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Virtualization: Are the Benefits Worth the Investment?

Can you really save money with server virtualization? While every business is different, the numbers are very encouraging. By some estimates, virtualization may reduce your hardware and operating costs by as much as 50 percent, and the energy it takes to run your servers by 80%.

Take a look at some of the benefits:

•   Reduced hardware expenses – Fewer physical servers means smaller upgrade and maintenance costs.
•   Lower power and cooling costs – Using less equipment reduces the amount of energy that must be expended for hardware upkeep.
•   Improved asset utilization – Virtualization makes it possible to get more out of the hardware that you already have.
•   Fewer management touch points – Consolidating servers, storage, networking, and software means fewer individual machines that must be maintained.
•   Better IT responsiveness – Processes are automated, meaning that you can speed deployment and provisioning, increase uptime, and recover from problems faster.
•   Reduced carbon footprint – Virtualization helps not only your bottom line, but the planet as well.
•   Reduced down time – Virtualization helps you get back on your feet quickly in the case of natural or man-made catastrophe.

Virtualization can make your business more flexible and agile, and by so doing, decrease your IT overhead. Virtualization also positions you to take advantage of cloud computing more easily, should your organization choose to do so.

You Don’t Have to Start Your Virtualization Project from Scratch

The good news is, virtualization may be less of an investment than you think. If you start from where you are and begin making progress slowly, you may be able budget for these expenditures more easily. Here are a few tips:

•   Use the IT you already own. You may not need to replace much hardware—if any at all. Begin virtualizing the servers you have already.
•   Introduce new innovations a piece at a time. Virtualization allows for real-time allocation of resources, so you don’t have to cause too much disruption to your employees.
•   Virtualize your entire infrastructure, including servers, applications, storage, and networking.
•   Enable your company to respond dynamically to business demands.

Are you taking the virtualization plunge? What has been your experience so far?

Dell Virtualization Benefits
Author Bio:

Matt Smith works for Dell and has a passion for learning and writing about technology. Outside of work he enjoys entrepreneurship, being with his family, and the outdoors.

Enterprise Cloud Backup Solution Review: MozyPro

Summary: Created in 2005 (and acquired by EMC in 2007), MozyPro offers business backup for individual computers and for servers. EMC also offers Mozy Home for personal computer users, and MozyEnterprise.
 
Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats:
 
Being part of EMC gives Mozy access to storage expertise and other resources. However, the per-computer pricing may be a concern for some prospects, along with the lack of Linux support, along with no mention of support for virtual machine environments. (Note: Parent company EMC also owns VMware.)
 
DATA CENTER(S):
 
Multiple, globally distributed.
 
TYPE OF BACKUP:
 
• Remote: Incremental; scheduled or automatic
• local (Windows only) to external drive, via Mozy2Protect (http://mozy.com/backup/2xProtect_business)
• Can back up all open and locked files as well as common business applications running on Windows servers
 
PRICING:
 
• Per computer/gigabyte/month (see http://mozy.com/pro/server/pricing/ for specifics)
• For servers, additional monthly fixed “Server pass” fee
• No set-up fees
 
SUPPORTS:
 
• Desktop: Windows, MacOS
• Servers: Windows 2012, 2008, and 2003 servers and Mac OS X 10.8, 10.7, 10.6, 10.5, 10.4; Exchange; SQL
 
REQUIRES: (hardware, software)
 
• “Data Shuttle” hard drive is shipped for initial backups of larger data sets.
 
SECURITY:
• Client-side encryption (256-bit AES)
• SSL-encrypted tunnel
• Data center: 256-bit AES or 448-bit Blowfish
 
NOTABLE CAPABILITIES AND OTHER FACTS:
 
• Audits/Certifications: SSAE 16 audit, ISO 27001 certification
• Accessible via mobile apps (iOS, Android)
• Bulk upload via Data Shuttle hard drive
 
MozyPro is currently ranked #25 on the Enterprise Features Top 25 Enterprise Online Backup Solutions for Business Cloud Data Protection list.

Enteprise Cloud Backup Solution Review: Intronis

Founded in 2003, Intronis offers cloud-based off-site backup and disaster recovery, and local backup, for Windows machines and VMware virtual machines, selling through MSPs and resellers to SMBs.
 
Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats:
 
Intronis can be a good match for SMBs using any mix of Windows, VMware, Exchange and SQL, who are prepared to go through a reseller or VAR. Intronis does not currently support Linux, MacOS, or non-VMware virtualization environments.
 
DATA CENTER(S):
 
3 Tier-IV SSAE 16 certified facilities (Boston, Massachusetts; Los Angeles, California; Montreal, Quebec, Canada).
 
TYPE OF BACKUP:
 
• to Intronis cloud data center, local device, or both.
• block-level incremental backup
• Versioning (default is 30 days per file)
 
PRICING:
 
Capacity-based with volume discounting, no bandwidth charges, specific pricing set by reseller.
 
No licensing or startup fees.
 
SUPPORTS: (See Intronis web site for version specifics)
 
• Windows 8, 7, Vista, XP SP3, Windows Server 2012/2008/2003
• VMware (requires a VMware essential or higher license) ESX/ESXi/vCenter 4.0, 4.1, 5.0 or 5.1
• SQL
• Exchange
 
REQUIRES (HARDWARE, SOFTWARE):
 
Intronis’ backup software requires a minimum of a 2GHZ dual-core CPU, 1GB RAM, free disk space that’s twice the size of the largest protected file (except for VM backups), Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 (3.5 for doing backup/restore/delete management from the Web using the Partner Portal).
 
Intronis’ web portal requires Internet Explorer 8 or 9, or Firefox 9+; Flash player 6.0 or higher; Silverlight 4.0 or higher (to allow backup/restore/delete management through the web portal).
 
NOTABLE CAPABILITIES:
 
• Partner rebranding available
• Client-side encryption, deduplication
 
Intronis is currently ranked #15 on the Enterprise Features Top 25 Enterprise Online Backup Solutions for Business Cloud Data Protection list.

Top 25 Enterprise Online Backup Solutions for Business Cloud Data Protection

Online backup isn’t just for laptops anymore. The best modern enterprise cloud backup services are able to deliver complete backup & DR functionality for multi-platform server environments with data sizes up to 100TB and beyond.

Here’s a quick checklist of what to look for:

1. Performance – Performance is the Achilles heel of practical cloud backup in the real world. Test performance in your environment, the biggest mistake is to buy without trying.
2. Cost – Evaluations of cloud backup cost work best when the total costs are compared, not only the “teaser” price per-GB-per-month.
3. Security – Checking that data is encrypted in flight and at rest in the data center. Also look for audited data handling standards like SSAE-16.
4. Local backup capability – This is an obvious part of enterprise backup, a must have.
5. VM and Physical server backup capability – To be considered among the best enterprise backup solutions, a product should be able to backup both server types.
6. Disaster Recovery – This is why offsite backup is done in the first place. Best practice is to evaluate recovery performance during a trial period.
7. Archiving – Not the most critical component but large amounts of company data are never accessed, and storing it offsite frees up primary storage.

Below, I’ve made a list of what I consider to be the 25 most important backup services for business-class server backup.

