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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 29th Nov 2011

Packington Estate chooses Discus Systems


Prominent landowner, Packington Estate, engaged Discus Systems to install a high speed Internet link at Park Farm Barns, one of the Estate's managed business complexes. Faced with the choice between a fibre-based leased line and a wireless leased line solution from Discus, the latter was selected on the grounds of substantial savings in both cost and time to install. Discus Systems' Wireless Leased Line provides an uncontended (no sharing of bandwidth) solution.


Malcolm Wiggin of Packington Estate says


'Park Farms Barns were in need of a high-speed link to enable our business tenants to effectively carry out their business. Faced with the choice of an expensive, long lead-time fibre-based leased line, or much less expensive, wireless leased line from Discus Systems, we opted for the latter. One of the benefits of wireless is that there is a minimal impact on the environment during installation - no digging of trenches, unsightly working and disruption to pedestrians or vehicular movements. We are very happy with our choice.'


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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 29th Nov 2011

Nicola Wins Kindle

Damien Biddulph, Discus Systems' Sales Director, is pictured presenting Nicola Edden of CP Bigwood with the Kindle 3G she won in our recent competition.

Happy e-reading, Nicola!


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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 29th Nov 2011

Discus Systems' Wireless Leased Line


Twiddling your thumbs waiting for the Internet? File transfers taking forever? Losing online business because of sluggish communications? You don't need us to tell you your pipeline to the outside world needs beefing up.


But before you contact BT, why not weigh up the advantages of a wireless leased line?

Substantially cheaper than a fibre-based leased line. For example, a 10 Mbps circuit can be installed for just £1000 with a monthly rental that is up to 80% cheaper than a wire-based circuit.
Much simpler to install - days as opposed to weeks.
A wireless circuit is uncontended - the full bandwidth is available to you exclusively.
No disruption to the physical environment. Do your bit for the planet!
For further information email u2us@discus.co.uk or for an informal discussion contact Terry or Martyn on 0800 880 3360

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 29th Nov 2011

Dropbox - simplify your life


Dropbox is a handy tool for saving and accessing your important documents across multiple devices. The cloud-based service saves your work to an easy-to-access folder available on any computer as well as the Dropbox website. Dropbox protects digital files from crashed hard drives, frozen computers, and misplaced flash drives. It synchronises documents, photos, and videos across multiple systems, moving them from laptop to smartphone to iPad without so much as a single wire or USB cord.

Any file you save to Dropbox also instantly saves to your computers, phones, and the Dropbox website itself.

Your files are always available from the secure Dropbox website.
Dropbox works with Windows, Mac, Linux, iPad, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry.
Works even when offline. You always have your files, whether or not you have a connection.
Dropbox transfers just the parts of a file that change (not the whole thing).
Manually set bandwidth limits -- Dropbox won't hog your connection.
Dropbox keeps a one-month history of your work.
Any changes can be undone, and files can be undeleted.
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and AES-256 bit encryption.
Dropbox is available for free (though users can only store 2GB of data) or for a monthly fee for users that want access to over 50GB of storage.

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 29th Nov 2011

Fowlers of Earlswood at Chees-y Event


The Westley Hotel in Acocks Green has held a cheese and wine event for local businesses to celebrate the completion of an £800,000 refurbishment scheme. Guests were able to sample handcrafted cheeses supplied by Discus Systems' customer, Fowlers of Earlswood, the oldest cheese making family business in England. And the company's David Fowler was on hand to give insight into the care, skills and traditions that have been passed on in the business from 1670 right up to today's 14th generation.

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 29th Nov 2011

An IT expert from Wigan has used his skills to recover a colleague's laptop that was stolen in Tenerife.

Mike Birtwistle's computer was taken when his apartment was broken into on a family holiday on the Canary island.

When he returned to England, workmate Dave Duffy learned about the theft and set about trying to access the machine.

Mr Duffy managed to use the laptop's webcam and the resulting pictures allowed police to recover the computer.

Mr Birtwistle, from Chorley, said the loss of the laptop had left him "absolutely gutted".

"We thought that the chance of it turning up again was nil," he said.

But, by using remote access software, Mr Duffy was able to access the computer while it was being used in Tenerife.

