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trefor.net - Page 92 of 92 - Insider comments from the world of internet communications

Nortel SMB Certification

I am proud to announce that Timico today gained it’s Nortel SMB certification. Okay okay so what? The point is that Communications Providers and System Integrators selling a manufacturer’s product into traditional Enterprise markets will have a list of certifications as long as your arm. However none of these businesses will particularly be interested in selling into the SMB market (sorry – small and medium sized businesses).

When you have to pay expensive engineering resources to be around to install kit the money in the deal has to be there to make it worth the effort and traditionally this means selling to bigger customers.

The poor old small business, whose market segment incidentally represents the vast majority of the market, has had to exist on an adhoc basis relying on a variety of local small engineering shops to satisfy their miscellaneous technical needs.

It is unusal for a CP to hang its hat on the small business because of the cost of reaching this customer. However the traditional Enterprise equipment vendors are beginning to wake up to the opportunities in this market and I have already commented on the Cisco play via the “Linksys by Cisco” brand.

Clearly Nortel also see the merits of selling to the SMB and this latest award to Timico is a reflection of the understanding that both companies have that a professional approach to these customers is essential. The SMB is now able to source its communications and networking products from a known and trusted entitity that is called Timico.

WWF, VC, HD @wembley

You might ask yourself what WWF has to do with VC and HD? In fact you are probably wondering what the acronyms actually stand for and what have they got to do with Wembley.

 

We are talking World Wide Fund for nature, Video Conferencing and High Definition. (I knew that do I hear you say 🙂 ) and all three were being discussed at a Polycom seminar held looking down at the magnificence that is  the pitch at Wembley Stadium.

 

WWF is launching a programme to help businesses cut the number of flights by 1 in 5 and as a leader in the VC game Polycom found it expedient to have representatives along to make a presentation.

 

Obviously Polycom is using Global Warming and the need to reduce carbon footprints as a sales tool for its VC systems but the cynics amongst you should not poo poo this as it is a perfectly valid/nay sensible thing to do. VC does help cut down on business travel and thus helps save the planet as well as reducing costs.

 

One of the reasons I attended was to hear what Polycom was doing with Microsoft on OCS. Turns out they make some of the handsets and are producing a couple of VC products (HDX4000 and HDX8000) that integrate with OCS (more details anon I’m sure).

 

What really interested we was the fact that Microsoft has 11,000 staff working on rich media collaboration, apparently more than the rest of the industry put together. One of the OCS phones doesn’t even have a keypad. Microsoft is saying that you only need your desktop. The Polycom perspective on this is that businesses haven’t gone for desktop VC because of the difficulty of maintaining dispersed resources. It’s hard to see Microsoft getting this wrong.

 

A number of OCS case studies were presented. Gibson guitars reduced calling costs by 75% using OCS.  Prodavka reduced phone costs by 50%

 

There were lots of other interesting facts being bandied around:

 

  • China is the second biggest market for VC behind the USA
  • The biggest issue facing adoption of VC is the ability to reserve resources. ie room booking
  • The average HD system cost is $8k cf $200k for telepresence.
  • In 2008 there will be 1500 telepresence systems sold worldwide. By 2012 this is expected to grow to 17,000.
  • Interoperability between different vendor systems is still an issue
  • 1 long haul flight is equivalent of 12 months driving from a carbon footprint perspective
  • Air travel is the fastest growing contributor of CO2 – 3% today, 25% by 2030
  • The fastest ways of reducing CO2 generation include power saving data centres, extending networks to home workers and increased usage of collaboration and content sharing tools (video and voice conferencing) as alternative to travel.
  • The M4 motorway at Slough is operating at 150% capacity
  • The average traffic speed in London is 8 mph – no increase since the horse and cart !
  • PWC avoided 1.1 million miles of travel through use of VC resulting in the saving of 198kg of CO2
  • BT has claimed £238m benefit to their business by use of VC – £100m based on travel cost benefits and the rest based on productivity improvements including reduced staff sickness
  • Nortel has saved $60k a week on travel due to telepresence with 10 systems worldwide
  • A Yougov survey in 2007 said 37% of face to face meetings were deemed unnecessary
  • If European companies cut travel by 20% there would be a saving of 22m tons of CO2 a year

Finally Polycom played some impressive videos including http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4H0BR_8wy8

 

It’s Funny Who You Meet on a Cruise

Yesterday’s post on fuel prices turns out to have been quite timely because today our CEO Chris came back into the office with a spring in his step.

