Why not release Management Interface for IT/Electronics in Linux as well?

I come across a lot of electronics, network, computer and accessory products while researching to write articles for this blog. Some of these products can be managed using a web-browser and hence the management utility is operating system independent. But the management interface for some products is provided in the form of a software that can be downloaded from the vendor site or from a CD/DVD supplied along with it.

One major issue I find with such companies/vendors is, they provide their management software only for Windows or for Windows and Mac. But not Linux. Rarely, I do come across some vendors who support Linux as well.

I agree that Windows has the maximum market share among Operating Systems used in Computers. But Mac & Linux OS also have a considerable amount of market share. Besides, within Windows, Windows XP still has a gigantic amount of market share.

So, releasing management interface for electronic, computer networking, computer accessory products only for Windows 7 & 8 leaves out a considerable amount of population. Mac and Linux users are premium customers and early bird customers, respectively. Ignore either of them at your peril, hardware vendors!

I can speak more authoritatively for myself and hence I wish to state that I have been using Linux Mint for more than 3 years, now. There has been absolutely no stability/usage issues and most of the applications have a Linux/Open Source variant, that is not only free but also very useful. You may not believe, but there are a lot of options for doing almost anything, with open-source software (even for Windows).

The only problem that I have faced is, non-availability of device drivers for Linux. This happens because the vendors do not provide it. In spite of this restriction, open source enthusiasts have written device driver software for most common devices that connect to the computer, and most of it is included as a part of the Operating System.

One of my wireless dongles (to connect to Internet) does not need any software to work in Linux (In Windows, it is required). The device driver is already built-in and hence the OS recognizes the hardware and starts working with it instantly. For a 3G dongle that I bought more recently, the OS did not recognize it (as it is not a commonly used model) but I found an alternate method to connect it from my Linux laptop.

The real issue is with specialized equipment like NAS storage systems, IP cameras, etc. They will work with Linux, but the management interface may not work in Linux. There maybe alternate methods to manage it, but the question is: Why don’t manufacturers provide native device drivers and management interface for Linux, in addition to Windows and Mac?

Frankly, my purchase decisions are influenced by the availability of support for Linux. If a particular vendor supports their hardware in Linux, I will buy their product irrespective of whether it is the best product in the market, or not.

By supporting only Windows, manufacturers are alienating many early adopters and premium segment users. By doing it, your products will lose their appeal for this critical segment of buyers. Hence, I request vendors to please start supporting their hardware for Linux also, in the future. How much more is it going to cost you to do it? I am sure it is not much.

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Desk Shredder for Home/Small Office – Fellows Powershred 79Ci Cross-cut Shredder

Video Introduction: Desk Shredder for Home/Small Office – Fellows Powershred 79Ci Cross-cut Shredder

 

Well, if you have been looking for a nice/quality shredder for home use or small-office use, you should look at the Fellows Powershred 79Ci cross-cut shredder.

But why would you require a shredder in the first place?

There are so many documents/CD’s that need to be trashed, but we can’t just throw it out in the waste paper bin, as they might contain some confidential information. If you start cutting all those papers into small unrecognizable pieces, it will take up a lot of your time and energy. To save you from that hassle, desk shredders are available in the market.

You can use the desk shredder (in particular, this model – Fellows Powershred 79Ci) to cut junk mail, canceled cheque leaves, invoices, credit cards, staples, paper and even CD/DVD into small pieces quickly by inserting them into the shredder.

The Fellows Powershred 79Ci comes with a 6-gallon pull-out bin and casters that can hold all the shredded paper/materials, which can later be thrown out later into the trash safely. If you use the shredder, you can be confident that no one can recover any sensitive information from whatever you throw into the trash.

It is generally acknowledged that a cross-cut shredder is more efficient, space-saving and more secure than strip cutting. This model from Fellows is quieter and faster than most other low-cost shredders out there. If you want your shredder to be a quality product and last for a long time, it is better to invest in a product like this (which comes with a 2-year warranty) than to keep throwing and changing shredders frequently.

It is advisable to oil the shredder (as per the instructions in the start guide) once in a month/during every waste bag exchange, for proper functioning. You can buy the shredder oil online from Amazon, as well.

Some good features available in this shredder (79Ci) include jam-free shredding that can shred even crumpled paper put into the machine in any direction, safety feature which stops the cutting function once it recognizes your hand is getting inside the inlet, reverse button for taking out papers (if required). You can cut 14 sheets of paper at a time into 5/32″ x 1-1/2″ cross-cut fine pieces.

More info/Manufacturer’s page: Fellows Powershred 79Ci

Price (USD)/ Buy from (USA): Amazon web-page for,

Fellowes Powershred 100% Jam Proof 79Ci 13 Sheet Cross-Cut Paper Shredder (3227901)

Alternative low-cost model to consider:

Fellowes Powershred W-11C 11 Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder (3103201)

 

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Why I host my websites in Bluehost and why you should do it too

Blue Roses1

Image credit: agwagon2000. This image is published under this creative commons license.

This article is for people who are looking for a suitable web-host to host their websites. And for people who are looking for a suitable web-host to switch-over. I have been using Bluehost to host this site for around three years, and in this article I would like to detail my experiences.

Before we get to that, let us look at what someone expects from their web-host.

  • Trouble-free platform to host multiple sites
  • Cost effective
  • Dependable support, to solve any problems with hosting
  • Easy to use
  • Multiple features and upgrade options

Overall, Bluehost does a wonderful job in all the above mentioned aspects. Of course, as with anything else in life nothing is fully perfect.

My first (rather) shocking experience:

I would like to begin with my first (rather) shocking experience when my sites were taken down for around 12 hours. Back then, I was new to hosting a site by myself and I was all excited. I wanted to reach the maximum possible audience and in my new-found enthusiasm, I was sending mails to everyone in (my) industry. In short: I was spamming.

