Monday, July 28, 2014

End of the Premises Contact Center

By: John Shepler

Business telephone operations have changed a bit over the years. Single line phones soon gave way to the switchboard with live operators to direct calls. Automation replaced the switchboard with the receptionist backed up by a key telephone PBX (Private Branch Exchange) phone system. Call centers with dozens or hundreds of agents performing customer service developed specialized version of PBX systems with integration of computers and telephones. Still, one thing remained constant over the decades of technology evolution. The facilities all remained on-premises.

Time to upgrade your contact center solution?What’s Wrong With Premises Equipment?
The idea of keeping everything in-house has a appeal to it. After all, if you have the equipment right under your nose, you have complete control of how it works, who gets to use it and what services are available. You might even get lulled into the notion that in-house means much higher reliability than facilities located somewhere out there.

With premises based facilities you do have the ability to take a look at the system whenever you like. You can even give it a love pat from time to time just for good luck.

Along with this ability, you also pick up some responsibilities. You have to provide space, reliable power, connections to each and every phone and on-going maintenance. You didn’t think that these things ran themselves, did you? You also didn’t think that they came free of charge? No, sir. There are some major bucks involved with setting up a call center or contact center phone system and keeping it up to date.

Moving on Up to the Cloud
Unlike the last century or so, today you have the option of being able to run an efficient contact center while unloading the equipment burden. Where does it all go? To the cloud, of course.

Not everything, mind you, but the core system relocates to a remote data center. What you are left with are the actual telephones and computers that you can’t do without. But with a cloud based system, those phones and computers can be scattered around the globe and even at home for some agents, yet all connected as if they were in the same building.

More that Cost Savings
Cloud based contact centers have the obvious advantage of eliminating a major money pit in the form of PBX equipment, software and on-going maintenance. That means less tech support needed at your end. The service provider takes over the support function and handles tech issues 24/7. You may not have been able to even afford this level of scrutiny in-house.

The cloud also has its own benefits. What’s different about a cloud-based system is that a dedicated service prover builds a massive technical plant way beyond what any single company could justify. The benefit to you is that you can likely expand or contract your use of the system at will. If business grows you add more seats and pay for them one by one. If business goes into a tailspin, you eliminate the seats you don’t need.

Another cloud benefit is that you get the latest technology, including features that your in-house system probably can’t provide. That includes individual user features but also major infrastructure like redundant data centers. With duplicated facilities running in parallel, if one center goes down for any reason, the other picks up the load invisibly to you. That translates to higher availability. One vendor, inContact, boasts 99.99% availability.

Tools for Higher Productivity
The inContact suite of tools includes ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) with skills-based routing, IVR (Interactive Voice Response) with speech recognition, CTI (Computer Telephone Integration), predictive , progressive and preview dialers, call recording, extensive reporting, quality monitoring and Workforce Optimization tools.

Sure, you might develop an ad-hoc solution in-house that could provide similar functions, but you’re looking at a substantial development process that sucks up time and money and then YOU have to keep it all running and make improvements over the years. Why re-invent the wheel when the latest in call center efficiency is available for your use right now and can grow with your needs?

Do you have a stand alone call center or a contact center as part of your core business that includes 15 or more “agents” on the phones? If so, cloud based communications
may be exactly what you need right now.

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

Note: Original photo of telephone operators courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives on Wikimedia Commons.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Carrier Neutral Connectivity at Colocation Data Centers

By: John Shepler

Companies feeling starved for bandwidth may not realize that they’re doing it the hard way. Instead of making the carriers come to you, there are advantages in you going to where the carriers are.

Find Colos and Clouds as an alternative to your local data center.It’s All Happening at the Colo
The places where carriers flock are called colocation or colo centers and carrier hotels. These are large data centers that are meant to serve a variety of tenants. Contrast that with the typical data center that serves only a single company. In fact, most companies want nothing to do with renting out space in their data centers. The security issues alone make them blanch.

