Industry Interviews and Presentations Archive

Telephone Interview–Matthew Hare (Gigaclear)

Cotswolds hill and village picture courtesy of Glenluwin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Cotswolds – part of the big 10000 for Gigaclear

Previously, I did an interview with Matthew Hare from Gigaclear shortly after they rolled out fibre-to-the-cabinet next-generation broadband service to Lyddington and fibre-to-the-premises broadband to Hambledon, both small villages in Rutland, UK. This was about small rural areas being enabled for real broadband service rather than second-rate broadband service.

Fibre-optic connection pots in ground - press picture courtesy of Gigaclear

10,000 of these connection pots for the fibre-optic broadband installed

Now Gigaclear has covered 50 small villages around the Oxfordshire and other areas of the UK with their service passing 10,000 properties. From this interview, Matthew had mentioned that 4000 households and businesses had bitten the bullet and taken up the next-generation broadband service that Gigaclear offers.

Digging up a village street - press picture courtesy of Gigaclear

When this is happening in your village, the broadband service quality becomes better

There have been some benefits across the board with the arrival of these next-generation fibre-based broadband services.

For businesses and other income-generating activities, the next-generation broadband services have been valued as an enabler. One of the benefits that has been noticed was a reduction in traffic levels because of a reduced need to travel to work which has become important for the villages that exist within commuting distance of the large towns. Knowledge workers like accountants, consultants and lawyers also benefited because of their increased bandwidth that is available to them at home so they can run their practice or business more effectively.

Fibre optic cable trench in village lane - press picture courtesy of Gigaclear

Fibre-optic cable laid alongside a lane to a premises in a village

The food, beverage and accommodation industries have valued these rollouts in a few different ways. Initially they saw the increased bandwidth as a way to improve the Wi-Fi-based public Internet service they provide as an amenity and having a consistently-good experience with this service attracts customers. In the interview, Matthew highlighted Oxford Country Cottages who sell this as a significant amenity for their self-catering holiday cottages.  I sent a follow-up email to Oxford Country Cottages regarding their experience with this service and what they identified as a core benefit was the business guests who were returning to these cottages because of the guest-access Wi-Fi that was served by Gigaclear’s fibre-to-the-premises service. This was something that the business guests were finding that was “beyond the norm” for guest-access Wi-Fi networks.

This leads on to the feasibility to use cloud-based business systems which avoids the need to maintain servers on the premises and is considered an essential business tool.

The local communities have benefited from the broadband deployments due to increased cohesion. This was even evident in the initial stages of each project because of the initial curiosity surrounding the projects and that the visibility of the works taking place meant that something good is happening for their village. Some of the townsfolk in each community may want to preserve the status quo but more of them wanted an Internet service better than what the were being provided with.

There have been anecdotal reports of local property values increasing due to the arival of fibre broadband as I have covered before but Gigaclear haven’t seen this as evidence for themselves with any of their rollouts.

But where Gigaclear stands when it comes to providing Internet service is that they will exist as a pureplay broadband provider. That is where their business is about providing an Internet service alone rather than offering a voice telephony or pay-TV service.

Gigaclear are also operating this infrastructure as an infrastructure provider to serve these communities. This is to allow competing retail-level Internet service providers to include the villages in their footprint if they wish to do so.

BT are saying that they are doing the right thing when they are covering Britain’s rural areas but there needs to be a lot more work done to provide a proper level of service for these communities. A lot of these issues aren’t just about adding the necessary equipment but more about making sure that the wiring to the customer’s door is working properly.

What is showing up from the interview is that Gigaclear are putting the pedal to the metal when it comes to deploying infrastructure in to rural communities in order to provide a broadband service that would be considered the norm for big business in the city.

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Telephone Interview–Connecting Up (Mathan Allington)

Connecting Up logo - courtesy of Connecting UpThe year before last, I heard about Connecting Up from my former pastor in relation to cost-effective licensed copies of Windows 8. I did some online research on this not-for-profit organisation and found that it supplies technology to the non-profit organisations at prices that fit well within these organisations’ budgets so they are not making “bricks without straw” and ran an article about them on HomeNetworking01.info.

Subsequently, I had decided to organise an interview of some sort with Connecting Up to find out how they are approaching this goal and contacted Mathan Allington who is their Community Engagement Coordinator.

How are they providing cheaper IT resources?

