Tag Archives: psu

Guarding your productivity sweet spot

Get to know your work habits and soon you’ll know that time of day that is your productivity sweet spot.

Mine is 10:00a.m.
Coincidentally, the majority of meetings to which I am invited happen right around this time of day. Unfortunately, meetings aren’t typically where work gets done. They are where work gets talked about. The actual work gets done outside the meetings.
From now on, the meetings I schedule will be in the afternoon.

Cisco’s Mobile Connect is useful; worth the two license units

Recently I decided to explore Cisco Unified Communication Manager’s Mobile Connect feature. This used to be called Single Number Reach and is exactly what you would expect: one number rings multiple phones–your VoIP set and an off-system number. It is straightforward to set up; follow this helpful guide on the Cisco Learning Network.

The nice thing about Mobile Connect is that it isn’t simply a multi-ring scheme; rather, it’s effectively a shared line appearance with your cell phone or other remote number. Communications Manager maintains supervision of the line, even if you take the call on your remote line (mobile phone), which allows you to easily switch between the remote and the desk phone. I believe, though I have not tested it, that this configuration would also allow the Mobile Connect line to participate in a hunt group.

In CUCM 7.x, you can configure an on-hook screen Mobility softkey to enable or disable Mobile Connect. This way, it does not have to be an always-on feature.

Enabling a Mobile Connect number consumes two additional device license units (DLUs) if you are licensing devices a la carte. The functionality is very nice and probably worth the licensing cost for those who want to use it.

Some recent projects for fun and work

I’ve had fun with a few personal and work-related VoIP projects lately. I’ll summarize them here, and if there’s any interest I’ll expand one or more of them into full how-to articles. 

speak2tweet
You may have heard about the Google/Twitter project called speak2tweet that was created over a weekend during the Egyptian protests, with the goal of allowing protesters whose Internet connectivity was cut to get their voices on to the web. Some folks on the PBX-in-a-Flash forum were talking about it and we realized it would not be hard to build, especially with the Tropo transcription service available to us.
Check out the first page of that thread for the dial-in numbers, and then try it out yourself. The code is posted on the forum for the first hack at it, which only does transcription. The current version includes links to the recordings, too, just like the original speak2tweet. I need to clean it up and post it. See and hear your spoken tweets at twitter.com/piafspeaktweet.
Fax
I have largely ignored fax over VoIP for a long time, because it’s not something I do. At PSU, we attach fax machines to analog lines; done. But recently, I was asked to assist with a quick-turnaround fax project: send a fax to 4,059 analog lines on campus, calls spaced one minute apart, and record the results, so that we can see how many fax machines are hooked up out there. Interesting. I tried Digium’s Free Fax for Asterisk module, but couldn’t get it to communicate. Next I built the soft-switch.org spandsp module, and told Asterisk to use it, and it worked right away. A Perl script using the excellent Asterisk::AMI module (referenced previously on this blog) drove the dialer, and standard Asterisk CDR with a few extra fields recorded the fax results. By the way, the faxes were sent in audio mode (not T.38) using SIP and G.711u over the Internet, and only 3 out of 4,059 calls failed.
FreeSWITCH revisited
Back when I wrote about using FreeSWITCH alongside Asterisk as a gateway to Google Voice, I determined that at some point I’d come back and dig into FreeSWITCH a little more just to understand it. I updated that article with a slightly better config, including lines that turn on comfort noise, which helps the FreeSWITCH-Asterisk bridge maintain synchronization on RTP. (See the FreeSWITCH wiki for more information on that.)

Interop NY 2010 report

My coworker and I collaborated on a short report for our management to summarize our time in New York for Interop 2010. Not much VoIP here, but all the “cloud” talk makes me think we won’t be hosting IP PBXes on-premises for much longer. Cloud VoIP providers + highly tuned Internet connections + mobility will be the next thing.

Training

The full day of training, held on Tuesday the 19th, was Virtualization Management Day and covered a broad range of topics beginning with motivations to virtualize servers, storage, and network; strategy; and operations/management. VMware, which is the most widely deployed, was discussed the most, but other virtualization platforms received some discussion as well.

