Finding the Right Custom Data Storage Solution

by: Chris Helms, Senior Storage Engineer, Shared Solutions

Choosing a solution for data storage used to be simpler. Storage needs were a lot more basic, data quantity was more manageable, and relational databases could handle most needs without too much trouble. Today, data is much more complex, and every size business has to narrow down exactly what kind of storage solution is best for them. This is even harder because the “best” solution is often a moving target.

Choosing storage solutions today versus the pre-NoSQL world is kind of like choosing a television before and after flat screens became the norm. You used to go to the store and choose a television. Now you have hundreds of sizes, brands, models, picture qualities, and connectivity choices. Some people love diving straight to the bottom of the specs, and others just want a TV and start to feel overwhelmed by all the options. Finding a good data solution isn’t all that different; whether you feel overwhelmed or overjoyed, the process is complicated.

Storage is complex and comes with its own dictionary that can sound like Computer Klingon to the uninitiated. Here’s a sample: linear scale performance, open source, distributed, protocol, consistency, tunable…if you need a custom data storage solution but reading that list of storage jargon made your eyes glaze over, don’t worry, we can get through this together. Some of our teams specialize in understanding exactly what service needs our customers require based on their data storage solution. No matter what level of data a client needs to manage, we help you manage a secure, appropriate solution based on your needs.

If you already speak the language and reading that insider tech jargon made you think, “Hmm, they didn’t mention masterless architecture,” our senior engineers can jump into the tech-speak rodeo with the best of them. It’s what we do.

Building storage solutions before NoSQL required a certain level of expertise, but the NoSQL era has opened lots of new doors that lead to a vast combination of data solutions which was convoluted even more with the introduction of NewSQL databases.

TSP takes pride in partnering with every client to find the ideal storage service solution, regardless of the client’s requirements or expertise. Whether clients need a data storage breakdown or want to debate the ins and outs of the most technical matters, we’re here to serve.

In Industrial Automation, There’s an Art to Having the Right Parts

TSP specializes in services for both Quality Control Systems (QCS) and Distributed Control Systems (DCS). We go above and beyond to customize service packages for every client, whether they’re most in need of regular maintenance, consulting, project services, or all of the above.

We love delivering top-notch service to every client every time, but when something breaks or needs maintenance, our strategy is about a lot more than friendliness. It’s also about having the tools and parts we need to fix anything and everything quickly.

TSP maintains an extensive parts inventory, and it’s also easy to view online. Our inventory isn’t just adequate, it’s robust. We don’t have to wait to order parts online or from third parties because we have these items ready to go in our warehouses. Finding the right part can be difficult, so we maintain a great inventory that ensures we have the right part available when we need it. Hard to find parts? If we don’t happen to have it in on-hand, let us source it for you.

These parts are also available to the public, so any company who needs one of the parts we sell can have access to what they’re looking for. If you’re looking for Honeywell Measurex parts, browse our online inventory and contact us for a quote. We sell these parts at a fraction of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) list price and, we’re glad to help.

Our inventory includes buffers, cables, displays, memory, PCBs, power supplies, processors, relays, serial interfaces, and VFCs from manufacturers including ABB, Accuray, Flo-Dri, GE Fanuc, Honeywell, Honeywell Measurex, Linksys, Measurex, UNK, and USHIO.

TSP purchases industrial parts from customers who have upgraded or changed equipment, and we check out every item to make sure it’s still in great condition. Many of the parts are even brand new and in the original containers because of customers who upgraded without using the spares or ended operations without opening the box.

When something breaks or needs maintenance before it does, having the right part quickly saves a lot of headaches. That’s why we not only fix industrial equipment, we make sure we have all the parts we need to get it done right.

What Should I Look for in a Managed Services Partner?

Every business would ideally like to improve operations and cut expenses. As the various necessary realms of business operation become more complicated, managing mainline functions such as human resources and technology in-house is becoming cumbersome and expensive. There are so many facets to these fields that it’s hard for a small team to be diverse enough to master the required skills and knowledge to handle such vital jobs adequately. That’s why many businesses are turning to outsourced partners, especially when it comes to managed services.

Unfortunately, many companies are using “managed services” as a marketing tool when they only offer basic, flat rate packages that won’t apply well to most enterprise needs. Their technical people may or may not even be proficient in the specific areas your business needs help with.

TSP’s goal from the beginning has been to create and run a company that thinks and works differently. We’re about serving every customer’s specific needs and treating every client as an individual. Our commitment to developing real relationships with both employees and clients has led to our success over the years, and when we work with a client, our employees become part of their culture, too.

