Flash, Java, whatever it is, [these tools] block it if it’s cross-domain. It’s uber-draconian, and it breaks just about everything, but it’s very effective,” he says.

These tools also offer greater security because they block malware that attempts to compromise your computer by way of JavaScript include or iframe injection attacks. However, it’s up to users to whitelist content that they want to get through. “You have to know what you’re doing, and it requires a big expenditure of time,” he says.

Secure your searches
Use a search engine such as DuckDuckGo or Startpage — in other words, one that doesn’t retain your search history. (The WhiteHat Aviator browser uses DuckDuckGo as its default search engine.)

Or use a proxy search service such as Disconnect Search, which sits between your browser and the popular search engines so that your search history can’t be tracked. (Ixquick, located in the Netherlands, works in the same way and also has the advantage of being out of reach of the U.S. Patriot Act and the FISA court.)

If you prefer to use a commercial search engine, you may be able to turn off search and browsing history. For example, in Google you can turn off search history from the Google Dashboard, while the Chrome browser offers Incognito mode.

Use HTTPS whenever possible
All data that passes between your browser and the Internet is unencrypted and open to snooping, unless you’ve entered an encrypted session with the service you’re communicating with on the other end. Some sites, such as your bank, will encrypt your communications using the HTTPS protocol by default, while others, such as your webmail, may not. For example, Gmail enabled HTTPS by default three years ago, but Yahoo Mail only began supporting HTTPS one year ago, and it’s not turned on by default. If you’re not sure, check first before you use the service.

You can use the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s HTTPS Everywhere browser extension to make sure you’re using HTTPS when it’s available, but some sites don’t offer HTTPS, says Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology. In that case, he says, you may want to consider using a virtual private network (VPN) service.

Sign up for a VPN service
Your IP address gives Web publishers and e-commerce sites an identifier that provides clues to your location. It allows Web publishers to deliver geo-targeted content, such as your local weather, but they can also target you in less pleasant ways. For example, some online retailers have moved to geotargeted pricing, which determines the price you see for an item based on your location and how many brick-and-mortar competitors are nearby. Depending on your location, this could be a good thing or a bad thing.

And if you’re browsing the Web using a public Wi-Fi hotspot, it’s not just your IP address you need to worry about. If your browsing session is unencrypted, all of that data — including user account names and passwords — could be snatched literally from the airwaves.

The solution in both cases is to use a virtual private network (VPN) service such as Astrill, Anonymizer, IPVanish or AnchorFree. These tools not only protect your IP address, but encrypt your communications, which are routed through the VPN service’s servers before going on to the intended destination. “People can’t eavesdrop on what you’re doing, or steal your login credentials and impersonate you,” Hall says.

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15 Non-Certified IT Skills Growing in Demand

Whether you’re a senior IT executive evaluating staffing needs and preparing budgets or an IT pro deciding where to invest your time to gain new skills, knowing what technologies are in demand should be a key part of your strategy.

The Hottest Non-Certified IT Skills for Growth in 2014
Architects, mobile developers and IT pros who are proficient in several flavors of big data and analytics are the top dogs in this look at the non-certified IT skills poised for growth in 2014. Last week, Foote Partners released its Q1 quarterly report, the IT Skills Demand and Pay Trends Report. Its data tells a story of more incremental improvements for both certified and non-certified IT skills.

Non-certified IT skills have seen eight consecutive quarters of growth. According to Foote Partners data, gains in database, systems, and information security skills are driving growth in both areas with assistance from network, communications and management, methodology, process and architecture, project management and process skills.

Foote Partners IT Skills Demand and Pay Trends Methodology
We spoke with David Foote, co-founder, chief analyst and research officer and other industry professionals to find out which of the 354 non-certified IT skills reported upon will generate the largest gains in 2014.

Programmers and IT pros with the skills on this list are getting what Foote refers to as a skills premium above base salary, and that increase is predicted to grow over the next six months.

Apache Cassandra Skills
Big data is driving demand for Apache Cassandra and several other skills on this list. As more companies get on the big data bandwagon, demand will increase. “We absolutely see demand for this skill. Apache Cassandra is designed to handle large amounts of data, and data management continues to be an in-demand skillset,” says Matt Ripaldi, senior vice president of Modis, an IT staffing firm.