Worship in a small church

A small church that can benefit from organisations like Connecting Up

One question I raised was how they are going about providing these organisations access to cost-effective technology. They supply refurbished recent-issue computer equipment along with hardware and software that is either donated or offered at a discount to non-profit organisations. This includes the ability to license a regular computer to Windows 8.1 Pro for AUD$10 per computer ex tax or a Dell Latitude E5510 (Intel Core i3 370M horsepower, 15” screen, 2Gb RAM, 160Gb hard disk, Windows 7 Pro) for AUD$235 ex tax. These are provided to organisations that are approved by Connecting Up or participating suppliers as non-profit organisations.

How are you approaching the non-profit organisations?

Another question that I raised was what kind of outreach was Connecting Up doing to expose themselves to the non-profit sector? They mainly engage in database-driven email marketing along with social-media-based campaigns such as some Facebook-based presences that they use to touch particular organisation groups. As well, they run events and training that are pitched at this sector.

For example, they run regular webinars with their membership and run face-to-face events on a reasonably-frequent basis as well as running blogs on their Website. They want to work on ways to reach more of the non-profit sector such as establishing presence at various conferences that these non-profit organisations run or attend.

When do non-profit organisations come to you for help?

Another question I raised was whether there was difficulty in encouraging a non-profit organisation to think towards newer technology especially when they are running with older technology that they see as being “good enough”. Mathan and I reckoned that the time that these organisations consider themselves in need is when they are seeking newer equipment that is to replace current equipment that is about to break.

Conclusion

What I have gained from this interview is that Connecting Up is making an effort to make sure that a group of organisations who are normally at risk of using inappropriate resources for their information and communications technology are able to benefit from appropriate resources without it placing a significant dent in their cashflow.

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Presentation Report – Western Digital RED Series NAS hard disks

On Tuesday 29 July, I had attended a Western Digital reseller presentation where WD were premiering their latest additions to the Red Series hard-disk range for NAS units. These are the WD Red Pro series that are pitched at heavy-duty applications centred around the many-bay units that can be mounted in a 19″ standard equipment rack as well as variants of the WD Red range that have 5 Terabyte and 6 Terabyte capacities.

The increasing relevance of the network-attached storage unit

D-Link DNS-320L 2-bay NAS

D-Link DNS-320L 2-bay NAS

A device that is appearing in more home and small-business networks is the network-attached-storage unit. This is a dedicated unit that shares data held on at least one hard disk across a network.

But increasingly these devices are being able to do more than this due to the vendors marketing their NAS units as a “platform” with a plethora of apps developed or ported by the vendor for these devices. This is augmented by an increasing number of manufacturers who are integrating the kind of processors used in regular-computing or enterprise-grade server applications in these devices, some of which you could describe as being like a compact desktop PC.

They are increasingly relevant in the small-business scene where they can serve as a backup location or central storage for that business’ computers. An increasing number of these units can implement “virtualization” where they can work as one or more different computer systems. As well, platform-based NAS units offer applications like video-surveillance recording, digital signage, and enterprise-grade “advanced-storage” setups like iSCSI or SAN. For that matter, some of the high-end desktop NAS units can be purposed as branch-level “on-ramps” for a full-blown enterprise-wide computing setup.

ASUSTor AS-204TE 4-bay NAS with WD Red 6Tb hard disk

ASUSTor AS-204TE 4-bay NAS – “Data central” for a small business

A few creative-skills professionals appeared at this presentation to demonstrate how the NAS fits in to their trade. In most of these cases, these users store only the data they need to work with at a given moment on their iMac’s main hard disk and keep the rest of the data on a NAS. As well, the units even serve as central content libraries for raw material or finished projects. This appeals very strongly to multi-person projects like film and video work where version-control is important.

But, in the home, they are appealing as systems to hold your audio, video or image content and make it available to network-capable AV devices. As well, most NAS vendors are pitching these systems as a “personal cloud” that is an alternative to services like Dropbox or OneDrive. As I have mentioned before, vendors are offering DVR abilities so that customers can connect the NAS to a USB digital-TV tuner module or broadcast-LAN unit to make it become the equivalent of a TiVo.

Making the NAS appeal to “Average Joe”

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS

One of WD’s representatives found that there is a problem with selling a NAS in a “big-box” store like Harvey Norman or JB Hi-Fi. Here it is about identifying the value that these devices have for the average “Joe in the suburbs” who is content with using a USB external hard disk as a backup or offload tool for their home computer. Typically the home network is implemented by these users just to facilitate Internet access and, perhaps, share a printer.

