Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Internet and Ethernet, The Perfect Broadband Match

By John Shepler

Broadband Internet connections come in many flavors. These include DSL, 3G & 4G cellular, PTP microwave wireless, cable DOCSIS, two-way satellite, T1 lines, DS3 bandwidth, SONET fiber optic, and both Ethernet over Copper and Ethernet over Fiber. Each of these has cost and performance advantages and disadvantages. One technology, however, offers the best match for most business applications. It’s the combination of Internet and Ethernet.

Check out Ethernet Internet serviceWhy Ethernet?
What makes Ethernet so attractive is the fact that it has almost completely taken over wired networks large and small. Do you have a LAN? What protocol are you running? Unless it’s something specialized for storage or industrial control, the answer is almost certainly Ethernet.

Being dominant has it’s advantages. From a technical standpoint, dominance means that nearly every piece of network equipment comes with Ethernet connectors built-in. In most cases, these are 10/100/1000 Mbps RJ-45 jacks. At higher speeds, 10 GigE and higher for sure, fiber optic connectors will be included.

It’s also not just that Ethernet standards permeate every network such that you have a hard time building one to some other protocol. How much do those alternative networks cost? The dominance of Ethernet has led to economics of scale. Ethernet is now the low cost solution by far. It’s also the solution that is sourced everywhere. You have no trouble picking up cable, connectors, switches, routers, and everything that plays on a network.

The One Laggard… The WAN
Local Area Networks are firmly ensconced with Ethernet technology. Outside the plant, however, it’s not so clear-cut. Wide Area Networks evolved from different standards pioneered by the telephone companies and were not originally intended for computers. Telephone networks were invented first and they were all analog, both wired and wireless. Then, starting mid-20th century, the T1 digital standard was introduced for multiplexing phone lines and long distance transmission. T1 expanded into T3/DS3 for higher speed, followed by fiber optic standards based on the same TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) protocol.

Since the phone companies pretty much owned all telecommunications networks, Ethernet packets had to learn to ride on what was available. That meant protocol conversion from Ethernet to T1, and so on. This is still the case for traditional telecom networks, although that’s changing fast.

Carrier Ethernet Moves to the Front
The old collision domains are long gone for the most part. Networks now are switched Ethernet. It turns out that the switched Ethernet protocol are quite compatible with long distance networks with a few additions to the standard for operations and maintenance. Those standards have been created and go by the name of Carrier Ethernet.

As you might suspect, Carrier Ethernet is merely an extension of LAN Ethernet. There really is no protocol-conversion speed bump traversing from one to the other. You plug your network into the carrier’s premises equipment and your packets travel seamlessly for hundreds or thousands of miles.

Ethernet and the Internet
The Internet was designed as a computer to computer network from the get-go. When we talk about IP networks, the IP means Internet Protocol. When we talk about Ethernet protocol, we are generally referring to IP and perhaps the file transfer standard, TCP/IP.

When the Internet started, there were only the telephone company networks available, so the Internet began running on legacy telco standards, particularly SONET fiber optic. That’s changing now. More and more networks are Ethernet at their core. Most newer networking providers design their networks as IP from the start and don’t go depend on handoffs to the telephone company central offices.

Either way, as long as you have Ethernet to your premises, you can ignore what’s going on at the core of the network.

Ethernet’s Big Advantages
Carrier Ethernet services come in a wide variety of speeds, but they all stick to the same Ethernet standard. You simply specify the maximum speed of the port that is installed at your location. That’s generally 1 Gbps these days, although you can also opt for 10 Gbps and, in some cases, 100 Gbps. The port sets the maximum, not the minimum, broadband speed you can order. In fact, many companies start at 10 or 100 Mbps and then upgrade to Gigabit Ethernet or beyond when they need to. That means they only pay for the bandwidth they need.

Ethernet services also tend to be less expensive than traditional telco services for the same bandwidth. It’s fairly common to get 3 Mbps for the same or less cost than a single 1.5 Mbps T1 line. You might even get 10 Mbps for the budget you originally set for T1 Internet service.

