Sep 09 2011

Cloud Makes SMBs Equal – BizTech Quick Take

BizTech Quick Take is our weekly digital tour of the web, serving up news and notes on IT and business that you need to know — and some things you’ll simply be glad to know.

Cloud Computing Evens the Playing Field for SMBs

SMBs typically have a hard time ratcheting up their infrastructure to the large-scale enterprise level. Although larger businesses have the revenue and resources to build out and host their own infrastructure and services, SMBs often find themselves lacking in these areas.

But cloud computing has effectively leveled the playing field, allowing SMBs to compete with larger companies now that infrastructure is easily purchasable (or leasable) as a service, Rick Blaisdell writes in a Sept. 2 Cloud Tweaks post.

Blaisdell bases his assertion on two main facts in the post-cloud IT world:

  1. If we think about how much investment was traditionally needed to support millions of users in a scalable and secure environment, we could see how this might cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, in addition to an IT department to manage. In the past, smaller companies needed large investments to afford such an infrastructure. In an elastic environment, you only pay for what you use, and this utility-based pricing includes the infrastructure and management.
  2. To add to this point, think of the situation of a smaller company going head-to-head with a large competitor. If the larger company would mention how large, secure and redundant its infrastructure was, it would most likely eliminate the smaller provider. But now, using an IaaS-managed provider, a smaller company can prove that it is as scalable, secure and redundant as its large competitor and pay for these advantages as a utility, not by investing in large upfront capital infrastructure costs.

The flexibilities of cloud computing have allowed many Internet startup companies, including Yelp, Reddit and Quora, to grow and flourish without having to fork over the money to build their own physical infrastructures, so perhaps Blaisdell is on to something.

Read more about the equalizing powers of cloud computing at CloudTweaks.

Mobile Computing: Security Threat or Productivity Booster?

The mobile computing trend is undeniable. More and more workers expect to be able to access their personal and corporate information on the go.

A common complaint about mobile computing is that it forces companies to sacrifice security in the name of productivity (or vice versa), says technology researcher and consultant Ken Presti. Companies can overcome this quandary, he argues in a recent guest post on the Cisco Small Business blog, by being forthright, collaborative and open with employees. If they feel invested in IT security, they’ll be more inclined to go along with the program, he says.

Presti offers two simple tips for IT workers when approaching co-workers about mobile computing and IT security:

  1. Stress the fact that IT security is something that affects everyone’s online safety and everyone’s job. This is not about finding fault. This is about protecting the data that is critical to everyone’s paycheck, while at the same time ensuring as much access and convenience as practical.
  2. Ask them what sorts of data they seek to access on their device so that security measures can be conducted efficiently and effectively. Putting the question to them in this manner can not only secure the necessary levels of cooperation, it can also help you predict vulnerabilities that you might not otherwise know existed.

Read more about mobile computing, security and productivity in Presti’s post to the Cisco Small Business blog.

Time to Consider Video Conferencing? Business Travel Expenses Are On the Rise

Business travel has long been a component of many workers’ jobs, but it’s costing more to do it these days, Smallbiztechnology.com reports.

According to data from a survey conducted by Replicon, a web-based timesheet and expense management software company, businesses are spending nearly $440 per flight.

Raj Narayanaswamy, co-founder and co-CEO of Replicon, suggests that businesses could save money on travel by booking ahead of time and by combining airfare bookings with hotel bookings. Or they could implement a video conferencing system and meet remotely, saving time, money and resources.

Learn more about the rising costs of business travel at Smallbiztechnology.com.

The Full Picture of Enterprise Security

Modern enterprise security increasingly has far more to do with knowing where the company’s data is, how it’s stored and who has access to it, says Allan Thompson, executive vice president of operations for Dataguise, a provider of enterprise security intelligence solutions.

In order for organizations to get a full picture of enterprise security, they’ll need to invest in internal communication and collaboration and move beyond log checking, Thompson argues in a Sept. 6 piece published by Data Center Knowledge. That means echo chambers and silos must be eliminated and data monitoring must be proactive and conducted in real time. Thompson writes, in part:

According to one analyst focused on [enterprise security intelligence]: “The current disjointed approach to security — which essentially limits security analysis to reviews of monitors’ logs and scanners’ reports — is marked by the lack of knowledge management, analytics and planning capabilities.” Such a siloed approach to security, where multiple products are working in isolation, is an enemy to the comprehensive security strategy that enterprises need to protect their data.

