Cloud Security – Questions to Ask

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Cloud services can provide any-sized business efficiency and cost savings. Cloud services can also help free up time to allow for innovation and speed up time to market. For some companies cloud services can also provide better security.  IT teams wear many hats to keep their systems in tip-top shape as the world demands always on service.  Many teams are looking to trusted partners who offer solutions to help them manage.

When it comes to adopting a cloud solution, many put security on the top of their list of concerns.  In fact, IBM recently found that 76% of CIOs consider IT security their biggest risk. Security just like other criteria should be evaluated thoroughly when looking at a new IT service whether that service is cloud related or not. IBM Cloud pulled together these questions to ask when evaluating a cloud service:

  • Who is responsible for security? Understand who owns what once the cloud solution is in place. You may find that the provider does not take full security responsibility or uses a third party.  Depending on the skills  of your team, you will need to decide if you can handle the added security needs or perhaps you can work on a shared responsibility setup or you may want a vendor who has full cloud security expertise and handling
  • How do you evaluate if the security is adequate?  When it comes to security don’t stop your evaluation at the certificate level. Dig in and find out what and where the certification covers and what it means to your business. Better yet, look for a cloud service provider that covers security for the entire infrastructure and can help you manage regulatory compliance standards
  • What happens if something goes wrong? You must understand the provider’s disaster recovery process. In today’s always on world, quick recovery is crucial not only to your customers and employees but also to your bottom line

Finally, once the decision is made to move forward, be sure to clearly document the process, procedures and the division of responsibility for managing your cloud service.

Big Data Predicts

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Big data analytics is providing many new insights for companies around the world.  Bernard Marr reports for Forbes that predictions from big data analytics are being made every day by some of the most well-known companies in the world – buying habits on amazon.com, Netflix movies and even dating sites.  There are many other situations that big data is being applied to that you might not realize.  Mr. Marr points out several:

  • Weather. Always a topic of conversation in Minnesota, weather affects not just our weekend plans but also the operations of many businesses.  More accurate weather reports, especially in rural areas, are now possible due to the multitude of sensors and increase in mobile devices. More data allows for better weather predictions down the road
  • Health and disease.  From diabetes to cancer, big data analytics is being utilized to identify risk factors and early signs.  Big data analytics is being used to improve patient outcomes as well as find ways to combat rising healthcare costs
  • High school dropouts. Mr. Marr reports that nearly one in five students in the U.S. do not complete high school on time.   Many states and even districts have their own programs in place to increase graduation rates, but what if a larger approach could be taken using big data methods. The Center for Data Science and Public Policy at the University of Chicago is doing just that – applying data discipline to identify dropout risk factors to help more youth complete high school
  • Cyber attacks. A timely topic in recent news, big data analytics tools can actually be utilized to help detect and predict security threats

Big data analytics has many applications. From consumer buying behavior, patient symptoms, public policy and even the weather, the insights it can provide are on track to make long lasting impacts.

MN Perspective: Big Data & Healthcare

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A recent article on the Star Tribune by Joe Carlson brought the conversation about healthcare and big data analytics close to home. Several Minnesota-connected companies led discussions on working across the industry to utilize data from insurance, hospital, pharma and medical device sources to drive better patient outcomes and manage rising costs.  Working with big data analytics tools has been key to making this possible.

The first example comes from Medtronic and UnitedHealth. Many might think medical device and insurance companies might not always have the same goals in mind but not true.  The two companies partnered together to discover the value of the features of a Medtronic insulin pump vs. other pumps on the market.  Mr. Carlson reports they discovered that there was a decrease in hospitalizations due to complications from diabetes when the Medtronic pump was used, thus decreasing overall insurance costs.  This led to a change of thinking.  Dr. Richard Migliori, chief medical officer of UnitedHealth explains in the article, “It caused us to stop looking at line-item cost figures and start looking at, what is the total value? Because we saw a total value, we then began to wonder; shouldn’t we be (paying) on the basis of total value?” In 2016, UnitedHealth announced that Metronic would be its preferred insulin pump provider.

In Mr. Carlson’s article, he also gains insight from Mayo CEO John Noseworthy.  Mr. Noseworthy adds that the industry has changed in the last five years and the atmosphere is one of “partnership, trust and transparency” in order to work together to bring down rising costs and improve patient outcomes.

Finally, St Jude Medical is working on a solution to reduce chronic pain by using a medical device versus pain medications. According to Mr. Carlson’s article prescription opioid painkillers are not only addicting but they lead to 15,000 deaths per year.  Using big data analytics, St. Jude is looking to make the case for using its device which has a larger upfront cost but may reduce overall costs long term.

The power of big data analytics and a great spirit of partnership has helped make these connections possible.

Early Adopters Report Cognitive Benefits

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IBM explains cognitive computing as follows, “cognitive technology augments human expertise to unlock new intelligence from vast quantities of data and to develop deep, predictive insights at scale.”  Cognitive computing is opening up more real-time opportunities  for many businesses across many industries. In fact, analysts expect investment in cognitive technology to grow from $2.5 billion in 2014 to $12.5 billion in 2019. IBM recently surveyed over 600 decision makers who are early adopters and asked about the benefits they are experiencing.

