Small-business computing Archive

Fibre broadband passing your business? What it means for you

Article

Guest blog: Fibre broadband: what does it mean for your business? | Go E-Sussex

My Comments

A situation may occur for your small business where fibre-optic next-generation broadband passes your office (including your home). This is due to efforts in place to head towards the concept of this technology being made available in most places through progressive rollouts by differing companies.

In some cases, the next-generation broadband rollouts are public-private efforts with national, state or local governments putting money towards the efforts as a way of investing in their constituencies. It is very similar to improving infrastructure like roads, rails or utilities in a neighbourhood to make it worth investing or doing business in that area.

How could this benefit my business?

Use of remote storage and cloud services

One obvious application us the increased use of off-premises computing services.  Typically these are in the form of remote storage and backup services like Dropbox or Box.com, often marketed as “cloud storage” services. Some of these services essentially function as an off-premises data-backup tool or they can simply work as an invitation-only file-exchange service, whether between you and business partners or simply as a way to shift files between your regular computer and your mobile devices while “on the road”.

For organisations with a Web presence, this will encompass uploading Web content as you maintain your Web page or even backing up that Web page.

Even if a business implements on-premises storage technology such as a NAS or server, there is also an increased desire for remote “on-the-road” access to these resources. Similarly, it could be feasible for a business with two or more locations to have the ability to shift data between these locations such as storing data that is worked on at home using a NAS or server at the shop or caching data between two shops.

Another key direction is to head towards cloud-computing where the software that performs business tasks is hosted remotely. This will typically have you work either with a Web page as the software’s user interface or you may be dealing with a lightweight “peripheral bridge” for industry-specific peripherals. In some cases, various programs such as some business-grade security programs implement cloud computing in order to offload some of the processing that would normally be required of the local computing system. This is being pitched as a way for small business to “think like big business” due to the low capital-equipment cost.

The next-generation broadband services can improve this kind of computing by reducing the time it takes to transfer the files and allows for silky-smooth cloud-computing operations.

IP Telecommunications

A very significant direction for business Internet use is IP-based telecommunications. This gives businesses some real capabilities through the saving on operational expenditure costs while also opening up some newer pathways that have been put out of small business’s reach.

One application is IP-based videocalls using Skype and Lync technology – totally real, not science-fiction anymore. These technologies have the ability to provide for video-based real-time teleconferencing even to high-quality visual displays and some of them even allow for multi-party videocalls. The next-generation broadband services can exploit this technology by permitting smooth reliable videocalls with the high-resolution video display.

Another IP-telecommunications application appealing to small business is the concept of the IP-based business telephone system. This can be facilitated with an on-premises IP-based PBX server that is linked to the outside world via an IP-based “trunk” or a hosted IP-telephony system which is ran simply as a service. The phones that sit on the desks are primarily IP-based extensions or legacy phones connected via analogue-telephone adaptor devices with DECT cordless phones linked up to an IP DECT base.  In some cases, a regular computer or a mobile device (smartphone or tablet) could run a “softphone” application which uses the device’s control surface and audio infrastructure to make it become an extension.

These appeal to businesses due to access to low telephony costs especially for long-distance calls or, for that matter, free calls between multiple business locations through the use of a tie-line that the business doesn’t need to rent.

The next-generation broadband can allow IP-based telecommunications to take place while data is being transferred or the Internet is being used without impeding data-transfer speed or voice / video call quality.

IP-based video surveillance

Shopkeepers and other small-business owners would find greater justification to install an IP-based video-surveillance system or upgrade an existing video-surveillance system to IP-based technology. This could allow, for example, one to watch over another location from one location or permit backup video recording of the footage at another location whether it be a storage provider that you rent space on or a NAS installed at home or another business location.

This also allows for use of newer cameras that implement higher-resolution sensors and support on-camera video analytics. The increased bandwidth means that more of the video footage from these cameras can be streamed at once to a remote location.

Working from home

If you work from home, whether to telecommute or to operate your business operation from home, you will find that the next-generation broadband service is important for you. This is more so if you are dealing with graphics, CAD or multimedia content or even using a VoIP or videocall service as your communications technology.

