Gartner: Outlook on IT Operations Management

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IT operations leaders face constant change in today’s dynamic business environment. IT leaders must provide faster and more varied IT solutions while also balancing the need to keep infrastructure costs low and stable.  Today let’s look at key IT operations management trends from Gartner.

IT and Business

IT and business leaders are engaging differently and more directly than ever before. No longer is it as simple as building a “tool to fix the problem.” Instead, IT is at the table as a true partner designing IT solutions that innovate and drive business value.   IT teams today are also learning to handle and integrate business-driven IT spending. This has been a challenge, but IT leaders are working hard to build relationships with business stakeholders and update processes to stay central to technology conversations and integration. Finally, Gartner also sees modern IT becoming  a “broker of services” especially in the data center.  IT teams may see their delivery model more “cloud like” where services are delivered more on-demand fulfilling a specific need at that time.

Agility

Becoming more agile is also an IT challenge.  IT operations leaders must be able to respond to business needs while still maintaining stable IT infrastructure.  Gartner’s findings see a shift in the traditional IT operations model. Successful IT teams of the future will allocate resources for analytics and innovation that allow their current IT solutions to improve and evolve as needs change.

Managing Costs

Gartner also predicts that IT operations leaders will move to optimize costs not just manage costs. Gartner defines cost optimization as a continuous exploration of technology and approaches that add business value.  Optimizing IT costs is about finding better ways to automate and create efficiencies that ultimately free up funds for further innovation.

Share how your team has evolved to better manage today’s demands.

Key Trends Shaping Big Data Analytics

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We continue to see more and more businesses leverage the power of big data analytics to make decisions, grow their customer base and expand into new products and services. Today, let’s look at some of the trends driving this technology. If you are not yet using big data, at the end of this post we also outline how to get started.

Thor Olavsrud of CIO reports the following trends taking shape in the marketplace:

  • AI will continue to shape processing. Mr. Olavsrud points out that AI or Artificial Intelligence is the umbrella word for machine learning, machine intelligence and cognitive computing and is proving to be a good choice to provide better scale and processing efficiencies for high volume repetitive tasks
  • Silos of data will be replaced by clouds of data
  • Data governance will continue to be a top discussion point for companies as their data stores grow
  • IT will focus more on developing business-driven big data applications to ensure that big data analytics are being applied to real situations in real-time from back office processing to front office operations
  • Analytics decisions will continue to move from post-event and real-time to preemptive decisions based on analytics. More embedded analytics in applications and systems will help decision makers drive better business outcomes
  • “Data agility” will provide a clear competitive advantage. Big data analytics tools will continue to evolve to provide users the ability to understand data in context to take a business action
  • Hybrid data center architectures will continue to advance

How to get started with big data?

Big data analytics can bring more decision making power to your company to drive better outcomes, but your data center must be prepared to take advantage. Start with a review of your data center architecture. Evolving Solutions can help you take this initial step and partner with you to review your workloads, data needs and capabilities.

What can you do to protect your data?

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Data security is important not just for large enterprises but also for small and medium-sized businesses. Data can be the life blood of an organization and is critical to operations. It is important for businesses large and small to create a data security solution.

A recent Network World article highlighted these steps to take:

  • Start with your network. Don’t leave data security to systems run on employee devices. Create a front line defense and secure your network
  • Manage passwords. How are employees choosing passwords to enter your network and access data? Is it the same password used across countless personal accounts? Password management is another font line defense to protect your data
  • Encryption. From computer hard drives to emails to attachments, encryption is an often overlooked form of data security
  • Lock your devices. What is your company policy on using PINs and passwords not just for laptops and computers but also for mobile phones and tablets. For devices that can access your network, there should be a policy of using passwords and PINs required. You should even review your physical in-office devices to ensure they are locked in place to make theft more difficult
  • Make sure you can remote wipe. Make sure you have processes and systems in place to remove applications and data from devices that are lost or stolen
  • Backs up are important to data security. Not only is backing up your data important to operations, but in the event of a security breach, a backup can allow you to restore your data more quickly and reduce downtime
  • Monitor and review. Also often overlooked is the importance of monitoring and reviewing your network. Who has access and what is usual activity and what is not. There are a number of networking solutions that can give you the visibility you need to monitor

Finally, employee awareness and training is also critical for data security success. Employees should know the steps to take to properly access the network, policies for data use, understand common threats and know how to report suspicious activity. In today’s world data security is not just the function of the IT solution; instead, employees at all levels need to play an active role in keeping company data secure.

CIOs Share Network Improvement Tips

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Improving your networking solution can enhance performance and make data and applications more secure. A recent Forbes article gathered the following network improvement tips from leading CIOs.

