Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Watch Your Day In 2020 [ Future Technology ]

Have you ever imagined, what your day would be like in 2020? Constantly changing technology can give us impossible things in the near future. Watch this video and tell us, what do YOU think is possible in 2020?

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Common Questions on T1 Bandwidth - With Practical Answers

Confused about T1 bandwidth? No need to be any longer. Here's some of the most commonly asked questions .... with practical answers to set you straight and on your way to confidently utilizing this backbone of business voice and data networks.

1. If T1 data rate is 1.5 Mb, why isn't a cable service "equal or better" which offers 6MB down/768 Kb up? What are the fundamental differences between T1 and Cable?

Basically T1's are business connections. Cable/DSL services are usually residential.

T1's normally have:

* unlimited throughput

* a guaranteed uptime per month

* no port blocking, allowing servers

* upload 2-5x as high as cable/DSL

* faster repair times, as in the company will most likely take priority repairing them

* a dedicated line

Cable/DSL usually has an AUP or TOS that disallows servers, and may have high downtimes. Plus when there is no internet, there might be no business either.

Cable/DSL have high download speeds, but in a business setting, you might only be checking email/browsing the web/updating database records, so you don't need so much download. However you may be running a server that uploads a lot, or you might be updating a website and need to send files often. The upload of a T1 helps in this setting.

Raw peak speed it not all there is to a connection. T1 is marketed as a business class service. That means it is symmetrical, making is easy to run servers and comes with a service level agreement that guarantee minimal acceptable performance and mean time to repair (MTTR). These are critical components in the marketing of different services. If you are a business the cost of a network outage could be dramatic.

That being said the widespread availability of extremely low cost residential services is putting tremendous price pressure on traditional business class services. With that you see the cost of T1 lines (as well as DS3 even OC3) dropping steadily over the last year.

2. Is T1 more than just raw bandwidth? Is voice T1 fundamentally different than data T1 for Internet access or "integrated T1" for voice and Internet access? If you need voice, do you have to go with a telco-type T1 provider who can provide you DIDs and local and long-distance service, etc? When people talk about "integrated T1" which can be used for Internet access (data) and telephone service (voice), how does the provider handle data side and voice side?

Simply put T1 is a point-to-point link. T1 was developed in the late early 1960's to carry 24 digitized phone calls between telephone switching offices. Think of T1 as a simple pipe, between you and the service provider. That service provider may be the phone company delivering voice service over the T1 pipe, or an ISP delivering Internet access. To the T1 line how the bits are used does not matter, bit-is-bits. If you want DID trunks you need to make sure the remote end of the T1 connects to a service provider capable of delivering them.

Remember the history of T1.

It was designed to carry digital phone calls. Total capacity is divided into 64 kbps channels. That is ideal for voice but is makes no sense for data, so data uses unchannalized T1. In the middle is that ability to mix and match data and voice. Thus the birth of "integrated T1" lines.

3. In "integrated T1", voice calls get priority. In the absence of any voice calls, all the bandwidth is available for Internet access. How is "dynamic and automatic" bandwidth allocation done? Do you need special edge equipment to do this?

T1 is just a pipe. It is a simple matter to have equipment at each end of the T1 dynamically allocate voice as high priority and data on a best effort basis over a single T1 pipe, the common term is Integrated Access Device (IAD).

There you go. You're now armed with the basic knowledge needed to make the initial educated decisions on installing a T1 line for your business voice/data network. For more complex applications I strongly suggest using the services of a no-cost consultant to guide your business through any potential minefields.

By Michael Lemm

Michael is the owner of FreedomFire Communications....including T1 Bandwidth Solutions. Michael also authors Broadband Nation where you're always welcome to drop in and catch up on the latest BroadBand news, tips, insights, and ramblings for the masses.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How to Determine the Best Bandwidth Solution For Video Conferencing & Multi-Media Applications

Your business intends to make extensive use of video conferencing and multi-media applications. How do you determine what bandwidth solution (T1, DS3, OCx/Sonet, etc.) would best meet your needs and incorporate that decision into your network cover these applications?

I'd say that it depends on what kind of service and QoS you are looking at. For example, when you say "video" you mean video conferencing and not something like VoD. The Bandwidth requirements will vary according to your service requirements.

