The Day the Network Died

Ever notice how gear doesn’t break when you don’t need it? It always breaks when you need it most.

Last year our IT department began the process of replacing switches and other gear that was beyond 7 years old. They wanted to replace it all, but these things are expensive. So, slowly, they are swapping out old tech for new.

Unfortunately, this past weekend one of the old pieces that had not been replaced yet went down. It was in a core part of the network, and all access was severed. There was nothing internal and nothing external. No email, no servers, no internet, no, nothing.

Well, church has been happening a long time without internet, so we should have no worries, right? For the most part, but you just don’t realize how much you rely on something until it’s gone. The network went down saturday afternoon, right before we began prepping for the service. We store lyric documents and sermon notes on a serve, for easy access. We could not get them. Luckily, I had downloaded them to my Outlook, and was able to put them on a flash drive and we loaded them up.

We could not stream the services. not only could no one get to the website to launch the player, we couldn’t even send the signal out. we were able to record the video for later upload in our On Demand section. But, we literally have hundreds of people who watch us each week. We went to Facebook and twitter to spread the word, using our 3G enable phones we could still access them. we use Planning Center Online to plan the services, and follow it during the service as well. On Sunday one of our technical people brought in his own mobile hotspot and shared it on the mini network we have in the Worship Center, so we could still follow. not powerful enough for the campus, but it worked like a charm for what they needed.

The IT guys worked some long hours, and at one point we had access. Then about 15 minutes before service start it went down again. They were able to get internal servers up and running, but external connection was still out. On Monday we got some help, and Monday afternoon it came back on. We hope it stays working.

While it was down we could not access anything we housed in “the cloud”. My Evernote files we unreachable, except by 3G enabled devices. We use Google Docs and an online service to help track workflow in communications. We pulled the project list on our phones, and wrote them down. If we had to have a file, we would need to run to a local fast food joint and use their wifi. It’s tempting to snag a 3G modem or hotspot just in case this were to happen again. Most of our creativity this morning was used in figuring out how to work around the outage.

In the end it was right at about 48 hours of no network access. I don’t want to go through it again. The internet/network has become like a utility. It’s not quite as important as power and water, but we do rely on it. When things work right, the technology we employ is a huge help. When it doesn’t work, it can be a roadblock. This was 2 days of trouble out of thousands without issue, so we will still be using the network and internet to help us get things done.


The 3G Existence

Recently, AT&T changed their smartphone data plans to a tiered, capped structure. There’s a plan for under 200MB usage in a month, and for up to 2GB usage, with additional steps for each extra 1GB of usage. I went to check my data usage, sure i was up close to the 2GB limit, and discovered that I was not even breaking the 200MB limit.

Here is the graph for the past few months:

I use wifi all the time. I am almost always in a wifi hotspot when I do any sort of lengthy data use on my iPhone. Since all current iPhone users are “grandfathered” into their current plans, I don’t have to switch. But if I never hit 200MB, I could be saving that extra money every month. But how much data do I actually use? If my wifi went down one month, how much would I use?

So, I decided to test it out, I turned off wifi on my phone.

I have discovered that I really miss the speed of wifi. I know that 3G is faster than edge (believe me, I know), but man 3G is not fast. not really, not compared to a good wifi connection. No wonder I developed a habit of using data on wifi. Who wouldn’t if it’s available.

Plus, iTunes won’t let you download larger applications over wifi, so some updates have to be done with the computer. Since I have been using an iPad, I don’t normally take my laptop home anymore. So I have to wait to get the apps or updates.

Speaking of the iPad. If it is available, and the 3G connection is slow, or even worse, I’m on Edge, I will confess to grabbing the wifi ipad to do a task rather than wait for 3G. So my experiment is tainted. it is also tainted because on occasion, I have needed data in a hurry, and switched to wifi on the phone. Only for a minute, only for a few MBs.

To be honest, I’m thinking about forgoing the experiment altogether. Now that iOS4 is here, with multitasking, I may end up skewing the whole thing by streaming music with Pandora on the road. I don’t know what will happen. or how my usage will change, which is why I am planning to keep my unlimited plan, for a while anyway.

There is a reason these phones are designed with wifi capability. It’s a better connection than 3G.

Maybe I’ll just do it for half a month? How much longer is that? Another week or so?

Living with the Wifi iPad

A little over a week ago we bought a 16GB WIFI iPad for the church. We use it to monitor planning center online during the service. The small form factor makes it perfect for use in the pew, where we need up to date information on service flows.

In the mean time I have been using it during the week. no sense letting it sit around, right? I am trying to see if it is really something I can use on a regular basis. So I have been living with it for a couple of weeks.

I took it on a trip and discovered that I will have to have a 3G model. I was at a trade show with very limited wifi, and it was very frustrating. Many of the apps I use are net driven, and the lack of connectivity really hampered me.

But the battery power was amazing. I know that people are getting 10+ hours of life out of one charge, but it’s still unbelievable. I watched 2 movies, played games and read a couple of chapters on the flight. Then, after using it for a couple of hours the rest of the day, I accidentally plugged it in to charge on a GDI outlet that had tripped. It did not charge at all overnight. I was still able to use it the next day and have over 40% battery left. My iPhone has nothing on that.

Since then I have been trying it out during meetings. I downloaded a couple of note taking apps, and have transferred my handwritten notes to the iPad. So far I am OK with it. My laptop battery barely lasts an hour and a half. I was in a 4 hour meeting today and had plenty of battery life left.

I do miss Flash. Part of my job is reviewing video clips we might use in worship. Most sites display these in Flash, which leaves the iPad right out. It’s definitely not a computer replacement.

As a media consumption device, I don’t know if it has an equal. Game apps, video apps, music, and movies are a lot of fun. The screen is large, but the device is not too big. Oddly, the 4:3 aspect ratio has grown on me. A widescreen aspect ratio would make the iPad feel strange.

I hate fingerprints on the screen. It’s pretty easy to clean, but when the screen is dark it looks bad after I’m done typing. Still, with the screen on they are barely noticeable.

I am still getting to know the iPad. I like what I know so far.

Is the iPad a Kindle Killer?

The WSJ has a Digits post with video from the Apple iPad presentation talking about the new iBooks app.

I wondered how the base iPad compared to the Kindle. If someone just wanted the e-reader capability would the iPad be the way to go, or should they stay with Kindle? I am assuming that quickly all the same books will be available on both devices.

I’ve played with a Kindle a little, and it’s got a nice feel to it. I own an iPhone and iPod Touch, so I can imagine how the iPad feels.

The base iPad run $500 while the larger (similar sized) Kindle runs $490. The 6″ display model is $260.

The larger Kindle has about 4GB of storage, while the iPad weighs in at 16GB. But both will store more books than you need.

iPad is a color display, but either show basic text pages just fine.

The Kindle boasts global 3G downloads via “Whispersync”, while the iPad base model would only be wifi. The price goes up to $629 + monthly charges for 3G access. This is really where the Kindle beats the iPad. Even so, do you really need to be able to get your next book anywhere, or could you wait until the next wifi hotspot?

If you are just doing book reading with this device, then maybe the Kindle is the way to go (especially if you don’t mind the small version). But if you want to do anything else, the iPad does so much more. if you own an iPhone or iPod and want and e-reader, the iPad is the way to go.

The real Kindle Killer would be new release e-books priced the same as a paperback… $7. That’s what I would like to see from any e-reader. I’m hearing $8-15 for iBooks.