23 Oct
27 May
21 Apr

The Benefits of Doing Business Locally

As a company, we have just finished up a season of providing proposals to school districts who have applied for E-rate funds. For those not familiar with E-rate, this is a way for schools to provide Internet/carrier services and upgrade networking infrastructure (voice, video and data) through a process that subsidizes the costs through taxes collected on carrier services. Funding is based on the level of poverty of the population served by the individual school or school district.

The bids or RFPs are public and thus attract attention from many vendors – even from those outside the area (such as the Bay Area). We noticed that in many of these bid situations, school districts were opting to use businesses outside of the local area. i.e. not using companies who are owned and operated locally in the Central Valley. (Kudos to Modesto City Schools who did put in a factor in their RFP to reward businesses located in Stanislaus County.)

I am a proponent of a competitive bidding process but wanted to provide some reasons why a company should do their best to do business locally – whether a school district or not.

First, you keep the dollars in the local economy. Local businesses recycle a much larger share of their revenue back into the local economy which in turn enriches the entire community. Second, local businesses create more jobs locally which again improves the local economy. Third, local businesses are vested in the community and thus more likely to provide good service because their reputation is on the line. A company out of town doesn’t have to worry about bumping into someone at the local mall, grocery store or high school basketball game, and worry about bad service they provided to a customer. If you won’t take my word for it, check out this Time article expounding on these benefits and more – http://content.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1903632,00.html.

Telcion is Central Valley locally owned and operated with employees that live in the Central Valley. If you would like to discuss how Telcion can provide your organization with a networking solution provided locally, please contact us.

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11 Mar

To Cloud or Not to Cloud

So I’d have to say that I’ve not been a big fan of cloud-managed infrastructure because of the concern over really “owning” something and the recurring charges that occur to keep the product functioning. Certainly, I’ve seen the advantages Telcion has realized by moving to a “cloud” service for our customer management over ten years ago… and we have also realized the benefits of migrating off a premises-based Exchange server to Office 365 several years ago.   But “cloud services” for your switches, wireless access points and firewall seemed unneeded.  Why do I need to pay for a service to manage my infrastructure?

However, after recently installing a Cisco Meraki Wireless system at my home office, I can see the benefits.  First is the ease of installation.  I setup my first wireless system at home by basically setting up two Linksys Wireless Access Point at both ends of my home.  It was a bit painful to setup as I had to first access the AP by changing the IP address of my laptop to match the IP addressing of the default IP address on the Linksys AP, set the IP address of the AP to the correct subnet, then start over to access the APs again. Then I had access two different management screens (2 APs), setup SSIDs, manage channels that don’t conflict with each other and occasionally perform firmware updates.

For the Cisco Meraki wireless system I installed recently, it was just too easy. I plugged the Access Point into my existing POE switch.  I created an account at Meraki and clicked on “setup new network”.  I then added the serial # of the Access Point I had just plugged in.  The Dashboard recognized the AP, which I could then manage easily.  I changed the IP address, setup an SSID, setup a password and had it functioning in less than 10 minutes.  Wow! (Remember, I’m an account manager, not an engineer.)

And then a bigger “wow” resulted when I saw the other features of the dashboard – my second point – ease of management. I can see the clients that are connected to the APs.  I can also see a heatmap after placing the APs on the imbedded Google map showing the coverage for my house.  I can view the RF spectrum being used by each AP – as well as utilize “air marshal” to show rogue APs and potential conflicts.  I’m sure these are tools that many are used to having in larger deployments but I have them without having to buy an expensive Wireless LAN controller.

To go back to my original concern, there is a cost to all technology solutions spread out in upfront costs, management tools and maintenance.  The Cisco Meraki subscription costs are very reasonably priced considering that you get hardware replacement, upgrades and the management all built into one price.

If you would like to discuss Cisco Meraki Cloud services and demo unit, please contact us at sales@telcion.com.

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10 Dec

When It’s Time to Change Teams

As I was lamenting the second loss in a row for the 49ers this weekend, I was thinking about what factors into someone becoming a fan of a professional sports franchise. Is one a fan because a team is local to them? Or because the quarterback went to a local school? Or maybe it’s because all of your friends are fans. Or it’s the team you remember rooting for as a child. Or maybe it was because your dad was a fan. I think all of these have factored into my decision to root for the 49ers.

Another factor might be a very good player that you look up to and admire their skill. I recall in high school, college and beyond, I was a huge Michael Jordan fan. That translated into me being a fan for the Chicago Bulls.

On the flip side of this question is why someone might stop being a fan. Do you drop them over one season with very disappointing play (i.e. 49ers), or does it go deeper than this? Long ago, I used to root for the Oakland Raiders. For several reasons, I gave them up years ago and when I see a game on, I quickly change the station.

