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.

 

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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.

Ed

Look before you VoIP!

As technology would have it, the train keeps moving forward, but at times it feels like we’re losing passengers. A lot of new speak and talk, but what does it all mean? In this ever-changing world, technologies are leap-frogging one another. How decision-makers choose today makes more difference than ever. Not just for the initial purchase, but in coming years. Allow me to me explain.

For background purposes, I have been in technology for over twenty years and have seen a lot, but the VoIP thing has a lot of folks perplexed, and for good reason. Here, I will try to clarify the most common areas of confusion. We want to help you make a smarter decision here as you entertain your next phone system or a move where maybe your current phone system has seen better times.

Understanding the Cost Components. As with any technology, what’s important is to clearly understand the cost components to any system. In doing so, the cost/benefit equation needs to remain in balance. With a phone system, there is: 1) the infrastructure (main pieces), 2) the handsets, 3) the adjuncts (other pieces connected), and 4) the ongoing cost of maintenance which include moves, adds and changes. At the end of the day, we need to have an understanding of total cost over useful life and then employ the cost/benefit equation. The longer the useful life, clearly the less cost per year, so this component is truly key.

Understanding Reusable Items. Here’s where a lot of savings can occur. For many manufacturers, like AVAYA, the reuse of phone sets as much as 5-7 years back can allow you to either significantly reduce the cost, or perhaps buy the infrastructure pieces first, followed by new handsets over time. I cannot stress how much this can save, but over 30% savings is not uncommon. Upgrading from same brand to same brand is typically the only scenario in which this strategy works well.

Another important reuse item is premise cabling, specifically CAT3 cabling still in so many buildings. Only AVAYA can reuse all your existing cabling by using digital phone sets which have the same functionality as VoIP, without the chatter!

Digital versus IP Phones. Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Let’s start with costs. An IP Phone will run you $400 to $500 for Avaya and a bit more for Cisco. Digital sets are $100-$150 less and basically have the same functionality. You also need to know that if you plan on or need to run gigabit Ethernet at the desktop and use the same network drop, the IP phone needs to be gigabit as well. If not, you just slowed down the PC’s network speed tenfold. Ouch!

You may also need to replace your network switch with a PoE (Power over Ethernet) switch at a cost of $3,000 and up for a managed PoE switch offering, which you need to prioritize voice traffic to eliminate VoIP chatter. PoE essentially powers the IP phone, otherwise you’ll have to pay another $50-$80 per power supply. It’s really not structured to save you a whole lot.

So let’s say you are a single facility with 25-75 users. There is no real benefit for VoIP handsets. But say you have 50 people in one location, a smaller location with 10 folks and another 15 sales folks in regional home offices. Now you could benefit from VoIP. It would be nice if there was a best of both worlds scenario. Well, you’re in luck!

What you do in this situation is implement an Avaya IP Office 500, deploy the lesser expensive digital handsets in the office, and deploy VoIP softphones or handsets in the field. The routers we use in home offices are $80 each and properly tag voice packets to minimize or eliminate VoIP ‘chatter’.

VoIP Downsides. I love technology, probably more than most folks. I live it, breathe it, and at times, get frustrated with it. But at the end of the day, the name of the tech game is to not make it more complicated or have more pieces than necessary. This strategy tends to keep costs under control and makes troubleshooting simpler.

But there are a few significant challenges to VoIP. The first is the chatter component. Look, we can control voice packet priority on the one or two ends we control (main site and remote site), but we cannot control the Internet itself and latency and congestion issues within. This chatter can be quite prevalent, especially if you choose a ‘hosted’ VoIP solution.

The second downside is if you have all of the voice and data on the same switch (as is the VoIP model) and the switch fails, you not only lose all of your data traffic, but your ability to make and receive calls as well. Double ouch! A failed router can have a similar effect as well. So you moved up in technology, but added points of failure. Not sure about the win here.

A third issue is that data issues can now affect voice, and this includes troubleshooting, which now gets a bit more involved and costly. So a bad PC network card could bring your voice quality to its knees. Also, you could have a glitch on the data network which could effectively drop every voice call in the building. Not nice!

Summary. The items here are not meant to discourage the newer VoIP technology, but to help in selecting the proper technology best suited for the need and not overcomplicate your infrastructure. It’s important to keep it as simple as possible, which will keep the total cost of ownership (TCO) well in check.

Ed