Saturday, April 05, 2014

Exchange 2003 End-of-Life? Fix it today.

Two business days until Exchange 2003 goes end-of-life.  Two more days until you need to need to be upgrade.  Whether you work for an MSP, or you've been trying to get your boss to move off of Exchange 2003 or the past decade, you're quickly running out of time.  That being said... I get it... if you haven't upgraded yet, it's unlikely that you're going to next week.  But sooner or later, you're going to wish you had.  And when you do, would't it be nice if you had a goto plan that's already been put through it's paces?  A plan that's already been used in real customer environments... everything from SBS 2003 to the Enterprise.  Wouldn't it be nice if you could just execute the plan?  Without buying an Exchange book, learning everything about an application that you don't even like... and wouldn't it be nice if you knew it was going to just work.  Well, this is the kit you've been looking for.

I just moved my final SBS 2003 client off of Exchange 2003 last week.  Yes, that's right.  After years of recommending, suggesting, and imploring... they bought it.  And using the kit I did it with a minimum of pre-planning, one scheduled reboot of the SBS 2003 server, and a bulk mail move of all of their accounts - I was finished by 4:00pm on Friday.  No late nights, no angry clients, and no annoying ActiveSync problems.  On top of that, I sold it as a fixed-cost, basing the project on a 40 hour gig, and it took two days total effort.  How's that for a fixed cost no-brainier?

Buy the Exchange end-of-life kit today for $73 and with 1-2 days of total effort, you can do what normally would take a week.  How's that for a good fixed cost margin?  On top of that, it's no stress, no lost weekends, and most importantly - a happy client.  Our kit works, because we've been using it, and continuously improving for years.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Will 2014 be the beginning of the end for "big storage"?

As another year turns, a new storage crisis looms on the horizon.  What did you budget for this year? Is your SAN running low on storage capacity, or is is it a performance problem this time around?  Or perhaps this is one of those rare years when you're just on the hook to re-up the contract that your vendor has you chained to.  However you look at it, if you're thinking about storage, you're probably planning to spend a heck of a lot more than you want to.  But what if you could cut your storage costs by 50%, while at the same time getting a scale-out, continuously available storage platform with auto-tiering?   And oh, by the way, wouldn't you like to implement something that was proven first in the Cloud and actually is bullet proof, but at the same time is something that you can implement on-premises with your existing skill-sets and resources?  Wouldn't it feel good to burn that service contract with your storage vendor? ... and know that you're actually making the best decision for your business.

It seems that 2014 is shaping up to be the year where big storage is finally disrupted.  Between technologies designed for huge data sets... like Amplidata’s Bitspread technology, and Microsoft's LRC erasure encoding, classic RAID technologies and many big storage vendor paradigms are ripe for disruption.  More than that, products like Microsoft Storage Spaces -  a feature of Windows Server 2012 R2 - were developed while building Azure, and the bits packaged in a way the real mid-sized Enterprises can use to cut their ties to with their existing storage vendors, and eliminate the "storage tax" through the use of off-the-shelf hardware and user-defined redundancy policies.

If you're interested in learning more, check out this article over on StackAccel and see if it can point you in a new direction.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Looking to replace your PBX?

Go check out this article on Choosing the right phone system for your business, over on if you're in the market for a new PBX.  The cost model today seems to be that if you're larger than a handful fo folks, a Cloud/hosted phone system is still pricey given the number of small/mid-sized phone system options available... from Allworx, to the plethora of Asterisk-based solutions.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

AT&T SIMs are back on StraightTalk

For those of you who were disappointed by the lack of AT&T SIMs on StraightTalk, or who were were buying old AT&T SIMs from Amazon for $70 each... it appears that the AT&T StraightTalk SIMs are back.  Also, in case this happens again...  a call StraightTalk and escalating to a manager could also get your T-Mobile SIMs converted to work on AT&T.

Monday, August 05, 2013

The missing StraightTalk manual... released!

Are you considering switching to StraightTalk to save money on your cell phone plan... but just aren't quite sure what the whole story is? Are you worried about losing your phone number, or about the not quite unlimited data plan?  Maybe you're just trying to figure out which MVNO is the best fit for you.

And at the end of the day, can you really save about $1,000 a year by switching to an MVNO, like StraightTalk?  

