The True Power of Power over Ethernet (PoE)

FACT: Today, PoE ports represent one quarter of all enterprise Ethernet ports. As with any evolving technology, its true worth to business must be weighed as it ultimately determines its long term success. Not being a spring chicken myself, this is not unlike the days of Frame Relay. Though it was slow to be adopted, it became a big hit until newer technology offerings became available- like MPLS (Multi Protocol Label Switching). I digress.

PoE is very much the same thing, but with much farther reaching potential. In a nutshell, PoE is where low voltage DC power is pushed over a CAT5E or better Ethernet cable. As many of you know, pins 1, 2, 3, & 6 are used for Ethernet data transmission. Pins 4 & 5 are blank so as to not conflict with someone plugging in a legacy phone line RJ11 plug into an RJ45 jack and blowing up an expensive network switch. Power of PoE goes over pins 7 & 8, aka THE BROWN PAIR .This prevents you from having to run electrical outlets to every device, as the power comes over the Ethernet cable. The costs savings here can be quite substantial.

Understanding the standards and options is key here as you may already have some PoE switches, but they may be older. It is important to know their capability before buying equipment. Older switches simply cannot power the newer and higher demand PoE devices due to their lower wattage restriction.

802.3af is the original 2003 standard that supplies up to 15. Watts of DC power, though only about 12.5 watts is assured.

802.3at aka PoE+ is the current standard and takes it up to 30W (25 adjusted for power loss). With the greater power, many more applications are possible!

As with any Ethernet cable run, the standard 300 foot distance limitation applies here as well.

PoE Devices. Although the most common uses for PoE today are for IP phones and wireless access points, this this is a rapidly expanding field. There is significant growth in the areas of surveillance, which includes encompassing video up to HD standards and building access control. Rounding off some of the current PoE device offerings includes digital signage, IP paging, school clock systems, video phones and many others. New devices will emerge being able to utilize PoE power thus creating a more powerful and useful network. Simply put, this is where were headed. So, when looking to move and re-cable, you may want to rethink where to add cable drops as to ensure you don’t fall short and have to end up paying for expensive  piecemeal cabling to fill your needs.

PoE switches. A number of outfits make these switches, including the likes of Juniper, HP, Cisco and many others. Our favorite switch is Juniper’s EX3300 series for a number of reasons. First, the price point is attractive. Second, it has “virtual chassis technology”. What this means is that the virtual switch (made up of many physical switches) only uses one IP address and all switches within the virtual switch can be viewed in a single interface, greatly simplifying management. Another benefit here is that individually, these are all 1U (1.75”) units that will make it simple to swap out old switches and put in new switches without having to re-manage patch cables. Finally, we love the DAC cable because for $100, it gives you a sweet 10Gb interface to other switches that are close and to servers that adhere to the SFP DAC standard so you don’t have to use fiber to get 10Gb within the same room. It’s a win-win as the DAC cable saves cost and is less fragile than fiber.

In summary, if you’re changing out your data switches, consider popping for a few extra dollars to go for PoE to future-proof your dollars and being to save even more downstream.



GoDaddy versus Network Solutions

When trying to cut costs, no stone should be left unturned. Yet in doing so, we also should not be too hasty and pick a sub-par product or service provider. We need to do the research – so we did!

In reviewing our own credit card bills, I am finding myself getting annoyed with these monthly hits. I see them nearly every month and am left wondering “What is this one for?” These costs are adding up like HP ink cartridges – or worse!

So I turned to looking at a few items and asking myself a few questions so that I felt I was in control again.

  1. Do I need all the domains I have?
  2. Am I paying more for things than I should?
  3. Are auto-renew settings dinging my card without a notification?

To me, there are two major players out there. The incumbent, Network Solutions, also affectionately known as NetSol , was the safe choice in the early days. Now there’s GoDaddy and they offer up a plate of value and some friendlier busines practices, so I decided to share a comparison we performed this week.

As with any comparison, there’s got to be some text that fills in items that just won’t fit into the matrix. One item of extreme annoyance is that Network Solutions automatically renews 60 days ahead of time, whereas GoDaddy is only 30 days, which I believe to be a more reasonable business practice. Paying for something two months before you use it just seems plain wrong.

Also, domain management is far simpler with GoDaddy as well as shorter phone wait times. And always be on the lookout for those ‘Specials’. GoDaddy offers free private registration when registering five or more domains, whereas Network Solutions offers private registration using a ‘phone only’ special, which seems a bit backwards on the self-service model. Phones, really?

