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Tell me a story...

You gotta know people’s stories to really understand them. We as humans think and understand the world in stories, so if there’s no story, we can’t really wrap our minds around it. Instead, we find a way to tell other stories to help us fill in the gaps—the stories of the survivors, the first responders, and their harrowing journey to overcome the senseless tragedy, be it man, nature or machine.

Take a story about a plane crash: there’s some kind of mechanical failure, and the rest is the actual story, which is about tending to the wounded, signaling for help, and discovering the entrance to a cave full of treasure because you happened to crash in the exact right spot. Hey, it’s a story, so it could happen. 

But what about that first part--the mechanical failure that generally gets a line or two at best? It would be a whole different movie if it was about the two missed oil changes before the engine locked up—still not much of a story, but we all understand how that works and can imagine the horror of a tragedy caused by something so small that we forgot.

I like stories, even about plane crashes, but I don’t want to be in a plane crash. I want to have a really predictable day in which I finish up at my desk on time, make dinner with my family, and spend an evening laughing and doing what I want to do without surprises, and that’s usually the scene right before the story actually starts. We like to hear stories, not be stories. 

Like those who work tirelessly in the background to make the stories that shape our world, the equipment you use works quietly in the background until it can’t for some reason. There’s no story in it—something works, something breaks, and now it doesn’t work anymore. Those of us who make stories for a living—the film makers, artists, designers and creative content professionals—are focused on the story they are telling. The last thing they want is for some kind of mechanical failure to be the end of the story they are telling and the beginning of the one they are in.

To be able to tell your story without the sudden superimposition of a crisis flick, there’s this one scene every quarter where an Engineer walks into the tech room and later comes out again. It’s subtle, and it’s in the background, but if you read the back-story, that Engineer is secretly a super hero. By day, they're just a mild mannered Engineer, taking care of routine issues so that nothing big happens. By night, they are Super Tech, and when the phone rings after hours, they know there’s an emergency tech problem waiting to be solved. 

Thanks to the dominance of the main plot, the tech issues were trimmed down to just routine maintenance without the crisis, so most people don’t know the story that could have been, but it’s there. And the SkyTech Engineer can talk to animals, and read the minds of babies, and predict the weather, and do every martial art known to man, while still finding time for family and an avid soap-carving hobby. Ok, maybe not all of that…but that would be a great story.

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"Don't bite off more than you can chew."

"Don't bite off more than you can chew."

That's good advice all the time, in work projects, personal obligations, and sandwiches. "Biting off more than you can chew" leads to choking, which is terrible in both the literal and figurative meanings. But here's the thing--you have to know how much you can chew, not how much you can promise to chew when you're feeling really positive and hyped up on energy drinks after four days of no sleep. 

Ever suffered from a Superhero Complex? I do. That's when I start to list all the things I'm going to do today and suddenly realize it would take a week to reasonably get through the list I marked "before lunch." It's not that I think so highly of myself that I make promises my skills can't keep, it's that I have already thought through all the steps, which never occurs to me is much faster than doing the steps in the real world, I'm charged by the excitement of the situation, and I want to be a Superhero to someone in some small way at that moment. Sound familiar?

There's a worse version of that, and it happens all the time. I've done it. You've done it, too. You say the words, "Sure I can do that," while thinking, "I bet it's on YouTube anyway." The boss thinks you can do something, you really hope you can do that something, you know you can learn anything if you try, you know the Internet is vast and probably going to have the answers somewhere, and what you really don't want to do is tell them you don't know what you're doing when they've casually assumed you can do something you can't. Smile, nod, look it up later.

Ok, so we're all guilty of wanting to maintain people's opinion of us when they think we're smart. So sue us. For most stuff, that's no big deal anyway. It WAS on YouTube, thank you very much, and after a handful of tutorials I'll be fine. I didn't really lie about my skills, I told the truth a little prematurely.

Ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? That's when you know so little about something that you don't know how little you know. Imagine someone reading a pamphlet on the bus and saying, "Brain surgery isn't as hard as everyone says it is." To be fair, we live in a society of snippets, so it's not weird for someone to hear a summary and think they have the gist, but the gist is not the same as being capable of effectively performing brain surgery. Those are the folks at the party talking about a subject like they are experts, but they run out of factoids when they're done reciting the one article, and if you try to talk about anything that wasn't in the article, then YOU are the one who doesn't know what you are talking about.

They sound like idiots, and they think they sound smart. Like it or not, you've been that person at least once. We all have. At a party, that's embarrassing. At work, that can be devastating.

If you are in an IT position, or have assumed IT duties because someone had to do it, and your understanding comes from Google searches, I commend you on your determination, and you will be just fine most of the time, but you need to know that the articles you read aren't the same thing as being an engineer. We care for you--we really do--and we also care for your system. It's hard to say and probably even harder to hear, but you may not know that there are things you don't know, and just to avoid being that person, you should get a second opinion from an engineer.

Just because you know what all the words mean doesn't mean you are prepared to handle something as complex as the digital storage for a large-scale creative content provider, and that's ok. Our engineers are not filmmakers, either. If I handed an engineer a camera and told them to make a movie, and they said, "how hard can it be?" those who actually make films for a living would cringe.

Hey, you've bit off more than you can chew and you don't even know it yet. We've all done it, we understand, and you're forgiven. But trust us--call an engineer before something happens, lest you choke. 

And give yourself some leeway when presenting your anticipated timetable for your next project, too. You don't have to be a Superhero, you know?

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Happy Friday the 13th

Hi. We haven’t met, not officially. I’m your Hard Drive, or at least that’s the nickname you would probably recognize. There are some technical terms involved, but that’s ok: “Hard Drive” works for me.

You haven’t thought about me today, I’m pretty sure. I’m not offended or anything—that just means I’m dong a good job. In the land of computer systems, if the end user doesn’t even know you’re there, that’s a compliment. Think about antivirus software as an example—if you forget you have it and your computer just works without viruses, that’s perfect. If every morning your antivirus needs to send you a message, you probably hate it. Our lack of communication is a good thing.

Which brings me to why I’m writing. If the little hairs on your arms have started to stand up, it’s not that bad yet, but unfortunately you’re on the right track. It would have to be pretty bad for me to break the code of silence and reach out like this, so I really hope you take this warning seriously because I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this again.

Hard Drives are different than other parts of your computer. If something’s wrong with something else, your system may start having problems. With the Hard Drive, files are either accessible or they aren’t. That means one day your Hard Drive may be just fine, and the next day she won’t even wake up. No diagnosis and a three-months-to-live prognosis, just alive and then dead, with nothing in between. For your home system, you have the cloud and all the usual backup for your pictures and stuff, so that’s not really a problem.

I’m the Hard Drive at work. I hold every file that you and your coworkers have ever made, including all the things involved in that huge project you’re currently working on, and if even part of the Hard Drive is damaged, you will lose so much data you won’t be able to finish the project on time and may lose the contract altogether. It could be really, really bad—way worse than losing some of your personal photos, which you took the time to protect.

I don’t know how long we have, actually, which makes this hard. I have all kinds of pieces that have to work together, and the parts that go first are usually the parts that protect me from power surges, and power surges come from the outside without warning so I have no way to predict them. Right now, I’ve absorbed a bunch through the years, and there’s only so many surges I can live through. I’m not sure how much I have left in me, or how wonky the power plans to be tonight, so this is the best I can do.

I’ve been working for you all this time, and I’d really love to keep doing it. I’m not trying to be a pest—really, I’m not—but I’m getting worried. We never know what might happen, and it may seem weird for a computer to care, but I get to see everything you do, and I’d love to see this project succeed. I can see the writing on the wall—I may end up being the reason everything fails, and nothing depresses and terrifies me more.