You absolutely can. I know, because I switched 8 months ago and haven't looked back.

That's why I'm releasing The Unofficial Straight Talk Guide, for $10.99 via

The Unofficial Straight Talk Guide is the missing manual for switching to an MVNO, like Straight Talk.  As of today it's about 38 pages and 10,900 words long.  I say, as of today because lets you update after you publish, meaning you'll see future updates for free (which makes Leanpub pretty cool).  At 38 pages, it's just long enough to tell you everything you need to know... to explain precisely what you need to do, and the order to do it  in,  so that you don't have to worry about making a mistake.  But short enough to not be irritating.

Plus, there's a 45-day 100% Happiness Guarantee.  You'll get the guide in pretty much every format... Kindle, PDF, and iPad  (MOBI, PDF, and EPUB), which means that you can pretty much read it on any eBook reader in existence.   Also, for a very limited time you can get The Unofficial Straight Talk Guide for  $2.99 by using the coupon code st-100 when you go to order.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My favorite niche Andriod apps

Did you take my advice and pick-up a Nexus 4 for yourself, or for someone who might not be a phone geek?  So if you've spent any time with the phone, you're already using the mainstream apps (e.g. the Pandora, Dropbox, Skype, OpenTable, GasBuddy, etc.).  But what about the niche?  The ones that you didn't think to think about?  Well, here are a few of my less mainstream favorites...

  • Tape-a-Talk - great little tool for taking voice notes (like for a class, or if you want to record long rambling thoughts for later dictation).  If you even begin to build up a back-log of voice notes, you'll find the paid for version is critical to keeping your thoughts organized.
  • Power Note - if you use Diigo for social/cloud/portable bookmarking needs, Power Note comes in quite handy for interacting with your library while mobile.  
  • Handy Scanner - Scan things like receipts, and send them to DropBox.  
  • AirDriod - Enables you to wirelessly manage your phone from your computer.  If your phone and computer are on the same network (or with the latest release, even if they're not) you can connect via a web browser on your computer to get a desktop-like experience for navigating your phone (copy files, send texts, etc.).  I mostly use it to transfer files when I don't have a USB cable handy. 
  • Compound Interest Calculator Basic - because who doesn't like to be able to calculate the opportunity cost of small financial decisions from their phone?
  • Wallpaper Changer - such a cool little app for rotating through pictures as wallpaper... here's a link directly to the developer.

Obviously, the you can search your way through the vast Google Play store to find useful things.  But these are some of my favorites.  If you have an amazing niche app to share, or something better than the above let me know about it.