“Managed services” has become such a diluted buzzword that it almost requires definition again. Managed services is not staffing and to some companies it can mean just about anything. At TSP, managed services is providing the right resources when and where needed. We bring to the market expertise in system administration in Windows, Unix, and Linux; critical system, application, and tool monitoring; help desk operation; PC deployment services and support; managed print services; warranty support; WAN and LAN monitoring; network field services; and cable and fiber management. In other words, TSP provides comprehensive help for enterprise needs, not just one or two add-ons to another tech package.

If your business is looking for a managed services partner, don’t go with a business that doesn’t specialize in enterprise solutions. Look for a partner who can do a comprehensive diagnosis of your company’s needs, forecast issues before they become problems, and address those issues without delay. The right long-term relationship with a vendor who is consistent, efficient, and makes the extra effort to employ the best people will meet your business’s needs now and for years to come.

 

How Well Does your Service Provider Know Your Business?

By:  Steven Conour, Senior Systems Specialist

We hear this from our clients a lot: “You know our business better than we do!”

As businesses grow and more labor capacity is required, companies have to make lots of tough decisions. Should the business hire the current site technicians, find new technicians with previous experience, or bring in fresh faces and train them from the ground up?

Every choice comes with a cost to the company culture, human energy devoted to training, and the bottom line. Experience comes at a premium, and new hires have costs associated with training and learning curves—plus, the always-possible “tenacity factor” that makes some newbies want to overhaul every system and start from scratch.

Experience, however, also has a hidden cost of its own. Oftentimes, we witness a phenomenon known as “OEM myopia,” or when an OEM engineer has tunnel vision. They’re so focused on the OEM products that they are unaware of aftermarket improvements or other vendors’ superior products. Their previous employer trained them well, but perhaps a little too well, as they come to their next company with a well nurtured, one-way solution mindset.

Those afflicted with OEM myopia haven’t been empowered to solve problems creatively and poke around for a better way of doing things. The problem with tunnel vision is that it can leave you blind to other problems you’re capable of solving, and when you only focus on one narrow objective, you can’t get to know the customer well enough to serve them completely.

TSP’s service capabilities include a variety of hardware knowledge, and some of us even like to get our hands dirty on the software side of things. Our well rounded team is encouraged to find better ways of doing things so the customer experiences service isn’t just as good as promised, it’s stellar to the point of being memorable.

TSP’s hands-on, customized approach to problem solving has made us an industry leader, but it has also caused quite a bit of discomfort for some dedicated OEMs. We’ll work on anything that needs it, and we do a great job. That attitude has expanded our business at multiple customer sites that are delighted to have a trusted partner willing to solve problems. Finding opportunities to solve issues leads to more work, but that also translates to better job security, the potential for a bonus, and a stronger workforce who loves what we do and functions as a true team.

We say, forget tunnel vision. Why be limited to one problem when it’s so much more fun to make everything work better together?

Does IT Outsourcing Make Sense For My Business

Outsourcing IT services is becoming more and more common for companies of all sizes, but some businesses are still on the fence. Entrepreneurs often want to do it all themselves, but as a business grows, managing key business functions such as IT and benefits becomes a bigger burden.

Once a luxury of mammoth companies, outsourcing has become a mainstream option for companies everywhere thanks to technology that makes communication easier and remote work capability accessible.

How will outsourcing affect my company culture? Many businesses worry that outsourcing will depersonalize their culture and make employees feel disconnected. However, great outsourcing partners know how to educate and empower their engineers on customer service, which includes encouraging engineers to blend in with every client’s culture and become a true part of the team. Ideal IT outsourcing partners won’t splinter a client’s company culture, they’ll actually help make it stronger.

Won’t employees be frustrated by working with outsourced IT help?
It’s hard for one person or a small group to be experts in everything required to manage and maintain a complex IT system. However, outsourced groups not only focus solely on their core areas, they have quick access to other trusted professionals in their company who can help if unfamiliar issues come up. If there is an emergency, it’s also easier to pull in more assistance from additional engineers to resolve problems quickly.

How much does IT outsourcing cost?
Some businesses shut down at the idea of outsourcing because they believe the cost will be too high, but many times outsourcing is actually more cost effective than hiring professionals in-house. Hiring involves human resources and benefits hurdles, and you risk someone wasting time if there isn’t enough to do or not being able to do jobs well if there is too much to do. The right outsourcing partner will evaluate your specific needs and prepare a custom package that uses your dollars efficiently.

When a new business is small, entrepreneurs often have to wear every hat, but as a company grows, learning to lean on partners to help with key functions becomes more necessary. Every company needs experts on their side, and working with outsourced partners can take a lot of the stress out of essential business needs so managers can focus on actually running the business.

