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Network Management

network-management-system-4-0We define a network management system (NM system) as a methodology and a set of tools that help in performing network management. In this section we describe the set of desirable features of an NM system in the form of a network administrator’s wish list. At this point, we are not concerned with whether the items on this wish list are easy to provide, how much they cost or even if it is even possible to provide the features listed. The main objective of this section is to capture all that one could possibly want from a NM system.

A NM system should help in rectifying network faults. Many organisations provide a helpdesk where employees call if they experience any network problems. The helpdesk staff records the problem and take corrective action. This form of management is often called Reactive Network Management. In contrast, a NM system may autonomously monitor the network to detect faults. When faults are detected, the NM system records it and may either take corrective action on its own or inform the appropriate personnel who then decide what to do. This form of management is often called Proactive Network Management. Proactive Network Management is generally better since it minimises the impact on the users. Ideally, a network fault should be detected and rectified before users even become aware of it.

HOW CAN WE HELP YOUR BUSINESS?

help-desk-solutionsRustyice’s strength is that it will tailor the service it provides to suit you and your business needs, rather than have a ‘one solution fits all’ mind-set.

Each customer is different. If needed, we can essentially become your internal IT Department, taking full responsibility for administration.  Or if you already have IT Staff, we can provide an external, independent and professional ‘fall back’ situation in times of need or emergency.

Just look at the list of benefits our customers receive as standard:

  • A Bespoke Package That Fits Your Needs
  • Direct Access to Engineers
  • Remote Live Equipment Monitoring
  • Unlimited Support Calls/Remote Access & Site Visits
  • Detailed Site Audit/Documentation & Security
  • Free Help & Advice
  • Free Project Management
  • Free Loan Equipment
  • Free Holiday Cover for IT Staff
  • Detailed Call Logging
  • Discount Installation Charges for New Equipment Purchased
  • 24/7 Cover Available
  • Quarterly Courtesy Visit & Health Check
  • Low Staff Turnover
  • Excellent Client Retention & References

We have a dedicated team of professionals and monitoring systems ‘in house’, which often enable us to see a problem developing, and respond swiftly before you incur difficulties. Of course, you can still call or email us, and your request will go straight to an engineer who will respond swiftly and professionally.

If you need a site visit, do not worry, these are included (unlimited) as standard for our premium support customers.

call-recording-1024x1024Our Call Logging and Proactive Monitoring systems at Rustyice have been developed in house and are a source of pride to the team and the envy of many of our competitors. They have been designed to facilitate a rapid response to problems and queries raised either by you the customer, or triggered by our in-house analysis.

We’d be delighted to visit you and demonstrate these systems, or alternatively welcome you to our office facility in Kilmarnock where you can see our systems in action over a cup of coffee. See what our customers think about our service and response!

Call us now on 01563 701075 or use our online form.

Energy Retrofits and Building Automation Save the Life and Expenses of a Building

The environmental impact buildings have in the UK is at alarming levels — accounting for 40% of the nation’s energy usage and an equal percentage of carbon output, and, when you consider water consumption, waste management and vehicle transportation for waste management as well as employees of the building, it is clear that change is necessary.

Building automation is the leading solution towards streamlining building energy management. Although BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) certification is a goal for many new buildings, often the certification covers only the construction and design process. (BREEAM) is a voluntary measurement rating for green buildings that was established in the UK by the Building Research Establishment (BRE). Since its inception it has since grown in scope and geographically, being exported in various guises across the globe. Its equivalents in other regions include LEED North America and Green Star in Australia, and HQE in France. BRE and CSTB (the French Building research centre) have signed a memorandum of understanding committing them to the alignment of BREEAM and HQE. It’s simple when it’s a project being worked on externally by a team. But once the building is occupied and in use, often the building maintenance team poorly manages lighting control, elevator access control, heating / ventilation and air conditioning, the building’s efficiency potential is not met, and the building uses an unnecessary amount of energy.

