Saturday, 30 November 2013

Get some cashback this christmas

Back in the old days, when anyone heard the word cashback, they instantly thought of mobile phones and redeeming your bills for cashback by either sending it off to a retailer who you brought the phone from or visiting them in store. Alas that died a sudden death due to the greed of these mobile phone companies who left so many people with large bills to pay and the networks not doing anything about it since the agreement was with the retailer and usually they knew nothing about it. This left a bitter taste in peoples mouth when thinking of cashback.

Nowadays thankfully its a lot more civil. Cashback for mobile phones no longer exists. Cashback now refers to a whole industry who offer you money back on things you buy. Pretty straightforward. No redeeming or showing your receipt is required. Now there are credit cards which offer you cashback but that depends on banks accepting you in the first place and usually the rate is very low anyway at 1% or less cashback. Even the promotional 3% has strings attached. Its usually not worth it and you're better signing up to travel reward cards which work out better in my opinion.

The other route for cashback is via online shopping. Now this is a huge industry. Normally the likes of Google or Moneysupermarket earn money via referrals. So when you click on a link through their website and go on to purchase an item, they get paid a percentage of the transaction. Thats why so many comparison websites have popped up. There is a lot of money through referrals. This is where the likes of Quidco and Topcashback come in. These websites are designed using the same referral system. The only difference is that YOU get paid instead of the companies.

Now there is some serious money to be made. Since I opened my Quidco account almost 5 years ago, I've earnt about £1500. My more recent Topcashback account has earnt me over £300. The areas that you can make the most money are things like insurance, broadband, sky, virgin media, gas and electric. Some cashbacks hit over £200 at times. Thats for a single purchase. As you can see these large amounts of money will change who you choose to go with. For example with sky I usually calculate the yearly overall cost then minus the cashback figure and work out my monthly payment. I do the same with virgin media and compare both to see which one works out better for me. You can apply the same logic to all the other categories.

Now I mentioned that you can save some money for Christmas. Well you can as signing up to these websites are free. Unlike cashback credit cards which you have to make an application for, wait for the bank to credit check you and then finally accept you. And then wait for your card and PIN to arrive. By that time Christmas might have come already. Signing up to these websites is immediate and instant. You could also combine your cashback/travel reward credit cards with cashback websites to maximise returns. I would recomend you sign up to both cashback websites as not all retailers are on both websites. If a retailer is missing from one website, try the other as they can often have different agreements. Also if they are on both, check to make sure who pays the highest and go with that!

You can sign up for Topcashback here.

You can sign up for Quidco here.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The best of the best of the best in backup solutions

I work for a school who had no ICT operations manager for almost a year. Now that I've joined, I've managed to get them up to a decent standard in terms of network performance and usability. Out of my long list of things to do when I joined, one was to find a good back up solution as up until now there was none! Scary, I know!

As the servers are running on Windows Server 2008, the most straightforward way or so I thought would be to use Windows Backup to make full and incremental backups to an external hard drive. Therefore I went ahead and ordered an external 3TB hard drive. This was a Samsung 3TB D3 Station. It was cheap and I thought it shouldn't cause any issues as it was just for backup purposes.

Once it arrived, I attempted to connect it. As we run virtual servers, the hard drive was connected to the host server. I then used direct pass through to allow the virtual server that was going to run the backups take complete control of it. The host detected it fine and showed the 3TB partition. When I went ahead and attached it to the virtual server, it failed to recognize the partition. It only reported about 300GB in drive management. Eventually I found out that it was due to the hard drive not having 512k emulation and also some other compatibility issues. I eventually gave up with this hard drive.

At this point we were no closer to a backup solution. I then started looking into cloud backup solutions. I came across Amazon S3 and their ridiculously cheap Amazon Glacier storage. The difference between those services is that Amazon Glacier doesn't have fast access to your backed up files. If you need access, you need to request it then wait a certain amount of time, usually 4 hours, before you can restore it. But since I was going to be using it for backup anyway, this didn't seem to be a problem. All looked good until I started to look into how to perform the actual backups. It turns out that Amazons interface is very messy and very difficult to use for backup purposes.

I was about to give up on that when I discovered Cloudberry. Their Cloud backup software appears to tick all the boxes for my needs. They can backup to several cloud services including Amazon, HP, Google, Microsoft and Rackspace. The interface is pretty straight forward and offered all the options that Windows Backup offered and then some. It was also very reasonably priced compared to other backup solutions like Norton Ghost.

Cloudberry allows you to backup network shares so you can backup multiple servers to one location. It also allows you to encrypt backups before being sent to the cloud. This will allow you to protect your data and ensure that even if someone manages to intercept your backup data on route or even hack into your Amazon account, they cannot get access to your data.

I must say this is the all in one solution I have been after and would wholeheartedly recommend it to other schools. Just for comparison, I asked my local authority's ICT department what sort of backup solution they could provide. They came back with a ridiculous price of £2500 per year for 1TB of cloud storage backup. Compare that to using Cloudberry and Amazon Glacier which costs only £80 a year, you can take a guess which solution I'd be choosing.