Geek Speak

5 Posts authored by: mcarlton4

Over the past few years, we have seen an ever-changing landscape when it comes to technology. When I first started in IT, my company decided on IBM for everything. Servers, storage, and even the backup tools were delivered by them. But today’s solutions are being built to suit the customer’s specific needs and no vendor can really supply a one-stop shop. That’s why we need collaboration and partnerships between vendors!

 

The one-stop shop solutions are really a thing of the past. Working with different customers over the past year, it has become apparent that everyone is looking to achieve an outcome or business need. One thing they don’t really focus on is the technology, so long as the solution delivers. Now, I say this with a smile because for every conversation I have like this, there is always an IT manager in the background thinking, "How am I going to manage this? How am I going to deliver a solution that meets the skills I have in my team?" I know that when I was an IT manager, this would be on my mind.

 

For all levels within businesses, I believe there are three main questions you should always answer:

 

Why is it important to collaborate?

 

Every vendor today is trying to work with another vendor to create partnerships that enhance their products and solution offerings. This is important and I believe it is the right direction for vendors to go. This approach means solutions are designed and put forward to meet the customer’s end goal rather than always trying to meet the budget.

 

How does collaborating provide value to my business?

 

Partnerships and collaboration within the IT industry are important to helping your business grow and develop to compete within their market sectors. In my years of working with vendors, I have found that the relationships are starting to change. You look on them more as strategic partners who help ensure the solutions you deploy are of the best tools and applications to meet your service requirements.

 

What are the challenges I could face with collaboration?

 

In my view, the benefits really do outweigh the challenges. With the deployment of a multi-vendor environment, managing these solutions becomes more complex. From hybrid cloud monitoring to integrated backup tools, it would all be easier if you had one tool to monitor them. Another challenge you may run into is training. Bringing in new technologies might mean multiple management consoles and skill up. Again, this starts to move towards the requirement for a centralised monitoring tool.

I don’t know how many times in the past 15 years I have heard people say, “My computers running slow! I need an upgrade.” Everyone, even your colleagues in the IT department, is quick to blame something (or someone) other than themselves rather than try to understand the issue.

 

Let's start by looking at how responsiveness and efficiency are portrayed within a business. In most businesses, including the ones I have worked at, end-users often think IT is magic. They just expect it to work. No one thinks about the data they store and how much they have! Very rarely do they consider the complexity of what's happening “behind the scenes” and how much actually goes in to keeping things ticking.

 

Now, performance issues can show up in many different scenarios. They could be network latency issues, they could be storage performance issues, but to the end-user, it’s just “running slow.” They can’t tell you what’s wrong, and in some cases, neither can the IT team. In many circumstances, I have stood in the middle of the room with the storage team blaming the network team and vice versa, when in fact, the issue was with the end-user’s device. Wouldn’t it be great if you could quickly diagnose issues without having to point fingers? If you could have a centralised team with a monitoring tool that could monitor the network, storage, virtualisation, and end-user devices? I may be speaking out of line for some businesses, but I believe that this is common sense and should be the focus and drive for all companies.

 

That covers responsiveness, but how do you keep track of your data storage and sprawl? A lot of businesses think of efficiency as saving space, but it’s so much more! With the technology landscape constantly changing and deployments now being built across disparate platforms, from private to public cloud, it’s hard to keep control of your data. I discuss data usage with a lot of customers, but I never really ask the question, “How much do you have?” Data has become an asset within a business. The questions you should be asking are: “What type of data do you have? How do you use your data? How do you access your data?”

 

As you can see, these are all questions that will drive an open conversation and potentially help businesses understand the possibilities. These questions also start to highlight what businesses need to think about when it comes efficiency. “Is my data available? Is my data on the right platform to meet my needs? How much is my data costing me?" And, of course, "How much space am I saving?” If you can answer these questions, they will deliver real value into the business, and begin to help a company realise the benefits of a clear management strategy.

 

I mentioned earlier that responsiveness and efficiency can be portrayed in different ways depending on each company's (or team’s) objectives. Managing these environments helps provide a clear picture to the whole business. In my experience, executives don’t always want to see speeds and feeds—they want to clearly understand the costs and the value the IT infrastructure is delivering. Meanwhile, IT administrators want to be able to identify issues quickly and maintain an efficiently running system. This is why I believe delivering a management solution that can meet both goals is key to a successful IT strategy.

Over the past 12 months, I've heard the word “compliance” thrown around quite a bit. Only now does compliance depend on what department or industry you are in. From ISO to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), compliance is now at the forefront of the requirements. More importantly, compliance is now being recognized by the boards, highlighted in many cases by the consequences (being fined) for not maintaining compliance. 