Apache CouchDB Skills
“Relax” is the battle cry of the CouchDB developer. CouchDB is an open source document-oriented database that is scalable and commonly referred to as fault-tolerant. This skill has seen more than 22 percent growth in the last 12 months and, according to Foote Partners, is predicted to continue its upward trend.

Big Data Analytics Skills
Analytics is the point where all of these big data skills meet. Finding patterns and actionable data in the mountains of information collected is a skill that will likely increase well into the future. “This is a big one. While anything, big data related is a hot skillset/job, analytics is really the spear-point of industry demand,” says Matt Ripaldi, senior vice president of Modis, an IT staffing firm.

Business Intelligence Skills
IT pros with business intelligence skills facilitate transformation of raw data into meaningful and useful information to move business objectives forward. Demand for this skill is consistently high and will likely grow as more brick and mortar companies go digital.

“BI has consistently been one of the most in-demand skillsets over the past years and we see that demand grow regularly each year. Modern businesses increasingly need intelligence and strategic input from their IT departments, so an IT professional with BI skills is a strong career combination to wield,” says Matt Ripaldi, senior vice president of Modis, an IT staffing firm.

Capacity Planning/Management Skills
According to David Foote of Foote Partners, demand for this IT skill is driven up by cloud adoption. The scalability of the cloud is one of the reasons it’s so popular, but that capability to scale fast means doing things different than they’ve been done in the past and through a third-party, making capacity planning and management a much-needed skill.

Data Architecture Skills
The amount of data we are keeping is growing. IBM estimates that the world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data a day. According to research analysts from IDC, if you are an adult between the ages of 45 and 59, you create 1.8 million gigabytes of data about yourself each year. This is on top of the 4.1 million gigabytes of ambient information that already exists about you in the digital universe. That’s a lot of data and someone needs to architect its capture, storage, flow and usage. These highly knowledgeable individuals have a vision from beginning to end, visualizing how data will be channeled through several databases to create an effective flow of business data.

Data Governance Skills
With all this data being collected, it becomes more important to define who is the custodian/owner of that data and controls how it is used, stored, secured and made available. That’s where data governance comes in. IT pros with this tech skill will help create and implement policy and processes and ensure compliance regarding the many different sources of data. Different companies will have different needs depending on their size and industry, but in general the more compliance and regulations needs you have the more critical this becomes.

HBase Skills
Continued demand for HBase talent is driven by the adoption of big data and is generally used for real-time read/write access to large datasets. Gains for this much-desired skill has increased more than 36 percent over the last 12 months and are projected to continue.

Information Management Skills
Information management skills entail using technology to collect, process, coordinate and disseminate information. The bottom-line is furthering strategic objectives and goals through the creation of and effective use of information from varying sources. According to the University of Toronto, information management consists of six closely related activities.

Identification of information needs
Acquisition and creation of information
Analysis and interpretation of information
Organization and storage of information
Information access and dissemination
Information use

Mobile Applications Development Skills
Mobile development has been one of the hottest growth areas inside of IT for a while and it’s not slowing down. Having the right skills in this area means you can write your own ticket.

David Foote of Foote Partners says that up to this point companies have perhaps been taking people already in the organization — maybe a Java programmer and paying them a premium, but not necessarily giving them the title mobile application developer. “We’ve had enough interest from our customers asking us if we have information on these jobs that we think it’s starting to become a legitimate job title,” says Foote.

Some other IT job titles getting used most recently according to Foote, senior software engineer mobile front-end and senior software engineer mobile…

Mobile Security Skills
Getting data stolen isn’t good for your customers or your brand, so it’s no mystery why this skill is here (but you’re probably wondering why every type of IT security didn’t make the list). As the popularity of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices have skyrocketed so have the potential security risks. Cyber battles wage on with no end in sight and because of that IT pros with mobile security skills will continue to be a sought after commodity.

“We see mobile applications demand manifested particularly in application testing and security,” says Matt Ripaldi, senior vice president of Modis, an IT staffing firm.

MongoDB Skills
Another open source, cross-platform, document-oriented database, MongoDB, uses JSON-like documents with dynamic schemas to store your data, instead of storing your data in tables and rows as you do in a relational database. It’s easy to see how much affect big data is having on IT organizations everywhere by looking at how many of the hottest skills are being driven by companies trying to capitalize on the promise of big data.

Network Security Management Skills
Your data and information is only as secure as the network you store it in, making network security management an essential component of any IT security strategy. “Companies must protect their customers’ sensitive information no matter where it resides — be it on a PC, mobile device, corporate network or data center, ” Anil Chakravarthy, executive vice president of the information security group at Symantec.

