News & Technology
Today, we're speaking with Marshall Hughes who is Senior Solutions Architect at Emerging IT. Marshall has been in IT infrastructure since 1993 and with Emerging IT since 2003. He’s seen a lot change in that time.
Damien: In your opinion, what new technologies are showing the most promise to help stretched IT departments?
Marshall: A lot has changed and even though we have faster systems, more bandwidth and better integrations everyone is still pressed for time. The bar keeps rising.
I’m mainly looking at technology that will streamline operations, or provide better security for data. In no particular order, the most exciting trends are:
- Hyperconvergence, software defined networking and virtual storage.
- Hybrid cloud, especially for the increasing number of remote workers.
- Data & security including multifactor authorisation and backing up cloud data.
- Hardware or device as a service – wrapping up the entire device lifecycle in a managed service.
OK, so the last one isn’t a new technology but it is a growing area which unburdens the IT department of asset management.
Damien: So, just to talk about that last one first, asset management doesn’t sound like it would take long so why is that becoming popular?
Marshall: Whenever I speak to an IT manager or CIO they show me the backlog of projects their team is trying to complete. But they keep getting bogged down in day to day operations. The small things all add up and if we can take some of that off their hands they can deliver the projects which are adding value to the business.
Damien: OK, makes sense. So can you talk about the first one – hyperconvergence?
Marshall: Yep, hyperconvergence, software defined networks and virtual storage are incredibly promising technologies. It’s hard to believe, but server virtualisation has been part of the IT infrastructure fabric for 10 years now – I was using it in production systems back in 2007.
Abstracting the physical infrastructure is the next logical step. It simplifies adds/moves/changes of the physical equipment sitting in the rack just as server virtualisation did.
Hyperconvergence just provides the compute, storage and networking into a single box which can be expanded just by plugging in more. The actual configuration is all done in the software instead of physically plugging in individual hard drives or cabling.
Another advantage is smaller scaled storage/resource increases. Previously to expand fibre channel or iSCSI storage you often had to purchase an extra shelf at the minimum or more likely with enterprise class storage, an extra rack. With Hyperconvergance you can add smaller amounts of storage as you go, which at the same time increase compute resources and network bandwidth. This frees up IT budgets for large expenditure and reduces “crystal balling” of storage growth rates
Similarly with software defined networks and virtual storage, the idea is to just have a bunch of raw resources available with the final form shaped in software. So much more flexibility and we can make practically any change without having to visit the data centre.
Damien: That sounds a lot easier to manage. I imagine that IT managers have an easier time getting budget for incremental capacity upgrades instead of the big bang projects we’ve seen in the past.
So, Hybrid Cloud, what is it and what are the main benefits?
Marshall: Hybrid Cloud is where some IT services for the organisation are running from the cloud and are integrated with on-premise infrastructure.
Integration between local systems and Office 365 is an example we see often. Using ADsync you can synchronise the internal Active Directory with Office 365 to keep credentials in sync so staff don’t have to remember a separate username and password for their cloud apps.
This is a great solution for when an Exchange server is getting too costly to support in house or needs to be retired. It’s also very beneficial for businesses where staff travel often or work remotely as they don’t have to connect back to the internal servers for email.
We can also get the best of both worlds for organisations who don’t want to move their entire email hosting to the cloud – in this case hybrid Exchange Server with Office 365 is the answer. Mailboxes for remote staff sit in the cloud, and local staff retain their mailbox on the in house Exchange server.
These are just a couple of examples to paint the picture of what’s possible, but the interoperability between cloud and on-premise environments is getting a lot easier than it used to be.
Damien: That leads nicely into the last topic which is securing that data no matter where it sits. What’s happening in this space and what should people be thinking about?
Marshall: Well, I think the first thing that everyone needs to consider about their data is how is it being protected? We’ve had backups drilled into us for decades when the data was on internal servers but for some reason it’s forgotten about when the data is in a cloud system.
Sure, the cloud provider will have backups and disaster recovery plans, but what if you lose only some of your data through accidental deletion? How will you get that back?
Cloud to cloud backups are actually a thing now and something to know about. For example backing up the data from inside your Office 365 email environment to another cloud storage provider is possible using third-party services. This removes the entire reliance on Microsoft to protect the data.
There’s also protection from malicious intent which is where additional security mechanisms such as two- factor authentication bring a lot of value. Two-factor authentication is a system which lets you log in based on something you know (your password) and something you have (a code sent to your mobile). It’s pretty quick and easy for the user these days and is far more secure than passwords alone.
Note that it isn’t a replacement for a solid password policy to eliminate easy to guess passwords. If I had to make one recommendation for everyone it would be to implement a strong password policy which requires long complex passwords that are changed every 30-90 days. It doesn’t have to be difficult, just make your passwords from a sentence instead of a mix of characters. Sentences are much easier to remember anyway.
Damien: Great advice there. Thanks Marshall, really appreciate your time.