If you are afraid of latency with your company’s cloud applications, the easiest “first step” is to understand the possible causes within your own local environment. Matrix IBS Director of Sales Engineering, Rich Erickson, discusses the most common local culprits of cloud latency and how the IT Department can avoid them. Mike also has a special free gift for the podcast listeners that you definitely don’t want to miss out on.
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Mike: Hey, IT Nation. Welcome to Episode 13. I hope you guys are doing well today. Again, another episode where we are going to help you guys get a little bit more knowledge and is going to help you get a little bit better at your craft, just like we do every single time, which is going to definitely help your career.
Today, I have a great guest once again. You don’t have to listen to me the whole time. I’ve got a great person to talk to and he’s very technical. His name is Rich Erickson. He’s the director of sales engineering for a company called Matrix.
Now, Matrix is a cloud computing service provider. That’s all they do and they do it really well. Rich is in charge of their engineering, so he’s super technical and he has a long background in IT. He used to be a sysadmin, IT director – held all those positions, so he really knows where you guys are coming from.
He’s got a great topic he’s going to hit on today. Say, you’re implementing some type of a cloud service and you’re not getting the performance or your company is not seeing the performance that they want to see. They’re getting latency and having some issues here and there. Rich goes over all of the different possibilities that could be going on locally so you guys can troubleshoot those first before you start hitting up your service provider.
As you can imagine, being the head of sales engineering for a cloud service provider, they do get their share of technical calls where customers are experiencing some latency or some issues with desktop as a service or one of their other cloud services and they’re getting some latency and they have to help that customer troubleshoot it. So, you can imagine, Rich has seen pretty much every issue that is possible with the cloud service and help customers troubleshoot it. That’s just the nature of the business.
Today he’s going to give us a glimpse into his knowledge and his world, which I think will help you guys immensely, not only if you ever have a performance issue, but help you guys understand what to do prior to implementing cloud services to help avoid issues. So, Rich has got some great information for us today.
Okay, but before we get to Rich, I wanted to tell you about our awesome, free giveaway that I have for you this episode. If you are about to quote disaster recovery as a service or cloud DR, whatever you want to call it, if this is something that’s on the radar within the next year or less, one thing that you definitely want to have is a good Excel spreadsheet that compares all the service providers side by side that you get quotes from.
You don’t want all these loose leaf quotes that have been emailed to you and you’re trying to look at them and compare them side by side. You want one Excel spreadsheet that in every row list every item or question and you can see in the columns Provider A, B, C, D, E side by side. This is something we do when we quote different providers for customers to help them understand what the differences are and help them compare. We do this all the time.
What I did is I created a template that we use for comparing providers and I customized it just for DR. What it does, it’s got in the columns, spaces for multiple providers and, then, in the rows, it’s got all of the questions that you need to ask when it comes to quoting disaster recovery services and comparing multiple providers. Such as: Obviously, what’s their price for the data storage piece? How much are they going to charge you for computing cost when the servers are idle? How much are they going to charge you when they’re active? What are their bandwidth costs? Are they going to charge you for software licensing? Are they going to charge you for on-site storage appliance? What’s their RTO and RPO? Do they support VMware or Hyper-V, or what backup software do they use? A bunch of other questions like colo facilities and, different types of compliances they can hit. Do they do testing ongoing or is it just upfront? What’s their panel like in terms of their customer interactions? You get the point.
All of these questions are already on there and listed out so you don’t have to think of them, you don’t have to research them, and you don’t have to create your own Excel spreadsheet that auto-populates totals and unit costs, and installation costs. The Excel spreadsheet with all the equations is already done for you, so this is going to save you a ton of time and prevent you for missing any important questions that you should be asking or it might even spur some thought as far as, “Oh, I didn’t know I should ask that question.” So, I went ahead and created this for you. If you’re going to be quoting cloud DR or backup in any way, you definitely want this quote template. It’ll make things a lot easier for you and also make it look really good to your boss when you show him the homework you did.
To get it, it’s free. I’ll give it to you, no big deal, just a gift for being a podcast listener. All you have to do is text the word “DRQUOTETEMPLATE” to the number 44-222. Again, text the word “DRQUOTETEMPLATE” to the number 44-222 and I will send you a free copy of this disaster recovery as a service quote template for quoting multiple providers.
Okay, let’s get to the interview.
Alright, Rich. Thanks for joining us on the program
Rich: Thanks for having me, Mike.
Mike: Fantastic. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself both personally and professionally?
Rich: Yes, sure. My name is Rich Erickson. I work with Matrix. We’re an IntelliSys provider based out of Columbia, South Carolina. I’ve been with Matrix for about five and a half years and have held a number of roles. Everything from just a systems engineer that designs and implements the systems behind the scenes, but have also rolled into the channel side of things and, also, leadership of the engineering team and that group. I’m currently the director of sales engineering. So, all of the opportunities that come through, I have, at least, a minor hand in looking at it from a technical perspective to make sure that we spec out the right solution for our customers.
Mike: Fantastic. Then, what did you do before Matrix?
