Some Like it Hot

Hot-desking gets a bad rap. It was an experimental concept to reduce office space requirements that has been losing favor because it hurts morale, can cause social tension, and is arguably un-hygienic. In hot-desking, employees don’t have a single personal space. Employees check into vacant workstations with a login. Upon Login, their personal, virtual desks are immediately available. When their shifts end they log out and a new person uses the same space. If you know the origin of the term, you’ll understand the downside. The term hot-desking comes from the practice of hot-bunking on submarines. Because space is tight on a sub, up to three sailors can share the same bunk. When their shifts end they get into bunks that other sailors have just vacated, and the beds are still warm. Eeeewwww.

From the concept of hot-desking, however, comes a useful feature of VoIP communication, also referred to as hot-desking. When SIP phones are hot-desking enabled they allow the phone’s user to move a personal phone configuration anywhere there is an Internet connection.

Depending on the phone model, an SIP phone can have phonebooks, speed dials, key configurations, and even touch screen wallpaper stored as part of the user’s personal configuration. One of the key advantages of VoIP communication is the high level of personal customization and control each user has over his or her own phone workspace. Hot-Desking allows that personalized, highly productive configuration to follow the user anywhere in the office, country, or world.

I’ll Follow You Anywhere

With hot-desking, a sales representative could work at a main office in Cleveland on Tuesday, then sit down at a satellite office on Wednesday, and get not only new voice mail, but also the entire phone configuration. Unlike follow-me or call forwarding, there is no rerouting involved. The current login is the number. The phone number, configuration and everything about the user is in the current phone. The phone back in Cleveland is deactivated.

A VoIP administrator or user can even schedule hot-desk logins. An employee working in New York Monday through Wednesday could arrive at a desk in Tulsa on Thursday and have the personal phone configuration waiting.
The implications are significant. Many physicians will have two or three offices with rotating schedules. In the past, it meant complex and expensive forwarding and often maintaining a reception staff in an otherwise empty office. With hot-desking, the team can be in their Rochester main office Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, 30 miles away in Spring Valley, the entire phone configuration — with the doctor’s and each staff member’s personal phone set-ups — will be waiting when they all arrive at their rural clinic. Thursday Morning, when they are back in Rochester, everything will be back as it was when they left Tuesday evening.

SIP phone hot-desking has a role in nearly every modern office. For mobile staff, sales staff, telecommuters, or any company with multiple locations, hot-desking extends the productivity benefits of a familiar phone workspace anywhere in the world.

Frontier Computer Corp. is the world’s largest distributor of Peplink products, which are essential tools for establishing the solid connections needed for Voice over IP. We are also a distributor for industry leading SIP Phone Manufacturers Yealink and Grandstream. Both Grandstream and Yealink phones are ready for hot-desking. Visit Telephony.FrontierUS.com for an on-line catalog of SIP phones.

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Asset Disposition:
Are They Just Throwing It Away?

IT Asset Disposition

IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) is big business, and as with anywhere there is growth, lots of people want to jump in. It’s easy to set up a good-looking website to offer asset disposition, and then just haul stuff away. There is much more to it, and we know because we have been in the business for more than 40 years. Asset Disposition is not disposal, and a company with experience doesn’t only take away your IT hardware, they assure you get the value out of those assets.

Asset Disposition is a multi-step process that starts with an audit of the equipment to be displaced. Once there is an inventory of the assets, they need to be carefully removed, packed, and shipped. Packing and shipping matter because it’s not garbage being hauled away.

It’s not Garbage

IT hardware that is no longer useful to the original purchaser is not necessarily without value. When manufacturers classify something as end-of-life or end-of-service, the operational value of the unit continues. Even when IT hardware as a whole is truly obsolete, the component parts still have value. What is outdated in the United States may be in high demand as a complete unit or on the replacement parts market in other parts of the world. It isn’t just the third world. Our own government needs to source things link 3.5” floppy disk drives for special purpose equipment still in use. Again, we know because they get them from us. If your ITAD vendor is not talking about residual value, keep looking.

Perhaps the most critical part of the ITAD process is what happens after the hardware leaves your site. When your IT assets (or anyone’s) arrive at Frontier, they are immediately logged into our receiving area. From there we carefully unpack and audit them. Next, our technicians analyze and test every item.  Our testing sets Frontier apart, and allows us to get the maximum value from your unwanted assets.

We recently received a large shipment of HP and IBM servers from a major national ITAD company. They haul it away and send it off to a third party for the actual disposition. If these are your assets, and your vendor happens to turn to us, you can be certain we will deal with them properly and securely. However, the only way to assure we get your assets is to start the process with Frontier.