Not only should the focus be on constructing a sustainable Building Solution, but also on retrofitting old buildings to be greener and more energy efficient. By conserving water and utilising renewable energy, as well as implementing building automation systems, even older buildings can benefit from energy retrofittings.

Most building occupants applaud and welcome the idea of greening a building, but when it comes to behavioural change for the individual, many fail to change their ways, keeping the greening process from reaching its potential. Simple habit changes such as manually turning lights on after a timer has shut them off, or returning cutlery and dishes to the dishwasher instead of tossing out disposable plasticware can be resisted by employees.

Old buildings represent only 4% of BREEAM-certified square footage, but account for a fifth of BREEAM registered square feet. Making existing buildings greener poses a number of challenges, as it is a multi-faceted project to attack and integrate building systems. The coordination of a number of priorities is necessary, and often, they clash. For instance, meeting the requirements of energy efficiency with heating and air conditioning, while meeting the the comfort needs of occupants. Often instead of the greening falling under one large project, it is broken into conflicting pieces where different departments overlook a specific aspect of the building while it clashes with the energy needs of another aspect.

Above all other challenges, the budget for going green is the most difficult for building owners and building management to monitor and control. Most organisations have a long list of budget priorities and constraints, with an aim to increase their bottom line as much as possible. While going green does provide an increased return on investment, it takes some time to create and see the changes.

At Rustyice Solutions, our experience in the design and integration of BMS gives us the edge. We are confident that Rustyice Solutions Smart Building Technologies and information management will help you to competitively differentiate and thus win more business if your building houses tenants or save more money if the building is owned outright. Our unique solution design and sub-contract services will take your building project performance to another level. Call us today on 0800 012 1090 and speak to one of our Building Management Advisors. What have you got to lose except the waste?

Nine Tips and Technologies for Network WAN Optimisation

Although there is no way to actually make your true WAN speed faster, here are some tips for  corporate IT professionals that can make better use of the bandwidth you already have, thus providing the illusion of a faster pipe.

1) Caching — How  does it work and is it a good idea?

Caching servers have built-in intelligence to store the most recently and most frequently requested information, thus preventing future requests from traversing a WAN/Internet link unnecessarily.

Caching servers keep a time stamp of their last update to data. If the page time stamp has not changed since the last time a user has accessed the page, the caching server will present a local stored copy of the Web page, saving the time it would take to load the page from across the Internet.

Caching on your WAN link in some instances can reduce traffic by 50 percent or more. For example, if your employees are making a run on the latest PDF explaining their benefits, without caching each access would traverse the WAN link to a central server duplicating the data across the link many times over. With caching, they will receive a local copy from the caching server.

What is the downside of caching?

There are two main issues that can arise with caching:

a) Keeping the cache current –If you access a cache page that is not current you are at risk of getting old and incorrect information. Some things you may never want to be cached. For example, the results of a transactional database query. It’s not that these problems are insurmountable, but there is always the risk the data in cache will not be synchronized with changes. I personally have been misled by old data from my cache on several occasions.

b) Volume – There are some 300 million websites on the Internet. Each site contains upwards of several megabytes of public information. The amount of data is staggering and even the smartest caching scheme cannot account for the variation in usage patterns among users and the likelihood they will hit an uncached page.

We recommend Squid as a proxy solution however there are more elaborate and ultimately more capable solutions such as those at Ipanema Technologies.

2) Protocol Spoofing

Historically, there have been client server applications developed for an internal LAN. Many of these applications are considered chatty. For example, to complete a transaction between a client and server, tens of messages may be transmitted when perhaps one or two would suffice. Everything was fine until companies, for logistical and other reasons, extended their LANs across the globe using WAN links to tie different locations together.

To get a better visual on what goes on in a chatty application perhaps an analogy will help. It’s like  sending family members your summer vacation pictures, and, for some insane reason, putting each picture in a separate envelope and mailing them individually on the same mail run. Obviously, this would be extremely inefficient, just as chatty applications can be.