NoSQL Skills
The nonrelational database system that NoSQL provides creates better scalability and performance when working with extremely large datasets than does traditional relational databases (RDBMS). Demand for NoSQL is being driven by big data adoption. As more companies look to gain a competitive edge through the big data, skills like HBase, NSQL, MongoDB and other related IT skills, will likely continue to increase in demand.

Oracle Applications Developer Framework Skills
Java is the backbone of many industries and always a favorite on the Tiobe Programming Index, so it’s no surprise that Oracle made the list. These professionals work to develop, test, implement and document applications. Testing, debugging and refinement are all part of the job as well.

Honorable Mention Slide
These IT skills also made the Foote Partner’s list of non-certified IT skills that earn workers above average pay premiums. All of these skills have been earning above average rates over the past six months, Foote Partners says that they are likely to continue to gaining market value over the next three to six months.

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Top 5 ways that IT wastes money

A number of common IT projects that seem like they should add value rarely do. Here are what I consider the top IT projects that waste budget dollars.

The role of the CIO has changed more in the past five years than any other position in the business world. Success for the CIO used to be based on bits and bytes, and is now measured by business metrics. Today’s CIO needs to think of IT more strategically and focus on projects that lower cost, improve productivity, or both, ideally.

However, many IT projects seem to be a waste of time and money. It’s certainly not intentional, but a number of projects that seem like they should add value rarely do. Here are what I consider the top IT projects that waste budget dollars.

Over provisioning or adding more bandwidth
Managing the performance of applications that are highly network-dependent has always been a challenge. If applications are performing poorly, the easy thing to do is just add more bandwidth. Seems logical. However, bandwidth is rarely actually the problem, and the net result is usually a more expensive network with the same performance problems. Instead of adding bandwidth, network managers should analyze the traffic and optimize the network for the bandwidth-intensive applications.

Investing in fault management tools
On paper, it makes sense to invest in fault management. You deploy network devices, servers, security products, and other infrastructure, so of course you would want to know when devices are up and down. However, the fact is that today we build our network so redundant that the loss of any single device has little impact on the performance of applications. Also, most of the fault management tools have a big blind spot when it comes to virtual resources, as the tools were designed to monitor physical infrastructure. IT organizations should focus on performance solutions that can isolate what’s been “too wrong for too long” to solve those nagging “brown outs” that cause user frustration.

Focusing IT energy only on the “top talkers”
When I talk to IT leaders about new initiatives, it seems much of the focus is on the top 5 or 10 applications, which makes some sense conceptually as these are the apps that the majority of workers use. Instead, IT leaders should monitor all applications and correlate usage to business outcomes to determine and refine best practices. For example, a successful branch office could be heavy users of LinkedIn, and Twitter. In aggregate, these might not be among the company’s top 10 applications, and the usage would fly under the radar. If organizations could monitor applications and then link consistent success to specific usage patterns, unknown best practices can be discovered and mapped across the entire user population.

Using mean time to repair (MTTR) to measure IT resolution success
ZK Research studies have revealed a few interesting data points when it comes to solving issues. First, 75% of problems are actually identified by the end user instead of the IT department. Also, 90% of the time taken to solve problems is actually spent identifying where the problem is. This is one of the reasons I’m a big fan of tools that can separate application and network visibility to laser in on where exactly a problem is. This minimizes “resolution ping pong,” where trouble tickets are bounced around IT groups, and enables IT to start fixing the problem faster. If you want to cut the MTTR, focus on identification instead of repair, as that will provide the best bang for the buck.

Managing capacity reactively
Most organizations increase the capacity of servers, storage or the network in a reactive mode. Don’t get me wrong, I know most companies try to be proactive. However, without granular visibility, “proactive” often refers to reacting to the first sign of problems, but that’s often too late. Instead, IT departments should understand how to establish baselines and monitor how applications deviate from the norm to predict when a problem is going to occur. For example, a baseline could be established to understand the “normal” performance of a business application. Over four successive months, the trend could be a slight degrade of the application’s performance month after month. No users are complaining yet, but the trend is clear, and if nothing is done, there will be user problems. Based on this, IT can make appropriate changes to the infrastructure to ensure users aren’t impacted.

The IT environment continues to get more complex as we make things more virtual, cloud-driven or mobile. It’s time for IT to rethink the way it operates and leverage the network to provide the necessary visibility to stop wasting money on the things that don’t matter and start focusing on issues that do.

