Thursday, October 23, 2014

Easy Migration from T1 to Ethernet

By: John Shepler

A lot of companies that have depended on T1 lines for years, even decades, are getting to the point where the available bandwidth just isn’t enough anymore. What’s the logical upgrade? Right now what makes the sense for most businesses is Ethernet. Fortunately, the upgrade path is easy and cost effective.

Upgrade from T1 to Ethernet quickly and easily.Don’t Write Off T1 Yet
T1 isn’t done, by any means. T1 lines are so entrenched in telco infrastructure that they are almost universally available. This is one of the big draws of T1. It was designed by the telephone industry to serve the telephone industry. When computer communications came along, T1 lines were adapted to connect machine to machine. With 1.5 Mbps bi-directional capacity, T1 has ruled small and even medium business connections. Unfortunately, 1.5 Mbps is barely broadband anymore.

So, do you have to dump your trusty T1 line to get more bandwidth? Actually, no, but it might be advantageous.

Bonding for Higher Bandwidth
You may not realize it, but it is possible to at least double or triple your T1 bandwidth right now. The way you do this is to order additional T1 lines from the same vendor and have them bonded into one larger line service. Bonded T1 ranges from 3 to 12 Mbps. That’s still plenty for many applications. As long as you have additional unused copper telephone pairs coming into your facility, you can likely get more bandwidth.

So, why not just do this upgrade and leave well enough alone? In some cases, this is exactly the right move. Out in the countryside, T1 is often the only professional grade bandwidth available. However, there is a price to be paid. That is, 2x T1 lines cost twice as much as one. Eight T1 lines cost 8 times what you pay now for a single line. That can be more than many budgets can handle.

More Bandwidth For Less Money
Most business locations are within the city or suburbs and have another interesting option. It’s called Ethernet over Copper or EoC. This is the simple upgrade path from T1 because it uses the same twisted copper pair that bring in your T1 lines. Like bonded T1, EoC uses multiple wire pairs to increase bandwidth. The difference is that Ethernet over Copper may be able to give you a LOT more bandwidth.

The basis of EoC is a newer modulation scheme that is more efficient in transporting packets over copper wires. Common bandwidth levels start at 3 Mbps and go up from there. How much higher? Popular choices are 10 to 12 Mbps, 15, 20 and even 50 Mbps in some areas. The hitch is that EoC technology is dependent on distance from the telco office. Distance doesn’t matter much to T1. But, then again, you won’t be getting 20 or 50 Mbps out of bonded T1.

The cost structure is also different. Ethernet over Copper can give you at least twice the bandwidth for the same money. In other words, 3 Mbps EoC costs about the same as 1.5 Mbps T1. As you increase bandwidth, the cost differences are dramatic. You may be able to get 10 Mbps EoC for just a fraction of what bonded T1 would cost.

When 100 Mbps or More is Needed
It used to be that higher bandwidths, including DS3 at 45 Mbps and OC3 at 155 Mbps, were expensive and hard to get. Now DS3 has come down in price so that it is affordable by many smaller and medium size companies. A newer service, Ethernet over Fiber (EoF), starts at 10 Mbps and goes up to at least 10 Gbps capability.

You read that right. The same fiber line can bring you anywhere from an entry level service of 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet, 1000 Mbps Gigabit Ethernet, and 10,000 Mbps 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Even 100 Gbps is available in some metro areas.

Where It’s All Going
Fiber is the future. Eventually, all that copper in the ground will be recycled or be left to eventually corrode away. That’s not today, as Ethernet over Copper has given all those old telco lines a new lease on life. However, many businesses are discovering that Ethernet fiber is also both available and quite reasonably priced. They can have EoF installed with a 100 Mbps port and start off paying for only 10 Mbps. A simple phone call to the provider can then speed up the line to 50 or 100 Mbps. Install a Gigabit Ethernet port to begin with and you can get any speed from to 10 Mbps to 1000 Mbps without making any equipment changes.

Are you ready to migrate from T1 to Ethernet to get more bandwidth at a better price? If so, quickly check your copper and fiber Ethernet options now.