What protocol spoofing accomplishes is to “fake out” the client or server side of the transaction and then send a more compact version of the transaction over the Internet (i.e., put all the pictures in one envelope and send it on your behalf, thus saving you postage).

For more information, visit the Protocol Spoofing page at Ipanema Technologies.

3) Compression

At first glance, the term compression seems intuitively obvious. Most people have at one time or another extracted a compressed Windows ZIP file. If you examine the file sizes pre- and post-extraction, it reveals there is more data on the hard drive after the extraction. Well, WAN compression products use some of the same principles, only they compress the data on the WAN link and decompress it automatically once delivered, thus saving space on the link, making the network more efficient. Even though you likely understand compression on a Windows file conceptually, it would be wise to understand what is really going on under the hood during compression before making an investment to reduce network costs. Here are two questions to consider.

a) How Does it Work? — A good and easy way to visualize data compression is comparing it to the use of short hand when taking dictation. By using a single symbol for common words a scribe can take written dictation much faster than if he were to spell out each word. The basic principle behind compression techniques is to use shortcuts to represent common data.

Commercial compression algorithms, although similar in principle, can vary widely in practice. Each company offering a solution typically has its own trade secrets that they closely guard for a competitive advantage. However, there are a few general rules common to all strategies. One technique is to encode a repeated character within a data file. For a simple example, let’s suppose we were compressing this very document and as a format separator we had a row with a solid dash.

The data for this solid dash line is comprised of approximately 160 times the ASCII character “-?. When transporting the document across a WAN link without compression, this line of document would require 80 bytes of data, but with clever compression, we can encode this using a special notation “-? X 160.

The compression device at the front end would read the 160 character line and realize,”Duh, this is stupid. Why send the same character 160 times in a row?” So, it would incorporate a special code to depict the data more efficiently.

Perhaps that was obvious, but it is important know a little bit about compression techniques to understand the limits of their effectiveness. There are many types of data that cannot be efficiently compressed.

For example, many image and voice recordings are already optimized and there is very little improvement in data size that can be accomplished with compression techniques. The companies that sell compression based solutions should be able to provide you with profiles on what to expect based on the type of data sent on your WAN link.

b) What are the downsides? — Compression always requires equipment at both ends of the link and results can be sporadic depending on the traffic type.

If you’re looking for compression vendors, we recommend FatPipe, Juniper Networks or of course Ipanema Technologies.

4) Requesting Text Only from Browsers on Remote Links

Editors note: Although this may seem a bit archaic and backwoods, it can be effective in a pinch to keep a remote office up and running.

If you are stuck with a dial-up or slower WAN connection, have your users set their browsers to text-only mode. However, while this will speed up general browsing and e-mail, it will do nothing to speed up more bandwidth intensive activities like video conferencing. The reason why text only can be effective is that  most Web pages are loaded with graphics which take up the bulk of the load time. If you’re desperate, switching to text-only will eliminate the graphics and save you quite a bit of time.

5) Application Shaping on Your WAN Link

Editor’s Note: Application shaping is appropriate for corporate IT administrators and is generally not a practical solution for a home user. Makers of application shapers include Packeteer and Allot and are typically out of the price range for many smaller networks and home users.

One of the most popular and intuitive forms of optimizing bandwidth is a method called “application shaping,” with aliases of “traffic shaping,” “bandwidth control,” and perhaps a few others thrown in for good measure. For the IT manager that is held accountable for everything that can and will go wrong on a network, or the CIO that needs to manage network usage policies, this is a dream come true. If you can divvy up portions of your WAN/Internet link to various applications, then you can take control of your network and ensure that important traffic has sufficient bandwidth.

At the center of application shaping is the ability to identify traffic by type.  For example, identifying between Citrix traffic, streaming audio, Kazaa peer-to-peer, or something else. However, this approach is not without its drawbacks.