I thought it was just a promotional activity and I was rather cool about it. One day, I find both of my sites down. I think I was intimated about this, but I am not sure. Anyway, I communicated with Bluehost support and they conveyed to me that they have received complaints from a few people about my spamming activities and they were pretty much sure that the spam mails were sent by me.

How could I refuse? I accepted it and gave them a commitment that I will not indulge in spamming in the future. My sites were immediately active. Though I was quite upset initially, I started to admire this activity later on. I was clearly doing something wrong (also against their ToS) and how many hosts do you think will take action against their customer based on complaints from anonymous people? Not many.

But Bluehost did. Their action was actually a token of their commitment to quality hosting and I was glad that I hosted my sites with Bluehost. After this, I was sure that I would get good support and I was indeed impressed with their proactive support team.

On downtime:

To be honest, I don’t think my sites were always up and running smoothly like how they are now. With any web-host, you can expect some down-time and during the initial phase of my hosting period (around 2-3 years back), I too experienced some downtime.

Since I am always on the net creating content for my websites, I was able to identify such downtimes and I would contact their support. I could send an email, but I wanted a more immediate response. Calling them over phone is possible, but I live far away and inter-country calling is quite expensive from here. Hence, I used the customer chat option.

I login to my cPanel account and start a chat with a support personnel. I was able to connect to someone quickly and mostly my sites were restored immediately. I remember only one instance when they were not able to do it immediately and even then my sites were up and running by the time I came back after finishing my dinner.

Of late (perhaps for the last one and a half years), I did not experience any downtime and only on one occasion I received a mail saying that they were upgrading the servers and there might be a small downtime. I didn’t even notice it. Perhaps I should have been sleeping then, I guess. Hence I can confidently say that their services have been reliable, especially over the last 1.5 years.

About ease of set-up and use:

Before deciding to host my own sites, I was blogging in community hosted sites like wordpress.com and blogger.com. They host the blogs for free, but the features and functionalities are limited. It’s fine for social networking, creative indulgence and having fun but I realized even then that one always needs a professional platform for professional blogging.

When I decided that I was going to blog on computer networking and IT related topics, I wanted to host my blog using the free-to-use CMS software from WordPress (wordpress.org). Back then, I was pretty confused about the technical aspects involved in hosting our own websites and hence I spent two whole days researching on how to install WordPress using a hosting account.

When I actually created my hosting account with Bluehost, I was offered the Simple Scripts installation interface. I was able to buy a domain name and install WP for that domain in less than half an hour! It was a single-click install and shazaaam – My site/blog was already up and running! I love Bluehost for providing me with such an easy installation interface. Technical audience may not be concerned about these trivial things and they can follow the longer way of doing things, if they want to ūüôā

One can actually install a number of programs like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla (CMS – Content Management Systems), phpBB (forum), Zencart, Prestashop (shopping cart, e-commerce), Roundcube (web-mail), Weebly (website builder) right from within the management interface with just a single click (without having to use any FTP)! Best of all, these are free to download/use.

About the cost/pricing:

Frankly speaking, one can host their blogs/sites for free in a few ad-supported web-hosts and community based web-hosts like Blogger. But then, there are a lot of limitations of using a free host.

One can also host their sites at a price that is lower than what is offered by Bluehost, but remember that you always get what you pay for. Good quality and support has a price tag associated with it and I feel that Bluehost has the right pricing structure. Like other hosts, hosting charges for the first year are very less and you return to the normal pricing tab from the second year onwards. I have renewed my hosting account three times and I was always glad that I did.

One small qualm I have about their pricing is what they charge for the domain name. It’s not a huge price, but still I think they should be on-par with industry pricing on that one, especially as they are an independent domain registrar. Why charge more?

About the features/functionalities (What you get):

Frankly speaking, its difficult for other hosts to beat this one. Have a look:

  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Unlimited hosting space
  • Unlimited domains (parked domains, add-on domains) and hence one can host unlimited number of sites
  • Unlimited e-mail accounts (support for POP3 and IMAP, unlimited forwarders, auto-responders, mailing lists, etc)
  • Unlimited FTP, Secure Shell Access
  • 1-click installation (via Simple Scripts) for most of the popular software packages
  • cPanel control panel/management interface
  • Log files and site statistics
  • Support for most of the common databases (MySQL, Postgre SQL, etc)
  • Support for most of the common scripting languages (PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby on Rails, JavaScript, Flash, Shockwave, etc)
  • Streaming video/streaming audio support
  • Courtesy site back-up/restore (manual)
  • Password protected directories, deny access based on IP address, Custom 404 settings

What else would anyone want?

About Upgrade options:

Not all hosts offer all the premium upgrade options available with Bluehost. Have a look at some upgrades that are available for a small additional cost:

  • It is possible to offer an encrypted https:// option instead of the normal http:// for additional security of your websites by purchasing SSL certificates directly from Bluehost. This is especially useful for users who conduct e-commerce transactions on their sites.
  • Dedicated IP (required for SSL upgrade) is a useful feature and it is even supposed to give an SEO advantage (not sure how far this is correct).
  • Domain privacy protection shows Bluehost name/address instead of user’s name/address when a whois query is done. Some people might want to enable this privacy option.
  • Site back-up pro offers automatic daily back-up of individual accounts. Although they offer courtesy back-up and manual back-up options, this is a better option as it enables users to be very sure that their sites will be reinstated in case of hardware/server failures.
  • Postini e-mail filtering service is available in addition to the free spam-assassin to detect and block spam in email.
  • There are many more upgrade options, and they can be accessed from the cPanel page.

