April 24, 2014

Context-Aware Networking: Keeping Your Company Safe in a Wireless World

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As users come to expect wireless access to be pretty much ubiquitous, and to be able to use the device of their choosing, companies face significant challenges in how to go about delivering on those expectations. Essentially, the job entails an ability to be aware of who is trying to connect, what rights and privileges they have, what type of device they’re connecting with, where they’re connecting from and what they should ultimately be allowed to do on the network based on all of these contextual considerations.Context-Aware-Networking-Puzzle

It’s a concept known as context-aware networking which, as the name implies, involves the ability to put each wireless network session into context so that you can apply security rules and policies accordingly. To learn more about how companies are grappling with the issue, we talked with Chris Williams, a systems engineer with Carousel Industries who works with customers on their wireless networks.


Outlining the Issues Around Context-Aware Networking

There’s a lot at stake prompting companies to want to get context-aware networking right, Williams notes. Wireless networks have no boundaries, so they bring with them significant risk if proper security is not in place.

The bring your own device (BYOD) movement only compounds the problem, forcing IT to be able to support myriad device types (depending on company policy, of course) and to enforce policy on all of them.  

What’s more, IT needs to be able to see what types of applications users are employing, to decide whether they should be allowed. For example, corporate policy may forbid employees from using file-sharing sites, so they can’t download illegal movies and the like. “It brings risk if people do things like that on the corporate network,” Williams says. “Companies can get sued.”


Taking a Consultative Approach to Wireless Security

With so many issues to grapple with, he says it takes a fair amount of consultative planning up front to sort through what kind of approach will work for any given organization. For most companies, wireless started in just conference rooms and a few other hot spot areas. Now that it’s branching out, the conversations have to change.

“Do you want to control which devices are coming on and where you want them to go?” Williams asks. “What are your internal policies, what resources are people allowed to access based on their role? How do you identify folks and assign them a role? Are you using Active Directory for role management and is it up to date?  Or maybe you just treat everyone as a guest and push them out to the Internet through your DMZ.”  


The Technology Behind Context-Aware Wireless Networking

With a plan in place for what you want to accomplish, the next step is implementing the technology to make it happen. In most cases, that will involve several components, such as:

  • Wireless networking infrastructure and controllers capable of supporting context-aware networking like those offered by Carousel’s partners Aruba, Meru, Extreme, and Juniper

  • Fingerprinting technology, to help you identify the device a user is employing, so you can apply the correct policy. Wireless controllers typically handle the job, using one of two approaches: DHCP or HTTP fingerprinting. DHCP will tell you what operating system the device is employing but not much more; HTTP enables you to identify the specific device type, Williams says.

  • Stateful firewalls, which essentially put wireless conversations into context, giving them the ability to ferret out responses that are outside the norm for a given type of conversation.

  • Network access control (NAC), which enables organizations to identify and authenticate users as they access the network, then apply a granular level of control over what each is allowed to do.

  • Directory technology, to help group users into roles that make it easier to define what each user is allowed to do.

If you need help sorting out your wireless network plan and how context-aware networking fits in, contact Carousel – we’ll be happy to walk you through the process.

 

 

Gartner Predicts Increased Concern about Carbon Footprint and Green IT

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Throughout the seemingly endless presidential campaign we just witnessed in the U.S., the issue of climate change hardly came up at all. It’s just not an issue that’s front and center these days, at least among politicians. But in its report, “Predicts 2013: Green IT and Sustainability,” Gartner predicts the issue will once again be on the table in a big way in coming years as government and industry gear up to meet promises made in 2011.

The effect will be a renewed focus on low emissions from data centers and alternative sources of energy. One of the reports strategic planning assumptions reads:

By 2016, 15% of large, new data center builds will provision for low-emission outcomes.

Based on our experience here at Carousel, it seems to us that number might be a little low.  With the high level of interest in tracking energy metrics like Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) the best practices being shared by industry groups like the Green Grid, and an almost universal interest in Virtualization technology that makes data centers run more efficiently, organizations large and small are looking to reduce energy burn in their data centers.

