The Right Channel

Peplink Distributor Frontier Computer

Sometime before 1990, Sam Walton created a relationship with Proctor & Gamble to have a channel of products flow through Walmart stores based on sales and stock levels at prices that reflected the huge volume a nationwide retailer supported. It was a direct partnership where P&G was producing inventory to go directly into Walmart stores without having to maintain stockpiles in warehouses in anticipation of orders. The concept of Channel Partnerships was born.

Over the years, the Channel Partner concept has morphed, scaled, and developed, but at its heart, the basis of the relationship is an interdependent trust. The distributing partner assures that the seller will have ready stock when it is needed at the most competitive price, and the seller finds, develops and manages clients who will buy the products. As with anything that evolves over 25 years, there are different level of success with selling partnerships. The relationships need to be crafted to the abilities of both the distributor and the seller, with the ultimate goal of providing the best service and products to the final consumer. The original model, a soap manufacturer and a mass-market reseller, was simple: have the product the customer wanted on the shelf when they want it, at consistently low price. Creating an effective partner relationship for a complicated technical product is an entirely different matter.

The Frontier Model

At Frontier, we have developed a distribution/channel system that works well for highly technical products. As the world’s largest distributor for Peplink and Pepwave, we had to learn from our partners what they needed and then provide it. Unlike products on a store shelf where the end consumer selects, our partners are usually providing their clients, the end users, with networking solutions that the partners design. There is much more to the sales process than delivering boxes. With the proper understanding of roles, together we provide exactly what the end user needs.

Our partners identify and cultivate their customers then design systems to meet their unique needs. Their primary role is design, installation and on-site interaction. Peplink offers 12 different enterprise routers, 17 cellular/mobile routers, eight unique access points, as well as virtualization and VPN solutions. It would be extremely difficult for any partner to fully understand the entire product line and know exactly the correct tools for every situation. Frontier’s role is to be our partners’ resource for both presales and technical information.

Customer Service for Partners

We have seven Peplink Certified staff exclusively to help our partners with their sales. In addition to our account managers, we have two full-time technicians for everything from prebuild questions to fully developed proof of concept set-ups. When our partners request it, our technicians can become directly involved with their client installations. The same Frontier staff are also available to provide after-sale support for issues beyond our partner’s current ability. We work with our partners’ clients as the partners’ advanced support team.

Our Partners can offer the full Peplink and Pepwave product line without any stock expense or requirement. Frontier has the entire Peplink Line in stock, and ships most orders on the day we receive them. We also blind ship for partners who want items delivered directly to their clients.

Many of our partners are primarily service technicians and installers, and not remarketers. To assist them, in addition to stock and technical support, we maintain a library of tools exclusively for our partners. Behind our Partner Central login, our partners can find marketing advice and sales tools to build their client base, as well as extensive documentation and training modules to prepare for their own Peplink certifications.

The Frontier model has come a long way from the early partner relationships like Walmart and Procter & Gamble. However, we have maintained the key element: two business entities doing what they each do well, to provide end users with something they value.

Frontier Computer and its partners have implemented Peplink based communication systems throughout the world. Contact Frontier to learn how your can become a successful Peplink reseller.

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Connecting Apples

The Fruit, not the Computers

For a long time we talked about IoT in the abstract, something that will happen. The future is now, and applications are budding everywhere, being used to solve practical real world problems in places you might not imagine. A Swiss company has created a device for monitoring fruit, not just the area where the fruit is being stored, but the actual temperature inside the fruit. Getting fresh fruit from the grower to the eater is complicated. The potential for spoilage increases the farther it goes and the more times it is transferred. With Wi-Fi enabled Fruit Simulators hidden in cartons of produce, and a mobile Pepwave cellular device, a grower could watch the crop go from the orchard to the final consumer destination.

Fresh produce has a very short shelf life. Tom Finkbiner, CEO, Tiger Cool Express estimates it at “less than 15 days for tree fruit and 15 to 30 days for grapes.” Consider the shipment channel of Michigan peaches to market in Dallas. Most shipments leave the growers in smaller quantities and then are consolidated into semi-trailer loads or boxcars for cross-country shipments. The long haul freight destination is a distribution center, not the final market. Once at the distributor, the truckload of cartons are divided into other trucks with a variety of other products for shipment to stores. Upon arrival at their final market destination, the peaches may linger on a receiving dock for several hours before they are put in a cooler or out on the shelves.

Each leg of the transportation should happen in temperature-controlled transport. The transferring from vehicle to vehicle, the sorting, and final delivery all represent excursions into every range of potential temperatures. When a grocer is unpacking a carton of peaches and finds they have temperature damage, there is no way to determine where along the journey the fruit went bad.

An article in the Journal of Food Engineering (July 18, 2017) reported on a new “Fruit Simulator.” The fruit simulator is a surrogate that can be placed in a carton, hidden among the real fruit, to monitor what goes on during the peach’s big adventure across the country. Because it looks like a peach and is placed in a carton with all the other peaches, shippers will not be able to select it for preferential treatment.

The simulator, created by Swiss firm Empa Materials Science and Technology, is the same shape and size as an apple, or peach, or mango, or banana and simulates the composition of the relative fruit. There are sensors inside the simulator to duplicate and record conditions inside the fruit. The sensor logs the data, and at the end of the delivery chain, can be used to find where problems occurred.

As Empa can currently produce the sensors, their primary value is forensic, after the fact, in finding fault for insurance claims if fruit reaches its destination unfit for sale. However, Empa is looking for a partner to make the fruit transmit the data wirelessly for real-time monitoring. In fairly short order, shipments of produce could be monitored through mobile connection in their freight containers.

Pepwave MAX Transit Duo in a Slingshot 6 case. Pepwave mobile cellular routers provide fleet communication with multiple cellular modems and GPS in small rugged units. At Frontier we recently created a portable unit with a dual cellular Pepwave MAX Transit Duo in a Slingshot 6 case with antennas and batteries for a go-anywhere connection. The device could be passed from driver to driver with a load of fruit containing Wi-Fi enabled Fruit Simulators for constant real-time monitoring of produce moving across the country.

Fresher produce is obviously better for the consumer, but the growers are most likely to benefit from the technology. They spend months carefully tending, protecting and harvesting crops only to load them on a truck and hope anonymous shippers and handlers get them to the consumer in good condition. In the near future they will be able to not just track their products as they move across the country, they will know those products are handled correctly.

