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.

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The telecom, IT, and cloud industries evolve quickly, and it can be difficult to keep up with the rapid pace of change. Evaluate your business’s technology needs now to start 2017 off on the right foot.
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Why Fabric Networking Is Important to Business

ROI May blog 3A frequent topic of current IT conversation is fabric networking (FN). This innovative architecture has the potential to overhaul business networks for the better and should be considered whenever infrastructure is in question. Following are some facts about FN to help start an educated conversation.

What Is Fabric Networking?

A term that is unfamiliar to even some highly technical professionals, FN is best understood by visualizing a piece of fabric or cloth. Just as the many individual threads of cloth form a tightly woven mesh architecture, so too does a fabric network. It’s scalable, flexible, metamorphic, and uses a comprehensive layer to accomplish its tasks. By nature of its meshy construction, FN supports an immense number of device connections and networking switches.

Today’s intelligent networks operate through software-defined networking (SDN) to allow all devices to be centrally managed. Fabric networks are extremely supportive of the SDN model which means that management of any device, role, permission, or app can be rapidly performed. Policies for any or all items on the network may be easily created and applied, and new objects are able to be added without complication. Over time, the fabric will actually learn and evolve as policies are configured.

Benefits of Fabric Networks

Given the power and flexibility of fabric networks, businesses that implement this type of infrastructure quickly realize a number of benefits.

  • Save time. When the time it takes to make a change on one or all devices on a network is minimized, skilled IT professionals are free to focus on more meaningful work.
  • Increase agility. Switch traffic, add new devices, and integrate new apps and services rapidly. As long as new devices are equipped with Shortest Path Bridging (SPB) and are SDN-enabled, they can be migrated to a fabric network with little effort.
  • Benefit from scalability. Need to expand the network to accommodate the growth of the company? Not a problem when using a fabric network.
  • Improve network function. Sometimes larger networks with many connections get bogged down. Using a fabric network leads to more effective load balancing and distribution, allows for faster recovery in the event of a device or connection outage, and decreases the time required for troubleshooting or management tasks.

Available FN Solutions

There are many vendors who wish to capitalize on this powerful technology. That said, one of the more noteworthy and reputable providers of FN is Avaya. An industry leader of many technical solutions, Avaya’s goal is to make networks simple and elegant while increasing their function to offer greater benefit to organizations.

Jeff Hiebert, CEO of ROI Networks, states, “Avaya remains the only networking player who can deploy a fabric solution from the core to the edge, deploy a single protocol, and offer best-in-class edge-only provisioning for dramatic simplification of the network. This offers customers a lower overall TCO, network agility, and faster time to deploy new services and applications, creating a superior performing network.”

Fabric networking has the potential to improve the most complex of networks while saving time and money. For more information on how a fabric network can optimize a company’s infrastructure, contact us today.

How Video Conferencing Has Boosted the Non-Enterprise Business Population

shutterstock_278932784smRemember when video conferencing (VC) was complicated and expensive to use? Those days are a distant memory as technology has placed this tool in reach of companies of any size. This powerful instrument is now helping small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) save money, grow faster, and do more with less.

 

A History of Video Conferencing

From the early days of VC, large enterprises were the typical customer. Big banking, pharma, and even government entities used this expensive technology. Special rooms were used to execute these conferences so that adequate lighting and sound levels were in place. Complex features such as multipoint call hosting and video streaming were part of the mix, which was difficult and costly to administrate.

Fortunately, VC has become a much simpler production that is now accessible to everyone from enterprises to consumers through easily attainable and very portable devices. Global communication has never been better, and companies are now able to minimize spending categories that traditionally broke the bank, such as the purchase of necessary hardware and video equipment. Big video rooms have largely been eliminated as companies look to optimize their real estate.

Acquiring and Using Video Conferencing

The vastly improved accessibility of VC was predominantly dependent upon the simultaneous evolution of infrastructure. The shift from traditional on-premise hardware to cloud based solutions was a key contributor to the rising availability of this tool.

The multitude of VC vendors offering services today means that companies have immense flexibility in configuring how they’ll use VC. Some will solely use cloud services whereas others will adopt the traditional route of running VC on their present-day systems. Some may still wish to employ specialized meeting rooms while a larger number will tend toward the use of mobile devices and computer webcams.

Inexpensive VC software has popped up practically everywhere. Easy to use software like WebEx, JoinMe, FreeConferenceCall.com, and GoToMeeting make it incredibly simple to present professionally. The power of these software offerings is growing by the day, and video image and audio quality also continues to improve.

The Reality of Video Conferencing

The point of VC is to improve workflows and processes within a company, or otherwise help to expedite work. But as useful as it is for business collaboration, it is not meant to replace all travel or meetings. VC will simply help to enhance these sessions by facilitating communication and strengthening team cohesion.

Deciding to implement a VC solution should be done with the awareness that it will not be a cure-all where business travel is concerned. But it is generally worth more than its cost as it enables better teamwork, enhances productivity, and strengthens the organization from within.

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.

