A Cloudy Outlook

Just a few musings …

I was talking about a potential cloud migration from on-site the other day.  The first question I was asked was “would you move everything?”.  No.  In reality I don’t think I would.  Some systems or applications work best in an on-site environment.  I might advise tweaking how things are done to improve them, but some systems aren’t suited for the cloud right now.

“Would you use “thin” PC’s and an online version of Office?”  Definitely not.  Some SaaS applications are perfect as an online only solution.  Take an online helpdesk.  All I need to use it is a web browser.  What about office productivity?  I am a firm believer that Office (or whatever) needs to remain on the PC.  You can easily integrate with something like a BPOS.  Some solutions work best with an installed client.  For example, I use TweetDeck for Twitter but I can fallback to the featureless Twitter site.  I also use FeedDemon for RSS via Google Reader (No MS Live alternative).  My “data” is online and accessible using a client from any of my PC’s.  I can also go directly online to use the service and “data”.

“Should work practices remain the same or change?”.  It depends.  No easy answers here.  Look at how you work.  Does a process involve multiple applications and spreadsheets?  Maybe there is a SaaS solution that wraps that all into one tidy package.  You might have been doing something a certain way for 10 years but that doesn’t mean it is the only way or even the right way.  Analysis of procedures and applications is required on a case-by-case basis.

“We want to use an online version of the EMail product that we use now”.  Ugh.  Email is email.  It’s a message that is wrapped up and shoved out a pipe on TCP 25.  Focus on what client you will use, how you will configure it, and how it will integrate with the other online solutions.  For example, BPOS has integrated mail/SharePoint/online communications.  I’m told that SakesForce GMail integrates with GMail but nothing else (strategic alliance).

Like I said, just some musings.

Child Protection on the Internet

When you think about this subject it’s easy to think only of the headline grabbing stories that a Oprah, Geraldo or Jeremy Kyle would be drawn to.  We’ve all heard about “child grooming”.  It’s a problem because social media is all about meeting new people.  An even worse problem is cyber-bullying.  20% are bullied by text/SMS.  I’ve seen a crazy stat that says 77% of kids have been bullied online.  30% of US kids in grades 6 to 10 say they bully online.  There’s lots more of that here.

I’ve briefly tried to play online games with a headset.  I’m no sensitive daisy nor am I politically correct (as you’ll soon see if you keep reading) but I was stunned by the level of racism from the other players.  It was pretty sickening.  Between that and me sucking at the games I had enough.

Last October I attended the UK & Ireland MVP mini-summit in the Microsoft UK office in Reading.  MS UK had started running a campaign in schools and parental organisations to educate parents on how to protect their children on the Internet.  They talked about the impact and played a couple of videos.  The videos really brought home the subject matter.

I don’t have any kids.  If you know me well, then you know I prefer the Spartan approach to parenting: send them away to somewhere remote and isolated, and only let them into society at 18 years old if they are socially acceptable.  Airplanes, restaurants, closed spaces, open spaces, etc, should all be kid free zones where high pitched squealing is punishable using a chain, a block of concrete and a river.

Now there’s the political incorrectness!

MS UK did the session to get feedback from the local MVP’s.  It was a good idea because lots of the parents got involved.  I learned something interesting, e.g. “if I POS type this” or “if I ty9pe this” when chatting to you on IM then you’d know a parent or teacher was standing over my shoulder and watching my screen.  POS = 9 = Parent Over Shoulder.

Microsoft UK started going out to schools to talk to kids and parents about Internet Safety.  They also recruited people like MVP’s to get involved in their communities.  It’s way more than just some Windows sale.  The Internet is much more than just Microsoft software and Microsoft gets that message across.  They show how to use the free Live software on your PC, e.g. to restrict access to things or to make reporting things to authorities easier.

Microsoft UK has a page full of useful information here.  I’d say you’ll probably be able to get them or a representative to visit if you contact them.  MS UK was taking this subject very seriously.  Microsoft Ireland did things in a visibly smaller way with an Internet Safety Day.  They might be doing something under the radar; I don’t have kids (phew) so I wouldn’t know if there’s a school tour.  There appears to have been something done in Northern Ireland; probably done in cooperation with MS UK (there’s a grey area between MS Ireland and MS UK for the North because of accessibility and the border).  Barnardos (Irish child protection charity) also has a page on the subject.

