Cisco Cius

As many of you may already know Cisco stopped development of the Cisco Cius, a 7 inch business tablet that promised so much. I believe it under delivered primarily due to it running such an old version of Android  – 2.3. The Call Manager Features on it were great and the phone cradle that is sat in was not only cool but it is functional. I did a quick video review when I first got the unit the test if you want to check it out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPUfOHz7boc&feature=g-upl

Too bad they couldn’t keep up with the speed of the market. It may be that they will focus on providing this type of functionality via software on products that are already established in this market – i.e. ASUS and Samsung, Apple etc.

I still like the size of this tablet and the call and video quality is awesome… In Canada they were asking over $1800 for the Cius – again I could have swallowed that if they were able to keep the OS up to date. Not sure what will come of mine. I may root it, but then would probably loose the call manager functionality.

 

VoIP – Trouble Shooting

Aside

Back in the day before the Real Time Requirements of Voice and Video all we needed to worry about was Bandwidth. If there was enough everything worked the way it should. If there wasn’t enough, you could deploy some technologies that may help prioritize data that would provide a group of users with a better user experience. And if that didn’t work you bought more bandwidth.

Enter the Unified Communications Era – Voice, Video, Data and who knows what they’ll think of next, all running over the same network.

Delay, Jitter, Packet Loss, Bandwidth and contention from other applications are all things one needs to consider when managing these new multi-service networks.

As Network Managers we have always been cognizant of the user experience. For applications like telnet the appearance that your characters were being echo’s back to you immediately was important, even if they weren’t it was the user experience that mattered.

The quality of a phone call though is something that can’t really be measured scientifically. We attempt to measure using MOS scores based on the Delay, Jitter and Packet loss, but these don’t actually measure the users experience. One person may say the call is good while another says not so good. That same person may be biased based on their mood.

Recently we have been trouble shooting a customer with Echo problems. The difficulty here is that we receive a report of an echo problem at a site with little to no information on the Called Party, Calling Party, who heard the echo, was the echo constant, was the echo loud, what type of delay in echo was experienced, was there a headset in use, was it a conference phone, speaker phone? This is not to blame anyone, as the user is not expected to know that these items are important.

I came across a really good article while searching on a solution for this issue, and while most of the information I already knew it really helped us solidify the source of the issue. I will also say that our team of technical staff did a great job in implementing echo cancellation technologies that has ultimately solved the problem – albeit by masking the echo. I’d like to share some of the highlights of this article.

Most Importantly:

Bits do not leak, so you can disqualify the digital segment of the system

As long as VoIP calls continue to be terminated in analog tails, echo will be a problem. One major obstacle to widespread VoIP implementation is that many tail circuits have preexisting delays that will become noticeable only when service providers introduce digital segments to the networks.

Because of the fundamental delays associated with VoIP technologies, existing echos will be more annoying than with TDM, and even the normal operation of an echo canceler will be more apparent. Customers of VoIP networks need to be educated to expect the standard echo canceler operation previously described so that they do not confuse these types of echos with abnormal echos. Abnormal echos persist throughout a call and do not fade.

These problems will gradually be solved as digital networks extend out toward homes and telephone endpoints. Until then, how much echo can be expected? One call in 50? 100? 1000? Even if customers are trained to complain only when an echo problem is persistent and repeatable, a service provider cannot hunt down and destroy every echo complaint. No one has sufficient resources to do this task, and hunting down an echo is a necessarily intrusive process.

The challenge is to determine when an echo complaint is both solvable and worth solving. You know that the echo source is in the destination tail circuit. For an echo problem to be solved, the tail circuit needs to be accessible.

Even after the deployment of Echo Cancellation, there is still a Echo when the call is first answered, as the Echo Cancellation Mechanism must get some real data before it is able to effectively stop the echo.