Frontier Computer is the world’s largest distributor of Peplink and Pepwave products. Contact us today to become a Peplink reseller, or to find a reseller.

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To VoIP or not to VoIP

POTS Network

That is the question. Telephones are changing, especially in the United States. The traditional copper-wired network is not being innovated, and POTS (plain old telephone service) networks are being phased out. Even if you still have a wired phone service into your building, at some place along the line the call ends up digitized and transmitted, then turned back to analog at the other end. It seems like VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is the obvious choice. No so fast. There are reasons why either might work best. It is an even more difficult choice for a business that already has an investment in an analog PBX system.

POTS Networks Have Their Advantages

To this day wired phones are the measure for call clarity. When a VoIP call is working right, it is said to be as clear as a wired call. In addition, aside from an occasional squirrel chewing through a wire, legacy phones almost never go down. In power outages, POTS systems still work because their power comes through the phone lines themselves. It is exceedingly rare for a power failure or major weather disaster to take down the entire telephone system. These are sometimes huge benefits, but a pretty short list.

The problems list for legacy telephone systems is more significant. The initial reason VoIP systems gained traction was their significantly lower costs. Classic Telecom systems are expensive, both initially, and in ongoing costs. There are Telecom fees for every line, every service, and even charges for timed use. In general, Copper-wired monthly phone charges were running about double of equivalent VoIP fees. As fewer end users choose legacy wired systems, the costs of maintaining the aging infrastructure are shared by fewer customers, so the Telecom costs are about as low as they are ever going to be. It the early days of VoIP, when nearly all calls were like an echo chamber, VoIP prices were low, very low. From those bygone days, we still have the mythology that VoIP will save buckets of money, but it is not so true anymore.

Is VoIP the Pot of Gold?

The VoIP providers have adopted the ways of Big Telecom (that ironically enough are what opened the door for the competition). While you can get a Vonage VoIP line at home for $9.99, if you are a business the same line starts at $30. And the entry Vonage Business line at $30 is still pretty low for the market where $45 monthly per “user” (read: number) is not uncommon. In the wild however, the savings range only hits 40% if your office manager has been going to lunch with the Telecom sales rep every week and ignoring the upcharges. If your business has shopped wired phone service well the monthly savings may be 10%. Still, there are reasons beyond cost to consider switching to a VoIP system.

POTS systems are not flexible like VoIP. Just moving a person from one office to another may require new wiring, or if lines exist, that their legacy extension number be remapped inside the PBX system, yet another ticket for the IT Department. Adding additional lines means running more wires. With a VoIP system, a phone number can be moved down the hall or across town, and new lines and numbers can be added in minutes through existing Ethernet or even WiFi connections.

It is widely accepted that the wired networks will sunset, either through market atrophy or because the FCC will phase out PSTN (Publicly Switched Telephone Service). People still using legacy wired phones are roaming the deck of a ship filled with tiny leaks. It is sinking slowly, but eventually passengers are going to have to abandon ship. The question is how, when, and what they will need for the trip.

Is It Time to Jump?

For any new business setting up their first telephone system, the choice is simple. Do not get on the sinking ship. A new analog PBX system is expensive, and will be obsolete long before the significant capital investment is depreciated. Even the analog phones required will become obsolete. As an alternative, VoIP has low initial start-up costs; A small office needing 10 lines could buy all the high quality IP phones they would need for about $600. There are range of VoIP providers, so competitive shopping is easy. Oddly enough, many of the VoIP providers are turning their backs on the ease of Internet shopping and will force you to talk to a human for the big push and upsell. Brace yourself.

For an existing business currently using an analog PBX and POTS, with the upfront costs of an analog system already on the books, the switch to VoIP is less clear. Most VoIP Systems offer features just not available for wired service. Mobile phone integration is better, and the portability for remote employees is far superior. Things like conferencing, voicemail to email or text, advanced features, and even call recording are often included. In addition, with cloud based VoIP systems, the IT department is free of maintaining the in-house phone system. Most VoIP systems can be monitored and adjusted from a desktop or mobile app. Are those things enough to leave behind reliability and easy clarity of POTS?

Eventually we will all need to get off the leaky boat. However, can we ride it for another year, or even five without getting our feet wet? There is no imminent threat, and while the sinking ship analogy makes for clever writing, it is not quite so dire. We will be making calls on POTS lines for a good ten years or more.

There are ways for those switching from POTS to VoIP to keep the benefits of a wired network. By maintaining a few wired lines for emergency fallback and building the right network with bandwidth bonding and QoS VoIP priority, a Voice over Internet Protocol system can completely replace Plain Old Telephone Service. The switch to VoIP becomes more of a WHEN question than an IF question. Your business or organization will switch to a VoIP system, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for . . .

Next Time: Build your VoIP network with all the POTS advantages and none of the leaks.

Frontier Computer is now a full line distributor of Grandstream IP Telephony products and continues to be the World’s largest Peplink distributor. The two technologies combined can assure that your jump to VoIP will be easy, clear, and reliable.

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But I Have Four Bars!

One of your kids cleans her room and has good manners, but she’s always late. The other one doesn’t mow the lawn and his laundry is a heap on the floor, but he’s getting straight As. They both look a little like you and your spouse, so you can’t blame anyone else. It seems wrong; why do two kids who are so similar behave so differently? Your cell phone indicates four bars on the AT&T network, but your mobile router will not connect on the same network. It seems wrong; it’s the same network, why can’t it connect? While we will never understand our own children, there are reason why cell connections behave differently.

At the most basic level, you should not put much faith in the signal strength meter in the top right corner of your cell phone display. While those bars are not completely arbitrary, there is no industry standard for what those bars indicate. The Wilson Amplifiers blog from August of 2016 states it concisely, “In plain English, it’s up to each individual carrier to decide what’s 1, 2, 3, 4 or full bars on their own service. So what could be 1 bar on Verizon, might be 2 bars on AT&T, and 3 bars on Sprint.” In addition, two phones next to each other may show completely different bars, even when receiving the same signal from the same carrier. The bars on a phone are for information, but there is also an incentive for both phone makers and carriers to show a strong signal as often as possible. The “bars” are inaccurate, so for genuine diagnostic purposes every phone has an actual signal meter built-in, mostly hidden from the consumer. It’s pretty easy to find on Andriod, under ABOUT DEVICE: STATUS. You can find it on iPhones too, but it’s not so easy (search Field Test Mode). The meter will show the signal in –dBm, the correct unit of measure.