 

He had just returned from the IT Directors’ Forum on board the cruise liner Aurora. I’ve been pulling his leg on this for some time making sure that he had his yachting cap cleaned and his blazer pressed. However the purpose of his trip was serious. This was to brush shoulders with company IT Directors who might be target markets for Timico services.

 

He was pushing home worker solutions. Timico subsidiary Twang.net is a provider of communications services to the home worker communities of a number of FTSE 250 companies.

 

The point is that having pitched our home worker broadband proposition to some of the 240 senior executives attending the event he came away with 35 strong expressions of interest. This highlights that business really is beginning to recognise the modern day forces affecting the performance of their workforce. More people are being allowed to work from home for some of the time and with the costs of moving around this trend is only going to continue.

It’s funny who you meet on a cruise

Yesterday’s post on fuel prices turns out to have been quite timely because today our CEO Chris came back into the office with a spring in his step.

 

He had just returned from the IT Directors’ Forum on board the cruise liner Aurora. I’ve been pulling his leg on this for some time making sure that he had his yachting cap cleaned and his blazer pressed. However the purpose of his trip was serious. This was to brush shoulders with company IT Directors who might be target markets for Timico services.

 

He was pushing home worker solutions. Timico subsidiary Twang.net is a provider of communications services to the home worker communities of a number of FTSE 250 companies.

 

The point is that having pitched our home worker proposition to some of the 240 senior executives attending the event he came away with 35 strong expressions of interest. This highlights that business really is beginning to recognise the modern day forces affecting the performance of their workforce. More people are being allowed to work from home for some of the time and with the costs of moving around this trend is only going to continue.

SPIT and SPAM

One of the problems facing the VoIP industry is of course SPIT. SPIT is the SPAM of the Internet Telephony industry. Robot diallers are a huge problem in North America and I have a friend who always listens to who is leaving an answer phone message before picking up the call. A high proportion of calls are from computers.

 

In the IP world it is even easier to make huge volumes of VoIP calls from a computer, particularly because there is potentially no cost involved. The model here is the same as for SPAM which is of course essentially free of charge.

 

The interesting dilemma is that whilst a SPAM filter can monitor and email for particular types of content this is not possible in Internet Telephony where a call has to be set up and answered before the callee knows who is speaking to them.

 

We therefore have to employ more sophisticated techniques in spotting this type of traffic and in general an ITSP will monitor the call traffic on its network to identify unusual patterns. For example if a specific caller is making multiple calls inside an unreasonable short space of time then it cannot be a human making the call. Alternatively if calls to many different end users are going unanswered then this too is unusual behaviour and is likely to be a computer.

 

The level of SPIT facing an ITSP has not yet reached the proportions of SPAM which can be over 90 percent of all incoming emails (if you are receiving a high level of SPAM you need to change to a professional anti SPAM service). It is however certainly something that a serious ITSP takes seriously.

Will petrol price itself out of the market?

I had my first £80 tank of petrol today. It seems to me that now is the time to start investing in public transport stocks.

I also has to be time to look at ways that a business can cut down on its travel spending and Unified Communications and online collaboration is the way forward. We recently had an architect approach us for a video conferencing solution so that his business could conduct video conferences with their London office. Historically they took the train and spent the day in the office. Travel time was 2 1/2 hours each way for the two Lincoln based partners. That’s ten man hours (at whatever the going rate is for an architect) plus over two hundred pounds for the trainfare.

The video conferencing solution used was Timico VoIP for Business which cost them £10 a month per site plus a few hundred pounds for high spec telephone handsets. The broadband connectivity was already in place at each end. The service will have paid for itself on it’s first day of use. That’s a serious rate of return. 

Voodoo Engineering and Knowledge Base Software

No “black magic” shaman under employ can beat the benefits of information sharing via knowledge base software.

One of our sys admins when asked what he did to fix a technical problem would always say “voodoo”, giving the impression that it was all black magic. This might have raised a laugh, but in actual fact it wasn’t very helpful as he kept the fixes to himself and engineers around him did not learn from him. That engineer is no longer with us, and in the meantime we have adopted Microsoft Sharepoint.