As well, you benefit from reduced Internet-service contention with other household members when you have the next-generation broadband service. This is because the increased bandwidth could allow you to do intense cloud-based work computing or a large file transfer while they do something like engage in a VoIP voice call or stream video content.

Offering your customers or guests public Wi-Fi Internet service

If you run a bar, café, hotel or similar venue, you could offer your customers or guests a public Internet service and not worry that this service will cramp your business Internet style. In some cases, you could handle more customers’ data-transfer needs at once  which would happen at “peak occupancy” or allow for them to engage in high-bandwidth applications like business data transfer, videocalls or enjoying online video content and have the best experience with these activities.

To the same extent, the public Wi-Fi Internet service is being seen by mobile telephony carriers as an “offload” service to increase their mobile network capacity. As well, some mobile carriers are even implementing femtocells which are mobile base stations that cover a small area like a home or business premises as a method of improving indoor mobile coverage in a particular premises or increasing mobile capacity in a popular location.

Is your small business’s network ready?

There are some things you would have to do to get your small business’s network ready for the next-generation-broadband service.

Your router

One would be to make sure you have a small-business router that is optimised for next-generation very-high-speed broadband. One critical feature it would need is to have an Internet (WAN) connection with Gigabit Ethernet. This would allow for use with an optical-network modem that provides for the high-speed throughput these networks provide. As well, having Gigabit Ethernet for each LAN Ethernet connector and 802.11n/ac dual-band Wi-Fi wireless where applicable would be considered important for the local network side of the equation.

Most of the current-issue high-end or “small-business-grade” routers would cut the mustard when it comes to having this kind of connectivity and this goal could be achieved with the current network-equipment replacement cycle.

Your network

As well, you would need to bring your Ethernet infrastructure to Gigabit standard while also evolving your Wi-Fi wireless infrastructure to 802.11n or 802.11ac standard with simultaneous dual-band operation i.e. N600 or better. A HomePlug segment that you operate in this network could be brought to HomePlug AV2 standard preferably due to higher throughput and improved robustness than HomePlug AV500 or HomePlug AV.

Wireless hotspots

Those of you who run a wireless hotspot or similar public-internet service which is managed by a special router dedicated to this task may have to evolve it to a component-based system so you can implement high-throughput networking technology.

Component-based hotspot systems use a wired hotspot router with Ethernet connections as the only network connections. Then you connect a VDSL2 modem, optical-network terminal or similar appropriate device to your hotspot router’s WAN / Internet port and a dedicated 802.11n access point with a standard of at least N300 for a 2.4GHz single-band unit or N600 for a simultaneous dual-band unit.  This is also a good time to make sure you have optimum public Wi-Fi coverage across your business premises.

You may also have to make sure that the system has improved quality-of-service support for multimedia-based tasks especially if you business happens to be a hotel or similar type. This is because a lot of people are increasingly using smartphones, tablets and ultraportable laptops to engage in Skype videocalls or stream video content from catch-up TV or video-on-demand services and poor quality-of-service severely ruins the user experience with these services.

Considering the full-fibre option

Another issue that can be worth considering for small-business fibre broadband is the “full-fibre” option in a fibre-copper setup. This is being offered by some UK next-generation broadband services and is also being offered In Australia as an option under the Coalition’s preferred fibre-copper National Broadband Network setups.

Here, the same service provider who would normally provide a fibre-copper service like fibre-to-the-cabinet / fibre-to-the-node would also provide a fibre-to-the-premises service as an extra-cost option. A small business could opt for these services especially if they are using cloud services a lot or uploading data to online storage frequently.

Even a business using a fibre-copper setup could look at the feasibility of the full-fibre option as a long-term goal as they make more use of the Internet. As well, this would be a valuable option for premises that are underserved by VDSL-based fibre-copper services. 

It is also worth noting that when you have a “full-fibre” install to a premises, the sale or lease value can increase because of the availability of really high-speed broadband service at that location.

Conclusion

When fibre-based next-generation broadband passes your business, it would become a valuable business option to sign up to one of these services due to costs saved through the higher throughput available with these services. It also allows the business to “grow up” and adapt to increased data-throughput needs.