For example: For IPTV services, the image quality depends on the encoding deployed: MPEG-2 consumes approx. 3.75 Mbps, whereas MPEG-4 needs approx. 2 Mbps for the same high-quality image production. Also broadcast TV is delivered using IP Multicast which makes the bandwidth required dependent on the number of channels offered and the encoding rate. 200 channels of MPEG-2 in standard definition will take approx. 750 Mbps of bandwidth. VoD, on the other hand, is a unicast per-viewer channel. 1000 standard definition VoD users will need appro. 3.75 Mbps.

The QoS requirements for video conferencing using H.323 (SIP could be different again) can be planned on the "Rule of 75" as follows: Calculate the minimum bandwidth required by each of your applications ( e.g., video, voice, data). The total of this bandwidth is the minimum requirement for any given link and it should consume NO MORE than 75% of the total available bandwidth on the link. The 75% rule makes allowances for bandwidth required for over head traffic, such as routing, Layer 2 keepalives and other applications, such as, email, HTTP etc.

So, Capacity planning for H.323, should look like something as follows:

Video data + 20% = bandwidth required.

Example:

Video data rate: Bandwidth Required:

512 kbps = 614 kbps
1.5Mbps = 1.8 Mbps ...

For issues such as number of concurent users and more stuff on video conferencing you can perhaps consider looking into Cisco's solutions offered and also TANDBERG boxes.

Cisco considers anything 766Kb to be a "slow link" for VOIP. Also you need to consider the criticality of the sites so you may need two separate connections. All multi-media applications run on top of your other applications so QoS only allows a preference of who goes first.

You need a good baseline of non-multi-media applications (VOIP). So bandwidth needs to be able to handle all necessary applications in the network.

Also, you'll need to remember that the bandwidth aggregation at the Data Center needs to meet or exceed all inbound remote site traffic. In other words, if I have three remote sites all with T1s. I'll need more than one T1 at the Data Center to manage the traffic. Remember unless this is a greenfield then baseline, baseline, baseline!

When it comes to streaming video, bi-directional - you are going to have to consider the quality of the compression you are planning to use. If you are planning on using high definition video 1 direction it is recommended to have at least 2MB in the direction of the video being accessed.

So if you are streaming video to your computer then you need to make sure that you get 2MB download capacity. Also, another thing to keep in mind is latency and loss of packets. I would recommend staying away from wireless for this type of application as it will add latency and cause issues later. DS3 bandwidth and anything higher may be over kill, but would easily be able to handle your demands.

Without knowing specifics, it is hard to provide a precise answer, but, one can still specify a systematic method for calculating required bandwidth. Once you know the bandwidth requirement, then it is all about negotiating the most economical way to order that bandwidth from a network provider in the area.

Here is what I would suggest:

1. Calculate the peak external link bandwidth requirements (inter-office data transfer, video conferencing, email transfers. With attachments running in tens of megabytes, email traffic can't be ignored these days.).

2. Real time applications being mostly jitter and delay sensitive - so you have to make sure that you will have enough bandwidth when they need it. The bandwidth of video depends on the mpeg profiles used (without going into specific, generally 1.5 Mbps can give you very good video on a PC (equal to VCD quality). HDTV images can take about 20 Mbps - but that is domain more reserved for IP TV service providers). Most current users of interactive video communications will be happy with the images coded and transmitted @ 512 Kbps. This includes audio and video as well as control signaling. So, one should provision at least 512 Kbps per video stream, and more the better (I would say 1.5 Mbps is the good if you are a big organization and use a large TV for video conferences)). So, multiply bandwidth for a single stream by the number of parallel streams required. Now that determines the total peak real time usage.

3. There is no specific rule - but wise men with experience advise to keep the peak real time within 60 to 75% of network bandwidth available leaving the remaining capacity for background traffic. In a small organization of 5 people - it is easy to tell people not to download gigabyte attachments when video conferencing is going on , but in larger organizations it is hard to enforce such things except with router policies (assuming they have QoS support), and you can deal with occasional unhappy users.

4. Now, once you know your bandwidth requirements, it is time to talk to the network operator how they can provide that bandwidth in the most cost effective way.