Friday, March 08, 2013

StraightTalk Overview

Imagine that your service provider just offered to cut your annual bill by about $1,000, while still giving you (mostly) unlimited data, and then throwing in unlimited text and talk just for good measure? Too good to be true? Not if you have a Nexus 4 and move from a contract, to pre-paid on Straight Talk.
How do I save $1,000 per year?
For the uninitiated, Straight Talk is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). An MVNO buys capacity on someone else's network (e.g. AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.). They negotiate wholesale rates, and then they chop up that capacity and resell it to consumers. In other word's they're a middle man... they don't own a network, or towers... they don't build infrastructure. They just repackage the capacity, and pass cost savings on to end-users. And yes... believe it or not, it's actually a thing.
And this saves me money?
You've probably seen the ads for pre-paid wireless... be it Straight Talk, or Virgin Mobile, or one of dozens of different MVNOs that offer $45-$50 per month for unlimited everything... that can't possibly be true, right? There's got to be some catch... because who in their right mind would pay double that for their AT&T contract? Well, by the numbers the vast majority do. In fact, despite trailing Verizon by 20 million wireless subscribers in Q1, 2013... AT&T is expected to add another 475,000 new customers this quarter! What's that worth? Well, it's worth more than $38 million per month in new revenue to them! Why? simply because most people won't consider a pre-paid option, like Straight Talk. (And now you also know how Verizon and AT&T can afford to pay such high dividends to their stockholders).
Yes, but is it really unlimited everything?
Good question - and there are some caveat's if you read Straight Talk's terms and conditions. The one that has the potential to impact most folks is the "unlimited" web-browsing... which is in fact, different from unlimited data. "So what's the distinction?" Well, you can check the link for the details but the short of it is that you shouldn't stream video (much), and you should pay attention to your data usage. At the risk of oversimplifying... unlimited web-browsing translates into "don't abuse your data plan"... which if you're looking for a real-world guideline actually means... keep it to 2GB per month, or not much more than 100mb on any given day. So the next question many folks ask, is "Is that alot", or"What's typical?". Most customers on either AT&T or T-Mobile don't reach a 2GB per month. And only 4% of AT&T customers use more than 3GB. The story might be a little dated, so I also conduced an unscientific survey of folks working in a technology company... all had Smart Phones, and all were in the age range of 28- 40 years of age. Guess what they used? The average range was between 700MB - 1.2GB per month.
What does this have to do with an unlocked Android phone (like, say... a Nexus 4)?
Google's Nexus 4 is a carrier unlocked GSM phone. You probably already know that. And if you don't, Brian over at Anandtech does a good job of explaining why it's a great phone. Of particular note is the zerogap LCD display. In case you weren't aware, unlike the Galaxy SIII, the Nexus 4 does not have a Super AMOLED display. Since the Nexus 4 is manufactured by the king of LCD production, LG has managed to squeeze every lost drop of LCD goodness out of the aging technology (while yields are still ramping up on the OLED manufacturing). For those unfamiliar with GSM it means that the phone will work darn near anywhere on earth that has a cell phone carrier, and all you need to do is grab a prepaid SIM card on a local carrier's network. Prepaid SIM cards are common just about everywhere in the world, expect for the US (though via MVNO's, they're becoming more common). So in the United States, why does this matter.. For starters, it's now illegal to unlock a locked phone without the carrier's permission. Crazy, right? AT&T and T-Mobile are the two major GSM-based networks in the United States. So, with a Nexus 4 -available at the Google Play store you can buy a $300 phone without a carrier subsidy, a phone nearly identical to the unlocked $750 (retail) LG Optimus G. Why the difference? Long story short... the Nexus 4 doesn't have 4G LTE coverage capability anymore ;)... it's limited to 3G (but can do HSPA+). There are rumors that Google is selling the phone at cost, or perhaps at a loss, but it may just be that the margins are higher on phones than what some folks thought. Whatever the case, it's a great phone for only $100 more than what would be the typical carrier subsidy.
What does YOUR contract cost?
I hate spending money on things that I don't need, especially things with a monthly recurring cost. Going back and looking at my cell phone bill from 2001 (because, yes... I do keep cell phone bills from a decade ago - doesn't everyone?), I was amazed... my bill was about $45 a month through Sprint. Given inflation, it must have gone up... so factoring 3% annual inflation, my bill should on the order of $61 a month. But no, my bill was about $90 per month, and when I add a second line, data, text ... I was paying $167 a month ... so about $2,000 a year for my mobile communication "needs". Now, I don't know where you live, or what you do for a living but $2k a year for a couple of cell phones is kind of a lot, right? 20 years ago the things barley existed, and in the intervening decades I've stacked up monthly-recurring cost upon cost... cable, ISPs, cell phones, text messaging, Netflix, and maybe even a plain-old phone line... when you add it all up, you're looking at the cost of a BMW 3-Series lease ($310 per month) spent solely on communication needs! So could I actually have been consuming a luxury German sports sedan worth of communication needs every month? Probably not. But make no mistake... I was certainly paying for it.
So what's the plan?
As you may have figured out by now, my plan was to buy a pair of Nexus 4 phones, and then port my numbers from AT&T to Straight Talk. My goal was to save on the order of $1,000 per year by doing so. With both of those steps having been completed, and a month or two having passed, I've started to get a sense of what it's like being on a pre-paid plan.
So how does Straight Talk work, and how's the coverage?
Remember how I said Straight Talk is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), that resells the big carrier's infrastructure? Well, that means that the coverage is just about the same on whichever parent network that you use. What I mean by that is this... if you have a Nexus 4 already, then you have an unlocked GSM phone already. And that means you just need to pick-up a Straight Talk SIM card... either an AT&T Compatible SIM Card, or a T-Mobile Compatible SIM card - either will work in your Nexus 4. For me, I know I have good AT&T coverage - because I was an AT&T customer for more than 5 years. When I went over to Straight Talk, I chose an AT&T Compatible Card. In other words, my Straight Talk coverage is the same coverage I'd get on AT&T. So when I'm on the road, I have the same great coverage in most places (and the exact same dead spots as I did before). Oh, and if you've researched this in the past, you might have read that there's no roaming. Which is true, and might be problematic if you were using a CDMA phone on Straight Talk. But you're not... you're using the Nexus 4, and you're using either AT&T or T-Mobile... and in the case of the former, the network is massive. So unless you're out of the country you really don't need to worry about roaming if AT&T has descent coverage where you live and work.
This sounds complicated.
You know what, I thought the exact same thing before I switched. In fact, I started looking into pre-paid options in 2010 before re-upping with AT&T. Do you want to know why I didn't switch to a pre-paid plan then? I thought it was too complicated... and simply not worth my time for what I thought would be a meager savings. It's not that there weren't enough cell phone network options, or that I couldn't afford an unsubsidized new phone. I just thought it wasn't worth the irritation. The reality? I'm saving at least $829 per year on Straight Talk over my prior AT&T plan, and I use my phone more than I used to.
Okay fine - maybe it's not too complicated, but isn't it only for phone geeks?
No... in fact, it's probably better for you if you're not a phone geek. Why is that? Because many phone geeks spend way too much time on their phones, and as a result they tend to use way too much data. Remember how I talked about the limits up in the above sections? Well, there are penalties for being irresponsible with your data usage, but as I mentioned... the vast majority of folks don't use even 2GB of data per month. If you don't know how much data you're using, and have a Nexus 4... click Settings>Data Usage... and check your data usage and the break-down by application. Go back a few months as well... more than 2GB per month? Probably not. If you're on AT&T or T-Mobile, you can also check the web-site and see what you've been using.
Where are the correct APN settings?
Straight Talk keeps the APN settings here. But here's a quick-reference:
Name: Straight Talk, APN: att.mvno, Proxy: Not Set, Port: 80, Username: Not set, Password: Not set, Server: Not Set, MMSC:, MMS Proxy:, MMS port: 80, MCC: 310, MNC: 410, Authentication Type: Not Set, APN Protocol: IPv4, APN roaming protocol: IPv4, Bearer: Unspecified).
What's the verdit?
I'm a couple months into the switch to Straight Talk on my Nexus 4, and am on track to save over $829 this year. It's not painful, and it's not a scam. Knowing the above helps... and knowing even more can help save you time and hassle. If you're still worried about your data usage, coverage, or are just looking for a quick-start read-

