[Infographic] Cloud Makes UC Business Benefits Soar

Combining the cloud with any technology makes something much more powerful. See how cloud takes Unified Communications to new heights in the cloud and provides businesses with unprecedented opportunities to grow and collaborate.

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How to Choose a Colocation Service Provider

shutterstock_224290969Colocation offers businesses a long list of benefits, from enhanced data security and continuity planning support to improved flexibility and a reduced need to invest in onsite infrastructure. However, colocation can be a complex undertaking, and businesses need to carefully evaluate service providers to ensure maximum benefit from its strategic advantages and savings potential.

Two Easy Steps to Finding a Colocation Service Provider

The first step is to research colocation service providers within a determined location range. Acceptable location ranges typically depend on whether the company plans to manage its own equipment or if that service will be outsourced to the provider. In the former case, IT strategists generally recommend choosing a provider within about a 90-minute drive. This can be increased to a limit of about 400 miles if the service provider is going to handle equipment management requirements.

It is also a good idea to investigate proximity to a power grid when putting together a list of providers. The closer the provider is to a grid, the less likely it is that the provider will lose electricity in the event of an outage.

The second step is to perform a comprehensive, systematic evaluation of the providers on the list. Here, businesses should check into:

  • The service provider’s history. How long has it been in business? Does it have the requisite resources and experience to handle specific needs?
  • Reason for outage (RFO) reports. Providers should maintain internal records detailing reasons for any service outages. Request and review these, then compare the company-provided information against publicly available data.
  • Security. Visit the premises in person to ensure that adequate physical security measures are in place. There should be at least two to three layers of security guarding site access, along with dedicated monitoring staff and 24/7 video surveillance.
  • Infrastructure. Reputable service providers offer infrastructure redundancy in four key areas: power supply, equipment cooling, internal connectivity, and external connectivity. Thorough backups should be in place in all four categories.
  • Service agreements. Which company offers the best rates? The most advantageous terms? The best value?

Beyond these basic necessities, businesses should inquire about managed services, if they are needed, and factor those into the overall evaluation. Public and private cloud services can also be linked to colocation platforms, so it is important choose a provider that can seamlessly integrate cloud into the colocation plan.

How VoIP Supports a More Dynamic and Cooperative Company Culture

shutterstock_292470602Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) continues to be embraced with open arms in the business world. Companies typically cite its low cost and simple implementation as primary reasons for its adoption, but a third factor has emerged as a major driver of growth. VoIP technologies offer a wide range of collaboration tools that help businesses boost their productivity, improve collegiality, and ultimately become more agile and responsive to shifts in commercial dynamics.

VoIP Features that Support Collaboration

Traditional land lines suffer from major limitations when it comes to collaboration. The only collaborative feature they typically offer is conference calling, and given the way mobile technologies have changed work habits it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify committing to such constraints. VoIP technologies offer far superior flexibility and allow employees to work together in ways that simply weren’t possible a generation ago.

VoIP can enhance collaboration in the following ways:

  • Excellent accessibility. One of the most attractive aspects of VoIP services is that they are accessible from virtually any Internet-connected location, making collaboration possible without requiring employees to be tethered to their desks. With mobility becoming an increasingly common feature of today’s work forces, an investment in VoIP helps provide employees with low-cost, high-reward productivity tools.
  • Improved workplace flexibility. The accessibility of VoIP has led to vastly improved flexibility. From telecommuting to business travel, VoIP facilitates creative solutions for the modern business environment.
  • Integrated tools.VoIP technologies are able to integrate a wide variety of discrete applications into their infrastructure, putting a much broader range of functions at the fingertips of employees. This can improve everything from customer service initiatives to supply chain and relationship management.
  • Easier and more dynamic conferencing.VoIP facilitates much more than just voice communications; businesses can also use it for video conferencing and virtual boardroom applications. VoIP-based video collaboration bridges geographic gaps and brings people together more cost-effectively and efficiently than any other tool currently available.

The benefits of VoIP extend beyond these practical perks into the realm of company culture. Using technology to create a more collaborative environment encourages creativity, cooperation, and collegiality among coworkers, helping the whole organization grow, thrive, and move in unison toward greater professional achievement.

Security and the Software Defined Network

shutterstock_275504303With everything and everyone connected through today’s technology, security has never been more important. As the demand on networks continues to grow, technical teams scramble to manage traffic efficiently while protecting the network. Software-defined networking (SDN) is becoming an attractive solution for this issue. However, the switch to SDN isn’t always supported by all of the necessary personnel.

