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Thailand Expressway at duskFashion designers and pop-culture mavens live by trendspotting; they pick up on what people are talking about, and distill it into styles and stories they care about.

Network administrators also live by trendspotting, but none outside of the office; rather, those trends you need to watch on the virtual streets of your network for shifts in activity that reflect (and drive) server performance. These trends tell you how efficiently your servers and network are handling their traffic. They are your key indicators of an incipient traffic or performance problem before a gridlock sets in and grinds your network to a halt.

Trends Aren’t Obvious

The tricky thing about network behavior is that it’s usually not obvious; approaches to server monitoring need to be more granular than that. Even the most powerful solutions detect events and report them to you in the form of alerts. We may soon have AI capable of looking through these events for insights into underlying patterns, but right now that depth of reasoning (probably) can’t be automated. So, until robotics become truly robust, and take over the world, IT trendspotting depends on your intuition.

Don’t Let Clean Benchmarks Fool You

As Ethan Banks notes, nearly three quarters of network performance stats are misleading. Marketing may be to blame for this, but published performance stats are necessarily based on benchmarking test environments.

By their very nature, these published metrics are “clean” — not like the messy environment that shapes actual server performance. TechTarget‘s advice? Do your own benchmarking. The goals your team sets will reflect your network’s bandwidth needs better than any factory-set benchmarking can.

Small Spikes Now = Severe Latency Later

What are some trends you need to identify? The most fundamental trend is, not surprisingly, the volume and character of your traffic. Chances are your traffic is growing — more files, both bigger and in more varied formats. Sooner or later it’ll swamp your servers and you’ll need to expand or upgrade.

But traffic trends aren’t just long term. A business customer might change workflow in a way that imposes new traffic spikes on your servers, pushing them that much closer to saturation and gridlock. These spikes first reveal themselves, indirectly, as slight increases in network latency. No big deal in and of themselves, but the time to take action (from adding server capacity to discussing traffic needs with the client) is before that latency becomes severe.

Security and Hardware Failure

Security also drives environmental trends that can pull at your network. End-to-end encryption, for instance, adds a load to the network. And again, the first effect of this weight isn’t an obvious string of monitor alerts so much as it is subtle tendencies that reflect new traffic demands. Similarly, an attack attempt may not be obvious, instead revealing itself only by its indirect influence on alert patterns.

Another set of trends to watch for is in hardware failure. A downed router won’t directly trigger server monitor alerts — in fact, the servers themselves are working fine — but it will affect your traffic capacity. And the sooner you spot the anomaly, the sooner your hardware team can fix it.

There is no clear-cut way trends like these reveal themselves. Small latency spikes can be considered, sure, but these are always happening within the typical noise of data usage. That’s where the art of trendspotting comes in. Although the right tools make the job a lot easier, no one knows your network better than you do.

Whereas negative conflict feeds power struggles and individual preference, healthy conflict improves IT communication and builds trust and respect across the department. You can’t make all conflict disappear, but you can learn to use disagreements to make the helpdesk better.

1. ‘No, This Is Our Top Priority’

Between development, network, systems, security and support, IT’s sub-departments always put you in cross-purposes. DevOps wants the flexibility to write and collaborate from anywhere, while security officers want a locked-down dev environment that often restricts this freedom.

What to do: Your priority depends on the situation, and you can’t draw permanent lines in the sand. A workplace social network, whether via a company wiki or from an app like Kona, keeps IT communication fluid, enabling real-time communication about priority changes and project status updates. An added benefit of an internal social network is that it allows for streamlined communication for remote members of your IT team as well.

2.You’re Not the Boss of Me’

As observed by Dr. Jim Anderson, founding blogger of “The Accidental Successful CIO” and VP of product management at GSL Solutions, many IT department conflicts revolve around who gets to tell whom what to do. “The first signs of a problem showed up when I started to be copied on a series of emails exchanged between these two,” he says, describing a turf battle between two of his employees. “The fact that I had been CCed should have been my first clue that all was not good.”

What to do: Keep an eye out for passive-aggressive messaging, like pointed emails or verbal barbs that indicate employees are getting territorial. Catch conflicts early, sit down with feuding team members and clarify who owns which tasks and processes.

3. ‘I Don’t Want to Be on the Slow Team’

Teams of sysadmins operate on two speeds, especially when it comes to software development. The “fast” team, made up of rock stars, is in charge of fast product delivery and experimentation, while the “slow” team monitors bandwidth and other daily maintenance goals.

As CEB’s U.S. IT managing director Jaime Capella points out, no one wants to be on the slow team. “You create the fast team, give it a cool name [and] put it in new offices,” he explained in a masterclass. “They are glamorous [in that] they get a lot of accolades from senior management. And then we hit the valley of despair.”

What to do: Instead of two-speed IT, facilitate an adaptive approach by which the whole organization comes together around high-priority tasks like infosec. If you do use two-speed teams, suggest rotating personnel so each employee has a stake in both. Although dualism is convenient and simple to understand (especially for those outside of IT), every IT team will have to adjust pacing accordingly due to changing priorities .