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Dig Deeper:  Download the free whitepaper – 6 Keys to Energy Savings in Your Data Center

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Keeping Climate Promises

At a climate conference in Durban in 2011, governments committed to coming up with agreements on climate change no later than 2015, with changes going into effect by 2020. Gartner says that will have a ripple effect on enterprises:

So, by 2016, we would anticipate carbon pricing, taxation, and cap and trade to be back under discussion. By 2018, this discussion should be getting much more heated and finding its way back onto the political agenda to the point where enterprises making long-term investments in energy-intensive assets, such as data centers, will want to factor carbon-pricing risks into their decision processes.

Large Enterprises Are Investing in Energy Production Technology

Companies will look for ways to produce at least some of their own electricity, to reduce costs, carbon footprint and reliance on utilities because, as Gartner says, “the utilities’ abilities to sustain low-cost and rock-solid reliability are being increasingly challenged.”

Gartner cites four examples of large enterprises that are already implementing so called “supply side” energy initiatives:

  • Apple’s investment in a 4.8 megawatt (MW) biogas fuel cell and 20 MW solar farm at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina
  • eBay’s 6 MW fuel cell installation in Utah
  • McGraw-Hill’s 14.1 MW solar farm in New Jersey
  • National Australia Bank’s 2 MW trigeneration plant

Power-Purchase Agreements Take Hold

On-site power generation technologies are maturing to the point where service providers are now offering power purchase agreements, which can be beneficial for enterprise customers. Under the agreements, a service provider covers the capital cost of installing and maintaining the power generation technology, whether solar, biogas or trigeneration plants, which involves the simultaneous generation of electricity and heating and cooling from the same source. The service provider then sells back some of the power to the enterprise at an agreed-upon price and sells any remainder on the open market.

As the Gartner report says:

This is an attractive option for data center operations, since it removes much of the risk and provides a guaranteed supply at a known cost.

Gartner also advises companies looking to build new data centers to consider “international locations that offer long-term mitigation of energy and carbon-related risks and the associated rising costs.”

Sounds like good advice. If you’re looking for ways to reduce your own carbon footprint and cut energy costs, contact Carousel - we have experts who can help.

The Most Popular Enterprise Technology Stories of 2012

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It’s hard to believe, but only a couple of weeks remain to the year 2012, so we thought it was a good time to look back and see what topics most resonated with readers this past year. Below you’ll find the most popular post in each of seven categories that collectively cover the most pressing IT concerns of the day.  

Security and Disaster Recovery 

IT security is of course a top of mind issue for IT teams everywhere.  As frequent readers of this blog know, each month we have no problem collecting lots of IT security breach stories that serve to prove the breaches impact companies big and small, the government, schools and individuals. Security relates closely to business continuity and disaster recovery and there has been no shortage of disaster stories, either, as 2012 saw some unusual ones related to Mother Nature. The most popular was this piece from August highlighting what happened after a rare east coast earthquake.

Unified Communications 

Unified communications has been something of a holy grail for IT folks, who for years have been trying to marry voice, video and data in myriad and sundry ways to foster better, easier communications among employees, customers and partners. We’ve chronicled some of the technologies that are helping companies effectively implement UC, including for our beloved Boston Red Sox. In what was without question the post that proved the most fun to report, we got the chance to visit Fenway Park and learn how the Red Sox upgraded their UC infrastructure to support everything from ticket sales to diagnosing injuries. (While the project certainly improved communications, sadly it did not translate into success on the field – but there’s always next year!)

Visual Communications 

Video is also coming of age, in part as a result of the bring your own device (BYOD) movement. Employees are used to using video on their smart phones and tablets and want to use it in the office, as well. The most popular video-related post of 2012 was our report about what you might call extreme video, which are video systems that are always on. (Perhaps the old “Get Smart” photo helped drive some traffic for this one.)

