Myths of Managed Services

Studies Find that Managed Services Help Drive IT Success

Get the Facts

The myths that surround the use of Managed Services (MS) to support IT business continuity oftentimes are fueled by misconception. As these services are adopted by more companies, the advantages become clear. Companies are:

  • Minimising the cost of legacy IT infrastructure from multiple vendors
  • Promoting the adoption of new and sophisticated technology for business continuity, and
  • Allocating limited resources to maximising overall impact on the organization

Consider this:

  • 74% of enterprises anticipate increased demand on IT
  • 30% of IT budget has become strategic; operational expense is reduced by 13%
  • 48% of companies are expanding adoption of MS
  • Companies who use MS see a reduction of 25% in IT costs

6 Myths of working with a Managed Service Provider

IT business leaders know that demand on their current IT systems, and the need for additional capacity and functionality, will continue to increase. By outsourcing IT responsibilities, IT business leaders can shift their focus from daily task management to driving strategic thought leadership.

In fact, studies show that world-class companies commit 30 percent more of their IT budgets to advancing business processes—and nearly 13 percent less on day-to-day operations—than their less successful counterparts. These companies seek a Managed Service partner to support both IT infrastructure and platform and application needs, and to mitigate challenges associated with:

  • Staffing: 42% of CIOs are concerned they are missing IT expertise
  • Technology adoption: 51% of CIOs are concerned about enterprise adoption of new technology
  • CAPEX versus OPEX business models: 50% of OPEX budget is lost to failed IT projects

Are Managed Services Right for You?

Think about the following questions:

  • What are your biggest challenges—staffing, infrastructure, applications, platforms, devices, security?
  • What percentage of time is spent on day-to-day tasks?
  • Are you evaluating different deployment scenarios, such as leveraging OPEX or the Cloud?
  • Do you feel you have the expertise and staff to design, deploy, and support enterprise technology?
  • Have you considered third-party resources or partners to supplement your existing team or to manage specific components of your IT infrastructure?
  • Are you contributing to the enterprise in a strategic way, or are time-consuming tasks detracting you from moving the organisation forward?

A Managed Services partner offers the solutions you need to address these questions by providing objectivity, an expanded resource pool of expertise, and cost-effective strategies that align with overall corporate needs. IT services are available in varying degrees. Some companies seek support with one specific IT challenge, such as on-site maintenance; others outsource all IT functions, known as IT as a Service.

Separate fact from fiction. Download: 6 Myths of Working with a Managed Service Provider or visit us at: www.black-box.eu/services/managed-services

USB and KVM Go Hand-in-Hand for Plug and Play Functionality

Universal Serial Bus (USB) is a technology that enables users to interact with a specific device for a specific function. USB supports a multitude of devices, ranging from simple devices such as keyboards, and mice, to more complicated devices such as game controllers, digital cameras, printers, network adapters, external storage — the list goes on. Use varies from basic functions, such as typing, all the way to transferring large files to/from external storage devices.

Several different USB modes are available today:

  • USB Low Speed (1.5 Mbit/s)
  • USB Full Speed (12 Mbit/s), also known as USB HID
  • USB High Speed (480 Mbit/s), also known as USB 2.0
  • USB SuperSpeed (5 Gbit/s), also known as USB 3.0
  • USB SuperSpeed+ (10 Gbit/s)

USB is used most commonly for keyboard and mouse input, or alternatively, keyboard and touchscreen input instead of mouse. These devices are classified as Human Interface Devices (HID). USB HID is designed to enable a user to interact with a system by using a USB keyboard and pointing device that use very little bandwidth, typically way less than 12 Mbit/s. On KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) switches you will find that most will have two USB HID ports for a keyboard and mouse, and additional ports for USB High Speed devices to connect other, faster devices like printers or storage.

The USB HID ports found on most KVM switches analyze the incoming data flow from the attached USB keyboard / mouse to look for a sequence of key strokes that prompt the KVM switch to take a particular action (such as bringing up an OSD, switching CPU ports, enabling scanning, etc.). Since this USB HID traffic is being monitored at lower rates, it is nearly impossible to plug a USB High Speed device into the HID port and expect that the high-speed device will function properly. The USB HID ports on a KVM switch only expects to see a USB keyboard and USB mouse — nothing more. Each USB device, including the keyboard / mouse, has properties associated to it that include but are not limited to:

  • Device description
  • Vendor ID
  • Product ID
  • Device class

It is very important in a KVM application that these USB device properties are correctly transferred to the host computer. The proper drivers / software need to be loaded upon USB enumeration. USB enumeration is done between the time of plugging the USB device into the target computer / server, and the time that it is recognized; enumeration time can vary between 1 and 16 seconds depending on the OS and USB device. If the device properties are not properly transferred to the computer / server, then the chances of the device working is slim to none.

On Black Box KVM products, we “trick” the computer / server into thinking a generic USB keyboard and a generic USB mouse are always connected whether or not they are plugged into the KVM console. This feature is called USB emulation. USB emulation will ghost the generic keyboard and mouse on the KVM switch so the user can quickly switch computer ports without having to re-enumerate the USB devices every time they establish a new connection. We also have proprietary firmware in our KVM hardware that can properly negotiate the communication between the console keyboard and mouse and the attached computer or server. USB emulation is geared more towards wired devices instead of wireless devices; however, in some cases wireless keyboards and mice will work when connected to the KVM switch.

