Defining 4G/LTE

We see the number/letter combination in the corner of our smartphones so often, it has almost become invisible: 4G/LTE. Not only that, ‘4G’ is also touted so repeatedly (and loudly) in Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T commercials, most of us hit the mute button without even realizing it anymore. We know 4G/LTE has something to do with cellular networks and speeds, but what is 4G/LTE really? And, what does it mean for our daily lives in which smartphones and connectivity have become such a necessity for work, life, and play? Let’s start by defining 4G/LTE:

4G/LTE is really two terms in one. 4G is a collection of fourth-generation mobile data technology. Not surprisingly, it succeeds 3G and is also called IMT-Advanced (International Mobile Telecommunications Advanced). All 4G standards must conform to a set of specifications created by the International Telecommunications Union. LTE stands for Long Term Evolution, which is not really a technology, but a standard for wireless communication. (Source: TechTerms).

How fast is 4G?
4G technologies are required to provide peak data transfer rates of at least 100 Mbps (megabytes per/second). This includes the connection rate for mobile phones, smartphone tablets, etc. However, keep in mind that actual download speeds vary based on location, signal strength, and interference. As an example, just because a device has the capacity to reach 4G, it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically hit those connection speeds (for instance, you’ll have the best chance if you’re in a city, as opposed to a remote location, assuming wireless interference isn’t too severe).

Are you really getting 4G speeds?
The short answer is: no, not really. When the governing body set the minimum speeds for 4G mobile devices, around 2008, they decided that because 4G was not actually attainable in the practical sense for network providers, they would introduce the term LTE. LTE basically means the authentic pursuit of the 4G standard, and it offers a considerable improvement over 3G technology.

As a result, most network providers today offer 4G LTE network speeds which they brand as next-generation connectivity performance, even though they are actually hitting pure 4G speeds.

Does 4G matter anyway?
The answer to this really lies in how these connection speeds impact the user experience. How fast can your devices load pages, download music or video conference in real life situations? As a rule, while 4G/LTE seems to be a considerable improvement over 3G speeds when comparing 4G/LTE and “true 4G” networks of today, most upload and download speeds are almost identical.

4G and the enterprise
If your company is considering 4G/LTE wireless internet to provide remote access to enterprise applications like CRM and collaboration tools, consider how connection speeds impact performance. For instance, simplified and fast access to applications like Salesforce.com, Cisco WebEx Social, and other business apps, will ensure the applications are used. Many believe the improved speed of access to applications, and the ability to work from anywhere and at any time, are real business benefits. When comparing 4G/LTE mobile data plans for the business, also consider factors like bandwidth requirements and data overage charges.

What’s next?
You won’t be surprised to hear that several carriers are already looking ahead to 5G mobile broadband. Experts predict that 2017 will see more trials of 5G technology as the wireless industry continues to define what the 5G technology looks like. AT&T has already announced they are conducting 5G trials with Intel this year. The new 5G wireless modem will work at both super-high radio frequencies and lower-band airwaves. Many believe that early 5G network adoption will come from the enterprise side, in the form of from drones, self-driving cars, industrial applications, and some broadband service to homes and businesses. (Source: Investor’s Business Daily).

SD-WAN Market and Growth

While Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN) technology was once reserved for smaller-scale operations, it is now seen as a proven, and more mature, network architecture. Today, it is trusted by many distributed enterprises, including those in financial services, healthcare and retail. The exponential growth rate in the SD-WAN market has been spurred by several factors, including the increased demand for cloud-based services as well as the growing appetite for bandwidth by the enterprise branch office. On top of that, there’s also an increased reliance on high-performance networks, prompted by the need for greater mobile connectivity and access to always-on applications.