About hosting infrastructure:

Bluehost has been in the hosting business for more than 15 years and they have their own data centers as they host the sites of millions of customers. They have a total of 20,000 square foot of data center space that is fully furnished with servers, air-conditioning equipments, security equipments, bandwidth, redundant power (UPS, diesel generator), etc. They seem to host sites on powerful dual-quad servers running secure Linux/Apache platforms. They also have a large team for 24×7 network monitoring and customer support. Since their primary data center is in their head office premises, they claim that access to people/systems is faster. Frankly I don’t want to know about all these things but I am just glad to know that these factors translate into better hosting experience for users.

About Support:

I have already mentioned about the good support offered by Bluehost. Here are some additional points. Their support engineers are based out of US and all types of support are available 24 x 7 (important for people hosting sites from abroad, like me). They offer phone, chat and email support and have a proper support ticketing/tracking system.

I need to mention about the wealth of documents/videos available in the support portal that would enable anyone to install/maintain¬† sites on their own. Technical knowledge is not required to host and maintain websites, at least for WordPress (I don’t have it for sure) and that’s good news for beginners/non-technical people.

About hosting multiple domains/multiple sites:

One great thing about Bluehost is the fact that one can host any number of websites using just a single account. Combine it with unlimited bandwidth and disk-space and it makes a lot of sense to host sites with them. They offer domain parking where extra domains can redirect to the primary domain (if required), they offer add-on domains which allows users to install various sites with different domain names. They are a domain registrar so you can buy domains directly from them and this makes setting up various sites easier.

I can go on and on, but I need to stop somewhere! I guess this article has provided all the information required for you to decide on a hosting service provider. If you are convinced, hop-on to Bluehost and register an account with them. Of course, I recommend it.

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Why not use a Motorized Ceiling Mount/ Electric Projector Lift?

Focupix Electric Projector Lift

Its a common practice to install an LCD/ DLP Projector over the top, near the ceiling of a meeting/ conference room. This is done in order to fix the projector permanently in place, so that the image output is consistent and perfect every-time one switches On a projector. Further, a projector fixed on the ceiling mount avoids anyone fiddling with its settings and does not become a source of heat/noise on the table where people are sitting around.

This is a permanent fixture and all the cables (VGA, Audio-Video) are taken from the meeting room table to the projector mounted on a ceiling mount. A power source is required somewhere near the ceiling mount (for the projector). Ceiling mounting a projector is no-doubt a good option, but for one consideration- It looks awkward!

People spend a lot of time and resources to make sure that the interior decoration inside any room is aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. In a way, the ambiance of a room can be a contributing factor to increase in job productivity. And hence, a ceiling mount hanging abruptly from an open tile in the false ceiling makes the setting look slightly nonuniform. One open tile on the false ceiling (which is otherwise fully closed) doesn’t look nice!

That’s where the motorized ceiling mount/ electric projector lift can help. A picture of the electric projector lift is shown in the above image. The false ceiling tile is seen at the¬† bottom. When there is no presentation going on, the conference room looks very normal – without any tiles missing on the false ceiling.

When the presentation needs to be started, a remote control (IR/RF) can be used to bring the projector down (along with one of the tiles in the false ceiling). After the presentation ends, the projector and the tile (attached to the bottom of the electric projector lift) goes back to its initial position. How neat?

The motorized ceiling mount/ electric projector lift consists of three parts. An upper part that fixes to the ceiling. This part also houses the electric motor that lifts and drops the projector/ tile to its exact position; the middle part that consists of a projector belt and a suspension arrangement (like the scissor arrangement in the diagram shown above) and a third part that consists of a projector holding enclosure (along with a universal projector mount) along with the ceiling tile affixed at the bottom of this enclosure. Of course, different makes may have different constructions.

The upper enclosure attaches itself to the firm concrete ceiling and it contains the motor that drags the projector up and down. The exact position (length over which the projector mount needs to travel up/down each time) is fixed during installation and this length can be set according to the height of the ceiling. The size of the ceiling tile that can be attached to the bottom of the electric projector lift is predetermined and the customer needs to check for the sizes of the ceiling tiles that are compatible with each model.

A remote control is supplied along with the projector lift, to make it move up/ down automatically when the respective buttons are pressed. Alternatively, conference room control systems (like Crestron) can be used to control this system through centralized A/V control systems which may include a touch-pad.

Of course, all the audio-video cables/ VGA or DVI cables still needs to be taken from the conference table to the motorized ceiling kit and carefully connected to the projector. This arrangement also needs power supply source/ power sockets at the ceiling.

The Motorized Ceiling Mount/ Electric Projector lift is not very expensive and if you live in the United States you can click on the above image (in the beginning of this post) to find out the price of one such motorized ceiling mount model.

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How to get High speed Wi-Fi (450 Mbps) at home?

When it comes to the best wireless network connection (Wi-Fi connection) at home, 802.11n (Wireless n) is the best technology available at present.

But wait, 802.11n is not a singular technology. That means, all the products rated 802.11n are not the same! There are different configurations available for an 802.11n certified wireless routers/ wireless access points/ wireless adapters.

The different 802.11n configurations depend on the number of transmit/receive antennas & radios, number of spatial streams supported by each antenna & frequency band of operation.

Theoretically, the highest speed achievable by an 802.11n certified product is 600 Mbps. But with the technology available today (at least in the home segment), its not possible to achieve 600 Mbps. The highest speed achievable as per the current technology is 450 Mbps (theoretically, actual speed might be somewhat lesser).

To achieve that speed of 450 Mbps, one should make sure that the Wireless N certified product that they are going to use has the following configuration (at least): 3 x 3 Transmit and receive antennas, 3 spatial streams supported by each antenna & Dual band operation (2.4 Ghz & 5 Ghz).

This configuration should be supported by both the wireless router/ wireless access point & wireless adapter (on the desktop/ laptop).