Rich: Before working with Matrix, I spent about thirteen years in the healthcare sector doing various things, mostly network administration and system administration. I ran the IT department for a fairly large cardiology practice here in Columbia. There were twenty-six cardiologist partners that had an operation downtown and I ran the entire IT section for them. Then, I worked for a fairly good-sized hospital, about 380-bed hospital a little bit farther south than Columbia and I was there for about five years. So, I did about thirteen years overall in the healthcare space.
Mike: So, you know a lot about regulation?
Rich: I do. Not quite as much as I used to since I’ve been out of that industry for a while, but I do have at least a general understanding of the complexities of HIPAA, PCI, and that sort of thing.
Mike: Yeah, that makes sense. Tell us a little bit about yourself personally.
Rich: Yeah, personally, I was in the Marine for twelve years prior to getting out in 1998, which just happens to be the same year that Matrix was founded. I spent time right down the road from Matrix working at the cardiology practice and then at the hospital. In my off time I like to hunt fish, and camp, and that sort of thing.
I’m married and have four daughters who are all grown and graduated high school, so we’re empty nesters now. So, living the dream
Mike: That’s fantastic. I’ve got three daughters myself, so I’m sure you can give me some advice on that – three daughters and one son. My oldest is twelve, so I’m about to enter into the dark place that everybody talks about having daughters that are teenagers. I’m sure you can give me some advice there.
Rich: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Give me a call some time. We’ll spend hours and hours talking about it for sure.
Mike: That’s scary that you just said we’re going to spend hours and hours talking about it. Oh, man.
Alright. Well, today, as I’ve mentioned in the intro, we’re excited to have you on, Rich. You’re going to talk to us today about some tips you have to resolve local challenges that often affect the hosted solutions.
As Rich and I were talking in the pre-interview, Rich is telling me, a lot of times, he has to jump in the middle of a customer who might be having an issue, what they think is an issue, with their hosted solution and Rich has to try to troubleshoot a little bit. So, he’s going to talk to us today about some of the things he finds locally that are going on and little tips to help avoid those things. Am I right?
Rich: Yeah, absolutely. The past five years working for a hosted provider, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge from troubleshooting these various situations. You would think that when you move things into a hosted environment, all of your troubles around latency and things that you have to do on your local network, those, kind of, go away, but that’s not necessarily always the case. There are things that occur on your local machine and your local network, and the local network infrastructure that could affect the performance and the experience you’re getting out of your hosted environment. I’ve got a group of things that we can talk about today that you can take a look at your local environment to help make your experience that much better.
Mike: Fantastic. Alright, let’s jump into it then.
Rich: Sure. First and foremost, I think, just paying attention to your device. A lot of times when you talk about a hosted solution, specifically a desktop, you typically start talking about the fact that your end user device can, kind of, be a little bit lesser machine or maybe you can get some better longevity out of it. By and large, that is the case, but there are still things that happen on that local machine that you need to be aware of.
Probably, two of the most important things about that are: Keeping the workstation itself, from an operating system perspective, fully updated. That means, for Windows machines, service packs, patches, if you’re running a Mac OS or something of that nature, making sure that those OS patches are done in a timely manner and that your machine is fully updated.
Then, the second component to that is actually making sure that all of your third-party software applications are fully updated. That includes things that help you or assist you in connecting to your hosted desktop environment. In our case, it’s the Citrix receiver. If that receiver gets out of date, that can definitely cause issues with connectivity and latency in the environment.
Mike: Being that I’m not a sysadmin, and you’ve been a sysadmin and you’ve been a network administrator, what are some of the reasons – I’m just thinking these guys are pretty sharp when it comes to their machines, obviously, and they’re used to having to update things, but what are some of the reasons why they wouldn’t have these stuff updated? What’s going on? What are some of the challenges that they’re going through where they wouldn’t have these stuff updated?
Rich: Well, a lot of times, in the small to medium business space, they just simply don’t have an IT department. What I see in a lot of cases with smaller, mid-sized companies, a hundred or hundred ten employees, or less, they just simply don’t have an IT department locally. They’re either relying on a vendor who may not have the proper procedures in place to keep their machines updated or they just, kind of, use the smartest person in the office as their IT go to, and then they’re reliant on their hosting company to advise them on the best route to take – so, from the small and medium perspective, there’s that.
Then, larger companies that have three/four/five hundred, even a thousand workstations, sometimes there’s a challenge in keeping those updated just from the sheer volume, from the cost that you can incur in keeping those machines updated. There may be other mitigating factors like certain pieces of software that run locally that won’t allow you to keep the machine updated.
Mike: I guess that makes sense. If you think about all the different applications that are running on each, individual machine and you multiply that times five hundred to a thousand machines, there’s a lot to make sure you’re checking all the time that those updates are happening.
I know one thing that the IT professionals that I’ve talked to never liked those automatic updates. They like making sure that it’s a good update before they go ahead and let it run throughout their whole organizations. That happens a lot where they’re just, kind of, holding off on doing that update yet because it hasn’t been vetted.