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11 best places to take a techie on a date

11 best places to take a techie on a date
Not too late to plan a Valentine’s Day extravaganza

For Valentine’s Day, drag your techie sweetheart off the couch and into the real world. We’ve looked across the U.S. for a sampling of the best spots to mix romance and geekiness.

Bell Museum of Natural History: Birds & the Bees (Minneapolis)
Reservations are required for Valentine’s Day night: “The great outdoors are indoors at the Bell Museum making it the perfect place for an intimate Valentine’s Day picnic with your special someone or friends. We’re turning the lights down for this evening event among the dioramas and focusing on the “birds and the bees” —quite literally in fact! Enjoy special honey bee programming and the opportunity to tour Audubon and the Art of Birds, Birds & DNA and From the Field.”

Computer History Museum (Mountain View)
If you’re in Silicon Valley and have had enough of the young social media tycoons and their inventions, go old school and take a trip back through the history of computing at this museum. The History of Computer Chess, Revolution: The First 2000 years of Computing and the Hall of Fellows are among current exhibits worth checking out. Here’s a handy 1-hour tour guide if you want to combine the visit with other activities.

The Shire of Montana (Trout Creek)
No kids allowed at this resort that features Hobbit houses intended to whisk you away to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Loved to Death shop (San Francisco)
This shop in the Haight-Ashbury district started out as an art endeavor making Victorian-theme anthropomorphic taxidermy dioramas, but has evolved into much more than that, as fans of the Science Channel’s “Oddities: San Francisco” program can attest.

Mapparium (Boston)
Walk inside a three-story stained glass globe across a 30-foot glass bridge. Better than It’s a Small World at Disneyworld. This globe is located at the Mary Baker Eddy Library near Northeastern University. This activity will take less than an hour. If you’re really into maps, check out the map room at the Boston Public Library and if you’re really into globes, the 25-ton outdoor globe at Babson College, 20 miles west of Boston.

Museum of Science Fiction (Washington, D.C.)
OK, we hate to be a tease, but this museum doesn’t actually exist yet. But it could! Head over to crowdfunding site Indiegogo and lend your support to the creation of this planned nonprofit mecca for sci-fi.

IMAX movies (many locations)
So you don’t live in one of the big cities highlighted so far: How about visiting a local IMAX theatre and checking out a Hollywood or educational film (yes, mutually exclusive). This site has listings for IMAX theaters around the country.

Pinball Hall of Fame (Las Vegas)
Take a break from the ringing and lights at the casinos and check out the ringing and lights at this one-of-a-kind tribute to arcade games of the mostly past. For 25 or 50 cents per play, we’re smelling a very cheap date at this 10,000 square foot facility.

DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park (Orlando)
Five floors of virtual worlds, 3D encounters and classic video games. Attractions include Cyberspace Mountain and a Virtual Jungle Cruise.

National Museum of Mathematics (New York City)
This museum surely gets overshadowed by the Empire State Building and Central Park, but how can you resist a place that caters to those aged 105 to 5? Not to mention the Square-Wheeled Trike, Hyper Hyperboloid and coaster rollers.

Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago)
It’s pretty hard to pick just one museum of science, as there are many good ones across the country and many are being more and more interactive. And while a lot of exhibits are geared more for kids than dating adults, there’s typically something for everyone. At the Chicago museum, for instance, you can see a German submarine, a futuristic sustainability game and artifacts from Walt Disney’s collection.

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6 dirty secrets of the IT industry

6 dirty secrets of the IT industry
IT pros blow the whistle on the less-than-white lies and dark sides of the tech business

IT pros usually know where the bodies are buried. Sometimes that’s because they’re the ones holding the shovel.

We asked InfoWorld readers to reveal the dirtiest secrets of IT — the less-than-white lies and dark sides of technology that others may not be aware of. We then ran those “secrets” through a BS detector, fact-checking them with experts in the relevant field. In some cases the experts concurred, in other cases they did not.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Take heed, young techies, of these 10 hard-earned lessons of a lifetime in IT and beware these 7 fatal IT mistakes that will get you fired. | Think you got it bad? Check out InfoWorld's dirty IT jobs hall of shame for a dose of perspective. | Get a $50 American Express gift cheque if we publish your tech tale from the trenches. Send it to ]

Do sys admins wield power far beyond the CIO’s worst nightmares? Are IT employees routinely walking off with company equipment? Can the data you store in the cloud really disappear in an instant? Are you paying far too much for tech support?