Doing it Wrong

This latest shipment came to us packed like scrap metal. The servers were stacked on top of each other like cord wood with no padding or protection. Pallets of the servers were shrink-wrapped and shipped. Shipping labels were stuck directly on the metal frames of the servers themselves. We received them broken and smashed, with parts that potentially had value destroyed in transit. It didn’t matter to that ITAD firm because they saw these items as waste.

Sadly, they mostly are waste now. We will properly dismantle and dispose of the component parts. The metal frames and cases will go to recycling. We will separate the damaged, unusable electronics for reclamation. At this point however, the only value left in most of these items will come from the raw materials. That was not the case when they left the original installation, but any real value left in that equipment was lost when the original owner chose the wrong ITAD vendor.

They are Still Assets

Equipment in a server room ages, but it isn’t destroyed from use. Most often IT assets are abandoned for upgrades, software incompatibility, or because a data center is closing. At Frontier, we know more about your surplus assets than the model numbers. We know what is inside them, and we know the world markets for the assets and their component parts. Throughout the ITAD process, we work with the assumption that there is value and it’s our job to identify it and return some of that value back to our client. In some cases, little or no value is truly left in assets, but we will determine that from both market analysis and careful testing.

Your surplus IT assets are more than e-waste. When you use Frontier Computer to decommission surplus IT, you will know you have gotten the maximum residual value from your assets, and that if there is truly no value left, all the materials will be recycled properly and securely.

As it has since 1976, Frontier Computer can ensure that you get the most out of your IT investment. Whether it is providing parts and service to keep things running smoothly or returning value when you decommission assets, our experience and expertise pays off. When you have unneeded IT assets Frontier should be your first and only contact.

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SD-WAN Made Easy

Peplink BlueChip products

This is part two of last week’s post, “Is it time for SD-WAN?”

Replacing a hard-wired MPLS network with SD-WAN makes sense for the added security and cost savings alone, but it can also provide increased performance and easier management. Peplink is an innovator and leader in SD-WAN technology, and makes building your SD-WAN straightforward and inexpensive.

Using Available Channels

The Peplink SD-WAN is built from available connections at each site. The options include MPLS, Cable, DSL, Fiber, Cellular, and even Satellite. In most of the populated areas of the United States, Cable connections are the first choice. Exact figures are difficult to discern, but roughly 90% of the country has cable Internet available. DSL is available over phone lines to roughly 90% of the country as well, but it isn’t the same two universes. Between the Cable and DSL, nearly every location has fast connection options.

Peplink builds the SD-WAN from more than one connection. In some cases both Cable and DSL are used, and often, when only one wired broadband option is present, cellular is added to the mix. Frontier and its partners have even created SD-WAN networks where no traditional broadband options are available, like at sea, using Cellular and Satellite.

How it Works

The SD-WAN is established with a Peplink router at each end location. The Peplink devices use their proprietary SpeedFusion technology to take whatever connections are available at any site, and bind them together to make a secure single pipe open only to your SD-WAN network. By binding channels, Peplink creates a connection that is faster, more reliable, and more secure than any of those single connection options alone. Even if the connection options are different in every location, SpeedFusion will seamlessly blend them with any other connection protocols anywhere in the world.

In the main office or primary location there will usually be a Balance router. The Peplink Balance line is extensive with 12 different Peplink Balance routers. Often the entry level Balance 20 has all the necessary capability for a smaller concern with only a few offices and users. The Peplink Balance One is also a good choice as it offers more flexibility and growth potential. Although Peplink classifies it as a “small business” router, even the Balance 210 can handle up to 150 users. There are options for any sized enterprise. Peplink has Balance routers to serve an entire campus; the Balance 2500 can manage 5,000 to 20,000 thousand users and host up to 4,000 SpeedFusion VPNs.

For businesses that no longer host their own servers, it is possible to establish a primary node of the Peplink SD-WAN in the cloud. Peplink’s FusionHub is a virtual router that loads into Amazon Web Services, VMware, Citrix XenServer, Oracle VirtualBox, and Microsoft Hyper-V. FusionHub brings the same capabilities, uses the same control software, and has the same interface as Peplink’s physical hardware routers.

The other Peplink network end-points — branches, satellite offices, remote locations, or even vehicles — require another Peplink router, or another FusionHub installation. While a Balance 20 might be the main host device for a small business, it may also be the best choice for a small branch in a corporate network of banks. In addition to the 12 different Peplink Balance models, there are 16 Pepwave Cellular routers. Any of them, as well as a FusionHub instance, are suitable end-points for the SpeedFusion connection.

