Altering the IT Costs Dynamic: Making the Case for a Consumption-Based Service Model

The concept of scalable consumption of technologies is growing in popularity. The idea that companies can alter their IT costs dynamic is attractive to businesses where the amount of space and servers employed exceeds the actual usage. Paying for equipment that sits idle translates into waste, and companies that consider IT costs a fixed expense are under pressure to discover a more agile approach. Innovative consumption-based service models offer the solution.

With the advent of Software as a Service (SaaS), CIOs have an opportunity to integrate greater agility into the company by employing a consumption-based (or “as a Service”) IT model. Rather than pre-committing to IT costs based on full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), seats, or tasks, a usage-based approach relies on a data structure where expense directly correlates to consumption. The ability to scale resources based on usage offers organizations the flexibility and savings present in variable costs as opposed to fixed ones.

Transitioning to a cloud-based infrastructure is the foundation of this new cost reduction concept. Whether it is orchestrated through a dependable third-party provider or internally, getting the organization on board with the shift to consumption-based IT requires outlining the benefits of the efficiency and savings it establishes.

Making the Case

To implement consumption-based IT services and move company fixed costs to the variable column, organizations must sketch the advantages of the switch.

  • Agility: The primary reasons for the shift to consumption-based IT services include greater flexibility, quicker time-to-market, and simplified scaling. When work volumes fluctuate, this establishes a major cost reduction.
  • Cost Reduction: This type of IT service offers the ability to synchronize revenue with cost, calculate the benefits of the IT impact on a service or product, and engage new technologies without being saddled with debt or high capital expenditure.
  • Companywide Integration: Rather than focusing on single-point solutions, cloud-based infrastructure enables companywide pricing structure for an overall reduction in IT costs.
  • Ongoing Improvement: Consumption-based IT services allow for ongoing expense assessments. Enterprises have the power to continually review usage and pinpoint services or specific components that can be more efficient, and alter them as needed.

Moving to a consumption-based service model lowers IT costs. By instituting workable flexibility that gives both components and services the ability to evolve, businesses can establish improved performance in a low-cost framework. An agile, cost-efficient infrastructure delivers cutting-edge resources that improve efficiency and productivity throughout the organization.

Information Management: Data Infrastructure Explained

Data InfrastructureMany companies experience communication issues that contribute to measurable losses in the form of mistakes. As a business grows, so does the need for a workable data infrastructure that supports productivity. Innovation in technology has altered the traditional business dynamic, changing the way information is processed, and the result is that a large number of companies are suffering from a poorly designed infrastructure. However, by understanding the elements involved in data infrastructure development, businesses have the ability to increase efficiency and lower operating costs.

Defining Data Infrastructure

Data infrastructure is generally defined as the digital means utilized for the consumption and sharing of information. It can be likened to the physical infrastructure of a state. Large cities employ complex traffic controls and intricate roadways, while smaller towns typically rely on simpler designs and still employ dirt roads in certain areas. The same is true for businesses. Larger companies require formal processes for controlling vital information, while smaller companies are more relaxed. Depending on the organization’s size and mission critical tasks, levels of data infrastructure designs include:

  • Tribal—A small company that relies on word-of-mouth communications. Questions are answered by speaking to the person most likely to know.
  • Enforced—An organization that employs the rudiments of controlled processes. Written procedures and data repositories make information available to a larger number of persons. Spreadsheets and software applications are used to facilitate the workflow.
  • Standardized—At this point, growing companies begin to remove duplicate processes and other wastes by implementing a centralized system, such as an ERP system, as a means of stabilizing and controlling data for improved productivity.
  • Actualized—This is the point where an organization begins to discover ways to utilize data to improve efficiency. Vendor management and customer relations management programs offer increased performance and lowered costs.

Once the infrastructure is in place, it is able to support continued growth and improvements by building a foundation that enhances the methods used to gather, use, and distribute information.