To meet these challenges, SD-WAN technology reduces the cost and complexity of traditional WAN enterprise networks by automating the configuration of WAN routes. It also ensures a reliable and agile connection that can handle spikes and dynamic traffic by running connections over a hybrid of broadband connections, from MPLS and broadband to 4G/LTE networks. SD-WAN architectures route and prioritize traffic according to policies set by the enterprise in order to optimize connections− all from a centralized controller. In doing this, SD-WAN is seen as one of the biggest disruptive technologies in the networking industry in years. In fact, Gartner predicts that spending on SD-WAN products will rise from$129 million in 2016 to $1.24 billion in 2020. (Source: Gartner). Here’s a closer look at the drivers of the SD-WAN market:

  • Increased use of cloud applications– The increased adoption of cloud-based and hybrid-cloud architectures in the enterprise have caused network managers to rethink traditional WAN networks. WAN networks that once connected branch and remote offices to the corporate office, which then connected to the Internet, are no longer equipped to keep pace. Today’s=-09 common SaaS applications as well as Unified Communication and Collaboration (UC&C) applications, storage and backup applications, and IaaS such as Microsoft Azure, rely on more responsive network architectures. As companies continue to look for the ability to balance loads across the WAN and route traffic over cost-optimal links, SD-WAN adoption will continue to grow at a fiery pace.
  • More options from more vendors– Industry analyst firm IDC estimates that for the 2015–2020 period, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the SD-WAN market will be over 90%. (Source: IDC). Much of that growth will come from the likes of enterprise networking hardware and WAN optimization vendors (i.e. Cisco, Riverbed Technology, Nokia) as well as startups and integrators. Other service providers will make up the rest of the market gap, such as those that deliver SD-WAN managed services, cloud-managed SD-WAN services or hybrid SD-WAN providers. When evaluating SD-WAN vendors or cloud service providers, consider factors that could cost you down the road, like security and interoperability.

    With a growing number of SD-WAN vendors out there, issues around interoperability are more important than ever. A successful SD-WAN deployment will require a network infrastructure that can seamlessly connect across the branch, campus, and multiple cloud instances. Only then is centralized network management and optimized end-to-end routing of SaaS and other applications possible. To get there, ask service providers questions about SD-WAN cloud intelligence options that promise better monitoring, greater agility and consistent security.

    Other SD-WAN services combine a managed MPLS service with the bandwidth of a broadband internet WAN connection at the branch site. This gives users even greater reliability and performance. That’s because connectivity is dynamically routed based on best available links looking at latency, jitter and SLA requirements of specific business applications. Other options like the hybrid WAN let organizations slowly migrate applications to the cloud, as the business grows or needs change.

When network traffic can be optimized and routed based on application requirements, cloud service delivery can be optimized across the entire enterprise. SD-WAN architectures make this possible by simplifying and optimizing network configurations. In doing so, enterprises are finding ways to improve performance significantly and cut network complexity. Today’s leading businesses are also benefiting from centralized management capabilities across the WAN architecture and reduced capital and operational expenses.

 

The Rise of Mobility and Its Effect on Business

By 2020, mobile devices will be so pervasive that the number of devices in the U.S. market will outnumber the population of the United States by 4 to 1. While that ratio seems to be almost real, the reality is that today most of the United States population uses at least one mobile device on a daily basis. Businesses have taken notice that along with more mobile devices comes the demand from employees to use these devices both for personal and work-related communications. As a result, more and more businesses are being forced to take a second look at their telephony and communication systems in order to accommodate the changing expectations of an increasingly mobile workforce.

The Mobile Workforce of Today

According to a recent IDC forecast, the mobile worker population in the US is expected to increase steadily over the next five years, projected to hit 105.4 million mobile workers in 2020, compared to just 96.2 million in 2015. This research anticipates that mobile workers will account for nearly three quarters (72.3%) of the total US workforce by the end of 2020. As more workers leave the corporate office to seek alternative workspaces, either at home or on the road, businesses are searching for technology that will help them shift into the ever-increasing mobile world. Many are looking to unified communications and other cloud-based solutions to assist in not only managing the mobile workers they now have in the workplace, but also to minimize the risks associated with this new mobile device environment.

Leveraging Unified Communications for Mobility

Rather than viewing mobility as an obstacle of growth, UC&C adopters are capitalizing on these communication solutions to answer the mobility challenge and are reaping the benefits of this cloud-based technology. For the most part, the features and tools that fall under the UC umbrella seem as if they were built with the mobile worker in mind. From hosted phone system features like simultaneous ring and voicemail to email to the extensive list of mobile apps that UC providers are bringing to the market, there’s little doubt that unified communications offers the technology solution that businesses need to manage the mobile workforce. Add in mobile video conferencing solutions, IM&P for mobile devices and SMS texting apps, and businesses are now fully equipped to provide mobile workers with a seamless communications platform across all mobile devices – whether they are in or out of the office.

