Security in the Cloud Part II: Technical Protection for IT Security Risks

In Part I, we covered off how organisations are partially responsible for guiding the IT security strategies in Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud. The focus there is mostly on business processes that an organisation likely already considers when protecting itself from regular IT security risks.

Now we’ll get into the technical part of establishing solid IT infrastructure security in the cloud. Here are some areas to discuss with your cloud services provider to mitigate IT security risks in the cloud.

Do you need client networks to be open? Unless your organisation requires each client network to remain open, a cloud services provider can segregate networks so they cannot talk to each other to prevent IT security risks in the cloud.

Who do you want to have access to your cloud? Organisations will have to manage or get their provider to manage the staff members that have access to the cloud to prevent IT security risks via domain access, Active Directory or remote access, for example. It all depends on the requirements you’ve outlined when building your IT security strategies for the cloud.

How do you want your network connection configured? To prevent IT security risks, you can use secure VPN connections over the internet or install private WAN connections so external parties do not have access.

How will you monitor network security in the cloud? Just like in the traditional data centre, you can deploy IPS/IDS devices in the network to monitor cloud servers on the domain and scan them and the network for IT security risks.

How will you address firewalls to prevent IT security risks? For instance, Datacom can configure the firewalls or clients can bring their own firewalls to lock down the cloud network — it all depends on the IT security risks you want to avoid.

What type of hypervisor protection exists to prevent IT security risks in the cloud? Is the virtual machine protected at the hypervisor level as soon as it comes on?

How deep does protection go to prevent IT security risks in the cloud? Does your cloud services provider offer end-to-end IT infrastructure security? What type of antivirus is in place?

Datacom can help organisations understand their IT security risks in the cloud. We look at every organisation on a case by case basis and then implement their IT security strategies in the cloud environment.

The Future of Unified Communications

As more businesses look to increase productivity and mobility, unified communications and collaboration will grow bigger and better to meet these technology needs. Even with individual tools such as video conferencing and presence making a difference for organisations and integration between the different technologies possible, unified communications is popping up in other areas such as personal mobile devices and the cloud.

Making mobile communications possible

Employees are using their own devices for work, which means they will eventually need access to the same unified communications tools on their mobile phones and tablets. Providers such as Cisco will soon let users access their mobile phones like a corporate desk phone, providing features such as unified inbox, call back and conferencing. Employees will be able to work from the road and still reach colleagues as they would in the office.

Cisco will also offer connection to third-party devices by the end of the year as a new feature of Cisco Unified Communications Manager. This means users can use another device as their office phone and have all calls routed to whatever phone they are using on the road.

A move to the cloud

It seems technology trends are folding into each other more and more, and unified communications and the cloud are the latest marriage. What’s so great about the two together? Well, more freedom in how and when you access your communications tools, for one. Ideally, unified communications platforms hosted in the cloud should let you instant message, video chat or call someone from whatever device and (secure) network you want. There might also be fewer infrastructure maintenance costs and tasks involved.

Datacom has seen organisations leverage both public and private cloud to lay the groundwork for their unified communications programmes. Organisations can also use a hybrid cloud approach to unified communications, the latter of which gives organisations even more flexibility to mix and match the technologies and vendors they want while better controlling costs and implementation challenges.

A vendor-neutral solution stack

In the past, organisations have often opted for a unified communications technology stack from one provider. This makes sense to a point — it can simplify licensing and make management easier. But organisations that don’t consider solutions outside a single provider can miss out on technologies that might be better-suited to their business.

The trend in years to come, according to an article from earlier this year on TMCnet, will have organisations instead looking to unify the best-of-breed technologies under an IT integrator. Not only will this help organisations take advantage of an array of technologies from different providers — it will also allow easier integration of these new technologies into existing systems.

Which communication and collaboration capabilities will your organisation look into?

Which Mobile App Delivery Method is Right for Your Organisation?

Are you ready to let your employees use mobile apps? You have more to consider than just what apps you’re going to let them access – you have a few delivery options as well. Picking the right one depends on what you need in terms of security, IT management and device compatibility. Here are a few considerations to get you started.