For help in finding just the right bandwidth solution for your video conferencing and multi-media applications .... take advantage of the no cost help provided at DS3-Bandwidth.

By Michael Lemm

Michael is the owner of FreedomFire Communications....including DS3-Bandwidth.com. Michael also authors Broadband Nation where you're always welcome to drop in and catch up on the latest BroadBand news, tips, insights, and ramblings for the masses.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Tablet PC Comparison - What Is the Best Tablet PC to Buy?

Tablet PC Comparison: Apple iOS vs Google Android

Although there are a number of different companies, utilising different operating systems (OS for short), now creating brilliant options for tablet computers, the chief tablet PC comparison for almost all consumers still boils down to the Apple iPad's iOS and different Google Android tablets. So which choice of these two systems (or any other) is the correct one for your needs?

Look and feel: Most industry experts largely agree that Apple's iOS works extremely well both as a smartphone and a tablet PC operating system. The system works very intuitively on the iPad - particularly if you've used an iPhone or iPod Touch before. The interface can be said to be iOS's best benefit, which no other tablet currently on the market can match.

Apps: In addition to the look and feel seniority, Apple also have a major marketing point with their App Store. There are currently over 350,000 apps available to download for free or buy for a small price from the Apple Store. It's a certainty that when a new app is created by a company or developer, the first version is for the App Store and after that it is ported to other platforms. However, Apple's store is not the sole player in the arena - the Android Market is rapidly growing, passing the 100,000 apps mark in early 2011.

Android has one major advantage on the competition when it comes to apps: it's far more open and has more of a laissez-faire policy to the Market, whereas the App Store exercises very tight controls on every application, particularly in regard to adult content. The Android market allows developers much more creativity and flexibility.

There have also been complaints from some developers about Apple's rigid marketeering, with Apple requiring developers to remove any links from inside apps to the developers own websites. (The benefit to Apple is that they keep 30% commission from every app sale, whereas previously customers may have upgraded from free to paid version from within the developer's own site.)

Hardware: One major difference between iOS and Android is that iOS is exclusive to the iPad, while Android is open source and is being used by a number of different companies. This effectively means that the iPad and iOS are joined at the hip - you can't run the iPad without iOS. The iPad therefore has much more restriction of choice than other tablets, and much tighter pricing. However, those choices that are on the market are all good quality, and the hardware and software do work together harmoniously - crashes are very rare on the iPad.

Android, by contrast, is used in many different tablets from a large number of makers. From Blackberry to Samsung, you have a much wider choice of tablet PC to suit your budget and particular needs. However, you do need to do your homework. Some companies have customised Android and improved it, but some may not work as well and might still be based on older Android releases.

Conclusion

Right now, the iPad is still the most well-known and iconic tablet PC on the market. However, popularity is growing with a number of other tablet PCs. The choice is certainly good news for customers, who now have much more availability to get their exact requirements from a tablet computer. A lot of people still favour the Apple iOS, particularly if they have used other Apple products, but in the end it comes down to doing a tablet PC comparison yourself, by researching, checking them out, testing some in store, and selecting the one that feels like a good match for you.

TabletPCReviewer.com brings you tablet PC comparison guides, reviews, and articles all about the world of tablet PC computing.

By Karen A Barr

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How to Choose Between a Smartphone and a Tablet?

In a technology dominated era, it is difficult to choose between different gadgets that get launched every now and then. A device that is considered to be the most advanced today can easily become obsolete in a span of one year only. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly difficult to choose the device that can cope with the rapid technological advancements. The biggest dilemma that most people face today is whether to invest on a smartphone or a tablet.

Both these devices are of the same genre and share a lot of common functionalities. Firstly, tablets and smartphones have the same operating system, so there is hardly anything to distinguish them when it comes to the look and feel. This is further complicated by the fact that most of today's apps are compatible with both tablets and smartphones. Certain features like digital camera, Internet connectivity, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi compatibility, and support for multimedia files are available on both these devices.

On the other hand, there are some aspects that distinguish them. Tablets generally have a larger screen-size, so it is easier to play games and watch videos on a tablet PC. Smartphones are capable of making voice calls and send text messages, which are its primary uses as well. Although some high-end tablet PCs provide data calling and text messaging features, it is not convenient to talk for long hours using a bulky tablet.

