Industrial Internet of Things

Factory
Part 1: OT versus IT

At a recent Peplink Summit, Josh Varghese of Traceroute gave a presentation on IIoT, the Industrial Internet of Things. His talk included a basic description of Industrial IoT, a simple but essential clarification of Operational Technology—the core of IIoT, and an important glossary of terms. For the sake of this blog, I will split Mr. Varghese’s detailed talk into two parts. This first part will focus on the difference between IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operational Technology.) Part 2, next week, will be the glossary of terms that are essential for anyone stepping into IIoT. What follows is a summary of his explanation. Any oversimplifications, misinformation or plain old errors are in this retelling.

OT Versus ITHome and office IoT require new sensors and controllers for functions that previously did not exist. In the industrial world, Sensors and remote controls are nothing new. Since before the new millennium, industry has used the sorts of process controllers that are just now finding their way into the IoT world. However, industrial sensors have their own communications protocols and networks. The challenge for IIoT is the Internet part, moving all of those sensors from a closed, sometimes proprietary system to the common, more open protocols of the Internet. Security was rarely an issue for industrial control systems because they were closed, wired systems. If you couldn’t get into the room, or plant, or complex, you couldn’t touch the systems. The core of IIoT is Operational Technology, which is different in many ways from the Information Technology many communications engineers know.

OT – Operational Technology

IT is about data, its storage, and manipulation. OT does things, controls things, and runs things. Operational technology has different priorities than traditional IT. Primary IT concerns like security and bandwidth have been secondary to OT’s primary needs of 100% reliability and redundancy. IT worries about data security. OT worries about human and property safety. OT is a different world and IT professionals heading into the OT world need to make some readjustment in their thinking. The chart above explains more than several paragraphs.

To approach the Industrial Internet of Things, engineers must understand how the primary goals of Operational Technology have to be merged with the inherent risks of Information Technology. None of the security concerns or performance goals of either discipline can be abandoned.

In Part 2 we will define and clarify the alphabet soup of new protocols and connections of the Industrial Internet of Things.

Frontier Computer provides IT hardware, enterprise computing support. As the World’s largest Distributor for Peplink and Pepwave, Frontier has solutions for M2M Data, IoT, and IIoT.

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Peplink Partners meet in Texas

On January 22, 2018, Frontier and Peplink hosted the first North American Partner Summit in San Antonio, Texas. The event was an opportunity for Peplink resellers from Canada, Mexico, and the United States to meet and discuss future technology with Peplink Engineers and staff.

The event kicked-off with Peplink CEO Keith Chau outlining the expected growth in the SD-WAN marketplace and continued throughout the day with new product introductions, technical explanations and significant feedback from the partners. In addition to Mr. Chau, Travis Durick, Erik deBie, Tim Simdorn, Kody Krier, and Adam Hasbargen represented Peplink. Josh Varghese of Traceroute presented an in-depth look at using Peplink in IoT. Later in the day, Niko Bradway of Google showed how Google is using Pepwave hardware to establish robust, temporary WiFi access for events around the world. In addition to the formal presentations, there were hands-on demonstrations of several new products ranging from the massive Pepwave EPX to the diminutive SpeedFusion engine.

Perhaps the most valuable portion of the summit was the opportunity for resellers to talk directly with Peplink about the innovations and changes their clients are requesting. Several new software and firmware updates will come from ideas directly generated at the summit.

As it has since 1976, Frontier Computer can provide IT hardware, enterprise computing support, and the best solutions for M2M Data, IoT, and International Data Roaming. Frontier is the World’s largest Distributor for Peplink and Pepwave.

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The Solution for International Data

We.Stream Launch

In the digital age, it is particularly easy to travel in the USA. We can go from one side of the country to the other oblivious to the flexibility we have in our mobile phone and cellular data connections. Verizon is Verizon in New York, the same as it is in LA. You can stream The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel from Texas to Minnesota. You’ll run out of episodes before you run out of network. Things are not so simple in Europe. Although Europe is only slightly larger than the US, there are places you cannot go 60 miles without going through three countries.

