Cloud technologies have transformed the playing field for small and midsize businesses, largely because of their flexibility. Organizations have the ability to quickly and painlessly ramp up their services when they need something more.

“Using their Internet connection, they can harness the power — and reap the rewards — of applications traditionally available only to large enterprises with big IT budgets,” says Kevin Conmy, regional vice president, Freedom Region at Comcast Business. “Cloud-based services, from servers to storage, provide access to high-performance infrastructure without high-priced investments. Streaming video can be used to bring conferences and training to any employee, anywhere. Mobile devices increase productivity beyond company walls, with businesses seeing increased efficiency and a growing bottom line.

“But what may not be immediately visible is the impact these tools are having on company networks,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Conmy about sufficiently planning for your company’s bandwidth needs for today and tomorrow.

How are Internet connections and networks affecting business operations?

As organizations move to the cloud and embrace applications like high-definition video and Web-based tools, their Internet connection becomes more important. Suddenly, more data needs to move — and move quickly — over your connection. If your network doesn’t have sufficient bandwidth or speed, you could experience slower response times, or risk losing connectivity completely.

As a result, many tools intended to allow businesses to analyze data, make decisions, and interact with employees and customers with lightning speed are at risk of not operating at peak efficiency. There may be a delay between a query to a cloud-based data center and a response, or video streams may freeze as they struggle over a lagging connection. Remote workers also might have difficulty accessing applications or email because too many people are accessing the company network simultaneously.

Which businesses face bandwidth problems?

This need for speed is more the rule than the exception. In a 2012 Comcast Business poll, 84 percent of small and midsized business respondents experienced increasing bandwidth needs because of their use of the cloud, Wi-Fi and mobile devices.

This trend is expected to increase, too, as companies continue to aggregate and unlock value from customer data, such as order histories, buying preferences and online shopping patterns. More than half of respondents in a different Comcast Business survey expect the quantity of collected data to grow at least 50 percent within two years.

How can organizations deal with the challenge of increasing bandwidth?

Clearly, a bandwidth upgrade is, or soon will be, in order for many. In the old days, companies often relied on T1 lines from traditional phone providers. So, boosting speeds involved buying and tying together more lines, a pricey and complex endeavor.

Today, things are easier, but only if you ask the right questions before an upgrade:

  • Does the network have the reach we need? If you rely on transferring data between offices, make sure your provider has a wide network, and double-check to ensure all locations are within that footprint. Just because one office may appear to be in the middle of a coverage map doesn’t guarantee your satellite location 20 miles away will have that same good fortune.
  • How quickly, and in what increments, can we change our bandwidth? Having the ability to scale up or down can help companies buy only what they need and cut long run costs. Select a provider that can do this via a simple phone call to save you hours of aggravation and help enhance business productivity.
  • What happens if the network goes down? The majority of telecom providers operate over another provider’s fiber lines. So, although you may be under contract with a smaller company boasting a less expensive monthly bill, you’re likely using the same line as one of the larger companies. What does this mean? In an outage, your main contact may not be able to immediately resolve the issue.

By asking now, you can help ensure your company knows what it needs for the future so you can begin planning accordingly.

Kevin Conmy is regional vice president of the Freedom Region at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 642-6457 or kevin_conmy@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

Published in Philadelphia

Most business owners rely on their computer systems and technology to keep their companies humming. When technology stops working, the business stops working. Even a relatively “simple” problem or question could involve hours of troubleshooting, resulting in unplanned downtime and expenses.

Proper management of technology can not only minimize pesky tech issues that drag down productivity and drive up costs, it can maximize productivity and help a business grow. But the time and financial resources necessary to manage IT in-house are making outsourcing increasingly attractive and beneficial.

“Also known as a Managed Services Provider (MSP), an outside IT provider can take over the day-to-day management of your IT needs,” says Kevin Conmy, regional vice president of Business Services at Comcast Business. “A good provider can offer set-up, maintenance and proactive IT management, as well as troubleshooting for questions or problems whenever they arise.”

