Archive for May, 2007

Outsourcing Business Communications

Communication challenges like mails, faxes, answering calls, space for meetings etc for a small start-up, where the partners and contractors are in different time zones as well as plan to keep their regular 9-5.

I know there are virtual/ intelligent office solution providers out there who give you all you need – mails and call forwarding, faxes, answer your calls, let you use their facilities for important meetings etc for one flat monthly rate. My question is – Do you have any experience (good or bad) with these virtual/ intelligent office solution providers? Any recommendations…

Devesh Dwivedi

Experienced Management Consultant

I don’t really know of any good “one size fits all” that extends over multiple timezones (and possibly countries?). Regus has been mentioned, and they are quite good. But, I’ve only ever used them for one-off day meetings, though and not as a complete VO. The day rates were comparable to meeting rooms in a conference center or hotel.

The telecom portion is fairly easy. I used to work for Avaya and they have a number of solutions that would address the forwarding, voicemail, faxes, call accounting, time-based routing, etc. Of particular interest would probably be a product called IP Softphone which would give you the transparent virtualization. There are a lot of cheaper VO products and providers, but for sheer scalability and flexibility, I would reach out to an Avaya reseller and talk to them about your needs. I know of a number of HO/VO based businesses that have just bought a used Merlin PBX to start out and then used it as the foundation for a bricks-and-mortar later.

AT&T also has a number of services that may fit your needs. Walking 800 numbers, voicemail, virtual PBXs, etc. The AT&T Webmeeting services (based on WebEx) provide virtual workspaces, Webmeeting services, integrated voice dial-in services, call management, etc. and they’ve always worked very well for me (for calls from a handful to thousands of participants. The latter moves up to a service called AT&T Executive Teleconferencing, but the technology works essentially in the same way)

As for office & meeting space, I would use someone like Regus or your local hotels/conference centers as needed. There’s also nothing wrong with the old standby of having meetings over a meal in a nice restaurant. Pick a nice quiet venue or one with private rooms/meeting areas. No sales meeting in McDonalds or Denny’s (yes, I have actually had vendors “wine and dine” me at a McDonalds!!!!! Scary, but true.). Unless you have a lot of face-to-face meetings, I’d be careful about committing to an office contract. You can generally accomplish the same effect for less money by having a list of “pre-screened” meeting venues to use as needed.

The Case for Standards

If you had to choose between an insdustry Standard encryption product and a new soon to be a standard which product will you choose?


George Antoniou

Director Information Security at Sodexo

I can’t address the specifics of IBE, but as a general principle I’d go with the standard. Unless you have a vested business interest in the new product or there is some overwhelming technical consideration, the risks should steer you towards the standard.

1) A standard has had more review and scrutiny and has usually been well proven and revised as needed to address any gaps
1b) Risks of unknown gaps or exploits. Time and widespread acceptance are usually the only ways that these gaps are exposed.
2) Adoption of a standard is much more likely than that of a new technology. Dealing with business partners or units within your own organization would likely require negotiations and training to get them onboard with a “non-standard”
3) Classification and approval for export. This is a big consideration for encryption technologies. Chances are that getting approval for the export/import of a “standard” will be much easier that for a new technology. You may find yourself out of luck when/if you have a need to deploy internationally, simply because the various governments haven’t decided how to handle the new technology.
4) Availability of compatible tools sets. Key distributions, monitoring, audit tools, etc. will be much more readily available for a standard than for a new technology.
5) Integration with existing products. (see #4)

So..while I’m a big fan of the “bleeding edge” in my personal life, when dealing with a business application, I would tend to err on the side of caution and stick with the standards.

Sandbox your new technology and develop some experience with it so that you’ll be ready to run with it when there’s a bit more of a track record. Roll it out onto some lower risk platforms when you’re ready. But always be cautious with your critical production systems.

Seeding FUD around Open Source

What do you think of Microsoft going after Open-Source?

Microsoft claims that free software like Linux, which runs a big chunk of corporate America, violates 235 of its patents. It wants royalties from distributors and users.

Is this just the tactic of an aging company facing unfavorable market trends and stiff competition from likes of Google. Or does Microsoft have a point, is open source so good because it steals from their patents, and entitled to royalties?

John Rankin

Recruiter and Project Manager at Didit

This is just my opinion, so Microsoft lawyers need not read it.

The assumption seems to be that Microsoft intends to win some legal battle against Open-Source. I content that this has nothing to do with winning a case and everything to do with seeding FUD. There are three things that I see being accomplished here: 1) Microsoft is coercing companies into inking settlements that set a nasty precedent for future Open-source development. 2) FUD has now been created around using Open-source products [most notably in a business environment where you might get sued] and 3) FUD has been created around developing open-source projects or using open-source in any sort of commercial setting.

I suspect that the majority of these “infringements” won’t stand up just because of the “prior art” argument. Seriously, how can MS claim that the Linux kernel infringes 42 patents when the concept predates Microsoft by 10 years and Windows by 20. I won’t even get into the interface infringements (cough…Xerox, Mac, Desqview, GEM, Amiga Workbench..). Nobody is going to know if there’s any merit to the claims unless they go public with the specifics. And it’s very unlikely that they’re ever going to do that. They’re going to selectively go after individual companies in private settlements and let everyone else huddle in fear of being next on the list.

Regardless of whether or not Microsoft ever wins a court case, the damage is done. CIOs and IT line managers will have to contend with the bad reputation and the underlying fear that Microsoft has now created around open-source. With every settlement that gets inked with Microsoft, that FUD is going to gain credibility and open-source will backslide further.

I have to hand it to Microsoft. It’s an incredibly smart (and very Machiavellian) business move. The vast majority of the people that they piss off with this move *aren’t* the business decision makers. So they aren’t really putting their corporate base at much risk. As for the informed consumers that realize what a joke this is, well…as long as Microsoft rules in the corporate world, we’re going to keep running it in our homes, schools and governments. And if MS succeeds in scaring away enough of the Linux developers, we won’t even have that as an option for dissent.