  1. Zetta.net
    Affordable enterprise-grade cloud backup, that’s faster than anything else out there, with backup stated backup speed up to 5TB a day. Includes online & local backup software, disaster recovery functionality, cloud storage, and plug-ins for SQL, Exchange, VMware, Hyper-V and NetApp servers.
  2. MozyPro
    The business-class counterpart to one of the world’s most popular low-cost backup solutions. Backing from EMC is a major plus or negative depending who you are.
  3. CrashPlan
    Offering both free and enterprise backup solutions with support for VMware, Sun, Linux, Windows and Mac. Large enterprises have had good results for endpoint backup, less so for servers.
  4. EVault
    Online backup backed by a strong name, and trusted by a broad client base.
  5. IDrive
    Pricing and support is well reviewed, but “1TB per week” is too slow for even small enterprises.
  6. Carbonite
    Very popular with consumers for home backup, Carbonite’s server backup pricing is low, but performance is slow at “up to 100GB.”
  7. DataBarracks
    Serious business backup service with support for many different operating systems.
  8. AmeriVault
    Enterprise online backup from Venyu, helping to maximize both data protection and availability.
  9. Novosoft Remote Backup
    Online cloud backup that is easy, affordable, secure and practical. They also offer your first 5 GB for free.
  10. SecurStore
    An industry-certified leader in cloud backup and corporate disaster recovery.
  11. LiveVault
    Iron Mountain’s entry into the business online backup market.
  12. BackupMyInfo
    Online backup from a talented and diverse group of entrepreneurs.
  13. DSCorp.net
    Helping ensure that your company is thoroughly prepared for even the most menacing of data disasters.
  14. GlobalDataVault
    Advanced, full-featured backup service provider with a special focus on compliance.
  15. Backup-Technology
    A rapidly-growing innovator which has been providing online backup since 2005.
  16. Intronis
    Fast, secure online backup with an established partner network.
  17. StorageGuardian
    Award-winning backup provider, recommended by VARs for over 10 years.
  18. CentralDataBank
    A trade-only cloud backup provider, built on a network of over 50 independent reseller partners.
  19. Storagepipe
    The Canadian leader in online backup to the cloud, with a broad presence in the blogosphere.
  20. OpenDrive
    Business backup with additional services built in, such as file storage, synching and sharing.
  21. Yotta280
    Years of experience in providing scalable data protection to companies of many different sizes.
  22. DataProtection
    Fast, reliable premium backup company that offers world-class support at no extra charge.
  23. RemoteDataBackups
    A premium data protection provider that offers a free product trial. They have a long list of clients and testimonials available.
  24. DriveHQ
    Offering both cloud storage and IT services in the cloud, for a higher level of service.
  25. OnCoreIT
    Pure backup for service providers, businesses and individuals.

Enterprise Cloud Backup Review: Zetta.net

Zetta.net has been in the enterprise cloud backup business since 2009 and the latest version of their DataProtect product offers a “3-in-1” server backup solution, combining backup, disaster recovery, and archiving. Zetta’s solution is currently the #1 ranked solution on our list of the top 25 enterprise cloud backup solutions, and here’s why:
 
1. Speed – Zetta’s backup performance is faster than any solution we’ve tested, and the company claims to have customers that have recovered up to 5TB in a 24 hour period.
 
2. No Appliance – Many well regarded hybrid-cloud backup products are based on a PBBA, or purpose built backup appliance. It’s EF’s opinion that these solutions, while great for on-premise backup, are limited in offsite backup capabilities.
 
3. Pricing – Capacity based pricing (paying per GB or TB of backup storage used) strikes us a better deal for most organizations. Since most backup admins would prefer a single backup solution for servers and endpoints, it’s cheaper than paying for software licenses per computer. Also for deployments that include multiple remote offices, Zetta’s hardware-free solution avoids the cost of multiple PBBAs. Zetta’s pricing is all-inclusive (software, storage, and support) and starts at $225 a month.
 
Another reason we like Zetta’s solution is that it enables backup for both physical and virtual servers, with plug-ins available for Hyper-V, VMware, and Xen, in addition to the more standard physical SQL & Exchange servers. This is a key feature since the recent trend of separate backup solutions for physical and virtual servers has a tendency to increase overall costs and complicate backup processes even further.
 
Zetta also offers local backup in addition to their cloud-based snapshot and replication, allowing for faster recovery of large database or VM files, for example. In short, we like Zetta’s cloud backup solution because it provides local, offsite and remote backup without the need for new hardware or portable media – eliminating travel time to and from your remote offices.
 
We’ll continue trying backup solutions and reworking the top 25 list, but for now Zetta is the Enterprise Features #1.
 
What enterprise cloud backup solution do you consider the best? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Data Consolidation Facts

Data consolidation is an important process that is used to summarize large quantities of information. On a regular basis, the respective information is to be found in the form of spreadsheets encompassed into larger worksheets. Computers are involved in the data consolidation process, and Microsoft’s Excel is one of the most popular tools of choice. Data consolidation is done at an automated basis with the help of the tools that are incorporated within the program.    

What Is Data Consolidation?

Briefly put, data consolidation refers to the use of several data cells originating from a spreadsheet and compiling the cells into a different sheet. The process does an excellent job at aiding computer users personally and manually record individual data cells from particular reference points, then entering them into various other places using a brand new spreadsheet. This way, the formatting, re-organization, and re-arranging of huge amounts of information can be considerably simplified.    

Data consolidation programs require certain conditions to be met by the spreadsheets and files whose data needs to be consolidated. First of all, each of the large worksheets has to share the same information range while analyzed in both of its axis. This requirement is going to aid the data consolidation computer program to complete complex calculus; the calculations are meant to determine the way each data cell corresponds with the data belonging to other worksheets or pages. Once the process will be completed, the computer program is going to create a brand new worksheet that is going to set up a summary of all the data belonging to the respective worksheets

 

Frequent Data Consolidation Users   

Usually, data consolidation is use in a wide array of fields for a more efficient organization of employee’s work. Data consolidation is also a process that can bring considerable improvements to one’s proficiency levels. Physicians normally use data consolidation to keep records and tracks of their patients and treatment schemes. Teachers can make full use of data consolidation to create fast summaries of their students’ grades, test, projects, or assignments. Retailers can also find great use in data consolidation when needing to track down the stores or the items of merchandise that are creating the largest profits and so on. Needless to say this is not an exhaustive list of all of the practical applications of data consolidation.    

Therefore, there are also a large number of people who are willing to pay in exchange for such services. Data consolidation software is also available for purchase. The particularity of these applications is the fact that they are not fully automated. They are completed with the help of several worksheets ran in several formats/programs. The presence of an individual who manually needs to summarize data at the time spreadsheets do not meet the previously established requirements is often times necessary.   

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Internal Threats: Employees More Dangerous Than Hackers

One of the biggest responsibilities of any IT department is to maintain a high level of security and ensure that the company’s data is properly protected. The dangers of breaches in security are very real and the effects can be crippling to a business. Many IT departments tend to direct their focus and attention towards external threats such as hackers. However, more and more companies are coming to the realization that internal sources, such as employees, may present the biggest security risks to the company. As technology continues to advance and the business landscape keeps evolving, IT departments are scrambling to keep up and protect their company and it is becoming clear that the best place for them to start is domestically within the company.

Dangers of a Security Breach

The threats and possible repercussions of a breach in security are the primary concerns of any company’s IT department. The damage that can be caused by these breaches can be devastating for a business of any size.

According to a study done by Scott & Scott LLP of over 700 businesses, 85% of respondents confirmed they had been the victims of a security breach. These types of breaches can be detrimental to a company in numerous ways. The most tangible damage caused by these breaches is the fines that are typically associated with them. The legal repercussions of a data breach, such as fines and lawsuits, can become costly in a hurry. Also, the loss in customer confidence is something that can continue to hurt business for years and something that some companies may never be able to overcome. Finally, if the compromised data from a security breach makes its way into the hands of a competitor it can be disastrous.

Employees Pose Largest Risk

To avoid the negative ramifications listed above, an IT department must first identify where potential risks for a breach exist. While outside sources like hackers do pose a threat, the biggest risk for a security breach to a company lies with its employees.

Unlike hackers, employees are granted access to important company data on a daily basis. This level of access to information is the reason employees represent such a large security risk. There are a number of ways and reasons that an employee can compromise the security of a company. For instance, disgruntled employees may intentionally try to leak information or a former employee could use their intimate knowledge of the company to attempt to breach security. However, the most common breaches happen when an employee either willingly ignores or fails to follow security protocols set forth by the IT department.

BYOD Increases Risk

The “bring your own device” or BYOD philosophy is one that is gaining momentum and popularity among many different industries. While this type of system has its benefits and can be a successful model for most companies, it unfortunately also increases the risk of data breach and makes it more difficult for a business to ensure its information is secure.

The main risk associated with BYOD is the danger of lost or stolen devices. This is one of the drawbacks of BYOD because although this allows for an employee to continue working while out of the office, it also means that valuable data leaves the office with them. Allowing employees to work from their personal devices drastically increases the risk of data breach as people take these types of devices everywhere with them. Devices such as phones or tablets can be more susceptible to loss or theft as they are smaller and easier to misplace.

Another problem with storing important data on these kinds of devices is that if they are lost or stolen, the level of security for these devices tends to be quite low. Many users do not even have a protective password on their phones or devices and those that do usually have a four digit sequence that does not provide much security.

The other issue with BYOD in regards to security is that third-parties can gain access to a device through mobile applications. This is a problem because the person who owns the device may be downloading apps infected with malware which can provide undesired third-parties access to your business’ sensitive information.

Ways to Protect Against Security Breaches Caused by Employees

Although there are numerous threats to security, especially with a BYOD model, associated with employee activity; there are a few different things that a company and their IT department can do to protect their valuable data.