Europe may have one currency, but they do not have unified data networks. Still, compared to other places in the world, Europe isn’t bad at all. Trying to stay connected while traveling the world is a challenge, and even when you can navigate the various network connections, you are going to pay for it either financially or with security risks.

International roaming from major carriers is expensive, even if you arrange it in advance. If you want to use a computer, you will need a separate data plan for your laptop. The alternative for most travelers is to rely on public Wi-Fi. There are security risks with public Wi-Fi anywhere, even in the US, but if you happen to be in Estonia or Belarus and login to public Wi-Fi, you may as well invite hackers into your home. It’s a risk you might take to contact family on a vacation, but for business travelers the risks are too high.

Many seasoned travelers have resorted to SIM card bingo, using a different pay as you go plans in each country. The SIM card shuffle can be both a hassle and expensive. Until now, there was just no good cellular data option for international travel, particularly for business.

Things are about to change, and Frontier is proud to be part of it. European mobile data experts Mondicon are launching We.Stream, a remote data connection device that will revolutionize Internet connectivity for travelers. We.Stream will launch at CES in Las Vegas January 9, 2018. Frontier will be the first US distributor for We.Stream.
The teaser is here and Frontier will have more details about We.Stream after January 10.

As it has since 1976, Frontier Computer can provide IT hardware, enterprise computing support, Peplink SD-WAN routers, and the best solutions for M2M Data, IoT, and now International Data Roaming.

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Boost Your Cell Connections

WilsonPro diagram

As of May 2017, More than 50% of US households no longer have a wired landline phone. They rely on cellular phones only. Although the percentage is smaller, a significant number of business also have no landlines and use only cell phones. Many technicians, field reps, sales staff, and other personnel in large businesses have only a cell phone for voice communication. Some of these workers exclusively use a cellular connection for personal or business data communications as well. And yet, cell connections are not always reliable.Say that Again?

Despite what you hear from Paul Marcarelli, the “can you hear me now?” guy, there are many, many places where cellular voice is spotty, and cellular data is unavailable. It is not because the Big Four are exaggerating their ability to cover the areas they claim. Rather, when they broadcast a signal, they cannot be responsible for all the things that get between their towers and the receiving devices. Unlike a wire, which can be installed around things and through them, cellular signals are subject to interference or at least degradation from both natural and constructed obstacles.

Cellular obstacles in the natural world include dense tree cover, terrain features like hills, and even weather. While sight lines may improve in winter when trees have shed their leaves, snow particles in the air can really mess with a signal. Natural obstacles are nothing compared to the ones we build to get in the way of cellular broadcasts. Brick, cement, layers of sheetrock, even window energy barriers can stop a signal dead in its tracks.

Cellular signals are measured in decibel-milliwatts, not bars. There is a dBm meter built into every phone. Learn how to find it here. The signal 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. A good usable signal is down to -90ish dBm. You can have a decent cell call at -95 dBm, and maybe use data too. Yet, if you have -85 dBm outside you will struggle to get anything deep inside a structure. Even getting in a car, with its sheet metal body, can turn an acceptable outdoor signal into something marginal. The solution is to get that reasonable signal outside, inside of your structure.

In May of 2013 the FCC approved cell phone repeaters to take an outside signal and broadcast it indoors. The FCC rule also allowed boosting that signal on the way. With a correctly positioned antenna outside to capture the best possible signal, a cellular amplifier can create indoor spaces with full voice and data coverage. Since that 2013 rule, cellular amplifiers have become essential tools in many applications and several companies have jumped into the market that Wilson Electronics has pioneered.

While there are more than a few vendors for cellular boosters, Frontier Computer has chosen Wilson Electronics for our preferred distribution partner. We are offering the full line of Wilson cellular amplifiers to our resellers. Wilson Electronics is based in the United States and holds a number of patents in the radio technology space, including one of the best and most reliable methods for oscillation prevention and carrier cell site protection. In plain English, Wilson amplifiers will not interfere with cellular broadcasts, they will only extend and amplify them.

