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How Managed Services and Cloud Technology Can Compliment Each Other

Cloud TechnologyIt is becoming apparent that many MSPs in the marketplace today are making a distinction between cloud technology and managed services that is actually hindering rather than helping their bottom lines. The prevailing view seems to be that customers want to either go with managed services or want to make use of cloud technology solutions, and that these two types of service are in competition with each other.

The fact of the matter is that customers don’t generally care what’s going on under the hood, as long as they get where they want to go. Customers want solutions for their business problems, irrespective of the technology being used. Understanding that both managed services and cloud technology are complementary components of a comprehensive, customer-based solution strategy is key to opening up new, more agile business models to MSPs who want to remain competitive.

Cloud as a Core Component

Cloud technology, rather than being an outsourced add-on that MSPs can offer their clients, should be a core component and part of a robust and flexible suite of solutions available from the outset. There are some use cases best served by managed services, and others that are better dealt with by cloud services. Clever MSPs are increasingly able to offer both in-house, and are providing the option on a wider scale than their competition.

The problem with widening the scope of offerings in this way, some MSPs point out, is that cloud technology requires more clients than managed services to be financially viable. It’s generally accepted that a cloud services provider needs to engage more than the 50-100 clients to make managed services profitable. Many smaller MSPs aren’t prepared to or capable of expanding their operation to accommodate the increase in client base.

Making a Larger Customer Base Work

There are ways to make a larger customer base work without significantly increasing the scale of operations:

  • Specialize in niche areas of cloud services such as security or compliance
  • Focus on high-growth areas such as application development
  • Be willing to branch out into new technologies and ecosystems
  • Run as efficient an operation as possible by making use of professional management tools
  • Identify the elements that can still be outsourced to reduce costs and inefficiencies as much as possible.

Running a lean, focused operation is an effective way to be able to offer clients as diverse an array of complementary services as possible while maintaining solid profitability.

The Explosive Growth of the Cloud

Cloud GrowthThe IT landscape is shifting, and cloud services aren’t just center stage – they’re overwhelming the stage.

The Worldwide Semiannual Public Cloud Services Spending Guide, a publication of market intelligence firm IDC, analyzed Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) spending numbers across various global markets and a range of industries. The findings are clear: with a 2017 spending increase of 24.4% over 2016, cresting $120 million worldwide, cloud growth outstrips all other IT growth by a factor of seven. And the rate of growth is forecasted to remain high — above 20% per year through 2020.

SaaS Domination

Cloud computing is still dominated by SaaS applications, though there’s no guarantee that SaaS will remain the flagship offering of the cloud. SaaS represents about two-thirds of current cloud spending, but its growth is slower than IaaS and PaaS trajectories: through 2020, PaaS is expected to grow at a rate of 30.1% each year, while IaaS outstrips it at 32.2% annually.

Adoption by Industry

Not all industries are seeing equal cloud adoption. Manufacturing, professional services, and finance are forecasted to spend the most on cloud services, accounting for around a third of all cloud spending. The professional services industry also leads the pack in cloud growth, with a spending rate growing by almost 24% per year.

Cloud Spending

Despite the potential expense of moving large organizations (and entrenched infrastructure) to the cloud, companies with over 1,000 employees aren’t shy about migration: they account for over half of all cloud spending, and their spending rate is increasing faster than companies with fewer employees.

Global Cloud

Generating almost two-thirds of all global cloud revenue, the United States is the largest current public cloud market – though the Asia/Pacific region (Japan not included) and Latin America are each growing at faster rates: Asia/Pacific at 28%, and Latin America at 26.6% annually. In fact, globally, the US has one of the slowest cloud growth markets, increasing at a rate just shy of 20% per year.

As the market matures, it’s likely that previously untapped markets will come to regard the cloud as an essential piece of infrastructure. In particular, European markets have been more resistant to cloud adoption than those in the US, but they show healthy growth which is forecasted to continue through the end of the decade.

Domestically and worldwide, for large companies and small, the cloud is growing – and it’s not predicted to stop any time soon.