4. ‘I Do One Thing, S/he Does Everything’

Some IT staff stick only to the parameters of their jobs. Others help anyone who asks them, working as universal resources for the department at large. But keep in mind the focused worker isn’t always selfish or lazy and the do-everything admin isn’t necessarily disorganized or off-task.

What to do: If someone is being pulled in a million directions, consider if the rest of the team needs to help more or whether they legitimately need that someone’s help. The focused worker can step up and the everywhere worker can step back, but ultimately the CTO might just need to bring in a new body to fill in the gaps.

5. ‘That’s Not How We Do Things Here’

Mergers that combine two IT teams come with their own IT communication challenges. The two teams clash over their separate sets of norms and people worry their jobs are in danger.

What to do: Bringing in a consultant often eliminates bias during restructuring, and makes for smoother integration so people know where they stand. Whatever you do, help define the culture before you begin integrating systems. In the instance of combining two IT teams, get everyone together for team building activities.  For example, a day out of the office for bowling and drinks can spark friendships and get new teammates building trust with one another.

6. ‘Can You Believe That Guy?’

Some people nod agreement in meetings but start complaining to others the moment you walk away. Don’t try to prevent these people from voicing their opinions. Instead, incorporate disagreements into your routine.

What to do: A management philosophy called Holacracy, founded by agile development veteran Brian Robertson, advises setting aside meeting time to address disagreements or “tensions.” Focus on the operational aspects, not on the interpersonal conflict, and never let unspoken tensions fester behind the scenes.

7. ‘I Didn’t Do It’

Some sysadmins don’t see how they’ve made mistakes because the (often necessary) literal thinking suggests they did exactly what was asked. Others feel defensive because they believe making mistakes means losing hard-earned status and respect among their IT peers.

What to do: Good IT communication encourages people to make the right mistakes. Creative accidents in pursuit of a larger objective are the building blocks of innovation. What about a hackathon to give people the chance to experiment? Celebrate initiative and independent thinking, and support will only become more intuitive.

8. ‘Back in My Day…’

C-suite execs can be reluctant to embrace change. Your job is to tell the difference between old-world stubbornness and skills gaps that do require attention.

What to do: Direct employees toward training opportunities, and budget for ongoing training. It’s easier (and cheaper) to improve a current employee’s skills than to hire a new one.

IT is a highly technical, left-brained place, but have fun together now and then. Whether it’s at a monthly happy hour or a quarterly party, a little revelry breaks down many interpersonal silos. Consider this Florida-based IT department’s staff Christmas party:

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And suddenly, drones are everywhere.

As of September 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued 1,407 special permits for companies to operate commercial drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) — with about 50 new permits issued every week, pushing the total over 2,000 well before the new year.

What are drones used for? Several things, some more regulated than others.

Unmanned Aerial Realtor

Package delivery may catch public imagination, and commercial tests have already been carried out. Specifically, Amazon Prime has been carrying out tests for a while now and continues to believe that package delivery via drones is in the cards.  But delivery service isn’t even the leading segment of the commercial drone industry. Currently, the biggest stakeholder is none other than real estate. The housing market accounts for some 35 percent of the first 1,000 commercial drone permits. The real estate industry is mostly using drones for marketing materials, such as sky high views of terrain around homes that are for sale.

Git Along, Little Dogies…

Agriculture also looms large, with 164 of the first 1,000 permits issued specifically for agricultural applications. It isn’t clear whether any ranchers have yet used UAVs to keep watch on their livestock. As the Shelbyville (KY) Times-Gazette reports, however, they’re watching the skies in the farm belt, a ways away from Silicon Valley.

Eye in the Sky

Drones are also set to feature on the local news, as eyes in the sky for traffic and similar news reports dependent on an aerial camera. Television and film accounted for the first six Section 333 permits issued by the FAA last year, and make up about nine percent of the total. Section 333 states the following:

By law, any aircraft operation in the national airspace requires a certificated and registered aircraft, a licensed pilot, and operational approval. Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) (PDF) grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS to operate safely in the National Airspace System (NAS).

Dr. Drone

The commercial drone game is taking off with such astonishing speed though, that some drones have gotten their degrees in package delivery. Most myths advise their readers of the limitations, but many of them have already been surmounted. Practically speaking, UAVs developed by such firms as Matternet have already been used to make package deliveries of medical supplies. Let’s just say Haiti and the Dominican Republic are forever grateful for certain disaster-recovery responses.

Once a Cult Classic

Drones never really figured into the great old “Tomorrowland” of monorails and personal jet packs. As recently as a couple of years ago, commercial drones were not yet on our cultural radar. Military drones made the news, but parcel delivery services via drones were only supposed to happen sometime after Elon Musk got to Mars.

Nonetheless, the basic technology is not new. Affordable private drones have been around for decades, in the form of radio-controlled (RC) model aircrafts. Like model railroading, it was a hobby that demanded a little money and a lot of time, remaining a niche interest in a community of first-gen techies.

