Cloud Convergence: Harnessing and Simplifying the Power of the Cloud

CloudWhether technology-focused or not, in today’s environment, all businesses have technical challenges to meet. Data is fundamental to evaluating markets, planning for growth, improving internal process efficiency, and dozens of other tasks across all areas of business. And with the great complexity of business data comes great complexity in data management. One way of meeting these challenges is to leverage converged data infrastructure in the cloud.

What is converged data infrastructure?

Converged infrastructure is a way of providing tested configurations of applications and services. With a converged system, technologies such as data storage, database queries, networking architecture, and other useful features are bundled together to address as many business needs as possible. This allows companies to outsource much of the costly setup and integration work, as well as allowing – in some cases – converged infrastructures to be replicated across providers.

Not all converged infrastructures, however, are provider-agnostic. Solutions from companies such as Amazon and Google may tie businesses in to their specific business model, and make it more difficult to replicate environments elsewhere. Whether or not this is desirable depends a great deal on what ancillary services a business needs to integrate, and how their disaster recovery plans are shaped.

What considerations go into selecting cloud infrastructure and converged data infrastructure?

Three major considerations should guide the cloud converged infrastructure decision: cost, management, and security.

  • Cost. Cloud services perform well against services managed in-house because they tend to cut down on up-front expenses, and they can also reduce the need for a company to have a dedicated team of IT professionals and managers. However, care needs to be taken with savings in the cloud: some cost-saving measures, such as shared hosting environments, come with tradeoffs in the form of security. And the cost advantage of outsourcing data expertise and management is only a wise investment if the service provider chosen has the expertise and availability to meet all of a company’s needs.
  • Management. Regardless of how experienced a service provider is, they can’t take on all facets of data management for a company. Companies need to research and make informed decisions about a number of aspects, such as what services are to be considered core, what converged stacks are under consideration, how important server location is, what namespace access (as well as replication and failover) is going to be, and how performance is going to be evaluated to determine whether the move to the cloud is a success. This may be a different skillset than a traditional IT manager may have, and businesses may need to invest in training to bring business sense and awareness to technical employees.
  • Security. Some converged data infrastructure providers have excellent physical security and data encryption, and those companies with strong security practices should be sought out and preferred. But businesses also need to consider what security policies they’ll put in place, such as requiring access to cloud data to use VPN connections, or requiring strong passwords and up-to-date anti-virus software on personal devices in a BYOD workplace. Data security also needs to be taken in to account in the form of disaster recovery: for example, can a converged infrastructure solution be replicated across providers, in the case of a provider-wide outage?

The Final Word

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to data management. Converged data solutions, however, do offer a degree of standardization and ease of access which can be extremely powerful for businesses.

ROI Networks simplifies the complex world of business collaboration and communication technologies. Contact us today to learn more.

10 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Hosted PBX Phone System

If strengthening communications has become a regular conversation at your company, it’s time to take a look at Hosted PBX. Utilizing cloud, it has become more than just a phone system and can be especially beneficial for those businesses with distributed workforces. Here’s how.

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Collaboration in the Cloud Drives Business Growth

ROI April blog 3The cloud has paved the way for collaboration opportunities never before known in the age of snail mail and traditional telephony. It has provided more effective collaboration in board rooms, cubicles, and remote workplaces, allowing businesses to keep pace with the growing mobility trend.

Cloud Options

The cloud offers various models that businesses can choose from depending on their specific needs. Private, public, and hybrid clouds can be mixed and matched to achieve a platform that suits unique requirements.

A private cloud typically sits in a private network, making it the most secure of all the cloud types. It is, however, the most expensive because it requires enterprises to purchase and maintain their own data center infrastructure.

A public cloud is housed in a third party location and clients pay their providers for hosting and other related functions. While it may be the cheapest model, it does not provide the same level of security that a private cloud does.

A hybrid environment uses a mix of private cloud and public cloud. An enterprise can use the private cloud to host critical data and workloads but can use the public cloud for workloads that are less critical.

​Moving to the Cloud

Companies looking to build a cloud-based collaboration strategy need to partner with telecom agents that have the expertise and right carrier connections. More importantly, IT executives should choose a solution that can add value to their business and enable their organization to:

Increase network resiliency Cloud collaboration services lessen the burden on IT administrators of supporting the network themselves while reducing the risk of network downtime. Providers have heavily invested in their own network infrastructure to ensure that their clients’ networks have the capability to respond, adjust, and adapt to any situation.

