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Archive for March, 2010

SEACOM bandwidth first hand

March 17, 2010 1 comment

Last year, the SEACOM undersea fiber optic cable landed in South Africa. This cable was many times faster than the existing SAT3 cable that most of South Africa relies on to get internet access. Along with everything else, it was expected that SEACOM would bring competition and innovative packages to market as ISP’s got connected to the cable.

Two weeks ago this became a reality for my school. Our ISP only caters for schools, and they had managed to obtain a slice of bandwidth for new packages they would be offering schools. We were offered an uncapped 2Mbit ADSL line for less than what we were paying for our uncapped 1Mbit line. Contention ratio would be fixed at 2:1, which was guaranteed unlike our previous solution with Internet Solutions.

A new router was installed on site, our firewall quickly reconfigured and we were away. A few DNS records had to be changed on their side, but once that was done everything was back to normal.

Speed is fantastic on the line. One could say that of any 2Mbit line I guess, but with contention ratios fixed, we are getting steady solid bandwidth. YouTube videos can often now be viewed without a lot of buffering for example. Downloads go so much quicker than ever before.

General browsing speed has also increased nicely, though sometimes it isn’t as noticeable.

It has reached the point that using this crummy 384k ADSL line at home is almost physically painful at times. As ADSL competition continues in South Africa, I can hope that the 384k lines will eventually get upgraded for free. I can’t live with this slow speed anymore after having SEACOM based goodness for 2 weeks now at work.

Although SEACOM hasn’t yet totally opened the market up, it is having many good effects already. Once the rest of the fiber cables land in SA, we may just start living the internet good life.

Fully managed networks

Computer networks are the arteries of most businesses these days. Along with the computer, a network makes many things possible. Like anything computer related though, if it isn’t managed carefully, a network can quickly grow out of control, become unstable and cause errors. One way to prevent this is for the network to be fully managed.

A fully managed network is created when all the network switches on the network are manageable. Usually these devices come with dedicated management software that can manage multiple switches at once, as well as a web interface, SSH access etc… These switches can include some features that used to belong in routers, as well as offering VLAN support, MAC address lockdown, traffic management, Quality of Service etc…

A standard switch offers none of this, it simply provides a connection and some other low level technical features that you cannot do anything about.

Managed switches are still far more expensive than their unmanaged siblings, but the price in the long term is worth it. Happily, the price of managed switches have come down in the last couple of years, as well as increasing their features and power.

I’ve noticed that there are many brands of switch out there. Some manufacturers try to convince people that they have managed switches by calling them WebSmart or whatever, but in reality those are only semi managed. Just because a switch has a web interface doesn’t mean it is fully managed.

Our network at my job has just become fully managed. I don’t know how many schools around Cape Town have this in place, but it would be interesting to know. With the exception of one 5 and 8 port mini switches, the entire network is built on HP ProCurve switches. The main switch is the 2900-24G, while the rest is mainly 2610-24’s along with two 2610-48’s and two 2524’s. These devices replaced a number of unmanaged Dlink and Cnet switches.

Although not directly related to this, during the course of last year we also cleaned up the cabling in the various switch cabinets around the school building. My colleague and I terminated the floor cables into patch panels, added brush panels and put new fly leads in. Rewiring the classrooms and other venues is an ongoing process however, as a lot of work is still needed there.

As a result of this upgrade and the server migration that happened last year, the network is at its fastest and most stable level ever. The removal of extra protocols helped one way, while the fact that the fiber backbone is now running at 1Gbps to all switches plays a large role as well.

The next goal I have is to learn how to use ProCurve Manager correctly. I’m not too fond of the program, it is mainly written in Java and is a bit of pain to run on Windows Vista/7. However, it offers the best way to manage our network, offering features in GUI format that would have had me scratching in each switches’ command line environment.

In summary, when any organization goes past a certain point in their network size, it pays to move to a fully managed network. Although expensive, the end results are well worth it. In the hands of a skilled network administrator, a fully managed network is a powerful asset.

Microsoft Security Essentials

I’ve been a long time user of Avast! anti-virus at home. I found it had a great scanning engine, it was free and it was quite light on resources. Lately however, my confidence has taken quite a knock in the product.

I am almost sure that something botched up 4.8 on my Vista install, and after the upgrade to the new version 5, things got even worse. I was not too happy, but then I moved to Windows 7 and installed version 5 from scratch.

All seemed good, it wasn’t a system hog and the new interface feels very good, up there with the best av products. I turned gaming mode on, as Avast had an annoying habit of popping up during a full screen game telling me it had updated itself.

Yesterday I discovered that it hadn’t updated itself in almost 2 weeks. I was puzzled and alarmed by this. No amount of manual forcing would work. I uninstalled the product, and installed from the setup file I had on my flash drive. For whatever reason, the setup file moaned that it was a beta product and I had to download a fresh copy from Avast. I didn’t understand this, as this was the same file I had gotten from Avast just after the release of version 5.

Fed up, I decided to change over to Microsoft Security Essentials and see what it is all about. The install file is about 7.5mb, which was a quick download. The initial virus definition download was about 48mb, which is quite large but ok for the 1st update.

Checking the program out, it is quite minimal, cleanly laid out. There isn’t much in the way of configuration options, which is a welcome relief almost. So far I’ve pretty much left the thing at defaults.

There was one nasty side effect though. After installing MSE, it turned Windows Update on and started downloading updates for me like crazy. This was against my wish, as I review my updates manually. I’ve now set Windows to inform me when there is updates, as I’m not 100% sure yet how MSE gets new definitions. I want that to be as automatic as possible, like Avast.

Also, MSE disables Windows Defender, it looks like it integrates the technology within itself. Not a bad idea, as now you have the power of 2 things in 1 simple interface.

Overall I’m liking it so far, time will tell how successful the software is for me.