Networks

As our networks get larger and data centers more virtual, it puts stress on the core network infrastructure, the gear that has to connect all those servers to one another. That’s where fabrics come in. As this post details, fabrics are basically big network switches that allow direct, one-to-one communications between any two devices in a data center. Check out the post and accompanying podcast to learn more about fabrics and why they may be in your future.

Virtualization

It warmed our hearts to learn this post was so popular because it tells a story that needs to be heard: you can get good ROI from desktop virtualization. For too long we’ve heard that while companies like the idea of desktop virtualization, they can’t cost-justify it, especially as prices for desktops and laptops keep falling. This piece aims to give you ammo to prove the ROI, pointing to soft benefits like improved management, security and business continuity.

Green IT

Given the large electric bills associated with data centers, it makes sense to take steps to conserve energy and save money every month. As this post explains, one way to do that is to conduct a Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) analysis of your data center to find problems with air flow that are causing your CRAC units to work harder than they should – wasting money in the process.

Wireless

Workforces are becoming more mobile all the time – perhaps more so than we even thought. We’ll admit to being surprised at the most popular post in the wireless category, this one on how to set up temporary wireless networks. Apparently companies are concerned that their employees and customers really can’t go without network connectivity – ever.

Mobility 

Closely related to wireless, of course, is the topic of mobility, which includes the various devices that represent the D in BYOD. In 2012, all the buzz was about the new iPad, which came out in March. To get the skinny on how companies should prepare for the device, we talked to Carousel’s own chief IT guy, Scott Moody, the company’s Manager of Corporate Technology. He’d been preparing for more than a year and offered sound advice on how to prep your network for the increased amount of data the new iPad would drive as well as how to make a business case for it.

We hope you’ve found the blog useful this year.  Thank you for continuing to rely on Carousel and Carousel Connect in 2012.  If there’s anything you want to see us cover in the weeks and months ahead, just “speak your mind” in the comments section below.

Readiness Assessments are Crucial to Any IT Project

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Most IT teams these days are fairly lean, the result of years of dealing with a “do more with less” business mantra. In such an environment, IT can ill-afford to have projects go bad. Yet, only 40% of IT projects succeed in meeting schedule, budget and quality goals, according to IBM.

The culprit in more than half of such failed projects (54%) is poor project management and planning, according to a story in IBM Systems magazine. One way to help avoid such a fate is to conduct a thorough best practices-based readiness assessment early on in the project.

Readiness Assessment Basics

To help you through the process, Carousel Industries has developed an e-book, “Readiness Assessments: Kicking off Successful IT Projects,” that walks through many of the best practices involved in a proper readiness assessment.

Chief among them is to engage appropriate stakeholders from your IT, business and partner communities. The group should include representatives from the network, security and physical infrastructure groups as well as business unit leaders, executive sponsors and vendors.

Get each stakeholder to explain the technical and business goals they have in mind from the project. Each stakeholder should also discuss how their own technical needs will affect others, to help lower risk and align priorities and expectations among the entire group.

Conducting a Video Readiness Assessment

Beyond the basics, the readiness assessment will vary depending on the type of project. Successfully deploying video conferencing, for example, requires you have a stable, reliable network and IT infrastructure in place to support it. So analyzing your network in detail is critical to determine whether you have the required capacity and, if not, where you need to add bandwidth.

The analysis should involve a stress test to determine how the network performs under both typical and peak loads along with testing for packet loss to identify any “break points” where the loss will be unacceptable for a video application. Similarly, you’ll need to test for latency to ensure you won’t experience jitter and other problems that result in poor video quality.

Preparing for the Mobile Onslaught

The Carousel e-book also delves into how to conduct a secure mobility project readiness assessment. As the e-book points out, 82% of workers regularly use smart phones and tablets for business use and 37% are using them in ways that are not sanctioned by IT or the business.

What’s more, without proper planning, supporting the new generation of tablets may require as much as a 300% increase in wireless technology investments.

