We Have, In Fact, Arrived

September 19th, 2016

In response to Stacy Higginbotham’s article “Are We There Yet”, IoT Newsletter (September 16, 2016)

Stacey Higginbotham poses the question “Are We There Yet?” In the most recent installment of her popular IoT Newsletter. The question is prompted by her recent visit to ThingMonk in London this past week. Her concerns are valid, as she reports on a growing malaise within the residential and consumer IoT market.

As a boots on the ground installer of IoT infrastructure, and home automation products, Datasavior and Lawson Home Technology have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of both commercial and residential IoT hardware installations. One of the key indicators that this market is starting to wane slightly is the sheer volume of throw away and one off plug-n-play devices flooding the market. These devices are the result of cheap PCB’s and microprocessors coming out of a veritable “puppy mill” of silicon manufacturers in the far east. Many of these products should start to fall by the wayside as more advanced professional grade products gain traction in the home building and consumer network industry.

As the line between two classes of consumer is drawn, we will see more and more that the sensors remain the source of our collaboration between human and machine. People want the IoT to change their lives, but we are no longer the sole consumer of these products and services. Machines, computers, and business models are increasingly influencing the course of the IoT movement. Without the input of our less organic co-conspirators the IoT will remain a market of widgets and do-dad fads that amount to a complete waste of resources.

Without making any lofty predictions of what human and machine agree on as a minimum viable product, I would postulate that there is a very clear vision currently of how we are going to get to that place. If we regard these networks of processors and data crunchers as subject to certain rudimentary evolutionary pressures, we can quickly deduce that certain characters remain prevalent within the IoT ecosystem.

1. The sole purpose of hardware is to collect and translate data
2. A common denominator is necessary to rule the ebb and flow of data collected
3. Transfer of data is only as good as its most stable infrastructure hardware
4. The data collected must be useful to solve an immediately perceivable problem
5. There must be an end user willing to place a unit of value on the solution

We as humans get hung up on the hardware, because we not only have a desire to buy the latest and greatest products on the market, but a neatly packaged product will likely result in a better return on investment. We produce, package, and market products whose purpose is not to accelerate the IoT movement, but to separate people from their money. The sole purpose of the hardware is to collect and translate data through the ecosystem. Missing that point turns the “IoT Movement” into the “IoT Market”. That is likely the source of pain that Stacey Higginbotham is feeling at ThingMonk.

The common denominator is a system hub, or software platform (possibly a cloud server) who dictates the rules of the microsystem. Many applications rely on Apple or Android to provide that common denominator, but as we know there are thousands of languages and platforms from which to drive practical end user solutions. When the base of a microsystem or mesh network is an application within the iCloud or Android families, often times there is poor reciprocity with other apps, or processing takes place within the plug-n-play device. Data translation is then deemed unnecessary across other platforms. The end result is a bunch of standalone (and expensive) products which are quickly derided as obsolete when another product comes along showing more promise or better integration with other microsystems. People should be unwilling to take a chance on purchasing these products for the reason cited in Ms. Higginbotham’s article (reference Revolv hub).

Transfer of data MUST be reliable and secure. All I am going to say here, is that we rely heavily on wireless transmission between products, because a plug-n-play device should be a product that requires no “professional installation”. This goes back to a lack of cooperation within the ecosystem, and companies who continue to create standalone microsystems through WiFi and RF transmission protocols, will not only face increasing scrutiny for insecure products, but will also leave themselves open to obsolescence due to an acceptance of industry standards for highly secure hardwired solutions. In residential and commercial, the industry professionals all know and accept that hardwiring your data and POE (power over ethernet) is the most secure way to ensure that your network is properly tooled for the 21st century.

The last two criteria of a successful IoT widget goes without saying and are completely necessary within a capitalistic infrastructure. It is possible that we are not focusing on creating data runs that provide actionable data. Nor are we creating products on which the end user is willing to spend an increasingly scarce amount of discretionary capital. I believe that the last two problems are products of the aforementioned, product focused issues of platform and hardware infrastructure. Perhaps as we shore up our products and infrastructure we will start to assess the ecosystem for viable end user buy in. We may even find that the increase in artificial intelligence, and product congruence will usher in a new consumer subclass that includes software and machines. However, until we come to terms with the product offerings that we currently have on the market, we will likely struggle with this new consumer culture.