Does Your Service Provider Stay Cool In Emergencies?

Emergencies are a fact of life, but in the technology world, they’re more inevitability than possibility. Wires get crossed, servers overheat, blue screens pop up… And since the edge of Occam’s razor loves to shave close, machines usually pick the worst possible times to go haywire.

TSP’s comprehensive enterprise, shared, and industrial automation solutions ensure that maintenance is always a priority, but sometimes things just plain break. When your tech hits the fan, are you confident that your service professional can keep their calm? Wouldn’t we all prefer to work with a partner who keeps cool in crisis instead of one who flies off the handle?

Soft skills are often neglected in the tech services industry, but TSP believes personality plays a huge role in both the ease of daily maintenance and the level of stress involved in crisis management. We hire field experts, and many employees go through our custom Boot Camp to learn both soft and hard skills. Top technologies are covered to ensure service professionals are up to speed on the latest and greatest, but Boot Camp also emphasizes interpersonal customer service skills that illustrate why the way we serve clients is just as important as knowing which buttons to push.

When things go wrong with the machines we rely on, managing a crisis is a lot easier if the people helping you are easy to work with. Our service professionals keep customers posted on the status of a fix, never leave clients in the dark, and work tirelessly until everything is good to go. Most of all, we’re nice while we’re managing the problem! TSP’s goal is to make customers’ lives better, not worse.

Emergencies always come with a certain degree of pressure, but TSP service professionals are trained to handle whatever happens, plus be amiable while they’re healing the problem.

Why Go With a Solution That’s Anything But Custom?

Imagine you’re shopping for a new pair of shoes. The salesperson at Shoe Superstore only shows you three options, and you don’t like the look of any of them. Plus, they’re all too big, too small, or pinch at the heel. To top off the experience, every pair seems expensive for the quality. You tell the salesperson you want to check out more choices, and he shrugs and says, “You need new shoes. Just pick one.”

Now imagine you walk into a small shop that has tons of styles to choose from, plus a catalog of extra styles. The number of options almost overwhelms you, but a friendly salesperson learns your personal taste, listens to what you want, and guides you to a handful of choices you instantly love. Then, as if things couldn’t get any better, they say they will create a custom pair of shoes in your ideal size, style, and material. You assume these handcrafted shoes will cost a fortune, but they end up being a lot less than the three pairs from store number one.

Are you going with a pair from store number one, or store number two?

Shopping for technology solutions often feels like roaming from one provider to another that feels too much like store number one, where salespeople try to wedge you into limited options at a higher price than seems fair for what you actually need. Instead of listening, these providers try to lump customers into broad groups, which means customers pay for services they may not use.

Thirteen years ago, TSP founders Rick Skaggs and Frank Gonzalez started their company based on a single simple idea, and the business has been growing exponentially ever since thanks to their philosophy: At TSP, we listen to clients. Instead of forcing solutions that may not fit, TSP approaches every client as an individual and tailors packages for everything they want, nothing they don’t. When a customer’s needs change, so do the technology packages. Instead of creating problems with weighty service packages, we endeavor to solve them with custom solutions.

Every company talks about putting clients first, but few companies are able to actually do it. TSP offers enterprise solutions, shared solutions, and industrial automation solutions for businesses across the spectrum, and our clients renew contracts again and again because we don’t just listen, we follow through with real solutions that get the job done.

When shopping for a technology services provider, never settle for a fit that’s anything less than perfect. Go with a provider who takes the time to understand what you really need and is flexible enough to deliver a custom product.

Maintenance Services: Why It Matters

Maintenance may not seem like the most interesting topic… At least until consequences for failing to do regular maintenance grab all the headlines with both hands.

When making choices about where to allocate budgets, maintenance often doesn’t get the attention it deserves. New toys are fun and interesting, but equipment that’s already paid for needs to be handled with courtesy or else it could break, leading to costly repairs or even the need for replacement. In other words, the price of replacing a server fan that’s nearing the end of its life is a lot gentler on the bottom line than the cost of replacing the server, especially when you think of the potential catastrophe of having a server go down.

Managing technology services in-house can put a lot of strain on any department, especially given the diverse expertise required to manage upkeep on phones, virus software, operating systems, desktops, notebooks, printers, servers, and systems. Even something as mainline as conference room equipment needs to be checked for maintenance needs, which is easy to forget about until the big conference is tomorrow and something breaks. If your key maintenance person goes on vacation, will their backup know what to do in case of an emergency? What if it’s in the middle of the night or on a holiday?

