New ‘Cable Modem POTS Lines’ Threatens Fire Alarms

I love technology, with all its newness and the new capabilities. At times, I even love the smell. Once in a while, we all have one of those “what the heck?” moments when we question the logic behind a technology change. In the end we usually don’t have a choice, but changes in one area often dictate changes in another.

First and foremost, I want to be clear. In today’s world, internet is being delivered via fiber or cable modem, depending on the need. At Roundbrix, we deploy more fiber than cable to businesses to have fully appreciable symmetrical and guaranteed bandwidth.

sipPhone lines on the other hand, are delivered in a variety of forms. From the newer SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), to its predecessor PRI (Primary Rate Interface or Voice T-1) to the original POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) lines, which are the analog predecessor commonly utilized for older or smaller phone systems. More importantly, these analog lines have always been used for both burglar and fire alarm lines due to their reliability and non-susceptibility to power outages. The legacy POTS lines always used to be powered by the Central Office, also called a CO. Here, a copper pair of 24 AWG with 48VDC running through it 24 x 7 makes it RELIABLE. It’s also one of the reasons you never wanted a phone near a bathtub as dropping a permanently powered DC electric source could lead to electrocution. But for a fire or burglar alarm, it was perfect. No matter what happened, including a localized power outage for days on end, these central offices always had power and backup power so you could rest assured these important lines would always be able to dial out should there be a fire or burglar-related emergency. For those of us ‘slightly older folks’ remember that the power might go out at our house, but we were always able to use our land lines regardless. This was built into the design on purpose.

Now for the bad news. In a move to be more efficient, and in also considering superseding aging copper, it appears they have made a major blunder. You see, the power backup on a cable modem is only good for a couple hours, four at the most. What this means is if power goes out and no one is at facility beyond the few hours the cable modem might hold it, your fire alarm cannot dial out! Then it’s up to who sees the fire and calls 9-1-1, meaning a lot more property damage could occur, not to mention possible loss of life as a result. In my opinion, these lines from the service provider should be deployed with a clear understanding of the risk with a way to hedge the risk, which is my next point.fire

Here’s the best solution. Purchase an external UPS unit, typically a 1500 VA system. This unit could add another day or so of power to the POTS lines provisioned through the cable modem. If you need more time, then bump up to a 2200 VA system. This is extremely important for businesses that do not occupy the building during nights and weekends, short of mentioning those three or four days for longer weekends like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Here is a link to an APC 1500 for $200 and a link to an APC2200 for $900. In keeping with best practice for UPS units when installed, put a ‘born on’ date on the top and replace it after three years, or more frequently if power outages are more frequent.

Getting one of these units would be a small price to pay to get to greatly mitigate property damage and you may just save a life!

EdSignature

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Ten Ways to Slash IT Costs!

Internet Circuit – Important to know is which carriers provide service to your building and their transport offerings. For reliability, fiber rules the roost. But some areas have more than one carrier so you need to compare offerings. Also realize that you don’t have to wait for one contract to expire to re-up at a better rate, if you plan on staying with the same carrier. Additionally, know what offerings are available as a change in architecture may make doing business more cost effective. For example, using offerings like Cox’s Metro-E offering which connects one site to another via Layer 2 Ethernet.

Unused phone lines – Go through the bills and call every number on there. Remember you’ll have a few lines that may be dedicated to your burglar alarm, elevator, or fire notification system. Other than that, you need to know where they all go and lose the ones that are not in use.

SIP Trunks or Voice PRI versus CO Lines – On the telephony side, if you have more than 10 lines, you may want to compare the cost to see what SIP trunks or a dedicated PRI may cost. If you have to add a piece of equipment, often times the carrier has a promotion and will chip in here. Remember, their goal is to get you off of analog lines as we move to the all-digital world.

Server Warranties – Deciding out of the gate when purchasing a server how long you will keep it will always benefit you, as opposed to extending at a higher price a couple years down the line. Face it, when cutting the initial deal to get the server, it’s more aggressive discounting. But once you’re on it, you lose the leverage on price negotiation as they know it would always be less expensive to renew a contract for server maintenance then bite-off another server deployment.

Deployment Turns – Getting these reduced makes a ton of sense. Let’s look at a 10-year period. If you replace servers every 3 years, it’s three turns in that ten-year period, but every 5 years, it’s only two turns. If you push a server to seven years, it’s only one turn every ten years for the first couple decades. Exchange servers, as one example, are typically goof for 5-7 years.