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Dell brings in another cost-effective mobile workstation

Article

Dell thuds down low-cost lap workstation for cheap frugal creatives or engineers | The Register

From the horse’s mouth

Dell USA

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USAThere have been a few Windows-based laptop-style workstation-grade computers that have been released over the past few years, especially by HP and Dell. But Dell have been pushing the price of this class of computer downwards but kept the performance up.

The Dell Precision M2800 is a 15” mobile workstation that uses Intel i5 or i7 horsepower but implements AMD FirePro W4170M graphics circuitry with 2Gb display RAM. It could come with up to 16Gb RAM and 1Tb hard disk capacity in the inimitable way that Dell allows you to customise your computer to suit your needs. Of course there is the multi-monitor support where you could jack in an extra screen on the side for that true multi-screen look.

The workstation starts at a cost of US$1199 and is one that could be suitable as a “work-home” unit for the engineer, architect or content-creator who wants to work on their project at home or the office. Similarly, this price point and form factor could also appeal to students and others who are starting out in the trades that call for workstation-class computing especially where one’s own space may not be all that big.

Could we still see the “mobile workstation” still appear as a viable computer class even though there is work towards virtualising high-performance workstations using server capacity? I would see this class of computer appeal to freelancers who want to have control over their data and be able to take it between their office, their home and on the road.

Oh yeah, could I also see these Dell Precision workstations also appeal to the “core” gamers who would like to see the idea of playing the big games wherever they can play them?

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Product Review–WD Sentinel DS5100 Windows Server NAS

An idea that has come to me for small businesses that have a handful of staff is the concept of a small server that isn’t too overpowered for their needs but allows them to “grow up”.  What I mean by that is that  a small business that runs with a few regular desktop or laptop computers but without a server may not be seen by some as being a “grown-up” business as far as their IT needs are concerned. This may be due to absence of flexibility in these setups or not being able to cope with larger volumes of business due to the smaller size of these setups.

Here I am reviewing the Western Digital Sentinel DS5100 NAS which is a four-disk NAS that runs on the Essentials version of the Windows Server 2012 operating system rather than a shoehorned version of Linux which most NAS units run on. This software is licensed and optimised for 25 users and 50 computers.

The Sentinel DS6100 series comes with increased capacity and two power supplies which you can set up for increased power-supply redundancy and reliability. It also runs with two 2.5” boot drives rather than one boot drive also for increased reliability.

Price

WD Sentinel DS5100

4Tb raw AUD$3799
8Tb raw AUD$4499

WD Sentinel DS6100

8Tb raw AUD$4999
12Tb raw AUD$5799
16Tb raw AUD$6499

Western Digital Sentinel DS5100 Windows Server NAS

Specifications

Class Small-business network attached storage
Operating System Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials
Storage
Capacity 8Gb raw (no RAID in place)
Disks 4 x user-replaceable SATA 3.5” disks
Connection
Network Connection 2 x Gigabit Ethernet
USB Device Connection 4 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0
Console video connection VGA
Device Discovery
UPnP No – install separate software
Bonjour No – install separate iTunes software
UPnP Internet Gateway Control No
Features And Protocols
SMB/CIFS Yes – Windows Server
Media Server No
Remote Access VPN endpoint
Remote NAS Sync Windows Server devices

The Network-Attached Storage System itself

WD Sentinel DS 5100 Windows Server NAS alongside bread

Small size alongside a loaf of bread

This is a 4-disk NAS that runs with Intel Xeon E3-1220L horsepower but is in a cabinet half the size of a breadbox. It is well-built and hasn’t shown any symptoms of excessive vibration or noise, although the large fan does spin up hard during the initial boot-up phase. Even transferring data to a parity-arranged RAID setup where two or more disks would be spun up meant that the system was relatively quiet.

This is because the power supply is a laptop-style “lump” that is outside the NAS’s case rather than physically integrated in the unit. This allows for quieter operation and the smaller size that this unit has.