You may find some wireless keyboards and mice do not work with KVM switches due to a composite wireless transmitter trying to send both keyboard / mouse packets into a single USB HID port on the KVM switch. It depends on the wireless device manufacturer, how they prepare their USB packets before transmission, and the way they follow the USB specification. One thing to keep in mind is that not all USB HID devices will work on a KVM device as it would on a regular computer because of the way the device negotiates with the switch and the usage of the USB device properties (vendor ID, product ID, device class, etc.). The KVM switch does not have all of the supporting drivers like a regular operating system, so with it being pre-coded into the firmware, you will sometimes see compatibility issues with a very small percentage of USB HID devices in the market.

The next most common usage of USB is related to transferring files to and from a computer / server system from a thumb drive or external storage device. This type of application typically uses USB High Speed at 480 Mbit/s, and on newer systems USB SuperSpeed so that the file(s) can be transferred faster. Black Box offers KVM switches that can support these types of devices; however these USB High Speed ports do not monitor the USB data flow for keyboard hotkeys. If you attempt to control the KVM switch functions using keyboard hotkeys while the device is plugged into the USB High Speed port, it will never work. You have to use the USB HID ports for this.

Additional Resources
White Paper: USB True Emulation for KVM Switches
White Paper: Extending the Benefits of USB
USB Product Selector: Extenders, Hubs, Converters, Cables

Part 1 – How To Set Up a Static Video Wall Without a Video Wall Processor

Easy to set up. How many times have we heard that phrase in the AV world? And, how can a system with multiple devices, cables, and displays be a simple installation? Well, I’m here to prove it is. In just six quick steps, take our AV-over-IP video distribution system from a packaged box to an impressive, eye-catching video wall. And, there’s no need for an additional video wall processor to do the job.

Start with the MediaCento IPX PoE Multicast 1 x 4 Kit. The kit includes a transmitter, four receivers, a PoE (Power over Ethernet) network switch, and five 2-meter locking HDMI cables. Everything you need to multicast HDMI video over an IP network and create video walls. The system is perfect for:

  • A digital signage application with screens in a different building or store.
  • Distributing high-quality medical imaging video across a hospital campus.
  • Streaming video to classrooms in schools.
  • Sharing video in command and control room setups, or in corporate training settings.

Now it’s time to share how fast you can have the above up and running.

Step 1: Plug in the Switch
Plug in the PoE network switch to a power outlet.

Step 2: Connect Transmitter and Receivers to the Switch
Connect the transmitter and four receivers to the PoE network switch using CATx cables. The PoE switch eliminates the need for external power supplies, making the installation even easier and more cost effective. Plus, PoE power offers reliability, flexibility, safety, and scalability.

Step 3: Connect Source to the Transmitter
Using the included locking HDMI cable, connect source (i.e., digital signage player, PC, Blu-ray player, DVD player, etc.) to the transmitter unit. Make sure the receivers are on the same channel as the transmitter. If so, the units will automatically connect and video will pass through showing the same video on each screen.

Step 4: Connect the Screens/Monitors to Receivers
Using the remaining four locking HDMI cables, connect the screens/monitors to each of the four receivers. NOTE: Sources connected to receiver units will show IP address before connecting.

At this point you will have videos on all screens. To get a video wall, you’ll need to access the transmitter settings on the Web, which we’ll do in the next steps.

Video wall example running content from digital signage media player with video and RSS feed.
Video wall example running content from digital signage media player with video and RSS feed.
 

Step 5: Access the Transmitter’s Web Interface
Use the Web interface to view information about the device, upload a firmware file to the device, and configure video wall transformers. The Web interface won’t give network information or screen previews.

To access the transmitter without an IP address, open a Web browser and insert the address: http://ast-gatewayXXXX.local. The four digits after ast-gateway depend on the position of the rotary switch you’ve set. Please refer to the following table. For example, if the position is set up as 7, then the address should be http://ast-gateway1110.local.

Rotary Switch Table

Step 6: Update Settings in the Web Interface
In the Web interface, go to the Video Wall tab and:

  • Set the bezel and gap information (dimensions of screen’s inside and outside width and height), video wall size, select single host mode, and apply to all units.
  • Next, apply the specific video wall section to each receiver (i.e., top left would be row 0, column 0). To help locate which screen is which, select the “Show OSD” checkbox.
Video wall after changes made in the Web interface. Each display assigned to a receiver.
Video wall after changes made in the Web interface. Each display assigned to a receiver.

In part two of this blog post we’ll turn this static video wall into a dynamic video wall with control and switching.

Black Box ISTE 2015 Recap

ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia
ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia

Are cloud services and 3D printing the next wave in EdTech? After just a few days at ISTE 2015 I’ve noticed a prevalence of 3D printing and cloud services. 3D printing is an exciting new technology to bring into the classroom. Many learning concepts can be hard to visualize. By enabling students to take their work and create a tangible, physical object that they can manipulate the learning experience improves significantly. It used to be that you had to pay thousands of dollars for the ability to do this, but the influx of competitors has made the opportunity more affordable. It’s a win for students and educators.

Black-Box-ISTE-2015Cloud services have been around for quite some time, but they really seem to be coming into their own. From classroom and device management to collaboration and presentation tools, almost everything you need can now be handled from the cloud. It’s a great way to involve parents and allow students to continue to work from home. The ability to collaborate with other students around the world is also a fantastic opportunity that I wish I could have experienced. However, with the movement towards cloud services comes increased pressure on schools to improve their infrastructure and bandwidth. Luckily, many funding resources like the e-rate program have noticed this trend and are pushing more and more money towards network infrastructure upgrades.

As your school moves toward more cloud-based options and brings in e-learning devices such as iPads or Chromebooks to enhance student learning, you’ll need a secure place to store and charge the devices. You may even need to transport the devices from classroom to classroom.

