Top IT Priorities for 2013

The results are in – research professionals from a variety of companies have published their findings on the trends and priorities of IT professionals in 2013. With an ever-shrinking budget, IT staff members need to identify the main items that they wish to invest their limited resources on. After analyzing four different studies, we found that the results seemed to vary slightly across the board, but 5 key items remained prevalent throughout the findings. Below is a list of these items, in no discernible order, as well as brief summary of the results.

  • Cloud Computing (including SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS): It appears that cloud computing will continue to win over IT professionals, displacing traditional computing and storage methods. The studies revealed that cloud computing is taking a large portion of IT budgets, with a majority of respondents claiming that they plan to utilize external providers to implement cloud computing.
  • Virtualization: IT members are including virtualization as one of their primary infrastructure projects for 2013. One study found that virtualization increased in priority by 42% from last year. This rise in importance may be part of a long-term consolidation plan, or as preparation for migrating to the cloud.
  • Mobile: Mobile proved to be a high priority for IT professionals in all four studies, but it seems to be more about blending mobility into the enterprise; not mobile devices replacing desktops. However, IT seems to be straggling at the enterprise infrastructure level, with only 29% of respondents implementing mobile device management and 28% implementing mobile security.
  • Business Continuity: The occurrence of the many unfortunate natural disasters in the previous years seems to have had an impact on the mindset of IT professionals. More than ever, IT needs to plan for, and respond, to potential business disruptions and outages. One study revealed that the three top-of-mind priorities in this category are developing and maintaining business resumption plans, developing and maintaining IT disaster and recovering plans, and developing and maintaining crisis management plans. It’s not surprise that business continuity has been identified as a high priority for businesses since every minute a company is inactive, more money is lost.
  • Security and Risk Management: Security appears to be top-of-mind for many IT professionals, as 51% of respondents have identified it as a priority for 2013. Especially with the implementation of cloud computing, as well as the increased popularity of mobile, businesses need to do everything in their power to ensure their data is secure. The top security initiatives listed by IT professionals are data protection, network-based security, identity and access management, and mobile endpoint security.

Think we should have included another priority for 2013? Let us know by providing a comment.

Blog Author: Vanessa Hartung

Resources:

2013 IT Priorities: http://cdn.ttgtmedia.com/rms/computerweekly/2013%20IT%20Priorities%20Europe.pdf

2013 IT Priorities Survey: http://www.protiviti.com/en-US/Documents/Surveys/2013-IT-Priorities-Survey-Protiviti.pdf

CIO Priorities 2013: IT Budgets, Mobility and Cloud: http://mspmentor.net/managed-services/cio-priorities-2013-it-budgets-mobility-and-cloud

Technology Priorities for 2013: http://www.microscope.co.uk/magazineContent/Download-Technology-Priorities-for-2013

Top 3 Benefits of Video Conferencing

Businesses are continually on the search for technologies that will support their operations and productivity at a relatively low cost. Video conferencing platforms are a great tool for staying connected and communicating in real time with people all over the world. As working from home becomes more common and the price of video conferencing platforms decreases, the technology is quickly becoming a valuable resource for many companies. Below are the three main benefits of adopting video conferencing as a part of your operations.

1. Cut Costs: Traveling expenses can be greatly reduced, or even eliminated, by implementing video conferencing. With a video link, your employees can conduct business and maintain relations with customers across the globe without ever leaving the office. It also removes the cost of airline fares, accommodations, and meals, allowing for your company to use the money saved on other necessities.

Video conferencing also allows users to record and archive any important meetings, key strategy sessions, and training materials. This can cut down on training costs, as new employees can simply review the recorded material. Recorded materials can also be used to educate new employees on best practices by viewing real-world scenarios.

2. Customer Relations: Video conferencing allows for your company to connect with distant customers face to face, without the addition cost of travel. More importantly, a live, online video meeting allows for customers to see facial expressions and body language. This can help make meetings feel more personal, which can lead to a stronger relationship with your customers. By utilizing video conference technologies, meetings between employees and customers can occur more regularly, which can lead to better relations.