Where There’s a Drone, There’s a Nay

Outside of the military, few really saw a practical, commercial use for drones, and the FAA regulated them accordingly, permitting drone flights only as a hobby. Hence the so-called Section 333 exemptions now required for commercial drones — 1,000+ applications for which are now backlogged at a government agency accustomed to proceeding with simple by-the-checklist deliberation.

Partly due to this regulatory process, the U.S. commercial drone industry is still the preserve of small firms, which account for 85 percent of Section 333 permits. Potential big players like Amazon are doing most of their experimentation abroad, where regulatory frameworks appear to be more favorable to drones.

A Sky Filled With Pizza? Or Lawsuits?

Ultimately, regulatory compliance looms as the biggest challenge for the commercial use of drones, perhaps more than the technical limitations such as battery life (like your smartphone, drones don’t last long without a recharge — but both stay up long enough to be useful).

Terrorist or criminal threats are an apparent safety and security challenge confronting the widespread use of drones. But this problem is dwarfed by the sheer complexity involved in, say, air-traffic control. How many small-package deliveries take place every day in San Francisco? On top of consumer deliveries ranging from prescription drugs to pizzas are the endless demands of business for office supplies, parts and tools, and a host of other small items.

It adds up to a lot of drones crisscrossing in the sky, and keeping them flying safely (handling the inevitable mishaps along the way) could require demanding compliance environment. What are drones used for? Keeping lawyers in business and regulators with jobs, for one thing.

Secure-And-Compliant-FTP

Every morning, HR manager Jane arrives at the office ready to work. After her 10 a.m. meeting, she streams her (still-growing) playlist on Spotify until lunch. Although she leaves at noon to eat, she’s always back early to watch some clips from her favorite late-night personality on Hulu before getting back to work. Then, in the afternoon, she streams a YouTube playlist filled with similar music before leaving for the day.

This behavior sounds pretty normal, but for us in the IT department, Jane’s routine is a network usage nightmare; she burns through resources, slows Wi-Fi speeds to a crawl and creates workflow delay for her coworkers — who subsequently flood your department with ticket after ticket wondering why they can’t upload or share files as quickly as they were able to previously. A fictitious scenario, sure, but employees like Jane are as common as they are unaware — they are complaining about the slow internet speed, but they are actually causing the issue.

The Power of Network Monitoring Software

A survey by the International Data Corporation found 30 to 40 percent of on-the-job Internet use isn’t work-related. Luckily, in order to pinpoint which users are draining company bandwidth, you can use WhatsUp Gold’s network flow monitoring feature to monitor, alert, and report on interface traffic and bandwidth utilization.

Network flow monitoring provides detailed and actionable data on the top senders, receivers, conversations, applications, and protocols consuming network bandwidth. This gives enough information for the network admin to know who is consuming too much bandwidth, using RTSP (a streaming protocol), or showing inordinately heavy use of HTTP (web traffic).

The fact of the matter is that you should always be sensitive to your users’ needs, but knowing where the bandwidth hogs are coming from are essential to implementing proactive policies. You can use network monitoring software to pinpoint where large spikes are occurring and what’s causing them. From there, you can examine overall trends comparing necessary heavy usage to superfluous usage, reveal areas for improvement and create further plans to optimize the firm’s most congested networks. Most importantly, educate your users on the consumption of bandwidth and how this affects others in the organization.

Working With Your Team

While some workplaces expressly forbid the use of data-intensive apps, and use enhanced security and firewalls to block employee access to related content, this approach should be carefully balanced against the cultural and open workplace policies of the company. The last thing you want is to create friction between the IT department and the rest of the office.

It may be more effective to call a meeting and educate your office mates about how their behavior affects network performance, offering suggestions about how they can ensure everyone has access to the speed they need to complete their most critical tasks without restricting the rest of the Web. If initial collaborative efforts are unsuccessful though, try working with the “heaviest” users to figure out a usage strategy that works for you without being too restrictive.

Planning for the Future

Alas, despite a concerned effort from your employees to curb unnecessary usage, your network may still incur issues during heavy traffic periods. In this case, it may be time to look ahead and start planning for increased bandwidth capacity. Although such a progressive measure will undoubtedly require budget modifications, planning in advance to improve network capacity before it grinds the business to a halt will help keep things running smoothly and prevent even bigger speedbumps down the road.

Discovering which data employees access at work can be a touchy undertaking, but you don’t have to risk pitting the IT department against other employees. With a little advance planning, special software and an eye toward cooperation, your office doesn’t have to be so divisive. Curb undesired network usage and ensure everyone is able to enjoy a fast, reliable network connection without the office drama.

Capturefff

In essence, IT managers, whether you work in help desk or as a sysadmin, are the jedis or even the sithlords of a business. But there are those who fall in between. Smugglers, bounty hunters and even droids have a place in the balance of the force, and so do IT professionals. Such is the ways of the force. Which side of the IT force are you on?

View PDF Version

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Sources

Stefano Buttafoco / Shutterstock.com
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catwalker / Shutterstock.com
JKirkconnell / Shutterstock.com
catwalker / Shutterstock.com

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As real-world tech inches ever closer to sci-fi’s original vision, it’s worth asking the question: Is Star Wars in real life even possible? And specifically, is building this kind of tech a worthwhile investment? Would the C-suite get on board with you remodeling the server closet to look like the Death Star, or a practical BB-8 to help out around the office? Perhaps.