As with every service, the big ‘gotcha’ on either of these is to review domains that you want to drop periodically, to ensure they are not set to ‘auto renew’, otherwise, you’ll be chasing your own tail trying to get your money back. Good luck on that one as even if you do get your money back, you’ll lose on the time and frustration end of things.

At the end of the day, as I have many domains I own and forward, I’ll save a few hundred bucks a years, and get to hold on to my money another month.

For my money, it’s GoDaddy!


Network Solutions and GoDaddy are registered trademarks.

Roundbrix – Moving to Take your IT Dollar Further!

What’s important to you? We think it should be the best use and longest life of each dollar spent on IT. It means really evaluating a few facets of each purchase.

Total Cost over Useful Life must Equal Business Value. Yeah, it’s a mouthful, but let’s think about that for a moment. The annual cost must be of business value, in other words, the benefit should be equal to, or preferably greater, than the cost. Here’s how we figure it out.

This must include all costs. Cost of item, tax, shipping and handling. But also important are items like annual maintenance and foreseeable costs outside what is covered. The name of the game has to be to cap your costs, but in doing so, you may overpay. Hardware support is a gamble in two ways. First, you’re betting that the cost of the support is less than a few service calls. Secondly, what is the most important thing to understand about support contracts is that you will always receive more timely response support over those that have no contract. So at this point, you need to figure out what an hour, or a day – or two – of downtime means to your operation. This is really what the hardware maintenance contract hedges against.

Software support must be factored in as well, but before signing up to 15-25% per year of retail cost (not what you paid for it), ask yourself a simple question. Am I going to benefit here? The answer lies in evaluating the situation. If you’re deploying a new ERP system, by ALL means, get the support for the first year to get through it. But once it’s stable and assuming you’re not in need of constant updates tied to a software agreement, that money might be better used for other business purposes. You can always re-up later

Very important here is to be realistic as to useful life. When considering the purchase, ensure you are not under buying to save a thousand dollars, but then your solutions only lasts for three years and you were thinking six years. This short-term savings just cost you a ton of money, and you not only have to repurchase, but pay the cost and endure the pain of redeployment.

If something (like a server or a phone system) is scalable, meaning you can buy what you need today and add to it later without performing a forklift upgrade, that may be another way to pull out a win.

Probably the most important point here about useful life is how a few dollars can hedge an earlier-than-expected retirement of your systems. Thinking down the road a few years and being just short of a clairvoyant will serve you well.

As we have been at this for many years, we know how long stuff lasts – period. We thought we would share our experience here to help you make better and more informed decisions .

AVAYA IP Office – 7 years minimum. Look, there are no moving parts and upgrades are a couple hundred dollars and a few hours, it’s a solid telephony solution.

Cisco VoIp – 5 years maximum. Our experience here in supporting these systems has been that a couple years in, it requires an expensive upgrade to remain compatible with the latest Windows systems on which the Agents reside. A workaround here is to run XP in Virtual Mode. The other reason that life is limited to 5 years is that the servers/hardware they place them on are typically only warrantied for 5 years max.

Exchange Server – 5 to 7 years. Most companies here skip every other version of exchange, so most folks going to Exchange 2010 today are on Exchange 2003. This helps defray deployment costs by ‘skipping’ a deployment cycle. And these days, Dell and soon others will warranty servers for 7 years, as it makes business sense.

Firewalls – 4-5 years. This is typically as long as the manufacturer is comfortable standing behind the product. Also pay attention to “trade-up” programs and try to pre-purchase at least two years of support as it’s cheaper that way.

Switches – 7 years+. The HP Procurve line carries a lifetime warranty, so unless you need more functionality, like PoE (Power over Ethernet) built-in, use it as long as you can.

In the end, it’s all about the best use of strategic IT dollar and how you stretch and leverage your expenditures.

We’ve moved! We now have a 50% larger data center with more rack space, all the bells and whistles, and are able to host more cost- effective solutions like cloud hosting, SBS hosting, web hosting and proactive system monitoring. Also, if you’re moving, we can be your stop-gap for mission-critical applications as we can host your systems as you transition.

Recently, we also have become both a Juniper Networks and Barracuda Networks partner to add to our list of strategic partnerships. The way we see it, if we can deploy the solutions for companies, we don’t need to make as much in the sale of the hardware and software solutions, controlling your total cost of deployment.


