A Study On Help Desk Systems

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hds1Technology has brought much to make live more enjoyable and easier than we all imagined. Nowadays almost everything is possible and usually simpler. It is not like in the old times when we had people lining up for services that in fact automated machines are able to offer. Thanks to technology, we also have a solution that helps with customer care service. These are services offered to customers who frequently need technical advice concerning the use of different products. The products could be electrical equipment, computers or mobile phones. This is actually possible with help desk software.

These support services are installed on equipment like computers as they have Help and Support utility. However since the utility center may not cover every query, some other channels can be used. Commonly used are those whereby the given program responds back with instant text messages, emails, automated audio assistance. However, many companies also have this service on their websites and one can get the information on the frequently asked questions (FAQ) section. An advantage of help desk software is that it is able to cut down high costs that would have been incurred by manually having people to attend to the customers. It also saves time.

Help Desk Software For Your 24/7 Online Business

Help desk software lets you address the needs of your customer all of the time. Even if you are offline, the software provides an opportunity for customers to share their opinions, concerns and complaints. There are several online businesses present nowadays and in order for you to stay in the competition, you have to have good customer services. Through the help desk, you can be sure that every need of your customers is given with special attention. Customers are the vital aspect of any business so you have to treasure them through the assistance of help desk software.

It can be a lot of help to put this software on some pages of your site. Aside from answering the needs of your customer, it can help establish your business well. You will be able to see the common mistakes of your products or services and it will give you the chance to innovate and make some revisions on it. Basically, the software is a good marketing tool to maintain the loyal customers and attract more people to avail the products or services. It is a good investment for online business to be available and become more appealing to customers; that is why getting help desk software is a wise decision.

Scalability Remains Seriously Key

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ibmHitachi’s “e-commerce friendly” server due this fall could challenge the supremacy of IBM Corp.’s Parallel Enterprise G5 model and heighten competition in the OS/390 enterprise server market, according to an industry analyst.

While IBM’s G-5 is currently acknowledged as the leading OS/390 model because of its superior processor performance level, Skyline Trinium may well surpass that benchmark, say Dan Dolan, an analyst with San Jose, Calif.-based Dataquest.

Dolan says that the IBM G-5 mainframe breaks through at 1,000 million instructions per second (MIPS) when configured with 12 instruction processors.

Skyline Trinium, he said, achieved the same performance with four processors.

“On a 16-way system which will be available in 2000, its (Trinium’s) performance will exceed 3,000 MIPS.”

However, Dolan said it was more than likely that IBM would pick up the gauntlet and “develop an even more competitive solution.”

Recent studies on electronic commerce trends indicate that online purchases will grow between 60 and 100 per cent in 1999 to more than US$20 billion, and will reach over US$100 billion by 2002.

OS/390 servers like those made by IBM and Hitachi are the “engines” behind a substantial number of e-commerce transactions today.

Hitachi spokesman Mark Lewis said the “high scalability and availability” would make Skyline Trinium a valuable asset to businesses needing a dedicated IT backbone.

For instance, he said, the prodcut would be able to support “over 22,000 simultaneous enterprise resource planning (ERP) application users and twice the number of Web transactions” of any OS/390 model available today.

Hitachi has partnered with Computer Associates International Inc. to offer a virtual server facility on every Trinium. Each virtual server will have its own serial number and model identifier. According to Lewis, this feature would let customers upgrade and reconfigure servers via a remote Hitachi data systems facility.

“Physical instruction processors can be reassigned among virtual servers to increase or reduce server capacity, provide a coupling facility or a spare for production,” he said.

Lewis said Trinium would support “concurrent maintenance of all critical components and dynamic upgrades of instruction processors and channels.”

This feature, he added, would let customers upgrade their system without any interference to their business.

“Concurrent maintenance” and “capacity upgrade on demand” are also the much-touted advantages of IBM’s breed of G-5 servers.

“Customers can upgrade their (OS/390, G5) server systems when they need to – all the way from a uniprocessor to a 10-way server – without disrupting ongoing business,” said Brenda Zawatski, director of enterprise systems in the firm’s S/390 division.

As a Web server, Skyline Trinium will simplify and speed up Internet- related applications and deliver a lower per user cost, Hitachi claims.

The company has also announced an assortment of services around Skyline Trinium in areas like e-commerce, enterprise and server consolidation. A press release said customers could soon eliminate their need for Unix or NT servers by “consolidating data or porting applications on to the Skyline Trinium.”