Rich: Well, yeah, sure. Back, during my time and even now, maintaining a data center for a hosted solution, that’s always a challenge because the automated processes don’t always work.
By and large, if you push all of your working components to a hosted solution, your desktop machines become more of a commodity and it’s a lot easier to update them. But, then, you run into issues where you’ve got an automated process in place and it’s working well, but the user leaves on Friday afternoon and your update cycle begins on Saturday morning, and they turn their computer off and the update just doesn’t happen. They may be a traveling user with a laptop, and that laptop goes out of the office, and it just doesn’t update because it’s sitting in a computer bag at 2:00 in the morning on Saturday or Sunday, whenever the update is supposed to occur and the update just never occurs.
Mike: Makes sense. That makes total sense to me.
Rich: Yeah. So, having a plan in place that does the automated updating and then a way to go back in and report on that and see that the updates are actually occurring is key in a large environment to keeping this thing running at top speed.
Mike: What do you recommend in terms of reporting that everything got updated?
Rich: Well, there are a number of tools out there to do it. Microsoft for its products has WSUS patch management product or tool that Microsoft supplies are pretty good at that. There are a lot of third-party applications that will do it. A lot of remote monitoring and management tools (RMM) have some sort of patch management or patch policies that can go in, and run those patches, and then report on them even in an automated fashion. So, you come in and you’ve got an email with a report on what machines got missed, and then you can roll around and catch those manually if need be.
Mike: Okay, great.
Rich: Moving on from that. It’s really important when you’re working with a hosted environment, specifically a desktop, when you use the Citrix receiver or maybe some other software to connect to your environment, you need to keep that piece of the puzzle updated as well. The backend of the environment, which you don’t really see as a user – all you see is your applications or maybe a desktop. You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, so code may be updated, versioning may be upgraded behind the scenes as well as Windows patches that go in place on the local machine that could affect the way the Citrix Receiver performs.
I’ve seen a number of cases where users are constantly calling in saying they’re having problems with connectivity, they’re getting frozen, or locked out, or even dropped from the environment. You go in and take a look at their code levels, and figure out that they’re two/three/four versions behind on the receiver. Update the receiver and the issue goes away. So, that’s extremely important keeping that whatever front-end application you’re using up to date as well.
Mike: Okay. Being that I’ve never updated a receiver in my life, but is that something that’s pretty basic for them to do or is that something like a router where you’ve got to log into it remotely to do the update?
Rich: No. Actually, I don’t have a whole lot of experience with any of the other software. I mean, we’re a Citrix shop, so the great portion of my knowledge is with Citrix. In the case of the receiver, it is a very easy process. You go to a webpage (receiver.citrix.com), it automatically selects the correct version and the latest version for you. If you own a Mac OS or if you’re on a Windows machine, Windows 7/Windows 8/Windows 10, it automatically selects the correct and latest version. You click the download and install buttons, and it does it for you. It’s definitely something that the users can do themselves.
Mike: Okay, fantastic. I apologize in advance to all you users who knew that and that was a really stupid question, but that’s just what I was thinking.
Rich: You’d be surprised, Mike, about how many people don’t know that. Even if you do know, it’s worth hearing it again. The only dumb question to me is the one you don’t ask.
Mike: Good. I must be pretty smart because I ask a lot of them.
Alright. Keep going, sorry to interrupt.
Rich: Oh, no worries.
The next part of that local workstation is making sure that you have a viable anti-virus, anti-malware solution in place. Even things that you do locally can be affected by this. If you’ve got a lot of malware, spyware, virus, Trojan horses, things like that, things that collect data on your machine, that could, potentially, be using up valuable resources that you need to display your desktop or your hosted solutions. That will definitely cause issues for you, not only the security risk involved in that, but also the performance of your hosted solutions as well.
Mike: Okay. Question for you. Is Windows Defender, is that enough? Do you recommend having Norton or something like that running?
Rich: Windows Defender, for what it is, it does a fairly decent job, I think, in my opinion. That’s just my opinion. Would I trust it in an enterprise environment by itself? Probably not. I definitely recommend going out and getting something. Today, with the licensing costs in an enterprise environment for an anti-virus solution, there’s no reason that you can’t supplement Windows Defender with any number of anti-virus solutions for not a lot of money. It’s well worth going out and getting something to supplement Defender.
Mike: Any favorites that you have, that you’ve developed over the years that you’ve typically liked?
Rich: I tell you, personally, on all the computers I have at home, I run the AVG anti-virus and I have for, probably ten years. Personally, I like the AVG products. In an enterprise solution, Kaspersky, VIPRE, and then Webroot products, we’ve used pretty extensively in just about every place I’ve been and those seem to work very well.
Mike: Okay, great.
Rich: Once you’ve got that anti-virus and patch management taken care of, the other thing that I see most often that causes a lot of problems on the local workstation is either an under-spec’d machine, an older version of the OS, and then a lot of applications that are still running on the machine that aren’t needed, that are using up valuable resources.