Improve VoIP Performance with WAN Orchestration

shutterstock_195920690As more businesses adopt VoIP technologies on an enterprise level, IT departments are realizing that some of the traditional infrastructure and service management technologies aren’t able to provide the service levels needed by the modern user. In order to keep up with the additional amount and complexity of traffic, IT administrators are turning to advanced technologies such as WAN orchestration to improve performance.

Problems with the Existing Model
While there are some options in the market for managing VoIP traffic, such as optimization, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), and load balancing, the truth is that these solutions aren’t practical for VoIP support from either a cost or functionality perspective. Even with these solutions in place, enterprises still face the following concerns:

  • Latency – Delays in connections among network points
  • Dropped connections – Sometimes, a severed IP link can cause a connection to completely drop
  • Skyrocketing costs – The cost of avoiding the above issues sometimes results in deploying a solution such as MPLS which is more appropriate for internet performance management and not just voice communications.

The amount of traffic within VoIP calls for a solution that does not just redirect or optimize traffic, but that does both in an intelligent manner. WAN Orchestration is one such solution.

WAN Orchestration: A Solution
WAN orchestration solves the problems with latency and heavy traffic flow by sitting on top of the existing WAN links and directing traffic in the right direction – in an intelligent manner. Here are some of the ways that WAN orchestration improves performance:

  • WAN orchestration technologies make real-time, context-sensitive decision about where to direct connections.
  • WAN orchestration dynamically performs sophisticated functions such as flow mapping, advanced Quality of Service techniques, and traffic grooming.
  • With WAN orchestration, latency is less of a concern as the orchestration solution can divert a packet to a different network path – even at the last minute.
  • When paired with a technology such as Broadband Bonding, WAN orchestration becomes even more powerful. Broadway Bonding boosts connectivity speeds by joining multiple Internet lines into a single connection.

Users want to take full advantage of everything new VoIP technologies have to offer. Existing infrastructure solutions aren’t feasible for the enterprise due to functional limitations or budget constraints. By directing traffic in real-time and making smart decisions about traffic flow, WAN orchestration provides an affordable solution to the dilemma of dropped calls and latency, enabling users to fully reap the benefits of VoIP innovation.

4 Reasons to Test your Backup and Recovery Plan Now

shutterstock_134231984While many organizations may have a business continuity plan in place that involves a pre-defined backup and recovery process, too many companies neglect to properly test their plans. In the event of an incident, though, the execution of an untested plan can introduce unnecessary stress and hiccups into the recovery process.

In order to ensure that the business and its customers successfully survive a potential disaster, it is essential to not just have a plan, but to test it. Here are four reasons to test the plan now.

Confirm Contractual Commitments

In addition to uptime, many contracts have service level agreements that include guaranteed response time to inquiries and guarantees concerning other deliverables that will require a quick recovery in the event of any downtime. By testing the backup and recovery plan now, businesses can more confidently promise customers a certain recovery time objective (RTO), and ensure that they won’t have to pay penalties because they over-promised with an untested RTO estimate.

Gain a Deeper Understanding of Infrastructure

Perhaps one of the “underdog” advantages of planning for business continuity is that it can help the organization gain a deeper perspective on deployed infrastructure, programs, and processes. Performing a backup and recovery test forces stakeholders to take into account both the individual machine components of the system, while also maintaining a high-level view of the entire process.

For example, will the recovery be a simple file and folder-level recovery or will it involve a fully booted virtual machine? Asking and answering these types of questions will provide some key insights that may benefit the daily business operations in addition to helping define the recovery plan.

Identify Roles

Well-defined roles and responsibilities are essential to a good business continuity plan. Backup and recovery testing will help cement the duties of every employee involved in the process. For example, perhaps a communications glitch has caused confusion about who is responsible for a certain customer’s data. Or, maybe the organization hasn’t fully nailed down the customer notification and relationship management process. While everything may look good on paper, the testing process will solidify responsibilities and ensure that key players can confidently perform their required duties during a real recovery.

Impress Customers

It’s undeniable that customers are concerned about what will happen to their data in the event of a disaster; they will be pleased when you can present them with testing logs, and confirm that components of the business continuity plan are tested on a regular basis. Regular backup and recovery testing is already an industry standard for cloud providers. It’s likely that the requirements will only become more stringent in the future, and it will serve the organization well to have documented testing logs dating back multiple years.

Backup and recovery testing provides multiple benefits to the business. A well-executed test not only solidifies the plan of action in the case of a failure, but also strengthens internal business processes and encourages more positive customer relationships. Furthermore, stakeholders can rest easy knowing that if something does happen, their business continuity plan is not just well-written, it’s also well-tested.

Power up with the ROI vPack

ROI vPackOur customers are looking to ROI Networks to assist them with virtualizing and/or upgrading their VOIP and communication applications to the latest software, while eliminating dedicated servers and reducing total cost of ownership.  They are looking to either leverage their existing virtualization infrastructure or, because of special requirements, deploy a dedicated environment of real-time applications that run independently from non-real-time applications.  Traditional solutions are not typically engineered or sized to provide the performance demanded by real-time applications.

ROI vPack is a purpose built, hyper-converged solution created to support a virtualized deployment of Unified Communications, Contact Center, Collaboration, or other VDI software applications.

