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Remote offices up IT challenges

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As the number of branch offices increase with most businesses, so too does the amount of data stored off-site. This creates a problem for IT, but according to TAJ ELKHAYAT at Riverbed Technology, there a few solution to make things easier.

The central office has traditionally been the centre of gravity for most organisations. That is where the data centre is located, and where most of the IT staff works. However, remote offices and branch offices (ROBOs) are becoming increasingly relevant because they are often where business happens. In fact, according to the 2016 Riverbed Remote Office/Branch Office IT Survey almost 50 per cent of all employees work in remote sites; 50 per cent of companies’ data is stored outside the data centre; and branch offices represent roughly 50 per cent of the IT budget. These findings should come as little surprise when considering that the average corporate data centre serves 55 ROBO locations.

As the number of employees who work in ROBOs rises, so do the amounts of business-critical information stored in these locations, and the IT budget devoted to managing related systems. The figure that is not increasing is that of IT personnel available to staff ROBOs, forcing IT to remotely perform monitoring, maintenance and troubleshooting. This makes deploying and maintaining systems and applications for each ROBO complex, expensive and time-consuming, particularly with today’s hybrid IT architectures.

The solution is not to try to modernise the branch office IT infrastructure by purchasing and installing expensive new equipment and resources, but to implement a “Zero Branch IT” model consolidating ROBO IT operations to central data centres. Removing physical servers, storage, data and backup from ROBO locations enhances security, reduces operational costs, and ensures reliable data backups. It also increases overall business productivity by providing all users with the high levels of systems and applications performance that they expect and demand, when they require it.

ROBO IT is a tough nut to crack

As organisations become more distributed, the challenges they need to address in the data centre are evolving. Like employees working in central offices, people located at ROBOs must have quick and easy access to systems and applications via a multitude of devices in order to get their work done on a daily basis. Performance slowdowns or outages are unacceptable.

However, IT professionals are finding that sustaining remote users’ demands for anytime, anywhere support is growing too costly, demands resources they cannot spare, and increases the security risk of critical company data. In simple terms, IT teams are struggling to manage the needs of branch offices. As a result, according to the 2016 Riverbed Remote Office/Branch Office IT Survey, 54 per cent of organisations cite delays when recovering from ROBO outages as their top issue. These delays hurt the business’ ability to generate revenue, expose the ROBO to risk from data loss and can tarnish the business’ reputation.

What’s more, 46 per cent of organisations struggle to supply adequate IT staff at ROBOs. In fact, they often have no IT staff onsite, making it difficult to supervise and ensure backups. Additionally, 45 per cent reported the time it takes them to provision ROBO infrastructure, applications and services hurt their organisations’ ability to increase revenue.

Implementing Zero Branch IT

IT can reduce the costs and complexities of managing a highly distributed environment without increasing security risks by implementing a “Zero Branch IT” model to centralise all systems, operations and services. By consolidating ROBO data back to the data centre, or in the cloud, IT can manage everything inside a secure, centralised environment, improving the user experience for all employees, while reducing the costs and complexities of managing a highly distributed environment.

The key benefits include:

·         Hardened security posture: 100 per cent of data is secured in the data centre instead of in far-away ROBO locations. In addition, all data is encrypted at-rest and in-motion for true end-to-end encryption, so that IT is in complete control of organisational data.

·         Improved user productivity: Organisations can generate up to a 100x increase in remote application performance. As a result, employees will encounter far fewer instances of downtime due to system outages or poor performance, enabling users to get their work done using any device they choose.

·         Ensure business continuity: 100x faster recovery times minimise the business damage done by outages. It teams can perform backup and recovery operations from a central location, in mere seconds instead of days or weeks.

·         Improved operational agility: IT can deploy new branch services and sites in under 15 minutes, and manage everything via a central dashboard. All heavy ROBO IT operations, such as provisioning new services and sites, and recovery of sites in the case of outages, take seconds or minutes instead of days or weeks.  The result is a more agile IT team that is better able to support the always changing needs of the business.

Modernise edge IT

In today’s data rich, application-driven, and distributed world, organisations need to consider a new approach to remote IT. Combining storage delivery, server virtualisation and network optimisation technologies enables organisations to eliminate the need for physical servers, storage and backup infrastructure at ROBO locations.

Realising this vision requires implementing an effective Zero Branch IT model, where IT is readily available at all times, and can make better-informed decisions about which applications and services to provide to workers at various ROBOs worldwide. This will enable organisations to maintain the highest productivity levels, meet changing business requirements, and remain as competitive as they possibly can be.

* Taj ElKhayat, Regional Vice President, Middle East and Africa at Riverbed Technology

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IoT at starting gate

South Africa is already past the Internet of Things (IoT) hype cycle and well into the mainstream, writes MARK WALKER, associate vice president of Sub-Saharan Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC).

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Projects and pilots are already becoming a commercial reality, tying neatly into the 2017 IDC prediction that 2018 would be the year when the local market took IoT mainstream. Over the next 12-18 months, it is anticipated that IoT implementations will continue to rise in both scope and popularity. Already 23% are in full deployment with 39% in the pilot phase. The value of IoT has been systematically proven and yet its reputation remains tenuous – more than 5% of companies are reluctant to put their money where the trend is – thanks to the shifting sands of IoT perception and success rate.