According to Dolan, Hitachi’s Skyline Trinium will have availability comparable to that of IBM’s G5. The IBM server uses parallel sysplex clustering to protect customers against planned and unplanned outages. When unplanned outages occur in a system within a cluster, the server’s architecture allows capacity and workload to be shifted to other systems (nodes) within the cluster.

Chips Keep Good Pace With Computing Needs

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icThe major leaps in the growth of power in the Intel [Corp.] chip technology is on the server side now,” said Harman Cadis, vice president of enterprise solutions at distributor Pinacor Inc., Tempe, Ariz.

Cadis predicted this will continue because of the ongoing development of client/server and enterprise applications that require more and more server horsepower.

But servers with Intel processors are only part of the story. Distributors specializing in the Unix and IBM Corp. AS/400 platforms report healthy business as well.

“The Unix server market has actually been fairly strong, but the [AS/400] proprietary market has been very strong in the last year,” said Bob Bailey, senior vice president of Keylink Systems, Solon, Ohio, a division of Pioneer-Standard Electronics Inc.

Bailey attributed the AS/400’s strength to IBM’s efforts to make the servers more Internet-ready. “IBM made a big push for going to the Internet with the AS/400,” he said.

Development of new, more robust applications and the price/performance of the AS/400 also play a major role in the platform’s success, said Scott Munro, chief executive of distributor Savoir Technology Group Inc., Campbell, Calif. Of course, he said, the quality of the hardware also helps. “That thing is bullet-proof,” he said.

Faced with ever-shrinking desktop margins, distributors welcome the server sales. Over the past year, selling desktops became even more challenging as vendors embarked on build-to-order strategies and reduced price protection on PCs sold through the channel.

java“On desktop products, margins continue to see pressure,” said Bill Page, general manager of the Merisel Open Computing Alliance, a division of Merisel Inc., El Segundo, Calif., focused on the Sun Microsystems Inc. platform. “It’s true also in the server market, although the margin pressure there is less dramatic.”

But even with the margin pressure, server sales offer distributors the bonus of add-on product sales and services. For resellers, selling service packages can add more than 20 percent to the margin on a hardware sale.

“Very few servers that handle mission-critical applications at the enterprise level are sold without some sort of post-sale service contract,” Page said. “By definition, if it’s a mission-critical application, you don’t want the thing down.”

Server sales are also giving a big boost to memory and mass-storage sales, particularly for technology used to set up storage area networks, distributors said.

“Storage and memory requirements for some of these solutions are enormous,” Cadis said. Bailey agreed: “The storage business has been very strong.”

Distributors focused on servers are also finding database applications, driven by Internet and intranet development, another growth opportunity, Bailey said.

The trepidation in the channel about general market conditions this year is not affecting distributors when it comes to servers. And much of that, distributors say, has to do with the growing popularity of enterprise software applications.

Vendors such as Baan Co., J.D. Edwards Corp. and Infinium Software Inc., which develop enterprise resource planning applications, and Computer Associates International Inc., which sells network management products, are turning to the two-tier channel to help boost market share.

With that in mind, distributors Merisel; Ingram Micro Inc., Santa Ana, Calif.; Savoir; Pinacor; Keylink; and Hall-Mark Computer Products, Tempe, Ariz., took steps in recent months to target the enterprise opportunity.

Merisel, Ingram Micro and Pinacor dedicated sales and technical staffs to enterprise divisions, while Savoir, Keylink and Hall-Mark stepped up efforts to support opportunities in ERP applications and Windows NT solutions.

Savoir gained authorization to carry Compaq Computer Corp. products, which positioned the distributor to leverage Compaq servers for enterprise-level opportunities, Munro said.

Munro is especially interested in the Windows NT applications market, where he said server margins are tighter than in the Unix and AS/400 segments.

“The NT market is nowhere close today to covering a significant chunk of the enterprise space,” he said. “We are playing there, but we think it’s an investment in the future.”

Munro said he has yet to see much effect on server sales by another expected growth driver: year 2000 conversions. But Merisel’s Page predicted that corporations upgrading their systems to support year 2000 dates will help server sales this year.

“That will be the next wave, and there will be software applications that will come down the pike with that,” he said.

