Six Things to Consider When Selecting an SD-WAN Solution

SD-WAN Solution

Software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) solutions are quickly gaining traction as a preferred way to connect users to their applications. And for good reason. As companies rely more and more on cloud-based applications and the internet, historic WAN architecture that sent traffic from branch locations to a data center at company headquarters no longer makes sense. It causes delays, degrades the performance of applications, and consumes expensive leased-line bandwidth.

As a result, more and more companies are making the move to an application-aware SD-WAN solution that uses software to more intelligently route traffic based on the business requirements for an application. If you’ve decided your business could benefit from an SD-WAN solution and you’re preparing to make the leap for your company, there are six critical things you need to keep in mind to select the best SD-WAN solution to suit your needs.

Architecture of the SD-WAN Solution

One major thing to consider when exploring SD-WAN solutions is whether you want a cloud-based, on premise, or combination architecture for your solution. With a cloud-based solution, there’s less hardware to manage. There’s usually no requirement to host a server onsite. Cloud-based solutions can be configured to receive automatic updates and feature upgrades. Companies that don’t have the trained staff or time to manage equipment might opt for a completely cloud-based solution.

Some people are more comfortable with a physical appliance they can touch, plug in, and manage. While cloud-based solutions are very secure, some customers feel physical on-premise devices offer more security. They like to have control of the physical devices and know what upgrades and updates are being applied to their network before they happen.

Customers sometimes ask us which option is best, but there isn’t a right-or-wrong answer to that question. We often find the best solutions blend both cloud-based and physical functionality. But it really depends on a number of factors that are specific to your company’s needs. So we have a series of questions we ask that help determine the architecture that will allow you to get the most out of your SD-WAN solution.

Network Security Provided by the SD-WAN

An SD-WAN is basically a solution that builds VPNs over some type of WAN connection so all sites can be connected together. When deploying this solution to connect to the public internet, you need to have security features built in. You need to select a platform that allows for the encryption methods and security elements that are important to you.

Many solutions, especially those that are cloud-based, provide software updates for security vulnerabilities. Cloud-based solutions keep up with security threats almost automatically. But it’s important you select a vendor you know is on top of their game with security updates. Many solutions also feature a licensable integrated advanced threat protection against malware and internet attacks. It’s also common for solutions to include an intrusion prevention system (IPS) and allow you to control where users can go on the internet.

When looking at physical solutions, it’s important to consider how difficult it will be to keep up with the security updates. While performing the actual update is typically a pretty small lift, if it causes an outage it introduces new headaches. Cloud-based solutions are always up.

SD-WAN Connectivity Bandwidth Specifications

What are your bandwidth needs today and how do you expect them to change in the next three to five years? It’s important to identify an SD-WAN solution that will grow to the specs of your future connectivity needs. Especially if you have locations in rural areas where there are limited options for WAN connections, you might need to look for solutions that have optimization and acceleration features built in. When you’re unable to get an optimal connection, these solutions will help you to get the most performance out of your available links.

You don’t want an appliance at a remote site to become a bottleneck. Every appliance has throughput specifications. It’s important to select an appliance that will be able to support you internet connection and have the ability to grow as your specs increase. It’s important to also determine how easy it is to add on new sites, and understand the equipment and licensing needs for them.

Cost Savings of SD-WAN Options

For some of our customers, cost savings is the most important consideration when choosing an SD-WAN solution. The primary cost benefit of utilizing SD-WAN is it enables you to use low cost public internet circuits instead of more expensive private internet circuits. Secure WAN activity can replace those traditional MPLS circuits, and you can create secure tunnels for traffic across public internet.

The lower cost means you can use two or more cheaper public internet circuits and have the same security with more paths. Using two public internet circuits is considerably more affordable than one private MPLS or fiber connection.  So if one WAN fails, you have backup connectivity. It’s a more affordable way to have always-on high-speed internet access.

