Make those minutes count
 

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Colocation and Cloud Services

shutterstock_328634297When it comes to storage options, colocation and cloud services both offer tremendous cost savings for budget-minded businesses in need of an affordable and effective data storage solution. However, there are a number of pros and cons for businesses to consider as they determine which solution offers the best fit.

Consider Talent and Equipment

Businesses that already have considerable IT talent may consider the choice between colocation and cloud hosting from a cost/benefit point of view. Businesses with the skill set and budget to purchase and maintain their own equipment may see colocation as a better fit for their needs. The cost of leasing shared data center space may be more reasonable than building and maintaining in-house server space, especially when power and cooling costs are factored in.

On the other hand, businesses with a limited IT talent pool may find colocation to be a tremendous burden on staff and a drain on resources. In cases like this, cloud hosting may prove to be a more attractive option.

Room for Growth

As long as a business has the equipment budget and IT talent, colocation can offer an extremely scalable option for quick growth. However, some businesses may find it more financially advantageous to purchase additional storage in smaller increments from a cloud hosting provider.

Although the majority of cloud providers are flexible enough to accommodate fast growth among businesses, others may assess additional fees and penalties for clients who scale up heavily.

Compliance Requirements

Businesses that are required to comply with HIPAA, SOX, and other regulatory requirements should consider the risks of non-compliance when choosing between colocation and cloud hosting.

Colocation places the burden of compliance on internal IT staff, whereas most cloud providers are experienced with handling compliance issues. Colocation can also expose businesses to compliance-related liabilities, which could reach up to millions of dollars in penalties and lost business in the wake of a failed audit.

Assistance and Support Options

Support options for colocation and cloud hosting services can vary among providers. Some offer genuine 24/7/365 service, while others offer support that’s strictly limited to business hours. It’s crucial for businesses to consider their support needs before committing to a particular provider.

Some colocation providers offer “a la carte” services that provide on-demand assistance with installation, maintenance, and upgrade tasks. These services can be advantageous during periods when internal IT staff is unable to attend to those tasks.

For businesses interested in colocation, on-demand support services can be affordable for intermittent periods. However, heavy reliance on on-demand support could result in costs that exceed that of a hosted cloud.

Uptime Requirements

When it comes to near-100% uptime, self-managed hosting options may not offer the best choice unless the client has the IT experience to enforce data availability. Cloud hosting providers, on the other hand, can offer uptime guarantees that ensure continuous access to critical data. Businesses should make sure that their chosen provider has an established track record of meeting or exceeding their stated uptime guarantees prior to finalizing a service level agreement (SLA).

In the face of tight budgets, businesses are under pressure to keep their IT infrastructure intact using existing resources. These and the above mentioned issues may factor into a company’s choice between colocation and cloud hosting.

Making the Right Choices in the Cloud

shutterstock_328634297While it may be true that cloud services are not the perfect solution for all business computing needs, almost every business has at least some applications for which cloud is, indeed, the best solution. Premises-based solutions will continue to become less prevalent as time goes on. The focus of cloud services on scalability, efficiency, and flexibility is the primary driver of the move away from premises-based computing.

The biggest problem with traditional solutions is that in order to maintain capacity for peak loads, it’s necessary to maintain a great deal more computing resources than are needed the rest of the time. Overspending becomes a necessity. There is also the onerous process required to upgrade server capacity or other infrastructure.

Cloud solves these problems admirably by placing the onus for hardware purchasing and maintenance on someone else’s shoulders. There are three ways in which cloud services can be deployed, each serving a slightly different set of needs.

SaaS

Software as a Service (SaaS) involves the hosting of individual business applications in the cloud, to be accessed remotely by end users. The business has no control over the environment in which the application ‘lives’ under this model.

PaaS

Platform as a Service (PaaS) provides all the infrastructure, management, development, and deployment tools a business needs to create and maintain their own software applications.

IaaS

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) consists of hardware and other components (networking, storage, servers, and software) and gives businesses more control over the system than SaaS.