Here’s the TCO of building an interstellar empire.

It’s True—All of It

Is it technically possible to build a Death Star. Officially, yes. According to Forbes, there’s more than enough iron in the Earth’s core to forge the necessary steel—in fact, you could build 2 billion Death Stars with what’s under our planet’s crust. However, if you’re making a presentation to the board to secure budget, it’s worth noting a few salient points.

Price It Up, Fuzzball

First, producing enough steel to build a single Death Star using current production methods would take around 830,000 years, so finding Series A funding could be something of a challenge since the ROI is a ways off. You’ll also need to talk about building cost: The price tag to develop a fully armed and operational battle station would run about $852,000,000,000,000,000 dollars (that’s 842 quadrillion, if you’re counting zeros). Io9 argues this isn’t really accurate, though, because using “terrestrial” materials like steel just doesn’t make sense. Brian Muirhead of NASA agrees; it’s better to skip the free-floating Death Star and instead use an asteroid.

Much Help, You Will Need

It’s also worth pointing out that the Empire likely wouldn’t have the manpower to build a Death Star without outside help. Remember the discussion in Clerks about how a veritable army of subcontractors would be required to get it up and running, which would elicit huge potential for failure points? As an admin, your takeaway is this: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, even if it is the ideal defense against an imbalanced Force of unpredictable cybercrime.

BB-8

Next on the quest to emulate Star Wars in real life is the world’s new favorite free-rolling droid, BB-8. Unlike R2-D2, who relies on a stiff axle with a clunky turn radius, BB-8 cruises around on a super-steady sphere while its head moves around freely along the surface. Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams said BB-8 was an actual, practical effect and not CGI—back in April, the real droid rolled out on stage and proved Abrams wasn’t just pulling your leg. Now, there are several ways this robot could work: The bottom sphere could be a remote-controlled robot much like the Sphero toy, while the top part is a second robot with a gyroscope to keep it from slipping off and magnetic feels for free motion. It’s also possible that these wheels drive the bottom ball, effectively making his head the only “smart” portion of the device.

May the Torque Be with You

Is it possible to build a BB-8 in real life? Makezine made an open-source version using two 20″ free-blown polycarbonate hemispheres to form the shell, in addition to both pre-formed and 3D printed parts to create the inner workings. The result is a BB-8 nearly identical to the one used in Episode VII, and with a far lower price tag than building an Empire-sized space station. The issue? Like many attractive tech products on the market, there may not be a specific place for a BB-8 in your organization. Without hands or another grabbing apparatus, it can’t exactly deliver documents, although its video projection tech could act as a mobile meeting space.

Could you build it? Yes. But because it’s open source, support would have to be diligent about closing network endpoints and making sure BB-8 doesn’t give your Death Star a malware cold.

The Millennium Falcon

Want to make a Millennium Falcon? They don’t fly cheap. Model Space lists a cost of approximately $4,836,022,465 with no guarantee the ship wouldn’t blow on its first attempted launch. There’s also the problem of parts and labor, since Han Solo doesn’t exactly treat his ship with kid gloves. Consider the maintenance and repair cost of more than $3,000,000 per year, as well, with at least $350,000 of that going into labor to fix engines, repair lasers and making sure the navigation computer isn’t at risk of Empire-leaning hacktivists looking to cause trouble for the militant Rebel uprising.

What’s more, the estimate doesn’t cover insurance: What happens in the event of an intergalactic collision? Is Solo the hit-and-run type, or the stay-around-and-exchange-info kind? If he and Greedo ever met in space, it might become a “who hit first” scenario, one resolved by an Empire-funded traffic tribunal. Think Vader’s mad because the Death Star got destroyed? Try giving him the job of handling traffic tort law and see how many bad drivers get Force-choked. Think of the Falcon as a legacy process, too. Classic, familiar, but expensive to maintain. It might be worth it, but at least look at other options before committing your entire IT budget to supporting a single technology.

Lessons from the Future

We’ve made it: Star Wars in real life is, by and large, possible—even plasma-based lightsabers are popping up thanks to engineers at MIT and Harvard, which offer one surefire way to end boardroom conflicts. And although these technologies are far from practical, Star Wars tech does offer a number of lessons for IT pros. The need to meet deadlines, for example: If the second Death Star had hit the predicted completion date, the third movie—Return of the Jedi—would have a very different outcome, and if C-3PO had a cloud-based disaster recovery for his data, he could have mentioned to Luke that, “Oh yeah, your father is Darth Vader and you’re probably a Jedi, so…”

People, not devices, drive the Star Wars universe and your department. Better technology isn’t immune to hackers with “torpedoes”; it isn’t always practical and may not be worth the cost of upkeep. Intelligent decision-making, both from C-suite executives and technical Jedi masters, is key to creating a tech future that’s stable, secure, and Star Wars-worthy.