Smart Business spoke with Conmy about key questions to ask when choosing a MSP.

Do they understand your business and technology?

You want a provider who already works with businesses like yours — who knows the technology, software and hardware. Be specific about your set-up, and ask directly: Does the provider understand networked printing? Are they familiar with the programs you work with? Can they work with PCs, with Macs, with servers? What about mobile devices or combinations of printers, scanners and routers?

Can they support you remotely?

It may seem comforting to have a technician come to your office, but the convenience and speed of remote service and support is invaluable as it’s often faster and more efficient. For example, if you’re experiencing a problem and your provider can talk an employee through diagnostics, resets or other procedures on the spot, it often resolves issues without an in-person visit.

In other cases, a provider can use the Internet to access your systems and networks remotely, with permission, to reset routers, change network settings, scan systems for viruses and malware, or reinstall software and handle many other problems in far less time.

That said, there will be times when you need on-site support, such as when you’re setting up new equipment, resolving physical issues with networks or moving equipment. You need a provider who can deploy on-site technicians promptly, to any of your locations.

Do they work nights and weekends?

When do you most need service and help? If you are in retail, hospitality, transportation or any other industry where 9-to-5 doesn’t apply, you need a provider who is 24/7. Or, maybe the only time you can stop for service is outside of your working hours. A provider who is daylight-only may increase prices for after-hours and holiday support. They may provide limited services or slower response after regular business hours. That can hamper — and cost — you.

Do they offer preventive, proactive help?

It’s best to have a prior relationship with an IT provider. When your network crashes or computers go dark, that’s not the time to start hunting for help. You want a resource you know, and who knows you.

Second, ask what preventive services an IT provider has to help spot potential problems before something breaks. This can involve scanning your computers for rogue code, and troubleshooting and testing your network for performance issues.

How do they charge?

It may seem prudent to arrange for support on an a la carte basis, but when something breaks that practice can be unpredictable and costly. And it’s especially irritating when the problem could have been prevented.

A better option is an all-inclusive monthly subscription fee — either per user or for the entire business. This fee can include the immediate services that may be required, along with some combination of proactive and preventive services, data back up, hosting, etc. The costs are more predictable no matter what occurs, and it’s easier to predict the costs of adding more users, and computers. As your business grows, you need a solution that can scale with you.

Kevin Conmy is a regional vice president of Business Services at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 642-6457 or kevin_conmy@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

Published in Philadelphia

The growing prevalence of cloud computing has driven astronomical growth in the amount of data center traffic passing through networks. A 2011 survey projects this traffic to hit 468 Exabytes in 2016. To put that in context, worldwide Internet traffic surpassed one Exabyte for the first time in 2003.

The fuel behind this widespread adoption is cloud computing’s cost-effectiveness. With a “pay only for what you use” pricing structure, midsize companies can ramp up or down with minimal startup costs. In addition, there are tax benefits to having cloud computing as an operating expense, rather than a capital expenditure.

However, one factor stands in the way for many businesses — an outdated network infrastructure that is unable to operate efficiently using cloud-based systems.

Smart Business spoke with Kevin Conmy, regional vice president, Business Services, at Comcast Business, about how businesses can use Ethernet to maximize cloud computing, and the competitive advantage it brings.

Why are some companies unable or slow to take full advantage of the cloud’s potential?

The first hurdle to get over is the trust factor. Business owners are hesitant to hand over sensitive information and transactions to a third party. But as the use of cloud applications becomes widespread and the ease of the applications themselves make them harder to resist, more and more companies are jumping on board.

The second obstacle is often the company’s network and whether they are using the public Internet or a private Ethernet.

While a public Internet service is cost-effective and accessible from just about anywhere, the flipside to that is increased security risks that are a very credible concern.

Latency — the time it takes for data to make a round trip between two points, such as from your office to the data center where the cloud application is hosted and back — is another problem when using a public connection. Some applications, such as email, can tolerate longer latency, but others like video, are latency-intolerant.