Cellular signals are radio transmissions, so they are measured in decibel-milliwatts, not bars. The usable range is -50 dBm to -120 dBm. Minus fifty is a strong signal (5 bars, if you must), and -120 dBm is a dead zone. Anything under -110 dBm will make a connection more or less impossible. In the middle of our steel reinforced building, my Samsung S5 shows 1 bar on AT&T, but the signal reads between -114 dBm and -109 dBm, which explains why calls don’t go through.

The arbitrary nature of “bars” is just the tip of the iceberg. The strength of a signal itself can fluctuate, even when the receiving device is stationary. Normal fluctuation can be around ±5 dBm, primarily caused by load on the cell tower and weather. The more people connected to one tower, the weaker the signal. Peak usage times (rush hour, lunch hour, etc.) will result in lower power for all users. Cell broadcasts are VHF, just like over the air TV. Dense clouds, thunder, lightning, temperature, and humidity can all degrade a signal. Five decibels does not seem like much, and at the good end, it isn’t. However if you have a marginal signal, like -95 dBm, your calls will probably hold, but if it falls to -100 dBm it’s likely connections will drop, or not be established at all.

To further cloud the issue, there are also fundamental differences in the way humans use cellular connections compared to how devices use them. Cellular networks have been built primarily for people. They are designed to handle relatively few connections to users who each transfer large amounts of data. As the Internet of Things grows, M2M (Machine-to-Machine) communications are based on a large number of devices connecting often, but moving little data. Human communications are challenged by data flow, but M2M connections challenge the system with signaling traffic.

Some M2M devices are delay tolerant; every smart meter in a town may try to connect at same time, but they will be content to wait in line for their turn. However, there are M2M devices with critical connection requirements, like health monitoring and warning sensors. Cellular carriers must balance between data intensive tasks and connection loads, and the critical requirements of the connected devices. As a result, carriers treat different types of devices differently. If you are interested in what the carriers are up against you can read about it here (Warning! Math).

Carriers know what they are connecting. Before any device can be connected to a network, its MAC address needs to be registered with the carrier. The MAC address has nothing to do with fruit-flavored computers. A MAC address, acronym for Media Access Control, is a unique identifier electronically imbedded in every single device by the manufacturer. Any phone, modem, router, or sensor on a network can be identified by its MAC address. Based on its MAC address, cellular carriers decide how to treat each device as it tries to connect. It is not difficult to guess the priorities that carriers apply.

By federal law, carriers must offer first connection to those enrolled in the WPS (Wireless Priority Service). The FCC lists who is eligible: police, fire departments, 9-1-1 call centers, EMS, essential healthcare providers, or any other “organization that uses telecommunication services necessary for the public health, safety, and maintenance of law and order.” Next are critical health related M2M devices. Both of these high priority users represent a small fraction of connections. No one is admitting where their priorities go from there, but it is a fair guess that individual cellular phone users are high on the list. As anyone can tell from the number of commercials touting connectability, consumer level cellular clients are a major priority for carriers. As relative newcomers to the party, non-critical devices with cellular modems, like most M2M devices, may not be at the top of the food chain.

Let’s go back to the original question. Why is my phone showing four bars when cellular modem in my mobile router can’t connect? First, it is because those four bars are not an accurate indication of current cellular signal. Environmental factors can degrade signal quality, and the variation caused by those conditions may affect one device differently than another. Lastly, the two devices are different, and your carrier knows it. The devices have different connection needs, and your carrier may be giving priority to one class of device over another. You’ll be happiest if you treat your cellular devices like your children. They share some of the same DNA, but they are each unique, with their own quirks and foibles.

As it has since 1976, Frontier Computer can provide IT hardware and enterprise computing solutions. We are North America’s largest Peplink distributor, with Peplink certifed engineers on staff. We can help you build your IoT connectivity plan. We can’t explain your children.

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Bring IoT Together

Internet of Things

According to several reports there are a few reoccurring reasons why IoT projects fail. Some of the problems are an institutional shortfall, like lack of administrative priority from the top or failure to define goals. No technology can solve those sorts of problems. For other obstacles, like inconsistent connectivity or high bandwidth expenses, there is a solution.

Connectivity is a major hurdle for most IoT projects. An IoT solution requires certain essential network elements: sufficient data throughput, low-cost bandwidth, reliable connections, ability to scale connections to a number of devices, and coverage in remote areas. One of the primary appeals of IoT is the ability to connect remote systems and devices for reporting, monitoring, and control from a centralized location. The more remote and distant an asset is from a home office, the more appealing the capabilities become. At the same time, more remote areas tend to have fewer dedicated connection options, or none at all. All of these issues are exactly why Peplink and more specifically Pepwave devices are ideal for IoT applications.

The connections required for many machine to machine, IoT solutions are also significantly different from the connections we normally consider. While a remote control module in the field may need to receive a new set of instructions reliably during a major weather event, it is never going to want to download 4K video from Netflix. At the other end of the IoT connection, the central office or headquarters may need a major data pipe to handle information coming in from hundreds, even thousands of remote sensors. IoT requires different connection strategies, as part of the same network.

Hardware for Every Application

A Peplink network can be established easily with a range of different components, with very different connection strategies all part of the same network. They can all be controlled from the same interface, so all devices on the network can be managed remotely from anywhere in the world. To understand this we need to look at both Peplink hardware and Peplink technology.

Peplink has enterprise level hardware that can handle up to 20,000 users or connections. One Peplink Balance 2500 can manage a central office or entire campus of traffic, but there are models with similar capabilities for offices as small as two to sixty users. In the field Pepwave routers come in a range of sizes and shapes. The Pepwave routers are unique because they can simultaneously use satellite, wired and cellular connections, or even multiples of any connection in the same device. At one end of the spectrum a Pepwave MAX BR1 Mini, at just 1 x 4 x 4 inches could establish a remote Wi-Fi network from inside a backpack. It can be operated with very little current from any 10-30 volt power source connected to terminal block inputs. It can receive Internet connection from a wired or cellular source, and has two SIM card slots for different carriers when in remote locations.

