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Intermittent support due to Hurricane Matthew

 

Due to the evacuation from Charleston , SC and the associated power outages from Hurricane Matthew, Store Locator Plus support will be intermittent over the next week  until we can  get back home and assess the situation.   We will respond to your questions in the forum as soon as possible.

 

Thank you for your patience.

 

Hurricane Matthew in Charleston SC

Mandatory South Carolina Evacuations For Hurricane Matthew Begin

 

CiCi and Lance

 

 

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Charleston High Speed Internet – Part 2.5a

A client told me tonight that they are switching Internet Service Providers in Charleston.  They are dumping Windstream because they had been “been bundling 2-T1’s into one and calling it two” and replacing them with DeltaCom because they had a 4.5M Internet service. Yikes!  DeltaCom scares me. They almost killed my last company with a 10 day outage on my primary redundant T1 lines, but that is another story.   The interesting part is that they are pretending they are even selling something different at all.

Bundled T1s

As for Windstream bundling 2 T1s, that is how it works until you get to a higher class service.    It is called bonded T’s and is the only option for data services over copper wire until you get up to something like DS3 (45M).   I’m curious what DeltaCom is providing.  I’m certain it is bonded T1s exactly like Windstream, they are just giving it a new name.  They’ve just added another T1 to the bonding group (each T1 is 1.5M), which any T1 provider can do.  In fact in the good ‘ol days… literally over a decade ago, that is how you got “big fast Internet”.  You just kept adding 1.5M chunks of T1 until you used up the entire telco bundle coming down your street.   These days real cities offer fiber everywhere and the few places without use cable so this sort of thing is rare.

Charleston Area ISPs

I’m sure it will work out fine for my client, but these data communications providers in Charleston really irk me.    I am somewhat knowledgeable about this stuff & they still try to convince me how their subpar & overpriced service is “different”.    T1 services are nearly 50 years old and survives only by government mandate & scare tactics of “ohh…. only T1 is truly reliable” (true in 2001, not true in 2011).   And the fact that all the big telcos have billions invested in that infrastructure that they still need to recoup.   Selling old crappy services for 10x what they are worth really aggravates me.  Especially when I know how arbitrary the whole price model is from the bottom up through the incumbent carrier and the competitive local exchange carriers.    Even more aggravating is that bad overpriced Internet services affects everyone these days, especially my client base, and we have so few choices in Charleston right now.

Internet service in Charleston is horrible compared to “big boy towns”.   When we moved into Wando Park we only had DSL (unreliable and slow) or T1 available, which is why I had numerous discussions with the town, Comcast, Knology, and AT&T about pulling fiber or cable to our area last summer.  When everyone started saying “not enough interest in that area of town”, I actually looked into getting VC funding for deploying WiMAX in small cities. WiMAX is basically a big bad-ass wireless router that covers an entire section of town (11 miles+) with 100Mbps service.   No more wires & true high speed everywhere.

On a bright note, there is progress in Charleston with general connectivity if not on the pricing front.  In the past 12 months we’ve gone from having DSL (copper pair) and T1 (expensive copper pair) to also having business class cable Internet at the office park.  At my home, just 6 miles away, we have gone from DSL and a single cable provider to having TWO cable providers on the same street and there is even rumor that the new provider (Knology) pulled fiber alongside that new cable line this past fall.   Can we possibly have the option of Knology’s FIOS eqiuvalent service in a Charleston neighborhood before 2020?

Copper Lines? It’s The Second Decade Of the New Millenium!

Can you tell this stuff gets me going?   Damn Internet Service companies!

I only hope my customer doesn’t get bamboozled into signing a typical 3-year contract for 4.5M internet at $800/month.   The fact that anyone is even allowed to still sell that kind of service going into the 2nd decade of the new millenium is truly sad.

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Charleston Technical User Groups

Looking to connect with other technology professionals in the Charleston South Carolina area?  Here is our quickly compiled list of user groups in the area. This list was inspired by Charleston Barcamp (#barcampchs).