Business Benefits of Mobile Unified Communications

Although each business will institute a variety of features, apps and mobile devices, the results are typically the same across the board. First, productivity of mobile workers is no longer limited to disparate systems and mobile devices. Instead, employees can function almost as if they were in the office directly from their mobile devices, including directory dialing, IM and presence, document sharing and even video conferencing. In addition, UC solutions are easily scalable, allowing businesses to ebb and flow as they continuously add and remove remote employees and devices to the mix. Both the increase in remote worker productivity and the ease of scalability offer businesses the unified communications benefits they need to stay competitive as the mobile world continues to expand.

As mobile workers become the norm, businesses need to be prepared to deal with their expectations. Today, more and more individuals are looking toward businesses to grow with the times and adopt the technologies that benefit both them and the business at large. As the economy asks businesses to be even more agile and flexible due to rapidly evolving markets, businesses will need the technology that will allow employees to communicate at moment’s notice – allowing remote workers to prosper without having to wait on the telephony systems of yesteryear.

 

Thinking About a Hybrid Cloud? Download This Checklist

Just what is a hybrid cloud environment, and what does it mean for your business? We hear about the hybrid cloud transformation all the time, but it is sometimes hard to recognize the truth from the hype.

The reality is most enterprises and mid-size organizations are probably already using some type of public/private cloud infrastructure that runs in parallel with their traditional dedicated server environment. That’s because most users want the flexibility, speed and cost benefits of public cloud services with the control, security and performance of private cloud. That’s exactly where hybrid cloud and multi-cloud infrastructure come into play.

Hybrid cloud adoption ↑ resource spend ↓

And the hybrid cloud adoption trend shows signs of increasing! Gartner predicts that by 2016 hybrid cloud growth will increase to become the bulk of new IT spend. They believe 2016 will be a defining year for cloud as private cloud begins to give way to hybrid cloud, and nearly half of large enterprises will have hybrid cloud deployments by the end of 2017 (Source: Gartner, Inc).

Check your list twice

If you’re considering transitioning to a hybrid cloud environment or adding private networks for a special project (i.e. running your new testing environment on cloud servers while your production environment runs on dedicated servers behind your own firewall) here is a checklist, including tips, to help you along the way.

  • Evaluate your needs – The hybrid model gives you the flexibility to migrate workloads between on-site and off-site environments based on the dynamic nature of your business and requirements. This alone delivers a tremendous amount of flexibility to any organization. The challenge comes in properly evaluating your data to determine what applications can be securely transitioned to the public cloud vs. those mission-critical applications or systems that should remain on-premise or private due to availability demands or security considerations. Specifically, it’s important that you evaluate your environment and outline what data your organization collects, stores and shares.
    • Security, compliance and regulatory requirements- For instance, does your organization need to comply with industry-specific regulatory requirements for storing and sharing data? Of course, there’s the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) but there’s also Payment Card Industry (PCI) regulations that can impact small businesses. As part of this industry, your organization may share responsibility and accountability for keeping customer data secure.
  • Build a cloud roadmap- It’s important to map out policies as to which applications and data should be run on dedicated servers compared to those that can be transitioned to a private or public cloud. Heavily used applications and mission critical applications are generally run in-house or are private cloud candidates (i.e. your CRM system or BI analytics systems).
    For example, do you need to the ability to spin up test servers or prepare for extra capacity for a new product or application launch? This could be the perfect application for a cloud because you can rapidly scale up as traffic grows. As you build your roadmap it’s important to consider performance and availability conditions as well as service level guarantees required. It’s also a good idea to start your cloud implementation on a small scale with a controlled number of users. Run non-mission-critical applications on public clouds to assess cost savings and benefits. Then, you can test new services and outline migration plans as your objectives change and your business grows.
  • Consider vendor options- With a hybrid cloud model you have both on-premise resources and remote server-based resources. When transitioning legacy applications to the cloud, a managed hosting provider can deliver the experience necessary for a smooth migration and have guarantees around security, stability and performance during the transition. They can provide the resources to accelerate the transition and minimize risks. With an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platform, including virtualized servers, storage, memory and bandwidth, you have built in guaranteed service levels and you’ll be set up for a more cost-effective model in the long term.
    Providers such as Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, and Amazon Red Shift, are also making hybrid cloud infrastructure a cost-effective reality for businesses today. These providers allow organizations to manage large volumes of data and applications in the most efficient way possible. If you are considering one of these cloud providers, consider which can best integrate into your current tool sets. Many organizations have several point-to-point interfaces in their data infrastructure, which can be a challenge without proper planning. By integrating these systems with your current platform, it’s also possible to utilize tools you already have and minimize knowledge gaps when setting up the platform.

