Oct 28 2011

E-Mail Is Here To Stay – 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.

E-Mail Is The Internet’s Old Faithful

Although many have tried to proclaim its impending death, e-mail remains a central force in online communications. And the widespread prevalence of e-mail is also having an impact in the real world as well, with the Post Office reporting a significant drop in mail volume because people opt to receive paperless bills and other communications via e-mail rather than snailmail.

Add Jacob Morgan, principal of Chess Media Group and a writer for CloudAve, to the list of defenders of e-mail. He argues that new collaboration platforms should look to take advantage of the strengths of e-mail rather than try to make the technology obsolete.

Let’s remember that everyone has two single unique identifiers, their e-mail and their phone number, chances are that one of these things can be annotated to everything that someone does from sharing a piece of content, to engaging with a customer, to sending a colleague a message.

So here is the puzzle, knowing that virtually everyone on the planet has two unique identifiers, an e-mail address and a phone number, what would you devise to allow for collaboration and communication among employees and among people in general?

Read more about the long life e-mail has ahead of it in Morgan’s piece on CloudAve.

Don’t Be Left In the Dark During a Cloud Outage

Business continuity plans are a must for any business operating its own data center. And the same is true of those enterprises that have made the shift to the cloud. SMBs should not be lulled into a false sense of security just because they no longer host their own infrastructure. Like any other technology, the unexpected can hit the cloud at unannounced and inconvenient times, producing damaging operational failures.

Cisco’s Small Business blog has boiled down three simple but distinct steps for avoiding a loss of productivity during a cloud outage:

  • Know your service provider’s SLA. Understand the service level agreement (SLA) governing your cloud service so you know what you can expect from the provider in case of an outage. The SLA states how quickly the provider promises to recover from an outage or disaster. It also outlines what kind of compensation you can expect when you lose access to your cloud service.
  • Have a Plan B. This will be different for each cloud service, depending on how important it is to your business operations. Whatever it is, your alternative plan must provide a temporary way to work around the outage. For a company that absolutely relies on the service, Plan B might require duplicating efforts across two cloud services. For example, if you’re performing off-site hosted backups, you might decide to back up key data on two separate off-site servers; if one service fails, you’ll have the same backup preserved on the second service.
  • Practice your Plan B. Everyone who uses the cloud service be familiar with your Plan B and how it works. Practice it. Pretend your cloud provider has an unplanned outage and see how well Plan B works in real life. Try notifying your users impacted by the outage and check to make sure they were able to follow your work-around.

Read more about planning for business continuity during a cloud outage on the Cisco Small Business blog.

Insights from VMworld Europe 2011

The big domestic VMware show was held in in Las Vegas earlier this year at the end of August through early September. But VMware also puts on a European show for European IT workers.

Duncan Epping, a VMware employee and writer of the Yellow Bricks blog, flew over to Copenhagen, Denmark, for the show and he found the experience to be starkly different — at first. It wasn’t as loud or crowded as the VMworld show in Vegas, but Epping eventually found that the smaller event had its own charms.

I also love the fact that it is relatively “small” show compared to VMworld US and for some reason it also seems that the audience is different. Definitely one thing I noticed during the sessions I attended is that it is difficult to break the ice. Even at the end of the sessions I noticed far less people asked questions then during the sessions I attended in Las Vegas. This had me worried for a while as Chris Colotti, Frank Denneman and I were scheduled for a Q and A.

As Chris stated on Twitter, without Qs there will be no As. Besides a couple of sessions I had a lot of meetings scheduled, the week before VMworld my schedule looked fairly empty but it completely filled up with meetings the days before it started, but I cannot complain as I learned a lot from these meetings as well. Every customer has a different use case/perspective and that helps me again when writing articles or when providing feedback to the Product Managers and Engineers.

Did you attend VMworld in Copenhagen by chance? See any interesting VMworld Europe presentations online? Share them in the comments below.

Read more about Epping’s VMworld Europe experience in his post on Yellow Bricks.

Takeaways from EMC’s IT Leadership Council

Great minds don’t always think alike, but they can generate lots of wisdom and useful advice when they get together.

Ken Oestreich, an EMC employee, attended his company’s IT Leadership Council in Boston and he pulled together some concise, poignant takeaways from the two-day session that every IT worker should look over.