However, the deciding factor between a smartphone and tablet is the purpose of using the device. If you need to a handy device to make several calls during the day and occasionally browse the Internet, smartphone would be the ideal choice. It is easier to carry than a tablet and can cater to your voice calling needs.

Alternately, if you are in need for a portable computer, tablet is the device you would want to buy. Business professionals and students generally prefer tablets because it can be alternatively used for official and entertainment purposes. It is easier to view and edit documents on the large screen, while the superior display is a major factor behind its popularity as an entertainment device. Since voice dialing is not its primary feature, the battery life of a tablet PC is considerably longer. This helps you use the device even when you are on a long journey.

Even with all the features stacked up against each other, it may be difficult to choose one over another. Fortunately, handset manufacturers have come up with phablets, which can be considered as a hybrid of both tablets and smartphones.

Latest smartphones like Samsung GT-I9500 S4 can be purchased online, along with tablets of different screen sizes. The 7 inch android tablet is generally considered to be the ideal size to operate a tablet.

By Shelia Z Smithson

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Introduction to Cloud Computing

1. Introduction to Cloud Computing

Cloud computing refers to both the applications delivered as services over the Internet and the hardware and systems software in the data centers that provide those services. The data center hardware and software is what we will call a Cloud. Cloud computing is relatively new concept and it has become popular recently. Cloud leverages virtualization technology and in the essence of Cloud computing there is a logical separation between different nodes, each node appears as a different physical machine to the user. Unlike grid computing, it makes several distributed computers connected together to form a big logical computer which can handle large amount of data and computation. In case of Cloud computing the virtualization technology makes it possible to have each node appear as separate physical machine allowing user to load custom software and operating system on each node and configure custom rules for each node.

The idea of Cloud computing is evolved from parallel processing, distributed computing and grid computing. There is a bit similarity between them but they work differently. Although Cloud computing is an emerging field of computer science, the idea has been around for a few years. It's called Cloud computing because the data and applications exist on a "cloud" of Web servers. To simplify the concept, Cloud computing can be defined as simply the sharing and use of applications and resources of a network environment to get work done without concern about ownership and management of the network's resources and applications. According to Scale, with Cloud computing, computer resources for getting work done and their data are no longer stored on one's personal computer, but are hosted elsewhere to be made accessible in any location and at any time.

2. Related Technology Comparison

2.1. Grid computing A form of distributed computing and parallel computing, whereby a 'super and virtual computer' is composed of a cluster of networked, loosely coupled computers acting in concert to perform very large tasks

2.2. Utility computing The packaging of computing resources, such as computation and storage, as a metered service similar to a traditional public utility, such as electricity.

2.3. Autonomic computing

Computer systems capable of self management.

3. General mechanism

Cloud computing using information technology as a services over the network. The concept generally encompasses of Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Platform as a service (PaaS) Hardware as a Service (HaaS) and Software as a service (SaaS). It can be the ability to rent a server or servers and run a geophysical modeling application available anywhere. It can be the ability to (S Rupley, 2009) rent a virtual server, load software on it, turn it on and off at will, or clone it to meet a sudden workload demand. It can be storing and securing large amounts of data that is accessible only by authorized applications and users. It can be supported by a cloud provider that sets up a platform with the ability to scale automatically in response to changing workloads. It can be using a storage cloud to hold application, business, and personal data. And it can be the ability to use a handful of Web services to integrate photos, maps, and GPS information to create a front page in customer Web browsers.

In a cloud computing system, there is a significant workload shift. Local computers no longer have to run applications. The network of computers that make up the cloud handles them instead. In this situation the demand of hardware and software on the user's side is decreased. Let the cloud take care of it. The only thing that local computers should aware is the interface software that will run the application. Today's, a Web Browser such as Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer 8 is widely use as an interface software in cloud computing system.

The truth is, internet users already used some form of cloud computing. If they have an email account with a Webbased email service like Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail or Gmail, then they had some experience with cloud computing. Instead of running an email program on a local computer, user will log in to a Web email account remotely. The software and storage for the account does not exist in the local computer it is on the service's computer cloud.