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skeleton with christmas decorationToday we announced the findings of our third annual ‘Happy Holidays?’ survey that revealed the nightmares IT pros can expect during the holiday season. Our survey was conducted across the US and the UK, polling a total of 543 IT pros.

Employees working remotely or being careless during holiday celebrations will create a nightmare before (and during) the Christmas season.

What we found interesting about the survey data:

Coping with the nightmare before Christmas

Rather than celebrating the holidays with friends and family uninterrupted, IT pros will be dealing with the network nightmares that arise. The survey polling 165 British IT pros revealed that over a quarter (27 percent) can expect to be either on-call or working on Christmas Eve, with 10 percent on Christmas day. 13 percent of IT professionals in the UK also expect to be tied up with work matters on New Year’s Eve.

IT Pros and Employees: Home for the holidays

IT teams can expect an increased demand for remote management capabilities and 24/7 access as employees will be working from home, traveling or on vacation. When asked what percentage of their workforce will be working remotely over the holidays, 47 percent of IT professionals in the U.S. and 51 percent of the Brits said up to 25 percent. Another 29 percent in the US said up to 50% of their workforce, as compared with 26 percent of the British IT pros.

Holiday horrors continue

When asked what the most common IT problem employees face when the office is closed for the holidays, the top two issues for IT pros in the UK and the US were laptop problems (39 percent) and the inability to access the network (36 percent). 28 percent of IT professionals in the UK indicated poor application performance was also a common problem, followed by the 21 percent that reported security-related issues (e.g. malware on laptops). To add to mounting pressures, 41 percent of IT professionals in the UK have experienced a major network outage during a company holiday while 38 percent of IT professionals in the US have experienced the same.

Celebrations gone wrong

While employees are spreading holiday cheer, IT pros are left tackling the consequences that can result from company holiday celebrations. Over half of IT professionals (57 percent) in the UK reported that they’re worried that their network could suffer a data breach at the hands of a careless celebration. In addition, 36 percent of IT professionals in the UK confirmed they have had an IT user report the loss of a device holding company data following holiday celebrations in a pub, restaurant, or at a party.

What to expect in 2016. When asked what IT believes to be the “must-have” gadget in 2016, 34 percent of IT professionals in the UK said wearable technology, whereas 33 percent of IT professionals in the US said smart phones. The survey also uncovered that the top resolution in 2016 for IT professionals in both the US and UK was increased level of network security, with about 50% reporting in.

For the full findings from both the US and UK, download the respective infographics and data below.

US Version

UK Version

Nightmare Before Christmas Infographic (UK):

Ipswitch UK Holiday Survey_2015_Infographic_final

Related articles:

How the Network Stole Christmas

How the Grinch Stole Wi-Fi

Ever get an alarm storm striking your network and distracting you to no end? Over Christmas or not, discover why dependency mapping and monitoring will improve network visibility and control.

alarm storms

A few weeks from now a good number of people will try to stick to their New Year’s resolution to shed some weight gained over the holidays. In parallel, waistlines may not be the only thing slimming down. Your data storage spend may as well.

As cloud providers “race to zero” and alternatives such as SSD gain traction, the price of data storage is dropping. Yet many companies still find IT costs climb as they’re pressured to store more information — the big data market is on track for 23 percent CAGR through 2019, according to Research and Markets — while ensuring other departments have immediate access to that data whenever, wherever.

The result? Increased C-suite expectations paired with budgets that don’t match up. Here are 10 tips for controlling storage costs without sacrificing access or performance.

1) Create in the Cloud

Controlling IT costs starts with an evaluation of existing processes: Which ones need to stay on in-house servers and which can be moved to a public or hybrid cloud? One great candidate for the cloud is application development, since the storage and server resources required to dev/test in-house not only reduce network performance as a whole, but result in significant costs if testing doesn’t go as planned. Rather than building (and paying for) an internal test environment, consider building apps in the cloud and then moving them back to local stacks once they’re ready for deployment.

2) Match Management

As noted by TechTarget, it’s often possible to reduce IT spend by migrating licensed applications to newer and more efficient servers. If storage appliances aren’t upgraded at the same time, however, the result can be a management mismatch: Servers can handle the CPU demands of cutting-edge apps, but storage solutions can’t provide data fast enough. Bottom line? Matching storage and server management is essential to level out your costs.

3) Send Off Old Storage

It many seem counterintuitive to purchase new storage solutions when existing decks are still up and running, but in some cases you’ll save more by spending now than trying to squeeze every last cycle out of legacy hardware. Newer models typically offer more space combined with lower operating costs, but this transfer method only works if your data is new enough to make the transition. If file types and storage architectures are incompatible with newer hardware, this is another opportunity to leverage the cloud using an integrated storage appliance.

4) Don’t Get Sentimental

Not all of your apps are getting used, and it’s time to let them go. Some simply don’t perform as intended and others have been replaced by newer, better versions. As a result, it’s worth doing an “app purge” every six months or so. Take a hard look at the software stored on your system and track down any obsolete or seldom-used apps. Make sure they’re not tied to critical functions and then “retire” them using long-term, low-cost storage.

