How to secure the hybrid workforce

Following on from my blog ‘The Future is Hybrid’, this blog looks at securing the hybrid workforce. During 2020 many organisations raced to deliver remote working for their workforce, often at the expense of a level of security, that would have previously been unacceptable.  Now that the dust has settled and many organisations have managed their risk in terms of remote working and multiple end point devices, it’s time to look at some of the specific technologies that can enable secure hybrid working as part of an overall hybrid working strategy.

Melusi Phiri

About the Author

Melusi Phiri is a Senior Account Manager, helping clients of all sizes, across sectors to find and make best use of technology. Melusi can advise on the full technology stack, including cloud, application modernisation, security, networking and remote working solutions.

Decentralised security as a concept

When securing the hybrid workforce, an increasing number of organisations who have already adopted a cloud strategy are now moving toward a decentralised storage strategy that provides multiple user access, whilst offering potentially greater data security and business continuity.  In this instance, data is essentially stored on 80 different nodes, but only 30 are needed to reconstitute that data, making the attack surface much less susceptible to cyber-attack and other related outages. The huge increase in demand for remote working over the last year has accelerated the move towards a decentralised cloud storage strategy in general.  This kind of storage can offer benefits such as reduced cost, improved reliability, improved up-time and of course increased security.

Endpoint security

The realities of hybrid working and working from home, have presented organisations with a whole host of security issues.  Endpoint security is a solution which is deployed on the user’s device (endpoint), which will prevent file-based malware as well as detecting and blocking malicious activity from trusted and untrusted applications.  It can also identify and resolve security incidents and alerts. Responding to the most recent forms of ransomware attacks, the latest generation of endpoint security deals with fileless malware which exploits native processes to initiate the attack.

Citrix Share File is one example of a virtual data room product, which is equipped with a multi-level security system: the data is encrypted (the documents contain dynamic watermarks that prevent unauthorised dissemination) and access is only allowed via a two-step verification.

Access Security – Identify and Access Management (IAM)

Identity and Access Management (IAM) solutions administer user identities and control access to an organisation’s resources. It achieves this authentication through a single sign-on, making it user friendly; once the user is signed on, they can only access those areas that they have been given permission to do so via a user profile which is set centrally.  An IAM system can track user activity and can detect any suspicious activity, communication or issues that might otherwise be missed.  When on-boarding new employees, the profile can be quickly and easily set, so that the process is seamless.  Ultimately this kind of access management can assist an organisation to meet industry compliance requirements.

Secure file sharing

Within an organisations the volume of data shared daily is significant and making sure it is kept secure, but easy to access, can be an onerous task.  When considering hybrid working and the potential of multiple devices being used in multiple locations, this task is made even more difficult.  Also, given the collaborative nature of data centric activities, files may need to be made available to users outside of the organisation, adding further layers of risk.

Often, when data needs to be shared quickly, business users often turn to consumer file sharing platforms, which will not meet corporate security and compliance mandates.

To offer an enterprise grade alternative to consumer based and email attachment files sharing options, there are a number of solutions on the market that provide the required level of security and accessibility. Below are just a few examples:

Virtual Data Rooms: providing an organisation with the ability to setup file share and synchronised services for their users easily and securely, offering a real alternative to large file sharing such as FTP.  As the name suggests, a virtual data room is an online database where organisations can store and share confidential information.  Traditionally these have been used to store the most confidential of information.

SharePoint: Probably one of the most recognisable data sharing products, Microsoft’s SharePoint offers a multitude of features combined with an excellent a level of ease of use that many other products find hard to compete with. Often combined with 365, it is sold as a document management and storage system.

Box: Very similar to SharePoint is Box, competing directly with Microsoft. It’s ease of use/setup, cost, and no requirement to use any of its other software set it apart from SharePoint.

Best Practice

Securing the hybrid workforce requires careful consideration of what technology is put in place and I have covered this many times before. However, a major cause of data breach is human error.  The importance of employees understanding what behaviour is appropriate in terms of IT security is imperative, for any organisation, regardless of what technology is put in place to guard. Indeed, overzealous security measures can often take away that responsibility from the employee and impact by making processes a real chore – possibly putting the organisation at further risk by people trying to circumnavigate security for ease of use.  By promoting ongoing awareness and best practice training, an organisation stands the best chance of avoiding data breaches.

Some areas to explore when encouraging a culture of security and best practice include:

Password Hygiene: enforce password changes on a regular basis and consider multi factor authentication; both are ways of adding security to your organisation’s data.

Email security: A massive growth area for phishing attacks in the last year; email best practice is an important part of the organisation’s security strategy. Comprehensive user training in being able to spot the various techniques employed by scammers via email.  For the most sensitive of data, encryption apps should be considered, disguising information from potential hackers.

Endpoint devices: Equipping your workforce with the appropriate tools to do their work should be a key requirement for any organisation, ensuring that they are able to enforce restrictions for website, downloadable content, or applications; adding another layer of security. In addition, centralised software and antivirus updates can be rolled out remotely.  It is key that considerations regarding the type of device and indeed the software upon it, are aiming to facilitate the user to do their job, rather than hinder them.  This pre-empts employees either avoiding the device altogether or installing ‘Shadow IT’ where a better, none approved application is downloaded and used as it serves them better, ultimately putting security at risk.

