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Meeting the challenge of branch office IT

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50 per cent of corporate data is stored in branch offices, creating an insecure and complex network of distributed servers and storage. WIMPIE VAN RENSBURG explains how Riverbed’s Zero Branch IT support helps companies consolidate their data.

The lifeblood of many companies today depends on branch offices. Whether these are remote sites, retail outlets or manufacturing plants, they must be agile and able to quickly respond to the business’s ever-changing needs. But too often, branch offices operate as independent data centres which are difficult to support and protect. Consequently, services outages and data loss are a common occurrence, leading to productivity issues including missed sales opportunities, customer churn, assembly-line stoppage and ultimately, lost revenues.

How can businesses efficiently address their branch office needs? The solution is to take a completely new approach to branch office IT which will improve system performance and resiliency, ensure reliable data backups, and greatly reduce operating expenses, particularly as more companies adopt a hybrid enterprise IT infrastructure that combines on-premises and cloud or SaaS-based applications and services. By implementing a “Zero Branch IT” model, businesses will no longer install new equipment and assign additional on-site support at each location. Instead, they will centralise data without compromising performance, while enabling instant provisioning of new applications and services at remove locations and branches, as well as making instant recovery of applications and services a reality.

The challenges of outdated branch IT

A recent Riverbed report found that that 50 per cent of corporate data is stored in branch offices and that branch offices represent 50 per cent of an average company’s total IT budget. This creates an insecure and complex network of distributed servers and storage deployed solely to meet local performance and reliability needs.

In other words, half of today’s IT organisations are using outdated methods of operation, forcing branches to subsist on decentralised, ad hoc, and rigid legacy infrastructures. In addition to being costly and complex to manage, outdated infrastructures limit IT’s ability to proactively respond to businesses’ ever-changing needs, prevent security breaches, and recover from unplanned outages.

How Zero Branch IT supports wider business goals

Though CIOs are expected to play a central role in driving business objectives, few organisations take into account the IT challenges involved in rolling out new services across all branch locations, such as WAN constrictions, security concerns, and minimal staff. Disorganised, legacy branch infrastructures are costly to both the business and to the IT department, making even the smallest propositions a worrisome task- and making it harder for the CIO to support the business.

As an alternative, CIOs can implement a Zero Branch IT model which will address the needs of the IT department as well as those of the organisation as a whole. To better understand this new model, IT can imagine the branch as a smartphone – a simple device, fully equipped with applications and high-speed access to data over the cellular network or the Internet. When buying a smartphone, mobile providers just provide the device itself, not a rucksack full of application servers, storage, and backup infrastructure users must also carry and maintain.

Branch offices and other remote sites can operate in a similar way. Taking a new approach to branch IT enables the CIO to manage everything inside a secure, central data centre and deliver performance out to the branches. The result will be an almost non-existent IT infrastructure footprint with no remote servers, storage racks or backup and recovery systems.

The benefits of optimising the network

Gartner describes the average WAN optimisation system as a deployment of appliances at the central data centre and in each branch office, though an additional option is to deploy appliances as virtual machines or as a cloud resident service. For mobile or remote users, WAN optimisation can be deployed as a soft client that runs on individual user devices.

As wide area networks (WANs) are notoriously unreliable and do not offer protection against the creation of localised pockets of systems and information stores, Zero Branch IT requires tools that enable the convergence of IT systems and applications with WAN optimisation technologies. This will offer local LAN performance, bringing data back to the data centre, while maintaining application performance at all branch offices.

The most recent Gartner Magic Quadrant for WAN Optimisation conveys that WAN optimisation technologies can provide a range of features that improve application performance running across the entire WAN, and reduce the overall cost of the WAN. Gartner describes the typical WAN optimisation setup as a deployment of appliances at the central data centre and in each branch office. Another option is to deploy the appliances as virtual machines or as a cloud resident service. For mobile or remote users, WAN optimisation can be deployed as a soft client that runs on individual user devices.

Businesses can cut their branch IT costs by eliminating the need to purchase, maintain and protect servers, storage and backup systems in branch offices. Additionally, by using a centralised infrastructure managed via a single console or dashboard, IT can achieve greater visibility and control over the network, so as to quickly and easily redeploy, upgrade, move, or migrate systems, applications and services to accommodate the opening of new branch offices.

Using new technologies, IT can store and protect sensitive data in a centralised, strictly controlled location, with stringent backup and replication policies. Using specialised applications, businesses can easily access that information in an agile way. They can therefore deploy new services, applications, or entirely new branch sites while ensuring maximum productivity of branch staff.

New tools also enable real-time continuous data capture and analysis so that companies can view network delays, providing speed, insight and control no matter where data is stored. As a result, businesses will experience far fewer instances of system outages, slow application performance and downtime, making it easier for employees to work anyplace, anytime, using an ever-increasing selection of work-issued and personal computing devices, including laptops, smartphones and tablets.

By taking a new approach to branch IT, businesses can bring disparate systems and applications to the data centre manned by the full-time IT team, driving tangible economic benefits, including efficiencies of scale, improved employee productivity and the ability for all remote offices to share expensive backend solutions. A Zero Branch IT approach enables today’s organisations to leverage IT strategies such as branch converged infrastructure, storage delivery, virtualisation and WAN optimisation to address the unique needs of branch offices, all while delivering better business performance overall.

* Wimpie van Rensburg, Country Manager of Sub Saharan Africa at Riverbed Technology.