For a secure mobility project, the readiness assessment involves reviewing the current work and mobility requirements and any plans for growth. You’ll also need to examine what mobile devices are in use, the applications users need to access – and the IT security requirements for each – as well as any compliance frameworks.

Beyond that, the e-book goes into a checklist of items to review, from existing security devices such as firewalls and intrusion detection to remote access tools and data leak prevention policies.

Before you delve into your next project, check out “Readiness Assessments: Kicking off Successful IT Projects.” It’ll get you pointed in the right direction.

Event Wrapup: The Role of Reference Architectures in IT Service Delivery

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Carousel makes every event fun, no matter how geeky the topic! 

Reference Architectures have become a hot topic lately as leading technology companies work to provide a template solution for an architecture for a particular type of solution.  This can entail both hardware and software components, necessary integration details and provide a common vocabulary with which to discuss implementations.

We recently held a pair of events in Boston and Burlington, VT to discuss this important topic. We brought together leading industry experts, (that just happen to be Carousel partners) from Juniper Networks, EMC, VMware, and Atlantis Computing to discuss the role reference architectures can and will play in speeding up the delivery of IT services within the enterprise.  The events were well attended and extremely well received with team members from businesses like the Boston Medical Center and the Commonwealth of MA in Boston, and Vermont Mutual Insurance Company and St. Michael’s College in Burlington, attending to learn about how this emerging trend can help their organizations.

We took advantage of an open, relaxed forum to discuss real world details.  In specific we covered:

  • The role of reference architectures within organizations today.
  • Building a Private Cloud Environment with the EMC VSPEX Reference Architecture and VMware’s new vCloud Suite.
  • Speeding up time to deploy, optimize performance and reduce up front capital outlay for your VDI projects using VSPEX, VMware and Atlantis Computing.
Sounds like it would be way down in the weeds, but we still had a blast:

Boston

Burlington


If your organization would like to be considered for attendance at one of Carousel’s upcoming Tech Forums, contact us today.


Remote Medicine: Coming to a Pharmacy Near You

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You may have noticed recently, as a way to add additional revenue and fill a gap in the healthcare system, a number of pharmacy store chains have been offering walk-in clinics where patients can receive immediate care for a range of maladies. I was in one a few Sunday’s ago when we thought my son had strep throat and there was no way I was waiting in line at the emergency room for 3 hours to get a rapid strep test (his doctor was off enjoying her weekend).

While the clinics are convenient and useful for patients, they are costly for the chains to provide. Each one must be retrofit into the store, requiring expensive construction – especially given the need to protect patient privacy and comply with HIPAA regulations.  And each clinic must be staffed with one or more qualified medical professionals, which further drives up costs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average salary for a physician’s assistant in 2010 was $86,410.

For all these reasons, it becomes difficult for the pharmacies to scale the walk-in clinic model beyond a few hundred stores – leaving thousands more out of the picture.

Health Care by Hi Def Video – a Scalable Model

The healthcare solutions group at Carousel Industries has come up with a solution to the scalability problem: the high definition video diagnostic kiosk. Recent advances in high-def videoconferencing, along with the availability of fast data networks and secure unified communications platforms make it possible for healthcare professionals to treat patients remotely, via video.

In a relatively small enclosed kiosk, not much bigger than a photo booth or the space currently devoted to blood pressure testing machines, patients sit on front of a video conferencing screen and speak with a qualified medical professional. HD cameras, screens and integrated diagnostic equipment enable the remote professional to diagnose issues and decide on the best course of action. If necessary, the doctor can write a prescription, which the patient can have filled at the pharmacy desk a few feet away. Never has a trip to the doctor been so quick or convenient.

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Dig Deeper:  Read the Free Whitepaper - Tomorrow’s Pharmacy: How eHealth and HD Video Telepresence Will Transform In-Store Pharmacy Care.