Actually, a higher throughput is achievable when the wireless network is connected on the 5 Ghz frequency spectrum, instead of the 2.4 Ghz frequency spectrum. This is because 5 Ghz spectrum has wider and more non-overlapping channels. It is also free from interference from other wireless devices like microwave oven / bluetooth devices that operate in the commonly used 2.4 Ghz band.

Many people buy the latest wireless ‘n’ router/ access point but find that they are still connecting at lower speeds. That’s most probably because the wireless adapter (on the PC/ Laptop) does not support the latest 802.11n configuration. The wireless network can only operate at the highest speed supported by both the access point/ wireless router (and) the wireless adapter.

If your wireless adapter has a lower configuration and you still want to connect to the wi-fi network at high speeds, you might want to buy an USB based external wireless ‘n’ adapter like this one and attach it to your desktop/ laptop. But make sure that you have a wireless ‘n’ router like this one, as well. If you buy a new laptop, just make sure that it has the latest 802.11n adapter built-in. Laptops may advertise 802.11 wireless ‘n’ technology, but the actual 802.11n configuration offered might be lower.

One may not require such high speeds for browsing the net, accessing common applications like email/ documents, etc. But for certain applications like network gaming, live streaming of HD videos and other multimedia based ones,¬† the speeds offered by the high speed 802.11 wireless ‘n’ technology could be very useful. Also, in certain places the Internet connectivity speeds are so high that an equally high speed Wi-Fi network might be required. We are talking about 3.9G/4G, Fiber To The Home (FTTH) and such high speed Internet connections.

When multiple users are simultaneously accessing the Wi-Fi network, the speed is divided among all the users. So, in case there are many users¬† simultaneously accessing the wireless network at your home, the High speed 802.11 wireless ‘n’ technology could be very useful.

You can click here to learn more about 802.11n technology and its various configurations.

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Renting a Projector Vs Buying a Projector

A few years back, renting an LCD/DLP Projector for making business presentations was very attractive because the cost of a good quality projector was very high. But these days, the cost of buying a new projector has come down drastically, while the brightness and other features supported by them have become better. In this context, does renting a projector still have significance? Maybe and maybe not! Let us explore the pros and cons of renting a projector (vs) buying a projector.

Renting a projector:

In a few companies, LCD/DLP Projectors are rarely used. They maybe used once or twice, every six months. In such cases, it might be better to rent a projector and all the accessories that come with it (Tripod mounted Screen, etc) because the cost of investing on a projector & its accessories  upfront can be saved while the user incurs only those rare rental charges, that are considerably lesser.

One can choose which projector they are going to rent. So, if there is a huge auditorium with a lot of attendees for the presentation, a certain projector model can be hired. On the other hand, if a person is going to take the projector along with them to make a presentation at a client’s place, a different projector model (that is sleek/ lightweight) can be hired.

Since most projector hiring firms have multiple projectors with various brightness/ native resolution support, one can choose which one they want. They can also choose the size of the tripod stand/ screen that they might want, based on the application. If there is a larger gathering, they might want a larger screen and for a board room presentation, a smaller screen might suffice. People can choose which projector/ screen models they want, depending on the usage for a particular day if they choose to hire projectors on rent.

Buying a projector:

As mentioned previously, the price of projectors have come down drastically. Companies can hire a projector with decent brightness that can be used in larger auditoriums, etc. for a moderate price. If its a permanent installation, they can buy a ceiling mounting kit and install the projector over the roof and also permanently attach a screen over the wall. But the projector cannot be carried anywhere else, if it is fixed this way.

If companies find that their employees want to use projectors frequently, its better to buy them because renting projectors continuously might incur higher costs. Besides, when a projector is already available in the campus, more people would start using it.

Companies need to factor the recurring costs of AMC and consumables (Projector Lamp) along with the fixed cost of the projector, while deciding between buying a projector and renting it out. The cost of a projector lamp can be as high as 50% of the projector cost itself!

If companies own their projectors, they don’t have to anxiously wait for a rented projector to arrive on the morning of an important meeting. They also don’t have to worry about whether the projector model they want, is available for rent on a particular day/time.

So, based on individual requirements, companies can decide if they want to hire projectors/ their accessories (or) if they want to buy the same. Personally, I feel that a company could rent a projector if they are going to use it occasionally and buy a projector if they are going to use it frequently.

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AMC & FMS – Annual Maintenance Contracts & Facility Management Services for IT Equipments

Companies have a lot of Computers/ Laptops and other IT equipments (Servers, Networking components, etc). All these products come with a warranty for a limited period of time. After the warranty period, vendors/ their authorized service providers engage AMC – Annual Maintenance Contracts for the equipments supplied by them. Some customers may also opt for FMS – Facility Management Services from service providers, in which trained manpower is deployed in the customer premises. Let us look at both AMC and FMS slightly more in-depth, in this article.

AMC – Annual Maintenance Contracts:

For IT based equipments, Annual Maintenance Contracts generally includes replacement of defective parts/ replacement of whole units along with On-site support. Sometimes, Annual Maintenance Contracts would require the customer to hand over defective units/ send them over by courier (to the manufacturers facility) which would be returned to them after the fault is rectified.

If On-site support is not provided by a vendor, customer would log-in a complaint (through web or phone) and the service desk personnel would contact the customer to identify the exact fault. They can even access the network based equipment from a remote location (if remote access is enabled by the customer) to identify the fault, and try to rectify it. If the problem is identified as a hardware defect, the vendor normally ships a new unit in advance and the customer is required to send the old dysfunctional unit back to the vendor.

For certain equipments, On-site support is provided by the vendor or their authorized partner for that location. In such cases, service personnel visit the customer’s location to determine the exact fault. If possible, they would try to rectify the fault. Otherwise, they would request for a replacement part for the defective unit which would be installed by the service personnel, once the new unit arrives.

