May 29, 2008

Last week’s posting talked about carrier provisioning, information infrastructure design, and technology space planning. This week we start moving outside (after a brief stop) the technology room and into the actual office space. If you’re ready, here are three more items to add to your check list.

Rack Elevations. A rack elevation is a diagram that maps the layout and location of each technology device in a cabinet or rack. In the overall planning of a build-out it might seem like a minor point; but in the long-term, a good rack elevation gives you a great resource for examining the organization of your technology and your options for future expansion.

It’s virtually impossible to maintain a consistently logical rack elevation beyond the initial install (unless you have the resources and square footage to segment each technology element), so it’s imperative to implement the best design you can. Network and server requirements, form factors, work processes, cabling density, future expansion estimates, and final room design, will be some of the drivers in this process. Each presents complementary and conflicting requirements that can make this an arduous task; but it’s worth the effort.

Cable Plant. “It’s just cable.” For those who know better this is an asinine statement, but all too common during a build out. The work you do on your technology systems and computer room is all for naught with a bad cable plant. Once cable is inside the walls and the ends are terminated (on a patch panel in the tech room and a jack at the user station), troubleshooting becomes a trial and error process; and resolution could require a complete re-pull – not the best of solutions when dealing with finished construction.

Your first decision is cable count. How many jacks do you want at each location (we recommend a minimum of two (2) per location)? Punch down the cables (i.e., connect them) utilizing all four pairs (blue, green, orange, brown - so either jack can be utilized for voice and data services. Be sure all jack locations are properly labeled and correspond to the labels on the patch panel in your technology room (this is vitally important when you want to patch locations). Also require a testing report from the installer to ensure all terminated cables past connectivity testing; this will ensure data is being transmitted at the proper speeds without any interference or hiccups on the route.

Now you move into the technology room – will your cable terminate in your cabinets or on a separate relay rack (using ties to connect to the cabinets). Terminating in the cabinets will greatly impact your rack elevations, but do you have enough room for a relay rack? Once you have that settled, trace back to the desk locations so you know how the cabling will run. Does it run past electrical junction boxes or over fluorescent light fixtures (electricity can interfere with data transmission, so avoid this)? Will you require transverse assistance to reach all locations (e.g., exposed conduit, basket trays, O-rings, etc.)? Is your furniture standalone or part of a system design? The list could go on but this is a good idea of what you must address during the cabling discussions. You’re ensuring the cleanest routes possible for all pulls.

Lastly, be on site when the cable is installed. Oversight is the best insurance policy.

Furniture. From a logistical standpoint, furniture can have a huge impact on your technology. That’s why it’s critical to make sure the furniture you’re installing gives you access to the power outlets and voice/data jacks that feed the equipment on each desk. It’s a common occurrence – furniture is installed, computers are setup on a desk, and there is no convenient pathway for the power and patch cords. This usually results in unsightly cables being strewn around/over/across the furniture to gain that connectivity; it also presents issues when empty jacks are required later. Just be cognizant of this for the sake of your sanity – and your users.

May 27, 2008

Another non-technology related posting.  A few items I thought about over the holiday weekend:

1. Flyers are built for the future (sorry Jason and Derian) .  For the first time since the early- to mid-80s they have a young core that can finally bring the Cup back to Broad St.

2. Phillies aren't where I want them to be (should have 3 more wins) but they are in a good spot.   Fielding has been inexplicably inconsistent, the starting rotation is spotty at best (Hamels exempted for now), and they've not been clutch at the plate (see most recent losses to Houston).  But 35 runs in two games shows the bats are awake and the team MVP - Brad Lidge - shows no signs that his early success is an aberration.

3. Maurice Cheeks proved this season why he's my favorite Sixer of all time.  A deceptively strong will to win, with class (and not a bad coach either).  Sixers are lacking pieces (low post scorer and shooter) but I think Stefanski will use their cap room smartly and next year will bring interest in pro basketball back to Philly.

4. I am not an Eagles fan - go figure.  49'ers are my team (by way of Notre Dame - Montana).  Manny Lawson won't be 100% but he's key to the pass rush (which will make Willis even more dangerous).  As for the offense - not a Martz fan, don't think the personnel fit his system, and none of the QB's are accurate enough to make the passing game go.  SB XXIX was a long time ago.

5. Saw "Indiana Jones" on Friday.  "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is my favorite movie of all time - "Crystal Skull" makes my top 20 of least favorites.  Should have left well enough alone.  (Go see "Iron Man" - it's an adult movie based on a comic book.)

6. Read "Manhunt" by James L. Swanson.  Riveting history of the search for John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated Abraham Lincoln.  So much you didn't know about the events before and after Ford's Theater - and a great read.

