Technology is advancing at a steady rate, constantly changing the way businesses and individuals communicate in today’s marketplace. Formerly, switching from a legacy network to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) lowered the costs and reduced the delays associated with long-distance calling, which enabled greater global outreach.
Currently, the need for faster connections and more bandwidth has spurred the increased adoption of Voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE) networks. However, the next big change in business communication will involve Voice over Mobile Broadband (VoMBB), and knowing what to expect can help companies make the transition.
VoMBB is essentially the process of connecting cellular calls over mobile broadband networks like LTE and WiFi. As more businesses continue to deploy cost-saving flexibility through remote work stations and an enlarged mobile workforce, broadband requirements have increased.
However, since massive, commercialized LTE networks are widespread, VoMBB will utilize that availability to escalate the speed and quality of voice and data transmissions, offering enhanced services for a variety of organizations.
Maintaining data protection is always a top priority. Although utilizing a public network to transmit voice data involves heightened risks, security concerns will be addressed as they were for VoIP. Encryption and authentication support provided by Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and H.323 protocols will offer businesses the cost benefits of VoMBB with familiar methods of protection.
To combat the lag time created by over-the-top (OTT) apps like Skype, VoMBB providers will need to develop relationships with OTT app developers. This change will also provide an opportunity for businesses. Mobile carriers will be able to structure voice and data transmission costs according to specific usages, which will provide businesses with enhanced regulation metrics. By monitoring this type of data transfer, improved efficiency and cost controls can be enacted.
In addition to the internal controls that companies can develop by using VoMBB, providers will be able to utilize cloud resources for immediate activation. With voice over WiFi, providers are able to offer the VoLTE infrastructure required now, and then support high-speed packet access later. This lowers costs and delivers the mobility needed by today’s businesses.
As mobile workplaces expand and the number of users who need instant remote access to business information grows, changes in the way voice data is transmitted will continue to evolve. VoMBB will offer faster connections and greater bandwidth agility through the cloud, allowing providers to lower the costs and improve service capabilities. Businesses will reap the benefits of heightened capacity and mobilized solutions that enlarge profits and support growth.
Despite the increasing popularity and adoption of cloud services, many misperceptions still abound about their potential disadvantages. Companies considering a cloud service purchase should carefully sort through both the hype and the myths about cloud computing before making a purchasing decision.
Cloud misperceptions vary, but three primary myths have emerged that might cause IT decision makers to stop and reconsider their cloud purchase plans. However, the reality behind these myths should give buyers reassurance when it comes time to make a cloud decision.
The Data Center Death Knell Myth
With data and functionality increasingly moving to cloud services, IT employees may be concerned about being replaced by the very technologies they choose to deploy.
While this isn’t a completely unfounded concern, the reality is that cloud services are largely being adopted by younger and smaller companies that don’t already have in-house IT departments. The ability of the cloud to provide IT services that such companies would otherwise have to build from scratch is one of its primary advantages.
For companies that already have an established IT team, cloud services aren’t likely to steal away jobs anytime soon. Companies may move some of their data and processes, particularly storage, to the cloud, but most companies will continue to house critical data on private networks in a hybrid approach. In-house IT will continue to be needed to support private network operations.
The Security Myth
One of the most common and persistent misperceptions about the cloud is that it opens up companies to a variety of new security risks. The thought of having data leave the safety of the corporate security fortress and travel via potentially unprotected connections to a public cloud creates concern over attacks on a company’s critical data.
In reality, because of their singular focus on providing data services, cloud providers often have some of the best security experts on staff who focus entirely on predicting security vulnerabilities and protecting against attacks on client data.
The Data Black Hole Myth
Some companies worry that once they allow their data to transfer to a cloud service, they will lose control over it or have difficulty moving it or getting it back. This myth likely circulates because in the past, it had some truth to it. Making a cloud transition sometimes meant data was locked in with the chosen provider.