Seven Ways to Reduce IT Costs

We at Roundbrix see this as a new economy. A recalibrated economy, examining every dollar and ensuring the best use of that dollar. In a word, true value must exist.

From our years in the field and in the finance offices, we assembled a few tips to help you control the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for your shop. Without further adieu, here is the list.

Deploy PCs in Quantities of two or more. Whether you are using in house resources or outsource your IT, this is a winning strategy. Let’s say to assemble from out of boxes, build, load software, deploy, migrate data, and QA with the user takes three hours for a single unit. For two units, it would take about 4 hours, reducing the cost to two hours per unit built and deployed. Three units would take maybe 5 hours. The cost per unit goes down until you deploy 5, then it stays the same unless you start imaging, then the cost goes down anew.

Deploy Servers in Quantities. The same methodology applies here, but not to the same extent nor the same economy of scale, unless they fulfill the same purpose. If a server build and deployment cycle takes 20 hours, two might take 30-35 hours, but still some savings here, unless they are domain controllers, then all bets are off as these are always a bit more complex.

Group Policy (GPO) Usage. This one item is incredibly multi-faceted. This really leverages the benefit of having a domain. This is where you can manage items in total or in groups of computers or user types. Say for instance you have twenty people in marketing that use a Xerox machine. The machine craps out, and you need to redirect all their print jobs to the Xerox on the second floor, but it’s a different model. With Group Policy, it would take a few minutes, if that, whereas without Group Policy you would need to visit all 20 desktops. Using Group Policy will save money, time after time.

Use Cox for Internet and Voice PRI circuits. Right now, these folks are the best game in town, bar none. This includes cost, quality of services, reliability (up time), communication, and you actually talk to the same folks, time and time again. We see Cox as the Costco of voice and data services. They have also extended their reach into new territory and continue to do so at a rapid rate. If they didn’t service you area a year ago, they very well may now.

Buy HP G7 Servers. When it comes to rapid deployment and ease of maintaining current firmware, HP has the edge. The cost is not only cheaper than Dell a lot of times, but they offer this incredible package called ICE. ICE stands for Insight Control Environment and includes a set of tools like Craftsman for a mere $300! From being able to rapidly deploy multiple servers, to having full troubleshooting via ILO-3 (Integrated Lights Out) which reports consolidated multiple HP server statuses to the System Insight Manager (SIM), which in turn, sends out notifications. So if a fan, power supply, or hard drive fails, you know about it the second it happens. An additional neat thing about the G7 is it’s built in SAS port on the outside. Adding a tape drive or additional storage has never been easier. No more SCSI cards!

Review Phone Bill in Detail. We can only begin to tell you what we see. When you get a phone bill, you go on auto-pilot and may just pay it. This might warrant a review once or twice a year. Three things that drive up costs typically go wrong here. The first item is as lines are not used, they are typically not disconnected, so you pay every month for facilities you no longer use. The second item is falling out of contract with some carriers, like Verizon, resulting in immediate large rate hikes. The third thing is to pay attention not only for the cost per minute, but the billing increments as well. It seems that folks are pretty good for domestic toll-free and long distance (you should not be paying more than $.03 per minute for either of these), but a lot of money is made in the local market, that is Zones 1,2, and 3. Some carriers, like Cox, will include all local traffic for a flat fee. If you do a lot here, say more than $100 per month, it’s worth jumping on this offer.

Pre-Purchase Maintenance Contracts for full useful life of hardware. If you buy a server or PC and plan to keep it for 5 years, it is far cheaper to buy the maintenance up front, than to buy a 3-year, and then renew for two more. According to what we have seen, 50% or more can be saved here. Face it, when it comes to servers, you want to maximize their useful life to minimize the number of technology turns (redeployments) so you minimize your IT labor costs over the long haul. We have bought a server from Dell a few years back and bought it with 3 years maintenance, as that was all they offered back then. The initial cost was about $800 for 3 years. When we went to renew for two more, it was $1,200 more. So we have $2,000 out-of-pocket here. Today, you can get 5-year contracts that are much more cost-effective and protect your investment without the hassle or cost of having to renew.

In short, these are some great ways to save a few dollars that can be better used for other purposes. We have more ways to save money as well and would be glad to set up a time to discuss cost-saving opportunities with you. To start the New Year off right, why not give us a call and make saving money your New Year’s resolution.

Happy 2011!

Ed Leard