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Epic Games brings a
Nite-mare to Android

Epic Games’ decision to not publish games through Google Play inadvertently opens a market to Android virus makers, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, decided to take the high road by skipping Google Play’s app distribution market and placing a third-party installer for its games on its website. While this is technically fine, it is not recommended for the average user, because allowing third-party installers on one’s smartphone opens up the possibility of non-signed and malicious software to be run on the smartphone. 

In June, malware researchers at ESET warned Android gamers that malicious fake versions of the Fortnite app had been created to steal personal information or damage smartphones. A malware researcher demonstrated how the fake applications works in the Tweet below.

While the decision to bypass Google Play was a bold move on Epic Games’ part, it has been a long time coming for app developers to move their premium apps off Google’s Play Store. The two major app distributors, Google Play and Apple’s App Store, take a 30% cut of every purchase made through their app distribution platforms. 

The App Store is currently the only way to get apps on a non-modified iOS device, which is why Epic Games had no choice for Fortnite to be in the App Store. On the other hand, Android phones can install packages downloaded through the browser, which makes the Play Store almost unnecessary for the gaming company. 

The most interesting part of this development is that Google is not the “bad guy” and Epic Games is no saviour to other game developers. Epic Games is a company with a multi-billion dollar valuation and has resources like large-scale servers to distribute and update its games, a big marketing budget to ensure everyone knows how to get its games, and server security to protect against malware. 

Resources of this scale allow the game company to turn a cold shoulder to Google’s Play Store distribution and focus on its own, in-house solution. 

That said, installing packages without the Google Play Store must be done carefully, and it is essential to do homework on where a package is downloaded. Moreover, when a package is installed outside of the Google Play Store, a security switch to block the installation of third party apps must be turned off. This switch should be turned back on immediately after the third party package is installed. 

This complex amount of steps makes it less worthwhile to install third party apps, in favour of rather waiting for them to reach the Play Store.

From a consumer perspective, ESET recommends not installing packages outside of the Google Play Store and to ignore advertisements to download the game from other sources.

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How to take on IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is coming, whether you like it or not and organisations today will look to platforms and services that help them manage and analyse the streams of data coming from connected devices, says RONALD RAVEL, Director B2B South Africa, Toshiba South Africa.

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Today, we are witnessing an explosion in IoT deployments and solutions and are moving towards a world where almost everything you can imagine will be connected. While this opens the door to many possibilities it also comes with its own challenges such as privacy and security.

The Internet has become an integral part of everyday life; it has been a free for all on a daily basis. IoT is a difficult concept for many people to wrap their minds around. Essentially, nearly every business will be affected.

Managing vast quantities of data across increasingly mobile workforces can be tremendously beneficial if done well, but equally can be cumbersome and ineffective if not managed properly. This is why technologies such as mobile edge computing are becoming increasingly popular, helping to increase the prevalence of secure mobile working and data management in the age of IoT.

Unlocking IoT

The evolution of IoT, despite rapid and ongoing technological innovation, is still very much in its fledgling stages. Its potential, though, is demonstrated by the fact that by 2020, Bain anticipates a significant shift in uptake, with roughly 80 per cent of adoptions at that point to have progressed to the stage of either ‘proof of concept’ or extensive implementation. This means that technological innovation in IoT for the enterprise is progressing at a similarly fast rate with many of these solutions being developed with utilities, engineering, manufacturing and logistics companies in mind.

Processing at the edge

For IoT to be adopted at the rate predicted, technology which does not overwhelm current or even legacy systems must be implemented. Mobile edge computing solves this. Such solutions offer processing power at the edge of the network, helping firms with a high proportion of mobile workers to reduce operational strain and latency by processing the most critical data at the edge and close to its originating source. Relevant data can then be sent to the cloud for observation and analysis, thereby reducing the waves of ‘data garbage’ which has to be processed by cloud services.

A logistics manager can feasibly monitor and analyse the efficiency of warehouse operations, for example, with important data calculations carried out in real-time, on location, and key data findings then sent to the cloud for centrally-located data scientists to analyse.

The work of wearables

The potential of IoT means it not only has the scope to change the way people work, but also where they work. While widespread mobile working is a relatively new trend in industries such as banking and professional services, for CIOs in sectors where working on the move is inherent – such as logistics and field maintenance – mobility is high on the agenda.

Wearables – and specifically smart glasses – have started to gain traction within the business world. With mobile edge computing solutions acting as the gateway, smart glasses such as Toshiba’s assisted reality AR 100 viewer solution have been designed to benefit frontline and field-based workers in industries such as utilities, manufacturing and logistics. In the renewable energy sector, for example, a wind turbine engineer conducting repairs may use assisted reality smart glasses to call up the schematics of the turbine to enable a hands-free view of service procedures. This means that when a fault becomes a barrier to repair, the engineer is able to use collaboration software to call for assistance from a remote expert and have additional information sent through, thereby saving time and money by eradicating the need for extra personnel to be sent to the site.

The time is ripe for organisations to look to exploit the age of IoT to improve the productivity and safety of their workers, as well as the end service delivered to customers. In fact, Toshiba’s recent ‘Maximising Mobility’ report found that 49 per cent of organisations believe their sector can benefit from the hands-free functionality of smart glasses, while 47 per cent expect them to deliver improved mobile working and 41 per cent foresee better collaboration and information sharing. Embracing IoT technologies such as mobile edge computing and wearable solutions will be an essential step for many organisations within these verticals as they look to stay on top of 21st century working challenges.

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