The work environment: As well as making sure that your workforce has the right tools to do their work when working away from the office, it is important to make sure that they consider regular router password changes and multifactor authentication when logging on.

If, after reading this blog, you feel that it might be the right time to look more closely at how you are securing the hybrid workforce, having a partner who can help guide you through will be invaluable. Pendulum offers support and expertise to help you get the most out of your organisation’s infrastructure.

Please read my blog ‘building resilience in a hybrid workforce’, where I outline best practices around disaster recovery, business continuity and building in resilience into processes.

Pendulum is a leading IT company providing services, hardware, and software across the UK and internationally. For further information on securing the hybrid workforce or any other technology related issue, please contact me at mphiri@pendulum-it.com

About Us

Pendulum IT p logo



Pendulum is a leading IT company providing services, hardware and software across the UK and internationally. For further information on remote working, public cloud hyperscalers, cybersecurity, modernising the data centre, HCI or any other area please contact your account manager or email info@pendulum-it.com 

Emerging from the pandemic stronger – How to thrive not just survive

Emerging from the pandemic stronger. How to thrive not just survive.

Even though we are not yet out of the grip of the COVID-19 crisis, it is already clear who the winners in business are. Broadly speaking, those organisations with built in flexibility, that were able to innovate, take opportunity where threat existed and utilise their infrastructure to do it, have done well; achieving in months what would normally take years. A lot of this success could be put down to those organisations having effective business continuity strategies.

About the Author

Senior Account Manager, Jeffrey Magara helps Global Enterprise & SME clients to deliver consolidating, cost saving IT solutions and projects.

According to a McKinsey Global Survey in 2020 of executives, these companies have accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations, by three to four years. And the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios, has accelerated by a shocking seven years.

Obviously, there were some industry sectors that were better placed than others, especially those involved in e-commerce, who had the capacity and power to access stocks. Moving away from the headline winners though, there are organisations that have managed, through their digital infrastructure, to survive the drastic measures of lockdowns, which saw their workplaces deserted and a paradigm shift to remote working. Based on research carried out by McKinsey, companies that are involved in manufacture have changed the least, regardless of whether they are in B2C or B2B. The companies that have embraced and developed their digital portfolio have been in healthcare, pharma, financial services and professional services.

Scalable organisations, that invested and accelerated digital technologies, such as cloud, have shown a remarkable turn of speed against predicted time. The following graph from McKinsey demonstrates not only the impressive speed of adoption, but the key areas that have been invested in:

McKinsey & Company graph showing how companies perceived their reaction to the Covid-19 crisis.

Embracing cloud technology

The term ‘scalability’ offered by cloud computing is often banded about, but what are the real-term benefits of having this resource in-place? To put it in very basic terms, it has meant that those enterprises who had adopted a cloud infrastructure, were able to respond to the increased demand swiftly, meaning the difference between coping with the demand and their website being shut down because it was unable to handle the un-precented volume.

The benefits of cloud infrastructure have allowed enterprises to order more stock quickly and pack it and despatch it more swiftly. Having that ability to increase capacity and speed, when needed, could be the difference between thriving or … not!

It also allows enterprises to experiment with new products/services, shortening ‘time to market’ to days and enabling versatility to switch on and switch off when needed. According to a Centrify survey carried out in Autumn 2020, 51% of business leaders stated that the shift to cloud computing has saved them from collapse during the pandemic. Given this success, 60% also said that they are planning to substantially increase their cloud infrastructure as we move hopefully out of the pandemic.

Remote working has been one the biggest successes during the pandemic and probably caught the most media attention, justifiably. Customer service departments that switched to remote working were able to do so and deal with increases in demand from customer calls, as well as still being able to process industry compliant payments. Remote working of this type has also allowed enterprises to offer an increase in customer service, sometimes moving to a 7-days-a-week model, which wasn’t previously viable. Due to the relatively low-cost entry points, remote access has allowed even small companies to collaborate and remain operational, despite being geographically distant; still having access to critical software and shared collaborative tools. I am sure, if remote working strategies weren’t in organisations business continuity planning before, they certainly will be now.

Using data to drive decision making

Being a data driven organisation can bring many benefits, including effective and improved decision making, proactive responses to customer needs and the imperative ability to stay ahead of the competition with innovative ideas and methods. Nothing new there, I hear you say, however, the sheer time and cost of collecting these insights into your business can be crippling, not to mention very time consuming. Alongside this, the sheer volume of data from varying sources, some incomplete, means data may only be used to back up an opinion for decision making, rather than as a main driving force for change. We haven’t mentioned the cultural barriers, where data isn’t accessed and acted upon consistently.

Cloud services are playing a crucial part in making data-based decisions a reality, and one which is bringing great advantage to those enterprises that leverage it. They allow accessibility and response to immediate business demands for data and analytics. What’s more, they provide a level of skills not often present within the enterprises, to be able to keep pace with big data analytics innovation at a much lower cost.