  • Look to software not just hardware. CIOs are finding that hardware only improves bandwidth so far and are now leveraging software-defined network (SDN) solutions and network functions virtualization (NFV) to simplify administration and improve visibility.
  • Conquer latency. Latency is always an IT concern. Leading CIOs are moving to several new methods to combat such as, using file transfer acceleration technologies vs. TCP/IP protocol, implementing network monitoring tools and by breaking down large packets.
  • Understand application network usage. Many companies do not know how much capacity applications eat up. Mapping the impact of application use with other network factors helps IT gain a more complete picture of performance.
  • Prepare your network for the cloud. Cloud can change not only network management but also architecture. As cloud continues to enter our everyday operations, your network needs to be able to handle future public or private traffic and X-as-a-Service solutions.

Network performance is one piece of the puzzle. Network security is the other piece. A secure networking solution is fundamental to overall IT operations health. Here are several tips to consider for improving network security:

  • Micro-segmentation sets limitations and “zones of trust” to manage how far a group or individual can move within your network and access data
  • Many companies do not have a log or inventory of what devices access the network and when and where. Creating an inventory of network-connected devices can be key to improving visibility
  • Does your company utilize IoT technology? IoT devices are new entry and access points to your network and it is essential to think through access and security just as you would any other device or user

In today’s world, network performance is essential to keeping business users and customers happy and network security is crucial to keeping company data safe. Take the time to assess your networking solution and determine what improvements it may need.

How Artificial Intelligence is Boosting Productivity

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“Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly moving from nice-to-have into must-have territory for organizations. In fact, nearly six in ten AI early adopters think it will be a necessary element to remain competitive within the next few years. Two-thirds say AI is very important to their organization’s strategy and success”, reports Susan Hupfer for IBM. In fact, 62% of early adopters are reporting that their AI initiatives are exceeding their expectations.

What can AI systems do? AI technologies augment human intelligence to help improve decision making by crunching large amounts of data quickly and being able to generate predictions, relations and recommendations.  This helps managers make more informed decisions faster. Here are some examples of how AI is helping companies boost their productivity:

  • Search. For many companies offering an intelligent search option for employees and customers across fragmented systems and data sources is difficult.  AI search platforms have enabled companies to improve search offerings for both structured and unstructured data
  • Customer care. AI systems are working in a number of ways for customer care departments. In some case, AI evaluates natural language questions submitted via text, web chats or instant messaging platforms. In other cases, AI  allows customer care employees to find faster the right answers to customer questions
  • Workflows. Some companies are also using AI systems to compile “organizational wisdom” to cut down on the bottlenecks that can happen when the same subject matter experts are repeatedly sought out for information
  • Operations.  Equipment and operational based businesses are using the predictive powers of AI systems to identify potential risks for downtime and to better plan for equipment maintenance. These businesses can also use these predictive elements to better manage inventory and supply chains to save money

According to IBM, half of early adopters are already reporting workplace productivity and efficiency.  Think about how AI technology could combine with your business  strengths to improve operations, employee performance and ultimately customer satisfaction.

Data Center Infrastructure Trends in 2017

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Your data center infrastructure keeps your business operating day-in and day-out.  Our data centers need to be fast, flexible and efficient.  Security is also a top concern for IT managers.  Facility Executive highlights several infrastructure trends for 2017 that help IT meet these growing demands.

Micro data centers – Data center resources are being pushed closer to users and to processes to provide faster processing and delivery and to better analyze data collected by sensors and devices in real-time.  Micro data center use is growing and will continue to grow in 2017. IT teams are looking for solutions that support fast deployment, standardization and remote management to better handle a more distributed IT landscape.

Data center cooling – Important to data center infrastructure management is the cooling process. Thermal management strategies continue to change and new technologies provide more sustainable solutions.   Expect to see more use of evaporative and adiabatic cooling techniques that use water more efficiently to cool, and in some locations where water supplies are limited, companies will turn to waterless cooling systems.

Data center security – Security continues to be top of mind in 2017.  As more devices become connected, the data center is exposed to more security threats.  Managers are investing in tools and processes that help identify network weaknesses, increase visibility and provide early warning notifications to create more secure environments.

DCIM as a key discipline – In 2017, Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) principles will continue to prove their value as data centers become more complex. DCIM will grow in importance as more IT teams tackle automation and manage hybrid operating environments.

Data center development – Data center design and deployment become more integrated in 2017. Markets change fast and the ability to quickly deploy a new data center and scale are important to staying competitive.  Combining design and development is helping to increase speed-to-market.

2017 will be the year of ensuring our data center infrastructure is up to the task of tackling today’s business and customer needs.

Network Optimization

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With the rise of new technologies, such as cloud, on top of the new and varied ways customers and employees interact with your company, today’s networks need to be in peak condition to meet these new demands.  Applications are now delivered from many different sources putting more stress on your wide area network (WAN).  It isn’t as simple as delivering the necessary information or application to an endpoint – delivery must also be fast, at any time and efficient.

