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Leaving Your Cloud VoIP Provider Can Be Easy

VoIPParting ways with a vendor is something all businesses have to do at one stage or another, yet the process can be extremely complex. If you don’t make plans for what to do at the end of a contract, you’ll find the workload intensifies and interruptions in service are likely to occur. When it comes to cloud Voice over IP (VoIP), you can’t afford any downtime.

For that reason, it’s important to have a few key things in place before you even begin your contract with a cloud VoIP provider. No matter how great you think the relationship is going to be, things can still go wrong. The sales person may change; the tech support that you like so much might go to another vendor; the provider is acquired by another that doesn’t approach customer care the same way. Any of these things are possible and can turn a star provider into a disappointment very quickly.

To that end, here are a few things to have in place before you sign on the dotted line:

Points of Measurement – What will indicate to you that you’re getting the service you selected? Is it all about uptime, quality, or a combination of the two? Make sure you outline expectations and include them in the SLA.

Regular Reviews – It’s important to examine the points of measurement on a regular basis and compare them with the SLA. Determine how often you will review these outcomes with your cloud VoIP provider to ensure they are held accountable.

Continuity of Operations (COOP) Plan – This type of plan actually lays out what will happen in the event that you do switch providers. It determines who is responsible for what and the timelines by which any actions will take place.

Renegotiation strategy – This is something you’ll want to have regardless of your relationship with the provider. It’s important to protect your rights at all stages, especially the end. Establishing pricing and performance thresholds for what constitutes a justifiable change in vendors will help you lay the groundwork.

The goal of putting these steps in place is to ensure you have options when it comes time to change your cloud VoIP provider. Know the analytics of your current arrangement and your expectations at all times. When reviewing with your provider, hit on those things that matter to you and your bottom line. If they aren’t responsive, you know it’s time to do something different. If you’ve completed these steps, you’re ready to start researching other providers to determine if a switch makes sense.

When you’re ready to start that process, call us at T2. We have relationships across the cloud VoIP provider industry and can help you assess potential partners and whether or not they will be a good fit. Plus, we’ll help you when it’s time to pull the plug. Talk to our experts first to ensure you never go without the service you need.

True Security Threats in a Cloud Environment

CloudIf you’ve ever implemented a cloud application, you likely navigated a number of discussions surrounding cloud security. No doubt you had to do some fast talking to explain what IT professionals already know: the cloud is safer than many on-premise systems.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t security threats when you implement a cloud solution. The problems that are most likely to claim your data or infiltrate your network, though, don’t tend to be the types of issues that most people associate with cloud systems. Here are the security threats that you’ll want to protect against:

A lack of defined ownership: When you implement a cloud solution for the first time, it’s important to have a plan in place for who will oversee the security protection for each part of the technology. You’re likely to overlap with your provider in some areas, but it’s better to have the discussion and put a plan in writing, rather than discover later that you both thought one another was overseeing a certain aspect of security.

Shadow IT: With large corporations sometimes managing thousands of applications, it’s no surprise that it’s easy for employees to download an application onto the network without authorization. Likewise, they may be using a personal mobile device for business activities or vice versa. It’s almost impossible to eliminate every risk from Shadow IT, but it’s good to be aware and protect against this weak spot.

Compliance: The compliance standards currently in place were established when the cloud was largely conceptual. There’s so little guidance for how data should be stored and which types of data should not be mixed that it makes it challenging for any company to know how to make decisions related to storage.

Lack of physical access: Some companies are troubled by the idea that they don’t know exactly where their data is being physically stored. This is a concern particularly in the public cloud, where companies’ data may be stored in ways that they aren’t protected from potential problems with other enterprises. For instance, if a company’s data is seized by the government for legal reasons, an unrelated company may be unable to access their data, too.

Additions and updates: Any disruption in your cloud environment has the potential to allow for a security breach. Even if the update is simply to improve speed, you should take precautions against any possible security problems.

Planning for a migration to the cloud? Talk with the consultants at T2. We can help you walk through the entire security process, from evaluating your current situation to establishing protocols to protect against shadow IT. Give us a call to set up an initial appointment.