The level of expertise necessary to maintain multiple complex technologies is making it more and more cost effective to employ a team of outsourced experts. Third party experts can handle comprehensive maintenance needs, whether a business requires ongoing server repairs, device and system restoration, preventative and emergency maintenance, or all of the above.

Flexibility is key when choosing a maintenance services provider, and we don’t mean flexibility on the vendor’s side. A great partner should have options that work well for the client, whether that’s a service window or guaranteed response time.

Working with vetted partners comes with other perks and cost savings, too. When you partner with a business that specializes in maintenance services, they should have connections with multiple parts depots. Your package should include supply chain support and asset tracking, which is much better than hoping to locate a rare part on your own and guessing how to negotiate the best price.

The right vendor should also keep track of key performance indicators (KPI) to let clients know exactly where their maintenance needs stand, how those needs are being met, how much is being saved, and the projected costs of putting certain maintenance off if budgets become tight.

Maintaining a bridge may not be hot news, but a bridge collapse will cause chaos. Don’t avoid maintenance hassles and hope they’ll magically go away. Instead, trust an enterprise partner who will take the headache out of maintaining your tech investments.

Press Release Issued

While we already announced the news on this blog back in March, today we issued a press release officially announcing our acquisition of the service contract portion of Industrial Maintenance Services, Inc. (IMS), which specializes in maintaining and servicing equipment for paper production.

This acquisition makes us the largest third-party provider of quality control systems (QCS) equipment services for both Honeywell and ABB products.

“TSP has been an evolving organization from day one. We began 13 years ago as a computer support business and have grown to provide solutions for enterprise, shared services, and industrial automation. Our growth has been due in large part to our ability to listen to customers and find a way to provide whatever they needed. Acquiring IMS allows us to fill a major gap in the market because we now have the flexibility to manage additional levels of industrial automation equipment,” said Frank Gonzalez, TSP co-founder and vice president.

“Paper mills often use a mix of both ABB and Honeywell equipment. This acquisition means we can achieve a customer service experience that’s unparalleled in the industry. Paper mills can now deal with just one contract and know they’re getting the best comprehensive service to meet all their individual needs,” said Rick Skaggs, TSP co-founder and president.

Read more in the full press release here, and a big welcome to the 30 engineers now with us from IMS!

Improving Sustainability with QCS Lifecycle Management

By: David Maddux, Business Manager, Elwyn Green, Business Manager, & Bill Weiss, Director of Operations
(Click HERE to register for the Webinar on 03/31/15  @1:00pm EDT where TSP Business Manager, David Maddux, will present this paper)

Abstract
Since their inception, Quality Control Systems (QCS) have played an integral role in the quality and efficiency of the paper industry. There are occasions when it is time to upgrade to the latest version of QCS due to obsolescence or cost effective technological advances. However; in these days of being asked to do more with less, there are incidents when the capital dollars needed to upgrade are just not available. Agility is required in these circumstances to sustain the life of the QCS while maintaining or improving profitability. In recent years forward thinking QCS engineers have found many of the answers in system virtualization, recycled or repaired parts, alternative parts solutions, being better prepared for the corrective maintenance evolutions, and improved preventative maintenance programs to improve the QCS life cycle and prolong the need for capital.

Introduction
Pulp and Paper Professionals have long recognized the contributions that the Quality Control System (QCS) provides the industry. Because the QCS is responsible for measuring, reporting, and controlling the variability in the machine direction (MD) and the cross machine direction (CD), they are also well aware of the impact felt when the equipment fails to perform.

Even though there have been technological advancements by the QCS suppliers, many paper companies evaluate the business and financial reasons and deem it unnecessary to upgrade. Through the years QCS suppliers have released numerous generations of Quality Control Systems that are still in existence today. Some of them go as far back as the 1980’s. In any case, the personnel responsible for the maintenance and performance of the QCS equipment have been tasked to seek better performance and extend the life of the legacy systems.

Challenges
There are challenges to be dealt with when a mill decides to preserve a legacy QCS; however, not identifying the hurdles and having processes in place to address them will expose a company to risks.  Listed below are a few of the more common hurdles that paper mills and their QCS personnel have encountered through the years.

• Parts obsolescence. With the shorter life cycle of PC/server technology, this is becoming even more of a challenge.
• Communication difficulties with newer data historian and other process control equipment such as DCS and PLC.
• Age of equipment.
• Lack of technical support. Once a particular product has entered the end of life phase and is considered no longer supported, it can be difficult to find senior level support.