Thank you for listening. I wish we had met under better circumstances, but with the future this uncertain, I felt a;klsdlhf. A oiyhapod8fyaghikpphn raasdjvkh 1011010101010
<file not found>

Happy Friday the 13th. Good luck.

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Don't let this happen to you!

“My car is running fine. Don’t tell me I need to replace some expensive part. I’m not authorizing any of those ‘recommended repairs,’” said the angry driver when seeing list on the bottom of the routine maintenance receipt. The following week, the same driver was angrily calling for road-side assistance. 

Victim of the Universe, or Blind Self-Saboteur? 

“My system is fine! You come in telling me that some part inside this expensive equipment isn’t working to capacity and I’m supposed to try to authorize an upgrade when there’s nothing wrong?” said the end-user who didn’t understand the gravity of the potential data loss, just before a major crash.

Tow trucks make a living assisting those who may or may not have been as diligent as they should have been on their vehicle repairs, because at one time or another, that’s all of us. There is no tow truck for digital media, and unlike a broken car, which still exists even if it’s broken, a lost file is gone forever. There’s nothing left to tow.

No matter how busy you get, remember to keep up on oil changes, get a mechanic you trust and stick with them, and take care of your vehicle so it can get you where you need to go. And if you don’t have a maintenance contract for your digital media storage, having an engineer check on the status of your system should also be done every three months, but you don’t have to remember that one—once it’s set up, we come on schedule.

I know! If you set up a service contract, whenever you see your SkyTech engineer, it’s time to get an oil change on your car. Problem solved. Glad to help.

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Tiered Storage Strategy

Implement a tiered storage strategy: If you ensure that your systems can cope with various storage tiers, you can save future efforts, money and time. 

There are files everyone uses at the same time, and files that are basically historical data. There are top-of-the-line options that maximize productivity for those very active files, and they are more than worth the investment when compared to the cost of lost time on projects of their scale. The video archive from the 1980s doesn't need to occupy real estate in that system, and less expensive options can be paired with newer technology to give you what you need without throwing money around unnecessarily.

There are two types of wrong in choosing and funding technology for your company, and both are expensive. In the first, the person making the financial decisions doesn't know enough about technology to understand the importance of timely upgrades even though "it isn't broken." This leaves the company less productive than they could be and possibly at risk for a loss of data if the system is allowed to fail, the cost of which adds up quickly. In the second, the person responsible is equally out of their depth, but purchases the most expensive, top-of-the-line everything, just in case. They are prepared for expansion, prepared for emergency, prepared for adventure, and actively using only 35% of their system while paying for 100% of it. Very few people have the resources to be so impressively ignorant, but it does exist.

Here's the part that's not often said out loud--there is very rarely a situation in which the person making the financial decisions truly understands the technology. That's not an insult, it's the result of specialization. The Staff who works with the technology daily has the skill and knows the frustrations they face. Their Supervisor knows the frustrations of dealing with Staff complaints and time-pressure from above. It's generally the Supervisor explaining the need to an Executive, who specializes in high-level reports and cost-analysis, which determines whether or not an investment is made. Even if the Supervisor was once a Staff member, they may have an outdated understanding since the days when they were more hands-on, and regardless of the Supervisor's level of expertise, the Executive they must appeal to generally fits into one of the above categories. None of us would want to do the executive reports, they went to school for something other than technology, and all of us should imagine what it must be like to be constantly asked to understand departments that are not our own before we roll our eyes too hard. It's a tough gig, but that's why they make the big bucks, and until we've walked a mile in their Italian leather shoes, we can't judge. 

That's why Engineers exist. Invest in a relationship you can trust, then listen to their advice. That truly is the least expensive option.

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No-Redundancy Roulette.

Backing up files is important. Everyone knows that. Plan A, everything works. Plan B, we bring in a new computer and restore from the back-up drive. We back up our files regularly, and when asked how our digital storage is doing, we are “all good.” How likely is a complete failure of my digital storage anyway? It probably won’t happen to me. Or if it could happen, it would be way in the future, so I have time.

