datacentre Engineer H/W hosting

Containerised Storage

In the process of checking out our datacentre expansion options I have been meeting with a number of vendors. Today I met Verari Systems who manufacture high density blade based storage solutions and sell datacentres in a container. Yes that’s the same type of container you see hauled around on the back of trucks world-wide.

The beauty of containerised datacentres is the time to market. Four months from ordering you can be up and running with new capacity. You just need to supply the power and a secure place to put the container.

What impressed me was the quoted 11Petabytes of storage that Verari could achieve in a 100KWatt container designed to hold between 10 and 15 racks. This, for the mathematically challenged/lazy amongst us is in round terms the equivalent of eleven thousand Terrabyte PC hard drives.

Keeping the maths simple a rack can hold 42 servers (PCs) so ten racks would have the equivalent of 420 servers. The Veraris solution offers 26 x more density of storage than a PC. I have been buying Servers with 3Terrabytes of resilient storage – Verari still offeres 8 x the density.

Engineer internet peering


Timico is a member of LINX, or the London Internet Exchange. Linx is a not for profit  meeting point in London where ISPs and network operators meet to peer their traffic, ie to share their connectivity with one another.

It is a sign of the pace of growth in internet related activity that membership of LINX rose  in 2008 to 308, up by around 20% from the previous year. The peak traffic carried over the LINX network is over 400Gbps which is a lot of ADSL connections.

The LINX meetings are not only good networking opportunities but a great place to keep up with developments in internet technology. This week the subject matter includes at IPv6, DNS security and SPAM. LINX64 is sponsored by Telehouse.

I’ll post any useful material as it happens.

Engineer engineering

How can you make exams exciting?!

I never thought I would get excited by the prospect of an exam. I am at the moment though but I have to confess it is not me taking the exams. When my 16 year old took his GCSEs last summer I think I was more nervous than he was.

This time my nerves are rock steady as 12 Timico engineers are lining up to sit their Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNAs) exams. It is exciting because I can see the guys’ knowledge and skillset  improving almost daily as they put in the effort to prepare for the exams.

At the end of it all I’m hoping that we will end up with 12 more members of staff with their foot on the first rung of the professional engineering career ladder. I’m determined to be able to take regular afternoons off to play golf and this is all part of the process of getting  me there. I don’t expect these engineers to have time to play any golf though.

PS congratulations to Mark Chennell of Timico subsidiary KeConnect who passed his CCNA last week. He is a good guy.

PPS good luck to the others.

Engineer internet

IPv4 – the end is nigh?!

The IPv4 situation is already known to geeks everywhere. This is the protocol version that has been used by IP networks everywhere since the year dot (approximately). The number of IPv4 addresses the world can use is fixed because these addresses use 4 Bytes of data. The growth in IP networks everywhere is consuming IPv4 addresses at lightning speed.

This is not new news but we are now getting very close to where the addresses run out. Fear not. We will all move onto IPv6 which uses 16Bytes per address. Timico has an allocation of 158,456,325,028,528,675,187,087,900,672 IPv6 addresses for its customers’ use – so plenty of room for growth there.

The industry isn’t quite ready to make the move yet – certainly not in Europe and North America. However the time is rapidly coming where action will have to be taken. This link to has a neat illustration of how much time we have left – currently 788 days according to their site. 

Another interesting site is which shows you the number of discrete networks that make up the internet. As the number of these networks grow an Internet Service Provider needs to add links into each new network as it comes online. Fortunately this happens automatically.

Finally another good read is the map of the internet from  There is an element of needing to understand what you are looking at but even for  the layman it looks quite interesting (I think so anyway).

The end may well be nigh but don’t worry we are not doomed!

Engineer internet

Wi-Spy for troubleshooting Wireless LAN

Wi-Spy is an impressive gadget used by our Tech Support team when they troubleshoot a customer’s network. Wireless Local Area Networks are often to blame if someone is experiencing slow internet access. Hotspots operate as a hub which means they can easily get congested if they have too many users.

It is easy for a corporate WLAN  to get ” bunged up” . Not only do you have to be careful how you implement your wireless Access Points but there are many other devices and technologies that use the same frequencies that can be a source of noise. Bluetooth handsets and microwave ovens are classic culprits.

The picture below shows the profile of a customer’s WLAN when analysed using Wi-Spy. Each “bubble” on the middle  row represents a separate WLAN Access Point. It is easily possible to spot sources of interference. In this particular case we found two WLAN Access Points using the same channel, in this case channel 1 though you can’t see that from the picture.

What Wi-Spy was able to do for us is to lead us to the overlapping hotspots so that we could identify the cause of the problem and rectify it.


Although this blog does not set out to advertise any specific vendor or product I am more than happy to provide credit where it is due and in this case endorse it’s manufacturers Metageek.

