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Small Business Profile: Auto Union Tuning

July 23, 2014 at 2:39 pm PST

Hello all,

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Out here in Southern California, in a town called Huntington Beach, is a growing Auto Shop called Auto Union Tuning.

It is a special place where the owners, Dave and Raz specialize in car care, maintenance and tuning of VW, Audi and Porsche automobiles. On any day, you will find a combination of these three car makes on the lifts and in the garages. From quick VAG-com checks to complete engine rebuilds, you name it, this shop can take care of most work.

There is one specific car they specialize in is the Audi B5 S4. This particular model is sought after by Audi enthusiasts for the tuning potential. This S4 was manufactured between 1997 and 2002, which sported a twin-turbocharged 2.7 liter inline 6 cylinder engine. Some key upgrades can make a 10+ year old car beat new Nissan GTR’s, Supercharged BMW M3′s, Supercharged Corvette’s, Vipers, Shelby’s etc. down a quarter mile.

But alas, that is another story.

I first met Raz back when I was in search of someone to work on my own B7 Audi S4 Avant. Thankfully, I met Raz and he worked on my baby until I sold her to a gentleman that flew out from Salt Lake City and bought my Audi S4 site unseen. This largely because of a conversation I recommended my buyer to have with AUT. Yes, AUT did a good job not only maintaining and caring for my then car. But it is the countless other AUT customers who told others about their experience in how AUT handled their customers and their customers cars. Simply, the they did a great job in running a great business. In the few years I have known the owners, I have seen their business being born, move into a small shop, expand into neighboring units, then move into their current facility, which I must say, is impressive.

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The Office

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The Lifts

With all of this growth, Raz and Dave has seen their network needs and requirements evolve. At first, basic network connectivity using a consumer all-in-one router did it’s job obediently for the first few years, but once they moved into the new facility, things had to change. Simply, the networking strategy had to grow up.

Fast Forward to today, there’s now a total of two new mechanics, office employees, three new workstations and a new ticket writing software that needs to be available on multiple workstations. No doubt new employees and more requirements on their network will be coming in the future.

Yes, Raz and Dave have planned for growth. The new waiting room and front office now houses new couches and a TV. New wheel displays are set-up, vendor banners are hung, and the walls are newly painted.There is a bunch of exhaust and performance parts displayed around the room.

But this planning also included a new need for wireless guest access and of course a secure network where Auto Union Tuning Employees can access secure files and applications, such as the new ticket software. With some discussion, and some assistance, Team AUT procured new Cisco Small Business product, including one of Ivor’s 300 Series PoE Managed Switches, and a pair of Nasser’s WAP551 wireless access points. All of the workstations are hard-lined into the 300 Series Switch, and the WAP551′s are set-up and deployed with a guest network and secure internal network and they are now providing blazing performance in the office and garage workspaces. The entire deployment was said to be under 30 minutes. Much of the time savings was due to the WAP551′s Single Point Setup. The team has some cleanup work, cable management, mounting the wireless access points, but most of the heavy lifting work is complete. The AUT Team is happy with the new network and greeting new customers every day.

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Auto Union Tuning’s Owners: Raz and Dave

Auto Union Tuning is but one example of how a small business can literally take off from day one and transform and evolve into a growing, thriving business. With honest, good old fashioned hard work comes success and growth. With this growth comes the necessity for it’s networking infrastructure to be flexible and scalable.

We think you will find that the Cisco Small Business portfolio fits this model rather well.

For more information on our portfolio of networking products -- click on these links: switching, wireless, routing.

Thanks for the read.

Marc

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Is your Business ready for 802.11ac?

June 27, 2014 at 1:13 pm PST

This week we finished our biggest product announcement in recent memory.The various teams worked hard to bring out to our partners and customers products that delivered maximum quality, flexibility and value.

One of the products included was the new Cisco Small Business WAP371 Wireless Access Point. This Access Point is the first 802.11ac model in the portfolio representing a paradigm shift in the way you as a business owner can improve wireless performance for your business. This new model has a dual radio, includes a Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) Power-Over-Ethernet (PoE) LAN port and has the ever-popular Single Point Set-up capability. The WAP371 also features Captive Portal for guests, and like the rest of the wireless portfolio, offers simple set-up and deployment with an intuitive user interface and set-up wizards.