So in short the real answer is to use all digital circuits. Other echo issues are sometimes related to the phone set itself. Lower end phone sets tend to have cheaper components and are not as good at isolating the microphone from picking up sound that has leaked from the speaker.

Document Source: http://www.cisco.com/en/US/docs/ios/solutions_docs/voip_solutions/EA_ISD.html#wp1042222

Uncontrolled Network Growth

When companies find themselves growing faster than they had planned their network grows with them. Keeping up with the day-to-day tasks of running an organization that is growing obviously requires focus and dedication and the network almost always gets left behind.  I don’t mean left behind from a Bandwidth or Capacity standpoint, as those things must keep up with the business, what I mean by left behind is the planning, maintenance and overall architecture standpoint.

The result can be overwhelming: Where does one start? Do you rip it all out and start fresh? Do you employ a phased approach? What Vendor do you go with? Do you need to hire a Consultant or Project Manager?

When I come into these situations I must be  careful not to insult the person or people who let it get to this stage, after all they were just responding to the needs of the business. So, where does one start……

I have found that if the organization focused on anything it was the server infrastructure and the network infrastructure is nothing more than a number of BIG BOX store items from various manufacturers.

So, I start with this Foundation and based on the business goals segment the network to allow for Stability, Security and Scalability. Spend a few dollars on this infrastructure and you will save yourself a ton of time and effort in the long run. Employ a logical distribution of servers, services and there tasks across different VLAN’s. Think about some of the longer term goals  like VoIP… Maybe putting in PoE switches now is the right thing to do even if VoIP isn’t in your immediate plans. Think about the industry you’re in and if it hasn’t already developed some form of compliance requirement, will it in the future? Build your network as if you are a bank. Build your network based on best practices.

You will find that once this foundation is in place, the task to add, remove or change any aspect of your network becomes just a task and not some unattainable goal.

Document and monitor your network!!!!!! Purchase a maintenance contract on your equipment (it’s called insurance)… And Finally – if you’re not a network professional give us a call to help you design, build and maintain your network because it is what we do for a living…

Free Network Management Tools are just tools without the network management.

Network  management tools are just that, tools… They do not manage your network, just like a hammer does not drive a nail into a piece of wood all by itself. They are designed to make the task of network management easier. When a customer recently asked us to help them determine what was causing their Internet pipe to become saturated throughout the day we proposed using one of our Protocol Analysis tools to help them. They did not want a  permanent solution, instead they wanted to identify the traffic, determine if its legitimate, take action and then move on.  When the customer came back to us to say that they are looking at another solution that would do the same thing at no cost I was of course skeptical. The solution was the Solarwins Application Monitoring tool free 30 day trial.

“What is your differentiator?” the customer asked.

“People” I exclaimed. “Highly Trained Technical people who can set up, analyze, troubleshoot and recommend”.

If I could find a hammer that would drive the nails in for me I would get it – even if it wasn’t free. So, if the customer chooses the Solarwins option, they will have the following tasks to complete.

  1. Download the Software
  2. Find a server and install the software
  3. Set up and configure the software
  4. Set up SNMP for the Routers and Switches they wish to report against
  5. Set up span ports for monitoring traffic
  6. Hope that all of that works
  7.  analyze the data and determine its legitimacy
  8. Track down the source of the data and take action

If the customer chooses our option, they will have the following tasks to complete.

  1. Sign our Statement of Work
  2. Read our findings and recommendations
  3. Take Action.

I know we all like free stuff, but at what cost. You may not be paying for it with hard cash, but you will pay for it.

Outsourcing Network Management and Monitoring

Outsourcing to some, is a bad word. Almost as bad as “consulting”…. a word that makes me cringe. The fear of losing control seems to be the driving factor in steering IT folks clear of outsourcing. But it doesn’t have to be that way at least not with End to End. Now I don’t want to sound like a commercial, but I do see a significant advantage to our services over the competition. I will start by addressing the control factor.