Interested in learning more?  Sign-up today to be notified when my Straight Talk mini-guide is released... when you do, and I'll also send a free copy of the finished eBook to the the first 5% that sign-up to be notified.

What's to loose?  Sign-up today. 

(I'll never send spam, and you can unsubscribe at anytime!)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

How to save $1,000 a year on your cell phone plan (without really trying)

Are you considering switching to Straight Talk, but not quite sure what the whole story is? Maybe you're worried that about coverage, or about losing your phone number. Or maybe you're concerned about the data plan, or the type of phone you'll end up with. And at the end of the day, it's the bottom line that counts... can you really save you $1,000 per year, and accomplish that with zero frustration?
These are all valid concerns, and the same ones I had (and more). But what if you could switch to Straight Talk today... and know your service will be exactly the same as it was on your old carrier? Imagine that you had the phone that you wanted (e.g. iPhone, Nexus 4, Galaxy S4, etc.), with truly unlimited talk, and text, and almost unlimited data... and knew exactly what do without ever having to worry about it again? If your reading this, then you're probably the type of person who needs the whole story on Straight Talk before you're willing to take the leap, and risk the time, frustration, and hassle of number ports and new providers. If that's you, then this guide is the missing Straight Talk manual. Since I've been through already, and already know the full story, I'll explain everything that you need to know in order to make the change to Straight Talk today, save yourself about $1,000 a year, and do it with zero worry. On top fo that, since I've published this through - it comes with a built-in 45-day money back guarantee. Not only am I confident that this guide is the missing Straight Talk manual, and that it will deliver on the order of $1,000 of value this year - but if you're unhappy you'll get a full refund by
This guide tells you everything you need to get started, without worry, and without becoming a phone geek (unless you really want to). We'll get you moved over to Straight Talk now... keeping your same number, with essentially unlimited everything, and a 45 day money back guarantee on the guide if you're unhappy.
At the cost of the guide ($10), the savings on your phone bill will pay for itself in less than a week.
The guide is 34 pages and more than 13,000 words in length. It includes everything you need to know before, during, and after the switch from your carrier to ensure you have great service, keep your number, and prevent your phone from being throttled or locked due to data usage.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nexus 4 + Straight Talk: Part 4 - Data Usage