5) Consider Colo

CBRE Group estimates the average 5-megawatt data center costs $270.1 million to operate over 10 years — a big chunk of change for any enterprise, let alone a small or midsize business. Part of that cost comes from building and server maintenance, while rising power prices also have an impact on storage viability. Although it is possible to reduce this cost using tax breaks and careful planning, another option is colocation. You bring the storage hardware but don’t have to pay for facility management or power. In effect, the physical costs are handled without your supervision, freeing you up to focus on streamlining storage itself.

6) Gone in a Flash

Flash and SSD are popular buzzwords, and that’s no surprise when they perform better than traditional hard drives and are less likely to break. According to Tech Times, however, the cost of SSDs still puts a full switchover out of reach for many companies. And yet it is cost-effective to start trending this direction, especially for critical or high-demand apps. Spending a little on SSD or flash can have big returns and improve the long-term prospects of your storage environment.

7) Live and on Tape

A few years ago, tech pundits predicted the death of magnetic tape; surely with advanced storage arrays, public clouds and flash devices, any available tape would simply disappear. Enterprise Storage Forum suggests otherwise; demand for tape is higher than ever. Why? Because it offers long-term, high-volume and low-cost storage for data that your company doesn’t need right now but may need five or 10 years down the road.

8) Opt for Open Source

Want to control IT costs for storage? Consider open source. A number of high-profile, well-supported projects — OpenStack, for instance — provide open-source solutions to help improve your storage environment without forcing you to pay licensing costs. Better still, you can customize this code to your liking, rather than getting pigeonholed by providers.

9) Outsource Recovery

Disaster-recovery solutions are one of the biggest money sinks in any organization. They’re necessary, of course, but that doesn’t make them cheap. By opting for DR-as-a-Service (DRaaS), you can leverage economies of scale to bring down costs and free up local storage for mission-critical apps and data analytics.

10) Circular Backup

One last tip for controlling storage and IT budgets: Make a local backup of your offsite backup. Sounds backwards, but by keeping a copy onsite, you’ll be able to more quickly recover after a disaster so you’re not left high and dry if your DR provider experiences an outage. And by narrowing your focus to the most recent iteration of your backup, you can minimize its footprint while protecting your interests.

Full access, high-performance storage is essential. And expensive. Consider these 10 tips to help lower IT costs without sacrificing performance.

Application monitoring can help troubleshoot bandwidth bandits and other disruptions (credit: Jerry John | Flickr)

Cloud computing is a ready-made revolution for SMBs. Forget about server downtime; elastic computing and API-driven development is perfect for smaller organizations with project funding in the mere thousands of dollars.

All that agility is allowing information architects to think big — smartphone connectivity, IoT, lambda architecture — with existing app performance monitoring standards becoming more Web and socially aware.

Perfect world, right? Well, maybe a “perfectable” world. While developers are doing the elastic, agile thing — leveraging the power of pre-built tools through IFTTT or Zapier and getting Big Data tools from GitHub — they’re making assumptions about available bandwidth. They may even add Twilio to the mix so the company can SMS you in the middle of the night when their app hangs.

App Performance: ‘It’s Spinning and Spinning’

“I can’t do anything. It’s just keeps spinning,” you’re thinking. Classic Ajax loader. Users from a different era prefer freezing metaphors, but those are just as obvious, and don’t encompass today’s issues: “My email won’t send,” “My daily sales dashboard won’t load” and, now, “the whole neighborhood’s smart meters are offline.”

A new set of network demands are rounding the corner, foreshadowing a greater need for application performance monitoring: SIEM, Big Data, IoT, compliance and consumer privacy audits. It is the slow death of offline archiving. And for each, file sizes are on the rise and apps are increasingly server-enabled — often with heavy WAN demands.

Open Source, DIY and Buy-a-Bigger-Toolbox

Presented with bandwidth concerns, some support specialists (or DIY-minded developers, as that is often the SMB way) will turn to open-source tools like Cacti to see what they can learn. And they may learn a lot, but often the problem lies deeper inside an app’s environment. As one support specialist explained (known as “crankysysadmin” on Reddit), “It isn’t that easy. There are so many factors that affect performance. It gets even more tricky in a virtualized environment with shared storage and multiple operating systems and complex networking.”

Another admin in the Reddit thread agreed: In terms of app performance monitoring, he responded, “there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. What type of application are we talking? Database? SAP? Exchange? XenApp? Is it a specific workflow that is ‘slow’? What do you consider ‘fast’ for that same workflow?”

Event-Driven Heads-Up for App Hangs and Headaches

App usage spikes have many possible causes, which is precisely why a commercial app monitoring tool that is easy to use when you need it in a pinch can ultimately pay for itself. Depending on site-dependent update policies, types of applications support, regulatory environment, SLAs and cloud vendor resources, you’ll sooner or later be faced with:

  • Massive updates pushed or pulled unexpectedly.
  • Surprise bandwidth-sucking desktop apps.
  • Developer runaway apps.
  • App developer design patterns tilted toward real-time event processing.
  • Movement toward the more elastic management of in-house resources.
  • Management of bandwidth usage by cloud service providers.
  • A need to integrate configuration management with monitoring.
  • Increased support of operational intelligence, allowing for real-time event monitoring as described by Information Age.
  • Monitoring to develop application-dependent situation awareness.