You need: No data stored on the device

Choose: Virtualisation or cloud

Enterprise users will make up about 75 per cent of the market for cloud-based mobile apps by 2014, according to Juniper Research. Both virtualising your mobile apps and delivering them through the cloud keep data off the device. Both approaches also can put more control in the hands of the IT department, which can oversee access to applications and manage how they are used.

Security buffs are likely fiercely nodding their heads, but keep in mind that if you virtualise, there could be usability issues surrounding the need for constant network connectivity and how a mobile app looks and performs on a device. Delivering mobile apps through the cloud can ease these usability issues, but your security concerns will only be abated if you know where your data is sitting.

You need: To take the app migration burden off IT

Choose: An enterprise app store

By 2014, 60 per cent of IT organisations will have private app stores, according to Gartner. These stores work similarly to Apple’s app store by allowing employees to quickly and securely download certain applications they are authorised to use. This takes a lot of the burden off IT as they don’t need to provision apps to different users and devices.

However, building an app store does come at a cost, and users might grumble if your app store doesn’t resemble Apple’s. That means you need to consider the ability to rate apps, search for apps, recommend similar apps and allow user feedback.

You need: Compatibility across a wide range of devices

Choose: Web apps

Their ability to run in browsers means web apps don’t require a distribution system, so users can access them from any number of devices. Plus, IT doesn’t need to create several incarnations of one app, which leads to easier delivery and management. Internet connectivity will always be a concern to run web apps, however; if it’s poor, even refreshing the screen will cause problems.

These are just a few reasons for considering the different mobile app delivery methods. If your organisation needs additional help with taking its enterprise applications into the mobile world, Datacom’s Enterprise Mobility Applications practise can help. We handle application development, integrate apps with devices and offer field service support to ensure you applications run smoothly.

How are you delivering mobile apps in your organisation?

Getting Cloud Providers and Cloud Buyers to Speak the Same Language

The Everest Group and Cloud Connect have just revealed the results of their global enterprise cloud adoption survey. The survey honed in on the perspective of cloud buyers but also involved the insights of providers of cloud services and cloud advisors.

It’s clear from the survey that there is a disconnect between what organisations want in the cloud and what providers think they want. Both groups also place emphasis on different areas when it comes to the perceived challenges of incorporating cloud into the enterprise IT environment. How can these two groups get on the same page?

Flexibility or lower IT prices? 

Organisations are choosing the cloud mainly for its flexibility and the reduced time to provision it offers, according to the survey. Cloud providers, however, think businesses are buying up their services to curb IT costs.

Does this disagreement matter if an organisation can achieve all of these cloud benefits in the end? Absolutely. Organisations seriously considering the cloud are hopefully past the point of wanting it to solve all their problems. They’ve made a business case and identified how the cloud fits in with the IT-business strategy. While reducing TCO is paramount to a lot of organisations right now, there’s more to what the cloud offers a business — namely innovation, allowing IT resources to be more strategic and being able to quickly deliver business-critical applications.

Instead of running the risk of having their needs misunderstood, organisations should choose a cloud provider that will do an audit of their IT environment and ask questions about their business strategy. Cloud has too many options — SaaS, IaaS, PaaS, private, public, hybrid — to be approached from a single vantage point.

Finding the common ground in cloud challenges

Another area where cloud providers and buyers differ is in ascertaining the chief barriers to enterprise cloud adoption. Here, the two camps are clearly at odds: cloud buyers think IT management will gladly oversee cloud services while providers think management is actually unwilling to take ownership.

Like many other IT solutions, the cloud performs well if it’s managed well. While it can take many burdens off IT’s shoulders, it’s not a solution that runs itself. Organisations need to be honest with themselves about their capacity to manage cloud and go with a managed service if it makes sense for their business. If you leave infrastructure management to the professionals, for instance, you not only reduce your IT department’s management tasks, but free them up for more innovative, strategic IT undertakings such as creating new applications and tools.

Do you think your organisation is ready for cloud? Read our cloud buying checklist to begin understanding your needs and options.

Datacom Transforms Wilmar Australia’s IT Environment with a Move to the Cloud

Talk about a short deadline.

In 2010, sugar, ethanol and energy producer Wilmar Australia needed to transform its entire IT environment and rebrand its technology image as part of its divestment from parent company CSR. The catch: the project needed to be done in under a year for 1,500 employees in 31 locations to meet the divestment schedule.