What if you never had to worry about going over your celluar data plan again?  What if you could use your phone for web browsing, email, navigation, and occassional tethering without fear of going over some arbitrary limit?  Does that sound too good to be true?  Could Straight Talk possibly offer all of that and still cost half what you're paying with a major carrier?  Alas, that is just a bit too good to be true... but only a bit.  Here are the highlights - if you want more information, just ask.

There is just a ton of information out there about Straight Talk data usage, the supposed risks of using  Straight Talk, and the rumors of discconects and other frustrations.  Some of it's true, but take it with a grain of salt.  While I only have a couple of data points at this point based on my own usage, I've throughoughly investigated this matter and here's what I've learned...

First of all, Straight Talk's Terms of Service (TOS) basically state that you have unlimited web browsing capabilities.  Not unlimited streaming, or unlimited file transfers... just unlimited web browsing.  How do they tell the difference between web browsing or streaming?  They don't.  And from everything I can tell, the tools that they have to measure this are fairly rudimentary - they can only determine excessive bandwidth allocation consumption, or respond to the underlying carrier flagging network abuse and reporting it to Straight Talk.  Straight Talk's job is to prevent the underlying carrier's network from being effected by the MVNO's users, and Straight Talk's duty is to protect their relationship with that underlying carrier.  

Ok, so what's my limit?

There is no arbitrary limit.  I think that's where a lot of the confusion on data usage stems from... it depends on a number of variables, the majority of which are unknown to you as an end-user at any given point in time.  For example, do you know what bandwidth has been allocated by the carrier to the area that you're currently in?  Can you tell how much is currently being utilized by other users?  Can you determine what impact you might be having on their network?  The reality is you can't make most of these determinations with any degree of accuracy.  But you can influence it by being responsible with your data usage.  This is why there is conflicting information... with some users report being able to get 5GB+ per month and of never being throttled, warned, or disconnected... why other's report warnings starting at 2GB.

So what's my limit?

Again, there's not an arbitrary limit.  But here's the deal... unlimited actually used to mean unlimited... until smartphones went from 5% marketshare, to 70% marketshare and data usage exploded.  This was about the same time AT&T started throttling the top 5% of their users in every market.  Today, the unofficial Straight Talk limit is between 2.0GB and 3.0GB per month (down from 5GB a while back).  OR...when you're affecting the underlying carrier's ability to provide quality service to the rest of their customers, and Straight Talk get's a warning from them.  You can count on the fact that AT&T isn't going to risk loosing more post-paid customers (like me, when I was paying $167 per month) to Straight Talk, and then having the Straight Talk users abuse their network.  

Yeah, great... but what's my limit?

I think I answered that a couple of times, but to be on the safe side... your limit is 2.0GB per month, and dont use more than 100MB per day.  Never watch Netflix, or stream excessive video.  A little Pandora?  Check.  Tethering to your computer so you can VPN into the office and RDP into your workstation for a bit?  Check.  If you use your phone as a tool, and avoid streaming media over your data plan - you should be fine.

What happens if I get warned?

If you hit a limit, they'll throttle you way down.  If you made a big enough impact, the first time you're flagged, Straight Talk will call or text a warning to you.  Heed the warning, because the second time you will be deactivated.  Unlike some of the other MVNOs, Straight Talk always warns you the first time.  After that, you will be deactivated.  

How can I avoid being warned?

Be responsible with your data plan usage.  First set a warning level that's reasonable (e.g. 1.5GB), so that you don't accidently go over.  Beyond that...
  • Use WiFi when it's available.  
  • Don't stream video... especially don't stream Netflix, or excessive YouTube.
  • Don't use your phone in place of your computer... file transfers, downloading content, etc... really belongs either on WiFi, or your laptop. 
  • Try not to tether (or if you do, do it responsibly)
How much data are you using?

