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.


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.