7. My musical tastes run all over the place, so pick for the week is The Beatles (since they're currently playing on my iPod).  Listen to every Beatles recording you can find.  The Mozarts of pop music - despite the notoriety, still under appreciated for the quality of music and lyrics they produced.


May 22, 2008

Step 1. Buy a case of aspirin.

Step 2. Call us in the morning.
OK, step 1 might be a bit of an exaggeration; a couple cartons should do the trick.

It’s been said that next to having children moving is the most stressful experience in life. Well, try moving 50 children (aka users) and all the temperamental network gear, servers, computers, printers, faxes, etc. during a single weekend. Now you know why aspirin is the first step in planning a relocation.

Building out new space (which is how we’ll refer to a move from here on) happens to virtually every company; and while each build out is unique based on differing requirements, there are common denominators that must be addressed to ensure as smooth a build out as possible. The next three postings will touch on a number of those common denominators as they relate to the technology infrastructure. No one factor carries more weight than another (everything’s vital in a build out), but we’ve nonetheless tried to organize them into a couple different logical groupings.

This week, we’ll talk about how to manage your voice and data carriers, design your new information infrastructure, and plan your technology space.

Carrier Provisioning. This is the process of ordering the voice and data circuits for your new space. Lead times for these connections vary depending on the services ordered and your location, but our standard recommendation is to allot at least 60 days from order to go live date (could be longer depending on availability of services in the new building, something to investigate prior to lease signing). The trick, though, is to be sure a lease is executed before ordering. This is not always possible, but changing or cancelling a circuit almost always results in complications and delays.

The ordering process may be complicated by your existing service contracts. Most service providers include a cancellation fee in their contracts; if you are subject to this fee you may want to simply move your service to the new space. Be aware, most service providers also include a move fee in their contracts (damned if you do, damned if you don’t clauses). If you’re faced with this situation, and you want the same service in the new space you currently use, then move the circuit. You will carry marginally better value with the provider if you’re an existing customer as you would as a new customer.

Finally, be prepared to manage this process even though it’s completely out of your hands. A weekly call to your provisioning coordinator (if the vendor provides you an actual resource) is highly recommended. You may have to tell the provider where their facilities are located within your new building; we suggest pulling your own tie line from the house closet (mark it clearly) so that the carrier just drops your circuit and connects it to your line (this keeps them from having to pull anything into your space). You essentially want to take out any variable that may impede the installation of your communications.

Information Infrastructure Design. If you’re going to start with a fresh space, take a fresh look at your voice and data systems designs. A new build out is the ideal opportunity to upgrade systems – either with fresh gear or with hardware updates. Systems will already be offline for the move (unless you are truly blessed with the resources to replicate the infrastructure and do a hot cut), new equipment can be rolled into the capital expenditure for the entire build out (consult your accountant first), and you have the time to plan out a new logical structure to the entire infrastructure (this presumes you’re not already as efficient as possible, which if you are, kudos to you).

Consolidation of switching, upgrade of firewall, RAM upgrade in servers, transition to hosted VOIP phone service; the list goes on. We suggest any work done while systems are offline should be of a variety that will not impact users’ processes or expectations come the first Monday morning post-move. Day-1 support is onerous enough without training users on new applications or troubleshooting version upgrades (one caveat being a new phone system – a new build out has actually proved to be an ideal time for new voice systems).

Like carrier provisioning, re-designing the information infrastructure takes detailed advance planning, project management, and heavy amounts of caffeine. But done right, the new environment should provide a more logical plan while allowing for future business requirements.

Technology space planning. An architect designs office space to be functional and attractive. He/she usually has minimal knowledge of your true technology space requirements (room layout, power, HVAC, fire suppressant, etc.). That means you’ll have to get into the design game early in the process; and to do that in any effective capacity will require you to have a firm understanding of your current and reasonable future (3 years) requirements. It’s a guessing game to a certain extent, but a practical application of previous growth rates to future expectations should provide a solid foundation for determining your space requirements.

Start with the room size and layout. Cabinets, relay racks (if applicable), demark location, power outlets (be sure to have sufficient dedicated amp’s for batter backups), venting and air conditioning, etc. All of this will eat at the available square footage in your room, so a draft room configuration – even on the back of a napkin – is highly recommended so that you know within a realistic plus/minus how much actual space you will need. (Hint: Ask for 10-15% more than you need because you’ll lose that much or more on the final design and you want room for the future.)

Power and HVAC. The electrician and HVAC engineers will provide a plan based on averages for a technology room your size (whatever size it is). You will always want more than they proposed because that average is based on current requirements, not what you might need later. Power is more important that HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) at this point given the arduous task of installing more power after the fact. Be sure you have enough outlets, dedicated power resources, and outlet types (UPS units have various plug designs); also ensure you have capacity for future usage growth.

