Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe …

For those who don’t know Simon Sinek, he is a business visionary and Management Theorist.  Whilst this video was posted up on Ted back in March 2014, it has a timeless message.  Best part for me is about 10 minutes in, and I quote:

Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank. I know many people at the senior most levels of organizations who are absolutely not leaders. They are authorities, and we do what they say because they have authority over us, but we would not follow them. And I know many people who are at the bottoms of organizations who have no authority and they are absolutely leaders, and this is because they have chosen to look after the person to the left of them, and they have chosen to look after the person to the right of them. This is what a leader is.”

Here is the video.  Enjoy!

Asad Malik, @asadmaliksimba

Technology Getting Considered In The UK Government (Pre-Election) Budget

In case you missed it, there is an election going on in the UK 🙂  While the British Government has delivered a pre-election budget, I wasn’t interested in the alcohol duty (don’t drink such beverages) and glad to see the fuel duty is frozen.  But it was the reference to technology that peaked my interest this time around.

The UK is home to some of the greatest minds delivering awesome innovations over several years. While it is often viewed as one of the best places to innovate it is also home to suffering average UK broadband speeds of 17.8Mb/s (Ofcom, Nov. 2014).

But that looks like it is set to change.  With this budget there are intentions to ensure all homes and businesses have a minimum of 100MB/s, as described in their ‘national ambition‘ statement with both Virgin Media and BT backing that up by committing to bringing speeds up to 500MB/s to most of the UK over the remainder of this decade.  But we’ve heard this before.  Intending to get 90% of homes with ‘superfast broadband‘ (defined by the government as 24MBps or more) was promised last year.  But being the eternal optimist, there shouldn’t be anything preventing this from being delivered this year, right?

Another notable item being included was to clear the spectrum frequencies at 700MHz . What does this mean for us?  This should deliver better mobile networks, in turn offering better quality broadcast TV for mobile services for us to consume.  And with Apple making a play for delivering such media services over the wire (rumored to be in talks with Fox, CBS and Discovery networks), the investment of near £600m to free up this spectrum will help grow this particular vertical.

This is all great news, but what’s fascinating for me is the inclusion of the ‘Internet of Things‘ being mentioned in the budget.  Is this just lip service or a genuine intention to ensure the UK ‘keeps up with the Joneses’? Time will tell.  All in all, it’s a step in the right direction and if the Wearables 2015 show I recently attended demonstrated anything, this is a growth area that the UK needs to lead where possible to maintain it’s reputation as a country of innovation.

Asad Malik, @asadmaliksimba

Windows 10 – Enterprise Cloud-ready?

In the past, Microsoft’s attempts at delivering a user experience similar to Apple and Google have been fairly touch and go. After introducing Cortana for Windows Mobile (in line with Apple’s Siri and Google Now) as well as the Metro user interface, Microsoft was criticised for being late to the user experience party and not delivering.

However, user experience is but one piece of any new operating system, and with Windows 10 slated to be a unique ‘mobile-first, cloud-first world,’ there is a genuine feeling of promise with Microsoft’s latest release. Whereas Windows 8.1 has been merely patched up to survive in today’s ultra-fast changing OS landscape, Windows 10 appears to fully embrace the world of mobile computing and cloud computing from the ground up.

Clearly, we can acknowledge the influence of Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, on Windows 10. Before the release of Windows 8.1, Microsoft surveyed the market and then decided what needed to be developed, but on this occasion, Microsoft has invited the community to influence the eventual release of Windows 10 by deploying a technical beta version of the code. To date, over 1 million users are evaluating Windows 10, with Microsoft receiving 200,000 distinct pieces of feedback already. This is a clear indication from Microsoft that they are looking to get back in the game with old adversaries (Linux vendors), as well as new competitors (Amazon, Google, and Apple). With Windows 10 due for release in late 2015, the enterprise community has a unique opportunity to positively influence this ecosystem.

But despite inviting its users to help build a better product, a focus around business benefits seems to be amiss. In the age of cloud computing, businesses and their customers are looking for an experience that allows the accessibility of the cloud alongside cast-iron security. Given this, Microsoft has a tall order to fulfill; Google and Apple have both implemented several recent features to be cloud-compatible and more user-friendly.

While much can be debated around Windows 10’s core elements such as security, ease of support, and manageability, Microsoft simply needs to ensure that they deliver a robust platform that can overcome previous shortcomings. This is what customers will respond to.

There is no room for error with this release (an impossible feat for software development). This day and age requires immediate fulfillment and zero tolerance for product delays. While the public may once have more readily accepted earlier OSs, the onus is now on Microsoft to ensure its platform is flexible, high performing, scalable, and secure if they are to compete and lead the way for computing platforms in the future. Since it is assumed that Microsoft will deliver consumer-grade experiences with next-to-zero failure rates across the platform, Microsoft will need to meet and exceed the high bar set by their competition in order to be seen as an innovator and leader in software development.