3. Employee Collaboration: Employees who work remotely can now connect to the office anytime instead of waiting for a quarterly team meeting. Video conferencing can also be used to share documents, such as power point presentations, or demonstrate new products and services. Employees can also get immediate feedback from conference participants, cutting down on approval times and increasing productivity.

As video conferencing is only expected to increase, businesses need to ensure that they have adequate bandwidth to support the application. Some video conferencing applications can hog bandwidth, slowing down your company’s network, so it is important to ensure that your company’s Internet service is providing enough bandwidth in order to maintain productivity. Additionally, without enough bandwidth, video conferencing quality can suffer, resulting in choppy images or application crashes.

To learn more about bandwidth for business, click here.  

Blog Author: Vanessa Hartung

Increased Internet Use can Result in Bandwidth Bottlenecks

With an estimated one-third of the world’s population going online, it is no surprise that bandwidth demand is growing faster than it can be delivered. Data reviewed by The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) over the past few years indicates that bandwidth demand is growing faster than our capacity to deliver it (John Brodkin, 2012).

In addition to the millions of users worldwide, new devices are also being used to access the internet, such as mobile phones and tablets. On top of the increased amount of users and devices accessing the Internet is the number of online applications available, such as games and social media.

The most notable application is video. Peer-to-peer video file sharing accounted for a majority of the Internet traffic in 2010. However, it is important to recognize that it is not strictly consumers who are using video applications; it’s businesses as well. Video conferencing is proving to be a useful tool for companies looking to communicate in real time with customers or employees who are not within proximity.

The cost of utilizing video conferencing is also minimal when compared to travel expenses, making it an attractive option for many businesses. However, it requires an adequate supply of bandwidth in order to operate effectively.

Concerns about the continued increase of users, devices and applications are so prevalent that it has driven some technology based companies, such as Cisco, to examine ways to combat it. According to a study done by Cisco, global IP traffic increased eightfold over the five years leading up to 2010 and will quadruple by 2015 (John Brodkin, 2012).

As a result, multiple organizations, including Cisco, are at work on the next generation of Internet and networking technologies. This includes advances in software-defined networking and advances in infrastructure. The question, of course, is whether or not these innovations can keep up with the growing bandwidth demand. Currently, a variety of network technologies are staying ahead of the requirements and delivering enough bandwidth to sustain the demand. Businesses can also minimize the number of users competing for bandwidth by obtaining their Internet from a business only provider.

To read the article written by John Brodkin, click here.

Blog Author: Vanessa Hartung

Protecting Your Company’s Virtual Private Network

Our post last week, The Technology behind Telecommuting, discussed the technology that enables employees to connect with their office remotely. It’s relatively easy to control security within the physical walls of your company, but providing secure remote access to internal resources is more difficult. We have previously discussed the use of Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to protect the virtual private network (VPN) from non-employee internet users, but what is the difference between IPsec and SSL?

What is IPSec?

IPSec is a standard suite of protocols that are designed to secure network communication through cryptography. Its primary goals are data confidentiality, data integrity, and host authentication, which it achieves through tunneling, encryption, and authentication. IPsec establishes a “tunnel” over the internet to connect employees that are outside of a corporate firewall or gateway to internal corporate resources.

Advantages of IPSec

When properly configured, IPSec VPNs permit highly secure site-to-site connectivity. It is also capable of providing security and communication with a variety of different networks from around the world, making it very versatile. Additionally, since IPSec operates at the network layer, it provides remote users with virtually full access to corporate network resources, making it ideal for telecommuters and workers in branch offices.

Disadvantages of IPSec

IPSec may require large amounts of processing power on VPN endpoints in order to encrypt, decrypt, and authenticate traffic. The vast configuration options of IPSec make it very flexible, but that also makes it very complex. A single error in configuration could compromise the security of the VPN, leaving it vulnerable. Additionally, IPSec can become quite costly because it requires that corporations provide each employee with a home machine that has the appropriate client software installed in order for the user to access the corporate network.

