Friday, August 15, 2014

Save Elephants By Transferring Your Domain Names

By John Shepler

Here’s a short term opportunity for you to save considerably on what you pay for your domain names and help a worthy cause at the same time.

Save money and help save elephants at the same time.Namecheap, a well known domain and hosting company that we use for our own domains, is running a special offer still available today (August 15, 2014). When you transfer your .com, .net or .org domain to Namecheap, you pay just $7.88 for the first year and use the promo code SAVEDUMBO. That’s a great bargain compared to most hosting companies.

What about after the first year? I just renewed one of my important commercial .com domains for $10.69. That’s a good price on its own. $7.88 is a steal.

So, what’s this good deed? In addition to the price break you receive, Namecheap will send $1 to Save the Elephants for each transfer.

Save the Elephants is an important organization working to secure a future for elephants on the African continent. At least 33,000 elephants are being illegally killed each year for their ivory. At this rate, they may well go extinct within our lifetime.

Is that something you want to let happen? I didn’t think so. Learn more about the work that Save the Elephants is doing to thwart poaching and trafficking in ivory and to raise awareness of this dire situation. If you are moved by this important cause, please consider making a donation of your own to Save the Elephants or some of the other important organizations working to “help an elephant.”

Don’t forget, the Namecheap special transfer offer is good today only, although you can get an excellent price on hosting and domain registrations all year long.

Update: With your help, NameCheap donated $1,256 to Save The Elephants in honor of this year's World Elephant Day. Thank you.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Bandwidth Options for Healthcare Providers

By: John Shepler

Electronic health records, medical imaging and telemedicine are making broadband connections an essential part of healthcare operations. Let’s take a look at what’s needed for today’s EHR environment.

Get more bandwidth for your practice.There are two types of bandwidth services that you’ll want to consider. These are private lines and the public Internet. Both have their place.

Private lines are used by all sizes of businesses and organizations for internal communications. The fact that these lines are “private” means that they are not used for communication with the public at large or anyone not directly connected into the network.

Physician and hospital groups may well have large amounts of electronic data that they want to keep in-house under strict access control. Think of private lines as a way to extend your network.

Point to point private lines include such familiar options as T1, DS3, SONET OC3, OC12 and OC48, Ethernet over Copper and Ethernet over Fiber. Each of these options gives you a fixed amount of bandwidth that is dedicated to your use only and is inaccessible by anyone else. They differ in the technology to implement the service and the amount of bandwidth available.

For instance, T1 lines have been around forever, are available just about anywhere you can get a phone line installed, are highly reliable and are very reasonably priced. What’s not to love? The bandwidth is their limitation. While 1.5 Mbps was considered high speed in the days of dial-up modems, 1.5 Mbps is entry level broadband today. You probably won’t want to wait around for the time it takes to transfer large files with both text and images.

You’ll find a good discussion on healthcare provider bandwidth needs on the Health IT. gov site. The minimum bandwidth recommend for a single physician practice is 4 Mbps. That’s enough to support practice management functions including email and web browsing, plus simultaneous use of electronic health records (EHR) and high quality video consultations. It also is enough for non real-time image downloads and remote monitoring.

A small physician practice with 2 to 4 physicians will want to move up to 10 Mbps for the same functions. The extra bandwidth assumes more than one physician using the service at a time. The 10 Mbps level is also considered suitable for nursing homes and rural health clinics.

When you consider the needs of a clinic or large physician practice with 5 to 15 physicians, the bandwidth requirements increases to 25 Mbps. A hospital will need 100 Mbps and a large or academic medical center really needs 1000 Mbps.

The FCC publication “Health Care Broadband in America” goes into more detail about what drives bandwidth requirements. An Xray is about 10 MB and needs 60 seconds to download at 1 Mbps or 5 seconds at 16 Mbps. An MRI at 45 MB needs 72 Mbps to download in the same 5 sends or 300 seconds or a full 5 minutes at 1 Mbps. A 64 slice CT scan at 3 GB needs 4800 Mbps for a 5 second download or 80 Mbps for a 5 minute download time.

As you can see, there is a tradeoff between the amount of bandwidth you have and how long it takes to transfer files of various sizes. I’d suggest taking these requirements as a minimum, as the report was published in 2010 and technology is only getting more sophisticated with larger file sizes.

