Monthly Archives: January 2012

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Wireless Networks: More Secure?

Take a look around you… no matter where you seem to be, someone is invariably using their laptop or iPhone to surf the web. Whether it be work-related or just checking out their local sports scores, you can usually find someone connected to and browsing the Internet. This is nothing less than a testament to how commonplace wireless networking has become.

Even with this wide-spread personal utilization of the Internet many companies today still haven’t made the jump to wireless as a workplace solution. This really boils down to security concerns which is totally understandable considering there is no shortage of horror stories about professional thieves hacking into these networks and stealing valuable customer and proprietary company data.

If you or someone you know is considering a wireless solution, here are a few points from various experts across the field to help you keep it secure while still providing the resources required to get your business goals accomplished.

Authentication: This is an absolute MUST! Nothing less than strong authentication will due in any work environment. There are many older, weaker authentication technologies like MAC (Media Access Control) and PSK (Pre-Shared Key) which will leave your network vulnerable. This is primarily due to the fact they mainly use access rights to determine a user’s identity, therefore, the higher the level of access associated with a particular identity… the greater the potential damage that could be inflicted. Strong authentication policies leverage the EEE’s 802.1X framework, which was ratified for use with wireless LANs in December 2004. This particular framework allows for per-user authentication which provides options for securely exchanging such items as usernames and passwords over the air using a form of EAP (Extensible Authentication Protocol), the standard for secure, encrypted information transfer.

Authorization: Authentication provides a “yes/no” response over EAP encryption identifying to the network whether the individual connecting is accepted or not. Authorization (otherwise known as access control), however, demonstrates that person’s identity using a rich set of enforcements and conditional restrictions. Utilizing strong authorization techniques such as user type delineation, end point integrity checking and allowed location are critical because they help “prove” who a user is above and beyond the username/password/key they provide. Pretty simple if you think about it right?

Accounting: This is something many network technicians and, in some cases, engineers omit when designing their wireless solutions. Regardless, this should certainly be a part of your deployment plan. Accounting collects and can report on critical network usage information such as user identities, connection start and stop times, amounts of data received and sent and quite a bit more. This too should be a “no-brainer” as it can provide extremely valuable information to any company should a suspected breech or theft arise. This information can easily be used to track down who did what, at what time and from where… SNAGGED!


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Hosted, Managed or Premise-Based Phone System

There is a cornucopia of solutions available for your office phone systems these days. The trouble is, which one is best suited for your particular needs? In order to try and help you with your decision, we would like to outline a simple comparison of three separate offerings: Hosted, premise-based (or in-house) and Managed solutions.

Hosted PBX or Hosted VoIP (voice over IP) Systems – This represents the latest and one of the more popular system technologies today. With this type of solution the phone system ‘server’ resides in the provider’s data center as opposed to being housed in your office. Voice and data traffic is routed over the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to the hosted system. With the equipment itself being located off-site, this offers web-based access to configure services, define how you would like calls routed, view call detail records and billing information, manage voicemail and more.

Operational/Pricing Model: There are two primary methods in which Hosted PBX providers structure their pricing. To make things easier, let’s just call them “Service-Only” and “Bundled.”

1) In the Service Only model, companies pay a monthly fee to use and access the Hosted PBX in addition to their carrier services fees (local, long-distance, Internet, etc.) Companies opting for this model also take on all hardware costs such as Power over Ethernet (PoE) switches and VoIP phones… in other words, the equipment you need at your location. Most providers sell phones and equipment which are certified to work with their system but also allow customers the option of buying their own equipment elsewhere, although offering no guarantees of compatibility with the provider’s system. This model is typically a good fit for smaller companies on a relatively small budget who may not necessarily have in-house staff for ongoing system management.

2) In the Bundled model, companies pay a “per extension, per month” charge which includes the cost of a phone (usually a standard model with basic functionality), a fee for using the Hosted PBX and sometimes a bundle of included domestic calling minutes. This model is typically good for smaller companies (up to 15-20 employees) looking for an easy way to control costs with the flexibility to add extensions as needed.

Though both of these models can provide smaller companies ways to get robust VoIP functionality on a budget, we’ve found that they often can become cost prohibitive when scaling to larger numbers of employees.

Pros:

  • Cost-effective method for smaller businesses to get rich VoIP functionality
  • Minimal IT involvement needed to install solution
  • Easy, online access to administer features, manage the system, and add/delete users
  • Scales easily in small businesses (Service-Only/Bundled) or larger businesses (VoxScale)

Other Considerations:

  • System improvements and upgrades are performed on the provider’s schedule and may not be available when you want or need them
  • Upfront costs can be substantial depending on level of VoIP infrastructure needed and phones that need to be purchased
  • Many providers are start-ups, so you’ll need to decide if you have concerns about whether they’ll go out of business or consolidate with another vendor

Premise-Based PBX/VoIP Systems – Premise-based PBX and VoIP systems are solutions where the equipment, including phone system servers cabling and routers, are installed and maintained locally at your company’s location. System providers are typically affiliated with large, national or multi-national manufacturers with substantial staff dedicated to product development and engineering. This high level of support helps ensure system hardware and applications are constantly updated to meet the emerging needs of the marketplace.

