Network Functions Virtualization: Overcoming Management Challenges

shutterstock_121321327Virtualization is increasingly taking over the backend of enterprise IT infrastructure, and virtualization is no longer just for servers and storage. To meet this demand for more efficient and virtualized processes, network providers are incorporating Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) into their offerings. NFV technology is a cutting-edge solution that adds both cost- and time-saving benefits into network management.

Despite the many benefits of NFV, the shift away from hardware in the networking world represents a change in the industry, and one that comes with its own challenges. As an increasing number of service providers deploy NFV solutions, they are faced with the task of managing these solutions – a job that must be somewhat reinvented due to the shift away from hardware-based infrastructure. However, with the right approach, the providers can successfully deploy and manage an NFV solution that results in greater efficiency for staff and their customers.

Reviewing the Benefits
As some organizations struggle with the challenges of rolling out an NFV system, it is helpful to remember the benefits of NFV over traditional networking solutions. Service providers must keep these points in mind, as they are the primary drivers that will incentivize decision-makers to make the transition to virtualization:

  • Cost savings –NFV saves both capital and operational expenses, and this means more dollars to both the bottom line and other core resources.
  • Labor savings – A significant amount of effort is required to order, install, upgrade, and manage networking hardware. The software approach eliminates a great deal of this labor.
  • Speed – NFV can provide a higher performing solution at a faster rate. As users demand more speed and power, IT can better fulfill those demands.

Ensure Successful Management
An important component of a fully successful NFV migration and deployment is an efficient management system by the service provider. Because stakeholders have to reinvent the wheel (to an extent) for NFV management vs. traditional hardware management, this task can be a barrier to a successful rollout and NFV offering. If service providers follow some basic guidelines, they can avoid major management pain points that can come with NFV:

  • Use standard technologies – Providers should not create a new, custom management system for NFV solutions. They should instead take advantage of the industry-standard management tools on the market.
  • Prepare for hypervisor investment and management – A large variety of hypervisors will probably be required for a successful NFV adoption, and providers need to have a solid attack plan for managing these hypervisors.
  • Scalability must be at the forefront – Service providers should keep in mind that scalability applies to both the networking solution and the management aspect of NFV. This means that tools and processes should be familiar and easy to use.

NFV offers significant potential for both the enterprise and the service provider, but companies must be strategic in order to maximize the impact of NFV. Using the best and most standardized management methodologies available can help ensure that both the customer and the provider are making the most of this solution.

Unified Communications Upgrade Success Strategies: Managing the Old System

shutterstock_116426476Many companies are eager to embrace the technological advantages of a unified communications-friendly infrastructure, but are challenged by the need to maintain some legacy telecom system functionality throughout that migration.

The reality of unified communications (UC) adoption is that a lot of organizations are not in a position to just “rip and replace” the old system with the new tools. Most migrations are gradual and occur in a phased and well-planned manner.

 

There are several reasons that an organization may want to undertake a phased migration:

  • They’ve made significant investments in legacy PBX equipment that they aren’t ready to completely abandon.
  • The IT staff lacks adequate manpower to perform a quick migration without any loss of service.
  • There is not enough funding to simultaneously replace all handsets.
  • Employees have concerns about maintaining legacy functionality such as fax and E911.

While relevant stakeholders sort through the complications of this migration, IT departments need a way to easily manage both the old and the new systems. It’s also important to ensure that the coexistence of these two systems does not have a negative impact on enterprise telecom functionality.

One of the best ways to manage the pain points of having two systems is through a tool called a session border controller (SBC). Among other functions, an SBC acts as an intermediary between the old and new systems. SBCs serve the following purposes:

  • Transcode protocols between legacy equipment and new technologies.

    • For example, SBCs ensure that newer UC-based technologies, such as enterprise chat and presence servers, can communicate with legacy fax and telecom systems.
  • Distribute calls: SBCs recognize calls destined for both the new UC servers and the legacy system and perform the appropriate work on the backend to make sure the call goes through.
  • Support business continuity and redundancy through automatic call rerouting in the case of a failure. This requires the use of SIP trunks in addition to the SBC.

The migration to UC, while worth it, comes with several pain points. The co-maintenance of legacy systems with newer systems is one of those barriers, and fortunately, it is a challenge easily overcome with the right tools. Organizations can leverage SBCs and other solutions to help ensure a seamless migration process to a more sophisticated and feature-rich UC system.

Transition to Hybrid Cloud

shutterstock_163517456When switching to the cloud in general, a variety of factors must be considered. For a hybrid cloud setup in particular, the complexity of implementation is even greater. Here are factors to consider when implementing a hybrid cloud.

Integration with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
Increasingly, software solutions are now web-based. While this is excellent for accessibility and convenience, it can be a huge challenge when attempting to link the SaaS with the cloud.

