Cisco Hyperflex

August 8, 2016

Cisco HyperFlex and the benefits of Hyperconverged Infrastructure

Hyperconverged infrastructure is a growing trend in IT, and those organizations that have implemented it are realizing significant benefits—including improved operational efficiency and scalability, not to mention cost savings.

A hyperconverged infrastructure has a software-centric architecture that tightly integrates computer, storage, network and virtualization resources in a server supported by a single vendor. The integrated technologies are managed as a single system through a common toolset.

A hyperconverged system allows you to manage the integrated technologies as a single system through a common toolset and eliminates storage silos. Hyperconverged systems can be expanded by adding nodes to the base unit.

A flexible and scalable end-to-end solution for a wide range of applications

Cisco HyperFlex HX Data Platform is one of the most popular hyperconverged infrastructure platforms on the market. Built on Cisco Unified Computer System (UCS), the platform integrates Cisco HyperFlex HX-Series nodes, which have high disk capacity, and Cisco UCS B-Series Blade Servers, which have high computing capacity, into a single unified cluster. This gives you the ability to choose the balance of CPU and disk storage that’s right for your applications, to optimize performance, and to scale as your needs grow. Cisco HyperFlex Data Platform Software and the VMware ESXi hypervisor come preinstalled for one-click installation.

A host of capabilities in one data platform

Enterprise-class data management: Delivers complete lifecycle management and enhanced data protection in distributed storage environments: replication; deduplication; compression; thin provisioning’ rapid, space-efficient clones; and snapshots.

Simplified data management: Integrates storage functions into existing management tools, allowing instant provisioning, cloning, and snapshots of applications to dramatically simplify your daily operations.

Independent scaling of the computing, caching, and capacity tiers: Give you the flexibility to scale the environment based on evolving business needs.

Continuous data optimization with inline data deduplication and compression: Improves resource utilization with more headroom for data scaling.

Dynamic data placement in node memory, enterprise-class flash memory (on solid-state disk [SSD] drives), and persistent storage tiers (on hard-disk drives [HDDs]): Optimize performance and resiliency, allowing you to readjust data placement as you scale your cluster.

API-based data platform architecture: Provides data virtualization flexibility to support existing and new cloud-native data types.

Is hyperconverged infrastructure right for your organization?

Between 2014 and 2015, the hyperconverged market globally grew by around 116 percent, according to IDC, and it will likely top $1.5 billion by the end of 2016. In addition, a recent report from 452 Research found that about 79 percent of enterprises will probably spend more money on hyperconvergence technology in 2016 than they have in years past, with very large companies and financial firms leading the pack in this arena.

This phenomenal growth is not surprising, considering that hyperconverged infrastructure can dramatically reduce the amount of both hardware and software needed to effectively manage a network, it’s no small wonder that hyperconverged infrastructure has really taken off in IT.

If you’re not sure if this type of platform is right for your company, contact us. We’ll help you weigh the pros and cons, and the steps required to implement a hyperconverged infrastructure technology.


Preventing CryptoLocker with Cisco AMP and OpenDNS

July 18, 2016

Preventing CryptoLocker with Cisco AMP and OpenDNS

There’s been a recent wave of media coverage about ransomware attacks—and the havoc they’re wreaking. Ransomware like CryptoLocker involves a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a ransom is paid. The victim receives an email with a file purporting to be from a familiar company.

The Trojan, or virus, runs when the user opens the attached file. CryptoLocker takes advantage of Windows’ default behavior of hiding the extension from file names to disguise the real .exe extension of the malicious file. As soon as the victim runs it, the Trojan goes memory resident on the computer.

How to avoid CryptoLocker:

  • Be wary of emails from senders you don’t know, especially those with files attached.
  • Disabling hidden file extensions in Windows will also help recognize this type of attack.
  • It’s important to have a backup system in place for critical files to help mitigate the damage caused by malware infections as well as hardware problems and any incidents.

But if you do become infected and don’t have a backup copy of your files, it’s still best not to pay the ransom, which is never a good solution.

While preventing infections is the ideal remedy, no vendor can possibly achieve 100% prevention. But with OpenDNS and Cisco, you can significantly reduce the number of ransomware attacks across your organization.

OpenDNS Umbrella

OpenDNS Umbrella is a cloud-delivered network security service that protects any device, no matter where it’s located. OpenDNS Umbrella enforces security at the DNS layer, protecting devices on and off the corporate network. At the point of initial infiltration by the malware, OpenDNS Umbrella block the DNS request before the browser connects to the malicious site—whether the user clicked on a link or there was a redirect from a compromised site. If OpenDNS flagged the exploit or phishing domain as malicious, then Umbrella will block the connection before the compromise occurs. Umbrella also addresses another challenge related to ransomware when an infected device connects to more shared drives and infection spreads across an organization. In this case, Umbrella immediately pinpoints the source of the botnet (the group of computers and devices that are spreading the infection) to mitigate further damage.