That last mile connection to the Internet via dedicate Ethernet Internet access means that your bandwidth is symmetrical, or the same in the upload and download directions. It is also dedicated to your use 100% of the time. With other services, such as cable or cellular broadband, the bandwidth is shared among customers. That makes it cheaper, but also means that your share will vary depending on how many others are using the service at the same time.

Ordering Ethernet Internet Service
The best place to get your business broadband service is from a bandwidth broker, like Telarus, who has relationships with many carriers. You’ll likely have multiple options to choose from. The two flavors you’ll most likely encounter are Ethernet over Copper for lower speed options and Ethernet over Fiber for 50 Mbps and up. Fiber is highly desirable if your building is already lit or construction costs are low. Otherwise, you can almost always get some type of copper based delivery.

Interested in finding out what options you have and what they cost? Run a quick search for fiber optic Ethernet service here and see what pops up.

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

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

SD-WAN is Your Super LAN

By: John Shepler

Are you caught in the great cloud migration? You can almost hear the giant sucking sound of racks and servers being vacuumed up and sent packing to remote data centers. OK, that’s a little dramatic. Even so, the trend of moving more and more telecom and IT functions from in-house to cloud providers is clear. The problem is how to reconnect over vast distances as efficiently as you could with a few hundred feet of Cat6 cable.

SD-WAN is your ladder to the cloudThe New Internet is SO Much Bigger
The Internet we became comfortable with starting in the mid 90’s is an electronic text messaging system and distributed library of text and images, accessible from anywhere. That has been expanded, of course, to include video content and e-commerce. Even with 20 years of improvements, the traditional Internet experience hasn’t changed that much. You still access what you want through an email client or Web browser. It’s the next morphing of the Internet that makes it so much more comprehensive. This is the expansion of Internet functions to include remote applications and their associated databases, and unified communications in place of the venerable office phone.

The Cloud is a Huge Data Center… But You Can’t See It
There’s really nothing magical or even spooky about “the cloud”. It’s just a metaphor for an enormous data center well beyond your line of sight. Inside the cloud are probably servers, storage drives, routers, switches and miles of cable similar to what you used to have. It’s just the scale that is so jaw dropping. The cost savings that is driving this change of IT operations is due to the multi-tenant nature of clouds. You and a hundred or a thousand of your best friends and total strangers are sharing the same facilities and divvying up the costs.

Where the Internet Goes Horribly Wrong
What we’ll call the legacy Internet is a network of incrementally increasing speed. It mirrors the evolution of the PC. How much have we shelled out over the years to get higher and higher MHz processors, then more and more cores, Kilobytes… Megabytes… and now Gigabytes of RAM, and similar storage capacity that is now in the Terabytes? Similarly, Internet access has gone from a few Kbps dial-up to X.25 connections to DSL, T1 lines, DS3, Cable Broadband, SONET Fiber Optics and now Gigabit Ethernet, 10 GigE and even 100 GigE. You may need some or all of this capacity to support your growing functions in the cloud, but can you afford it?

The problem with your traditional Internet access is that it evolved in parallel with the traditional Internet services. What’s happened with this cloud paradigm is that there has been a step-change in functionality without a corresponding step-change in connectivity. If you try and move your phones to hosted PBX and your applications to Software as a Service over the same old Internet connection, you can find yourself with an office that hardly functions at all. Voice communications are choppy and even dropped. Video tears up and stops. Your apps still work, but it seems to take forever to get a response from the system. Worst case, you could rue the day you ever tried to save a buck with all this new technology.

Can You Put Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again?
It IS possible to get back to the time where everything worked seamlessly and the systems were invisible to everyone using them. Employees want appliances to do their jobs, not finicky tech that may or may give the same result twice in a row. For that to happen, you need to make what’s going on in the cloud act like it’s located right now the hall and not thousands of miles away. What that takes is more appropriate connectivity.

The Internet is a two-edged sword. It’s attractiveness comes from being able to connect anywhere to anywhere, anytime, at dirt-cheap prices compared to private telecom lines and networks. The downside is that it is a public resource where everybody and everything is moving around in one big swarm. You can get clogs where it all moves at a snail’s pace. Some of the information just mysteriously disappears. How you are getting from point A to point B is a mystery and the routing changes by the minute for no discernible reason. That’s OK if you are just looking something up in Wikipedia or buying some parts from a wholesaler. The system was designed to work accurately as long as you can be a little flexible on how fast things run. It’s real time functions like telephone, video conferencing and interactive apps that can’t take the variability in performance without choking.