Basically a wiki or information source, Sharepoint is very easy to upload data to and serves as an intranet for small and medium sized businesses. We use it as a knowledge base. Whenever someone comes across a technical problem that is likely to reoccur, the person involved in its resolution creates a page on the wiki. Others can easily navigate to this page and also search for specific subjects. Documents can be uploaded using Windows Explorer or any other file manager, so that the support site has grown very quickly to become a rich store of information tat includes vendor manuals and guides as well as self-generated material.

The same principle can, of course, be extended to any department in the company requiring document storage. The beauty of it is that the storage can be located anywhere and not just at the company’s premises so that it can form part of a company DR plan with very little effort.

Network Security

One subject that is dear to the heart of a major corporation is network security. One often hears anecdotal evidence of the huge steps companies take to protect their intellectual property. I even knew a company whose boardroom was “secure” and had regular scans for listening devices. Also there have been a number of high profile news items where CDs with bank account information have gone astray in the post or where laptops have been stolen resulting in embarrassing security breaches.

 

For a smaller organisation it doesn’t necessarily make economic sense to employ dedicated IT staff to look after the security of their network. This doesn’t make their important information any less valuable in relative terms than that of a major international corporation.

 

Security is a huge subject so where do you start. To begin with businesses can make sure that the way they connect to the outside world is secure.

  • Sign up for a good quality anti-virus and anti spam service that is updated regularly – don’t rely on the one that often comes as a free trial with your PC.
  • Make sure that you have a company firewall and that this is properly managed
  • Ensure that you have adequate resilience in place for critical business components/resources. Eg use a server with dual power supplies, back up critical data daily (at least)
  • If you are using a Wireless LAN is this properly protected/encrypted?
  • Are your passwords secure (eg “password” is not a secure password) and how often do you change them?

This is all basic stuff but a small business needs to make sure that it has it all covered. A little time spent on prevention is better that the days of effort it might take you to recover from a virus attack or someone maliciously hacking into your network.

Multi-Site Broadband VPN Deployments

If your company is deploying multi-site broadband VPNs you need to consider using a L2TP Private Wide Area Network. A PWAN employs Virtual Route Forwarding to offer complete security over a shared MPLS backbone.

 

The beauty of this approach is that you don’t need expensive MPLS connections – an ADSL line will do which can be a very cost effective way of providing security to remote sites.

 

Moreover there is a choice of PWAN with or without internet access. A company that needs only an inward facing network, for example for streaming music or messaging to stores completely removes the need for firewall support at each remote site.

 

For a slightly more sophisticated network with internet access and, say broadband VPN connectivity for mobile workers, only one centrally located firewall is needed (or two for resiliency).

 

This means that corporate resources such as billing platforms and CRM packages that would normally be located at the corporate HQ can now be located at a centrally positioned data-centre. This is then accessible to every site on the corporate network without the need to provide an expensive beefed up IP connection to the HQ and removes this as a single point of failure.

 

Typically not every ISP offers this kind of PWAN. It relies on BT Central pipes that support L2TP which the smaller pipes do not do. Larger consumer oriented ISPs that may well have the technology are potentially not interested in supporting what is essentially an unique circuit design for every customer.

SMB drivers

I gave a talk at the Linksys by Cisco reseller day yesterday. There was a good turnout despite the torrential rain and the venue, the Williams Formula1 Conference Centre was a top notch attraction. The day went well with ISP KeConnect demonstrating SIP trunks into a Linksys SPA9000.

 

The content of some of the presentations was also very interesting and I wrote down some salient facts.

 

The top three priorities for Small and Medium Sized businesses in the next 12 months are enhancing IT security and privacy 47%, deploying DR solution 40%, enhancing internet access speeds  35%.

 

Laptops represented 47% of all PCs shipped in 2006, up from 35% in 2004 and there is a 14-15% annual growth in handheld/PDA shipments. 14% of Small Businesses offer telecommuting and over 50% SMBs have mobile staff

 

Group calendaring the norm in MB, growing in SB. Web conferencing, Intranets the norm, IP voice and applications connect growing in MB with growth in business utility of IM and soft phones.