Charleston Area User Groups

.net Users Group

We’re an INETA and Microsoft sponsored .NET user group for people in Charleston, SC and the surrounding areas. If you have experience with .NET, or an interest in learning more then this is the place for you.

http://www.gcnug.org/
last activity published online: November 2009

Drupal Users Group

The mission of the Charleston Drupal User Group is to spread the use of Drupal in the Lowcountry by holding regular meetups and camps, organizing special events and providing networking opportunities

http://chsdug.org/
last activity published online: November 2010

Java Users Group

The Charleston Java Users Group provides an intellectually stimulating environment that allows the Java community in the Charleston area to share ideas, discuss advances in technology, and promote the use of Java.

http://www.charlestonjug.org/
last activity published online: unknown 2010

Linux Users Group

The Charleston, South carolina Linux Users Group (CSCLUG) is dedicated to the awareness, advancement and development of free software ideals and solutions in the Charleston, SC area expressed through the abilities of our members.

http://www.csclug.org/
last activity published online: November 2010

Ruby Users Group

Agenda: Upcoming announcements, A presentation about some Ruby or Ruby-related technology, Open source contribution, Promotion of Ruby locally, Development of www.charlestonruby.org and our other projects, General discussion.

http://www.charlestonruby.org/
last activity published online: November 2010

Sharepoint Users Group

The Charleston SharePoint User Group is a group designed for those interested in SharePoint technologies. Membership is free. We plan to host monthly meetings with industry leading speakers. Please join the group for notice of meeting times and location.

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=50989546219
last activity published online: January 2009

SQL Server Users Group

We have meetings on the second Thursday of every month.

http://charleston.sqlpass.org/
last activity published online: December 2009

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Charleston, SC High Speed Internet ISPs

If you are setting up a high tech business in Charleston SC you are going to have some challenges finding a decent Internet Services Provider (ISP). Depending on what street you live on, you may have the choice of anywhere between ZERO and THREE possible service providers. Rarely do you have a choice of more than one.

Limited Choices – Our Experience

Our First Home

For example, in our prior offices in North Charleston we had ONE choice for an ISP when we moved in. That choice was AT&T Fast Access DSL. The cost? $125/month for 6Mbps downstream and 512Kbps upstream. Not exactly blindingly fast for a software development company. Since we are constantly uploading media, software, and other large payloads to our clients the 512Kbps upstream speed was horrific. Some uploads would take hours instead of minutes.

After our first first few months in the new office we finally hunted down Knology as a potential service provider.  Nowhere did they advertise their service.  The first people we spoke with didn’t even think they served our area.  It wasn’t until they did a “site survey” that they determined we could get their cable service with 8Mbps / 1Mbps service.  A big improvement on the upload speed, but still nothing like you’d get in a “big city” like Charlotte or real cities like Boston or L.A.

The sad part was that after telling our representative that we needed as much bandwidth as we could get with rock solid stability they never mentioned one small but important detail; they provided fiber service as well.  After a year on the slowest “Fast Access” we’ve ever had + a cable line backup we learned we could get T1 class service on a 4Mbps/4Mbps line from Knology.  We only had to pay a $1,000 setup fee and $600/month for that service.   Kind of sad considering that in many “wired” cities you can get 20Mbps/20Mbps service for that rate.

Later we also found out that Comcast would run a line for us for a nonimal fee.  In return for a $1,000 install fee and a 2-year contract they pulled a line all the way from their hub 3 miles away to our office.   In return we paid $125/month for 16Mpbs/2Mbps service on an unshared line.  That meant we regularly saw throughput of 20Mbps+/12Mbps for $125/month.  Now that is what we consider normal cost & performance ratios from an ISP.

Our New Home

Just over a month ago we relocated to a new home in Mount Pleasant.  The rent was far cheaper and the neighborhood far nicer.  We are now in decent office park with great food and shopping right down the street.   No more vagrants stopping in to sell us leopard skin rugs or tie-die t-shirts or offering to spit-wash our windshields.   All-in-all a win-win upgrade.   Then we found out about the Internet access.

Turns out our new location only has TWO options, period.  No hidden cable or fiber services.   We have $125/month DSL again or $600/month for 1.5Mbps T1.  Ouch.   That is it.   No other choices, no-way, no-how.    On the particular street we are on a fiber line runs across the back of the property and down to the big apartment complex at the end of the road.  Want to tap into that?  Try a $50,000 installation fee.    What? Really!   Cable?  Nope, nowhere near us.