One of the most difficult aspects of moving to the cloud is not deciding what type of service a business needs, but rather what parts of the business can best utilize the cloud in the first place.

What Not to Move

Business critical applications should certainly not be among the first to transition to a new environment. Nor should any applications where performance is touchy, or that require intensive number crunching. Any system with a high level of complexity and tight integration with multiple apps should also probably wait until the organization has more cloud experience.

What Should be Moved

Non-critical systems are a good first step, including departmental applications where a smaller number of people will be affected by growing pains. Email servers and other well-established and easy to maintain apps are also likely candidates.

Other Considerations

Before making the jump into the cloud, it’s important to consider a few other details:

  • What are the company’s requirements for a service level agreement (SLA)?
  • Is a service provider able to provide the required level of security with the type of cloud model that fits the business’s other needs?
  • Do any of the apps that will be hosted in the cloud have special requirements?

The cloud isn’t more difficult to understand than on-site resources; it’s the same, only different. The differences can, however, complicate individual situations and turn wrong decisions into costly mistakes. Contact us for help simplifying the complicated.

 

Data Storage Is Becoming Cheaper, but More Complex

There’s good news for companies considering outsourcing their data storage: It’s getting cheaper.

Storage outsourcing is a popular choice for many organizations and businesses as data generation increases almost exponentially. Companies are particularly interested in outsourced emergency backup and disaster recovery options. In the past, high technology costs for storage rendered outsourced options prohibitively expensive; but that is changing as costs are now driven more by management skills and tools rather than the price of technology.

Lower Costs

The decrease in technology costs is a result of several factors, including:

— A shift toward disk storage rather than more expensive tape or off-site options

— Lower media costs for solid-state drives

— More efficient management tools

— Open standards and common application program interfaces (APIs) that allow for more flexible capacity and integration of cloud options

— Options that store unstructured data

Management Complexity

The shift toward more efficient but increasingly complex storage options is creating some additional costs related to the skills and training required to manage these options. Other complicating factors include various compliance demands, security considerations, the need for frequent retrieval, and life cycle management.

One often overlooked issue with storage is that at any given time, many unstructured files should be archived because they are rarely needed. Tape storage options are ideal for archiving, while disk storage is better for files that will be accessed more frequently.

Companies frequently find that their storage performance needs fluctuate, necessitating implementation of management tools that can automate the management process. Emerging unified storage products offer simple tools that allow one-stop management of Storage Area Networks (SAN) and Network Attached Storage (NAS). Software-defined storage is also a growing trend, allowing companies to virtualize storage.

Formulate a Strategy

In order to make the best use of the available options, including outsourced storage, it is crucial to make a storage plan. The following items should be considered when formulating a strategy:

— Preferred storage tools, including well-established options and emerging technologies

–Performance, availability, and capacity requirements

–Tiering based on usage patterns

–What files can be stored on lower performing and less accessible but more cost-efficient media like tape

–How much control should remain in house and what can be outsourced

A successful storage strategy, therefore, will first examine how much and what type of data is generated, how often access is needed, and what internal and outsourced management options are available to meet the company’s needs. Understanding life cycles is crucial to creating the best possible plan.

Emerging cloud options are usually part of an end-to-end management plan for all phases of IT rather than being storage specific. Companies should be aware that moving files to and from the cloud often incurs a fee. Understanding requirements when moving to cloud storage solutions will help avoid unforeseen costs.

The Benefits

New technologies have great potential to create the efficiencies companies are looking for when managing their skyrocketing storage needs. The key to getting the most out of these technologies is understanding the business’s data storage needs and which technology and outsourced options best fit those requirements.

Contact us to explore your data storage needs and the best solutions to meet them.

Why Ethernet Is the Best Choice for Business

For businesses that are considering a network upgrade, the implementation of a new network, or the addition of brand new functionality to an existing system, Ethernet is becoming the de facto standard. Ethernet comes in three main varieties: Standard, Fast, and Gigabit. Standard will provide up to 10 megabits per second (Mbps), Fast runs at up to 100 Mbps, and Gigabit can push up to 1,000 Mbps. With software tweaks and hardware settings, it is possible to provide almost any speed between 10 and 1000 Mbps.