He said that while he was trying to take control of the machine, he was "fully expecting the connection to die or the computer to be disconnected".

Once he was in charge of the computer, Mr Duffy used its webcam to take pictures of a man who had it in his possession before he noticed that it had been turned on.

The photos were then emailed to Mr Birtwistle's neighbour in Tenerife and he took them to the police, who recognised the man pictured.

Officers arrested a man and recovered the laptop, which has been sent back to Mr Birtwistle.

Source: BBC 

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 28th Nov 2011

Wireless Leased Line with Discus Systems plc




Discus Systems in partnership with Metronet recognise the significant advantages of using wireless technology to provide high speed data links between customer sites and the internet. This technology will increase in coverage as more Points of Presence are rolled out across the UK and will eventually provide high speed data links to all areas of the UK.

How does it work?

Metronet wireless connections are serviced by high-rise Point of Presence (PoP) sites that ensure maximum coverage for the urban areas in which the network operates. Connectivity is always reliant upon line of sight from your building to one of these POPs and where required, Metronet will confirm the feasibility of providing a service by performing a survey free of charge.

How does the Installation Process work?

Metronet can install the connection within 5-10 days subject to landlord approval and line of sight confirmation. On receipt of order, Metronet’s installation team will approach the agreed contact to arrange for the installation to take place. A small radio (approx. 30mm x 30mm) will be installed on the exterior of the building and the location of the equipment on the roof will be agreed with the building owner or landlord in advance. From this, the appropriate feeder cable(s) will be run to the IT or Server room, or other location as required within the building. Here, it is presented using an Ethernet RJ45 interface unless otherwise specified.

Is it secure?

A Metronet wireless IP connection is arguably more secure than a fibre/Cat5 connection. Metronet employs proprietary frequency hopping algorithms that are vendor specific and unique to radio pairs. The algorithms (specifically designed to optimise radio performance in the face of third party interference) appear completely random to any equipment that does not officially form part of the network. Even a sophisticated radio engineer equipped with expensive spectrum analyser systems could do no more than establish that spectrum was being employed: it would not be possible to interpret data.
Add to this AES encryption between your premises and Metronet’s POP site and the security case is made.

Who else does Metronet work with?

Metronet supplies bespoke solutions for over 500 customers across the North West, West Midlands, West Yorkshire and Dublin.
Customers include Public Sector organisations such as Greater Manchester Police and West Midlands Police, 6 of the 10 Councils in Greater Manchester and Birmingham City Council; schools such as William Hulme’s Grammar School and a number of housing trusts such as Mosscare, Trafford Housing Trust, Touchstone, Parkway Green and Great Places. In the private sector, Metronet provides connectivity for well known companies such as Manchester City FC, Headingley Stadium (Leeds County Cricket Club), Peel Holdings, the Trafford Centre, Leeds Chamber of Commerce and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society.

What About Support?

Metronet prides itself on exceptional customer service and considers this to be a key reason behind the Company’s success. Every connection is supported by a service level agreement (SLA) that other operators can only dream about! All customers have access to support 24/7/365 and you can literally talk to a member of Metronet’s team at any time of the day or night.
No technology solution is perfect. However, where a Metronet customer experiences a problem, we do whatever it takes to resolve it within 4 hours. Metronet believes in proactive network management and should there be cause for concern, an engineer will contact you to establish any on-site issues, such as power failure. Owning its network from end-to-end means that Metronet doesn’t pass the buck. Furthermore, all the Company’s engineers are based locally and can be onsite to resolve an issue very quickly indeed. Metronet keeps stock of all the equipment it uses and engineers are empowered and equipped to resolve any issue in the shortest possible time.

What service levels or guarantees can you offer me?

However capable and well intentioned a traditional service provider might be, it is only able to address issues that occur on its own network.
With the vast majority of service providers, more than 99% of services are dependent upon circuits that are leased from BT. As a result, where issues arise your so-called independent provider is often powerless to expedite a speedy resolution without the co-operation and support of BT.

Metronet has its own metropolitan area network and does not depend on any other provider for the local loop. The company’s service operates throughout the entirety of Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham and Dublin with its support staff available 24x7x365.
Metronet owns its network and the company has full access to its POP sites 24 hours a day, 365 days a year without any dependence upon third party companies.