In addition to the bandwidth of the line, there are other technical parameters to consider. These include whether the service is symmetrical (same upload and download speeds), dedicated to your use only or shared between your practice and other users, the latency or time delay in transmission, and the amount of jitter and packet loss. All of these are quality of service metrics.

Dedicated private lines are almost always symmetrical, with low values of latency, jitter and packet loss. You can bond T1 lines together to increase bandwidth from 3 Mbps up to about 12 Mbps. That’s important for rural practices where there may be few other options. In metro areas, DS3 offers 45 Mbps, OC3 is 155 Mbps, OC12 gives you 622 Mbps and OC48 is 2.4 Gbps. These are all delivered over SONET fiber optic carriers.

Alternative landline services include Ethernet over Copper with bandwidth from about 3 to 50 Mbps, depending on location. Ethernet over Fiber service starts at 10 Mbps and goes up to 10 Gbps, with service to 40 or 100 Mbps in select areas.

Dedicated lines are also popular for connecting to the Internet to get the highest performance available. You don’t have the same level of control of what’s actually traversing the Internet, but it does have offer nearly universal connectivity.

For Internet access, you also have the option of option of connecting via shared bandwidth services. Popular options are DSL, Cable, satellite and 3G/4G wireless. Generally, these are asymmetrical, with higher speeds on download than upload. Also, they are offered on an “as available” basis without any service level agreement regarding availability, bandwidth, latency, jitter and packet loss.

The tradeoff in performance between the dedicated and shared services is that the shared services are for using the Internet and they are considerably less expensive. Internet security doesn’t begin to measure up to dedicated private lines, but it can be made workable using encryption such as VPN and SSL at each end.

The best solution for many practices may be a combination of private lines and Internet service. The Internet is valuable for communication with patients at home and using mobile apps, and also to establish WiFi service for visitor use. Private lines are beneficial for high speed communication between medical facilities and physician offices.

Is your medical practice running out of bandwidth in today’s EHR environment? You may be able to afford much more than you think with multiple bandwidth options and providers available at your location.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Monday, August 04, 2014

Is Managed WiFi Right for You?

By: John Shepler

Broadband is everywhere now. In fact, its become an expectation. For consumers, it’s their way to stay connected when there isn’t a wire to plug into. For businesses, it’s a way to offer the benefit of connectivity to their customers and to unchain their employees from the cable tether.

Look into cloud managed WiFi for cost and performance advantages.What about 3G and 4G cellular?
Isn’t cellular the true way to go mobile? Over wide areas, yes. It’s hard to beat cellular broadband on your smartphone. That is, until you reach your monthly usage limit. Then it gets expensive fast. Also, many computers, tablets and other devices don’t have the radios built-in to work on cellular, even if you wanted to pay to add them to your account. The one thing most every device does have is WiFi connectivity.

Enabling WiFi
At the most basic level, you can create a WiFi “hotspot” by simply connecting a wireless access point or WiFi router to your network or broadband connection. This is how it’s done at home and in smaller businesses. As the number of users increases and the area to be covered expands, suddenly managing a WiFi network isn’t so simple anymore. You can either grin and bear the extra effort involved or you can consider moving to a managed WiFi solution.

Managed WiFi in the Cloud
Managed WiFi simply means that a service provider, rather than you, does the heavy lifting of making the larger WiFi network work. A new wrinkle is cloud managed WiFi. This allows a service provider to deploy software updates and generate reports for you behind the scenes. A comprehensive system for cloud managed wireless is the Cisco Meraki system.

What Cisco Offers
The Cisco Meraki access point features high power radios for solid coverage with enhanced receive sensitivity compared to the garden variety WiFi AP. It includes MIMO and beamforming technology to met enterprise-class 802.11ac and 802.11n standards on the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. The MR34 AP also has a dedicated security radio that scans and protects against security threats, adapts to interference and automatically configures the RF settings for maximum performance.

Security Features
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has become a user demand and a major headache for the IT department. If anyone can bring anything onto the network, security goes out the window. Who knows what’s going on?

The Cisco Meraki wireless solution feature set accommodates BYOD by identifying clients and automatically applying access policies by device or user groups. The system automatically assigns firewall and traffic shaping rules, VLAN tags and bandwidth limits to enforce policies by user class. Critical apps are prioritized and recreational apps can be limited for management control.