The project involved leveraging the latest Microsoft technology for a desktop upgradewhile outsourcing core IT functions and moving Wilmar Australia’s IT infrastructure to Infrastructure as a Service. Wilmar Australia also wanted a brand makeover; it saw itself as developing into a more engaging, dynamic organisation and wanted its technology to reflect that.

A sweet solution

A lot of IT solutions providers might’ve balked at that lofty task. Not Datacom.

 Wilmar Australia’s new vision aligned very closely with Datacom’s approach to doing business – delivering enduring performance through fresh thinking. These shared values, along with Datacom’s technology knowledge and commitment to building strong partnerships with its customers, made choosing an IT solutions provider easier for Wilmar Australia.

The eventual solution for Wilmar Australia’s IT needs was a Microsoft stack running on Datacom’s IaaS cloud. The list of tasks involved to complete the project included:

  • Migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7
  • Migrating from Office 2003 to Office 2010
  • Adding messaging with Exchange 2010
  • Establishing a new Active Directory 2008
  • Updating legacy unified communications systems using Cisco and Microsoft Lync 2010
  • Incorporating document management with SharePoint 2010
  • Establishing database management and consolidation using SQL 2010
  • Integrating with BizTalk
  • Establishing security via Threat Management Gateway
  • Creating full disaster recovery

Datacom also helped move 240 of Wilmar Australia’s servers and over 90 of their critical business applications to the cloud.

Better technology, better business

Wilmar Australia’s employees across locations are now able to leverage the latest technology to collaborate and communicate better. With the latest operating system and office and communications tools, each employee is able to complete his or her tasks and assignments with renewed efficiency and simplicity.

Brendan O’Kane, General Manager of Information Services at Wilmar Australia, says the Datacom migration has set the organisation on a course toward greater agility and innovation.

“We have given people new tools and better access to help them do their jobs more efficiently and take a lot of noise out of the business,” he says. “The IT strategy is now supporting the business.

“The solution is a much better fit to our DNA than where we came from. We needed to be able to support change and innovation in a fast-moving environment, and the Datacom cloud allows us to do that.”

Why Cloud Matters Now More Than Ever

Australia is one of the slowest adopters of cloud despite being incredibly prepared for it.

The Business Software Alliance ranked Australia as No. 2 out of 24 countries in terms of preparedness for cloud technologies. But enterprise adoption has stopped short, a sentiment echoed byresearch firm Longhaus earlier this year. Whether it’s because some organisations are satisfied with stopping at in-house virtualisation or because data privacy concerns can’t be kept at bay, there’s no better time than now for enterprises to ascend into the cloud. Here’s why.

Applications are getting more complicated

Applications have grown more complex, more numerous and more cumbersome to deliver and manage in some situations. Cloud strips a lot of the constraints of application configuration by allowing for more self-service and better load balancing. More than half of the executives polled in a London School of Economics and Political Science survey said cloud reduces the cost and time to configure apps.

Data is getting bigger

The amount of storage needed for digital content globally is expected to soar from 320 exabytes to 4.1 zettabytes by 2016, according to Gartner. What is this content? Every minute, there are 1,500 blog posts created, 98,000 tweets made and 168 million emails sent, according to a Forbes article. Using cloud to manage, analyse, store and prepare this data can help take the burden off internal IT.

Users are getting smarter

End users are more clued in to technology than ever. They know what technologies like cloud offer – flexibility, speed, an on-demand nature – and they want to take advantage of them. Employees want to be more innovative, more in control of their work processes – and cloud can allow both. Studies have shown that cloud, especially when incorporated as a managed service, boosts innovation by offering on-demand, scalable resources.

Be sure to read Datacom Director and cloud expert Mark McWilliams’ article on Australia’s lagging cloud adoption – and the emerging factors that could spur greater adoption – on ABC Technology.

3 Steps to Simplifying IT Management

Last week, we started looking at how IT complexity can cripple your organisation. This week, we look at additional actions you can take to start simplifying your IT environment.  

Your IT department’s expansions might seem at odds with one another. Just when you’ve upgraded the servers and introduced a robust redundancy system, the emphasis has immediately shifted to providing your employees with mobile productivity tools. And once you’ve launched a mobile solution for your organisation, it’s time to move an in-house solution into — yes, you guessed it — the cloud.