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

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Audiophile Triad HS-3 Audio Transformer Auction for Elephants

By: John Shepler

As some of you may know, I have a personal passion for supporting captive and wild elephants worldwide. What you may not realize is that we could well be the last generation to know these gentle giants. In just the last few decades, wild elephant populations have been destroyed to the point where their numbers have dwindled from the millions into the thousands. At some point, there won’t be enough genetic diversity in the herds to maintain the species.

Every elephant is important. One of my favorite organizations dedicated to their welfare is the Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital (FAE) in Thailand. Soraida Salwala and her dedicated staff provide round the clock care to injured and ill elephants. Two of them, Mosha and Motala, have been fitted with prosthetic legs after stepping on land mines left over from conflicts in southeast Asia.

As you might guess, taking care of elephants is an expensive proposition. FAE hospital is completely supported by charitable donations from those who care about the importance of their mission. As one of those supporters, I’m always on the lookout for potential fundraisers. In clearing out some of my lifelong collection of electronic equipment and components, I realized that I had a couple of high quality audio transformers that are of interest to audiophiles, recording engineers, high end audio hobbyists and musicians. I’m auctioning them now on eBay with the intent of donating 100% of the winning bid to Friends of the Asian Elephant.

Triad HS-3 audio input transformers for high end audio vacuum tube preamps and recording studios.

Here are the specifications: This is a pair of rare vintage Triad HS-3 audio input transformers. They are prized for their high quality design and construction, which is suitable for military applications. Most notable is their wide transparent frequency response, voltage step-up characteristic, and rugged sealed metal can enclosure. They are triply shielded for a 95 dB reduction in noise pickup. Input impedance is selectable by pin strapping options for 600 ohm and 250 ohms balanced with center tap, and 150 or 62.5 ohms also. The secondary impedance is 118,500 ohms. Frequency response is 20 to 20,000 Hz at a maximum level of +10 dBm.

Audio aficionados and professionals use them for impedance matching and gain boosting inputs for vacuum tube microphone and phono inputs. A pair can be connected back to back to create a “sweetening” filter that has a subtle effect on the quality of music.

Is high end audio your hobby or profession? Do you know anyone who is passionate about sound, especially those who are technically inclined? If so, would you please share this link to the Triad HS-3 Audio Transformer Auction on eBay? Time is of the essence since the 7 day auction is in progress and ends Saturday, August 18. Thank you so much.

Update: Thanks to everyone who shared this post or link. With your help, we raised over $1,000 to support the Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital. This effort is ongoing. You may find something of interest in my latest eBay auctions.

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Long Haul Voice, Video and Data via MPLS Networks

By: John Shepler

Many companies need to transport voice, video and data over long distances, between cities, coast to coast or even internationally. Both the Internet and dedicated private lines are ways to effectively do this. But there is another option that you may not be aware of. That’s using MPLS networks for the majority of the distance involved. Why does this make sense? How do you choose among the options?

Internet, private line and MPLS network connections for the long haul.Internet Transport
The big advantage of the Internet is that it is already in place. You can get from just about anywhere on Earth to anywhere else with a simple broadband connection at each end. If your location and your destination are already Internet connected, there is no need to do anything special even if your two locations have never communicated before. Just send your packets from the source address to the destination address and they’ll get there.

This system works great for email, Web pages and non-time critical file transfers. It starts to fall down on real time interactive communications, such as VoIP telephone calls and video conferences. The quality of transmission can vary all over the place from minute to minute. Security is nonexistent for anything sensitive unless you add your own encryption. That’s called creating a VPN tunnel.

The reason that the Internet works great for certain applications and not others lies in its design. The Internet grew out of a government research project for creating a robust computer network that could withstand all sorts of natural and manmade disasters. The Internet automatically does its best to get your packets where they are intended regardless of network congestion or line cuts and equipment failures.

The Internet will almost always get your files transferred… eventually. If the packet loss is high, multiple retransmissions may be needed to get a perfect copy at the far end. If some or all of the network is congested, your files will get through when they get their turn. Most of the time this is no problem, but on occasion there will be delays.

For voice and video, congestion, jitter and packet loss are disasters. If the content is sent as a complete file, it can be treated like data and transmitted without error. But, if the content is streaming or two-way, resending lost packets doesn’t much help. By the time they get there, the stream has moved on.