What needs to happen to make the NAS appeal to “Joe in the suburbs” is that a NAS makes more sense as an always-available content library or data store, especially if you have or intend to buy another computer, a mobile device like an iPad or network-capable AV equipment including most recent games consoles or smart TVs. A good question to address is the number of digital pictures you take or hours of digital video footage you make and the number of CDs you rip or digital music files you buy from iTunes and similar services and how you can make them available around the home.

As well, one or more legitimate “download-to-own” video-content services that can allow you to store your movies that you downloaded to a NAS can legitimize the value prospect of these devices to “Average Joe”.

WD internal hard-disk lineup and the RED Series

What has happened over the last few years is that WD have re-factored their regular-duty computer hard disk lineup in to distinct ranges denoted by colour as shown below:

Colour Purpose
Blue Everyday-use hard disks that satisfy most computing tasks – the typical “system drive” for a computer which would be represented by C: in DOS/Windows
Green Capacity – this is where the user places importance on how much data the hard disk is to carryThese may represent external hard disk applications or the extra hard disks fitted inside desktop computers for user data
Black Performance – The V8 of the range.This is where quick response is required such as workstation applications or “gaming rigs”
Red NAS – optimized for single-bay or multi-bay network-attached-storage devices which are always on and having to handle data at a moment’s notice
Purple Surveillance – optimized for digital video recorders that are part of closed-circuit TV setups. Focused more on writing continuous streams of data but with occasional read needs

 

This kind of product lineup avoids the practice where most user-installable desktop hard disks are sold to users as a “jack of all trades” basis without awareness of disks that are optimized for particular data-storage needs. For example, a person who is running that “ultimate gaming rig” to impress others at the LAN party would be after something that is about performance whereas a NAS or server user is after something that is about consistent reliable operation for something that is always available.

What are the WD Red Series hard disks and what makes them special

One of the many business-class "pizza box" NAS units that works with the WD Red Pro hard disk

One of the many business-class “pizza box” NAS units that works with the WD Red Pro hard disk

WD were the first company to develop and launch a hard disk that is optimized for the operating conditions that a network-attached storage device will throw at it. Previously, a NAS used regular desktop hard disks as its storage and these disks were seen more as a “jack of all trades, master of none” when it came to network storage requirements.

The key features for this range include:

  • Compatibility with the different operating conditions that different vendors’ NAS units will throw at the system. This includes dealing with different power-supply conditions, the hardware interfaces used in the NAS units or how they present to the software that is used in these devices.
  • Always-on reliability. The typical network-attached storage system is expected to be on all the time, ready to serve data when needed and is often seen as being “Data Central” for the home or business network. Here, these hard disks are expected to be spinning. It includes the provision of NASAware firmware on the hard disks to deal with situations like power loss or power disruption that can affect system reliability.
  • RAID-friendly design. WD have factored in vibration-control measures in order to cope with the typical multi-bay RAID-capable NAS. This is because with many hard disks in close physical proximity to each other, there is increased vibration when the NAS is moving data to multiple disks at the same time such as “mirroring” data across multiple disks. The RED series implement software or hardware measures to counteract the effects of continued vibration that occurs in these setups.
    As well this design also is supported with hard-disk firmware that can assure proper error recovery in the many-disk RAID arrays used in these devices thus avoiding the risk of underperforming RAID setups.
  • Power flexibility and efficiency. The WD RED series of NAS hard drives are optimized for varying power conditions that can be thrown at them, such as when a multi-bay NAS is being started or for different NAS units that have different power-supply characteristics. This also includes being designed for power efficiency in an always-on environment, even though most recent desktop NAS units implement on-demand “spin-up / spin-down” measures to save energy.
WD MyCloud EX4, WD MyCloud EX2, WD Red 6Tb hard disk

WD MyCloud EX Series NAS units able to benefit from the 6Tb WD Red

The newly-released 5Tb and 6Tb capacities appeal to all NAS designs in a lot of ways. For example, you could set up a 6Tb single-disk NAS or use two of the 6Tb hard disks in a dual-disk NAS configured for RAID 1 to have a fail-safe 6Tb data volume that can also handle higher data throughputs. You could even run up to 24Tb in a four-bay NAS or 30Tb in a five-bay NAS, including implementing various RAID data-replication setups for fail-safe or high-throughput operation.

Even the way the hard drives are designed have an efficiency and density advantage over the competition. For example, the 6Tb drives maintain 5 platters with 1.2Tb per platter rather than 6 platters with 1Tb per platter. This means that there isn’t much mechanical effort needed on the spindle motor to spin up the disk. As well, the drive housing can fit in to most NAS drive bays without being unnecessarily stout. They also maintain a 64Mb local hardware cache for improved operation efficiency.