And all of these IT functions demand:

  • Allocating the budget for hardware,software and licensing
  • Scoping projects, evaluating options, deploying the solution and testing
  • Training end-users and refining processes and workflows
  • Keeping trained and available support staff on hand to maintain all systems — and field your employees’ questions

While it might be tempting to just issue a slate and chisel and abacus to each employee and call it a day, you’re well aware your employees need every technological advantage in order to compete. But staying abreast of tech trends doesn’t have to be as onerous and costly as you’ve become inured to.

Simplicity is the name of the game among CIOs for companies ranging from startups to McDonald’s. And how do most of them accomplish this seemingly Herculean task? In our experience helping IT executives reduce complexity, we’ve identified three common areas to cover:

1. Take a comprehensive inventory of everything IT-related: infrastructure, cloud solutions, desktop programmes,custom apps, peripherals — everything. Most IT managers and executives are amazed at how cumbersome their organisations have become. And, if your company has been involved with a merger or acquisition, be sure to tally all IT levels. After aquiring another business, one Australian financial services company was able to achieve greater IT simplicitiy in just six weeks by outsourcing the integration of the new service into their existing environment. By leveraging IT outsourcing to integrate disparate networks and systems and improving core network and storage network capacity, the company was able to consolidate and optimise their entire IT infrastructure. Just ensuring unwanted redundancies are eliminated, unnecessary programmes aren’t renewed and unprofitable processes are abandoned can greatly reduce complexity.

2. Consider what infrastructure is necessary, and what’s necessary to keep in-house. Once the inventory is complete, we like to roll up our sleeves and help our clients design an infrastructure strategy and design. With the move to cloud solutions and virtual networks, you’ll likely find your intricate systems of servers and hardware can be reduced to a few easy-to-manage systems. And it’s almost always at a lower total cost of ownership than purchasing and maintaining everything in house.

3. Determine who’s supporting what, and what’s not receiving the proper support. It’s hard to keep your organisation running smoothly and efficiently when managers and specialists are spending time assisting the help desk. We’ve found many of our clients are pulling their hair out at the cost of continuously training employees to provide phone and support  — not to mention the scheduling nightmare of maintaining the proper amount of support staffing during working hours. When you opt for desktop support services, you place the onus of training, staffing and hiring on your vendor.

Ideally, you’ll want to find one vendor that can hold your hand through every step of your complexity-reduction checklist and serve as the sole point of contact for your IT needs. That’s ultimately how organisations can transform their IT operation into simple, manageable environments.

Cloud or Server Virtualisation: Which is Right for You?

In 2011, Australia only hit 63.3% of its cloud growth expectations, according to a Computerworld story. This means many Aussie organisations aren’t competing at their full potential — especially in the international market where cloud computing continues its growth at a much higher rate. But it also means many nationalorganisations have found solutions that provide all the agility needed without opting for the cloud, usually thanks to server virtualisation.

Through server virtualisation, the process of running multiple individual computing environments from a single server, many organisations wonder why opting for a cloud solution is worth it. After all, do they need a cloud solution’s large data centre when, through server visualisation, they have more horsepower under the hood than they’ll likely ever need?

In the end, the best solution is a tailored solution. The key isn’t asking if it’s one or the other — it’s asking which functions are best meant for the cloud and which flourish in visualised server environments. For example, you might ask:

  • Will this project be customer-facing and focused on aggressive growth, or is this project dedicated for a static internal audience?
  • If for a current function, is it meeting the needs of your organisation and/or customers? If not, what needs are not currently addressed?
  • What are the applications or data that you need to support?
  • Do you have the core competency, resources and technical expertise to manage scaling large amounts of data in-house?
  • What are your demands for server workload?
  • What are your requirements for disaster recovery?

You can probably guess which answers will lead you to a virtualised server and which to a cloud solution. Before you buy, it’s worthwhile tapping into IT consultants who can conduct an in-depth discovery to learn which option — or which combination — suits your organisation. As a one-stop solution, a professional services team should not only determine the right solution, but implement it, test it and support it. 

As you begin researching your options, remember to think about the future. Organisations must anticipate their storage and computing power needs two to three years down the line to ensure their investment makes sense.