This is becoming more important as the number of people working from home is at an all-time high. Many SD-WAN solutions offer an easy way to send an appliance out for users to work from home. They offer a smaller SD-WAN gateway meant for home users, allowing remote workers to plug into the internet and have all of the functionality they would have in the office.

Complexity of SD-WAN Management

It’s also important to consider the resources you have to manage your SD-WAN solution. You don’t want to chase bells and whistles you don’t need just to end up with a more complex network that requires more people and time than you have available.

While there are solutions available that can accomplish almost anything, many of our customers are looking to scale back the complexity and make the system easier to manage. So it’s important to consider the functionality you need versus what’s available. If you will be adding new sites to the network in the future, you may be interested in solutions that allow you to deploy zero-touch provisioning. As an admin, you can send the device to a new site, it can be plugged in, and it will register and configure itself and start working without any intervention from an IT technician. We typically recommend this for anyone with 10 or more sites to manage, or companies that are geographically spread out and don’t have IT support at all locations.

It’s important to note that the features customers need drive the complexity of their solution. More features will come with additional management complications. At a minimum, you need a solution that allows you to monitor the health of the network, receive notifications, and make day-to-day changes as needed. For more complex requirements, Applied Technologies often helps customers build profiles to make the infrastructure work. Prebuilt profiles make feature-rich solutions more manageable for on-site tier 2 or 3 engineers to manage.

Automated Traffic Routing Needs

One of the most advantageous features of an SD-WAN solution is the ability to automatically route traffic across different WAN connections based on congestion and network performance. The SD-WAN can be utilized to automatically use the best connection for the most critical traffic and lower quality connections or less critical traffic, like guest access for instance. Most SD-WAN solutions can do this, but some are better than others and can monitor and respond to traffic in real time. These self-learning systems can allow you to configure policies that ensure critical traffic is always guaranteed a certain amount of bandwidth, and what’s left over is fair game for other traffic.

Traditional WANs can accomplish this, but not very easily. SD-WAN turns a very manual and time-consuming process into a simple task with dashboards that show you how the solution is working and how traffic is being used.

Make the Right Decision for You with Applied Technologies

As your partner in deploying an SD-WAN solution, Applied Technologies can help you make the right decisions for your organization’s needs. We meet you where you are on your SD-WAN journey, listen to your concerns and unique circumstances, and help you find and implement the solution that will provide the greatest impact. Whether you’ve already made up your mind on what you need or you’re just getting started, Applied Technologies can architect and deliver a solution to get you where you need to be. Reach out to our team today to start the conversation.

Three Reasons to Upgrade Your School Security Cameras

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From an elementary school laying the basic foundation of lifelong development to a university where the next generation of leaders is preparing to make their impact on the world, the primary focus of every educational campus is to provide an environment for learning.

To create that environment, there are a number of basic needs that must be met first, including safety. To focus on learning and teaching, the students, instructors, and staff who enter the environment every day need to know their safety is a priority. Over the years, that’s led to a number of technological advancements in schools, including the use of school security cameras.

As is the case with all technology, security camera technology has come a long way since its first inception. Today, many campuses are still using legacy equipment that isn’t living up to the standard of what’s possible. As a result, physical servers are being bogged down, bandwidth is depleted, and there’s too much intervention required from an already overtaxed IT team. These are just a few of the signs your video surveillance system is due for an upgrade.

In this blog, we’re going to explore why many educational institutions are taking advantage of new technology in school security cameras from our technology partner Verkada to ensure safer environments for learners, instructors, and other staff.

Reason #1: Simpler to Set Up and Use

If you remember the installation of your current video security system, the headaches and time required to get it into place might be your primary objection to replacing it. With the Verkada system, you no longer need network or digital video recorders. As a cloud-based solution, Verkada school security cameras are brought online instantly with a single ethernet cable. There are no technical configurations or downloads required.