Dirty IT secret No. 1: Sys admins have your company by the short hairs When the IT fox is guarding the data hen house
Anyone who’s followed the Edward Snowden story knows what kind of damage a sys admin with an agenda can do. But even IT people may not realize the full range of unfettered admin access and the kinds of pain it can bring.

“There are no secrets for IT,” says Pierluigi Stella, CTO for managed security service provider Network Box USA. “I can run a sniffer on my firewall and see every single packet that comes in and out of a specific computer. I can see what people write in their messages, where they go to on the Internet, what they post on Facebook. In fact, only ethics keep IT people from misusing and abusing this power. Think of it as having a mini-NSA in your office.”

This situation is more common than even most CIOs are aware of, says Tsion Gonen, chief strategy officer for data protection firm SafeNet.

“I’d estimate this is true in 9 out of 10 organizations,” he says. “Enterprise security is only as secure as the ethics of trusted IT administrators. How many of them have sys admins who abuse their access privileges is harder to say — but enough to hit the news almost every week. The scariest thing is that the same people who present the greatest risk are often the very people who approve access.”

David Gibson, VP of Varonis, a data governance solution provider, agrees that admins are often able to access data they shouldn’t without being noticed, but he puts the number closer to 50 percent. He adds it’s not just the admins; most users have access to far more data than they need to do their jobs.

He says the solution comes down to getting a better handle on two things: reducing access to get to a “least privilege” model, and continuous monitoring of who is accessing data.

“The organization needs to be able to see who has access to what data, who the data belongs to, and who has been accessing which files,” he says. “From there, IT can involve the data owners directly to make informed decisions about permissions and acceptable use.”

Dirty IT secret No. 2: Your employees may be helping themselves When “retired” IT assets enjoy a surprise second career
Old tech equipment rarely dies, it just finds a new home — and sometimes, that home is with your IT employees.

“Employee theft of retired equipment is commonplace,” says Kyle Marks, CEO of Retire-IT, a firm specializing in fraud and privacy compliance issues relating to IT asset disposition. “I have never met someone from IT that doesn’t have a collection of hardware at home. To many, taking retired equipment is a victimless crime. Most don’t view it as a security threat. Once equipment is retired, they act like it is fair game.”

The problem with taking equipment bound for the scrap heap or the recycling bin is that it often still contains sensitive data, which if lost could result in massive liability for the company that owns the equipment, says Marks. And, of course, it is still theft of company equipment.

“Theft and fraud are serious situations that create massive privacy liability,” he adds. “A capricious IT insider can have costly consequences if left unchecked. Yet in most cases, the people responsible for making sure assets are disposed of properly — with all data removed — are in IT. Organizations need to have a ‘reverse procurement’ process that assures assets are retired correctly.”

But does every IT employee really steal old hardware? A veteran of the IT asset disposition industry, who asked to remain anonymous, says the problem isn’t nearly as commonplace as Marks makes it out.

“I’m not saying that theft is nonexistent,” he says. “I am simply stating that I have never met anyone in the industry with that particular mind-set.”

Most equipment that goes missing is simply lost for other, less nefarious reasons — like it was shipped to the wrong place, he adds.

“It sounds like a bad generalization when in essence a lot companies pride themselves on providing secure services and act in a way that is completely honest and full of integrity.”

Dirty IT secret No. 3: Storing data in the cloud is even riskier than you think All the security in the world won’t help when Johnny Law comes knocking
Storing your data in the cloud is convenient, but that convenience may come at a high price: the loss of your data in a totally unrelated legal snafu.

“Most people don’t realize that when your data is stored in the cloud on someone else’s systems alongside the data from other companies, and a legal issue arises with one of the other companies, your data may be subject to disclosure,” says Mike Balter, principal of IT support firm CSI Corp.

In other words, your cloud data could be swept up in an investigation of an entirely unrelated matter — simply because it was unlucky enough to be kept on the same servers as the persons being investigated.

The classic illustration of this principle occurred in January 2012, when U.S. and New Zealand authorities shut down Kim Dotcom’s MegaUpload file locker in January 2012. Along with a trove of allegedly pirated movies, the authorities confiscated the data of thousands of law-abiding customers and refused to return it. Whether those customers will ever get their data back remains unresolved.

