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.


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 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 (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  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 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 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's inefficiency has cost us about 5 man days wasted effort.

Shortly after we were checking our 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 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.

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.