But trends surrounding this cloud concern are changing. Some of the larger cloud providers offer tools that make it easier to control and move data when the company chooses. Amazon’s Snowball appliance allows customers to easily migrate data, and Velostrata introduced an appliance that eases the migration of data to and from the public cloud.
Making an Informed Cloud Purchase
Cloud services provide many benefits to companies that want to improve their operations and increase efficiencies. IT decision makers have a responsibility to choose a cloud service that protects the company’s data assets and provides the right services for its users.
All technologies have pros and cons. Deciphering myth from reality surrounding security, data availability, and future IT employment can help decision makers make the right cloud choice.
Every growing enterprise faces choices about the best telephony solution to meet its needs. Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking or a hosted private branch exchange (PBX) are both viable solutions, but a business must determine which is more suited to its particular requirements.
Exploring the Similarities and Differences Between SIP Trunking and Hosted PBX
At first glance, SIP trunking and hosted PBX seem very similar. Both are IP-based systems and offer the same basic services such as:
• streaming audio and video;
• VoIP telephone connections to include local, long distance, and toll-free lines;
• support of both mobile and fixed phone systems; and
• support of data transmission for email, fax, text messages, and Internet access.
However, one of the primary differences between the two is that a SIP trunking system requires fixed assets and support, whereas hosted PBX does not.
Hosted PBX is generally a service provided by a vendor that requires neither an investment in equipment nor staff to oversee the system. This is a lower cost solution, but it is completely dependent on a third party for the operation of a vital business asset.
A SIP trunking solution requires an initial investment in expensive equipment and infrastructure as well as the ongoing cost of maintenance and service professionals. But despite these costs, this investment can lead to long-term flexibility and room for growth.
Smaller businesses will often benefit more from hosted PBX. Essentially an all-in-one telecommunications provider, the hosted PBX vendor delivers a hands-free telephone system that meets a small business’s needs without the cost of equipment and dedicated staff. Additionally, because hosted PBX is cloud-based, a small business has the option to switch providers without any significant interruption of service.
But as a business grows, it often needs much greater use of bandwidth and therefore requires more resources. A hosted PBX service can be expanded to compensate for the greater needs of a larger business, but this is usually accomplished at a higher cost. Eventually, there comes a point in a business’s growth when it becomes more efficient to opt for a SIP trunking solution.
A larger business with a SIP Trunking solution is able to manage its critical telecommunications system in-house and does not have to rely on an external supplier. This affords the business a level of self-reliance and allows for more overall bandwidth as well as room for growth.
Ultimately, it seems that both SIP trunking and hosted PBX systems have a future in enterprise telephony. Both systems are well suited to a particular clientele and have enough overlap in customer base to allow for healthy competition. Choosing between SIP trunking or hosted PBX is a matter of analyzing a business’s current and long-term needs.
Using the cloud for secure Backup as a Service (BaaS) data storage is rapidly becoming a quality that potential clients look for when evaluating business partners. In a high energy business environment with ever increasing dependency on information and data storage, the consequences of data loss can be catastrophic.
How It Works
Online backup systems operate by using agent software to compress designated data files, folders, and drives, then encapsulate the compressed data in encrypted packets and transmit them to an off-site facility where the data is stored.
The initial backup can be time consuming, but in subsequent sessions backup systems save bandwidth and time by using algorithms to scan the selected folders and drives and focus only on data files that have been added or changed since the last update.
In-House Backup Difficulties
Backing up data is nothing new in the business world. Traditionally it has been a function performed as time allowed by IT professionals within the company, and the data was stored on location. There are a number of drawbacks to this method. Three of the more prevalent are:
- cost of IT personnel,
- cost of equipment, and
- potential for total data loss.
Online backup systems provide viable solutions via the cloud to each of these persistent problems with in-house data backup.
Once the agent software has been installed, the company’s IT professionals need only designate the material to be backed up and schedule a recurring time window for the backup to take place. After that, the process becomes automatic. No further active participation is needed on the part of employees. The result is less manpower and less labor cost.