The Same Software for Every Device

To the IoT devices on a Peplink network these various connection look like a single, wide data pipe. Peplink creates this with its proprietary SpeedFusion technology. SpeedFusion manages data flow to keep it moving securely and quickly through the fastest available connection. First SpeedFusion divides each transmission into 256-bit AES encrypted packets. The remote router looks at the available channels and send the packets through the fastest, or least expensive, or most reliable connection as determined by the system administrator. SpeedFusion follows each packet through each channel, and if at any time a channel loses integrity, slows down, or suffers packet loss, SpeedFusion moves the data to another path in microseconds. At the other end of the transmission, a second Peplink device unencrypts and re-assembles the data. Each of these SpeedFusion connections is its own Virtual Private Network for complete security.

SpeedFusion connections can also be used in cloud environments. For transmission to and from the cloud, a Peplink FusionHub virtual device replaces a Peplink hardware router at one end of the SpeedFusion pipe, creating the same secure, fast, reliable connection. FusionHub is compatible with major cloud platforms including Amazon, VMWare, VirtualBox, Hyper-V, and XenServer.

One Management Interface

All of this technology has simple application for IoT deployments. It means that a company can link a variety of IoT devices in a range of locations and they will communicate with each other as if they are in the same facility wired together. An Engineer in Omaha can monitor production equipment in Mexico City, a warehouse in Kentucky, and a freighter of parts moving across the pacific as if they are in the next room.

Every Peplink device on the network, including FusionHub virtual devices, are managed with the same interface. Peplink’s InControl2 is a comprehensive management tool that allows administrators to see and adjust every aspect of the network. Administrators access InControl2 from any web browser, or the InControl2 iOS or Android App. InControl2 can identify each device on a map, monitor throughput at any point in the network, update settings and firmware, change configurations, and control bandwidth from one interface, anywhere Internet is available.

Lower Bandwidth Expenses

All of the security and reliability of SpeedFusion connections are also cost effective. Connection expense is another hurdle many IoT projects face. In addition to the competitively low cost of Peplink hardware, the Peplink technology can significantly reduce bandwidth expense. Traditionally a level of immediate connection required expensive MPLS T1 lines at each location. Peplink combines other, less expensive data options into a more reliable pipe. Built into the Peplink InControl2 software are a range of strategies administrators can quickly employ to manage costs and still maintain speed and security. In one example, a remote location may use the lowest cost cable connection, with a secondary cellular connection if the network slows down, and an option to failover to satellite as a last resort. All of the switching and cost management is invisible to the IoT devices, which will see only a fast unbreakable connection at all times.

Anyone planning an Internet of Things project can overcome two common obstacles with one simple choice. Peplink will provide reliable, secure, fast connections for any IoT plan, and do so without putting undue pressure on a project budget. Regardless of the work you need to do, or the type of devices you need to connect, starting with a Peplink network will take connectivity issues off the table.

As it has since 1976, Frontier Computer can provide IT hardware and enterprise computing solutions. We are North America’s largest Peplink distributor, with Peplink certifed engineers on staff. We can help you build your IoT connectivity plan.

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Doing the Right Thing

ABOVE: Frontier shipments waiting for pick-up.

 
We move a lot of product through our warehouse. In addition to our own asset disposition clients, we are the place where many other firms go to sell the retired hardware they removed from your business. Packages come in daily for us to test and repair before we accept them.

Their Box
The shipment that asks the question, “What were they thinking?”
The same team that packs and ships our equipment in the afternoon unpack what others send to us in the morning. They are well seasoned, and not surprised by anything, so when the package in the photo to the right came in they thought nothing of it. “We’ve seen it all,” said our shipping manager, Aaron.
 
It is difficult to express exactly the difference packing can make in the confidence a customer gets. Our standards are high. Everything is shipped in new boxes with fresh packing that has not already suffered stress and compression. Items that do not have manufacturer’s packaging and outer boxes are first nested in custom contoured closed cell foam. Large, heavy boxes are strapped on to pallets with nylon or metal banding. Corner reinforcements are fitted to the exterior of the boxes to assure the banding itself does not pierce or damage the boxes. After the packages are secured, the entire pallet is shrink wrapped then properly labeled on all sides. Although it sounds involved, our staff are so experienced they can do it in just a few minutes.
 
Once in a while, someone will wonder if our standards are overkill, maybe more than is required. Then we look at our record of less than one package damaged in transit per year. We remind ourselves that we do not have customers complaining of careless handling. Occasionally, when a package like this arrives, we know we are doing the right thing.
 

When you need new or replacement hardware, we will have the items you need, and they will arrive at your door in the same condition as when they left our warehouse.

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Time for Vigilance

“You need preparing, but most of all, you need constant, never ceasing vigilance.”

—Alastor ‘mad-eye’ Moody

In April, when Rebekah Brown wrote about the release of the NSA hacking tools, she said it was not time, yet, to build a bunker. While the jury is still out about the bunker, in the same Rapid7.com blog she correctly predicted, “It will not be long before we will start to see more widespread attacks using these tools.” Less than a month, it turns out.

It is easy to brush off the over-reported drama of the WannaCry attack, but there are a few lessons worth our time. For example, by now everyone has heard that the attack used EternalBlue, one of the vulnerabilities stolen from the NSA and released to the world. What no one is telling you is that it was just one of several NSA hacking tools revealed in the data dump. Along with EternalBlue are EternalSynergy, EternalRomance, EternalChampion, EmeraldThread, EskimoRoll, EducatedScholar, and EclipsedWing. The NSA have a lot of time on their hands.

Theoretically, those were all patched by the Microsoft release in March and then for older systems on May 13, 2017. The May 13 patch was in reaction to the WannaCry attack, not an indication regular updates will continue for those older systems. This raises the question of just who is responsible for the weakness. Clearly, the ransomware hackers are ultimately to blame, but there are, and always will be, bad actors. If you leave your car doors unlocked there’s a good chance someone will steal your Ray-Bans. Who is ultimately responsible for locking the software doors?

The knee-jerk answer is Microsoft. All over the Internet this week, it’s open season on Seattle. Microsoft patched the known vulnerability in March for all systems they currently support. Administrators and users running currently supported systems, who did not install the updates, have no one to blame but themselves. It is clear we have moved past the era when updates, particularly security updates, are optional.

Lesson One: Apply Updates.

