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It’s Just Another Manic…Wednesday?

Good ol’ Patch Tuesday for Windows Updates.  You need them, your computers have to have them.  Every once in a while though month I have clients that report seeing the dreaded Preparing to configure Windows blank stare…

Preparing to Configure Windows
Click to Enlarge

I’ve had half a dozen clients run into this issue this morning already.  :/  The majority of the time a hard power-off/power back on again will kick Windows in its butt.  Other times, it’s not so easy.  This is when booting into Safe Mode is required and I’m going to stop right there.  The steps involved in righting the system from this wronged Windows Update, aren’t something anyone should just go dabbling with.  Data loss and system down-time are just two problems that can arise if you don’t know what you’re doing.

I just wanted to illuminate this issue to our clients out there and bring it to everyone’s attention.  Typically, the second Tuesday of each month is when Microsoft releases updates for Windows.  This usually calls for a reboot of your system, which is when the dreaded Preparing… loop begins.  So be prepared on Wednesday morning and don’t panic if you see this on your screen.  If you come in on the Wednesday after Patch Tuesday and see this message, we recommend the following:

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  • Press and hold the power button on your computer tower until your computer powers-off
  • Let the computer sit for at least 5 seconds
  • Power-on the computer

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If after doing this, your system doesn’t boot up as normal, contact The Computer Peeps.  The main thing is, don’t panic!  🙂

Thus far, we have yet to see a system that could not resume normal use after a Patch Tuesday hang-up.  This issue has been going on for years too.  Nonetheless, this is a good time to make sure you have a viable backup solution in place.  The Computer Peeps can configure all levels of backups for your system, from basic file-level backups of your consignment software’s database, to daily system snap-shots that let you recover with the click of a button.

SugarSync File-Sync/Backup Software

Sugar Sync

SugarSync is a unique file synx/backup solution, similar to Dropbox.  The Computer peeps utilize SugarSync, keeping all of our files in-sync across each of our computers.

That’s what makes SugarSync so unique.  It’s  capable of keeping multiple files/folders in-sync across multiple computers.  This is a huge help for those of us using multiple computers and who want to sync more than one folder.  For example, I work on both my desktop and a laptop, as well as a few other systems.  I also have my Android device.  SugarSync is installed on each of these devices and instantly uploads and syncs any files that have been added or modified.  If I’m working on a file on my laptop, by the time I walk back to my desktop, it’s already there waiting for me.  If I’m in another location with my laptop and I edit a file, all of my other systems automatically receive the changes I made.

With the exception of ConsignPro, each of the consignment applications let you specify a default backup path – i.e. the place your consignment software will put a backup when you close the program each day.

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[info_box style=”success”]The benefits to SugarSync are:[/info_box]

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  • Selective file backup, so you can pick individual files or specific folders to include in your sync process
  • Instant upload, so files are uploaded and synced immediately
  • 5 GB of storage

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[info_box style=”error”]The drawbacks to SugarSync are:[/info_box]

[crosslist]

  • No scheduling feature
  • Cannot backup files from or to an external drive
  • Cannot specify individual files within a folder, only entire folders

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Since ConsignPro does not offer a backup path setting, [highlight style=’neon’]we do not recommend SugarSync for ConsignPro users[/highlight].

Also, since SugarSync is file synchronization software, it is VERY important that you do NOT configure SugarSync to backup folders that contain dynamic files, such as consignment software database files.  We have had a number of clients whose local techs installed Carbonite and configured it to backup consignment software databases.  This is wrong and it will break your database, period.  Any qualified tech would know to never use file synchronization software to backup live database files.

Think about how many little files you might work with, or want to work with, but can’t because you left the file at home.  Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the backups you made through your consignment software, were instantly saved to your home computer as well?

Remember, one copy of a file is not considered a backup.  You need the file(s) to be backed-up to a different disk and even to a completely different location.

Mozy Backup Software

Mozy LogoMozy is a very powerful and easy to use backup solution.  This is the backup solution The Computer Peeps recommend for most of our clients.

We recommend Mozy because it also has functionality to backup your files not online off-site, but also to an external hard drive.  Redundancy is key when working with sensitive database backups, such as the ones generated by your consignment software.

We’ve been utilizing Mozy as our backup system for Peeps’ clients for nearly three years now.  We haven’t had a single issue with Mozy and each time we’ve had to use it to recover files, it’s always worked without issue.

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[info_box style=”success”]The benefits to Mozy are:[/info_box]

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  • Selective file backup, so you can pick individual files or specific folders to include in your backup process
  • Scheduling feature, so backups only take place after-hours
  • Handy “receipt” on your screen each morning, letting you know backups went without a hitch the previous night

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[info_box style=”error”]The drawbacks to Mozy are:[/info_box]

[crosslist]

  • The free version only offers up to 2 GB worth of storage
  • Mozy currently does not offer a file-sync solution (although Mozy Stash file sync is currently in public beta)

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We really like Mozy’s selective backup option, especially when utilizing Mozy in conjunction with consignment software.  While some of the consignment programs allow you to specify where your backups go by default, not all of them let you configure a backup path.

For example, ConsignPro has no backup option to tell it where to backup to each day.  Instead, you must either let ConsignPro backup only to a specific drive letter OR to the default location in Program Files.

