Thursday, 22 December 2011

Devious Telecoms Account Managers

Purely by accident we've have been sent a contract renewal notice for 24 months of telecomms services that was meant for one of our previous clients. We've of course rejected the notice as we should not have seen it and sent a copy of our rejection to our contact in the client's offices.

We couldn't help noticing however that the contract renewal has subtly changed from the original terms of contract which we helped to set up a couple of years ago. Part of our services is to help to reduce the cost of telecoms for our clients. We don't charge any extra for this, but by careful sourcing we can typically halve the operational telecoms costs for our clients. In this case we'd arranged that all outgoing calls would be directed via another vendor B resulting in substantial savings, on our advice our client rented only the incoming phone lines  from the vendor A (who wrongly sent us the contract renewal mentioned above). Vendor A had previously been the route for outgoing traffic, but had been grossly overcharging for voice traffic. Needless to say the Vendor A account manager was quite distressed when an assumed revenue stream dried up; he'd not listened to our clear warnings.

We noticed in the new contract, from Vendor A, that they've now bundled an outgoing calls package in the price with a "minimum committed annual usage." There are now no technical personnel on the site of the client office and they've outsourced support to a large Indian offshore company. At a stroke whoever agreed to the "renewal" in our client has committed them to 24 months additional expenditure on outgoing calls they will not use. This will result in ten's of thousands of pounds of additional expenditure. It just goes to show that a lack of knowledge can be very expensive when it comes to telecoms technology.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Throw out your Servers!!

If you are responsible for a business that uses computers you should do the company a big favour and try out Gmail and Google Docs. You might find it can replace many of your servers and save your company a lot of money on software licensing. Have a look at this BusinessReview Europe article, it gives an interesting view on the expansion of Gmail and Google Docs.

At the very least you should ask what is the total annual cost of running local servers for email, office software for wordprocessing spreadsheet collaboration. The cost of running the desktop PC's and continual software upgrades. Take the total finance cost, capital write down, licensing costs, support costs, maintenance, electric power costs, cooling costs etc to develop a holistic view. Then add the cost of providing a business continuity facility for those services.  Take total annual cost and divide it by the number of people actively using the system. If the result comes to more than £35 a year per person you need to look more seriously at gmail and google docs. I'll exclude highly variable printing costs from this, but they'd be the same with either approach.

It is free to try.

If you are paying more than £350 to purchase a desktop PC (including software) once every four years to have a problem with your current arrangements. If your desktop PC uses more than 30 Watts power you could be paying too much in operating costs for the electrical power. There are better performing and lower cost alternatives.

Here's an example for 3500 staff at Hillingdon Council using Google Apps.

I'll happily chat with people about this on the phone. No charge!

Monday, 12 December 2011

EU Almost treaty

Once the media fanfare dies down over the UK Prime Minister Cameron's exercising the Veto on the attempted Merkozy Treaty, we'll see that the proposals contain no real solution to the problems besetting the Euro. It is like an Office Administrator applying rules on dress code when the primary business is failing. Once again European banks are increasingly distrustful of lending to each other. They are trapped on the deepening sides of a financial vortex.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Have you planned your next volcano?

The large Icelandic volcano Katla is rumbling and showing real signs of eruption. If that happens it could last for weeks and significantly impact air travel within europe. It could be potentially much worse that the Eyjafjallajokull eruption in 2010.
Make sure that your organisation's travel plans take this into account. Improve your video conferencing capability and avoid those long distance trips which are not really necessary. Travel planners should have alternate routing available.
If your organisation who was courageous enough to use an Iceland Data Center to offshore your computer operations you'd best say a little prayer. In 1783 the Katla eruptions killed one in five icelanders. It can get really bad!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Skype - Unfit for business use

I've been a paying Skype subscriber for several years. I've always been concerned that Skype is not really suitable for business users, but I've continue to use it occasionally. However a recent problem with a subscription renewal has convinced me that the Skype product is just not suitable for business use

My unlimited UK subscription was due to expire in a couple of days so I logged on to renew the subscription. I have an on-line number associated with the subscription. The Skype web page system would not let me extend the UK calls Subscription, so I chose the more expensive unlimited European Subscription and paid for 12 months.

I then contacted Skype support on-line chat and asked them to extend the UK Subscription, retaining my online number (it's on some recently printed expensive business cards), and at the same time refund difference in cost of the European Subscription which I don't really want. 

The summary of the chat was the support people said I'd cancelled the UK subscription (no I had not, at least not intentionally) and that the online number would expire and could not be reclaimed. This was confirmed during the chat by a supervisor. I made it perfectly clear, politely, that the situation was unacceptable and needed resolution. I asked the support shift supervisor to escalate this to his/her bosses to find a solution. At this point the chat session ended abruptly and the window closed, not from any action on my part. In effect the Supervisor had slammed the phone down on me. (I'd taken the precaution of preserving the complete content of the chat as a pdf file. Read it here.) 

Here's my contention:
  • It is unacceptable that I could not renew;
  • It is unacceptable that I'll lose the online number;
  • It is unacceptable that Skype support do not have the tools to fix it;
  • It is unacceptable that the supervisor terminated the conversation without agreement on next actions.
Clearly Skype systems and procedures are inadequate and not suitable to support normal commercial business practices.Here's some further references:

Update 26th Nov: After a further support request Skype say they've cancelled my "European" package (I only asked them to refund the difference for extending the UK package). They've offered advice on how to extend the UK package. That advice doesn't work, I'm still faced with losing the phone number.
Update 29th Nov: I've found a solution without Skype's help. Apparently the cancellation was caused a few months ago when I disbarred PayPal from automatically paying Skype on demand. Note I've had 60 Euros credit in my account for months but Skype won't use that for the 33 Euro subscription renewal even when I've declared it as the preferred method of payment. Eventually after Skypews rejection of two valid and credit worthy Credit Cards being rejected by Skype's "security" system I managed to pay with a third card. I've managed to retain the phone number, but also have an additional one that I don't want as a side effect of the subscription renewal.


The point is why should the Skype Renewal system be so byzantine and obscure? Why didn't the experienced Skype Support Desk spot the problem? I had to waste time working it out by trial and error. It is definitely not a system that I'd recommend to business people.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Regional power outage

 I wrote this blog entry in July 2009:

My 25 year old daughter has flown the nest of the family home. She has her own career and her own home some 15 miles away from Lewisham in South East London. When vandals struck at the local power supply sub-station they took out the power to 60,000 people. My daughter was without power in her home for 4 solid days. She was able to come and stay back in her old bedroom, so the power outage did not affect her too much. She had a standby arrangement. 
I wondered how well the local businesses fared with the power outage? Network connectivity dubious, no power for servers for 4 days, even charging mobile phones was a problem if you were stuck in the  the location of the outage. I wonder did any of the businesses what they would do in the event of a regional power outage. 
Rehearsal and problem analysis is an essential part of the BCP process for those businesses. It is bad for customer relations if you don’t have effective BCP, but conversely your company will stand out if it continues its operations in the face of a regional outage. 

I wonder how many businesses have followed up from this incident and arranged standby power for their businesses in the intervening two years?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Pumpable ice for data center air conditioning


Pumpable ice air conditioning is not a particularly new technology, but it offers the opportunity to reduce the operational electric power costs of air conditioning a Data Center. As part of the same package the technology can provide standby cooling capability without significantly loading the UPS while there is a major outage of mains power.

