Dear Councillors, Stop Saying Silly Things

Standard

This can be seen as an open letter to all local Councillors, especially those in London since they get far more press for the shear fact that they are Councillors for the largest municipality in Middlesex County. It can also be seen as a call for anyone to simply open a book, read a few research papers, or generally obtain more knowledge before shooting your mouth off. I’ve been guilty of doing that in the past, but I’m also not so prideful that I’m not willing to back away from my comments and apologize when proven wrong.

Dear Councillors,

Stop saying silly things. I’m using “silly” here as a catch-all for all things stupid, overly boastful, demeaning, untruthful, and distasteful. I wish I didn’t feel the urge to write this, but I do. It seems to have gotten particularly bad since the most recent municipal election, but 2012 has proven to be a year just full of gaffs, and therefore plenty of fodder for local press.

Most recently, Councillor Denise Brown said something particularly silly. “The library has cost jobs in this city. They have first-run movies and Rogers and Blockbuster have gone out of business,” Brown said.

Really, Ms. Brown? I’d like to see facts, figures, and research to back that up. I know it’s very pithy, and made for a good quote in this article, but that sentence makes you sound like a fool. If the library, any library, put Rogers Video and Blockbuster stores out of business, then surely Chapters/Indigo is shortly behind, right? In fact, by your logic, large book store chains should have gone out of business decades ago!

I don’t know if Ms. Brown really meant to say what she did, but if not, then clearly she needs to take the time old wisdom of, “Think before you speak.” I don’t care if there’s a journalist on the other end of the phone line.

And really, this leads us to the larger issue of who we, as constituents, elect. It’s not cute or quaint anymore to have people running our governments that don’t know squat about technology, or about other cultures, or without an iota of vision for how the city/province/country can and should be (even if you disagree with it).

But focusing locally once more, and on the issue at hand, Councillor Brown I have a small list of events/trends/companies that have actually led to the demise of Blockbuster and Rogers Video stores, including…

Piracy, over the Internet, which is fueled by high content acquisition costs. But there has also been a slew of alternative services like Netflix, not to mention the broadcasters putting their content online, making it available for all to see with or without a subscription to cable/satellite services.

In fact, if anyone has destroyed Rogers Video, it was Rogers itself. Rogers’ own video on demand (VOD) service has made it possible for anyone with digital cable to order movies, and also watch past TV episodes, without leaving the house. Perhaps Councillor Brown doesn’t have Rogers cable, and has also been living under a rock for the past five years (thereby avoiding Rogers’ ads), but VOD directly from Rogers has certainly contributed to the decline of its video rental stores in Ontario.

So there you have it. Please Councillors, stop saying silly things. Or at least do your best not to say silly things. Read the London Free Press, or Metro. Listen to CBC Radio One or AM980. Pay attention to what’s happening in the business and technology news, not to mention research on urban planning and sustainability, and I’m willing to bet you’ll sound like the smartest Councillor on council. Up your game for the sake of your city, if at least not for yourself.

E-Signature Solutions

Standard

I hate signing documents. Okay, hate is a strong word, but I certainly don’t enjoy it. It’s even more cumbersome when someone is trying to fax me a document that I’m supposed to sign and fax back to them. While facsimile technology certainly had its day, and was very useful for a time, it’s become quite outdated. So outdated that we’ve replaced larger printer-sized devices with online fax services available from lots of different companies.

One thing I mentioned there was signing a document. That’s also a process that I find is stuck in the stone age. I recently went in search of a good e-signature solution; something that would let me electronically sign a document, in a secure manner, and that would also negate the need to print it at all. Lucky me! I found it.

I compared several solutions: Adobe EchoSign, SignNow, and e-SignLive.

A few first impressions about each solution, for the sake of a bit of thoroughness:

  • Adobe EchoSign – Adobe actually acquired EchoSign some time last year. The EchoSign website talks a lot about viewing changes made by the other party in Microsoft Word, and how the other party can print, sign, and fax the document back to you. That’s the exact opposite of what I’m looking for.
  • SignNow – Better. Much better. Details are a little sparse on the website, and the business model is very unclear. I mean, free is nice for consumers and all, but as a business owner I need to know this company’s going to last for more than a year or two.
  • e-SignLive – Perfect! e-Sign Live has a business model, I don’t need special software, multi-document signing,  I can set multiple signers on a document, third-party authentication, and even the ability to integrate the documents into a website or online form. While Orpheum doesn’t need that know, I could certainly see it needing such a feature in the future.

Overall, e-SignLive takes it. Again, free is nice for consumers, but I’m running a business. I cannot risk legal documents in the hands of a company that may not exist tomorrow, nor do I want to be hampered by desktop software. Give me a flexible solution, an API for integration into my enterprise software, a signed and secured PDF, that also just happens to be trusted by the U.S. military… now you’ve got my vote.