Generally, the Annual Maintenance Contracts are provided by the same vendor/ partner/ service provider by whom the equipments were supplied. Occasionally, AMC contracts can be provided by separate service partners who are tied up with the same vendor. In some cases like Assembled PC’s, any service provider can provide support as all the components used in such PC’s are standard components which are not particular to any vendor.

Not all AMC service providers replace the faulty parts with new ones. They may replace faulty parts with fully working used/ refurbished parts.

Its important to sign up for AMC contracts before the warranty/ previous AMC contract expires. Otherwise, the vendor may insist on checking if all the equipments (to be covered under AMC) are in working condition, before accepting the AMC contract. Generally, vendors undertake a Preventive Maintenance check for all the equipments covered under the AMC, at least once in a quarter.

The cost of the AMC contract per year for IT equipments varies from 2% to 15% of the original cost of the equipment. This can also vary based on the vendor and type of the equipment. It is important for the vendor to check what is covered/ not covered under the AMC contract. For example, the UPS batteries are generally not covered under AMC and similarly, consumables (like toner, print cartridge, projector lamps, etc) are generally not covered under AMC contracts.

There is one more type of service contract called as the ASC – Annual Service Contract. Here, the customer is charged a specific amount that covers the servicing/ repairs, etc. On-site for a year. But, if there are any defective hardware components, the same has to be replaced by the customer at their own cost.

FMS – Facility Management Services:

FMS (Facility Management Services) is different from AMC. FMC does not include any replacement of defective parts but the customers who have signed up for Facility Management Services get a trained man-power from the Service providers who would co-ordinate with the vendors to provide On-site IT support to the customer. These service personnel are generally deployed On-site (full time), at the customer premises.

Customers who are under FMS contracts with the service providers receive, i. Trained man-power, who are able to take care of the IT equipments in a facility; ii. Replacement man-power, if the existing personnel leave their job for any reason; iii. On-site support during working hours and coordination with vendors to trouble shoot and obtain any replacement parts.

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Pros and Cons of deploying an ‘All wireless’ office

Wireless technologies have matured a lot these days and 802.11n supports 450-600 Mbps of bandwidth per wireless access point, which is a lot when compared to its 802.11 b/g counterparts that used to support only 54 Mbps per access point. So, is an ‘All wireless’ office feasible now? Let’s look at some pros and cons of deploying an All-wireless office.

Note: ‘All Wireless’ does not mean that cables are completely eliminated. The wireless access points required to create the wireless network require to be connected to a backbone LAN (Wired switch ports) using Cat6 Network cables, which is essentially a wired network. So, Network Switches, cables and patch panels are still required in a wireless network but in a reduced quantity. The wireless part comes only between the access points and the computers/ laptops/ end devices accessing the network.

Advantages of an ‘All Wireless’ office:

1. The convenience of having wireless coverage all over the office is simply unmatched. One can move their laptop anywhere (conference room/ cafeteria, for example), and can still continue working. A wireless network enables mobility anywhere within the office.

2. The cost of all those network cables, switch ports, passive components (Racks, Patch panels, Patch cords, Network I/O devices, etc) required for a wired network, can be reduced considerably if a wireless network is used.

3. The Wireless Controller coordinates between all the access points in the campus and gives a central administrative interface to manage the wireless network. It also mitigates the frequency interference issue faced by neighboring access points by making them work in the non-overlapping frequency bands.

4. Most of the laptops come with built-in wireless adapters. Wireless functionality can be enabled on desktops as well, by adding wireless adapters. Many other devices like Multi-Function Printers, IP Surveillance Cameras, Video Conferencing units, etc. have wireless enabled models that can be deployed to connect directly to the wireless network.

5. IEEE 802.11n technology provides a decent bandwidth (450-600 Mbps) per access point that is more than enough for many common applications accessed by the users.

Limitations of an ‘All Wireless’ office:

1. The cost of access points and controllers/ licenses (that support 802.11n) could be considerably high.

2. Adding a wireless adapter to all desktops is another expensive proposition.

3. There maybe some specific industrial devices/ Computer Servers that needs a wired network to connect to.

4. Most of the older laptops have 802.11b/g adapters that connects to the network at a much lower speed than laptops fitted with 802.11n adapters.

5. In certain areas that have dense network users, even a controller may not be able to prevent the interference problem as the commonly used 2.4 GHz frequency band has only three non-overlapping channels. 2.4 Ghz band has other sources of interference (like microwave, bluetooth, etc), as well.

Most of the companies implement an overlay wireless network over their existing wired network. This approach is good as the employees have both the options of connecting to the wired or wireless networks, but still companies could consider implementing ‘All Wireless’ Office, without wired network access to their employees.

The real advantages of a wireless network could be realized only when companies decide to give exclusive wireless network connectivity to their employees without giving them an option for wired network connectivity.

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Options for Interconnecting IP PBX/ EPABX/ IP Telephony Servers

There are some situations where one needs to interconnect two (or more) EPABX/ IP PBX or IP Telephony Servers. This is mainly required because companies want to protect their existing investments in legacy PBX systems or even other IP PBX models that have limited expandability.  In this article, let us explore some ways in which two or more PBX systems can be interconnected with each other.

E1/ T1/ PRI Trunks:

If you are not sure what these terms mean, you might want to have a look at the articles on PRI / E1 Lines & T1 Lines. Basically, E1/ PRI interfaces enable 30 channels to be carried on the same line (through multiplexing/ de-multiplexing techniques) simultaneously and T1 lines carry 23/24 channels on the same line.

Many PBX models come with built-in E1/T1/PRI ports that are meant to connect to appropriate digital trunk lines. But these ports in two different PBX models can also be used to interconnect the two PBX systems with 24/30 channels in-between them, for every interconnected port.

