Enterprise Mobility and Cloud Technology Work Together to Bring Value to Your Business

Enterprise mobilityTwo trends currently shaping IT environments are the demand for enterprise mobility and the shift to cloud technology. They are complementary in nature, driving cost savings, employee flexibility and increased productivity.

Here are three factors influencing the side-by-side increase of enterprise mobility and cloud technology:

It’s the mobile age: Mobile devices are claiming more and more Internet traffic, with users far preferring to browse the Internet using a tablet or their phone over a laptop or desktop computer. The trend allows for greater connectivity for the workforce, significantly increasing the number of productive work hours each week.

In addition to connectivity, companies also have the ability to mine important information related to consumer behaviors and employee processes via mobile technology.

Remote and field workers aren’t going back to the office: Mobile and cloud technology have made it convenient for a significant segment of the workforce to increase productivity without ever entering an office building. These workers are able to access the same information through mobile enterprise technology that’s stored in the cloud and never have to come to the office to finalize a form or enter data.

A convergence of data unity: Another factor influencing the increase in mobile-first priorities and cloud technology is the ability to manage security and data across a variety of devices and users in the cloud. Managing these elements with on-premise software is complex and time-consuming, but it’s streamlined with a cloud solution that unites every user and device under one umbrella.

Implementing a mobile-first cloud solution gives you added value in these areas:

Cost effectiveness: With little-to-no investment in hardware, a scalable subscription monthly fee and none of the hassle of updates, cloud solutions are an affordable alternative to on-premise software.

Increased productivity: With connected workflows, seamless integration and other removals of barriers and bottlenecks, companies that embrace cloud software experience increased productivity.

Remove the burdens: Your cloud provider handles implementation and updates, removing significant interruptions in business processes.

Accessibility: A mobile enterprise cloud solution enables your staff to work from anywhere, any time. Not only is there a centralized system for managing data, but your staff can access and manipulate data while out in the field or working remotely.

Refined sales targets: The use of mobile technology and customer-focused apps allows you to mine information that can transform your sales approach. You’ll know more about the activities and behaviors of those that visit your app or website and be able to pinpoint more clearly the conversion from lead to customer.

Focal Solutions works as your partner through your mobile enterprise cloud solution implementation. From helping you to find the service that will be most beneficial to your company, to coming alongside you through the process, Focal Solutions works with you to ensure a seamless transition and operation.

Keeping Hardware Secure in an Age of Insecurity

SecurityCybersecurity hot topics change rapidly as innovative and bold hackers seek to undermine the security of networks and gain leverage by hijacking critical data. Adware and spam fears, while still relevant, have given way to more intense security threats with the advancements in Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The question now has become, what can we do to provide security that will adequately protect our hardware? The security landscape has changed in a short period of time, barely resembling what it did five years ago. Part of the reason for this change is the proliferation of hybrid IT and cloud-based solutions, which has created a situation where data centers are moved off premise.

To make this even more complex, mobile devices have altered the way we access data, which means corporate devices have far exceeded what they did a decade ago. This means there are just as many new ways in which employees can introduce a security risk, especially in a BYOD environment.

Meeting the Security Challenges at the Hardware Level
The goal for most security professionals is to catch the threat the second it makes itself known on the network. However, if hardware and firmware aren’t up to speed with security solutions, that threat may not be detected until it’s far too late and your data is completely compromised.

Recently, organizations have witnessed DDoS cyberattacks that are driven by IoT devices. IoT has become the target for hackers who recognize this area as an obvious weak spot. There is such a big focus on software security that many organizations fail to see the importance of focusing on hardware as well.

To get ahead of these attacks, some companies are turning to analytical solutions that allow them to monitor behavior in such a way that the system can identify potential threats before they get in and damage the network. The challenge with any type of solution, however, is to stay ahead of the advancements hackers continue to make in their own ingenuity.

The hacking capabilities of experienced and malicious programmers continue to advance among the intricate cells that exist around the world, with many of them focused on hitting companies where it hurts the most – hardware. Damage to legacy hardware can not only stop operations, it can also mean proprietary information, processes and even systems are taken hostage. It’s not unheard of for companies to fall victim to such attacks and never fully recover. 

The best solution is one that addresses software, hardware and firmware security solutions. If you’re relying on traditional solutions, the reality is you’re at serious risk of being compromised, which can be devastating.