Recently we were working with a prospect that had an existing Internet service with one of the big Canadian Carriers, I won’t mention names. As part of our engagement, we needed to gather some information regarding the configuration of the Cisco Router that terminated the Internet connection. The customer engaged their Carrier to provide configuration information and the carrier refused!!! Who’s network is this anyway? They played the “security card” and indicated that everything was provisioned and working as expected… After a couple of emails back and forth with the customer and carrier, I explained that this configuration was required for auditing purposes and that a “scrubbed” configuration, that is, a configuration that removes any reference to the carriers own security, would be fine. They still refused. Now I know we will eventually get a copy of the configuration, we just haven’t pushed hard enough yet. Since we have gone through this before, once we pull the compliance card, they will likely give in, but what a waste of everyone’s time.

Our Differentiator:

Like most MSP’s End to End provides a portal, where customers can access statistical information regarding their network and it’s performance. Unlike others however, End to End also provides access to all configuration files. Configurations are captured nightly and saved in our database. Access to scrubbed configurations are provided only to authorized users and they can be compared against previous configurations. In my previous example, access to these configurations would have saved countless emails, telephone calls and about two weeks.

Security appears to be another factor that shy’s IT folks away from Managed Services, but why is it then, that these same IT professionals allow a Carrier to control their Internet Gateway? I have had a lot of experience working with all of the carriers and I can guarantee you that Security is not their strong suit. In fact, I know the “default” password used by most of the Canadian carriers and I know that they never change it!!! Can you imagine this? Does it scare you? It would scare me!

Our Differentiator:

End to End uses RADIUS to control access to all devices that we Manage. This allows us to quickly add and remove user access to all devices that we manage. It allows us to track access by username, and to give customer either read only access or write access in a shared support model, AKA, co-source.

You have your own tool?

Unlike other Network Management tools our eView Portal is completely agent less. There is nothing to install at the customer premises. There is nothing to install anywhere, all we need is network connectivity – SNMP, Ping, SSH, HTTPS. Similar to the Salesforce.com model for CRM the eView portal can be up, Monitoring, Alarming and Capturing your Network in less time than it takes to install a competitor’s product.

Whats Next?

Our development team is working on an exciting new device access method that will truly be the most secure and functional means of network management, flexibility and control. Already in Beta, we expect the first release of this new access method to be in production by Q4 of 2010.

Perhaps you don’t want to outsource your network management and you just need a tool. End to End has already deployed this model to a number of our wholesale partners and as the need grows, the features are growing along with it.

So while the word “Consulting” still makes me cringe, I hope I have helped to convince you that Outsourcing is only a bad word when done by the wrong people.

Unified Communications

After doing the Radio show on the weekend it occurred to me that Unified Communications (UC) is a term that is still largely mis-understood. It is not just about phones and phone lines, or voicemail, or VoIP. Unified communications is not a technology, but a concept to enable the unification of all the disparate communications mediums that we use in our day-to-day lives. Today we all communicate in a number of ways through phones, email, voicemail, chat, text messaging, Facebook, linked-in and to a much smaller extent, video. These communication tools have changed the way we interact in a good way, but it has also caused a lot of extra steps for both the originator and the receiver of a potential discussion between two parties.

For example: before UC to get hold of my brother, I would call his office and after receiving his voicemail I would not leave a message, instead I would hang up and call his cell – no answer, so I leave a message on his cell phone. After that I would email him indicating that I was trying to call him about whatever… So two phone calls, one voicemail and one email later – and I still haven’t talked to him.

For my brother, he would have a message on his cell phone indicating there was a missed call and that he has a voicemail, he also has an email from me. Since he has the email, he doesn’t really need to listen to his voicemail as his phone would have shown who the missed call was from. But he still has to call into his voicemail to at least delete the message.

Its a wonder we ever get anything done….

In a perfect world – where everyone has and is using UC to its full potential it would work like this…..