4. Key characteristic of Cloud Computing

Currently, there is no standard definition or specification for Cloud Computing. It may take some time to define the key characteristics of Cloud Computing based on practices in the field.Based on practices in the areas of service provisioning and solution design, the following two key enabling technologies could play a vital role in this revolutionary phase of cloud computing:

4.1. Virtualization technology

Virtualization technology works to handle on how the image of the operating system, middleware, and application procreated and allocated to a physical machine or part of the server stack away. The virtualization technology can also help reuse licenses of operating systems, middleware, or software applications, once a subscriber releases their service from the Cloud Computing platform.

4.2. Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).

A service oriented architecture is essentially a collection of services. These services communicate with each other. The communication can involve either simple data passing or it could involve two or more services coordinating some activity. Some means of connecting services to each other is needed. The evolution of a system or software architecture is now moving towards services oriented, unlike several decades ago most of the application is stand alone and purposely for single use. Recently, the gigantic growth of the internet user and internet technology availability the use of software now can be rented. Giant company such as Google, Microsoft, Sun or even Amazon have this capability provide software services instead of selling the software directly to user. The SOA is software or system architecture that addressing componentization, reusability, extensibility, and flexibility. These entire characteristic is a fundamentals need for company that are looking for reducing cost and opt to rent instead of purchase.

Cloud Computing full document

By Noor Zuraidin Mohd Safar

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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Cloud Computing - The Advantages & Disadvantages

Cloud Computing is the use of common software, functionality add-ins, or business applications from a remote server that is accessed via the Internet. Basically, the Internet is the "cloud" of applications and services that are available for access by subscribers utilising a modem from their computer. With Cloud Computing, one simply logs into desired computer applications - such as sales force or office automation programs, web services, data storage services, spam filtering, or even blog sites. Generally, access to such programs is by monthly or annual paid subscription. Through Cloud Computing, businesses may prevent financial waste, better track employee activities, and avert technological headaches such as computer viruses, system crashes, and loss of data.

Without Cloud Computing, a business must generally house one or more computer servers, from which all employees access the company's licensed programs. Through Cloud Computing, the servers which house the software are entirely off-site, with program usage licensed on an as-needed basis through subscription. This may bring down the cost per employee, in that access through a Cloud will generally be more cost effective than purchase of in-house licenses and hardware, and subscriptions are scalable per actual need. Thus, with software pay-per-use, savings are realised from the avoidance of extraneous software licenses and more immediate access to additional programs is possible almost at a whim, without having to go through the upload process on the IT side, as required for in-house servers.

Cloud Computing programs offer great manageability and oversight, from the employee supervision standpoint. Particularly in sales force automation, wherein tracking the activities of a sales team and resulting data can be critical to the success and continuance of a company, being able to obtain a quick view of an employee's work is both time saving (in reporting) and financially beneficial. Whilst also enabling the sharing of information company-wide, allowing the entire organisation awareness of company objectives and individual and team progress.

As is apparent in any company of one or more employees, modern organisations are at the mercy of their information servers. What once occupied tens to thousands of square feet of company real estate in file cabinets and storage boxes - all of the intellectual property of a company or brand - is now held within the confines of our most critical piece of the company: our servers. These servers are prone to technological failure, crashes, and viral vulnerabilities. Not only can we suffer damages at the mercy of a virus, but we may also spread that damage to organisations with whom we do business.

Through Cloud Computing, programs are contained, troubleshooted, and maintained entirely off-site from the company subscriber. Thus, businesses lose less time from system outages, maintenance, and data loss. Much less frequently does a business need to concern itself with viruses, Trojans, or other threats.

Noted disadvantages to Cloud Computing are: reliance upon network connectivity, peripheral communication (or lack thereof), legal issues (ownership of data), and absence of a hard drive. The most obvious of the negative concerns is the network connectivity. If the network goes down for any reason, the company loses access to Cloud Computing applications, data and services. Of course, there can be temporary use of off-site or wireless connections, but for a company focused on forward momentum, a technical issue such as this can be a daunting risk. Generally such issues are very short-lived and can be immediately addressed through the company's network provider.

