HCI, waking up the storage market – the new must have for enterprise and SMEs

What’s got us talking?

Amicus ITS has secured a major new contract for Hyper-Converged Infrastructure and will be providing professional services to deploy and implement the solution for the customer.

What is Hyper-Converged-Infrastructure (HCI)?

In our fast changing technology world, hyper-convergence is the latest new buzzword and a topic that is exciting many here in Amicus ITS.

Hyper-convergence grew out of the concept of converged infrastructure. Under the converged infrastructure approach, a vendor provides a pre-configured bundle of hardware and software in a single package from different hardware vendors.  Hyper-converged systems are modular systems designed to scale out by adding additional modules.  The magic is that HCI requires only a single vendor’s server platform and a ‘single pane of glass’ management console.

Enabling integrated technologies to be managed as a single system through a common toolset is a big step forward and to assure flexibility, HCI systems can be expanded through the addition of nodes to the base unit. Hyper-converged infrastructure streamlines the deployment, management and scaling of datacentre resources by combining x86-based server chassis and storage resources with intelligent software in a turnkey software-defined solution. Separate servers, storage networks and storage arrays can be replaced with a single hyper-converged solution to create an agile datacentre that easily scales with our customers’ business.

Why is Amicus ITS so excited by HCI?

We are constantly looking to keep ahead of the technology curve and stay one-step ahead of the MSP competition.  By taking solutions to our customers that add true value to their business, this gives us real opportunity to demonstrate forward thinking and benefits all round.  Amicus ITS has the confidence of combining the right technologies with our most important assets, our people and our proven processes – to build comprehensive and compelling solutions, fit for tomorrow.  Wrapped with Amicus ITS’ quietly assured Managed Services capabilities, it creates a powerful combination of positive results for both sides.

Whether a customer wants an HCI solution delivered that they manage, or an HCI solution that Amicus ITS as an MSP looks after – what this shows is that to be a fit MSP in today’s market, you cannot go on just selling traditional three-tier architectures with their associated multiple different technologies, higher costs and greater complexity.  This swallows up greater day-to-day management resource, as well as the people and skills to support and maintain a wide variety of servers, storage, networking and software management technologies.  At scale, this can be challenging as it increases the chance of incompatibilities and administration overheads.

HCI appeals because it radically simplifies infrastructure for the customer and enables smooth management processes to wrap around it.   So, it’s time to slim down and de-mystify the technology and show what is really good out there for our customers – and here, utilising what was designed for Google and Facebook always available engineering, as a technical model for both enterprises or SMEs.   Being forward thinking and flexible in our consultative approach – where the solution benefits both the customer and MSP, it’s a win-win for both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Microsoft announces launch of new UK datacentres

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Microsoft have announced their launch of new data centres in London, Durham and Cardiff amid mounting commercial concerns about the growing need to ring-fence the location of where data resides in Europe.

Back in June 2015, we blogged about the EU’s frustration around multiple legislative barriers inter-country which were stifling off-premise cloud technologies due to disparate data protection laws.  The EC’s Head of Software, Services & Cloud Computing, Pearse O’Donohue spoke then of this desire to create a centralised EC Digital Single Market.  Post Brexit and with no EU exit Clause 50 triggered yet, the UK can, with this news, demonstrate it remains in demand by being able to attract such heavyweight attention and become an important datacentre hub this side of the Pond.  The news is also a flip for Microsoft as it steals a march on its main rival AWS which is due to open its UK datacentres early in 2017.

Microsoft commented: “Built on Microsoft’s Trusted Cloud principles of security, privacy, compliance, transparency and availability, this creates new opportunities for innovation, with the intent to spark local economic growth for Microsoft UK’s 25,000-plus partners and support local technology advancement”.

There will no doubt be further rationalisation and stitching of new laws around UK data, however, this news will create confidence for UK organisations and businesses in meeting regulatory obligations and as well as creating greater productivity opportunities with Microsoft’s products.   Whether this will get backed up by positive, joined-up thinking and innovation with our EU counterparts when it comes to the negotiating table is one crystal ball too far at present.  However, in this increasingly digital age for consumers and business alike, it would be of benefit to everyone that sovereignty and neighbourliness could share the stage as we seek to look after our customers and citizens.