How is private connectivity, Ethernet, better matched to cloud services?

For mission-critical applications hosted at a data center or cloud provider, private connectivity provides secure, high availability and low-latency access.

Ethernet technology, which has been around for 40 years, has become the de facto technology in offices around the world, linking computers and servers together in a high-speed local area network (LAN). A metropolitan area network (MAN) can link computers over a larger area, like between buildings in a metro area, with low latency.

One service provider manages the Ethernet traffic and applications within the private network, resulting in better security and performance. Companies still have the ability to integrate Internet traffic, but the low latency causes remote offices, and even those applications hosted in third-party data centers, to feel like they are on the LAN.

Data centers and cloud providers generally don’t provide dedicated network infrastructure with their cloud offerings, but they are reporting that clients are increasingly purchasing dedicated high-speed fiber connections from separate service providers for accessing these cloud services.

Do businesses leaders understand how important it is to have the right network services?

A recent CIO/Computerworld survey found that 70 percent of IT executives considered reliable, high-capacity bandwidth as a transformational or strategic asset, up from 42 percent two years ago. The majority of respondents believe high-performance connectivity increases productivity and efficiency. It’s clear that business owners increasingly view high-performance network services as a prerequisite for future growth.

Kevin Conmy is a regional vice president of Business Services at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 642-6457 or kevin_conmy@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

Published in Philadelphia

Many owners of small and midsize businesses are aware of cloud technology and software as a service, but don’t understand its radical cost transformation. It’s no longer a technical curiosity but a competitive necessity.

“The cloud brings a tsunami of cost-effective IT to the small business’s front door,” says Kevin O’Toole, senior vice president and general manager of Business Solutions at Comcast Business Services. “But it does bring two challenges with it. You have to pick the right partners, adopt the right technology and have good support. And your competition is going to embrace these technologies, so if you don’t figure out how to embrace this your business will be at a competitive disadvantage.”

Smart Business spoke with O’Toole on what to know about software as a service.

Why are small and midsize businesses buying software in the cloud?

IT for small and midsize businesses used to be about scarcity. They couldn’t afford expensive servers and staff to maintain them. Now, the cloud allows everyone to buy applications and services on demand, as they need it. Instead of having a server that may or may not get backed up or upgraded, everything is housed in an industrial data center with strong security and software that is regularly patched.

Also, when you buy a server, you’re buying capacity for the future. But when you buy software from the cloud, you can get it on a per user basis, adding or taking off users as your company changes.

Overall, software as a service allows you to focus on your core business. The cloud can help you get customers and serve them more efficiently, help your back office run more productively and help keep your costs down.

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What kind of software applications are businesses getting from the cloud?

Pretty much anything can be managed out of the cloud at this point. Business owners are getting messaging through a hosted email exchange service. They are buying data backup services and file sharing services. With conference services, literally a couple of minutes later you can be doing a conference from six different locations with video and screen sharing. Other applications being adopted are financial and human resources services.

What do businesses need to know upfront?

The biggest things to know are:

 

 

  • There are a lot of providers out there, but you want to buy from providers you can trust. It’s actually not that hard to start a cloud company, but it is hard to run one well. Sorting through the clutter and having someone vet providers for you is very valuable. Make sure when you put your business information into someone’s hands, it’s someone you trust.

 

 

  • Have insight on what you intend to do with the system, so you don’t implement one system only to find out you really wanted additional features in a larger system.  Also, even though your overall financial costs are lower with the cloud, there are also adoption efforts to consider, such as training your employees.

 

 

  • Try to buy services in an environment with great user management and support. For example, if you’re using five different cloud applications, you don’t want each employee to need five logins and passwords. From a support perspective, make sure you have a partner on the other end to help with any troubleshooting.

 

 

  • While a Google search of any cloud-based application or service will give you many listings, it is important to work with someone who can sort through it all. Find someone to ask hard questions of the cloud provider and set the bar high on quality.