What is SSL?

SSL is a protocol used to secure web-based communications over the internet at the application layer, using encryption and authentication to keep communications between two devices, typically a web server and a user machine, private. Similar to IPSec, SSL also provides flexibility in allowing companies to define the level of security that best meets their needs. Unlike IPSec, an SSL does not need specialized software on the end user’s computer.

Advantages of SSL

The major advantage of SSL is that is provides a secure and flexible way for employees to connect from any computer with a web browser and an internet connection to an internal network. Additionally, since no special client software licenses or other expensive hardware is needed, SSL is allows for a cheaper deployment in comparison to IPSec. SSL also provides finely detailed client access policies based on user identity and profile, allowing for administrators to be very specific when defining the corporate VPN.

Disadvantages of SSL

There can be additional security risks involved with the use of SSL since many employees use public or home computers to remotely log into the internal network. Personal computers may not have adequate anti-virus software and can therefore spread viruses to the larger network. Additionally, under extremely high loads, the corporate VPN gateway may become overtaxed, resulting in diminished performance.

While both methods are effective, there are a variety of factors your business should take into consideration when looking to deploy a remote access VPN. Application and end user accessibility, ease of use for non-technical workers, encryption and authentication security, deployment and management complexity, scalability and performance, and total costs should all be taken into account. However, the two major factors to consider are who the remote users are and what they need to access. Once you have assessed your company’s requirements and resources, you can make an educated decision on which method meets your needs.

For more information on connecting your offices remotely, click here.

Blog Author: Vanessa Hartung

The Technology behind Telecommuting

Last week, a memo sent from Yahoo’s executive vice president of people and development (Human Resources) revealed that Yahoo was no longer allowing their employees to work from home. Soon after the memo was leaked, Yahoo employees and working professionals throughout North America where in an uproar. By calling their at-home workers back to the office, Yahoo has ignited a telecommuting debate that is spreading through a variety of industries. However, not many people are discussing the technology that enables employees to work from anywhere they desire.

With so many studies and opinions in support of telecommuting, the only factor that businesses need to consider is the technology and internet connection being used by remote employees. Companies invest a large amount of money in their internet service to ensure that they’re employees have a fast and secure connection. However, there is little to no control over the type of internet service that employees utilize while working remotely.

Improved network connectivity gives employees the ability to connect digitally to share documents, send files, and conduct video meetings and conferences. Workers can function and communicate as if they were actually in the office, but what type of connection are they using to do so? While transferring company information, it is imperative that your employees have the proper security measures in place in order to ensure that the data isn’t compromised.

The virtual office is an extension of the corporate network, and a corporation’s security is only as strong as its weakest link. Having a virtual private network (VPN) that is secured by Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) is essential. SSL establishes an encrypted link between a web server and a browser that ensures all transferred data remains private and integral. IPsec secures communications over Internet Protocol (IP) networks through the use of cryptographic security services.

Additionally, it is important to ensure that the devices used by remote employees are cleaned of any viruses or malware that could damage or disable your company’s network. It’s recommended that companies outfit their remote employees with a dedicated PC or laptop to be used exclusively for work in order to minimize security risks.

Once your company has established a secure connection, remote employees can easily connect with the office virtually. Countless studies have already proven that employees can be just as productive, if not more so, while working remotely. Also, surveys have repeatedly shown that 80-86% of employees want the opportunity to work from home, so why not let them? This isn’t to say that every single employee should work remotely, but having more flexibility translates into higher job satisfaction. And happy employees are good for business.