One way streaming voice and video works much better is when you use a buffer to load in the packets as they arrive and then feed them out to the application at the desired rate. The worse the network conditions, the bigger the buffer you need to ensure your stream won’t stop or break up.

Two-way real time streams are much more sensitive. Buffering doesn’t help because it only adds time delay or latency. You say something and the party at the far end hears it a second or two later. If you’ve ever tried to communicate via a geosynchronous satellite you know how annoying this can be, and that is only a half second to a second of latency.

Dedicated Private LInes
The consumer world is tied to the Internet and its vagaries. Businesses with quality, timeliness and security concerns have long used dedicated private lines to handle their traffic. The beauty of a private line is that it only goes from point to point and doesn’t need to be routed. Since these lines are dedicated to your exclusive use, you don’t get contentions with other traffic on the network. As long as you have sufficient bandwidth and a high quality connection, the line will be transparent to your packets.

Another important characteristic of private lines is security. It’s pretty difficult for anyone but the most dedicated and skilled snoops to “tap” your line and read your traffic. There is no public access because it’s your private line. These lines are highly secure but can be made more impenetrable by using encryption between end points.

Private lines beat the Internet in all but a couple of areas. One is cost and the other is connectivity. Using the Internet is cheap because the cost of all that network infrastructure is spread of millions and millions of users. Consumer and low cost business connections are bargain priced because they are shared bandwidth that is offered on a “best effort” basis without any performance guarantees.

Private lines are at the other end of the cost spectrum. The cost of the line and necessary support equipment is spread over one user… you. You have to pay the full cost of the line but you do have exclusive use and the security and high performance that comes with it. This can get pricy when you need a line that goes for thousands for many thousands of miles.

The other issue is that not all locations can be connected with many private lines. It’s true that T1 lines (1.5 Mbps) are pretty much universal, although they need to be specifically installed at each end before you can send any traffic. Higher bandwidth solutions, such as Ethernet over Copper, SONET fiber, and Ethernet over Fiber may not be available where you want to go.

Why MPLS Networks Make Sense
It seems like the perfect solution is a network that is widely available, like the Internet, but performs like private lines without the high costs. Perhaps surprisingly, there are such networks. They are called MPLS or Multi-Protocol Label Switching.

That mouthful of a name means a couple of important things. First of all, MPLS can transport a variety of protocols, including voice, video and data in most any format you need. Second, the label switching technology is unlike that of Internet routers, so MPLS networks are much harder to “hack.” Since there is no public access, the chances of some rogue troublemaker gaining access to the network are slim. For this reason, they are often called MPLS VPN networks because the technology of the network makes it virtually private without encryption. Of course, you can always add your own encryption to make your traffic even more impenetrable.

Yes, when you are using an MPLS network you are using a shared resource with many other customers of the network. However, it isn’t the free-for-all of the Internet. There’s no such thing as network neutrality on MPLS. Each customer pays for the bandwidth it needs (commonly called the CIR or committed information rate) and is guaranteed similar to private line performance with a service level agreement (SLA).

How about cost? Since the cost of the MPLS network infrastructure and operating expenses are spread over many clients, your cost of using the network is considerably less than leasing your own private lines. This is especially true if you are connecting internationally or need multiple private lines between different destinations. Think of the MPLS network as a cloud that is connected to each of your locations by a much shorter private line. The network cloud takes care of routing the traffic among your last mile connections.

Which is the best solution your long haul voice, video and data transport needs? Get comparative pricing and features for dedicated Internet access, point to point private lines and MPLS networks now.

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

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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Best Way to Manage Your Phone System: Get Rid of It

By: John Shepler

What is a common denominator for all businesses? Telephones. What’s a common denominator among business phone systems? They need to be managed. Well, what if they didn’t? Would that be a load off your mind and a competitive edge for your business? It certainly could be. Let’s see why. Even more importantly, let’s see how.

More phone features, flexibility and lower costs with hosted PBX serviceThe Trouble With Desk Sets
The legacy business phone is a heavy black box full of analog circuitry and connected to the phone company its own telephone “line”. Today, the phones are lighter, some have digital circuitry, others are cordless with multiple handsets. They still have their own unique “telephone” network wiring.