This is why a lot of the bigger companies have gone to direct cloud access using private point to point connections like Fast Carrier Ethernet or GigE fiber. These lines provide the closest you can get to what you had on your local network. Traditional Internet access is handled by a separate connection that is a lot less expensive for uses that are a lot less demanding.

SD-WAN To The Rescue
A new approach to handling the Internet has appeared in the last few years to improve the performance of broadband connections so they can work with the new cloud applications but not break the bank. It’s a clever mash-up of connectivity that takes advantage of the fact that no two connections over the Internet are likely to experience the same problems at exactly the same time. One broadband service may vary all over the place with speed, latency, jitter and packet loss. Combine several diverse connections and an electronic traffic cop and you’ll have one much, much better service. The cost of two or three cheap wireline, wireless, Cable or satellite services can be a LOT less expensive than a single dedicated line service, but give you nearly the same experience.

What’s happening in the Software Defined Wide Area Network, as it’s called, is that each path through the Internet is monitored constantly as to how it is performing. When the next packet enters the network, the system decides right there and then which path to use. The next packet in line may go the same way, or it might get routed on a different connection if that one is better at that particular instant. There’s a lot of decision making going on in this SD-WAN, but it is invisible to you. You’ve got one connection from your local network, just like you did before.

Are you dissatisfied with using the Internet to support your business, but can’t cope with the eye-popping cost of a dedicated fiber line? Perhaps an SD-WAN approach could give you the performance you really need at a fraction of the cost. Get pricing and learn more about how SD-WAN can make the cloud work so much better.

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

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Data Caps: What They Are and How to Avoid Them

By: John Shepler

If you are a moderate or heavy online user, you have probably bumped up against data caps at some point. Just what's the story behind these seemingly arbitrary usage limits and how do you work around them?

Get a real data cap you can wear from Zazzle!OK, What IS a Data Cap?
A data cap is nothing more than a limit to the amount of data you can transfer through a communications channel over some period of time. While providers could set limits per hour or day, data caps are almost always defined now as so many MB or GB of usage per month. Your allocation is reset at the beginning of each month or 30 day period. You draw down your allocation over the time period as you surf the web, transfer photos, videos or data files, or backup your computer to the cloud. If you run out of data before you run out of month, there are consequences.

Why Caps Are Imposed
Data caps, especially tight ones, tend to be imposed on channels where capacity is limited. There are so many users and they each would like to have the link to themselves. If there isn't enough bandwidth to go around, the capacity that is available has to be rationed among the pool of users. This can be done by apportioning the bandwidth in Mbps among the pool of users. The other option is to let each user have the max bandwidth they are paying for but limit how much they can use the channel. That keeps heavy users from "hogging" the resources 24/7 so that lighter users never get much in the way of access.

Where do you find these data caps? Wireless services have had them from the get-go. Satellite is really another form of wireless and has similar usage limits. Wireline and fiber optic services have much more capacity than wireless channels, so the data caps are set much higher. While you might be limited to 20 GB per month on a LTE cellular wireless plan, that limit is more like 500 GB on a cable broadband plan. Only the heaviest Internet users will likely hit the cable usage limit so most people think there really is no limit.

It's important to note that data caps are really there to police fair usage of a limited resource that is shared among many users. All consumer broadband services and their equivalents sold to businesses are shared bandwidth services. The service provider buys an unlimited usage telecommunications line and then divvies it up to serve its paying customers. Each customer is assigned a bandwidth limit of "up to" so many Mbps and a usage limit of so many MB or GB per month. This arrangement keeps the most customers happy most of the time.

What Happens If You Go Over the Limit?
There are various ways of enforcing fair use of an Internet channel. Cellular plans started out setting a fixed usage limit and then automatically charging for every MB or GB you went over the limit. The danger of a plan like this is that you may not know how much you've exceeded your allocation until you get an astronomical bill. Most providers will give you the courtesy of a notification when you approach or exceed your limit to avoid the sticker shock.

