Group Policy – Scaling without Increasing Cost

It’s no secret that when a company grows, costs rise. One simple reason might be payroll. Another might be the need for more space or additional resources. In the Microsoft suite of tools there is something called Group Policy (GPO). Simply put, this is the ability to impose security and workflow disciplines in an environment. This can be done on both a machine and user basis, and can also be grouped. Here are a few examples:

Rerouting ‘My Documents’ to a Server: At the end of the day, if a PC crashes or a laptop is stolen, what happens to the documents on it? If they were not rerouted to the server, you had better hoped they were backed-up, although this is not the case. This tends to result in some angst and anxiety as folks grapple with data loss or worse yet, possible exposure of confidential company and customer data. Had ‘My Documents’ been rerouted to the server, no such exposure would have resulted.

Mapping a Share: This can be done on individual or global levels. It means that you can maintain uniformity in your outfit, so that “Drive K” on one computer actually refers to “Drive K” on anyone else’s computer that has permissions to this share. Additionally, you can have folks that can “view only” separate from those that can “Edit, Create or Delete”. The name of the game here is to give permissions as required, but not excessively as that creates exposures.

Assigning or Replacing a Printer: Say 50 people are individually mapped to an “All In One” machine that performs copying, printing and faxing. But alas, it’s at “End of Life” and they gave you a smoking deal on a new one that does twice as much in half the time! You have two choices here. You can visit 50 desktops or you can push out the new machine with a few clicks and voila, everyone has it nearly instantly.

Preventing Unauthorized USB Devices: These USB drives are great. But when trying to contain internal security and folks taking confidential data offsite, these are among the greatest of liabilities. You can lock it down so that no USB mass storage devices are allowed, perhaps except for a few authorized individuals. Again, it’s not looking for bad, it’s about protecting the mother ship.

Forcing Password Changes: We see more Post-It notes than you can imagine with passwords. Moreover, these passwords are rarely changed. These should be changed either every three to six months or when a security breach is encountered, especially if you have systems that are accessible remotely. Group Policy makes this automatic.

Forcing New devices to have Anti-virus Software before allowing Network Access: We love this one, as folks tend to accidentally bring in infected devices, including MACs, which sometimes are not affected, but are quite effective as ‘carriers’. Regardless, we have the ability to ‘force’ compliance to ensure that those new devices requesting access to your network are compliant before they are allowed to touch any data.

Distributing New Application Versions: A new version of a client/server application is released, but now comes the laborious task of loading on 30 PCs or so. Never fear. If there is an install package, often times referred to as a MSI (Microsoft Installer) package, it likely can be distributed automatically.

At the end of the day, there’s a reason you’re on a Microsoft Network. What is key is to leverage that the functionality so it earns its keep – like the rest of us!

Ed

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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!

Ed

Network Solutions and GoDaddy are registered trademarks.

Basic, Managed and Complete Hosting Options – Choose Wisely!

You won’t get an argument from me when it comes to the cost-effectiveness of hosting. It’s a really good thing and a no-brainer in many cases. With the new “Cloud” word, which is defined differently by so many outfits, we’re going to take a closer look at the options here and the risk versus benefit equation. You need to ask yourself a few questions:

Do you want your server in house or hosted with true oversight?

Do you need dedicated hardware and bandwidth?

Do you want to manage your servers or do you want them managed?

Although there are many flavors of hosting out there, the two types of I think most often are Basic Hosting and Managed Hosting. But at the end of the day, we feel another option is necessary that significantly completes the entire picture, and that is Complete Hosting, which Roundbrix offers to its clients. You’ve heard the term you’re in good hands with Allstate. The same applies with Roundbrix Complete Hosting offering. Let’s review the options in more detail.

Basic Hosting is defined as providing air conditioning, electrical, Internet access and a secure space where you can place your equipment. You are responsible for all hardware, software, backups and network security issues. You’re also responsible for all failures and remediation. Think of it as an empty apartment with utilities. The biggest downside to Basic Hosting is that those very same resources that are shared to give you the most bang for buck can also swing the other way. An example might be that some hosting providers put too many customers on a single server in an effort to maximize their profit, but you may experience intermittent performance problems as a result. Another example is they may pool too many customers on a smaller internet connection, providing a lackluster experience for those trying to access your systems, whether it is an end client trying to access your website, or your employees trying to access a hosted application.