Here are a few common questions potential users of application shaping generally ask.

a) Can you control applications with just a firewall or do you need a special product? — Many applications are expected to use Internet ports when communicating across the Web. An Internet port is part of an Internet address, and many firewall products can easily identify ports and block or limit them. For example, the “FTP” application commonly used for downloading files uses the well known “port 21.”

The fallacy with this scheme, as many operators soon find out, is that there are many applications that do not consistently use a fixed port for communication. Many application writers have no desire to be easily classified. In fact, they don’t want IT personnel to block them at all, so they deliberately design applications to not conform to any formal port assignment scheme. For this reason, any product that aims to block or alter application flows by port should be avoided if your primary mission is to control applications by type.

b) So, if standard firewalls are inadequate at blocking applications by port, what can help?

As you are likely aware, all traffic on the Internet travels around in what is called an IP packet. An IP packet can very simply be thought of as a string of characters moving from Computer A to Computer B. The string of characters is called the “payload,” much like the freight inside a shipping container. On the outside of this payload, or data, is the address where it is being sent. These two elements, the address and the payload, comprise the complete IP packet.

In the case of different applications on the Internet, we would expect to see different kinds of payloads. For example, let’s take the example of a skyscraper being transported from New York to Los Angeles. How could this be done using a freight train? Common sense suggests that one would disassemble the office tower, stuff it into as many freight cars as it takes to transport it, and then when the train arrived in Los Angeles hopefully the workers on the other end would have the instructions on how to reassemble the tower.

Well, this analogy works with almost anything that is sent across the Internet, only the payload is some form of data, not a physical hunk of bricks, metal and wires. If we were sending a Word document as an e-mail attachment, guess what, the contents of the document would be disassembled into a bunch of IP packets and sent to the receiving e-mail client where it would be re-assembled. If I looked at the payload of each Internet packet in transit, I could actually see snippets of the document in each packet and could quite easily read the words as they went by.

At the heart of all current application shaping products is special software that examines the content of Internet packets, and through various pattern matching techniques, determines what type of application a particular flow is. Once a flow is determined, then the application shaping tool can enforce the operators policies on that flow. Some examples of policy are:

  • Limit Citrix traffic to 100kbs
  • Reserve 500kbs for Shoretel voice traffic

The list of rules you can apply to traffic types and flow is unlimited. However, there is a  downside to application shaping of which you should be aware. Here are a few:

  • The number of applications on the Internet is a moving target. The best application shaping tools do a very good job of identifying several thousand of them, and yet there will always be some traffic that is unknown (estimated at 10 percent by experts from the leading manufacturers). The unknown traffic is lumped into the unknown classification and an operator must make a blanket decision on how to shape this class. Is it important? Is it not? Suppose the important traffic was streaming audio for a Web cast and is not classified. Well, you get the picture. Although theory behind application shaping by type is a noble one, the cost for a company to stay up to date is large and there are cracks.
  • Even if the application spectrum could be completely classified, the spectrum of applications constantly changes. You must keep licenses current to ensure you have the latest in detection capabilities. And even then it can be quite a task to constantly analyze and change the mix of policies on your network. As bandwidth costs lessen, how much human time should be spent divvying up and creating ever more complex policies to optimize your WAN traffic?

6) Test Your WAN-Link Speed

A common issues with slow WAN link service is that your provider is not giving you what they have advertised.

7) Make Sure There Is No Interference on Your Wireless Point-to-Point WAN Link

If the signal between locations served by a point to point link are weak, the wireless equipment will automatically downgrade its service to a slower speed. We have seen this many times where a customer believes they have perhaps a 40-megabit backhaul link and perhaps are only realizing five megabits.

As we have stated above, Ipanema Technologies represents what is in our opinion the best all round solution for these types of situation. With bandwidth costs  consuming a major slice of the network related opex of any distributed organisation it becomes ever more obvious that the right solution is to keep these costs to a minimum whilst ensuring the experience for the end user is as good as it should be. Call us at Rustyice Solutions to discuss WAN optimisation and how it can help to make and save you money.