A more draconian method of dealing with overages is to simply cut off service once the limit is reached. At that point you have to manually contact the provider and buy some extra capacity to get through the month or cease usage.

Neither of these usage limit methods goes over well with broadband customers. A kinder, gentler arrangement is to forget about cutting off service, but limit your access speed once you hit the limit. You might get throttled back to 10 percent or so of normal service bandwidth until your account resets at the start of the next billing period. This is unpleasant, but at least you can always get online to some extent.

What About Unlimited Usage Plans?
Check the fine print on your contract. You're likely to find something that specifies a "fair usage" limitation. Sometime they don't specify a hard limit but say that the provider has the right to impose fair usage restrictions. In fact, you may have all the capacity you want... at least for awhile. The fair usage clause tends to be imposed if you are someone who is using the service far and beyond what the bulk of other users are doing, or if the provider lands a lot of customers and doesn't have the ability anymore to give them all they want.

Services like satellite and cellular wireless have definite limitations due to the number of radio channels they are licensed to use and the carrying capacity of the particular technology they are using. Higher speed doesn't automatically get you higher data caps. If you aren't careful, that higher bandwidth will simply allow you to use up your allocation quicker.

Is There Any Way Around Data Caps?
You might not know this, but there are dedicated private lines and Internet connections that don't have any data limitations at all. These are the professional grade copper and fiber lines that the service providers themselves order and partition to sell to you and a hundred or a thousand other customers. Businesses, but not residential customers usually, can also order these telecom services and have all the capacity to themselves.

Typical line services are T1 at 1.5 Mbps, the classic standard, T3 or DS3 at 45 Mbps, OC3 SONET at 155 Mbps, Ethernet over Copper at 10 to 50 Mbps, and Ethernet over Fiber at 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps. These are called "dedicated" line services because all of the resources are dedicated to YOUR business. That means you get 100% of the line speed all the time. It also means that you get all of the line capacity. You can load up a 100 Mbps Ethernet line to full capacity for the entire month and not pay a penny extra. Your monthly lease cost is fixed.

How About Costs?
Well, that's the rub. You will pay more for a dedicated line service than you will for a shared bandwidth service, as you'd expect. Even so, there's little value is paying a low ball price for a service that doesn't give you the capacity you need. If you wind up paying overages every month, it might make a lot more sense to simply pay up for a line that doesn't have overages. You can then forget about having to watch your usage all the time or limit the activities of your employees.

When Does Dedicated Line Service Make Sense?
If your application naturally taxes the capacity of a communications line, such as a service or content provider or a company that has critical business applications in the cloud, you may be happier with dedicated line services beyond the unlimited usage. Dedicated lines have constant rather than varying bandwidth, plus low latency, jitter and packet loss.

What type of bandwidth service is best for your company and your applications? Check dedicated and shared bandwidth service options and get free consulting help now to help you sort through the options available for your business location.

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

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Friday, November 04, 2016


By John Shepler

SD-WAN has become a hot service recently. It is often touted as an alternative or replacement for MPLS networks. Just comparing costs makes a compelling argument that SD-WAN may do to MPLS what MPLS did to Frame Relay. Is this really the case? Let’s take a look.

Find SD-WAN services now.

What Problem Are We Trying to Solve?
The issue is networking, specifically computer networking. Most of us have some need for computers as part of our job. That could be a traditional desktop computer, a laptop in a hotel room or conference center, or perhaps a tablet or or cellphone while we move around. It could also be a point of sale terminal, an industrial process controller, a 3D printer or just a laser printer in the office. All of these things need to be hooked together, or networked, or they just plain won’t work.

It’s actually worse than that. Remember when you bought software in a box? Not much software is sold that way anymore. Now everything is apps and they are delivered and updated virtually. The really heavy lifting software doesn’t even reside on your device. It’s at a remote data site or vendor’s platform. Without a connection, you can’t even run the application.

Private Lines: The Old Gold Standard
If you want to stay in complete control of every aspect of your network, you build your own for your exclusive use. Most companies do that internally. It’s when you leave the building that you have a problem. You need to hand off your packets to a service provider, or carrier, to transport them to another location.