What if the back-up fails? Plan C? You sure you’re covered? How’d you like to place a little bet…

With deadlines, downtime is more than just lost work hours, it may mean lost clients or projects that fall apart at the very end, and it only takes one key failure to shake a company’s reputation and therefore their future success. Worse, imagine losing files—not only losing hours of time while the system is restored, but discovering that hundreds of hours of beautiful content has been lost, most of which can never be recreated in exactly the same way and is gone forever. Talk about one of those moments in life when you wish there was an IRL undo-button.

If digital losses were as visible in the media as physical losses, we would see a staggering number of well-dressed executives standing dazed before the burning ruble of their professional lives, saying, “I had no idea…I thought the files were backed up…”

Your professional life is the creative content you generate every day. Your team works diligently on labor-intensive projects daily, and lost material would be devastating to more than just the bottom line. Redundancy means that your files are available to all, and simultaneously saved in multiple places, so if one of the drives fails for some reason, the content is intact on the mirror drive. It reduces the likelihood of loss to near-zero.

IN SIMPLE TERMS…

Some enjoy spending $5 on scratcher tickets, because the potential loss is worth the potential gain, and those who enjoy it find the uncertainty thrilling. No one would bet the future of their company against the potential gain and thrill of doing nothing, and yet people do so every day by assuming they are “all good.”

Talk to an engineer. Invest a few minutes in a professional opinion, and end the call with confidence. You will either discover that you are indeed “all good,” or you may be able to prevent an unnatural digital disaster in the nick of time. You will either spend the money in strengthening digital infrastructure now or in rebuilding after the crash, but that pending crash is an uncertainty that brings dread, not thrills, while proactive investment is a sure bet.

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Technical Tips (for the Non-Technical)

Make a disaster recovery plan and test it on a regular basis: To enhance the performance of the storage device, create a good recovery plan so that you know you are able to retrieve data in a minimal amount of time when required. Test the recovery system regularly and verify that you have retrieved your complete data pool.

We hold emergency drills in school, and families are encouraged to develop meeting places and other plans in case of natural disasters, but we don't think about the far more common disasters, such as those joyous moments when technology fails and work is lost. For home use, people may save their photos on an external hard drive as well as in the cloud, so in case their computer crashes, there are two back-up plans in place that are only as good as the last time you backed up your files, but that will be enough for most people, and they know they can access their data quickly enough for personal use.

If you are working in an active, creative environment and you are generating large amounts of data that many hands must access daily, you're in a different ballpark altogether. Data protection/recovery is often something that is handled for you. With redundancy and a maintenance plan, your engineer can test that everything would transfer to the backups in milliseconds, but as the end user, you wouldn't notice anything, so to you there was never anything wrong in the first place. There is a Plan A, B and C, the system does it automatically, and the only plan you have to worry about is the one where you get coffee and sit down to start your day.

We should have drills. I already get coffee every morning so this should be easy...

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The Importance of Work-Flow Efficiency

Rent (Inefficiency) vs. Buying (Investing in Infrastructure)

The technological world is moving fast, and it can be a challenge to keep up with the demand. The only way to survive is to be as efficient as possible. Lost work-time can cost a company thousands if not millions of dollars over time and it’s often completely invisible. Because we are accustomed to some amount of “glitch” in our technology-driven lives, the minutes we lose waiting for things to load can feel as natural as the exhale following the inhale. You click, you wait, you work, you wait, repeat.

Take the total number of employees, multiplied by the average hourly compensation for your company, from the top to the bottom. That is the cost of one hour of down-time. 

Then, think of the tiny fragments of every day when files load slowly or something needs to try again to connect to a centrally-stored database. Is that five minutes a day, or fifteen? Or worse? 