We went with dual DSL lines bound together with a decent size Cisco Router.   That works… sort of.  Actually not really well at all.  The worst part is that we originally ordered 3 lines from AT&T.  One of the lines never worked.  We finally agreed to shut it down and AT&T agreed not to charge us for it.  The other 2 lines run at anywhere from 6Mbps/512Kbps to 2Mbps/128Kbps depending on which way the wind is blowing.  In fact just today BOTH lines went out at 11AM on a Friday.   A half-dozen employees at a software company with no Internet.   Even better, AT&T’s “4 hour response time guarantee”, well they guarantee you’ll get a … woohooo… $10 credit on your next bill for every 24 hours you are offline.   Our estimated  “fix date” is sometime this weekend.   Wow, can’t wait for that $10 credit after losing thousands in overhead expenses for the day.   Grrrrr.

Charleston SC High Speed Internet

So what are YOUR choices?  Well, that really depends on the neighborhood.  In fact, as we learned at our new offices, the EXACT LOCATION you are at makes a difference.  Just 1/4 mile away they have cable, DSL, and T1.  Just 3 miles away they have cable, DSL, T1, and fiber.   Our location?  DSL or T1.    The company offering the service also changes.   Even then, virtually EVERY company ties back directly to AT&T, Comcast, or Scana.  The fact is that AT&T owns ALL copper circuits in the area (phone lines, T1, DSL, ISDN, etc.), while Comcast owns all the coax (cable TV, cable Internet, etc.), and Scana owns 90% of the fiber in the area.  Most competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) such as Knology, Spirit Telecom, and others are nothing more than resellers for AT&T or Scana or tie directly into their backbones.  Very few companies in the area run their own fiber, and those that do are not ISPs.

Charleston SC ISPs

AT&T (formerly Bellsouth)

Available almost anywhere in the Charleston area.  AT&T in the incumbent carrier and has a near monopoly in the market and certainly owns 99.99% of the copper in town.   Even if you get T1, DSL, or ISDN from a CLEC you are really using AT&T, however the CLECs are almost always cheaper.

We strongly recommend AVOIDING AT&T AT ALL COSTS.

Their “business class service” is anything but.   In the past 2 years we’ve experienced several multi-day outages.   Both times covering 2 or more business days.  This latest outage has been 96+ hours and the technical lead supervisor “Francis” told us “the outage is a bad DSLAM in the field but is only affecting 20 customers so it is not a high priority, it probably won’t be fixed until at least Monday since it is the weekend and none of the techs are working today.”!!! What?!?!? This is after having lost a full day of work already.    Good to know AT&T’s “business class service guarantee” says that if we report the call & it is not fixed in 24 hours we get 3 days credit…. WOW, Really?  A whole $12!!!  Awesome!

Another important note is that AT&T Fast Access DSL no longer publishes phone numbers or email addresses on their site to contact support.  In our opinion this is an indicator that they receive numerous calls regarding the service, why else would you hide both your phone numbers and contact info from your customer base?

  • T1 : 1.5Mbps/1.5Mbps, very reliable, one of the highest cost/Mb running $650+/month (April 2010)
  • DSL: 6.0Mbps/512Kbps, stability depends on location anywhere from somewhat stable (1-2 hours/week downtime) to horrific (6h+/week downtime), around $125/month (April 1020)

Comcast

They are building up a business class service, having simply used their residential division in the past.  They still have a lot of learning & training to get under their belt on how to deal with business class clients.   We’ve already had 2 missed appointments and downtime of hours/week for “planned maintenance”.  This is not yet true business class service.

  • Cable: From 16Mbps/2Mbps to 50Mbps/10Mbps, what you have access to varies by location, as does stability and up-time.  We’ve experience 10 hours/year downtime at our old location to 10 hours THIS MONTH at a home office location.   Cost is $125/month for 16Mbps to $250/month for 50Mbps (April 2010).  Actual throughput can vary significantly depending on who your neighbors are.

Knology

They are available in very limited areas in Charleston, and while they say they will bring service to ANY address in the area with a 2-year contract the reality is that you need to be very close to an existing line of service.  More than a half-mile away and you’re out of luck.