For enterprises wishing to get started in analytics, the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) route may be a good place to start, offering scalability for multiple users, ongoing software updates, and maintenance. This can be extended to add further value by taking on Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), to build custom applications. With PaaS, the provider is able to deliver a solution stack integrated set of software, providing an enterprise’s developers with tools to build an application.
The power of this data analysis cannot be underestimated, with enterprises who have adopted this approach able to constantly analyses data from many customer touch points and roll out a campaign in real time, based upon that data.

Key benefits of SaaS Analytics:
• No requirement to have inhouse expertise and capacity
• The ability to rapidly scale storage and compute requirements
• Significant cost reductions compared with inhouse solutions

Ensuring resilience with well thought out and tested Business Continuity (BC) and Disaster Recovery (DR) plans

The possibility of organisations being subject to cyberattacks that can cripple a business or permanently destroy its IT systems, are very much a reality these days. Despite the many advantages of cloud infrastructure, digital transformation and hyper-convergence creates unintended gateways to risks, vulnerabilities, attacks and failures. As part of an enterprise’s Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plans, a cyber resilience strategy is essential, that can support a business to withstand disruptive cyber incidents. Such plans often include ways to defend against those risks, protect critical applications and data, and recover from breach or failure in a controlled, measurable way.

Today, many enterprises struggle to evolve their resiliency strategies quickly enough to tackle today’s hybrid IT environments and changing business demands. The reality of our always-on 24-7 world, is that enterprises can often gain competitive advantage, or lose market share, depending on how their IT resources serve their core business needs.

Business Continuity Management Services are one possible solution for enterprises to protect their business, by identifying and addressing resiliency synchronisation between business processes, applications and IT infrastructure. This kind of service can provide flexible business continuity and disaster recovery, consulting to address a company’s needs – including assessments, planning and design, implementation, testing and full business continuity management.

With the growth of cyberattacks, enterprises are moving from a traditional/manual recovery approach to an automated and software-defined resiliency approach. This method uses advanced technologies and best practices to help assess risks, prioritise and protect business-critical applications and data. These services can also help business rapidly recover IT during and after a cyberattack.

An alternative path could be to opt for cloud-based backup services; Disaster-Recover-as-a-Services (DRaaS), to provide continuous replication of critical applications, infrastructure, and data and systems for rapid recovery after an IT outage.
There are also virtual server options, to protect critical servers in real-time. This enables rapid recovery of applications to keep businesses operational during periods of maintenance or unexpected downtime.

Along the lines of the above solutions, the answer is with resiliency orchestration; a cloud-based approach that uses disaster recovery automation and a suite of business continuity management tools, designed specifically for hybrid-IT environments. This approach helps protect business process dependencies across applications, data and infrastructure components. It increases the availability of business applications, so that companies can access necessary high-level or in-depth intelligence regarding Recovery Point Objective (RPO), Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and the overall health of IT continuity, from a centralised dashboard.

Being robust is about ensuring you have pared down and consolidated unnecessary systems and spend
It’s not uncommon for an enterprise to be working with multiple vendors, but is it best use of that limited resource, money? Having multiple IT vendors can stretch your enterprise’s spend, and indeed your employees, too thin. Consolidating your list of partners with a wide range of capabilities, could help get better performance out of your processes. A common scenario is where an enterprise may have say Microsoft licenses from one vendor, IT managed services from another and data centre hardware from a third. The complexity and time taken to manage these multiple resources can seriously affect your ability to manage the very resources they are providing.

By paring down your vendor list can bring many benefits to your enterprise, these may include:

• Improved buying power: dealing with a smaller number of vendors increases your spend with them, making you a more valuable proposition and increasing room for negotiation.

• Scalable: ideally you need a vendor who can grow with you; that has the capacity to take you further, rather than reaching a limit where you are left wanting more and having to look outside.

• Better relationships: concentrating your business with a few key vendors will improve their understanding of your organisation and its needs. This closer relationship will pay dividends and encourage more of a committed partnership, rather than them just being another supplier.

• Vendor quality visibility: Having fewer vendors will allow you to make sure that those relationships really are of good quality, if not, they will become very apparent, and you’ll know it’s time to look elsewhere.

An additional consideration is the level of support you receive from the vendor, and indeed the timeliness of their responses. Also, the frequency and quality of product updates/improvements, and finally a very clear sign of who you are dealing with is staff turnover…

Automating where possible, for less ‘Key Man Dependency’
Automation of some processes will have a positive impact on your efficiency, accuracy and the redeployment of resources, from low level repetitive tasks to more strategic work. However, many enterprises are reluctant to use such technology because of the risks around Key Man Dependency; should an enterprise employ someone with the skills to put in-place these automations, there is considerable risk that that person may leave, along with the knowledge of how it works and how to maintain it. To combat this, some enterprises outsource this function to mitigate the risk, providing of course that this outsource company employ a team of developers and cross trains them, to ensure that knowledge is shared across a number of individuals.