Premise-Based systems can be digital, VoIP or a hybrid of both. While many companies like taking advantage of the collaboration, productivity, and mobility solutions VoIP offers, hybrid Digital/VoIP systems (such as the Mitel 5000 system popular with thousands of businesses, including many ETA customers) offer a phased migration path to VoIP for companies without the financial or personnel resources to make the transition all at once.

Operational/Pricing Model: Premise-based systems are purchased up front, and the hardware is owned by you, the customer. This can be beneficial for companies with fixed IT upgrade budgets and/or sizable dedicated internal IT staff. These systems can either be serviced by the provider via a maintenance contract or internally by the company’s IT staff.

Pros:

  • Systems and applications can be fully customized to business needs and requirements
  • Internal IT teams can make updates and changes to the system on the fly
  • Ongoing technology updates available to meet emerging business needs

Other Considerations:

  • Substantial upfront capital expenditure required
  • Ongoing provider maintenance fees typically increase annually
  • Repairs, replacement costs, upgrades, and updates can be hefty expenses if not included in a maintenance contract
  • System’s business value may never be truly realized because a large number of features are available but never installed or used
  • Hardware is a poor capital investment because it loses nearly all of its value before you sell or dispose of it. By investing working capital into depreciating assets, you eliminate the potential for that money to generate positive cash flow back into your business

Managed PBX/VoIP Systems – With these phone system solutions, providers offer all the equipment, software and technical expertise needed for a company to reap the benefits of the system’s functionality without the costs, risks and headaches of actually owning the equipment.

There are many flavors of managed phone system programs but some of the best options include some level of maintenance, remote access services, fixed pricing for commonly added items (i.e. wireless headsets), end-user training, discounts on future relocations and more. This allows companies to select the technology they need when they need it, eliminate financial risk and cost uncertainties and get technical expertise and support from a team of specialists with extensive expertise deploying and maintaining the technology to a wide range of businesses.

Operational/Pricing Model: With a managed phone system program, companies pay a flat monthly fee for the hardware, support and services provided within the program. At the end of the program’s term, customers have several options including upgrading to a newer system or continuing with the same program.

Pros:

  • Get the benefits of premise-based technology without the upfront costs, annually increasing maintenance fees and replacement costs
  • Round-the-clock access to support and service by technicians and help desk personnel with extensive experience programming, servicing, and deploying the technology in a wide range of business environments
  • Control ongoing costs and reduce financial risk. Programs can include free or discounted software upgrades, technology refresh programs, free or discounted end-user training, site relocation discounts and more
  • Enjoy discounted, fixed price upgrade options for commonly added items

Other Considerations:

  • Internal IT staff not able to make programming changes on the fly
  • Companies with fixed, one time budgets may not be able to take advantage of managed programs
  • Best payment terms based on credit worthiness

We hope this overview helped answer some questions about the difference between Hosted, Premise-Based and Managed phone systems. However, if you’d like personalized expertise to help determine what option might be best for your business, please reach out to Teleco South Florida. We’re more than happy to work with you to thoroughly understand your company’s needs, business requirements and budget to determine what type of phone system is best for you.


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Getting the Maximum Value from your Audio & Web Conferencing

Many companies have turned to Audio & Web Conferencing to keep collaboration going and productivity up – All while reducing unnecessary travel and “in person” meeting expenses. However, at Teleco South Florida, we find that most businesses are not realizing the maximum financial gain and productivity boosts audio & web conferencing services can provide.

There are many important factors to consider when evaluating the quality and cost effectiveness of your Audio & Web Conferencing solution, including:

  • What role conferencing plays in your overall technology strategy and budget
  • How many internal and external conferences you hold and how often
  • What types of calls & online meetings you hold (Press conferences, mass marketed Webinars, “town hall” sessions, etc.)
  • How much of your bandwidth you’re willing to dedicate to conferences
  • How many International participants attend your conferences and how you accommodate them
  • Functionality preferences, including what level of per-session customization and control you desire

That’s why we suggest scheduling a free conferencing value analysis with Teleco South Florida. We work with you to answer these questions and more to understand exactly what you need from your conferencing solution.