The savings in equipment cost is immediately obvious. Eliminating the need to purchase, keep, and continuously update data storage equipment translates to a great deal of savings even after the cost of the online backup is taken into account.
Reduced Risk of Total Loss
One of the more often overlooked advantages of online backup is the reduction of total data loss risk. When data is backed up and kept on location, the original data and the backed up data are both at risk if the building is somehow destroyed. If the backup data is stored off-site, as is the case with an online backup system, the destruction of the business building does not mean that all of the business’s vital data is forever gone.
Looking Forward to BaaS and the Cloud
Any enterprise that does business over many years will learn that suffering data loss is inevitable. The deciding factor between data loss being a mere inconvenience or a serious financial disaster will depend on how well prepared a company is for the problem.
It should be noted that as the business field of play changes, the cloud becomes more essential in daily operations. Businesses that fail to adapt to the ever increasing influence of the cloud will find themselves left behind. Existing and prospective clients are becoming more conscious of whom they do business with. In increasing numbers, potential businesses are looking at survivability when choosing their partners.
Getting involved with the cloud is a popular proposition when looking at acquiring new technology. A company should consider how cloud technology relates to the business as well as current regulations before moving to the cloud.
Understand the Benefits of the Cloud
Businesses should first consider how a move to the cloud can be beneficial. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools, for example, enable employees to view customer interactions so that technicians, sales staff, and customer service agents are aware of how other employees interacted with a customer at certain intervals. Management can also more easily monitor employees from a single dashboard. These actions are difficult to replicate outside of a cloud service.
Understand Any Potential Negatives
Preparations should be made to understand what migration to the cloud will entail as well as what could potentially go wrong. For example, pieces of confidential customer data may be collected and stored in the cloud and will require protection. Confidential company data such as product costs and internal reports will exist in this tool as well, so internal security is also a consideration.
Other factors that should be investigated when searching for a cloud provider include the potential for customer data to be lost or compromised if the system is hacked as well as the actions a company would need to take if the cloud provider suffered a major outage.
Understand Cloud Provider Services
It is important to investigate what a cloud provider does to protect its clients. Pull data from the cloud provider from time to time so that backups are in place in the event that the relationship with the cloud provider ends or the provider takes much longer than the service agreement allows to resolve technical issues when they occur. If data can’t be exported easily from the beginning, that should be a red flag.
There is a lot of good that can come from the cloud. Capital expenses can be reduced or even eliminated and employees will be able to access their data in a variety of ways, among many other benefits. But it is important that a business makes preparations to transition to the cloud so that the company does not experience any pains while growing into the technology.
With the growing popularity and use of cloud services, IT administrators continue to face the choice of whether to maintain their network operations in house, or outsource operations to a third party. There are pros and cons to each approach.
Administrators must carefully evaluate a company’s needs and requirements to determine if a cloud solution makes sense. Not all cloud services are created equal. When deciding among Public, Private, and Hybrid cloud solutions, cost, capabilities, and security needs should be considered.
Public cloud offerings are affordable, flexible and easy to access but offer less stringent security capabilities. Security is top of mind for network administrators, who have likely taken notice of recent high-profile data breaches.
Public cloud solutions create an additional point of risk by allowing employees to access information from the cloud from potentially insecure networks. Such breaches cause IT administrators to be cautious about the security risks associated with entrusting sensitive to data to servers they don’t control.
Private cloud offerings, on the other hand, allow enterprises to maintain a certain level of control of data resources. This control allows enterprises to ensure critical company data is kept secure. Other benefits include the ability to control costs. A careful evaluation of the company’s security position is also crucial to determine what data, if any, can be transported and used via a public cloud, and which must remain within the private network.
Private Cloud solutions also provide the ability to customize and optimize services to fit the enterprise’s specific needs. However, private networks sometimes have limited data access, due to fewer interfaces with existing systems. In addition, private networks require in-house support and maintenance, which costs money and personnel resources.