Take, for instance, a customer comes to us and says, “Hey, I want to move into a hosted desktop solution and we’re currently running these five applications on every machine.” We put it up in the hosted solution, we get the desktop tweaked out, they start working from the hosted desktop, and then nobody goes back behind the scenes to clean up the local workstation, to remove those software that were using processing power, and memory, and maybe even network and things like that on the local machines.
They’re trying to connect to a hosted desktop solution with a machine that’s 80/90% utilized already or may be underpowered for what they’re asking it to do. That definitely affects the performance of your hosted solution as well. So, making sure that there’s no software or no devices that are using up those resources on that local machine is key as well.
Mike: Got it. That makes sense.
Rich: A lot of people think, because it’s a hosted environment, all of the true horsepower is at the server level. Your workstation still has to have resources available to process the information coming in, to render the graphics, to show you what’s happening on the desktop environment, and that sort of thing. If you’ve got a 4k video or something like that running in the background and you’re trying to use your hosted environment, and you’ve got a base level built in to the chipset video graphics card, it could affect your performance. So, just making sure that you keep your machine clean and you’re only using things that pertain to your work environment while you’re using the hosted desktop, it will go a long way to making it that much better.
Mike: Got it.
Rich: That’s really all I really want to talk about on the local workstations. Mike, you want to shoot questions at that or should I move on to the next topic?
Mike: I think let’s move on to the next topic. I think those are good, but I think I’m ready.
Rich: Okay, good. The next thing I want to talk about, and this, kind of, starts to move away from the users’ control, and that’s the local network environment and the internet connectivity. This is really one of those situations where you don’t really know what’s going on unless you’ve got some sort of monitoring in there or you’ve got somebody that knows how to look at that LAN equipment to tell you what’s truly going on. A lot of times, even calling the carrier and asking the carrier to give you some information on your internet usage isn’t enough to fully vet through what’s going on on that local environment.
The one thing that I hear a lot is, “Well, there’s only five of us in here and we’ve got 10 mbps.” Well, some things to think about is you may have a 10 mbps download speed, but your upload speed is as important as your download speed. If you’re completely filling your upload side, your download speed is going to degrade as well.
So, utilization of that internet bandwidth, I see a lot too where they may have an office of twenty people, they’ve got a 10mbps up/down circuit in place, but all of them are streaming audio. They’re all listening to Spotify or their favorite streaming audio service, and they could be utilizing all of their upload or download bandwidth. That will definitely affect the performance of your hosted environment.
Mike: We’ve had that problem in our office once with Spotify. It looked like Spotify was eating tons of our upload speed. Is that what you’ve seen too – Spotify and our users who are using it? I guess, it allowed other people to come in and stream from the nearest spot closest to them. If they wanted to listen to a song and somebody in our office had listened to that song and downloaded it within the last six months or something like that, it was sitting on our users’ machines, and if somebody in our neighborhood wants to hear that song, it’s uploading it from us. I’m like, “What the… Dude.”
Rich: You’re absolutely right, Mike. You can prevent that from happening, but does the common user whose job is doing payroll in your environment know what settings to go in and change, or do they just download Spotify, turn it on, and start listening to music? So, you’re absolutely right that that could occur.
Like I said earlier, the upload speed is as important as the download speed as well. If you’ve got what’s called an asynchronous circuit, you’re upload and download speeds are different, you may have far less of an upload speed than you do download, and you could easily saturate that.
Mike: That makes a lot of sense. Most of the high-bandwidth, inexpensive internet connections are asynchronous. You have that fast download and a slow upload.
Rich: Right. In addition to just bandwidth, the local LAN devices that you use have an effect on it as well.
We had a customer out in the Southern California area that were continuously calling us saying, “Hey, around a certain time every day, it appears that our desktop just slows to a crawl. It’s almost unusable.” Then, even sometimes outside of that specific time, it is slow as well. So, we went to the carrier and we got bandwidth utilization reports. They’re using 10% of the bandwidth, so no problem there. I eventually went on site to, kind of, get a bird’s eye view of what was going on.
When I got on site, I asked them for their WiFi credentials so I could plug my laptop in and connect to our hosted desktop to start working on it and noticed that our desktop was very slow performing as well.Got to looking into it and found out that they were using, kind of, what you can go down to Best Buy and buy a WiFi router – one of the $20/$30/$40 routers you can get at Best Buy and that’s what they were using in their enterprise solution.
What you find out with that is those things do a great job of running your home internet and the devices you have at home, but you put them in an enterprise environment and suddenly you’ve got twenty/thirty users that are running their computer data through there. A lot of them have WiFi devices that they use every day like their laptops and things like that. They’re all carrying an iPhone, or a droid phone, or something, and they’re connecting their phones to that WiFi and then they’re streaming audio across that, kind of, built-for-a-home WiFi. It just overwhelms that device and that device can’t keep up with that request for traffic. So, they weren’t using all of their internet bandwidth, but they were just overloading their WiFi device.
When I pointed that out to them, they immediately all went in and disabled their WiFis, unhooked their phones and their problems went away.