A hybrid cloud infrastructure offers a unified model and greater flexibility for today’s complex business environment. Considering a move to a hybrid cloud− or expanding your presence in the cloud− will not only reduce costs for your organization, it also offers greater flexibility, along with the security and performance of dedicated servers or private cloud.

 

What is your UC Plan Missing?

The term Unified Communications (UC) encompasses a large scope of solutions. From instant messaging platforms, video conferencing, and file sharing programs, to mobile applications. The common denominator of UC solutions for the enterprise is the platform’s ability to increase productivity, flexibility, and collaboration in the workplace. Increased collaboration includes internal team collaboration− between marketing and the call center for example− as well as communication with external audiences such as partners, supply chain companies, vendors and customers.  

The UC industry continues to evolve with a number of marketplace consolidations. Chris Wilder from Moor Insights and Strategy, cites consolidation in the space, such as the merger between Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent in addition to Cisco Systems’ numerous acquisitions, as part of this trend. He believes marketplace consolidation will continue to be a transformative force on the UC market (Source: Forbes).  Moving beyond traditional unified communications solutions like Microsoft’s Skype, Slack, and Google Hangouts, UC technologies will continue to expand particularly into the mobile space.  Here are some other important trends to keep in mind if you’re considering re-invigorating your UC strategy.

  • Moving beyond the hype! Real benefits of Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC)- WebRTC technology makes it possible to extend features like voice and video into any desktop or mobile web browser. It allows for peer to peer, encrypted communications in the browser. What does that actually mean? In a nutshell, WebRTC lets users streamline voice and video calls and tie into screen sharing and multi-media instant messaging tools all at once. It is an open source alternative to proprietary technology used by traditional UC vendor applications. It can run on top browsers, including Chrome and Firefox and soon Safari (if the rumors are true!). The fact that Slack and even Facebook messenger are now supporting WebRTC technology points to the fact that it’s gaining traction as a viable alternative protocol of new communication and collaboration apps.
  • Consider mobile device management- With the proliferation of consumer video and voice applications (Youtube, Facetime, Skype) it’s no wonder employees expect the same high-quality experience from all applications at all times− whether they are using a tablet at home, in a client office, or they are on the corporate network. A user could even be a laptop on free WIFI at the airport; regardless, they want a seamless experience. Individuals want a unified and intuitive user experience, where mobile devices and smartphones are reliable and the primary means of business communications.  

This brings a new set of challenges, including ensuring communications are secure and real-time application performance is high, even when it’s out of the control of the IT department (public WIFI). Many companies are turning towards cloud-based hosted Mobile Device Management Solutions (MDM) for help. Not only are these providers delivering the networks and bandwidth to run these applications, they are taking it a step further to ensure the end-user experience is high. Providers can help set up a secure platform that allows users to exchange sensitive corporate information on mobile devices and through UC platforms seamlessly.

  • Embedded UC into more applications− The emerging WebRTC standard and standard session initiation protocol (SIP), makes it easy to see the massive productivity potential of UC-enabled apps. For instance, what would happen if you were able to integrate secure, instant messaging capabilities into your CRM system like SalesForce? Or, if you could allow VoIP calls to be made directly from those applications after double-clicking on a contact (even ones accessed on a mobile device)? In this same example, imagine if a customer support manager could make a call to a customer directly from SalesForce. And then, they could record and archive that interaction by linking that CRM record to an enterprise DropBox account. What would that do for productivity? The potential synergies with UC and the applications that employees use most are exponential.

With application performance, Quality of Service (QoS) and security challenges that come with enterprise communication, many believe that Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) will also continue to be an area for expansion.  It’s easy to make the case, considering employees are becoming more dispersed and workforces are becoming more mobile and global every day. A cloud and hybrid service model looks promising in helping to deliver the performance, security and scalability required for competitive enterprises.