Black Box has you covered with storage and charging solutions for the entire e-learning device spectrum – from small iPad minis to larger 15.6” Chromebooks. At ISTE 2015, we showed the attendees our deluxe and standard charging carts for popular e-learning devices. Most were excited about the safety-first design (no pinch points, no ledges for children to climb on, no sharp edges, and internal electrical components) and the low-cost options. And, many IT administrators I spoke with were excited to see the rack mount rails on our deluxe charging cart. The flexible rack mounting system means that you won’t have to replace your carts every time you change or upgrade your electronic devices. As technology changes, the carts can be easily reconfigured to fit your needs.

As the new fiscal year starts, get in touch with one of our education specialists! Contact Black Box  to discuss your needs. Ask about our custom designs, too.

Additional resources
White Paper: 12 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Tablet and Laptop Cart
ISTE: 10 Ways to Get Started with 3D Printing
ISTE: The 9 Hottest Topics at ISTE 2015

Why yes, Virtual Appliances can help your Digital Signage Enterprise

Simplified IT operations? Check. Faster response to changing business demands? Check. Reduced power consumption? Check.

Virtualization offers something for every user. It has provided efficiencies and capabilities that were once deemed impossible when constrained within a physical world.

The architecture of today’s x86 servers allows them to run only one operating system at a time. Server virtualization unlocks the traditional one-to-one architecture of x86 servers by abstracting the operating system and applications from the physical hardware, enabling a more cost-efficient, agile, and simplified server environment.

Using server virtualization, multiple operating systems can run on a single physical server as virtual machines, each with access to the underlying server’s computing resources.

Server virtualization unleashes the potential of today’s powerful x86 servers. Most servers operate at less than 15% of capacity. Not only is this highly inefficient, it also introduces server sprawl, increased electric costs, increased cooling costs, rack capacity issues, peripheral needs, and other IT complexities that could include specialized staffing.

What is a virtual appliance?
A virtual appliance is a pre-configured virtual machine image that is ready to be run directly on a hypervisor. Virtual appliances:

  • Can be deployed in existing infrastructure under existing service level agreements.
  • Don’t have the hardware limitations imposed by traditional appliances.
  • Are easier to backup, move, and replicate.
  • Make policy compliance and auditing easier.
  • Have less security vulnerabilities and easier remediation in some cases.

Just look at these benefits
There are many reasons to use a virtual appliance. Here are some key benefits to consider:

1. Reduce Costs
Reduce hardware and operating costs by as much as 50% and energy costs by as much as 80%, saving more than $3,000 per year for each virtualized server workload.

2. Save time.
Reduce the time it takes to provision new servers by as much as 70%. Set up usually involves decompressing the virtual appliance file and loading the resulting virtual image into the virtual server. It’s that simple.

3. Improve reliability and decrease downtime.
Offices today must prepare for disaster. Should your system fail, the built-in disaster recovery of virtual appliances ensure backed up data is immediately redeployed on another virtual machine with little or no downtime.

4. Virtual appliances often run just the bare necessities.
This allows you to efficiently deliver IT services on demand – independent of hardware, operating systems, applications, or infrastructure providers.

A closer look: physical appliance vs. virtual appliance
Now it’s time to decide which solution best suites your environment – physical appliance or virtual appliance?

The following table differentiates between the two types of appliances. Understanding their differences is an important step to knowing which appliance best meets your needs.

Physical Appliance Virtual Appliance
Real hardware limitations (number of cores, amount of RAM, HDD capacity, and number of network ports). Virtually no limitation – can allocate resources dynamically from an overall pool.
Require dedicated administrative portals, user access lists, IP addresses, out of band management, and other administrative resources. Generally deployed into an environment where these resources already exist and can be leveraged.
Rely on traditional storage devices (HDD, SSD, and Flash) for backup purposes and typically require some user intervention to configure and perform. Generally connected to high availability, high reliability backup storage networks with automated mirroring performed real time.
Typically limited to a single network port and cannot perform load balancing to control availability in peak use times. Can allocate multiple NICs (Network Interface Cards) and rules for managing availability at the Hypervisor management level.
Introduces a new hardware platform and possibly a new service level agreement (SLA) for support. Leverage existing hardware and SLAs that are already in place and consistent with policies.

Virtualization applied to digital signage
Virtualization is particularly attractive for digital signage and other situations where there is limited and well defined interaction on the client side, and content management on the server side. Moving away from hardware brings more reliability, flexibility, and affordability to organizations such as airports, banks, retailers, K-12 schools, and universities that need to deliver dynamic information.

By running the digital signage content management software in a virtual environment, organizations can easily manage all of their digital signage players from a local network location or remotely. This gives organizations quick access to individual logs, schedules, content, and playlists.

Explore technology solutions
Black Box offers digital signage solutions as physical or virtual appliances – you decide which application works best for your enterprise. Their iCOMPEL digital signage solution is designed on a Linux OS. This gives you 24/7 uptime, highly recoverable storage method and file system, and minimal vulnerability to viruses, malware, and other security threats.

See Black Box’s virtual content management system for digital signage – iCOMPEL Content Commander Virtual Machine. And, check out the Black Box virtual management and monitoring system for multiple subscribers – iCOMPEL Deployment Manager Virtual Machine. Both support up to 100 subscriber units. For larger deployments, models with support for up to 500, 1000, and 1500 units are available.

Need help planning your next digital signage solution?
Enlist the help of a seasoned digital signage professional. Contact your local Black Box office, or comment below.