The first thing to do is make sure that your employees are aware of these threats to security and the damage they can cause. As mentioned before, most breaches in security occur when an employee unwittingly compromises security because they have no idea that their actions are potentially dangerous.

Offering education and training programs to help employees familiarize themselves with security policies will make it easier for them to follow such policies. In the case of BYOD it may be necessary to include employees in the policy-making process. This will give them intimate knowledge of why the policies are in place and increase the likelihood that they will adhere to security protocols.

There are also apps available that can help separate the user’s personal life from business. These apps will help protect a company’s data from third-parties as they isolate information associated with business and deny third-party access from personal applications. A company may also elect to create a “blacklist” which informs employees of which apps to stay away from.

Due to their unparalleled access to company data and information, employees pose the biggest threat to security for an IT department. Employees often cause substantial damage to a company because they are careless or unaware of potential dangers. Although external hacking is always a threat and should not be ignored, the first place an IT department should start in regards to ensuring their company’s security is internally with its employees.

About The Author: Ilya Elbert is an experienced IT Support Specialist and Co-Owner of Geeks Mobile USA. When he’s not providing information on data security, he enjoys keeping up on the latest news and trends within the IT industry.

Cloud Chivalry – The Self-Rescuing Company

While responsibility for protection in the cloud starts with a trusted provider, companies can’t ignore their role in keeping data safe. Much like the princess, smart and savvy enough to rescue herself, IT professionals need to take control of their own cloud environment to maximize tech security.

Consider the Kingdom

By accessing either software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings through thin clients or using web-based apps, companies put themselves at risk. While it’s tempting to see this problem as purely technological – as something bigger, faster and stronger security systems will easily mitigate – this ignores one of the simplest (and most pervasive) problems in cloud security: employees.

The denizens of current technology kingdoms are far more tech-savvy than previous generations, able to bypass IT requirements as needed thanks to wi-fi and mobile technologies. To protect against unauthorized downloads or nefarious third-party programs, company admins have to start with local access. No matter how strict offsite requirements are for securing data, this good work can be undermined by easy user missteps.

First, admins must identify user needs and tailor access to specific tasks; no individual should ever have access to a server in its entirety. Next, it’s crucial for IT professionals to train employees in safe cloud use. Rather than trying to enforce a “no smartphones” rule, or tell workers they “can’t” when tech questions arise, admins need to develop sensible policies for access and back them up with solid authentication requirements. As a recent Dome 9 security article points out, two-factor authentication combined with detailed logs of all access requests make tracking and eliminating cloud weak spots a much simpler task.

Deepen the Moat

In addition to considering how users inside a cloud get out, it’s also important to think about how malicious attacks get in. Firewalls, for example, remain critical defensive structures, so long as they are properly implemented. Rather than leaving SSH open to 0.0.0.0/0, essentially giving hackers carte blanche, admins need to open ports on a case-by-case basis. Taking this a step farther are intelligent, next-generation firewalls. These solutions are able to scan incoming code and – if an unknown or malicious string is detected – isolate it in a virtual environment. The code is then permitted to run, but without the chance of harming company infrastructure, and the results are recorded for future use.

Through controlled user access and the proactive use of defensive technology, companies are able to provide their own form of cloud chivalry. In combination with dedicated provider oversight, this creates secure gates for user exit and deep moats for data entry.

About The Author: Doug Bonderud is a freelance writer, cloud proponent, business technology analyst and a contributor on the Dataprise Cloud Services website.

The Impact BYOD Has on Your Backup & Recovery Strategy

For years, mobile devices have increasingly helped employees around the globe access important documents and emails while sitting in cab, standing on line for coffee or waiting in an airport. Most recently the trend has turned towards Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) for businesses of all sizes.  As the name implies, BYOD gives employees the freedom to “bring in” and use their own personal devices for work, connect to the corporate network, and often get reimbursed for service plans. BYOD allows end-users to enjoy increased mobility, improved efficiency and productivity and greater job satisfaction.

However BYOD also presents a number of risks, including security breaches and exposed company data, which can result in extra money and resources to rectify the situation. What happens when that employee’s mobile device is lost or stolen? Who is responsible for the backup of that device, the employee or the IT department?

According to a recent report by analyst firm Juniper Research, the number of employee-owned smartphones and tablets used in the enterprise is expected to reach 350 million by 2014. These devices will represent 23% of all consumer-owned smartphones and tablets.

BYOD has a direct impact on an organization’s backup and disaster recovery planning. All too often IT departments fail to have a structured plan in place for backing up data on employees’ laptops, smartphones and tablets. Yet it is becoming imperative to take the necessary steps to prevent these mobile devices from becoming security issues and racking up unnecessary costs. Without a strategy in place, organizations are risking the possibility of security breaches and the loss of sensitive company data, spiraling costs for data usage and apps, and compliance issues between the IT department and company staff.

The following best practices can help businesses incorporate BYOD into their disaster recovery strategies:

  1. Take Inventory: According to a SANS Institute survey in 2012, 90% of organizations are not ‘fully aware’ of the devices accessing their network. The first step is to conduct a comprehensive audit of all the mobile devices and their usage to determine what is being used and how. While an audit can seem to be a daunting task for many organizations, there are mobile device management (MDM) solutions available to help simplify the audit process. Another integral part of the inventory is asking employees what programs and applications they are using.  This can help IT better determine the value and necessity of various applications accessing the network.
  2. Establish Policies: Once you have a handle on who has what device and how they are being used, it is important to have policies in place to ensure data protection and security. This is crucial for businesses that must adhere to regulatory compliance mandates. If there is not a policy in place, chances are employees are not backing up consistently or in some cases at all.  You may want determine a frequency for a backup schedule with employees or deploy a solution that can run backups even if employee’s devices are not connected to the corporate network.
  3. Define the Objective: Whether you have 10 BYOD users or 10,000 you will need to define your recovery objectives in case there is a need to recover one or multiple devices. .  Understand from each department or employee which data is critical to recover immediately from a device and find a solution that can be customized based on device and user roles. The ability to exclude superfluous data such as personal email and music from corporate backups can also be helpful.
  4. Implement Security Measures: Data security for mobile devices is imperative. Educating employees can go a long way in helping to change behavior. Reminders on password protection, WiFi security and auto-locking devices when not in use may seem basic but can be helpful in keeping company data secure for a BYOD environment. Consider tracking software for devices or the ability to remotely lock or delete data if a device is lost or stolen.
  5. Employee Adoption: The last best practice for a successful BYOD deployment that protects mobile devices across your organization is to monitor employee adoption. In a perfect world, all employees will follow the procedures and policies established. However if you are concerned about employees not following policies, you may want to consider leveraging silent applications that can be placed on devices for automatic updates. These can run on devices without disrupting device performance.

About The Author: Jennifer Walzer is CEO of Backup My Info! (BUMI), a New York City-based provider which specializes in delivering online backup and recovery solutions for small businesses.

6 Important Stages in the Data Processing Cycle

Much of data management is essentially about extracting useful information from data. To do this, data must go through a data mining process to be able to get meaning out of it. There is a wide range of approaches, tools and techniques to do this, and it is important to start with the most basic understanding of processing data.

What is Data Processing?

Data processing is simply the conversion of raw data to meaningful information through a process. Data is manipulated to produce results that lead to a resolution of a problem or improvement of an existing situation. Similar to a production process, it follows a cycle where inputs (raw data) are fed to a process (computer systems, software, etc.) to produce output (information and insights).

Generally, organizations employ computer systems to carry out a series of operations on the data in order to present, interpret, or obtain information. The process includes activities like data entry, summary, calculation, storage, etc. Useful and informative output is presented in various appropriate forms such as diagrams, reports, graphics, etc.

Stages of the Data Processing Cycle

1) Collection is the first stage of the cycle, and is very crucial, since the quality of data collected will impact heavily on the output. The collection process needs to ensure that the data gathered are both defined and accurate, so that subsequent decisions based on the findings are valid. This stage provides both the baseline from which to measure, and a target on what to improve.

Some types of data collection include census (data collection about everything in a group or statistical population), sample survey (collection method that includes only part of the total population), and administrative by-product (data collection is a byproduct of an organization’s day-to-day operations).

2) Preparation is the manipulation of data into a form suitable for further analysis and processing. Raw data cannot be processed and must be checked for accuracy. Preparation is about constructing a dataset from one or more data sources to be used for further exploration and processing. Analyzing data that has not been carefully screened for problems can produce highly misleading results that are heavily dependent on the quality of data prepared.

