Archives for April 2013

Small Businesses Going to the Cloud: Three Top Considerations

Used with the permission of http://thenetwork.cisco.com

A look at the issues small companies need to make sure they address before jumping into cloud computing.

Small businesses, of course, can save a ton of money and gain a lot of efficiencies by going to the cloud. But getting there isn’t necessarily that simple. Fact is, one size does not fit all. “A startup marketing company, for example, may take a very different path from an established medical practice,” says Igal Rabinovich, CEO of IT Help Central, a White Plains, NY consulting firm. Here are some key considerations to take into account before making the move.

Create a migration plan.

Best is not to make the change willy-nilly, particularly if you think you’ll be moving many applications to the cloud. That means having a roadmap for how you’ll proceed, introducing applications one at a time and testing each one before deciding to go ahead with it and then moving onto the next. You also need to include a training period for employees to learn how to use each application.

The length and complexity of your plan, of course, depends on the number of applications you have, the size of your business and how distributed your workforce is, according to Ron Braatz, president of LiftOff Learning, an IT consulting firm. Introducing, say, an e-mail system to a highly distributed workforce would take longer than it would for a company where everyone works in the same office.

A plan can do more than help your move to the cloud go smoothly, however. It can also provide a larger strategic boost. Jill Billhorn, vice president, small business at CDW, a Vernon Hills, Ill., IT consulting firm recalls a fast-growing client, an exercise business that was opening up locations at a rapid pace. At first, the approach was to launch new venues and bring IT staff in on the plan only shortly before opening. “It ended up that IT had to spend much of their time putting out fires as a result,” says Billhorn. Eventually, the IT group decided to start scrutinizing the expansion plan for the following year and form a blueprint for introducing appropriate applications. As a result, as the business grew, they were able to operate more judiciously and effectively, and that helped overall expansion, according to Billhorn.

Using a plan also puts you ahead of the pack. Only 35% of small businesses have developed a written strategic roadmap for the adoption of cloud computing, according to a survey, recently conducted by CDW.

Think about reliability.

Whatever you’re using the cloud for, chances are it’s important to the functioning of your business. So you want to make sure you have access you can rely on. Take Roper DeGarmo, president of Signature Personal Insurance, an insurance brokerage in Mission, Mo., who started using cloud applications eight years ago and now employs everything from e-mail to client data storage systems. According to DeGarmo, who, until recently ran his business from home, his cable connection worked well until later on in the day when more people started using the Internet after returning from work. He ended up adding a DSL connection for Internet access at those times. “Having a fast connection is obviously great, but if the connection has stability problems it can wreak havoc with file uploads and online services,” says DeGarmo.

You also need to make sure your service providers have adequate backup precautions. For example, if you’re using a phone system, make sure the service automatically will be rerouted to another telephone line if the servers are down. “Always ask the question, what happens if you go down, how will it impact me,” says Rabinovich.

Rabinovich, in fact, suggests small businesses think twice before putting certain mission-critical functions in the cloud. ” I always ask clients, if the capability is down for a couple of hours or couple of days, what will that mean for your business,” he says. “If the answer is, you won’t be able to function, you might not move that application to the cloud.”

Look at the legal issues.

For starters, scrutinize the fine print. Example: A cloud provider may waive liability in case of lost data. Depending on your industry, you also may need to make sure you’re compliant with regulations governing data. If, say, you operate in Europe or have European customers, you’ll need to consider the EU’s Data Protection Directive, which regulates the processing of personal data, according to Keith Broyles, a partner and specialist in intellectual property at Alston & Bird, a law firm in Atlanta. You also need to be aware of where your data will be hosted. The reason: If it will be on a server outside of the U.S. and there’s a problem, depending on your contractual provisions, you could wind up ” not getting the benefit of U.S. laws,” says Broyles.

Then there’s the matter of your exit strategy. “You want to be mindful that there’s going to become a point when the relationship between you and your cloud vendor ends,” says Todd McClelland, who also is a partner at Alston & Bird. For that reason, you negotiate your exit strategy upfront, rather than dealing with it when you’re about to pull the plug.

The upshot: going to the cloud has many benefits. For best success, however, you need to arm yourself with as much information as possible before jumping in.

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Get smart about security

used with permission from HP Technology at Work

Congratulations, you’ve taken every step to secure data on your networks and PCs against increasingly malicious worms, Trojans and viruses. But don’t rest easy. All infrastructure elements, including printers, servers, storage, Wi-Fi networks and cloud computing are just as susceptible to surprising security threats. Forget them and your sense of security is nothing but a dream.

Whether they’re criminals looking to blackmail your business, technically savvy vandals getting their kicks, revenge-minded former employees or even competitors, hackers all have one thing in common: they want to disrupt your business operations for money, other gain—or simply for fun.

So, what can you do? Read on for some valuable tips to bolster your overall IT defense. Combined with regular and diligent employee training and education, these pointers can help you better spot and prevent disruptive security attacks.

Mobile dos and don’ts

More than large companies, small businesses are issuing or implementing bring-your-own device (BYOD) policies regarding smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. The ubiquitous nature of such products can cause companies to assume that their business information safely resides on them. Wrong.

Your IT department is responsible for protecting company data, regardless of where it’s housed. What to do? For one thing, businesses must set firm policies about what data are allowed on employee-owned devices. It’s also wise to weigh the relative safety of available smartphone operating systems and perhaps require data to be stored on an approved server or in the cloud.