Use of off the shelf solutions that have a wider knowledge base
Custom built software certainly has its place for enterprises and sometimes can be the only way you get something that meets all of your requirements. However, there are inherent issues; cost of purchase/maintaining non-standard software, possibly tying you to one vendor, not to mention the possibility of Key Man Dependency, mentioned earlier. The use of off-the-shelf software can offer many benefits to your enterprise, reducing risks associated with custom software. Some of the benefits include:

• Minimum installation time, providing it is compatible with your current systems
• Relatively low upfront cost, possibility of volume discount
• A ready-made support community
• Try before you buy and other user reviews
• Future compatibility and reduced chance of obsolescence

A number of headline areas need to be considered when looking to reduce risk and increase robustness around software. The following should give a good start in assessing whether off the shelf software is right for your enterprise.

Pricing model
Does the subscription and licensing approach suit your organisation. Is there a possibility that this licensing might limit how you do business now or in the future as you grow in size and geographical reach? What product features can you do without, to gain lower licensing fees?

Functionality
Does the software offer the functionality that you need now, or possibly in the future, and is there built-in flexibility of the package as you grow? Consider the level of complexity and how your users will adapt to it.

Process Flow
How will this software work with your current processes? – and is it likely to require changes? If it does require changes, what cost is there likely to be and is it worth the investment?

Platform and Technology Support
Will this software be supported on your enterprise’s platform? Check the level of data security, including authentication and access control, and check it fits with your enterprise’s level of sensitivity.

SaaS hosting or on-Prem
Consider whether your enterprise is better suited to allow cloud hosted SaaS or will it need to be hosted on-Prem? Look into the level of network changes that would need to be carried out to allow users to access it. System resilience and backup frequency also need to be considered. Does the software provide APIs to enable data integration with other systems? If so, what exactly does this cover, and do they use the most up to date standards?

User Experience
Last, but certainly not least: what level of training and support is offered?
The lack of adoption could negate any advantages gained by ‘off the shelf’ software, if your users don’t like it, can’t use it, or avoid using it.

Moving away from Proprietary Systems
Having an IT platform that is flexible and able to work with your customers and vendors alike (including cloud providers), will put your enterprise in a much better position, providing agility and robustness. Regardless of where you are with your cloud migration programme, if indeed you have taken that path, avoiding propriety systems wherever possible is a very wise strategy.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it will be the need to be flexible and agile and that applies as much for IT systems, as for the way people are having to work. Some organisations’ journeys during lockdown periods will no doubt have been made a lot more painful, as they discovered their incompatibilities with other systems.

If your enterprise is looking to improve its business agility and flexibility, having an IT partner who can help guide you through will be an invaluable asset. Pendulum offers support and expertise, to help you get the most out of your organisation’s infrastructure.

Pendulum is a leading IT company providing services, hardware and software across the UK and internationally. For further information on remote working solutions or any other area please contact me at jmagara@pendulum-it.com

I hope that you have found this blog useful. If, after reading this blog, you feel that it might be the right time to look further into the way your organisation’s IT Team supports the workforce of today, having a partner who can help guide you through will be invaluable to making the right decisions. Pendulum offers support and expertise to help you get the most out of your organisation’s infrastructure.

About Us

Pendulum IT p logo



Pendulum is a leading IT company providing services, hardware and software across the UK and internationally. For further information on remote working, public cloud hyperscalers, cybersecurity, modernising the data centre, HCI or any other area please contact your account manager or email info@pendulum-it.com 

The future of work is hybrid – but how do IT Teams best support hybrid working?

What does the hybrid workforce need from a technology perspective?

Events in 2020 have probably changed the way we work forever, forcing organisations to embrace technological change at pace, often without the usual timeliness, due diligence etc that would normally be applied. There’s been a revolution, forced by necessity, but hopefully it has allowed many to take a long-term view on how they do business for the future, realising the many benefits afforded by a digital strategy that embraces cloud technology. Also, business has had to assess how that impacts attitudes to employees; how they work and most importantly where they work from.

A lot has been written about how business has adapted and changed in the face of drastic restrictions; the growth in hybrid versions of previous business models, that embraces digital cloud infrastructure. Most businesses acknowledge that it is unlikely that we will ever fully return to a pre pandemic way of working.

The future, we feel, is indeed hybrid. I would like to take the opportunity, over a series of blogs, to look at what this might look like in terms of the technology and equally significantly, the workforce. How do IT Teams best support hybrid working? It is important to remember that the technology is only part of the shift to hybrid working, the workforce itself also needs to adapt and change, looking at the cultural shift which is, and will be, significant for some time to come.

Melusi Phiri

About the Author

Melusi Phiri is a Senior Account Manager, helping clients of all sizes, across sectors to find and make best use of technology. Melusi can advise on the full technology stack, including cloud, application modernisation, security, networking and remote working solutions.

Cloud Technology

Making the move away from a traditional on-prem data centre infrastructure is one of the most significant decisions for an organisation to make.  The benefits the move to the cloud brings are numerous; leaving behind heavy capital expenditure, large, hard to recruit teams of skilled workforce as well as managing the pending obsolescence of expensive kit.

The following benefits evidence why more and more enterprises are making the move to cloud infrastructure, either wholly or, as a hybrid version.  These include:

Flexible and Scalable – Cloud infrastructure is able to scale on demand, allowing the enterprise to be agile in both times of high and low demand. Storage options can be easily configured, including a hybrid version, making use of existing on-prem services depending on security and regulatory requirements. The current three leading cloud service providers offer a high availability of storage, removing the issue of investing in more on-prem physical storage.  