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But this release raises the question regarding exactly why you should think about upgrading your small business wireless network.

Nasser Tarazi, Product Manager for the Cisco Small Business Wireless Access Points, talks about reasons why to take a look at the all-new WAP371.

“Right now is a good time for Small Businesses to consider upgrading their wireless networks from older 802.11 technologies to 802.11ac. First-off, 802.11ac is three times faster than it’s predecessor, 802.11n. The use of Multiple-Antenna, Multiple-in, Multiple-out technology (MIMO) reliably delivers this boost in performance providing for a much better user experience.”

Nasser goes on, “We expect over 70% of mobile devices will be 11ac-enabled by 2016. Like mentioned before, 11ac is three times faster than 11n, so from business-critical to social media applications, improved wireless high-speed performance will ensure your applications will run smoothly, reliably. Also, range is better, even for 11n enabled devices.”

“Security is on every business owner’s mind. 802.11ac is more secure than 11n. And in fact, 11ac is also more power efficient, which can result in a 30% improvement in battery life for your wireless devices such as mobile phones and tablets. Finally, 11ac provides for greatly improved client density, so high-client use cases such as schools, churches, and other organizations will greatly benefit from the upgrade to 11ac.”

Check out our FAQ and the WAP371 product page for more information.

Thanks for your time!

Marc and Nasser

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Small Business Team Update: Friday the 13th

June 13, 2014 at 9:41 am PST

It is Friday the 13th and we have a full moon, perfect time to provide a quick update from the Cisco SMB Team.

First off, we have posted a Teaser Announcement providing a quick view of some new products that are coming out later this month. The entire Cisco SMB Team has been working hard on this new launch so look for more information that will be coming out.

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220 Smart Plus Series

The Switching Team currently has a cisco.com for the new 220 Smart Plus Series.

Ivor Diedricks posted a new Blog earlier this month called Understanding the different types of Ethernet Switches. He explains the differences between fixed and modular switches, and goes into the details of what makes an Unmanaged, Smart and Fully Managed models. It is a good read, if you haven’t already, please take a look.

Finally, I have a new RV325 emulator on our Cisco Emulator Page. These emulators provide you the chance to take a test drive through our device user interface. You can take a look at our easy-to-use configuration wizards, configure features such as VLAN’s, Single-Point-Setup on our Wireless Access Points, and even configure VPN’s on the routers.

Make it a safe Friday the 13th!

 

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Understanding the different types of Ethernet Switches

Ethernet Switches are broadly categorized into two main categories -- Modular and Fixed Configuration.

Modular switches, as the name implies, allows you to add expansion modules into the switches as needed, thereby delivering the best flexibility to address changing networks. Examples of expansion modules are application-specific (such as Firewall, Wireless, or Network Analysis), modules for additional interfaces, power supplies, or cooling fans. Cisco Catalyst 4K and 6K are good examples of Modular switches.

Fixed Configuration switches are switches with a fixed number of ports and are typically not expandable. This category is discussed in further detail below. Cisco Catalyst 2K, 3K and the Cisco 300/500 series are good examples of Fixed Configuration switches.

Let me say up front that there are variations to the categories below as switch makers are constantly adding capabilities and evolving the categories, but the broad essence remains the same.

The Fixed configuration switch category is further broken down into:

- Unmanaged Switches

- Smart Switches

- Managed L2 and L3 Switches

Unmanaged Switches:

This category of switch is the most cost effective for deployment scenarios that require only basic layer 2 switching and connectivity. As such, they fit best when you need a few extra ports on your desk, in a lab, in a conference room, or even at home.

With some Unmanaged switches in the market, you can even get capabilities such as cable diagnostics, prioritization of traffic using default QoS settings, Energy savings capabilities using EEE (Energy Efficient Ethernet) and even PoE (Power Over Ethernet). However, as the name implies, these switches generally cannot be modified/managed. You simply plug them in and they require no configuration at all.

