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.

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.