Additional resources
White Paper: Roadmap to Digital Signage Success
White Paper: 7 Questions You to Need to Ask when Choosing a Signage System

KVM extenders for better work environment

What is a KVM extender?
KVM stands for “keyboard, video, and mouse,” and a KVM extender is basically a device that extends these interfaces and enables remote access to a computer over distances from a few feet up to several miles, or even over the Internet. A KVM extender unit consists of a transmitter device, sometimes called “local unit,” and a receiver device, also called “remote unit.” These devices can be connected over either CATx copper or fiber cable, and the newest technology can even extend signals over a standard IP network. You can connect your PC to a transmitter at work and plug in the receiver at your home office and work at your computer, just like you would with a direct connection.

What are the interfaces being used?
The video interface is usually either DVI or HDMI on most modern devices, while older computers might be equipped with VGA only. In the past, keyboard and mouse were always separate interfaces and were using a PS2 6-pin mini-DIN connector. That technology has been almost completely phased out, and now USB is the standard connector. It usually doesn’t matter where you plug in your mouse or keyboard, as long as it is a USB port. Other optional interfaces that can be supported are audio and RS-232.

Why would anyone need a KVM extender?
Computer fans are loud, and computer CPUs have fans for cooling because they generate a lot of heat. Plus, they take up a lot of space. None of these features is ideal in an office environment. By using a KVM extender, CPUs can be backracked in a server room in a temperature-controlled environment. All the user needs is a tiny receiver unit on the desk where the keyboard, video display, and mouse would be connected. An industrial environment has different challenges. The work environment might be dusty or dirty—areas where regular CPUs with fans will not last long. The fans will pull the dirt into the cabinet, clogging it up and causing the computer to overheat. By using a KVM extender, the PC can be relocated to a cleaner environment, and the keyboard, video, and mouse workstation can be connected to a remote KVM unit that is fanless. These are just two examples of how KVM extenders are being used, but the variety of applications for KVM extenders is extensive. Learn more at Black-box.eu/KVM-Extenders or check out our KVM Extender buyers guide.

Cable basics: Shielded vs unshielded cables

One of the most obvious advantages copper offers is that it is less expensive than fiber cable and much easier to terminate in the field. The type of cable you choose depends on the environment and application.

Twisted pair cable used in networking applications typically consists of four pairs of 22–28 AWG copper wires, each covered by insulators and twisted together. There are two types of twisted pair cable, unshielded and shielded.

Shielded vs. unshielded cable

Unshielded twisted pair

This is the most widely used cable. Known as balanced twisted pair, UTP consists of twisted pairs (usually four) in a PVC or LSZH jacket. When installing UTP cable, make sure you use trained technicians. Field terminations, bend radius, pulling tension, and cinching can all loosen pair twists and degrade performance. Also take note of any sources of EMI. Choose UTP for electrically quiet environments.

Shielded twisted pair

Over the past twenty years, the need for speed in networking has driven new cabling specifications and technologies at an ever-accelerating rate. Alongside the development of each generation of Ethernet are corresponding developments in cabling technologies. Part of that development is the increased use of shielded cable. It’s becoming more common in high-speed networks, especially when it comes to minimizing ANEXT in 10-GbE runs.

Shielded cable was traditionally used to extend distances and to minimize EMI over the length of the cable run. It still is. Sources of EMI, commonly referred to as noise, include elevator motors, fluorescent lights, generators, air conditioners, and printers.

Shielded cable can be less balanced than UTP cable because of the shield. The metal sheaths in the cable need to be grounded to cancel the effect of EMI on the conductors. Shielded cable is also more expensive, less flexible, and can be more difficult to install than UTP cable because of the grounding and bonding that’s required for a good installation.

Most shielded cable is heavier and thicker than UTP, so it fills conduits quicker. Keep that in mind as you plan your cable pathways.

Types of shields.

There are a number of different types of shielded twisted pair cable and the terminology has evolved over the years.

There are two common shields: foil sheaths and metal braids. Foil gives a 100% shield while a braid provides 40% to 95% coverage because of the holes in the braid. But, a braided shield offers better overall protection because it’s denser than foil and absorbs more EMI. A braided shield also performs better at lower frequencies. Foil, being thinner, rejects less interference, but provides better protection over a wider range of frequencies. For these reasons, combination foil and braid shields are sometimes used for the best protection. Shields can surround all the twisted pairs and/or the individual twisted pairs.

Shielding acronyms

Unshielded vs. Shielded Cable
Unshielded vs. Shielded Cable

Shielding acronyms have evolved over the years after confusion as to what FTP is versus STP and S/FTP. Now, the letter for the outer shield (under the cable jacket) is noted first. The letter after the slash denotes any shield on the individual twisted pairs.

U/FTP (Unshielded/Foiled Twisted Pair). This cable does not have an overall outer shield. It does have foil shields on each of the four pairs. Formerly called FTP.

F/UTP (Foiled/Unshielded Twisted Pair). This cable has an overall foil shield surrounding all the pairs. Formerly called FTP. Here are examples of CAT6 and CAT5e F/UTP cable.

Sc/FTP (Screened/Foiled Twisted Pair). This cable features an overall braided or screened shield underneath the cable jacket. It has individual foil shields on each twisted pair. Formerly called S/FTP. Here’s an example of Sc/FTP cable.

F/FTP (Foiled/Foiled Twisted Pair). This cable features an overall foil shield underneath the cable jacket. It has individual foil shields on each twisted pair. Formerly called S/FTP.

Sc/FTP and F/FTP cables offer the best protection from external noise and ANEXT.

Additional resources

8 Advantages to choosing fiber over copper cable

White Paper CAT6A F/UTP vs. UTP: What You Need to Know

Factory automation: 4 problem solving technologies

There is a new industrial revolution. It’s combining advancements in machines and controls with advancements in computing and communications from the Internet revolution. Today’s technology is being applied in ways not even thought of even 10 years ago to solve problems and increase industrial productivity.