Wide area network optimization tools are used widely to increase visibility and control and to optimize bandwidth to improve performance. BizTech Magazine outlines the following ways WAN optimization tools typically work below:

  • Compression – Network optimization tools use an algorithm to remove redundancy from data flows reducing size
  • Deduplication – This is another form of data compression, but it conserves bandwidth by reducing the number of bytes transferred between endpoints
  • Transport Control Protocol (TCP) Acceleration – this technique focuses on the network itself.  TCP Acceleration works to improve throughput on an internet link
  • SSL Optimization – this method allows SSL traffic to be accelerated across the internet connection without sacrificing security
  • Protocol Optimization – older protocol may not work well over WAN. This process adjusts these older protocols to reduce latency
  • Application Optimization and Control – this technique is application related and focuses on ways to improve performance and delivery of applications

Khalid Raza on Network World further adds, “the primary role of WAN optimization is to overcome application performance bottlenecks associated with network architectures that were designed for data center, not cloud-based, applications.” As your IT environment expands, network optimization tools can help you achieve your best performance and manage the peaks and valleys of demand.

Big Data: The Road to Advanced Analytics

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We are all familiar with the potential benefits of big data analytics to a company’s future success, but how do we start laying the groundwork to support it?  Here are some starting points from Information Management.

Data. First, define all your data sources. Determine where all your data currently lives and how it flows through your operation. You should also prioritize and categorize your data, identifying the critical pieces.

Infrastructure. How will your system move and support all of this data? How does your system handle structured and unstructured data? Evaluate the infrastructure in place and what would need to be developed or integrated to ensure data flows well between collection, processing and ultimately to your analytics applications for decision making. Another key part of infrastructure is its processing speed. Your platform also needs to be able to support rapid processing of raw data to ready it for analysis.

Storage.  The sheer volume and formats of big data and the rate at which it can change can be daunting.  You need a solid storage strategy in place. Utilize solutions that help you manage capacity, performance and cost.

Security. Part of building a solid foundation means thinking through data security. Be sure to explore the processes for securely transferring data in, out and around your data center and big data analytics applications.

Checks and balances. Analytical insights are only as good as the data put into the analysis. Discuss what oversight and review is needed to ensure data quality and integrity.

Big data analytics gives companies the ability to make more informative, real-time decisions, but it all starts with a solid foundation to operate on.

When to Think About Cloud

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Is cloud still thought of as “separate” from your other operations and projects?  Allwyn Sequeira  of The Data Center Journal advises that we must break free from that mind-set and instead think of public cloud as a system that works with your data center and supplements what you are running on-premise today. Essentially, cloud is a key piece of a hybrid operation that can help improve performance, agility and scalability. Mr. Sequeira provides several scenarios where cloud adoption should be considered.

Equipment upgrades and refreshes.  Do you have local equipment close to reaching capacity or a new project that requires your system to scale?  It may seem automatic to request a price for new hardware to meet the new demand, but actually, this is a great time to explore what cloud options are available and how they would work with your data center. Cloud can be provisioned faster than new physical hardware, and long term cloud will allow you to scale and adapt to future needs quicker.

Mergers and acquisitions.  When a company merges with another or acquires new businesses, this is a great time to think through cloud adoption. The cloud can be a cost-effective solution for integrating new systems and it can reduce transition time versus building or installing new hardware.

Pilot projects and testing.  Many companies adopt cloud solutions for development and testing of new projects.  The cloud removes the need to provision specific hardware to the project reducing time and cost.

Look at cloud as another tool in your IT toolbox.  It should be considered like any other tool when you are creating solutions to meet business and market needs.

Testing Your Data Recovery Plan

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Whether it is human error, a weather event or a technical issue, a disaster is likely within the lifetime of your systems and data. Being prepared for disaster recovery is important to ensure your data and operations are protected and that downtime is minimal.  Backup and recovery is not just about having a plan on paper or a phone tree of contacts or a script for customers.  Preparedness comes from frequent testing of your backup and recovery solutions.

How often should tests be conducted? The answer to this question depends on your industry, regulations, compliance standards and the nature of your data and processes.  Think through these factors and plug in business leaders to determine the appropriate testing plan.

Quality is important. Each backup and recovery test should be treated as the real thing. Formal recovery procedures should be followed and proper documentation should be part of each test.  Be sure to review your testing plan against industry best practices or work with a trusted business partner to develop a solid test plan. After each test, a review should be conducted on the results of the test and what worked well and what did not.

Understand the environment. As part of your backup and recovery plan think through which business or IT situations put company data at risk for a disaster.  This will allow your team to conduct more real-life testing scenarios.  This exercise can also help you better understand periods in the year when risk may be at its greatest and the types of business functions, IT processes and customer interactions that open data up to risk.

Practice makes perfect. One of the biggest benefits of frequent testing is that your team gains a level of experience and confidence with your backup and recovery plan. By practicing they can react more quickly in an actual disaster event.

Backup and recovery planning is an ever-evolving function of the business. As your business changes so does your data backup and recovery needs. Make this critical function a key part of your team’s agenda.