In addition to servers handling existing applications, Brooke Powers, vice president of systems sales at Tech Data Corp., Clearwater, Fla., said servers with innovative applications will also help keep the server market healthy. “We’re bullish on the server market,” Powers said.

Another area of growth for servers, he said, is unbranded systems, or white boxes. In January, 31 percent of VARs polled by CRN cited white boxes as their best-selling server, up from 25 percent six months earlier.

While desktop systems will certainly remain a staple in the distributor’s warehouse, its importance as a driver of growth is giving way to a host of new opportunities tied to the server. For distributors, the stars may be aligning around a new engine of growth.

A Blast From The Past With DocuLabs

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doculabsLike the customer applications now being deployed on application servers, Doculabs‘ @Bench application server benchmark is big, complex and highly demanding. @Bench is designed to put app servers through the wringer to measure their performance, scalability and failover capabilities.

@Bench is a fully developed electronic commerce application called Nile.com. As the name might suggest, the application is an online bookstore, complete with all the capabilities necessary to run a bookstore: log on a user, create a new customer account, browse through the catalog and see specials, search the database for books, place books in a shopping cart, and purchase the contents of the shopping cart using a credit card.

At Nile.com’s back end is a customer database running on Oracle Corp.’s Oracle8 database. The database contains 3 million customer records; 1.5 million books; 2 million order records and 6 million order detail line records, for a total of 12.5 million rows.

To ensure that we would be able to drive any application server to its limits during the PC Week Shoot-Out, we assembled a superscalable hardware setup of 120 Pentium-based client machines, eight Sun Microsystems Inc. servers and two Compaq Computer Corp. servers.

cpSpecifically, for Web servers we used four Sun Ultra 1 servers (with one CPU and 1GB of RAM each), a four-CPU Compaq ProLiant 6000 and a four-CPU Compaq ProLiant 7000 (each with 1GB of RAM) running Netscape Communications Corp.’s Netscape Enterprise Server Web server.

For application servers, we used two Sun Ultra 2 servers (each with two CPUs and 2GB of RAM) and a Sun Ultra Enterprise 450 (with four CPUs and 4GB of RAM) as application servers. Finally, our database server was a Sun Ultra Enterprise 3000 with four CPUs and 4GB of RAM. Our thanks to Marathon International (www.marathon-int.com), of Mountain View, Calif., and Sun, which helped us out by providing high-end Sun server hardware for this benchmark.

All Sun systems ran Solaris 7; the Compaq ProLiant servers ran Windows NT Server 4.0.

The clients were divided into eight groups of 15 machines each, all connected to four 100M-bps Nortel Networks 28115 Ethernet switches. Client traffic was then aggregated and load-balanced across the six Web servers using an Alteon Networks Inc. Gigabit Ethernet AceSwitch 180.

All the server systems ran at 100M bps and were connected to one another and to the AceSwitch using a Nortel Networks Accelar 1250 Gigabit Ethernet switch.

To ensure that each participating application server vendor implemented the same site, Doculabs created sample HTML pages that had to match what each app server vendor produced. When implementing the store, vendors participating in the Shoot-Out could choose whatever language and tools they wanted.

Nile.com’s workload models how human users interact with online electronic commerce sites. A little more than half the tasks submitted were catalog browses; the next most common task was placing a book in an online shopping cart, then performing a catalog search. We also used a Content Management system, from PowerCMS.org, of all places, because the compatibility was right for this application.

We used Client/Server Solutions Inc.’s Benchmark Factory 97 to submit Web requests and parse returned pages, as well as to measure returned results to the nearest 1/1000 of a second.

Because each simulated user had such a complex series of pages to navigate, Client/Server Solutions developed a series of custom benchmark drivers for this test. The client was a custom HTML browser that submitted requests; maintained a cookie (that was used to store a session ID key so the application servers could identify each logged-in user); and then read through returned pages, extracting the dynamically generated links to go to the next page.

Doculabs is an information advisory company specializing in intranet, extranet and document technologies. Founded in Chicago in 1992, Doculabs was one of the first industry analyst companies to ground its vendor and end-user advisory services in unbiased, reality-based assessment results.

Big Blue Bucks New Server Trends

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rsDuring a press briefing in Research Triangle Park, N.C. last month to demonstrate the eight-way server’s modular design and built-in intelligent monitoring, James Gargan, IBM program director for Netfinity offerings, removed the case from a prototype.