The cloud based analytics generate extensive metrics such as user visit time, repeat visits, apps used. You can manage WAN, LAN , wireless LAN and mobile devices on your control panel. That includes everything from a single location to a campus wide solution. There’s even an iOS and Android mobile app for network management on the go.

Acquiring Managed WiFi
An excellent approach that works well for both large and small installations is to get your managed wireless solution from a bandwidth provider such as MegaPath. This way you have one supplier for all of your connections, including MAN, WAN and WiFi. MegaPath’s network operations center will continuously monitor, configure and troubleshoot your wireless network on your behalf. They also have the most up to date security features the meet the requirements of the PCI (Payment Card Industry) data security standards.

If you are considering a major wireless expansion or installing WiFi access for the first time, get the details on cloud managed WiFi now.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

End of the Premises Contact Center

By: John Shepler

Business telephone operations have changed a bit over the years. Single line phones soon gave way to the switchboard with live operators to direct calls. Automation replaced the switchboard with the receptionist backed up by a key telephone PBX (Private Branch Exchange) phone system. Call centers with dozens or hundreds of agents performing customer service developed specialized version of PBX systems with integration of computers and telephones. Still, one thing remained constant over the decades of technology evolution. The facilities all remained on-premises.

Time to upgrade your contact center solution?What’s Wrong With Premises Equipment?
The idea of keeping everything in-house has a appeal to it. After all, if you have the equipment right under your nose, you have complete control of how it works, who gets to use it and what services are available. You might even get lulled into the notion that in-house means much higher reliability than facilities located somewhere out there.

With premises based facilities you do have the ability to take a look at the system whenever you like. You can even give it a love pat from time to time just for good luck.

Along with this ability, you also pick up some responsibilities. You have to provide space, reliable power, connections to each and every phone and on-going maintenance. You didn’t think that these things ran themselves, did you? You also didn’t think that they came free of charge? No, sir. There are some major bucks involved with setting up a call center or contact center phone system and keeping it up to date.

Moving on Up to the Cloud
Unlike the last century or so, today you have the option of being able to run an efficient contact center while unloading the equipment burden. Where does it all go? To the cloud, of course.

Not everything, mind you, but the core system relocates to a remote data center. What you are left with are the actual telephones and computers that you can’t do without. But with a cloud based system, those phones and computers can be scattered around the globe and even at home for some agents, yet all connected as if they were in the same building.

More that Cost Savings
Cloud based contact centers have the obvious advantage of eliminating a major money pit in the form of PBX equipment, software and on-going maintenance. That means less tech support needed at your end. The service provider takes over the support function and handles tech issues 24/7. You may not have been able to even afford this level of scrutiny in-house.

The cloud also has its own benefits. What’s different about a cloud-based system is that a dedicated service prover builds a massive technical plant way beyond what any single company could justify. The benefit to you is that you can likely expand or contract your use of the system at will. If business grows you add more seats and pay for them one by one. If business goes into a tailspin, you eliminate the seats you don’t need.

Another cloud benefit is that you get the latest technology, including features that your in-house system probably can’t provide. That includes individual user features but also major infrastructure like redundant data centers. With duplicated facilities running in parallel, if one center goes down for any reason, the other picks up the load invisibly to you. That translates to higher availability. One vendor, inContact, boasts 99.99% availability.

Tools for Higher Productivity
The inContact suite of tools includes ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) with skills-based routing, IVR (Interactive Voice Response) with speech recognition, CTI (Computer Telephone Integration), predictive , progressive and preview dialers, call recording, extensive reporting, quality monitoring and Workforce Optimization tools.

Sure, you might develop an ad-hoc solution in-house that could provide similar functions, but you’re looking at a substantial development process that sucks up time and money and then YOU have to keep it all running and make improvements over the years. Why re-invent the wheel when the latest in call center efficiency is available for your use right now and can grow with your needs?

Do you have a stand alone call center or a contact center as part of your core business that includes 15 or more “agents” on the phones? If so, cloud based communications
may be exactly what you need right now.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

Note: Original photo of telephone operators courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives on Wikimedia Commons.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Carrier Neutral Connectivity at Colocation Data Centers

By: John Shepler

Companies feeling starved for bandwidth may not realize that they’re doing it the hard way. Instead of making the carriers come to you, there are advantages in you going to where the carriers are.