A significant number of the computers affected were older models that Microsoft no longer supports. Should Microsoft support them? Federal law only requires automakers to continue to have parts available for a car within the warranty period — the longest interval of eight years for emissions parts. Microsoft replaced XP with Vista in 2007, so XP installations are 10 to 16 years old. Just how long is a software developer responsible for old software? Moreover, this attack was proliferated through fake emails. Is Microsoft responsible when your staff click on an email promising “This kitten will make you cry.”

People clinging to XP know they are working on borrowed time. Similarly, three or four years ago, tech administrators were reading articles that recommended migrating away from Windows Server 2003. At what point does holding on to an unsupported operating system become the end user’s responsibility. A few weeks ago, in this blog, I wrote that four, five, and even six year-old servers are still viable, but retaining a ten year-old operating system is clearly an at-your-own-risk proposal.

More than 230,000 computer users in 150 countries take the risk. That is the estimate of units attacked by WannaCry. The 230,000 does not include the countless XP, server 2003, and other older builds that were not victims of the ransomware because their users didn’t open the phishing emails. The ubiquitous world map of blue dots showing attack localization is educational. You might expect that the older and non-updated systems would be concentrated in third world countries, but the map shows a distinct cluster in our Pacific Northwest, the very home of Microsoft. The British Health Service made the news, but ask anyone in the US medical profession and they will tell you there are scanners, imagers, and other stand-alone devices, used every day, running a Windows XP interface. Brazil’s Social Security System, German Railways, Spain’s Telefonica, French automaker, Renault were all victims of the attack, all running old software.

Lesson Two: People, businesses, and governments do not replace old equipment.

Given the realities that people are not prompt with updates, and that computers can stay in service and continue to perform years beyond end-of-support, Cyber security is a worldwide problem. EternalBlue and the seven other weapons stockpiled by the NSA are dangerous. When the NSA let them slip away, they were irresponsible at best. Regardless of your position on the world order and immigration, cyber weapons are a world concern. Unlike nuclear bombs and mustard gas, cyber weapons are easy to deploy, and have no localized restrictions. It takes a missile or plane to deliver a bomb. A guy in his pajamas with a computer and a bad attitude can launch a cyber-attack.

Lesson Three: Governments building cyber weapons must protect them as they do warheads.

It is unlikely that spy agencies (the USA is not alone) will give up their cyber tools. Microsoft and other software vendors can only be expected to support systems for a reasonable interval. People will never be fully compliant with updates, even when provided. Lastly, computers running old operating systems will not disappear. Given these absolutes, the best solution is still common sense and personal attention. These attacks spread through phishing emails that a single user in the system opened. The people on the front lines, those tricked by the promise of foreign payouts, fake PayPal invoices, and hot Russian brides are the gateway for attacks.

Lesson Four: Don’t be that guy.

You don’t need a bunker. Just be vigilant. Do not open emails, especially attachments, from people you don’t know. Be suspicious of anything that is not in your normal email routine. To Paraphrase Smokey the Bear: “Only you can prevent ransomware.”

As it has since 1976, Frontier Computer can provide IT hardware and enterprise computing solutions. Our expert logistics team can even deliver to your bunker.

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Servers with a Chance of Cloud

If you spend any time around IT people you might think that in-house data centers and servers are as rare as pay phones. Like many things in popular culture, however, the reality is different from the perception. In the most recent study, released May 1, 2017, the Uptime Institute found, “the percentage of workloads residing in enterprise-owned/operated data centers has remained stable at 65 percent since 2014.” It would be easy to latch on to the 65% number and miss perhaps the most important element in their summary finding, the 65% has remained stable.

In weather reporting, “partly coludy” means more sun than clouds.

Looking deeper into the Uptime report shows details that do not quite mesh with current buzz that everything is moving to the cloud. Of the 35% of IT work that wasn’t being done in owner/operated data centers 22% of operations were still in data centers, but they were either co-located or multi-tenant centers. As of May 1, 2017, only 13% of Enterprise computing worldwide is in the cloud.

In the forty-five minute webinar on the study, Matt Stansberry, senior director for Uptime Institute noted that over the last five years of their study the industry percentage of in-house IT data centers has only changed within the margin of error. In short, there isn’t a decline. While he noted that about a third of respondents did plan to deploy some workloads in the cloud in the next year, Stansberry said that 50% of cloud deployment is for new computing capacity and growth, much of it by the large IT users like Netflix, Amazon, and Microsoft.

Given the industry buzz supporting cloud computing, IT managers would be negligent not to explore the options. Overall data center footprints are shrinking, but cloud deployments are only one aspect. Increased server performance and technology are shrinking hardware. In addition, a significant portion characterized as a move to the cloud is in fact virtualization implemented on owned servers. Small server installations in remote offices have been replaced, but with a virtual presence in the company’s own data center. There is new growth in the cloud, but not necessarily a rapid revolution.

As with all technology, things will change, but the just released report of data collected in early 2017, from 1,000 IT professionals, suggests that enterprise-owned/operated data centers are the rule rather than the exception, and that redeployment in the cloud is still a small part of the industry. At the end of his presentation of Uptime Institute’s findings Matt Stansberry summarized, “Enterprise-owned data centers have remained a central component. We urge data center and IT professionals to focus on the business aspects of running their IT foundation.”

As it has since 1976, Frontier Computer can provide IT hardware and enterprise computing solutions. We have experts who can identify the best way to deploy your workload — in-house, shared, or cloud — and help you transition when it’s time to make a change.

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The Circle of IT Life

Circle of IT Life

If you Google “IT Product Life Cycle,” you’ll get an MBAs worth of information about how manufactures can track the life of a product. The definition of “product” they are using, however, is better described as model. The business school life cycle is concept, design, marketing, blah, blah, blah. The Harvard and Wharton types break it into introduction, growth, maturity, and saturation. It is mostly a market assessment, not really a product evaluation. In fact, the day someone buys the actual product it falls off the retailer’s cycle. The object of their whole plan is the sale, and where their interest ends.

For our purpose here, we are not interested in how long Ford can continue to sell cars called Taurus — seems to be forever — or how long IBM can call it Power 8, before they have to bust out the 9. The real question is what happens once a specific piece of IT hardware hits the streets, the real beginning of the IT product Circle of Life. For IT Hardware, the circle starts with the installation of the new piece of hardware at its first work site. Like many of us at our first jobs, the future is not bright for Mr. Server; in a few years he’ll probably be looking for a new job.

