July 2010 Archives

The Spirit of Nortel Networks Lives On In Avaya...

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Had the opportunity this week to catch up with an old IT mate, Nigel Moulton - recently of D-Link, anciently of 3Com with several stops in between - now installed at Avaya,

Avaya, that is, who spent a few $ on the Nortel Networks Enterprise business at the beginning of the year. Given that I've got a corner of the lab which could easily double as a musuem of Nortel Networks/Bay/Wellfleet/Synoptics products over the past two decades, I have a genuine (and warm) interest in the future of these product lines. It was therefore reassuring to hear Nigel confirm that the old product lines are being maintained and progressed, so the future for enterprise customers is sorted (technical term), in which case, if you're longstanding (or short, sitting) enterprise customers of Nortel, you don't have to dash off to Cisco, HP etc... There is an alternative which is to not actually alternate at all.

Nigel also spoke about a new Avaya product for the call centre which is - sit down, buckled up with a stiff drink at this point - designed to make you, as the caller, the focal, centralised point of the conversation, so - instead of being passed around from one staff member to the next, or from one automated voice to another (are you listening Barclays?) and then being dropped somewhere along the line... Instead, you become the fixed point and stay put so, in theory, you don't get dropped and the emphasis is on the call centre individuals instead in the form of a collaborative type session with you at the centre.

It might just work and here's a sort of precedent. The Netevents - www.netevents.org - industry symposiums I regularly attend and speak at (there's no escape!) originally had a series of round table interviews between vendors and press/analysts, whereby the vendors had individual tables and the press went round from one to t'other - with a timetable and agenda - except that they regularly failed to make several of the meetings, getting, er, "lost" along the way, especially if a bar was close enough at hand. So, this was solved quite simply by giving the press/analysts fixed table spots and the vendors moved around instead. Since the emphasis was very much on the vendors to attend the meetings and powerpoint people to death, making the meets press-centric did the trick. Spot the similarity between this successful about-turn and what Avaya is doing at the call centre?

Hoping to get my hands on some of the Avaya products for testing but, meantime, we did include an Avaya solution in a recent report on the HP ProCurve 2520 Switch, which is available (FOC of course) from the www.broadband-testing.co.uk website, as a wee taster.

Wine Tip: And talking of wee tastings, as is my secondary missive here, if any of you are heading to the Costa Brava this summer (there is one going on in Spain, honest and we won't get into the Tossa de Mar jokes here) then do try the local Emporda D.O. wines, as they are excellent and have some whacky, old grape types in them too.I can especially recommend  - as a rosé wine author - the Espelt Lledoner Rosat, though they're all worth a try, including some sweet reds.

Power Down Or Else...

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 Over the past couple of years, at Broadband-Testing we've carried out a number of power consumption tests, primarily focusing on switches of the Ethernet variety.

While we found that there are considerable differences in the amount of power drawn by different switch products - for example, just a supervisor module in passive mode on a Cisco chassis switch can draw three times as much as a 24-port Gigabit switch by D-Link at full blast - in reality, compared with the amount of power used by the PC population of most companies, the savings that can be made at the switch level are not always significant.

So, we've switched (ahem) focus to power consumption of said PCs with a test of independent UK company, Certero's PowerStudio 2.0 product, wot is being launched right now. The report will be released shortly on the www.broadband-testing.co.uk website (so watch this space, or keep visiting the website for an update) but meantime I can leak a few details of our findings.

First, it's important to understand what Intel and others means when they describe each latest-generation PC product as being more power efficient than its predecessor. Yes they are, on a watt per CPU cycle basis, but the increase in performance each time as boggo PCs become multi-core, multi-CPU (in somes cases) beasties means that they actually draw MORE power overall than their forebears (a largely untold Goldilocks story and prequel to the famous one).

In a proverbial nutshell (think almond-sized), what PowerStudio does is to let you create a baseline measurement for total PC population power consumption (alliteration enters IT blogging!) and then create any number of power saving schemes to deploy and measure power saved (with lots of different metrics options) as a result.