Blog Author: Vanessa Hartung

Find the Right Internet Technology for Your Business

Last week, we discussed how to “Find the Right Internet Service Provider for Your Business”. This week, the focus will be on the different types of technology Internet Service Providers (ISP) use to deliver your connection. Depending on how you use your internet service, the type of technology you should be utilizing varies. The four most common types of internet technology used by businesses are DSL, or ADSL, Fibre, Cable, and Fixed Wireless. Below is a description of each type of connection as well as some considerations that should be taken into account:

1. DSL or ADSL: DSL (digital subscriber line) uses existing phone lines in conjunction with specialized hardware. It is the most readily available type of broadband service, and is often affordable due to the high subscription rates. However, the speed of your DSL or ADSL connection decreases as the distance between the user and the provider increases. ADSL (asymmetrical digital subscriber line) is the most common type of DSL in use. ADSL users are subjected to slower upload speeds, since the service asymmetrical. Additionally, as with any wire line service, there is always a risk that the wire may be compromised or severed.

2. Cable: This service is typically used by residential customers. The technology uses standard television cables, providing an internet connection while permitting concurrent television viewing and even digital phone use. However, cable connections share bandwidth among multiple users, so speeds can become very slow during peak periods. Sharing your internet connection with multiple residential customers can significantly impact your company’s productivity when peak usage periods occur.

3. Fibre: The use of fibre by businesses is growing in popularity. Many telecommunication companies have been using fibre-optic lines in their backbone infrastructure for quite a while, but in the past few years they have extended their fibre connections closer to end-users. Fibre is able to offer users extremely high bandwidth and can be easily adjusted to any bandwidth changes. For example, if you’re company found that it needed more bandwidth to operate more efficiently, a fibre connection can be adjusted to accommodate the requirements. However, the installation costs are still quite high and special test equipment is often required. Additionally, as with the previous wire line services discussed, there is always a risk that the fibre line may be compromised or severed.

4. Fixed Wireless: This technology uses directional, narrow beam antennas and radios instead of cables to provide internet services. It is completely different from Wi-Fi or cellular. The radios must be pointed directly at each other with a clear, unobstructed line-of-sight, which makes the connection extremely secure. Network access is only available to the customer who owns the communication link. Fixed Wireless is quickly developing in areas that don’t have access to a fibre connection, and it’s able to cover great distances at a lesser cost than fibre. Although extremely heavy amounts of rain can have an impact on the transmission of the signal, many providers engineer their networks to withstand a wide variety of weather conditions.

Companies who operate multiple POS (point of sale) systems or upload a lot of data should consider a fixed wireless or fibre connection since they are able to provide a great deal of bandwidth. However, if you are simply using your internet to send and receive emails, then a DSL or cable connection may suffice.

A reliable internet connection is the lifeline for many businesses, so doing the research to find which provider is best suited to your needs is imperative.

To learn more about Fixed Wireless Technology, click here.

Blog Author: Vanessa Hartung

Find the Right Internet Service Provider for Your Business

Finding the right Internet Service Provider (ISP) is critical to the success of your business, and with so many options to choose from, the task can feel quite daunting. In addition to the variety of providers, there is a multitude of different deals, offers, and promotions that are created to compete for your business. So which is right for you? Below is a list of the 5 “S”’s you should focus on when researching Internet Service Providers; Scalability, Security, Services, Support, and Symmetrical.

1. Scalability: Be sure that the ISP is able to scale your service as your business grows. Your internet demands will increase as your company develops and become more active. Having a provider that can easily adjust to meet your needs is essential. Some ISPs use technology that is not easily customized, such as DSL, so it is important to inquire about the technical capabilities of a provider before you commit.

2. Security: Question the level of security that the ISP is able to provide. Your company information and data is important, and you want to be sure that your ISP is able to provide you with a secure connection. However, it is crucial for your company to do what it can to increase security, such as installing a firewall, in order to obtain the highest level of protection.

3. Services: Finding an ISP that is able to provide a variety of services, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), is highly beneficial. This will allow for your business to cut costs by obtaining all your services from one provider. It is also advisable to ask about their customer base; are they serving residential customers as well? Or only businesses? If they are providing service to residential customers, it is likely that you will be competing for bandwidth during peak periods. A slow internet connection during these times will hinder your employee’s productivity and impact your company’s bottom line.