The WD Sentinel DS Series of NAS units – effectively a “business in a box”

Setup and use

WD Sentinel DS5100 Windows Server NAS Connections - 2 Gigabit Ethernet, 4 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, VGA, power

Connections – 2 Gigabit Ethernet, 4 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, VGA, power

The setup routine requires that you to use a dedicated keyboard, monitor with VGA connection and mouse as a “console” to get Windows Server 2012 Essentials going on the WD Sentinel. After that, you have to go to the “//servername/connect” URL to download connection software for your operating system so you can manage the WD Sentinel from your computer.

The Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials software can support up to 25 users on 50 machines initially out-of-the-box but there is the ability for the small business to upgrade to Windows Server 2012 Standard. The fact that this box runs on Windows Server means that it could run as a server for a variety of business-grade software applications such as being part of a “point-of-sale” system.

The throughput was pretty good enough for most light-duty file-by-file work, being able to accept 220Gb over two hours. This could satisfy most small-business data requirements especially at the early stages.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

WD Sentinel DS5100 Windows Server NAS front

Access door to hard drives

For a person who isn’t used to Windows Server, it may appear to be very daunting to do tasks like setting up the data volumes. WD could improve this with a wizard that simplifies and directs setup towards a RAID-5 setup. Similarly, the Windows Server Essentials misses out on the ability to run the Exchange Server and the main file / Web / application server function in one box which may put a limit on its use as the dream “business in a box” server.

Microsoft could pitch a lightweight variant of Exchange Server for use on Windows Server Essentials setups in order to cater for on-premises setups with these “business-in-a-box” servers and could work towards simplifying Windows Server Essentials setup for the businesses who don’t have ready access to IT staff. As well, small business needs to be aware of line-of-business software that works with Windows Server Essentials in an easy-to-manage manner and can run on these servers.

This class of server could be a chance for WD, Seagate and others, along with Microsoft to achieve the goal of the small “business-in-a-box” server that is highly capable. For example, more-powerful highly-compact “breadbox” servers could appear, with some being able to run from a vehicle’s or boat’s battery leading towards the goal of server-assisted big-time computing for businesses that work out of a vehicle or boat.

As well, a computer dealer could offer a “get-you-going” pack with one of these servers along with a UPS at a price that could please small business so they can have that “foot-in-the-door” with server-based computing.

Conclusion

Personally, I would pitch the WD Sentinell DS5100 or DS6100 for one of many applications. For example, a person who is teaching or learning Windows Server skills could use this box rather than a surplus desktop “tower” as part of this activity. Similarly, this could be set up as an entry-level “business in a box” server for a small shop moving from the cash register or single-terminal POS setup to a more flexible setup.

Similarly, this box, with Windows Server’s BranchCache feature could work well with small businesses who are running from a few different locations or want to establish a transportable location like the so-called “pop-up” branch. Here, it means that the unit could serve as a “local cache” server for these remote or transportable locations thus mitigating poor-quality or expensive Internet backlinks.

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Could Seagate’s Windows Server NAS be a dream come true for small business?

Article

Seagate Adds Windows Server NAS | SmallNetBuilder

From the horse’s mouth

Seagate

Product Page

My Comments

Seagate have just lately launched a four-bay business grade network-attached storage device that runs Windows Server.

This 4-bay business NAS has the expectations of a NAS of its class including being driven by Intel Atom horsepower and also has a USM removeable-disk slot for backup storage. It runs Windows Storage Server 2012 Release 2 and supports the Active Directory functionality so valued in a Windows-based enterprise or medium business.

One could see it work well as a branch server for a multi-site business or as a file server for small business – think of that small suburban medical clinic for example. But a question that I would raise about the Seagate Business Storage Windows Server NAS is whether it could be loaded with the server component of a client-server line-of-business application? This question could be raised by small businesses who want to use a sophisticated point-of-sale, property-management or patient-records application with a few client PCs as they increase their capacity.

Who knows what this kind of machine could offer as the small business server for the small business and whether others will offer Windows Server systems that match this for price and size for that small office.

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Linksys returns to the small business and contract-supply field

Article

Linksys Gets Back Into SMB Networking  | SmallNetBuilder

From the horse’s mouth

Linksys

Press Release

Product Pages

SMB switches

LRT-214 VPN endpoint router

LRT-224 Dual-WAN VPN endpoint router

My Comments

Linksys are returning to the small-business field with a range of unmanaged switches and two VPN-endpoint broadband routers that are pitched at this user class.