OpenDNS uses internet activity patterns derived from 80+ billion DNS requests daily to identify attacked infrastructure being staged for the next threat. Using statistical models developed by its lab team, OpenDNS can automatically discover, classify and even predict the callback destinations used by many types of ransomware.

Cisco Advanced Malware Protection (AMP) for Endpoints

Cisco Advanced Malware Protection (AMP) for Endpoints is a new solution that provides protection against known malware files and uses continuous analysis and retrospective security to detect malware that evades initial inspection. Using a combination of file signatures, file reputation, behavioral indicators, and sandboxing, AMP can stop the initial exploit “kit” from executing on the endpoint. It can also stop the execution of the ransomware file and remove it.

AMP continuously analyzes and records all file activity on a system. If a file behaves suspiciously at a later data, AMP retrospectively detects it and alerts your security team. AMP provides a detailed recorded history of the malware’s behavior over time, including where and how it entered the network, where else it traveled, and what it is doing. Based on a set policy, AMP then automatically contains and remediates the threat, enabling the security team to manually block and remediate it with just a few clicks.

Ransomware is a risk your business can’t afford

To learn more about Cisco AMP and OpenDNS and the best way to protect your IT infrastructure from malware attacks, contact us. Our security experts can advise you on the appropriate steps to take to be proactive. The threat from ransomware is not going away. Fortunately, there are solutions that can help combat it.


OpenDNS

June 28, 2016

The Benefits of Cisco OpenDNS

In August of last year, Cisco completed its acquisition of OpenDNS, and this was big news in the industry. More than 65 million users, including thousands of companies ranging from small businesses to the Fortune 500, count on OpenDNS for a safer and faster Internet. It’s not only the world’s most intelligent DNS but also the largest Internet-wide security network, delivering advanced security solutions ‘as a service’ via the cloud to any device.

DNS plays an essential role in today’s Internet experience.

DNS stands for “Domain Name System,” which is how domain names are translated into IP addresses so web browsers can find websites and send and receive emails.

Think of DNS as a sort of phonebook for the Web, but instead of phone numbers, the DNS indexes IP addresses. It makes the long strings of numbers that serve as authoritative addresses for websites easier to remember (i.e., http://www.opendns.com for the IP address 208.69.38.160). The DNS automatically looks up the IP address for the website the user wants to visit.

Before OpenDNS launched in 2005, most people simply used the IP translation service provided by their ISP or e-mail service. Today, more people rely on OpenDNS, which rather than operating as a profit center like ISPs, is focused on delivering the best possible DNS service in the world—without users having to buy any hardware or install any software. All it takes to start using it is to change the settings on your router and configure it to point to OpenDNS.

OpenDNS is more secure.

The key difference between DNS and OpenDNS is that the former can’t discriminate between good and bad IP addresses —between http://www.paypal.com, for example, and a forged clone site that’s designed to steal users’ personal data.

OpenDNS not only detects the difference, it even gives users tools to earmark what sites are acceptable and which should be blocked. This filtering mechanism prevents contact with malware, phishing and botnets regardless of application, protocol or port, providing Internet users with better protection than ever before.

OpenDNS even offers paid levels of security service for home and business customers. Home users, for example, can take advantage of the parental control functionality, using custom block lists and category-powered filtering for their home Internet connection. It’s easy to implement, too. There’s no client software to install and no signature updates to bother with. And the control function can be used to monitor every device that could possibly be used to access the Internet at home, so kids won’t be able to bypass the filters with their own computers or hand-held devices.

The business level subscription takes security even further, providing advanced logs, web access control for employees, rigorous malware and botnet prevention options, and website blocking.

OpenDNS is faster.

Thanks to a feature known as Anycast routing technology, OpenDNS ensures users always connect to the nearest datacenter location—not one that’s far away—so web pages load faster. And since it has the most comprehensive and current DNS caches on the Internet today—arguably the single most up-to-date repository for where everything is on the Web—OpenDNS can usually address any IP request without having to “ask” other DNS servers, which also speeds up response time.

OpenDNS is super reliable.