Pumpable ice is a slurry of fine ice crystals suspended in chilled water. There are several technologies currently in daily use in the manufacturing and food industries which generate and store pumpable ice. The same technology is used aboard some fishing vessels to provide cooling to preserve fresh fish. The systems are robust and have an engineering history.

The ice slurry can be stored in large insulated tanks to act as a store of thermal energy for cooling requirements. The ice slurry is approximately five times more efficient at cooling than chilled water, so the pipework involved in transporting pumpable ice can be more narrow than those used for an equivalent chilled water system.

Here's a related Youtube video.

The pumpable ice can be generated overnight using cheaper off-peak electricity (approx one third of peak day prices) and stored in a thermal accumulator. The cooler night time air can improve the efficiency of the ice making process. During the day when electricity is changed at peak rates the ice slurry can be drawn from the thermal accumulator to provide a coolant source for the main air conditioning of the building. This will reduce the use of expensive day-time electricity. It can also be used to reduce peak loads on the main building water chillers. Pumpable ice cooling systems can cope with megawatt types of cooling loads as well as smaller loads. Some ice systems are designed for retro-fitting to existing chiller systems without the risk of compromising existing building chilled water systems.

If the thermal accumulators containing the ice slurry are of sufficient capacity it is possible to sustain an extended main chiller outage which could occur in the gap between a power outage and the successful start up of the building generator. Some battery backed power would be required to service the pumps for the pumpable ice. In data centers using energy dense technologies such as servers and network switches there is a serious risk of meltdown in a few minutes if coolant is not available. Each equipment cabinet in the data center might be dumping many kilowatts of heat load into the confined space of the technology room leading to serious thermal damage of the equipment. If the standby generator does not start quickly to power main cooling the results can be catastrophic.

Oaksys


Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Do the Banks see us as commodities?

Not long after Egg set up its on-line banking service I signed up for an account. At one point I had £50,000 on deposit and moved an average of £2500 through its credit card. I even used their equity/stock on-line trading system.
Since then Egg has been dismembered and the parts sold to different financial businesses. There's no consultation with the customers we are just transferred to another business as though we are some kind of inanimate object or chattel.
Excuse me but being a customer is a two way process! Just because another bank/financial company now owns that service there is no reason why I should continue to business with the new owners. My cash deposits have moved, so has the share trading and my credit card is rarely used.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Sorry, a minor accounting error

It has been announced that the Hypo Real Estate bank, taken over by the German Government, has recently discovered a small accounting error. Apparently it is worth 55 Billion Euros more than was originally thought.
The scapegoats are being herded as I type. Are we surprised?

Friday, 28 October 2011

Directors' pay affects security.

A report on the BBC News web site shows that the pay for directors of large UK companies (FTSE 100) has rising by 50% in the past year. Meanwhile the rest of the UK population are struggling with the effect of the near banking collapse. Unemployment is higher than usual, student tax is £8000 a year and other services are being cut.
It is inevitable that social unrest will increase in this country as a direct result of this social disconnect. Protest marches will most likely increase and so will revenge attacks on company buildings. As part of our services Oaksys Tech have discovered that the majority of companies are ill prepared to withstand such attacks. Any riot near their premises or a sneak attack is likely to inflict substantial damage. The people who will suffer as a consequence of such attacks will be the normal employees and the shareholders (pension funds). Mostly likely public buildings will suffer damage too. As protestors beome much more organised and and informed it is highly likely that computer data centres will become a target of attack.
Organisations can take physical security measures to protect their premises from those types of attack. Obviously those precautions will have to be effected in advance.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

European Data Centre Cabinets

One company I've come across in recent years which deserves a higher profile is Minkels. They make equipment room housings, containments, cooling and monitoring equipment. I've seen some impressive innovations in their design and they are prepared to listen to your specific needs.

Worth a look.

Oaksys

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

35% annual increase in electricity prices.

The increasing cost of energy became all too apparent to me this morning. At our London home I received a notice from EDF Energy (Electricite De France) telling us they were increasing the monthly direct debit by 35% over the previous payments. We've actually decreased our power usage by about 5% year on year and we normally have a credit amount at the quarterly settlement.



Industry and business must be facing similar increases

Water Mist Fire Suppression


There are a number of high pressure water mist fire suppression systems. The underlying principle is they use water broken into tiny droplets by forcing the water through special nozzles. This greatly increases the total surface area of the water which has the effect of greatly increasing the water cooling capacity. These systems use 10% of the water that a normal fire sprinkler system would use to achieve the same effect.

The technique was developed in the shipping industry where it is widely used for engine room fire suppression systems. It is not a new technology, so most of the kinks have been ironed out. There are a range of systems including pumped and stored gas (e.g. Nitrogen) used to deliver the water. Some are room based there even ones which operate in equipment cabinets.

The mist is non-toxic. It is after all just distilled water. So it is less hazardous than fire suppressant gases to personnel in the area of operation. The non-ionic water and tiny particles are not good electricity conductors so it can be used in the proximity of live equipment. The mist also suppresses smoke and reduces soot damage from the fire.

One example of this is the Hi-Fog system marketed by Marioff; there are other systems which can be easily discovered through Google.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Easyspace has lost it.

For several years now we've used Easyspace for domain registration for our internet domain names, but now they increasingly give us problems. They used to be inexpensive and their web interface for managing domain details is generally reliable. Their invoicing side of things is a bit quirky, but does enough to handle bill payments. We've been double charged on occasion but the billing is reasonably accurate.

Of late we've become less enamoured with this supplier. Our first gripe is a £3 "admin charge" to renew each domain name "manually" every 2 years rather than just letting it rollover without intervention. With the rollover renewal, the calculated fee is charged to stored credit card details. We fail to see how the £3 charge is justified. Renewal reminders are automatically generated by their system with no human involvement. With manual renewal it is the customer who has to put in the work to sign on and process the domain renewal; it does not create extra work for Easyspace.

Secondly we are finding that their renewal fees per year for .com and .org domain names are becoming increasingly expensive. Our alternate supplier of domain registration charges about 30% of the fees for the same service levels, let me restate that; the rival domain registrar is one third of the cost of Easyspace for the the equivalent service. We are not talking about the cheap registrars like 1&1, but registrars with a reliable and accessible service.

Thirdly, Easyspace has just accused us of having our account "in arrears" because we didn't renew one of their expensive domain registration services. That strikes us as downright "client hostile" and is not an acceptable business practice. We've queried this in the past, in respect of the way they invoice for an unwanted service and their customer services told us not to worry about the invoices shown as outstanding on their system. When Easyspace was a freestanding company their approach to customer relations was much better.

They won't be getting new business from us in the future. It is sad because in the past in our role as trading floor builders we've introduced our customers to Easyspace and also to their parent commercial datacentre hosting business IOMart. We'd like to support a UK supplier, but they are no longer on our approved list. It's their loss.