Is Security as a service right for your business?

With the growing complexity of IT environments and increased security threats, it’s no surprise that corporate spending on information security products and services continues to rise. In fact, Gartner predicts that worldwide spending on information security products and services will reach $81.6 billion in 2016. That is an increase of 7.9 percent over 2015 numbers. Gartner also expects secure web gateways (SWGs) to maintain growth of 5 to 10 percent through 2020. This is due to the fact that companies depend on this infrastructure to support detection and response approaches of IT security management (Source: Gartner).

The TCO for security products (i.e. firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDSs), IP-VPNs, end-point threat protection, authentication and vulnerability assessment) can be a barrier for many small to mid-size organizations. The total lifecycle costs for security products should include the product costs as well as technical support and maintenance. Faced with these challenges, many organizations are looking to complement their internal IT teams. Support and services from security vendors is one way to build a tighter and more scalable corporate security framework. Security-as-a-Service solutions (on premise or cloud) are in high demand because these services combine the very best of detection and response strategies along with the right mix of tools and expertise.

If you’re considering adding a security-as-a-service partner to your governance and control framework, consider these recommendations:

  • Go beyond compliance– Keeping pace with the latest regulatory compliance requirements is necessary from a legal standpoint. However, it may leave your company behind the eight ball when it comes to protection from current vulnerabilities. Keep in mind, a compliance approach vs. a risk-based program can leave you reliant on out-of-date benchmarks and risk assessments and as a result vulnerable to unwanted threats. Not only that, even if you’re not focused in healthcare or financial services industries, there are reasons to be aware of continuous rule changes. Regulations from Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) or the USA Patriot Act, can have downstream impacts on your business.
  • Focus on detection and response– We’d like to think that we can thwart threats with the right security solutions. But, investment in modern security equipment can only take you so far. Many believe security threats are a consistent and growing cost of doing business. Based on a study by the Ponemon Institute, the average total cost of a data breach increased to $4 million in 2016. Researchers believe the biggest cost of a data breach is lost business due to a loss of trust. This means that while you cannot defend your organization entirely from security holes, you can certainly make it worse by not being proactive, responsive and transparent if and when a breach is exposed. (Source: Formtek). While the concepts of security and transparency generally don’t belong in the same sentience, in the case of responding to a data breach, they do. It is imperative that organizations have the security framework in place (SWGs, encryption and endpoint security solutions) to eliminate the threat as well as a communication plan in place should breaches happen. Open communication with consistent and responsive messaging will go a long way in rebuilding trust from stakeholders and show the underlying health of the company’s security policies.
  • The forecast is cloudy– Cloud-based options offer simplified and reliable data security programs. Not only that, security services can be delivered either as stand-alone features−such as deploying a Cloud-based IAM solution− or as part of a larger integrated SaaS package. Depending on the size of the enterprise, some organizations utilize a mixture of legacy and web-architected cloud and on premises applications. Because of the nature of cloud, these Security-as-a-Service options are highly scalable meaning they can expand as the business grows, or as regulations and compliance rules change. In general, cloud-based vendor security options can also reduce IT costs by minimizing capital investments and driving consistency in costs overtime. Network intrusion detection and web application security cloud services provide up-to-date protection of the network and firewall protection. These are critical for minimizing exposure to risk and data breaches. Another consideration for cloud-based security is encryption options. Many providers that offer cloud-based encryption services can encrypt data in-transit, in-use, and at-rest for public and private cloud web applications. If considering cloud-based encryption options, be sure to ask if this protection also extends to behind-the-firewall intranet applications.

When considering Security options, it’s important to keep in mind that services can be added to ‘fill the gaps’ in an organization’s overall security strategy. Cloud-based Security services, legacy and web-architected cloud and on premises applications, and other managed vendor security services can be used in sync to alleviate the burden on internal IT teams. The right mix of Security-as-a-Service options will help to reduce costs across your organization. These services also offer greater flexibility and a stronger position in meeting regulatory requirements, defending against security breaches, and responding to vulnerabilities.

