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.

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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 you 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 shared 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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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The 3 Types of VoIP Lines for Business

By: John Shepler

Businesses large and small have been migrating to VoIP telephone technology for years now. Some are delighted with the move and have never look back. Others feel like they’ve lost something in the way of performance. The calls are often muddled and it’s hard to carry on a two way conversation. Would you believe that its the exact same technology involved? Why is it that VoIP telephony can range from excellent to unacceptable? Let’s take a look.

Check out the range of VoIP options for your business.What’s VoIP
VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol is a means to convert telephones into computer peripherals. The reason to do that is both to save money and enable applications that just won’t work on the old style telephone network. Network voice is a powerful tool, but can more easily be degraded that simpler analog phones.

Old School Phone Systems
Business phone lines are sometimes called POTS for Plain Old Telephone Service. They consist of twisted copper pair wires that run directly from the phone set all the way to the telephone company. Each phone has its own set of wires. Once you get more than a few phones, however, you face a mounting phone bill since the telco charges you to make internal as well as external calls.

Companies get around this by installing their own phone switches. Small systems use Key Telephone Systems where multiple outside lines are available on each phone but you can also call within the building on your own wiring. Larger companies install PBX (Private Branch Exchange) switches that manage a pool of outside lines that can be assigned to any phone as needed.

If you only have a couple of phones, each with their own line, the phone company takes care of all the switching for you. With many phones, you become your own little phone company for inside calls. That means you have to take care of all the special phone wiring and the Key or PBX switching equipment. Plus, you have to pay for multiple outside analog lines or a digital PRI trunk to get to the public telephone system.

How VoIP is Different
With VoIP, each phone plugs into your company LAN. That gets rid of the second special phone network. You still need something to switch the calls between phones. This can be a VoIP PBX or IP PBX that you have in-house. It can also be a much larger hosted PBX system from a hosted VoIP service provider. Hosted means that a specialized company “hosts” or run the system. You are one of many clients that they host. It’s pretty much like buying web hosting. You simply pay by the month for service instead of having to install and maintain your own equipment.

VoIP Phone Line Needs
All VoIP phones connect to a local network. This can be a small home office network that has only a computer, WiFi router, VoIP phone adaptor (for a regular phone) and broadband modem. Or, it can be an extensive corporate LAN that is bridged into multiple business locations nationwide and even overseas. The principles and the requirements for high quality performance are the same.

Since the network is shared with many phones and other computing devices, it take some doing to make sure that you get high performance. With dedicated analog lines, that’s the phone company’s problem. With VoIP, it’s now your IT problem.

What’s needed is plenty of bandwidth to accommodate all the phones and other devices. But that’s not enough. You need to give the voice packets priority over data because phone calls will start sounding muddled and choppy long before you notice that the file is loading slower. The network also needs low latency, packet loss and jitter to be transparent to the packets carrying the VoIP digitized phone conversations.

3 Types of VoIP Phone Lines
All analog phone lines are alike. All ISDN PRI trunks are alike. VoIP phone lines can be quite different. They range from Internet VoIP to SIP Trunks to MPLS private networks.

Using the Internet as Your Phone LIne
The low end of the market, which keeps costs low for home offices and small businesses, uses a broadband Internet service to connect to the VoIP service provider. You can share your broadband connection with a couple of computers, a WiFi router, and a few VoIP phones. You’ll need a router that creates CoS (Class of Service) to prioritize the phones or the computers will interfere with your calls. Sometimes the service provider will give you an adaptor that does this.

The advantage of using the Internet as a phone line is that it’s cheap. You probably already have broadband for your computer. The lure is to save money by “eliminating the separate phone line.” The downside is that the Internet was never designed for telephony. It was intended to reliably transport data files. There is no prioritization of voice on the Internet and most access lines, like DSL, Cable, Satellite and Cellular, are shared broadband. It’s a cost vs performance tradeoff. You may find that some calls sound perfect but others break up or sound muddled. It all depends on what else is happening on the Internet while you are making your call.

One way to improve Internet VoIP is to use a dedicated Internet access (DIA) like T1 or Ethernet over Copper. This keeps your neighbors from disrupting your calls while they download large video and software programs, but you are still subject to network congestion on the Internet itself.

Private Line VoIP Service
Companies that depend on high quality phone service for customer support and employee productivity usually sidestep the Internet in favor of something more predictable. The outside line that compares most closely to the legacy analog and PRI lines is the SIP Trunk. This is a digital broadband line, but it is a private line that is not shared with others. It’s called a SIP trunk because it supports SIP or Session Initiation Protocol, the switching system for VoIP calls.

A simple SIP trunk is a T1 line that runs from your network to your service provider. It supports up to a couple dozen simultaneous phone conversations or a combination of phone calls and Internet. The Internet service has a lower priority than the phone calls and uses whatever bandwidth isn’t needed for the phones at any given time. Smaller companies that don’t have dozens of phones find this is a great cost saver compared to maintaining separate phone and broadband lines.

Larger SIP trunks are also available for bigger companies or call centers. Both copper and fiber optic bandwidth is available to support as many calls as you need.

Voice over MPLS Networks
Major corporations generally have many business sites located around the country and even in other countries. They still want any employee to easily call any other employee without paying long distance toll charges. They also need to make outside calls to anyone with a phone.

A sophisticated solution is called VoMPLS or Voice over MPLS networks. MPLS is a private network arrangement with a regional, national or international service footprint. The network operator ensures that each paying customer has the necessary Class of Service, bandwidth and low latency, packet loss and jitter that they need for high performance.

VoMPLS works a lot like VoIP using SIP Trunks. The difference is that instead of having to run dedicated private lines among all your locations, you simply need an access line from each location to the MPLS network. This can give you a major cost savings, especially on those long international connections, while maintaining high network performance.

Are you in search of a better telephone solution, to reduce costs, increase available features or both? If so, there are VoIP telephone solutions you should take a close look at.

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

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