Understanding the Importance of Data Infrastructure

When the infrastructure is developed around the type of data used in an organization, it offers the power to limit operating and capital expenditures while supporting productivity. The elements companies must consider when developing data infrastructure include:

  • Collection Procedures—Organizations can collect data from both internal and external sources. Big data is defined as large amounts of information that can be analyzed to predict trends and patterns relative to behaviors and interactions. Companies can interpret data from sales, financial, logistics, and other internal sources, along with social media and external news sources that guide future endeavors.
  • Storage—The space required to keep all the data collected is another element for consideration. Many companies lack the budget to arrange for in-house servers, but the advent of cloud data storage has solved that problem. As a cost-effective, secure solution, cloud storage offers a useful means for storing and accessing data when required.
  • Analytics—Various software tools and specific engines are able to analyze the information most relevant to an organization. The infrastructure design should include an effective method for drawing conclusions based on company needs.
  • Reporting—This involves transferring analyses into a form that offers easy comprehension for decision makers within the organization. The reporting process is where the data enters and positively affects the actual processes.

Building a data infrastructure that facilitates the way companies collect, apply, and share information enables an environment of growth through efficiency. Understanding the methods of development for a specific organization enhances productivity and lowers costs.

Adopting Policies That Work for BYOD

BYODThe year was 2009 when the mobile phone revolution inspired office workers to begin to break away from their cubes, ushering in freedom from desktops. An emerging trend, bring your own device (BYOD), surfaced across a wide spectrum of industries. While BYOD has since proven to have many benefits, it also has its drawbacks. Here’s a deeper look at the advantages and disadvantages of how portable devices have reshaped IT and the business world.

Costs of Convenience

A significant reason BYOD has become popular is the convenience of workers using their own devices with which they’ve grown comfortable. It’s convenient for management as well, since it frees up the budget for expenses on other needs beyond equipment. At the same time, however, it’s been a nightmare for some IT teams to oversee a wide range of technology that they cannot completely control.

The savings companies enjoy from avoiding desktop purchases are sometimes offset by the processing fees of plan subsidies, greater security risks, and less productivity from workers using their devices for personal use. The fact that employees can take home data that can be compromised by nefarious entities should be cause to look into device management strategies carefully before implementing BYOD.

First, Conduct Sufficient Research

The quickest path to quagmire in the BYOD era is to not bother planning a structured mobile device policy. Thorough research is needed on costs, ease-of-use, platforms, operating systems, models, and security risks. Partial plan policies may look more appealing on the surface than buying devices outright. But management should not overlook processing costs related to employee expense reports, which average around $18 per report, according to a 2013 Aberdeen Group analysis. Each business needs to study its own finances to determine if this model will provide savings.

A BYOD feasibility study also needs to include the potential security breaches that can occur from the vulnerabilities that BYOD introduces. This research (which can include Google, expert blogs, suppliers, software specialists, and business publications) may lead to a narrowed list of mobile device selections for employees to choose from. Comprehensive research will also help managers make the following determinations:

  • Rules and policies for professional vs. personal use
  • Mobile Device Management (MDM) strategies
  • The level of extra work and pressure BYOD will put on IT support
  • Price targets, options, and negotiation strategies

Developing a Company Mobility Plan

After compiling the above information, management should write a detailed company policy that spells out specific rules and regulations. The policy should identify which employees are permitted to use their own personal devices, which types of devices are allowed, and how they may be used in the workplace.

Additionally, the policy should specify who pays for phone and data plans and who is responsible for device maintenance and security. Finally, the policy needs to culminate in a summary of the company’s enforcement policy of rules and regulations.

The Power of MDM 

MDM software, such as IBM’s MaaS360, strengthens mobility policies through passwords. This cross-platform software is affordable, with options ranging from $3 to $10 per month. The software keeps devices locked down when not in use and sets limits on functions so that management can keep employee usage under control. As a security feature, MaaS360 can wipe data from lost or stolen devices.

As long as management does its homework by conducting a cost analysis then setting clear and appropriate policies, BYDO can help enable workers to be more productive at their jobs.

 

VoIP Network Software and Hardware Security

VOIPSince Voice over IP (VoIP) and hosted PBX services are easy to deploy, some small to medium businesses (SMBs) take network security for granted. Enterprise network security requires more attention, but anyone using VoIP is still a target for foreign attacks. Following are areas of concern for management when implementing these modern communication features.

VoIP and Hosted PBX Vulnerabilities 

  • DDoS attacks can indefinitely block business communication.
  • Cyber criminals can listen to phone conversations and steal trade secrets.
  • Spies, ex-employees, or script kiddies can infect a network with ransomware.