Ms. Higginbotham regularly tests and promotes plug-n-play products, and my challenge to her would be to focus on the true direction of what a secure and robust IoT future looks like, for residential consumers, as we adopt solutions designed within the commercial and industrial economies. Look at infrastructure trends that will result in actionable data, and ease of end user productivity, especially in light of the fact that the end user may not even be human in the foreseeable future.

In response to Stacy Higginbotham’s article “Are We There Yet”, IoT Newsletter (September 16, 2016)

Austin Commercial Growth is a Jelly Doughnut

September 16th, 2016

Austin is home to tech companies, new and old. The industry surrounding this modest population of musicians, cinematographers, and artists, amounts to a jelly filled doughnut, with the jelly being the sweet culture rich center of a dense doughy matrix which expands exponentially as it heats up. Take one bite and the delicious core of sights and sounds oozes out conspicuously. The structure of our analogous confection has shifted from being the epicenter of Texas politics, to an epic center of technological development.

Texas is expanding into the 21st century as a leader in tech. The obvious take away is the shear diversity and breadth of the tech influence. Companies from data management software, to API developers, to hardware manufacturing have doubled down on this once sleepy central Texas town, as lifestyle and culture make these companies increasingly more attractive to the burgeoning influence of the millennial work force.

Augmented Cat6 data center

Augmented Cat6 data center

Regardless of the diversity of technological scope here in Central Texas, one aspect of this boom is more relevant than ever: Our infrastructure needs an over haul. Like our jelly doughnut, without the structured network of glutinous dough and sugar, our snack ceases to be a convenient hand held snack on the go, and instead is just a mouthful of sweet Fredericksburg peach jam.

Datasavior (networking and server gurus) has been working with building engineers and tech giants to set up Central Texas commercial buildings with state of the art infrastructure, tooled for the 21st century. It starts with the right contractor. Take time to work with a company who can design a robust and flexible network.

Build a robust network

Your recipe for success starts with a few basic principles:

1. Your network is only as robust and secure as your router (And for goodness sake, change the default password).

2. For long distances from your NPOE add a wireless access point.

3. Having a wireless access point is great for working on the fly, but nothing transports large files and data backups like hard wiring your network.

4. Spend money on quality network switches.

5. As your business grows, you can use a virtualized server, but for a truly secure business, nothing beats having your information hosted on your own private server for speed and reliability.

6. Back up your data daily.

7. Back up your data daily.

And finally,

8. Back up your data daily.

Hard wire your network

When we talk about making sure your network is built for the 21st century, what were are saying is that your business needs to be looking into the future to determine what your specific needs will be 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years down the road. We are talking about building a jelly doughnut that will make the trip from the kitchen, to the box, to your office, and finally to your mouth. Planning for these incremental benchmarks is critical in setting your company up for success. A simple mistake such as using only wifi networks and cloud based data centers can leave your company relying on inadequate transfer speeds, and insecure file sharing.

Datasavior specializes in technology upgrades for small to medium sized businesses in Central Texas. Call us if you have a need, anticipate a need, or don’t have a clue what your needs are. We can take the pain out of your business IT headaches.

Need to speed up your office wifi?

August 3rd, 2016

Most offices use WiFi today to provide internet access for staff and visitors, and it can be very frustrating when WiFi performance begins to slip. Providing internet for your guests is one thing, but since the internet is more of a utility, the convenience of not having to use their LTE network is secondary.

How WiFi Works

If you are experiencing slow speeds in the office, it may be more difficult than you think to troubleshoot the speed issue. Knowing more about how wifi works may be helpful.

WiFi speeds are directly related to the underlying Internet service speeds provided by your Internet service provider (ISP). If your Internet service has a maximum speed of 5 Mbps, then your maximum WiFi speeds can only be 5 Mbps – and realistically, WiFi speeds will typically be slower.