The new WD Red Pro lineup

This lineup of NAS hard disks is optimized for the rack-mount large-business-class NAS system and is built towards higher performance and reliability in these many-bay systems. These would be able to handle a greater workload, which would be representative of a larger high-traffic business. Some people have put forward questions about using one of these hard disks in a small desktop NAS but it wasn’t found to be worth it for the kind of use that this class of NAS would typically be put to. But on the other hand, I would see them as being of use with the smaller units that serve branch-based “on-ramp” applications for enterprise data infrastructures.

Using the WD Red or the WD Purple disks for video-surveillance applications

QNAP TS-EC880U-RP pizza box NAS with WD Red Pro hard disk

QNAP TS-EC880U-RP business-class “pizza box” NAS that works with the WD Red Pro hard disk

Some questions were raised about implementing WD Purple hard disks in a regular NAS that was running one of the video-surveillance apps offered by the vendor as part of their application platform. The WD presenters recommended that the WD Purple disks go in dedicated DVR equipment that is optimized for the task rather than NAS units running these platform apps. Instead, they recommended the use of WD Red disks in these “NAS+software” setups, more likely because the NAS may be tasked to do other network-storage activities like being “Data Central”.

Can my NAS handle 6-Terabyte disks

A situation that one can easily run into with any computing equipment is that the equipment’s operating system or firmware can impose an arbitrary limit on the size of storage media. Here, if you supply storage media that is greater than this maximum allowed in this software, the software could throw up errors or simply fail because it can’t address all of the storage media’s useable capacity. This problem shows up when storage-media manufacturers release higher-capacity media after the software was “set in stone”.

For example, the older versions of MS-DOS and some other desktop operating systems couldn’t handle large capacity hard disks as a single logical volume. So computer users had to partition larger-capacity hard disks in to multiple logical volumes in order to make use of this space. As well, I had used an older digital camera that worked with SmartMemory cards and couldn’t use newer higher capacities of these cards. Here, I had to look around for cards of a particular capacity to keep as “spare film” for the camera.

Most of the NAS platforms can support this capacity out of the box or may require you to wait on an interim update for the new capacities to be supported. WD have provided a compatibility list which allows you to find what of the WD Red range can be supported by your NAS box. This includes issues like maximum capacities that these systems have. It is also worth checking on the vendor’s Web site for newer or impending software updates.

Conclusion

If you are thinking of buying an enclosure-only NAS or “upsizing” your existing NAS, you can head towards the newer 5Tb or 6Tb disks that WD offers for increased capacity. As well, your heavy-duty many-bay business-grade NAS can be treated to the WD Red Pro disks that are appropriate to its usage nature and performance level.

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Interview and Presentation–Security Issues associated with cloud-based computing

Introduction

Alastair MacGibbon - Centre For Internet Safety (University of Canberra)

Alastair MacGibbon – Centre For Internet Safety (University of Camberra)

I have been invited to do an interview with Alastair MacGibbon of Centre For Internet Safety (University Of Canberra) and Brahman Thiyagalingham of SAI Global who is involved in auditing computing service providers for data security compliance.

This interview and the presentation delivered by Alastair which I attended subsequently is about the issue of data security in the cloud-driven “computing-as-a-service” world of information technology.

Cloud based computing

We often hear the term “cloud computing” being used to describe newer outsourced computing setups, especially those which use multiple data centers and servers. But, for the context of this interview, we use this term to cover all “computing-as-a-service” models that are in place.

Brahman Thyagalingham - SAI Global

Brahman Thyagalingham – SAI Global

These “cloud-based computing” setups are in use by every consumer and business owner or manager as they go through their online and offline lives. Examples of these include client-based and Web-based email services, the Social Web (Facebook, Twitter, etc), photo-sharing services and online-gaming services. But it also encompasses systems that are part of our everyday lives like payment for goods and services; the use of public transport including air travel; as well as private and public medical services.

This is an increasing trend as an increasing number of companies offer information solutions for our work or play life that are dependent on some form of “computing-as-a-service” backend. It also encompasses building control, security and energy management; as well as telehealth with these services offered through the use of outsourced backend servers.

Factors concerning cloud-based computing and data security

Risks to data

There are many risks that can affect data in cloud-based computing and other “computing-as-a-service” setups.