The last of these, situation awareness, deserves an emphasis. Consider the impact of moving monthly reports to hourly, or a BI dashboard suddenly rolled out to distributor-reps. Situational awareness at the app level can ward off resource spikes and sags or even server downtime.

Identify What’s Mission-Critical

Whether the monitoring answer is open source or commercial depends partly on whether your apps are considered mission-critical. For some, VoIP and Exchange have been those applications. The SLA expectation for telephony, for example, is driven by the high reliability for legacy on-premises phone systems that rarely failed. SLAs for VoIP are often held to the same standard.

And what’s mission-critical is probably critical for job security. If the CEO relies on a deck hosted in Sharepoint for briefing at a major conference, and he can’t connect at the right moment — well, you may wish you had a bigger IT staff to hide behind.

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Related articles:

Are Your Mission-Critical Applications Starving for Bandwidth?

Noble Truth #5: Network and Application Performance Defines Your Reputation

Ask 10 network professionals about infrastructure security and you’ll get almost as many opinions ranging from “you don’t need more than a firewall and a good set of access rules” to “invest in a variety of included and separate network security tools” and everything in between. However, the truth usually lies in the middle.

Admittedly, you don’t always need to buy a shelf full of software to realize good infrastructure security on a budget. “All you really want is a good firewall and good security permission within the network,” says Ryan Jones, an independent network security consultant. “Use a limited-access principle and give everyone the minimum required access and escalate the permission upward only when required.”

This approach will work for some, but others — especially those involved in banking or e-commerce — will need at least another layer. “Using metrics management and monitoring [for] the network and data is complex, but basically, apply some methodologies and use the software of your choice to manage security,” recommends Rodrigo Arruda, an IT specialist for Itaú, an international financial institution headquartered in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “It does often involve some cost, though.”

Stay Up to Date

You don’t have to spend your department’s whole budget on just a few things. In fact, Peoria Magazines says much of what you can do to secure your network without breaking the bank is free or close to it. Keeping your software up to date between major revisions is usually free and will plug up holes you might discover at an inconvenient time.

Stay Fired Up

You should also be using a sturdy firewall product and configuring it per the nature and sensitivity of your data. Don’t set it to auto-learn, which can be just as bad as auto-correct on a smartphone. Manage the rules so it knows which programs have what level of access, and be sure to specify the ports that will be used. Keep in mind firewalls should be supplements to more comprehensive authentication and threat-detection protocol.

Deny the SPAM

Although Kaspersky and similar cloud-based security services integrate pretty well with professional email platforms, your team should be willing to invest about $1,500 in a decent spam-filtering appliance, as phishing is often how network intrusions are initiated with unsuspecting staff (you’ve trained them on phishing content, right?).

Lock It Up Properly

Another way to ensure infrastructure security on a budget is to limit user access. This means John in Accounting and Mary in Sales shouldn’t be installing new software on a regular basis. In fact, these users should only need to install new software once or maybe twice a year. Only administrators, and select department heads, should be given administrative access to the network. Everyone else should be given the most basic rights they need to do their jobs efficiently and securely.

Use Deception to Foil Intruders

Sun Tzu, in his famous tome, said: “All warfare is based upon deception.” A minor modification and it resonates with IT personnel: “All ‘warefare’ is based upon deception.” In other words, use software to deceive intruders. Products like Sourceforge’s Active Defense Harbinger Distribution (ADHD) can detect a malicious network entry and block all outgoing traffic to that IP. To the intruder, your network just went dark.

Use a VPN for Remote-Access Users

Once upon a time, you could give your remote users a phone number, have them dial into your network and use something akin to a secure net key to give them remote access. The encryption that a virtual private network (VPN) uses is typically unbreakable, and even if it is breached, it will have taken so long to do so that the connection itself drops by the time that key is broken. OpenVPN is a solid open-source project and free through its community version.

Keeping your network secure with limited funds isn’t impossible, but it may seem like an insurmountable task at times. With proper planning, however, it doesn’t have to. Whether it’s free or very inexpensive, spam filters are your biggest commitment. Most of the suggestions above will only cost you and your team some necessary time.

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It doesn’t take a ninja to know that Simple Network Management Protocol allows administrators to monitor network-attached devices. With that noted, you might actually need to be a ninja to enable and configure SNMP on Windows, Linux/Unix, Cisco, and ESXi.

Have no fear. Here’s a step by step guide on how to enable and configure SNMP on Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold infrastructure monitoring software so you can administer with ease.

Windows

The first step is adding the feature (Server 2008 and above) or “Add/Remove Windows Components” (Server 2003 or below). Once the feature/component is added, open your services.msc. [Start > Run > services.msc], find the SNMP service and double-click it.