Cisco 100 Series switches are good examples of this category.

Smart Switches (also known as Lightly Managed Switches):

This category of switches is the most blurred and fastest changing. The general rule here is that these switches offer certain levels of Management, QoS, Security, etc. but is “lighter” in capabilities and less scalable than the Managed switches. It therefore makes them a cost-effective alternative to Managed switches. As such, Smart switches fit best at the edge of a large network (with Managed Switches being used in the core), as the infrastructure for smaller deployments, or for low complexity networks in general.

The capabilities available for this Smart switch category vary widely. All of these devices have an interface for Management – historically a browser-based interface used to be the only way to configure these devices, though nowadays you can manage some of these devices with CLI and/or SNMP/RMON as well. Regardless, these capabilities are lighter than what you will find in their Managed switch counterparts.  Smart switches tend to have a management interface that is more simplified than what Managed Switches offer.

Smart switches allow you to segment the network into workgroups by creating VLANs, though with a lower number of VLANs and nodes (MAC addresses) than you’d get with a Managed switch.

They also offer some levels of security, such as 802.1x endpoint authentication, and in some cases with limited numbers of ACLs (access control lists), though the levels of control and granularity would not be the same as a Managed switch.

In addition, Smart switches support basic quality-of-service (QoS) that facilitates prioritization of users and applications based on 802.1q/TOS/DSCP, thereby making it quite a versatile solution.

Cisco 200 Series switches are good examples of this category.

Fully Managed L2 and L3 switches:

Managed Switches are designed to deliver the most comprehensive set of features to provide the best application experience, the highest levels of security, the most precise control and management of the network, and offer the greatest scalability in the Fixed Configuration category of Switches. As a result, they are usually deployed as aggregation/access switches in very large networks or as core switches in relatively smaller networks. Managed switches should support both L2 switching and L3 IP routing though you’ll find some with only L2 switching support.

From a Security perspective, Managed switches provide protection of the data plane (User traffic being forwarded), control plane (traffic being communicated between networking devices to ensure user traffic goes to the right destination), and management plane (traffic used to manage the network or device itself). Managed switches also offer network storm control, denial-of-service protection, and much more.

The Access Control List capabilities allows for flexibly dropping, rate limiting, mirroring, or logging of traffic by L2 address, L3 address, TCP/UDP port numbers, Ethernet type, ICMP or TCP flags, etc.

Managed switches are rich in features that enable them to protect themselves and the network from deliberate or unintended Denial of Service attacks.  It includes Dynamic ARP Inspection, IPv4 DHCP snooping, IPv6 First Hop Security with RA Guard, ND Inspection, Neighbor Binding Integrity, and much more.

Additional Security capabilities may include Private VLANs for securing communities of users or device isolation, Secure Management (downloads through SCP, Web-based Authentication, Radius/TACACS AAA, etc), Control Plane Policing (CoPP) for protecting the CPU of the switch, richer support for 802.1x (time-based, Dynamic VLAN Assignment, port/host-based, etc)

From a Scalability perspective, these devices have large table sizes so that you can create large numbers of VLANs (for workgroups), devices (MAC table size), IP routes, and ACL policies for flow-based security/QoS purposes, etc.

For highest network availability and uptime, Managed switches support L3 redundancy using VRRP (Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol), large numbers of Link Aggregation groups (which is used both for scalability and resiliency), and capabilities for protecting L2 such as Spanning Tree Root Guard and BPDU Guard.

When we talk about QoS and Multicast features, the richness of capabilities goes far beyond what you’d see in a Smart Switch. Here you’d see things such as IGMP and MLD Snooping with Querier functions for optimizing IPv4/v6 multicast traffic in the LAN, TCP Congestion Avoidance, 4 or 8 queues to treat traffic differently by importance, setting/tagging traffic by L2 (802.1p) or L3 (DSCP/TOS), and rate limiting traffic.

In terms of Management, things such as multiple ways to configure (using CLI, Web GUI, SNMP Management application), discovering of neighbor devices in the networks (using CDP, LLDP, Bonjour, etc), and troubleshooting capabilities (such as VLAN and Port Mirroring, Traceroute, Ping, Syslog, Cable Diagnostics, RMON, etc) are all included.