“The investment by Microsoft shows their continued commitment to the UK Economy and may encourage a post Brexit UK Data Protection Act that is essentially a nationalisation of the General Data Protection Regulation. With significant support from the Ministry of Defence and the NHS I am certain the UK datacentres will prove very popular. With our years of proven history working in regulated sectors and our long standing relationship with Microsoft Amicus ITS is ideally placed to assist existing and new customers migrating to Microsoft CloudJP Norman, Director of Technology, Security & Governance Amicus ITS.

Transparency sought in the Cloud storage market

The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) is to investigate whether consumers are being unfairly charged for their cloud storage services.  The regulator’s focus is mainly on:

• Unexpected price increases after a contract has been taken out
• Changes or reductions to unlimited storage capacity deals
• Consumers’ data being lost or deleted
• How contracts are automatically renewed at the end of the period
• What happens to consumers’ data when they cancel a contract

With a far wider range of devices now providing storage services (laptops, mobiles and tablets) with demand access from anywhere in the world, it is of little surprise to hear from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), that 40% of UK adults now reportedly use some form of Cloud storage.

The price of Cloud storage is flattening to near zero levels, so many storage providers are offering interesting deals to lure internet users in off the back of tie-ins to more lucrative profit margin services (ie. Amazon Prime and Amazon Web Services).  However, often it’s the small print that trips end users up, because unlike enterprise storage, it doesn’t have to be smart or require management.  These inflated costs to change use volumes or content type can prompt significant excess costs (ie. a user seeks to store videos versus just photos or documents).  The initial free memory included in the bundle, pales into insignificance when top up charges of up to £40 per month for needed extra gigabytes are incurred.

The investigation may result in enforcement action using consumer protection laws, as well as the regulators seeking voluntary change within the sector and guidance to business.  With the new Consumer Rights Act having taken effect in October 2015, price transparency has been tightened, so expect changes in the market to follow.

The question is whether this consumer experience could manifest itself in the higher margined enterprise zone in the future potentially as behaviours do tend to follow in markets?   When a deal sounds too good to be true, it often is.  For MSPs, the answer will come if we start to see cloud providers offering bundled packages that are smart to organisations and include the necessary high performance and high availability for large amounts of data, but at more transparent, reasonable prices.

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Microsoft moved to build new EU datacentres

In response to the collapse of the Safe Harbour Agreement of 2000 on 6th October 2015, and following meetings and conversations between EU and US regulators, Microsoft has announced it will invest $2 billion in infrastructure development across Europe. This is addition to confirming the completion of the latest phase of improvements to its existing data centres in Dublin and the Netherlands.

This new investment will enable Microsoft to provide secure commercial cloud services for its customers and address the sovereign issues of data transfer and compliance that the lapse of legal reference created by the scrapping of Safe Harbour created on 21st October 2015.

Once the new datacentres are up and running (planned to open late 2016), Microsoft will be able to replicate data within the UK for backup and recovery (vs the current failover of data going to the US from Europe).  General Manager of Microsoft UK, Michael Van der Bel said, “This will help meet demand from those who want their could systems based in the UK and now they can meet the strict regulations of the banking, financial services and public sectors”.

It is good news for compliance within Europe, but the EU and US still need to work assiduously to thrash out a legal plan before the end of January 2016 when fines will kick in for non-compliance, to ensure that transatlantic business data can still traverse fluidly and securely across the Pond, avoiding nation fragmentation and an MSP administrative mess.
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HMRC mark U-turn on VAT for IT Managed Services

HMRC appears to have done something positive for a change in a way that will be welcome news for IT Managed Service Providers.

Last year, HMRC advised that only large system IT integrators would get a VAT refund for aggregated purchases. Public sector organisations were thus being penalised for buying standardised ‘off the shelf’ Cloud services and having to pay the full amount of VAT on purchases.  An unjust penalty where transparency and best price are being argued for by the regulators.

However, following representations to HMRC from public sector bodies which spend several billion pounds per year, happily HMRC have done a pleasing U-turn on VAT refunds. The new document published this week, ‘Contracting Out Services’ guidance, shows that cloud services are now eligible for the VAT reclaim. Hardware can be considered but only if part of a managed service bundle. The new rules also support a “disaggregated” managed IT service, where the various areas of IT such as hosting and networks are broken up into multiple suppliers.