Liberty does let you set a backup path, but the RWMaint backup utility doesn’t.  RWMaint is Liberty’s additional backup/database maintenance application.  It will only store its special backups in one folder.

This is why Mozy’s great in both of these examples.  Since the consignment programs don’t offer a path setting in the examples above, we can tell Mozy to go and get the files.  Problem solved!

For the most part, Mozy is still the primary backup solution we recommend for clients.

Dropbox File Sync/Backup Software

Dropbox is a fantastic application.  Dropbox lets provides you with one, simple folder in your My Documents folder.  Anything you put in this folder is *magically* uploaded to your online Dropbox account.  Install Dropbox on multiple computers, and anything you put in your Dropbox folder will be synced across all of your computers/devices.

We’ve been using Dropbox since they launched the service back in 2008 to keep important travel documents, files we frequently work with, etc. in-sync across all of my devices.  It’s great when you can pull out your smartphone and grab a document you need while you’re on the road.

Dropbox is extremely lightweight, does not interfere with your system, does not slow it down, and it is extremely easy to use.

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[info_box style=”success”]The benefits to using Dropbox are:[/info_box]

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  • Dropbox is free
  • Simple – put your files in the Dropbox folder and they are synced.
  • You can install Dropbox on as many of your computers as you’d like

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[info_box style=”error”]The drawbacks to using Dropbox are:[/info_box]

[crosslist]

  • Dropbox will only sync one folder – you have to put anything you want to sync, in that folder.
  • The free version only includes 2 GB worth of storage

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For consignment software backups stored in a secure, off-site location, Dropbox can come in handy.  Install Dropbox at home and your daily consignment software backups will automatically arrive on your home computer, long before you get home.  Dropbox should NOT however, be utilized as “backup software” and instead should be utilized for the convenience of synchronizing files between multiple computers.  Dropbox by design, is file-sync software.

As we discussed in the SugarSync article, not all consignment programs use the same backup methods.  Since ConsignPro does not have a backup path option, you cannot tell ConsignPro to backup to your Dropbox folder.  It’s for this reason that [highlight style=’neon’]we do not recommend Dropbox for ConsignPro users[/highlight].

Disaster Recovery

Computer CrashWhat would you do if your computer wouldn’t power on?  What would happen if the consignment software you use to manage your business, was inaccessible?  Have you prepared for this event?

It’s one thing to go through each day, accustomed to things just working.  It’s a completely different situation when you go to power on your computer and … blank screen.  Or, you go to launch that one program – you know, the one that runs your business, keeps track of all your consignors and customers, etc. – and all of a sudden, the dreaded ERROR message appears.

Hardware and software can and will fail.  It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.  You spend day after day adding new consignors, entering-in new inventory, ringing up sales…this is your livelihood!  If your systems go down, you should be prepared.  The last thing you want is for panic to ensue.

First things first:

[checklist]

  • If you have only one computer at your store, think about how you would cope if that computer wouldn’t power on one morning.  Do you have the ability to process sales manually?  Are you going to turn away customers if you can’t get into your system or process credit cards?  Make sure you have a game plan ready so you can keep your doors open and keep customers happy!
  • If you have more than one computer in your store, what would happen if the primary computer (typically referred to as the ‘server’) were to fail?  Have you practiced swapping out one of the other systems as a temporary replacement?  Make sure you or the person that takes care of your computers are well-versed in installing the software you use, restoring your data, configuring printers, etc.

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The crux to disaster recovery is having a legitimate backup.  Why didn’t I just say “backup”?  Just because you click a button at the end of each day, doesn’t mean your backup is viable.  All backups – regardless of the system in question – should be tested on a regular basis.  So how does one test a backup?  It has to be restored.  You don’t want to do this on the system at your store though; not on a live system.  Instead, do so on a computer at home or on a separate test system.

Having your consignment software installed at home allows you to be prepared for a disaster.  If you have the same software at home, that computer could potentially serve as a backup/temporary replacement computer.  If you take your backups home with you and test them once a week, you’re killing two birds with one stone!

What about tag and receipt printers?  We all know how important tag printing is.  Are you prepared to move your printer to a new computer?  It has to be installed, configured, etc.  Some guffaw at all of this, but it’s a much different story when disaster strikes.

Ask yourself, “what is my time worth to me?”  If you’re into surprises and enjoy chaos, just forget about everything I’ve typed above.  If you know you can’t imagine being without access to your consignor information for two or more days, it’s time to prepare.

To recap:

[checklist]

  • Install your consignment software at home.  It’s good practice and your home computer could potentially serve as a replacement system in a pinch.  Check with your software vendor for licensing terms.
  • Restore your backup once a week.  This ensures your backups are viable.
  • Make sure you know how to get all of your printers up and running, quickly.
  • Make sure you have the ability to process payments, should your systems go down.  Whatever happened to those old, loud card imprint machines?

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Just like having a good car mechanic, it’s very important to have a knowledgeable computer technician you can trust.  If you don’t already have a computer technician, it’s worth asking other consignment shops in your area.  Or, utilize the r/consign Sharing Forum where you can post questions and other store owners can provide feedback.

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