The second concern today is communication of peripheral and connected devices. Before plunging into Cloud Computing full force, one must ensure that the organisation's devices will all communicate and work well with Cloud applications. This is primarily just an issue with lesser known or older technologies, printers, and devices. Most mainstream devices communicate with Cloud Computing programs and applications, as ensuring wide usability is the number one goal for those offering Cloud Computing.

When initiating sign-up or agreement for services with a Cloud Computing provider, ensuring fine print is thoroughly understood is key. A company must know its data loss variables, prior to utilising the service at full force. One major question to ask is, "Will our data be regularly backed up, and how often?" Also query whether immediate denial of service may be enacted at any time, for how long, and if so, what causes such denial. It is highly important to know what sort of "offenses" may bar you from potentially accessing your own data, as well as whether your data is truly protected in the event of system failure.

Absence of a hard drive - while very attractive at face value - can lead to some issues and concerns with Cloud Computing. Some applications (particularly in design and a more technological realm) require hardware attached to the hard drive for use. Ensure the company's necessary applications and uses for Cloud Computing do not require hardware attached to a hard drive, prior to forgoing the individual workstation hardware, altogether.

There is no denying the present and future of Cloud Computing. One of the most beneficial realms of use is telecommuting. Cloud Computing has averted the need for constant updating of work performed outside of the office, and enabled workers to log onto their everyday applications wherever they are: in the office, in the airport, at home, or even in the back seat of a car. No longer are days "out of the office" days of lost progress.

Cloud Computing will not only remain a staple in modern business, but will likely streamline organisational operations in many new ways, as well as expanding upon its current uses. Cloud Computing offers a solid answer to the ongoing question all computer users have had since the onset of the computer age, "Will our data communicate with yours?" Most major technology organisations see the bright future of this technology, and are thus throwing hundreds of millions of pounds into development and implementation of new pathways into the Cloud.

By Imran Zaman

� Copyright Imran Zaman, DAYWATCHER.COM 2009-13. All Rights Reserved.

The daywatcher.com Blog offers free articles covering the latest in business and technology developments. IT news, technology news and business news: all in one place. It is a trustworthy and unbiased source of information for professionals and business managers. It also helps organisations deal with developments and challenges related to business and technology effectively.

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Saturday, January 04, 2014

An Overview of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing - we hear the term almost daily. But really, just what is cloud computing all about? That seems to be a common question. In June of this year, TELUS and IDC Canada released a study on cloud computing which surveyed 200 Canadian business and IT executives and directors at large Canadian companies (500+ employees) across a range of industry sectors. The study found that 63% of Canadian companies surveyed did not have enough or had only a base level of knowledge to make decisions on whether to use a cloud service or their internal IT department.

A recent article from eweek.com also indicates that there is a great deal of confusion about cloud computing. The article makes reference to a recent study commissioned by Citrix Systems which included more than 1000 adults in the U.S. The study showed that most respondents thought that the cloud is related to weather. 51% of respondents thought that the weather could interfere with cloud computing. Despite the confusion, the study also found that 97% of participants are using cloud services today with examples including on-line banking, shopping, social networks and file sharing. Further, 59% of respondents indicated that they believe that the "workplace of the future" will be in the cloud which is somewhat contradictory to the prevalence of cloud computing today.

This insight above mirrors what we find amongst our own clients. Knowledge of cloud computing is relatively limited and as a result, organizations may be missing out on significant opportunities to make their business stronger by reducing cost and risk. Our hope is that this article provides insight into cloud computing to help you to assess its fit for your business requirements.

What is cloud computing?

First of all, it's useful to understand where the term cloud computing came from. It most likely originated from the use of a cloud image to represent a networked computing environment or the internet.

A quick Google search will reveal a number of definitions for cloud computing. I like a definition I picked up from Wikipedia which defines cloud computing as the delivery of computing as a service whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility, similar to the electricity grid, over a network which is most often the internet.

What are the various cloud computing models?

To sort out some of the confusion around cloud computing, it is helpful to understand the various cloud service models, of which there are three - software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

SaaS is the most widely known flavour of cloud service. SaaS is sometimes referred to as on demand software. With SaaS, software and its associated data are centrally hosted and are typically accessed over the internet using a browser. What are some examples of SaaS? MailChimp, the application we use to distribute our newsletters, is an example. Google Apps is another example as is Dropbox, and the list continues to expand.