That’s where the challenge of mixing new and existing technologies in an industrial environment comes in. Here are four problem-solving technologies for industrial networking.

  1. Fiber for distance and EMI/RFI immunity.

Fiber optic cable is often the preferred cable choice in industrial environments because it can cover very long distances and offers immunity to electrical interference.

Fiber doesn’t have the 100-meter distance limitation of twisted pair copper, so it can support distances from 300 meters to 40 kilometers, or more, depending on the style of cable, wavelength, and network.

Fiber also provides extremely reliable data transmission. It’s completely immune to many environmental factors that affect copper cable. The fiber is made of glass, which is an insulator, so no electric current can flow through. It is not affected by electromagnetic interference and radio-frequency interference (EMI/RFI), crosstalk, impedance problems, and more. You can run fiber next to industrial equipment without worry.

  1. A ring topology for redundancy.

Although Ethernet is usually thought of as having a star topology, it’s possible to build an Ethernet network as a ring. This is often used in applications where it may be difficult to run fiber in a star formation from a central switch, such as in industrial or even traffic signal applications.

One industrial networking scenario involves connecting industrial devices, such as computer numeric controlled (CNC) machines, to hardened Ethernet switches. The switches are set up in a ring topology for maximum reliability with a failover time of less than 30 ms, which is virtually instantaneous. The ring has the advantage of providing a redundant pathway if a link goes down. If one part of the ring fails, traffic will automatically reverse direction.

  1. Machine vision and USB 3.0.

Machine vision is an image-based automatic inspection technology that is now an indispensable tool for quality assurance, sorting, and material handling in every industry, including electronics, food processing, pharmaceuticals, packaging, automotive, etc. Machine vision technology incorporates cameras, PCs, software, and other hardware to automatically take pictures and inspect materials as they pass along an assembly line.

Machine vision is an economical way to make sure sub-spec product is rejected. It can be used to inspect for geometry, placement, packaging, labeling, seal integrity, finish, color, pattern, bar code, and almost any other parameter you can think of.

USB 3.0 greatly enhances machine vision systems. Because of USB 3.0’s 5-Gbps throughput, ten times more than USB 2.0, it eliminates problems of stability and low latency for image transmission and camera control. USB 3.0 enables the transmission of higher-resolution, higher-frame video with no loss of quality.

  1. Industrial serial connections.

Industrial control is a designation for the devices that interface with machinery such as packaging machines, generators, lathes, and even scales. Although most of today’s IT runs on Ethernet, industrial devices often use an RS-232, RS-485, or RS-422 serial interface. To capitalize on the investment in the industrial equipment and machinery, interface converters and line drivers can be used to provide the link between older RS-232/422/485 equipment connections and newer USB and Ethernet networks.

RS-232 transmits data at speeds up to 115 kbps and over distances up to 50 feet, although higher distances can be achieved by using low-capacitance cable. Both sync and async binary data transmission fall under RS-232. Although the original RS-232 connector is DB25, DB9 and RJ-45 connectors are now more common. Also, industrial devices often use a terminal block instead of a connector for the RS-232 interface. RS-232 is somewhat restricted as an industrial interface because of its restricted range and because it only supports point-to-point links.

For a far more detailed study of industrial communications, see the white paper: Elements of an RS-422/RS-485 System.

How to maximize Call-center efficiency

When you or a loved one places an emergency call, it’s routed to your local dispatch center. From here the dispatcher assesses and categorizes your emergency. If necessary, they assign field personnel — EMS or police, for example — to incidents. Dispatchers log all calls and activities, monitor automatic vehicle location (AVL), and geographic information (GIS) with the Computer Aided Dispatch system. This system gets the police officer, fire fighter, or ambulance to your location to prevent situations from escalating and to save lives.

As you can imagine, time is of the essence. In today’s modern computer-aided dispatch center, people and machines work in tandem. Dispatchers often have a minimum of three computer monitors in front of them. Each of these has dedicated tasks and information being displayed. In order for a dispatch operator to operate all three machines he or she may end up with three separate keyboards and mice cluttering their desktops. The multiple keyboard/mouse (K/M) workstations lead to three main pain points.

  1. Confusion as to which keyboard and mouse to use for which system.
  2. Ergonomics of having to swivel or reach in order to access the correct keyboard and mouse.
  3. An interruption in the workflow of having to physically switch to a different keyboard and mouse.

All of these points lead to increased response times, which are precious seconds that could be the difference between life and death. Response times are the leading statistic by which dispatch centers are judged for efficiency and effectiveness.

Popular options that have worked in the past have significant shortcomings.

The first is a software-based solution that allows a dispatch operator to use one keyboard and mouse on multiple machines. In theory, this works well, but here are three main shortcomings to a software-based solution.

  1. Security risk of having to install additional software. Dedicated machines are often configured by a manufacturer that will not support your system if you install any unauthorized software.
  2. Software-based keyboard and mouse switching relies on the network. Spikes in Internet activities can render the keyboard and mouse unresponsive or extremely slow to respond; the operator has to wait until the network activity clears up. Response times are increased, which is unacceptable.
  3. One machine acts as a server while the other machines act as clients. In this setup, if the “server” machine goes down, you lose keyboard and mouse on all other machines.

The second solution is a desktop, hardware-based keyboard, video, and mouse (KVM) switch. This is a better solution because it requires no dependency on the network and is not adversely affected by the health of one machine on the system. However, the pitfall is a stuttered workflow; multiple port, hardware-based KVMs usually require the emergency dispatch operator to physically push a button on the KVM switch or press multiple keys on the keyboard to switch keyboard and mouse focus.