The Future of Hybrid Cloud: Greater Flexibility and Unified Management

If you are skeptical about the hybrid cloud revolution and wondering if it’s here to stay, it’s time to look at new partnerships grabbing news headlines. Dell and EMC’s shareholders recently approved the proposed $67-billion-dollar merger; this is no doubt one example of hybrid cloud moving more and more into the mainstream (Source: ZDNet). It’s clear IT service providers are banking on the growing demand and adoption of these multi-cloud, hybrid environments from mid-size and enterprise organizations.

Flexible options in the future

Industry insiders believe Dell’s merger with EMC is in part setting the stage to help customers bridge the gap between legacy IT infrastructure and the modern cloud infrastructure. The idea is that Dell and other IT providers are looking to give customers greater control and flexibility of their IT infrastructures. In this scenario, customers have the ability to run certain workloads in the cloud− and probably more and more overtime- and mission-critical applications will run on traditional in-house systems or on private clouds. The next frontier is in providing ways to transfer data and workloads seamlessly between on-premise, private and public clouds as needed. This is happening through partnerships like EMC and Dell, as well as from services from managed service providers, built-in APIs and Platform-as-a-Service (iPaaS) platforms.

To this end, Microsoft Azure also recently announced the Azure Logic Apps, Microsoft’s Integration iPaaS platform that will sync these environments more closely (Source: Microsoft blog). They are working to offer a comprehensive hybrid integration platform so customers can connect traditional on-premise systems and cloud applications. Another example is AWS offering an iPaaS platform using TechConnect; they also rely on third parties for enterprise-to-cloud integrations. Select managed service providers can also furnish private cloud infrastructure with direct links to the AWS public cloud.

Benefits of the hybrid cloud

A primary factor driving the adoption of the hybrid cloud is the ability to seamlessly move existing applications between these multi-cloud environments.  Top benefits achieved in hybrid computing are increased flexibility to deliver IT resources, improved disaster recovery, and lower IT capital expenses. However, setting up your environment to realize these requires proper planning:

  • Re-architect for the cloud- With a more flexible application architecture, ideally you can redesign the application to use it in the cloud the same way you would run the workload in your own on-premise data center.
  • Map out a unified management plan- As mentioned earlier, vendors are working to offer a single set of management tools for IT groups to be able to effectively set up and use these hybrid architectures. Many providers are blending SaaS and on-premise–based management tools to monitor, configure, provision, and manage cloud infrastructure and applications. According to a report by IDC, by the end of 2017, over 80% of enterprise IT organizations will commit to hybrid cloud architectures (Source: IDC).This encompasses multiple public cloud services, as well as private cloud and/or non-cloud infrastructure resources. With management tools and policies built around data security, performance, and availability, organizations can essentially replicate the network applications for the cloud without requiring many changes. As hybrid cloud adoption increases it will become progressively important for service providers and cloud providers to offer more business-level automation software around these offerings.

In the ever-increasingly complex world of on-premise and cloud infrastructures, users need simplified and cost-effective cloud systems management software to regulate these environments. SaaS-based offerings and API-based integrations that link public cloud management services with on-premise tools, dashboards, and portals, will close the gap for IT managers. With a more flexible environment that enables the seamless transfer of workloads and more automated management tools, organizations can truly optimize the full range of resources and as a result control costs and increase competitiveness.

 

 

Things to Consider Before Switching to SD-WAN

The expectation of anytime anywhere access to bandwidth-intensive enterprise applications, including the growth of cloud services, has put a tremendous strain on traditional WAN infrastructures. Not only that, as remote offices have become the norm and mobile devices, video and real-time applications continue to increase, many believe legacy enterprise WAN has reached its breaking point.

 

Some see the introduction of Software Defined WAN (SD-WAN) as the answer to this increased strain on Wide Area Networks (WAN). Software-defined WAN is an extension of Software Defined Networking (SDN) because it uses software and virtual network overlays to take advantage of available WAN connections. It also centralizes control of and visibility into the entire WAN fabric and thus lowers the cost and complexity of WAN management. SD-WAN technology applies policy-based routing of traffic across multiple WAN connections. It essentially pushes data on the most optimal route across the network. Packets travel the network to and from different branch locations, taking the best route, to avoid latency issues and network slowdowns. SD-WAN offers many significant benefits:

  • Lower costs- enterprises can rely more on lower cost, public broadband and less on MPLS networks.
  • Flexible management and reduced complexity- SD-WAN routes and reroutes traffic based on the current state of the network, as configured by policies.
  • Greater redundancy options- Predetermined routes are created and data is automatically re-routed from primary to secondary Internet connection. 