There are numerous advantages to utilizing Ethernet for a corporate network, including ease of implementation, scalability, and flexibility. It also allows for the implementation of a host of useful features like virtual private networks (VPNs), Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), both audio and video teleconferencing, and shared whiteboards.

Easy to Implement

The corporate network is the foundation on which all other services are built, and Ethernet provides the strongest foundation for the greatest variety of services. An Ethernet local area network (LAN) connects seamlessly to the wide area network (WAN), making it much easier for IT to extend functionality to the local level.

Scalable

In addition to the enormous bandwidth range it makes available, Ethernet allows for easy incremental bandwidth scaling. A company isn’t limited to the 10, 100, and 1,000 Mbps solutions mentioned above. Increases or decreases in bandwidth are possible in increments of 100 Mbps or even 10 Mbps.

Bandwidth Independent

Ethernet is bandwidth independent. Increasing or decreasing the size of the data pipe doesn’t generally affect the hardware used at all; the same wires and switches can be used for almost any speed of network.

Ethernet is, justifiably, the standard for business networks. Its ubiquity is the direct result of its ease of implementation, scalability, and flexibility, in addition to the laundry list of valuable functionality it enables. That’s not to say, however, that all implementations are the same. Different business situations require different combinations of hardware, software, and bandwidth, and determining what combination of those elements is right for a particular business can be challenging.

For more specific information on the options that are best for your business,contact us today.

The Benefits of Using Infrastructure as a Service

shutterstock_184875824Despite the increasing popularity of cloud services, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is often underutilized. Many businesses may not be aware that IaaS gives CIOs and CEOs the ability to take advantage of infrastructure as a means of expanding the company and increasing efficiency.

 
 

How IaaS Works

IaaS specifically deals with virtual services, including security strategies, maintenance, and backup, all through an Internet connection. Because IaaS is a per-use service, companies only need to pay for what they use, which can ultimately help them save money while being able to take advantage of the latest in cloud technology to enhance their business operations.

Why Use IaaS?

There are several reasons to use IaaS in business operations. With effective IaaS services, companies can see positive results in the long term, including:

Lowered Costs.​ One large advantage of IaaS is that it is inexpensive. Companies only need to pay for the specific aspects of IaaS that they use, helping them avoid spending more than they might with set monthly payments for services they don’t often use. IaaS also gives business owners the ability to rely on a smaller team of IT professionals without any increased risk of breaches or other issues.

Access to State-of-the-Art Technology. IaaS gives customers access to many innovative technologies that business owners can customize to meet specific needs. The limitations that come with other services aren’t there with IaaS, with technology freely available to help businesses evolve.

The Ability to Expand. IaaS allows businesses to grow because of outsourced IT. The less time companies have to spend focusing on the technologies they use for business platforms, the more they can return their focus to running the business. With a managed infrastructure handled by a devoted team offsite, business owners can spend much-needed time promoting their company and developing better business strategies.

Complete Scalability Based on Needs. IaaS is flexible and scalable, and accommodates technological needs as the business evolves. Companies can easily make changes without the hassle of completely changing the workspace and altering hardware or software.

Implement IaaS in Business Operations for Simplified Technology

IaaS gives businesses the chance to focus more on developing the company itself, without the pain of having to decide on the right technologies and deal with implementation. Outsourced IT through IaaS can help ensure that companies’ business platforms stay secure and efficient, with the ability to change on-demand. Contact us today to learn how we help businesses implement IaaS.

Important Considerations When Setting up a Data Center

shutterstock_388249231The requirements for storage and handling of business data have changed rapidly and dramatically over the past decade, and the amount of data and the number of ways in which businesses need to interact with it will continue to increase. This is why data centers are becoming a more vital part of business strategy every day. The decisions made when implementing a data center can mean the difference between success and failure. Following are some issues to keep in mind when setting up a data center.