As the number of devices accessing WiFi network increases – not only in your office space but also in the surrounding spaces – the quality of your WiFi connection can decrease. Here is a normal scenario that plays out in offices all the time:

You start an office with five employees, who bring smartphones, laptops, and tablets that connect to your WiFi. There are no other tenants in the office spaces around your suite. Over the next 12 months, you increase to 15 employees who connect to WiFi. Now all the surrounding office suites are also occupied, and each of those offices have 5-10 people accessing WiFi. You decide to allow your guests to access WiFi, and you provide them with a guest password.

At this point, the WiFi density has increased dramatically and everyone is vying for the same wireless frequencies. Even though the other office suites are on different ISPs, the Internet is being broadcast over the same frequencies and everyone is sharing those frequencies. It’s hard to catch this gradual increase in usage in your own office – but it’s even harder to notice it in the offices that surround yours. But this overall increase in WiFi usage is going to deteriorate your WiFi performance – and the technical setup that used to work for your business may now need some upgrades.

The Limitations of WiFi

Often times business users of wifi have lofty expectations of just how much work their wireless access points can handle. You may want to use tablets throughout your building, or wirelessly access software in the cloud while also doing VOIP calls. While these things are technically possible, the WiFi performance will likely be poor. Also, the basic technical limitations of VOIP solutions ensure that wireless internet calls are not going to deliver the same consistent quality that you’ll experience from a wired Internet connection or a landline phone. More companies want to provide better WiFi access for their guests, who are often important customers. This is a great idea – but it does put additional pressure on the WiFi service. The more guests you have using your WiFi service, the less WiFi service is available for your internal staff.

How to Speed Up Your WiFi

If you want to speed up your wifi, here are five tips:

1. Have your IT service provider perform a detailed wireless assessment of your office space. Doing so will tell you the density of usage in your office and surrounding spaces, which areas in the office have poor coverage, and which frequencies are used and how often.
2. Based on the wireless assessment, have your IT team make improvements by adding or moving wireless access points (WAPs) to cover dead zones. They can also fine-tune WAPs to use the frequencies with the best coverage.
3. Cap your guest WiFi. First, make sure you guest WiFi network is secured by its own password. Then, segment it from the company WiFi with a “cap” configured to keep guest users from hogging all the WiFi bandwidth. For example, if you have 5 Mbps total bandwidth available, cap the guest WiFi to use no more than 1 Mbps to ensure employees always have the bandwidth they need to do their jobs.
4. Evaluate how your office is using WiFi to confirm your current setup can actually meet expectations. If you are asking it to do too much, you should lower your expectations accordingly.
5. If you have done all of the above and still want/need better service, go to your ISP and ask them to provide options and pricing for an increase in service. Going from 5 Mbps to 10 Mbps doubles the available bandwidth for everyone to use – and that includes WiFi.
In most cases, the best approach to increasing your WiFi speed is to educate yourself. Find out how your office is using WiFi and confirm what is actually possible with your current setup.

Data is the new currency

July 11th, 2016

 

Traditionally, currency is treated as a means of trading credit.  If I have something that Johnny wants, and he does not have a commodity that I need, then Johnny is still able to acquire what he desires by offering me a state sponsored note or coin that is guaranteed legal tender by his resident government.

In today’s new economy consumers often find themselves receiving vast amounts of entertainment, swag, even commodities, without ever having to reach in their wallets for a piece of traditional currency.  The consumer just enters an email address, downloads an app, or takes a survey, in exchange for whatever momentary burst of pleasure they are promised by the creator of the article, game, or video.  The consumer has paid what amounts to a very high price for a fleeting piece of entertainment, because what they often give in exchange is a vast amount of personal data.

When you download an app and give the server access to your photos, phone numbers, and call activity, the server will continuously download and retain that information until you either delete the app or replace your mobile device.  Start-ups with high numbers of early adopters can often times be valued at millions of dollars by virtue of the fact that consumers are willing to download their application to their phones and give that application certain permissions that amount to a window into the personal lives of every man woman and child in their network.

