• The Ultimate IT Managers Guide to IT Infrastructure

Industry experts and analysts have long been telling us how third-generation technology is changing the way businesses operate.

Mobile devices, cloud computing and social media are three key factors, which are all taking their toll on the corporate infrastructure. Gartner refers to this mega trend as the Nexus of Forces, while IDC describes them as the third platform. Both analysts include a fourth pillar of this third generation technology – data.

With the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), demand from data on the corporate infrastructure is also set to grow exponentially. Data centre capacity consumed by the IoT is expected to increase by nearly 750% over the next five years.

It is now estimated that by 2020 more than seven billion people and businesses, and close to 35 billion devices, will be connected to the internet. All will be generating data which needs processing, storing, analysing and securing. This will create big challenges.

As a result, data centres are not just expected to grow, they will also need to become more innovative in order to handle evolving requirements.

“The personality, structure and role of data centres will need to be changed or business agility and competitive strength will be compromised,” says Gartner.


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Storage

With the volume of data generated by organisations expected to grow rapidly, there will need to be a corresponding growth in storage capacity. Research by Forrester has revealed that more than half (56%) of IT professionals believe this storage requirement will be the main driver behind data centre expansion.

The emergence of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) has seen more and more businesses turn to cloud providers to provide a scalable and affordable solution. Debate remains, however, over what data companies are prepared to store in the cloud.

Concerns over data sovereignty and security have made many reticent to utilise public cloud services for sensitive information. Yet two thirds of Western European small to medium-sized businesses are reported to be using the cloud for disaster recovery.

Amrita Choudhury, Ovum’s analyst for infrastructure solutions, said: “Cloud-based storage has been a catalyst for major change in the backup and recovery arena. It also provides several benefits including scalability, flexibility, accessibility, monitoring ease, and affordable pricing.”
Organisations are becoming more efficient in cloud storage by consolidating their own on-premise storage infrastructures with the help of deduplication technologies. They are also increasingly developing their own private clouds and gaining the associated benefits by deploying solutions such as thin provisioning.

While there are clear reasons to both maintain an onpremise solution and also take advantage of the flexibility offered by cloud providers, it is expected that many businesses will develop a hybrid approach to storage.

Cameron Haight, research vice president at Gartner, said: “Through a mixture of cloud services and in-house equipment that is right for their organisation, a webscale approach can turn IT into a tangible competitive advantage for smaller companies in the way it has for internet giants.” 


Mark Lomas, Probrand's security expert's advice:

When looking toward cloud providers to meet your storage needs, ensure you know where your data is, and what security standards the provider meets. Check into how easily you can turn on and off the tap of resources to gain complete flexibility around cost, and make sure you can roll out and tear-down storage services at will, on your own terms.

For on-premise solutions, flexibility is key.  We all want our storage to scale and grow with us, but we also need to make sure that storage can be presented out in a variety of ways. Look for storage solutions that can offer both NAS and SAN, preferably without requiring additional hardware or software components. That way you’ll have a simple way to present storage in whatever way may be required in the future.


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Computing

Virtualised (or software-defined infrastructure) is continuing to transform computing infrastructure. The consultancy firm Protiviti has claimed that virtualisation will remain a priority for IT leaders in 2015. 

Faisal Ghaus, vice president of analyst TechNavio, said: “With the increasing adoption of virtualised computing infrastructure, enterprises are finding it easier to manage their work. They are able to run multiple servers on the same equipment, which reduces the demand for additional servers.” 
Research by the IT professionals’ organisation Spiceworks has also found almost four fifths (79%) of European organisations have deployed a virtualisation solution.

The ability to virtualise this infrastructure has – similarly to storage – led to a rise in the utilisation of IaaS offerings. Data centre firm Emerson predicts that two thirds of data centre computing will be carried out in the cloud by 2025.

Organisations are also deploying their own private clouds; increasingly opting to reduce the complexity and expense of integrating storage and computing by deploying hyperconverged infrastructures. Analysts IDC predict that this hyperconverged infrastructure market will grow by 116.2% in 2015.

Eric Sheppard, research director for storage systems at IDC, said: “An important part of this evolution is the relatively recent emergence of hyperconverged systems. These systems are helping to deliver many of the proven benefits of integrated systems, including reduced complexity, risk, and inefficiencies, into new environments with targeted infrastructure needs or smaller budgets.”


