The Model for a Successful Enterprise Today Includes Embracing the Cloud

Enterprises gain agility and the ability to scale up and down with an investment in the cloud.Enterprises of the 20th century were accustomed to housing their infrastructure onsite, managing all aspects of IT and navigating changes in the market gradually. As cloud solutions become more widespread, it will help level the playing field and allow smaller, more agile companies to edge out bigger, lumbering enterprises.

CIOs are seeing the benefits of paying a subscription fee rather than investing in a big hardware spend. The frequent updates and advances in software applications mean that cloud solutions make sense for enterprises that want to stay competitive both in efficiency and in the customer experience.

Scalability is leveling the playing field. It used to be that only the biggest enterprises could enjoy the advantages of the best software, but subscriptions make it easy for small- and mid-size companies to access the same tools large enterprises are using. For any size business, subscriptions make a team more agile, able to scale up or down based on changes in the marketplace.

Enterprises — the finance department, in particular — love the subscription model of cloud options because the investment can be categorized as an operational expense, rather than a capital investment. The ability to scale up or down also lowers the fixed costs of the enterprise and makes it easier to adjust spending to accommodate demand.

Everything as a Service (XaaS) is now an option. While Software as a Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) have been in use for a long time, the growing service industry is also allowing for the growth of other service areas, including security management and managed services. The XaaS mindset is dominating conversations about digital transformation as executives weigh the benefits of housing more of their IT management with service providers.

The service economy has plenty of room for growth. The market is just entering a shift from “procure and maintain” to a full-service economy. Enterprises are embarking on plans to embrace XaaS models of completing business processes, but there is a lot of opportunity for service providers to capture growth in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and Big Data analytics.

The shift to the service economy is evident across a variety of industries. Examples like car-sharing or pay-by-the-hour jet rental can be compared with companies in the financial arena sharing data management services.

If you’d like to capture new opportunities in the service economy, Focal Solutionscan help you. When you choose Focal Solutions as your trusted telecom partner, you are choosing to extend the range and value of your own IT team. Contact us today to learn more.

Security in the Age of the Mobile Workforce

The mobile workforce presents unique security concerns for IT. How can enterprises protect their data?The mobile workforce is a boon for enterprises. No longer constrained by geographical concerns when hiring, corporations are able to attract the best talent and offer them a high level of flexibility and the ability to collaborate with their peers across the globe.

Remote access allows employees to work from wherever they are, and field employees can access all the data and resources they need on their mobile devices. In addition, companies save on travel expenses as their employees enjoy the ability to hold virtual meetings in which collaborative software makes it easy to brainstorm and discuss a project.

Increasing Cloud Migration 

The rise of the mobile workforce wouldn’t be possible without the increasing adoption of cloud technology. These two growth areas are intertwined and present a complex security landscape for IT. Here are a few of the concerns on the minds of CIOs trying to protect their systems and data:

  • Providing a secure and reliable data connection for the mobile workforce
  • The complexity of bring your own device (BYOD) culture
  • Supporting technology for a global team, including syncing time differences and facing infrastructure challenges and language barriers

Security in the Cloud

With so much data flying around the mobile workforce, data centers, and the cloud, there’s a lot of opportunity for security breaches, which can be costly in terms of disaster recovery and from a public relations perspective. Every CIO faces concerns when they consider allowing all of their data to move outside the relative safety of carefully-constructed corporate firewalls.

The good news is that the cloud can be as safe as any corporate environment with the right security tools in place. In addition, disaster recovery tends to be much less costly than it is in an on-premise system. The flooding of a data center in a river valley, for instance, won’t cause an interruption in business processes because the data is stored in the cloud.

Putting out Fires

Many CIOs, confronted by the complexity of security in the age of the mobile workforce, are turning to managed services for a variety of areas, including mobile security. In a changing landscape in which cloud and mobile technology are significantly disrupting the IT industry, CIOs are realizing the value of outsourcing some aspects of security management. It frees them to focus on strategy and innovation, rather than putting out security fires.

The mobile workforce adds a new layer of security concern to an already complicated cloud environment. Talk to your clients about outsourcing their security, with Focal Solutions as your partner. Contact us today to discuss the new challenges in mobile security.