 

One thing to remember is that it’s not always an IT problem. I don’t know how many times I have walked into a meeting and been asked by a customer what they need to buy. Take GDPR, for example. Out of 107 actions, only eight can be fixed by a purchasable IT solution. The rest is policy-driven, and this is where it gets complicated. To stay compliant, you need to make sure you have a management suite that can monitor the policies you have in place.

 

For this article, I am going to focus on one of the hot topics of conversation when it comes to compliance. The new European GDPR regulations. For many, this is a word that either causes confusion or panic. Please don’t panic! Don’t burrow your head in the sand. Talk to the experts! I may not be an expert when it comes to compliance, but over the last twelve months, I have learned a lot from listening and talking to partners and customers about their experiences. One of the big points I hear about over and over again concerns your foundations. Where does your business stand today in line with the new regulation? You must make sure you can clearly define or find the information you need to start. From hardware inventory, current security vulnerabilities, firewall policy and more important classification of your data. It is fine to have all these tools to monitor and protect against security threats and data breaches. However, if you don’t understand your data and how you use it you will struggle to understand and meet the GDPR requirements.

 

So, let’s take it back a step for anyone reading about GDPR for the first time.

 

The EU GDPR goes into effect May 25, 2018. It applies to all organizations processing the personal data of EU residents. The regulation will introduce a new way for organizations handle data protection and it will be enforced fairly. The penalties for non-compliance of GDPR can be up to 20 million euros or four percent of company’s annual turnover. In addition, data subjects get a right to claim for compensation against an organization under GDPR.

 

It is important to remember that a data breach isn’t necessarily black and white. You could have all the security and encryption layers you want, but you may still be breached from either an external intrusion or an internal intrusion. What has become clear to me is that you need to have a clear audit trail of data throughout the business, from tracking user activity to change control activities and everything in between. The reason this is important is that part of the GDPR regulation requires that you declare to the ICO or equivalent any data breaches within 72 hours. Having an audit trail that proves that you have adhered to all policies and procedures may help reduce any penalties imposed on your company.

 

Let’s stop and think about the IT elements for a moment. It’s all well and good that you can provide the audit trail once you have been breached, but what elements do you need to think about when you’re trying to prevent a breach? It’s not as simple as just encrypting everything. You should make sure you keep your internal system up to date with the latest patch, so make sure you have a good patch manager in place to monitor servers, end-user devices, etc. One of the other elements you need to keep an eye on is your firewall management. Make sure that this correctly patched, and, more importantly, that all policies are adhered to and implemented.

 

As I said at the beginning, I am not an expert on compliance, but these are thoughts and things I have picked up on over the past year. So, here's my call to action for anyone reading this: Make sure you understand your data, and remember that the hard part isn’t becoming compliant; it’s the challenge of staying there.

You've probably heard about the importance of business continuity and disaster recovery. Today, more businesses have business continuity plans than ever before. With so many businesses looking to secure their future, there are still a few aspects of business continuity that today’s business need to understand. After all, there is more to it than just data backup. Disaster recovery is something that needs to be planned, practiced, and updated regularly, and it’s important to have a management system that helps you predict, monitor, and execute your business continuity plan.

Over the last few years, business continuity has changed how it is perceived within a business. In a previous position, the company I worked for had multiple physical data centers with hardware at both sites with a full failover from one site to the next. But today’s ever-changing, always-on data requirements bring new complications to the business continuity plan. Today, infrastructure and applications can be hosted across multiple platforms, from on-premises to the public cloud. With these disparate environments and multiple management tools, it is key to know what is going on within your business.   

So, let’s look at how some of the software packages in the market can help your business monitor your infrastructure and provide critical insights into your data.

Availability Monitoring

Experience has taught me that a lot of outages can be tracked to network issues. In the majority of cases, these outages could have been avoided. Availability monitoring software provides you a way to help identify and proactively troubleshoot network issues early. I have often blamed the network team for issues with my data center, putting pressure on them to work out what’s wrong, when the issue ended up being related to disk access or performance. With an availability monitoring solution, you can provide a quick response to your teams, helping you troubleshoot the issue before the business or end-user is affected. Availability monitoring tools can work in a standalone fashion to provide quick response for small organizations or for companies looking to provide information about a specific project. A larger organization may want to integrate availability monitoring into a more comprehensive platform.