Its simple: You take a cable and interconnect the empty E1/T1/PRI ports on two PBX models, and they are interconnected. Of course, you need to enable PRI trunking and most of the PBX models can be programmed to enable it. If there are no spare ports, additional cards can be purchased to provide the required number of E1/T1/PRI ports. Even PBX models of different makes can be interconnected using E1/T1/PRI Trunking method, provided both the models support this functionality.

IP Trunks/ SIP Trunks:

This is the easiest way to interconnect two PBX models (especially IP PBX) over the Network (LAN) or even WAN (Internet/ MPLS, etc). Both the PBX models that need to be interconnected should be connected to, and accessible from the same network. Once this is taken care, its just a matter of enabling IP Trunking/ SIP Trunking between them using the PBX management module.

Certain PBX vendors might not have enabled SIP Trunking by default, and one needs to program the PBX to enable the same. Certain PBX models require a specialized IP Trunking Card/ SIP Trunking card to be purchased (at both ends) for this purpose.

The number of channels available between the PBX models so connected depends on the make/ model of the PBX & the capacity of IP Trunk/ SIP Trunk Cards. SIP is a standard and can be used to connect two or more IP PBX models manufactured by different vendors, as long as all of them support SIP Trunking. IP Trunking is a proprietary protocol that is used to connect two or more PBX models manufactured by the same vendor, over the LAN/ WAN Network.

Using FXS/ FXO Ports:

Certain IP PBX models can be interconnected to legacy PBX in a limited way using FXS and FXO ports/ FXS-FXO Cards & Modules. In this case, the number of channels between the two PBX models are pretty much limited and some PBX functionalities maybe lost.

Analog Tie-lining is another method used to interconnect two PBX models. In this method, the FXS port of one PBX is connected to the FXO port of the other PBX and vice versa. As you can see, this requires complex connectivity and a number of cables are required to enable few channels between the two PBX models. Thats one reason why the FXS/ FXO port method of interconnecting two PBX is not used frequently.

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Renting a Projector Vs Buying a Projector

A few years back, renting an LCD/DLP Projector was very attractive because the cost of a good quality projector  providing images with high brightness, was very high. But these days, the cost of buying a new projector has come down drastically, while the brightness and other features supported by them have become better. In this context, does renting a projector still have significance? Maybe and maybe not! Let us explore the pros and cons of renting a projector (vs) buying a projector.

Renting a projector:

In a few companies, LCD/DLP Projectors are rarely used. They maybe used once or twice, every six months. In such cases, it might be better to rent a projector and all the accessories that come with it (Tripod mounted Screen, etc), because the cost of investing in a projector upfront can be significantly higher than renting it.

One can choose which projector they are going to rent. So, if there is a huge auditorium with a lot of attendees for the presentation, a certain projector model can be hired. On the other hand, if a person is going to take the projector along with them to make a presentation at a client’s place, a different projector model (which is sleek/ lightweight) can be hired.

Since most projector hiring firms have multiple projectors with various brightness/ native resolution support, one can choose which one they want. They can also choose the size of the tripod stand/ screen that they might want, based on the application. If there is a larger gathering, a larger screen might be required and for a board room presentation, a smaller screen might suffice. People can choose which projector/ screen models they want, depending on their usage on a particular day.

Buying a projector:

As mentioned previously, the cost of a good quality/ high brightness projector has come down drastically. Companies can hire a projector with decent brightness that can be used in larger auditoriums, etc. for a moderate price. If its a permanent installation, they can buy a ceiling mounting kit and install the projector over the roof as well as permanently attach a screen over the wall. But the projector cannot be carried anywhere else, if it is fixed this way.

If companies want to use projectors frequently, its better to buy them because renting projectors continuously might incur higher costs. Besides, when a projector is already available in the campus, more people would want to use it.

Companies need to factor the recurring costs of AMC and consumables (Projector Lamp) along with the fixed cost of the projector. The cost of a projector lamp can be as high as 50% of the projector cost itself!

If companies own their projectors, they don’t have to anxiously wait for a rented projector to arrive on the morning of an important meeting. They also don’t have to worry about whether any projectors are available for rent on a particular day/time. Also, buying a projector enables users to get used to the various features offered by Business projectors.

So, based on individual requirements as highlighted above, companies can decide if they want to hire projectors/ their accessories.

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Network I/O – Keystone Jack, Faceplate (Wall) & Surface Mount Box (SMB)

As a part of Structured Cabling, a Network Cable (Cat 5E/ Cat6 Cable) from a patch panel at the network switch end needs to be connected to a Network I/O System that comprises of keystone jack, faceplate (wall) & surface mount box (SMB). Let us take a closer look at the components involved in Network I/O Termination at the System (User) end.

Network I/O:

As per the Structured Cabling standards, Network Cables (Cat 5E/ Cat6) are not directly connected to the Network Switch ports from the Computer/ Network enabled devices. The longer network cable is permanently connected between a Network I/O Termination unit near the Computer/ Network enabled device and Network Patch Panel near the Network Switch, both of them kept inside a Network Rack.

From the Network I/O Termination unit and the Network Patch panel, smaller Patch Cords connect to the Computer/ Network enabled device & Network Switch port respectively. That’s how a complete connection is competed between the computer and network switch port.

Network I/O Termination unit consists of three major components.

1. Keystone Jack

2. Faceplate (Wall)

3. Surface Mount Box (SMB)

Keystone Jack:

Belkin Cat.6 Keystone Jack - Network Connector - RJ-45, Pack Of 10

A Keystone Jack is the main component of Network I/O as the Network Cable (Cat 5E/ Cat6 Cable) is terminated on this unit and the RJ-45 Jack of the Patch Cord (from the computer/ network device) connects to it directly.