WilsonPro LogoWilson offers two distinct product lines. The WilsonPro amplifiers are industrial grade solutions from multiple antenna amplifiers for applications as large as 100,000 sq. ft. to small 4G LTE M2M units that can be built into ATMs or Sales Kiosks. One of these, the WilsonPro Signal 4G, has been paired with Pepwave routers frequently by Frontier Partners. Like Peplink and Pepwave, industry leading WilsonPro amplifiers are only available through Certified Technology Integrators with trained, experienced installers.

weBoost logo outlineUsing the same technology developed for the WilsonPro line, Wilson offers the weBoost products for homes, small business, and vehicles. All weBoost products are engineered, assembled and tested at the company’s headquarters in St. George, Utah. The weBoost amplifiers come in complete kits with everything needed for a self-install. Although the weBoost products are designed for end-user installation, they are still powerful tools that have application in many commercial setting, such as assuring a steady signal for cellular fail-over in networks or in vehicles for first responders. Many commercial installers will find applications for weBoost amplifiers.

To find a Frontier Partner WilsonPro or weBoost reseller, or to become one, contact Frontier Computer.

As it has since 1976, Frontier Computer can provide IT hardware, enterprise computing support, Peplink SD-WAN routers, SIP communications, and Wilson Cellular Amplifiers.

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Instant Message Frontier on Skype

Skype Eraser

When the AIM servers shut down next month you will still be able to IM all of your Frontier contacts on Skype.

Last month we circulated a survey asking our clients and contacts what Instant Messaging platform they planned to use after AOL ends AIM service. The response overwhelmingly favored Skype at 65%. While 12% expected to transition to What’s App, there was no other platform receiving even a significant percentage. Many, if not most, people already have an existing Skype address so the transition should be fairly seamless.

We are receiving Skype IMs now.

Although you will be able to to reach all your Frontier contacts via AIM until December 15, we have already transitioned to Skpye and are receiving Skype IMs now. In many cases your Frontier contact’s Skype ID will be their regular Frontier email address, but since some Frontier staff have existing Skype IDs, it’s best to confirm Skype information through email or AIM (before AIM goes dark).

— ♦ —

As it has since 1976, Frontier Computer can provide IT hardware, enterprise computing support, Peplink SD-WAN routers, and IP communications. Reach us by phone, email, or Skype.

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A Personal (Data) Foul

Octo-Cookie

Last week, on Amazon, I bought a toothbrush kit for my dog Bissell. I bought it from home using a Galaxy Tab S2. Now, one week later, everywhere I go, on any device, I see ads for dog toothbrushes, even at work on my Windows PC. While I personally brush my teeth a few times a day, brushing beagle teeth is a twice a week proposition at best. I am not sure how many toothbrushes most dogs need, but I’m pretty sure one will cover us for a while. My dark side tempts me to click on some of those ads so the vendors serving them up will have to pay for their foolishness, but being petty takes time that I don’t want to waste.

It is going to be a few more years before web advertising figures out how to be truly effective. Currently they serve up thousands of ads that miss the mark completely for every ad that hits. The advertising field has changed so quickly that old school ad people are lost trying to figure out what to do. They are just happy to have any sort of numbers to report to their clients. There is also an army of young people being paid to play on social media all day, so they are not in a hurry to change things. Despite the status quo, something in on-line advertising is going to change, and the catalyst might be the EU’s new regulations on personal data.

In May of 2018, about 200 days from now, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect in the European Union, and for anyone outside the EU who does business in the EU. The list of affected vendors is long, but the obvious biggies come to mind: Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, JP Morgan Chase, Samsung, and your favorite multinational. Unlike previous “guidelines,” this regulation carries strong enforcement penalties, including up to 4% of profits. For companies that have become accustom to routinely stockpiling, using, and trading our personal data, it going to be a cold slap in the face.