 

It’s Becoming Harder to Come up With Reasons Not to Choose Cloud

CloudWhen you first heard about replacing your on-premises software with a cloud solution, you likely had some of the common fears shared by other business decision makers. How could cloud storage safely guard your data? Wouldn’t you put your IT division out of a job? Where exactly was all your information going to be stored?

As cloud offerings have expanded and pioneering companies took the dive into cloud solutions, it has proven to be a cost-effective and flexible software environment, and a more secure storage option for your data in many situations. Here are a few of the reservations that are no longer limiting adoption, making the future of cloud technology even more promising:

Flexibility: Introducing a cloud solution into your software mix gives you a product that is easily adaptable to your business needs. As you hear about features that integrate well with your cloud system, implementation is just a phone call and a quick update away. Adding business units or completing an acquisition is no longer an IT nightmare with the flexibility of the cloud.

Cost: This is an area that requires caution. If you start asking around, you’re sure to hear a story of ballooning cloud costs that were a significant disappointment after promises of reduced software costs. Overall, though, you should experience some cost savings. Cloud solutions require little-to-no hardware investment and because they are subscription based, you’re never paying for extra users. Be prepared for ongoing support and subscription costs.

Staffing: Selling an IT team on a move to the cloud required a lot of fast talking at first. After all, why would an IT professional get excited about a software solution that might eliminate their job? The reality is that IT is still critical for supporting your software, but their roles pivot from managing updates and fixing glitches to optimizing the infrastructure and operations that support storage and manage bandwidth.

Security: You need to evaluate your cloud choice for its security features, but while this was formerly the biggest concern about a shift to the cloud, it’s not a problem for many who have adopted cloud software. In some cases, the security support exceeds anything a company can host with an on-premises storage solution.

Accessibility: One of the best features of cloud software is its accessibility for smaller enterprises. At first, it was assumed that the cloud would be championed by the big guys and then filtered down to smaller businesses, but small- to mid-size companies are experiencing access to the same great software tools at their own subscription size.

If you still have reservations about a transition to the cloud, talk to our consultants at T2. We can help you work through any concerns you have and ensure you have reliable network connectivity with access to the most advanced technology at prices that fit your company’s budget.

Approaching Cybersecurity from a New Perspective

CybersecurityEvery day a large number of cyberattacks are launched. Malicious software is often initiated by intelligent attackers that many scanners can’t even detect. An entire IT infrastructure can be riddled with a virus. When it comes to cybersecurity, what can you do to protect yourself and your organization?

Is Proactive Cybersecurity Possible?
While a proactive cybersecurity measure would be ideal, the cards are currently stacked against such an approach, at least in a comprehensive way. Scanners don’t know what to look for and nothing can be done until after an attack has occurred, driving the need for a reactionary response.

The History of Cybersecurity
To understand where we are now, it’s helpful to take a look behind us. Many older systems would leave doors open open for whomever needed to get in and work to improve the operating system. This goes back to the old mainframe days. Slowly, they began to develop protection strategies to lock down vulnerable areas.

As computing went more mainstream, better security practices were implemented. However, there was also a move from mitigation to risk management, a trend that continues in terms of how we perceive cybersecurity strategies today.

Rather than mitigating the probability of attack and the impact that such an attack would have, IT security has turned to jumping on issues as they arise, working on solutions to minimize damage after it has occurred.

Data Protection
In many IT circles, the idea that an organization needs to protect its data border, so to speak, has come to the forefront. This circle includes such giants as Google, which has adopted a zero-trust, end-to-end encryption initiative. Rather than protect devices, the move is aimed at protecting the data itself.

Therein lies the question: do you protect your software and hardware, or do you lean toward protecting data with encryption? For some, neither of these approaches begins at the right point and neither is foolproof, mostly because they don’t consider what to do when something goes awry. This is why many say cyberattacks will never be eradicated.

Putting Security in the Cloud
There is hope, however. Organizations are moving data and processes to the cloud, which means security issues are often placed on the vendors with which they partner. You want reliable network connectivity and business continuity that provides the level of disaster recovery that keeps your data within reach all the time.

At T2, we’ve given our clients the promise that we can save time, reduce costs, and provide the connectivity that makes a difference. Contact us today to talk about how we can eliminate the burden of managing services while providing you the infrastructure you need to succeed.

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.