Hybrid cloud solutions are a relatively new offering that can give enterprises the benefits of both public and private approaches by allowing enterprises to offload some resources to the public cloud while maintaining control over others. In particular, enterprises may be attracted to the limitless capacity of the public cloud and the ability to buy into that capacity as needed.
With a hybrid solution, companies can take advantage of those benefits, while still selecting which mission-critical data it must keep within the private network in order to protect that data from breaches. While adoption rates are still low for hybrid solutions, research shows an increasing level of interest in such services among enterprises, driven in part by a market that values the ability to customize IT solutions.
Choose Wisely and Succeed
Ultimately, each enterprise must carefully consider current and future needs when selecting a cloud solution. Once these evaluations are made, the company will be in the best possible position to determine which cloud solution best meets needs and requirements.
Adults who grew up in the northern areas of the United States and experienced harsh winters may fondly remember the unfettered joy of “snow days,” those unscheduled days off from school due to inclement weather conditions. However, snow days may soon go the way of mimeograph paper and typewriting classes. In fact, some school administrators have instituted the concept of remote work. This means students learn remotely from home when dangerous weather conditions close schools.
These progressive school districts equip students with the necessary devices, like iPads and laptops, to access the day’s lesson plans online from home. Public funding allows these “loaner” devices to be given to the students who need them over the course of the school year. It eliminates the need for sharing electronic devices in school-based computer labs.
Future Workplace Trends
One possible outgrowth of this trend is that a generation of students will be accustomed to flexibility, unsupervised productivity, and self-sufficiency in the workplace. It has the potential to permanently alter the employment culture for businesses in the years to come.
Web-based applications allow employees to access and enter data from virtually anywhere in the world. While brick-and-mortar offices will never be completely eliminated, requiring workers to remain physically present in their workplaces every day can be curtailed. Supervisors will still be able to monitor employee productivity from their remote work locations, enabling them to target any “cyberloafers” and respond appropriately.
Flexible Employment Benefits
The business community has been flirting with the concept of remote work for decades, with flex-time schedules offered as part of some benefit packages. But the concept has never fully taken flight. Below are benefits for companies that implement flexible employment options for their workers.
- Recruitment value. Remote work on either a full-time, part-time, or as-needed basis can be a part of an appealing benefit package offered to talented prospective employees. Under the right circumstances, it can be the deciding factor for a job candidate weighing several employment offers from competitors.
- Decreasing operational costs. Heating and cooling an office building is a considerable expense. Some calculations indicate that American companies could see profit increases up to $665 billion annually, or anywhere from $10,400 – $13,200 per worker each year by implementing telecommuting for only half of the time.
- Increasing employee morale. Smart business owners realize that content employees who have flexible work options are more likely to remain with their companies, reducing worker turnover and training costs.
Remote Work Options
Companies can pave the way for this employment sea change now. Some options include:
- Putting it on the cloud. Embracing cloud-based unified communications (UC) in the workplace enables remote work and telecommuting for employees.
- Formulating a disaster plan. Some disruptions to workflows can be anticipated, but others are unexpected and can wreak havoc on businesses. Businesses with proactive and well-understood plans for remote work is key to keeping operations up and running smoothly.
- Having the right technologies in place. Remote networking tools, like virtual private networks (VPNs), assure accessibility and security.
Change for companies with a 9-to-5 culture isn’t going to happen overnight. However, considering the future workforce is growing up with remote learning in place at school, a transformation is on the horizon. The movers and shakers of tomorrow are sure to influence the employment landscape that was established centuries ago.
In just a few short years, industry experts predict that the Internet of Things (IoT) will have a tremendous growth explosion. By the year 2020, research suggests 30 billion devices will be connected in a $3 trillion marketplace. Assuring that this avalanche of data is protected by layers of security is paramount to the industry’s success.
Soon there will be homes where the front doors unlock with a smartphone, its temperature is controlled remotely, and even the oven is turned on by punching a code. “Smart homes” are already on the technological horizon, but the security features must keep pace for viability.