3) Input is the task where verified data is coded or converted into machine readable form so that it can be processed through a computer. Data entry is done through the use of a keyboard, digitizer, scanner, or data entry from an existing source. This time-consuming process requires speed and accuracy. Most data need to follow a formal and strict syntax since a great deal of processing power is required to breakdown the complex data at this stage. Due to the costs, many businesses are resorting to outsource this stage.

4) Processing is when the data is subjected to various means and methods of manipulation, the point where a computer program is being executed, and it contains the program code and its current activity. The process may be made up of multiple threads of execution that simultaneously execute instructions, depending on the operating system. While a computer program is a passive collection of instructions, a process is the actual execution of those instructions. Many software programs are available for processing large volumes of data within very short periods.

5) Output and interpretation is the stage where processed information is now transmitted to the user. Output is presented to users in various report formats like printed report, audio, video, or on monitor. Output need to be interpreted so that it can provide meaningful information that will guide future decisions of the company.

6) Storage is the last stage in the data processing cycle, where data, instruction and information are held for future use. The importance of this cycle is that it allows quick access and retrieval of the processed information, allowing it to be passed on to the next stage directly, when needed. Every computer uses storage to hold system and application software.

The Data Processing Cycle is a series of steps carried out to extract information from raw data. Although each step must be taken in order, the order is cyclic. The output and storage stage can lead to the repeat of the data collection stage, resulting in another cycle of data processing. The cycle provides a view on how the data travels and transforms from collection to interpretation, and ultimately, used in effective business decisions.

About The Author: Phillip Harris is data management enthusiast and he has written numerous blogs and articles on effective document management and data processing.

 

Four Tips For Successful Data Consolidation

Successful data consolidation can bring about a number of benefits to an organisation, and many go-getting firms are seeing consolidation as standard practice.  But the complexities of consolidation and the bringing together of the appropriate resources and people can require careful thought and consideration.  Here are four tips to make sure your data consolidation is a successful exercise.

Think long-term 

Any project that embarks on consolidating a company’s IT infrastructure needs to be well-planned and thoroughly analysed before setting the wheels in motion. There are a whole host of strategic considerations, based around fundamental aspects relating to your business.

Firstly, think about the financial savings you might gain from data consolidation.  This shouldn’t just be short-term savings, but consider how much you’ll benefit in the long-run.  With the savings you make, where would you want to steer investment with this extra income?

What are the company’s plans for future growth?  If you are considering expanding into new markets or making acquisitions, then this could impact on any data consolidation projects that you embark upon.

Take a holistic view of your IT suite and infrastructure.  What are your current (and future) needs?  Will you be planning any upgrades and how will your company integrate new changes in technology into your infrastructure?

Consider, also, the current licensing options for your software.  When will these need renewing and how will they impact on any data consolidation project your company might embark on?

Adopt a strategic approach 

A well-thought out approach to data consolidation should be considered strategically rather than tactically.  A strategic mind-set shows that you’ve thought about the long-term consequences of the outcomes of the project and the goals that you want to achieve.  Strategic thinking is more likely to gain approval by financial powers that be, within the organisation, giving the project the green light to go-ahead.

Review your current IT suite 

If you’re going to be embarking on migrating applications to new or upgraded environments as part of a data consolidation project, it makes sense to give your current hardware and software suite an overall audit at the same time.  If you’re not using the most up-to-date IT applications and infrastructure, then now could be the perfect time to consider upgrading, which can benefit the users and increase productivity within the organisation.

Improved hardware designs and network performance can provide efficiencies and cost savings within a firm.

Much-improved software comes with better functions and features, increasing ease of use and efficiency.

Follow the rules 

Successful data consolidation projects require sticking to some tried and tested rules, so stay on course if you want to reap the benefits.  For example, when designing a modernised platform build a balanced and aligned architecture, to avoid creating bottlenecks in your system.

Invest in training the appropriate team members who will be critical in the project.  Key players will need to learn about new features before they can design or build a platform prior to implementation.  Use professionals who know what they are doing and have experience of these kinds of projects.

Build a business critical and non-critical database solution, so that non-project team members can understand what the implications of the consolidation process will be.

Leave the trickiest aspects to the end.  By the time you get round to dealing with them, it could be that you have adapted plans to replace these aspects instead.

This article was written by Lauren R, a blogger who writes on behalf of DSP, providers of managed IT services in London.

Network Attached Storage for Startups

Networked attached storage (NAS) is becoming more and more common in small businesses that still require an effective file server. There are a number of options currently available, and companies could opt for cloud solutions or even direct attached storage solutions. However, due to the dedicated storage functionality and specific data management tools inherent to most modern NAS appliances, as well as the comparatively smaller price, many startups are migrating toward network storage.

Understanding NAS Systems

Modern businesses need a reliable and effective solution to securely store data while still keeping it immediately accessible to those who need it. In the simplest terms, these systems are data storage appliances that are connected to multiple computers over a network. These systems are not directly attached to any one specific computer, but instead have their own IP and function independently.

The hardware for these systems is also relatively simple to understand, and the comparatively compact appliances have a small footprint and can stay out of the way. The most common models have multiple hard drives for redundant storage and added security, and companies do not have to start with each bay filled. Smaller companies can start with just a couple HDDs and then add more as the business grows.

These are intended to be plug and play systems, and generally must be plugged into an open port on a router. Keep in mind, though, that most of these solutions don’t recommend a wireless connection. When reliability and uptime are so important, it isn’t worth risking a slower and less-consistent connection.

Startup Benefits

Network attached storage allows companies to centralize storage solutions and provide simple management tools. As more startups begin using them, though, they are discovering many other uses. A business could, for example, use them to share printers, stream media, and connect them to surveillance systems that support IP cameras.

Multiple and swappable hard drives make this a more affordable option for new startups because it is easier to fit the device into the budget and let it expand as the company grows. Also, backups can be made on a specific hard drive and then swapped out and stored somewhere else for added security. Whether you are creating entire system backups or just working with a lot of sensitive customer data, these features can be very important.

Matching the System to the Company

Despite its plug-and-play capabilities, one size does not fit all when it comes to NAS systems. Startups generally have a very limited budget, and that means these purchases need to be made carefully to ensure that the company gets everything it needs without overspending. So when you are ready to implement your own storage solutions, consider the following elements:

Access – Who can see what and when? Centralizing your data storage offers a lot of convenience for the entire company, but that doesn’t mean you want the entire company to see everything stored there. Some models only offer basic controls, allowing the manager to mark some data as read only, while more advanced systems will have tools that allow companies to set specific permissions for different individuals.

Connectivity – How will staff members connect with the device? How many connections can it support at once? Will it allow remote access? An NAS system will usually have multiple Ethernet ports that can be used simultaneously (for redundancy in the connection and better uptime), and remote access makes it possible for employees in other locations to access the data they need.

Capacity – The flexibility in storage space means there’s no reason to over purchase NAS systems. While it may be recommended to get as much storage as the startup budget allows, there’s no reason to stretch those dollars too far. As long as there are multiple internal hard drive ports, you will be able to expand later, or even swap out smaller HDDs for larger models.

What type of storage system are you currently using in your organization? Would you consider making the switch to NAS? Let us know in the comments.

About The Author: Paul Mansour is enthusiastic about start-ups along with consumer and small business technology. Working within Dell.com, he needs to stay up-to-date on the latest products and solutions and best-in-class ecommerce strategies. In his spare time he can’t resist taking apart his latest gadget and forgetting how to put it back together.

Could Cloud-Based Virtual Desktops Infrastructure Die Before It Ever Takes Off?

Virtual Desktops Infrastructure (VDI) is the one of the hottest trends in the enterprise computing space.

By replacing physical machines with virtual desktops, you greatly reduce maintenance costs and security risks, while also extending the useful life of existing hardware and enabling employees to access their workplace desktop from home or from any device. And in the event that a laptop is stolen, a Virtual Desktop will help ensure that no critical data is lost or leaked. And finally, a Virtualized Desktop Infrastructure can help lower the increasingly costly electric bills associated with running computers.

Unfortunately, VDI is only accessible to larger companies with large IT budgets. The costs associated with network infrastructure, server hardware, and licensing are still too high for budget-sensitive businesses. But these costs will surely drop in the future.

Of course, we all know what the solution is. The market is currently waiting for the introduction of cost-effective cloud-based Virtual Desktop Infrastructure services to emerge. Although a few managed service providers have begun offering VDI, the costs can still be significant due to the same infrastructure and licensing challenges that made it expensive to implement in-house.