Resistance

Enterprise servers and networks are intentionally complex and require support packages from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Vendors try to capitalize on the growing trend toward SDN by offering SDN management services. This is actually contrary to the concept of SDN, which is meant to enhance company control and minimize the need for external intervention. Programmable switches are part of SDN, and the network can be configured easily to best support load and security needs.

With SDN, the burden of network management shifts from a vendor-supplied solution to the company’s internal IT resources. Such a change can be highly political and strain the IT team. In addition, IT employees may experience challenges when learning how to program and optimize the SDN. The transition can certainly be rocky and lower the perceived value of the shift.

Overcoming Objections

A possible compromise is to create an easily attainable method for controlling the network via simple interface. The need for an SDN expert would then be localized to one-time implementation of the system. The ease of network management would allow the technical team to focus their efforts elsewhere, which could result in better service, improved speed, or more frequent release of new technical products or updates. While this approach would minimize costs and regain favor for SDN, it may require long term effort to change the mindset of IT.

Security

More companies are considering open source software for all areas. Recent publicized breaches, however, have involved open source products, leading to distrust of its general nature and the misconception that it is not a secure format. Open source code can be audited by a wide variety of detail-oriented developers who are likely to identify and fix vulnerabilities before any breach occurs. While the potential for security holes is a given for any software, constant code review of open source products minimizes the likelihood of deliberate attacks.

SDN has a distinct advantage over traditional enterprise networks in managing security issues. Operators are able to lock down problematic areas, scale the network easily, and apply the most up-to-date protection if intrusion or malfeasance is detected.

Control

Another benefit of SDN is that the company is no longer subject to hardware or software vendor whims. The entire system is completely controllable. Any type of software can be confidently used and operators are able to audit and edit the software on the system if needed. Access and visibility are totally configurable, allowing the right people the right access at the right time.

SDN is a boon to those in charge of enterprise systems. Its power, flexibility, and highly configurable nature relieve the burden on network managers. Security is improved due to the relative ease and speed of shutting down trouble spots. While human obstacles may present a temporary roadblock in the attempt to shift to SDN, the benefits of the transition cannot be ignored.

Rebounding From Disaster With Recovery Cloud

shutterstock_147379361Nearly everything technological has come to involve the cloud, including disaster recovery. Gone are the days when a cloud-based solution was used only for file storage. Cloud has evolved from a basic storage repository to an engine that can minimize downtime and effectively preserve profit in the case of a major outage. Many vendors now offer this type of recovery service, and it’s important to understand exactly how each package of services will work if a disaster does take place.

Financial Considerations

Cloud began to grow in popularity when companies realized how cost effective it was as a solution. Recovery clouds now offer the same advantage of cost savings. Options range from very simple and inexpensive to extremely advanced and proportionately more costly. An endless list of value-added resellers (VARs) and managed service providers (MSPs) offer a wide expanse of competitively priced solutions.

Better Than Backup

Every IT team knows that they must have a reliable backup system. Traditionally this was done on local hardware, but cloud has made the backup process much more stable and accessible when it’s needed. The following elements of a recovery environment should be considered as minimum expectations.

Immediate Failover and Redundancy

The last thing an IT team wants to worry about in an emergency is that the switch for the backup system was activated or that the manual work to turn on failover was completed. A good recovery cloud vendor will help configure the system so that automatic failover takes place in a mirrored environment in which the backup data is pulled seamlessly from the mirrored server and the application continues to operate normally. Local backups are a great contingency plan, but a virtualized version is much more powerful and rapidly accessed. Entire networks can be supported at once rather than just a handful of machines. All of the data transactions are performed at light speed.

Necessary Features

Port forwarding and blocking are critically important for a cloud-based system, especially in the case of a recovery network that needs to remain inconspicuous while efficiently routing traffic in crisis mode.

Encryption is another essential item in the toolbox. Data breaches are at an all-time high and cost companies billions of dollars in remediation each year. Protecting sensitive data begins with encrypting it both as it is stored and while in motion. Encryption should be complex and regularly evolving. Most businesses consider the security of the main application and network on a regular basis, but some fail to think about vulnerabilities of the recovery system.

Management

Many cloud vendors have begun to offer a managed solution as part of their package of services. While this has the advantage of saving technical resources, it can also be frustrating if the IT person needs to call the vendor for every little change. The vendor should allow authorized company personnel to make simple to moderate changes such as locking down or permitting accessibility to backups or creating and managing failover virtual machines (VMs).

Each recovery cloud vendor may offer a slightly different package of services. Be sure to fully understand the pricing structure (including renewals and emergency assistance) as well as the advanced features available in each package. The more thorough the solution, the easier it will be to resume business as usual after a disaster.