Enterprises are able to easily determine their own level of control with a wide range of as-a-service options, starting with Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) which provides users with access to computing resources such as storage, networking and servers on demand. This service also offers the benefit of virtualisation of administrative tasks, freeing up resources for other work.

Continuing on with the as-a-service model, enterprises are able to stack services, including Platform-as-a-service (PaaS). Enterprises can test, develop and host applications, PaaS enables a focus on development without the worry of underlying infrastructure provision.  Importantly, it also facilitates collaborative work including remote and hybrid working teams.

Staying with remote working, Software-as-a-service and Desktop-as-a-Service are both tools adopted by IT Teams to support a hybrid working environment. They are no longer bound by their own network infrastructure, have minimal setup and can avoid platform compatibility issues.

Storage

Cloud storage reduces an enterprise’s expenditure by providing data storage on remote servers, where it is maintained, managed, backed-up and accessed remotely.  Importantly, it also allows that data to be accessed remotely, providing the permissions are all in place.

Decentralised IT (Multi Cloud Strategy)

Many organisations, in addition to moving to cloud based infrastructure, are moving further away from a single on-prem data centre and decentralising by using a number of cloud providers rather than relying on one.  This multi cloud strategy allows the enterprise to choose the provider for its strengths rather than accepting its weaknesses. Greater flexibility and agility are achieved by spreading risk, taking advantage of a specific cloud provider’s strengths and competitive pricing.

Connectivity

As enterprises move to a hybrid working model, IT Teams are finding that a high performance, secure and agile wide area network (WAN) solution is paramount. Two network solutions that will offer users secure access are Virtual Private Network (VPN) and Software-defined-wide-area-network (SD-WAN).

A VPN, being the most established technology of the two, is an internet-based network, which allows users to turn a public connection to a private one. When connected to the VPN, it offers protection against surveillance or tracking.  The user’s data is transferred to its intended destination by a network of servers that the VPN maintains, rather than the user’s internet service provider.  The VPN encrypts the data, preventing it from being read by any unauthorised access.

SD-WAN, on the other hand, connects organisations via a number of transport media, such as broadband internet, LTE, 4G or MPLS. Its technology is able to separate different types of data traffic, based on security, authority and quality of service.  This technology doesn’t use a traditional router, instead using the cloud exclusively, giving flexibility and bandwidth capabilities.

Which is best for your organisation, depends on business needs; both offer unique benefits.  The key difference between the two is the software defining technology of SD-WAN.

In terms of cost, a VPN comes out as being the most affordable, in part through its simplicity, making it great for low site count organisations.  However, as the question of maintenance comes up, a VPN requires more of it, and indeed the expertise to facilitate it, and this will increase in complexity should more sites be added to the organisations WAN.

In overall performance, SD-WAN takes the prize, VPNs suffer greater latency, due to distance between sites, with increases in demand effecting overall performance.  Whereas SD-WAN offers dynamic path selection quality of service and application aware routing. As for latency, being cloud based, SD-WAN suffers no latency due to geographic distances. Reliability is good for both options, however, the failover security features of SD-WAN excel, automatically fixing outage problems by transferring connection to another network.

Access – Digital Workspaces or Remote Access Solutions

A significant challenge to enterprises that have already gone down the remote working route is in achieving an excellent user experience and productivity rates, whilst maintaining infrastructure visibility and security. 

With the workforce no longer under one roof, so to speak, coupled with a multitude of devices being used to access data, it can quickly become an onerous task and one which is fraught with security issues and a real lack of visibility. Creating a digital workspace, is necessary – a connected workplace solution, which provides a familiar work environment that pretty much works any device. This also allows users to access their work applications and data via a single entry point rather than multiple sign-ins.

Citrix Workspace ONE is one such solution, providing a unified digital workspace for all employees, regardless of their location or platform.  Combined with a secure internet connection, this kind of solution will achieve a much-improved workforce experience, higher productivity, increased IT visibility and a high level of security.

What is a Digital Workspace?

Putting it simply, a digital workspace allows an organisation’s employees access to apps and real-time data on any device, from any location, regardless of whether that information is stored in a traditional data centre, or on the cloud. Digital workspaces are integrated technology frameworks, designed to deliver and manage app, data and desktop functions. But digital workspaces are much more than remote access solutions, they are value-added, providing:

• A level of collaboration, where teams connect much easier and faster, sharing data and files more than previously done, regardless of their physical location.
• Security has also benefitted massively through digital workspace and zero-trust security, where an organisation shouldn’t trust anything inside or outside of its parameters and instead must verify everything before granting access.
• Resilient business operations, where risk is spread, allowing organisations to operate in the most challenging of situations and no longer conforming to traditional business hours.
• Integration with other technologies. The connections can be seamless allowing employees to connect through their chosen platforms, to all parts of the network, without the need for multiple logins etc.
• Cost reduction. With remote working being the norm, there is less need for commercial square footage and utility costs can be reduced significantly.