[Penn State’s Telecommunications and Networking Services (TNS)] may be ahead of the pack in terms of server virtualization: we have about 75% of our servers virtualized, whereas the average for most shops is less than 30% virtualized at this point. We also have virtualized many of our mission-critical applications, including DHCP services, [our trouble-ticket system] and the network management system. Many other shops have only virtualized their simple applications so far.

Through our training, we see new opportunities to save money and infrastructure resources through advanced concepts of network and storage virtualization. In TNS we have built a solid foundation with our VMware clusters and can continue to build on it.

Conference

Conference sessions were varied but focused on the major topics of virtualization, cloud computing (including private clouds–virtual resource environments internal to an organization–and public clouds–resources provided by third parties via the internet), and next-generation networking, including wireless.

As environments become more and more virtualized, networking changes, including security (firewalls) and layer 2. We learned about some new tech that will help us to reduce our network infrastructure and move more of the network functions into the virtual space.

Cloud computing is emerging as a way to efficiently distribute computing resources where needed, easily. TNS’s virtual server environment is a strong start in this direction.

A session on backup, disaster recovery, and availability confirmed that we have made a good start on these in the virtual environment and gave some tips on how to use virtual machine image backups for a more robust disaster recovery scheme.

One of the keynote presentations and a conference session discussed the push for all-wireless out to the edge.  At this point, the contention is that speeds and security models are adequate to use wireless at the edge, instead of wiring the offices.  It’s an interesting concept and is gaining momentum.  It will be interesting to watch as this movement progresses further.

Exhibition

The vendor exhibition gave us a few opportunities to talk with network monitoring system vendors, which we had hoped to do to consider some alternatives to [our current NMS]. We also had the chance to see the current datacenter tech landscape by reviewing the various products being shown at the expo.

1950s phone booth; starting bid $750

The first of six 1950s phone booths removed from the student union is now up for bid on eBay. Starting bid, set by the University? $750. 

We are hoping that a student and/or alumnus would find them valuable and enjoy them for years to come,” said the senior director of the student union. 

She forgot the adjective wealthy.

UPDATE 10/20/2010 11:00a.m. Auction ended. No bids. Perhaps Surplus will re-list at a more reasonable starting bid.

PSU voicemail upgrade – Unity Connection 7

This Friday, the University Park VoIP voicemail system, currently Cisco Unity 4.0.5, will be upgraded–migrated, actually–to Unity Connection 7. A number of us received training on this last fall, and we are eager to move ahead to the new system.

In terms of features, this is a one-for-one migration–no features lost, and no features added at the time of the upgrade. We have been running Unity in voice-mail-only (VMO) mode, where an Exchange mail system acts as the voice mail storage facility and nothing more–no e-mail integration, web access, or other Exchange features. Connection is designed for the VMO-type deployment, so while the feature set remains the same, we are gaining a lot with this upgrade, administratively:

  • no more Exchange
  • no more domain management to support an isolated Exchange
  • no more Microsoft patching for the above
  • two messaging servers rather than two (Unity) + two (DC) + two (Exchange) = six
  • Cisco Linux platform, including the better Disaster Recovery System (DRS) and upgrade/patch deployment

And lastly, this gets PSU un-stuck from 2004 and able to move ahead more easily as new versions or features come along.

Coworkers Chris (who needs to update his blog) and Sean are the ones making this happen. Huge thanks, guys.

Going beyond the straight migration of this weekend, what’s next? I wrote about some end-user web features we saw in training:

End-user Web Features
  • Unity assistant – per-user settings manager, like Communications Manager User Options site
  • Unity inbox – view, listen to, forward, reply, etc. to voice messages. Play messages through the web browser or download to PC.

I believe that with some reconfiguration on the back end having to do with the way accounts are keyed (need some affiliation with the PSU access account ID), a proxy written similar to what we did with Call Manager 6, and some gentle but consistent pressure from users for such useful features, we could enable the two listed above. And in time, and depending on where University e-mail is headed presently, we may even be able to deposit voicemail in people’s e-mail boxes. (NOTE: this is my wishlist and not a statement that these things are planned or that I am even working on them… but I’d like to.)