How Top Insurance Companies Are Pushing Digital Innovation

Digital InnovationNew leaders in the insurance industry continue to invest in and drive digital innovation, which is particularly apparent in Europe. When research firm Pierre Audoin Consultants (PAC) surveyed 200 mid- to large-sized insurance companies in Europe, the company discovered that they are adopting a number of different strategies across the enterprise.
Paving the Way for Digital Innovation

Because of the appointing of new CEOs across 70% of Europe’s biggest insurance companies within the last 18 months, businesses are integrating more innovative IT strategies. As a result of the recent threat to traditional insurers from innovations in startup, manufacturing, telecommunications, and utilities companies, many insurers have taken steps to avoid becoming irrelevant.

Out of the 200 senior business and IT executives that PAC spoke with, 84% have developed formal innovation strategies with dedicated budgets and teams behind them.
The Need for Improved Customer Engagement

One of the biggest motivators behind digital innovation is the demand for better customer engagement, which is true for many industries. Mobile apps are one of the innovations made over the years that have helped improve customer relations and boost loyalty, subsequently increasing customer spending. PAC found that 60% of the insurers surveyed reinforced the need for improved engagement with customers, making it their core focus regarding digital innovation.

Learning from Retail Banking Companies

One industry that can teach insurers how to be more technologically innovative is the retail banking sector, which has gone from lagging in customer engagement to becoming one of the most tech-friendly industries. Many retail banking firms have developed and deployed mobile apps that make operations much more convenient for customers.

Insurance companies have also since transformed from firms with poorer customer experiences to those making waves through innovation. For instance, one free app that has made a difference is known as Trov, developed by Axa Insurance. This app allows customers to easily insure individual possessions using a smartphone, which was an impossible task not long ago.
Potential Obstacles that Insurers Still Face

Innovations may be taking place within the insurance industry, but there are still certain issues that these companies face. Some companies that PAC surveyed cited stringent regulation as the largest obstacle preventing innovation, while one-third stated that outdated infrastructures and technology have been the biggest problems. Others also mentioned that a majority of their business applications are capable of supporting future digital innovation strategies.

Despite the existing shortcomings, insurance companies will likely continue to evolve as they adapt to the digital age, implementing mobile apps and cloud-based communications.

How Learning Sales Can Help IT Teams

t2-jan-blog-2Disruption of emerging trends constantly keeps the IT industry alert — or at least it should in certain cases. Some of the buzz terms that define new developments in technology include Internet of Everything, digital transformation, and microservices.

Meanwhile, the cloud, containers, and the Internet of Things (IoT) appear to be established norms that aren’t going away. Furthermore, many companies aspire to integrate downloadable applications with their services. Here are reasons computer consultants need to balance focus on these developments with sales.

Innovations vs. Distractions

One of the biggest challenges of the tech support industry is to sort between meaningful innovations and marketing distractions. Is it necessary to devote time to every trend, such as the consumerization of IT? It actually depends on the goals, resources, and clientele of each provider, since there are multiple ways to resolve any specific problem.

Making the field more complicated is the niche branding of “as a Service” concepts that have been inspired by the SaaS boom. The question becomes: how much time should firms that market themselves as tech experts spend on learning trends that may have little effect on their markets?

The answer needs to stay close to the organization’s budget and the needs of existing clients. If a technology provider invests too much in new technology, this can drain the budget or lock in clients it cannot efficiently serve. Too much focus on how to manage multiple data streams can lead to diminishing returns, which is why it helps to specialize in certain areas while still offering broad packages.

Many times new technology is redundant and merely introduces new semantics to the industry. AWS EC2 instances, for example, essentially equate to VMware vSphere virtual machines (VMs). Even for the most experienced tech talent, this proliferation of variations can create confusion while draining resources on learning subtle differences in these services. One of the best ways for tech professionals to filter through this cutter is to learn sales.


What Tech Pros Should Know About Sales

Although IT and sales are often considered separate professions, learning sales helps tech experts adopt valuable skills that can enhance their careers by influencing colleagues and technology within the companies they work for. Understanding the sales process gives tech professionals an edge in problem solving when they deal directly with customer needs. It helps them communicate and see through marketing hype better instead of thinking in terms of technical jargon.