A “self-healing” network, designed to withstand pretty much any disruption to the system’s infrastructure, delivers the most reliable DNS service out there, bar none. Also, OpenDNS sites are connected to regional networks, which helps isolate traffic to that particular geographic area. This means an issue occurring in one particular region won’t impact another. Each site employs multiple telecom carriers to ensure redundancy, and a large cluster of servers constantly works to balance loads and prevent outages.

The Anycast routing infrastructure also helps make OpenDNS more reliable. Having an IP address spread across multiple datacenter locations increases the system’s overall resiliency. If a natural disaster or other unforeseen circumstance causes equipment to fail at one datacenter, all DNS requests can be automatically rerouted to the nearest location.

What’s next for OpenDNS?

With its vast global reach, technical expertise and leading-edge technologies, Cisco is well poised to take OpenDNS even further—particularly in the area of cybersecurity. According to David Goeckeler, senior vice president and general manager of, Cisco Security Business Group, the company intends to use the technology to achieve its core mission of “delivering pervasive security capabilities from the cloud…to provide security everywhere across the extended network, from data center to the cloud to mobile devices.”

“By integrating the OpenDNS platform with Cisco’s security solutions,” says Goeckeler, “customers will receive greater network visibility and threat intelligence for cloud delivered protection against malicious websites and threats…protection that is unmatched in the industry.”

With Cisco OpenDNS, cybersecurity is about to enter a new realm of possibility. Stay tuned for what promises to be exciting developments.


Web Filtering

June 10, 2016

The Importance of Web Filtering

IDC published a whitepaper in September 2015 that sheds considerable light on how cybersecurity issues are impacting IT infrastructure. http://www.cisco.com/c/dam/en/us/products/collateral/security/web-security-appliance/white-paper-IDC-tech-spotlight9-2015.pdf

With cybercriminals becoming increasingly sophisticated, security is an ongoing concern and top priority for enterprises of all sizes. Web-born attacks remain the primary means by which criminals gain access to sensitive corporate data and proprietary information. And the dynamic tech landscape—including the transition to SaaS- and cloud-based services and the explosive growth in the mobile workforce and social media—has made mitigating the risk more challenging than ever.

Proactive defense is a smart business strategy.

According to Cisco’s 2016 Annual Security Report, chief security officers and security operations managers are feeling less confident about their security infrastructure and the ability of their networks to thwart cyberattacks. However, the survey also indicates that enterprises are stepping up training and other security processes—looking beyond antivirus software, firewalls and fragmented security systems to improve their network security. http://www.cloudsecurityresource.com/topics/cloud-security/articles/416332-cisco-2016-annual-security-report-shows-enterprise-unease.htm

The latest trend is to build centralized security into the network infrastructure, a “threat-centric” model that supports proactive security measures like user authentication, privileged access and the ability to identify advanced security threats based on data from a variety of resources and to take measures to safeguard against them. Subscribing to the adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” companies are taking steps to detect security threats proactively to mitigate risks that could end up costing them millions of dollars and possibly their reputations later on.

A new crop of security solutions is emerging on the scene.

Networking vendors like Cisco are increasingly focused on the security market and developing solutions that support this unified defense strategy. The challenge, however, is providing solutions that allow companies to leverage their existing security investments as a framework for building a centralized security infrastructure.

One product, in particular, the Cisco Web Security Appliance (WSA) consolidates a variety of defensive capabilities in a single unit for ongoing protection. The Cisco WSA draws reconnaissance from Talos Security Intelligence and Research Group, the industry’s leading threat intelligence organization. Talos has the world’s largest threat-detection network, analyzing cyberthreats in real time across billions of sources, including networks, endpoints, mobile devices, virtual systems, and web and email.

Also integrated with Cisco Advanced Malware Protection (AMP) and Cisco Cognitive Threat Analytics (CTA), the Cisco WSA offers greater visibility and intelligence into malware and breaches that may be present in your network— identifying their severity and helping to prioritize the security response.

The Cisco WSA also gives you centralized control over how your users access the Internet. By identifying hundreds of applications and thousands of micro-applications, it allows your network administrators to earmark which applications and application features are allowed, restricted or blocked altogether. You can deploy web security wherever and whenever it’s required. And your users can still enjoy the benefits of cloud apps while your organization maintains stringent security policies before, during and after an attack.

The Cisco WSA can be configured for any-size organization: large enterprises (6000–12,000 users); midsize offices (1,500–6,000 users); and small businesses or satellite offices (up to 1,500 users).

Is IT security high on your priority list?

If it’s not, it should be—because security threats aren’t going way, and cybercriminals are more determined than ever.