 

 

What do companies do if they have technical questions about cloud-based software?

Like any technology project, you will have support questions — things do go wrong and there is confusion. It goes back to how you bought your cloud service. You can go to the source and work directly with a software vendor to purchase, onboard and maintain business applications via the cloud. You may get great support, or your provider may not always answer the phone leaving you with a major problem that you can’t solve right away. By going through a cloud expert that has the technical know-how to answer questions and troubleshoot when necessary, you can maintain that focus on your core business while also making your business more effective with the cloud.

Kevin O’Toole is a senior vice president and general manager of Business Solutions at Comcast Business Services. Reach him at (855) 867-5010 or upware_clouddesk@cable.comcast.com.

Learn more about Comcast’s new online marketplace of business-grade cloud solutions with simple access and account management.

 

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

Published in Philadelphia

A data center is the infrastructure a business uses to house its IT assets — space, power, cooling, network connectivity, wiring, etc. Depending on the business’ size, it may be a spare closet, a dedicated building or space leased at a public data center.

“The data center itself is infrastructure and doesn’t generate revenue or create differentiated business value,” says Mike Tighe, executive director, Data Products at Comcast Business. “So, the CFO frequently says, ‘Rather than utilize precious capital to build or expand a data center, there are other options including great public data centers where we can lease space.’”

Smart Business spoke with Tighe about data center best practices, including network and bandwidth considerations.

Why are data centers so important today, and what’s in store for the future?

The function of a data center is to ensure availability of IT applications and data. If employees don’t have access, they can’t be as productive and in some cases, the business can’t run. The trend to place IT assets -—applications, servers and storage — in public data centers is rapidly evolving for businesses of all sizes, either as a main data center or as part of business continuity strategy.

Over the next five years the trend of renting rather than owning IT infrastructure will accelerate as businesses utilize cloud-based infrastructure and applications. This is not just because of better economics, the ‘cloud’ enables rapid deployment and the ability to scale applications that drive better productivity.

When should you look at outsourcing a data center?

When IT becomes an important component of how you run your business, you have to ensure high availability. If, for example, you install specialized applications used for resource planning and creation of content, but the server starts going down because of power or network connectivity loss, it impacts your business’s ability to run.

Another factor is economic. As businesses make IT decisions, they may not have the capital to build or upgrade data centers, so they’ll look at alternatives.

What are some options to consider with public data centers?

By their very nature, there are more capabilities in a public data center because everyone is sharing the cost of the generator, the physical security monitoring, having multiple network providers, etc. However, some things to consider are:

  • Physical security procedures.

  • Redundancy of critical components.

  • The ability to expand as your IT infrastructure requirements increase.

  • Network for primary and backup connections. What providers have extended their network into the data center to provide connectivity and ensure access?

  • Location. Regional events including loss of power and natural disasters dictate that the backup site be located far enough from the main data center so as not to be affected by a single incident. Hurricane Sandy certainly brought home the point that a redundant data center far enough inland on a separate power grid helps ensure application availability.

How can companies build the right network?

Strong network connectivity becomes more important as IT assets are put into public data centers. Know how much your company’s bandwidth requirements are growing, and your network’s ability to scale for future requirements. On average, over the past decade, a business’s bandwidth requirements have grown around 50 percent per year. Look at network technologies that can cost-effectively scale — from 10 megabytes, an average site requirement, to one gigabyte, for example. Ethernet technology, which local-area networks are built on, is one solution that businesses are leveraging for their networks.

How do data center solutions impact a business’s bottom line?

With the economic downturn, use of company capital became a focus. Executives decided that the data center, while important, doesn’t produce any intrinsic value. And you can lease the space and preserve capital for projects that improve the bottom line. Companies can rent space by the square foot, rather than having to build another data center as IT needs expand.

Mike Tighe is a executive director, Data Products at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 286-5276 or michael_tighe@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

 

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