Data theft

The most obvious and highly-publicised risk is threats to data security. This can come in the form of the computing infrastructure being hacked including malware attacks on client or other computers in the infrastructure to social-engineering attacks on the service’s participants.

A clear example of this were the recent attacks on Sony’s online gaming systems like the PlayStation Network. Here, there was a successful break-in in April which caused Sony to shut down the PlayStation Network and Qriocity for a month. Then, a break-in attempt on many of the PlayStation Network accounts had taken place this week ending 13 October 2011.

The attack on data isn’t just by lonely script kiddies anymore. It is being performed by organised crime; competitors engaging in industrial espionage and nation states engaging in economic or political espionage. The data that is being stolen is identities of end-users; personal and business financial data; and business intellectual property like customer information, the “secret sauce” and details about the brand and image.

Other risks

Other situations can occur that compromise the integrity of the data, For example, a computing service provider could become insolvent or change ownership. This can affect the continuity of the computing service and the availability of the data on the systems. It also can affect who owns the actual data held in these systems.

Another situation can occur if there is a system or network breakdown or drop in performance. This may be caused by a security breach; but can be caused by ageing hardware and software or, as I have seen more recently, an oversubscribed service where there is more demand than the service can handle. I have mentioned this latest scenario in HomeNetworking01.info in relation to Web-based email providers like Gmail becoming oversubscribed and performing too slowly for their users.

Common rhetoric delivered to end-users of computing services

The industry focuses the responsibility of data security for these services on to the end-users of the services.

Typically the mantra is to keep software on end computers (including firmware on dedicated devices) up-to-date; develop good password habits by using strong passwords that are regularly changed and not visible to others; and make backup copies of the data.

New trends brought on by the Social Web

But there are factors that are being undone by the use of the Social Web. One is the use of password-reset questions and procedures that are based on factors known to the end user. Here, the factors can be disclosed by crawling data left available on social-networking sites, blogs and similar services.

Similarly, consumer sites like forums, and comment trees are implementing single-sign-on setups that use credential pools hosted by other services popular to consumers; namely Google, Facebook and Windows Live. This also extends to “account-tying” by popular services so that you are logged on to one service if you are logged on to another. These can create a weaker security environment and aren’t valued by companies like banks which hold high-stakes data.

The new direction

As well, it has been previously very easy for a service provider to absolve themselves of the responsibility they have to their users and the data they create. This has been through the use of complex legalese in their service agreements that users have to assent to before they sign up to the service.

Now the weight for data security is now being placed primarily on the service providers who offer these services to the end users rather than the end users themselves. Even if the service provider is providing technology to facilitate another organisation’s operations, they will have to be responsible for that organisation’s data and the data stream created by the organisation’s customers.

Handling a data break-in or similar incident

Common procedures taken by service providers

A typical procedure in handling a compromised user account is that the account is locked down by the service provider. The user is then forced to set a new password for that account. In the case of banking and other cards that are compromised, the compromised account cards would be voided sot that retailers or ATMs seize them and the customer would be issued with a new card and have to determine a new PIN.

The question that was raised in the interview and presentation today is what was placed at risk during the recent Sony break-ins. The typical report was that the customers’ login credentials were compromised, with some doubtful talk about the customers’ credit-card and stored-value-wallet data being at risk.

Inconsistent data-protection laws

One issue that was raised today was inconsistent data-protection laws that were in place across the globe. An example of this is Australia – the “She’ll Be Right” nation. Compared to the USA and the UK, Australians don’t benefit from data-protection laws that require data-compromise disclosure.

What is needed in a robust data-compromise-disclosure law or regulation is for data-security incidents to the disclosed properly and promptly to the law-enforcement authorities and the end-users.

This should cover what data was affected, which end-users were placed at risk by the security breach, when the incident took place and where it took place

International issues

We also raised the issue of what happens if the situation crosses national borders. Here nations would have to set out practices in handling these incidents.

It may be an issue that has to evolved in the similar way that other factors of international law like extradition, international child-custody/access, and money-laundering have evolved.

Use of industry standards

Customers place trust in brands associated with products and services. The example that we were talking about with the Sony data breach was the Sony name has been well-respected for audio-visual electronics since the 1960s. As well, the PlayStation name was a brand of respect associated with a highly-innovative electronic gaming experience. But these names were compromised in the recent security incidents.

There is a demand for standards that prove the ability for a computing service provider to provide a stable proper secure computing service. Analogies that we raised were those standards that were in place to assure the provision of safe goods like those concerning vehicle parts like windscreens or those affecting the fire-safety rating of the upholstered furniture and soft-furnishings in the hotel that we were in during the afternoon.