​Location

There are two location options available for data centers: in-house or off-site. The need to lower costs and increase reliability and security is quickly turning the in-house data center into a thing of the past. Unless a business has specific needs that can only be met by having its data center on-site, there is really no reason to take on the equipment, setup, and maintenance costs that go along with it.

​Reliability

When selecting an off-site data center, make sure to consider the provider’s track record and infrastructure with regard to power supply, networking, and geographic location – both in terms of how likely natural disasters are to affect the data, and how easy it is for IT staff to physically visit and inspect the site. Ask about a service level agreement (SLA) and guaranteed uptime, keeping in mind that 99.999% uptime is an industry standard.

Security

In addition to the standard questions about point to point encryption, firewalls, and other software-based security measures, make sure to look into the physical security employed by off-site data centers. All the network security in the world won’t help if it is easy to gain physical access to a company’s data.

Network Capacity

In addition to looking at current bandwidth needs when setting up data centers, consider future needs based on growth projections. Further, be aware of the possibility of changing needs due to increased functionality.

​Scalability

As the business grows, downsizes, or shifts from one market to another, how easy would it be to make changes to the data center? It is important that data centers are as responsive as possible to accommodate changing needs.

Backup

One of the key components of a data center is data backup. If disaster strikes, are there copies of the data? How many iterations are kept? Are backups stored at a separate physical location?

Every business has its own unique needs that must be taken into consideration. Contact us for more specific advice on how to account for your business’s data center requirements.

Making the Switch: A VoIP Adoption Checklist

shutterstock_54629416smFor any business contemplating the switch from an old-fashioned public switched telephone network (PSTN) system to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), it’s easy to focus on the shiny new functionality and convenience and overlook the potential complications such a transition inevitably entails. To help avoid difficulties and maximize the benefits, here is a checklist of five things to consider before moving to a new VoIP system.

 

How Many Users?

Whether considering hosted VoIP or a premises-based system, it’s important to take into account the size of the user base before signing a service agreement or provisioning the hardware. Ensure that the service provider is capable of accommodating the number of users on the system in addition to enabling potential growth. To that end, it is a good general guideline to add 20% to the maximum projected user count for the next 12 months when calculating how much capacity the new VoIP system will need to support.

How Much Data?

In addition to considering the number of users on the system, it is important to have a reasonably accurate idea of how much data each of those users will require, and to ensure that the network infrastructure can carry that load. On top of being able to deal smoothly with normal bandwidth requirements, a good service provider must be able to handle abnormal surges in the amount of traffic passing through the system.

Upward Mobility

Most workplaces now are mobile, with a great deal of communications and other work being performed on mobile devices. This is largely due to the fact that the vast majority of people now use mobile devices in their personal lives, and they like to continue doing so at work. It is generally better to plan for employees’ preferences to use their personal mobile devices and implement those devices properly than to allow them to be used haphazardly on the VoIP system.

Relationship Worries

Aside from the technical aspects of setting up a new telecommunications system, the relationship with the service provider is an important consideration. Look for signs that a VoIP service provider is professional and values its clients. A service provider who takes unduly long to respond to questions or continuously attempts to up-sell potential customers before they’ve even sold the service is probably not a good choice.

Hidden Costs

It’s quite easy to look no further than the startup costs when considering the effects of switching to VoIP, but a more sound approach is to consider the total cost of ownership (TCO), which includes both startup and operating costs. Hosted services might involve lower startup costs than premises-based systems, but the operational expenses are sure to be higher.

Making the switch to VoIP services can be a daunting task. By considering these five areas, the process is more likely to be successful.

Understand VoIP Security Vulnerabilities and How to Combat Them

shutterstock_165758546smVoice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) offers substantial benefits to businesses, but the same IP technology that creates these benefits also introduces potential security vulnerabilities. Cybersecurity has become an increasing focus for companies across the United States and around the world as hackers try to exploit the growing use of IP to gain access to networks.