Black Box has introduced a new solution that combines the best of both worlds: the Freedom II. The Freedom is a hardware-based keyboard, video, and mouse switch. However, built into the hardware box is an innovative solution that provides the ability for a dispatch operator to switch between up to four machines simply by moving the mouse across the monitors. When the dispatch operator’s mouse cursor is on screen 1, keyboard and mouse focus is on machine 1. If the dispatch operator wants to access and control other machines he or she simply has to move the mouse across the screen to the second, third, or fourth monitors. This is an intuitive solution with no learning curve, increased operator comfort in ergonomics, and no interruption in workflow. Its deployment ultimately leads to decreased response times. This is an easy-to-implement hardware solution with no software to install and no dependency on networks. Learn more in the video below, or check out our 9-1-1 Call Center Case Study.

Related solutions with advanced Glide-and-Switch technology:

  • Freedom II for switching by mouse between four computer systems
  • ServSwitch TC for switching by mouse between four or eight computer systems

6 steps to planning Digital Signage

Schools worldwide use digital signage to alert, inform, and educate students and faculty. Applications vary. For example, schools use digital signage to: promote events in schools; aid in instructional efforts or wayfinding; communicate important, up-to-date information; broadcast emergency alerts and instructions; and centralize the distribution and production of content.

With the many available digital signage solutions, finding the right one for your school might seem like an overwhelming task. But taking some time to research and understand your options will be well worth the investment. Follow these key steps.

  1. Define your goals and objectives.

What do you want to achieve? Also, think about scalability. For instance, how do you want the system to serve you long term? Putting up a screen in your school’s lobby certainly constitutes a big step in improving communications in your institution. But how will that hardware expenditure work when you want to expand? Approaching digital signage deployment in piecemeal fashion can be fiscally problematic.

  1. Clearly define the content.

The success of any digital signage system starts, of course, with the content. It must look fresh, exciting, and professional. Who will create it and how will it be presented? Do you have internal resources and expertise, or will you need to outsource content creation?

A good source of creative and editorial help can be found in aspiring graphic designers chosen from the student ranks, in addition to your school’s art department, yearbook and newspaper staffs, and TV studio (if you have one).

  1. Invest the time to understand your options.

Once you’ve decided on content, you need to consider the infrastructure that will deliver it and study your display options. For example:

  • LCD vs. plasma
  • Zones
  • RSS feeds
  • Live video
  • Dynamic content
  • Remote management
  • Playback verification

The options will seem limitless, so taking time to sort through them is important.

  1. Involve all the appropriate stakeholders.

The communications/information department should be involved at the start, considering that your digital signage will likely be used for external community relations. In addition to your district’s administration (superintendent, principals, and purchasing personnel), don’t forget to include instructional technology staff. This includes the AV department; maintenance and security staff; your curriculum, athletic, and cafeteria directors; and key school board members. Digital signage implementation also involves all the usual IT suspects: network and database managers, webmasters, and infrastructure engineers.

  1. Figure out how you’re going to pay for it.

When it’s used to simply advertise or promote school events, digital signage can be seen by some as a luxury item—particularly with shrinking school budgets and rising instructional expenses. However, since it can also be used as a tool for emergency communications and notification, administrators can easily make the case to their school boards that digital signage is a must-have component of any crisis plan—especially in this era when school violence incidents capture news headlines. Consider government and private sources of funding for your digital notification system.

And whether it’s kept entirely as an IT expenditure or distributed across multiple departments in your budget, you need a spending roadmap in addition to a developmental one. The hardest part with this may be determining the total cost of ownership over the life of the system, including any nickel-and-diming with ongoing licenses and upgrades.

  1. Decide how to implement the solution.

Based on your deployment size and scope, decide if you can implement it in-house or if you need the help of a professional integrator.

A number of “out-of-the box” systems can be set up with relative ease. But the more dynamic and complex the system, the more complicated the implementation and ongoing management—and the more likely you’ll need outside help.

Need help planning your next digital signage solution?

Black Box offers digital signage products that range from plug-and-play to highly scalable, sophisticated solutions. If you’re considering a larger deployment with a fully integrated network solution, enlist the help of a seasoned digital signage professional. Contact a Black Box technical engineer, or comment below.

3 ways to extend your Ethernet LAN

Copper CATx cable supports Ethernet distances up to 100 meters. That’s not a problem when you’re connecting workstations in a building. But what happens when you need to extend the reach of your LAN beyond 100 meters to connect a distant department, a building across campus or across town, Wi-Fi access points, IP security cameras, or even remote monitoring stations in industrial environments.

That’s where Ethernet extension comes in. Depending on your environment and application, there are three ways to extend your Ethernet LAN beyond the nearest closet.

  1. LAN extension over fiber optic cable with media converters

Media converters are a popular and economical solution forExtend your Ethernet LAN converting Ethernet cable runs from copper to fiber. They can be used in pairs (near-end/far-end) or with Ethernet switches.

Fiber optic cable offers the best performance for long-range network extension. That’s why the telephone and cable companies made such a big deal about using it. Multimode fiber has a range of 550 meters for 10/100/1000 Ethernet links. Single-mode fiber offers distances of more than 30 km for 10/100/1000 Ethernet extension.

Fiber also offers the advantage of being immune to electromagnetic interference (EMI), surges, spikes, and ground loops. That makes it well suited for connecting buildings across campus, across town, and in industrial environments.

There are a number of different types of media converter options ranging from simple, unmanaged, compact converters that mount on panels or DIN rails to managed converters that mount in equipment racks. There are also converters available for commercial and industrial applications. A common industrial application is to use a media converter with PoE capabilities to power and backhaul an IP camera signal over fiber.