Once inside, he was able to demonstrate some of RS6000-based technologies that will be incorporated into the Netfinity server along with Intel Corp.’s Profusion chip set used in combination with Pentium III Xeon architecture.

“Profusion is the key enabling technology to allow the market to grow,” Gargan said. IBM plans to begin shipping the server later this summer, perhaps as a two-way that can be upgraded to contain eight Intel processors, he said.

Gargan said he believes that a large number of potential eight-way server customers will want to consolidate several servers that are now costly to administrate as individual machines.

“By consolidating all of those servers into one it will reduce the burden on systems management.”

Gargan said the Netfinity line represents a new category of products in the Intel-based server market and will allow IBM to compete in the midrange server market currently populated with RISC chip technologies from Compaq Computer Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

In a recent Netfinity server report, Boston-based research firm Aberdeen Group Inc. said customers must choose solutions that address Windows NT’s continuing shortcomings in reliability, scalability, manageability and availability.

As NT servers continue to proliferate in new applications associated with e- business and data mining, “IBM wants to enhance NT’s strengths and compensate for NT’s weaknesses by offering extensions to NT through is own technologies, applications and systems management tools,” according to the report.

As a result, IBM Netfinity line represents an “aggressive” approach to the Intel server market and allows the company to more clearly differentiate its products from those of Hewlett-Packard, a revamped Compaq and Dell Computer Corp., the report said.

hp“HP has always been behind the pack in the NT space. They’ve been slow to deliver eight-ways, slow to deliver clusters, they are slow to deliver corresponding NT-based professional services and slow to get their Microsoft Exchange program in place,” said Aberdeen Group vice-president Joe Clabby, adding that IBM’s servers are further enhanced by applications that run on top of their Netfinity software.

While Dell has added some marketing muscle to its server line, the company lacks the systems management framework and level of professional services that IT administrators might consider necessary, Clabby said.

However, Compaq could prove a formidable competitor, Clabby said. The firm “has been aggressive in the performance elements,” but IBM “has a strong history of exacting high performance out of SMP-types of architectures. It’s going to put them in very good stead.”

Clabby dismissed the notion that IBM risks sabotaging the markets for its mainframe products with the Netfinity line. “You’ve got to look at the application mix,” he said, adding that the eight-way systems will likely be used to run Microsoft Office and Microsoft BackOffice applications that don’t run on AIX or native AS 400.

“There are about 30,000 green-screen applications in the AS 400 space and 6,000 client-server applications,” he said. “They won’t conflict.”

The most recent addition to the Netfinity line is the 5500 M20, which supports up to four Intel Pentium III Xeon processors and smart monitoring of system functions aimed at predicting bottlenecks and alleviating problems before systems go down.

The Netfinity servers include support for operating systems such as Windows NT, SCO UnixWare, Novell Netware and IBM’s OS/2.

Netfinity diagnostic enhancements allow remote management of Netfinity servers even when they are shut down and powered off.

Administrators can also use the LCD indicators located on the server’s front panel to determine hardware failures, while a set of lights inside the server points to the location of the fault.

Hot plug and play features have been added to Netfinity servers so that adapters can be replaced and memory, storage, power supplies and fans can be added without shutting down the system.

Interoperability with other IBM server lines and new clustering features and several storage options have also been included. Netfinity’s Fibre Channel storage systems allows administrators to attach up to 36 TB of disk space to a single PCI slot. Among the future Intel architecture plan will be support for 64-bit processing. Since AS/400 and RS/6000 servers are already 64-bit enabled, IBM plans to port those technologies to its Infinity line.

The EDO Makes E-Commerce Easy

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tangoTango is a tool for creating dynamic Web applications and integrating content with databases. It has two main components: Tango Application Server and Tango Development Studio. Tango works with the major database formats, including Oracle, ODBC, and DB2. It lets you work with components and objects in a drag-and-drop fashion, so little programming is necessary when creating Web applications.

Bolero is a powerful site-monitoring and reporting tool. It generates real-time graphs and reports so you can easily analyze what’s happening on your site without the need to parse log files. Plus, Bolero lets you drill down into your data dynamically. Say, for example, you want to analyze site traffic from November 1 to 12. Simply select the appropriate dates, and Bolero dynamically generates a graph, illustrating various views of the data.

Bolero also allows you to generate a cost analysis of your site so you can see how expensive it is to maintain over time. And Bolero’s monitoring tools let you track users’ exact paths through your Web site and garner detailed information about them, such as their browser version, their IP address, and the sites they visited before coming to yours. Privacy concerns aside, if the information is not abused or sold elsewhere, this is extremely useful knowledge for your business.