Benefit from robust security Cloud service providers are under increasing pressure to make their solutions more secure in compliance with regulatory requirements. They want their security offerings to be a differentiator that helps gain the trust and loyalty of their clients. As such, a cloud environment is more secure than the on-premise security system of an individual organization with a limited security budget.

Enjoy manageability Collaboration allows for faster application deployment and simpler network management. With servers off-premise and out of sight, IT staff is relieved of the complexity of maintaining the system. Providers take care of rolling out regular software updates, backups, intrusion detection, and other relevant reports. Employees who used to wear multiple hats can now perform streamlined jobs in dashboard style.

Create and harmonize new features into the system – Open private cloud solutions allow the integration of new features into the collaboration platform. Enterprises can make use of open application program interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) to develop their own applications. This feature eliminates the cost of buying new services and the need for reconfiguration while enhancing employee and customer satisfaction.

Minimize the cost of legacy hardware Existing infrastructure may contain outdated hardware and legacy systems that are expensive to maintain. An open collaboration platform allows companies to reduce legacy system usage and gradually move the organization forward to cheaper, cloud-enabled collaborative solutions.

The cloud helps drive innovation, growth, and business transformation. For businesses looking to explore the benefits of collaboration in the cloud, contact us for a no-commitment consultation.

Staying on Top of Cloud Security

ROI April blog 1The past several years have seen a massive shift from traditional on-premise services and hardware to cloud-based solutions of all shapes and sizes. With that shift came hackers and pirates looking for easy ways to steal data. Considering that IT spending on cloud is expected to consume a company’s entire technology budget within the next few years, it’s important that IT managers learn how to protect against breaches. Constructing and implementing a comprehensive security plan is absolutely essential before deploying cloud solutions.

Choose the Right Partnerships

A cloud-based solution is only as good as the vendor’s security provisions. Using a provider that doesn’t also supply a robust security system is likely to cause trouble in the future. Select a partner with a sterling reputation and a full suite of security tools. One trend that has resulted from the need for security in the cloud is the use of data security warehouses that specialize in sensitive data management.

Read the Fine Print

Before choosing a cloud vendor, be sure to understand their methods of storage and management. In addition, read contracts very carefully and look for any unclear terms. Verify who holds the burden in the case of a security incident, as these can quickly bankrupt a business. Contracts aren’t exciting to read, but they certainly do result in chaos if they’re not what they seemed to be. It may be beneficial to pay for legal review before signing on the dotted line.

Passwords

Passwords are a basic element of security, and strong passwords can prevent a breach more effectively than most other security tools. Enforce rules for password complexity that require use of special characters, numbers, and capital and lowercase letters. Preventing the use of previously saved passwords or common dictionary words is essential. The company’s authentication/authorization system may utilize a library of easily cracked passwords to prevent their use.

Encryption

No matter where data resides, it should be encrypted. This is especially true when it is housed in the cloud. Whether at rest or in motion, encryption should be used to provide additional protection. Employ the most current encryption standards as older versions may expose vulnerabilities, and be prepared to update the company’s encryption as technology evolves.

The cloud is a powerful business tool, but is one that must be used sensibly and with security as a top priority. A company must construct and consistently enforce a security program that actively defends against new threats. Doing so can save billions in breach recovery costs as well as preserve future revenue. To learn how ROI Networks helps businesses stay on top of cloud security, contact us today.

3 Myths About Cloud Computing and Small Businesses

shutterstock_108857858smWhile larger enterprises have been adopting cloud computing models in earnest, small businesses seem to be more reluctant to embrace them. This is, in large measure, due to myths about the cloud that continue to persist in the minds of small business owners.

Debunking these misconceptions will help small business owners realize the full benefits of cloud computing. The cloud has spread like wildfire for a reason — it’s a game-changing technological platform, and there’s much to be gained from adopting it.

Cloud Computing Myth #1: Switching to the Cloud Is Expensive
There is an unfortunate misconception that switching to cloud-based models requires major IT infrastructure upgrades and investments. In reality, small businesses that choose the right cloud service provider for their needs won’t face major migration costs. Pay-as-you-go models also make it easier for smaller companies to adapt, and the cloud actually demands fewer resources than traditional computing systems.