I believe in business, you have to do the same assessment. What makes you a fan of a certain manufacturer or vendor providing you services? Is it price? Is it service they provide? Is it the talent they have on staff? Is it their follow-through? It is probably “all of the above” for you.

Related to this, when is it time to leave a vendor? Do they fumble a lot (i.e. mess up orders)? Do they often get “delay of game” penalties by missing deadlines? Do they follow-up three business days after a call or an e-mail is left for them?

To be fair, in a relationshp with a vendor you will have your ups and downs, but at some point you will probably choose to leave that relationship if this type of behavior continues.

At Telcion, we take our relationship with our customers very seriously. We want you to be fans of our business; impressed with our expertise, delighted with our follow -through, and ecstatic with the value our solutions provide. And most of all, we want you to feel respected throughout the entire process.

If you are already a fan of Telcion, thank you for your support. If you haven’t decided yet on a vendor, or are looking to switch teams in the future, please contact me at drodrigues@telcion.com and let’s work out a game plan for success.

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10 Nov

The Importance of Planning Software Upgrades

I’ve noticed that I tend to use practices for my own software upgrades that I wouldn’t recommend to my own customers. I see an annoying icon blinking that my Adobe Flash needs to be upgraded and click it… or the most recent rendition of our quoting program is released and I quickly apply the update. I want to use the latest software as I assume the latest update is either fixing bugs or providing new features. Who doesn’t want this? But it burns me every so often. I apply an update and I found that I just messed up either the program that was updated or it affects another program I’m using. I just affected my productivity for an hour or so while I either reverse the upgrade or search forums to find out what “fixes” are out there.

Mind you, I’ve only affected my own productivity, so my own practices might be forgivable – especially since I do not typically have to ask our IT staff to help, but imagine using this same methodology on your network. You decide to upgrade your Call Manager software on your network without researching what other program may need to be upgraded or what other programs will be affected by the change. You perform the upgrade “after hours” but then find that things are not working. Your two choices: plow ahead or revert back to the state before you started (uh, did you backup before you started?).

Thus the importance of planning your upgrades. This takes time and research as you investigate the release notes/requirements of the upgrade, as well as research (based upon experience) for what other programs might be affected. I can assure you that Telcion uses this latter approach when helping our customers upgrading their software and I’m sure you are glad I’m not out in the field using my methodology!

To discuss upgrading your Cisco software on your network, contact Darren Rodrigues at 209-656-5740 or drodrigues@telcion.com .

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10 Nov

Next Generation Firewalls and Threat Prevention

Over the past few months we have had numerous clients begin the process of upgrading their firewalls. Everyone is looking at what is known to be “Next Generation Firewalls.” NGFW means that the firewall is able to do deep packet inspection such that it can identify users, the applications they use, and how much bandwidth they are consuming. This enables an administrator to define user-based policies. Now we can know who is using YouTube, how much bandwidth they are consuming, and block it or limit it as needed. Or maybe you want the user to access Facebook, but only for company purposes. NGFW can do that too. It’s very powerful.

Cisco’s Next Generation Firewall started shipping last year. But they also made an interesting acquisition last year, a company called SourceFire. SourceFire is just now starting to show up in Cisco products and as we’ve begun looking at it, we’ve found it to be a very interesting add-on to a Cisco ASA. Essentially, SourceFire is a sensor. It comes in the form of a module that can be added to the ASA, and provides numerous added benefits. Besides being able to identify users, provide application level controls, do URL filtering, and advanced malware protection, SourceFire also provides network intelligence, network behavior analysis, and the ability to identify a threat and automatically do something about it.

Most of our clients have multiple security products in their network. They have a firewall. And a content filter. And virus/malware protection. And maybe even a separate intrusion detection sensor. SourceFire replaces all of this, and watches everything at the source as it comes in from the Internet.

If you are looking to replace any of the security components in your network, you need to seriously consider looking at not just a Next Generation Firewall, but one that comes with a sensor, such as the ASA with FirePower.

Take a look at some of these videos to get a more in-depth view of what this product can do for you.

http://www.sourcefire.com/category/information-center/videos

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13 Oct

Video Really Is Here

In a previous blog, I had commented that I believe that video conferencing is finally mainstream for business environments. After investing in video conferencing several times for our business with hopes of revenue streams, we are finally seeing our investments pay off. My focus was on a subset of the entire video transition (video conferencing between offices), but this trend is a lot deeper than that. What I’m seeing now is the emergence of video everywhere.

As I’ve been involved with Facebook since its inception, this trend is remarkable. Originally, I’d see posts on Facebook much like someone would use twitter for – to post something they are doing (sometimes too much information about what someone is doing. No, I really don’t care if you are running to get milk at the store… /sigh.) Then as the years passed, I’d see Facebook being used to post pictures. This was a great way to keep up with family and friends, see the latest pictures of their kids or pictures of a graduation, vacation or some other special event.