Managed Hosting is defined as looking after the hardware (if it is provided) and ensuring it’s up 24 x 7 x 365. It provides you with the same climate-controlled, clean power, internet circuit and physical security as Basic Hosting. The difference really comes into play by providing additional services of value, like providing dedicated hardware (at a cost), system backups and providing the option for dedicated bandwidth. If hardware is being leased or provided, it’s up to you to clearly understand when things break, who fixes it. Some outfits may monitor performance, but again, the name of the game here is no assumptions. When there’s an issue here, it may be that it’s not ‘their’ issue, leaving you with a bitter taste or scrambling to find a resource to help resolve the issue. Unfortunately, we see this a lot more than you might think. Your issues are important to us and we will always address them in a timely manner.

Complete Hosting includes the remaining pieces, many of which can hurt or cause unexpected stoppages or risks. This becomes a matter of total ownership. Additionally in my mind, Managed Hosting should also include managing the backups, disk space, looking at network and server performance including RAM and CPU, staying on top of maintenance contracts and other expirations and renewals, anti-virus, strategically planning for replacement of firewalls, switches, and servers at the core of your infrastructure. With complete hosting, you also have more flexibility at every level.

Due Diligence for Managed Hosting. At the end of the day, it’s important to weigh your options wisely and make the right choices. For the ultimate peace of mind, Complete Hosting is the best way to go, but know who you’re dealing with and where your data is, including backups. Remember, your customer lists and financials are likely very sacred and need to be held close to the chest. Ensure you know the answers to these five questions before moving forward with anyone:

1. Where are my servers and systems and are they shared, if not customer provided?

2. Where exactly is the actual call center and what are the hours of operation?

3. If they perform backups, where are the backup stored? And for how far back?

4. Is the bandwidth dedicated or shared? How much dedicated or bursting up/down speed?

5. Am I notified promptly when there is an issue?

With computing infrastructures, much like life itself, nothing is perfect, but stacking the cards in your favor clearly lessens your risk. At Roundbrix, we are unique in that we will manage the entire enchilada and work with you to stay on the correct strategic path, allowing you to focus on your business. From our shop to yours, you’re in good hands!

Ed

Allstate and “Good Hands” are a registered trademark of Allstate Insurance Company.

Six Keys to Avoiding Data Loss

At Roundbrix, we take data very seriously. After all, it’s the only thing we really cannot replace. Given that, there’s a few safeguards that we recommend so your data sleeps as well as you do!

1. Know Where Your Data Lives. This may sound silly, but what if you had nightly backups running, lost something, and went to restore the data only to find out you weren’t backing it up? Folks, this happens more than you would ever want to know. Often times data is on desktops when it should really be on a server where it gets backed up. Good company policy and procedures with occasional QA here is best practice.

And remember, if you install a new program on the server, create a new volume on a server or a new database, know that it has to be selected to be backed up. Just because it’s on the server doesn’t mean it’s backed up!

2. Backup Nightly with a Verify Pass. This is key to ensure that your data is restorable from the media. We used to call this “read after write” as it simply verifies that what is believed it wrote is indeed what can be read back. A simple check box verifies that all is well come ‘restore‘ time!

3. Take a Backup Offsite at Least Weekly. This is where you have to think through your pain threshold for data loss. In other words, if you’re building burned down, would losing a week’s worth of data make it even more painful? If the answer is an emphatic ‘YES’, then that means you need to take a tape offsite more frequently than weekly. Do remember a couple of things about taking tapes offsite. First rule is they don’t survive well in heat or moisture so get a proper transport and storage container. Second rule is ensure it is secure as the tape includes all your company information and if misplaced, creates a liability. You’ll want to account for your tapes periodically to ensure one didn’t ‘fly the coup’. If you’re a Roundbrix client, you can use our secure biometric-secured facility to store your backup data as frequently as you would like.

4. Periodic Reviews of What is Being Backed Up. This little step that we like to do every quarter to catch new areas created. Face it, we get busy and things fall through the cracks as we’re only human. Also, we occasionally find new databases that not only aren’t being backed up, but not set up properly for maintenance, safety and controlling growth. To know how to set up a database maintenance plan, see the article we previously wrote here.