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Healthcare Kiosks Benefit Patients and Pharmacies Alike

Clearly the kiosk solution holds many benefits for patients. They get their issue addressed quickly by a qualified expert on a one-to-one basis, with all the same privacy as a doctor’s office. They get prescriptions fulfilled on the spot, without having to make an extra stop. In many cases, no appointment is required and visits may be outside normal doctor’s hours.

Pharmacies, too, realize  many benefits. For one, they can put the kiosks in lots more locations without incurring all the costs of a walk-in clinic. A single physician or physician’s assistant can handle multiple kiosks, dramatically reducing personnel costs. If they centralize the service delivery from a single remote video call center, pharmacies can use existing contact center technologies to ensure they are properly staffed at all times. They can also take advantage of advanced performance reporting and analytics features to track statistics and ensure cost controls. In short, the kiosks are a great opportunity for pharmacies to develop a new revenue stream with relatively low cost..

To learn more about the Carousel eHealth platform, check out the white paper, “Tomorrow’s Pharmacy: How eHealth and HD Video Telepresence Will Transform In-Store Pharmacy Care.

Top Tech Trends in 2012: BYOD, Video, Security and Wireless

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Paul Millette is Carousel Industry’s director of inside sales for the Northeast region. As such, his job is to lead a team that tries to engage potential new customers in conversations about their IT requirements and issues, to figure out if Carousel may be able to help.

Given his role, Millette hears every day about top of mind technology concerns that businesses have these days. He says that in the big picture, they come down to four technologies or trends: Bring your own device (BYOD), video, security and wireless.Trends-in-technology

BYOD Rates as Top Tech Concern

Across pretty much any vertical industry, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is typically the first concern customers bring up, Millette says. “Few people don’t have iPhones, iPads and such,” he says. “A top objective in 2012 is for companies to get a handle on how to manage and control access from these devices.”

While it may seem like we’ve been hearing the term BYOD for some time, he notes that the trend is still in its early stages. “Three years ago the iPad was just pie in the sky. Nobody really had a ton of use for it,” he says. Coming to grips with the idea that individual employees own their own devices but IT has to allow them access to corporate resources “is a hurdle people have to get over,” Millette says. “Providing them with the help and expertise necessary to do that is critical.”

Video Enables More Effective Use of Resources

Another conversation that is resonating with customers is how video can help them become more productive. Whereas once the conversation was all about saving money by reducing travel to meetings and the like, now the topic has changed.

“We think visual communications presents a fantastic opportunity to better utilize your best resources,” he says. “An engineer in a car can make two or three appointments per day. On a video connection, he can do six or eight.” The same engineer can participate from afar in a meeting with clients in New Jersey and 10 minutes later be meeting with a group in Boston, all with perfect clarity thanks to the latest high-definition video technology.

And once again, the trend spans many verticals. Education is something of a layup, with the trend toward distance learning. But think about manufacturing, where so much assembly is done overseas. With high-definition cameras, companies can check on issue such as colors and stitching on the fly, whereas once it may have taken a week to ship the product from one side of the globe to the other. Health care professionals can now “see” patients from wherever they may be and electronics firms can zoom in on a circuit board via video and see detail even better than with the naked eye, Millette says.

“Everybody can relate to maximizing resources to be more effective,” he says. “It really is eye-opening.”

Seeking More Proactive IT Security

Security continues to be a top-of-mind concern for customers, who see no shortage of news about security breaches. Security concerns permeate the BYOD discussions as well, as companies grapple with figuring out how to secure devices they don’t own. All the while, attackers are becoming more sophisticated, prompting IT security professionals to wonder just what they are protecting against.

To keep up, companies want to become more proactive with respect to security. That means not simply reacting to what’s already happened, but taking a granular approach to try to find things that are just not quite right and be able to deal with them before large-scale damage is done.

Another issue is bringing security technology that once was found only in the largest companies to smaller firms. That’s what companies like Carousel partner Fortinet deliver with unified threat management tools that address a variety of threats in an appliance format that’s simple to deploy. “Companies like Fortinet really are making security more affordable for mid-market businesses,” Millette says. (To learn more about Fortinet, check out our recent podcast with Kevin Flynn, senior manager of product marketing for the firm.)