The rules specifically state that the following services should be included in the VAT refund:

• Hosting Computing Services
• Archiving Communication Services
• Data Communications Services
• Desktop Communications Services, for example Picture Archiving Services (PACS)
• Ethernet cable/Data lines and Cloud computing

With the new G-Cloud 7 Digital Marketplace providers to be announced in November to compliment the public sector tendering frameworks, the Government’s linking of a transparent approved supplier system and joined up thinking on tax for public sector buyers will make a positive change for SMEs and their clients on tightened budgets, especially in the downtrodden NHS marketplace.  The latest sales reported for G-Cloud are £753million, with 51% in value and 60% in volume going to SMEs (defined as sub 250 employees with annual turnover not exceeding Euro 50 millions).  77% of total sales by value were through Central Government, with 23% through the Wider Public Sector.

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Google’s “ne m’oublie pas” hit by Europe’s desist and delist world ruling as “right to be forgotten” issue rumbles on

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France’s privacy regulator, the CNIL, has rejected Google’s request that the “right to be forgotten” ruling on their websites should only remain restricted to Europe domain names, vs applying to all Google websites worldwide.

The decision requires Google to close a loophole that enabled searchers to defeat a judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) last year, whereupon they removed results from more localised sites such as google.fr, google.co.uk etc, but continued to display disputed links on google.com.   The French regulator stated Google’s various domain names were just “different paths to the same processing operation”, making it easy for users to circumvent the block.

As we widely reported in our blogs in May 2014, the CJEU recognised the right to be forgotten, thus allowing people to ask search engines not to display certain links if they requested, following a search on their name.

Based on the original Spanish ruling, the upshot from the Spanish court was not to erase the original searches, but make them far harder to find.  The desire and drive for data privacy was duly thrown into conflict with the arguments for freedom of speech and public interest.

It’s essentially one of the inevitabilities for society when citizens have access to such an incredibly powerful search tool at our fingertips, which today’s younger generation greedily take for granted.  It’s only a generation ago in pre Google days before 1998, when people would have had to resort to books and library articles to comb paper archives to get the information they wanted.  We move now at such lightning pace with technology that we must always be mindful about some of the downsides of this technology and fully maintain our corporate responsibilities surrounding data privacy, or pay the heavy penalties.

For a business a privacy breach might prompt a penalty of up to 5% of their global profits, however, in the EU regulation ring, there is a seemingly weak trust from the particular CNIL sword.  After four months, the French national threat is limited to “discussing appointing someone to report to its sanctions committee with a view of obtaining a ruling on this matter”.

With 500 million EU citizens, there is a mess of different legal regimes, making it hard for European businesses to work towards.  This is what the new EU Data Protection Regulations hopes to cure, if the EU stakeholders can agree the text.  It would certainly be a stimulant to Google if it knew it had one Euro privacy regulator to deal with and 5% of ITS turnover at stake if it broke the rules.  It seems a long way off, but organisations should consider data security and data protection as amongst their highest priorities looking ahead.

No Common Single Fix For SaaS Still

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Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is being embraced by organisations at fast pace, with 75% currently running SaaS.   As SaaS is looking to exceed traditional onpremise software, organisations need to ensure they have the correct tools and polices in place to manage the unique compliance challenges that they bring.

Recommendations:

IT managers need to monitor the use of software to ensure it remains within the agreed terms of service.  Some services will manage this for you, only enabling a user to download as many copies of software as the licence permits.  But this is not always the case, so specific services need auditing using an admin portal. Also, when employees leave an organisation, the associated services they’ve used will not only need to be removed from their devices, but their accounts removed from the service itself.

Data related with these services needs to be transferred, stored and used in accordance with regulations. Storage of data is not just dependent on your own infrastructure, as many services by default will store data on their own cloud.  The security around this storage and its geographical location needs to be in accordance with any sovereign regulatory requirements before onboarding takes place.

With onpremise software, licencing is counted via actual, concurrent users or the quantity of copies installed on machines. The management of these can be assisted with Software Access Management (SAM) software, giving you a clearer picture of what software and associated licencing you hold on your infrastructure.   There is not a wholesale support availability on SAM, but SAM is starting to catch up with SaaS and is slowly starting to build support for Software as a Service.

Another concern for managing SaaS is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).  Here, the user may have their own software installed and wish to use it also at work, however the licencing should be checked as it may be for personal use only and not for business use.  

There is no single answer as to how to best manage SaaS within your organisation and the issues are multiplied the more services from different providers an organisation uses. However, having defined procedures for new starters, leavers and new service roll outs that embrace the service model including regular auditing, will allow you to overcome these obstacles and potentially reap cost savings, assure greater speed and flexibility that SaaS can provide.