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

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!


Next Big Thing is Here – SIP trunks for Voice!

Having been in the Telecom field for well over twenty years, we were always saddled with certain decisions when it came to trunks to PSTN (Public Switch Telephone Network).  If you could live with marginal voice quality or didn’t have the budget to pop for a T-1 voice circuit, you had few options.  Your choices were between using POTS lines, CO (Central Office) trunks, or tie trunks if multi-location. These were typically analog with a snap, crackle, pop reminiscent of Rice Krispies1

The other choice was a voice T-1 or PRI flavor, both of which we were more expensive, but as it was digital, it was crystal clear and the bonus was it only used four wires for 24 phone lines or 23 for PRI (ISDN Primary Rate Interface). Heck, even I paid for PRI though I did not have a need for all the lines as I could not accept sacrificing call quality.

Fast-forward to today and Session Initiation Protocol, aka SIP. There are a lot of cool things about it, but it’s important to understand its current form of implementation.  It can also be implemented in a couple different manners. It can be delivered by your carrier over Ethernet, but don’t think that it will conflict and turn into a VoIP chattering, as it comes in on its own circuit. Alternately, as it is a protocol, it can also be delivered over existing MPLS circuits for multi-location businesses as long as QoS is enabled.  Important to note is that the SIP connection provided by your carrier is from your phone system/PBX to the carrier. The calls to the outside world are still carried through PSTN so the quality will remain acceptable.Print

What is so cool about SIP? First off, it handles both voice and video. But here is the really neat thing, much like a SuperTrunk of days gone by or the PRI of today, if you need less that 20-some lines, but want the robust DID (Direct Inward Dial) functionality, SIP trunks are for you.  Here’s a real scenario. I pay $250 per month for a PRI, but I can get 5 each SIP trunks (at $12 each for 3-year commitment) for $60 a month!  This will save me $190 per month and that’s a good thing – a real good thing!

SIP trunks may not be for everyone and may not even be available in your area, but if considering a new phone system or a new carrier, you should at least consider SIP trunks. If you’re simply changing telecom carrier and want to entertain SIP trunks, you will need to check to see if your phone system is SIP-trunk ready and capable.  Those pesky details!

If you want to know more or if you area or phone system is SIP-trunk ready, feel free to give us a call. We’re here to help!


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 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!


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