In this respect, you have effectively traded your entertainment for bits of ones and zeros.  The information likely means very little to you, until you start to really think about what a third party, peering into your personal life might actually be able to find out.  Before you download that app, or click on that link, take a moment to ask yourself if you really trust the source.  Take some time to contemplate what you are doing on your computer, and who might be watching.  Your data may mean more to others than you know.

 

Disaster Preparedness and Data Back-up

July 4th, 2016

As an IT professional, I make inquiries daily as to how companies are backing up their data. Most times I find that people have absolutely no plan in place to ensure the protection of their data. Other times I find that people are 100% confident in the security of their data but are actually at risk of losing it.

Recently one of our vendor members suffered from a fire in their facility. Within a few hours they sent notification to all of the AAFAME and BOMA members letting them know about the fire. What was very telling was that they also asked for anyone waiting for service to contact them because they had lost their appointment records. I knew right away that they did not have a data backup. If the appointments were gone, then wouldn’t they be missing their accounting information? What about their customer list, vendor list, logo, marketing pieces, inventory list, employee contact information? The list of important information goes on. What a hit to their business.
What can I do to make certain that my business’ data is protected?

At a minimum, you should be backing up your data on a daily basis to an external hard drive. With this basic level of protection, you are safeguarded against a hard drive failure, which is a very common occurrence, especially if your computer or server is more than 3 years old. The process is fairly simple. You can purchase an external USB hard drive from any electronics reseller. Be sure to purchase a device that can accommodate the current amount of data you have and is also sufficiently large enough to handle growth. Many of these devices have built in software that will run a back up on a regular schedule. We prefer to use Robocopy or XXCOPY because they are much more reliable, however they are slightly harder to use. Be sure that you are backing up all of your necessary data. Many people back up their “My Documents” folder but overlook emails, accounting and contact databases. In a network environment only data on the server is backed up. Be sure that your employees are saving their data on the server. Nothing should be saved on local machines, especially if the files are business related. In the case of hardware failure on your primary computer or server, you would simply plug the USB drive into another machine and you are back up and running.

But what if your business has a break in, a fire, a flood or some other disaster? That external hard drive is likely going to be a victim also. At this point all of your business records, contacts, calendars, emails, music and pictures are lost… Forever!

The best way to ensure the safety of your data is to have it located in at least two places. This can be accomplished by simply taking your external hard drive with you at the end of the day. Should a tragedy happen overnight, all you need is access to a computer and again, your business is back up and running. This approach does take discipline. I found that putting a note on your door as a reminder to run and take the backup with you works well.

Datasavior recommends a multi faceted approach. First, use multiple external drives and rotate them daily. Take one with you and leave the other for that evening’s backup. Use one more to keep Friday’s data. If you accidentally delete something from the prior week, you can go back to the Friday drive and restore it. Second, use an offsite or collocation facility. This is your fail safe back up. If a worst case scenario happens where both your facility and your external drives are incapacitated or missing, your data still exists. Downloading data through an internet connection is slow. It will take awhile to get back up and running, but it beats not having any data whatsoever.

Here is one for you. How many of you take these same steps with your personal home computers? Think about all that you have stored and what it means to you. Wedding photos, family photos, personal tax returns, receipts, music, etc are all things that we now keep electronically. What will you do if your PC crashes, your home is burglarized, catches fire or floods.

Finally, you need to be certain that your data is actually being backed up. Many issues can arise with even the most bullet proof backup systems. Drives fail, network mapping changes, folders are moved or the backup script quits running. We have seen numerous situations where companies are certain that they are safe only to find out that their data hasn’t fully backed up for months. The time to discover this problem isn’t when you need the data restored. Make running test restorations part of your normal network maintenance.

If you are not comfortable with this type of work, it’s time to consult an IT professional. IT pros can help guide you through the process buy helping you pick out the right equipment, analyzing files to backup, writing backup scripts and doing test restores. The price of hiring a professional is definitely worth the peace of mind you will have.