Getting Control Over Wireless Networks

Wireless has likewise been around for some time but, as more and more users have wireless connections from all manner of devices, the issue is gaining control over the wireless network so that it can be used effectively. Without controls in place, it would be easy for just a few users streaming Pandora radio stations or YouTube videos to effectively monopolize available wireless bandwidth – leaving those looking to do real work out of luck.

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Dig Deeper: Read the Free Whitepaper: A Shift in Trust: Secure Mobility in Today’s Wireless Enterprise

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Companies like Aruba Networks, another Carousel partner, have come up with controls that enable companies to not only identify users and their devices, but enforce access rights and privileges. That means users are allowed access only to resources for which they’re authorized and can’t grab too much bandwidth unless it’s for an approved application, Millette says. (Why yes, we did a podcast with an Aruba exec, too.)

If your company is grappling with any of these issues, contact Carousel - we’d be happy to talk about how we can help.

IT Project Readiness Assessments: Why They Matter

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As every IT executive knows, the enterprise network and application environment is getting more and more complex every day.  At the same time, the pressure to ensure that important IT projects run smoothly, cost effectively and provide an ROI has never been greater.  Effective organizations realize that they are often best served by taking a step back and executing on a best practice based project readiness assessment prior to kicking off a project that has not been thoroughly defined.

To learn about why companies take this important tactical step and how they execute on an assessment project, I recently caught up with Bill Aninno, Vice President of the Data Technologies Group at Carousel Industries.

“When a company knows they want to execute on a technology initiative, it is more important than ever that they take the time to consider all project variables and plan effectively,” says Annino.  “This effort allows the business to uncover potential issues ahead of time, forces the discussion about project value and return, and provides increased confidence of project success.”

IT Project Complexity Has Never Been Higher

With sophisticated network architecture, wireless, virtualization, physical infrastructure, security requirements, cloud solutions, BYOD endpoints and myriad applications interacting, it is no wonder that readiness assessments are so important prior to executing on a new project.  According to Aninno, “Bringing the various stakeholders together from the business units, IT, security and finance is critical, as is leveraging the engineering and project execution expertise of the professional service lead and the product manufacturers.”

This allows each stakeholder to discuss and define how various actions will impact other areas in the network environment and plan accordingly, lowering the risk of missteps.  “With close to 20 years of working with thousands of clients, Carousel has developed best practices for many types of projects from VoIP, to Contact Center deployment, to Physical infrastructure improvements to virtualization.  By bringing those and the necessary engineering expertise to bear during this phase can make the difference between the project moving forward and succeeding, and the company perceiving important projects as just too risky.”

Benefits of Readiness Assessments

Executing on these low-cost project-focused readiness assessments can have multiple benefits to an organization, including:

  • Increased technical accuracy of project deployment
  • Improved shareholder project understanding, buy in and expectations
  • Improved likelihood of meeting project implementation expectations
  • Increased likelihood of meeting project budgetary expectations
  • Increased likelihood of employees utilizing properly working and aligned applications

IT Readiness Assessment Best Practices

To learn more about readiness assessments and some of the best practices your organization should consider when preparing for an assessment, dig into these data sheets.  And as always, contact Carousel with any questions.

Telework Week Demonstrates Big Savings from Home Worker Strategies

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Working from home saves the time and fuel associated with commuting, and thus real dollars, but can also improve employee productivity and make employees happier. Not surprisingly, management is taking notice and becoming more receptive to the idea.

Those are some of the key takeaways from Telework Week 2012, co-sponsored by Cisco and the Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership focused on demonstrating the tangible value of telework and serving the educational and communication requirements of the Federal teleworker community.  This was the second year of the weeklong event and participation was up fairly dramatically, with an 80% increase in the number of workers pledging to participate – more than 70,000 of them in all, the vast majority (94%) being federal government workers.

