Archive for November, 2006

Open Source VoIP

When we talk about open source we often think about Linux and the battles with Windows. One area that I would definitely consider and recommend open source is in the area of software based PBXs. In particular there is a great solution called Trixbox (formerly known as Asterisk@Home). It’s based on the well known Asterisk Project but which contains a web based management interface and a CRM system called SugarCRM. So why go for a software based PBX? Well, Intel based hardware has become commoditised and you can build a scalable and redundant architecture using commonly available hardware. Trixbox is not just a VoIP gateway but can switch ISDN and Analog lines as well, with the appropriate PCI interface cards. The power really comes from being an open software based platform. It’s a development environment and has an API for building software solutions that link in with your telecom system. Now that’s not something you get with something like Avaya or other hardware based VoIP systems.

Most people think of Skype when talking of VoIP. Let me say, I’m not an advocate of Skype because it’s totally proprietary and doesn’t use standard protocols and so won’t interoperate with anything else. Why eBay payed some ridiculous price for it, I’ll never know!

English Beer Wench wanted by Aussie!

Well, what can I say? If you feel you really want to apply then here is the article on the BBC News website! You’ll get an Ashes ticket for the fourth Test! Here is a choice quote from the report from the guy advertising this vacancy:-

It really does need to be a girl – we don’t feel a bloke would have the very special characteristics needed to fill the role. But then again, we are talking about recruiting from the same gene pool that produced Phil Tufnell…

Harsh! Phil Tufnell’s not that bad…okay, may be he’s right!

Obviously, this is highly misogynistic and I would never condone such behaviour…honest!

Software for Charities

Microsoft has a giving programme which donates software to charities. There have been some recent changes and eligible organisations can access software from a third party that Microsoft has teamed up with called the Charity Technology Trust. It’s really easy if you’re a registered charity as your status can be verified through the charity number. You just pay a small admin fee and you can get Windows XP Pro, Office 2003 and Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 all with Software Assurance. Also, through this organisation you can get CISCO networking equipment as well!

FSB Leicester City Branch

I’ve just become the secretary for the FSB Leicester City branch at the AGM last night. The Federation of Small Businesses is a growing organisation and its membership has topped 200,000. It runs regular networking meetings and does a lot of political lobbying on issues that affect small businesses. Hopefully, I can make a positive contribution in my role as I know the current committee are looking to develop the events programme. At the following networking event last night we had to do a 60 second pitch to someone in the room we hadn’t met before, five times in a row. I have to say that I’m not very good at this because you can just tell by people’s faces! I’m not sure using words like “Mobility”, “Collaboration” or “Security” really means anything to most people. Afterwards I thought, may be I should’ve just showed people my Windows Smartphone and how I accessed email, contacts and calendar. Apparently, Emma, from Partner Perspectives had to do something similar recently, so its something I’m going to have to prepare for.

SBS Kent Meeting

I ventured in to the deepest recesses of southern England yesterday as I made my way to the SBS Kent Meeting and my first ever crossing of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge (Dartford Toll Crossing). The meeting was well attended with over 50 people there. The main part of the evening was Matt McSpirit and Dave Overton doing some demos on EVO. I learnt a bunch of stuff I didn’t know before, the simplest being to switch on the preview pane on Windows Explorer! Using the Complete Backup option in Vista creates a file in a Virtual PC Image format which can be mounted by Virtual PC as a device and then you can ccess the file data. You can’t boot this image though. On Linux you can mount an ISO image on the loop device and access the file information so this sounds similar. Shadow copies are enabled across the volumes and are on by default, so you can even get previous versions of system files, which might be really useful in some situations. The Application Compatibility Mode is still a bit vague to me as I don’t really understand what it’s doing under the hood! It’d be interesting to run something like Quickbooks under it.

Dave showed the new Outlook Web Access with Exchange Server 2007 and the look and feel is even better than the previous OWA. Dave mentioned it was using AJAX but I believe the previous one used AJAX as well, whereas the new one uses the ATLAS toolkit, which apparently now is the ASP.NET AJAX thingy! Eileen Brown posted up about this recently. You can download Atlas and use it for your own development purposes.

The new Business Contact Manager 2007 can now work in offline mode and can work off either a SQL Express or SQL Server backend. You can now synchronise to your Windows Mobile device as well, which you couldn’t do before. From the EVO event that I attended recently it was shown that BCM 2007 is not available with all versions of Office 2007, so you’d have to get the right version of Office 2007.

On the way back from the event, I got to listen to a load of Punjabi Bhangra music on Radio 1 on the Bobby Friction and Nihal’s show. The funniest thing was they had the “No Visa, No Entry 3Play”, which was three groups who had been refused entry in to a particular country to do their gigs. The most famous one being Punjabi MC and their song “Mundian To Bachke” which made it in to the British Top 5 and they were due to come and play on Top of the Pops! You could only get this with Punjabi Groups!!

SAN Primer for SMB

I’ve just been reading the “SAN Primer for SMB” by Karl Palachuk, Harry Brelsford & Ryan Klein. The book sets out a case for considering SAN (storage area networking) for small and medium businesses. It also has a step by step guide in setting up and configuring the Qlogic SAN Express Kit. The book is very easy to understand, even I can follow it! I have to say the authors make a compelling case for considering SAN for certain small business scenarios. Storage requirements, even for small businesses, is rapidly growing and often the need to upgrade the server is driven by the need to increase the storage capacity. in the SAN scenario, data is stored on the disk arrays which sit on a separate network (fibre channel). The storage appears as if it is direct attached disks but additional disks can be added dynamically. As the storage is on a separate fibre channel network then disk I/O can be handled independently of other operations occuring over the ethernet based LAN. The book is a real eye opener on a potentially value added offering.