There are two important areas in the SNMP service configuration. The “Traps” tab determines where SNMP traps from the Windows host will be sent and which community name those traps will use. The “Security” tab allows you to setup your read/write community names and grant access to the WhatsUp Gold server. Once you apply your settings, restart the SNMP service for those settings to take effect. Then, you’re done.

Some interesting things I’ve stumbled upon:

Linux/Unix

On Linux/Unix, you will need to configure snmpd.conf. You can read more about it at SNMP CONFIG and SNMPD.CONF. Below is a basic sample configuration — although you can get much more complex and do a lot more with it. Once you update your /etc/snmp/snmpd.conf properly, restart snmpd:

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Cisco

Configuration of SNMP on Cisco devices will vary slightly depending on the type, but in general they are nearly identical.

Here are some links to helpful Cisco documents:

ESXi

Depending on your version of ESXi, the setup steps will change. For the purpose of sanity, I have included only ESXi 5.0, 5.1+. Prior to 5.0, the steps were significantly different.

ESXi 5.0: VMware documentation

ESXi 5.1+: VMware documentation

The commands below will setup SNMP and allow it through the firewall. If you prefer, you can setup the firewall rules using the vSphere Client GUI under Configuration > Security Profile. Replace “YOUR_STRING” with your community string:

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That’s our lesson for today. Use your knowledge wisely.

Learn why SNMP is the most versatile and comprehensive protocol in your toolkit >> Read More

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sox-complianceRemember the corporate accounting scandals that took out Enron, Arthur Andersen and WorldCom? They all ended with prison sentences, layoffs, and billions of investor dollars lost forever.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) is meant to prevent scandals like these from happening again. How? By establishing strong and transparent internal control over financial reporting (ICFR). All publicly held American companies and overseas companies that have registered securities with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must demonstrate SOX compliance. Same goes for any company providing financial services to any of these firms. According to CFO.com more than half of the larger companies registered with the SEC will pay $1 million or more to achieve SOX compliance.

What part of this is relevant to you as an IT pro? In 2007, the SEC issued SOX compliance guidance clarifying the IT team’s responsibilities: to identify the company’s biggest priorities when reporting financial risk, sometimes with help from auditors. Your role, then, is to support the processes that minimize all identified risks. The most pertinent sections of SOX for IT teams are 302, 404, 409 and 802. Here they are — or, rather, here’s what they mean.

Section 302: Keep Execs in the Loop

SOX requires the CEO and CFO to vouch for the accuracy of a company’s financial statements. They need to attest that they’ve evaluated ICFR within 90 days of certifying the financial results.

The IT team’s role is to deliver real-time reporting on their internal controls as they apply to SOX compliance. This requires automating tasks like testing, evidence-gathering and reporting on remediation efforts. Reporting should be delivered in both auditor- and executive-friendly language.

Section 404: Establish Controls to Support Accurate Financial Reporting

According to SOX, all businesses should have internal controls in place for accurate and transparent financial reporting. An outside auditor should review these controls every year, assessing how well businesses document, test and maintain those controls.

The IT team’s role here is to identify key IT systems and processes involved in initiating, authorizing, processing and summarizing financial information. This material usually involves security, application testing, the verification of software integrations, and automated process testing. The goal is to ensure all procedures support the accurate and complete transmission of financial data while keeping asset-bearing accounts secure from unauthorized access.

Section 409: Deliver Timely Disclosure

Certain events — like mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcy, the dissolution of a major supplier or a crippling data breach — can significantly shift a company’s fiscal prospects. SOX compliance mandates the timely disclosure of any information that could affect a company’s financial performance.

The IT team’s role is to support alert mechanisms that could trigger this timely disclosure requirement, as well as mechanisms for quickly informing shareholders and regulators.

Section 802: Ensure Records Retention

Today’s SMBs keep both paper and electronic copies of sensitive records when bookkeeping. Spreadsheets on an end user’s computer, email messages, IMs, recorded calls discussing money, financial transactions — all of these have to be preserved and made available to auditors for at least five years.

The IT team’s role is to preserve these records with automated backup processes and ensure the proper function of document management systems (which may or may not include an archive of email and related unified-communications content). IT pros also have to maintain the availability of these records as it migrates to new technologies, such as from old tape-based systems to cloud backup.

Making Audits Go Smoothly

The Unified Compliance Framework (UCF) aggregates requirements from big regulations like SOX, HIPAA and PCI DSS, along with requirements from federal and state laws. With UCF, the IT team can adopt a set of controls to satisfy multiple regulations.

Network Frontiers, which manages UCF, keeps it up to date, which is a huge timesaver for your team. Ron Markham, co-founder of Intreis and former CIO for IBM’s Software Group-Business Analytics, used UCF to cut IBM’s audit time to two weeks and reduce audit-related costs by 80 percent.

In addition to what Markham calls his “test once, comply many” approach, Markham recommends a unifying platform that automates workflows. The solution should integrate a configuration management database (CMDB) and serve as IT’s system of record.

Documenting processes and packaging them in a way that’s easy to audit, both for management and outside auditors, prevents frantic pre-audit scrambling. It also saves those most precious of resources: time and money.

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