  • Cable: Data rates vary by location, typically 8Mbps/2Mbps for $150/month.   Stability varies from 2-hours of downtime/week to 1h or less/month, though we did experience several multi-day outages.
  • Fiber: The PON/Matrix service is very stable, same quality of service as T1 and nearly 100% full utilization of bandwidth with no degradation or loss (as compared to 80-90% maximum on cable or DSL services).  This was a very stable service but also very expensive.  $600/month for a 4Mbps/4Mbps service (the lowest end offering as of April 2010).  You can get up to 100Mbps/100Mbps service for $5k/month.  That would be nice but it is a little out of our budget.

Windstream (formerly Nuvox)

http://business.windstream.com/

Two North Main Street
Greenville, SC 29601
T: 864-672-5000
T: 877-466-8869
E: info@nuvox.com

A CLEC and provider of enterprise class business services.  They resell the AT&T copper for a decent price and are available in most locations in Charleston.

  • T1 : 1.5Mbps/1.5Mbps, very reliable, one of the highest cost/Mb running $450+/month (April 2010)

Summary

That is our list for now & if we had a choice we’d not select any of them.  The few reliable providers are 5-10x as expensive as the larger incumbent carriers such as AT&T and Comcast.  None of these providers can offer 99.999% uptime and their “guarantees” are meaningless.  All the “guarantees” of response time mean nothing more than if they don’t live up to their promise, which they often don’t, you get a whopping $10-$50 credited on your next $100-$500 bill.   If only we had access to some real competition like a good WiMAX carrier, that would be wonderful.  In the meantime we’ll just have to put-up with unscheduled vacation days and slower-than-molasses upload speeds.

We know there may be some other high speed carriers in Charleston, but we’ve not found any that provide viable service for small to mid-sized businesses that don’t want to take out a second mortgage just to get reliable & quick Internet service.  If you find someone else in the area please let us know.

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Logistics & Inventory Management with Alutiiq

Alutiiq recently award Cyber Sprocket a 1-year teaming agreement, making this our 4th year of working with Alutiiq on developing, supporting, & maintaining their military logistics & inventory management application.  We are very excited to be working with Alutiiq for another year.  The upcoming year will bring some exciting new possibilities for follow on projects that augment the system already in place.  We’re looking forward to being part of the design & development team and supporting our clients and our country both at home and abroad.

Technical Overview

Services Provided

  • Web Application Programming
  • Database Design
  • Database Maintenance
  • System Architecture
  • Network Support

Platform Details

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Charleston SC High Tech Resources

The fact that Charleston has a high tech community may well be one of our best kept secrets.  While we have several different organizations that are designed to help promote the Charleston high tech community, it seems as though everyone wants to “go solo”.   That has created a fragmented view of all that Charleston has to offer when it comes to establishing a technology business in the region.    That’s unfortunate for small businesses like Cyber Sprocket Labs because it leaves us with a very small talent pool to work with.   Sure there is some great talent here, just most of the talent is gainfully employed.   The rest are few and far between, which means you just have to be lucky with your timing to find the right people.

Maybe, someday, when we have all kinds of free time (what’s that?) on our hands, we’ll make a concerted effort to get all the disparate high tech teams working together.  In the meantime, if you are considering relocating either your business or yourself to Charleston and are firmly entrenched in the high tech marketplace, here are a few resources we use around town.

Regional Publications

Technical Organizations

  • Charleston Digital Corridor – a group whose primary mission is to get high tech companies to relocate to specific (incorporated in the city) areas of Charleston.  They host various gatherings to talk business topics that may interest high tech companies.
  • Charleston Inspired (CRDA) – this group promotes the Tri-county (Charleston, Berkley, Dorchester) area in an effort to attract big businesses.   We’ve not dealt with them much as our initial, though brief, encounter a few years back had the vibe that we were too small and too young to warrant attention.  Maybe we’ll check in with them again now that we’re older and bigger.

Notable Technology Companies

  • Blackbaud – fundraising SaaS and software systems, the most recognizable and possibly the largest computer technology company in Charleston.  Almost anyone that writes code for a living and has been on the job market has interviewed here.
  • Benefit Focus – human resources SaaS, another big player in the software community.   If you’ve not interviewed at Blackbaud may very well have been across the street on Daniel Island interviewing here.
  • Google – while technically not part of Charleston (it is in Berkley County), Google’s data center opening in 2008 put it on the map and it is less than an hour from downtown Charleston. Not many tech job openings at the facility, but hey – it’s Google so it warrants mention here.