PaaS provides the delivery of a computing platform and required solutions to facilitate the deployment of applications without having to invest in the cost and complexity of hardware and software. Some examples of PaaS include Microsoft Azure and Google's App Engine.

The IaaS service model allows clients to avoid the procurement of servers, software, data centre space and network equipment. Such resources are provided as a fully outsourced service. Examples of IaaS include Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud and Rackspace.

In addition to the various cloud service models, it's useful to understand the delivery models through which cloud computing is distributed. The main delivery models include public, private, community and hybrid.

A public cloud offers infrastructure and solutions to the general public and is typically owned by a large organization that sells cloud services.

A private cloud is designed solely for one organization. A private cloud may be managed by the organization which uses it, or by a third party, and the infrastructure may be located on the site of the cloud user or elsewhere.

A community cloud is shared by several organizations and supports a community of users, usually with some common interest, such as regulatory concerns.

A hybrid cloud model consists of two or more clouds, for example a public and private cloud, bound together by technology to facilitate data sharing and portability. Egnyte, a file storing and sharing service, is an example of a hybrid cloud computing solution.

What are some benefits of cloud computing?

Earlier this year I participated in a webinar that featured a round table of CFO's commenting on what they believed to be the major benefits of cloud computing. The benefits cited included the following:

  • Cost savings over on-site installations
  • Anywhere anytime access through an Internet connection
  • Reduced dependency on IT support
  • Cloud solutions are most often faster to deploy than on-site solutions
  • Cloud solutions typically enables organizations to buy into a bigger product with much more functionality which would be cost prohibitive if similar functionality was acquired through a non-cloud on-site solution
  • IT can focus more on value-add activities as opposed to managing IT infrastructure because infrastructure management shifts to the cloud provider
  • Cloud solutions typically contribute to the following:
    • More timely financial information
    • Optimizing business processes
    • Connecting with employees and enabling staff to work remotely

What are some of the risks and concerns associated with cloud computing?

Not withstanding the benefits, there are a number of common concerns associated with cloud computing. It is very important to carefully consider risks that could impact your sensitive information, no matter whether you are evaluating cloud or on-site solutions. In doing so, it is also important to evaluate risks associated with cloud solutions in the context of similar risks you could face with your own on-site alternatives.

The most common concern is security. For most small and medium-sized organizations, security with cloud solutions is often better than on-site solutions because reputable cloud solution providers can invest in the skill sets and capabilities to address emerging and evolving threats. Many small and mid-size organizations rely on part-time IT support or have no dedicated IT support at all. This combined with constantly evolving IT risks, would tend to suggest that most small and medium organizations just can't keep up with threats to their information assets. To address security concerns, a reputable cloud provider should be able to provide assurance relevant to the following:

  • Access to data - There should be a rigid authentication process that all users should go through to access their data
  • Transmission - Data should be encrypted as it travels from your local site to the cloud service provider
  • Network - Strong security should be in place to protect the cloud provider's network
  • Physical access - The cloud provider should be able to demonstrate solid controls over physical access to its facilities where your data will reside
  • Data security -The cloud provider should be able to provide assurance that your data is encrypted when it is "at rest" in the cloud
  • Privacy and Compliance - Your cloud provider should be able to provide assurance that it can protect the privacy of your information and comply with relevant standards and legislation that may be relevant to your organization.

Availability of cloud solutions is another concern. It is relevant to assess the impact of a cloud solution becoming unavailable due to circumstances such as an internet outage or a technical failure by the cloud provider. Again such concerns should be analyzed in the appropriate context. Internet outages, especially elongated outages, tend to be uncommon. Reputable cloud providers can most often demonstrate very high levels of uptime performance, and if problems occur, skilled resources are available to address them. How does such a scenario compare with similar risks associated with your on-site alternative? What is your experience with downtime with on-site solutions and can you get timely 24/7 support if you have a critical problem? Availability risks can also be mitigated with the use of a hybrid cloud model. Egnyte was referred to previously as an example of a hybrid cloud model for file sharing and storage. With this option, should the internet go down, you can still have a local copy of your data available.