Although SD-WAN offers more agile internet connections at a lower price point, it’s important to remember that not all SD-WAN solutions or service providers that offer it, are created equal. If your organization is considering moving away from a traditional WAN, it’s important to consider possible limitations of the technology and how it may impact your business.

 

Bandwidth lock in 

Calculating the potential return on investment of adopting a SD-WAN seems relatively straight forward at first. Because software defined WAN uses public internet broadband and minimizes the need for private circuits, most companies report significant cost savings. Companies surveyed by IDC estimate a20% cost savings with SD-WAN, compared to traditional WAN deployments. (Source: IDC July 2016).However, consider the fact that your organization may be locked into a multi-year deal on private circuits. Downsizing could trigger severe penalties or fines for early termination. This and other service-level changes could further impact ROI, meaning it will take longer for your SD-WAN technology to pay for itself.

Challenging transitions

Just like any changes involving the enterprise network, transitions can create complications very quickly−especially when manual processes are involved.  Configuration mistakes will happen and, unfortunately, they’ll probably happen at severely inopportune times. Consider network automation tools and testing tools that help you maintain a logical IP network and the capabilities to manage the underlying infrastructure of the network. There are generally three types of software-defined WAN solutions and each has its advantages: Controller-based solutions auto-discover and configure network devices and can help in this transition period. Second, appliance-based overlay solutions create a virtualIP network between the vendor’s appliances across any network, combined with management tools.

Last, advanced automation and change control solutions enable and manage SD-WAN and the underlying infrastructure through existing hardware.

If you’re evaluating software-defined WAN solutions, look for one that gives you centralized control of your networking environment. With a central point of control, you’ll have simplified access to management, policy setting, analytics and reporting of the SD-WAN fabric, which will be critical during the transition and once the SD-WAN is fully deployed.

Models for growth?

Another factor when evaluating SD-WAN technology is how the architecture will scale with your business overtime. For instance, what options are there for adding remote offices or changing your network? Also, consider where your controller software will run.  In the cloud, as a virtual machine in the local network or in the datacenter? There are several SD-WAN products on the market and many are incompatible, so it’s important that part of your evaluation process includes looking at the potential long-term commitment to the vendor or service provider.

Many software-defined WANs give enterprises the ability to deploy a wide area network on-premise or cloud. Before selecting a vendor, ask the provider if they offer a pay-as-you-grow subscription model for cloud-based management.

Also, consider your organization’s long-term needs in terms of overall network efficiency. Some software-defined WAN solutions have analytics capabilities and allow administrators to analyze enterprise network traffic. Some also provide real-time and historical performance data to identify and address service issues. While network analytics may be too advanced during your initial SD-WAN deployment, don’t get stuck with a solution that has limited capabilities because of a shortsighted evaluation process.

If your organization is looking to improve performance of applications and services in the cloud, as well as improve connectivity and reduced complexity of remote office networks, an SD-WAN architecture offers many benefits for forward-thinking enterprises.  

3 Ways Unified Communication Has Changed The Remote Workforce

The trend of working from home offices or remote locations has definitely been gaining speed over the past few decades. According to a recent Gallup poll, 37% of individuals work from a location outside of the corporate office at least once per week. This is a significant gain from the less than 10% two decades ago. If you consider the number of people that work solely from a home office, the number of remote workers jumps up to a staggering 50%. Given the increased momentum of the remote worker trend, cloud providers are taking a closer look at unified communications and collaboration tools to enhance the productivity of mobile workers and the businesses they serve. With the constant innovation and enhancement of the technology and applications available to the remote workforce, unified communications is paving the way for remote collaboration and productivity.

UC is More Cost Effective Than Ever Before

In the past, unified communications and the full range of features that fall under it’s umbrella were reserved for enterprises with a large IT budget and “think outside the box” decision makers. However, as more UC providers enter the market and collaboration tools become a mandatory business functions rather than a nice-to-have feature, the cost of deploying and managing a UC solution is within reach of even the smallest of companies. Remote workers are reaping the benefits of years of improvements to communication and collaboration tools.