Edit 25/10/11 And they wonder why we don't use their automatic renewal.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Domain Renewal Group Scam

I've just returned from a walk in the park with my old dog. It is beautiful Autumn (Fall) weather at the moment. The warm golden sunlight is filtered through the orange and russet leaves about to fall from the trees. There was just a slight breeze, in fact it is a day to remember and I feel sorry for those slaving away in an air conditioned office.

Sadly the spell was broken when I returned to find a scam invoice from the Domain Renewal Group for renewing the domain name of my company, or when you look more closely for transferring the domain name registry to them. This was of course completely unsolicited and unwanted. Why do the domain name authorities allow these internet parasites stay in business? I've repeatedly told them to go away and that I never want to hear from them again yet the scam letters continue.

The Royal Mail could help deal with this by refusing to deliver their scam mail to the public, but I guess they are deperate for every penny and morals do not come into it.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Banned refrigerant in APC In-Row chillers?

I've just been reading some articles in the APC Uptime magazine (Schneider Electric) where they describe the use of the refrigerant liquid R134a as "an environmentally friendly pumped refrigerant". Here's a reference to their product.

However if you look up R134a in Wikipedia we are warned it "has been subject to use restrictions due to its contribution to climate change. In the EU, it will be banned as of 2011 in all new cars." Here is more news.

Are APC promoting something that is likely to be banned soon? Will this present the risk of having to write off expensive cooling equipment early in its lifetime?

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Energy Accounting - Offshoring

In today's Sunday newspapers there are reports that electricity bills in the UK will rise by 30% over the next year owing to the additional costs for renewable energy and nuclear energy disposal costs. It makes sense that we boost our national contribution to green energy.

However when a UK based/located supplier outsources its opperations to an offshore location they are ignoring their contribution to the carbon load on the environment unless the offshore location imposes similar green taxes on supplied energy. For example offshoring a call centre or a datacentre will still generate the same same carbon load but in a different part of the world. The exception would of course be if the overseas location uses renewable low carbon energy.

Where jobs and operations are outsourced to offshore locations there should be a component of green energy taxation paid/rebated for the energy that the people/facilities will be using. If this taxation does not happen our country could be giving an unfair advantage to the overseas suppliers of people services or data centre who may not pay any carbon tax. I'm not proposing double taxation, merely a level playing field for UK based providers. It will also provide an incentive for suppliers bother here and overseas to become more carbon efficient.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Domain Renewal Scam

I had one of those unsolicted scam invoices from the Domain Renewal Group. They send out official looking invoices hoping to trick people to sign up for their "services" at a greatly inflated cost of staying with your existing registrar. Buried in the test they'll say "this is not a bill" but that is just their lipservice to previous legal smacks on the wrist.

One common feature of this con trick is that in the UK they use the post mail box shop located at 56 Gloucester Road. DRG make out they have an office located there by including Suite 526  in the address. The owners of the mail box shop at 56 Gloucester road should hang their heads in shame at their continued support of the Domain Renewal Group scamsters.

What is more annoying is the Royal Mail appear to officially support the actions of DRG by providing bulk mail rates under licence HQ9321

Monday, 13 June 2011

Reasons for dropping suppliers

We build trading floors and data centres at many international location. We also help design the physical security of those and similar places. Whilst we have a small company we have to deal with multiple suppliers. We usually undertake research before choosing a potential supplier except for the supply of trivial items. For larger purchases we negotiate hard, but try to also ensure a fair price for the supplier of any goods/services we purchase.

We also drop suppliers who do not perform in a business like fashion. Here's a list of the primary reasons for dropping a supplier:
  • An aggressive accounts/collection department; we try to pay bills on time, but when the Accounts Department tries to blame us for their own mistakes or poor procedures it will result in a rapid delisting of that supplier.
  • If there is any sign of corruption/bribery from the employees or direct agents of the supplier. We don't use Dell computers for that reason.
  • If their idea of customer relations is to treat us like a naive consumer with a basic entry on a poor customer relations management system. We don't expect to have to repeat information that we've provided before.
  • Vendors who lie or blame others when they screw up an order. We'd much rather suppliers just say: "We got this wrong, this is what we are going to do to fix the problem."
  • Vendors who fail to give us bad news in a timely fashion. If there is going to be a supply problem, the sooner we know the better we can handle it. If people work with us we will try to help them.
  • Vendors who try to arbitrage currency differences to make money. We've seen cases where the same product costs 75% more in the UK than in the USA.
  • Vendors who try to push high value time restricted purchases through a general Help Desk just because it is the way the Vendor's internal systems are organised.
Some vendors loose sight of the fact we act as a consultancy to our clients. We are small but exert high leverage on the negotiation process when we help our clients negotiate. It is not unusual for us to place an order for 500 PCs or multiple high end servers. We do not make profit on the deals we negotiate for our clients. We regard it as part of the consultancy process.  We are quite prepared to find alternative vendors for our clients if we become aware of bad business practices on the part of the vendor.

Conversely if we think a vendor has a great product and good business practices we have no problem providing an introduction to our client if we feel it will help them.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

I'm going to win the Lottery this week!

Take a single fresh garden pea. Use a fine tipped marker pen to write your name on the pea. Take that pea and throw it into the back of a 32 ton truck. Fill the truck to capacity with 32 tons of peas.

Next dump the load of peas onto the surface of a basketball court. Spread the peas evenly across the surface leaving a narrow trail to the centre of the court. Using that trail take yourself to the centre of the court. Blindfold yourself and then throw a single dart into the peas surrounding you.

If your dart pierces the pea you labelled earlier you will have then demonstrated your chance of winning the Euromillion Lottery  jackpot prize with a single ticket.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Plus Net vs Demon Internet as Broadband providers

We now after some work have established a stable broadband internet service for PlusNet at our business. We use this as a back-up service to the Demon Internet business Broadband internet. Both have approximately the same monthly price and both are posted as unlimited business bandwidth. They are both delivered from the same exchange in Deptford London.

The PlusNet service delivers about 4 Meg of bandwidth incoming (ping time for sip.skype.com is 40 msec). The Demon service delivers about double the incoming bandwidth at just under 8 Mbs with a ping time of 30msec.  Internet browsing is noticeably quicker on the Demon Internet service.  Both services seem to be stable.

We had some jerky playback of video with the Plusnet feed. Following discussion on the support forum and their support staff we were able to track down the cause. We found some pirate wiring for an extension on the BT side of the phone master socket. It was about 20 metres long but not actually connected to anything. A couple of snips removed the connection and our problems were ended. So far as we can tell the old extension wiring was installed over 25 years ago by previous occupants of the building.

We are growing increasingly impressed with the PlusNet support staff. They are as a rule helpful, but we've encountered a couple who were not up to par.

In general Demon are more business like in their approach, but PlusNet seem to be getting there. The PlusNet approach to IPv6 trials is encouraging.

Update (March 2012 - 9 months later)
We found the cause of the speed difference; mostly it was due to PlusNet starting us on the basic ADSL service whereas Demon had gone to ADSL Max. Now fixed. One other cause of line errors (speed) was tracked done to an illegal extension wiring installed by the previous property owner some 25 years ago. They'd wired in an extension on the BT side of the phone socket - difficult to find. 