Mark Lomas, Probrand's infrastructure expert's advice:

As the market evolves, converged solutions will be a key way to deliver infrastructure for SMBs, and for branch offices. This dovetails nicely with the benefits of virtualisation, and brings opex down still further.

For larger organisations, hyperconverged appliances could be useful to watch, but ensure you don’t back yourself into a lock-in scenario. Evaluate carefully, and put some options on the table. Be clear on whether a rapid turnkey solution is best, or whether a more open solution might fit your needs better.

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The Corporate Network

As the emergence of cloud computing and growth of data volumes has transformed data centres, the prevalence of mobile devices is having a similar impact on the corporate network. 

Gartner has claimed that Wi-Fi will become the default connection for both non-mobile devices as well as mobile - estimating that 40% of enterprises will specify Wi-Fi as the default connection for non-mobile devices by 2018. 

Rohit Mehra, vice president of network infrastructure at IDC, said: “Organisations are migrating to 802.11ac in order to experience wire-like speeds that enable a more nimble, mobile enterprise. As the 802.11ac ecosystem grows even more robust, expect this to continue for the foreseeable future.”
Such is the demand for 802.11ac equipment that the consumer market in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region grow 479.2% in 2014.

Some analysts have argued that with the 802.11ac standard providing bandwidth equal to or surpassing that available to wired users, this will bring an end to the use of Ethernet in smaller offices.

Irwin Lazar, vice president at Nemertes Research, said: “Will 802.11ac kill wired Ethernet? In many small offices and open workspaces the answer is clearly yes. But the road to the wireless-only office will have some bumps along the way.”
 

Mark Lomas, Probrand's infrastructure expert's advice:

Software defined is already pushing into the world of storage and compute strongly, but it’s also going to be making more progress in networking.  Watch for network solutions that are more software based, even including switches with support for different switch ‘operating systems’. For larger businesses, there can be significant benefits when building the foundation for your private clouds.

SMBs should look toward continuing to build the foundation for a more productive workforce, and that typically means a more mobile workforce. The best wireless solutions should be easy and simple to roll out, but give strong, wired-grade reliability and performance. It’s 2016 – there’s no excuse for patchy wireless.

Security

As more and more ‘things’ connect to corporate networks and data centres, organisations are having to focus on the risks and reduce the possibility of breaches and potential downtime.
A study by Vanson Bourne has estimated the annual global cost of enterprise downtime and data loss incidents at £1.7 trillion. The research also found that 71% of IT professionals are not fully confident in their ability to recover information following an incident.

Increased mobile working and the emergence of the Internet of Things is continuing to increase the possible attack surface through which cybercriminals can access an organisation’s infrastructure. According to security firm Tripwire, a quarter (24%) of critical infrastructure employees have already connected an Internet of Things device to their employers’ networks.

“While consumer-focused IoT devices present minimal direct risk to the enterprise, many of them connect back to a vendor’s infrastructure via the internet to store user data. In general, people seriously underestimate how easily attackers can move around inside networks once they gain access,” said Craig Young, security researcher for Tripwire.

With the growing prevalence of virtualised or ‘softwaredefined’ infrastructure, IT professionals are also having to meet new security requirements. Yet according to security firm Kaspersky, approximately one out of every four IT security experts have little to no understanding of virtualisation security options.

Mark Bermingham, virtualisation analyst at Kaspersky, said: “Businesses today face an ever-evolving threat landscape and cybercriminals are increasingly looking at virtual environments as the next frontier of sophisticated attacks.”

Mark Lomas, Probrand's infrastructure expert's advice:

Security is a constant battle, and it’s an arena where ‘set and forget’ just doesn’t exist. Large or small, all businesses are susceptible. Given the automated nature of many threats, you can’t assume you’re too small to hack, or too big to be affected. Keep up the layered approach, and keep a good relationship with security experts to ensure you have your finger on the pulse, and the best tools at your disposal. Audit regularly, and put your digital security guards to work.


Is your network holding you back?

The smooth running of your computer network is vital when ensuring your business remains both efficient and effective. Poor wireless connectivity, old switches, and legacy storage are just a few of the things that can hold your network back.



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