Welcome to this week's blog, which will appear monthly, funnily enough. Monday
At last we’re replacing the creaking 128K Kilostream circuits connecting our head office to London and Bristol and ditching those Terminal Server licences. So there’s nothing for it but to spend most of the day sifting through piles of increasingly impenetrable IP/VPN bumph. In better times you could save yourself a lot of trouble by using this stuff as a broad indicator of a firm’s wider management competence. Anyone confusing British and US English; anyone making elementary spelling mistakes; anyone promising to leverage their technological leadership; anyone using meaningless gibberish like “24x7x365 support” could be safely set to one side… A fairly reliable way of slicing through an inconveniently long list of would-be suppliers. Not any more though. These days, no matter what you're buying, one company’s “collateral” is as risible as the next. There’s nothing for it but to put in a bit of effort and attempt to base the shortlist on concepts such as price/performance, the appropriateness of the technology, scalability and so on…It looks like the worst culprit when it comes to the quality of its sales literature appears to have one of the best-thought-out business solutions on offer. It’s all very disturbing.

The company has spent a small fortune on anti-virus at the gateway, anti-virus on the mail server, antivirus on the desktop and anti-virus on the finance office kettle. (All right, I made the last one up.) Yet we still find a recent variant of SOBIG on one of the sales PCs this morning. The machine in question is used from time to time by a salesman who spends much of his week working with a dial-up connection from home. To save time, we tend to keep all the office PCs running continuously whether they’re being used or not but for some reason his got switched off yesterday. When someone switched it back on again, it had missed the scheduled twice-a-day virus signature file update from the server. Predictably, despite endless memos warning of the dire consequences, whoever did it was one of those overly curious types who can’t stop themselves opening unsolicited email attachments. When we did the original antivirus install, I thought updating twice a day would be adequate. Mea culpa. From now on we check for updates every hour. Vendors like to tell you that security isn’t a technology issue, it’s a management issue… Maybe so but I can’t help feeling it’s a lot less hassle to screw the technology down than stay on top of every user’s behaviour.

Why is it that technical salespeople always seem to hunt in pairs? Today we sit through presentations from two multinational telcos showing off their IP/VPN offerings. In both cases, the really useful half of the double act is the “technical” sales guy who clearly understands what we are trying to achieve, is able to explain our technology options in language that the MD can follow and is happy to identify ways in which we can save money. Again in both cases, the other’s role is to make the lame PowerPoint presentation, talk in endless strings of TLAs and pass “difficult” questions to his colleague. Is there some kind of “good cop, bad cop” psychology at work here?

A red letter day. I replace the last of the company’s NT Workstation licences with a copy of Windows 2000 Professional picked up for 45 quid from e-Bay. Since the beneficiary of the upgraded OS is none other than yours truly, I dream of celebrating my new crash-free future with a nice pub lunch instead of the usual manky sandwich grabbed at someone else’s desk. Fortunately for my waistline, providence and Microsoft intervene to ensure I spend the entire day installing all the service packs and “critical” updates to bring my new OS up to date.

IP or not IP? That is the question. The London office sits in a serviced building in Docklands and the terms of our long-standing rental agreement mean we have to route voice calls through the landlord’s switchboard at a hefty premium. So, one of the cost-cutting options we’re considering is to circumvent this unpalatable arrangement by combining the existing leased line with the handy VoIP compatibility of our new PABX. This means we can route London’s calls via head office in the wilds of north Oxfordshire. Data traffic currently carried by the leased line can be switched to a DSL connection when the VPN is up and running. But how much will we save by turning local calls into national calls in this way? And will the savings justify the six thousand odd quid we pay BT each year for the line? I can’t help feeling it will be cheaper and less complicated to wait until our rental agreement comes up for renewal later this year. We can then threaten the landlord with a move into one of the thousands of Docklands offices currently lying empty unless he abandons this odious telephone scam. More next month. David Charles is IT manager for a UK recruitment agency.

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