First, who are the early adopters?  Below is a great graphic from IBM outlining where these early adopters fall within their cognitive uses:

The cognitive early adopters

Here are also some of the reasons why they are investing in cognitive:

  • 65% of early adopters view cognitive technology as very important to their organization’s strategy
  • 58% feel that cognitive is essential for digital transformation
  • 58% reported that they feel strongly that cognitive will become a “must have” in just a few short years

62% of cognitive users are already reporting that their projects have exceeded expectations.  For the most part these early adopters are finding success in three categories: customer engagement, productivity and efficiency and business growth. Here is a break down from the survey:

  • 49% report more personalized customer/user experiences
  • 42% said they have been enabled to respond faster to customer/market demands
  • 46% have seen improved decision making and planning
  • 46% report improved security and compliance
  • 41% have used cognitive to expand the company into new markets
  • 45% report a reduction in costs due to productivity and efficiency gains

Business growth - IBM Cognitive Graphic

The road to adoption isn’t always easy. Many of the decision makers surveyed sited data management and an employee skills gap as challenges. Turning to outside expertise has been key to helping them overcome both challenges.

Cognitive computing is helping many early adopters unlock new opportunities. As more practical use cases develop, we can expect more companies to put cognitive technology to work for them.

Industry Spotlight: Manufacturing & Big Data

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68% of manufacturers are currently investing in big data analytics in the next twelve months and 67% are moving forward with these investments even as they cut in other areas. Mr. Louis Columbus of Forbes breaks down for us a recent analytics/IoT Honeywell survey of 200 North American manufacturing executives.

According to the survey, 46% of respondents no longer see big data analytics as “optional.”  Instead, the benefits of big data analytics are clear to many in the industry:

  • Equipment performance.  Unscheduled downtime was sited as a top threat to revenue.  51% of respondents agree that the combination of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and big data analytics will help to predict equipment downtime, maintenance needs and breaks/repairs
  •  Supply chain management. 46% of the executives surveyed agree that big data analytics will help with supply chain performance by allowing them to better plan for and use resources more efficiently
  • Safety. 47% of respondents agree that access to better equipment and operational data through big data analytics could help detect possible safety issues
Big Data Benefits - Forbes
Source: Forbes.com

Mr. Columbus reports most executives are fairly confident on the analytics path they are on. In fact, 65% report being on the “right track” or “above the curve” when it comes to their use of big data analytics. In summary, the results of this survey show that big data analytics will be key to allowing those in the manufacturing industry to improve revenue and operations for their companies.

Modernize Your Data Warehouse

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Entrepreneur reports that by 2020 every person online will create 1.7 megabytes of new data every second, and according to a study on  Computerworld, by that same year $72 billion will be spent on big data hardware, software and professional services. Data is growing and its coming in many forms both structured and unstructured, and companies are looking for the tools to help them manage and utilize it.

Big data can provide a more complete picture of your customer, marketplace or product/service. But before you can take advantage of big data, you must first have the right systems and tools in place.  Now is the time to consider your own infrastructure to make sure the right workloads are working on the right technologies.  In fact, it may be time for your company to take a deep look into how your data warehouse architecture can be modernized, so you are ready to move ahead with big data analytics projects.

Modernizing your data warehouse can increase your ability to deploy new workloads and handle new data sources.  You can also simplify your operations. Modern appliances can be integrated with your data warehouse, filling service gaps and making deployment and management of data easier.  Finally, a whole new set of tools for big data analysis are available. These analytics tools can integrate into your system allowing you to crunch massive amounts of data to form actionable insights.

So how do you get started on the right path? A trusted partner can help you develop a plan for the changes needed to modernize your data warehouse architecture and can help identify the right big data analytics tools for your company. Evolving Solutions takes the time to fully assess your data and business objectives, develop customized software solutions based on your needs, and we provide ongoing support.  We take the time to understand your goals and help you to accomplish them. Contact us today to start discussing how to modernize your data warehouse.

Industry Spotlight: Banking & Big Data

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Big data use has been expanding across a variety of industries. Today let’s focus on the banking industry and how it is using big data.

Business Insider reports that some of the biggest banks in the world hope to use the information found on social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as part of a customer’s credit history or in place of one when none is available.  Of course, developing a system to handle this type of data does not only bring technology and system challenges but also regulation and privacy challenges. Still, many feel tapping into social media would allow the industry to get amore complete picture of the consumer’s financial status and credit.

Bernard Marr spotlights Citibank’s use of big data in a Forbes article.  Citibank is taking a “data-led” approach to its decision making and using big data analytics across areas such as customer retention and acquisition, customer service and compliance and fraud. Citibank has over 200 million customer accounts and operates in hundreds of countries which all equates to a lot of data to handle and store. Adopting big data tools and processes has also helped Citibank to utilize data better and manage and store data more effectively. Mr. Marr writes, “At Citi, model testing allows for a holistic understanding of innovative use cases by deconstructing data at its most granular level as well as synthesizing structured and unstructured data sources.”