If your company loses as little as 15 minutes of efficient work-flow per employee, per day, that’s an hour lost every four days, or five hours total in a 20 day (4 work-week) span. That’s the cost of just over 5 hours of down-time every month.

But it gets worse. The equipment in use today is dying, one day at a time. The best anyone can do is design and install a stable system with room to grow that anticipates the individual company’s needs over the next five or more years with a maintenance plan to keep it running and replace things as needed, because nothing lasts forever. The hours that are being lost to inefficiency now will gradually, invisibly increase, until break-room conversations start with, “I’m waiting for a file to load,” and very little else is being accomplished. How many hours of down-time would your company be paying for per month then?

It wouldn’t take long for that cumulative cost to be large enough that you could have implemented a more efficient digital storage system for less, and how much more could have been accomplished in that time if you had done so? Perhaps it would have made the office environment a little less stressful. Perhaps it would have improved outcomes so much as to involve expansion, generating rather then losing revenue. 

IN SIMPLE TERMS…

You keep your digital files stored on a drive. That drive is your files’ house.

Paying for inefficiency is like paying rent in an ever-increasing housing market. At some point, you can’t afford to pay it and you have nothing to show for your years of scrimping to make ends meet. Investing in a home is obviously better—you have something to show for the money spent and more control over your situation. The money is being spent either way, but what scares people most is the down-payment on a house, because the big number up-front gets in the way and they can’t see the savings over time. Most of us save up somehow, because it just makes sense.

Same thing. Keep paying for inefficiency—rent—until you can’t afford it anymore and the whole thing crumbles. Buy the appropriate digital storage system for what you need, keep it up with a maintenance plan, just like your house, and you will never find yourself homeless…er…work-less…file-less… You get the gist…

 

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Sir SAN, and the Knight of Routine Maintenance saved the day!

One of the wonderful companies who works with SkyTech Media Solutions had their SAN (Storage Area Network) digital storage in place when a huge power spike took out some of their equipment. Thanks to the back-up power supply and file redundancy, the system switched to the back-ups immediately and nothing was lost. They are working on an upgrade to replace the now-damaged equipment and to expand to allow for planned growth. What could have been tragic was instead a relief and an opportunity to invest in infrastructure for the future.

In this field, no news is good news. We advise our partners when their equipment can be repaired, when it needs to be replaced or upgraded, and we maintain the system so that we get the most out of every piece of equipment we service without recommending more than is needed or letting an outdated component put the system at risk. We’re here to keep the system running at its best so you don’t have to think about it, which means if we do our job, life is uneventful. 

Excitement is a huge part of entertainment, but when we turn on our computers Monday morning, the last thing we want is excitement. We all just want things to work like they are supposed to work with absolutely no surprises, jump-scares, or demons to vanquish. 

SkyTech is thrilled to report that the exciting demon of data-loss is once again vanquished, having failed to do any real damage, thanks to the predictable protection of a boring, often overlooked service contract. Rarely do we have the opportunity to see first-hand the demon we are fending off, but when the Powers That Be hit a large geographic region with an electrical surge, we get a glimpse. 

All Hail routine maintenance. Huzzah!

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What data is worth it?

To analyze your data and evaluate its business worth, ask yourself the following questions:

If the data is lost, how soon would I need it back?
What should be the minimum amount of time for accessing the data?
How long would I need to store the data?
What will be the level of security?
Which regulatory requirements should be fulfilled?

Not all data is precious. We tend to store things we don't need because we're used to having virtually endless ability to do so. Personally, I haven't bothered to delete anything in my inbox in years and I have thousands of old emails taking up space, but they aren't hurting anyone, and I know I'm not alone in this Passive Packrat Practice. I will never need to access that data, and if I were making a business decision with my personal email, I would start deleting. 

Creative content, however, is different. If it was lost, you would need it back immediately for the team to meet their deadline. You would need to be able to access the data through multiple work-stations throughout the duration of the project, you would want to keep it forever, and only the team has access to the raw footage. Just about every one of those questions leads you to the conclusion that your creative content is, indeed, more important than my personal inbox. 