Hundreds of Configuration Options

Theoretically, a Peplink SD-WAN could be deployed between two tiny Pepwave MAX BR1 Mini mobile routers. Despite the fact that they are each only 4 inches square and one inch tall, they can connect to cable or DSL as the primary channels with failover to their built-in LTE-A cellular modems with dual SIM card slots. There are Pepwave MAX Routers in police fire vehicles around the world. The MAX Transit models are certified for shock and Vibration Resistance, Railway Applications, and Electromagnetic Compatibility. All of the Pepwave MAX line can operate correctly at temperatures from -40° to 149°F. The HD2 IP67 is suitable for the most rugged outdoor conditions, including certification for lightning immunity. For every application, and every sized office there is a suitable Peplink SD-WAN product.

Because of the wide range of models available, and the 100% compatibility between models, even the most extensive Peplink SD-WAN network of offices and branches could have the exact same, secure, unbreakable network in each of their delivery trucks, anywhere in the world. As an added advantage, all of the devices, regardless of the number, can be controlled, configured, or updated from one location with the same InControl2 interface. But that’s a subject for another post.

With the appropriate, affordable Peplink or Pepwave routers, you will have everything you need to establish an SD-WAN network.

Frontier Computer’s engineers, with our partners, can help you create an SD-WAN solution exactly tailored to your needs.

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Is it time for SD-WAN?

Peplink SpeedFusion

Early this year we outlined the basics of SD-WAN. To review, SD-WAN (Software Defined-Wide Area Network) is a private, wide connection with the security and routing done by software using the existing data channels. Even a smaller enterprise with only a few offices can have an SD-WAN, and SD-WAN can be much less expensive, much more flexible, and often more reliable than a traditional MPLS network.

Creating a Peplink SD-WAN requires relatively little hardware and can use the connections available locally. Using the broadband options at any location, even when those options are different in each location, Peplink’s software creates a WAN network that acts like a single pipe connecting all of the assets. Even locations with limited or no wired broadband choices can be part of the SD-WAN. Peplink’s SpeedFusion technology binds several connection methods into what your hardware sees as a single, clear pathway. When deciding if a Peplink SD-WAN is right for your connectivity there are a six questions to ask.

1. Do you need increased security?

Peplink’s SpeedFusion divides your transmissions into smaller pieces, so no one piece has enough information to be useful. Then it codes each of those pieces with 256-bit military grade encryption. The transmission that leaves your location is only those secure, encrypted pieces. The only device capable of decoding and reassembling those pieces is your Peplink device at the other end of that transmission. Whether it travels across town or to another country, only your Peplink devices will ever be able to read it.

2. Do you need more reliable connections?

Peplink binds together multiple communications channels. It uses two or more connections through Cable, DSL, Fiber, Cellular, Satellite, or even MPLS and transmits the encoded packets simultaneously through all available channels with constant monitoring of the connections by all the Peplink devices. If at any point SpeedFusion detects a slowdown on any channel, traffic continues and is rerouted instantaneously to another healthier network. The Peplink connection never slows down, and never goes down.

3. Do you need to prioritize bandwidth and traffic?

With multiple users on your network, it is unlikely that their different tasks and roles have the same level of urgency and importance. Peplink and SpeedFusion employ seven different application-aware load-balancing algorithms to assure that the most essential traffic is allocated the most bandwidth. By balancing the traffic, Peplink keeps everything moving at the speeds required by the application. Peplink can keep casual use traffic moving while assuring that the most critical applications always get through first.

4. Do you use Internet (VoIP) telephones?

For VoIP telephones to deliver full, copper-wired quality they need more than just a good-enough connection. Because human ears are so sensitive to even microsecond delays or losses in voice sound, VoIP requires free flowing transmission. Machine-to-Machine communication can have micro stutters and pauses that the devices on both ends will negotiate as if nothing happened. Because our hearing is analog, and highly sensitive to subtle cues, VoIP communications needs a special pathway. VoIP transmissions are not particularly large, but require the smoothest throughput. Peplink uses special VoIP Quality of Service protocols, but more importantly, SpeedFusion can detect and instantly prioritize VoIP traffic for the clearest calls. If your VoIP calls are not clear, you do not need a different telephone, you need a better connection. Even using the same cable or networks you have always used, managing it with Peplink will make your calls clearer.

5. Is your business growing?

SpeedFusion is easy to expand. Peplink allows you to add additional bandwidth from any source at any time. If your SD-WAN is built on a primary cable connection with cellular for failover, Peplink can seamlessly add an additional cable, DSL or other connection for a fatter pipe without any protocol change. The only thing the user will notice is improved transmission speed.