Why Do Colocation Centers Exist?
It has to do with economy of scale. Say you have 100 companies and each one needs a data center. They may well construct their own in-house data centers sized to meet their needs. This involves creating a dedicated space that is environmentally controlled, secure, with fire protection and backup power. Uninterruptible power supplies based on batteries and inverters cover short term power glitches. Anything over a few minutes depends on diesel or gas generators outside.

Data Center Costs
As you might expect, there is considerable cost involved in building and running a data center. Aside from the initial capital investment, there are constant operating costs involving air conditioning, electric power and support personnel. These costs persist regardless of business level and the equipment may sit idle for two-thirds of the day. Smaller companies often can’t justify the expense of round-the-clock tech support.

Connectivity Counts
What level of bandwidth you can get and how much it will cost are largely a function of where you are located. If your offices are in a smaller town or rural area, you may have only a single provider to pick from and severe bandwidth limits.

Economy of Scale
Now, what if those same 100 companies decided it would make more sense if they all moved into a single much larger data center that would serve all of their needs. You might think the overall total cost would be similar, but actually they would be much lower.

It’s the economy of scale that saves. Each company only needs racks and cages large enough to house its servers and other equipment. A few larger backup generators can supply emergency power when needed instead of 100 smaller generators on standby. A common security force can handle access control and monitor intrusion sensors. A common tech support group can handle the occasional needs of all companies 24/7.

From Owner to Renter
The tenant companies switch from an ownership to a rental model. They don’t need to overbuild, because they can always rent more or less facilities as needed. The colo operator takes the responsibility of building the facility, providing utilities, security and tech support.

A Magnet for Carriers
Have you ever had a carrier tell you that it’s just too expensive to bring fiber optic service to your company? They might do it, but you’ll be responsible for the construction costs and they can be eye-popping. The colo center, howler, acts like a carrier magnet. They see 100 potential customers for their service and make their fiber available. Most colo centers are near populous areas, making the construction relatively easy.

Will you have a carrier to provide you bandwidth service at the colo? Most likely, you’ll have at least several and perhaps a lot more. Each carrier has its own colo space with racks and cages. It costs them little more to bring in high bandwidth service for 100 companies than a single customer. That, plus the competition of having multiple carriers bidding for your business, makes pricing more attractive than it might be to your own facility.

Meet Me for Service
Colos have an ingenious setup called the “meet me” room or MMR. This is an area dedicated to making cross-connections. The colo operator runs copper or fiber cabling to your racks from the MMR. They also run copper or fiber from the carriers to the MMR. When you contract for bandwidth, the colo patches you to the carrier and you’re all set. If you change your mind, you can work out the next contract with a different carrier and the colo will simply move your patch cord.

One additional advantage of using an MMR is that there is no “local loop” charge because the colo is providing the “last mile” or, in actuality, “last foot” connection.

Two Types of Colos
You should know that there are a couple different types of colos. One is operated by a single carrier. They build the facility for their own needs and then rent out extra space. You can get really high bandwidth and reasonable prices in such a facility, but you may have only one or a few carriers to pick from.

The second type of colo is operated by a third party who is in the colocation business and doesn’t favor any customer or carrier. These are often called carrier neutral facilities because you aren’t required to connect to any particular bandwidth provider.

Clouds and Colos
Cloud services are often located in colocation facilities. This gives the cloud provider a facility to support their extensive servers and storage. If you are collocated within the same facility, then it’s a simple wire or fiber connection to hook you up with one or more cloud service providers.

Are your data center costs higher than you would like or are you having trouble getting the WAN bandwidth you need to support your business? This would be a good time to investigate what’s available from a number of colocation centers and cloud service providers.

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

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Monday, July 14, 2014

The Office to Data Center Connection

By: John Shepler

Outsourcing IT applications to the cloud has become so popular that the connection to the cloud is sometimes given little consideration. Why should it be when all the action is in the remote data center? That center has a wealth of connectivity options both to the Internet and dedicated private lines. But, how do you connect with the cloud? Does it matter?