At Focal Solutions, we offer comprehensive consultant solutions that strengthen your system as well as your team. We will focus on bringing you business success in all areas of telecom deployment. Contact us today and make us part of your team. 

4 Steps You Can Take to Streamline Your Data Analytics

DataThere are challenges in adopting a data analytics strategy, especially in terms of answering the difficult questions every organization tries to tackle with their data in real-time. Interoperability can’t be the sticking point if you’re going to succeed.

Are you trying to decide how to best adopt data analytics strategies while expecting the solution to be simpler than the problem itself? Unfortunately, all workable solutions come with a high degree of research. But it doesn’t have to be one long laborious undertaking – it can be accomplished in steps.

1. Define data goals as they relate to where you want to land. What is your current state and what do you wish it to be after you’ve analyzed the data? Asking this question can give you a more objective look into how you should approach data analytics, simplifying your approach to developing a strategy. You need to place a great deal of importance on plausible elements that are advancing your organization and/or holding it back. Don’t put one over the other – look at the good and bad at the same time.

2. Engage the right stakeholders to see where your current decision-making process is taking you. Which of your wins are the most tangible, and which ones impacted the top line? When you look at data related to this, you can gain a better understanding of why your decision making was effective.

3. Drill down on questions that help create more accurate models. One of the most important strategies you can build within your data analytics process relates to asking questions that can be answered by data analytics models that are built with your outcomes in mind. This process becomes more efficient if it begins with your IT team involved in defining goals.

4. Be willing to recalibrate as needed. You might find that as you’re advancing in your strategy, various goals will change. Be willing to roll with the changes as new ideas and evidence come to light. All data-driven results deserve close observation and a flexibility that will allow your organization to evolve as you learn more about what’s driving change.

At Focal Solutions, we are committed to the success of your business in all areas of telecom deployment. We’ve developed high-performing networks that are vital to the success of any modern business and have helped organizations in a number of industries streamline their services. Providing you with the tools and information you need for maintaining your telecommunications projects, we will partner with you for success. Contact us today to get started.

 

The Cloud Provides Storage Solutions for Cold Data

CloudThe cloud is gaining momentum as a storage solution for companies realizing the limitations involved with flash memory. In fact, a survey of IT directors by TechTarget indicates that 48 percent of companies plan to integrate cloud storage as a priority for 2017.

The cloud provides higher capacity storage at a lower cost, but there are other benefits, too. It gives a company flexibility and agility and is scalable for growing businesses. IT professionals appreciate the ability to keep security and updates off-site and focus on infrastructure and technology management.

Cloud solutions are great for start-ups or small- to mid-size businesses that may have limited IT resources or that aren’t sure about their growth trajectory in the near future. Here are some things you need to know before using cloud storage:

Storage for cold data: One of the great uses for cloud storage platforms is managing cold data. This refers to items that you don’t need to access on a regular basis, but are required to store for taxes, regulatory requirements, or to meet company standards. Cloud storage is a great way to keep these records in a low-cost platform.

Surprises on the bill: While you’ll appreciate the cost savings associated with cloud storage, be aware of how different items in that storage affect your costs. For instance, if you’re storing images or video that require a lot of bandwidth, don’t be surprised if doing so has a negative impact on your bill.

New gatekeepers in development: There’s promising technology being developed that may offer a type of gatekeeper for cold data being stored on the cloud. This function would monitor the movement of data, determining which items need a higher level of performance and which can be moved to a slower-moving, lower-powered area.

Experts estimate that 90 percent of data accessed on the cloud is less than one year old, leaving a wealth of data available for long-term, low performance storage. As companies increasingly gather cold data, it’s going to become more important to find low-cost ways to store it, and the cloud appears to be the most viable solution.

As the cloud develops, complementary technologies are expected to develop as well, providing ways for automation to keep costs under control while managing increasing amounts of data.

When it’s time to make a decision about cloud storage, don’t simply hire another vendor that will provide a cloud solution. Choose Focal Solutions. We don’t just deliver a service. Instead, we consider ourselves to be part of your team, invested in your growth and dedicated to helping you choose the best options for your company in all areas of telecom deployment.

 

CIOs Debate Cloud Strategy

Cloud SecurityEnterprise computing systems have traditionally comprised servers, storage, and networking devices that came from different companies. Many times those products have depended on other technology for performance and have been discounted in package deals. A similar model is emerging from the cloud as CIOs debate the best systems for structuring multiple vendors in their cloud strategy.