  1. LAN extension over existing copper cabling with Ethernet extenders.

In some cases, it’s possible to use existing facilities to extend your LAN. If there is an existing twisted-pair copper or coax cable run, then you can extend your network with a pair of Ethernet extenders. Use one at each end to convert Ethernet to DSL (digital subscriber line) and back again to Ethernet. Extenders can deliver 50-Mbps speeds over 300 meters or about 10-Mbps at 1400 meters.

Using existing twisted-pair cabling

A common application is a security checkpoint services upgrade. The checkpoint may have originally been connected only with twisted-pair cable to support an analog phone. By using a pair of Ethernet extenders (near-end/far-end), the checkpoint can be upgraded to support an Ethernet LAN connection, a VoIP phone, and an IP camera.

Using existing coax cabling

Another common application is a security camera network upgrade. When you replace older, analog security camera systems with newer, digital IP cameras, you can save a lot of installation time (and labor costs) by using the existing coax cabling with Ethernet extender on each end.

  1. Wireless Ethernet extension

2.4-/5-GHz radio extension

Wireless Ethernet extenders provide a very cost-effective method for extending a LAN/WAN beyond 100 meters. They eliminate the need to buy new cable, dig expensive trenches for fiber cable, and also the time-consuming waits for rights of way.

Wireless Ethernet extenders are the most seamless way to extend LAN connections up to several miles across office parks; on business, educational, and medical campuses; in enterprise business complexes; and in industrial settings, such as factories or oil/gas field drilling operations, and even in traffic control.

Wireless Ethernet is frequently used to connect line-of-sight networks that are miles apart. While wireless extension is often used in enterprise business applications, where it really shines is in industrial applications, such as data acquisition, control, and monitoring; HVAC controls; and security and surveillance, to name a few. The extender radios can also be PoE powered to simplify installation.

 

Additional resources:

White Paper: Media Converters: The Time for Fiber is Now

White Paper: Power over Ethernet in Industrial Applications

White Paper: 5 Questions to Ask about Wireless Ethernet Extension

Webinar: Wireless Solutions for M2M, Security, and Mobile Data Networks

Video: Wireless Ethernet Extenders

The changing landscape of secure KVM switching certifications

Until recently, the National Information Assurance Partnership (NAIP) used Common Criteria Evaluation & Validation Scheme (CCEVS) to evaluate and approve KVM switches for security. EAL2 and EAL4+ are tests regarding the process of the design, testing, verification, and shipping of security products. This protection profile is an international standardized process for information technology security evaluation, validation, and certification.

NAIP has determined that EAL and CCEVS are no longer adequate security standards for KVM switches that connect to systems with differing security classifications. As a result, they  upgraded the Protection Profile (PP) for peripheral sharing switches to PPS 3.0. Still, the next generation of secure switches are going to need to be TEMPEST-approved for the tightest security measures available.

TEMPEST testing, while classified, is regarded as a process that assesses the port-to-port isolation required for certain KVM switches. A TEMPEST approval means the necessary isolation is achieved and qualified. Additionally, the threat of data leaking by various covert electromagnetic eavesdropping mechanisms has been evaluated and found to be secure.

The TEMPEST designation is often required by military organizations. TEMPEST, as a security standard, pertains to technical security countermeasures, standards, and instrumentation that prevent or minimize the exploitation of vulnerable data communications equipment by technical surveillance or eavesdropping.

A desktop KVM switch at its most basic, is simply a hardware device that enables one workstation consisting of a keyboard, video monitor, and mouse to control more than one CPU. Desktop KVM switches are usually 2- or 4-port switches, and by pushing button or using keystrokes, users can easily access information and applications on completely separate systems.

Secure KVM switches fill a special need in switching for users, such as those in the military, government agencies, or law enforcement, who need to access information stored at different classification levels on physically separate systems. A secure desktop KVM switch is usual a two or four-port switch that provides control and separation of PCs connected to networks of differing security classifications. TEMPEST-approved switches offer the following features:

  • High port-to-port electrical isolation, which facilitates data separation (RED/BLACK). Channel-to-channel –80-dB to 60-dB crosstalk isolation protects against signal snooping, so software tools and applications cannot be used to access any connected computer from another connected computer.
  • Switches are permanently hard wired, preventing access from one CPU to the others or access from one network to others.
  • External tamper-evident seals make it easy to spot attempted tampering.
  • Users can safely switch among as many as four computers operating at different classification levels.
  • Unidirectional flow of keyboard and mouse data means the computer cannot leak data along K/M signaling channels.
  • USB host controller erases entire RAM at each channel switchover. This prevents residual data from remaining in the channel after a channel change and being transferred to another computer.
  • Only keyboard and mouse devices can be enumerated at the keyboard and mouse ports. Any other USB peripheral connected will be inhibited from operating, preventing the upload or download of unauthorized data.

The Secure Desktop KVM Switches with USB from Black Box surpass the security profiles of most other KVM switches because they have received approvals and certifications in the TEMPEST testing standard.

Additional Resources

White Paper: Secure Desktop KVM Switch Update

8 advantages to choosing fiber over copper cable

Fiber optic cable is one of the most popular mediums for both new cabling installations and upgrades, including backbone, horizontal, and even desktop applications. Fiber offers a number of advantages over copper.

  1. Greater bandwidth

Fiber provides more bandwidth than copper and has standardized performance up to 10 Gbps and beyond. More bandwidth means fiber can carry more information with greater fidelity than copper wire. Keep in mind that fiber speeds are dependent on the type of cable used. Single-mode fiber offers the greatest bandwidth and no bandwidth requirements.