Quick tutorial – a hub shares its bandwidth between all users. This means that traffic coming from one PC and bound for a specific destination such as the internet can bump into, or “collide” with traffic from other PCs on the same network. This slows a network down because the traffic, having bumped into other traffic, has to be resent.

This contrasts with the average wired LAN which is switched – a switch does not share its bandwidth between users. Users each get the full amount available and do not usually see the same congestion unless they themselves are trying to send more data across a network than the network can support.

Engineer engineering

CCNA Bootcamp

A good way to finish the week. I discussed the importance of training last week. Well this week the lucky members of the team did the CCNA Bootcamp training provided by Global Knowledge. I have to say the quality of the training was top notch and we couldn’t have asked for a better tutor in Brad Bradeepan. 

It wasn’t an easy ride. We are talking 8.30 am to around 7pm most days with studying to do back in their rooms afterwards and only 30 minutes break for lunch. Today, Friday they finished at 4pm. I’m a generous boss 🙂 .

I was impressed with the amount of information that they had to cover in the week. There was also a lot of subnet theory that had to be worked out manually. In the real world nowadays this is done by machines but it is a good discipline to have to properly understand the basics of networking. The Cisco CCNA, although it is the first step on the Cisco networking ladder, is not intended to be an easy qualification to achieve.

The exams now have to be taken before 14th February and there will be a lot of revision, and indeed hands on practice, to be done between now and then. We have a lab set up in each Timico Group location to help with this.

Photo below is the team with trainer Brad in the middle and me to his right.


This next photo shows them hard at work.


Engineer virtualisation

Virtual Machines for Email Platform

We have stepped up our use of Virtual Machines at network level at Timico and recently rolled out a significant number of Xen based platforms. Xen (see  For those that don’t know a Virtual Machine is a virtual server that can run on multiple hardware devices simultaneously but can be seen as a single entity by the network. 

Because the company has been growing the need to scale up easily has become more and more pressing. Over the Christmas break (the Network Operations team is allowed two hours off for Christmas lunch which they take communally in the kitchen at the NOC 🙂 ) a new email platform was rolled out on Xen based hardware. As the burden of mail inevitably grows all Timico will have to do is add new hardware capacity with no need for network downtime or reengineering.

The beauty of Xen is that it takes very little time to add capacity to a server farm and downtime is minimal or non existent. You can therefore move a service from a small machine to a more powerful one with perhaps as little as 60 milliseconds interruption. 

All new servers are rolled out with Xen now at Timico. Whilst Xen is open source  and therefore free Citrix does sell a commercial version. If you have no skills in this space it could be an option but otherwise drop me a line if you want any advice on the subject.

Engineer internet

Ubuntu – The Intrepid Ibex

Ubuntu, for those of you who don’t class yourselves as anoraks, is a community developed, Linux-based operating system that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers. It contains all the applications you need – a web browser, presentation, document and spreadsheet software, instant messaging and much more. The Ubuntu website’s own words.

Basically a free alternative to Microsoft. Now because I am not actually an anorak (my own words – you may chose to disagree 🙂 ) I am not a huge Linux fan. We do use Linux all the time in running the Timico network. ISPs are basically built on it. However my stance has always been that business needs solid software that costs money to develop.

I could be persuaded otherwise. Ubuntu version 8.10, known as the “Intrepid Ibex” has hit the Timico street and is getting rave reviews from the support teams. Ubuntu 8.10 is designed to make it easier to access the internet from anywhere.

This was demonstrated to be by someone taking a new USB Modem out of a box and plugging it in. The Operating system recognised it straight away and the internet access was up and running in seconds.

This compares very favourably with my own experience with a variety of USB devices that needed drivers loading and non-straightforward set-up processes. I can think of printers as an immediate example.

As it happens Timico specialises in helping customers with setting up applications and devices on PCs and laptops. Ubuntu does, however, represent the shape of things to come although it is still a long way from usurping Microsoft. It’s also a great name!

PS there is a prize for anyone who can tell me what Ubuntu stands for – Timico employees may not apply. Leave the answer as a comment.

Engineer internet security

Network Monitoring Network Monitoring

So good they named it twice. Actually I was trying to think of a sexy title for network monitoring but I couldn’t. Network monitoring is the unsung hero of a communications business. A network has to have monitoring in place to allow staff to keep an eye its health but it isn’t what might be called an exciting product.

You would of course expect an ISP to monitor its network. Perhaps less expected would be for a normal business to do this. However as a business grows, so does its network and the truth is that the network is increasingly likely to become mission critical.

Monitoring individual nodes on a public network has been standard practice for a long time. However when it comes to a private network then traditionally this has been done from a device (monitoring server) within the network. This is fine but if that network is purely private with no external access then it can be difficult for a network operator to provide support. 