All too often, advances in technology can be a distraction, but for the market in 2015, what will Windows 10 really mean? Is it practical, is it productive, and is it a perfect strategy? Time will tell, but for now, Microsoft seems to be making a concerted effort to reach out to its users on how to improve upon Windows 8.1. Perhaps it will be this key strategy that will help Microsoft to avoid falling further behind the other ecosystems in the enterprise space.

Reassessing the ‘Fit-For-Purpose’ Cloud

The term cloud computing holds many different definitions depending on who you ask. And with cloud computing-related issues hitting the news every other week, there has never been a better time to revisit what cloud computing can offer, the important aspects of cloud computing that need to be considered and how to make it work for you, not against you.

How would you like that workload delivered?

It all starts with understanding the use case, associating the workload to the right type of cloud resource and implementing the right service that is fit-for-purpose for your business.  And while each type of cloud (public, private and hybrid) have use cases that are a natural fit, it’s the blend of dedicated and shared resources that are garnering the most interest, i.e. hybrid cloud computing.  So, which use cases are suited for a hybrid cloud?  They include (but are not limited to):

  • Web/E-Commerce, e.g. retail sites needing compliance with easy, quick scalability for sales & marketing campaigns/promotions
  • Data Protection, e.g. utilising a cloud resource in a secondary DC for Disaster Recovery purposes
  • Development and Testing of Applications, empowering developers with the freedom to utilise dynamic, flexible compute/storage resources
  • Standard (Office) Applications, i.e. offloading business functions such as email (Exchange) and collaboration (SharePoint), releasing on-premise resources for more important and/or strategic projects
  • Outsourcing Data Centre Resources, providing immediately available, on-demand resources, that can be turned off when not required

At MTI, many of our clients are planning a transition to adopt or at least better utilise cloud services and want advice as to which is the right type of cloud service for their specific use case/s.  Some of the most common challenges are to ensure the proposed service is in line with overall business objectives and IT strategy, to eliminate security concerns and to deliver a tangible service improvement and/or return on investment (ROI). Whether the recommendation is to utilise MTI’s Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), to help deliver a hybrid solution, or broker a partnership for other services, it is our role as a trusted service provider and partner, to help our clients build the appropriate business case, to support proposed investment and transition and to make the process as clear, simple and risk-free as possible.

All for one and one for all?

Let’s cut to the chase.  While cloud computing can benefit all organisations, not all applications or workloads readily fit into the cloud computing models, illustrated above.  And then there are the different types and merits of cloud services on offer (public, private, hybrid) that need to be considered too.  However, don’t feel that you’re late to the cloud game.

In my opinion, 2011 was the year when cloud computing was really introduced. Many believed it was nothing more than a spin by marketing to create a new industry buzz word.  However, the demand for scalable, flexible compute and storage resources was always there.

In 2012, many vendors started to understand this new form of providing compute/storage resource and jumped on the bandwagon, some faster than others, via proof-of-concept (PoC) projects. Businesses were learning about the concepts of cloud computing and understanding the importance of having a secure cloud service, which could improve business processes and reduce costs.

2013 was the year of the ‘cloud savvy’; where businesses became more comfortable where and how cloud computing could fit into their IT strategy. Based on proof of concept (PoC) projects, organisations started to implement both test/development and production clouds to realise benefits such as better control of costs and removing infrastructure distractions, in order to focus on more valuable and strategic areas of IT in line with business goals.

However, fast forward to 2014…With year-on-year challenges to meet aggressive revenue targets, to manage the continued growth in shadow IT, and to keep control of increasing costs associated with business-as-usual activities, the need for cloud computing is almost a given to survive in today’s global economy.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is a business enabler, not just a cloud…

As obvious as this may sound, it’s absolutely imperative that businesses ensure the integrity of their intellectual property, stored in a cloud service, to protect the brand and reputation of their company. Selecting the right cloud service/s, such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), can help with consistent and increased delivery of revenue/market growth streams.  To do this, it’s important to understand the characteristics of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS):

Resource Pooling Clients may use IaaS to change their model from machine-based resources to highly elastic resource pools, shared across applications and users.  This enables automated on-demand resource allocation in the most efficient and flexible manner.
Zero-Touch Infrastructure Policy-driven management automates routine operational tasks, minimising operational expense and overheads.
Platform Control A robust platform built for high availability with the ability to optimise resource allocations, ensuring defined service levels are met.  Inherent disaster recovery mechanisms ensure business continuity.  Self-optimising security model encompasses dynamic infrastructure ensuring application performance is not affected.
Cloud Interoperability Application mobility between clouds within a common management framework, based on open standards, extended to a large ecosystem of public cloud providers.
Utilisation of Existing Assets Ability to bring existing applications and all of IT into an appropriate cloud computing model, through a staged, evolutionary approach, often starting with an organisations’ on-premise IT infrastructure