How Managed Cloud Benefits Extend Beyond Cost Savings

By Lauren Fritsky

You know about the cost-saving benefits of the cloud – organisations are saving as much as 30 per cent in IT costs in the first three years of their cloud investment, according to O’Reilly Media. The value of cloud extends beyond reduced spending, however. A cloud investment can bring more benefits to the business by transforming the innovation and project delivery taking place in the IT department. With managed cloud, IT no longer needs to oversee infrastructure and carry out related maintenance and troubleshooting. The scalable nature of cloud also allows for faster application delivery and lets IT try out new ideas without needing extra time and resources.

The cloud enables more innovation

Leveraging a cloud service allows IT departments to innovate with lower risk and in less time, according to a recent study of more than 1,000 organisations by the London School of Economics and Political Science. Before the cloud, businesses looking to experiment with a new application or system often had to go through a lengthy project management and delivery process in which they were forced to acquire new hardware and processing power that was only intended to be used for a short period of time. Extra IT resources were sometimes needed to manage these experiments as well.

Provisioning in the cloud allows for scalable computing resources that are immediately accessible. By transferring your infrastructure to managed cloud, you allow experienced IT providers to manage your servers and disk space while the IT department, their time now freed up, gets to develop new apps, tools, delivery methods and services that can drive revenue and competitive advantage in the organisation. Organisations can take advantage of consumption-based processing power when running projects in the cloud, which saves both costs and time compared to conducting these experiments on in-house infrastructure. The cloud’s flexible nature allows for scale in those innovations showing a possibility for success while at the same time allowing IT to quickly terminate those experiments that do not show promise.

The London study points out that this type of innovation gain is most realised when businesses opt for a managed cloud service that allows them to customise the solution to their business needs. Through customisable cloud, organisations can match their service levels to their expected business process/innovation needs.

The cloud makes delivering business apps easier

The ability for cloud to dynamically provision means end users can get their critical business applications delivered at a faster clip. The London School of Economics and Political Science study says 60 per cent of business executives feel their cloud service allows business apps to be provisioned faster. Close to 55 per cent of executives also say cloud cuts the time and cost to configure apps. This time savings not only allows IT to focus their expertise on other projects; it also serves to boost end-user satisfaction. Remember, end users don’t care how an application or service is delivered as long as they can access it when they need it and have as seamless a user experience as possible. Cloud enables this to happen with very little maintenance or management needed on the part of IT.

Have you realised similar benefits through adopting cloud at your organisation? Share your story in the comments.

Choosing a Trustworthy Cloud Provider

By Lauren Fritsky

Does it seem like everyone is offering a cloud service or product these days? Companies are certainly branching out to keep up with the evolving cloud market; Longhaus noted in its 2012 Cloud Pulse Report that providers seem to be rushing to market to deliver cloud services.

There could be trouble, however, with choosing a newbie cloud service provider or technology vendor that has recently decided to dabble in cloud on the side. To ensure you will get the right security, service and value for your money, consider choosing atrusted provider offering cloud as one of its core services.

First and foremost, you should choose a cloud provider with experience providing cloud services. There are plenty of new kids on the block offering cheap, quick cloud implementations, but the lack of cloud history should raise an eyebrow. Recent media reports have warned organisations to avoid electing the lowest-cost cloud option and to instead better scrutinise service-level agreements and security capabilities. As a supplier of cloud services in Australia since 2005, Datacom has been recognised by Longhaus as a top trusted provider of cloud. We also recently won a number of partner of the year awards from several technology vendors for our work in the cloud space.   

To feel like you can truly trust your cloud provider, you should choose one that is accessible. Many organisations equate cloud with risk, and a way to mitigate this fear is through being able to contact your provider locally. If there is a service disruption or technical issue, it helps to be able to reach someone at a local office. It’s all the better if the provider has its own in-house security team that can be there on the spot.

Lastly, it helps to choose a provider that prides itself on having an open, transparent partnership with its customers. Flexible agreements and pricing models allow you to maintain agility and competitive advantage with your cloud service so you can make the best decisions for your organisation next week and next year. To go a step further, a provider offering additional managed IT services for your organisation can give you more value and convenience. Knowing your provider wants to help you forge your long-term IT strategy, not just get you to buy a service, can help you feel more confident about your cloud decision.