Collaboration

A growing number of organisations have embraced on-line, collaborative tools for some time now, being a valuable productivity tool. With last year’s challenges they really came into their own and we have seen a huge take-up from organisations and individuals alike, trying to survive whilst working in relative isolation.

Much more than video conferencing, collaborative apps offer co-workers, wherever they may be in the world, the visibility of the work being done and how their input is affecting the overall output, along with the assets they may need to do it with. It probably wouldn’t be too much to say, if you can imagine a tool to help, it probably exists.

Project management collaborative tools have the greatest market share, where projects and resources can be managed in one place. These tools range from the old favourites such as GanttPro, to relatively new to market, LiquidPlanner. Finding the right one for your organisation will prove to be invaluable and necessary when moving over to hybrid working.

When considering the right collaborative tool for your organisation, it needs to be stressed that no tool will be effective without the buy-in of the key players in the team. Without this it is likely, especially with learning curves, that people will resort to old ways ‘passing-on through sending emails’.

Hybrid Culture

Definition:

hybrid workforce is a team of employees that have a flexible work structure. In other words, some team members work remotely while others work from a central workspace such as an office.

According to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in September 2020, 40% of employers said that they expect more than half their workforce to work regularly from home after the pandemic and restrictions have ended. This potentially represents a significant shift in how organisations retain their current workforce and how they onboard new talent in the future.

It’s certain, when considering a hybrid workforce strategy alongside your digital cloud infrastructure, it’s not going to be the case of just sending a proportion your workforce home with a laptop. Based on the research so far, a percentage of businesses are looking for a mixture of both homeworking and office time. Indeed, the term ‘hybrid working’ comes from this desire to have the option of both home and office environments, rather than one of the other. This will present quite a challenge for organisations trying to balance those two things, whilst achieving the obvious cost benefits of remote working.
A significant culture shift will need to happen within those organisations that choose to go down the hybrid working road, establishing new ways of working and associated practices and policies.

Organisations who choose not to adopt hybrid working, and return to the old ways of working risk the possibility of high staff turnover and difficulty in recruiting talent; losing out to much more flexible organisations who do offer hybrid working.


If your organisation is competing for the best talent, then in the future you may be left with no alternative but to adopt a properly supported hybrid working policy. There’s no doubt that employees have enjoyed the obvious benefits of flexible working in the last 12 months, and will now be offered a real alternative to commuting and working in an office five days a week.

Making the move to Hybrid Working

Suggested key steps towards ensuring your hybrid working policy is properly supported by the IT Team:

  • Agree an overall strategic position on hybrid working for the organisation.
  • Define how hybrid working will look in your organisation including the possibility of different forms depending on job roles and teams. 
  • Carry out a full engagement programme within your organisation, as well as the provision of training and development to support successful hybrid working. 
  • Put in place a clear and comprehensive communication plan to share the strategy the organisation has in terms of its approach regarding hybrid working, including how employees can request a move to hybrid working.
  • Plan for and respond to the organisational implications of hybrid working on matters such as technology, employee wellbeing, inclusion and facilities. 
  • Support effective team building and cohesion in hybrid teams.

I hope that you have found this blog useful. If, after reading this blog, you feel that it might be the right time to look further into the way your organisation’s IT Team supports the hybrid workforce, having a partner who can help guide you through will be invaluable to making the right decisions. Pendulum offers support and expertise to help you get the most out of your organisation’s infrastructure.

My next blog will be following on the theme of how to secure the hybrid workforce, discussing specific cybersecurity technologies that can enable secure remote/hybrid working.

About Us

Pendulum IT p logo



Pendulum is a leading IT company providing services, hardware and software across the UK and internationally. For further information on remote working, public cloud hyperscalers, cybersecurity, modernising the data centre, HCI or any other area please contact your account manager or email info@pendulum-it.com 

When is Hyper Converged Infrastructure right for my business?

Hyperconverged infrastructure represented by converging lines.

What is Hyperconverged Infrastructure?

Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is the fundamental IT element in a software defined data centre (SDDC), removing the complications of traditional data centre infrastructure. HCI integrates all functions of the data centre natively, including compute, storage, and networking in a virtualised platform. This virtualised platform is then operated and monitored through a cohesive management console. Adding further value to this virtualisation, automation and orchestration tools allow you to extend the capabilities and benefits of both the SDDC and the public cloud, delivering a complete hybrid cloud infrastructure that addresses current and future application and infrastructure needs. But is hyperconverged infrastructure right for your business?

Based on the above it would come as no surprise that the HCI market is growing fast. By 2023, Gartner predicts that 70% of enterprises will be running some form of hyperconverged infrastructure, up from less than 30% back in 2019.


Melusi Phiri

About the Author

Melusi Phiri is a Senior Account Manager, helping clients of all sizes, across sectors to find and make best use of technology. Melusi can advise on the full technology stack, including cloud, application modernisation, security, networking and remote working solutions.


Key benefits of HCI in the SDDC include:

Straightforward
Removes the complexity of managing different hardware components and infrastructure silos found in traditional data centre environments.

Cost efficient
Minimises capital expenditure on hardware as well as cost and storage efficiency. Easily scalable to fit in with demand fluctuations.