Mike: That’s great. I mean, just you saying that, I can relate. I think that the WiFi we were using in our last office was a home office that I got from Best Buy or maybe Fry’s.
Mike: That makes sense to me. It’s just one of those things where people… You can know a lot about IT, maybe you’re the IT manager at that office, but you learn something new every day when you start to narrow down what’s going on. That’s a good lesson to learn there. It’s, like, take the time to make sure you’re aware of what kind of load your WiFi router can take.
Rich: Absolutely. I always have been a big proponent of keeping your devices separate in an enterprise environment. Especially if you’re in a growth mode, you don’t know where you’re going to plateau. You may be fine with your five or ten users starting out initially with that WiFi device that you bought down at that Best Buy or Fry’s, but suddenly you have ten people and your staff has doubled. That’s four times the amount of devices that could be connecting and suddenly you’ve got a problem when you didn’t have a problem before and you’re not really sure what’s going on. I’ve always been a big proponent of, when you can, spend that little bit extra to get that separate device that you’ve got that extra throughput.
Mike: Yeah, that makes sense. I think, for me, I notice that it’s like at some point we’ve started hiring a lot of millennials. It was like, all of a sudden, I realized everybody is connecting into the WiFi with their devices all day. It just, kind of, happened over night, maybe a few years back. It just, kind of, hit me that, oh my gosh, we’re just using bandwidth all over the place because everybody’s connecting their device to it and every single thing they’re doing on their phone now is going through our WiFi.
When we first opened our office in 2005, that just wasn’t the case. So, me not being a full time IT person, it just, kind of, crept up on me where I was like, “Holy cow. What’s going on?”
Rich: Right. Our youngest daughter is probably our heaviest cellphone user, cellphone data user. One of the things that’s amazing to me… You know, I do this professionally and I travel all over the country. A lot of times, I will tether my laptop to my phone for data connectivity. I’m using about a third of the bandwidth that she does and all that she does is social media. So, she’s using a ton of cellular data that, when you’re on a WiFi, that’s all being pushed through that WiFi connection instead.
You’re right. It’s just the amount or the glut of information that people are getting off their mobile devices now, it’s burning through a lot of bandwidth for sure.
Mike: Yeah, that makes sense. Those are some good tips there for sure.
Rich: Yeah. Then, of course, on a local environment, I always recommend to everybody to make sure that the things that you’re doing at the office, on your computer, are as work-related as you can make them. Don’t stream audio or video while you’re at work because if everybody in the office is doing it. That’s really going to chew through your resources and it’s going to give you a really bad experience. I always try to push companies towards thinking more along the lines of keeping things that they do more work-related than non-work-related.
Mike: Yeah, it’s definitely taking content-filtering to the next level with all the stuff with the mobile devices for sure.
Rich: Oh, absolutely. You’re a 100% right there. We’re seeing that too. We’re seeing an uptick even in the small to medium business market that’s asking for content management. So, for sure.
Mike: Very cool.
Rich: Alright then. The next thing I want to duck into is just step back to the workstation again and its connectivity methods.
The traditional, some of the older school guys will know what I’m talking about here. Typically, there was two types of devices, the WiFi, the non-WiFi devices. Your non-WiFi were usually your desktop PCs. Desktop PCs just, traditionally, didn’t come with WiFi devices back in the day. Most computers that you’re getting nowadays, even the Macs, specially the Macs, the Mac desktops and things like that, they have WiFi built right into them. People are able to put a PC down where there’s not a cable anymore and jump on the WiFi, and the company doesn’t have to go through the expense of running that cabling over to that PC.
Then, of course, you’ve got laptops which could be capable of connecting both ways, wired and WiFi. That’s fine. I mean, it’s absolutely, positively fine to connect via WiFi, but you’ve got to make sure that your local WiFi environment in that enterprise solution can handle the amount of traffic you’re going to put through it. You don’t want to overload the devices. You want to make sure you’ve got enough coverage and you have enough overlap in redundancy so that you don’t end up with one device and has sixty devices on it and another device that has five. Those are the kind of things you have to think about.
Specifically, laptops – if you have the ability to plug in a cable or connect it via WiFi, and you have a docking station on your desk – I do this a lot. I’ll get up and I travel with my MacBook (I use a MacBook Pro), and I’ll plug it into a Thunderbolt dock that has a hard wire in it and I’ll forget to turn my WiFi off. Now I have two connections active. That causes all sorts of issues.
I’ll talk about what issues that causes having those two connections open. When your computer is talking to some other source of information like a server, or cloud-based solution, or even a website (you don’t really see it in websites as much), something that requires a constant connection, there are two connections that are available for the operating system to send traffic down.
Unfortunately, the two of those can’t always talk. If I send a packet of information or a request for information down one connection, let’s say I send it down the wired connection, and the response comes back to me via the WiFi connection, my PC’s not going to know how to handle that. It expects that that response is going to come back down that same medium. So, it won’t get the response, it will discard the packet, it will resend it again. It may get that response down that WiFi connection again, so it’s going to discard it and resend.