The outer insulation cover of the Cat 5E/ Cat6 Cable is shaved off and the individual pairs of the copper strands are split. Each copper strand is placed in its appropriate place in the Keystone jack (according to the color coding indicated by the manufacturer) and they are punched down individually into the Keystone Jack, thereby forming a permanent connection for the longer network cable.

The Keystone Jack is then kept either into a faceplate and attached to a wall (if cutting and space is available inside the wall) or it is kept into a Surface Mount Box and nailed over the wall.

Have a look at a Youtube video demonstrating how to punch the Network Cable into the keystone jack and mount it into a faceplate (wall). In case you live in the United States, you can click on the above image to know the price of a set of 10 Keystone Jacks from Amazon. You can also buy it from there.

Faceplate (Wall):

Belkin 1-Position Plastic Keystone Faceplate

A Faceplate is generally used in new installations where concealed cabling is possible. The faceplate is fixed on a wall and the keystone jack is fixed in the hole (as shown in the above diagram) so that the RJ-45 jack of the keystone jack is exposed outside and the patch cord (from the computer) can be attached to it. At the other side (inside the wall) lies the inner part of the keystone jack that connects to the longer network cable.

Though one port faceplate (wall) is shown here, there are different kinds of face plates from 1-port to 6-port and more. They are also available in different colors to suit the ambiance of the location.

If you live in the United States, you can click on the above faceplate image to get to know its price from Amazon. You can also buy it from there.

Surface Mount Box (SMB):

Belkin 2 Port Unloaded Keystone Surface Mount Box

The function of the Surface Mount Box (SMB) is similar to a faceplate as the keystone jack can be inserted into it such that the RJ-45 jack is exposed from the holes, to which the patch cord can connect from the computer. The other end is already punched with the permanent (longer) Network Cat5E/ Cat6 Cable which goes to the Network Patch Panel.

But, the Surface Mount Box (SMB) is used in those installations where concealed cabling is not possible. So, these boxes are basically mounted on the wall and the cables are taken outside them using PVC casing/ capping materials instead of being run inside the wall.

There are various types of Surface Mount Boxes (SMB) like 1-Port, 2-Port (shown in the above image), 6-Port, etc. Have a look at how a keystone jack fits into an SMB / faceplate in this Youtube video, to get an idea about the same.

In case you live in the United States, you can click on the above image to know the price of a 2-Port SMB from Amazon. You can also buy it from there.

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Six LCD/DLP Projector features that could be used while making a presentation

Many of us give presentations to an audience using LCD/ DLP projectors. But we are not aware of certain projector features that can be used to give more effective presentations. In this post, let us look at some projector features that could be used while making a presentation using LCD/ DLP projector.

1. Wireless Mouse/ Full-function Remote: Many projectors come with full function remote controls (or) one can buy a wireless presenter to enable remote mouse controls from the dais / stage, even though they are at a considerable distance from the PC/ Laptop connected to the projector. Stop saying ‘Next slide please’ to someone in the audience and go to the next slide by the press of a button on the wireless mouse/ full function remote in your hands. These devices come with built-in Laser pointers that could be useful while making presentations.

2. Focus/ Optical Zoom/ Digital Zoom: While the focus/ optical zoom can be adjusted from the rotating handles on top of the lens, the presenter should use them to set the projector to the sharpest focus/ best screen size. Of course, one cannot use these functions if the projector is ceiling mounted.

The digital zoom could be a useful function in situations where the presenter needs to focus on a particular area on the screen, but that portion is not visible to everyone clearly. The sharpness of the image/ characters may go down while using the digital zoom, but their size will increase which enables users to see a specific area clearly.

3. Blank/ Shutter: If a projector image is projected on a white board and the presenter wants to write something on the white board, they can use the Blank/ Shutter function that electronically shuts off the projector lamp. This could be revoked and the projector can start displaying images back immediately, with the press of a button. The problem with shutting down a projector manually (to achieve the same thing) is the longer time taken for the projector/ lamp to re-start.

4. Freeze: Many a time, we see people connecting the projector to the laptop and accessing their presentation files from an internal directory. But doing this exposes many other files while navigating to a particular directory. So, one can use the freeze function to display a particular screen on the projector (the start up – desktop screen, for instance) while they access their file from internal directories. The freeze function can be released once the presentation is displayed on the full laptop screen.

5. Keystone: When a projector is not ceiling mounted (and is mounted on a table), its front legs needs to be lifted a bit for the image to fit on the screen properly. This creates a trapezoidal image instead of the rectangle image. The user can use the keystone correction function built into the projector (+ and – keys) to adjust the screen layout and make the projector display a rectangular image, instead of the trapezoid.

6. Audio: Many a time, one needs to show multimedia content/ video while making a presentation. This type of content is always displayed along with audio. So, if the facility does not have any external speakers that can be attached to the projector/ laptop, one can always connect audio cables directly from the PC/ Laptop to the projector and use the in-built speakers of the projectors. Some projectors come with speakers that are more powerful than the standard laptop speakers.

For a more exhaustive list of business projector features, you could visit this page.

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Wireless Presenter with Mouse & Full Function Remote for Projector with Laser Pointer

When giving a presentation using a Projector, often we find ourselves at some distance from the laptop. So, we need to either walk down to the laptop/ computer connected to the projector to navigate to the next slide in a presentation / open a new file (or) we need to request someone to do it for us. In this article, let us look at a few of options we can use to remotely enable mouse functions at a press of a few buttons, even if the laptop / PC is a few meters away. All the below options include a Laser pointer, which comes in handy while making a presentation.