However, another important trend has emerged within the past few years which may effectively cut down cost-effective cloud VDI before it ever gets a chance to take off.

Mobile computing and tablets have taken off in popularity in recent years. And – on a lesser note – so has the popularity of Linux. It’s expected that 5% of all PCs sold will ship with Linux within the next year, and this doesn’t include the millions of Linux-based consumer electronics sold every year. So now, we’re seeing the emergence of mobile workers wanting to access their data on Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, and other operating systems.

As a result, demand for platform-independence has emerged  as consumers and workers are increasingly become accustomed to web-based interfaces which can access and manipulate their information from any location.

  • Email
  • Calendars
  • Chat
  • Project Management
  • Databases and Software Development
  • Spreadsheets
  • Word Processing
  • Photo Editing
  • Invoicing
  • Presentation
  • Video Editing

All of these are examples of applications which used to run as installed desktop applications, but now also offer an in-browser web-based option.

Although the quality of these applications can’t yet match the performance and functionality of the established software leaders, developers are hard at work in a race to catch up. And as Internet bandwidth becomes more accessible and RAM continues to become cheaper, we’ll begin to see web-based apps overtake installed software.

In addition to this, these cloud-based applications will benefit from added functionality which can only exist in a cloud-based delivery model.

And I’m not the only one that thinks this Microsoft is currently moving in this direction with Office 365. And in the future, most custom business applications will be designed with web-based interfaces in mind.

So this brings up an interesting question. Once employees can access all proprietary systems, collaboration and communication systems, and productivity applications through a web-based interface, what else would you need a Virtual Desktop for? It really doesn’t leave much else.

IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. What’s the difference and why are they important?

These days, it’s almost impossible to read any kind of technology publication without coming across the word “cloud computing” multiple times. Often, these cloud discussions come mixed up with strange acronyms such as IaaS, SaaS, PaaS and others.

My aim in this piece is to clarify some of the leading “aaS” acronyms you may come across.

SaaS – Software As A Service

The most common form of cloud computing would be Software-as-a-Serivce, or SaaS.As the name would imply, Software-as-a-Service is (usually) software that doesn’t need to be installed on your local machine. Instead, you access a remote system which hosts the software for you.

In essence, any interactive web site could technically be considered a SaaS application.  When you access Gmail, you don’t get access to the Gmail source code and you don’t need to install Gmail on your computer. You simply access a web site, log in, and start using the application.

Video players – which formerly had to be installed – were replaced by YouTube’s SaaS video player.

Although “ideally” SaaS should never require local software installations, you may sometimes need to install a “client” which serves as an interface to the remote server which performs most of the work. For example, you may need to install a small application to access a Virtual Desktop Interface which resides on a remote server. In this context, even your web browser could be considered a client application which must be installed to access your SaaS apps.

The important thing to keep in mind with SaaS is that the critical functions of the service are performed on the SaaS company’s remote servers.. and not on your local machine.

Today, there is a growing preference amongst developers to release business productivity applications through browser-based interfaces. This ensures that systems can be accessed through any OS, whether Windows, Linux, Mac, Smartphone or Tablet.

PaaS – Platform As A Service

Platform-as-a-Service is a slightly more complicated embodiment of cloud computing which is more suited to developers. In its essence, PaaS providers host development environment featuring a number of libraries and tools which can be used to develop and deploy custom cloud-based applications. PaaS simplifies development by eliminating the need to host and manage the underlying infrastructure which supports custom applications.

IaaS – Infrastructure As A Service

Infrastructure-as-a-Service is one of the fastest-growing flavors of cloud computing within the business space. It is also based on a very simple concept, which has wide-ranging implications and benefits for IT administrators.

Most servers today are hosted in “virtualized” environments. In other words, a single server may contain dozens of software-based “virtual machines” which trick the operating system in to believing that it resides on physical hardware. Virtualization offers a number of core advantages in terms of efficiency, cost-saving, disaster recovery and deployment. (But that’s a discussion for another article)

With the IaaS model, you simply host a virtual server in a remote third-party datacenter in the same way that you would host a virtual machine on your own hypervisor inside of your datacenter.

IaaS is attractive to small businesses because building your own server room can be expensive, and these IaaS facilities have lots of features which would simply be cost-prohibitive for smaller companies.

Larger companies also like IaaS because it allows them to obtain temporary on-demand capacity in the event of a sudden short-term spike in systems requirements. This is a much more cost-effective option than simply purchasing new hardware to fill a temporary need.

And there we have the 3 main flavors of cloud computing: IaaS, SaaS and PaaS. You’ll see other versions of this acronym such as BaaS, CaaS, DaaS, FaaS, ect… but these are usually more of a marketing ploy than anything else. If you break it all down to its essential elements, most “aaS” acronyms can be placed intro one of these 3 broad categories.

How to Leverage WAN Optimization for High-Performance Cloud Services

Driven by agility and convenience benefits, companies around the world and across all market sectors are in some phase of moving their business applications to the cloud. Many of those that have taken the plunge have experienced significant cost savings and productivity gains; however, some have also experienced the performance and availability issues inherent in many public cloud offerings. As a result of performance concerns, organizations have delayed migrating business-critical functions to the cloud in favor of testing the waters with applications and services that are not essential to the organization.

As the public cloud IaaS market continues to evolve, providers are beginning to recognize the need to increase performance levels by adding enhanced computing capabilities to their offerings. One area that these providers have turned their attention to in particular is the wide area network (WAN). The WAN is the foundation of any globally connected cloud service offering, enabling cloud providers to speed-up the time of data transfer between locations. With WAN optimization embedded as part of the cloud provider’s infrastructure, data transfers run faster and more efficiently, delivering consistent service levels to all cloud service consumers. This helps cloud users overcome the latency and bandwidth constraints often associated with public cloud services.

While some cloud providers allow organizations to install their own virtual WAN optimization client on a virtual server to optimize traffic and performance, it is more efficient to place WAN optimization between cloud data centers to transparently accelerate traffic for enterprise users. By having WAN optimization integrated into a cloud platform on a global scale, the speed of transfer between locations is optimized, resulting in efficient throughput. Additionally, by using compression, caching and optimizing network protocols (TCP, UDP, CIFS, HTTP, HTTPS, NFS, MAPI, MS-SQL) and databases (Oracle 11i and 12i), organizations can experience a more dramatic improvement in performance.

With a core that is optimized for acceleration, organizations can speed the process of migrating their data and applications to the cloud. This performance enhancement is particularly critical for resource-intensive enterprise functions such as database replication, file synchronization, backup and disaster recovery between data centers. When evaluating cloud services today, it is important to ensure that WAN optimization capabilities are offered as part of the core service and not provided as an add-on service with an additional charge.

Although WAN optimization is a key part of the equation, another key component when it comes to ensuring the performance of any cloud offering are SLAs. A strong SLA should include provisions around uptime, response time and latency guarantees. When it comes to uptime, the network and servers should be up and running more than 99% of the time. Response rates to any emergency incident should be less than 30 minutes, and latency should be less than one millisecond (1ms) for the transfer of data packets from one cloud server to another within the same cloud network. Organizations negotiating cloud contracts should make sure strong SLAs are part of the service.

As companies begin to tap into cloud offerings that seamlessly integrate WAN optimization, they should immediately realize significant increases in application performance while at the same time streamlining operations, improving performance visibility, reducing the overall cost of IT infrastructure – and most importantly, delivering on the business and technology promises of the cloud.

About The Author: Yogesh Rami is the senior director of the cloud solutions business unit with Dimension Data

Having the Enterprising Mindset

The mind is a powerful aspect of our body. It is the key ingredient in establishing a successful business and thriving career. It is also the secret factor in creating an attractive public brand that automatically attracts opportunities and clients.

In relation to enterprising, the enterprising mindset refers to the capability to completely focus on the opportunity and possibility to focus on every current situation, and take action as fast as possible. The success of productive professionals as well as industry moguls is often fuelled by the efficiency of enterprising mindset.

What Enterprising Mindset Does

Having the enterprising mindset allows an individual with the enterprising skills to completely rebound from failures by means of influencing lessons that are learned, and implementing lessons into projects and programs. It is an idea of the society needed to continuously and consistently propel action to produce success.

Without the right enterprising mindset, there will be a waste of energy and time lamenting on what has not happened. Therefore it is very important to have the ability to see different possibilities. This includes opening your mind to opportunities. There should also be the ability to focus on things. Setting focus and goals in accomplishing goals can work a long way.