Update (April 2012)
One really annoying shortcoming of the PlusNet Business Option 3 service which is touted as unlimited is that they throttle video feeds in the evening. The service gives us a monthly tab of about £43 a month with enhanced help desk response service. It is a bit silly they choose to  be niggardly with the video feed. We quite often work on in the evening, particularly with USA clients, having jerky video in the evening can be a right PITA. We've set Plus Net for use only as a back up service and rely on Demon for the main stream.
 

Russia to get access to Skype encryption

Reports in the Russian media report that Microsoft is willing to give the Skype message/voice encryption algorithm to the FSB (Russian Security agency).

http://gazeta.ru/news/lastnews/2011/06/08/n_1875049.shtml

It is a Russian language article, so use the Google language tools to translate.

http://www.google.co.uk/language_tools?hl=en

Spam SMS text messages

It would be good if people at Ofcom could earn their bloated salaries and deal with the ambulance chasing parasites who send unsolicited text messages to my mobile phone.
The latest message:
"You have still not claimed the compensation you are due for the accident you had."
The sender's CLI number is +447548060970

They have the cheek to say I can opt out by replying "STOP"; I didn't opt in in the first place so why should I have to pay for a return text message. The perpetrators of these schemes should spend a few months in prison. They are unwanted social parasites sending unwanted Spam.

ps: Also received the same spam from+447934208128

Monday, 30 May 2011

Microsoft locking out Skype extensions?

Skype is pulling away from open source  VOIP interfaces to its protocol. Here's an article in Eweek. This occurs shortly after Microsoft's announced takeover of Skype. I guess we we see more of the same as Skype is engineered to the proprietary standards of Microsoft.

It is interesting that the Skype User Forum software prevented me from posting a link to the article about Skype/Digium and VOIP open source. Supporters of conspiracy theories might believe that Skype's new management  wish to suppress the bad news as much as possible. It is the first time I've encountered such a restriction.

I know if my company had invested in the Digium/Skype interface as a telephony system I'd be extremely annoyed. I wonder how long it will be before the only interfaces will demand exclusively Microsoft software interfaces.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Femtocells to reduce Mobile phone signal not-spots

Femtocell technology used to extend Cell/Mobile phone reception to dead spots is being put forward as the next great solution for communications. There is a brief report here in The Register. Vodafone already have a system called Vodafone Sure Signal and O2 are trialling their solution. This is however little different from voice over IP, such as the SIP protocol, using local WiFi base stations. Both solutions need a broadband Internet connection, but the solutions by the mobile phone companies is likely to be proprietary to their own networks. Unless standards are introduced it will just promote vendor lock in. All that this provides is the opportunity for the owner of the Femtocell device to pay for rectifying the shortfall of the Mobile Phone Company coverage.
If you need information on deployment of Femocells there is a guide here. Here is an example of the equipment from Airvana.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

SaaS loses its halo; Microsoft stops the CEO's Email!

The Microsoft Cloud service (BPOS and 365) had major outages during a three day period starting 10th May 2011. Here's the Zdnet report and here's the Register report. Some companies were left without their Microsoft Exchange email facilities. It is a glaringly obvious and immediate outage with an immediate effect on the senior executive's offices. No doubt there will be some fundamental questioning going on within those organisations about which person organised for such a critical part of the company infrastructure to be outsourced to a third party. Those executives may have liked the proposed savings when the idea was mooted, but they will have very  poor memories of their prior involvement when such a major outage occurs.

Normally there is is little redress when things go wrong with Cloud Services. At most the client might get a service credit for the lost service time but there will be no compensation for the disruption and loss of business caused. Pulling back from the "cloud" in retaliation would be a lengthy and expensive process. 

The CIO is partly to blame for this business risk unless he/she has prepared for the eventuality of such an outage. At the very least any proposal for a Cloud solution should recommend provision for the costs of a fall back system in the event an such an outage. The senior executives would then be able to make a risk assessed based business decision on whether they want to fund the fall back arrangements. For example it may be an idea to have subscription to an alternate vendor service such as Google Gmail and business Apps. The alternate solution could be back with archival copies of data held on the primary office business system to allow access to important documents during a main system outage. We suggest consideration of alternate vendor to prevent the loss of access during a system wide error denying prime vendor access.

Oaksys

Do you have enough power?

Ofgem, the Energy Regulator, reports that the UK needs a £200 Billion investment in its energy infrastructure if we are to avoid power shortages.
What steps has your business taken to protect the security of its energy?
Does it have a UPS and load shedding policy that is routinely exercised? Has it considered local generation of power, possibly under a CHEAP scheme? If you do not preplan it is inevitable that at some time in the future your organisation will lose productivity due to regional power outages or brownouts.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

High Capacity Storage

I’ve been working in the computer industry for over forty years. It is not often that I see an implementation of technology where I think “Wow!” At a recent exhibition I came across GID-Quantor’s Silent Cube technology. These devices use WORM (Write Once Read Many) optical disks to store vast amounts of data. You can store Peta byte (1000 Gigabytes) of data, on-line, in a three rack configuration.
The devices have been carefully engineered with a high level of redundant resilience and active error monitoring. They will also support remote site mirroring as part of the package. They are also engineered to be very low power usage, so the running cost is low; just two Watts for 8 Tera bytes. They are also highly modular.
If you have high volumes are static archival data that needs to be retained long term, but with rapid accessibility requirements, this may be the technology for you.  GID-Quantor have a history of providing archival microfiche solutions, their experience shows in the design of these Silent Cube’s. I can see many uses for this technology in the financial markets; for example, voice recording, archive of price feeds/trades for compliance purposes.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

35% increase in Electricity prices

The increasing cost of energy became all too apparent to me this morning. At our London home I received a notice from EDF Energy (Electricite De France) telling us they were increasing the monthly direct debit by 35% over the previous payments. We've actually decreased our power usage by about 5% year on year and we normally have a credit amount at the quarterly settlement. While it may be get a temporary easement by switching to another supplier it show which way the wind is blowing and makes a total mockery of any annual inflation figures announced  by the Governor of the Bank of England.



Industry and business must be facing similar increases so the pressure to save on operational electricity bills. There are plenty of technologies which can assist that process, including those which allow you to remotely control the power down of PCs. An important part of the planning process is to accurately meter the usage of power. Once you know the baseline it is the possible to consider risk assessed power usage reduction measures. Blindly switching off equipment without considering the overall impact can prove to be very expensive.



We usually take a power clamp meter with us when we first visit a data centre. We are no longer surprised when we find sites where the operations manager has no clear idea of power usage per equipment cabinet. They would become more focussed if the power bill was part of their budget.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

PlusNet now stable but ...

After a lot of effort by ourselves we now have a stable secondary ADSL connection from Plus.net. The broadband link feeds into a dual ported firewall which we run in a load balance mode most of the time.
The link is not as fast as we'd hoped running at something like 3.5 Mbps for download. At the time of installation Plus.Net measured the line and predicted a speed of something like 6 Mbps. However as a backup Internet link it is bearable.

Sadly though plus.net (owned by BT) continue to show their consumer service level roots. They just don't seem to understand the service levels expected by business, despite us paying them an additional fee for support. During the set up process Plus.Net had to send us two additional new ADSL Routers before they finally managed to provide they service we'd ordered (excluding the issue of the predicted line speed). 