With this level of control and protection from third party interference, the Metronet network offers unprecedented levels of reliability. Should a fault occur, Metronet’s engineers are will respond to your request within 45 minutes.

Metronet’s proactive network management approach means that it confidently offers a more robust service guarantee than any other network operator. You will receive:

• 99.95% Service Level Agreement (SLA) for network uptime; and
• 4-hour commitment to fix!

This commitment makes Metronet different to every other provider out there.

What does it cost?





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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 28th Nov 2011

25 Worst Passwords of 2011.

In spite of a constant drumbeat of news about hacking and cracking computer accounts, users still are employing extremely common and obvious phrases as passwords. A compilation of the most commonly used — and potentially most insecure — passwords seen over the past year was recently drawn up by Splashdata and reported in Mashable. Splashdata found that incredibly enough, the leading password in use today is the word “password.” Interestingly, number 4 on the list, the keyboard lineup of “qwerty,” is counterbalanced by item number 23, “qazwsx,” which is the first three rows of keys typed vertically.

The list closely parallels that developed close to two years ago by Imperva, showing that these terms never go out of vogue.

Here is this year’s list:

1. password
2. 123456
4. qwerty
5. abc123
6. monkey
7. 1234567
8. letmein
9. trustno1
10. dragon
11. baseball
12. 111111
13. iloveyou
14. master
15. sunshine
16. ashley
17. bailey
18. passw0rd
19. shadow
20. 123123
21. 654321
22. superman
23. qazwsx
24. michael
25. football

SmartPlanet colleague Tuan C. Nguyen provides a surprisingly simple technique for deriving a strong password that makes it difficult for hacking programs to arrive at the right brute force combination — employing a symbol in combination with an upper-case and lower-case letter.

Not everyone thinks that strong passwords are the answer, however. In another study on passwords, a Microsoft researcher conducted a cost/benefit analysis of efforts to encourage stronger passwords, and questions whether the costs of strong password management outweighs the benefits.

Source: Smart PLanets Worst Passwords of 2011

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 23rd Nov 2011

As many people will remember, a while back ICO caused a bit of a stir by announcing an…interesting…new law all about cookies.

In short, the law says this:

“The rules previously required websites to tell you about cookies they used and give you information about how to ‘opt out’. Most organisations did this by putting information in their privacy policy. The new rules require in most cases that websites wanting to use cookies get consent”

Even shorter: whereas you used to have to give the option to opt out of cookies, now you have to ask people to opt in.

The first question is how this affects behaviour. The best place to ask this question (thanks for the heads-up, Matt!) is the ICO site itself, which is one of the – presumably very few – organisations actually enforcing the law right now. The first thing you notice on their site is a horrible great banner slapped across the top, advising you to opt-in. Amusingly, it turns out they do actually place a cookie without asking your consent, because it is “essential for parts of the site to operate”. (Note this for later, folks, it may be your get-out clause…).

This is all pretty horrible visually but as ever those designer types will find a way. What is more disturbing is the effect this’ll have on the functionality underlying your site. A huge number of web sites and apps these days rely on the setting of cookies, often to retain state between visits. If you log into a site, go away for a bit and come back again to find you’re still logged in – that’s almost definitely a cookie at work.

This is all fine though, right, cos any visitor seeing that banner is just going to click the link for “a better web experience”? Um, no. Not in the slightest. Here’s ICO’s visitor figures, taken from a RFI.

I’ll leave you to work out when the cookie header was implemented:

(Note that this doesn’t mean that ICO lost ~90% of their traffic. It does mean that 90% of people didn’t check the box. If you’re web-savvy you’ll notice that viewing the ICO HTML source shows no sign of a Google Analytics tag when you first go to the site. Then if you check the box and consent, the GA code appears. The missing 90% is simply not being measured, rather than not being there…)

For those who missed the history, there was a panicked moment as ICO tried to enforce this law and then almost immediately decided that they were going to give businesses a year to comply. Just recently the conversation came up again on a forum I follow and in response I threw out a tweet to ask what my web developer friends were doing about it. Mostly the answers went all a bit ostrichey: heads buried, hands over ears and “we’re relying on the fact that something this ridiculous won’t happen”, or “that old law? That got buried, right?”. Well, no. ICO claims that from May 2012, organisations have to comply.

