The executive order released Feb. 12, 2013, by the White House on improving critical infrastructure in many ways confirms cyberattacks have become a serious threat to national security.

While the order’s focus is on protecting critical infrastructure, such as power grids and hospitals, private sector companies also should take cyberattacks seriously.

“Business owners will lock their cars and protect their homes in sophisticated ways but won’t protect the most critical area, which is where their data sits,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ. “Because it’s not happening in front of us, but in the cyberworld, many tend to not pay attention.”

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about cybersecurity, the threats that exist and how companies can protect themselves.

What are the threats?

The biggest threat facing our digital information is foreign governments trying to penetrate our systems for intelligence from which economic value can be gained. A great deal of proprietary information, such as designs and ideas for new products, is being stored on company servers. If that information were extracted, it could offer a competitive advantage.

The common thought used to be that a cyberattack would result in a company’s website going down. A hacker looking to make a name for him or herself would attack a site by bombarding it with bogus traffic, and it would cease to function. Now, hackers are looking to stay behind the scenes because the data they gain can be a lot more valuable than shutting down a site.

What could be the extent of the damage?

In extreme cases, a data breach could trigger the complete downfall of a company. Depending on the nature of the attack, a breach could cause customers to lose trust in the company and its brands. That’s in extreme cases. In other instances, valuable intellectual property could be lost and the associated R&D investment would be hard to recoup.

How can a company recognize its exposure to cyberthreats?

Many times exposures come from within the company, so it’s important to understand what employees are working on and who has access to what data.

Also, consider the risk when an executive travels overseas. When using his or her smartphone, it’s possible software can be downloaded on the phone without his or her knowledge. When that person comes back and connects to his or her office network, the software that was downloaded could penetrate into his or her network.

 

What are some critical components of good cybersecurity?

It’s important to establish layers of protection. For example, set criteria for employees to access certain company information on its servers. Similarly, companies should employ hardware in layers in order to protect critical data. There are hardware devices designed specifically to stop distributed denial-of-service attacks.

Intrusion protection systems can detect when someone penetrates a company’s network and identify who, where and how. Firewalls also are useful to block unwanted traffic, but have them periodically audited to ensure their effectiveness.

It’s important to have all of these systems audited. Too often companies set up these systems and forget about them until something bad happens.

Regarding mobile security, executives traveling overseas should take a conventional cellphone. Another option would be to back up the data on your smartphone before the trip, use the phone overseas, and then wipe the entire phone before connecting to any of your home networks again.

Who can help put a solid cybersecurity plan in place?

There are professionals who have expertise specifically in cybersecurity. Companies in some cases are adding chief security officers to work alongside chief technology officers. However, if a company is not large enough to appoint someone to such a position, then the best option is to work with a consultant who is focused on the security side or a company that provides cybersecurity services on an ongoing basis.

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO at Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

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Published in Los Angeles

Businesses with multiple locations or branches, in many cases, are not leveraging computer network efficiencies by taking advantage of existing technologies to limit equipment deployment and enhance cost efficiencies.

“Branch offices are too often set up with unique data centers instead of having centrally located servers,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ.

Deploying a great deal of equipment at each office diminishes the computing power of servers at the individual branches.

“Their capacity isn’t being utilized completely at a branch and is unavailable enterprise-wide,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about leveraging data centers for maximum efficiency in cost and use.

What are some keys to centralizing a data source?

One important element is connectivity. If an enterprise sits in a major metropolitan area, then connectivity infrastructure should be reliable and readily available. However, when outsourcing to a data center, the connectivity piece is the least of a company’s challenges because data centers offer higher-capacity connections through multiple technologies, such as Multiprotocol Label Switching, point-to-point connection or bandwidth compression. This enables an enterprise to limit the amount of equipment it needs to deploy.

In what way does connectivity affect a business?