 

Staying Safe When Utilizing Cloud Storage

CloudWhen it comes to data storage, many enterprises are finding better accessibility and cost savings in the cloud compared to on-site servers. If you have yet to make that move, it’s likely one of your chief concerns is the safety of your data. If so, you’re not alone.

Safety and security are the top talking points for those who haven’t embraced cloud-based solutions. However, large cloud providers are extremely vigilant when it comes to security. The resources available to large providers far exceed what even medium-sized organizations are able to produce on their own, making cloud options even more secure than keeping things in-house.

One area that still remains a challenge with security is that encrypted storage isn’t 100% impervious to attack, especially if drive-based encryption is used, and there is evidence that automatic encryption practices can be vulnerable to attack. Encrypting a server with a custom key set is the way around this issue. What other ways can you protect your data?

Protect Against Damage and Deletion
If you’ve taken every step to fully encrypt your data, it’s still vulnerable to damage or deletion if hardware failure occurs. Bad software and malicious operators can also make your data vulnerable.

If you move data to an area where it can’t be compromised, you will ensure your data is more secure. Protect data from exposure through frequent backups and by making offline copies.

Be Diligent About Management
Make sure you’re partnering with a data center that doesn’t have chaotic data management practices. They should be experts at managing partial datasets and trash. Critical files should never be allowed in low-security areas, and they should practice a metadata-driven approach that offers greater control.

Be Careful of Your Insiders
Did you know the majority of data losses have been at the hand of an insider? These are people whom you’re trusting with your data. Protect yourself by using multi-factor authentication. This may seem like too much of a time investment, but it’s not as much as the time lost in the wake of a data breach.

Human error is also a cause of data loss. Know the common mistakes and develop a strategy for when they occur in order to remain proactive rather than reactive.

At Focal Solutions, we invest in our clients by offering comprehensive solutions. For cloud services, our clients have confidence in our data center solutions and disaster recovery strategies. Contact us today and find out how seriously we take the safety of your data.

The Move from Centralized WAN Design

WANThe design for wide area network (WAN) is currently adapting to new requirements for networks, so the typical hub-and-spoke configuration is making way for other alternatives. There are many factors driving a change in WAN design, but two have had the most impact:

  1. The migration to cloud software for applications and data storage
  2. Software as a Service (SaaS), cloud-based apps, and managed services all require a WAN configuration that reduces latency and improves speed and performance

With the need for quicker connections and better performance, there are currently three main designs for WAN:

  • Centralized internet access (in this case, firewalls, authentication, and other security features are in the single WAN access point)
  • Decentralized internet access (this is known as “every site for itself”)
  • Regionalized internet access

Overall, the trend is moving away from a centralized design, except in those cases where a company is geographically localized and is primarily using on-site software solutions.

The Implications of a Decentralized WAN Design

While it’s easy to understand the desire for a direct connection to the internet for branches to increase speed and efficiency and improve business processes, a decentralized WAN design presents other challenges for IT teams. Managing security and firewalls is more difficult and expensive when there are multiple entry points for accessing the internet.

A centralized WAN design has some benefits when it comes to security, including the requirement for all traffic to back-haul to your centralized network before going out to the internet.

Regionalization

Many enterprises are adopting what’s called regionalized internet access, in which they gain some of the benefits of centralized and decentralized designs. In this model, there are generally two variations used: hub routers in colocation sites or virtual hub routers in the cloud.

One benefit of using hub routers in the colocation sites is that end users appreciate a fast connection to the internet with an inexpensive price tag. The alternative is simply the virtual equivalent of this system, with virtual hub routers in the cloud. There are a few challenges for this method, including limitations in performance, the ability to access inter-cloud provider connections, and potential fees for egress traffic from cloud providers.

With a regional connection, you still have some of the latency that comes with a centralized WAN design, but it’s spread out between multiple locations. As a result, speed is not as big of a problem and performance is reliable.

As comprehensive consultants, Focal Solutions works with you through every step of your technology plan, from choosing a network configuration to determining which applications are best hosted in the cloud. We’ll make sure speed and performance never suffer while reducing your overall IT costs. Give us a call to talk more.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.