5. Redirect My Document Folder to Server using Group Policy. Desktops and laptops will fail, but what’s important is that it does not take sensitive company data with it. Also, if it gets stolen or misplaced, has this just put your entire company at risk? Folks, keeping autonomy between the company data and the desktop/laptop device any more than absolutely required is simply good business. One of these failing should not send dangerous ripples through an organization like “Oh, Ed had all the company financials and client lists on his computer and now they are gone!”

6. Know How You Would Restore From Scratch. In a crisis situation, this is not the time to “figure things out”. We have “been there and done that” so rest assured we can get you back to where you need to be is short time. After all, the name of the game is first prevention, and secondly restoration. If the restorations took a month, what would be the point?

Current Projects

  • Access to SQL Database Conversion
  • Server upgrades
  • High Availability Firewall upgrades
  • Network Engineering and Performance Monitoring
  • – MAS Migrations

SQL Database Best Practices!

SQL MAINTENANCE PROGRAM:

Having a good solid maintenance strategy as part of your SQL Server database is a necessity for any company with a business critical application. It can be the difference of being down for a few minutes vs. being down for an entire day or several days. It can also manage space on the server better and if done correctly, can improve performance of the database dramatically.

The first part of a good database management strategy is to plan your backups. For a database that is frequently used and important to the company we recommend the following standard maintenance plan. In general it’s a good idea to do a full backup twice a day and transaction log backups hourly so you can easily restore the database up to the hour within minutes.

1. Back Up Full Databases Twice Daily

There are three Recovery Models

a. Full Recovery Model   –   What Roundbrix mostly uses. Safest mode of operation for production systems.

b. Bulk-Logged Recovery Model   –   Has minimum logging for bulk import operations. Space allocation and deallocation is only logged for bulk import operations. Basically a few limitations.

c. Simple Recovery Model   –   No transaction log maintenance needed. Recoverability of the database is very limited to a specific time frame.

If a database doesn’t change often, Simple Recovery Model may be an option. (i.e. a database that imports all the data from Quickbooks from previous day, etc.). The data is only used for reporting, so the Simple Recovery Model would work fine if timed properly. (after data is inputted from QB).

2. Back Up Transaction Log Files Hourly

A database has two components, data file(s) and transaction logs. A transaction log captures the modifications made to the database. A SQL server must have at least one transaction file.

With the Full Recovery Model, it is important to backup the transaction logs frequently so the database can be restored up to the point in time when the problem occurred. A transaction log backup will truncate the inactive portion of the transaction log.

The transaction log can get large and the file size will not be reduced when it is truncated after a transaction log backup. This simply shifts the pointer within the existing file as to where the space is to be freed up.

3. Rebuild Indexes Weekly

Rebuilding indexes should be done weekly during off-hours as this can sometimes be intensive and slow down the database. It is important to rebuild the indexes to optimize performance of the database. You can think of this like defragmenting your hard drive. After it is completed, everything runs just a little smoother and faster because space is optimized properly (doesn’t take as long to figure out where a record goes during an insert or update).

4. Update Statistics Daily

It is also a good idea to create a maintenance plan to update statistics daily. This optimizes space in the tables and can have an impact on improving performance of the database. If this never gets done (which sometimes happens in databases that are not maintained) performance can slowly degrade until it becomes a serious problem, adversely affecting application performance.

TYPICAL BACKUP PLAN FOR A DATABASE THAT IS BUSINESS-CRITICAL:

PROPER AND OPTIMAL DATABASE DESIGN:

One of the most common problems we’ve seen is applications where a query takes over 30 seconds only to find that one of the fields in that query has not been indexed. Beyond looking at the queries in your application to make sure the fields that are in your “WHERE” clauses are all indexed, there are some tools that can help. Using Microsoft SQL Server Profiler in combination with Database Engine Tuning Advisor is the easiest way to find slow queries and see what indexes may be missing, which could help improve the performance of your application.

For SQL Server Profiler first, select “Tuning”. Next, select the “Events Selection” tab, and then the “Column Filters…” option and “Duration”. Select the Greater than or equal to 3000, as we want to see queries taking over 3 seconds.