Like many others, Brett Nordquist at Recovery Zone, Storagecraft.com’s blog, recommends replacing a server every three years. He cites the escalating cost of support as his major reason. “According to IDC, starting in the fourth year, support costs increase about 40%. By year five, you’re staring at a 200% increase. Hold on to the server for seven years and support costs hit a mind boggling 400%.” Sadly, his is a common view and rationale, despite being flawed. The reasoning is based on OEM warranty, and using OEM support. The original manufacturer has a stake in keeping the cost high for support years four, five, and beyond. High maintenance costs will make new hardware look more appealing. Other than as a market driver for the Mr. Server’s creator, the three-year interval has no basis in reality.

FrontierCARE logoThe escalating costs of OEM service are not the only support option. We know more than a little bit about this at Frontier because our FrontierCARE provides high levels of support for IT hardware including 24/7 service with as little as two-hour response times. There are other non-OEM service options beyond FrontierCARE, and when the primary function of the company providing support isn’t to sell new hardware the costs decrease significantly. FrontierCARE runs about 50% of OEM support contracts. It could also be argued that the most knowledgeable support happens at the two-year plus mark. By then the flaws and quirks of any system are widely known, expected, and quickly addressed.

There are other reasons why Mr. Server is ready to stay on the job past 36 months. Omitting the rare piece of enterprise IT hardware with design flaws, servers are sturdy things. These are not laptops from Best Buy. They are expected to operate 24 hours a day, all year, without rest. When installed correctly in the proper environment, servers can take it. There will be component failure — even new components fail sometimes — but parts are available. With the exception of limited production hardware, like DC servers or certain Military specified hardware, there is a brisk secondary market, and inventory of IT parts. Again, this is something we know well at Frontier. Our warehouse holds more than 100,000 product SKUs, and only a fraction of them are currently available from the original manufacturer. This first stage in the circle of IT life does not have to be only three years.

Whether stage one, initial installation from new, lasts three years, five years, or only 18 months, it’s just an arc on the circle of IT life. Frontier Computer Corp. is where the second stage of life starts for Mr. Server and many of his contemporaries. Frontier was founded 40 years ago buying various equipment that was coming off lease. Today, we are where servers go when they are released from their first assignment.

When the hardware comes into Frontier, our technicians fully test it, replace anything that isn’t working properly, clean it up, and send it its next job. For many of those servers, stage two will be the same as stage one. Often servers coming from a data center replacing their hardware will go into another data center that is being installed. Some of them will replace another identical unit that has failed in an installment as old as the data center that was decommissioned. One IT administrator’s cast-off is another’s solution. This arc in the circle sometimes repeats itself.

What might be old technology for major corporation in a first world country, can be the perfect solution for a start-up, or small legacy company in other parts of the globe. Frontier ships fully configured, tested systems worldwide. Sometimes those systems are going on their third deployment, further extending the life of a product. Not every unit makes it to even a second deployment. It depends on how long the server remains at its first installation, the server’s original configuration, and how well it fares in testing to determine when it moves from functioning as a whole server to becoming a donor for parts.

Even when a Mr. Server is taken out of service as a whole unit, it isn’t over. At Frontier, our techs go to work turning a retired server into a parts warehouse. Components are tested, and when they pass, entered into inventory. For most equipment, there is not much that doesn’t become a spare. Processors, power supplies, drives, connecters, memory, and a long list of other components can all be useful. Even case parts, like bezels can become spares. The younger a server is when retired, the more likely it is to yield parts. If there are bits here and there with no utility left, Frontier recycles them into raw materials. Only those bits move to the end of the circle.

The Circle Can Be Unbroken

At the parts level Mr. Server completes the circle. One of the reasons IT managers replace servers with newer models is fear for a lack of available spares. When a server or any major assembly gets decommissioned into parts, ironically, those parts are the resource that keep other similar models in service. FrontierCARE clients enjoy a flow of ready spares even when parts are scarce at the manufacturer level, a significant advantage over other service options.

The real end of life for Mr. Server happens many, many years later, only when all of the original models are uninstalled, and all of the components lose their value as spare parts. The value of spare parts, however, can even outlive a specific model. When a new version is introduced, it doesn’t necessarily mean all new components. Mr. Server’s connectors, heat sinks, and even case components may well have the same part number as the next generation. Alas, eventually every vestige of Mr. Server will disappear from data centers worldwide. When that time comes, at Frontier every useful resource that once was Mr. Server is recycled into raw materials, to begin the circle again.

The manufacturer may limit the product life cycle of a specific model using designations like end-of-life, and end-of-service, but those terms have no resemblance to the actual working life of one specific unit. Enterprise quality IT hardware has a long life, even with a short initial installation. How long IT hardware remains useful to the original purchaser may has more to do with the maintenance choices of the user than the hardware itself. Those choosing only OEM support will find their assets needing frequent replacement. Those who choose a different maintenance option, like FrontierCARE, can realize benefits on their investment for much longer, usually with less down time, and less total expense.

When you have IT assets to manage you can count on FrontierCARE to help you get the most out of your investment. We can keep them up and running, and when they are truly at the end of their useful lives, assure that they are properly recycled to begin the circle once more.

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Is It Really Waterproof?

Since the Sony Xperia Z and Samsung Galaxy S5, about 2013, common smartphones have been IP67, “water resistant.” Now Apple has built the iPhone 7 to the same specification, and once Apple jumps on the train more people start asking questions. The phones are rated IP67, but what exactly does that mean? It is a tight seal, but not something you want to take snorkeling.

Technically, IP67 means the phones, as they come out of the box, can take immersion in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. The certification states that the seal will prevent “ingress of water in harmful quantity.” It can leak, but not enough to cause damage, a vague standard for something as sensitive as a smartphone. Two meters would mean more pressure and all bets are off. As the phones age, spend time in your pocket, and get dropped the seals will lose integrity. The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S8 are now IP68 rated, which protects against immersion more than 1 meter, but the standard does not specify a depth benchmark. Samsung says the S8 is good to 1.5 meters; let’s call it 4-1/2 feet. In other words, it will not end well if you jump into the deep end of the pool with your S8.

IP standards do not apply well to handheld objects that are subject to daily bumps, occasionally being sat upon, and just general abuse. The ratings, however, are a sound measurement for electronic equipment installed in one place even when the conditions at that location change drastically. The IP (for Ingress Protection) standards were developed by the IEC, International Electrotechnical Commission. The “IP” is followed by two digits. The first digit represents penetration by solids and the second digit is for liquids. It helps to understand how the ratings work.