Firewalls

Firewalls are simple to set up, as provisions and configurations determine who has access to a network. In other words, firewalls allow users assigned by administrators to access the network, while blocking unfamiliar users.

Businesses commonly use software firewalls on each node of a network to filter traffic based on individual configurations. While a software firewall is easy to implement, it can be expensive due to purchasing of multiple licenses and extra maintenance costs for each machine. Other drawbacks to consider before implementing software firewalls include:

  • Installation on individual computers is time consuming.
  • Users of each machine must be involved in the installation process.
  • Security is weaker, making it easy for hackers to infiltrate.
  • They are not user-friendly for inexperienced computer users, creating confusion and disruption.

The best way to approach network security is to use common sense by staying on top of which connections are allowed by administrators and blocking suspicious users.

Hardware Firewalls Strengthen Security

While software firewalls need to be installed on each network machine, a single hardware firewall can be assigned to the entire network as an extra protective layer. Whatever work needs to be done in terms of provisions, configurations, monitoring, or maintenance can be executed on one computer. This quicker approach does not require as much participation from individual users.

Packet loss can be avoided across the network, as security managers can configure a hardware firewall when necessary so that traffic is prioritized separately for VoIP or video conferencing. Maintenance and monitoring will still need to be overseen by IT personnel. Hardware firewalls may integrate with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for encrypted connections, which entails:

  • Time consuming initial installation but to a lesser degree than a software firewall
  • Prioritizing VoIP and video data for a jitter free, smooth, and secure experience
  • Reduced restrictions on permissioned users
  • Less need to train workers on how to make network access decisions

Cloud Managed Firewalls 

Investing in a hardware firewall clearly provides more efficiency and stronger protection than a software firewall, and can work as a premises, network, or cloud solution. A cloud service provider may be the most efficient solution for businesses that prefer IT services to be managed by an offsite third party. Even though a managed firewall often requires hardware to be connected to the network, most cloud service providers will handle maintenance, provisioning, and monitoring from their data center.

Furthermore, they can provide continuous firewall administration, monitoring, and quick response to security issues. Quality cloud providers manage firewalls using reliable brands such as Cisco, Dell Security, and Verizon Enterprise Solutions or niche competitors such as Secure Works or Simple WAN.

Conclusion  

SMBs that use VoIP and hosted PBX can improve security with a hardware firewall that protects every computer on a network. Some companies choose to install software firewalls on individual computers, but this strategy can run up costs. Companies that would rather not worry about the nuts and bolts of IT work should consider cloud managed services.

 

Addressing BYOD Challenges Using the Cloud

Cloud, BYODBring your own device (BYOD) policies are on the rise, and not just at startups: recent surveys have shown that over 70% of organizations either have a BYOD policy in place or are planning to introduce one. The benefits, from lower hardware costs to increased employee satisfaction, are clear. Unfortunately, so are the drawbacks – increased IT support costs and heightened security concerns among them. One surprising answer to these concerns may be cloud computing.

 

The Challenges of BYOD

BYOD policies buy flexibility on the employees’ end with a decrease in centralization and standardization on the company’s. Employees may choose to do their work from different devices (such as computers, smartphones, and tablets), on different operating systems, and from different locations. This may include accessing company data from unsecured networks and using devices or browsers with security issues or ones that aren’t compatible with file types used. This increases the burden on a company’s IT department, as they may need to become fluent in supporting a number of different platforms.

 

Cloud Computing’s Answer

While cloud computing may seem like a step away from controlling company data and employee access, it actually allows a company to add a layer of abstraction between employee devices and company resources. This layer can then be optimized for security and access.

Moving documents to the cloud, for example, allows the cloud-based service to enforce its own access protocols, and may also allow for more sophisticated locking, check-in/check-out procedures, and version tracking/control. Cloud services may offer two-factor authentication and other protocols for access management. And if an employee’s device should be stolen, having documents in the cloud – rather than allowing local copies to be kept on the user’s device – mitigates the risk.