All of the equipment works with Gigabit Ethernet interfaces and some of the switches provide 802.3at Power-Over-Ethernet power to half of their ports. For that matter, the cheapest switch in the bunch which is a 5-port Gigabit Ethernet switch calls for US$50. Here, they would also appeal as another quality option to contractors who are wiring a house for Ethernet.when they want a highly-reliable Ethernet switch as the central switch.

As for the routers, these support VPN endpoint along with 802.1q VLAN functionality and are IPv6 ready. As for this functionality, they would support PPTP and IPSec protocols for box-to-box and client-to-box VPN work along with OpenVPN protocols for client-to-box work. They are also future-proof in the context that they implement Gigabit Ethernet LAN and WAN ports thus making them work with next-generation broadband setups and the more-expensive model offers dual-WAN operation for failover operation or load-balancing.

But who knows how Linksys will return to this market further especially when there are companies like Netgear, Draytek and D-Link keeping this market in their grip as far as small-business network technology is concerned.

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Brother now releases two thermal label printers that double as receipt printers

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Brother

TD-2020 Product Page

TD-2120N Product Page

My Comments

Brother TD-2120 network label / receipt printer (Brother press image)

Brother TD-2120 network label / receipt printer

When I reviewed the Brother QL-570 and QL-700 thermal label printers, I mentioned that a feature these units or products like these could benefit from would be to work as receipt or voucher printers for point-of-sale / point-of-service systems.

Now Brother have released in to the Australian market a pair of label printers that can serve as receipt or voucher printers. Both these units can work with the Brother P-Touch label creation software, but they can work with most thermal paper rolls used with other point-of-sale printers. The TD-2020 works as a direct-attached printer for a single workstation whereas the TD-2120N can be connected to a network and serve multiple workstations. There is even an add-on module that allows the TD-2120N label printer to work with Wi-Fi wireless networks rather than an Ethernet or HomePlug network. These units also can work with a battery for highly-mobile applications such as trolley-based setups or tradespeople working out of the back of a van.

This unit supports the ESC/P character-based printing mode for receipt applications as well as the raster-based printing mode and the TD-2020 can also be connected to systems that use serial connection rather than USB connection. Brother publishes application-programming interfaces for third parties to integrate labelling in to their regular-computing or mobile-computing applications.

There is the ability for these printers to work as standalone label writers through the use of a display / keyboard attachment that installs in the top of the unit. It is in addition to a label-peel attachment that simplifies the task of peeling off labels, thus making things much quicker if you have to put labels on many items.

I see these printers as equipment that can be evolved to a business’s receipt, voucher or label printing needs in a very exact manner.

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A computer and IT outlet that exists for the non-profit organisations

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Connecting Up

Connecting Up | Unleash the Power of Your Not-for-Profit (Home Page)

My Comments

A small non-profit organisation who typically is run by volunteer effort may not be able to have the latest and greatest technology. Typically, if the organisation doesn’t have access to people who are in the IT industry, they would work with very old donated hardware that runs very old computer software which, in some cases, is pirated and this doesn’t make for an office environment that is conducive to a smooth operation. You end up with equipment that can fall well short of the mark or, in a lot of cases, be failing too frequently.

At last a company has come to the defeice of the charities and non-profit organisations by offering recent computer hardware and software to this class of organisation at very reasonable prices. For example, a 5-computer licence of Windows 8 Professional costs AUD$44 through this location thus allowing these organisations to run genuine copies of the latest Windows operating system.

They also run many articles of interest concerning IT needs and deployment issues for this sector which I consider of importance as these organisations shape their computing and networking needs to their operational needs.

For customers to purchase equipment at the prices listed on this site, they and their organisation have to be approved by Connecting Up as a non-profit organisation and, yes, churches and other religious organisations can participate in these offers.

Connecting Up could be the chance for that scout group, school, church, community radio station or other small non-profit organisation to move away from those creaky old Windows-XP-running computers to something that will run very smoothly.