Option 1 – Wireless Presenter with Mouse functions & Laser Pointer:

Satechi SP400 Smart-Pointer (Red) 2.4Ghz RF Wireless Presenter with Mouse Function and Laser Pointer

A Wireless Presenter with mouse functions / Laser pointer is like a remote control that can be carried to the stage by the presenter. There is a USB Wi-Fi adapter that comes along with this device which needs to be plugged into the USB port of a PC / Laptop to which the LCD/ DLP projector is connected.

The device communicates with the wireless adapter using 2.4 Ghz Wi-Fi technology, which is a Non-Line of Sight technology. So, one need not point the wireless presenter at the PC (where the adapter is connected) while presenting. Also, the PC can be up to 20 meters away from the presenter.

A red or green Laser pointer is included along with such devices which can be activated at the press of a button. More over, the device acts as a mouse – Hence one can point the device at the screen, right-click and left-click using the buttons provided in the device instead of having to go to the computer to do the same thing with the attached mouse. This could be useful while making a presentation – One can just press the left click button to go to the next slide.

If the presenter has to open a document, they can just left click, end presentation, reach the document icon using the direction arrows present on the wireless presenter and press the left click button to open it. They can also close it after a short time. All this can be done from the wireless presenter itself, without having to access the physical mouse attached with the PC/ Laptop.

The USB adapter is generally plug and play and the wireless presenters are battery powered devices. Some of them have exclusive ‘next’ and ‘back’ buttons that work with power point presentations as that’s the most important function accessed by presenters frequently.

Option 2 – Full Function Remote Control for Projectors with Laster Pointers:

LCD/ DLP Projectors come with remote control to control all the projector features over the wireless medium, while making a presentation. For a small additional cost, many projector manufacturers supply a full function remote control with Laser pointer that includes the wireless mouse,  Laster pointer and projector controls. Customers need to order for the full function remote specifically as it is not available along with the default accessories provided by the projector vendor.

This is a very comfortable option because one can control the projector features (like reducing the brightness, keystone correction, blocking the display, etc) along with the wireless mouse options / Laser pointer using a single device. One can move the mouse across the screen, click to go to next slide and do whatever functions that can be done by a normal mouse, using the full function remote control.

Option 3 – Laser Pointer with Power point controls:

RF Wireless Laser Pointer with Page up Down PowerPoint Presentation Function (Black)

If a user is looking for a low cost option with only the essential features for controlling a presentation from the dais/ remote location, they can look at the RF wireless Laser pointer with page up/ page down functions for a power point presentation. This could be quite useful because many people just use the Laser pointer and move to the next page/ previous page while giving a power point presentation. The low cost of this product is another added advantage.

If you live in the United States, you could click on the above images to get to know the best price (and perhaps buy) these products from Amazon.

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MDF – Main Distribution Frame in an EPABX

Architecture diagram for MDF - Main Distribution Frame

A Main Distribution Frame (MDF) is a very important component in an EPABX / Enterprise Telephony setup. The above diagram represents the connectivity architecture diagram for an MDF.

A Main Distribution Frame (MDF) is a m x n matrix like box where all the cables in an EPABX set-up are terminated. So, the cables from the EPABX – Extension Cards, Trunk Cards, etc & the cables from the trunk lines (from telephony service providers) are terminated on the EPABX side MDF. The cables from the field (individual analog/ digital phones) are connected to the Field side MDF, through a Junction (DB) Box. A Junction box is like a Mini-MDF which is placed in individual departments where all the single pair cables from the analog phones terminate.

When you look at the set up in the above diagram, it should be evident that analog phones are not directly connected to the EPABX Analog/ Digital Cards, though they can be terminated that way). This is done for two main reasons – Consolidating individual telephone cables into bulk telephone cables (like 5-pair cables, 10-pair cables, etc) that can be carried over longer distances easily & To make the testing process easier.

In the above diagram, single pair cables from the individual telephones in each department are terminated on the Junction (DB) box which consolidates all the telephone connections from a single department (for example). From the Junction box, bulk cables like 5-Pair cables, 10-Pair cables, 20-Pair cables, 50-Pair cables, etc. are used to connect the field side MDF with the junction boxes. There are two advantages of doing this – The cables can be carried safely within an armored enclosure, either underground or through ducts (and) These specialty bulk cables are more compact as they save a lot of space, when compared to carrying loosely arranged individual RJ-11 single pair cables as a bunch.

In the above diagram, you would have also noticed that there are two MDF’s – The EPABX side MDF and the Field side MDF. One MDF could have been enough, but a two MDF set up makes it easier to test if the faults are on the EPABX side or on the field cabling side. One can check for the connections from the EPABX cables (on the EPABX side MDF) or one can also check for connections from the field cables (on the Field side MDF), to verify where exactly the fault lies.

Having two MDF’s is also important for identifying which connection goes where. For example, on the EPABX side MDF, the cables could be arranged horizontally and each point could be marked with the Analog/Digital card it is connected to. So, they can be marked as Analog Extension Card 1 – 1, 2, 3, etc. On the Field MDF, the cables could be arranged vertically and each point could be marked with the Department/ Phone it is connected to. So, they can be marked as Dept 1 – 1, 2, 3, etc. This enables an administrator to easily make adds, moves and changes in the telephone network in future and also to easily identify which cables connect where.

The MDF itself is just a frame and the cables connect to Krone Modules (on both sides). So, the cables from the EPABX are terminated behind the Krone modules in the EPABX side MDF and their front side is patched with corresponding Krone Modules in the Field side MDF. The bulk cables (10-pair cables, etc) are terminated on the Krone modules behind the field side MDF, which completes the whole set-up. The front/back sides mentioned here are interchangeable.

Generally, surge-protectors/ lightning arrestors are kept over each line coming from the field side cables to protect the EPABX cards from high-voltage or lightning that may be carried over to them. These are placed over individual Krone modules.

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