It takes an IP3x rating to keep out objects greater than 2.5mm, which means you could still poke a flat blade screwdriver into the sensitive parts. IP4x will keep out most chunks, but sand and dust are going right in. IP5x is dust “protected,” which means dust can still get in, but will not “enter in sufficient quantity to interfere with satisfactory operation.” If it strikes you that words like sufficient and satisfactory are less than precise, you are starting to understand the situation. Finally, the IP6x rating draws a line, “no ingress of dust.” Yet, when I open my 3-year-old, IP67-rated Samsung S5, there’s plenty of pocket lint in there. IP ratings do not account for pockets.

The second IP number is for liquids, which is where the rubber meets the road for electronic equipment. An IPx2 will keep out dripping water. The IPx3 rating keeps out spraying water, and IPx4 keeps out splashing water. The distinction between 3 and 4 seems to be that splashing can come from any angle. The ratings get serious at IPx5, which means, “Water jets projected by a nozzle (6.3mm) against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effects.” For most products mounted outdoors IPx5 covers rain, even in wind. IPx6 protects against “water projected in powerful jets (12.5mm).” The powerful jets protection is the sort of seal that will keep out storms up to low-grade hurricanes. You can take IPx7 devices swimming in very shallow water. The most liquid resistant is the IPx8, but the difference is just that it goes beyond the IPx7’s 1 meter immersion rating, but how much beyond is up to the manufacturer to specify.

In all of these ratings fresh water is used in testing, simulating rain and conditions in nature. It should not be assumed that other liquids, which may be more volatile than water will be prevented from entering an enclosure. For industrial installations with chemicals and other liquids, specific testing is the only way to confirm protection. The IP standards for solids and liquids ingress protection are only tested with new equipment with full seals intact. It is up to manufacturers to take testing beyond the basic IP standard.

How do IP ratings apply in actual installations?

Pepwave houses several of their products in IP certified enclosures, with two levels of certification. The AP One Flex Wireless Access Point, MAX BR1 IP55 Cellular Router, and MAX BR2 IP55 Cellular Router are in all-weather, plastic, IP55 rated enclosures. These products are widely used outdoors and give years of service in all-weather applications and temperatures. In all but hurricane force wind, they will withstand rain and dust.

Pepwave’s iconic, industrial level, all metal IP67 enclosure houses the AP Pro line of Access Points and the MAX HD2 IP67 Dual Cellular Router. For applications anywhere but in standing water these IP67 enclosure can fight off weather, storms, high winds and temperature extremes. The Pepwave AP Pro routers were used to bring the Longboat Key community Wi-Fi for 212 homes. Weather conditions do not get more severe than on a barrier island off the coast of Florida.

IP standards tell a great deal about water and particle resistance but do not address other factors that can effect electronic performance. Pepwave goes beyond the IP standard with their own aggressive testing. Peplink maintains their own Faraday chambers and tests every product for performance in thermal extremes. The products housed in the IP55 and IP67 enclosures are all tested and continue to perform over several days at temperatures as low as -40°F and as high as 149°F. The AP Pro Access Points and MAX HD2 IP67 are also certified for RF Port Lighting Immunity to ITU-T K.20 (+/- 1.5 kV) and EN 61000 Electromagnetic Compatibility.

Even the Peplink products not intended for outdoor use undergo rigorous testing for extremes. The entire Pepwave MAX BR and HD lines of cellular routers are tested and will perform in temperatures from -40°F to 149°F for installation in remote locations where heating and cooling are not available. The Pepwave MAX Transit line can handle both temperature extremes and significant vibrations. The MAX Transit and MAX Transit Duo cellular routers are certified for Shock and Vibration Resistance, Railway Applications, Electronic Equipment used on Rolling Stock, and Electromagnetic Compatibility.

While there is no certainty that your smartphone – Samsung or Apple – will withstand a jump in the lake, you can count on Peplink and Pepwave devices to perform up to and beyond their IP rating. Frontier Computer can help you match the right Peplink or Pepwave products to both your application and the conditions at the installation site.

As it has since 1976, Frontier Computer can provide IT hardware and enterprise computing solutions. We have experts who can identify the best tools to maintain your connections in any weather.

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The Right Antenna

Despite the high quality signal of a Peplink router, the best way to maximize connection speeds and throughput are with the right antenna. Recently our colleagues in The Netherlands did a simple test of the same Peplink hardware with three different antennas and found that the right antenna can double connection speed on the same network, with all other connections the same.

With the standard 2-dBi antennas included with the Peplink device, they measured 43.58 Mbps download and 17.09 Mbps upload speeds, about what was expected from the device. When they changed to a high gain omnidirectional antenna the speeds more than doubled to 87.18 Mbps downstream and 45.25 Mbps upstream. With a directional high gain antenna, the download speeds increased slightly more to 105.95 Mbps, although upload speeds remained the same, perhaps limited by the connection itself.

Omni v Directional

It is easy to look at these results and assume that a directional antenna will be the best choice, but that isn’t always true. A directional antenna requires a direct line-of-sight, and must be pointed accurately between the two connected devices. Directional antennas also have a narrower reception window. Directional antennas are not well suited to applications where the receiving device is highly mobile. However, when the signal needs to travel the longest distances, the extra boost of a directional antenna can make a difference.

Omnidirectional antennas spread their signal across a wider area. The wider signal will have less concentration in one area, but allows easier placement. Omnidirectional antennas can be mounted with less regard to the receiving device, and are significantly better when connecting to multiple devices in different areas. While omnidirectional antennas will spread a signal in all directions, it is still important to locate the antenna in the center of the sending area. An omnidirectional antenna mounted in the corner of a building will be less effective in the opposite corner than the same antenna mounted centrally, to spread the signal evenly throughout the building.

“When you look at the results of the tests, it becomes clear that an antenna can be a value-adding product to double your signal strength and data speed.”

Richard Koenders
Managing Director at FrontierBV

The added benefit of a higher gain antenna does not have to be expensive. While an Axxess Marine 8-10 dBi Stainless Steel outdoor antenna for saltwater applications can be more than $1,000, a simple 5 dBi indoor Wi-Fi antenna can be added for as little as $25.