Printer Consumables – Face it, the cost of the printer is rarely an issue. This day in age, with paper reduction a strategic initiative, it makes sense. The goal should be have fewer, strategically-placed printers going forward and limit color. And it’s not just the cost of the paper and paper-handling printers, it’s the ink and the time for finding that one piece of a paper in our paper jungle. Time to kick this paper habit.

Multi-Year Domain and SSL Renewals – Instead of doing this every year, do it every so many. You not only get a break for multi-year, you’re not revisiting the same task every year. SSL certificates should only be extended until the end of the useful life of your Exchange server.

Buy Second Hand Equipment – Yep, you heard me right. Often times, we run into situations on two-to- three-year old hardware. We had an APC environment monitoring system that crapped out. We probably spent $1,500 on the unit, $500 on different probes for water detection, humidity, and others, plus programmed it meticulously, saving the configuration file of course. It simply crapped out. To replace it would cost me about $2k plus the time to learn a new system, and reprogram/fine tune it. Instead, I found a used one on eBay for $100 and voila, the out-of-pocket cost to get back to where I was came to a couple hundred bucks, labor included and we simply had to reload the our configuration. Also, try the folks at MetrolineDirect.com for used phone equipment.

ElectricityAll the newer UPS and Servers can run on 208VAC. This will save about 15-20% on your electric bill as it pulls down half the amps or less. Also, if PC’s can be turned off, especially on weekends when interior air conditioning may not be operating and interior office temperatures can soar, causing PC failures. Printer and copying machines nearly all have a sleep mode as well that can save a bit.

Labor Smart – Often times, I see a high-end IT tech pulling cables, or doing more menial tasks, even though their backlog is huge. This just does not make business sense. Reviewing to ensure you have your most cost-effective resource, even if that means getting someone outside to perform the task. Face it – you don’t use a pickup truck when a Prius will do!

We also hope you will all enjoy a great Fourth of July weekend!

Ed

4G Wireless Networks – The ISP Game Changer!

Every so often, a technology comes along that truly changes the game. The latest one to do so is the 4G networks popping up everywhere. It will no doubt take some time to retrofit all from 3G to 4G, but talk about taking it to next level! The speeds here are comparable with physical land-based facilities, like copper or fiber. Also understand that 4G is all IP-based, so this is another significant shift in technology.

I tend to measure an ISP network connection by a few metrics, and these rules need to hold true when comparing 4G to copper and fiber land lines.

Reliability: No compromise here folks as it needs to work 100% of the time (or very close to it). If it’s not up, you’re not in business.

Latency: It’s likely to increase a bit traveling through the air. The other issues here for 4G might be weather and temperature issues, which would increase retries.

Bandwidth speed repeatability: A connection needs to be repeatable to be able to have something you can ‘count on’ in the course of doing business. This may be a sketchy area.

Cost: Cost per Mb must be comparable, as should the terms and penalties for early termination.

Who should adopt soon: Where I see 4G taking hold first is replacing flaky and underperforming DSL connections. It only makes sense. I also see it replacing land lines for the person who spends a ton of time on the road, given adequate 3G coverage in all the areas they frequent. Remember, it’s going to take some time for 4G to be widely available.

Though certain bandwidth speeds are published, look for wireless carriers to cap speeds to protect the core. Look for them to also cap monthly bytes. You just need to know what you’re getting – and not getting- for the monthly recurring cost, plain and simple.

Also, Sonic Wall and other firewall providers will soon offer 4G options to get us away from the terrestrially-based connection, so they need a little time to get their offerings on the table if other than a single computer scenario.

Who should wait to adopt: Outfits that require 3Mbits up and down and unlimited monthly data downloads, especially those that have a lot of folks using VPN into a central site or using Terminal Servers or Citrix Technologies for your field folks. Yeah, these cost more, but there are no restrictions and repeatability of bandwidth speed and latency are critical here.

You folks should wait this out until the field issues and costs settle out a bit. Also, see if a guaranteed repeatable bandwidth and static IP “Business Offering” type service makes more sense. In a few words, let’s take the “Wait and See” approach to not put our business at risk as the economy is just starting to turn in our favor. This is not the time to make mistakes or take unnecessary risks for the sake of technology.

At Roundbrix, we believe technology is always best leveraged when it has stabilized from numerous standpoints, including cost, performance, and acceptance by the vendor community. This helps alleviate risk from adopting too early and paying the price with a negative experience. Roundbrix will be testing 4G over the next few months and we’ll write again and share our findings at that time.

Ed