Now, keep in mind, this is all happening in milliseconds. It’s going to keep sending that response down that one medium until it looks upon the right combination of sending it down one medium or the other and getting the response down that same medium. So, having dual connections in a hosted environment, specifically in a desktop environment, can cause things like freezing. It can cause things like latency. It can cause you to get disconnected from the hosted desktop entirely. Any number of customers all across the country, we’ve run into that same, exact scenario. I’ve done it myself. I’ll come back from a trip, plug into my docking station, log in to our desktop, and right away, I start seeing it’s latent or I get disconnected, and then realize I’ve got both connections active. I just need to go turn one or the other off, either unplug the cable or disable the WiFi.
Mike: So, in an environment where like you’re an enterprise with a hundred plus users, what’s the best method that you recommend to control users from doing that, from the IT department standpoint?
Rich: Well, there are a couple of ways you can do it. You can do it through global policies and things like that. If you go into the work station, one thing that’s forgotten about in a lot of cases is, actually, operating system state profiles and things like that. If you booth the machine up and it’s docked it enables one set of rules. If you move the laptop up and it’s undocked, it boots another set of rules. That’s something that not a whole lot of folks have used in the past, but that’s one option.
Mostly what I do is just tell folks that, at travel, hey, either you’re mainly WiFi enabled if you’ve got the WiFi capacity to handle it in your working environment or, if you log in and you notice right away that it’s slow, look to see if your WiFi is enabled and if it is, just disable it.
Mike: Got it. So, more of just training the users the way to do it – make sure that all the users are trained up who travel and who have a laptop or in and out of the office. Make sure that if they’re complaining, obviously, calling up IT, saying “Hey, my computer’s slow,” it’s like just know that that might be the issue and just training them up on it might be the way to resolve it.
Rich: Right. The one thing that I get a lot when I talk to, specifically, the end users about that, they’ll go, “Well, I can browse the internet just fine.” Well, in a lot of cases, that’s true because the internet is a burst of transmission. If you type in a URL, let’s just say Google.com and you hit enter, it’s a quick burst of traffic and it’s done, so you don’t notice that there’s latency or it takes a couple of extra seconds for that web page to come up. You don’t really pay attention to it. Then you click a link and it takes a couple of extra seconds for that website to come up, you don’t really see that.
When you’re in a hosted environment where you’re typing and you’re seeing a response that’s happening a thousand miles away, you’re definitely going to see a latency where the characters aren’t showing on your screen as quickly as you’re typing.
Rich: That’s a key indicator, to me, and people who troubleshoot like I do that there is some sort of network latency occurring when you’re typing. If it’s showing up slower on the screen than what you can type, there’s some sort of latency on your connectivity that’s occurring.
Mike: Those are some great points, some great tips. I know I’m learning a lot so far.
Rich: Well, good. I hope others out there as well will get as much out of this. It’s things that you don’t really think about from a users’ perspective. As IT guys, we think about these stuff all day long, but the users sitting down there trying to send his emails and working on spreadsheets and make sure that people get paid on Friday, they’re not thinking about these kinds of things.
Mike: Yeah, absolutely.
Rich: So, while we’re on that connectivity type subject, one thing that I always like to remind folks of, too, and probably not a lot of end users are going to know this: the difference between a wired connection and a WiFi connection and the way that they communicate. A wired connection does what we call a “full duplex.” What that simply means is that data can travel into and out of that connection at the same time. That connection can talk to the network and it can listen to the network at the same time, so data that’s flowing both ways.
In a WiFi scenario, that’s only half duplex. It’s either listening or it’s talking, it can’t do both. If I’m connected to a WiFi and I’m trying to use a hosted desktop, and – I’ve been picking on Spotify, so let’s use Amazon music or something – I’m listening to a streaming audio feed on the background, and that streaming audio feed is downloading information for my song, and I’m trying to type into my hosted desktop solution, well, my WiFi connection is listening at that moment – it won’t transmit. So, I’m going to type, that’s when I’m going to see I’m typing and nothing’s occurring on the screen and, then, half a second to a second later, it appears. That’s what’s happening when you’re on a WiFi because WiFi only communicates on one direction at a time.
Mike: I didn’t know that. That’s good to know because a lot of times I’m working off a computer that’s on WiFi, so, for me, I’m going, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” That’s good info.
Rich: Yeah. Again, nine times out of ten, these complaints come with newer users of the hosted environment because they’re used to things being on their local machine, and they’re working on their local desktop, and it’s doing all of the processing functions so it’s not reliant on that connection. So, they’re listening to music and they’re network is talking to the internet, and that’s fine because things are still occurring on their local machine. Then, they browse the internet, much like I was talking about earlier, they open the website and it takes an extra second, they don’t even notice it. You start to really notice these things when you’re in to an environment that requires that constant back and forth talking, that’s when they’ll start noticing these things.
Mike: Got it.