“The risk of seizure is real,” confirms Jonathan Ezor, director of the Touro Law Center Institute for Business, Law and Technology. “If there is any legal basis for law enforcement or other government officials to seize storage devices or systems — which may require a warrant in certain circumstances — and those systems contain data of both suspects and nonsuspects, all might be taken. Ultimately, any time an organization’s data are stored outside of its control, it cannot prevent someone from at least gaining access to the hardware.”

Users who want to protect themselves against this worst-case scenario need to know where their data is actually being kept and which laws may pertain to it, says David Campbell, CEO of cloud security firm JumpCloud.

“Our recommendation is to find cloud providers that guarantee physical location of servers and data, such as Amazon, so that you can limit your risk proactively,” he says.

Encrypting the data will decrease the chance that anyone who seizes it will be able to read it, adds Ezor. Another good idea: Keep a recent data backup nearby. You never know when it might end up being your only copy.

Dirty IT secret No. 4: Your budget’s slashed, but the boss has a blank check RFPs are for peons
In virtually every midsize or larger organization, there are two ways to get purchases approved, says Mike Meikle, CEO of the Hawkthorne Group, a boutique management and information technology consulting firm. There’s the official purchasing procedure — a time-consuming process that forces you to jump through more flaming hoops than a circus act. And there’s the special procurement diamond lane, available only to a special few.

“People at the senior leadership level have their own procurement pipeline,” he says. “What takes an IT person eight months to obtain through official channels these execs can get in a few weeks, if not sooner. It’s what I call the Diamond Preferred plan. I’ve never worked with an organization in government or private industry that didn’t have a secret procurement path.”

The purpose of the official procurement process is to make it harder for employees to spend the company’s money, says Meikle — unless, of course, they know the secret handshake. Unfortunately, he adds, the CIO is usually not a member of this club, which means large tech purchases can be made without serious cost benefit analysis or consideration of IT’s strategic vision. 

“They’ll go out to lunch, a vendor will whisper sweet nothings in their ear, and the next thing you know they’ve spent half a million on a mobile application management solution, not realizing you already had one,” he says. “Now you have two.”

Not so, contends a private consultant to the military and Fortune 100 companies who asked to remain unnamed. While there are cases where organizations may bypass standard procurement procedures, it’s almost always for something the IT department needs right away and doesn’t want to waste weeks cutting through red tape to get it, he says.

“Nontechnology executives don’t know enough about IT to make a large purchase decision,” he adds. “If a senior executive circumvents the procurement process, that purchase order has to have a signature on it before the supplier will ship it. If anything goes wrong with that technology, the executive would be accountable and traceable. That’s like kryptonite to those guys.” 

Dirty IT secret No. 5: You’re getting the short end of the customer support stick That technician is just another script kiddie
Stop us if this sounds familiar: You’re on the phone with a support technician halfway around the globe, but you get the distinct impression they know less than you do and are just reading from a script. Guess what? They probably are.

“IT support is a cheap commodity,” says Tim Singleton, president of Strive Technology Consulting, a boutique support firm catering to small and midsized businesses. “Tools that do most of it for you are free, and computers require less knowledge now than they used to. Your neighbor’s daughter or the tech-savvy guy in accounting can probably fix your computer as well as any IT company.”

But some say that assessment is too broad. While that may be true for the simplest problems, it’s not true for more complex ones, notes Aramis Alvarez, SVP of services and support at Bomgar, which makes remote IT support solutions for enterprises.

“The problem with calling IT support a ‘cheap commodity’ is that not every problem is created equal,” says Alvarez. “Some basic issues can be diagnosed by any tech-savvy person, but difficult ones, such as viruses, cannot. Your neighbor’s daughter may be armed with enough knowledge to be dangerous, but she could end up destroying the data on your computer.”

Then you may end up paying much more later to clean up the mess, adds Joe Silverman, CEO of New York Computer Help — which often happens when companies cut corners by shortchanging or overburdening internal IT support.

“We have gone to many NYC offices and apartments to see the leftover tracks of a shoddy computer repair or IT job from another company, family member, or friend who acted as the go-to IT guy,” he says. “The guy in accounting who sometimes takes care of computer issues is most likely too busy and too inexperienced to fix a failed hard drive, motherboard, or power supply. If the network or server crashes, do you want to really depend on your accounting guy to get the job done, or a senior network engineer with 20 years of experience?”