 

SBs are rapidly transitioning to broadband (60%) and the desire to upgrade bandwidth is universally strong. Strong growth in WiFi, acute sensitivity to security and data protection, a strong desire to connect multiple sites and SaaS, virtualization adoption were also key forces.

 

Finally all this indicates that on-premises IT complexity is increasing and managed/hosted services are becoming more viable. There is also an increasing preference for “better” channel partners and SMBs are reassessing their choice of “trusted partner”.

 

This world is full of opportunity…

me holding the constructors\' trophy next to a Williams F1 carMe with constructors’ trophy next to Williams F1 car

SIP trunks as part of a DR plan

DR is a hot topic these days as more and more firms rely on data that is not stored as hard copy. Virtual Servers are a great way of implementing a DR strategy for a business.

 

Another area that is gaining ground is in the use of SIP Trunks as part of a DR plan. Rather than completely replacing ISDN or analogue telephony connections with an IP equivalent companies are running with both.

 

The company will typically keep its inbound traffic running over ISDN and use SIP, with its typically lower cost call charges, for outbound. The beauty is that if the site loses its ISDN connection for any reason the business, with an appropriate level of support, can reroute its inbound numbers to an alternative destination which is has been pre-setup as an inbound SIP trunk. Likewise if the IP connection drops then the business can temporarily use the more expensive ISDN lines.

 

For a multi-site organisation this is a no brainer as remote locations can also be connected to the company headquarters using the same SIP trunks. The IP interconnect can be an ADSL line, or for larger organisations requiring more trunks and perhaps a higher level of Service Level Assurance, over leased lines.

 

 

 

Heaviest Virgin Media Downloaders Face New Daytime Go-Slow

This is an article reproduced from The Register.

It is basically a perfect advertisment as to why people should use a quality ISP as opposed to a “pile it high sell it cheap” operator. Timico’s policy is that “we don’t throttle….. we just ask users to pay a usage based surcharge if they choose to use a lot of our bandwidth….SIMPLE!”

If business users chose to go with an ISP who operates the type of policy outlined by Virgin below then they are going to get a non optimal experience.

the story goes

Virgin Media will double the number of hours it throttles the bandwidth of customers who hammer its network day and night, changes to its traffic management policy have revealed.

The tightened regime means that between 10am and 3pm subscribers to its “M”, “L” and “XL” packages will have their connection throttled for five hours if they download more than their full speed ration.

The decision follows recent regional testing of extended restrictions in London and the North West. Previously the brakes were only slammed on for five hours if limits were exceeded at any point between 4pm and 9pm.

Now, “M” customers who bust 900MB during the day will have their theoretical maximum download halved from 2Mbit/s to 1Mbit/s. “L” and “XL” users’ usual headline speeds of 10MBit/s and 20MBit/s will be slowed by three quarters if they break daytime download limits of 2400MB and 6000MB respectively.

The download thresholds for the daytime broadband throttling period are double those of the evening period, which also restricts uploads. We’ve reproduced Virgin Media’s explanatory table below:

Virgin Media says that at current levels of demand, one per cent of its 3.8 million customers will be affected by the new daytime restrictions. In the evening, when ISP networks are under most strain, traffic limits are aimed at the top five per cent heaviest users.

A spokesman said the new rules are necessary to ensure quality of service for the majority. The move will nevertheless anger some who have been tricked into believing that “unlimited” broadband actually exists by years of crummy marketing by the ISP industry.

The cable monopoly, created by the merger of NTL and Telewest in 2006, is currently working to boost its top speed to 50MBit/s as part of its strategy to put broadband at the centre of its quadruple-play offering. recent trials to ramp Virgin Media’s 10Gbit/s backhaul to 40GBit/s in support of the upgrade were successful. ®

How will 21CN affect my telephone line?

We had an enquiry from a customer this morning:

“I am persistently being contacted by David from ***** who has advised me that with 21CN BT are changing every business line from Analogue or ISDN to a SIP network and that there is no choice in the matter”.

David was trying to get the customer to move to a SIP service by telling her that she would need to do it soon in anycase so she might as well preempt it by doing it now. As a SIP provider I am not averse to selling SIP services but this has to be approached ethically.

From the customer’s perspective BT aren’t getting rid of analogue lines or ISDN. What they are doing is changing the connection at the exchange so that all calls will run over voip between exchanges. This will make the network more efficient/cheaper to run and potentially allow for the introduction of new features in the future.