Alternative Service Providers

Standard

Many people are fed up with traditional, incumbent providers. You know their names – namely Bell, and to a lesser extent Rogers. Thankfully there is a lot of competition when it comes to providing business services. Any small business looking to save money on its communication needs has to do itself a favour and research alternative providers available in its area. For instance…

Phone Lines

  • Allstream – Allstream has actually been at it for quite awhile in Canada. It started out at AT&T Canada in the 90s, and was scooped up by Manitoba Telecom in 2004. It has a very large fibre optic network in Canada, and can provide business phone services just about anywhere in the country either through local land lines, PRIs, or SIP trunking.
  • Orpheum – You knew I had to include Orpheum. :) Orpheum only offers SIP trunking as an alternative to local land lines, but SIP trunking is highly cost effective and Orpheum’s been getting great feedback about the quality of the service.
  • Primus – Your mileage may vary when it comes to customer service/technical support, but Primus’ services are available at a good price. Like Allstream, they can offer SIP trunks, PRIs and local land lines for voice connectivity.

Internet

  • Allstream – Again, Allstream is a solid provider here. They can offer DSL for small businesses, and then upgrade you to a T1 or provide an E10 line when necessary. Larger businesses can look to Allstream for MPLS VPN, switched Ethernet, and other IP connectivity services if needed.
  • Start – Start Communications is a local company based in London. They offer DSL, cable, and also connectivity through their own network that spans across downtown London and then some. If you’re tired of dealing with larger companies, or work/live in London’s downtown core, Start is a highly viable choice.
  • Telus – Telus is similar to Allstream in that it offers services to businesses nationwide, but not consumers. However, if you’re tired of the duopoloy that is Bell and Rogers, give Telus a call and I’m sure they’ll be happy to engage in competition.
  • TekSavvy – TekSavvy is a large ISP (250 employees) based out of Chatham, ON. I don’t use them personally, but I have many friends who do and they all rave about TekSavvy’s service! It can offer DSL (including dry loop), T1, E10, and E100 to your business with “Unlimited” usage caps.

Fax

  • MyFax – The premise is simple here. Fax still lives on whether we like it or not. Instead of buying a fax machine, use a service like MyFax ($10/month) to send and receive faxes. Local numbers in most Canadian area codes are available, including 519/226.
  • eFax – eFax is a similar service except that it costs $12.49 a month. There are pros and cons to both services, so compare the features available from myFax and eFax before settling on one. If you’re using a hosted PBX from a company like Orpheum or Primus, chances are fax is available as part of the service as well, eliminating another monthly bill.

I hope this post was helpful to you! It’s certainly not an exhaustive list of providers, but it should put you on the right track to cutting your small business’ costs.

The Next Generation Data Centre Network – TRILL, DCB & vNetworks

Standard

If you’re arriving here without reading the previous two entries in the Next Generation Data Centre Network series, here is Part 1 and Part 2.

Several new terms and protocols have begun propagating through the tech world when it comes to enabling a next generation data centre network – a network that will be based on 10Gbps at the server, and at least 40Gbps at the core (100Gbps in some cases). Many of the data centre networking vendors are already shipping 40Gbps ports, with just a select few shipping 100Gbps now.

Network virtualization is not only enabled within network switches. This is a larger play that has everything to do with your chosen hypervisor and virtual machine management software. In the network, your switches must be capable of automatically migrating virtual port profiles, building VLANs that span across data centres and geographies, lower latency, faster re-composition after route loss, etc. I’ve previously written about virtual networks (which I termed vNetworks at the time) when working for Info-Tech Research Group, here and here. However I can recap the major points here.

TRILL and DCB, on the other hand, are protocols designed to help improve the performance of the network.

I was initially going to expound on the benefits of TRILL and DCB, but I think there’s already plenty of information on the web available about that. Instead, I want to re-emphasize that data centre networking is finally changing. Soon you’ll be rid of spanning tree, and all of the associated headaches it brings in large environments.

So that about covers it! Different vendors may support each protocol differently, so be sure to perform your due diligence in the acquisition process. But really, there is no better time than the present to start evaluating vendors other than your incumbent. With companies like Extreme Networks, Arista, and Force 10 (now part of Dell) making such a splash over the last few years, your options are really wide open. Keep an open mind, and keep things like ease of administration, security features, and future proofing in the back of your mind.

The Future is Made of Cotton Candy

Standard

I know this because last month a little-known company called FXI announced a device called Cotton Candy. Cotton Candy is a full-blown Linux computer about the size of a USB flash drive. The specs are actually fairly impressive:

FXI Cotton Candy

  • Dual core 1.2GHz processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • Mali 400 GPU (video card) that’s capable of HD video
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
  • And more.

The upshot? It’s designed to run Android, Ubuntu, or act as a thin client in a virtual desktop infrastructure.

For me, this is terrific because I’ve been looking for a way to turn my 1 year old LCD TV into a “Smart TV” without purchasing another box to sit on my entertainment stand. I don’t want another box, and realistically I don’t need another box. The FXI is really ideal – running Ubuntu would give me a full blown computer capable of watching video, browsing the web, even editing files. Running Android would give me access to my Google profile, all of my Android apps (including games), and so on.

All this from the same size device that you use to carry around 4GB, 8GB or more data. And it costs $199. Sweet.