A neat solution is via virtual server which is what Timico does for private networks requiring ongoing monitoring. A virtual server sits logically inside a customer’s private network but is accessible via secure command line from the Network Operation Centre.

This a hugely more cost effective solution than providing a standalone network monitoring server for each private network. It is also easier to provide resilience to the service by providing two separate virtual machines on two geographically separated bits of hardware.

And what gets monitored?  The list is endless but here are a few ideas

  • Bandwidth usage on a link – have you provided enough connectivity to a location
  • Router temperature – anticipate a failure
  • UPS battery voltage – does it need replacing?
  • Ping response times – is there a quality issue in the network?
  • server hard drive usage – forecast capacity requirements
  • remote router up or down? minimise downtime with speedy replacement.

There isn’t one single ideal solution for network monitoring. Best practice involves amalgamating a number of tools and providing suitable alert mechanisms. 

What is done with the alert also needs to be considered in the light of the needs of an individual business. Some might get away with a next day fix and others might need a speedier solution particularly where health and safety is concerned or when downtime means loss of revenue.

If you need advice on network monitoring drop me a line at Timico.

Engineer internet security

The buzz of the Network Operations Centre

It always gives me a great buzz to sit in our NOC. It’s because when we started Timico only 4 years ago there were only four of us sat in the room of Tim Radford’s parents’ stable block (it was cheap and there was no room at the inn anyway). Now on a normal working day there are more people sat in the NOC than there were in that original room. It is a world away.

Today sat in the NOC some of the engineers were setting up a MPLS PWAN for a customer. This particular PWAN had over 80 sites – a mixture of leased lines and ADSL. In itself it isn’t a big news item. It isn’t our biggest PWAN by a long chalk. However it is another new customer and an endorsment of what we set out to achieve four years ago sat in the stable block.

It is a good feeling to be at Timico.

Engineer internet

Data centre power consumption

Power consumption is, as I’m sure you are all aware, a huge issue when building data centres today. The data centre giants such as Google and Microsoft build their facilities close to sources of hydroelectric power in order to minimise their operating costs.

An ironic fact about data centres is that it takes almost as much power to cool the room as it does to create the heat in the first place. ie the cost of powering a server is as much as the cost of running the air conditioning unit to cool it down. This, compounded by the rising cost of electricity, is why people look to implementing “green” low power servers.

If someone could harness the excess heat of data centres and turn it into electricity to power the air conditioning then that would be a serious contribution to lowering power consumption and saving the planet. Credit goes to Chris Nicholls of the Timico Netops team for this idea.

Engineer engineering

Exciting times

I have just finished watching the most exciting tennis match I have ever seen. I’m not a huge tennis fan and don’t often watch the TV but the Nadal v Federer Wimbledon final of 2008 ranks as a classic and I’m exhausted now after sitting through it. The match was so long that the rain conveniently fell when the family evening meal came to the table thus letting me off the decision as to whether to keep the radio on whilst eating (it is bad enough having a TV – I wouldn’t dream of having one in the kitchen 🙂 ).

As an aside I do remember keeping the radio on when Europe was winning the Ryder Cup for the first time in decades. That was a no brainer and quite a long time ago now.

That wasn’t meant to be a poor attempt at a link to a technology related matter. It does however make me think that these times are the most exciting I have ever experienced in my various lives. In my home life the kids are at an exciting stage of the game. They are developing quickly and proving very demanding but also very rewarding.

At work Timico is a hugely exciting place to be. I honestly believe that the world of business communications is on the verge of enormous change. It still isn’t going to happen overnight but at least you can now see pieces of the jigsaw assembling on the table. I am not going to list all these pieces. You only have to read other blog entries on this website to understand where I am coming from. 

Engineer UC voip

Facebook – UK Business Communications Users

I’ve just created a new User Group on Facebook – the UK Business Communications Users.

Check it out and join it. You probably need to join Facebook if you aren’t already a member. Lets see where it gets us.

Engineer security

Junk email

Junk email filters are great. I don’t get much if any SPAM because of the Timico anti SPAM/virus service but I do get a lot of emails from genuine businesses trying to sell me tickets to conferences (usually not in the same country as I live) and from headhunters trying to place candidates.

Whilst everyone has to make a living these unsolicited sales approaches can really clog up my intray .  Amazingly enough I only recently discovered how to filter out by domain so that they all go into the junk email folder.

Also if someone calls me without a caller ID then they only stand a 50% chance of me picking up the phone. The philosophy here is that if you don’t want me to know your phone number then I quite possibly don’t mind not knowing you.

This isn’t to say I am unapproachable but you need to have an elevator pitch ready. We have recently met with some impressive technology vendors who got through on a good elevator pitch.

Engineer security

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.

Engineer voip

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.




Engineer servers

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.