We then work as your advocate by helping you understand what conferencing technology (Premise-Based, Web-based/Hosted, or a combination of both) and service providers best meet your requirements and design a solution that gives you the specific functionality you need at the lowest possible price points. We also perform a comprehensive audit of your current services and show you how they stack up against our recommendations.

Even if you’ve already done extensive research and selected a hosted conferencing solution, we can often still help reduce your expenses. Because of our preferred relationships with multiple service providers, we can offer some of the lowest per minute rates for popular hosted conferencing platforms like Cisco WebEx and Microsoft LiveMeeting.


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3 Keys to Ensuring Business Continuity

Looking a little cloudy up there? Better be careful… could be a devastating storm brewing outside! How about a fire… are you prepared for that too?

There are multiple factors which come into play when thinking about business continuity (formerly referred to as disaster recovery). There are network crashes, virus infiltrations, power failures and other barriers to effective business communication. Not only can these potential disasters impact your productivity and profit, they are often so sporadic and spontaneous that you can’t really predict or prevent them at all. Here is what you can do however… PREPARE!

There are basically three fairly areas you should be focusing on in terms of preparing your business for possible catastrophic failure. You would probably have a rather difficult time conducting business if your phone systems went down wouldn’t you? How about your Internet and Network availability… you’re not going to try and tell us your one of those businesses still relying on the paper-trail? Here’s one… what about bandwidth? We’ll bet that’s not one you considered!

Here are a few tips to help you maintain your business environment regardless of the weather…

Phone Systems Despite the common misconception that nobody makes phone calls anymore and everybody does things online, we highly doubt your company could adequately function without your phones.

We suggest getting your phone system out of harm’s way and moving it to a “hardened data center” or co-location. These types of facilities are typically “wired for disaster” and have multiple failover and recovery options. In doing this, you would be utilizing that center’s redundant features to ensure your mission-critical functions are still alive and breathing in the event your office experiences a power outage, network failure or other major failure. Again, the best part here is the data center/co-location facility is so well prepared to handle barriers to business that it would take more than the perfect storm to impact your system!

Internet/Network Connectivity – Let’s face it, the majority of businesses of all sizes and in all industries depend on the Internet and their network and can’t afford to be cut off from them for any significant amount of time. Not only are remote workers and email messaging dependent on the Internet, but now… with voice being delivered over the Internet (VoIP), ensuring continuous uptime is more critical than ever.

Fortunately, there are regular cornucopias of solutions in this area which can help keep your business up-and-running should catastrophic failures take place. Let’s talk about a couple:

Internal LAN (local area network) – This one is pretty simple. Make sure your networking equipment (routers, switches, firewalls etc.) have redundancy built in. This gear should minimally have multiple power-supplies and at least two network interfaces (cards). It is pretty simple to say here that, if this is in place and should a failure of one piece of equipment occur, your hardware will automatically “failover” and keep your network available. Servers too should be equally equipped. Another item we might recommend, should the finances be available to you, is having a hot- or cold-spare onsite. Here, if a piece of equipment fails, your IT folks should only take a short time, as opposed to days, to recover your environment.

External WAN (wide area network) – This is your Internet connection to your other offices and the rest of the world. If you have limited yourself to a single provider you may be danger of losing your connectivity should your vendor themselves suffer from a major outage. We realize it is rather costly to have multiple providers but you don’t necessarily need to same types of lines (doubling the costs) to prepare yourself. If your company is operating off a full T1 for example, why not consider installing a DSL or cable solution as an alternative failover? This would be relatively inexpensive and, let’s face it; wouldn’t you rather pay now and be prepared instead of potentially being “out-of-business” without this type of solution?

Bandwidth Capacity – Just as having Internet connectivity is important, so is the amount of data you can transfer over it. If you are connected to the Internet, but can’t send an email larger than 2MB or can’t research your proposal because it takes an hour to upload a page… how does that really help you? In this day and age, we need to share vast amounts of information quickly, making bandwidth capacity just as important as Internet connectivity.

One way to ensure your bandwidth capacity is with SIP Trunking, a relatively new communications technology solution allowing businesses with an installed PBX to use real-time communications, including VoIP.

The benefit of SIP Trunking is not only you can replace traditional PSTN (public switched telephone network) lines with an IP phone system or that you enjoy significant cost savings because of dynamically scalability and compatibility with existing telephone systems. The benefit also lies in the fact that SIP Trunking drastically simplifies your network with a single connection for voice and data thus causing you to only have to backup one, rather than two, systems. It’s simple, but incredibility effective.

Of course these aren’t the only ways to ensure your business continuity, but they’re important to consider when designing a complete solution. At Teleco South Florida, our voice and data engineers are well-versed in business continuity and disaster recovery solutions. Give us a call and let us see if we can be of assistance in keeping your business up-and-running in disastrous situations.