Rich: Then, we had another customer, actually, Northern California, that they ran into an issue where… We’ve built a pretty strong, pretty solid WiFi structure, had things balanced out real well. Then, they brought in another machine that does video – large, high-quality video editing, and streaming, and all sorts of things, recording and whatnot. Instead of running a cable over to it and just plugging into the wall and get it over with, they hooked it to the WiFi.
Well, it works. It does it, but when we started troubleshooting the issue, there were a lot of folks in that area who were calling in saying, “Hey, it’s slow. I’m seeing latency. I’m typing and nothing’s appearing.” We go in and start looking at the monitor points and realize that this one particular machine was saturating the entire WiFi device. They went out and spent a couple of hundred bucks, got a cable pulled over there, plugged it and turned it on, problem solved. So, just a couple of things to pay attention to when you’re talking about WiFi versus wired.
Mike: Absolutely. Great points.
Rich: Then, I think the last part, Mike, that we’ll talk about, and this is pretty short and sweet, is when you switch over to a hosted solution. One of the great benefits of being on a hosted platform is the ability to run that platform from any computer you want to from anywhere. You may go into your office every day and you’ve got this really nice computer that doesn’t have a whole lot of background applications on it, you’re on a lot of bandwidth, and things are set up for that enterprise environment. Then, you go home and you get on your computer at home, and the environment doesn’t run so well.
All of the things that we’ve talked about up to this point are at play here. Usually, folks’ computer at home, they’ve got a ton of applications on there. Those applications could be using up resources. Even though they’re not running the application at the moment, it still could be using resources.
If they’re like me, they’re very gadget oriented. At my house, I’ve got two separate WiFi devices in my home because me, and our youngest daughter, and my wife, we all run WiFi devices – in my case, two or three at a time sometimes. My daughter has an Apple T.V. We have an Apple T.V. in the living room. Our DVR runs off the WiFi. I have to think, sometimes when I start to get that slight bit of latency when I’m typing, you know, “Why is this occurring?” Then, I realize, we’re dragging a lot of things around our network in here with these devices.
So, you may not be able to do anything about it right away, but just keep that at the back of your mind. If things are running great at the office but not at home, it could be your local machine or your local network that’s causing that rather than a system error or issue.
Mike: Yeah, that makes sense. Specially, I think, that makes a lot of sense when you’re talking about you may go home and you’re thinking, “Oh, everybody’s on their device. They’re all using up our internet connectivity right now,” but may just be that you guys are all using up your WiFi router capacity and, like you said, you may just need a second device.
Mike: You just connect your device to that one, just for work, and everyone else uses the router that’s supplied by the ISP you’re using.
Rich: That’s a great point, Mike, absolutely. That could alleviate a good part of the problem.
The other thing too is… It’s getting a lot better in a lot of areas, but I live in Central South Carolina. I’m only about nineteen miles from our office here in Columbia, but I’m in, sort of, what a lot of people call the backwoods area and we don’t have great bandwidth. It’s a DSL connection. It’s got a very, very small upload speed. Like I said, I’m on a separate WiFi device, but if somebody uploads a Facebook picture or uploads a video to their Facebook or something like that, it uses all of that outbound connection. Remember, earlier, we talked about your upload speed is as important as your download. It saturates our upload speed for a couple of seconds while it’s sending that picture and then it stabilizes. So, it’s just some things to keep in mind while you’re at home.
Mike: Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. Well, cool. That’s been a really interesting topic, Rich. There are a lot of points in there that I definitely got a lot from everything that you said today and I hope that the listeners did as well.
Now, it’s time to, kind of, shift though. Let’s get into what I think is one of our funnest parts. Let’s hear your most interesting or funny thing that’s ever happened to you in the workplace or that you’ve witnessed in the workplace.
Rich: Mike, I thought… You know, when we were talking about this earlier in the pre-interview that I had to come up with something that I can share with everybody. One of the funniest things that I use as an example sometimes when I do training class is about stopping and thinking what you’re doing.
I remember it was a number of years ago, I was working downtown at the cardiology practice. We had a hurricane that was threatening to coast, so we shut down operations and moved away from the office. Before everyone left, we told them to go around and unplug your power strips and unplug everything out of the walls in case there were some power surges, or strikes, or something like that, it wouldn’t burn up all the equipment. So, everybody went around and unplugged everything.
When we got the all-clear, everybody came back to work, the IT department probably got about twenty or thirty calls from people who couldn’t get power turned back on to their PCs or their equipment. First question, “Is it plugged in?” “Yes, it’s plugged in.” “Do you have it turned on?” “Well, I flipped the switch both ways and nothing’s occurring.” So, “Okay, I’ll come down and take a look at it.” You get down there and realize they plugged the power strip back into the power strip instead of into the wall.
Yeah, I mean… One or two, I can see, but it was, literally, 20/25/30 users called in and did the same thing.
Mike: Oh, my gosh. Holy cow, that’s pretty bad. It’s like, “Hey, I try not to judge…”
Mike: Because, you know, it all depends on your level of expertise how much somebody’s laughing at some of the things we do, but that’s pretty bad.