So any kit the customer has should still work and they will still be ordering new lines as they do now. They needn’t worry about having to re-equip their office.

Potentially there will be new products such as the ability to order broadband and voice as a single line. This is effectively what LLU operators do today though some may sell it as a free broadband line (comes with notoriously “cheap” quality and customer service etc).

Virtual Server Virtuosity

At Timico we recently installed a complete network solution for a customer in the UK. The requirement included installation of a domain controller, file and print server, Microsoft Exchange 2007, Microsoft SQL server various databases and for their document management system and a Citrix ZenApp for home workers to run the document management system remotely.

The company also needed to store lots of documents. They have a paperless office and all documents are scanned in by the document management system which required a redundant Storage Area Network (SAN).

100% uptime or as near to this as possible was also wanted but this came in tandem with a fairly tight budget which isn’t always consistent with high reliability.

The architecture that the Timico team came up with involved running all servers and the SAN in a virtualised environment. In this way the design challenge could be met by using only two physical servers called nodes that provided a fully load balanced and virtually clustered redundant solution.

By doing it this way we saved rackspace (5U) and power and 2 servers – we would otherwise have been looking at a pair of virtual servers and a pair of SAN servers.

Did it work? In the first week a hardware problem caused one of the 2 server nodes to temporarily fail. This was picked up by Timico’s monitoring desk but the customer, however, did not notice or experience any loss of service.

I’m Virtually Certain that this is the way forward.

Cisco SMB day, generation Y and Unified Communications

Very interesting time at the Cisco SMB day held at the Mercedes Motor Museum in Brooklands.

Bernadette Wightman, SMB Operations Director said Cisco are expecting SMBs to be worth $1Bn to them in 2009 and today’s channel event is their first big push towards getting there. The gradual migration of the Linksys brand to Cisco is also an indicator. Cisco have traditionally been too expensive a solution for the SME market and it will be interesting to see how this changes.

Unified Communications and Web2.0 was a big part of their messaging with a big focus on the change in demographics about to hit business.

The biggest users of Web2.0 are those consumers of social networking sites belonging to generation Y. In other words those born after 1980. Currently the decision makers belong to generation X, those fortunate enough to have been born on or after 1964. As someone who came into this world in 1961 I must therefore fall into “generation W” which is somewhat disconcerting.

The point it that the biggest users of Web2.0 will within 4 years represent 20 million of the workforce in the UK. As the SMB sector (under 250 employees) represents 62% of the UK workforce Web2.0 technology will have to be to be an important part of the product offering of vendors in the communications space.

The second keynote was by Anthony Hilton, Financial journalist and former Managing Director of the London Evening Standard. He suggested that whilst some market sectors such as banking and house building were being hit hard during the current financial uncertainties, other parts of the financial services sectors such as insurance and savings were doing well as consumers stopped borrowing and started saving their money.

I asked him how he saw the technology markets being affected compared with the last post 9/11 and dot com bubble bursting recession. He expects that the current financial crisis will drive business towards adopting Unified Communications products that will save them money and improve productivity. However the likelihood is that these products will be based on fairly mature technology that has been around and in use for the last five years.

Much of what is being discussed as being targeted for business is still some way off being a production item. This is despite the fact that Web2.0 in theory allows for rapid introduction of new features and products. Witness the statement that 5,000 Facebook applications were built by 90,000 developers in 7 weeks.

On display was a mockup of Webex Connect, the next gen Web2.0 offering from the hosted provider. Webex’ biggest take up has been in the SMB space but what we saw, which was a convergence of much of what is Web2.0 was not slated for production until 2010. Look out for “dusting” which is where content on the screen of your mobile device is waved or “brushed” onto your desktop when you arrive at the office.

I can’t help but think that one day these elongated product development cycles will be a thing of the past. In fact I can see the day where companies are unable to come up with product roadmaps beyond 6 months because the pace of development will be so fast that no-one will be able so see further out than that.

That being said Cisco is making all the right noise in this space and is clearly putting its money where its mouth is. One of its biggest challenges will be to recruit a channel that faces SMB customers where traditionally its big partners have gone after big Enterprise money. This fact will potentially easy open the door for new entrants into the Cisco reseller space as there is less likely to be competition from the incumbents.