We only want to talk about the things it makes sense to save, not just keep recommending bigger and bigger storage. With redundancy in drives the important files are saved and mirrored, which is more space-efficient than saving the file twice manually while still ensuring the safety of your content. We also want to help identify the things that aren't as important, or that merely need to be archived, so that we build what you need and only what you need and save the space for the creative content.

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The Importance of Pro-Active Maintenance

Would you drive that thing in public?

Most people don’t wait until the car is dead on the side of the road to replace it, they start looking for something new because they know the mileage and what that means to all the parts of the car. They take the car to the mechanic and have routine maintenance and necessary repairs performed along the way to get the most out of their vehicle, but few of us are currently driving the car we had ten years ago. Generally speaking, we don’t plan a road-trip in a car that we think might not make the distance either, because it would be terrible to be stuck in the desert when it finally breathed its last. Performing a vehicle check is actually part of testing for your driver’s license in the first place—we know that cars break and keeping up with the maintenance on the car is part of our responsibility as drivers.

We can actually see the mileage displayed on the dashboard of our car and we can feel every vibration and hear every ping because we sit in the car while using it. We can see it, touch it, hear it, smell the gas or the smoke, and maybe even suffer the acrid taste left by the aroma. We are literally immersed in the technology. 

But you don’t drive your hard drive. It’s one of the magical, invisible things that makes your life work, and you haven’t thought about it yet today. You can’t see it, except as an icon on your desktop. You certainly can’t touch, smell or taste it. And you are always on a road trip, asking your digital storage to flawlessly take you from one side of a project to the other, without so much as a glance at the proverbial dashboard. The “pings” we hear from the computer that signal something may be wrong are often misinterpreted or disregarded, and it isn’t until you are dead on the side of the road that you may start to re-think your plan. By then, how much time, money, and irreplaceable creative content is lost?

IN SIMPLE TERMS…

If you haven’t had a digital storage check-up in more than three months, you’re overdue for an oil change. Your digital storage is the vehicle that every employee and project relies on to get the work done. A car holds 5 people comfortably, and a van might hold 15. Your digital storage vehicle holds everything—quarterly maintenance is a minimum. 

You wouldn’t risk the lives of your passengers on a cross-country road-trip in an old, ill-maintained vehicle. Don’t risk the livelihood of your entire company on the assumption that your digital storage technology is up to date.

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Smiles for Storage

Smile if you take care of your digital media storage like you take care of your teeth. On second thought, don’t.

Preventative maintenance is seldom exciting, rarely celebrated, and often overlooked. We forget to schedule with the dentist unless there’s pain, and the first thing the dentist always tells us is that we should be coming in for our routine cleanings. Life is just too full and exciting to make time for the boring stuff. More often than not, we end up spending more time and money on the results of our neglect than we would have on the routine maintenance, we kick ourselves, remember the last time we had this exact problem, promise we will never let it happen again, and promptly forget. It’s human nature.

What if your company’s media storage had a toothache? It doesn’t hurt, but it might involve symptoms like slowing down, taking longer to load files, or otherwise acting unexpectedly. We usually roll our eyes and restart our computer, or something similar, until the problem is so ridiculous it can’t be ignored, and we feel we are the victims of our technology when we are the ones causing the problem. 

Didn’t want a root canal? Should have gone to your routine cleanings.

Didn’t want to lose millions of dollars worth of irreplaceable footage or creative content that can’t be recreated and is now lost to time and regret? Just thinking about it makes my teeth hurt.

If you don’t have a service contract for your digital media storage, you already know you’ve skipped a step, and all of the “I’ll get to it” promises in the world won’t bring back a lost file. Take the time to set it up, then let someone else handle it, on schedule, so that all you have to do is smile.

And you should probably set a dental check up. Me too. I’ll do it if you do.

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