In the past year, I’ve noticed another shift: videos are being posted or shared. As I look at my Facebook feed today, almost every post has a video. Facebook has the video being played without sound which then sparks your interest to start really watching it. Now I’m seeing my friends or family actually doing stuff – not just snapshots of an event – and you get several funny videos to watch that your friends/family found entertaining.

Another aspect of this video trend is video surveillance. Not only is the technology relevant for monitoring your business, it is also viable for monitoring your residence. Some friends are surprised to see that I have 9 video cameras at my own house, which I can monitor remotely using my iPad while out to dinner. What a great way to make sure the kids are where they should be… or doing their homework (yep, one camera is directed where my kids use their laptops and do homework). Or better yet, I can check in while on vacation to make sure the house sitter is there, lights are turned on, etc.

What a great time to take advantage of this video trend!

To discuss how video might help your business, contact Darren Rodrigues at 209-656-5740 or drodrigues@telcion.com

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02 Jul

Single Number Reach on Steroids

For many of our customers, they have been able to take advantage of “single number reach” by implementing one of our Cisco IP Telephony solutions. I’ve blogged about this amazing productivity feature in the past. For the new reader, “single number reach” is the ability to link other devices to your phone system, such that if someone calls you, not only does your desktop phone ring, but so does your cell phone (or any other device you configure). This is a productivity gain in that all you have to do is provide someone with one phone number and they can reach you no matter what device you are using.

There was only one “chink in the armor” in this solution, as I have been using it for years. Here is the situation: Let’s say that a customer called my “single number reach” number and I’m unable to get to the call while out on the road (with a cell phone). In that case, the solution works as it should and the customer only had to call ONE number and they were able to leave a message. I can retrieve the voicemail using my smartphone with minimal effort. Now I want to call the customer back…this means I use my cell phone to dial back to the customer. The customer now sees my cell phone number, instead of my “single number reach” number that I would prefer that they use (so they can reach all my devices). The customer may end up putting that phone number in as my contact phone number… or they might just re-dial the missed call. Now I have a situation where calls are no longer going to my “single number reach” number and instead going to a cell phone number.

Cisco’s Jabber for your smartphone solves this issue. With this software on your Android or iPhone, you can now place and receive calls with your cell phone fully integrated into the IP Telephony solution. Whether connected via wireless or cellular network, calls I place will show my caller ID that matches my “single number reach” number, meaning no more broadcasting my cell phone number when I place calls. Not only that, but I can also use instant messaging, view voicemails visually and other functions typically available with a softphone through the application.

If you are interested in how your company might benefit from this feature (and a multitude of others), don’t hesitate to contact me at drodrigues@telcion.com or via “single number reach” at 209-656-5740.

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12 May

Performing Server Virtualization Cost-Benefit Analysis

In my past two blogs, I’ve covered some of the benefits of implementing server virtualization and a SAN (Storage Area Network). A common question that is raised is, “How can I determine if server virtualization makes sense for my organization?” I’d suggest that you perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine your potential savings.

In order to do this analysis, I’d suggest creating a spreadsheet to contain all your data. If you are uncomfortable creating this on your own, you can download a sophisticated spreadsheet here: http://bit.ly/1iEOC8i With a simple Google search, others can be found as well.

First, you need to determine your current costs which can be broken into two categories: hard and soft costs. Your hard costs are easier to determine and include anything that you currently pay money for, such as power, server maintenance contracts, and outside services. Electrical costs can be determined by researching power draws for each of your current servers or in the worst case, use a power meter to measure the kilowatt usage over a typical day. Soft costs are the second category of costs to determine and are more difficult to obtain. You will need to ascertain personnel time directly involved with the servers in question for machine administration. Part of this administration is the time spent backing up the servers (such as manually changing tapes).

The next step in the analysis is identifying the costs for implementing the virtual server solution, which typically will involve new hardware and some additional software costs (such as VMWare or Hyper-V). You will also need to factor in the expected hardware costs for replacing aging servers you currently own and deduct this figure. There will be soft costs associated with the new virtual solution. A good “rule of thumb” is that the time spent will be 30-40% less than separate servers (something you already calculated in determining your current costs).

The last step is identifying the financial benefits of server virtualization in the two areas: cost savings through not having to spend money that you you’re currently spending on your existing infrastructure AND cost savings through more efficient operations. This can be factored over a 5 or 7-year period using the total cost savings to determine the ROI (return on investment) for the money potentially spent on the virtualization project.

Telcion would love to help you determine if server virtualization has cost-benefits for your organization. Please contact me at drodrigues@telcion.com to help you make this evaluation.

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