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Samsung’s Knox security platform available to consumers and small business

Article

Samsung opens up Knox security platform to all consumers

From the horse’s mouth

Samsung

Product Page

Lookout

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

With the increased trend for BYOD and smartphone/tablet-based computing, there has been the call for mobile device management and mobile application management in order to achieve the goal of corporate data security.

Typically the solutions that are being offered out there are very costly and require an in-house information-technology team to manage them. This also includes the requirement to implement corporate messaging systems like Microsoft Exchange ActiveDirectory and use them as data hubs for these systems. This kind of situation may not appeal to personal users who value the security of their personal data. Nor does it work well for small organisations where one person is effectively the “chief cook and bottle-washer” for that organisation. You may be lucky to benefit from this technology if you deal with an IT value-added reseller that works with these systems and pitches them to these organisations.

But the security realities are still the same, especially with personal data or if your business hub is your briefcase, a corner of a room at home, a small office, or a small shop.

Here, Samsung has opened up the Knox security platform for their Galaxy-based Android mobile devices in a manner that makes the platform available to everyone by partnering with Lookout . It implements sandboxing so you can corral private data and have it treated more securely compared to other data. This includes allowing applications that you pre-approve to touch that data and limit what they can do to the data. For larger business setups, it could allow business data to be “wiped off” the smartphone when a user leaves the business without personal data being affected, but this context could be implemented when a smartphone is being retired from active service or you effectively “hand the keys over” to someone else as, per se, part of selling your business.

One question that may need to be asked is whether this solution may allow many data corrals so you as a small-business operator or professional have greater control over data such as intellectual property that pertains to different contracts or a person who has business work but also does volunteer work for a charity.

At least Samsung have taken the step to offer enterprise-desired security solutions to the “rest of us” rather than fencing it off for the “big end of town” and is something that could be encouraged for data security or similar application classes.

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DLNA and UPnP AV in the business

Originally posted: 5 January 2009, Updated 29 August 2013

Netgear ReadyNAS

Netgear ReadyNAS business-grade NAS working as a DLNA media server

Very often, DLNA and UPnP AV are typically marketed as being for use in the home due to the reduced amount of configuration needed for devices that comply to these standards. But devices based on these standards can appeal to business use, especially to small “mum and dad” shops, community / religious organisations and other similar businesses who don’t have regular access to “big business” IT resources.

The functionality is typically available as low-cost or free software or, in some cases like the Windows regular-computer operating systems since XP, available as part of the operating system. There is an increasing number of “business-grade” network-attached storage boxes that have the functionality for business continuity but also can work as DLNA-compliant media servers, whether out of the box or through the addition of a very=low-cost or free program installed on that device. A good example of this are the Netgear ReadyNAS units such as one I saw in action at the Australian Audio & AV Show 2011, and the QNAP units, including the TS-459U Series 4-disk rackmount “pizza-box” NAS server which would be pitched at the office server room.

The main issue that one will encounter with this kind of setup will be that the network that you intend to connect all of the DLNA-capable equipment to must be on the same subnet or logical network, served by the same DHCP server. This will be fine for most small-business, and SOHO networks, including the “private” segment of networks that provide Internet access to the public such as wireless hotspots and Internet cafes.

If you are concerned about security of business data or the integrity of business systems, you could run a separate server for the DLNA-presented media data rather than use the main server for this purpose. Then you can lock down the main server as tightly as it should be for the data.

Western Digital WDTV Live network media player - 2011 version

Western Digital WDTV Live network media adaptor

As for client hardware, the equipment that you use to play or show the content is available at most good consumer-electronics outlets whether it be the electrical department of a mainstream department store, a store that is part of a popular mid-tier consumer electronics chain like Best Buy or JB Hi-Fi, or a specialist hi-fi or home-AV store. You may find it difficult to buy equipment with this feature at some “big-box” discount chains like Wal-Mart, Target or Big W due to the their goal of satisfying the mass market with “loss-leading” goods where the goal is to take it out the store, plug it in and have it playing.