Examples of these are the nationally-recognised standards bodies like Standards Australia, British Standards Institute and Underwriters Laboratories. As well there have been internationally-recognised standards bodies like the International Standards Organisation; and industry-driven standards groups like DLNA.

The standards we were focusing on today were the ISO 27001 which covers information security and the ISO 20000 which covers IT service management.

Regulation of standards

Here, the government regulators need to “have teeth” when it comes to assuring proper compliance. This includes the ability to issue severe fines against companies who aren’t handling the data breaches responsibly as well as mitigation of these fines for companies who had an incident but had audited compliance to the standards. This would be demonstrated with evidence of compliant workflow through their procedures, especially through the data incident.

As well, Brahmin had underscored the need for regular auditing of “computing as a service” providers so they can prove to customers and end users that they have procedures in place to deal with data incidents.

I would augment this with the use of a customer-recognisable distinct “Trusted Computing Service Provider” logo that can only be used if the company is compliant the the standards in their processes. The logo would be promoted with a customer-facing advertising campaign that promotes the virtues of buying serviced computing from a compliant provider. This would be the “computing-as-a-service” equivalent of the classic “Good Housekeeping Seal” that was used for food and kitchen equipment in the USA,

Conclusion

What I have taken from this event is that the effort for maintaining a secure computing service is now moving away from the customer who uses the service towards the provider who provides the service. As well, there is a requirement to establish and enforce industry-recognised standards concerning the provision of these services.

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Telephone Interview–Gigaclear UK (Matthew Hare)

In response to the latest news that has happened with Gigaclear and Rutland Telecom in relation to the Hambleton fibre-to-the-premises rollout, I offered to organise an email exchange with a representative from this company about this broadband access network.

Matthew Hare replied to my email offering to do a short Skype-based telephone interview rather than an email interview. This allowed him and I to talk more freely about the Hambleton and Lyddington rollouts which I have been covering in HomeNetworking01.info .

Real interest in rural-broadband improvements

There are the usual naysayers who would doubt that country-village residents would not need real broadband, and I have heard these arguments through the planning and execution of Australia’s National Broadband Network.

But what Matthew had told me through this interview would prove them wrong. In the Lyddington VDSL-based fibre-to-the-cabinet rollout, a third of the village had become paying subscribers to this service at the time of publication. In the Hambleton fibre-to-the-premises rollout, two-thirds of that village had “pre-contracted” to that service. This means that they had signed agreements to have the service installed and commissioned on their premises and have paid deposits towards its provision.

Satisfying the business reality

Both towns have hospitality businesses, in the form of hotels, pubs and restaurants that need real broadband. For example, Matthew cited a large “country-house” hotel in Hambleton that appeals to business traffic and this hotel would be on a better footing with this market if they can provide Wi-Fi Internet service to their guests. Similarly, these businesses would benefit from improved innovative cloud-based software that would require a proper Internet connection.

As well, most of the households in these villages do some sort of income-generating work from their homes. This can be in the form of telecommuting to one’s employer or simply running a business from home.

The reality of a proper Internet service for business was demonstrated through the Skype call session with Matthew. Here, the Skype session died during the interview and when he came back on, he told me that the fault occurred at his end. He mentioned that he was working from home at another village that had the second-rate Internet service and affirmed the need for a proper broadband service that can handle the traffic and allow you to be competitive in business.

A commercial effort in a competitive market

Matthew also underlined the fact that this activity is a proper commercial venture rather than the philanthropic effort that besets most other rural-broadband efforts. He also highlighted that there were other rural-broadband improvements occurring around the UK, including the BT Openreach deployments. and this wasn’t the only one to think of.

But what I would see is that an Internet market that is operating under a government-assured pro-consumer pro-competition business mandate is a breeding ground for service improvement, especially when it comes to rural Internet service.

Conclusion

From what Matthew Hare had said to me through the Skype telephone interview, there is a real and probable reason why the countryside shouldn’t miss out on the broadband Internet that city dwellers take for granted.

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Interview Series–Network audio and video

Introduction

Between the end of October and the beginning of November, I had a chance to interview people who work with two different companies that work in the consumer audio-video market and had noticed some trends concerning this market and its relevance to the online world.

One main trend was that there was increased focus by consumer-audio manufacturers who work in the popular marketplace on delivering DAB+ digital radio equipment rather than network-connected audio equipment to the Australian market. This may be because some of these firms need to see this technology become more popular here and want to have “every base covered”.