The closest thing to stringing the wires yourself is to order private point-to-point circuits. T1, DS3 & OCx SONET are the traditional PTP circuits. More modern replacements are Ethernet over Copper and Ethernet over Fiber. All of these are still extremely popular with high performance, high security and high reliability. Cost and provisioning time are really the only issues.

MPLS Networks Save Money and Go Worldwide
You can approach the quality and security of private point to point lines using MPLS networks. MPLS or Multi-Protocol Label Switching is a replacement for the old-timey Frame Relay networks that were popular when high speed was 64 Kbps. It’s a privately run wide area network that handles multiple customers at the same time without them being aware of each other. Since the core network is shared, the cost is lower than running private lines to every satellite office you want to connect. Plus they’re already built-out, so you only need to provision an access line for each location.

MPLS networks are very popular for connecting companies with multiple business locations in the US or worldwide. Once again, they offer high performance, high security and high reliability. Also once again, cost can be an issue.

Why Not The Internet?
The lure of the Internet is strong. It’s the lowest cost of any method to reach anyone, anywhere in the world. However, there are issues.

Security is an obvious one. Just read the headlines any day and you’ll feel insecure about being online. Encryption, especially IPsec and SSL, make the risk acceptable for e-commerce and banking. However, performance is variable and out of your control. Latency, Jitter and packet loss are not only variable, they’re unpredictable. Companies running high performance business-critical applications wince at the thought of trusting their livelihood to the public Internet. Even so, the cost is really, really attractive compared with other solutions.

The Hybrid Network Compromise
Fact is, most companies need a broadband Internet connection for communications with suppliers and customers and access to the nearly unlimited news and information available online. A popular compromise is to use the MPLS network for internal communications and the Internet to go outside in a hybrid network arrangement.

Another use of the Internet is as a backup in case your private network fails. That happens enough with line cuts that it has a name: backhoe fade. If the broadband connection is just there on standby, all that bandwidth goes to waste most of the time.

SD-WAN Makes the Internet Suitable
The Software Defined Network (SDN) was invented to reduce the time and labor required to run complex networks. It “virtualizes” the network so you don’t have to deal with all the complexity of so many diverse routers, switches and appliances spread throughout the physical network.

SD-WAN or Software Defined Wide Area Network does the same thing for outside networks to connect far flung locations. SD-WAN manages multiple connections according to rules that you set up through a control panel. Once running it automatically directs traffic and works around problems without you having to get involved.

For instance, the SD-WAN can make use of Cable broadband, DSL, T1 lines, MPLS networks, LTE wireless, Satellite links and whatever else you have. It will monitor the characteristics of each path, in both the upload and download directions, for bandwidth congestion, packet loss, jitter and latency. It decides what path to use for each packet based on the instantaneous characteristics of the paths available. These can vary all over the place and change in milliseconds. You couldn’t possible keep up with all of this manually, but the SD-WAN system can stay on top of it.

With SD-WAN, you don’t need to waste the perfectly good bandwidth of your backup connection when the main link is running. SD-WAN will combine the bandwidths and make sure that the more critical apps, like VoIP and UC voice and video run on the best paths available and less critical file transfers use the lower performance paths.

Companies are finding that even having two diverse Internet broadband connections can give excellent performance compared with a single broadband service as long as they are being managed by SD-WAN. Two broadband services can easily cost only a fraction of even one private line for the same or less bandwidth. The core of the Internet usually runs pretty well. It’s the access connections, like WiFi and cable or DSL, that generally get flakey. Using SD-WAN to watch and select the best path at any given instant can dramatically improve the performance of the “virtualized” WAN network.

Is SD-WAN right for your business? You’d be remiss if you didn’t at least take a closer look at what connections are available and at what price for your particular business locations. Remember that you don’t have to go 100% on the Internet. SD-WAN will manage private lines, MPLS networks, satellite and wireless connections as well.

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

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Ethernet Everywhere? We’re Almost There!