Consumers own many devices that are not just unencrypted, but with marginal to non-existent security features enabled. Some end users leave the factory-set passwords in place, making illegally accessing a device’s data mere child’s play for the average hacker.
Making IoT Devices Secure
Certain qualities are required in order to make the security on IoT devices effective. The security must:
- Possess cloud capabilities
- Be platform agnostic
- Have the ability to facilitate IoT technological ecosystems
- Be lightweight
The ability to manage security via a cloud platform is a vital component to any implemented system. Cloud management enables manufacturers to patch changes to security configurations once a weak spot is detected – even after consumers purchase the device. The hardware itself can be tethered to private key exchanges to simplify authentication, provisioning, and configuration.
The benefits of utilizing agnostic security platforms are clear. Processing capabilities in IoT devices can enable them to be managed and controlled via the cloud. Transmitting large-scale changes in provisioning, authenticating, and configuring can also be handled at cloud level from a centralized location.
Compact IoT devices with security features embedded at the chip is a practical solution for securing data at the core of the device while still utilizing available space. IoT devices can have private keys already embedded to enhance security. This additional layer of security allows compromised components to be identified as “untrusted” and isolated from the other devices on the network. Default passwords would no longer be necessary once key exchanges are implemented within the hardware to authenticate each device. This also allows them to remain lightweight.
Issues to Overcome with IoT Devices
However, the lightweight, compact size of IoT devices limits the space available for security. Another drawback is the multiple levels of vulnerability when connecting devices or at the data host site of the chip. In addition, the limitations of the processing capabilities on devices manufactured by different companies creates security challenges. At present, consumers must use devices made by the same company in order to link them. Cloud-based connections reduce the necessity of standardizing the processing capabilities of IoT devices.
Most IoT devices aren’t currently enabled for cloud management, which is a potential security pitfall. When devices are all tethered to the cloud, it is a simple fix to patch security vulnerabilities – even when they are in the hands of end users. Devices can communicate more readily with one another when cloud capabilities have been implemented.
The bottom line is that the success of the IoT industry is dependent upon the security that is provided by the technology. To ensure that data protection remains a primary focus in an expanding market, networks and devices must be safeguarded. Enabling cloud management capabilities and security features embedded at the chip level can achieve these results.
As recently as a few years ago, entrepreneurs requiring computing solutions would have had little choice other than to make major IT investments. However, the advent of the cloud has changed the playing field, both for business owners and their customers.
Recent studies have quantified the impact cloud computing has had on global businesses; according to Gartner, a leading market research firm, cloud computing services generated over $150 billion in revenues in 2014.
The cloud offers a convenient and cost-effective alternative to traditional IT delivery methods, allowing entrepreneurs to access and customize software programs, data storage and backup services, and a wide range of other specialized functions and applications over the Internet.
Major benefits of the cloud include:
- Significant cost reductions – Cloud solutions reduce the need to purchase in-house hardware and software. The cloud also eliminates the need for physical storage and backup of files and documents.
- Scalability and flexibility – Cloud technologies can be upsized or downsized according to the changing needs of a business.
- IT savings – Cloud-based applications reduce resource or eliminate demands on in-house IT departments.
Cloud Computing Deployment Methods
Businesses seeking to take advantage of cloud computing have four main deployment methods available:
- Public cloud – This deployment model is easily accessible, hosted on the World Wide Web.
- Private cloud – Companies can create private clouds behind firewalls for added security.
- Community cloud – This model is a partnership of companies or organizations sharing the same private cloud space.
- Hybrid cloud – An emerging deployment approach that combines aspects of the private, public, and community cloud models, creating a customized, flexible solution.
Business Functions Supported by Cloud Computing
Cloud computing has a wide range of applications in the business world, but there are four primary ways in which the technology is used:
- File storage and data backup – Cloud computing has emerged as the most flexible and convenient way to store files and back up important data. The remote storage of digital documents frees up much-needed space on local devices. Cloud technologies also offer secure data backup capabilities, ensuring business continuity in the event of a disruption.