Here are a few of them below:

  • IT transformation isn’t about technology: Almost everyone agreedon this. The technology problems can be solved. But the real barriers to IT reinventing itself lie in the area of new operational and organizational models, evolving roles and skills, and new financial models. Often-heard was “My technology is ready. My people are not.”
  • IT leader’s focus: To support business agility. Yes, IT agility and infrastructure agility were still points of conversation. But more important was providing business agility – the ability to help lines-of-business be more productive, profitable and competitive. Linking the business case between cloud, IT investment and LOB top-line is becoming an increasingly important strategic conversation for the enterprise.
  • IT will compete for business: This theme was becoming more prevalent. Users are turning to external service and cloud providers because of pricing and/or convenience. Sometimes termed “shadow IT,” internal IT now has to think of itself as having to “win the business” from LOBs. It has to reinvent itself as a competitive internal service provider (and/or service broker) to the business. IT is now rarely the only game in town.
  • The Public Cloud isn’t (always) the panacea: There were more than a few customers – mainly banks, government contractors and the like – for whom the public cloud is simply a non-starter, usually because of regulations and compliance needs. But the private cloud remained appealing. They were eager to learn more about private clouds and the IT transformation needed to make them productive.

Read more of Oestereich’s takeaways from the EMC IT Leadership Council in his post on the Fountain Head blog.

Get a Hold of the IT Security Untouchables

For IT workers tasked with managed enterprise security, getting control and access to all the systems and devices within the network is essential to locking down the entire IT infrastructure. But inevitably, there are simply some portions of your IT network that may be untouchable at times, or even of more concern, all the time.

Tenable Security has identified some of the more common IT security untouchables. Here are a few from their list:

  • Traveling Notebooks: It can be difficult to control the software and patches on systems that rarely connect to the corporate network. The concern is what happens when a notebook that has been connected to airport, hotel and other potentially hostile networks comes back to home base and plugs into your network. It may already be infected, and may not be up-to-date with patches. You can try to force users to connect back to your network via a VPN, but not all users may do this on a regular basis. During the user’s travel, the system is "untouchable".
  • Network Devices: Let’s face it, no matter how redundant your network is, you just can't blast out a firmware update to your network gear at will. This leaves a good percentage of network systems that are "untouchable" for certain time periods. Routers have a bit more flexibility, but the physical switches that connect your systems cannot be taken down at will. If that happens users will lose connectivity as flashing the device with new firmware requires that the system become unavailable for short time period (or longer time period depending on the device and software).
  • Highly sensitive systems: For example, systems used to conduct scientific experiments or medical equipment. When I worked for a university I discovered several systems of this type. Researchers were working on various experiments, with the goals of the research being far outside of the computer technology (e.g. cures for disease, physics, engineering). The experiments would sometimes take years, which is more than enough time to render operating systems and software obsolete. However, stopping the experiment to apply patches or updates was out of the question. Even putting an agent on the system could disrupt the accuracy of the experiment, leaving these systems "untouchable."

How do you handle IT security untouchables? Do you have any useful workarounds you can share? Leave your feedback below in the comments.

For more on IT security untouchables, read the full post on Tenable Security’s blog.

Two Easy, Cheap Ways to Bolster IT Security

If your organization is a small business with limited resources for a huge IT security rollout or initiative, there are two simple ways to raise awareness within your company. And they don’t cost much either.

Andy Good of the Intel Open Port IT Community discusses the challenges that smaller companies can face in securing spending for IT security expenses and he has two smart and easy ways to raise the red flag.

  • Security Awareness Training: This is one area that should not be taken lightly. It is the opportunity to inform the users on how to protect the corporate information assets and what is described in the security policy, why it exists and how to gain further information whenever needed. If this effort does not currently exist, consider an effort to integrate it into the new employee orientation first. Then, after some success can be demonstrated, the training could be provided through WBT’s on an annual or biannual basis. The success may be shown in surveys to users who have taken the training.
  • A Bulletin Area: Such as the corporate intranet site or a monthly newsletter distributed throughout the organization. Including some common threats and techniques for avoiding being a victim is a good way to remind users that their activity plays a factor in the vulnerability equation.
  • Read more about boosting the profile of IT security internally in Good’s post on the Intel Open Port IT Community.

    Keep This Handy: A Guide to Microsoft Office 365

    If you or your organization is new to Microsoft’s Office 365, BizTech magazine has put together a useful guide of the cloud-based productivity suite’s advantages and features.

    If you’re unfamiliar with Office 365, the guide serves as a useful gateway into understanding the offering’s capabilities and identifying opportunities for increased efficiencies within your organization.

    Check out our guide to Microsoft Office 365 here.

    Find great content from the bloggers listed here and other IT blogs by checking out our 50 Must-Read IT Blogs.