Access to data is raised as a concern in two contexts. One is how can I get my data back if I leave my cloud supplier. Another is what will happen if my cloud supplier goes out of business. An answer to such questions should be readily available from your cloud supplier and should be specified in your end user agreement. It is most important to consider what format your data will be available in if you seek to get it back from your cloud supplier. Consider for example that if you use a cloud based accounting solution, your data might not be provided back to you in the same format in which you entered it.

One last consideration to think about is data backups. In our experience with smaller organizations, it is not uncommon to find no backup routines or problems with them, such as backups not being stored off site or restoration from back-ups not being tested. Reputable cloud solutions reduce this risk and in fact, many cloud providers have multiple back-up locations in case there is a failure at a particular site.

By Francis Liska

Francis Liska, CGA, CISA, CICA, CMC is the CEO of OTUS Group, a team of business advisors to business and not-for-profit organizations. You can contact Francis at 613-727-1230 ext 213 or fliska@otusgroup.com.

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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Is Your Head in the Cloud?

If you use the internet, have a smart phone, or play online video games from your computer or a gaming counsel, the answer is a resounding YES..you have your head in the cloud! This is no reflection whatsoever on your thinking, but is all about the technology you use. All of those tools, and much more, come to us via cloud technology.

Even if you aren't familiar with cloud technology, you've probably heard it being touted in ads or in the media. It's talked about like it's "the best new thing." It just may be. But why is it called "the cloud," and what is cloud technology, or more specifically cloud storage and computing? To folks who aren't techies, it all sounds vague and mysterious.

The reason it' s called the cloud has several explanations. One of the more common is that years back, when the internet was in it's earlier years, the internet was represented in diagrams as a cloud. Information went in one side and came out the other. What happened in between had to do with a very large complex network of servers accessing and distributing information that was too large and complicated to represent in any sort of detail, so it was simply shown as a cloud. To end users, how it all functioned wasn't completely clear or even important. It was large and ever changing - much like a cloud.

Unless you're a real techie, that's how most of us still view the internet. We don't need to understand all the intricacies. We just want it to work. And work it does. There are now billions of internet users around the world accessing this massive cloud of information, and those numbers continue to explode. As the internet has become more and more accessible, the technology behind it has spawned new ways of thinking about data storage and computing.

In the past, data storage has been restricted to what a person was able to store on their computer or external storage devices. That ranged from an external hard drive or thumb drive for personal computers to rooms filled with banks of servers for large businesses. All that hardware can be expensive and take up a lot of space. In time, all that hardware will wear out or become obsolete, meaning yet more cost.

With developments in the ease, dependability and speed of electronic data transfer, the idea of cloud storage was born. It is now possible for anyone from an individual personal computer user to a large company to transfer data and have it stored and secured by a cloud of remote servers. For a reasonable fee, unlimited amounts of data can be securely stored and accessed from anywhere in the world. With the proper security installed, a person on vacation on another continent can access or store anything they would normally store on the hard drive of their computer from any computer having internet access. A business storing data in the cloud is now able to have access to that data anywhere - from New Mexico to New Zealand and anywhere in between. Cloud technology has brought global information to a new level.

The real excitement, however, is in cloud computing. Software applications for businesses and academia is costly, and in some cases consume huge amounts of computing power. When a business purchases software that is installed on multiple computers, licensing agreements must be purchased to cover all the users. When more users are added, more licensing agreements must be purchased. The solution? Cloud computing.

More and more applications are now available via cloud access. Those applications may be as small as having access to play games or a GPS app on your smart phone to some very heavy duty scientific computing in a research lab. The software being accessed is constantly being updated and is available for a one-time fee or on a pay-for-use basis. Furthermore, the computing is done remotely on countless banks of servers out in the cloud. By routing the computing to various servers during peak load periods in one part of the world to others serving geographies on the other side of the world that are at a much lower use at that time, computing speeds may be greatly improved.

As cloud technology develops, more and more services will become available. Some examples of services that are already available are SaaS - Software as a Service, PaaS - Platform as a Service and HaaS - Hardware as a Service.

Where it will all end, no one knows. But wherever it leads, you can be sure that the future is in the cloud.

Enventis specializes in providing integrated voice, data and network communication solutions, including cloud technology, to businesses and service providers across the upper Midwest.

By Julie Foster

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