We have the two spare routers here waiting collection arrangements. We'd been told return envelopes would be sent to us. A couple of days ago we received one return envelope. It contained no instructions and the Return Envelope was actually addressed to a British Telecom site. There was no indication it had come from Plus.net.  We had to use our telepathic powers to deduce this. Not wanting to "lose" a router we posted an enquiry on the support page of Plus.net and they responded after a few hours confirming the envelope had come from them. We despatched someone down to the local Post Office with the parcel to get a "Proof of Posting" for the non-tracked second class return parcel. Yet again more wasted effort for our company due to Plus.net inefficiency. Apparently another return envelope is on the way for the second router, this of course means another trip by us to the Post Office. In total we reckon that Plus.net's inefficiency has cost us about 5 man days wasted effort.

Shortly after we were checking our plus.net account records and discovered they'd added a £25 cessation charge for the removal of ADSL from the phone circuit. We'd not ceased the service and the phone line had not previously had an ADSL service present. It took another support query by us to Plus.net to establish the £25 was a "might be charged if we cancel the service" fee but we'd not actually been invoiced for it. This of course had not been mentioned when we ordered the service. More wasted time on our part. It is this type of practise that will cause us not to do business with a supplier. We do not like sneak charges added without our agreement or notice to us.
Oaksys


Update: 18th My 2012 We had another unexplained outage on the plusnet service this morning for a few hours. We've learned to leave it a few hours before attempting to fix the problem as usually they sort themselves out after a few hours without our intervention.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Offshore Universities

I paid for my children to go through University in the United Kingdom. The family income was too high for any kind of grant so we had to pay the tuition fees and for the accommodation costs of our kids.  At the time we thought the tuition fees were high considering the poor quality and  low number of hours of actual tuition hours received in return.

Since then the university establishment have been awarding themselves substantial salary and pension increases causing the costs of university education to rise substantially above the rate of inflation. The government has said the central purse has to cut back a bit, but at the same time the universities want more money to feed their bloated salaries and administration costs. The solution adopted by the Government and the Universities is to raise money by charging annual tuition fees of £9000. This additional taxation will be deferred by offering loans to the students. In effect the tax burden is postponed to be paid in the future.

Universities in the UK are hopelessly inefficient and do not offer good value for money at the new prices. There is however a solution in a business method used by business and government in the provision of manufacturing and services. It is called offshoring. The work is shifted to another country where local wages and salaries are a lot lower. Many of the overseas universities in places like India have excellent academic standards. Given the modern capabilities of the Internet for voice and video conferencing there is no reason why UK based students should not take their degrees and exams through a process of distant learning with a suitably accredited offshore university. This would sensibly reduce the amount of money the public has to spend on providing university graduates for our country. The money saved by not utilizing the expensive UK universities could be used to regenerate the UK industrial base.
UK universities would then have the freedom to reshape their expenditure and slim down to meet the new challenge. In fact they could purchase offshored lecturer hours to reduce their own costs.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Why did we blacklist PayPal?

We've used PayPal now for several years to send/receive payments, but now we've decided to blacklist them as a route for making payments to vendors and receiving payments. The triggering issue was relatively minor, but what has convinced us that PayPal could be bad for our reputation is the way they've handled our subsequent queries.

After years of payments by us to suppliers being handled smoothly by PayPal, they suddenly decided to delay settlement of an invoice by several days. There is no apparent reason for the delay and the PayPal Help Desk seem at a loss to explain the actual reason for the delay. We have no shortage of funding and we also have lodged details of a credit card as a backup payment method on their system.

Our impression is that the PayPal Help Desk cannot be bothered to investigate the issue thoroughly and cannot be bothered to remediate the situation. Our guess is the Ebay owners of PayPal are unconcerned if individuals receive a poor service so long as the customer churn rate does not exceed a certain percentage figure. If that would increase their marketing costs for PayPal they would then take notice.

We have made three separate written requests that the Paypal Help Desk team escalate the matter to their senior management for a faster resolution. Each of those requests have been ignored. It seems the ethos of the PayPal Help Desk is to respond to fault tickets but not to answer the questions or to provide a solution. No doubt this makes their response statistics look good to management but it does not deal with legitimate customer anger at the failure of their system. So far as we are concerned the supplier will have been left with the clear impression that our company has a poor credit history/rating. It is damaging to our reputation.

We warned PayPal we would blacklist them if they did not become more helpful but that has been ignored too. Well now we've blacklisted them and closed the standing orders we were paying via PayPal.

The particular transaction in question was for a piece of software to be used to promote an ecommerce site for one of our clients. We have demonstrated to that client that PayPal should not be used to collect payments for their services/goods. It is just not worth the heartache of arbitrarily delayed payments. Our client has opened contract negotiations with another credit card facility service provider. It will represent a substantial revenue loss to PalPal.

So far as we are concerned the senior managers of the PalPal Help Desk team are culpable in this loss of a customer. The managers set the ethos and procedures of their workers. Sadly with a quick search on Google we see many similar complaints about PayPal's attitude by other dissatisfied clients.

Meanwhile we are registering with Alertpay and MoneyBookers.

Oaksys


Edit
2nd Feb 2012: A recent development. 
17th Feb 2012 - Another screw up.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Finally the Plus.net is operational.

We're almost at the end of the Plus.Net saga. After multiple phone calls and even more messages on the Plus.Net web site from us to Plus.Net, we've finally got the broadband service working as we originally wanted. As part of the fix, Plus.net have sent us two additional ADSL routers which are now awaiting their return envelopes.

Wouldn't it be a whole lot better if Plus.net set up their service provision for "business" to work first time with appropriate configuration when first plugged in? That would include the option for a range of static IP addresses and No-NAT (No Network Address Translation) pre-configured on the ADSL router or automatically download. The other business orientated ISPs achieve that capability with no problem. Plus.Net put a load of effort and spend into fixing their problem with us, not to mention the hours of additional time we spent in the office liaising and investigating. With better product configuration that wasteful and annoying follow-up work could have been avoided.

Plus.net marketing people make a great play on the Yorkshire origins/location of their company and support team. They should certainly be aware of the expression "as useful as a chocolate teapot" which is used to describe something which fails to meet expectation. It should not lead to any member of their support team describing such comments by us as defamatory! We've since received an apology from them for that little interlude. We could have used a more colourful situation description involving a male bovine and a five litre metal water carrying unit.

Eventually we got the service working with the configuration settings for No-NAT which we'd already tried on their original ADSL router. We'd kept a copy of each configuration file so we could track back. We don't particularly care what they had to do to fix it, but it is now working. It was a lot of hassle that could have been avoided.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Plus.Net Saga continues

Ah the joys of Telecom/Network facilities! The story continues. We eventually got No-NAT working with the Thomson router supplied by Plus.net using the unsupported hints sent to us by their Service Manager. Annoyingly this left us with only one usable IP address from the range of four static IP addresses we'd organised previously (which arrived after we chased plus.net).  We had to fill in a set of forms to justify a block of eight static IP addresses.