Budget resources are increasingly being dedicated to fending off threats, but breaches continue to expand. Companies must take security threats via VoIP seriously and take steps to counter those potential attacks. Consider the following threats and mitigation measures.

Types of Threats

  • Call Interception. VoIP by its nature involves the transmission of voice interactions over IP links, and bad actors will look for opportunities to intercept those transmissions. This requires the hacker to fully access the signal transmission between point A and point B. Typically, the intent of this type of breach is to interrupt the call by diminishing call quality via transmission delays or echoes or uploading sound packets to a server. Authentication and encryption tools are the most effective way to combat this type of threat.
  • Identity Misrepresentation. Hackers may attempt to access VoIP calls so they can eavesdrop, sometimes with the intent to steal information. This is particularly worrisome when sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, is transferred across VoIP links. Typically, hackers will seek the path of least resistance when attempting to access a network, so basic security features such as authentication and encryption may serve as an adequate barrier to entry for most hackers.
  • Theft of Service. An increasing concern for VoIP systems is hackers gaining access to use service, then leaving companies with the bill. These attacks are often carried out outside of business hours, so the breach is less likely to be detected and shut down right away. This threat is best mitigated with software-based measures, firewalls, and good security hygiene, including strong passwords.
  • Disruption. Denial-of-service attacks are another growing area of concern. These attacks seek to interrupt normal business communications by flooding call centers or transmission lines with fraudulent calls. When this occurs, calls from legitimate callers often are unable to get through. Firewall solutions that are built to identify and block fraudulent calls are the best defense against service interruption attacks.
  • Physical Attacks. Sometimes bad actors will go to any length to disrupt service and wreak havoc on a company’s operations. While attention is often focused on thwarting virtual attacks, physical infrastructure can be left vulnerable. Criminals may cut off a power source or damage hardware, rendering the network temporarily useless. It is crucial to take physical security at data centers as seriously as virtual security by ensuring equipment and data centers are secured and inaccessible.

Protection Measures

While the threats may be somewhat different for VoIP, the steps companies can take to safeguard their systems are the same common-sense approaches recommended for traditional computers and networks. Install and maintain firewalls, ensure communications and transactions are encrypted, and implement user authentication techniques along with basic security hygiene policies.
Companies also should work to stay ahead of threats by studying security trends and deploying best practices recommended to combat or prevent those threats. Businesses should work as a team with their VoIP vendor to ensure both virtual and physical assets are secure and hardened against potential attacks.

The Secret Costs of BYOD Plans

shutterstock_268450493Bring your own device (BYOD) plans continue to soar in global popularity. In fact, they have now become the norm – as opposed to the exception – across countless sectors and industries. BYOD plans have blurred the line between work and personal use of wireless and mobile devices, and the true costs of implementing these plans are not always visible. For companies looking to integrate these plans into their current infrastructure, they must keep the following in mind:

 

  • BYOD is supposedly a cost-efficient way to let employees use their favorite devices for work.
  • Numerous enterprises have embraced employee mobile plans and device choices to attract and engage new talent.
  • Plans can include the latest phones, tablets, and Kindle devices that help enhance productivity and performance.
  • With widespread adoption of employee mobile plans, companies must be fully aware of the risk and cost factors involved.

Spend Money to Save Money?

Companies looking to institute BYOD plans must understand the cost structures involved. This includes optimal savings based on several factors.

  • Employees are reimbursed each month for using their own wireless services and data plans.
  • There is a difference between employee device and mobile device management (MDM) plans.
  • A business must decide if corporate-owned and manage devices are more cost-feasible than employee plans.
  • For most companies, the differences in cost tend to favor employee device choice. There are, however, certain costs and considerations that must be taken into account during the reimbursement process.

    Expense Reports

    Companies using expense reports for work-related mobile device usage must take the following into account:

    • How long do employees spend filling out these reports?
    • Take that number and multiply by 12 for workers who submit monthly reports.
    • Add in time spent by management, accounts payable, and finance department processing.