Safe and secure storage

Servers and storage devices also present a unique set of security challenges. Denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, for example, can overload those running web applications and compromise network bandwidth, memory, CPU use and hard-disk space. Solutions like the HP ProLiant G8 servers deliver comprehensive data and client protection and security.

Working without wires

Wi-Fi networks aren’t immune from sabotage-minded attackers, either. Consider these dangers:

  • Weak personal identification numbers (PINs) allow the ability of any user to access any wireless network at will. A laptop-equipped troublemaker sitting in your parking lot might be able to hack into your important data this way.
  • Security gaps allow wireless users to snoop on each other’s networks.
  • Operating system flaws provide easy backdoor access to a single computer—or even up to an entire network.

Easy first steps to securing your network include simplifying network management, implementing clearly defined BYOD security policies and making rogue Wi-Fi access more difficult with services like HP TippingPoint networking security solutions.

Consider the cloud

True, the cloud improves server, storage and network access and is less expensive than physical systems. But with easy data-access comes serious confidentiality concerns. Careful monitoring, strict access control and encrypted data are among the best security measures, along with the use of a private, rather than a public enterprise cloud.

IT infrastructure aside, simple password security is surprisingly often overlooked in developing an overall security plan. Increased password complexity, and the use of single sign-on and other technologies, is essential.

Staying one step ahead of cyber criminals demands detailed development of security policies and processes. Proactive businesses that develop comprehensive security plans better ensure their own safety, integrity, reputations and bottom-line profitability.

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Data growing pains?

used with permission from HP Technology at Work

Virtualization. Like other technology buzzwords, some users work this term into business conversations without really understanding its meaning or how its strategic application can streamline operational efficiencies, improve resource allocation, enhance network security and reduce costs.

It’s worth learning. Careful evaluation of existing non-virtualized environments is the most vital first step toward choosing the best virtual server and storage solutions for any given environment. This evaluation should be done with an eye on present and anticipated computing and power requirements, as well as the number of existing and future users.

Growing data storage requirements are always a major concern of large corporations and institutions. But “big data” has become an issue for small businesses, too. Varying operating systems, a growing number of applications and the increased use of mobile, BYOD and other technologies threaten to overwhelm existing physical server and storage solution capacities.

Rather than allocating resources toward upgrading aging servers or buying new ones—the ‘ol “throwing good money after bad”—more IT and other administrators see the benefits of “going virtual.” Indeed, Acronis’ Global Disaster Recovery Index found that 21 percent of surveyed small businesses planned to adopt virtualization last year, a number most likely to increase in 2013.

Additional virtualization benefits include enhanced network performance, lower maintenance costs, streamlined and centralized management capabilities, improved disaster recovery, and the flexibility to easily accommodate additional users and applications. The buzz surrounding virtualization is well deserved. But what does that aforementioned network evaluation consist of? How do you get from Point A (physical storage environment) to Point B (virtualization)?

Ask yourself the most pertinent questions:

  • How many physical servers do you have? What functions do they perform? How many do you need?
  • How many users do they serve? Are you experiencing any issues with your current servers? Are you looking to streamline any business processes?
  • What percentage of your resources is underutilized? By how much?
  • What are your present and anticipated storage requirements? How much of your existing infrastructure can you virtualize?

As server hardware and storage solutions become increasingly clogged with users accessing a growing number of applications to perform business processes, system responsiveness can lag on various days at different times. Asking these questions while conducting component inventory and performance metrics helps determine the amount of virtualization needed.

Virtualization improves application and process access through pooling, sharing and clustering on an as-needed basis. It also reduces the need for physical solutions and their related operational and ownership costs.

Generally speaking, the best candidates for the virtualization of hardware and storage solutions are older servers requiring frequent upgrade costs, infrequently used servers, and multiprocessor servers dedicated to single-processor applications. Applications such as those in a development or test environment, those using a single processor and those with low use rates/frequent idle times are best offloaded onto virtual storage solutions.

Ever-increasing storage requirements, irrespective of business or industry, call for migration to a virtualized infrastructure. Massive file sharing, increasingly sophisticated applications and the ever present danger of costly downtime from technician mistakes or cyber attacks further underscore the need.

HP’s Converged Infrastructure systems bolster network performance, decrease maintenance and save money. These systems comprise a wide variety of server and storage solutions in addition to delivering the virtual bandwidth required to handle massive amounts of data. HP ProLiant servers, running VMware and Microsoft® Hyper-V® virtualization software, help optimize performance, simplify management, speed deployment and reduce risk.

HP Converged Storage virtual solutions bolster ROI by eliminating physical, logical and management boundaries, leveraging such technologies as deduplication, compression, metadata search and object APIs for cloud applications.

Similarly, HP Storage for Server and Client Virtualization utilizes scale-out designs with clustered architectures for optimal performance under unpredictable mixed and heavy VM workloads. Hardware-assisted thinning converts legacy storage and cuts capacity requirements by 50 percent, while enabling the deployment of new VMs in seconds. These innovations are able to cut management overhead by as much as 90 percent.

Simply stated, before the introduction of virtualization technologies, businesses had to operate separate servers for incompatible, platform-specific applications. The result? Massive hardware investments and maintenance costs. In a virtualized environment, a single server can run multiple operating systems while supporting a variety of business applications. The question is no longer whether to virtualize, but rather when.

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