How a company sets itself up to utilize a data center hinges in part on the number of user accounts at that location. A smaller office with 10 or fewer employees could be well served by multiple 10-megabit connections that link to centralized hardware at a data center. Consider using an authentication server at each location. Employees log in through this server so passwords and usernames don’t travel outside of the building. Once a user is authenticated, he or she has access to all of the company’s data, enterprise-wide, housed in the data center.

Bandwidth capacity can always be added through a local provider as a company grows. From a technology perspective, it’s simply an upgrade to the connection and not a deployment of new equipment. Operationally, it amounts to simplifying that connection so it’s easier to support, monitor and track. The increased capacity of that connection helps facilitate the centralization of hardware, which allows the hardware burden to be decreased.

What savings can be realized through centralizing hardware?

A multi-branch enterprise is often using applications that are common across offices. Centralizing those common applications in a data center helps improve application management, which eliminates the need to employ IT personnel at individual locations because support can be provided at one site. It also means not having to deploy multiple servers for multiple sites, so cost savings can be realized by not buying as many server boxes.

Maintenance and upgrades also are made easier with a central data center because those don’t need to be accomplished on an individual basis. And if a security patch comes in it can be handled from one location. Further, having fewer servers means purchasing fewer licenses for software. Updates become easier, and license fees are less of an expense because software doesn’t have to be deployed in all locations.

However, just because hardware is centralized doesn’t mean everything is housed on a single server. The number of physical servers needed depends on capacity and redundancy needs of the company.

What can companies expect after centralizing their hardware?

The main benefits of centralizing are that the efficiency for support to the end user improves, deployment of upgrades becomes simpler and cost savings can be realized from reducing physical hardware. Having centrally located hardware also provides better security, management and handling of company assets. Security is improved because hardware can be physically monitored from a single location and server access can be better controlled. With less equipment to manage, limiting access becomes easier, meaning there’s less chance a costly mistake is made.

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO at Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

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Published in Los Angeles

Cloud computing may invoke images of an abstract technological force floating in the atmosphere, but the term itself is misleading. The term originated because on technical diagrams, a cloud was drawn around any mixture of resources that made a particular application work, says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ.

“Cloud computing means so many different things to so many people, and there is a lot of confusion,” says Delawalla.

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about what cloud computing is and how to apply its advantages to your business.

How does cloud computing work?

You have to envision that the physical architecture itself is vast. Data centers all over the world house servers, and each server or set of servers is designated for a certain type of application or resource. Servers, routers, switches and security devices combine with network connectivity and an operating system to form the cloud. You could compare it to an electrical grid, in which power comes from substations and power generation points before electricity goes over wires to provide power to households or businesses.

The data center is then responsible for ensuring that all of the hardware pieces are working in harmony and have different versing capabilities within that physical layer.

A business may approach a data center for complete automation of its infrastructure but take care of the software itself.

What are the advantages?

A major advantage of cloud computing is time. As a startup business you can get up and running online reasonably quickly and with minimal investment because you are not buying servers, routing or switching equipment. Instead, you are plugging into a utility that doesn’t require any setup, that is already functioning, and you simply pay for it on a monthly basis.

Cloud computing offers more versatility and capacity. If your website is on a cloud computing platform, you can scale up and sustain a high volume of traffic quickly without having a performance degradation for users of your site.

Cloud computing can also improve your ability to be agile and nimble because the monthly fee for service includes taking care of your hardware and resources. As a user of the cloud, you don’t need an army of IT personnel or consultants, freeing you up both financially and staffing-wise to concentrate on your target business.

Additionally, a minimal amount of software is installed on the personal computer or path, so instead of downloading the entire Microsoft Office suite, for example, you can sign up for Microsoft Office 365, which allows you to subscribe to the cloud-based service on a month-to-month basis to access all Microsoft Office products.

What is the difference between public and private cloud services?

On a public cloud, you don’t know where your data is stored or who has access to it, but you can increase your capacity quickly.

A private cloud can be established for businesses that know their growth plans and that want extra security. The business can then control who has access to that data and knows that it is stored in a secure location.