Telework Delivers Big Savings

The results they report are nothing short of astounding. Consider these stats from the benchmark report on the event:

  • Telework Week 2012 saved pledges a total of 6,413,006 miles; 251,774 hours; 3,453 tons of pollutants; and $5,651,890 on commuting
  • Telework Revolution: If all Telework Week 2012 pledges teleworked two days a week for one year, they would collectively save: $282,594,515 or $3,962 individually
  • Growing Benefits: 71% of Telework Week 2012’s participating organizations saw improved productivity (up from 60% in 2011), and 71% saw increased continuity of operations (up from 52% in 2011)
  • Telework Gets Smoother: Just one in five organizations encountered challenges – such as technical issues – during Telework Week 2012, versus nearly one in three during Telework Week 2011

Asked whether their management team was more open to and encouraging of telework this year than last year, 62% said they were, up a bit from last year’s 60%. The report says that may be because companies are getting better at proving the ROI of telework efforts, using metrics such as employee productivity, reduction in commuting time and costs, real estate cost savings, employee satisfaction, employee retention and energy savings.

For years Carousel has been helping our clients realize the benefits of teleworking through data networking solutions, VoIP infrastructure and Unified Communications solutions.  So it came as no surprise to us that organizations are truly beginning to realize the tremendous upside that teleworking can provide in the right situations.

GSA Proves Value of Telework

The report includes case studies on a few of the event participants, most of which were government agencies. The GSA, for example, had almost 8,000 staffers participating, about 65% of the agency – pretty impressive. Of those, 93% said they and their teams were as productive or more productive than normal and 97% said the experience was positive overall. In total, GSA saved 273,000 miles in commuting during the week.

The report doesn’t say how much time those commuting figures translate to. Just for kicks, let’s say it comes out to one minute per mile, a conservative estimate. That translates to 4,550 hours.  That means each of the employees effectively got more than 30 minutes of extra free time for the week, and many of them probably a lot more.

Creating an Effective Telework Plan

Asked what they believe is most important to a successful telework effort, the participants gave responses such as:

  • “Good communication infrastructure and good IT support.”
  • “A definitive plan, two-way communications, and management involvement in the planning process.”
  • “Collaborative tools like workgroup chat rooms, desktop video meetings, and online presence indicators.”
  • “Transparency and accountability.”
  • “Ensuring connectivity to our Intranet and other internal networks.”
  • “A good working relationship with staff, clear expectations, and measurable work.”
  • “Leadership support.”

Only 21% of the participants reported having any challenges during the week, down from 32% last year. Most of those challenges (61%) were technical in nature while others were trust issues (11%) and communication issues (10%).  That’s an indicator that, for the most part, IT is doing a good job in delivering the kinds of technology that makes telecommuting possible, most notably VPNs.

Increasingly, though, other technologies are going to enter the telecommuting mix, such as desktop virtualization, which can give workers access to the exact same desktop remotely as they have in the office. Unified communications technology will also play a role – and will help address those communication issues by ensuring workers can keep in touch with one another no matter where they may be. (Check out our previous post for how to achieve a successful UC implementation.)  And, as we’ve reported previously, it’s also important to keep in mind not all remote workers have the same requirements, so you’ve got to classify each type of worker and give them the support they need.

If you need additional help getting your telework plan together, contact Carousel. Clearly there’s a movement afoot here – don’t miss out on it.

Virtual Desktops: A Key Component of BYOD Success

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At Carousel we get a lot of questions from customers about the BYOD (bring your own device) trend.  One topic that comes up over and over is how to securely enable employees to interact with the corporate network from any device while allowing them to be as productive as possible.  In this regard, Virtual Desktop, or VDI, is a powerful solution – albeit one that is part of a  comprehensive, holistic solution and does not exist in a vacuum.  We had a chance to catch up with Phil Magnuszewski, the Director of Cloud and Virtualization Solutions at Carousel, to discuss how VDI empowers mobile workers that now utilize multiple devices, and how VDI relates to other components of a comprehensive BYOD and mobility strategy.