Face-to-Face Collaboration from Anywhere

One of the biggest challenges with remote teams is the lack of personal interaction between members. But as the cost of unified communications comes down, the number of price competitive video collaboration tools continues to rise. In years past, the only way a company could truly leverage a video conferencing solution was to invest thousands of dollars into large telepresence systems. As with the rest of UC, the latest options for video communication no longer require you to be connected to a particular room system to enjoy face-to-face communication. Instead, UC providers are shifting video platforms to accommodate mobile devices and internet browsers which opens the door to a more collaborative and easy to manage opportunity for remote workers.

Integrated Apps for Better Team Collaboration

Until a few years ago, email threads with multiple people and seemingly endless back and forth conversation were the norm in remote collaboration. We can all agree that while email certainly has a solid place in the world of business communications, it doesn’t effectively facilitate team collaboration. Take that a step further and think about the Word documents with endless versions for revisions or the painstaking process of saving files in various formats to accommodate for employees using older versions of a particular application. Apps like Google Drive, Box and Dropbox allow teams to collectively share files and collaborate on documents in real-time. Chat, IM&P and calendar sharing tools are also integrated into UC solutions, giving team members the ability to quickly engage with other members based on availability.

The future for unified communications and its effect on the remote workforce is guaranteed to bring about even more technological innovation and integration. As the cost of the technologies become more manageable across the board, it stands to reason that we will see a dramatic uptick in businesses of all sizes shifting from antiquated, disparate systems to a more unified way of working – even with teams scattered across the globe.

3 Virtualization Options That Can Strengthen Security

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock PhotosVirtualization has been around for a long time, and many have enjoyed its proven business benefits. With virtualization, businesses can increase energy efficiency, reduce power and operating costs, boost productivity, respond more quickly in a disaster, and much more. 

However, there are some businesses yet to embrace this “new” technology for fear of encountering unknown security risks. This is a common misconception. While virtualization cannot prevent all attacks, it can actually strengthen security when proper solutions are put in place. 

Here are three virtualization options businesses should consider and how each can minimize risk and enhance security. 

1. Server Virtualization

Server virtualization creates several virtual servers from a physical server and utilizes specialized software to maximize resources. 

When it comes to security, virtualized servers place data in a centralized location, which makes activity easier to manage and monitor. This also means suspicious activity or compromised applications are simpler to spot and correct.  

In the event of malware, virtualized servers also have the ability to separate applications that have been impacted from other applications, helping to better stop the virus in its tracks. Finally, virtualized servers offer the opportunity to build a highly efficient intrusion detection system, which can strengthen the security of the overall network. 

2. Network Virtualization

Like server virtualization, network virtualization creates and decouples multiple virtual networks from the foundational network hardware. For businesses transitioning to an overall virtual environment, virtual networks are able to better communicate with and support related systems. 

Known for its flexibility, network virtualization can create a more secure mobile environment. With the move to a more mobile workforce, virtualization offers team members an efficient and secure way to connect to company resources. It also allows administrators to centrally manage and monitor activity and provide secure access to those on the go. 

In addition, the actual foundation of a virtual network can enhance security. The network is made up of multiple tiers, and each tier can be protected by firewalls. This effectively cushions the network in three layers of protection. 

3. Desktop Virtualization 

Desktop virtualization uses a hypervisor, or specialized software, to deploy and manage virtual machines. 

Used in tandem with a server, company administrators are able to perform security updates, software upgrades, and more in a centralized place. Human error is greatly decreased, which also helps protect the network and systems. In addition, there is the opportunity to customize security settings to help meet changing and unique company needs. 

3 Ways to Reduce Virtualization Risk

There are risk factors when integrating any new technology. Here are a few virtualization best practices to help prevent potential issues. 

  • Use Authority. Strict access policies can reduce the number of users with permission to critical applications and can further protect a network. 
  • Unplug. Unused or obsolete virtual systems can pose a risk and should be removed from the network. 
  • Update. It’s important to remember that although servers, networks, and desktops may be virtual, they still require regular maintenance and updates to work properly. 

Overall, security should not be a barrier for adoption. There are far too many benefits that businesses can realize with virtualization, and when used properly, a stronger and more secure network and systems can be one such advantage.