How are security and privacy handled?

With a private cloud, you manage your environment so closely that the security is as good as with conventional computing. Because of privacy issues, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-compliant and Payment Card Industry-compliant credit card companies will always have to use private cloud services.

For extra security, you can do an automation deployment with a private cloud, but that will result in higher costs because you have dedicated resources just for your company. For data that isn’t as sensitive, a public cloud is sufficient.

What should businesses think about when considering cloud computing? 

Ask yourself exactly what it is you want out of the cloud, what are your needs, what do you want to accomplish and what you will use it for. Then look for a data center company to meet those requirements.

Outsourcing to cloud computing can lower your costs and allow your company to focus on its strengths, knowing the rest is being taken care of up in the cloud.

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO of Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Net2EZ

 

 

Published in Los Angeles

In the past 20 years, companies have been generating an increasing amount of data. The growth of social media has also created a massive pool of information that any company can access, mine and use.

“Utilizing big data can help a company uncover the relationships it has with consumers and businesses that perhaps it didn’t previously realize it had,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ. “In many ways, that data can help a company gain a better understanding of its clients’ needs and formulate its products to win more business.”

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about big data and how to effectively store and utilize it to the benefit of your business.

Where can companies find big data, and how can they use it?

With the advent and proliferation of social media, there is information that companies can collect called ‘big data,’ which can be used to analyze, in a cost-effective and time-efficient way, the social habits of consumers. This information allows them to devise targeted marketing campaigns and develop products.

Data about consumers is being collected from social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, data about businesses can be collected from sources such as LinkedIn and Foursquare, and there is data contained in emails coming into a company.

Do all companies have access to big data?

In today’s world, any company that uses computers has a big data resource or is collecting it without realizing it. For example, most salespeople have a contact database that includes people they’ve met through work, in their personal lives and through networking. If you are going to meet with the CFO of a potential client company and you learn that someone on your sales team knows that CFO, that is an invaluable personal connection. Knowing about that relationship allows you to bring the person to the meeting and quickly establish a connection.

What challenges come with big data?

Storing big data was traditionally cost prohibitive, which is why only large companies could do it. However, solutions such as new, lower-cost hardware have recently hit the market, which has given smaller companies the ability to have large sets of storage devices to store big data. At the same time, cloud computing allows a company to rent storage on a monthly or short-term basis, meaning more companies can collect, store and mine big data.

Indexing this data so that it can be used to benefit the company is a challenge, but there are plenty of tools available from major software manufacturers that can be used to mine it.

What methods are available to companies to help store this data?

Big data can be stored privately or on servers that host multiple clients. Which option a company chooses depends on how important it is to keep information secure.

Private cloud services give companies a certain amount of secure storage on a server that only belongs to them. The type of data being stored determines which tools are applied to extract it, such as a dashboard through which a company can query or search its data. There are also data feeds that provide ticker updates as data comes in, giving fast access to information.

Public cloud services are available, but are less secure than private services.

How can companies efficiently navigate such large data sets to get the most use out of the information being retained?

It takes some time to understand which data is going to be useful and to learn which tools are available to store and sort it. For example, you could buy and deploy big data-mining tools to start collecting various sets of data from multiple sources, then create a dashboard that puts that information at your fingertips. However, you can’t simply keep storing information and expect results. You need to better understand your company’s demographics and understand what is going to help your company grow. You have to know your end result and employ the tools necessary to achieve it.

Many companies don’t realize what they have beyond their traditional database and that is sometimes where the treasure trove of data exists. Accessing that data will open a world of opportunities.

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO of Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

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Published in Los Angeles
Thursday, 28 February 2013 19:28

How to select a data center

Installing the redundancy measures necessary to make sure company data is available 24/7, regardless of calamity, is prohibitively expensive and requires a great deal of know-how, which is why many organizations outsource their data protection to companies that are specialized to guard it.