What I highlighted is by no means exhaustive, but gives you a sense of what some of the differences may be between Managed and Smart Switches.

Cisco Catalyst and Cisco 300 Series and 500 Series switches are good examples of this category of products.

Managed Switches can go even further than what I’ve highlighted. For example, there’s even richer support for Dynamic Unicast and Multicast Routing protocols, deeper flow intelligence or macro flow statistics with Netflow/SFlow, non-Stop Forwarding capabilities, MPLS/VRF support, Policy enforcement, and many others.

Now, to take a deeper dive into these switch categories and talk about various options, you can select the switches based on:

- Speed

- Number of ports

- POE versus non-POE

- Stackable versus Standalone

Speed:

You can find Fixed Configuration switches in Fast Ethernet (10/100 Mbps), Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000 Mbps), Ten Gigabit (10/100/1000/10000 Mbps) and even some 40/100 Gbps speeds. These switches have a number of uplink ports and a number of downlink ports. Downlinks connect to end users -- uplinks connect to other Switches or to the network infrastructure. Currently, Gigabit is the most popular interface speed though Fast Ethernet is still widely used, especially in price-sensitive environments. Ten Gigabit has been growing rapidly, especially in the datacenter and, as the cost comes down, it will continue to expand into more network applications. With 10GBase-T Ten Gigabit copper interfaces being integrated into LOM (LAN on the Motherboard) and 10G-Base-T switches becoming available now  (see the new Cisco SG500XG-8F8T 16-port 10-Gigabit switch), building a Storage or Server farm with 10 Gigabit interfaces has never been easier or more cost-effective. 40G/100G is still emerging and will be mainstream in a few years.

Number of ports:

Fixed Configuration Switches typically come in 5, 8, 10, 16, 24, 28, 48, and 52-port configurations. These ports may be a combination of SFP/SFP+ slots for fiber connectivity, but more commonly they are copper ports with RJ-45 connectors on the front, allowing for distances up to 100 meters. With Fiber SFP modules, you can go distances up to 40 kilometers

POE versus non-POE:

Power over Ethernet is a capability that facilitates powering a device (such as an IP phone, IP Surveillance Camera, or Wireless Access Point) over the same cable as the data traffic.  One of the advantages of PoE is the flexibility it provides in allowing you to easily place endpoints anywhere in the business, even places where it might be difficult to run a power outlet. One example is that you can place a Wireless Access Point inside a wall or ceiling.

Switches deliver power according to a few standards -- IEEE 802.3af delivers power up to 15.4 Watts on a switch port whereas IEEE 802.3at (also known as POE+) delivers power up to 30 Watts on a switch port. For most endpoints, 802.3af is sufficient but there are devices, such as Video phones or Access Points with multiple radios, which have higher power needs. It’s important to point out that there are other PoE standards currently being developed that will deliver even high levels of power for future applications. Switches have a power budget set aside for running the switch itself, and also an amount of power dedicated for POE endpoints.

To find the switch that is right for you, all you need to do is choose a switch according to your power needs. When connecting to desktops or other types of devices which do not require POE, the non-POE switches are a more cost-effective option.

Stackable versus Standalone:

As the network grows, you will need more switches to provide network connectivity to the growing number of devices in the network. When using Standalone switches, each switch is managed, troubleshot, and configured as an individual entity.

In contrast, Stackable switches provide a way to simplify and increase the availability of the network. Instead of configuring, managing, and troubleshooting eight 48-port switches individually, you can manage all eight like a single unit using a Stackable Switches. With a true Stackable Switch, those eight switches (total 384 ports) function as a single switch -- there is a single SNMP/RMON agent, single Spanning Tree domain, single CLI or Web interface – i.e. single management plane. You can also create link aggregation groups spanning across multiple units in the stack, port mirror traffic from one unit in the stack to another, or setup ACLs/QoS spanning all the units. There are valuable operational advantages to be gained by this approach.

