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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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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read on about Hastings’ views on international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement. To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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