“We live in an age where data has a critical role in our lives on a daily basis. Losing access to that data, whether from being knocked offline or because of a catastrophe, can be terminally disruptive, so having backup systems in place is critical,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ.

Specialized data centers are dedicated buildings constructed to house server equipment that hold data — business or personal, critical or otherwise. They are designed for redundancy in physical functions, such as power and cooling, as well as network redundancy to keep data available to its customers. But what separates one from another?

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about how to grade data centers to ensure you find one that offers the best protection for your most valuable commodity, your data.

What are the differences between data centers?

The biggest misconception is that all data centers are built the same, which leads many to ask the question, ‘Why would I pay more for one when I could get it cheaper down the street?’ The answer lies partly in Tier rating.

What is Tier rating?

Tiers represent the availability of your data based on the probabilities of system failures in a given year. Tier 1 guarantees 99.67 percent data availability in a year. Tier 4 is 99.995 percent availability. These percentages are based on the life expectancy of equipment such as power and cooling systems and distribution panels.

So that 99.67 percent represented by Tier 1 equates to, in any given year, 29 hours that systems could be offline and data inaccessible. While that might not sound like much, if you’re doing the volume of online business Amazon does, you can’t afford that. In instances where customers are trying to get to your site nearly every minute of the day, it needs to be up all the time to accommodate them, so you need the maximum level of redundancy for protection.

Tier 4 data centers, on the other hand, guarantee a maximum of 2.4 minutes offline in any given year. The percentage differences, measured in tenths, may seem negligible, but it accounts for a big difference when your data is affected.

How reliable is a Tier rating?

Data centers can have their Tier rating certified by a third party. Certification bodies include the Uptime Institute, as well as more traditional auditing firms such as Deloitte and Ernst & Young, which have technology arms capable of making an assessment. There’s also SSAE 16 certification for service organizations, which is used for reporting on controls.

How can companies ensure they have the highest level of data protection?

There are different methods for achieving redundancy. For instance, you could employ multiple Tier 1 data centers that fail over to each other. But that can be expensive. It might make more sense to use two Tier 4 data centers, one of which can serve as a geographic redundancy — it should be located a great distance from your main office and your primary data center to guard against failure caused from natural disasters, such as earthquakes.

What else should companies ask?

Make sure you’re aware of a data center’s redundancy for its network — the physical fiber that comes through the building — and how it interconnects with the rest of the network and Internet exchange points.

Also consider the support environment. Not all centers have 24/7 on-site engineering support to take care of the back of the house, such as the generators. While customers often overlook it, it’s critically important to have someone physically monitoring those systems and on hand to react to any major outages or prolonged system failures. Similarly, it’s great to have engineering and technical support on the server and router side of it to work directly with customers.

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO at Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

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Published in Los Angeles

Data, stored digitally, has become critical to a business’s ability to function. However, major catastrophes — from fires to earthquakes to floods — can cripple hardware and put terabytes of a company’s data at risk, making it vital to have a business continuity plan in place to protect digital information.

“A business continuity plan is insurance for your data,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ. “It ensures that your business can sustain a disaster that affects your ability to access data at your main site.”

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about data security and the role it plays in a business continuity plan.

What is a business continuity plan and how can it impact a business?

From a technology perspective, a business continuity plan is your strategy for resuming business following a natural or man-made disaster in as short a period of time as possible. Your plan should be based on the type of data you create on a daily basis, how it is being maintained and the amount of time your business can operate without being able to access it.

Business plans differ from company to company. But generally, if you can’t sustain being without access to particular data for more than a few minutes, that data is critical, and that plan will look different than plans that pertain to data you can live without for hours or days.

Business continuity can save a business even when there is no disaster. Accidental removal or deletion of certain data sets can be very damaging to a business. However, if you have a business continuity plan and regularly back up your data, you will have less reason to worry.

What are the elements of a business continuity plan?

First, determine how you will back up your data. Critical information should be backed up every hour. Less critical data can be backed up more infrequently.