4. Support: Most ISPs offer a service level agreement (SLA) that outlines the performance and support terms, such as up-time guarantees and support availability. You should also examine their communication practices. If you have a problem that isn’t related to the technical aspect of your service, who would you call? Do they have a dedicated customer service team? How does the ISP communicate any planned or unplanned service interruptions? These are all things that you should examine while researching ISPs.

5. Symmetrical: Businesses are now uploading data as well as downloading, so it’s important to have an internet connection that is symmetrical. This feature is growing in importance as cloud computing continues to increase in popularity. As previously stated, it is important to find an ISP that is able to match the growth of your business. Although you may not be uploading a lot of data at the start, it is likely that the amount will increase as your company develops. Having a symmetrical connection will allow for your company to upload its data to the cloud quickly and efficiently.

The success of your business is the most important factor, and finding an Internet Service Provider that is able to support the growth of your company is imperative. Reviewing these 5 S’s while researching ISPs will help you find a provider that is right for your business.

Next week, we will be discussing the different types of technology used to provide internet services to assist you in discovering which method is best for your business. Learn about fixed wireless technology now by clicking here.  

Blog Author: Vanessa Hartung

IPv6 Implementation Needs to Happen Sooner Rather than Later

It’s happening – whether you like it or not, IPv6 will soon dominate the Internet. For those who have been dragging their feet and haven’t started the process of implementing IPv6, it’s time to pick up the pace. Once IPv6 has taken over the internet, the IPv4-only users may find themselves “locked out” of the Internet.  IPv4 address users are not able to access IPv6 sites, which drastically limits the number of Internet resources that they’ll be able to view.

Let’s not forget, IPv6 was launched last June, and the hype surrounding IPv6 started long before it went live. Hundreds of studies, articles, and promotions about its inception were disseminated among industry professionals prior to its deployment. After which, the news of IPv6 began to trickle down to all internet users. However, not many users have been quick to initiate the transition to the new Internet protocol.

For those of you who running a little behind in adopting IPv6, here are some tips on how to get started:

1. Assessment: First, your company must identify its technical and business requirements in order to select the best type of cloud technology to implement; private, public, or hybrid. To learn more about the difference between the three different cloud variations, click here.

2. High-Level Deployment Plan: After reviewing the technical requirements, your IT department will need to devise a high-level plan to implement IPv6 while minimizing disruptions to employees.

3. Planning and Design: Once you have selected the type of cloud technology that your company will be utilizing, it is time to create a detailed implementation plan. This step includes the IPv6 addressing plan, physical connectivity considerations, and manageability. The detailed planning and design strategy should also include a security plan. IPv6 is not an update of IPv4, but an entirely new suite of protocols. This raises new security challenges, so businesses need to be adequately prepared to set up firewalls and intrusion prevention devices in order to protect company data.

4. Implementation and Testing: This is the time to employ and test your cloud technology. If your company has planned accordingly, then the actual implementation should be the low-risk part of the process. Initially, IPv6 should be deployed in a lab or pilot network, covering the complete set of network devices, applications, and desktops targeted as the initial candidates. This is an opportunity to gather feedback and eliminate any problems with the technology. Once testing is complete, the next step is extending the pilot in stages to a fully deployment.

5. Enhancements: Once you have fully deployed IPv6, you will be able to continually enhance your cloud experience. It is likely that you will end up with a list of improvements that add additional capabilities and value to your business. One of the main benefits of cloud computing is that you can make adjustments to better serve your company’s needs.

The clock is ticking, and time is running out for businesses that haven’t initiated the transition to IPv6. Internet services are critical for almost all companies, so it is very important for businesses to adopt IPv6 sooner than later.

Blog Author: Vanessa Hartung

What Happens When You Want to Leave the Cloud?