DLNA collections listed as sources on the TV

DLNA content collections listed as sources on a Samsung Smart TV

As for control of your content, you can either “pull” the content up from your DLNA-capable device’s control surface i.e. the display that is integrated in or connected to the device and the controls on the device itself or its infra-red remote control. On the other hand, you can “push” the content to the device using a software-based DLNA media control point for your regular computer or mobile device like TwonkyMedia software (all platforms), Windows Media Player with its “Play To” function (Windows 7 onwards), PlugPlayer (MacOS X, iOS, Android)  or BubbleUPnP (Android).

Visual Merchandising

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

Sony BDP-S390 Network Blu-Ray Player – a Blu-Ray player that adds DLNA to an existing TV

DLNA-based setups can come in to their own when it comes to all sorts of visual merchandising applications. This is more so for small businesses who cannot afford to buy business-grade “digital signage” solutions or find the “digital signage” difficult to manage due to complex setup and operation requirements.

Pioneer BDP-160 Blu-Ray Player (Pioneer Europe press image)

Pioneer BDP-160 DLNA-capable Blu-Ray player

Similarly, these setups can allow one to simply and quickly update the screenshow to suit different seasons or campaigns without having to recall USB memory keys or SD cards from electronic picture frames or flatscreen TVs to perform thse updates. Places like cafes and bars can benefit from using a DLNA-capable flatscreen TV or a projector connected to both a TV set-top box and a video-based DLNA media player such as the Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray player to show live sports or cultural events to their customers but run these sets as a visual-merchandising aid at other times.

You can have images or videos of products that are always kept fresh and up-to-date and can intermingle these images and videos with up-to-date “electronic signage” that you create with programs like Microsoft PowerPoint. The best example of this being used would be the real-estate agent who uses the setup to show pictures of the houses he has currently for sale or a beauty salon showing examples of the most fashionable hairstyles they have done lately.

A DLNA-compliant network electronic picture frame like the Kodak EX1011 or the D-Link DSM-210 can work wonders here as can any DLNA-compliant network media receiver (or games console) hooked up to a large flat-screen TV or monitor. Similarly, a DLNA-compliant flat-screen TV like one of Sony’s recent LCD TVs or the Samsung Smart TVs can fulfil the same needs here, especially now that the cost of these sets in in affordable territory and the sets are available from most electrical retailers. The Samsung smart TVs do the job more elegantly by deeming the DLNA media server as a logical source.

Select "JPEG File" for exporting PowerPoint slide or presentation for use with DLNA devices

Select “JPEG File” for exporting PowerPoint slide or presentation for use with DLNA devices

As well, an increasing number of recently-issued Blu-Ray players and Blu-Ray home-theatre systems also work as DLNA media players thus becoming a cost-effective way to add this functionality to a video projector or a large-screen display that doesn’t offer DLNA capability such as most of the “Wal-Mart-special” or “Big-W-Special” flatscreen TVs.

The media server can be part of the file server’s functions or can be hosted on a separate box such as a network-attached storage unit. You just need to add the media to this server by using a standard network file-transfer protocol like SMB or FTP. You will need to make sure that the media server presents the files either by keywords (tags) and / or folders of the file system so that you can file the pictures how you want to file them. Windows Media Player and TwonkyMedia do support working by keywords and folders.

Determine whether to export this slide or the whole presentation as JPEG images

Determine whether to export this slide or the whole presentation as JPEG images

If you use a presentation program like Microsoft PowerPoint to create “electronic signage”, you just need to export all of the slides in your presentation as JPEG files in to a folder available to the media server. This is done in PowerPoint by opening the presentation and selecting “File” – “Save As” and selecting “JPEG” as the file type. You then have the option of exporting the current slide as a JPEG or exporting all the slides in the presentation as JPEG files in a folder named after the title of the presentation.

For that matter, you could create all the “Buy Now” digital signage for a particular campaign using one presentation, then alter the presentation and save and export it again as a new presentation for another campaign. A seasonal campaign can allow you to create a new presentation with material specific to that season but you can “rope in” JPEG files that are general to seasons of a kind like Christmas or Valentine’s Day when you determine what appears in the promotion folder on your DLNA server. Similarly, you can just mix photos you take with the slides you create in that same folder for merchandising food, flowers and the like.