Make sure data is being backed up and secured off-site so that, if you can’t get to your office, the data is available to you. Your backup site should be outside of your primary location.

Second, you need a plan to restore your data when things come back online. Test your off-site server to understand how much lag time there is until data can be restored and employees can start using it.

Third, outsource your primary server farm or infrastructure to an outsourced data center. Outsourcing your server to a data center means it is housed in a facility with multiple levels of redundancy designed to sustain power outages and has multiple, high-speed connections coming from diverse entrances so data can be accessed even if the fibers are cut in the street. You can use facilities such as these as your secondary server, no matter where your business is located. Then, if something happens, you will have access to your data.

When should a business continuity plan be implemented?

The minute you have critical data, you need a plan to back it up. However, with the economic downturn, many companies cut the aspects of their business continuity plan that dealt with data protection because it doesn’t get used until a disaster hits, and it is an easy area to squeeze the budget. Businesses are saying they have a limited budget and they have to continue to operate, so they will just deal with it when it happens. But by then, it is too late.

How does geographical diversity play into business continuity?

Consider what a disaster can mean to your operations and what your business can sustain in terms of cost. The farther your backup servers are from your primary site, the more it costs to transfer information from one place to another. Smaller companies could likely use a public connection to transfer data without incurring too much cost.

The farther away you keep your data, the more redundancy you can create with a solid plan. However, the more redundancy you create, the more costs increase. It is less expensive if you keep your data closer to your primary location, but it also increases your risk, for example, in the event of an earthquake or hurricane. But, ultimately, the question you should ask is, ‘How long can I afford to go without access to my data?’

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO of Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Net2EZ

Published in Los Angeles

Today’s businesses are facing new kinds of threats, not physical ones but those that attack through the Web.

Hackers have focused on the private sector, using technology to commit espionage against companies of all sizes, gaining access to secrets from U.S. businesses to leverage a competitive advantage.

“This has created a very real cyber war zone. It’s no longer just a hacker nuisance,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ.

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about the tools that companies can use to combat the very serious threat of a cyber breach.

What types of threats do businesses face?

Companies face a range of threats. For example, business identity theft can lead to a breach where credits can be issued or obtained under a business’s unique identity. Or a company’s trade secrets could be compromised through leaks in its cyber security.

If a hacker wants to get information about a company, the first thing he or she will do is look for personal information about its CEO, which could be available on networking and social media websites, and also by gaining access to the CEO’s personal computers. These multilevel and multithreaded attacks are very precise. Whereas previously, cyber attacks could be compared to carpet bombing, they’re now more like precision missile strikes.

What aspects of a business are most at risk?

Financial data are most at risk in the private sector, as this information is very useful and profitable for groups to exploit and sell. The second most at-risk area is business secrets, which are stolen and used to gain a competitive advantage against companies.

How can a company reduce the risk of cyber threats?

Companies should inventory their most sensitive information, that which gives them a competitive edge, and protect it. Traditional intrusion detection and prevention systems, such as firewalls, should be put in place as a first line of defense, but they aren’t completely effective.

To protect extremely sensitive data, companies can hire a security team to monitor and protect their systems around the clock. Businesses can outsource their cyber security and consult with experts to determine what layers of security can be put in place to protect their customer and financial data, as well as their trade secrets.

How are these security systems implemented?

A consultant will look at the data a company maintains and interview its officers to determine how data is prioritized. After the initial discovery sessions, systems will be put in place to see who is accessing what data, where data flows, who has what access level and the patterns of access to determine a security platform that makes the most sense for that particular company.

Initially, the cyber security team will monitor data flow and access for a period of time to build a history and understand what could be considered normal patterns of behavior. This history will then be used to make a strategic security plan.

Once in place, the security team actively monitors cyber behavior. If or when an anomaly occurs, it’s immediately stopped and investigated by the security team in order to find out more about it and defend against it.