Interface Monitoring

Sometimes you have to delve deeper into the environment when no real issues show on the network, but you can begin to see actual issues with each individual interface. Take a service provider, for instance. They have large distributed and shared networks with multiple VLANs and dedicated ports for each customer. Not to mention the different types of interfaces: 1Gb, 10Gb, Ethernet, all the way through to high-speed fiber. Now, I'm no expert when it comes to networks, so I would need help to start to decipher the issues. Using SNMP to collect the interface stats within the environment, and ICMP packet reports to collect data (such as packet loss, round-trip times, etc.), helps the network administrator identify application performance issues in the network quickly.

Virtualization Manager 

This is the tool that I find really cool. When I was an IT Manager, every day was a challenge, especially when we started introducing larger applications. But this was eight years ago, long before I knew about the category of virtualization management. Back then, if I had a piece of software that could proactively recommend what I needed to do with my VMs, I would have slept a lot easier. I will more time going over the benefits of virtualization management software in the future because it is a large and very detailed category, but today I want to highlight the features that I think can help your business continuity plan, including Predictive Recommendations and Active Virtualization Alerts.

Predictive Recommendations proactively monitors and calculates active and historical data to help you prevent and fix performance issues. You can review each recommendation and choose to act now or schedule for later time and date. This gives you choice and control over your environment. You can also use VMAN to help prevent future issues, by implementing resource settings and plans that can actioned if any performance thresholds are breeched. Now, what's key for me is not only the value that’s provided by saving time and resources but also the uptime that can be achieved by making sure the VMs are in the right place.

In my next article, we will look at providing insight into your infrastructure to meet the compliancy challenges we are seeing today.

Over the next few weeks, I will be releasing a series of articles covering the value of data analytics and insight, focusing on five of the key business drivers that I have seen within the industry. With the IT landscape constantly changing, let’s look at what is driving businesses further down the path toward data analytics. More importantly, we will also at the drive to understand what is happening within current infrastructures and how this knowledge can deliver value.

 

Business Continuity

 

In an ideal world, your organization would run effortlessly to provide both your business and your customers with data and resources at all times. In reality, no matter how successful, no business is without its challenges, and it often has to mitigate and eventually overcome these challenges to make sure the business can achieve its outcomes. One of the ways that organizations can prepare for disruptive events is through Business Continuity Management (BCM). For some businesses, this means deploying BCM software and creating business procedures to continue operating when the unexpected occurs.

 

When I am talking to businesses about Business Continuity, it is important to highlight at an early stage what the business needs to keep running and what it is that they want to monitor. Deploying the right BCM software will help businesses identify, manage, and prevent issues before they occur. This has the added benefit of possibly reducing the need to activate disaster recovery or business continuity plans.

 

Compliance

 

Compliance has become a huge topic of conversation over the past year. The issue was prompted mainly by the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect on the 25th of May 2018. I have spent the last year working with customers to help them understand the impact of GDPR, and the importance of making sure their businesses stay compliant. Now, I am no expert when it comes to its legalities, but what I have found is that becoming GDPR-compliant is not the major challenge. Instead, I have discovered that businesses are more concerned about staying compliant. It is important to have a monitoring tool that can help you maintain compliance from Security and Access control through to patch management and device tracking. These aren’t all tied to GDPR, but each one, working in collaboration, will help your business stay compliant.

 

Responsiveness

 

This challenge has been brought to my attention in many different ways. For me, responsiveness can mean anything having to do with networks, data access, hyperscaling, and even cloudbursting as the business needs. With the ever-changing user requirements, for applications, or the business as a whole, monitoring is crucial. Businesses want tools that can give them proactive information that will help them make the kind of decisions that guide them toward becoming competitive within the market.

 

Collaboration

 

As mentioned above, it is becoming more important to manage large infrastructures from one central management platform. As technologies move forward, there is no longer a one-stop shop for all your business requirements. Infrastructures and applications are brought in to supply the businesses needs from a plethora of vendors. It is important for businesses to stay agile to best meet the trends of the market. Therefore, they must use the best possible tools to help them achieve and keep that competitive edge.

 

Efficiency

 

It's common practice for businesses to run their infrastructures efficiently. As we all know, though, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. With multiple disparate environments all having their own operating system and management tools, it’s very hard to keep a track of it all. Increasingly, I find myself talking to customers about centralized management and efficiency. I believe Solarwinds Orion Platform helps businesses manage those very specific challenges.

 

Over the next four weeks, I am going to delve into each of these subjects individually in a lot more detail. I will also reveal how SolarWinds can help businesses deliver value using insightful data analytics.

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