When we try to configure the router for the 8 addresses (5 usable) in a No-NAT set up it just does not work. After a lot of hunting around we've noticed Plus.net have set a subnetmask of /32 on those addresses instead of /28. It means the network equipment can only see one address and not eight. We've raised a support ticket, but despite paying for the enhanced support it still seems to take them at least a day to look at the ticket. The response was a typically unhelpful helpdesk response, so we've added some clarifying information. Hopefully they'll get the hang of it soon, but working outside of domestic network configurations does seem to be outside of the comfort zone of most of their support staff. Shades of BT! Ah well perhaps they'll get a Round Tuit in the morning. At this rate it will take a month to get our network link working properly.

Oaksys

ps .... at last resolution...

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Plus.Net responding OK

After we took the the trouble to gain Plus.Net's attention over the issue of a No-NAT service for their business ADSL their support manage has been attentive to the issue. We are seeing some results.
We're told they don't currently support No-NAT on the ADSL routers supplied for their business connection. We were given wrong advice when we signed up for a contract with them.

However to give them their due, Plus.Net have been responsive.  They have found us details of a work around which, after a bit of tinkering by us, has provided us with No-NAT  connection through the Thompson 585 ADSL router they provided. The device is a bit greedy for static  IP addresses. From a block of four IP addresses you are left with one usable address. So we've requested a block of 8 new addresses via Plus.net; let's hope they have a spare 8 IPV4 hanging around.

Even better Plus.net had a spare Netgear N300 Router which is "better at No-NAT". we've received that by courier about 20 minutes ago, so when I've some spare time we'll fire that up too and see if it replaces the Thompson unit.

From the information I gathered from Plus.net it looks like they are ramping up their business offering in terms of support and features like No-NAT but it may be a few weeks/months before that works through into what the public (businesses) see in terms of delivery. The No-NAT configuration workaround we have is not supported at the moment, but if they continue their progress I suspect that will change.

If there is any doubt about the need for No-NAT I can say I've just spent the past 8 working hours resolving a problem where Microsoft FrontPage, used by an external creative, refused to work with one of our servers which is presently behind a NAT firewall. All of our web editing software has no problem, just the damn Microsoft product thinks the world is different. Grrr!!

Oaksys

ps. We spoke too soon.  The saga continues.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Plus.net Internet not good for us

I mentioned in a previous post I’d be relating my experiences with the Plus.net Internet broadband service to my business. I’m sad to say on their current performance I would not recommend them for use within a business environment. I’m awaiting a call from their business manager so I’ll maybe change my mind, but they are going to have to work hard. Their initial response was not "we'll fix this", but "the manager will listen to the voice recording of what was said at the time of order!"

Hello! I'm the customer. I'm not thick. I can actually remember that far back! (a few days). C.Y.A. is not a solution to the business problem.

Here’s the nub of the problem. When I raised the order for the service I specifically requested a No-NAT router (I’ll explain later) and that was agreed on the phone at the time of the order. In fact the sales clerk specifically contacted technical people during the call to confirm this feature.
It turns out, after another call (part of the conversation 853K wav) by me to their support team, that in fact Plus.net “have never” supplied No-NAT routers for their service. The Router they supplied the Thompson 585 is in fact capable of providing No-NAT, but it would involve us having to perform Command Line Instruction (CLI) programming on their equipment and we’d end up with a non-standard configuration. Others have experience of this.

With my other two broadband suppliers we use Easynet and Demon Internet they supplied No-NAT ADSL routers without a quibble. Their equipment worked first time configured as requested without a problem on the day it was delivered. To put it mildly, I am surprised Plus.net does not provide this basic business network facility for their service advertised as “Business”.

With NAT routers the external IP addresses are translated to internal network addresses (Network Address Translation, geddit?) with a No-NAT configuration it is possible for external IP addressing to pass through the router direct to Servers and the like behind the router. We use that feature to create a DMZ for public facing servers while our business PCs are protected behind a firewall.
So what else don’t I like about the Plus.net service.
  • They throttle traffic even on their unlimited business service.
  • If you send an email addressed to their support team it will be bounced unread. You are forced to use their browser based ticket form. In short it is organised for their convenience and not the business customer.
  • I was unable to use their browser support page to close tickets that had been left open.
  • I could have no more than three support tickets open at any time. At that limit you are forced to contact them by phone because you cannot close other tickets and emails are rejected. Again their convenience and not the customer’s. I did not have this limitation with my existing suppliers.
  • They use 0845 numbers for support calls, though there is a geographic number for business support.
My advice to Plus.net? Save your money on Yorkshire accent TV adverts and provide some focus on your business broadband order supply process. It will reduce the number of calls to your support team. Without No-NAT your service is about as useful as a chocolate teapot to us.

N.B. There have been developments since this blog entry.

You cannot teach people Project Management

You cannot teach people how to manage projects! It is a skill learned through experience. It is however a lot easier to learn those skills if you have received training in the techniques of project management as part of the experience period.

No amount of theoretical training can get the putative project manager to realise just how much circumstance and people will act and conspire to thwart project deadlines and budgets. Detailed documentation of project activity will merely act as an aide memoir as you sift through the ashes of a failed project.

A project manager should serve as an "apprentice" under the tutelage of a master project manager. In that way the novice can learn, aided by supplemental formal training, how to manage, and react to, people, resources and events whilst under the protective guidance of the master. A lot of the gain is learning how to react when things go wrong. The other important challenge is learning how to really communicate with people involved in or affected by the Project.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Moving away from Easynet

We're in the process of shutting down our Easynet Internet link. It is a pity because their engineering support tends to be good and responsive to any problems. We've had a business LLU ADSL link from them for a few years now. It is rated at 8mbs but has never come close to that rate. It typically hovers around the 4 mbs line speed. That in itself should not be a problem, but we've purchased a similar 8mbs link from Demon Internet and that runs at twice the speed of Easynet for both download and upload running from the same Deptford exchange. The Demon link has also been running for a couple of years with only a couple of noticeable outages.

The Local Link Unbundled (LLU) circuit is a copper pair (telephone wire) leased by Easynet from BT travelling direct from the local exchange to our building. Within the BT Deptford exchange that copper pair connects to equipment owned by Easynet. They have control over everything and should be able to deliver a service equal to the Demon (badged BT) service, but that haven't been able to do that. To be fair to them Easynet have tried to fix the problem:
  • they've swapped out the ADSL modem/router in our building;
  • they've had a new BT line installed;
  • they've rerouted the service to another card within the Deptford exchange.
However despite their engineering efforts over 2 years they have not been able to match the line quality. I suspect there is something in the way their bulk traffic is handled in the exchange or deeper within their network. The service is supposed to be a 5:1 contention, but I have my doubts. It is possible their retail SKY TV service may compete with the business service.

In any event it is most noticeable with VOIP applications, such as Skype. The voice telephony is clear and undistorted over the Demon link, but as soon as we divert the traffic over the Easynet link the quality of the voice service drops off considerably. For resilience purposes we have two ADSL links coming in to a load balancing/failover router so it is possible to redirect the traffic at the click of a mouse.

The reason why we've stuck with Easynet company so long is their technical support team are great. You have a skilled engineer answer the phone within a few seconds. They normally deal with most problems promptly. Their billing department gives few problems.

With Demon Internet their first level support team are noticeably less skilled and the mean time to fix is unpredictable. We absolutely hate Demon's billing and credit control team, they are a constant pain in the ass with little idea of good customer relations. Fortunately the ADSL service they provide, via BT, is good.