Dirty IT secret No. 6: We know a lot more about you than you think Going all in on data collection
Think the NSA has you under surveillance? They’re punks compared to consumer marketing companies and data brokers.

One of the biggest offenders are casinos, says J.T. Mathis, a former casino database manager and author of a self-published expose about his experience titled, “I Deal to Plunder: A Ride Through the Boom Town.” When you enter a casino, you’re gambling with more than just money — you’re risking your most personal data. Mathis estimates that his former employer’s marketing database contained the names of more than 100,000 active and inactive gamblers.

“From the moment you enter the casino, everything you do is tracked,” says Mathis. “If you sit down at a slot machine, they know exactly where you’re at, how many times you’ve pulled the handle, and how much money you’re putting in. They know you like to eat at 4:30 and order the lobster platter. They know your favorite cigarettes and wine and whether you watched porn in your room. And when you arrive during the summer they know the lady you’re with is not your wife, so employees make sure to call her Cindy and not Barbara.”

Former casino executive and LSU professor Michael Simon confirms Mathis’ story. But, he adds, it’s not that much different than the kind of data collection performed by companies like CVS, PetSmart, or Amazon.

“I teach an MBA class on database analysis and mining, and all the companies we study collect customer information and target offers specific to customer habits,” he says. Simon, author of “The Game of My Life: A Personal Perspective of a Retired Gaming Executive,” adds, “It’s routine business practice today, and it’s no secret. For example, I bring my dog to PetSmart for specific services and products, and the offers they send me are specific to my spending habits, and I like that. PetSmart on the other hand gives me what I want instead of wasting time sending me stuff I won’t use like discounts on cat food or tropical fish.”

One thing that is different: When Mathis was laid off in May 2012, he still had copies of the database in hand. When he tried to return it, he was out of luck — the casino refused to return his calls. Talk about gambling with your data.

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Amazon posted 16,100 IT jobs last year, tops in U.S.

Service firms, tech vendors and Best Buy also among top posters of U.S. IT job ads

The employer with the most IT job postings last year was, with 16,146 ads, exceeding most other IT firms by a wide margin, according to a new report.

The three top runners-up in 2013 U.S. job postings were Accenture, at 14,240 and Deloitte, at 13,077 job ads, according to CompTIA’s annual IT Industry Outlook report.

Accenture, recently hired by the U.S. government to be the new lead contractor for the troubled web site, and Deloitte, are IT services firms. Amazon recently won a contract with the CIA to develop a compute cloud. It has been hiring IT staff with security clearances.

CompTIA based the report on data from Burning Glass Technologies in Boston, which analyzes online job postings from approximately 32,000 jobs sites.

Microsoft had the fourth most IT job postings at 12,435, followed by Best Buy with 10,725 job ads, and IBM at 10,221, according to CompTIA, a trade association that also runs a professional certification program.

Best Buy’s IT hiring may be due to its computer user support and Geek Squad operation, said Matthew Sigelman, the CEO of Burning Glass.

Sigelman said Best Buy’s hiring also represents the growing importance of “middle skill” IT jobs, or those that don’t necessarily require a bachelor’s degree. Last year, Burning Glass saw about 200,000 job ads in IT that did not require a bachelor’s degree, he said.

“For those who don’t have a corporate help desk to turn to, in many cases they are turning to Best Buy and Staples,” said Sigelman.

Burning Glass de-duplicates the job postings, and then uses text analytics to read each job posting and mine out the particular skills employers are looking for, including educational credentials, and certifications, said Dan Restuccia, the firm’s director of applied research and communications.

Rounding out the top 10 in CompTIA’s listings are General Dynamics, 9,705; Science Applications International Corp., 7,146; Lockheed Martin, 6,995; Hewlett-Packard, 6,923.

Both HP and IBM have been laying off employees as well as hiring.

CompTIA warns that not all the posting lead to new hires, and companies may hire internally, outsource the work, postpone the hire or withdraw the job postings.

Using online job postings to assess what’s going on is something The Conference Board does as well, although its monthly report tracks hiring across all industries. The Conference Board recently reported that advertised vacancies were up 125,600 in December to 5.3 million, but government labor data said the economy only added 74,000 jobs in December.

In its forecast for the year ahead, CompTIA predicts a worldwide IT industry hiring growth rate of 3.4% with upside potential of 5.9%. Its survey found that mid-sized IT firms will be more aggressive in hiring for both technical and non-technical positions.



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