Cloud computing can also be made more secure by mandating the use of certain policies and tools:

  • DNS firewalls. Part of the appeal of BYOD policies is the ability to work from outside a company office, whether at an out-of-state conference or a local coffee shop. But these unsecured hotspots may be attractive targets for opportunistic hackers. DNS firewalls, so long as they’re kept up-to-date with accurate threat data, can safeguard activity on unsecured networks.
  • Standardized software. Even if the devices show startling diversity, the software run on them doesn’t need to. Employees can be required to access company resources using certain applications on their devices, or even to use Software as a Service cloud applications. This narrows the scope of what IT needs to keep an eye on.
  • Requiring appropriate devices. A BYOD policy doesn’t have to mean that anything goes. A company can meet employees halfway by allowing them to use one of a variety of devices – so long as those devices meet minimum hardware and OS requirements, or come from a pre-approved list. Options available could be validated by IT departments to ensure that they are free of major security vulnerabilities.

 

Implementing BYOD

There’s no one-size-fits-all BYOD implementation, and cloud computing isn’t the only tool available. To learn more about the perils and payoffs of BYOD, contact us today.

The Importance of Edge Data When Choosing a Data Center Provider

Data CenterManaging all of a business’s data can become daunting as a company expands and experiences more distribution. Companies need to make sure that their technologies stay up-to-date to meet all of the necessary demands. One of the best ways for business managers to ensure that they don’t fall behind is to work with a reliable data center provider who can meet their individual needs.

In today’s environment, companies across a wide variety of industries and sizes are searching for ways to improve the overall control they have over data and distribution. To help make things simpler, many businesses have turned to cloud technology, along with a selection of cloud services to provide variety and cover all of their bases.

If a company wants to succeed and grow, a reputable and efficient data center provider can help. With the right services, a data center provider can even help a company develop more effectively than they would without their support.

Apart from generating comprehensive and effective SLAs, here are some other ways for businesses to make sure they get the most out of their data center providers.

Ethernet Services, Other Cloud Providers, and Data Center Interconnects

A data center is never simply a closed infrastructure. Good providers will offer a combination of ethernet services, interconnects, and services from other cloud providers. In fact, many offer services such as Interrnap, Amazon, Level 3, Rackspace, and Azure. Companies can also create their own platforms for CDN services through the use of Ayaka, OnApp, and others.


Custom CDN Management Capabilities

Many providers already offer international CDN services such as Amazon CloudFront, allowing customers to create their own management capabilities. A CDN provider should enable customers to control the flow of data, with native CDN management available in many cases. Many providers will also offer simple integration through REST APIs and others, along with management options using Python, PHP, Java, and more.


Optimizing for Heavy Data Distribution

For companies with heavy data distribution, a partner should have no more than two locations to help ensure that data delivery is consistently efficient and inexpensive. Solutions will vary based on a number of factors including the type of content that a company delivers, such as Yottaa platform content intended solely for mobile data services and web optimization. Company size will also affect distribution, along with other company-specific requirements. International enterprises will want to work with a provider that can handle global distribution needs, while a smaller company will only need distribution in specific regions.

With the help of a provider that can meet all of a company’s needs for data on the edge, a business can truly evolve for many years as it expands its market.

SD-WAN: Combining Intuitive Connectivity, Monitoring, and Provision for Superior Network Performance

SD-WANCompanies today must be able to transact business securely in order to stay ahead of competitors and build a reputation for excellence, and business architectures are changing to meet these new demands. Wide area networks (WAN) offer the ability to connect branch offices and data centers across large geographical areas. When combined with software-defined networking (SDN) technologies which are delivered through the cloud, a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) delivers effective tools that enterprises can safely deploy to retain and expand their profitability.

Virtual private networks (VPN) that are contained in a cloud environment offer cost reductions, improved network management, and an effective user experience for employees and customers alike. This same technology applies to broadband internet connections, increasing their security. Instead of purchasing capital intensive WAN technologies like multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), the migration to SD-WAN provides layer-2 and layer-3 switching possibilities through VPN, optimization, network as a service (NaaS), and application policy and delivery controls.

 

How It Works

SD-WAN technology uses secure broadband connections to replace more expensive legacy technologies. Routing hardware is exchanged using specific provisioning and connectivity through cloud software, which enables companies to scale up during times of peak demand. Security is assured through VPN, and businesses can deploy additional optimization through application policy and provision controls.