EVO Event at Microsoft Today

I was at the EVO Event at Microsoft today at Thames Valley Park which was pretty well attended, the theatre was quite full. I’ve been thinking of what to write or whether to write anything at all about it! The reason is the event was okay but didn’t seem to generate a buzz or enthusiasm. It’s difficult to put my finger on it and I’m just not sure what I feel.

I liked the demos by the PTS guys, Steve Marsh and Matt McSpirit and their “comedy” double act and self parody (if that’s the right word?) video of Office 2007 as a “Cereal Breakfast” commercial! Can we get that on YouTube? The demos pretty much went to plan and some new things I saw were the speech control of Vista and the Performance/Reliability Monitoring (a very geeky but useful support tool) and Meeting Spaces (what a cool ad hoc collaboration feature!). There’s no denying the power and coolness of all this technology.

The second half of the session was on the Partner Opportunity and Licensing. This is where it all starts to get a bit sticky! The presenters did a good job and to be fair, I have yet to see a bad Microsoft UK presenter (how can they all be so damn confident at speaking). The questions of licensing and product versions started to fly thick and fast and poor Louise was struggling to answer quite a lot of them and was having to resort to saying I haven’t been informed of that. At one point she even called out in to the theatre for any other Microsoft Person to assist her with the licensing issues but there was no reply!! This is not her fault. My head started to spin with all the different versions both Vista and Office 2007 and what was in them, what wasn’t, what they mapped to in the old product range…and then we got to licensing and the system builder’s questions were like a hail of fire! By this point I was reading the new Microsoft Sales Gear Up UK Sales Guide in minute detail because I’d just lost the will to live by then and everyone was beginning to look like cooked chicken sitting in their seats as hunger was setting in!

Louise did give an honourable mention to Susanne’s Blog and her post on Vista/Office 2007 and that she’d been reading it!

I think I’ve just realised the problem, whilst writing this post, it’s the number of versions of products combined with the details of Microsoft Licensing and it all adds up to a very confusing thing for partners, so how can you explain this to your clients.

You know the GPL is quite popular at the moment, wouldn’t it simplify things? (only joking, well half joking!).

P.S. That spicy chicken for lunch was good!

Windows Powershell

You know, Microsoft always used to say that Linux was difficult to manage because of all the scripts you had to write and know, so what do they do? Welcome to Microsoft’s Powershell. So how do Microsoft describe Powershell…”command line shell and scripting language helps IT Professionals achieve greater productivity”.

Did you notice the “greater productivity” part? Okay, so if Microsoft has a command line shell and scripting feature, it’s just so cool, but if it’s in Unix/Linux it’s just a big stinking pile of mess!

It’s amazing how many Microsoft blogs are saying this is just so great, as if they’ve never seen anything like this before! Come on folks give me a break!!

New IBM GM, he's one of us!

I saw an announcement today on the IBM website regarding the appointment of a new IBM General Manager for IBM Global Business Partners, Ravi Marwaha. Now why is that so interesting? The thing that struck me was his surname “Marwaha” as it’s a Sikh surname. Moreover, it is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name and I have a lot of relatives who are Marwaha’s. Sikhs are a very small community worldwide and it doesn’t take us long to find a link with someone. The probability is that there is a link there somewhere going back to a particular village in the Punjab. From the surname you can tell whether someone belongs to a group of Sikhs called the Ramgharia and to which my surname belongs as well.

Windows Mobile 5.0 and SBS 2003

I finally got a Orange SPV C600 device after having initially considered the SPV M5000. The C600 is a Windows Mobile 5.0 which has a standard phone keypad, so it’s basically more phone like rather than PDA like. It doesn’t feature 3G or EDGE (which is an enhanced version of GSM) or WiFi but is a GSM/GPRS device, so it’s not going to have the fastest datarates in the world. Seeing as I already had a Dell Axim x50v PDA (upgraded to Windows Mobile 5.0), then I thought I would go for the C600 for it’s more phone like portability. I think I made a wise choice as apparently the battery life on the M5000 is quite poor. Also, I can use the C600 as a GPRS modem for my PDA/Laptop using the bluetooth connection. The Business 120 plan, to which I subscribed, gives me 120 minutes and 4 MB of data per month for a monthly fee of £30 (inc vat) and you get the phone free!

Setting this up for syncing with my SBS 2003 server was really quite easy. You need a SSL certificate from a trusted third party and I used GoDaddy. The Turbo SSL Certicate is $19.99 per year. I set up a subdomain of iqubed.biz which I pointed to the static IP address of my SBS 2003 server. I followed the Microsoft Technet guide to deploying Windows Mobile 5.0 on SBS 2003. The SSL certificate is requested and processed entirely online and an authentication email is sent to the registered owner of the domain. You simply click on the authentication link on the email received (assuming you are the owner of the domain). The certificate is emailed to you and is installed on the SBS server and then you configure the “server source” on Activesync on the Mobile Device and that’s it. It worked first time and now I have mobile access to email, contacts and calendar. The whole process took about an hour to do.

I’ve found that you can’t use the self signed certificate because Windows Mobile 5.0 is stricter security wise and doesn’t import the client side certificate (maybe there is a way around this?). With a trusted third party certificate you don’t import anything on the client side.

The C600 has Microsoft Direct Push Technology and with Exchange SP2 installed on SBS 2003, email can be automatically synced to the mobile device. This basically gives you the same functionality as a Blackberry.

I also set this up today for a client who had an Orange SPV M3100. I had implemented 1and1’s Hosted Exchange Service for them and again it was really easy to set up and worked straight away and it also supports the direct push technology.

Access to your information anytime and anywhere really is a reality with SBS 2003. One of the reasons for doing this is so that I can show potential/existing clients the mobility features of SBS 2003.

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