Monthly Archives: December 2012

Phone Trek II: “The Wrath of Cloud” (CloudPBX, that is…)

Hi Blog Fans,

We’ve had, unfortunately, a couple of hiccups with our CloudPBX (virtual phone system) in the past week.  While highly unusual (as well as tremendously annoying), it is a good and illustrative example of some of the various “pro’s” and “con’s” of “Cloud-Based” technology – and also helps explain some of the pro’s and con’s of the same.

To take a step back, back “in the old days”, traditional business phone systems tended to be on-premise – unless they were very small installations, or ones with such basic needs, that it would be on par to what would be used in a home (residential) application.  In either case, any scenario where the “guts” or the “brain” of the phone system resides in a physically different location from the premise, can be considered an “off-premise”, or “Cloud-based” system.  For instance, the “plain old phone service” used in homes, functions in that fashion – the “brains” of the overall phone system don’t reside in an individual house.  The “dial tone”, etc. that you hear when you pick up a line all comes from a distant, off-premise (off-site) location.  A small business could also obtain an enhanced, traditional system – sometimes referred to as a Centrex system – where the actual physical lines were similarly configured as they would be in a home (or residential) application, but the “guts” or the “brain” of the small business phone system was leased from (and programmed by) the local phone company.  For a lot of smaller businesses, this approach (Centrex) would make a lot of sense.  The phone system’s brain, in essence, resided with the phone company.  It was, in general, very reliable – since the actual equipment resided with the bulk of the other “phone company equipment”, in a very highly controlled and regulated environment.

In the business world, the numbers of lines, actual physical handsets, and other technical requirements tends to get pretty large (and complicated) fairly quickly.  This led to the creation of business-class Private Branch Exchanges, or PBX’s, which would reside within the business office itself.  The PBX would then connect to the off-site telephone provider (or service) to provide the actual telephone service inside and out of the business.  This provided various pro’s and con’s – on the plus side, the business got more control over their own telephone infrastructure within their own premises.  On the minus side, they had more equipment to now maintain and administer, compared to the off-site model, where a telephone company (or other provider) was doing it for them.

With the proliferation of the Internet, Voice over IP (VoIP), and high-speed data lines (e.g. Broadband), CloudPBX’s are starting to really take off.  They offer the potential for some significant cost savings compared to an on-premise traditional PBX and traditional voice lines, as well as some of the potential benefits of the older-style Centrex arrangement as well.  Once again, the “brain” resides off-site – only the endpoints (the actual phone handsets) typically reside at the location.  However, the reliability and quality of the CloudPBX/VoIP arrangement is still mixed.  While it’s true that Internet and Broadband have significantly reduced the costs and increased the number of potential features and choices for various voice and data transmission options, the reliability and call quality is not always consistent across all carriers and arrangements.

As a case in point, we’ve suffered a failure of our CloudPBX now twice, during business hours, in less than the course of about 7-10 days.  Since we are a small organization whose staff tends to be out of the office a lot and/or working from remote locations, this has not been as catastrophic as it might otherwise have been in larger or more static organizations – however, it’s still tremendously disruptive and troubling.  While we would have occasional outages or failures of our on-premise PBX before we had the CloudPBX, at least in that scenario, we always had more immediate and direct insight as to what the outage or problem cause(s) were, and how to resolve them.  When a CloudPBX outage occurs (or other Cloud outage – such as e-mail, web, or similar) – often times, there’s not a whole lot that can be done apart to wait for updates from the carrier.  Affected customers will then frequently take to Twitter (as we did) in an effort to find out more about what’s going on.

As with any unplanned, potentially disruptive incident where large numbers of customers (or people) are affected, the key concerns are (a) the way that communications are handled during the outage itself, (b) how the “post-event” or “post-mortem” of the outage is handled (and communicated), and (c) how frequently such outages occur – e.g. is the overall track record of the system’s reliability getting better, or worse?

In our case, our faith in our current CloudPBX is a bit shaken in the past few days.  We like a lot of things about it from a features perspective – as well as because it’s familiar to us, having worked with it and trained on it for over a year now – but doggone it, the reliability lately has been painful. 