The stairway to heaven or at least to a remote data center is a dedicated bandwidth connection.The Ubiquitous LAN Connection
To understand why office to data center connections are so important, let’s take a look at what you have now. You have your own data center right down the hall, in the basement or the next building over. Chances are that nobody gives a second thought to how they connect with that equipment because everything connects through the company LAN. All of the network equipment runs at the same speed, 100 Mbps or 1000 Mbps most likely, so one Ethernet jack is pretty much the same as another.

Performance Taken For Granted
The beauty of the in-house network is that it is well controlled and that high bandwidth and low latency are fairly easy and inexpensive to come by. After all, it’s just a copper or fiber cable running hundreds of feet at the most. Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet switches are standard. Bandwidth, jitter and latency? You can pretty much take them for granted.

If your network is converged, with voice, data and video all running on the same network, your job is a little harder. You likely need to prioritize traffic so that the sensitive audio and video streams aren’t interrupted or delayed by less sensitive data transfers. Even so, on the local network this is under your control

The Trouble With Telecom
The challenge begins at the edge of your network. This is where you hand off control to a third party. Unless you are leasing dark fiber or have a wireless or optical laser link, you need a carrier to accept your signal and transport it across town, across the country or even around the world. Your wide area connections can be as robust as your local network connections… but they aren’t necessarily.

This is where you can get into trouble. Metro and long haul connections come in many flavors, each with its own classes of service, guaranteed bandwidth, latency, jitter and packet loss.

Shared vs Dedicated
Two major categories of bandwidth service are shared and dedicated. They mean what the names imply. Shared bandwidth means that you share a pool of bandwidth with dozens or hundreds of other users. Dedicated means that you have exclusive use of a line. Whatever you don’t use sits idle.

Why would anyone opt for shared bandwidth when they could have an exclusive channel? It comes down to cost. Telecom lines are less expensive than they’ve ever been. Even so, the cost is not trivial. Consumer Internet broadband is set up as shared bandwidth in order to get the monthly charge down to something most people can accept. The same is true of 3G and 4G cellular wireless and satellite. Wireless bandwidth is scarce and expensive, so there are usage limitations imposed above and beyond the shared usage.

When Sharing Works and When It Doesn’t
For things like email, web surfing, downloading short video clips, online purchasing and other activities that aren’t very resource demanding or time critical, shared bandwidth offers an excellent tradeoff between price and performance. This is why many small businesses opt for commercial grade cable broadband as their Internet connection. For home offices, shared bandwidth is almost universal.

Where sharing become a problem is when applications are sensitive to time delays. VoIP telephony can’t take much in the way of latency caused congestion, packet loss or jitter without sounding bad or dropping calls completely. The same is true for video conferencing. One often forgotten time sensitive application is the business critical cloud application.

What Makes Cloud Stormy
Cloud and other remote data center applications have unlimited resources, right? So why should they not perform even better than when you hosted them yourself? The answer is that pesky connection back to the office. You might assume a perfect connection, but it probably isn’t so. If you are using shared bandwidth, it really isn’t so.

What happens when there are even short time delays in packets to and from the cloud? You experience hesitation in the application. You send a request. You’ll get a reply… eventually. That’s likely no more than seconds at worst, but the seeming randomness of the delays is enough to drive a user crazy. The more annoying it gets, the more productivity suffers.

The Dedicated Line Solution
The answer to effective remote data center connectivity is to make your WAN as transparent as your LAN. You do this by ordering a dedicated connection with symmetrical bandwidth and guaranteed performance for bandwidth, latency, jitter and packet loss. It’s a direct connection between you and the data center without going through the Internet and its potential bottlenecks.

Fortunately, this has become affordable for all but the smallest operations. Gigabit Ethernet and 10 GigE are now readily available for most business locations. Even 100 GigE is starting to be installed for the largest and most demanding users.

Are your applications suffering from lower than expected performance since you moved to a colocation facility or cloud service provider? If so, it’s time to look into what’s available in the way of high speed dedicated bandwidth connections.