On the surface, this is clearly ridiculous. Not only do you – as MD of ecommerce site, or web developer, or web agency, or… – have to go back to all your sites and ensure that you have the opt-in available, but you also have to re-write any functionality which relies on cookies. If you don’t, you’re going to lose that 90% too, ‘cos people aren’t going to click your checkbox, either.

One of the worries which has been aired particularly amongst my museum / not for profit / government / public body web friends is that this will lead to a two-tier scenario. Commercial organisations clearly won’t take a 90% hit, or even spend the time retrofitting their technology to make it work in a cookie-less world – but those in these public bodies will be forced to comply.

The other bit that concerns many people greatly is that web analytics – which has undergone a rather lovely evolution since Google Analytics arrived on the scene – is going to be thrown back a good 5-10 years by this move. I remember spending entire days crunching log files back in the early 2000′s, and it’s not a world I want to return to. There are some solutions out there, but they’re not established in the way that GA is.

So far there seem to be few answers, and lots – and lots – of questions….

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 23rd Nov 2011

Mobile computing devices are becoming more and more common, both for personal and business use. Although such a device can carry a lot of data itself, perhaps their main strength lies in remote networking; a worker away from the office can still access their e-mails and information stored in the company’s servers. This report will examine the problems this mobility comes with.

Networking and Security

Remote devices do not integrate well into traditional computer networks, where usually all computers inside the firewall are considered part of the network and those beyond are not. A mobile device will need to connect to the network servers from outside the firewall, which requires sending company data out into the internet and usually over an unsecured connection. Obviously this poses security concerns when a device is lost or stolen and so measures should be taken to ensure the company’s data is secure. These measures should include immediately informing the company when a loss occurs, the ability to remotely lock and wipe the devices and restricting what they can access in the first place alongside traditional techniques such as passwords. These data protection protocols must be understood by the employees using such devices.

Mobile devices are very suitable to be used in a virtualised environment. When virtualised data is accessed it is not downloaded onto the device, and when combined with the ability to block access to the device provides data security to a company. Data accessed over public networks may also benefit from encryption.


The biggest issue for mobile devices is with device management for smartphones, due to the fact that there are a relatively large number of different operating systems. This will affect what management products can be used, and is further complicated by employees wishing to use their own smartphones instead of company supplied devices.

Laptops and tablets can be managed by the same products as desktop computers and servers, but although many of these will support a range of smartphone operating systems if a company purchases incompatible smartphones they will have to purchase management software specifically for the smartphones. Although a company can mitigate this problem by being careful as to which smartphones they use, if an employee already has a device they wish to connect to the network it may not be supportable. Further problems can arise because some types of device may not be compatible with certain systems currently in use with the company, such as e-mail.

In addition to the above, some smartphone applications are designed for particular operating systems, so if someone considers a particular application essential to their business their choice of device may be limited. In addition individual employees wishing to use their own device will not be able to if it runs on a different OS. Some applications for smartphones and tablet PCs can cause problems with the device so it is advisable that employees not be allowed to download applications until they have been tested.

Some companies have found it cheaper and easier to use Linux and/or Apple operating systems on all mobile and non-mobile devices rather than using Windows for their workstations and servers.

Mobile devices often perform a large number of tasks with several different features running at the same time. This combined with the limitations of batteries leads many such devices (particularly tablets) to have a short battery life. This can be improved by making sure only in-use applications and features are active as well as keeping the screen as dim as practical. Having the device go into a low power mode when not in use will also improve battery life.

A similar problem can occur when attempting to charge the device. Many can be charged through USB connections to a laptop (in the case of smartphones) or desktop computer. However, older machines may not provide the power required through their USB sockets causing the attached device to charge slowly or not at all. This can either be solved by turning the device off to charge or (preferably) plugging the device into the mains.

Although mobile computing devices are highly useful for people who spend a lot of time out of the office, this comes with decreased security of data. The possibility of employees wishing to use their own devices on the company network can raise compatibility issues with applications and management software. Anyone considering investing in this technology will have to consider the balance between these factors to determine if they will benefit.

Graham Keen

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