Cloud Computing Myth #2: Cloud Service Providers Lag in Security
Another misconception is that cloud service providers are far more concerned with signing up new customers than they are with providing their customers with secure, trustworthy services. However, reputation is everything for cloud service providers, and as such, they work hard to ensure their customers can rely on them to protect their data.

Cloud providers also offer whatever degree of security their customers want. Small businesses can choose anything from simple alphanumeric passwords to complex encryption and biometric identifiers. Security has come a long way since the cloud first appeared, and while there is no such thing as a 100% invulnerable system, the cloud is now every bit as secure as the legacy platforms that preceded it.

Cloud Computing Myth #3: Small Businesses Don’t Need Cloud Computing Services
Finally, there are many small business owners who believe they don’t actually need the cloud. However, the cloud offers proven benefits that are not otherwise attainable, including:

  • built-in scalability,
  • reduction or elimination of the need to purchase expensive types of specialized software,
  • enhancement of business intelligence initiatives, and
  • the ability to respond to customer needs in a more efficient and dynamic manner.

Working with a reputable cloud service provider is a smart move for small businesses that want to get ahead and stay ahead. Consulting a seasoned, knowledgeable professional to discuss available cloud options is the essential first step in tearing down the myths that hold many small businesses back.

[Infographic] The Cloud: Gateway to Mobility and SMB Success

The cloud has transformed and enabled businesses of all kinds, but it has truly placed opportunity — and mobility — within reach for SMBs, in particular. Here’s how.

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Eliminate Guesswork from the Cloud Computing Budget

shutterstock_266449112While cloud computing offers major advantages to businesses of all shapes and sizes, it also comes with potential pitfalls, especially in terms of cost predictability. Billing can be complex, and IT services can take a big bite out of a company’s budget. However, there are some proven strategies for managing and reducing IT costs that businesses can use to eliminate guesswork from the cost equation.

No More Surprises on Cloud Computing Bills

Many companies, particularly those that use hybrid cloud models, face complex and sometimes overwhelming bills that can be difficult to understand. One of the problems is that prevailing billing models are geared more towards the needs of vendors and service providers than customers. This can make it difficult for businesses to interpret the sea of technical information that bills contain.

However, new tools are emerging that help companies track their cloud usage with more precision and predictability. Add-on billing features, offered by a growing number of vendors, offer much more transparency and help companies identify costs that were previously buried in the fine print.

Neutralize the Effect of Shadow IT

Shadow IT is a term used to describe computing functions, including both software and hardware, that are not directly approved for employee use by the company’s tech team. A recent Cloud Security Alliance study found that 72% of IT managers are unaware of the sheer number of shadow IT hardware and software applications being used within the enterprise. The ongoing use of such applications can bloat the business’s cloud costs, since the data generated by such functions impacts storage requirements.

Bimodal IT offers an effective solution. The bimodal model splits network monitoring into two groups: one that supervises existing systems, and another that watches the cloud, preventing connected users from importing hardware or software that circumvents the company’s IT department.

Get Rid of Services that Aren’t Necessary

One of the cloud’s biggest benefits is that it allows companies to get up and running with new software and features in a matter of minutes. However, in many cases, there is no ongoing need for such software or features, yet they linger on the company’s cloud bill despite a downturn in usage.

Two strategies can be used to eliminate these unnecessary costs. The first is to perform regular audits to see if a particular application or feature is still needed; if it’s not, it can be cut. Alternately, companies can take advantage of volume price points that deliver reduced overall costs when services are purchased as part of a package. Either way, the business won’t be stuck paying for services or features it doesn’t need, and that is the most important rule of thumb for keeping cloud costs as low as possible.

The Benefits of Cloud-Based Business Continuity Planning

shutterstock_168094694In recent years, IT has emerged as a major platform for business continuity planning, as businesses of all sizes are increasingly reliant on the Internet in their efforts to maintain productivity and competitive advantages. Outages — and the major financial losses and operational setbacks that come with them — are a real threat to businesses, especially those that rely on continuous, interruption-free activity. More and more, it’s becoming clear that traditional approaches to continuity planning aren’t adequate to address the real needs of businesses in today’s tech-driven landscape.