There’s a lot more discovery involved in the security consulting process today because of the many networks and extremely large data pools that even a single company can have in place. Also, there is the need to look at these networks and data access actively and have people monitoring it constantly, rather than passively putting a firewall in place and then expecting that it will keep all of a company’s most valuable information safe.

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO of Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Net2EZ

Published in Los Angeles

In the past 20 years, companies have been generating an increasing amount of data. A company’s database used to be filled with the traditional information necessary for conducting business, such as product sales or demographic information. However, the growth of social media has created a massive pool of information that any company can access, mine and benefit from.

“Utilizing big data can help a company uncover the relationships it has with consumers and businesses that perhaps it didn’t previously realize it had,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ. “In many ways, that data can help a company gain a better understanding of its clients’ needs and formulate its products to win more business.”

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about big data and how to effectively store and utilize it to the benefit of your business.

Where can companies find big data, and how can they use it?

With the advent and proliferation of social media, there is information that companies can collect called ‘big data,’ which can be used to analyze, in a cost-effective and time-efficient way, the social habits of consumers. This information allows them to devise targeted marketing campaigns and develop products.

Data about consumers is being collected from social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, data about businesses can be collected from sources such as LinkedIn in and Foursquare, and there is data contained in emails coming into a company. This data had previously not been considered a useful source of mining but has now become fair game.

Do all companies have access to big data?

In today’s world, any company that uses computers has a big data resource or is collecting it without realizing it. For example, most salespeople have a contact database that includes people they’ve met through work, in their personal lives and through networking. If you are going to meet with the CFO of a potential client company and you learn that someone on your sales team knows that CFO, that is an invaluable personal connection. Knowing about that relationship allows you to bring the person to the meeting and quickly establish a connection with the prospective client.

Even small companies selling few products are gleaning this information and benefiting from it. Customer information can be pulled from social media and email campaigns and used to promote your business to those customers. Big data is viable for companies of all sizes.

What challenges are associated with having big data?

Storing big data was traditionally cost prohibitive, which is why only large companies could do it. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the volume of data growth in the U.S. for big companies will increase 40 percent year over year from 2009 until 2020. When you look at the amount of data being generated and the growth of that data, the cost of maintaining it had been the biggest hurdle for smaller companies.

However, solutions such as new, lower-cost hardware have recently hit the market, which has given smaller companies the ability to have large sets of storage devices to store big data. At the same time, cloud computing allows a company to rent storage on a monthly or short-term basis, meaning more companies can collect, store and mine big data.

Indexing this data so that it can be used to benefit the company is a challenge, but there are plenty of tools available from major software manufacturers that can be used to mine it.

What methods are available to companies to help store this data?

Big data can be stored privately or on servers that host multiple clients. Which option a company chooses depends on how important it is to keep that information secure. If a hospital were storing patient data, it would want it hosted on a private server.

Private cloud services give companies a certain amount of secure storage on a server that only belongs to them. The type of data being stored determines which tools are applied to extract it, such as a dashboard through which a company can query or search its data. There are also data feeds that provide ticker updates as data comes in, giving fast access to information.

Public cloud services are available, but these are less secure than private services. Public storage is more suitable for things such as marketing campaigns, in which the data being used is critical only for a short time and has no real value proposition for anyone other than the company.

How can companies efficiently navigate such large data sets to get the most use out of the information being retained?

It takes some time to understand which data is going to be useful and to learn which tools are available to store and sort it. For example, you could buy and deploy big data-mining tools to start collecting various sets of data from multiple sources, then create a dashboard that puts that information at your fingertips. However, you can’t simply keep storing information and expect results. You need to better understand your company’s demographics and understand what is going to help your company grow. You have to know your end result and employ the tools necessary to achieve it.

Many companies don’t realize what they have beyond their traditional database. Big data may be beyond the scope of traditional customer relationship management tools and that is sometimes where the treasure trove of data exists. Accessing that data will open a world of opportunities for your business.