Here are basic sales steps that can help tech pros advance their careers by making better decisions for customers:

  1. Set the stage for expectations and resource needs by focusing on solving a problem instead of promoting features.
  2. Master solutions by knowing the differences in when and where to apply them.
  3. Improve consistency and control by applying the solution to a process.
  4. Deliver persuasive presentations that point toward clear and logical decisions.
  5. Move the pitch forward by focusing on the end result.
  6. Emphasize value while weighing costs attributed to time and labor.
  7. Be conscious of time and attitude factors that influence mindset.

Even though there’s an industry stereotype that tech support and sales don’t mix, it’s advantageous for tech support teams to develop sales skills, which can contribute to customer satisfaction as well as enhance their careers. The more skills they can bring to their organizations, the better career opportunities they will have.

Securing the Right Levels of Encryption

EncryptionIn a business environment where workplace collaboration is now considered the norm, how are consumer-focused companies implementing end-to-end security? According to industry experts, many commercial entities are simply emulating the security infrastructures of companies like Apple and WhatsApp.

To combat unsolicited messaging and foreign intrusion, Apple revamped its security infrastructure to protect all its iPhone users and data. Similarly, WhatsApp amended its messaging technologies so that no one could access messages except for end-user clients. These changes have served as models for businesses wishing to incorporate stronger levels of encryption for their communications technologies.

Issues with Encryption

While encryption is now commonplace for collaborative efforts, it is still not easy for companies with cloud-based messaging and communications. This is due to the following obstacles:

  • Cloud technologies are consistently changing and evolving, resulting in newer encryption modules that must be adopted and implemented by subscribers.
  • Cloud-based services are now adding more features, including bots, artificial intelligence, and even third-party integration.
  • The above-mentioned features are simply known as “valued additions”. However, this means that third party vendors will still have full access to user data and content.

To tackle this form of “accepted intrusion”, companies in the cloud are looking for stronger and more durable forms of encryption. In fact, they are seeking codes and programs that will protect user data and transmissions from even recognized vendors and services providers. In an industry that is blanketed with so many forms of encryption, is it possible to secure the right balance between content access and privacy?

Encryption Solutions in a Nutshell

There is no concrete answer to the current encryption dilemma. However, IT experts still play a pivotal role in encrypting codes and establishing access, eligibility, and defense for messaging programs. In other words, companies cannot go either way with encryption; not too insecure, but also not too clamped down. They must collaborate to find common ground and acceptable levels of encryption for all parties involved.

To that end, businesses should use fully locked down end-to-end consumer messaging tools. This means companies can take advantage of existing encryption and security codes without investing in other paid messaging apps.

Enterprise Messaging Providers

While WhatsApp seems to be a plausible solution, it is not the only program in town. Enterprise messaging providers also feature end-to-end encryption databases for all messaging platforms. However, services like Slack and HipChat are designed to be less strict when it comes to recognized intrusion. The latter includes IT involvements, especially during periods of downtime and maintenance. Certain clients may also have access to these internal chat databases, which can seriously impact privacy. With this in mind, user content and data can still be breached, and hackers may easily be able to intrude as well.

Green Tech—The Future of the Data Center

t2-december-2In the past few years, there has been an incredible surge in data center construction around the world. Companies like Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon are spending huge amounts of capital to build them in places like Singapore, Taiwan, and Tokyo. The reason for this unprecedented growth is the expanding global need for both business and personal connections.

However, the amount of energy used to operate data centers is extreme. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, data centers are “the energy hogs of the computing world,” and a study released in June 2016 found that “US data centers consumed about 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2014… representing 2 percent of the country’s total energy consumption… equivalent to the amount consumed by about 6.4 million average American homes that year.”

This type of energy consumption places huge drains on global infrastructures. Therefore, a push to develop energy-efficient data centers is at the forefront of IT concerns.