My last two data points were 1.5GB and 1.9GB.  I haven't been throttled, warned, or deactivated.  Two simple tweaks have also substantially reduced my data usage.

Sign-up to be notified when our Straight Talk Ebook is released!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Nexus 4 + Straight Talk: Part 3 - A month in review

If you've read part 1, and part 2, you already know the potential... start saving $1,000 a year by getting off of a big carrier contract and switching over to a prepaid StraightTalk plan.  So after a couple months, is StraightTalk living up to the hype?  Or have I been cast into scylla or charybdis - marooned on a prepaid plan and having been throttled (or worse) to my doom?  Well, don't let me keep you waiting... hurry-up and read on!

The very first thing I did after initiating service was to enroll in auto-renew.  Auto-enroll is precisely what you'd think it is... it's what makes the pre-paid service seem as though it's a contract... add your credit card information to set it and forget it.  No more worrying that you'll forget to re-up at the end of the month, and no concerns that you'll loose your phone number, etc.  It's worth the 2 minutes it takes in frustration averted.  

My first mistake..

My StraightTalk "kit" came in a giant envelope... which contained a couple of smaller envelopes, one for each contract I had purchased.  Now, I had purchased a plan called the "AT&T Compatible SIM + Unlimited* Plan", which at $59 came with everything I needed for the first month of service.  Importantly, this first month of service includes a small green card for each plan, and on those cards is a scratch-off code. The activation kit doesn't make this need particularly clear... and I had wrongly assumed that it would all just work, as I activated.  But alas, that was not the case.  So after activating service, and paying (again) for the first month, it became obvious that something had gone wrong.  After all, I was up to a couple hundred dollars in expenses at this point for 2 lines.  So that meant a call to StraightTalk Customer service - which was fortunately quite easy to find (1-877-430-2355), both on the web-site and all over the activation kit.  

Customer Service...

So if you've read through the various forums, you probably are under the impression that StraightTalk has terrible customer service.  My experience suggests that that impression is inaccurate.  It might not be AT&T, where I get a US-based agent... but it's not terrible.  Here's why... I contacted customer service because I thought I had been double billed for the first month.  My call was the evening (8:00pm Eastern) and the automated message gave me a wait time of approximately 30 minutes, but offered to hold my spot in the queue and call me back, which I opted for.  About 15 minutes or so later, I received a call from Customer Service.  I explained what had happened (billed twice for the first month), and they... transferred me to someone else, who put me on hold, and then came back after about 15 more minutes.  After working through my explanation for the second time, they were able to determine that I should have received a pair of activation cards, but mentioned that occasionally these are missed in the shipment.  So she gave me a credit for each phone for the next-month, and said I was good to go.  By the time I hung-up, I had spent about 45 minutes, and received text messages noting the credit had been applied on each line.  Which was good.  I later found my activation cards buried at the bottom of the  large envelope.  So it turns out, I didn't need to call customer service, it was my fault that they were missed.  But  my takeaway was that customer service was at least adequate to understand the problem, and was empowered to fix it.  So the lesson for folks - look carefully in that large envelope, and customer service is descent.


Almost everyone that I talk to about StraightTalk asks me some variation of... "how much does it really cost per month?".  I guess they ask this because they're so used to contract carriers and hidden fees which drive up the monthly cost.  For those of you with this same concern, you'll be happy to know that the advertised $45 cost was pretty close... the actual total monthly cost was $48.93 (there's also a $2.50 per month promotion right now, when you sign-up for autorenew... just FYI).  The break down is like this...
  • $45 for unlimited everything
  • $2.93 for taxes
  • $0.23 for E911 services
  • 0.68 Federal Universal Service cost
  • 0.09 regulatory cost recovery
  • Total: $48.93
So how does that compare with my expectation?  Well, my goal was to save about $1,000 per year.  The input number I used was $167 per month for my prior contract (when I reconciled the numbers it was slightly higher, but we'll ignore that for simplicity sake), which means I'm on track to save $829 this year after taxes and fees.

Stay tuned, in a posts I'll cover data usage and coverage.

Click here if you'd like to be notified when our Straight Talk Ebook is released!