ITSPA Dinner and Mobile VoIP

Mobile VoIP discussed at ITSPA dinner

ITSPA, the UK trade association of the internet telephony industry, held its Spring Dinner last night, attended by the great and the good of UK VoIP.  The event was held at the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists which must be one of the youngest Livery Companies in the City of London.

 

An interesting variety of organisations were represented ranging from equipment vendors Vegastream and ITSPs small and large. I sat between the Tesco and BT representatives, neither of who were willing to divulge the size of their subscriber base although word has it that BT has between 1m and 2m residential users.

 

After the dinner I led a debate on a number of subjects of interest to the VoIP community and one hot issue was mobile VoIP. Nokia are rumoured to not be providing a native SIP client in the N96, the next version of the N95, although the E Series will still have it.

 

This is clearly a strategy reversal on the part of the handset vendor, presumably the result of pressure from the mobile operator community. Mobile Operators are saying no to consumer VoIP. However it is harder for Nokia to take the same approach with it’s E series which is pitched firmly at business and which is the handset of choice for a number of iPBX vendors’ in premise FMC solutions.  

 

As it happens not many ITSPs use the native Nokia SIP client at least not without some element of plug in to make it work and many use third party applications.

 

Coincidentally I spent some time discussing mobile VoIP with Tesco’s Anna Boukovskaia who told me of their plans in this space. Back in the office on Friday I noticed that The Register had an article on the subject: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/05/22/tesco_voip/

 

Tesco isn’t using the Nokia client and I imagine will be able to migrate to the N96 when available.

 

 

There are plenty of other mobile VoIP type topics but I’ll leave them for another day.

 

 

 

Champions League Final

Just watching the Champions League final between Man U and Chelsea. It reminds me of the last time Man U were in the final in 1999. I was at the airport in Newark,New Jersey and rang my mum up back in the UK to find out who had won. She told me that the game was not yet over but that Manchester were losing 1 – 0. As I spoke to her she got very excited because Man U scored twice in a short space of time and won the cup. 

The point of the story is that I was on a tour of the USA visiting VoIP software vendors, and in particular those who could supply us with DSP Codec algorithms. I was working for Mitel Semiconductor and we were developing an integrated VoIP processor for small gateways and handsets. We ended up being first to market with competing against TI and 8×8 and launched at the Fall VON show later that year.

I can’t quite believe that I have been working in the VoIP space for around ten years now. It’s pretty amazing to have seen the whole technology move from something on the horizon to a mainstream industry.

PS I am a Liverpool fan 🙂

Hello world!

This blog has been started to enable me to comment on what is relevant to  consumers of communications products in businesses in the UK. The industry is going through a more rapid change than it has ever seen and perhaps for the first time we are beginning to  see how VoIP and the IP revolution is going to move telephony on from straightforward voice. With the advent of Web2.0 we are moving on from searching for the killer app (and deciding in the absence of being able to find anything that it must be voice after all!) to experiencing a rich mix of communications capabilities and services. What is more our imaginations are being inspired to come up with new ideas at an unprecedented rate.

 

Having seen it all start in the consumer space companies are now beginning to understand how to apply web based services for business. At Timico, for example, we use the whole gamut of technologies that might be considered to have started in the consumer space and moved into B2B (presence, IM, blogs, wikis, VoIP to name but a few). We were the first service provider in the world to introduce SIP trunks based on the AS5200 SIP platform to the Nortel BCM PBX and first to provide a mix of Nortel hosted carrier-side Unified Comms services as an overlay to Enterprise products.

 

Capabilities that might have historically been in the  domain of the  large enterprise  are now entering the world of the smaller businesses. Access to smaller customers is being made easier by the advent of e-business. Reach is increasing and costs are coming down.

 

There are other interesting dynamics at work. The move to a web based environment is creating a huge demand for collocation space at a time when power is at a premium and the green agenda is coming to the fore. This is in turn bringing forward developments in power reduction and the implementation of virtual technology. Increased web usage is driving up costs for ISPs whilst at the  same time users expect to pay less. Investment decisions are becoming more complex as are the technologies needed by business and as a result outsourcing is becoming more and more the norm.

 

It is an exciting time to be playing the game and in this blog I will be discussing what’s new, what’s useful and hopefully having a good time whilst at it.

 


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