The Definition of a Green Data Center

Green data centers are those that are designed for maximum performance and efficiency, using a minimal amount of resources. Basically, that means that all of the hardware (the mechanical, electrical, and computing equipment) is arranged and operated in a way that reduces the environmental impact of the data center. There are a number of energy-saving strategies used to reduce consumption in data centers, including:

  • Low emission building materials
  • Water reuse and recycling systems (much water is required for cooling purposes in these industrial-scale facilities)
  • Alternative energy technologies (new cooling systems, photovoltaics, and innovative heating units)

Reducing energy consumption at the data center does more than help our environment; it offers OPEX reductions for the owners.

Current Data Center Condition

Over the last decade, there has been an incredible surge in the need for industrial facilities housing large amounts of server and other hardware equipment. Designed specifically for the needs of electronics, these structures require massive amounts of environmental and security controls. However, their proximity to users does determine certain latency issues. Therefore, the abundance of affordable smart devices and increasing ranges of connectivity, combined with a plethora of new “as-a-service” offerings, has generated high demand for more data centers around the world.

The fact that cloud connectivity presents a number of cost-saving and performance improvement strategies for enterprises has also contributed to data center expansion, and even the number of providers who are “born in the cloud.” According to Gartner, IT is projected to shell out nearly $1 trillion over the next five years transitioning to cloud computing services. That type of infrastructure will depend on more data centers for support.

Green Futures

Data center development has increased, and likewise the energy required for operation. The good news is that the global commitment for developing more green facilities is strong. By investing in conservation and reuse equipment, providers will be able to transfer the savings on to the end user. In addition, although the initial capital expenditure is higher than traditional construction, a green data center delivers measurable ROI and long-term reductions in operating costs.

How to Determine if Cloud or On-site Video Conferencing Is Ideal

Video ConferencingPrior to purchasing video conferencing services, businesses should consider the differences between cloud and on-premises services to determine which type of service is ideal for them. As video conferencing continues to evolve and become increasingly streamlined over time, costs have decreased and these services have become more accessible to the average user.

There are two main ways for businesses to utilize video conferencing. The first is to keep video conferencing operations on-site with everything located within the workspace, while the second is to outsource it to a third party provider that deploys it as Software as a Service (SaaS) via cloud storage.

What Is Included in Video Conferencing Solutions?

Both cloud-based and on-site video conferencing services include many of the same components, but there are some differences between their capabilities.

  • Recording and Streaming – Both on-premises and cloud-based video conference calls can record and stream conferences, but while on-site services keep data within their own network, cloud services store data on third-party servers. Service level agreements (SLAs) can help businesses determine how data is stored and in what locations. Business owners also need to consider the total cost of ownership as it pertains to data storage and network traffic.
  • Multipoint Conferencing/Bridging – The great advantage of multipoint conferencing, or bridging, is the ability to include a large number of sites on a single call. The number of available users will vary from vendor to vendor, but typical on-site multipoint conferencing will allow anywhere from 12 to 120 users on one call, while cloud services often allow 25 to 50 users, with little to no call limits for the latter.
  • Firewall Configuration – One of the limitations of on-premises video conferencing is the need to setup firewalls prior to making calls beyond the business’s network. Configuring a firewall can be complex, requiring users to take multiple factors into account. Cloud-based services can help companies avoid this issue entirely, allowing them to connect nearly anywhere with internet connectivity.
  • Centralized Network Management – Another advantage of cloud-based services is streamlined network management, with the ability to update software and address books and manage problems with the network through an automated process.

When On-Site Video Conferencing Is Appropriate

On-premises video conferencing was a much more popular choice for organizations when it was the only method available. Today, companies utilizing this type of conferencing the most are large organizations that place security as a top priority, such as government agencies or businesses that handle large amounts of confidential client information.

However, on-site video conferencing also requires a lot of resources that many businesses simply don’t have, particularly smaller companies with minimally staffed IT departments. Unless the business has the ability to handle all of the details surrounding on-premises conferencing, this method isn’t ideal.
When to Choose Cloud-Based Video Conferencing

Cloud technology is constantly evolving, and cloud-based services are becoming less expensive over time. They are highly scalable to meet the needs of small to large businesses, with fixed costs available to maximize predictability of expenses. These services also include plenty of automation to reduce the need for a large and consistently attentive IT team.

When choosing between on-site and cloud-based video conferencing services, businesses should consider their unique requirements.

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.

 

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.