Now we need to look at the cost of service. Demon works out at £40 a month ex VAT, though they recently promised to bring that down to £25 (we shall see!) when I complained existing customers were paying the old £40 while new customers were getting a £25 deal.

The Easynet service comes in at £90 a month ex VAT for a business service. Strangely enough we don't begrudge the difference of £90 over £40 because Easynet are so much easier to do business with over Demon Internet. However the unresolved poor Easynet line quality is a kicker. Effectively we can only use it as a backup line, but we are not confident it will always kick in if the Demon line fails; plus there is the poor suitability for VOIP.

So with some reluctance we've purchased a contract with Plus.net to replace the Easynet service. It will be about the same price as the Demon Service for a similar bandwidth. After a week we have the plus.net service working in a testing mode. Their customer support is reactive, but the sign up process is a bit patchy. We find ourslves having to remind them that we actually ordered a static IP address range and a no-NAT router; this bit doesn't quite work yet so we are having to allocate some resources to resolve the issues. Not good for a business client.

We'll keep you posted on here.

Monday, 21 March 2011

BT Price increases

Yet another outrageous above inflation price increase by BT. The report is per minute price of a call will rise 9% to 7.6 pence on 28th April 2010.

This time last year a call minute was priced at 5.4 pence. By my reckoning the year on year increase has actually been more like a 40% increase. See my note in February 2010. Of course that is not all. The call set up fee will increase to 12.5 pence (last year in Feb 9.3 pence - that is a 35% increase).

So from the 1st of April 2011, if you make a BT call and speak for 10 seconds it will cost you 20.1 pence. The price of a similar call via Skype: 5.8 pence (including VAT).

Oaksys

Friday, 18 March 2011

BT Marketing - misleading?

I've just received a mailshot from Nigel Stagg of BT Business offering unlimited UK calls, broadband and business line phone all for [an amazing] £1.35 per day (or £492.75 a year).

Ah, but then you look at the small print:

Broadband limited to 10 GB a month; it would be a constraint easily broken.
There's an "optional" router price £59 ex VAT. - if you want the service you'll need a router!
There's a £99 connection charge.
Unlimited calls is really 2.75 hours per day; then you start paying full phone tariffs.
If you want a static IP Address, that'll be an extra £5 per month (£60 a year).
It's an online billing price; if you want paper bills to pass on to your accountant it costs extra.

However the kicker is: "annual minimum spend of £500" ex VAT. So be ready to write a cheque for at least £1,200.







Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Wiping Solid state drives - it doesn't work!

If you have to dispose of sold state drives be aware that conventional data wiping techniques do not work properly. The techniques developed for hard disk drives are not fully effective on solid state memory. Here's an interesting article.

Note the same applies for USB memory sticks. So make sure the data held on them is encrypted.

If you want to be sure, send them off for shredding into parts no larger than 7 mm diameter.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Cinderella project

I've been involved in many trading floor and data centre fit out projects, quite often these have been from the bare concrete of a new/stripped office building. It is at this stage you will see an essential part of the building facilities that are essential to the operation of a large IT environment. I'm talking about pipework for building services such as water, air conditioning coolant, fuel and gas.
As the fit out work progresses all off the pipework gets hidden and forgotten. However it is critically important that the pipe work is properly installed and not subject to any kind of failure. Any leaks could be catastrophic to the continued operation of the business. In my travels I've come across a UK manufacturer who produces a handy range of plastic pipes for building infrastructure work. They are called Durapipe. In many cases the plastic performs better than the usual metal pipework. The plastic pipes are also cheaper and quicker to install. It is worth looking at their website to discover their range of products.
One word of warning. Remember to think carefully how you'd deal with any plastic pipes which traverse the fire resistant walls of a data centre or techology rooms.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

A scheme to combat SPAM email.

This scheme works on the basis of pre-payment for email to registered clients. The internet postage fee amount would be tiny, but would be sufficiently significant to deter the high volume SPAM generators.

For the sake of argument we propose $0.01 per addressee (or cc). Any funds raised would be used to help fund the United Nations after deduction of operational costs.

The pre-payment idea is not new, but opponents to the scheme argue it would be too difficult to have central servers tracking the “Internet Tax.” I’ve personally had that debate in public with the gentleman who is one of the driving forces behind Spamhaus.org. It is deeply ironic that the spamhaus.org servers and data are used by many email servers to validate the IP address of individual messages.

Concept No: 1 – Client registration

Individual users, or support personnel on their behalf, send an electronic message to a central registry to request a public key identity associated with their full internet email address. That public key is then registered as part of the email details on the software email client or on the ISP mail servers or on the public email provider such as hotmail.

Concept No: 2 – Pre-purchase of Internet Stamp

Any person validly wishing to send an email to an individual buys an email stamp for one cent, from a Registrar service, in advance of sending the email. The “stamp” will be encrypted on the basis of the Registrar key and the public key of that email address.

The one cent cost of the stamp will be deducted from the account of the sender at the time of purchase. The stamp will be valid for 24 hours. Users will be able to purchase credit for their directly from the registrar.

The encrypted Internet Stamp will also contain the identity key of the person/organisation purchasing the stamp.

Concept No: 3 – Transmitting Email Server embeds Internet Stamp in message.

When the message is transmitted either the client email software or the ISP server will embed the encrypted Internet Stamp in the headers of the email message to the selected user.

Concept No: 4 – Destination Email Server decrypts Internet Stamp.

When the email message is received by the destination email server the embedded Internet Stamp is decrypted on the basis of the email addressee and their pre-stored public identity key. If the stamp is valid the email can be accepted and forwarded to the target client.

Of course there is nothing to stop the server accepting other messages if the registered user has no objections, but no doubt having taken the opportunity to register the majority of users will choose to block mail from unknown or unfunded originators.

If organisations sending unsolicited email choose to send funded email bearing a genuine Internet Stamp it will greatly increase their costs. The public will also have the opportunity to report unwanted unsolicited emails by virtue of the originator key embedded in the Internet Stamp. The central registry will be able to apply sanctions against that account in the event of a significant level of complaints.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Australian diamond mine under attack by Bugs Bunny

I earlier mentioned about an "excellent" investment opportunity. Now, you might say I've had my doubts about these people who've called me out of the blue, but this week's developments caused me to choke with laughter. They called me back. Unfortunately for them I was in a lunch break so had plenty of free time. After 30 mins of chat on the phone I asked them to send some terms and conditions.

Today I received a pack of documents from them. They'd underpaid the postage so I had to pay £1.15 (bad news for them), but I almost died when I read one of their pages. I reproduce it here in pdf format. It seems that the Australian Diamond mine produces 30 million carrots every year. Given that rabbits are endemic in Australia I'd have thought there must be great problems in protecting those vegetables.

Hey guys - I think the term you are looking for is carats (wiki explanation).

Friday, 21 January 2011

Tower Hamlets - Parking Camera

While the Coalition government acts to bring local authority spending under control we will no doubt see the local government authorities increase revenues from other sources. Many London Boroughs use spy cameras to raise street parking revenues, this will no doubt get worse.
Tower Hamlets Borough has one such camera, the infamous camera No. 10, focussed to prey on the back street where people drop off/pick up patients and staff for the Royal London A&E Dept or Walk-In Centre. This single camera rakes in an average £280,000 worth of parking revenue tickets each year.
The information is based on a Freedom of Information request.