There are several reasons behind why IoT implementations are failing. The biggest is that organisations don’t know where to start. They know that IoT is something they can harness today and that it can be used to shift outdated modalities and operations. They are aware of the benefits and the case studies. What they don’t know is how to apply this knowledge to their own journey so their IoT story isn’t one of overbearing complexity and rising costs.

Another stumbling block is perception. Yes, there is the futuristic potential with the talking fridge and intelligent desk, but this is not where the real value lies. Organisations are overlooking the challenges that can be solved by realistic IoT, the banal and the boring solutions that leverage systems to deliver on business priorities. IoT’s potential sits within its ability to get the best out of assets and production efficiencies, solving problems in automation, security, and environment.

In addition to this, there is a lack of clarity around return on investment, uncertainty around the benefits, a lack of executive leadership, and concerns around security and the complexities of regulation.  Because IoT is an emerging technology there remains a limited awareness of the true extent of its value proposition and yet 66% of organisations are confident that this value exists.

This percentage poses both a problem and opportunity. On one hand, it showcases the local shift in thinking towards IoT as a technology worth investing into. On the other hand, many companies are seeing the competition invest and leaping blindly in the wrong direction. Stop. IoT is not the same for every business.

It is essential that every company makes its own case for IoT based on its needs and outcomes. Does agriculture have the same challenges as mining? Does one mining company have the same challenges as another? The answer is no. Organisations that want their IoT investment to succeed must reject the idea that they can pick up where another has left off. IoT must be relevant to the business outcome that it needs to achieve. While some use cases may apply to most industries based on specific circumstances, there are different realities and priorities that will demand a different approach and starting point.

Ask – what is the business problem right now and how can technology be leveraged to resolve it?

In the agriculture space, there is a need to improve crop yields and livestock management, improve farm productivity and implement environmental monitoring. In the construction and mining industry, safety and emergency response are a priority alongside workforce and production management. Education shifts the lens towards improving delivery and quality of education, access to advanced learning methods and reducing the costs of learning.  Smart cities want to improve traffic and efficiently deliver public services and healthcare is focusing on wellness, reducing hospital admissions and the security of assets and inventory management.

The technology and solutions selected must speak to these specific challenges.

If there are no insights used to create an IoT solution, it’s the equivalent of having the fastest Ferrari on Rivonia Road in peak traffic. It makes a fantastic noise, but it isn’t going to move any faster than the broken-down sedan in the next lane. Everyone will be impressed with the Ferrari, but the amount of power and the size of the investment mean nothing. It’s in the wrong place.

What differentiates the IoT successes is how a company leverages data to deliver meaningful value-added predictions and actions for personalised efficiencies, convenience, and improved industry processes. To move forward the organisation needs to focus on the business outcomes and not just the technology. They need to localise and adapt by applying context to the problem that’s being solved and explore innovation through partnerships and experimentation.

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ERP underpins food tracking

The food traceability market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2022 as increased consumer awareness, strict governance requirements, and advances in technology are resulting in growing standardisation of the segment, says STUART SCANLON, managing director of epic ERP

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Just like any data-driven environment, one of the biggest enablers of this is integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

As the name suggests, traceability is the ability to track something through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. When it comes to the food industry, traceability must also enable stakeholders to identify the source of all food inputs that can include anything from raw materials, additives, ingredients, and packaging.

Considering the wealth of data that all these facets generate, it is hardly surprising that systems and processes need to be put in place to manage, analyse, and provide actionable insights. With traceability enabling corrective measures to be taken (think product recalls), having an efficient system is often the difference between life or death when it comes to public health risks.

Expansive solutions

Sceptics argue that traceability simply requires an extensive data warehouse to be done correctly, the reality is quite different. Yes, there are standard data records to be managed, but the real value lies in how all these components are tied together.

ERP provides the digital glue to enable this. With each stakeholder audience requiring different aspects of traceability (and compliance), it is essential for the producer, distributor, and every other organisation in the supply chain, to manage this effectively in a standardised manner.

With so many different companies involved in the food cycle, many using their own, proprietary systems, just consider the complexity of trying to manage traceability. Organisations must not only contend with local challenges, but global ones as well as the import and export of food are big business drivers.

So, even though traceability is vital to keep track of everything in this complex cycle, it is also imperative to monitor the ingredients and factories where items are produced. Having expansive solutions that must track the entire process from ‘cradle to grave’ is an imperative. Not only is this vital from a safety perspective, but from cost and reputational management aspects as well. Just think of the recent listeriosis issue in South Africa and the impact it has had on all parties in that supply chain.

Efficiency improvements

Thanks to the increasing digital transformation efforts by companies in the food industry, traceability becomes a more effective process. It is no longer a case of using on-premise solutions that can be compromised but having hosted ones that provide more effective fail-safes.

In a market segment that requires strict compliance and regulatory requirements to be met, cloud-based solutions can provide everyone in the supply chain with a more secure (and tamper-resistant) solution than many of the legacy approaches of old.

This is not to say ERP requires the one or the other. Instead, there needs to be a transition provided between the two scenarios that empowers those in the food supply chain to maximise the insights (and benefits) derived from traceability.

Now, more than ever, traceability is a business priority. Having the correct foundation through effective ERP is essential if a business can manage its growth and meet legislative requirements into the future.

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