    It is also imperative to decide which roles will be eligible for reimbursement. Businesses must ensure that employee mobile plans follow stringent guidelines and rules when it comes to usage. This means zero tolerance policies for personal business during work hours. The time required to monitor, oversee, and review these tasks and policies should also be factored into expenses and budgeting.

    The Reimbursement Process

    The reimbursement process for worker mobile plans usually affects several departments. This creates more work for accounts payable, along with end users, finance, and even shareholders. These processes can quickly add up in terms of employee time, and must be taken into consideration when deploying BYOD access and eligibility. It is also vital to calculate any taxes based on the reimbursement policies or formats enforced.

    While the verdict is still out, BYOD does offer a wealth of flexible benefits for employees. Still, it is easier for companies to own mobile devices for employee work due to services that can be purchased in bulk from a single carrier. With worker mobile plans, companies have to facilitate multiple carriers and costs that will surely differ between employees. With single carriers, businesses have better bargaining leverage as well as substantial discounts that surpass individual plans. In the end, businesses must make the BYOD decision based on unique organizational factors.

What Exactly Is a Hybrid Cloud?

shutterstock_105784313With the new digital age upon us, the “hybrid cloud” term is everywhere. In fact, hybrid models continue to rank high among the top 10 strategic technology trends. The current craze has prompted several infrastructure providers to define what “hybrid” really means, but definitions may differ according to varying interpretations and limitations. Channel partners are struggling to find the best hybrid solutions to meet their customers’ needs.

​Hybrid Cloud Defined

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the focus should primarily be on the cloud when defining hybrid environments. NIST describes the hybrid cloud as a combination of public, private, and community clouds that are intertwined for optimal compatibility and performance. These clouds feature cutting-edge and innovative technologies that enable data and application portability.

While this effectively describes the hybrid cloud as a whole, it does not include managing and transferring applications across cloud and non-cloud environments. This is known as hybridization, which enables a comprehensive and cohesive platform for on-premise and hosted or remote cloud solutions, and creates a unified network that incorporates applications, programs, and features across on-site and remote cloud servers and environments.

Hybrid Environments

Even with the hybridization label, the line between on-site and off-site is rapidly diminishing. In fact, physical and local networks are now routinely extended across companies’ on-site data centers and third party sites to enhance network performance, security, and ease of use. This includes wide area networks (WANs), along with firewalls, storage gateways, and application-delivery controllers.

Hosting and cloud platforms are sometimes described as un-managed network links. This is during the initial connection, which must be streamlined and centralized to secure one consistent hybrid environment. Once the parameters and adjustments are set, the links are designed to foster network transparency across a myriad of environments.

While this is the ideal scenario and creates a more consistent and unified approach that engages partners, telecom agents, IT solution providers, and others involved in cloud deployment services, communication and compatibility problems are common. These issues include problems with linkage as well as difficulty in provisioning, managing, and monitoring all machines and applications across third-party cloud environments.

The Perfect Hybrid Cloud

With so many definitions and options, how does one select the right hybrid cloud service or environment? According to industry experts, clients must look for the following when assessing provider abilities to deploy fully-functional hybridized solutions.

Flexible Service Options

Hybrid cloud providers must offer services that can meet a full range of requirements, including application compatibility, managed hosting, and colocation services. Whether for public, private, or community based clouds, these services must be easy to access and ensure optimal performance and productivity across the cloud.

Unified Network Fabric

Hybrid specialists must ensure unified networks for deploying services across multiple environments. This includes computing, as well as storage and networking accessibility. Unified networks allow workloads operating in different environments to share the same network elements. This secures consistent connections that expedite workloads across hosting environments while reinforcing the level of security required.

User-Friendly Interfaces

With user-friendly interfaces, customers and partners are able to:

  • easily manage an entire IT infrastructure across a myriad of servers;
  • manage storage capacities and resources via one centralized portal; and
  • enable a single point of contact, which eliminates the need for multiple service providers.