Historic telephone booths to be removed from union, auctioned

Soon, a piece of Penn State and telecommunications history will be removed from the Hetzel Union Building and auctioned on eBay: 1950’s-vintage telephone booths.

HUB phone booths
Image courtesy PSU Public Information

I noticed that the pay phones had been removed and wrote to a HUB staff member to find out what was going to happen to the booths. She wrote,

The HUB phone booths will not be destroyed. They are going to be sold via the Penn State Lion Surplus eBay process. This can be accessed by going to their web site at http://www.surplus.psu.edu We are hoping that a student and/or alumnus would find them valuable and enjoy them for years to come.

The HUB underwent extensive remodeling from 1998-2000 and these phone booths were preserved from the old union building.

Penn State proud IP phones

Not to be outdone by the foaming soap dispensers that proudly display the Penn State logo…

Here are some ideas I had for background images for the 7941/7961:



Standard (currently available)

PSU shield logo (currently available)

Nittany Lion 1

Nittany Lion 2
 

Old Main tower

Allen Street gates

At Beaver Stadium

Honors College wall

Color versions of the grayscale images.  (This is what you’d see on Cisco’s higher-end color-display phones:  7945, 7965, 797x.  We don’t offer these, but they sure look cool.)



Standard

Nittany Lion 1

Nittany Lion 2

Elm trees
 

Old Main tower

Allen Street gates

At Beaver Stadium

Honors College wall

Photography credit: Penn State Department of Public Information

Separate voice/data networks vs. VLAN tagging/trunking

I’m answering this comment-question on the main blog because it’s a new topic; also, because I’d be glad to hear more about this topic.

Richard Rauscher said:

Bill, i have a question that’s been burning inside for a while — why do we implement separate networks for voice and data? Why not just use 802.1p/q and DiffServ?

I’ve been through three VoIP implementations, 2 with Cisco Phones & Call Manager and 1 with 3COM NBX’s. I’ve always kept the phones and data on the same network with no insurmountable problems.

thanks!

The answer to this question is entirely non-technical. There may be technical reasons also, but I believe the non-technical reason fully covers it. (Note: this answer reflects my point of view from working in operations and my understanding of decisions made before my employment in the department even began. It is neither comprehensive nor authoritative.)

Cisco VoIP service offered by TNS at University Park is fully managed by TNS — phone, jack, cabling, LAN equipment, everything. TNS also offers fully-managed data LANs but departments are not required to subscribe to this management for their data networks, and many do not. The simplicity of having one “voice network” infrastructure, as opposed to some of the infrastructure being stand-alone voice and some being integrated with a TNS-managed data LAN, is a significant factor in service management.

Data and voice packets traverse the same core network–there is not a separate physical core network for VoIP. The separation in the core is entirely logical (IP addressing/subnetting and access controls).

Richard (and others): What functionality could be gained, in Penn State’s situation, by creating more of a converged data/voice network? Thanks for your question, and I look forward to hearing more.

Movable Type 4 upgrade

To my thousands of loyal RSS readers, (and by that I mean Chris K.) sorry for the republishing of all my entries today. I hope you enjoyed re-reading them. Actually, it’s the result of upgrading from MovableType 3 to version 4 provided by ITS. Here are the two gotchas I encountered:

  • The new default for blog entries uses hyphens instead of underscores to create the permalinks. If you care to keep your permalinks consistent when you upgrade your blog, you can set MT4 to use underscores. See this very short thread.
  • My favorite browser, Opera, doesn’t work well with the MT4 admin interface for editing templates. I would say that I fat-fingered something but the quirkiness I encountered makes me think instead that Opera didn’t correctly interpret the javascript being used there. I fixed the problems with Firefox. Use Firefox if you’re editing templates in MT4.

Otherwise, the upgrade was fine. Thanks, Blog Team.

Coming up next week: Cisco training on upgrading from Call Manager 4.x to 6.1. I’ll post some notes and thoughts related to Penn State’s implementation if permitted.