Sony

From my interview with Kate Winney I had observed that Sony had a strong presence in the connected-TV scene. Here, this was more concentrated with their newer “main-lounge-area” TVs but they are providing this functionality on some of their video peripherals, namely their BD-Live Blu-Ray players.

We agreed that Sony had no Internet radio in its product lineup although they implement Shoutcast on their high-end home-theatre receivers like the STR-DA5500ES. But we agreed that they need to make DAB+ available on their stationary “big sets” like hi-fi tuners, receivers, home-theatre-in-box systems and bookshelf audio systems. They are releasing a few DAB+ sets but most likely as stereo systems rather than as portables or components.

I had stressed to Kate about Sony implementing vTuner or a similar directory-driven service which is implemented in most Internet radios. This is because most of these services offer access to the simulcast streams of the government, commercial and community radio stations broadcasting to local countries around the world as well as the Internet-only streams of the kind that Shoutcast offers. It is also because most people who are interested in Internet radio are likely to want to use it as a way of enjoying the “local flavour” of another country that is provided by that country’s regular broadcasters rather than just looking for offbeat content.

Kate also reckoned that DAB+ digital radio needs to be available in the dashboard of cars in the new fleet, preferably as standard equipment or as a “deal-broker” option offered by car dealers for the technology to become popular. I was also thinking about whether Sony should offer DAB+ technology as part of the XPLOD aftermarket car-audio lineup.

Bush Australia

From my interview with Jacqueline Hickman, I had noticed that Bush are still focused on implementing DAB+ digital radio in Australia but are using Internet radio as a product differentiator for their high-end “new-look” sets that are to appeal to young users

Their market focus for consumer audio is on the “small sets” like table / clock radios, portable radios, small-form stereo systems but I have suggested implementing or trying some value-priced “big sets” as product ideas. This is even though they run some “main-lounge-area” TVs and digital-TV set-top boxes in their consumer video lineup.

The ideas I put forward are a DAB+ or DAB+ / Internet-radio tuner that is for use with existing audio equipment and a FM / DAB+ (or FM / DAB+ / Internet-radio) CD receiver with optional speakers. A market that I cited are the mature-aged people who own “classic hi-fi speakers” from 1960s-1980s that they like the look and sound of but may want to run them with a simpler cost-effective component. I had made a reference to the “casseivers” of the late 70s and early 80s which have an receiver and cassette deck in one housing and what these units offered. Jacqui had reckoned that companies like B&O and Bose filled the market but I have said that some of the companies have gone to active speakers rather than integrating power amplifiers in the equipment. As far as the DAB+ tuner is concerned, she suggested that a person could use a portable DAB+ set and connect it to the amplifier using an appropriate cable.

I raised the topic of IPTV but Jackie was not sure whether this will be implemented in any of their TV sets or set-top boxes at the moment. This sounds like a product class that hasn’t been properly defined with a particular standard and platform especially in this market.

Conclusion

It therefore seems to me that there is more interest by consumer-electronics companies in nurturing the DAB+ digital radio system and the DVB-T digital TV system because they are based on established technology and established metaphors; and appeal more to “Joe Six-Pack” than the Internet-based technologies.

Also, I had noticed that it takes a long time for all equipment classes to benefit from a new technology. This is more so with DAB+ digital radio and, to some extent, Internet radio where the mains-operated stationary “large sets” like hi-fi equipment and stereo systems are under-represented.

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Interview Series–Brother International

On Wednesday 3 November, I had been invited by Monique Haylen from Mint PR to have an interview with staff from Brother International at their offices in Macquarie Park. The staff members who I talked to were Heidi Webster (Brand and Marketing Manager, IT and Office Products) and Stephen Bennett (Pre-Sales Technical Support Specialist, Network Printing Solutions).

I raised some general findings and trends that I have observed in the industry since writing this site and they may be of interest to a company like Brother as they develop their products for use in a home or small-business network. One of the reasons I have put these findings forward to them is so they can make their products compete very well in a crowded marketplace.

A3 multifunction inkjet printers

After my review of the Brother MFC-6490CW A3 multifunction inkjet printer, I thought it might be a good time to delve deeply into the future developments of these MFCs.

This class of printer is selling well but is popular mainly with graphic design, CAD and engineering customers who appreciate working with this paper size for their plans and artwork. The architect customers especially appreciate the ability to scan and copy from A3 size mainly as part of submitting their building plans for government approval.