Once clients have decided to adopt Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), businesses need to consider how the cloud service will impact the organisation. That’s where MTI comes into play. Our role is more than just provisioning on-demand compute and storage resources.  It is much more about enabling and underpinning other services to increase productivity, improve business processes and reduce costs, providing 24/7 support and consultancy. It’s also important to agree a roadmap of the different cloud services available and how each could positively impact the business and be beneficial in the long term.  Here are my top tips for businesses adopting cloud:

  1. Improve user experience

The cloud service must be so good that employees want to use it on their personal device, and so easy to use that they would also adopt this service for personal use, if available for that purpose.  This starts to help manage the continuing challenge of shadow IT.

  1. Provide security assurance

With more and more intellectual property stored/processed in the cloud, businesses need to be aware of the broad and varied selection of security tools on offer to protect their business.  Such tools range from die-hards like anti-virus and firewalls, but intrusion prevention systems, web reputation services and vulnerability shielding are all becoming popular in the fight to protect the cloud.  At MTI, we take it further and help by offering options to respond to attacks like ransomware, such as Cryptolocker (check my earlier blog on this).  Ransomware encrypts all files in the cloud and then demands a ransom (normally money) to unlock them.

  1. Deliver new value-added services

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides organisations with the ability to scale up and down to meet demands, increase agility and flexibility. IaaS can help to improve business continuity, collaboration in the workplace and managing/sharing large files.  However, it’s important to note that cloud computing is a new paradigm with regards application development, so be prepared to assess your existing IT enterprise and architecture and create a cloud-ready application landscape.

  1. Know what your workforce needs

Businesses looking to migrate to IaaS need to plan from a technical, operational, commercial and, most importantly, cultural perspective. Culture is important, as the initial motivation for adopting IaaS to drive new value-added services, as employees must want a service that works for them, is flexible to meet their needs, delivers increased productivity and helps them manage their workload.

  1. Get supported

Everyman and his dog is able to deliver an IaaS platform, but organisations need a platform which will enable them to deliver new value-added services, to remain robust and high performing.  Any vendor/service provider worth its salt, that is providing IaaS, will also have a managed services division providing 24/7 support. There should also be clearly defined service level agreements (SLAs), backed by service credits, with flexible options to meet specific requirements and service level objectives (SLOs), based upon an industry-recognised framework such as ITIL.

Hopefully I’ve offered some insights and food for thought on important aspects for consideration, when procuring and utilising cloud services. Organisations need to be aware of the different types of services on offer, potential impacts and which will best suit their business and culture. The adoption of a cloud service should not be a daunting task for organisations.  It should underpin business growth, the ability to deliver new services to market in reduced timeframes, provide simplified business processes, ease of use that encourages collaboration in the workplace and reduced cost, in turn, accelerating more profitable returns.

How notifications can change everything…

How would you like to be able to foretell the future? What would you do? For those of you who have seen Back to the Future 2, you might, like Biff, decide to use a copy of the Sports Almanac to make ‘informed decisions’ in order to secure yourself the best chance of making more money… Right?

Well, before you start thinking I’m about to offer you a magical document like the Almanac (don’t have one, sadly), or read today’s horoscope (don’t believe in it), or share weird and wonderful stories from fortune tellers (know anyone who has visited one?!), I’d like to share my thoughts on the next best thing… Remote Infrastructure Management (RIM).

“How’s that going to help me make more money?”, I hear you cry. Read on and I will explain…

When one considers the initial and on-going investment made in IT infrastructure, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that continual monitoring and maintenance of physical, virtual and digital IT assets are important. Whether it’s to help find performance gaps, or proactively identify potential issues to avoid service downtime, organisations are looking more and more towards managed services to help simplify and improve their IT infrastructure management.

With this in mind, it’s perhaps no surprise to find that Remote Infrastructure Management (RIM) has increased in popularity over recent years.  Put simply, this service allows an organisation to offload routine-but-essential, or even mission-critical, tasks, to providers who focus on the monitoring and management of IT environments. In doing so, Remote Infrastructure Management (RIM) leaves a business free to re-focus internal IT teams on more valuable and strategic activities, such as rapid application delivery to market to secure competitive advantage, to support growth and increase market share or shareholder value.

So, what other benefits can be realised? First and foremost, up to a 30% reduction in on-going operational cost. Coupled with less initial investment required, this means that the potential overall cost savings can be significant. An additional benefit is access to a team of highly accredited and experienced technical experts, who utilise best-in-class toolsets that some businesses may not readily have access to. Trained professionals plus leading, enterprise-class tools deliver a real sense of reassurance and peace of mind that most IT managers yearn for.