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO of Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Net2EZ

Published in Los Angeles

Data, stored digitally, has become critical to a business’s ability to function. However, major catastrophes — from fires to earthquakes to floods —can cripple hardware and put terabytes of a company’s data at risk in just a moment’s notice. In light of this risk, it is vital to have a business continuity plan in place to protect your digital information.

“A business continuity plan is insurance for your data,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ. “It ensures that your business can sustain a disaster that affects your ability to access data at your main site.”

But, as with any emergency preparedness drill, you need to implement and practice your business continuity plan now, before you need it, as once a disaster strikes, it may be too late.

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about data security and the role it plays in a business continuity plan.

What is a business continuity plan and how can it impact a business?

From a technology perspective, a business continuity plan is your strategy for resuming business following a natural or man-made disaster in as short a period of time as possible. Your plan should be based on the type of data you create on a daily basis, how it is being maintained and the amount of time your business can operate without being able to access it.

Business plans differ from company to company. For example, take a retail operation that tracks customers’ purchasing habits, and suddenly that information is unavailable because of a hardware failure. That data set isn’t as critical to the business as its ability to process customer credit cards, which is why a business should have multiple plans based on data type. If you can’t sustain being down more than a few minutes, that data is critical, and that plan will look different than plans that pertain to data you can live without for hours or days.

Business continuity can save a business even when there is no disaster. Accidental removal or deletion of certain data sets can be very damaging to a business. However, if you have a business continuity plan and regularly back up your data, you will have less reason to worry and will be able to sleep much better knowing your data is safe.

What are the elements of a business continuity plan?

First, determine how you will back up your data. Critical information should be backed up every hour. Less critical data can be backed up more infrequently.

Backing up data can be a mundane task, and some companies assume it is happening, only to find out after a disaster that it is not. Make sure data is being backed up and secured off-site so that, if you can’t get to your office, the data is available to you. Your backup site should be outside of your primary location.

Second, you need a plan to restore your data when things come back online. Test your off-site server to understand how much lag time there is until data can be restored and employees can start using it to continue business operations.

Third — and this is where a lot of businesses are now looking — is outsourcing your primary server farm or infrastructure to an outsourced data center. A typical outage or inaccessibility of data can occur because of power or cooling failures, as most buildings are not designed for multiple levels of data redundancy or for a major connectivity failure from the fiber on the street.

Outsourcing your server to a data center means it is housed in a facility with multiple levels of redundancy designed to sustain power outages and that has multiple, high-speed connections coming from diverse entrances so data can be accessed even if the fibers are cut in the street. You can use facilities such as these as your secondary server, no matter where your business is located. Then, if something happens, you will have access to your data and can continue to function.

When should a business continuity plan be implemented?

The minute you have critical data, you need a plan to back it up. It depends on the type of business. If you provide a consulting service and your first few months are spent creating proposals, it is not as critical to back that up as long as you have a second copy or could recreate it. However, businesses with more critical data should protect themselves immediately.

With the economic downturn, many companies cut the aspects of their business continuity plan that dealt with data protection because it doesn’t get used until a disaster hits, and it is an easy area to squeeze the budget. Businesses are saying they have a limited budget and they have to continue to operate, so they will just deal with it when it happens. But by then, it is too late.

How does geographical diversity play into business continuity?

Consider what a disaster can mean to your operations and what your business can sustain in terms of cost. The farther your backup servers are from your primary site, the more it costs to transfer information from one place to another. Smaller companies could likely use a public connection to transfer data without incurring too much cost.

The farther away you keep your data, the more redundancy you can create with a solid plan. However, the more redundancy you create, the more costs increase. It is less expensive if you keep your data closer to your primary location, but it also increases your risk, for example, in the event of an earthquake or hurricane. But, ultimately, the question you should ask is, ‘How long can I afford to go without

access to my data?’