But security intelligence does not just mean gathering log data. It also requires knowing what — and where — your sensitive information is. In April, the Texas Comptroller’s office disclosed that Social Security numbers, addresses and other information belonging to millions of Texans had been left unencrypted and exposed on a server accessible to the public. Between the cost of notification, investigation and reputation damage that organizations can face in these cases, the importance of having a clear view of where the information that constitutes your organization’s “crown jewels” resides should be clear.

Read more about enterprise security in Thompson’s post on Data Center Knowledge.

The State of the Independent Contractor

Have you ever thought about striking out on your own as an independent contractor? These days, plenty of workers have done just that, forgoing the conventional employee position.

Small Business Labs teamed up with MBO Partners and Rockbridge Associates to research and compile data on the state of independent contractors. They shared a few interesting findings from their research on their blog:

  • Independent Workers Are Satisfied: 58 percent of independent workers stated that they are highly satisfied with their work situation. Only 6 percent are highly dissatisfied; 36 percent were neutral.
  • Most Chose Independence: Debunking a popular misconception that workers are forced into independence due to job loss or lack of alternatives, more than half of independent workers (55 percent) say it was their proactive choice to become an independent worker. Only 15 percent said they became independent due to factors beyond their control, and 30 percent said it was a combination of factors.
  • Most Plan on Staying Independent: 63 percent indicated that they will continue working as an independent worker, and an additional 12 percent said they plan on growing their independent business into an employer business. Only 19 percent of the respondents said they plan on seeking a traditional job over the next 24 months.

The rise of independent contractors could mean a rise in remote access, mobile computing and, consequently, increased emphasis on security.

Whether you work as an independent contractor or work for a business that has to support independent contractors, it’ll be increasingly important to examine what company data should be shared and to know who is accessing what.

For a closer look at the data, read the full story at Small Business Labs.

New Version of Windows Intune Set to Release in October

Businesses managing fewer than 500 PCs might want to take a look at Windows Intune. Using a combination of Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows cloud services, Windows Intune makes securing and managing multiple PCs a breeze, allowing IT workers to perform scans, reboot PCs and intercept malware threats remotely and through the cloud.

The product was released in beta form after Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in July and, according to the Windows Blog, a new release will drop Oct. 17.

A few of the new features in the next release include:

  • Software Distribution: With this release, administrators can deploy most Microsoft and third-party updates or applications to PCs nearly anywhere over the Internet.
  • Remote Tasks: IT can remotely perform the following tasks on Windows Intune-managed PCs from the administration console: Full scan, Quick scan, Update Malware Definition, and Restart.
  • Read-Only Access: IT pros and partners can give select administrators read-only access to the administration console so they can view PC information as needed, but not perform any configuration tasks.
  • Enhanced Reporting: Create hardware reports based on new hardware filters for common hardware characteristics. Additionally, you can now create and save report parameters to make it easy and efficient to run a report again in the future.

Read more about the next version of Windows Intune on the Windows Blog.

Cloud Bursting Demo at VMworld

Cloud bursting — the use of a hybrid public/private cloud in which certain processes or applications are dynamically outsourced to a public cloud while others remain in the private cloud — sounds dangerous, but it’s actually quite safe. And useful, to boot.

“HPStorageGuy” Calvin Zito was at VMworld in Las Vegas Aug. 29 – Sept. 1, where he snagged a video of HP Director of Business Strategy Nick van der Zweep setting up and using a hybrid private/public cloud. van der Zweep staged the scenario as an imaginary ad campaign that needed to be deployed internationally.

As more companies begin to experiment with cloud computing, there could be a rise of cloud bursting setups, which makes sense. The elasticity of the public cloud combined with the security of a private cloud sounds like a winning combination.

View the video and Zito's take in his Sept. 7 post to his Around the Storage Block Blog.

Tips for Virtualization Beyond the Server

Virtualization allows organizations to be more flexible, adaptable and scalable, but some make the mistake of stopping with their servers.

Logan Kugler has written nine tips for virtualizing beyond the server that can help IT workers ensure that virtualization innovation doesn’t end at the server level. These tips offer advice on storage virtualization, client virtualization, virtual machine management, application virtualization and more.

Read about the ways businesses can extend the benefits of virtualization in this article from BizTech.

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