• Agile
Tackle dynamic business needs proactively with wide range of deployment choices with no vendor lock-in, on-demand scalability, and support for traditional and modern applications.

So, is HCI right for you?

HCI has become increasingly popular for general purpose workloads. These are those functions that every organisation has to have; they can include infrastructure servers (DNS, DHCP, Active Directory, print servers, and so on), file servers, application servers, database servers, and anything else that the company needs to operate.

HCI aims to provide business with greater operational efficiency and reduced costs, in an increasingly data-driven business environment where more technology and computing power are demanded. So, for those that recognise the above demands being part of their business, the question will most probably be ‘when and how’ rather than ‘if’ to move to HCI.
To make that decision and transition easier, both traditional and HCI can co-exist and it is likely that some will make the decision to run specific applications on-premises whilst others transfer to the SDDC, with the decision to go for a full-stack option made at a later date.

To manage the businesses portfolio of applications across on-premises and cloud will require careful consideration, the following should be on your ‘key questions’ list:

• What are the requirements of the application?
• How will the application be managed and scaled?
• What is the business value of the application?
• What kind of environment does the application need to maximize its business impact?
• Can the application be migrated to a public cloud, and is the cost of rebuilding or refactoring the application for the cloud warranted?

Is there an alternative to HCI?

Moving away from traditional on-premise data centres, an alternative to HCI could be Converged Infrastructure (CI). CI, in contrast to HCI, is hardware based, converging storage and processes, whereas HCI is software based.

Converged Infrastructure comes as a pre-packaged bundle of systems, which includes: servers, storage, networking and management software. These systems are usually bought from one vendor, instead of buying the hardware and software components separately from different suppliers. CI systems are typically pre-configured and pre-tested, making them easier and faster to deploy.

The Pros and Cons of Converged Infrastructure

CI systems are, more often than not, bought from a single vendor and come with the following advantages:

• Improved compatibility: Minimising or even eliminating hardware and software compatibility issues.
• Cost effective: Converged infrastructure saves money on data centre provisioning, deployment and management.,
• Simplification: CI rationalises data centre management as it eliminates the need for IT to have expertise in products from multiple vendors.

The downsides to converged infrastructure include:

• Vendor reliance: Converged infrastructure can lock you into a single vendor, which could result in reduced features and functionality, and limited customisation options.
• Increased complexity: Adding further components to a converged architecture after installation can be complicated and expensive.
• Multiple tools: Currently many converged systems still require separate management tools for compute, networking and storage even if they come from the same manufacturer.

To converge or to hyperconverge?

Establishing a move away from traditional on-premise data centres is a given, but is converged or hyperconverged infrastructure right for your business? Which one is right will depend on a number of factors; the following should give you an idea by comparing converged with hyperconverged.

Put simply Converged Infrastructure is hardware-based and specialises in packaged hardware and software from a single vendor, Hyperconverged Infrastructure compresses compute and storage resources into highly virtualised, industry-standard x86 servers, with unified management.

Converged architecture; servers, storage, networking and management remain independent of each other, taking advantage of existing hardware. This flexibility will allow individual components to be used for specific and separate purposes, plus servers and storage can be scaled independently.

Hyperconverged infrastructure components are software-defined, offering more flexibility than converged infrastructure. Virtualised compute and storage resources also make HCI easier and faster to scale, compared to converged infrastructure. Hyperconverged infrastructure allows you to easily scale up by adding or replacing drives in existing servers, or scale-out by adding nodes to a cluster. This often means that even if you only need additional storage, the new node will also come with compute. Nodes can be added one at a time for incremental growth, whereas storage arrays often require a new controller or shelf of drives, which is a much larger single spend.

Hyperconverged infrastructure shown as converging arrows.

By using either converged or hyperconverged systems, you will be able to reduce the data centre footprint, simplify management and increase infrastructure efficiency. Companies often choose one versus the other, based on variables like the size and desired amount of control over the environment, cost, existing infrastructure and future IT goals and vision.

If, after reading this blog, you feel that converged or hyperconverged infrastructure might be right for your business, having a partner who can help guide you through will be invaluable to making the right infrastructure decisions. Pendulum offers support and infrastructure expertise to help you get the most out of migrating your data centre.

About Us

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Pendulum is a leading IT company providing services, hardware and software across the UK and internationally. For further information on remote working, public cloud hyperscalers, cybersecurity, modernising the data centre, HCI or any other area please contact your account manager or email info@pendulum-it.com 

Key Components of a Software-Defined Data Centre

Data centre image for SDDC

What does the software-defined data centre (SDDC) really look like? 

The future appears to be virtualised and software defined, or at least in data centre world. The move to cloud-based virtual machines replacing traditional hardware-based data centres, has allowed many organisations to be flexible and agile, giving them a much needed competitive edge.


Melusi Phiri

About the Author

Melusi Phiri is a Senior Account Manager, helping clients of all sizes, across sectors to find and make best use of technology. Melusi can advise on the full technology stack, including cloud, application modernisation, security, networking and remote working solutions.


What does software-defined mean?