For enterprises that now rely on some type of public, private, or hybrid cloud model (that included on-premises servers), SD-WAN delivers effective methods for managing and optimizing the mix of MLPS, Ethernet, cable, and DSL that originates from a variety of local access providers.

 

Business Benefits

Because of its cost to benefit ratio, SD-WAN use is expected to rise rapidly over the next few years. By automating the configuration of edge routers and channeling traffic to less expensive broadband use, businesses like retailers, restaurant chains, and bank franchises find easier ways to manage hundreds of small sites and create cost-effective bandwidth to access cloud storage and applications, all while ensuring security and performance. Network performance results include:

  • Lower Cost—By employing more broadband and fewer private links, the endpoint monitoring automatically provisions packet deliveries using the most efficient configuration for the least cost.
  • Decreased Complexity—Routing protocols choose the best method and stick with it, and they won’t react to packet loss or congested links without external manipulation. SD-WAN dynamically routes traffic according to immediate network conditions. It’s still complex, but there’s less work required to maintain optimum performance.
  • Increased Flexibility—This technology allows businesses to utilize the most cost-effective form of path calculation. Mission critical or SLA-bound applications are routed through the virtual MPLS, which also manages bandwidth consumption, while other apps, backup WAN, and traffic without asymmetric routing can be transmitted through less expensive public cloud.

SD-WAN services better align enterprise networks for optimum performance. By delivering secure, business class connections using cloud-based WAN in a software-defined environment, companies receive better performance, security, and provisioning without the high costs of legacy hardware.

How the Right Cloud Model Can Energize Network Performance and Lower OPEX

As the typical business paradigm shifts further and further from the traditional 9-to-5 atmosphere, more and more companies are recognizing the power of cloud model options to deliver performance results. Since many critical business operations rely on specific applications, cloud computing offers an affordable networking tool that is designed for instant scalability. Yet there is still a lot of confusion concerning the best could solution for a particular business.

Understanding how private, public, and hybrid cloud systems are utilized helps clear up the confusion that surrounds implementation. Real-world scenarios bring to light the advantages and drawbacks of cloud computing and demonstrate how businesses can energize their network performance using specific cloud models.

Public Cloud Uses and Benefits

One of the most attractive elements of cloud integration is the ability to lower operating costs. Since infrastructure management essentially shifts to the provider, companies can alter their focus toward marketing projects, better customer service metrics, and increased efficiency. In fact, many SMBs initialize their network in a virtual environment because the capital expenditure is too large for the internal hardware required. Additional cases for public implementation include:

  • When speed is required for mobility — The global coverage and heightened speed make a public cloud model perfect for mobile sales, delivery personnel, or customer interactions.
  • When low cost storage is required — Businesses can use public storage to archive social media content and other non-sensitive data
  • Disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) structures — This option provides convenient, affordable backup for all types of processes, using virtual machines in order to meet time and recovery point objectives.

With public cloud options, companies “share” infrastructure space on the provider’s physical hardware, which allows them to scale capacities and computing power according to specific need. This type of flexibility is perfect for seasonal and service-based businesses.

Private Cloud—Enhanced Security

With a private infrastructure model, the cloud offers greater agility, confidentiality, and integrity. The security risks associated with public cloud breaches are mitigated using a private cloud model. Cases that require private options include:

  • Small, predictable applications that could be operated in the cloud to save space or costs
  • Managing large amounts of video content
  • Where security concerns and compliance regulations concerning sensitive information are required

Private cloud model options allow business to engage a trusted third-party provider to house and manage their computing and maintenance needs for a lower cost of use.

 

Hybrid Models

With a hybrid solution, businesses can maintain a private physical infrastructure along with virtual machines to enhance internal performance. It essentially delivers the best of both options, providing a way to maintain confidential data and processes while transferring certain applications to the cloud. Hybrid cloud model solutions are excellent for:

  • Decreasing fixed operating costs
  • Handling rapid growth without incurring heavy hardware costs
  • Building networking solutions that maximize resources and performance

Choosing the right cloud model for a particular business doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By speaking with a professional provider, moving to the cloud can be painless and profitable.

Cloud Considerations

The cloud has evolved in recent years from being just a buzz word to becoming a game-changer and equalizer. Small businesses (SMBs) to large corporations can become more scalable and agile than ever before, allowing them to cater to their customers’ ever-growing needs without having to spend a lot.