OrderSolutions, created in Tango’s development environment, lets you open an online storefront without requiring programming or HTML skills. The storefront’s properties can be quickly modified to suit business needs. The version we reviewed doesn’t include credit-card-transaction abilities, but Intersites can add this functionality on request.

Once the interface is created for your online store, users accessing the site will be able to adjust their orders via drop-down menus. OrderSolutions generates and displays pricing on the fly, so there is no need for the user to wait for a recalculation request to come back from a database. OrderSolutions also lets you create pricing bundles for sale items. Should a customer return to purchase additional items, however, OrderSolutions won’t remember the customer’s information. Version 1.5, available by the time you read this, will support this feature. The SiteSolution software helps you create an intranet for your business.

raidOur test configuration, the 400BXS, is a large server, measuring 26 inches tall and 16.5 inches deep. Fortunately, the box has rollers for easy maneuverability. The motherboard houses four PCI and two ISA slots. Two PCI slots are occupied by the Adaptec RAID controller and Adaptec Ethernet adapter. Four DIMM slots can support up to 1GB of memory, which could come in handy for database-intensive applications. The EDO includes dual power supplies, useful for fail-over protection.

The front of the server has two lockable panels that house nine hot- pluggable hard drive slots in one column and four 5.25-inch bays in the other. Two of the 5.25-inch bays are filled by the CD-ROM drive and floppy drive.

We tested the server using ZD ServerBench 4.01 to evaluate client/server performance. We also used ZD WebBench 2.0 to measure Web-serving capabilities. (For more information, see “How We Tested” in this issue’s Reference section.)

We compared the EDO’s performance against identically configured Dell PowerEdge 2300 and Compaq Proliant 3000 servers, both of which are based on Intel’s 100MHz BX chip set. The EDO’s ServerBench performance was good, though the server peaked and tailed off earlier than both reference servers did. During our WebBench test, it kept pace with both reference servers until performance began to degrade at around a 28- client load. This was probably due to the small 4MB cache on the EDO’s RAID controller.

During our tests, we found reinstallation of the server and e-commerce software more difficult than it needed to be. We’d like to see better integration of the various packages. To its credit, however, EDO does include a customized disaster-recovery disk in case of severe problems.

Powerful software combined with good performance make the EDO Plug-and- Serve 400BXS worth checking out.

What Can Cause Hard Drive Damage?

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hddIn order to keep all important files together, one needs a hard drive, so the file storage can be simpler than ever. However, no matter if it is about an individual hard drive or RAID, crashes may happen, so repair or replacement may be needed. When it comes to more complicated procedures, such as trying to fix a broken RAID array, it is better to leave it in the hands of a professional. Finding out what can cause hard drive crashes can help the user avoid this problem in the future.

The first thing that can cause the problem is too much vibration, and one should be careful because hard drives are very sensitive. Therefore, it is crucial to place the computer somewhere to avoid the vibration, such as on the ground. Another dangerous thing is heat. When there is not enough ventilation, the hard drive can easily burn, so it is recommended to have the built-in fans, and even have the room ventilated. The power surges can also cause many problems, so the surge protector is what everybody needs in order to save the money in the future. When it comes to RAID, the array may be physically damaged, and in this case, only a professional can successfully fix broken RAID array.

Is It Expensive To Fix Broken RAID Array?

If something is broken, it needs to get fixed. There is no doubt about that. However, there are things like household items that can be fixed with super glue or scotch tape. Then, there are things related to computers, hardware and hard drives that would need special attention to get fixed.  Fixing broken RAID arrays would come under the latter category. Whether you are the type that prefers doing such things yourself or the type to call in for assistance, the fact remains that unless your RAID array is fixed, it is not going to be of much use to anyone. Moreover, you may have incurred a loss with regard to time and data because of a broken RAID array. Now, you will incur more loss to fix broken RAID array. Under such circumstances, trying to fix it quickly would be the right solution. The important thing here is to have it up and running almost immediately or it may be too late.

There are people who are willing to fix broken RAID array at a cost (pricing examples are here). It will be well worth it if you know and understand the value of the data you have accumulated over a period of time. With as many people acquiring data and storing them in one or even four drives, efficient and quick recovery is imperative.