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

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Monday, July 07, 2014

How Your Internet Connectivity Works

How much do you know about the technical inner workings of the Internet? We tend to think of it as a very, very large cloud… and it is. Let’s take a peek inside, courtesy of this fascinating Internet Infographic from Telex:

Data Center - Behind the Internet Cloud

What Connectivity Do You Need?
To take full advantage of what the Internet can actually do, you need a solid connection from your business location to the backbone of the Internet. This is what a Tier 1 service provider can give you. You can’t afford to make that direct connection, but a large carrier can. What you order is called “dedicated Internet access”. That’s bandwidth that is assigned to your operation and no one else. With DIA, you’ll get the most consistent bandwidth along with the lowest latency, jitter and packet loss available. It the next best thing to a private network or a direct point to point line service.

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

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Ethernet over Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (EoDWDM)

Organizations with very high bandwidth requirements, such as financial institutions, content delivery networks, video production houses, research labs, hospital groups, data centers, may need more performance than standard telecom line services can provide. One approach is to build-out a custom fiber network by installing your own fiber or leasing dark fiber strands. Another is to lease wavelengths on already lit fiber.

EoDWDM offers high bandwidth over wavelengthsYour Own Fiber
Installing your own fiber on campus makes a lot of sense, since you control the property as well as the networking assets. Once you leave your premises, however, fiber construction gets very expensive very fast… even if you can obtain the necessary right-of-way permissions.

Using Dark Fiber
This is where dark fiber has found a niche. What is dark fiber? It is simply fiber optic cable that has been installed in the ground or on utility poles but never activated or “lit.” The cable may have been put in place in anticipation of future needs. Often, some strands in the cable are already in use, but there are other fiber pairs still dark.

Dark fiber has the advantage of already being in place and giving you the most flexibility in what you want to do with it. However, dark fiber assets aren’t always available where you want to go. You also have the responsibility of supplying the maintaining the terminal equipment that powers the fiber. This may be more costly that many organizations can afford and, perhaps, unnecessary.

Using Lit Fiber
The opposite of dark fiber is lit fiber. The fiber is not only installed, but the terminal equipment has been put in place and is operational. This is most often done by service providers who offer bandwidth to companies and other organizations that can use it and are located in the “service footprint” of the carrier.

Lit fiber is now popular for private connections and dedicated Internet access from 10 Mbps on up to OC-48 (2.4 Gbps) and Gigabit Ethernet (1 Gbps). A given carrier may offer either SONET, Ethernet or both protocols. All size organizations are moving from copper to fiber bandwidth services as fiber becomes more available and costs decline.

What if you need more bandwidth, higher security or more flexibility in protocols? Are you back to leasing dark fiber or installing your own?

Advantages of Wavelength Services
There’s an intermediate step that is perhaps the perfect solution to many demanding needs. This is wavelength services. While fiber cables have multiple glass strands or fibers, each fiber strand can also be divided into multiple colors or wavelengths. This is done by shining a few to dozens of different frequency laser beams down the glass fiber. Since each beam has its own wavelength, it operates independently of the other beams. It’s like fibers within fibers.

DWDM or Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing technology can provide over 100 different wavelengths per fiber pair. This makes it very cost effective to transport private line connections for many users on a fiber network. It’s quite practical to lease one or more wavelengths for your high bandwidth applications.

Ethernet on Wavelength Services
Ethernet over DWDM or EoDWDM is a way of extending your high performance local network across town or around the country. It’s an Ethernet connection that’s available in bandwidths from 1 Gbps up to 100 Gbps and readily scaled up and down as needed. Popular service levels are 1 Gbps, 2.5 Gbps, 10 Gbps and 100 Gbps.

This is dedicated service because no one but you is using a particular wavelength. You have all the bandwidth to yourself with the security of not having other users data streams multiplexed on your circuit.

With wavelength services, such as EoDWDM, the burden of running the network is left to the service provider. Wavelengths are often called managed wavelength services because the service provider maintains the fiber, terminal equipment & repeaters plus monitors operation 24/7. You simply connect at each end. You can opt for protected service that switches to a new wavelength or fiber if the circuit fails and even diverse routes so that no one disaster is likely to knock out service completely.

Do you find yourself in an increasing bandwidth situation and wanting to consider all the options available for your particular locations? If so, get fiber optic network services and pricing, plus recommendations from expert consultants.

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

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