Enabling Multiple Virtual Desktop Endpoints Per User

As we’ve discussed on this blog in the past, deploying VDI for users is a project that must be well planned for and effectively executed.  We won’t go into too much detail here, but defining “desktop use cases” for employees is a critical first step in order to determine which users will be transitioned to Virtual Desktops and in what order.  It is also important to define and deploy the necessary enhancements to the network infrastructure required to support the increased load generated by VDI.

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Dig Deeper:  Download the Free Whitepaper – 3 Keys to a Successful Virtual Desktop Deployment

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Once this is completed and your virtual desktop infrastructure is in place, you will be ready to capitalize on one of the great benefits of VDI – extending it to mobile BYOD devices like tablets and smartphones.   Magnuszewski says, “This is the easy part.  Users can download a VMware or Citrix app from the Apple App Store or the Android Marketplace and install it in minutes.  Configuring the back end with server details is straightforward and when complete the apps will connect with a secure SSL connection and users are up and running.”  According to Magnuszewski, “Upon accessing the network with their mobile device, users will be presented with the exact work environment they would see on their desktop computer in the office.  No need to learn new navigation, install apps, or get up to speed on new operating environments.  There is no more effective way to get users up and productive on their mobile devices.”

Virtual Desktops:  A Key Component of a Holistic Solution for BYOD

While VDI is an ideal solution for enabling employees to effectively utilize their mobile device on the network, a BYOD and mobility strategy should be thought of in a holistic manner in which VDI is one important piece.  In order to plan effectively from a wider, systems perspective, other components of a holistic solution include:

Mobile Device Management (MDM)

In order to maximize network security, especially in a BYOD environment, smartphones and tablets should be configured with software and settings (independent of VDI) to reflect the corporate security policy and that’s where Mobile Device Management comes into play.

Modern smartphones and tablets come with the capacity to remotely deploy security layers and connections on employee devices without having to possess or own the technology.  This provides companies with a unique opportunity to on-board their employees, install all necessary technology and authentication and integrate corporate policy directly onto the device remotely and confidently.

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When a network user attempts to connect a new smartphone or tablet to the network for the first time, the system will recognize the device and user and redirect the device to download and install all necessary security protocols and applications the corporation has defined.  This includes things like mandatory passwords, sleep settings, unsuccessful login protocols, mobile VPNs, VDI apps, etc.  Another benefit of this on-boarding process is it allows the company to push training and policy information to the end user as their devices are configured.  This security layer is independent of the VDI solution that allows the user to access their work environment and be as productive as possible while ensuring that their mobile devices are adhering to corporate security and access policies.

Mobile Device Access Control

The next layer of network control related to consumer devices allows for more refined, centralized administrative and content-related management of all network users and devices.  Referred to as Mobile Device Access Control, these solutions provide insight into which user, using which device at what location is accessing what applications on the network.  This technology allows the IT team to define rules and access control around each of these potential variables.  For example, “User A accessing the network from Branch office X on his tablet is provided with Internet access and these five network resources and applications, but these websites are restricted, and these three applications cannot be accessed by a tablet.”

This level of granularity provides the IT team with the control necessary to minimize exposure and the capability to manage consumer devices with the same level of confidence they were used to when every device was owned by the company and connecting via ethernet.

Wireless Network Infrastructure

The BYOD trend continues to stress wireless networks in businesses.  With the additional burden of multiple devices per user, VDI support for those devices, VoIP, Video and streaming media, it is important to take the time to assess the capacity of your wireless network infrastructure and plan for growth.

By thinking about a mobility and BYOD strategy in a holistic, systems-wide manner businesses can not only enable employees to be as productive as possible on multiple devices via Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, but ensure the security of the network and provide for business continuity with Mobile Device Management and Mobile Device Access Controls.  To discuss your mobility and BYOD plans in more detail with our experts, contact Carousel today.