After about an hour of running the profiler, stop it. You should save the file to one that can be imported into a “Database Engine Tuning Advisor”. Run it to have the tool point out what can be optimized. Usually you can accept most of the suggestions from Database Engine Tuning Advisor and see a dramatic increase in performance.

The other important thing to look at in a database is how well normalized it is. Normalization is important so that information is not duplicated. One example is a company we worked with used 12 different excel sheets to keep track of similar information. However data that was supposed to be consistent throughout the different excel files was spelled differently and listed multiple times where it should have referenced by a table with a unique ID and one consistent value. We moved these 12 excel sheets into one database and created separate tables for the columns so information was normalized. This allowed the customer to do more sophisticated and accurate queries on their data.

The information above, when properly normalized, should be put into three tables as shown below. This way, “Hardy Boys” only needs to be updated once.

PROPER NAMING CONVENTION IS ALSO IMPORTANT:

Naming a foreign key differently from the primary key that it references can be very confusing to programmers. If the fields are named properly and referenced properly, it can save countless hours of confusion. I typically name the primary key as the table name with “ID” after it. So if Book is the table, BookID is the primary key. This is a pretty common way to name primary keys which will make it easier for programmers to understand more quickly.

It is also important to make sure you keep an ER (Entity-Relationship) Diagram. This is very easy with SQL Server by right clicking on Database Diagrams and selecting “New Database Diagram”. Then you can link the primary/foreign keys here and also add/update fields to the database-making database management tool very easily. Make sure all the tables are in the diagram and connected properly to the other tables that they should be connected to.

By following the tips above, you should have a solid robust database that will allow your company to grow without having to worry about database issues. For a free database analysis call the experts at roundbrix at 949.273.5200.

Ed

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

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

Roundbrix is Hosting an AVAYA IP Office Demonstration . . . and feeding you!

To me, there’s nothing like “seeing is believing”. I’ve been in telecom and computers, well, let’s put it this way. When I was a kid, I used to go to Thrifty’s drug store and test my vacuum tubes to see which one had failed so I could get my Zenith shortwave radio working again to listen to Chick Hearn in his early years – and I digress.

 

Flash forward, I have been in IT 30 years and we’re all over what is new. But newer is not always better, as so many of us have learned. The key in entertaining any new voice technology platform is asking a few simple questions:

 

Is what we have now at or near “end of life”, meaning we’re looking at a replacement anyways?

Is it better than what we have now, and if so how? Will it help us be more efficient in a tangible manner?

• What if we don’t do anything, what might be the downsides?

• If I get this, will it scale for my needs for many years downstream?

• Does it have a useful life of more than 5 years, thus lessening my annual total cost of ownership?

 

Then I put on my IT and voice hat and ask a few other questions:

 

• Can I get the best of both worlds – that is less expensive digital phones inside and VoIP for remote sites or remote users and the

functionality is basically the same for both?

• Can I leverage existing CAT3 cabling so I can use the CAT5e for data at 1Gbit (as although some IP phones have 1Gbit switch, they

come at a cost premium)?

• As handsets tend to be about half of the hardware cost, can I leverage any of my existing handsets so I can upgrade the ‘core’ now,

and handsets later to hedge costs?

• Can I use packet-tagging if using VoIP so I don’t have to create VLANs?

• Can it “follow me” so it stays current with my mobile world?

• Does it integrate into my Microsoft environment and have functionality such as Unified Messaging?

• Are the phones full duplex so they don’t cut out while on speakerphone?

• Does it have conference bridge ability and automatically adjust levels so everyone can be heard?

• Can it use remote IP phones in a widely distributed environment of both remote sites and individual users?

 

Lastly, I have an additional consideration for those contemplating or in process of moving. If you are moving, is your money to move your phone system better spent on a new one? Remember, to move the phone system you’ll have to pay cash, but when buying a new system even the labor can be bundled into the lease, so your out-of-pocket during the expense of the move can be reduced, at least on the voice end.

 

So being an authorized AVAYA IP Office Reseller, we figured the best way for you to know if this is something you might want or need, is to tell you about it, show it to you, and feed you to limit your out-of-pocket time!

 

To attend, please RSVP to Shani Griffis at 949 273 5220 or shanigriffis@roundbrix.com . We have limited space so please reply promptly to ensure a spot!

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

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