Unlike US regulations that usually get their teeth pulled by the time they are law, the GDPR has clear language and built-in interpretations. In summary, the GDPR has six components.
1. Personal Data Definitions
2. Requirements for Stored Data Minimization
3. Individual Data Rights, including the right to have your data forgotten or corrected
4. Data Breach Notifications
5. Increased accountability
6. Explicit Consent requirements.

They are not fooling around. The definition of “personal data” is both clear and strong. I have edited out a few words, but no content: “Any information relating to a person who can be identified, directly or indirectly by reference to name, identification number, location data, online identifier, or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that person.” An “online identifier” includes browser cookies. Websites will ask you to turn cookies on if you have them off in your browser, technically asking you to consent when you allow cookies, but the consent in GDPR #6 is something new.

The Future is Clear

After May 2018 in the EU, there will be no clouds of legalese with a checkbox to gain consent to use your personal data. The regulation requires plain language. The GDPR website summarizes, “companies will no longer be able to utilise (sic) long illegible terms and conditions full of legalese, as the request for consent must be given in an intelligible and easily accessible form, with the purpose for data processing attached to that consent – meaning it must be unambiguous.” Lawyers all over the country shudder when they hear those words. “Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters . . . using clear and plain language.” The law requires an affirmative opt-in for sensitive personal information.

It will not be acceptable to have statements like “Do you want to use cookies to improve your browsing experience?” pass as consent. Statements will need to be clear like this:

This website can collect and store my personal data to share it with advertisers. □Yes | □No

Also part of the rule on consent requires that it must be as easy to withdraw consent, as it is to give it. Therefore, the checkbox cannot disappear to be hidden away in a hard to find menu like the Facebook’s privacy settings. The law is clear that consent cannot be assumed, as it is now for nearly every app on most smartphones. The GDPR specifically states that insufficient forms of agreement include: “silence, pre-clicked boxes, or inactivity.” If a user does not give consent actively and affirmatively, there is no consent.

Tilting at Windmills

Anyone who has ever tried to stop ad tracking knows what a fool’s errand it has become. In an effort to clear the canine dental equipment from my personal history, I started with Firefox on my work computer. It took three different advertising opt-out tools to get the 131 tracking devices off my browser. Two of them, Kargo Global and Krux Digital (Salesforce), refused to let go. I made the fateful toothbrush purchase on Chrome with a different device, and it followed me to my phone, and to work, on multiple browsers in each device, without any affirmative action on my part. Conversely, to remove the Ad Tracking from my life I have to apply the Opt-out tools one at a time to every browser on each device. The trackers are smart enough to find me at work, but not smart enough to follow themselves back to my home. This will not meet the standard of being as easy to opt-out, as it is to opt-in.

Better control of ad tracking is just one, relatively minor positive advantage that GDPR will bring the Europeans. In the long run, they will enjoy much more secure personal data. In the US we will not enjoy these rights, yet there is still reason for optimism. The world is a much smaller place and with the EU setting an example of how personal data should be respected, we will learn the hurdles to getting there ourselves. Many of our on-line experiences come from multinational sources which will be required to respect the privacy rights of people in the EU. It will not take long for people in the USA and other countries insist on the same protections. I just hope it happens before Bissell needs a new toothbrush.

— ♦ —

From our offices in the USA and the Netherlands, Frontier Computer provides IT hardware, enterprise computing support, Peplink SD-WAN routers, and IP communications to the world. We also bring our dogs to work, which is why fresh breath is important.

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Rest in Peace, Old Friend
AIM: 1997 — 2017

Replacing AIM

AOL recently announced that it is discontinuing its AIM instant messaging service after a twenty year run. The reaction seemed rather ho-hum. Perhaps in the age of iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger it’s not big news. However, for the many people who use AIM to connect quickly with customers and clients it’s a tsunami.

As we have asked around, we have found that some people believe that can switch from AIM to a different AIM client like Trillian or Pidgin. Those are not alternatives to AIM. Rather, they are user interfaces that handle AIM chats. When AIM servers are gone, so will any AIM function on a messaging client like Trillian.

