The year is drawing to a close, just like your yearly corporate IT budget. Happily, as always, this coincides with the holiday shopping season. Are you an IT person looking for some creative, yet surprisingly productive ways to spend the remainder of the budget? If so, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve gathered some of the most interesting Christmas gift gadgets, which will get you and your team thinking about the possibilities of the Internet of Things era.
Get mobile users printing with a print server
Have you got your hands on a cloud compatible print server yet, such as the ones from Lantronics? They have models that bring both Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud Print compatibility to a massive set of supported printers, both new and old, from all the major manufacturers. For the time savings this brings, price tags starting at around EUR or USD 200 isn’t all that bad.
Making printing available to all those productivity apps on iOS and Android is another step you can take to legitimize mobile computing in your organisation. This future proofing of workflows is essential for anyone who doesn’t want to be stuck carrying around a laptop in a not so distant future when everyone might be working from their beds.
Make Raspberry Pi your handy tool for everything
DIY people love the Raspberry Pi as everything from a cheap controller for robotics projects to living room media centres (or revolutionary hacking, as we learned on Mr. Robot). But even without such ambitions, the universal awesomeness of this small, cheap general-purpose computer makes it a perfect gift for yourself or your entire team.
You may not know it yet, but your home network will probably be invaded by various connected gadgets over the next few years. Even if you were never the type to run a server at home, a power efficient ARM computer running a fully configurable Linux operating system can be a blessing.
For example, if you know your way around Linux, standard SSH is a super effortless and secure way to access your home network from anywhere. This is a much lesser attack surface than publicly exposing the VPN or web services on the embedded operating system of say, a firewall or storage appliance. Or security camera. Or dishwasher.
The current, high end Raspberry Pi 2 Model B costs less than 100 USD or EUR with a good case and charger. Cheaper options are available.
Lock up that snacks cupboard
If you want to feel like you’re in the future, computer controlled physical security and locks should give you some of that sci-fi movie feel. With energy efficient Bluetooth LE having been on the market for a few years, new categories of devices are cropping up. Such as the fairly reasonably priced Masterlock Bluetooth locks, which come in both indoor and outdoor models.
You might ask what the point is, or if there is any. Well, firstly these seem like pretty sturdy locks. Secondly, electronic locks are already everywhere in the enterprise. So it shouldn’t take a genius to realize that sharing (optionally time limited) access with several smartphone owners is exponentially easier than trying to handle a bunch of duplicated keys. Both the in- and outdoor versions of the Masterlock retail for under USD 100.
Go paperless with a scanner app or portable gadget
If you, or any of the highly valued professionals on your team is still keen on the environmental atrocity of annoying paperwork, here’s your solution. And it’s less annoying than ever before: scanning. Nowadays you can do it with your smartphone camera or even better, using a small, portable scanner unit.
For some nifty scanning apps with OCR tools and other optical correction facilities, check out these reviews. For portable scanners, consider the The Wirecutter’s recommendations for around EUR 200-300. The dream of a paperless office, devoid of clutter and lost expense reports, might be at your reach after all.
Get QNAP storage appliance with virtualization
Home and small business storage servers come in many different configurations with many different numbers of disk bays, hardware and built in features from countless manufacturers. But two brands stand out at the low/prosumer end: Synology and QNAP. Both provide rich, web based environments you can extend with apps and integrations with third party software and hardware.
To us, QNAP has one particularly enticing feature: super easy to use KVM based virtualization with browser based remote access and snapshot capabilities.
Even if you buy just a two bay QNAP storage appliance, make sure you it’s an x86 model with at least four gigabytes of RAM. Then, you’re only minutes away from trying out new operating systems or applications. But though the QNAP operating system itself is extendable, it’s exactly the sort of system you, as an IT or security professional, shouldn’t expose directly on the public internet.
As a server, this is more than an upscale version of Raspberry Pi. QNAP’s virtualization tools lets you to securely set up stuff like web servers, VPN and remote backup using standard Windows and Linux tools. While, of course, relying on the server’s network disk shares, logging, domain controller and NTP servers. Check out QNAP’s home and small office servers here.
Invest in better Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi is something of a boring “socks and underwear” gift of the tech world. But you probably don’t want the equivalent of itchy underwear, so hear us out. Because there’s nothing more annoying than really nice broadband with bad Wi-Fi.
Available Wi-Fi channels are often cramped with other Wi-Fi signals and gadgets to the point of being miserable for streaming, video calls and gaming. Wi-Fi repeaters are cheap but they eat half the bandwidth, so are there any easier and more affordable solutions than business class Wi-Fi?
Well, if you want only one device to power your Wi-Fi, Google’s new and much talked about OnHub Wi-Fi router doubles the number of antennas typically found Wi-Fi boxes and might be able to blast through your walls. It’s configured with an easy iOS/Android app, so it might just be the perfect solution to set up and forget.
Apple’s Airport family of Wi-Fi products, on the other hand, is ideal for big homes or places with really dense walls or lots of devices. They’re simple to set up with the AirPort Utility app, a more secure option than the sloppily coded web interfaces generally used on routers. But here’s Apple’s killer feature: if you have one Airport Extreme device, which works like an expensive Wi-Fi controller, it’s a breeze to set up ten additional “Roaming” Extremes or Expresses as wired or wireless extenders of your Wi-Fi network. Just like what you’d expect on an expensive business class network, you mostly don’t notice that your devices move between base stations, even during VoIP calls.
To get rid of a Wi-Fi shaped productivity bottleneck, the Google OnHub costs around 200-250 USD or EUR. An Airport Extreme, an Airport Express and some cables for wired extensions come in at around 300 euros or dollars.
Even if you don’t have anything left to spend, we hope you’ll enjoy window-shopping our list. And remember, New Year means new budgets, too! Is there anything we missed out? If so, let us know down below. We wish you a gorgeously gadget-laden Christmas!