 

Personal Commitment

Along with enterprising mindset, it is very important to have the commitment to discipline. Some businessmen create a schedule for themselves and sticking strictly to it. There should also be a good surrounding which reflects positive energy. Success if often restricted or propelled with the people around you. Therefore, it is very important to surround yourself with positive people and experiences.

You also need to be relaxed, not thinking too much of pressure surrounding you. Have time for yourself. Do things that you want to do, such as playing online gambling at www.cosmiccasino.org and other hobbies that you may want to engage in. Study the lives of people who can become your role model. Identify people who have also reached success in your particular area of interest.

It is also very important to have decisive action. Success often results from good action. It is also helpful to have a strong and solid foundation of faith. Many times, a strong faith and confidence would do the trick in making sure that a healthy enterprising life is possible. In the end, this will become a very rewarding endeavor.

 

Start Your Cloud Journey with a Cloud Readiness Assessment

startingAs a CIO, you’re probably in the early throes of determining how best to move to the cloud.  You may have taken some preliminary steps such as using some SaaS offerings, done a small proof of concept, maybe even moved a function like test/dev to the cloud – but now you’re feeling the heat to embrace the cloud in a more substantial way.  Before taking the plunge, there are a myriad of activities that need to be considered and steps that need to be taken to ensure that any move you make will ultimately be the right one.  Take heart, as you are in good company with what you are facing.

Get Off on the Right Foot

Step one in any cloud journey should be a Cloud Readiness Assessment (CRA) where you do a frank evaluation of your actual level of cloud readiness (basic, moderate, advanced or optimized) compared to your desired level, determine a timeframe to achieve this, and the steps you need to take to get from A to B.  Without undertaking an initiative such as this, you are basically adopting a “hit or miss” approach as opposed to implementing a well thought out and actionable strategy.

Today, most companies are in the basic to moderate level of readiness, and most have a goal of moving to an advanced level of readiness over time.  In addition, most companies will admit they are not prepared when it comes to how to move to the cloud and could use help moving forward.

When undertaking a CRA, it is important to ensure that key business owners are included in the process.  While IT should lead the process, key personnel from the business side of the shop need to be involved to truly “legitimize” the process.

Your Current Level of Readiness

There are two key activities that should be carried out as part of a CRA.  The first is identifying your current level of cloud readiness. This is accomplished by evaluating your organization from four perspectives. Two are focused more on the business side of the shop – business alignment and organizational change, and two are associated with IT – infrastructure readiness and applications and workloads. Within each of these categories, there are five to six attributes that need to be assessed, rated against standard definitions of readiness, and then totaled to come up with a score for each category.  As an example, within business alignment, key attributes include strategy, finance, sourcing, compliance, metrics, and culture, while within infrastructure readiness, key attributes include network, virtualization, security, storage, backup/DR, efficiency/agility, and communications.

It is important to note that I use the term “standard” above rather loosely as there is no industry standard that has been established for cloud readiness, just fairly consistent definitions that have been put forward by companies that provide tools and/or consulting services for determining cloud readiness.

Your Future Level of Readiness

Once you have determined your current state, you are ready to go through the evaluation process again with emphasis on the future state – where you want to be in the short and longer term.  As was done when determining current state, you will use the “standard” definitions of cloud readiness to determine future state.  Once this is done, you will be in a position to build a preliminary roadmap focused on closing the delta from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow. Activities and deliverables will need to be prioritized and broken down into monthly increments.

Moving to the cloud can seem like a daunting task, especially since many organizations don’t have the knowledge or resources to figure out where to start and how to ensure that all of the necessary business and technology related factors are taken into consideration. However, with a solid CRA plan enterprises’ migration to the cloud can be smoother, faster and deliver the expected benefits.
About The Author: Geoff Sinn is the principal cloud consultant for Dimension Data Americas.

Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/1flatworld/3249911962/

The Taboo Danger of Cloud Computing

tabooCloud computing has been a godsend for the IT industry. Delivering applications in a hosted model does away with maintenance, hardware and licensing costs…. and makes it much faster and easier to launch and provision new services.

Cloud-based applications also provide rich access to collaboration features and API data feeds in a way that would’ve been impossible with stand-alone installed software. And in the case of browser-based SaaS software, applications can be accessed from anywhere – including tablets, smartphones, desktops and laptops – meaning that employees are mobile and empowered.

But there is one major risk which comes from cloud-based applications… and it’s particularly accplicable to Software-as-a-Servicee applications such as Gmail, Salesforce and others.

One of the most promoted benefits of SaaS applications is the ease of purchase and deployment. Anyone with a credit card can set up and launch their own CRM, ERP, email server, accounting system, collaboration suite, etc…

But I would argue that – rather than being a benefit – this is actually a very serious flaw which could have disastrous consequences for many companies.

With traditional IT deployment models, there was centralized control over every aspect of information management within the company. It would be impossible to create a new server without the involvement of IT.

But the reality today is very different. Any marketing manager with a credit card can set up a Salesforce account and implement a web server with ecommerce capabilities. And they can do it without the knowledge of IT or any other key people who should normally be involved in the process. This is simply a recipe for disaster.

  • What happens if the ecommerce system – although completely secure – is implemented in an insecure and non-compliant way by this marketing manager? This could lead to a major privacy breach which could put the company at risk of a major lawsuit?
  • And what happens if this marketing manager needs to be fired? They’ve spent years compiling valuable, critical and irreplaceable customer information. Now, they’re the only ones with the passwords. When they leave, they could potentially take the entire company down with them.

Cloud computing is great, and its benefits are substantial. But for Software-as-a-Service to truly provide value, it must be delivered in a secure way.

This means maintaining tight and appropriate controls over all information assets owned by the company. The company needs to set strict policies in place which forbids employees from using cloud services without explicit permission from those in charge of information governance within the organization.

If the IT department can’t have administrative control over a cloud application, then it should not be used. IT should have centralized insight, and the ability to easily close or lock any user accounts on applications being used for work purposes.

Otherwise, you run the risk of having a rogue employee run off with critical business information… and possibly misusing these critical resources. A single serious incident would be all it takes to put your company out of business.

Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/beau-daph

Survey looks at the growing mobile device market and how companies can profit from it

With more and more people relying on their mobile devices to shop and access information, companies that have mobile-ready websites and apps that consumers can easily download are experiencing a plethora of new revenue stream opportunities.

In this arena, companies have the ability to reach consumers to market and sell, inform, solve problems and provide necessary support for everything from billing to product usage.  Overall, the explosion of the mobile device market has given companies a quick and convenient way to provide excellent service.

A 2011 Zokem Survey Study found that 82.2 million Americans own and use smartphones, and a little over 40 percent of these have downloaded apps.

Almost half of the consumers taking the survey said they use mobile apps 10 times a day or more, which opens a world of possibilities for companies prepared to engage in this arena.

What do these numbers mean in terms of total time?  The survey revealed that consumers average more than 660 minutes per month using apps on their smartphones.

In terms of popularity, Apple devices won out, with Android and Blackberry coming in second and third.  Apple is dominant with almost 500,000 apps that can be downloaded.  Android has about half as many with Blackberry trailing significantly.

How important is it for companies penetrating the mobile device market to have well-working apps?  Very.  The survey found that over 50 percent of users, when faced with a broken app, will get rid of it and forget about it.  About a third of respondents said they would just go to the website in this case.  Just three percent would actually follow up with customer service.

With so many options, it’s clear that most consumers are not as loyal as some companies might think they are.  This is why it’s critical for mobile apps to be user-friendly, full of the features consumers want and built to work.

The advantages with these kinds of apps are huge.  The Zokem survey found that, overall, nearly three-quarters of consumers have either made purchases or sought help with purchasing issues through a mobile app.  This shows that huge numbers of people are poised to buy on the go.

Apple users are more prone to purchase this way than those who use Blackberry.  Eighty-one percent of Apple users buy through mobile apps, while just over 60 percent of Blackberry users do.

In summary, the mobile device market is growing and showing no sign of slowing down.  Smart companies can significantly increase their opportunities for customer service and sales and build greater brand loyalty if they provide consumers with access to mobile apps that work right and make communications easy.

About The Author: Doug Thomas is a freelance writer interested in advanced technology and call center service outsourcing.