Laser-optimized OM3 50-micron cable has an EMB of 2000 MHz/km. Laser-optimized OM4 50-micron cables has an EMB of 4700 MHz/km.

  1. Speed and distance

Because the fiber optic signal is made of light, very little signal loss occurs during transmission, and data can move at higher speeds and greater distances. Fiber does not have the 100-meter (328-ft.) distance limitation of unshielded twisted pair copper (without a booster). Fiber distances depend on the style of cable, wavelength and network. Distances can range from 550 meters (984.2 ft.) for 10-Gbps multimode and up to 40 kilometers (24.8 mi.) for single-mode cable.

  1. Security

Your data is safe with fiber cable. It doesn’t radiate signals and is extremely difficult to tap. If the cable is tapped, it’s very easy to monitor because the cable leaks light, causing the entire system to fail. If an attempt is made to break the physical security of your fiber system, you’ll know it.

Fiber networks also enable you to put all your electronics and hardware in one central location, instead of having wiring closets with equipment throughout the building.

  1. Immunity and reliability

Fiber provides extremely reliable data transmission. It’s completely immune to many environmental factors that affect copper cable. The core is made of glass, which is an insulator, so no electric current can flow through. It’s immune to electrometric interference and radio-frequency interference (EMI/RFI), crosstalk, impedance problems, and more. You can run fiber cable next to industrial equipment without worry. Fiber is also less susceptible to temperature fluctuations than copper and can be submerged in water.

  1. Design

Fiber is lightweight, thin, and more durable than copper cable. To get higher speeds using copper cable, you need to use a higher grade of cable, which typically have larger outside diameters, weight more, and take up more space in cable trays. With fiber cable, there is very little different in diameter or weight. Plus, fiber optic cable has pulling specifications that are up to 10 times greater than copper cable, depending on the specific cable. Its small size makes it easier to handle, and it takes up much less space in cabling ducts. And, fiber is easier to test than copper cable.

  1. Migration

The proliferation and lower costs of media converters are making copper to fiber migration much easier. The converters provide seamless links and enable the use of existing hardware. Fiber can be incorporated into network in planned upgrades. In addition, with the advent of 12- and 24-strand MPO cassettes, cables, and hardware, planning for future 40- and 100-GbE networks is easier.

  1. Field termination.

Although fiber is still more difficult to terminate than copper, advancements in technology have made terminating and using fiber in the field easier. Quick fusion splicers enables with auto-alignments enable fast splicing in the field. Auto-aligning pins ensure accuracy. And the use of pig-tails and pre-terminated cable make field connections quick and easy.

  1. Cost

The cost for fiber cable, components, and hardware has steadily decreased. Overall, fiber cable is more expensive than copper cable in the short run, but it may be less expensive in the long run. Fiber typically costs less to maintain, has less downtime, and requires less networking hardware. In addition, advances in field termination technology has reduced the cost of fiber installation as well.

Here are some resources if you’re interested in more information about fiber:

White Paper: Fiber Optic Technology

Video: MTP Connector Rackmount Solutions

DisplayPort interface for 4K, explained

DisplayPort is the most recent digital video interface to be developed for commercial use. It is a standard for PCs.

The DisplayPort standard was designed as a replacement for DVI connectors on computer hardware. The connector is smaller and screwless for easier installation. The connector still has a locking mechanism to hold it in place, addressing a weakness of the HDMI connector. It is similar in specifications to HDMI, but it is more common for computers than for televisions.

DisplayPort uses a packet type of interface, just like an IP network does. The network-like design means a single connection can send multiple streams, so a single DisplayPort port can connect to more than one display.

DisplayPort uses very high speeds, enabled by the packet-type delivery that is implemented through chipsets. One can think of it as a high-speed network for digital video. DisplayPort uses a serial interface with up to four main data lanes that can carry multiplexed video and audio data. Each data lane supports a raw data rate of 1.62 Gbps, 2.7 Gbps, or 5.4 Gbps (DisplayPort 1.2 or later). Additionally, unlike with DVI, an audio channel is supported — up to eight channels of 16- or 24-bit at 48 KHz, 96 KHz, or 192 KHz.

DisplayPort and DVI
DisplayPort and DVI use different signal processing methods, but converting between the two can be done with adapters. Some DisplayPort ports have internal components to make them passively compatible with DVI signals, but this is not a DisplayPort requirement. This is known as Dual Mode, or DP++. It appears that DisplayPort is converted to DVI, but the hardware outputs a DVI signal through a DisplayPort port. If the hardware in use can’t output the DVI signal, then a DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter won’t operate. Users should look for the DP++ symbol.

DVI offers no audio support, which gives another advantage to DisplayPort. An additional advantage for DisplayPort is that packetizing data lowers demand on bandwidth. DVI uses separate data channels for each color, requiring high bandwidth all the time.

DisplayPort and HDMI
Since HDMI technology and DVI use the same signal technology, HDMI and DisplayPort have similar compatibility issues noted already.

HDMI is the digital standard targeted to home theater, and DisplayPort was developed for use with computer electronics. However, feature-wise, DisplayPort is very similar to HDMI, including the inclusion of the HDCP content-protection standard.

Some differences include:

  • DisplayPort has a maximum bandwidth that is larger than the maximum bandwidth of HDMI (10.8 Gbit/sec, compared to HDMI at 10.2).
  • DisplayPort supports DPCP (DisplayPort Content Protection) standard in addition to HDCP.
  • DisplayPort is an open standard, available to all manufacturers at no cost; HDMI is licensed, which raises costs.
  • DisplayPort supports resolutions up to 4K.

For additional information on 4K-ready DisplayPort solutions, visit www.black-box.eu/4K.