Single vs Multi-vendor Cloud Platforms

CIOs are trying decide if they should move toward single or multi-vendor cloud platforms. One idea is to split computing workloads between vendors, since using multiple platforms is costly and takes up resources. The problem with this model is that it means slowing down work, such as training people twice.

Many times it’s more efficient to work with one vendor. CIOs are looking for a single cloud platform that’s more affordable and offers sensible scalability and security without a vendor lock-in agreement — a package that is hard to find. While CIOs are seeking to avoid lock-ins, they will likely have to deal with them since that’s the direction the cloud is moving. At the moment many CIOs are deciding between platforms such as AWS and Microsoft Azure.

Another one of the major challenges that CIOs are facing in determining a cloud strategy is deciding between leaving data centers behind or approaching the growing market for sharing workloads between data centers and the public cloud.

Cloud Flexibility

Moving from one cloud provider to another is usually not a big issue unless custom services are initiated, which creates dependencies within the original cloud structure. If an app is dependent on the vendor’s domain name and connection with a relational database, it can pose a challenge for moving to a new provider. Otherwise, moving an app from one provider to another is simple.

Dependence on specialized cloud services is tied to how much one uses them. CIOs must decide between standardizing an app for cost and efficiency and creating a more outside the box solution that yields better performance.

Businesses might benefit by starting with a few different cloud partners to gauge quality and scalability. It’s best to test a cloud solution before agreeing to a long-term commitment. Ultimately, creating the right application architecture is the key to CIOs meeting their goals in the cloud.

Conclusion

CIOs need to establish appropriate policies and frameworks to oversee an effective cloud strategy. In recent years they have experimented with huge cloud platforms such as AWS and Azure to test scalability and cloud efficiency. CIOs must weigh the costs and productivity involved with using single or multiple vendor platforms.

Why SDN Needs to Emphasize Network Security More

Network SecurityThe next generation of networking includes software defined networking (SDN), as network controls shift from hardware to software. It’s the result of merging multiple devices into one controller, which empowers the user to control an entire network. It’s a giant leap in the evolution of administrative control, but developers must still face network security challenges for this new technology.

Control Plane Concerns

The main concern that users should have about SDN at this stage is that the control plane can be compromised. A separate issue involves the scalability of the control plane. If a hacker is able to gain access to the control plane, they can potentially control the entire network. Another part of the risk involves how easy it is to misconfigure architecture due to the flexible nature of the software.

SDN as a Networking Solution

Despite the network security issues, SDN is quickly becoming a solution for overcoming modern networking problems. One of the reasons for this trend is that it allows for maintenance dry-out. It also answers several other technical issues. The network is set up to respond to its own threats. The problem is that new product developers are not spending enough time working out security issues.

More Than a Buzz Word

SDN is still not clearly defined, which adds to the uncertainty surrounding network security. Many people have used SDN as a buzz word, as different companies such as Cisco have their own definition of it. Various vendors are defining it based on how it fits their existing product lines. Even though SDN is supposed to make a network more consistent, its ambiguity creates confusion.

SDN is not really a new development, but it has the feel of new technology since all the bugs have yet to be worked out. Developers also need to work on making the technology more stable. What’s more, there aren’t many SDN specialists yet, as networking or data center teams have been left in charge of it.

Industry leaders warn that teams using SDN must be careful about hardware rules concerning switches. They also point to multiple layers of security as the safest solution, whether the business uses SDN or not. One of the major benefits of SDN technology is that it allows for fast reconfiguration.

Conclusion

Businesses that have quickly adopted SDN to resolve networking solutions need to consider that this technology still has network security issues. SDN will become more efficient once more focus is put into making the solution more secure. It is becoming widely used due to the simplicity of consolidating all controls into one controller.

Essential Disaster Recovery Points to Consider

Disaster RecoveryEvery data center is bound to deal with some form of natural or man-made disaster at some point. That’s why it’s important for every business to have a disaster recovery plan. Here are specific metrics businesses should to track to ensure they have a sound plan, along with considerations to maximize data protection. 