Mike: That’s good. Thanks for that. I needed that chuckle. I hope everyone else benefitted from that too. But, yeah, thanks for joining us today, Rich. It’s been a pleasure having you on and thanks for taking all the time to give us some tips.
Rich: Yeah, sure, Mike. I appreciate the opportunity. I hope everybody gets something out of this. If even one or two things you can go in and clean up in your local computer, it may just save you from having a poor experience.
Mike: Absolutely. Before you go, can you tell us a little bit about Matrix and what you guys are doing and what kind of products you guys sell, and what you’re excited about today that’s going on in your company?
Rich: Yeah, absolutely. Matrix is a cloud services company. We’ve been in business for the past eighteen years and really doing the same type of services. Some have evolved and things like that, but it’s basically what today is called “cloud.” It’s the new industry term for, kind of, something that we’ve been doing for nearly two decades.
Our product set is based around what we call IT as a Service. Everything related to the data center plus a little bit. What I mean by that is, specifically, hosted desktops, hosted infrastructure solutions, hosted LAN/WAN, hosted WiFi, kind of, IT as a service thing, so backups, cloud-based backups, cloud-based DR solutions.
Then, two things that are fairly unique to us is the Help Desk as a Service module. So, anything level one, we’ll actually take calls for anything in your local environment. We’ve vet out this process during the project management phase. We build process and scripting around “What do we do if?” If it’s something that we can take care of right away like reset a password, or help clear up a virus, or get them connected back to their WiFi, whatever the case may be, we’d do it. If they’re having issues with, maybe, their phone system or an ERP application that we don’t necessarily support, we’ll engage the vendor for that particular product or solution in a system with getting that resolved.
Rich: That’s something that’s relatively unique to us. Then, the real unique piece is the mobility support solution that we have.
About six years ago, we partnered with a company that does TEM contract management, cellular contract management, and that sort of thing. They needed a support division and they knew Neely. They came to Neely and, so, Neely said “Yeah, we can put together a helpdesk for that.”
We hire on folks that are all ex-Verizon call center employees of varying degrees. They know how mobility works, they know how to provision it, and they know how to give customer service in that space. We’ve got 150,000 devices that are under management with us today, so everything from provisioning, to kitting, to helpdesk services, all the way through mobile device management with MDM software and that sort of thing.
Mike: That’s fantastic. That’s great. If you don’t mind, I’d like to chime in on you guys too. I think one thing that’s unique about you guys is, really, your white glove approach to customer service. I think that’s something that… In the cloud environment these days, there are a lot of cloud companies popping up here and there. Obviously, you guys have got eighteen years of experience in the cloud, which I don’t think very many companies can claim.
In addition to that, one thing I’ve really learned about you guys is that you may not be the least expensive, but you’re competitive, and you really, really hang your hat on that white glove customer service. So, as opposed to some companies who will just, kind of, throw it together and you got to really troubleshoot it and figure out what’s going on, you guys really take pride in saying, hey, if you want to put something into a cloud environment, and you want help making sure it works all the time, and make sure that you got a support system around it, you’re the company to go to for that.
I think that just makes a lot of sense. We’re all too busy to be trying to figure things out on our own. We should be using white glove customer service-oriented company more often. So, I think that’s something that really stands out, to me, about you guys for sure.
Rich: Yeah. I appreciate you saying that, Mike. Absolutely. Since the day I walked in the door here, our President and Founder Neely Loring, I’ve heard him say so many times that, “Let’s remember, everybody, we are a customer service company that just happens to be really good at IT.” That’s, kind of, our mantra in the way we live life around here in the office. We’re providing customer service, it just happens to be in IT and not, you know, in the restaurant industry or something like that. So, absolutely, I agree with you. It sounds a little bit pithy, Mike, but we really do live that mantra in here.
Mike: Yeah. I definitely wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true. I think everybody claims they have good customer service, but, you know, hanging your hat on white glove customer service is a different story. I think that when it comes to deploying things in the cloud, it’s a little new to all of us. Not just a few of us, but all of us.
I don’t care what level you are in IT, deploying something in the cloud is going to have some aspects to it that you’re not familiar with. In that moment, you need some help. So, I think that really goes a long way. Unfortunately, for some people, they don’t realize that until they are during the thick of an issue, but for you guys, I think it’s fantastic and it’s definitely something to talk about when it comes to Matrix. That was something I wanted to make sure we mention.
Rich: Oh, good. Thanks, Mike.
Mike: No, problem. Alright. Well, that’s it. Like I said, have a great day today. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, Rich.
Rich: Yup. Thank you, Mike. I appreciate the opportunity. Will talk to you soon.
Mike: Alright. Take care.
Geez, those were a lot of great tips from Rich. I know that you guys could hear from the interview. I definitely learned a lot. I know some of that stuff you guys probably already know, but I definitely think it was also probably some great reminders for those of you. I hope you got a little bit better today, which was the goal.
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Alright, well, thanks IT Nation. Thanks for joining us today. I hope you learned a lot and we’ll see you next time.