Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The end or the beginning? IT predictions for 2013

Assuming the world doesn't end with the ancient Mayan calendar on Friday, December 21, 2012, this is the time of year when many people start looking toward the next year and making predictions for the future. Here are a few forward-thinking topics combed from various sources relating to IT issues in some of the key markets that Uplogix serves: Energy, Finance, and Federal.

Aging control systems in the US power grid and water plants
In October, U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta warned that successful attacks had been made on computer control systems of American electrical and water plants and transportation systems. While he didn't give much in the way of details on the attacks, he said they demonstrated that these facilities could be targets for foreign nations or extremist groups trying to derail trains or shut down power grids.

The utilities industry has long been accused of not investing in security and continuing to use software and hardware that has always worked, but may now be vulnerable as they have driven to make these sites more accessible and networked from remote locations.

Uplogix brings several solutions to some of the issues impacting critical utilities infrastructure. By locally monitoring both SCADA devices like RTUs and traditional IP devices like routers and switches, Uplogix can respond automatically to device issues, fixing common problems within minutes without IT personnel involvement. If the situation requires human involvement, Uplogix local management integrates secure access to remote sites for a fast, easy connection to remote devices for technicians even when the network is down.

In 2013, as compliance standards such as the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) Electric Reliability standards are expanded, Uplogix can help maintain a complete audit trail of all changes made to the IT infrastructure as well as real-time detection and remediation of compliance breaches.

Mobile applications, cloud and digital footprints key for financial industry in 2013
When consulting firm Frost & Sullivan released their four big 2013 predictions for financial services earlier this week, the focus was on customer interaction. From an increasing number of mobile services for consumers to managing interactions between consumers and institutions through social media, the task is collecting lots of data, analyzing it and storing it in the Cloud.

From an Uplogix perspective, we'll continue to securely operate in the data centers some of the largest financial institutions and help fast-growing regional banks integrate their network management of branch offices during acquisitions. For the Cloud, we expect to see more use of Local Management in the infrastructure that powers cloud computing.

We provide a cost-effective way to meet the pervasive higher service levels that are required for networks in the Cloud world. Local Management reduces the likelihood of problems occurring and to achieve big decreases in Mean-Time-To-Recovery (MTTR) when issues do occur.

Changes in Federal IT?
Many predictions for federal IT on the civilian site parallel those for the financial industry -- more use of the cloud, mobile computing and harnessing big data to work smarter. On the defense side of the federal IT equation, the Pentagon is planning to cut $487 billion in spending over the next decade -- with or without the fiscal cliff.

Budget cuts lead to more focus on efficiency. For managing the multiple layers of secure networks in all branches of the military, Uplogix automation ensures problems are spotted faster and often solved before traditional management systems could even generate a trouble ticket.

The integration that Uplogix provides for network infrastructure extends to securing access to devices. Utilizing existing TACACS+, RADIUS, LDAP, PKI, or RSA solutions, Uplogix can broker access to all devices (both console and IP) through the security solution of your choice. This functionality is available both in- and out-of-band.

Look for local management to grow in 2013
Of course, here in Austin, we're planning on surviving the end of the world and are busy booking new customer appointments, proof-of-concepts, and deployments well into 2013. If you haven't taken your network management local with Uplogix yet, we predict that you'll have a happier and more productive new year if you do.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It just makes sense - Local Management for regional banking

You've likely noticed that many of the banks you drive by every day tend to change names often. Mergers, acquisitions, consolidations... it's a busy time in banking. Not all changes in banks just involve rebranding, often there are massive IT hardware changes and major systems that must be integrated when banks change.

While Uplogix has been in financial data centers for some time, one of the fastest growing markets for local management is in regional banking. Uplogix provides specific value in these situations when it comes to managing disparate network gear, controlling support costs for branch offices, and limiting the number of site visits from IT staff.

Different strokes for different folks
When banks come together, they bring their history of IT decisions with them. Some banks invest in the latest and greatest, while others adopt a more lean approach. The challenge of managing a more
heterogeneous network after a merger falls on the networking group.

Uplogix integrates with various network devices and server platforms by tying the device’s command line interface into the Uplogix unified CLI framework. The unified common interface not only eliminates the need for administrators to remember individual device commands, but also makes automating common management tasks simpler. Devices not currently supported with advanced drivers can be managed natively by using the device CLI.

Network support for branch offices without IT staff
Uplogix is the virtual network administrator in a box, working 24x7 to ensure that gear onsite is up and running. Local, direct access to managed devices gives Uplogix the ability to monitor intensely and take actions based on established run book procedures for a wide range of networking and communications devices.

For the corporate IT folks in the NOC, Uplogix serves as their remote eyes, ears and hands at branch offices. When there are problems, best-in-class problem diagnosis and recovery capabilities  autonomously detect and fix remote issues without having to deploy expensive resources on-site. Meanwhile management connectivity with distributed locations is maintained, even when the network is down or degraded, providing always-secure access to distributed devices.