When you have a single phone or a cordless set with several handsets, managing the phone system is no big deal. There’s really nothing to manage. If you’ve got a dial tone, you’re good to make and receive calls. The one thing you might add is a backup battery if the phone has an AC power adaptor. Legacy analog sets get their power right from the phone line. Newer electronic phones, especially the cordless variety, have DC power supplies that plug into the wall.

Management headaches begin when you get a number of phones sharing outside lines. Sure, each phone can have its own outside line, but that gets real expensive real fast. Plus, not everybody is making outside calls at the same time. Some are calling within the company. Many are not on the phone at all.

Types of Business Phone Systems
The two most popular types of business phone systems are Key Telephone Systems (KTS) and Private Branch Exchange (PBX).

Key systems let you call between phones inside the company using only your internal telephone wiring. That’s a big advantage over independent phones because the telephone company will charge you for every call that has to go through their network. The limitation of KTS is that each line has its own button on every phone and has to be manually selected to make or receive calls. That limits the practical number of outside lines to typically 4 or 6.

Private Branch Exchanges are little phone company switches within your business. You can still make internal calls through the PBX without using an outside line. The PBX system manages a pool of outside lines that are shared among all the phones in the system. The number of lines you need depends on what percentage of employees are making or taking calls from outside the company at the same time. A dozen lines can often serve dozens of users.

Why Get Rid of Your Phone System
Someone in the company, and it may be you, is responsible for telephone expenses. These include local and long distance charges, the cost of purchasing and maintaining the phone system, plus moves, adds and changes to your telephone assets.

The cost of “moves, adds and changes” comes from the fact that each phone has a dedicated line that goes to the KTS or PBX. The connection tells the system which phone is picked up or needs to ring. If you want to move a phone to another desk, you have to also move the connection in the phone wiring or reprogram the system so that it knows the new location. Otherwise employees have to change phone numbers every time they are relocated. Add a phone? You’ll need to add a phone jack at that location and a line back to the system.

The larger the company, the more phones there are, the more phone wiring there is to wrangle and the more expensive the phone system becomes. Worse, if your company grows beyond the capacity of your system, you’ll have to upgrade it if possible or rip it out and put in a new one if not. At some point the technology will become obsolete and it will get really pricey or impossible to keep the beast running. Then you are looking at a major capital investment.

How to Get Out of the Phone Business
Whatever business you are in, it is probably not the telephone business. You simply need those phones to get your job done. Even call centers are focused on the services being provided and not the telephone equipment itself.

What if you could just buy or rent the telephone sets as you need them, plug them into your existing computer network and let somebody else worry about buying and maintaining all that expensive switching equipment?

You can with a service called Hosted PBX or Hosted VoIP. Both mean the same thing. VoIP is the technology that turns telephone sets into network peripherals. Like all computers, the phones have their own internal address on the network. They can be plugged into any network jack and will work just fine. No need to change any wiring.

There is no KTS or PBX on your premises. A much larger “Cloud” system is located at the service provider’s data center. All you have on-site are telephone sets called SIP Phones and a special router or call controller to direct phone calls to the provider. You no longer need outside lines to the phone company. Instead, you have a digital SIP Trunk that connects your location to the provider.

The Pay as You Go Advantage
What’s happened is that you have traded a large initial investment in a phone system and the ongoing costs to maintain it and make changes for a simple “cost per seat” for each phone. Some providers include all new SIP phones when you sign up for service. They’ll send more when you expand the business. No need to pay up-front for phones and lines that will sit unused until you need them. If you need to downsize at some point, you return the phones and stop paying for the ones you no longer need.

Advanced Features
Chances are that your existing business phone system doesn’t have the ability to include smartphones or integrate with computers for efficient call center operations. You many not even have the functionality to support auto attendants or hunt groups for multiple agents for your call center. The hosted system will not only have many more advanced features that what you probably have now, but will be kept up to date as new features are offered. You never have to upgrade your phone “system” because the system is provided for you in the cloud.

Are you feeling limited by the functionality, inflexibility or high costs of your current phone system. Before paying a small fortune to upgrade your in-house equipment, take a closer look at Cloud Hosted PBX Business Telephone Service.