Update June 2012: The Hospital A&E department has moved its location depriving the Parking Revenue camera of its main food source. The "Loading Bay" covered by the camera has now been converted to double yellow lines. No doubt their income has dropped.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Natural Colour Diamonds

It looks like I've come across an unbelievably amazing investment opportunity. A gentleman called Richard Jennings from a company called Nemesis Commodities called me at home last week. I don't know how he got my details, but he'd said we'd spoken on the phone some months ago. Dear dear, my grey cells must be fading, fancy me forgetting that. Anyway to cut a long story short Richard is offering me the opportunity to invest in Natural Colour diamonds. It doesn't sound too risky, he's only asking for £7000 initial investment. He has sent me a nice letter with a crisp colour brochure with lots of pages about the exciting investment opportunities. I'll look forward to his follow-up call, it sounds like they have lots of experience in their team and He told me they even have special auction arrangements with Sotheby's Auction House so you don't have to worry about commission when they auction your diamonds. I did chide them on their choice of company name, I was almost afraid they might become my nemesis if I did business with them.

They seem to be a really dynamic company, registered as recently mid July 2010 at Companies House (Reg No 07317748) and are based not far from the City of London on the 2nd Floor of 145-147 St John St London EC1V 4PJ (or perhaps EC1V 4PW depending on their letterhead/brochure). They really should be a little bit more careful about the quality control from their print supplier though; their printer seems to think they are on "St John's Street". Well not to worry their phone number of +44 (0) 207 608 5022 seems to be consistent on all of their communications. even their website.

I know it is difficult when choosing office accommodation, but Nemesis Commodities should have been a little bit more careful about their business neighbours when they chose their business location though. If you google "145-157 St John" and "scam" you get 414,000 results back, I tried "145-157 St John" and "fraud" I got 70,000 results. Strangely a lot of those businesses are on the 2nd floor of that building. Still Richard sounded like a nice young man, very keen.

I may sound a bit cynical in the above text, but I've been warned in a letter from the UK Financial Services Authority that my name and address was on a list circulated and used by "boiler room" investment fraudsters. It warned me that unsolicited calls may not be from genuine organisations.

None of the above applies to the similar sounding Genesis Rare Diamonds, a Canada based firm who have offices in Canary Wharf London who have genuinely been in business for a long time.

Update: 24th Jan 2011 - Daniel Jarvis from Nemesis Commodities 02082332982 called me from their "Hammersmith offices"; he'll be able to answer my questions in a few days time. It's exciting that they've already opened an office in Hammersmith so soon after starting. He tell's they are preparing a diamond auction in Singapore at the end of this week. Such progress is almost unbelievable.
Update: 15th April 2011 - The data on their website is now so exclusive it is protected by a crude login process requesting a user Id and password.

Edit 24thOct 2011 - the company is listed as "proposal to strike off" on the Companies House database.

Edit 31st Jan 2012:  - the company registered a new address on 29th Nov 2011 as Office 46  of 22 Notting Hill Gate London W11 3JE.  A quick look on Google Maps streetview reveals this to be a branch  of "Mail Boxes Etc". I've used Mail Boxes Etc myself and I don't criticise them and they are fine for purpose. They offer a no fuss mail box and forwarding service. When you set up an account, after producing identity documents such as a passport, they give you an "office" or "suite" number which corresponds with the mail box number. There's nothing wrong in that, just don't turn up expecting to find a serviced office. It is however an address that has attracted some interesting characters in the past such as this one; a google search will enlighten you. If Nemesis Commodities had asked me for a suitable business address for diamond trading I might have suggested somewhere more prestige to reassure investors.

Edit: 13th April 2012 I was fascinated to see other  companies using the same 145-147 St John's [sic] Street offices for trading natural colour diamonds. It must be a growing centre for such activities. For example, Clarion Capital (www.clarioncapital.net - be careful visiting I've seen a warning on Google Search saying the site "may be compromised") also appears to be willing to assist people in trading natural colour diamonds. I've no idea whether there is any business connection between Clarion and Nemesis but they do seem to share the same brochure designer who has inadvertently left a reference to Nemesis in the Clarion brochure and some of the same spelling mistakes. I give no opinion pro/con Clarion Capital as I've not been contacted by them with any business proposal.  There are other recently formed diamond trading organisations (offering circa 15% annual return on diamonds) using this location as a working address, these can be found via google. A visit to Companies House to search on the company name can sometimes help you check how long they've been in business.

A 15% annual return such as the one marketed here would indeed be remarkable if achieved and would line up 145-157 St John's Street as a place of great interest to the financial pages of the national newspapers in the future. I've no doubt such business accommodation locations offer a valuable service to respectable businesses, but I'm always doubly cautious when a business based in such a location offers me an unsolicited investment proposal. Here's some useful tips for checking potential suppliers.

Edit: 7th Sept 2012  The company Nemesis Commodities is now marked "Dissolved" at Companies House (the UK Government registry of  companies). A couple of months ago I took part in a BBC Radio 4 investigation for the You and Yours Programme into companies such as Nemesis Commodities. The journalist had discovered my post in this Blog.

The final word. The Russians have a "secret" deposit containing trillions of carats of diamonds. 

Edit: 19th Oct 2012
I'd thought this topic had gone dead only to receive an unsolicited call/letter purporting to be from Marc Phillips of Hudson Forbes Ltd of 150 Minories London EC3N 1LS. (Serviced offices). They too are offering opportunities in Coloured Diamonds. with rise  rises of between 14% - 87% mentioned. According to their website Hudson Forbes are primarily  involved in Carbon Credit trading, which I suppose is linked to diamonds in a way!  Like Nemesis Commodities, Hudson Forbes was recently registered as a company in August 2012 and they seem to be a bit adrift with their records. In their brochure they list 150 Minories as their registered offices, yet the Companies House record shows a registered address of WALTHAM FOREST BUSINESS CENTRE, 5 BLACKHORSE LANE, LONDON UNITED KINGDOM E17 6DS for Company Number 08188736.  I wonder how this new organisation obtained my home address details?

Edit 21st Nov 2012
I had another "visit" from Clarion Capital by phone today. According to their website they've moved down the road to 89-90 Hatton Garden in the main jewellery district of London. Fans of Hatton Garden will recognise this building as the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd which be around for a long time. A Google search reveals many companies sharing that address for business purposes, including Gems, Furniture rental, Footballer agents, Technology, Teaching etc etc. Sadly despite commissioning a new company brochure (with residual errors from the old brochure)  it shows Clarion Capital's business address as my old favourite 145-157 St John Street which matches their registered address at Companies House. They must have been busy because they've not had time to file company accounts since the company formation in Aug 2011.

Edit: 28th Feb 2013
I received a phone call from an anonymous lady who said she'd seen my blog and asked if I had any more information about Clarion. She reported that her 77 year old father had some dealings and had bought a diamond via them She said problems with recovering funds from them. Whether this is the same Clarion as described above I'm not sure, it could be a different organisation. At the moment I've not verified this information.

Edit 28th Feb 2014
A recent BBC Report http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-25761528