Vodafone Ireland Over Charges For My Mobile Phone

Good old Vodafone Ireland is up to their old tricks again.  I was just doing some online banking a few minutes ago and noticed that there was an unexpected amount charged to my credit card.  My Vodafone Ireland mobile phone is set up to direct debit from that every month.

In December I upgraded my old Nokia to an Nokia N85.  It was an unusable piece of junk and it was incapable of sending text messages.  It was incorrectly reading the SMS message centre number from the SIM card and it was a locked setting.  Vodafone accepted that I could return the phone (by courier collection arranged by them) and that I would not be charged for it.  I could then order something else.  I ended up ordering a LG Windows Mobile 6.5 phone.

I checked my bill for December when I saw the large charge.  Not only had I been billed for both phones but I was also billed for the insurance program which I would never choose to order.

I rang Customer Don’t Care.  I was rather blunt: “I have been over charged by Vodafone Ireland.  I want my money back by midnight on Monday or I am charging you for the money with 50% compound interest per day”.  Believe it or not, that is a quite legal act to do in Ireland.  If someone rips you off, you can set the terms.  It’s handy to listen to those customer affairs segments on drive-time radio.

That got the agent’s attention.  At first there was an effort to make the return payment complicated.  I was blunt once again: “Fine; send a courier down with a cheque.  I don’t care how you do it”. 

One quick confer with his manager and the agent promised the funds would be returned to my credit card today.  We’ll see.

Got a Vodafone Ireland Home Broadband Router? Make These Changes

If you do and you’ve experienced issues then you should consider doing the following three things:

Confirm It Is A EchoLife HG556a

Browse to this Vodafone Ireland page and get the advanced configuration username and password.  They should be:

User name: admin

Password: VF-IRhg556

Log into the router (probably http://192.168.1.1) using those credentials.  That should open the Device Info page.  If the product name is EchoLife HG556a then you should consider doing the next two steps.

Update The Firmware

You’ll find a link and instructions for this on the Vodafone Ireland page.

I found (it might be a coincidence) that my slow home broadband browsing issue seems to be gone afterwards.  I’m not saying that it’s fixed but it’s not present now.  I am not closing my call – there still might be an issue and only testing over a longer time frame will confirm that. 

Change the QoS Setting

I’ve been having issues with streaming media to my XBox from a media PC for a while now.  I decided to browse through the settings on the router to see what the manufacturers/Vodafone Ireland have done.  There is a setting called QoS (Quality of Service).  QoS allows network administrators to slow down certain types of traffic to allow other types to speed up.  Here’s the rub: there is no one size-fits all that works.  I found this setting (Advanced Setup – Enable QoS) was enabled.  I disabled it, saved the setting and rebooted the router.

Now I tested XBox media streaming from a media PC.  It worked like it should do, no delays, no stutters, and the sound was staying in synch with the video.

Vodafone Update – Post ComReg

I got a call from John in Vodafone Ireland data services.  He took my issues and promised to go through them.  We looked at my router diagnostics to confirm the readings there were seeing on my line matched what my router saw.  I was promised a call back.  In the meantime, there might be outages in my service as they did work.

20 or so minutes later John rang back.  Vodafone “changed my profile”.  I tested it out and it seems like my 7MB line is now behaving like a 7MB line.  For now.  I’m not saying this is resolved.  I know what some service companies can be like and something can be returned to its broken state as quickly as it was fixed.

I am promised a resolution of the daily 3-5 minutes outages caused by Vodafone’s 24 hour DHCP lease renewal.  I am also promised a resolution to sites not being accessible.  We’ll see.  My breath is not held.

Why, oh why does it take screaming your lungs out to get any service from Vodafone Ireland?  It seems to me that a service request now takes 3 telephone calls:

  1. Call customer service and some eejit tells you he can do nothing or puts you on hold to get a paper form (yeah right) – it’s to get rid of you because there are no paper forms and they take long enough to go make the paper from timber they’re going to cut in the Amazon.  You’ll be promised a supervisor call back but that never happens.  That’s to get rid of you.  Wouldn’t that make Vodafone Ireland a company of liars?
  2. Call ComReg to get a case opened and a reference number.
  3. Call back to Vodafone Ireland with your instructions from ComReg to get a complaint opened so that your original request can be dealt with.

I work in the service industry; IT infrastructure to be precise.  If I behaved this way with customers I would be … well I wouldn’t be working in IT any more.  I’d probably be making minimum wage answering phones for Vodafone Ireland.