The banking industry is making inroads with big data to better serve its customers. It continues to look for solutions that strike a balance between regulations and privacy and solutions that support the vast amounts of transactional and customer data it already has with new data sources.

Dynamic Duo: Tape & Flash Storage

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In a world of cloud, IoT and cognitive computing, it may seem a bit strange to bring up tape storage.  But in reality many companies are finding tape to be a practical and cost-effective tool to handle their ever-increasing amounts of data. Devoreaux Walton of IBM explains how the combination of tape and flash can create a great storage solution.

What is the temperature of your data? In her article, Ms. Walton suggests we look at data use and categorize data in terms of “hot” and “cold.” Hot data would be the most recent and actively used data and cold data would be the data that is older and not accessed often.  Both of these two definitions would vary by the business needs and industry. Ms. Walton writes, “Data has different temperatures, suggesting it should also be processed using different storage methods based on access needs.”

How a “hybrid” approach to storage can help.  As we all strive to make our services more efficient and effective, many IT operations are looking more “hybrid” these days.  Your data storage solution should be no different.  For example, Ms. Walton combines flash storage and tape storage.  Flash storage is proving to be a reliable, high-performance option for companies.  But as data growth rates increase, can you imagine the cost of storing all of that cold data on a disk-based solution? Expensive.  In fact, the average disk-based solution costs 15x more than the average tape-based solution. Instead, tape storage maybe be the right solution for storing cold data and flash storage for handling hot data.

In summary, data storage is no different than any other IT operation.  IT managers should categorize and prioritize data and build processes that effectively use the storage resources available. A combined storage solution may be what helps you keep costs low while also ensuring that data is accessible.

The Cloud Today: Hybrid

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“Cloud can be the centerpiece of an overall organizational transformation,” writes Meenagi Venkat for IBM’s Thoughts on Cloud blog.  That is today.   His team in a recent survey asked: how are organizations currently differentiating themselves using cloud.  78% of the executives they surveyed identified their cloud initiatives as “coordinated or fully integrated.” That is a big jump considering that Mr. Venkat’s team also found that in 2012, just 4 years ago, cloud was considered “special.”  A special project, a pilot project – no longer for enterprises, today, cloud is opening up new markets and revenue streams for businesses across many industries. And much of successful cloud use is a combination of public, private and internal systems – hybrid.

Why has the cloud allowed many companies to succeed in new ways? One reason Mr. Venkat’s team points out is its natural on-demand and scalable features.  These cloud features have created new testing environments that are quick and automated enabling what he calls “rapid experimentation.” Companies can more easily test new ideas and find out failure or success faster, and when they find success they can move quickly to roll out and expand. Often businesses are achieving this success through a blend of public cloud, private cloud and traditional IT services.  They are taking the approach that a hybrid model should be molded to best fit their company needs.

What if your company is just getting started or has had some success and wants to go further? Mr. Venkat’s study found that common considerations or questions that you should start to address are the following:

  • Hybrid. How will your company blend public, private and your own IT systems to take your strategy and operations to the next level?
  • Investment and monitoring. What level of investment can your company make? What will your company need to regularly monitor and how does that change over time?
  • External expertise. Firms achieving success in the survey are also taking advantage of outside resources to gain expertise and efficiency. How effective is your company with utilizing external expertise?

The cloud can open up new doors for your company but you need to have a solid strategy and the right tools and people in place.  Approach the different models not as all or nothing, but instead blend the models into a hybrid approach that works best for your company – that is cloud today.

Tips for Assessing Your Cloud Options

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Cloud adoption for many is now a reality.  Your own company may be looking to expand beyond the initial pilots or test cases. Your team may find that they are once again assessing new cloud options. A recent article on Network World by Cloudamize provides us these tips:

Know who you are. Before you can determine what cloud solution is right, you must first know the ins and outs of your own operation.  First, inventory all your systems. Know the connections, dependencies, governance and requirements for your in-house systems and existing cloud operations. Next, how do they perform… and how should they perform?  What storage and compute resources are utilized and how much? Not only will this allow you to start to understand your needs in the cloud but also what your costs could potentially be. Cloudamize points out a few specific  metrics to have on hand Peak CPU utilization, throughput, usage patterns, storage capacity and use and Disc IOPS and bandwidth.

Know who they are – “they” as in the cloud providers. What are your cloud options? How do the different cloud configurations meet your needs… how do they not? Pricing is also important to review inside and out.  Cloud providers offer different pricing models. If you have spent the time to develop a solid understanding of what your current operation requires, than you will have an easier time evaluating the options and estimating costs. Also, look for providers that help you work through “what-if scenarios” so you can test drive the impacts to your operations and performance.

Finally, assessing a cloud solution is not just about performance, configuration and price.  You must also take into consideration your company’s short and long term goals. A discussion about goals should start at the time you are assessing the hard facts of your operation and should include stakeholders from across the company. A thorough understanding of your company’s vision and your IT operations and needs will help you better assess your cloud options and make a good choice.