6. Do you have vastly different connection options at various locations?

The Peplink network does not require any specific type of connection. It can integrate various providers and protocols and various locations without any loss of quality. For example, a Chicago office may have a local fiber connection with a secondary connection to cable from Xfinity. Another office may have only ATT DSL available with a secondary connection to cellular. One of the company’s ships in the North Atlantic might use whatever Wi-Fi connection is available and cellular in port, then switch to Satellite on the open sea. Peplink and SpeedFusion will create a unified WAN network from these so that every employee in every location has an identical on-line experience.

You don’t need to answer “Yes!” to more than one of these questions to seriously consider a Peplink SD-WAN. If you have more than three “yes” responses, you should contact Frontier today. There are Peplink solutions for every sized enterprise using any connection protocol. Even if you have moved your IT to the cloud, Peplink can give you the speed, reliability, and security of your own SD-WAN.

Frontier Computer’s engineers, with our partners, can help you create an SD-WAN solution exactly tailored to your needs.

In the next post, we will dig deeper into the tools you’ll need to build your own Peplink SD-WAN network.

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Breaking the Code

Tech guy and Normal guy

For a long time the technology business was a closed society. Behind the scenes, IT administrators kept rooms full of servers and switches running. Everyone else did their jobs, oblivious to IT until something broke. From that era, IT professionals became accustom to speaking in a code of acronyms and shorthand known only to those inside the fold. The language was not specifically designed to keep outsiders away. Rather, it was a language developed out of both expediency and familiarity.

In the recent past—as little as the last six to eight years, technology has become significantly more intertwined with everyday life, so more and more people rely on and interact with systems at a deeper level. People have realized how much of their daily lives depend on technology and as a result are more interested in controlling their own tech destiny. At the same time, systems have moved out of the basement server room and into space leased in the cloud. High-level non-IT administrators are managing their leased assets as they would a leased copier, with support from a vendor, not an employee. Both of these phenomenon, end-users wanting more information and non-technical managers controlling IT assets, have led to an influx of people diving into the IT world who don’t know the IT language. These new comers to the IT world are not interested in learning the arcane language from the hot, noisy server room, and people who want these new customers should start using their language.

To market to these new customers, IT professionals need to translate their comfortable jargon into plain speech. All over the Internet you will find business claiming to be “Your IoT Specialist,” or offering “M2M Solutions World-Wide.” Their potential customers do not see their needs addressed in those words. The small chain grocery store executive doesn’t know she needs an M2M solution, she just knows that the self-serve checkouts in 14 stores need connection to the main office. The owner of a stamping plant does not know what IoT is, and he doesn’t care. He is looking for a way to get the sensors in his robot extruders to report to engineering.

In 1946, lamenting the state of the language, George Orwell set out six rules for better writing. While any writer could learn from his essay, the fifth rule is timely for anyone selling technology or technical services: “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.” Too often in IT marketing language there are plenty of words, but no real message. Consider this from the home page of a major international service firm, “Get access to leading edge innovation and best practice by using our solution accelerators and global pool of partnerships.” Try explaining that to your date over dinner. In this case, it is not just jargon, but phrases created to sound good, that mean nothing at all. Solutions are good. And acceleration shows forward movement. But what exactly is a “solution accelerator.”

It turns out Solution Accelerator is a term coined by Microsoft (not the source of the quote above). They define it as, “a collection of tested guidance and automated tools to help plan, securely deploy, and manage new Microsoft technologies—easier, faster, and at less cost.” They have put together market-tested words that communicate nothing specific but try vaguely to convey the notion that Microsoft will make your project faster and cheaper with fewer problems. When the phrase first appeared on the scene about 2006 it was industry speak for reusable code modules, a new complicated term for a simple, old concept.

It is time to get vague and meaningless phrases like Elastic Edge, Empower your Growth, and Drive Transformation out of our language. It’s time to speak with our potential clients in their terms and not ours. We may refer to it as a “proc” (hard C) but to normal people it is a processor (soft C) or a CPU. We can’t sell IoT solutions when what we are really offering is a way to connect robots in a factory with the supply chain in a warehouse. The world of people using, buying, and installing technology is broad, and will continue to grow. Many of those people are fully capable of understanding the tech we all work with, but they don’t share our language. It is time to address them in the common language we share, plain English.

Frontier Computer Corp. can help both old school IT professionals and newcomers to the field. Contact Frontier for straight talk on servers, routers, communications, and connections. We can create an IoT solution or get your tools talking to each other.

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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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