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

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Software Defined Network Comes to Austin

By: John Shepler

The Software Defined Network (SDN) has been one of those nebulous concepts that is coming someday to do something better than current IT technology. Well, that day has arrived and here’s what SDN is going to do for your company.

Austin Texas at nightWhy Software?
Like software everything, the software defined network is intended to replace fixed hardware functions with reprogrammable software. It’s not really a simplification process. The hardware may be more generic, like microprocessors and digital signal processors, but if you include the lines of code, the component count shoots through the roof. The beauty of software is that all those “soft” parts can be replicated instantly at little or no cost. Even more importantly, software can be changed from afar as needed.

The Idea of Virtualization
You’ve probably run into virtualization in the IT racks. Not that long ago, a server was a stand-alone computer with its own operating system and software load. Each server had a designated function. If it was overloaded, you needed to buy a more powerful computer and swap out the boxes. If the application wasn’t that demanding, the server would loaf along most of the time.

In this type of environment everything needs to be planned up-front and changes are time consuming and sometimes expensive. There’s also a poor utilization of resources. You may need a lot of lightly loaded servers all cooking in the racks in order to run your myriad of business applications.

Virtualization changes all that. The server is no longer a hardware appliance but a software function running on one or more processors. The computer hardware might not look much different, but what used to be one server may now be a dozen running on the same box. Huge applications might span several boxes to get the job done. It’s just a matter of how much in the way of resources an application needs.

Some of what virtualization has accomplished is to reduce the number of physical computers needed since each box is running at a higher capacity. Even more important, a new virtualized server can be installed in minutes since it is simply a software “instance” running on the hardware already in the racks. Don’t need a server anymore? Simply have the software release the resources back into the pool. You don’t even have to set foot in the data center to make this all happen.

Does this sound like “The Cloud”? Virtualization on a huge scale is the magic behind cloud data centers and cloud services.

Virtualization for the WAN
Now consider your telecommunications network connections. Like all hardware based approaches, there are many specialized functions implemented by very specific equipment cards and boxes. Some are in the central office, some in the network path and some at the customers premises. It takes a long time to provision a new service and get everything wired up correctly so that you get the service you pay for and don’t interfere with others or have them interfere with you. The term “nailed up” goes back to the days when physical copper wires were literally nailed up on a board while they were assigned to a particular customer.

If you’ve ever tried to upgrade service, you know what a pain it can be. You need to submit a new order that needs to be processed. The changes to the network for your extra bandwidth have to be engineered. Then a truck has to roll to your location delivering a CPE (Customer Premises Equipment) box with the proper interface for the new service. Bandwidth is typically available in major increments and you better get your order placed well in advance of running out of current capacity.

Now, what if the network could be virtualized like the servers? The hardware becomes more of a life support system for the software. That software can be changed, upgraded or supplemented at will. All of a sudden, network changes become fast and easy. That’s the software defined network.

What AT&T is Doing in Austin
AT&T is launching its software defined network in Austin, Texas with the moniker AT&T Network on Demand. That’s pretty much what it’s all about. Businesses will be able to increase or decrease the bandwidth of their broadband speeds in near real time. In olden days (before SDN) this could take hours maybe days in the case of Ethernet services or weeks or longer for legacy SONET and T-Carrier.

The Carrier Ethernet services over copper and fiber that have appeared on the scene recently were engineered with more of the software defined network idea in place. One of their bragging points is that you can usually get a bandwidth increase by simply calling your service provider and making the request over the phone. No need to keep watching out the window for the service truck to roll in. As long as you have enough port capacity, the carrier will make the changes “invisibly” while you are doing other things.

In fact AT&T’s SDN will let them provision new communication ports in days compared to weeks. That’s an extension of the software-defined philosophy that separates physical hardware from software. Once again, as long as the installed hardware has the capability of handling the demands placed on it, what it does is really a function of software parameters and apps. Look for this approach to expand rapidly throughout the industry. It will be a matter of competitiveness among the communication carriers and other service providers.

Are you limited by your current MAN or WAN network capability? The service offerings are changing fast. Chances are that you can get more capacity and flexibility without a cost increase with MAN and WAN Network Services available now.

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

Note: Photo of Austin, Texas at night courtesy of Daniel Mayer on Wikimedia Commons.

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