On our blog, we’ve covered many different elements of cloud computing – posts about what cloud is, how to implement it, concerns, and the variance between each of the different types of cloud technology available. However, we haven’t discussed what happens if you choose to leave the cloud. Whether the reason you choose to leave the cloud is financial or you simply find that the cloud isn’t right for your business, how do you leave?

A majority of industry professionals are preaching the benefits of cloud computing and persuading hundreds of users to move their data to the cloud. Undoubtedly, the cloud is a fantastic tool, but it may not be for everyone. Additionally, the cloud provider or technology that you choose may not be the right fit for your business. The three main reasons for leaving your cloud provider are service, performance, and functionality.

If your provider isn’t able to meet your service expectations, you should start your search for a different cloud provider. In terms of performance, you need to take both application performance and service level agreements into consideration. It is important to acknowledge the fact that some outages are likely to occur, but the differentiating factor is how your provider handles them when they do. Lastly, if your cloud provider can’t keep pace with technology, then they likely won’t be around for very long.

Once you’ve made the decision to leave your cloud provider, you need to determine if you’re willing to pay a penalty to leave your contract early or if you’re willing to wait until your contract term is over. The specifics of how you leave your cloud provider vary depending on the existing contract and type of cloud services you are using. However, you should begin the process of exiting a month or two before prior to your contract ending. This will give you time to migrate your data to a different cloud provider or back in-house.

If you choose to move your data to another cloud provider, starting preparations before the end of your existing contract is critical in order to avoid any breaks in service. Leaving early will give you time to find a new provider, move your data over, test the new environment, and set a date for an orderly transition with little or impact to your productivity.

However, if your company is having a negative experience with your cloud provider, the problem is likely the actual provider – not the technology. Cloud computing is a great business resource, and a sour experience with one particular provider shouldn’t deter you from utilizing the technology. With the right cloud provider, your business stands to benefit from the multiple advantages it provides.

Blog Author: Vanessa Hartung

Online Presence Critical for Retailers in 2013

Undeniably, online shopping has grown substantially over the past few years. Retailers have used the internet to promote flash sales, distribute emails to customers, and complete online transactions. However, industry professionals have predicted that 2013 will produce a significant consumer shift to online purchasing. As a result, retailers need to invest even more in their online presence in order to keep up with competitors and attract more customers.

Advertising is a large portion of establishing a successful online presence. Advertising dollars have to flow to where the people are, and there are currently over 1.9 billion Internet users. Many companies are taking note of this shift and are relocating their budget accordingly. Online advertising revenues also grew 18% year-over-year in Q3 2012 according to a report published by the Internet Advertising Bureau.

The fast rise of the online consumer community has resulted in a decline in television viewers. One company that has successfully transitioned from television to online advertising is Ford. While other reputable companies spent thousands of dollars to advertise during the Super Bowl, Ford made the decision to promote the Ford Fiesta online instead. The result was a 22% increase in sales, which is two times the growth of the auto industry altogether.

The trend of advertising online will continue as consumers spend less time in front of their televisions and more time on the internet. For example, 18-24 year olds watched a weekly average of 22 hours and 32 minutes of television in Q2 of 2012, which is about 1 hour and 45 minutes less than they watched in Q2 2011. That results in an average trend of approximately 15 minutes less a day in television viewing.

However, before you decide to shift your retail efforts to the internet, it is important to ensure that you build the proper foundation to support an increase in online traffic. If you do not have an adequate internet service to support your online efforts, users may have a negative experience while visiting your site.  The last thing you want is for your site to crash while customers are viewing it or shopping online.

As more consumers move out of the malls and onto the Internet, it is critical for retailers to build their online presence. Retailers need to take their site design, impact, and technical capabilities into consideration before creating a website. You may have a great looking webpage, but if it is extremely slow or unreliable, customers are not likely to return.

To learn more about obtaining a reliable internet provider, click here.

Blog posted by: Vanessa Hartung

Resources:

Dealerscope: Retail Predictions and Convictions for 2013

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