The bottom line
In the dynamic world that is local banking, Uplogix offers a secure platform for remote management and ensures compliance with internal management policies, regardless of the state of the network. Banks can continue to merge away while counting on their IT groups to keep the networks critical to operations up and running without breaking the... well, without breaking the bank. (Come on, it was just too easy!)

For more info on how Local Management has been a sound investment in a rapidly expanding regional bank, download the case study.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Taking our story down-under

The winding waterfront of Melbourne
A week ago, James Dollar, the founder and CTO of Uplogix had a chance to address the CIOs of one of the largest corporations in the world at a gathering in Australia. It was a chance to introduce a global audience to the concept of local management, as well as show them why it's something they need to know about. Here is a summary of what he had to say.

Today, Connectivity is King
The trend is toward smarter and more connected devices and systems. Examples range from the obvious, like the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement, to the less conspicuous like unmanned energy transmission sites in the middle of nowhere connected by satellite links.

Under our noses, but not necessarily on the radar for networked systems are the smart devices like an MRI machine that self-monitors and "calls-in" for service as needed. Even the ubiquitous ATM where you pull out cash is likely a system made up of redundant wireless links and individual components for check scanning, cash dispensing and security monitoring -- all reporting back to a NOC somewhere on a network connection.

With the reliance on connectivity growing daily, business requirements for that connection are becoming more stringent. The key needs are:
  • Uptime – These devices are only useful if they are working, and connected with an acceptable QoS
  • Security – Absolutely critical to operations, customers
  • Acceptable Operating Cost – Increasing numbers of complex and critical devices is a formula for support costs to skyrocket
This last bullet is the kicker -- generally, if something is important-enough, and money is no object, layers of redundancy and lots of people can almost always conquer reliability issues. But rarely is money no object, and we're talking about a need for reliable networks almost everywhere and with billions of network devices. (Cisco predicts 50 billion by 2020!)

You can't put highly-trained people everywhere, all of the time, so operations are centralized. This introduces new problems:
  • Complexity and triaging of issues
    Everything goes into one big bucket for observation; collecting and processing vast amounts of monitoring data
  • Downtime and truck rolls
    Relying on the network itself to manage networked devices. It's like driving on a spare tire -- if it goes out, you are walking.
  • Security and compliance risk
    Pushing updates is difficult and sometimes risky, so the norm is to wait on updates until they are required, standardizing on major revisions
So what's the answer?
Distribute and automate the device management from a local perspective. Put intelligence out with these devices to manage them autonomously, and provide support tools for problems that are too difficult for automation.

Today, most "management" tools are really monitoring and filtering tools. The difference between them and local management is the difference between knowing there is an issue and FIXING the issue.

What do you need to have a local management solution? There are several key components for a successful platform including:
  • Directly connecting to devices
    See everything an on-site technician would see, more reliably and without impacting the network
  • On-board processing & storage
    Monitor, evaluate and take actions based on the run-book, back up configurations and OS files onsite
  • Secure out-of-band access
    Provide an off-network connection for more complicated problem resolution by a remote technician
  • Role-based access and audited management
    Eliminate potential for abuse and ensure policy compliance
  • Complement existing centralized management tools
    Feed the NOC with information, backfill for audit and compliance
The presentation went on to show some example of how this idea of local management answers many of the challenges of the increasingly connected world of today, as well as a pathway to an even more advanced world tomorrow. Check out the slides above!

Analyst perspective on Local Management

Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) recently published a market perspective on local management technologies, highlighting the Uplogix Local Management Platform. They note an increasing urgency in IT as it deals with a widening human resource gap, ever-present pressures to limit operational expenses, and substantial increases in complexity within IT infrastructure, as driving factors for implementing more automation to IT management.

The brief says that Local Management needs to be in your vocabulary. For some time now, all of the focus has been on virtualization, which has delivered great rewards, but is also built on the assumption that there is a physical infrastructure that performs in a flawless manner. They state:
"IT pros can little afford to drop their guard against anything less than 100% availability when it comes to any aspect of physical compute or connectivity assets."
There is an analysis of compelling reasons for implementing local management including increased efficiency and speed when it comes to recognizing issues automatically and also resolving problems without human effort. The broader business objective of reducing operational risk is addressed through this constant monitoring of day-to-day operations as well as acting as a "backstop" for occasional activities like patches and upgrades. In these situations, local management can automatically roll-back any failed configurations to restore operations without "requiring personnel on-site to 'babysit' the process."

Seven essential requirements for investigating or evaluating local management solutions are described in the brief as well as an evaluation of the Uplogix platform.

Rather than give you a brief of the brief, read it for yourself by downloading the EMA Perspective from the Uplogix Resource Center.