Solutions
1.  QCS maintenance personnel have discovered several unconventional methods to address parts obsolescence.

a.  In order to replenish legacy parts at a significant savings, sources in both circuit board repair centers and recycled parts suppliers are being used on a routine basis. Some of these pioneering engineers have even leveraged their technical know-how to find cases where parts substitution is feasible. For example there are methods for replacing tape and hard drives with solid state devices. Another example is replacing a cross directional control cabinet obsolete PLC with a desktop and an off-the-shelf data acquisition device.

b.  Since PC technology changes faster than most QCS systems upgrade, virtualization is a proven method for addressing obsolescence and extending the life cycle of PC/server based systems in many cases. The principal idea behind hardware virtualization is not complex. To create a virtual machine (VM), the physical computer is being emulated using software. To take it a step further, several operating systems are capable of running on a single physical machine by using multiple VMs at once.

2.  As mills upgrade to data historians and other process control equipment, they are learning to leverage other technological advances to add communication interfaces. Many of the legacy systems are not compliant with communication protocols, such as OPC. This makes communication difficult when mills have upgraded other technical equipment; however, there are several companies available that specialize in creating inexpensive and proven interfaces that will solve issues communicating with data historians and other process control equipment problem for the legacy QCS. This allows legacy system data to be used in new ways.

3.  When you think about the age of the equipment, right away you must acknowledge how important it is to be in a more predictive maintenance mode instead of preventative maintenance. Knowing that it is impossible to stop every failure and how important it is to minimize downtime, you must also acknowledge how important it is to be better prepared for the corrective maintenance evolutions. As always one of the first steps is analyze the spare parts inventory and identify the vulnerability. As always, better historical sensor documentation leads to earlier recognition when trouble is on the horizon. It is also important that the maintenance personnel be familiar with the built in diagnostics and maintenance programs available. New diagnostic capabilities are being developed by field engineers to better predict the maintenance that is needed even on legacy systems.

4.  In order to address the lack of technical support, it is incumbent upon the mill to ensure that the personnel servicing their legacy QCS be invested in so they have the skills necessary to maintain and optimize the aging equipment. In order to make-up for the lack of technical support it is imperative that the service personnel have access to subject matter experts that are still available. Allowing remote monitoring from senior level process control experts is a means to obtain extra support if needed.

Conclusions
By removing the perceived obstacles and being willing to try effective solutions many mills are not only extending the life of their QCS, but also lowering the total cost of ownership, thus allowing mills to spend the savings on other critical components to quality and production.

References
Chappell, David. “Virtualization for Windows: A Technology Overview” San Francisco. 2008. Web. 17 Jan. 2014

TSP Acquires Service Contract Portion of IMS, Inc.

We are pleased to announce the acquisition of the service contract portion of Industrial Maintenance Services, Inc. (IMS). This is yet another purchase TSP leadership has been diligently working on to expand and strengthen our Industrial Automation Solutions business unit.

This strategic move allows our headcount to continue its growth, with approximately 100 employees now dedicated to our Industrial Automation Solutions customers.

TSP and IMS were both founded around the same time and have similar backgrounds. IMS grew strongly in the ABB QCS/DCS (Quality Control Systems/Distributed Control Systems) area, while TSP was larger and grew more in the Honeywell QCS/DCS area. For TSP, this is a natural acquisition that will benefit our customers and employees alike. We will now be the largest third party service group in the QCS/DCS industry. This ensures TSP’s ability to supply excellent on-site QCS/DCS service at a competitive price, something our customers have certainly become accustomed to.

Many people have worked long hours to make this purchase a reality and we are grateful to their dedication. During this transition we will work diligently with our customers to make the switch as seamless as possible. IMS is committed to making this transition be so smooth that the only change customers see in the short term is a name change, and in the long term a more robust company with more resources, backing and technical support.

TSP grows in many ways, and we are thrilled to make this announcement today and watch our Industrial Automation Solutions continue to succeed.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Recognizes TSP

For the 3rd consecutive year, we are proud to receive a supplier recognition award from Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

Dear TSP:

Our customers’ expectations of zero defects demands laser focus from our suppliers to enable Lockheed Martin Aeronautics be the world’s leading designer and manufacturer of high-performance combat, air mobility, and reconnaissance & surveillance aircraft.  Technology Service Professionals is one of those companies we depend on for products and services that meet our commitment to excellence.

In 2014, Technology Service Professionals has successfully demonstrated its commitment to excellence with “100% quality and on-time delivery” to Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.  Your superior standard of performance and commitment to meet customer expectations is only made possible when all of us perform with excellence.

Lockheed Martin wishes to thank Technology Service Professionals and its employees for showing excellent workmanship and superior standard of performance to bringing the best quality and value to our Customer and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in 2014.

Sincerely, 

/s/ Tom Simmons
Vice President
Supply Chain Management

/s/ Alex Eksir
Vice President
Quality & Mission Success