Software-defined refers to the ability to control some or all of the functions of a system using software, rather than relying purely on physical hardware infrastructure. There are significant benefits for organisations that use SDDCs, including lower costs, higher quality products and services, and less risk.  In SDDCs, all elements of the infrastructure; networking, storage, CPU and security, are virtualised using virtual machines (VMs) and delivered as a service. SDDC is focussed on integrators and data centre builders, rather than toward tenants.

SDDC is a radical movement away from traditional data centres; organisational data, applications, networks, and infrastructure are centrally housed and accessed. Traditional data centres are the hub for IT operations and physical infrastructure equipment, including servers, storage devices, network equipment, and security devices. By contrast, a SDDC is an ‘IT as a service’ that provides an organisation’s software, infrastructure, or platform needs. SDDCs can be housed on-premises, at a managed service provider, and in private, public or hosted clouds.

SDDCs use a virtualised environment to deliver the functions of a traditional data centre. They can be managed from any location using web browser and API interfaces.  Like server virtualisation solutions, such as VMware’s Hypervisor, SDDCs abstract, pool, and virtualise all data centre services and resources.  This helps organisations reduce costs by minimising the need for large capital expenditure, increases scalability and improves overall business agility.

Remote management via APIs and web browser interfaces are some of the advantages of SDDCs, along with the automation of many tasks, which will ultimately reduce IT resource usage and provide automated deployment and management of core functions.

What are the benefits of a software-defined data centre?

The core features of SDDCs are broken down into 4 key areas, these are:

Removing network resource limitations. In a traditional hardware-defined data centre, the business is confined to running applications and services that conform to the limitations of the available network resources. The SDDC changes that and allows developers to tailor to business need, rather than developing based on what works on the available hardware that you may have.

Data centre management simplification. SDDCs also greatly simplify data centre management. By virtualising routers and switches to servers and storage, it makes it much easier to deliver, deploy, monitor, and maintain. The network and all its component resources become nothing more than software abstractions that can all be managed from a single interface.

Greater flexibility and reliability. Increased delivery of network resources is achieved along with automation because everything is software-defined. The software is capable of creating and mapping server, storage, and networking resources, which provides much greater agility, flexibility, and reliability.

Automatic scaling A properly implemented SDDC can detect and adapt to spikes in demand, scaling automatically, when necessary, to accommodate surges in traffic and optimize performance.

Key Features of SDDC

Components of an SDDC - virtualisation of compute, network, storage and management

Key Features of SDDCs include:

  • Compute virtualisation: operating systems, CPUs, memory, and software—reside on cloud servers as a virtual machine. This allows users to create software implementations of computers that can be turned on or turned off as needed, decreasing provisioning time.
  • Network virtualisation: removes the need to provide network infrastructure, which is supplied by virtual machines instead. Network infrastructure needs such as telecomms, firewalls, subnets, routing, admin, DNS, etc. are configured inside your cloud SDDC on the vendor’s abstracted hardware.
  • Storage virtualisation: storage is provided from the SDDC vendor’s storage pool. The client can choose storage types, based on their needs and costs. Storage to a virtual machine can be quickly added, when needed.
  • Management and automation software: reducing the need for IT workforce; SDDCs use management and automation software, keeping business critical functions working around the clock. APIs or web browser access delivers remote management and automation via a software platform accessible from any suitable location.

VMware’s software-defined data centre story

Mobile cloud is here to stay and virtualisation of many hardware based functions comes along with it. This presents its own challenges, despite its radical efficiency benefits.  In addressing these challenges, IT functions need to virtualise the entire data centre so that all infrastructure services become as inexpensive and easy to deliver and manage as virtual machines.

The software-defined data centre appears to be the ideal architecture for private, public, and hybrid clouds. Pioneered by VMware and recognised by the industry and analysts alike, SDDC extends the virtualisation concepts you may know— abstraction, pooling and automation — to all data centre resources and services.

VMware’s solution is built on a software-defined hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) architecture of natively integrated compute, network and storage virtualisation technologies, with self-driving operations and management. 

According to IDC, VMware leads the HCI market, with just over 42% market share in 2020 and continues to grow two times faster than its closest competitor. With most of its customers in production worldwide, the richest ecosystem in the industry, and the broadest set of deployment options on the market, VMware provides an enterprise-proven, full HCI stack that puts businesses on the path to hybrid cloud.

Going forward

Creating a SDDC platform requires a great deal of commitment from the organisation. It should not be underestimated, the shift both in skill sets and culture, an organisation will have to make to achieve a full service SDDC. Cloud SDDC migration requires less traditional IT operations skills focused on maintaining the infrastructure, and instead needs skills focused on application delivery speed, product quality, and automation.

Cloud SDDCs reduce IT infrastructure and operations silos and increase the need for Development Operations (DevOps) skills, including container and microservices management needed to run production workloads at scale. Should you decide that SDDCs are for you, having a partner to help guide you through this migration, such as Pendulum IT, can help provide full project and lifecycle management, as you make that transition to a software designed data centre.

About Us

Pendulum IT p logo



Pendulum is a leading IT company providing services, hardware and software across the UK and internationally. For further information on remote working, public cloud hyperscalers, cybersecurity, modernising the data centre, HCI or any other area please contact your account manager or email info@pendulum-it.com