Metrics to Analyze

The most important metrics for evaluating a disaster recovery plan are Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO). These metrics are important for limiting downtime and accelerating problem-solving. While RTO measures how long a business can tolerate being offline, RPO reflects how much data loss the company can tolerate while in recovery mode. The combination of RTO, RPO, and budget should shape any company’s recovery plan. 

Recovery Objective and Options

The primary focus of a disaster recovery plan should be making a smooth transition back to normal business continuity while protecting data. Ideally, the business does not need to rebuild infrastructure, and can shift to accessing copies of data with minimal disruption. 

Recovery options include cold and warm sites. A cold site may require tape backups or could just be a cool room with network access. This type of plan leads to a slow recovery spread out over several days or weeks, since tapes must be rewound and it takes time to transfer data from one medium to another. It’s still a viable option for companies trying to save money. 

A warm site is an infrastructure that’s ready to pick up where the system left off before the disaster.  It contains all the main components to resume data center operations. One option includes using dedicated spaces to house backup servers. Electronic vaulting, which involves automatic backups, has replaced tape backups in recent years due to greater efficiency. Warm sites cost more, but are the more reliable solution for resuming normal business activity as quickly as possible. 

Cloud Recovery Plan

The cloud is a haven for ideas that have revolutionized the internet, including “as a service” providers. Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) is an option for companies looking for a turn-key solution that continuously backs up data. Cloud-based providers reduce data loss concerns since they provide constant availability of data due to the amount of redundancy from backing up data in multiple places. 

Regardless of where the disaster occurs, there’s a strong chance that it will not impact all servers. Cloud providers are the best bet for achieving almost zero downtime. Cloud recovery is also an effective solution for scalability without investing in new technology. It allows data to be moved quickly from one place to another without interrupting business continuity. 

A recovery plan can be segmented into different priorities. Business-critical data can be prioritized to be more readily available, while archived data can be stored in more affordable media storage spaces that may take time to access. 

Conclusion

Preparing for disaster recovery should be a solid part of every business. Backing up data regularly in different, easily accessible places helps limit downtime. By relying on modern solutions such as the cloud, downtime will likely last only minutes.

Tailoring Security Technologies to Meet Business Needs

SecurityTechnological advancements have impacted business operations in a positive way. However, managing the security required to maintain compliance and protection isn’t as easy as deploying new applications that allow organizations to increase productivity. In fact, developing risk management plans that accurately and efficiently mitigate threats involves a lot of work. So called “black box” network solutions that claim to meet every need will never replace a specific, tailored design.

Therefore, to ensure that organizations meet changing compliance standards, develop adequate preventative measures, and choose the best investments, they must first assess their real and specific needs, and then incorporate the technologies that will suit.   

Identifying Essential Requirements

The first step in discovering the right security technology for any company is to identify the areas that must be secured.

  • What is the value of the data collected, used, and maintained? Companies must accurately determine the value of the data used in order to ascertain the type of protections to introduce.
  • Where is the data stored and how is it accessed? These considerations also outline which procedures, policies, and tools will be required for efficient protection.
  • What are the current regulations, risks, and penalties associated with non-compliance? Understanding which regulations apply to the data used by the company provides key indicators on how to mitigate threats and limit the impact of an attack.  

Assessing Security Posture

Before investing capital in technology, organizations need to honestly assess their current security posture. Glossing over weaknesses or overrating strengths will result in a failure to protect the company in the event of an attack. For example:

  • Are polices for personnel enforced throughout the hierarchy, or are there ways to bypass them for ease of use?
  • Are physical barriers adequate in-house?
  • Are mobility practices equally protected and secured?

Taking an honest assessment of current strengths and weaknesses is vital to the success of any security strategy or risk management plan.      

Increasing Employee Awareness

Accurately tailoring protection to an organization’s needs means making sure that employees understand the reasons for each tool and policy, and have the opportunity to become actively involved. For any plan to work, companies must have feedback from users. For instance, is one tool causing issues with productivity? Are employees experiencing a positive or negative impact from the controls in place? This type of response from users helps identify weaknesses and helps pinpoint any additional lack.

Although tailoring risk management and strategies based on specific needs takes time and effort, the result produces a cost-effective solution that ensures proper compliance and protection. Staying one step ahead of attackers requires continual evolution.