My UC application running on my desktop at work, or maybe on my cell phone, would show me presence information about my brothers status – in a meeting. There is no point in calling either his office phone or his cell because I have information telling me he is not in a position to answer anyway. So, I send him an Instant Message. “Bro, I need to talk to you about whatever. Call me when you get a minute.”

As I leave the office to go for lunch an hour later, my brother just leaving his meeting, pulls out his cell phone and reads my instant message. From his UC application on his phone, he can see that my status is “away”. Knowing that an “away” status is different from “in a meeting” he figures that I’ve gone for lunch, but he also knows that I have SNR (single number reach) so he calls my land line, which after two rings  the system calls my cell. I see that call is from my brother and I pick it up.

In the perfect world scenario – I sent one text message. Thats it….. that would have saved both of us a whole bunch of time…

Now, not everyone has UC, at least not yet but the perfect world scenario that I just described is not to far off. I can certainly do this today with all of my colleagues and it already saves us a bunch of time. Once we are able to extend this technology to others – family, friends, partners etc. it will change the way all of us view communications. If we are able to get our minds around the additional possibilities this brings us we can start to envision incorporating additional technologies into this fold. Video is the next logical technology, as is Document Collaboration with tools like Web-Ex from Cisco.

There are still lots of other ways we communicate and in different industries some of these are the only way they communicate. VHF Radio, CB Radio, Two way Walkie-Talkies, Skype, satellite, GPS. How can TV be thrown into this mix, or maybe radio. If my presence status was listed as “Fishing” – then the system could possibly connect to a VHF Radio and call me on the water…. Not that I would always want to be available, because fishing is supposed to be a way of getting away from it all, but you could have rules around it – emergencies only – could be a setting in your UC manager that would limit who would be able to get hold of you in that scenario.

So I ask, what else could be incorporated into UC? Can anyone see beyond what I have already described? What is the next evolution of communications?

Single Number Reach

For those who know what this feature is I am sure you enjoy it as much as I. This, in my opinion is the most compelling feature in our recently installed Cisco UC Phone System. As both the recommender, planner and installer of the Cisco Unified Communications Phone System I had the joy of figuring out how to turn on this feature and figure out how it works and how it doesn’t work. I was confounded initially by what seemed to be the complexity of the configuration, but after deployment and setting it up for a few users, it is really not that difficult.

What is it? Single number reach is just that. When you receive a call to your work extension, the system will automatically call any phone of your choice. The caller has no idea that this is happening and whats even better is that you can transfer the call back to your desk phone. I spend a lot of time in the office but not at my desk. Before the new phone system, when I returned to my desk I would more often than not have a couple of Voice Mails and I would have to start the long, cumbersome task of playing phone tag with those who tried to get hold of me. Now, with our new system when I am down in the lunch room getting a coffee and someone calls me on the office line, after about 4 rings my cell phone rings. I can quickly see that it is not a call directly to my cell phone but rather a call placed from our Cisco Phone system to my Cell phone. I can answer the call appropriately and essentially never miss another call again.

Couple this feature with Voice Mail to Email and my Cell Phone (iPhone) is my office in my pocket.

The phone system allows me to add rules of when to call me cell and when not too. You can even put in access lists that will block certain numbers from being forwarded.

What are the advantages?

Fewer Missed Calls
Fewer Voicemails
Increased response to both Employees and Customers
Increased Productivity

Are there any disadvantages?

Well not really but here are some things to look out for.

Is your organization sticky about your cell phone usage. My cell usage went up – but not that much. If I spent a lot more time out of the office it would certainly be something to consider
For every call that is placed to your extension and then to your Cell phone, two lines are used. Take that into consideration as you do not want to run out of phone lines.

Since deployment I have been tracking both Cell usage and Phone Line usage closely and have not found a significant impact. The benefits outweigh the additional usage by a mile.

I’ll be talking about Cisco’s Unified Presence Application in my next post… If used properly it can be another time saver and productivity tool….