Instant Messaging 101

Unlike email, which is served up with addresses that point to any server connected anywhere, IM messages move through a single system. You can only send AIM messages to and from the AIM server. AIM is still transmitted through the Internet, but always to the host server. Skype, WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and others all work the same way. They are each their own closed system that only allow messages to move between their users.

There have been efforts to create a universal cross-server IM agreement but they have always failed. To make various IM platforms more user friendly, software like Trillian and Pidgin place themselves between the user and IM services. With an IM client application — I use Trillian — on my desktop, I can have AIM, Facebook Messenger, ICQ or other accounts all in one place. When a message comes in, I don’t even need to know which platform is sending the message. They are all in my IM client contacts. New messages all come into the same window on my screen even if they come from different sources. The client connections are so seamless that it is easy to confuse Trillian, Pidgin, and other IM clients with the IM platforms they serve up.

On December 15, 2017 any of your IM contacts who use an AIM address, including you, will no longer be able to IM. Trillian or Pidgin will still launch, but all of those AIM contacts will go dark.

What to Do?

There are many alternatives, with certain standouts. Skype seems like an easy choice since so many people use it already. However, for Skype IM is a secondary function. Skype is a calling app that will allow instant messaging. Also, since Microsoft has bought Skype, they have adopted typical Redmond isolation. One of their first steps was to remove SkypeKit, the API that allowed clients like Trillian to connect. If you use Skype, you are locked in to their interface for an all-Microsoft-all-the-time experience.

WhatsApp is another alternative. WhatsApp, now owned by Facebook, is primarily a cell phone app with a desktop interface. And it is based on your actual phone number. Road warriors may find the phone-centric application suits them well. For people tied to a desktop it is not ideal. There is an App for MacOS, Windows 8, and Windows 10 (it will load and work on Windows 7, but it’s not supported). However, it is not a stand-alone application. The desktop app must connect constantly to the cell phone hosting it. If WhatsApp is not running on the phone, or if the phone is not present, the desktop app does not work. At this time, there is no client software like Trillian to access WhatsApp. In addition, Facebook owns WhatsApp, so it probably won’t be long until WhatsApp is called back to the mothership.

Facebook really wants you to use Facebook Messenger. If you use Facebook at all, you know they have moved all communications to FB Messenger. If you use Facebook on your phone, it will prompt you to load the FB Messenger app repeatedly until you do, or until you die, whichever comes first. Although Facebook really wants to be your everything, the way they approach that goal makes Facebook Messenger exactly the worst business application. If your business contact buys a new pair of shoes, Facebook will see fit to tell you about it at work. That said, Trillian does support Facebook Messenger and there are third party workarounds to get it into Pidgin.

We’ll Miss Our Friend

On all of these platforms you will only be able to IM other people on the same service. The Benefit of AIM was that so many people used it for so long that everyone had an AIM ID. If you are getting the feeling that there is no single instant messaging application to replace AIM, you are right. AOL is probably shutting down AIM for the very reason it was so widely used. AIM was free. It was a simple platform that did one thing. It did not constantly shill for monetization. AIM didn’t push for more of your personal information to share with the world. Of course, all those things meant it also didn’t make any money for AOL, Time Warner, or Verizon.

Over time, something will emerge as the replacement for AIM users. For now, the best strategy is to find out what your most important contacts plan to do and join them on the new platform. In practice, we will probably all end up with multiple IM platforms if we hope to hold on to the easy, fast communication of AIM.

To that end, Frontier would like to hear from you. Follow this link to a simple one-question survey about your plans for AIM replacement. We will compile the results and share them here. If you share your email, we will send our findings directly to you (and nothing else, I promise).

— ♦ —

As it has since 1976, Frontier Computer can provide IT hardware, enterprise computing support, Peplink SD-WAN routers, and IP communications. Reach us by phone or email, but sadly, not AIM.

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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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