Here are just some of the benefits you get with the ROI vPack:

  • Purpose built and tested solution
  • Documented architecture
  • Design assurance from HP, VMWare and Avaya
  • Reduced Total Cost of Ownership
  • N+1 Fault tolerance
  • Isolate troubleshooting and support of real-time communication applications

And here is what is included with the ROI vPack:

  • A minimum of 3 HP DL360 Servers
  • A combination of Flash and SATA storage
  • VMWare VSphere Hypervisor
  • VMWare VSAN storage software
  • ROI Networks Remote Intelligence Gateway (RIG) for Proactive Monitoring and Alarming to our Network Operations Center
  • Single point of support with escalation to HP, VMWare, or Avaya, if necessary

ROI-vPack-Data-Sheet-1

ROI-vPack-Data-Sheet-1

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Mobility and the Cloud: A Perfect Pair

shutterstock_132560954There’s no question that the enterprise is moving in the direction of a mobility-enabled and cloud-friendly era. While most will agree these two trends are related, it is important to understand how they work together in order to have a successful implementation.

An Inseparable Duo in the Enterprise

Embracing mobility in additional business areas, companies are simultaneously hosting more and more infrastructure in the cloud. There are two unique ways in which mobility and the cloud are moving in tandem in the workplace:

  • Pressure: The heat is on to enable employees to work from any device and from anywhere. Mobility is becoming a vital component in the formula for employee success. Similarly, executives are hungry to reap the cost savings and flexibility touted by cloud evangelists.
  • Budget: Businesses are prepared to invest in both mobile and cloud initiatives. Surveys of budget stakeholders suggest that the budget increases for mobility and for the cloud are both in the 50 percent range.

Preparing for the Shift

Given the intrinsic pairing of the cloud and mobility, how does the forward-thinking organization prepare for a side-by-side expansion? A few conscious planning and purchasing decisions will help IT stakeholders stay ahead of the curve on this trend:

  • Innovate: Where it hasn’t already been done, migrate legacy desktop apps to cloud platforms. The virtualization and Desktop as a Service (DaaS) vendor market only continues to grow so there’s an abundance of options.
  • Investigate: As the enterprise invests in the latest cloud-based platforms, it’s important for procurement teams to consider how these solutions will fit into the mobility trend. Is there a mobile app available for the solution? Is the app secure? These are key points to consider around every software purchase.
  • Manage: IT teams must think about how they will manage mobile access to cloud-hosted platforms. Whether an organization is rolling out a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program or managing corporate-owned devices, there are mobility management tools available that can help streamline and secure mobile access to enterprise resources.

While the enterprise will realize many benefits with the move toward cloud and mobility, the real challenge will be implementing and integrating these trends cohesively and successfully. With the right execution, the cloud-first, mobile-first era will lead to exciting growth and progress for the enterprise.

Best Practices for Enterprise Security in the IoT Age

194040659As the ever-connected world continues to explore the Internet of Things (IoT), the enterprise must consider how to rethink and adjust its security approach to accommodate a new technological age. This does not require a complete restructuring of the security architecture, but only a repurposing of some existing technology and roles.

Here are several best practices to help the enterprise securely embrace the IoT.

Leverage Existing Network Security

IT professionals can use their existing infrastructure to help enforce network security. Best practices for IT professionals include strategies that may already be in place:

  • Employ private, segmented networks with designated IP ranges.
    • Private network usage has the added benefit of cost savings when compared to public IP ranges.
  • Continue securing connections with virtual private network (VPN) technologies such as IPsec.

Revamp the Governance Structure

The IoT brings new security challenges, and the enterprise needs to re-evaluate how information security personnel fit into this updated picture. Businesses should ask the following questions to help ensure complete protection for their resources:

  • To whom should the head Information Security Officer report?
  • Should new or previously uninvolved personnel participate in information security initiatives?
  • What new types of devices does the organization need to secure?

Monitor Critical Infrastructure

Most pieces of infrastructure today are connected and online, a different situation from years ago when these resources were offline. With this in mind, businesses must ensure that critical infrastructure (as it relates to IoT) is secured. IT professionals should keep the following ideas in mind when considering their enterprise security posture:

  • Infrastructure attacks may be more frequent, but there is an array of intelligence available that can help prepare for attacks and mitigate impact.
  • An investment in real-time attack intelligence software is both necessary and worthwhile.
  • Visibility and awareness are powerful tools against attacks.

Do Not Forget the Past

IT stakeholders should not underestimate the value of lessons learned from past experiences, including past threats or attacks. The enterprise can adopt the most secure posture in the IoT by consciously learning from every incident:

  • Acknowledge that past attacks may occur again and prepare for them.
  • Embrace new and updated technologies that are equipped to handle potential attacks.
  • Establish strong plans to effectively combat and manage response to attacks.

The enterprise can be well-prepared to embrace the Internet of Things from a security perspective, and in many ways, it already is prepared. By maximizing the impact of existing tools, evaluating the security reporting structure, monitoring important assets, and learning from previous experiences, companies can fully and securely experience these exciting new technologies.