Find Colos and Clouds as an alternative to your local data center.It’s All Happening at the Colo
The places where carriers flock are called colocation or colo centers and carrier hotels. These are large data centers that are meant to serve a variety of tenants. Contrast that with the typical data center that serves only a single company. In fact, most companies want nothing to do with renting out space in their data centers. The security issues alone make them blanch.

Why Do Colocation Centers Exist?
It has to do with economy of scale. Say you have 100 companies and each one needs a data center. They may well construct their own in-house data centers sized to meet their needs. This involves creating a dedicated space that is environmentally controlled, secure, with fire protection and backup power. Uninterruptible power supplies based on batteries and inverters cover short term power glitches. Anything over a few minutes depends on diesel or gas generators outside.

Data Center Costs
As you might expect, there is considerable cost involved in building and running a data center. Aside from the initial capital investment, there are constant operating costs involving air conditioning, electric power and support personnel. These costs persist regardless of business level and the equipment may sit idle for two-thirds of the day. Smaller companies often can’t justify the expense of round-the-clock tech support.

Connectivity Counts
What level of bandwidth you can get and how much it will cost are largely a function of where you are located. If your offices are in a smaller town or rural area, you may have only a single provider to pick from and severe bandwidth limits.

Economy of Scale
Now, what if those same 100 companies decided it would make more sense if they all moved into a single much larger data center that would serve all of their needs. You might think the overall total cost would be similar, but actually they would be much lower.

It’s the economy of scale that saves. Each company only needs racks and cages large enough to house its servers and other equipment. A few larger backup generators can supply emergency power when needed instead of 100 smaller generators on standby. A common security force can handle access control and monitor intrusion sensors. A common tech support group can handle the occasional needs of all companies 24/7.

From Owner to Renter
The tenant companies switch from an ownership to a rental model. They don’t need to overbuild, because they can always rent more or less facilities as needed. The colo operator takes the responsibility of building the facility, providing utilities, security and tech support.

A Magnet for Carriers
Have you ever had a carrier tell you that it’s just too expensive to bring fiber optic service to your company? They might do it, but you’ll be responsible for the construction costs and they can be eye-popping. The colo center, howler, acts like a carrier magnet. They see 100 potential customers for their service and make their fiber available. Most colo centers are near populous areas, making the construction relatively easy.

Will you have a carrier to provide you bandwidth service at the colo? Most likely, you’ll have at least several and perhaps a lot more. Each carrier has its own colo space with racks and cages. It costs them little more to bring in high bandwidth service for 100 companies than a single customer. That, plus the competition of having multiple carriers bidding for your business, makes pricing more attractive than it might be to your own facility.

Meet Me for Service
Colos have an ingenious setup called the “meet me” room or MMR. This is an area dedicated to making cross-connections. The colo operator runs copper or fiber cabling to your racks from the MMR. They also run copper or fiber from the carriers to the MMR. When you contract for bandwidth, the colo patches you to the carrier and you’re all set. If you change your mind, you can work out the next contract with a different carrier and the colo will simply move your patch cord.

One additional advantage of using an MMR is that there is no “local loop” charge because the colo is providing the “last mile” or, in actuality, “last foot” connection.

Two Types of Colos
You should know that there are a couple different types of colos. One is operated by a single carrier. They build the facility for their own needs and then rent out extra space. You can get really high bandwidth and reasonable prices in such a facility, but you may have only one or a few carriers to pick from.

The second type of colo is operated by a third party who is in the colocation business and doesn’t favor any customer or carrier. These are often called carrier neutral facilities because you aren’t required to connect to any particular bandwidth provider.

Clouds and Colos
Cloud services are often located in colocation facilities. This gives the cloud provider a facility to support their extensive servers and storage. If you are collocated within the same facility, then it’s a simple wire or fiber connection to hook you up with one or more cloud service providers.

Are your data center costs higher than you would like or are you having trouble getting the WAN bandwidth you need to support your business? This would be a good time to investigate what’s available from a number of colocation centers and cloud service providers.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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