Let’s hope that the wizards within our Internet Provider/phone carrier fix what they need to in order to get things stable and calm again.  So say we all!  😉

 

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“Merry `Cliff-Mas'”? ;-) Why Apple Hardware Support Rocks, Some tablet & mobilty diversions…

In the words of Stephen Colbert from a few days ago, “Merry Cliff-mas!” 😉

That, of course, referring to the upcoming “fiscal cliff” potentially facing the country.  While that topic in and of itself could warrant quite a ranting, we’re here to talk more about items of broader interest than the usual Washington, DC-area political dysfunctions.  Such as, what’s going on in the Tablet and mobility world.

Which brings me to our first topic – “Why Apple Hardware Support Rocks”.  Blog followers will remember the dilemma that I had earlier this year regarding “which iPhone to upgrade to” – e.g. the iPhone 5, or the iPhone 4S.  I ended up getting the 4S (even after the 5 was released).  Won’t rehash the reasons here – there’s an older blog entry for that.

Said iPhone, unfortunately, started having an odd problem a few days ago.  Audio stopped working out of one of the channels (the left channel) – this was for music, as well as phone calls (headset).  At first, Apple tech’s thought it may have been the headphones (reasonable first suspicion), but it turned out to be the unit itself.  So, here’s an example of just how positive and efficient a retail computer/hardware tech support experience can be:

– I scheduled a Genius Bar appointment at the local Apple Store to have the continuing problem diagnosed (after receiving replacement headphones via FedEx and that not solving the issue)

– Within about 20-30 minutes of arriving for said appointment, a tech ran some diagnostics on the phone right there in the store

– He quickly determined that there was something wrong with the phone itself

– Within another 20 minutes, I was out the door with a replacement, identical phone

Of course, I had backed up all of the phone’s data, apps, etc. before going to the appointment – on the suspicion that an exchange was likely.  But, this is a very good example of how (and why) Apple does such a good job with customer service at the retail level.  While there are some aspects of the Apple retail experience that I find a bit quirky (I still don’t like the whole “no designated cash register or line for checkout” thing – it reminds me too much of the free-for-all, Lord of the Flies-esque behavior that happens when renting a car from National Car Rental – where you “get to pick your own car” out of the rental car lot – which means, of course, the slower and clumsier travelers loaded down with way too much electronic equipment, like me – will always end up with the suckiest vehicles in such a competition) – this vignette I think very nicely illustrates a lot of the things that the Apple retail and support experience does well.

Now, in respect to Microsoft – we’ve also have very good retail (and repair) experiences at their Microsoft Store, as well.  It’s just that we’ve had to use Apple’s more often, because we have more Apple devices for a longer period of time – as opposed to only having gotten one PC (a laptop) from the Microsoft Store to date.  That laptop, incidentally, was/is a Sony VAIO VPCSA that is probably my favorite computer for routine use right now – whereas I use a MacBook Pro for Apple-related and other creative assignments (movies, video production).  That said, it’s just so happened that we’ve had multiple MacBooks and Mac Air’s both repaired and evaluated at Apple stores over the past 3 years.  Each time, it was always a very positive, efficient, and straightforward process.

So, that brings us to “what’s going on” with tablets this year.  As mentioned before, I’m still a huge fan of the Google Nexus 7 tablet.  You may recall that I purchased it a few months back after selling my original iPad.  It’s small and light (more so than an iPad mini), affordable, and the screen is gorgeous.  While it doesn’t run iOS (which is what I would say is its biggest “shortcoming”), for what I need to do with a tablet – which is mainly e-mail and web browsing – and some occasional device remote control – it’s perfect.  I had expected that by the time the holidays came around, that I probably would have gotten around to getting an iPad mini to replace the original iPad that I sold earlier this year – however, surprisingly, I’m still just not too impressed by the mini.  The screen (Retina) on the “full” iPad is notably better, and when you hold up the Google Nexus compared to an iPad mini, it’s an amazing contrast – in terms of how much nicer the screen on the Nexus is.

At this point, I think I’ll hold off on my replacement iPad until a good special comes along, most likely from the Apple refurbished store, or possibly from eBay.  I don’t “need” to have a new iPad as opposed to a refurbished one- I just want one to help further support and practice RiteTech’s clients.

We’ll have more to say about Apple-related stuff, including an exciting announcement, soon… Until then, happy and safe computing – regardless of what device or OS you’re using… 😉

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