Pros & Cons Of Cloud Storage

Businesses are definitely moving more towards the cloud for their business needs, especially for data storage. The cloud platform offers convenient and efficient access to storage space, which would otherwise have been difficult for any business to mobilize. However, as with any other technology, the cloud is not without its own set of disadvantages. Before opting for this technology, it is important to understand the pros and cons of storing data in the cloud.

Pros of cloud storage

  • Cost effective: The biggest advantage in favor of outsourcing your data storage needs to cloud hosting service providers is that you save a lot of money. With cloud services, you can avoid investing in expensive storage equipment and you save money by not having to hire specialists to maintain your data and equipment. Moreover, you also free up your existing resources to concentrate on growing your business.
  • Convenient and easily accessible: Businesses can enjoy extremely convenient and easily accessible storage solutions which were not possible with traditional solutions. In other words, you do not have to go through the trouble of creating or maintaining storage space for your data. Moreover, you can access your data, even when on the move, and from anywhere.
  • Quick recovery: When you opt for a certified data center, you can rest assured that your data is safe against any disaster. Cloud disaster recovery plans are very intricate and are often designed to have impressive recovery time objectives (RTO).

Cons of cloud storage

  • Security concerns: While everything is definitely advantageous with cloud hosting services, the most important concern is that of data security. Given that you are sharing space with other companies and that you have less control over who accesses your data, security could be a concern for those looking into cloud storage for the first time. However, when you choose a certified data center with a private cloud solution, you can rest assured of complete security of your data.
  • Bandwidth limitations: Another disadvantage is the bandwidth you get allotted for your data. You can overcome this problem by choosing a cloud hosting company that gives you close to unlimited bandwidth.

Despite the disadvantages of cloud storage, it is still the best and most cost effective way to ensure that your data is stored conveniently. Of course, it is important to choose a good cloud storage provider that meets all of your business needs.

About The Author: NetPulse Services is a leading provider of Canadian Cloud Hosting services.

F-Commerce/Social Commerce: Business Boom or Bust?

Facebook is often seen as a place where people check out pictures from the party of last weekend. But surprisingly, this social network is evolving into something more. That is a destination where airline tickets, soap and nappies can be bought as well. In this  regard, Levi’s, Procter & Gamble including Delta Airlines are just some of the increasing number of firms that are trying out building what is known as Facebook storefronts.

So what exactly is F-Commerce?

Well, F-commerce or Facebook commerce is a term used to describe the deployment of Facebook as a way to monetize social media. Now this is simply an aspect of the more familiar larger genre, which is known as social-commerce. In other words, consider f-commerce as sale made on the business pages of Facebook through the assistance of applications. By 2015, the f-commerce industry is projected by some analysts to be worth as much as US $30 billion.

With f-commerce there is no need for consumers to leave this social media site as long as their products as well as service are available here.  Also, it is possible for consumers to equally rate, review as well as share products through this commerce store-front.

Benefits to Shoppers

There are quite a number of benefits associated with f-commerce as far as the consumer is concerned. For one thing, he/she will not need to leave Facebook each time there is a need for a product or service that is available on this social media site. And, this might happen often as more and more people open accounts with Facebook with many of these people checking their Facebook pages on a daily basis. It is even estimated that on an average people spend as much as 28 minutes on this social media network.

Also, through Facebook one is able to get recommendations from friends regarding good products to buy as well as great services to patronize since this can be viewed through their walls. Generally, f-commerce makes Facebook a place where consumers can review, rate as well as share products.

Benefits to Companies

With f-commerce companies can gain a wider social following while creating more brand awareness as well as exposure. Some brands like Heinz have used f-commerce as a means of promoting limited editions of their products. Others have taken a different approach by publishing their entire product range on this platform. Now no matter which one they have chosen to do many have realized at the end of the day that getting onboard f-commerce has produced a positive result regarding their bottom-line.

F-commerce Success Tips for Businesses

Be sure that Facebook has your demographic.

Before taking your business to f-commerce please do confirm that your demographic is covered on Facebook. The fact is that this social media site provides businesses with the opportunity of specifically targeting age-groups as well as geography in a much different way that conventional marketing can’t do.

Be ready to seize opportunities.

With Facebook having more than 700 million users that are active, this place is obviously where any company or business should risk diving in. Also, be open as there are new opportunities that will present them selves here only if you are ready to seize them.

Incentivize sharing.

You should be prepared to encourage users in accessing your Facebook application. To do this, you will need to make use of an incentive since by so doing you will more likely get a positive response from them.

Request for feedback.

Asking your customers to honestly provide feedback as par what is working plus what is not can go a long way. It will even make them take your business more seriously.

Author Bio: Jason Phillips has a great experience at entrepreneurship. He comes to know about the benefits of f-commerce and then he used it at his business. He also offers order fulfillment services at his business Xpert Fulfilment.

Computer Repair or Replacement? Tips for Figuring Out What to Decide

There comes a time in every computer owner’s life when he or she must decide whether to hand over money for a computer repair or simply purchase a new system. With new computer costs declining, you may be wondering the same thing. The answer, of course, depends on your budget and the type of repair your computer needs. Below are some guidelines to help you make the right decision for your needs.

 

You Can’t Access Any of the Files

 

If you experience the mother of all crashes and can’t get your computer to turn on or start up correctly, take it to someone with experience in computer repair services. If you’re lucky, the expert can salvage your saved files and make a recommendation about how to proceed. In some instances, your computer may simply need a replacement part. However, keep in mind that data recovery can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.

 

When all is lost, ask for a repair estimate and about the likelihood of other parts failing in the near future – particularly if you have an older system. If the cost to repair your computer is more than 50 percent of its original price, or if your machine is more than 5 years old, you may be better off with a new system – especially if it comes with a good warranty.

 

You Want an Upgrade

 

Whether you have computer envy or want to use the latest gadgets, the choice to upgrade or replace your system depends on its components. It’s not uncommon for new products to be incompatible with older computers. If this is the case, figure out the costs of the upgraded parts you’ll need. Then compare the cost of the upgrades with the cost of a new system. If the upgrades are more than 30 to 50 percent of the computer’s original cost (or if your system is 5 years old or older), a new computer may be best.

 

Your Computer Is Broken

 

Spills, overheating, cracked screens and drops are expensive to fix. The cost of the repair will depend on the extent of the damage. You’re most likely going to pay $300 to $500 for a “simple” repair. When deciding between repairing or replacing your system, consider the computer’s age, its general reliability, repair costs and the time (or cost) it would take to transfer your files and install software onto a new computer.

 

Deciding whether a computer repair is the best way to go can be tough. The good news is that many of the maladies a computer can experience are preventable with regular professional maintenance, common sense and care.

 

About The Author: This post was contributed by Jay Sigler, the co-owner and CEO of Happy Hamster Computers, the largest independently-owned computer store in Portland, Oregon. Jay was recently appointed business technology chair of the North and Northeast Business Association of Portland (NNEBA). Jay has a strong appreciation for customer focus and strives to provide genuinely helpful services to people and businesses.

The Application Market Boom: Hopes and Fears

Computer technology has evolved rapidly in recent years. The latest government statistics indicate that software engineers have grown to more than a million strong as people rush to fill an industry demand partly created by the proliferation of mobile devices and the intrinsic application market thereof. Though business applications are already well established as critical in the function of companies small and large alike, the deep foothold that cloud technology and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) have gained in the business world relatively quickly may have some wondering what kind of computing environment businesses will evolve into over the next decade.

Growing Technologies, Growing Markets

Gartner describes the future of IT in terms of a “nexus of forces” that will enhance business growth while driving the growth of each other. These include cloud computing, mobile, social, and big data technologies.

Of particular interest is the nexus of cloud and mobile. Cloud computing has already met with mobile technology in applications such as Dropbox, which offers storage of files as well as synchronization over multiple devices, mobile or otherwise. The cloud also promises to offer relief for mobile devices from applications’ demands of processing power, which has been a focal point for mobile device developers.

Many businesses have turned to Software as a Service (SaaS) for its low cost, efficiency, and lack of IT resource consumption. In 2011, Forrester predicted that the SaaS will reach $92 billion by 2016. According to Strategy Analytics, a large portion of the growth of the SaaS market can be accounted for in mobile applications as mobile device users are increasingly using their device for a number of business purposes, including email, file storage, calendars, note taking, customer relationship management, etc.

Growing Complications

With these applications becoming part of the business’ computing environment, IT management is faced with security and compatibility issues of a greater scope than it has previously dealt with. As application stacks are growing larger and more complex within businesses, the need for IT to have a good application deployment strategy becomes apparent. The more applications brought into an environment, the greater the potential for configuration changes to disrupt the function of other applications as well as compliance regulations to be violated.