Me & COMREG Versus Vodafone Ireland

I called COMREG (the government commissioner for telecommunications in Ireland with authority to penalise a licensed company) immediately after being dismissed by Vodafone Ireland Customer “Care” (Emmet) this morning.  COMREG took a listing on my complaints and went through my options, including some very severe steps.  I was given a case reference number and instructed to call Customer “Care”.  My first lines were to:

  1. As for the customer care agent’s name
  2. Inform the person that I was “filing a formal complaint following the instructions of COMREG and that I had a case open with them”.  I supplied the COMREG reference number.

I listed my complaints:

  1. Vodafone fixed line home broadband has a daily outage for every customer in Ireland, including myself.  This is due to an unusual design of the DHCP lease process by Vodafone Ireland.  Contrary to their claims, this is unusual and I have never had this happen with either BT Ireland nor Digiweb in the past.
  2. The performance I have experienced of Vodafone Ireland fixed line home broadband has been awful.  Any site containing images either takes an age to load or the images fail to load.  This causes me issues because (a) most sites have lots of images and (b) I’m into photography. I know the sites in question are fine because they work OK from our data centre.
  3. I cannot access some sites via Vodafone Ireland fixed line home broadband.  I know the sites are operational but I cannot access them.  This appears to be random.  I know the sites in question are fine because they work OK from our data centre.
  4. I have tried to open cases with Customer Care on the home broadband issues but the agent couldn’t do anything beyond the 2 steps (reset router, change DNS) and refused to escalate the call.
  5. I had a crank call last night and I called to get Customer Care to block the number from calling me again.  The customer care agent would not cooperate and put me on call to get rid of me.  The agent handling this formal complaint, “Peter”, did at least call someone internally to dig up the number that dialled me last night and have it added to my case.  That should have been the first action of “Emmet” this morning, instead of saying “Vodafone Ireland does not block numbers”.

It took some time to get all this recorded with “Peter”.  I was promised a supervisor call back!  Hah, as Emmet told me this morning, those happen if a supervisor feels like it.  But I do have a requirement from COMREG: it is the duty of Vodafone Ireland to respond to my complaints in this case within 10 working days or they face penalties from COMREG.

COMREG have also offered a way to smoothly transition from Vodafone Ireland home broadband without a disconnect, event though I have some 9 months left in the contract if Vodafone Ireland cannot provide the service required.

Mastering Windows Server 2008

Anyone who’s been seriously interested in reading about Windows Server  from an independant and trusted source probably has read one of Mark Minasi’s "Mastering Windows …" books in the past.  Mark has written and worked with some incredible people to put together boosk that teach you the fundamentals of the products, advanced techniques and solutions to real world problems. 
 
He and his co-authors are currently beavering away at the next publication … or should I say publications!  Mastering Windows Server 2003 came in at nearly 2000 pages … it was huge.  It was also an excellent source … I learned a tonne from it when designing and deploying Windows Server 2003 soon after it was RTM.  Mastering Windows Server 2008 will actually be 3 books.  And they won’t be small either!  Windows Server 2008 introduces tonnes of new technology and improvements to existing features that need to be covered.  Mark and the publishers have come up with a novel solution:
 

These books are available on pre-order from Amazon now.  I think it’s safe to say that they will be a good purchase and a worthy investment.

EDIT:

The first book is published.  The other two are taking a little longer than expect but they are being worked on at present.  28/Jan/2009.

Microsoft Windows Server 2008 User Group – Ireland

I’ve been attending Microsoft’s Windows Server 2008 ("Longhorn") Academy every month since mid summer here in Dublin to learn more about this new product.  The sessions were run by Microsoft’s Dave Northey and were very succesful.  At the end, Dave announced that he wanted to establish a user group using people from the academy that were interested.  He looked for volunteers to join and a leader.  Muggins here volunteered to lead and it was all said and done after a show of hands.
 
So, what’s the mission?
 
My aim is to get people interested in the product, how it can make their jobs easier and how it can solve business problems.  The most common question we’re going to hear is "Why should I deploy Windows 2008?".  There’s lots of good reasons and I intend to not only share them but have experts demonstrate real world problems and solutions.  We’ll grow the group steadily and bring it on tour around the country to make it more accessibe.  There will be a managed online presence where people can interact and continue the learning, teaching and sharing process.  And I think there might just be one or two pints drank along the way 🙂
 
If this sounds like it might be of interest to you then give me a shout (website <at> highwaycsl.com).  I’m going to be kicking this thing into high gear next month and I’m really looking forward to seeing the group membership grow in numbers and in influence.
 
More details will follow pretty soon!