Talk to the security specialists here at Next Dimension about how to make your organization more proactive about security and your network better protected against potential threats. We’ll help you determine a cost-effective and sensible plan of action—and then assist in implementing the technology you need to improve your threat readiness.


Videoconferencing

May 24, 2016

The importance of videoconferencing for midsize companies

When it was first introduced commercially in 1982, videoconferencing was a luxury that companies only aspired to. Today it is widely used for everything from high-level corporate meetings and briefing sessions to job interviews and performance reviews to sales pitches and product demos. Videoconferencing is no longer just for large enterprises with multiple locations and large tech budgets. It’s become a key productivity tool for businesses and organizations of any size—and in every industry—especially as workforces become increasingly mobile.

Videoconferencing cuts down on travel expenses—and unproductive travel time.

Why should employees spend unnecessary time in a car, train or airplane (and needless money on hotel rooms and meals) when they can simply hold a meeting in a conference room or even at their desks? While some in-person meetings simply can’t be avoided, especially for high-level executives, most travel can be eliminated through the use of videoconferencing technology. And by cutting down on the time wasted in travel, overall productivity goes way up.

Videoconferencing also prevents meeting delays. Traffic or airline delays can derail even the most carefully thought out meeting plans. With videoconferencing, your team will have no reason not to show up on time.

Videoconferencing improves the sales process.

Videoconferencing has been shown to shorten the sales cycle and result in faster decision-making, which means acceleration in revenue. You can involve executives and product specialists in conversations with customers earlier in the decision process. And you don’t have to wait until an executive or product expert is in the area before scheduling a meeting with the customer, which sometimes can take weeks or even months.

Wainhouse Research, based in Duxbury, Massachusetts, conducts ongoing research of videoconferencing in the workplace. In a 2013 survey of 4,700 respondents, more than 90 percent of the executives said the biggest benefit was increased efficiency and productivity, 88 percent cited greater impact of the discussions and 87 percent said that videoconferencing increased decision-making. Since virtual meetings often have a defined start and end time, due to people dialing in from different locations, the discussion tends to be more focused with less idle chitchat. http://www.gbh.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/wainhouse-the-real-benefits-of-video-wp-enus-2.pdf

Videoconferencing fosters collaboration and team building.

According to a study by U.K.-based Fraunhofer Institute, a globally recognized specialist in workplace collaboration technology, employees who work together using videoconferencing are more productive as a team with videoconferencing than with other collaboration tools.  81 percent of participants said that tasks via phone or email feel divided rather than united, while videoconferencing fosters genuine collaboration. 74 percent felt that decisions reached through videoconferencing seem more like joint decisions than those reached via phone or email. And 79 percent said videoconferencing communication is more effective because being able to see others enables longer concentration.
http://www.telepresenceoptions.com/2012/11/study_video-conferencing_ups_p/

What’s the right videoconferencing technology for your organization?

A variety of videoconferencing and collaboration solutions are now available—from hardware-based systems to software suites to virtualized systems—and choosing the right one is not an easy decision. Based on its ongoing findings and discussions with corporate executives, Wainhouse Research recommends that IT professionals look for videoconferencing equipment that’s easy for staffers to use and deploy. Otherwise, their companies won’t maximize their time efficiency—a primary reason for implementing videoconferencing in the first place. “The analogy I use is adults buy toys, but kids use them. The IT department tends to buy videoconferencing, but they’re not the people who use it,” says Andrew Davis, a senior partner at Wainhouse. “It may seem obvious, but it’s also the most overlooked aspect when you look at the reasons why these deployments are less than fully successful.”

Getting videoconferencing capabilities from the cloud.

Instead of installing expensive hardware, many midsize companies today are signing up for videoconferences delivered as cloud-based services. They find paying by the minute or a monthly fee for a cloud service is a better option than making large capital expenses. Bauer, an Austria-based wastewater and irrigation equipment manufacturer with 650 employees, has seen a 50% reduction in travel costs and a 30% increase in productivity since instituting cloud-based virtual meetings. http://www.cisco.com/c/dam/assets/global/AT/case_study/pdf/bauer-v4cs-final.pdf

Vendors like Cisco offer a variety of telepresence and cloud-based videoconferencing solutions, in various price ranges. It supports videoconferencing to and from the desktop, mobile devices and conference rooms—enabling more transparent and consistent collaborative experiences. The choice of what solution is right for you depends on how much you want to invest and how, and how often you plan to use videoconferencing in your daily operations.

If you’re looking for advice on what option is right for you, the experts at Next Dimension will be glad to help. Videoconferencing is a highly effective way to save time and money—and improve efficiency—and we’re here to help you make the most of this valuable business tool.


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