Here’s a word of warning. Be careful about products in the market which are sold as “Stackable” when they merely offer a single user interface, or central management interface, for getting to each individual switch unit. This approach is not stackable, but really “clustering”. You still have to configure every feature such as ACLs, QoS, Port mirroring, etc, individually on each switch. Use the following as a proof point -- can I create a link aggregation group with one port in one unit of the stack and another port of that group in another unit of the stack? Can I select a port on one unit in the stack and mirror the traffic to a port on another unit of the stack? When I configure an ACL for Security purposes, can I apply that to any port on any unit in the stack? If the answer is “No” to any of these questions, you’re probably not working with a stackable switch.

There are other advantages of True Stacking as well. You can connect the stack members in a ring such that, if a port or cable fails, the stack will automatically route around that failure, many times at microsecond speeds. You can also add or subtract stack members and have it automatically recognized and added into the stack.

Cisco Catalyst 2K-X and 3K or Cisco 500 Series Switches are examples of Switches in this category.

As you can see there’s a multitude of switch options to choose from. So, have a close look at your current deployment and future needs to determine the right switch for your network.

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How to Properly Optimize Your Website to Increase Business

May 27, 2014 at 9:58 am PST

If you want to get more leads for your business, you need to increase the traffic to your website. We live in an age where anyone who fails to take full advantage of the Internet’s massive potential is missing out on a crucial number of customers. Utilize these seven techniques to increase the amount of traffic to your site and to convert casual visitors into lifelong customers.

Create Content with Real Value

Blogging and content marketing are effective strategies for almost any niche. Offering valuable content that’ll help your target market will attract visitors and can lead to social sharing that’ll attract even more customers. The key with blogging is to avoid creating the same run-of-the-mill content that most businesses do. Instead, create truly valuable articles and guides that’ll help your readers. They’ll return in the future, and every great post will increase the amount of trust your customers have in your business.

Make Your Site Shareable

Unless you like paying loads for advertising, you should start trying to attract more organic ‘shares’ and ‘likes’ via various social platforms. Focus on the biggest ones at first like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Include prominent sharing buttons on your website and interact with your audience using whichever platforms that will yield the highest ROI. Include content on your blog that fits with the typical type of content that’s usually appreciated. For example, high-quality pictures are necessary to attract attention on Pinterest.

Have a Giveaway

There are several benefits of a good giveaway. Don’t just offer up cash as a prize. Instead, use it as a chance to get your products in the hands of potential future customers who could also leave reviews and share their experience. A big giveaway will help boost the attention you’re getting on social media and online forums, attracting new customers while rewarding existing ones too.

Take Advantage of Holidays

Holidays provide you with easy content ideas for your website and potential product lines. Plan an event around a major upcoming holiday like a sale, giveaway, or comprehensive guide on how your product could enhance their holiday. Creative ideas are sure to attract attention from all over the web. Finally, get involved with major online events in your industry to increase your exposure. Fundraising activities and Twitter chats are great places to start.

Optimize Your Site for Search Engines

Organic search engine traffic converts measurably and it’s free, so what’s not to love? You don’t need to have extensive search engine optimization (SEO) experience to make a few simple improvements to your site. While you can hire someone to make the improvements for you, it’s fairly simple to learn.

Optimize your site for speed to improve your rankings in search engines and user experience. Use one of the numerous free keyword tools available on the Web to find highly searched keywords related to your product or service. Include these keywords naturally in your website content and over time you’ll attract more free visitors. Take advantage of free SEO resources to learn about all the changes you should make.

Modernize Your Website

In order to attract new visitors without spending a ton of money, you’re going to need to convince other people or sites to link to yours. If your site looks like it’s from the 90s, no one is going to link to you because it makes them look bad. Even with a tight budget, you can hire a relatively cheap designer and take advantage of content management platforms like WordPress to create a user-friendly site.

Finally, ensure that your website functions properly most of the time by tracking your uptime and downtime. All your social media and content marketing efforts will be for naught if your site is always down. And if your visitors can’t access your website reliably, they’ll probably go somewhere else.

Be warned that it could take some time and persistence before you see the results from certain methods. However, if you focus on creating the best experience for your customers, you’ll see great returns on your effort over time.