The Shortcomings of Traditional Approaches to Business Continuity

When the Internet first emerged as a key commercial technology, many larger businesses included it in their continuity plans using models that emphasized the need for regional backups of centralized data centers. Secondary data storage sites and colocation solutions may have provided strategic benefits to resource-rich companies, but they simply weren’t viable for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) primarily due to cost and complexity.

As a result, a large contingency of SMBs simply continued to operate without a viable, concrete business continuity plan. But with the emergence of a new generation of cloud-based tools, there is simply no need for any business to be without a comprehensive continuity plan.

How Cloud-Based Continuity Platforms Deliver Superior Solutions

Today, backing up critical data on cloud-based platforms has become the norm, and it’s a practice used by even small businesses with loose continuity needs. The vastly improved capabilities of the computing cloud also allow big companies with complex, dynamic, and data-intensive continuity planning needs to take advantage of the platform. The cloud delivers three key benefits that every company should prioritize when building a continuity plan:

  • It’s readily available. A growing number of providers are offering cloud-based business continuity services, affording businesses a wider range of choices beyond market leaders like Amazon Web Services.
  • It’s financially attainable. Cloud-based continuity solutions are among the most cost-effective ever devised, and even small businesses with limited resources can usually afford them.
  • It’s mobile. The cloud is accessible from anywhere, on any Internet-connected device. Portability features can also be integrated with other cloud-based solutions to deliver enhanced levels of practicality and accessibility.

Business continuity experts stress that the cloud should form an integral part of any complete plan, with the key word being “part.” It is still vitally important to account for a full range of potential outages or interruptions to business activities and deploy the most logical, affordable, and diversified suite of industry-specific solutions available.

5 Reasons the Cloud Offers a Dynamic Solution for Hotel Telephone Systems

shutterstock_61231048The cloud is here to stay, and businesses in the hospitality industry have a lot to gain by adopting the powerful technological and customer service solutions it offers. Cloud technologies provide effective ways to mitigate two of the most pressing challenges faced by hotels and resorts around the world: high fixed operating costs and seasonally fluctuating revenues.

Hotel and resort managers can trim operating costs and offset unpredictable variations in seasonal income by moving their telephone systems to the cloud. Doing so offers five key benefits that can give a big boost to an organization’s bottom line.

 

The Cloud Reduces Fixed Telecom Costs

The telephone systems that have traditionally been used in hotels and resorts for years require sizable up-front investments. Cloud alternatives offer reduced costs through subscription-based service models that set low, fixed monthly flat rates for services and vastly reduced call routing fees. This is an easy, proven way to substantially reduce monthly operating costs.

Say Goodbye to Hardware

Traditional telephone systems require extensive hardware to operate properly, and that hardware must be maintained and regularly upgraded. Cloud-based hotel telephone systems, on the other hand, require minimal hardware, and the service provider takes care of all upgrades and system maintenance.

The Cloud Supports the Sourcing and Development of New Revenue

Hotels and resorts that appeal to international customers can generate additional revenue by offering guests the ability to place long-distance calls from the comfort of their rooms. However, these calls tend to come at a high cost when placed through traditional systems.

Cloud telephone technologies come with sharp reductions in international calling rates, giving hotel managers the ability to pass these savings along to their guests or increase their profit margins on calls placed on-site.

Improve Continuity Strategies

For hotel chains and companies with multiple locations, connecting the entire telephone system can be difficult if not impossible. The cloud offers a dynamic solution with the ability to unify the organization’s entire system into a single, easily managed entity. Because cloud telephone systems operate entirely over the Internet, they also support continuity and disaster recovery strategies by simplifying communications.

Enjoy an Expanded Range of Features and Services

Finally, the cloud offers capabilities that traditional telephone systems struggle to replicate. For example, cloud-based systems offer features like time-of-day call routing and forwarding capabilities that improve operational efficiency and help businesses deliver superior customer service. These systems can also support advanced training initiatives that enable participants in multiple remote locations to convene easily, and for a very low cost.

Given these powerful advantages, it’s little wonder that more and more hotels and resorts are abandoning traditional telephone service models in favor of the cloud. It’s cheaper and more dynamic, with enhanced reliability and a wider range of helpful features that support and sustain growth.