Usually AC and venting are tied into the entirety of the office system, which makes expansion after the fact almost impossible. Supplemental units (floor or wall-mounted) are acceptable alternatives; a good ventilation layout will suffice even with expansion.
To be continued next week… rack elevations, cable plant, and furniture will be the topics du jour.

May 15, 2008

For most small- and mid-sized businesses it’s just not practical to exhaustively formulate and review the business, process, and usability requirements that determine the best technology. (In fact, it’s rarely feasible even for larger firms.) There is seldom a definitive answer to the question of which technology is best for your business, and even the final answer is not always the “final” answer. So here are a few steps to follow that will help you through the process:

1. Seek expert advice. You are the expert on your business and your processes. What you need is a reliable resource who can translate that expertise into a suitable technology solution. These experts can take the shape of a general technology consultant or resellers of particular solutions. Of course, it’s still important to investigate more than one solution, but using a seasoned resource can save you loads of time and effort.

2. Take it for a test drive. Most technology solutions offer a free trial. A free trial generally requires a concerted effort on your part to test the solution in a real-world environment, but there’s no better way to see if it’s right for you. Keep track of your metrics: how well do customers respond? How often do employees use the system and how do they feel about it? No one technology will be perfect, of course, but if you follow the 80/20 rule—the solution does 80% of what you need, the other 20% would be nice to have—you’ll know you’re on the right track.

3. Get employee buy-in. No technology solution will be right for your business unless your employees actually use it (you’d be amazed how novel a concept this is). Adding a new tool to established processes, especially during the testing phase, almost always engenders a negative reaction. Don’t give that negativity short-shrift; acknowledge it and then use it to systematically outline how the new technology will improve your employees’ lives. Remember, the more your employees know about the technology and its benefits the easier it is for you to deflect the bitter feelings that are associated with decisions “pushed down” the chain of command. (An exception to this rule: if the new technology is going to supplant certain employees, don’t expect to win them over.)

4. Plan, Plan, Plan. You cannot plan enough for the implementation of a new technology, but you must try—a smooth implementation dramatically increases the technology’s chances for long-term success. It’s impossible to plan for every last contingency, so plan for those you can anticipate. Make sure your employees understand the new system, how it works, and what their roles are. You might also consider assigning them different implementation-level responsibilities to spot more potential holes before things are put in place.


“Be prepared.” Boy Scout motto

May 12, 2008

This posting in no way relates to technology but I wanted to give fellow Flyers fans a little push this morning. Tough losses in Pitt... and we're getting no help from the fates (or refs) with Timonen and Coburn going down unexpectedly (though Coburn is tough the puck seemed to get him around the eye; I would play it cautious given his future value).

The WC will be rockin' tomorrow night. Here's a bit of "vengeance now" for the south Philly faithful!


May 08, 2008

Technology is in a constant state of advancement (i.e., change). Buy a computer today, it’s obsolete tomorrow. And while change may be good, let’s face it: change can be difficult. Change can be especially challenging for small- and mid-sized businesses when faced with upgrading to the latest and greatest technologies.

So how do you decide when to upgrade to a new technology?

The short answer is, it depends—it depends on the technology and its purpose. This isn’t a cop-out on the answer, but the fact is upgrading your server’s operating system will have a greater impact on your business than upgrading your classic iPod to the Touch iPod (though you lose significant storage capacity). For the most part, though, we recommend you wait as long as you can before implementing any new technologies.

For line of business applications and hardware, it’s almost always worth it to wait. These technologies are too valuable to your enterprise to risk exposing them to bugs, incompatibility issues with existing software or equipment, or other conflicts that would disrupt performance. No testing environment can replicate your business infrastructure; being the first out of the gate is not the most practical solution.

The migration to new technologies is best left to larger companies that have the personnel and budgets to support the issues that inevitably arise with new technologies. Let them document the issues and bugs; let them initiate the fixes with the vendor; let them do the heavy lifting. In a year or so, you’ll benefit from their efforts and frustrations by implementing a technology that’s been improved by a real-life vetting process. It won’t be perfect, of course, but it will definitely be better.

One caveat – if the existing technology will no longer be supported by its manufacturer, you’re left with little choice but to plan a migration. (We say “plan” because the lack of support doesn’t mean your technology will no longer function—just that it’ll be harder to find help if something does go wrong.) It’s a bit of a crap shoot, of course, but you can buy your firm more time. Just make sure you really are prepared to make the migration if your old technology fails!


“I think the necessity of being ready increases.” Abraham Lincoln, 1861