- Collaboration – Cloud computing has transformed the workplace, making it much easier for people working from different or remote locations to communicate, collaborate and share information. Roughly two-thirds of small and medium-sized enterprises report the need for employees to be able to work anytime, from anywhere. For businesses such as these, cloud solutions offer a major boost to productivity and operational efficiency.
- Resource accessibility – Software, data, and documents stored in the cloud are quickly and easily accessible. Server management is monitored by cloud providers, further liberating businesses from administrative costs.
- Effective management of business growth – In the past, growth forced businesses to make further investments in IT resources. Now, the near-instant scalability of the cloud provides flexible, cost effective computing resources.
How to Choose a Cloud Provider
Businesses should carefully assess cloud providers based on terms, pricing, and service level agreements, as well as security and reputation. Many providers offer low-cost trial periods, which businesses can take advantage of to test compatibility.
It’s important to make a thorough needs assessment in partnership with providers. Topics to address should include:
- The best deployment model
- Security needs
- Software, infrastructure, and platform requirements
- The availability of new applications
- Merging existing IT infrastructure with the cloud environment
The cloud offers a scalable, flexible, affordable route to improved IT performance that is ideal for businesses with limited IT resources.
When it comes to deploying security in a virtual environment, some industry professionals draw a blank–or, worse, they think that it’s necessary to replace existing physical security protocols with virtual substitutes. This is not true.
In fact, the best approach to use when viewing virtual security is a logical one. Consider this: A jewelry store owner who expands the physical location or who opens a new facility would not try to use his/her current security force to protect the new location, nor would the owner secure the new location by trying to stretch the current security force between two facilities and simply hope that the depleted resources will cover the need. Both sites need to be secure.
Considering the current, overwhelming surge in virtual as-a-service solutions, knowing how and when to apply virtual security measures like firewalls has become a crucial consideration for businesses. This is especially due to the fact that according to industry specialists, over one-fifth of all VPN (virtual private network) security will be deployed in a virtual format by the end of the year.
Companies already understand the flexibility and cost-saving advantages of moving information and even key infrastructure to the cloud (hence, the rapid growth). That said, virtual security protocols should not be an either/or dilemma; they should be employed in a layered defense. The physical systems already in place should be supported with virtual firewalls—not replaced with them—depending on the level of the workload requirements.
The reasons for this layered defense are abundant. Not only does it secure the virtual aspects of the data system, but the same ease of alteration and on-demand access that is available in a virtual environment is accessible with virtual firewalls. Companies can adjust deployment according to specific needs, which allows them to better control financial commitments.
The issue of deployment confusion has been discussed at length by industry experts. Keeping pace with the rapidly expanding network services available in a virtual environment means finding ways to secure that activity from threats.
Therefore, deployment should depend on the same workload and accessibility requirements that have determined the current physical security measures.
Notably, there are two basic types of virtual firewalls:
- Introspective: This type resides within the hypervisor side of each virtual NIC (network interface card). Although it offers a well-managed way to keep virtual machines protected, it is limited in availability at this time.
- Edge: This is the most common form of virtual firewalls. These reside between two or more virtual portgroups or switches. The beneficial aspect of this type of virtual security is that companies can deploy them at the “edge” of their data center or between trust zones in a cloud environment, depending on their workload and throughput activity.
Rules of the Game
In general, there are three fundamental rules when it comes to adding virtual security services to a network:
- Deploy virtual firewalls to enhance the depth of network safety in conjunction with the physical securities already in place.
- Know the specifications of a virtual firewall. (The specs for physical firewalls are outlined; virtual ones should be outlined, too.)
- Don’t limit virtual security to one type (or breed) of firewall. (Requirements play an essential role in the types and amount of firewall protection needed for a network.)
With the changing environment of virtual services, companies can discover the best means of keeping their networks secure by incorporating virtual security protocols. The investment is well worth it when the risks are considered, and the faster, more adaptive role that these protocols play can make a huge difference in security compliance.