Brett Weiss is responsible for business development at Datasavior, Inc., and is an active member of AAFAME, BOMA and IREM. Datasavior is a full service systems integration company specializing in IT services, voice, data, audio and video systems and cabling.

Datasavior returns to Hyatt Regency on Town Lake.

March 1st, 2016

A few years ago, we were tasked with cabling Hyatt Regency on Town Lake.  The cabling project took place during their extensive renovations in late 2007. I’m proud to say that we have been invited to return to perform some additional work for them.  We have received the go ahead to install Cat6 cable for their new WiFi system which will provide their guests with fast and reliable internet connectivity.

We were originally hired by Entech Sales and Service in December of 2007 to pull Cat5e to each of the guest rooms.  The purpose of this cable was to control the new automated fan coil units being installed in the guest rooms.  It was decided by the hotel maintenance team and ownership that it would be wise to run Cat6 to the rooms at the same time for future use.  Hyatt Town Lake intended to install a video system utilizing the new cabling at some point in the future.  That video system is now installed and from what I hear, the resolution on the guest’s TVs is awesome and should help to create a better guest experience for people coming to visit our beautiful city.

I should point out that during that original install period, we re-cabled the hotel offices and point of sale systems.  Fiber was run to connect the various IDFs in the hotel and new air conditioned server enclosures were installed in their MDF.

hyatt regency

Tomlinson’s Feed and Pets – Complete

December 16th, 2015

Tomlinson’s Feed and Pets converted the old warehouse behind their Airport retail store into their new headquarters.  The space turned out beautifully, thanks mainly to Donna and Adolph Wetegrove with Wetegrove Design Services.  The new space has a warm and comfortable feel to it, and it is pet friendly. You can tell by the dog prints in the concrete leading up the stairs and to the front door. 
IMG_9902Datasavior’s scope of work started with the installation of data cabling, but as usual, it grew to include audio and video systems, wireless access points and Phonebooth VoIP phones as well.  The conference room LEDs are joined together via HDMI combiners/splitters.

Arboretum Plaza Conference Room Upgrade

November 20th, 2015

We had the privilege of assisting Don Tait, Associate Director for CBRE at Arboretum Plaza, in the upgrade of the building’s conference room.  Our portion of the project included the A/V needed to bring the conference room up to current standards.  A Denon sound system controls the inputs into the 80″ Sharp LED TV. The inputs which are available to the users are HD cable tv, Apple TV, HDMI on the conference table, video conferencing or teleconferencing. All of the inputs are auto sensing giving the building’s tenants a simplified way to utilize the room with having to have special A/V knowledge.DSC00579_1

The video conferencing package we installed is simple to use and full of features.  The meeting organizer simply sends a calendar invitation to meeting participants through a program like MS Outlook.  The invitation includes a link which allows them to log onto the video conference using their smart phone, laptop or desktop.  The system is HD Video and Audio.  The onscreen display toggles between full screen and gallery views, allowing users to see everyone in the conference or just the speaker.

 

Orkestra Complete

November 10th, 2015

Our friends from north of the border, Orkestra, brought us in install the data cabling in their new suite at 100 Congress Avenue. Thank you to CBRE for the referral. The project was run by a relative new comer to the Austin market, Rand Construction.  This was our first project with Rand, and we are looking forward to many more.

This was a relatively small project at only 47 cables, but work is work and we love to work. It grew to include the installation of two 60″ LED TV’s and one 70″ LED TV. This was a basic install using HDMI cables to connect to the TV’s.  Due to room configurations, we connected to two of the TV’s utilizing HDMI over Cat6 devices.  6743 6744 6745Orkestra is a leading provider of .NET e-commerce solutions and services.  Their platform acts as a reference enterprise architecture that unifies products, commerce and orders on a single platform. They have a brief video on their site that describes the customer experience starting from the shopping cart on a retailers site and continues into the brick and mortar store. It’s worth a look – http://www.orckestra.com/en. Scroll down the page for the video.

Jones Energy, Tomlinsons Pet Food, Orckestra, Endeavor 7700 all in progress

September 12th, 2015