By John Shepler

It’s been brewing for a long time, now. The prediction is that all of those networking standards will finally settle on just one. No more T1, DS3, OCx and whatever. It’s all going to be just Ethernet one day. How close are we to that day? Why, we’re almost there!

Find Ethernet services for your businessNetwork Standards Have Already Embraced Ethernet
Telcos are doing something once thought heresy. They’re abandoning their proprietary standards in favor of Ethernet services.

Why? Because that’s what the market wants. Once upon a time, there were all sorts of Local Area Network standards. Can you remember when Token Ring was the coming thing? How about AppleTalk?

Today, virtually all network equipment has one connector and it is for Ethernet. There are really only two flavors: copper and fiber. Virtually all office equipment is either 10/100 or Gigabit Ethernet over twisted pair copper. Networking equipment may have fiber connections for GigE, 10 GigE or 100 GigE.

This standardization has make connectivity extremely easy. The standardization on switched Ethernet versus the original collision domains makes networking a fairly easy plug-and-play.

The same thing has happened to networking software. The Internet standard, TCP/IP has become the THE standard, further enhancing the ease of setting up and running networks.

Getting LANs to Talk Telco
When you own the network, you get to decide how it works. There’s nobody to tell you otherwise when you come up with a design that’s based on off-the-shelf massed produced switches, routers and cabling. The big problem comes when you try to connect to the outside world.

The Internet may have been based on TCP/IP, but the wide area networks that carried it were not. Telephone company standards evolved from the world of voice only channels for telephone calls. What T1, T3 (DS3) and OCx did was simply bundle the smallest channels, 64 Kbps PCM coded telephone calls.

Digital being digital, the solution was to perform a protocol conversion at each end so that Ethernet LAN would be converted to, say, T1 for transmission over some distance and then back to Ethernet at the other end. That process still works great and many T1 lines remain in use because they are sometimes all that is available in rural areas.

What’s Going Bye-Bye?
The major telecom companies have been quietly converting their networks to Ethernet for years. In many cases, this can be simply running Ethernet over some underlying fiber protocol like SONET. Competitive carriers have built out their facilities using Ethernet in the network core and never going through the TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) evolution.

What’s going on now is that telcos are asking the FCC for permission to sunset some of their older services, especially those that run on copper and don’t have many customers anymore. The standard POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) is an endangered species. Fewer and fewer residential users have the traditional “home phone.” They either get their phone service bundled with TV and Internet or simply depend on cellular for voice communications.

Businesses are following suit. Smaller companies may get voice and data bundles from cable companies or incumbent telcos that are acting like cable companies. Larger companies are moving rapidly to enterprise VoIP and Unified Communications. These don’t need traditional telephone wiring inside or outside the facility. Everything runs on the network. Outside connectivity is by SIP trunking, dedicated private line, MPLS networks or Dedicated Internet Access.

Is Copper a Goner?
Copper is still going, but who knows for how long. The telcos want to rid their plants of those thick copper bundles, especially the individual POTS lines.

T1 lines are still popular, but the 1.5 Mbps bandwidth is becoming more and more of a limitation. A newer standard, Ethernet over Copper, is highly competitive and offers an order of magnitude or more higher bandwidth at lower cost per Mbps.

Even so, fiber optic connections are reaching more and more business buildings as well as cellular towers. 4G and 5G wireless needs bandwidth beyond what is practical with twisted pair copper. It’s likely that all twisted pair copper may be abandoned to corrode in the ground or pulled out of conduits and sold for scrap. That’s not today in most areas, but it’s not that far away.

So, Where Can I Get Ethernet?
You can order Ethernet over Copper or Ethernet over Fiber in most populous areas right now. In rural locations, Ethernet over DS1 uses a T1 line to deliver Ethernet.

Don’t forget that Cable broadband is delivered to you as an Ethernet connection and FTTP (Fiber to the Premises) is also Ethernet at typically 1 Gbps.

Satellite and wireless Internet services are also delivered as Ethernet. That includes 3G and 4G cellular services designed for business use.

If you’ve been living with a legacy Internet or telecom connection and wondering if there is something better to choose from, there probably is now. Find out with a quick check of Ethernet services in your area and complementary consultation to help you choose the best solution for your business.

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

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