Cloud Spending

According to analyst group IDC, IT infrastructure spending growth will reach $38.2 billion for cloud environments this year. Private cloud spending gets 11% of that amount, a close second to public cloud’s 14%. Though enterprises are quick to recognize the cloud’s many capabilities, they still prefer to invest in their own data centers, or at the very least, in hybrid cloud strategies.

The reasoning behind this boiled down to security. As business processes are moving to the cloud, protection from data threats over the internet is more important than ever before. Further, some business processes are simply not ready for transitioning to the cloud for a variety of reasons, including compliance, data sovereignty, or legal limitations.

Cloud Implementation

Security, though still a priority, is no longer the topmost concern of enterprises when transitioning to the cloud. Nowadays, the problem they face is the not having enough resources to successfully implement such a transition.

For public clouds, connection can be established via the data center cloud exchange model. But this can be an inconvenient setup because of the presence of an exchange data center through which an enterprise has to cross-connect. The added step makes the whole operation tedious. Thus, the easier option is for an enterprise to use their own WAN to establish their private cloud. Without the need for an exchange data center acting as a middle man, there are fewer assets to manage, and, therefore, bigger savings to look forward to.

At the same time, it makes access to infrastructure much faster, too. Based on the 2016 State of the Cloud Report by RightScale, 62% of survey respondents consider speed as the top advantage of the cloud.

When speed is of the essence, it’s best for enterprises to look for providers who can make the adjustments for them and bring the cloud to them, and not the other way around.

Best Security Practices Within the Internet of Things

Internet of Things (IoT) is a term that was coined back in 1999. However, it did not gain steam until 2008 when it truly became a technological trend. The term relates to personal devices that help connect users to the Internet. These include smartphones, tablets, PCs, gaming consoles, and other wireless and digital devices. With over 12.5 billion connected devices across the globe, it is imperative to deploy security measures to safeguard online connections, transactions, and especially searches.

 

IoT Classifications

There are basically three classifications that fall under the IoT umbrella: consumer, enterprise, and industrial. The most familiar side of IoT, of course, is our usage of everyday wireless and remote devices. Whether on a plane, in a coffee shop, or at home, users will be lost if they cannot connect to the Internet to access their preferred content. According to industry experts, there are a few major updates happening in the marketplace:

  • The industrial app economy is slated to be worth $225 billion by 2020
  • General Electric is now building sensors onto gas turbines, plane engines, and other machines
  • More devices and applications are now connected to the cloud than ever before
  • There are now more devices that there are people in the world

 

These statistics are based on data analysis and assessment by several governing bodies. The main connection between these stats and the Internet is that more people are connected to online resources than ever before. With this in mind, security is of paramount concern for many users and businesses.

IoT Security

There are benefits associated with sensors that monitor user activity and connections. These include:

  • Improved utilities, cost, and energy savings
  • Streamlined and efficient services for online users
  • Improved safety and customer experiences
  • Better handling and processing of massive amounts of data generated by user searches

With so many connections to the Internet these days, data is always at risk of being intercepted or hacked. Despite the existing security protocols in place, IoT safety can always be implemented across the board by users.

Here are a few ways to safeguard not only connections, but also online browsing and daily tasks and chores:

 

  • Deploying Security Gateways - Security gateways are instrumental in ensuring maximum security across the board. In fact, users are able to inspect, audit, and even control the communications in and out of their networks. This is essential when there is an increase in connected devices to shared or private networks.

 

  • Using Stronger Authentication - Even with certain security protocols in place, many devices are still shipped with weak default admin passwords. Users have to take it upon themselves to create passwords that are hard to decipher. This is as simple as using special characters, numbers, and a combination of letters to safeguard usernames on sites and especially online banking and financial venues.

 

  • Check SSL Settings - To avoid potential hacks and foreign intrusion, only visit websites that are validated and secure. Check this by looking at the URLs in the search bars. Secured sites will have SSL implemented, along with protocols like HTTPS and SSH. These are designed to support encryption and stronger authentication measures. Online users should periodically change their passwords as well. Another option is to clear caches daily after using the Internet. This will leave no footprint behind for potential hackers to follow.