One reason for this challenge is that User Interface (UI) processes are generally far more comprehensive than back end web service calls. Often this is because the Application Programming Interface (API) is not as fully developed as the UI, or it may employ a different type of call than might be expected. Analyze vendors’ API functions early in the discovery process for effective transition planning.

Secondly, in a hybrid cloud/SaaS integration, data and processes must pass between the two environments. Rate limitations exist that can stifle the speed of these transactions, resulting in latency. This can be a major problem, and should be investigated early as well.

Data Migration
Consider all of the data that must be transferred from on-premise solutions to “the cloud” during this transition. This is a major undertaking, and if not done properly can result in lost data or extensive customer downtime. As either outcome is extremely undesirable, careful planning is essential.

One common strategy for hybrid cloud data migration is external key cross referencing. This very effective method works by linking keys across systems in a highly available local data store, which speeds up access by limiting search overhead.

Incremental loading is another useful approach, wherein chunks of data are moved as they occur. The original “dump” of data is generally the largest, but the delta chunks which convey the changes (in sequence) are much smaller. Last but not least is parallel processing. This is a fairly simple strategy that transfers data by related processes allowing multiple groups of data to transfer at once.

Security
Hybrid cloud bears the same types of IT security risks as do on-premise solutions, with a few more in addition. Cloud is designed to be highly accessible, and to allow communication and data acquisition between multiple systems. Therefore, architecting a solution that only allows trusted systems to receive data is important.

Additionally, using the most current form of encryption is a must. Since data is more vulnerable on the cloud, the company may not want to store certain types of information there. Creating a secure channel to cloud data storage is helpful, as is whitelisting the company’s IP address, and requiring credentialing and blocking traffic from all other sources.

User Access
SaaS can be difficult to manage when needing to add users. Since most products in this form require additional licenses to be purchased for new users, it may be useful to create an external key cross reference that enables a group or common login to be used to access the SaaS product. Using the key cross reference aids security by retaining the breadcrumb trail to specific users.

Hybrid cloud helps companies to save money, maintain control over systems and data, and expand as needed. Consider the points above – as well as using available integration tools – to make the transition successful.

SIP Trunking : The Crowd-Pleaser

SIP trunking has taken the lead as the cost-effective, collaborative UC technology of choice—and its fringe benefits are hard to beat. What has made SIP trunking such a crowd-pleaser? This infographic details its most attractive points.

SIP-Trunking-The-Crowd-Pleaser

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Avoid These Security Pitfalls

shutterstock_225978901Never has information security been such an important topic as it is today. No business is immune from security threats. In the last five years, companies from major big box retailers, health insurance companies, and gaming systems, to financial institutions and e-commerce websites have suffered from pitfalls in security. To prevent security breaches, consider the big picture when planning IT architecture and protection.

Here are critical areas to consider:

Users
Unfortunately, users can be the weakest point of security. To strengthen this weak point, inform employees about popular techniques used by hackers and require users to perform regular password changes, and to use complex passwords. Additionally, deactivate departing users the moment they exit the building to avoid their unnecessary, potentially dangerous access to systems.

Access Points
It’s great to have network firewalls in place, but a comprehensive Information Systems security plan should consider all aspects related to access to the system. For instance, network endpoints, a growing source of infection, also need savvy protection. Consider the thousands of computers connecting to a company’s network. Failing to secure them, and the peripherals they utilize, can wreak havoc for users and shareholders. Be sure to use the most up-to-date methods of encryption, inspect endpoints often, and employ routine system monitoring to detect unauthorized access.

Budget for Security
Security expenses are often seen as back-end operational expenses that have little to do with the goals of the company. This could not be further from the truth. Protecting financial and personal data (and thus the company’s reputation) is a top priority and will build confidence in the business in the eyes of customers and employees alike. Integrating Information Security into strategic planning efforts to plan appropriately for expanded protection tools and employee education.

Know the System
Ask questions such as these when planning information security: Where does the data live? How does data flow through systems? Is it encrypted at rest, in motion and within backups? Who has access to critical and confidential information? Can the system detect if someone has accessed it without permission? If data flows through the hands of a third party or vendor, is their access limited? Is the vendor using the appropriate encryption? These questions are just a starting point of the conversation for protecting important information.

Build Data Policies and Execute Them!
Even small companies benefit by the creation and enforcement of InfoSec policies. Having a structured and documented plan for data handling, storage, access, protection, and destruction should be considered mandatory. Be sure these plans are communicated to the entire company and followed strictly. Update plans as new protection methods are employed, and include incident response plans as well.

Communicating Incidents
What happens after a breach is also critical. Early communication is important so that those potentially affected can take appropriate measures. Damage to a company’s reputation is lessened substantially when appropriate actions are taken afterward.

Prevention is the best medicine where breaches are concerned. Considering the importance of business information today, maintaining awareness, vigilance and planning appropriately is imperative.