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO at Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Net2EZ

Published in Los Angeles

Cloud computing may invoke images of an abstract technological force floating in the atmosphere, but the term itself is misleading. The term originated because on technical diagrams, a cloud was drawn around any mixture of resources that made a particular application work, says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ.

“Cloud computing means so many different things to so many people, and there is a lot of confusion,” says Delawalla. “It’s cloudy out there in the cloud. An easier way to explain it is by using the utility computing concept. This resonates the most with people because they can compare to how they use gas or electricity as a utility, so now can you use computing power as a utility.”

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about what cloud computing is and how to apply its advantages to your business.

How does cloud computing work?

You have to envision that the physical architecture itself is vast. Data centers all over the world house servers, and each server or set of servers is designated for a certain type of application or resource. Servers, routers, switches and security devices combine with network connectivity and an operating system to form the cloud. You could compare it to an electrical grid, in which power comes from substations and power generation points before electricity goes over wires to provide power to households or businesses.

Some examples of cloud computing include Apple products that back up data to their iCloud, and Microsoft products with which data is backed up on SkyDrive, Google Drive, Salesforce.com or Dropbox. A business may approach a data center for complete automation of its infrastructure and take care of the software itself.

The data center is then responsible for ensuring that all of the hardware pieces are working in harmony with each other and have different versing capabilities within that physical layer.

What are the advantages of cloud computing?

A major advantage of cloud computing is time. As a startup business you can get up and running online reasonably quickly and with minimal investment because you are not buying servers, routing or switching equipment. Instead, you are plugging into a utility that doesn’t require any setup, that is already functioning, and you simply pay for it on a monthly basis.

Cloud computing also offers more versatility and capacity. For example, say your company has a new e-commerce site and a product becomes an overnight sensation. If your website is on a cloud computing platform, you can scale up and sustain a high volume of traffic without having a performance degradation for users of your site.

Cloud computing can also improve your ability to be agile and nimble because the monthly fee for service includes taking care of your hardware and resources. As a user of the cloud, you don’t need an army of IT personnel or consultants, freeing you up both financially and staffing-wise to concentrate on your target business.

Additionally, a minimal amount of software is installed on the personal computer or path, so instead of downloading the entire Microsoft Office suite, for example, you can sign up for Microsoft Office 365, which allows you to subscribe to the cloud-based service on a month-to-month basis to access all Microsoft Office products.

What is the difference between public and private cloud services?

On a public cloud, you don’t know where your data is stored or who has access to it, but you are able to increase your capacity more quickly. An example is Amazon Web Services, which hosts websites on hundreds of thousands of servers which allows users to increase capacity as needed.

A private cloud can be established for businesses that know their growth plans and that want extra security. The business can then control who has access to that data and knows that it is stored in a secure location.

How are security and privacy handled with cloud computing?

Security and privacy are the main reasons businesses are hesitant to go over to the cloud. However, with a private cloud, you manage your environment so closely that the security is as good as with conventional computing. Because of privacy issues, HIPAA-compliant and PCI-compliant credit card companies will always have to use private cloud services.

For extra security, you can do an automation deployment with a private cloud, but that will result in higher costs because you have dedicated resources just for your company. For data that isn’t as sensitive, a public cloud offers more versatility and nimbleness.

What should businesses think about when considering cloud computing?

Ask yourself exactly what it is you want out of the cloud. What are your needs and what do you want to accomplish? With so many different products, you have to ascertain what you will use it for. If you require word processing or Excel, you could use Google Drive, Microsoft Office 365 or Google App. For massive data storage needs, there’s Box.com or Amazon Web Services.

For private cloud service, you need to find a data center company to meet those requirements. Examine what the various companies are providing as their feature set for cloud computing, then choose which company best suits your business needs.

If your focus and expertise is not in IT, the more you can outsource to a cloud computing environment, the lower your costs will be for computing needs and data storage. Then your company can focus on its strengths, knowing that the rest is being taken care of up in the cloud.

 

 

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO at Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Net2EZ

Published in Los Angeles
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