As applications move through development and production, they often pass through several different teams, which often leaves the result less streamlined and compatible than IT would like. In a complex application stack, IT has to employ complex analytics that go deep into data to identify the source of a problem.

Growing Opportunity for Improvement

On the bright side, software developers are aware that easier integration of their product makes it more appealing to customers. Keeping the customers in mind is a good practice for developers, especially as computing seems to be in a paradigm shift that involves Gartner’s nexus of forces. Developers also stand to improve development processes using these technologies, cloud in particular.

The mobile application boom also stands to improve the quality of applications in all aspects of concern to IT and consumer alike as the sheer volume of applications being developed skyrockets, disheartening though that may be for those hoping to make money developing apps. Since the point of business applications is to make the business run more efficiently, thus more profitably, it stands to reason that in a growing app market, apps will be offered that are increasingly adapted to the specific goals of a variety of businesses.

The expansion of cloud and mobile technologies is too profitable to be ignored. The key to success over the next several years will be not only keeping up to speed with it, but also being prepared to mitigate the inherent risks and avoid becoming overwhelmed. The complexity of the situation may require careful leadership in order to find the right balance between these developing technologies as well as balance between their usefulness and their disruption of the existing environment.

About The Author: Arthur Nichols is a Systems Analyst with a passion for writing. His interest in computers began when Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in a regulation chess tournament. When Arthur isn’t drawing up diagrams and flow charts, he writes for BMC, leading supplier of release management software.

The growth of the mobile wallet in 2013 & the impact on CRM systems

2013 looks set to be the year of mobile wallet technology, with major brands including McDonalds, Barclaycard and Visa announcing they will soon begin offering customers the opportunity to pay using this method. The user base is expected to rise significantly over the next year as knowledge and availability of this platform develops.

Speaking at the Westminster eForum event, Marc O’Brien, managing director of Visa UK & Ireland, revealed that Visa were working towards a “mainstream launch” of contactless and mobile payments in the UK with development proceeding alongside major banking and telecoms partners.

Though the technology was first introduced to the UK, Britain currently holds second place in Visa’s European footprint index of contactless payment uptake rates, behind Poland. However, Visa is planning a series of initiatives to boost the UK’s standing.

The marketing and communication of this technology will be crucial to its success and national brands such as Boots and Greggs have been cited as key to driving widespread adoption. In a recent ICM Research study of UK retailers, it was found that only 11 out of 26 high street stores provided contactless payment facilities. More significantly, only 3 stores from the research sample visibly promoted the use of this technology.

The impact on CRM systems

Mobile wallet technology provides retailers with the opportunity to automatically collect purchase history data and monitor individual customer preferences and purchasing habits. This data can then be incorporated with other powerful CRM data to build a comprehensive profile of each customer. This broad record of each individual customer could not only be used to inform customer service interactions, but could also enable improved profiling of consumers for the sake of promotional activities. For example, a customer who recently purchased a product in-store could then be directly targeted with offers on similar or new products through their mobile handset.

A key benefit of using contactless payments and mobile wallet technology systems is the ability to accurately monitor the success of these strategies and react to particular circumstances. Retailers will be able to identify which platforms are successful, target and segment offers to the individuals they want to attract, and tailor the customer shopping experience like never before.

Author: Dave Lee is the Marketing Manager at numero specialising in world-class multi-channel customer interaction management solutions.

Geek Management 101: The Differences Between Network and Systems Administrators, and Tips for Managing Them

Managing IT professionals, aka “IT pros,” aka “Geeks,” can be a challenging endeavor without an understanding of how they operate. The Geek ethos is very unique, and as such, sometimes it takes a slightly different management approach to get the best from your Geeks.

To get a better understanding of IT pros, SolarWinds recently conducted a survey  of 801 systems and network administrators from across the United States. Results of the survey show several key differences between U.S. network and systems administrators:

  • Responsibility and compensation: Network administrators have a wider range of responsibilities, and thus more decision-making power than systems administrators. As a result, 54 percent of network administrators responded that they make final IT decisions in their organizations, compared with just six percent of systems administrators. Not surprisingly, then, the survey found that network administrators make an average of $87,000 per year compared to $78,000 on average for systems administrators.
  • Split frustrations: Systems administrators listed their top work frustrations as too little pay followed by increasing workloads. Network administrators, however, listed not having enough budget first, followed by too little pay.
  • Ambitions: Forty-three percent of network administrators see themselves as an IT department head in five years, and 17 percent see themselves as CIO. Similarly, 39 percent of systems administrators see themselves as IT department head. However, only five percent see themselves as CIO. Also notable is that 19 percent of network administrators say they will cross over to systems management, while 23 percent of systems administrators plan to switch job roles and become network administrators within five years.

The findings also revealed striking similarities between network administrators and systems administrators in overall job satisfaction, optimism, experience and loyalty.

When it comes to effectively managing these two groups, the survey provides insight into the unique demands and rewards of their jobs, which managers in all functions of a business (not just IT managers) should keep in mind to strike a balance of workplace harmony and efficiency. To help utilize the survey results as a means for appropriately managing IT pros, here are some tips based on feedback from the Geeks:

Geeks said: Approximately 70 percent of both network administrators and systems administrators from the U.S. believe that their company does not understand what they do, or the value they bring to the organization.

Management tip #1: Do pet the Geeks. IT pros often toil for hours on critical work that’s completely invisible, and therefore often regarded by management as low priority. As a manager, ask your Geek to tell you about a challenging project they worked on that few people know about. When they discuss how their work resulted in an improved end-user experience, be sure to thank them for sticking with it. As with all type of workers, a simple “thanks” goes a long way.

Geeks said: Too many things to do in the available time and an ever-increasing workload are among the top job frustrations for both network and systems administrators.

Management tip #2: Make wise use of your Geek’s time. Sometimes it’s reassuring to have a smart guy in the room, but the work that keeps your IT department humming often requires considerable attention. “Task switching overhead” is a productivity killer for Geeks, especially when the new task is on another wavelength, such as talking to another department. Being a Geek in crazy meetings is fun.  Being there when you really have stuff to do is not!

Geeks said: Just 32 percent of network and systems administrators strongly believe they are adequately trained in new technology skills to do their job. In addition, less than half of IT pros believe they “always” or “usually” have the necessary budget and monetary resources to perform their jobs properly.

Management tip #3: Empower Geeks to do their jobs. Make sure your Geeks have access to training resources such as books, classes and online resources. Also helpful is access to tools like software, hardware and devices that make their jobs easier, more efficient, and ultimately more effective. Not only will training and access to the proper tools avoid overtime expenses and allow IT pros to spend their valuable time on other projects, but it will also improve morale.

Geeks said: Solving problems, helping users and thinking on their feet are listed as the top three most enjoyable aspects of systems administrators’ jobs. Solving problems and helping users were also listed first and second for network administrators, but getting to work new technologies rounded out their top three.

Management tip #4: Geeks value autonomy and the rewarding feeling that comes with implementing solutions and solving problems. Give Geeks space to do what they love and your organization will reap the benefits. Challenge them to do decision analyses and make final recommendations for solutions, and be able to justify those recommendations with technical and business reasons.

Geeks said: Despite the many similarities when it comes to managing network administrators and systems administrators, they can be quite different when it comes to their extracurricular activities and entertainment choices. For example, network administrators are more likely to own a classic car than their systems administrator counterparts. Both network and systems administrators spend their free time unwinding at home with friends and family. However, network administrators are more inclined toward athletic activities and playing competitive sports. Xbox is the preferred gaming platform, but systems administrators are more likely not be to be gamers at all.

Management tip #5: Geeks are unique! One of the most effective ways to manage your Geeks is to get to know them. You may find that while many Geeks DO love things associated with “Geek Culture” (Call of Duty marathon, anyone?), you probably have more in common with them than you think!

It’s also worthy of being said that these tips are not exclusive of one another. There is an inter-relationship among these ideas and any one tip can feed the health of another. For example, encouraging autonomy also builds managerial skills. Building a business case for a technology solution fosters value of the Geek to the organization, and affords the opportunity for recognition outside of the IT department. Everybody benefits from those results!

About The Author: Lawrence Garvin is a Head Geek and technical product marketing manager at SolarWinds, a Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP), and an eight-time consecutive recipient of the Microsoft MVP award in recognition for his contributions to the Microsoft TechNet WSUS forum