Brother wants to see these machines and the A3 page size used more in the general office space rather than just these vertical markets. The applications that we were talking of include printing up of large spreadsheets as well as using this large page size to turn out promotional material that impresses customers. Heidi even was thinking of the cafe that we were having coffee at and how a cafe or restaurant could print up menus and “specials” lists on this page size.

They intend to implement a survey program amongst the people who have bought the A3 multifunction printers in order to find out how the printers can be “taken further”.

They looked at the usefulness of A3 scanners in these machines but these would be of use primarily to the previously-mentioned vertical markets. They reckon that this function may not see much use in the general office space and may keep the A3 scanner as a product differentiator for some of their high-end models. But they have also said that there is still the desire amongst most users to enlarge material that was originally printed on A4 and print it on A3 paper.

IP-based faxing

I have raised the issue of Internet-based faxing and email-to-print applications but this appears to be a very difficult feature to implement for most small business and home users. This issue is becoming more real as we move towards IP-driven telephony setups like the UK’s 21CN project and Australia’s National Broadband Network that will play havoc with regular fax technology. This technology is designed for the circuit-based telephone setups like the “plain old telephone service” or GSM mobile telephony and Stephen said that businesses who have moved their telephony infrastructure from the orthodox analogue-based setups to all-digital setups have had lots of trouble with their fax systems after the conversion.

The current solution that Brother uses involves the use of T.37 technology which uses regular POP3/SMTP email setups with use of existing mailboxes but the task of setting this up isn’t simple for those of us who aren’t very computer-savvy. Heidi and Stephen raised the idea of implementing a “wizard-driven” setup experience to establish this functionality. They also raised the issue of the IP-based telephony projects providing support for T.38 Internet-fax protocols and I was also thinking of these projects implementing “bridge” setups to link existing fax machines and circuit-based phone networks to this packet-based technology.

The way that they will prepare for the IP-based faxing world would be to integrate PSTN and IP fax functionality in their SOHO and SME network printers when they provide fax functionality.

Implementation of HomePlug powerline networking technology

I have raised the issue of Brother implementing HomePlug powerline networking as a network connectivity method for their printers, like I would do with all the other printer manufacturers who offer network-enabled printers. This is in order to see this network-connectivity technology be considered as an additional or alternative “no-new-wires” connection method.

There is action on this idea in Japan but they will probably release it in to a subsequent generation of printers. Stephen has also raised the issue of connection reliability with Wi-Fi networks that he has encountered through his work, and this could become a valid idea.

I have also raised the possibility of printers that are connected to a wired network being a Wi-Fi access point as an optional function and they have accepted the idea. This includes the concept of a secondary or “infill” access point for difficult setups and I was citing old double-brick houses with extensions, multi-building setups.

Sewing machines being linked to the home network

As I know that Brother also have made and do make sewing machines and similar equipment, I have raised the possibility of integrating this kind of equipment with the home network. This is because, from my observations, most households are implementing home networks whether to provide Internet access to many computers and devices, or to provide wireless Internet access to a laptop computer that is moved around the house very easily. I was targeting this idea at the high-end computerised sewing / embroidery machines that allow a user to design embroidery patterns on their regular computer using manufacturer-supplied software and upload these patterns to the sewing machine so that it can start working on the pattern.

Most such machines directly connect to the host computer as a peripheral using a USB cable. But there are people who don’t want to have the computer, whether a desktop or a laptop unit, in their sewing room. Even if they do want the computer there, they would have to create room near the machine for the computer and this can be very difficult in the midst of a project with all that cloth, all those craft tools and other bits and pieces.

I told Heidi and Stephen about the Silex Stitch-Link device (http://www.silexamerica.com/support/other/stitchlink.html) that uses the USB-over-network technology to link sewing machines to PCs via the Wi-Fi network. Like other USB-over-network devices, this unit requires the user to install special software on their computer and make sure that their host computer “claims” the USB-over-network device in order to establish the link to the peripheral that is connected to the device.

They were interested in this idea especially as a way of endowing more functionality and features to the high-end class of machine. They also saw this on the premise of “if Brother can network-enable their printers, why can’t they network-enable these sewing machines”. I then put forward ideas like integrating Wi-Fi or HomePlug functionality or simply adding an Ethernet socket to the machine for use with an optional HomePlug kit or Wi-Fi client bridge or a simple Ethernet cable.

Conclusion

These issues are likely to help with placing Brother’s position in the home and small-business network for the main device classes that it specialises in.

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