However, the real power of Remote Infrastructure Management (RIM) lies in the notifications. The IT infrastructure is proactively and remotely monitored by a team who intimately understand the corporate environment. Through the generation of notifications, these highly skilled teams help an organisation detect potential impending issues and take action at the earliest possible opportunity – before minor issues turn into full-blown problems. Whether data resides in one data centre or several located worldwide, these notifications provide an organisation with a clear view of their IT infrastructure and enable them to identify areas for improvement. Critically, this service significantly lowers the risk of IT failures and service outages.

When it comes to Remote Infrastructure Management (RIM), setting the correct thresholds is key. Not only do the thresholds need to correctly relate to the platform being monitored, from a technical perspective, interpreting thresholds correctly is just as important.  For example, for servers, one would monitor the number of cores, the clock rate, the number of threads, the number of memory channels available, the respective maximum memory bandwidth that needs to be monitored, and so on… IT departments then need to interpret that data and determine what, if any, impact there is to the business. Things can, very quickly, become very complex.

Such complexities often distract members of the IT department from their primary roles and responsibilities. Often, too much time is spent troubleshooting issues when, for example, IT departments could – and should – be evaluating new applications and technologies to help support company growth objectives.  By reaching out to a provider of Remote Infrastructure Management (RIM), a business can sleep tight in the knowledge that its infrastructure is being proactively monitored. Moreover, the CIO can be confident that precious data is safe in the hands of experts, who will provide recommendations as to how IT infrastructure, platforms, applications and the wider environment can be further optimised.

Regardless of the situation, notifications are important. Whether it’s an email from a loved one asking you to pick up some groceries on the way home, or a car warning light indicating that you only have x miles left before you run out of fuel. Notifications let you know you need to take action. They draw your attention to potential issues and, just like the Sports Almanac, let you know where you should be focusing your efforts for maximum return. Translate that into the peace of mind derived from knowing that significant IT investments made are protected, knowing that valuable data is being proactively monitored and managed, knowing that a team of experts are anticipating issues and addressing them according to pre-agreed thresholds and ITIL processes… now that’s the sort of peace of mind that I’d like, wouldn’t you?

Welcome to 2014! Start the year as you intend to go on, take advantage of the expertise, experience and excellence waiting to help you make the 12 months ahead more successful than ever before…

Find out more about MTI’s solutions and services at mti.com, email ukinfo@mti.com or speak to a trusted advisor on +44 (0)1483 520 200

Asad Malik
Product Manager, MTI Technology

And you think Data Recovery isn’t important?!

Cryptolocker. A fiendishly evil, but highly effective, malicious IT attack; once it infiltrates your IT system, it is set to stay and let nothing and no one else in. More and more articles are being written about how this Trojan, using encryption, locks up your data. Cyber criminals then demand money for your data to be unlocked, but more worryingly, it’s the ease with which it attacks the IT infrastructure in the first instance that causes the most concern.
By hiding within perceived innocent files such as Excel spreadsheets or documents, robust firewall protection and traditional security measures are not enough. Malicious IT attacks of this nature are driving more and more businesses to invest in more secure IT systems, such as penetration testing, or to look for real, proven alternatives to recover from such breaches.

On this particular occasion, the most reliable solution for a Cryptolocker attack, is to carry out a data restore. However, the subject of data recovery isn’t just about the ability to restore business critical information from malicious attacks such as; viruses corrupting data, phishing attacks stealing data, or in this case, Trojans that make all business data inaccessible.

Data Recovery is rapidly becoming a higher priority on the CIO Agenda, to mitigate risk and to ensure that in the event of an unplanned event (a disaster or human error), the business will not lose data nor access to data. For IT operations and support, planned events (such as maintenance and upgrades) require a backup plan, in case there is a need to ‘rollback’ should the upgrade or support fix not resolve the issue, or worse still, cause more serious outages. Then there is the need to meet compliance requirements – with more and more businesses under more complex and stringent regulatory pressures, forced to retain data for months, years or tens of years, the need for efficient, cost effective file and messaging archives has become a necessity.
So, the next time you are planning IT budgets, it is worth remembering to reach out to a trusted advisor, such as MTI, who can consult and provide you with options on how to create clean, secure, efficient, backup, restore and archive processes your business can rely upon. Whether it’s an on-premise solution or in the cloud (with offerings such as MTI BaaS / MTI SAFE), data recovery has increased as a business priority. A backup, restore and archive process is no longer considered a mundane, daily task, it has become a business-essential activity. The question you need to ask is can you afford not to protect your intellectual property, your revenue streams and ultimately your customers’ satisfaction?