Background Music

Denon CEOL Piccolo music system

Denon CEOL Piccolo DLNA-capable music system

If you are sick and tired of the radio or those business-to-business music services yet want “hands-off” background music, you can use a computer as a music server, with the music playing out through a DLNA-compliant network media player. This can be a unit like one of those Internet radios, a bookshelf music system like the Sony CMT-MX750Ni or a wireless speaker like the Sony SA-NS510.

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radioAs I have mentioned in my previous DLNA feature articles, it is very easy to do whether you decide to use a computer or a network-attached storage box as a media server. Most of the network-enabled music players support shuffle-play which can be very useful for this application to avoid predictable music-listening experiences and a lot of them have a line-out connection so you can connect them to a public-address amplifier or music-on-hold interface. Similarly, you could use something like the Yamaha CD-N500 network CD player or a network-enabled radio tuner like the NAD C446 to play music from your media server through your public-address system or an existing music system.

Education, Worship and Allied Applications

Educational institutions, churches, funeral homes and the like can find that DLNA can suit their needs in many ways, not just for a constantly-updated visual display.

The media library

A DLNA-based media system can work well when it comes to education. It doesn’t matter whether the idea is to show a video to a class or whether a student is viewing a video they saw in class “once more” in the library.

A capable DLNA media server with a properly-indexed media collection can work wonders here, with the users selecting the AV material through the DLNA media player’s user interface. Most such players can connect to existing AV equipment or the DLNA functionality can be part of the equipment’s functionality.

Similarly, if the media server provides it, you could allow Web-based access via any computer connected to the facility’s network. This can allow wireless-linked regular computers and tablet devices to be used to “pull up” the learning resources.

Content on demand

A church or similar location can find that they can benefit from having content “on hand” to pull up during the service. Here, you have a system that can grow with the different needs of that facility as it evolves.

For example, a small congregation may work from backing tracks for their worship singing until they have skilled musicians that they can trust or most congregations may show visual material during a service like images and video footage from the mission field.

Similarly, a funeral home may set up a dedicated NAS so that images, audio and video content are placed on to it by the deceased’s family so these can be shown on a “rolling basis” in the foyer before the funeral service, pulled up as required through the eulogy then shown on a “rolling basis” in another hall after the service while the mourners are chatting.

Here, it could be desirable to create a static collection of the content kept on a NAS which can be pulled up using Windows Media Player or VLC on a regular computer or on regular AV equipment. Other worship areas like a Sunday School or fellowship hall may also benefit by being able to “pull up” different content from the same library using the DLNA-capable AV equipment.

Other business-based DLNA applications

DLNA is eventually heading in the direction of a common IP-hosted data system for transferring media between portable and fixed devices including consumer-electronics devices.

A typical application may include uploading images and movies from a digital camera or camcorder to a “base” computer for editing and viewing. Similarly, there may be the application of downloading AV material from a computer to a smartphone using a DLNA-based client like TwonkyMedia so it can be viewed on that phone’s display.

Conclusion

What needs to happen is that DLNA needs to be viewed as not just being for the home but being for business, education and allied purposes as well.

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Australian Tax Office heads to open commerce standards

Article

ATO goes after open commerce standards – News – iTnews Mobile Edition

My Comments

Previously, when I covered the news that the Australian Tax Office will turn out a Macintosh port of their eTax electronic tax-return lodgement program, I raised the issue of them moving to an “open-frame” approach for taxation-information management.

Now they have implemented the “Standard Business Reporting” program which has a goal to move tax and superannuation information exchange to the eMMS 3.0 information-exchange standard commonly used by other Australian industries and overseas.

This opens the door for software developers to write SBR-compliant tax / superannuation-contribution preparation software that provides proper data to the Tax Office. One area I would see this facilitating would be the ability for accounting software to support tax preparation either “out of the box” or as an additional module.

The main goal for this has been the management of superannuation contributions where the ATO wants to have businesses with more than 20 staff to move to this standard platform for this purpose. This allows for data that isn’t riddled with errors.

Personally, I would see this also being able to make things easier for people who do business overseas, whether being expats who move to or from this country or those of us who sell goods or services overseas via the Internet. This is more so as the Great Financial Crisis has caused a call for proper management of taxation across borders.

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