Where the product gets really clever is that it can auto shutdown/wake PC clients remotely, using techniques such as Wake On Lan in combination with emails - very neat. Better still, it intelligently saves and reloads MS Office docs as well.

All this is great and means that the lazy user base can be controlled with lots of flexibility to suit any kind of business. However, the idea is for the software to act as an incentive for the users themselves to be more efficient and actually beat the software at shutting down their PCs. A "name and shame" list of worst users can be generated, as can a "star pupils" report, so we have a new employee competition to embrace. Obviously, this shouldn't be taken too far with large bonuses offered, otherwise users simply won't power their PCs and, instead, discuss TV for eight hours a day at the coffee machine and then get bonuses as a result of their power saving though, obviously, this has to be offset against additional power consumed by the coffee machine.

The reality is, however, that with a sensible set of power schemes in use and a well-behaved user base, cost savings can be absolutely huge. Moreover, with government schemes meaning that power consumption footprints need to be minimised to avoid punitive charges, there is every reason to look at something like PowerStudio and calculate just how much you can save by using it. Then, and only then, should you look again at power-efficient Ethernet switches. As that supermarket wot makes multi-billion pounds annual profits says, "every little helps...." It most certainly does in their case and it can in yours too.

Holidays Still Means Emails For Many Of Us

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So we're coming up to holiday time - funnily enought, the idea for me of getting on a flight to a hot destination...doesn't really work for someone whose life should be co-sponsored by Ryanair and Easyjet.

However, on my travels and the occasional 2-day break I do stay in a mix of "business-class" and "real" hotels, preferring the latter by far, in the same way that I prefer drinking local beer in local places, rather than global, industrial-strength lager. In other words, you take your chance a little more but the rewards can be far higher.

But here's the real deal. How many people worldwide are working in or with IT in one form or another, who need access to email and maybe don't want to run up vast Blackberry bills when they are on the move, biz or hols, despite the new enforcement of reduced tariffs across Eorope? So, where are the hotels that cover that splendid middle ground between Hilton and "High Tide"? Interestingly, increasingly the latter are more likely to offer free WiFi than the former, though it is still all too often either ludicrously expensive and often unreliable, or simply non-existent.

Given the number of homes now with WiFi/Internet access - even if the Nintendo Wii is the primary channel - what has happened to hotels since WiFi began to popularise itself 5-6 years ago? Essentially they've barely moved on.

And even when you are loaded with two 3G data dongles with two different operators and a mobile phone with a third different operator and various WiFi enabled devices, it doesn't guarantee you can get ANY access as I found out recently on a brief visit to Fowey in Cornwall. Given that our testing last year showed how bad many smartphones are in the first place at maintaining calls/signal strength, this - combined with the massive holes still in mobile network coverage - the only alternative, unless Femtocell technology gets a look-in, currently is WiFi/cable. So why doesn't every public establishment have it? Is it because it's too expensive (surely not now?), or too complex (let's face it many places have Sky TV but don't seem to offer access to the bundled Internet access) - I don't think so.

Is it because us IT guys should be running the hotels (and pubs, bars, cafés etc) instead? Fancy yourself as a Basil Fawlty? Or is it because there is still a huge (and largely artificial) gap between what is seen as "business" class and "leisure" class? And "business" means milking every penny on the assumption that its "guests" are on business expenses and that the business is question is not run by them. But increasingly guys in any form of business are totally accountable and expenses are not the free meal ticket they once were. And - the number of people who run their own business, or are involved in small, "don't spend owt that's not essential" companies is signficantly higher than it once was. And, whereas once a holiday meant precisely that, for too many of us, it simply means an office relocation by the sea/in the mountains etc, with email access - even just once a day - being essential.

Let's then start a campaign for IT-enabled hotels that don't have to belong to the Hilton/Marriot etc chains, but can be owned and run by Fred and Doris Smedley and serve real, freshly cooked breakfasts to order while offering free WiFi for you to check emails while downing a second cup of cofffee. Or freshly baked croissants and "wiffy" if in France and run by M et Mme Mangetout etc etc.

Or let's just approach a VC with the idea and become to the hotel trade what Steve Jobs is to the IT world. The word iPad could take on a whole new meaning....