Ensuring Quality of Service with VoIP

VoIPOne of the key benefits of moving to a unified communications (UC) framework is the ability to swap out old, limited PBX-based systems for the flexibility and added functionality of a VoIP system. It is important, though, when choosing a service provider for a UC solution, to make sure they are able to accommodate the Quality of Service (QoS) needs of the business and deal adequately with issues such as jitter, packet loss, and latency.

QoS

QoS is an umbrella term for a number of protocols and technologies designed to guarantee the quality of data flow over a network. Generally this involves prioritizing certain types of network traffic over others to ensure that network services such as VoIP, which are susceptible to latency, aren’t adversely affected.

Latency

Latency is the delay between when a data packet is sent and when it is received. It’s basically the time it takes for data to get from one point on the network to another. It is affected by a number of factors, including conversion from one data type to another, physical distance between the two points, the number of hops or redirects along the route, and encryption. This has some pretty obvious implications for VoIP traffic, particularly in light of its real-time requirements. Round trip latency of more than 250ms is noticeable to users, and the IUT recommends never exceeding 300ms.

Packet Loss

Packet loss occurs when a router receives more data than it can pass through at one time. This can be a frequent occurrence with VoIP traffic simply because of the volume of data generated by real-time voice communication. The effects of packet loss on a VoIP call are usually noticed as stuttering sound, a “tinny” metallic quality to the other person’s voice, or outright dropped calls. Packet loss of more than 1% is usually considered unacceptable. High latency levels tend to exacerbate packet loss.

Jitter

Jitter is a variation of latency where the timing of packet arrival at the destination is inconsistent. This doesn’t affect most types of internet traffic very much – it’s unnoticeable when loading a web page, for example – but can seriously affect VoIP calls. Generally, jitter results in delays in the conversation, similar to a “buffering” effect. Unless excessive it doesn’t hamper communication as much as the other issues discussed here, but it can be frustrating for users.

By giving VoIP traffic a higher priority level through QoS protocols such as Class of Service and Type of Service, issues such as latency and jitter are kept to a reasonable level. Policy-based network management and bandwidth reservation also help. A good cloud services provider will be able to provide the right combination of these strategies to ensure the necessary QoS.

 

Dynamic, Evolving Solutions to IT Security

ITIn the last year alone, IT security has seen an increase in corporate attention and funding, yet security breaches increase. How could this be?

In short, cybersecurity is not simply a concern you can “throw money at” and expect to go away. The only approach to IT security must be one that is dynamic and ever-evolving. Here are three common mistakes that cause threats to a business’s cybersecurity:

Outdated Defenses

More enterprises now invest in IT security personnel and software than ever before. Yet while IT departments keep an increasing focus on end point defenses, it is imperative to remember that processes that prevent data breaches today will not be effective or relevant forever.

Cyber attackers evolve, and cyber attacks grow more sophisticated. Recent IT security breaches have come from spear phishing e-mail scams, which can compromise an entire corporate network if just one employee is tricked by the scam.

This is why it is important to stay on top of the current threats to a company’s IT security, while also anticipating that new or evolved threats will certainly arise in the future. Anyone who has dealt with a next-generation malware virus knows this: there is nothing more damaging than a malware attack when the antivirus software signatures aren’t available yet.

Tunnel Vision: Compliance Requirements

One marker of IT staff success is compliance with security requirements. But that is only one marker. Too many companies face a crisis after IT security professionals develop tunnel vision, proceeding as if compliance guarantees prevention of data breaches. All too often this is not the case, despite industry periodical CIO’s report that 58% of the companies plan to invest more in meeting compliance in the next year.

This is because cybersecurity threats evolve at a faster rate than compliance standards. The vigilance of a company’s IT team must move beyond compliance. A dynamic cybersecurity strategy goes beyond compliance standards and anticipates the evolving nature of security threats.

Adapting New Tech, Not New Security

Third-party cloud storage sites and file sharing apps can make a business more productive and increase employee communications. That is, as long as these channels are secured. Too often, companies embrace new technologies without first laying the groundwork to protect that data. This can have disastrous consequences after a security breach.

A Dynamic Solution

Moving forward, some strategies to bolster the IT security of a company include:

  • Assess which clouds store company data, and evaluate how secure they are.
  • Embrace encryption-based data security, as well as access controls. This doesn’t just mean on laptops and desktops; every cloud and site of Big Data must be encrypted.
  • Have IT professionals work beyond meeting compliance standards to stay on top of ever-evolving security threats.