Frontier Computer can help you match the right antenna to your hardware and application. An antenna could be the most cost effective performance improvement you can make.

As it has since 1976, Frontier Computer can provide IT hardware and enterprise computing solutions. We have experts who can identify the best tools to improve your connections.

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Chose the Right Antenna

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The Internet of Connected Things

The Internet of Things

If you find yourself at a party with a person who will not stop talking, try asking, “What do you know about this ‘Internet of Things?’” Most people will just stare back, confused. For all the buzz, there is not much clarity. The Internet of Things, or IoT for us insiders, is really more of a concept than a technology. It isn’t something you can buy, invest in, or hold in your hand. The term itself was coined in 1985, six years before there was a World Wide Web and back when the word Internet just meant a network between computers, the same way Interstate means a highway connecting two states. It seems impossible that when Peter T. Lewis used the phrase at an FCC conference he had any idea that it would take on its current meaning.

So what is “The Internet of Things?”

The short answer is that it is a concept. The longer answer is that it is the idea of connecting things that we have not previously thought of as requiring a connection. We always understood that a communications device, like the telephone or telegraph, needed a network, they simply did not exist without one. Other resources, however, have not always had a network. Water, for example, was transported in containers before there was a system of pipes to carry it everywhere. Now we cannot imagine water that doesn’t flow right out of the faucet. Before the electrical grid, energy was unleashed on site by heating water with burning coal or wood and using the power of steam to generate electricity where it was needed. Similarly, we have countless tools in our lives that have never required a connection to each other. Those are the “Things” in IoT.

For lay people those Things are mundane. If you hear people using “smart” as an adjective, they are describing a device on the Internet of Things. It’s hard to imagine how important it is to have a smart refrigerator, and there have been movies made about smart houses rebelling (the smart house in the television series Eureka is prone to jealousy). However, there are significant IoT technologies beyond being able to place an Amazon order from any room in your house. For example, in the past during power overloads, usually on hot days when air conditioners are all running at full tilt, the only way to avert disaster was with rolling blackouts, where power was selectively cut to various regions in sequence. With smart air conditioners, during peak loads the cooling devices could still operate, but at higher temperature to assure that no one user is without power. While it sounds like Big Brother controlling our lives, it is exactly the same concept as a rolling blackout only without the 30-minute intervals without any power at all.

Also on the Internet of Things are monitoring sensors to avert a whole host of disasters. Those sensors are already on things like pressure gauges and overload detectors, deployed in industrial and commercial applications, like production lines, utilities and traffic. Until recently those sensors only sent data locally, to a control panel or maybe to another room in the same location. They will become much more common, and will send data anywhere. An engineer in Kentucky can be making decisions about a production line in Thailand using real-time information. That is IoT. Today’s experiments with self-driving automobiles are just a training step. Eventually self-driving vehicles will not rely on radar and optical sensors to know there is another car coming, they will know because the vehicles will be communicating with each other, and with the road itself. Smart pacemakers will not only detect and correct cardiac arrhythmias; they will transmit data to a hospital in real time, and send an ambulance if the device itself can’t be used to solve the problem.

On the less flashy, consumer side, the Internet of Things will be a refrigerator that will warn you, reading an RF id tag on the carton, that your milk has gone sour before you take that gut clenching sip. Your KitchenAid mixer will get instructions directly from the recipe you are reading on yummy.com to whip the perfect meringue, just before the fluffy peaks turn to gelatinous goo. Your bed will know you are walking from the living room to the bathroom, confirm that you have ended your Firefly marathon, receive information from your electric toothbrush, and calculate that you are going to be arriving soon. It will measure both the indoor and outdoor temperatures, then warm itself to a comfy 72 degrees so when you slip in your toes will be nice and toasty. That is the pretty side of IoT, but it has warts.

IoT, Warts and All.

Last week in the big WikiLeaks dump “Year Zero” of Vault 7, they claimed, with yet undisputed evidence, that the CIA has fairly easy access to all of your IoT devices. They have apparently been listening into private conversations through smart TVs, even when those TVs are off. WikiLeaks claims in their summary that the CIA can pretty much put a hit on anyone by hacking into the computers in their cars. If you have information the CIA wants and you talk about it on your smartphone, don’t bother sending the spy agency a transcript because they already know. It is easy to hear this and get ready to toss the IoT baby right out the window, but the spying, leaks and lack of privacy are the dirty bathwater. There will be both policy and enforcement issues at the government level that any new technology brings. And we will need to demand that they be addressed.

The inherent device security will improve only to the point that the end users demand. If news of the CIA hacking of smart televisions has no impact on sales of the devices, the market will have spoken. Manufacturers, programmers and governments are only going to take steps secure the IoT enough to keep the users in the game. Given generations of people who think it is perfectly normal to send the world news of their breakfast, who they are sleeping with, and when they drink too much, maybe privacy concerns themselves are changing.

The IoT also raises connectivity issues. When your car is getting 200 instructions per minute, it’s not okay if the connection drops for even a few seconds. We are going need, and come to expect, a connection that flows like water from our tap. It will not be acceptable for cable connections to slow down when all the kids get home from school at 4:00 and start playing Xbox. More reliable bonded internet connections are available now, but still mostly used in enterprise applications.

A bonded connection uses different communication channels to make a single, wider, more reliable pipe. For example, a cable hook-up may provide the most economical and fastest connection, and it will be paired with a cellular or satellite connection running next to it. The secondary connection may be significantly more expensive per megabyte, so technologies like Peplink’s SpeedFusion will route all but .00001% of the traffic to the primary connection while keeping the alternative channel open. In the event of a primary channel failure, or even just a hiccup, data will seamlessly flow into the secondary path without even a microsecond of delay. In order to be fully implemented the IoT is going to need these unbreakable connections. For more on how Frontier and Peplink are currently involved with IoT you can read this case study from our office in the Netherlands.

While it may not be time to nap while you are driving the freeway, and it is still a good idea to give the milk a little sniff before you take a big chug, it won’t be long before there is no buzz around the words “Internet of Things.” The connection of nearly every device in our lives will be a lot like breathing, something we don’t even think about until it doesn’t work right.

As it has since 1976, Frontier Computer can provide IT hardware and enterprise computing solutions. We have experts who can identify the best tools to prepare your business or organization to join the Internet of Things.

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Help me prepare for IoT

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Frontier Computer Corp. is a leader in providing IT solutions worldwide.