Better yet, the Verkada system eliminates the IT team’s role as middleman. Footage is directly accessible by the school administrators who need it, without IT intervention. If an incident needs to be reviewed by a principal, they have searchable access to the footage at their fingertips. Authorized users can quickly access and share footage with other authorized users on any device. As a result, both academic and IT staff are spending less time on security management and more time focused on student success and well-being.

Reason #2: Infinite Scalability in Your School Security Cameras

Verkada’s school security systems are designed to grow as your needs change. Their cloud-based nature eliminates the need for dedicated physical server space. That means if your district or campus builds a new building, security surveillance can be added to the system without compromising performance elsewhere. If there’s a need for cameras that wasn’t previously identified or accounted for, adding a camera to the system is as simple as finding an open ethernet port.

Whether you’re deploying 10 cameras or 300, you will have reliable access to high-quality video surveillance without an excessive investment of cost or time.

Reason #3: Eliminate Manual Updates and Minimize Vulnerability

Security is a game of evolving standards. Today’s best practices could be exposed as vulnerabilities tomorrow. So “set it and forget it” doesn’t really work. With traditional CCTV security systems, there are always firmware and software updates that someone must stay on top of and install to ensure the security system is living up to the latest changes and standards.

Verkada’s school security systems do away with manual updates and open ports that create vulnerability. The Verkada school security solution deploys the highest encryption standards and security enhancements automatically and at no added cost, ensuring you are always up-to-date with the latest in security regulations and policy.

Applied Technologies is Creating Safer Schools

The Applied Technologies team knows that reliable, scalable, and accessible video surveillance is essential to providing an effective environment for learning. That’s why we partner with Verkada to implement cloud-based video security solutions to schools in the communities we serve.

If you’re ready to explore your options, or even have questions about the technology and capabilities available, lean on our team as your go-to resource. Contact us today at 314-274-8000 or sales@appliedtech.pro to take the first steps to a more secure campus with school security cameras from Verkada.

French Gerleman, Parent Company of Applied Technologies, Merges with IAC Supply Solutions

July 1, 2021: ST. LOUIS, MO – Applied Technologies, a St. Louis-based provider of advanced technology system integration solutions, has announced that parent company French Gerleman has merged with Memphis-based IAC Supply Solutions to create a $250 million industrial automation and electrical supply distributor. The combined company will operate under the name Agilix Solutions, and will be headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri.

Beginning July 1, 2021, Applied Technologies is now an Agilix Solutions company. In addition to serving clients’ networking, data center and security needs, Applied Technologies will also work with Agilix to support customers’ industrial automation and industrial networking projects across 13 branches in Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.

“For more than 30 years, Applied Technologies has worked hand-in-hand with customers to advance their productivity and security initiatives and reach their strategic goals through technology,” said Krista Salvatore, Vice President, General Manager of Applied Technologies. “Our team of professionals has a great deal of experience and decades of insight into industrial networks, allowing us to address today’s needs while anticipating the needs of the future in this ever-evolving space. We look forward to furthering our work through Agilix Solutions’ expanded regional presence.”

Salvatore will continue in her role as Vice President, General Manager of Applied Technologies. French Gerleman President Mike Stanfill will serve as CEO of Agilix Solutions, with Darrell Smith serving as President.

“Applied Technologies has been a key service provider since the 1980s, supporting customers as they develop and implement large-scale, enterprise-wide networking projects,” said Stanfill. “The shift to a truly Connected Enterprise requires not only IoT devices, but also secure communication and analytics to address key business needs such as quality control, efficiency, and safety. The team at Applied Technologies understands these issues and has a longstanding history of successful implementations. Their expertise in this area will help us best serve our customers and support Agilix’s growth initiatives.”

More information about French Gerleman and IAC Supply Solutions, as well as the merger, can be found online at GoAgilix.com.

About Applied Technologies
Headquartered in St. Louis, MO, Applied Technologies, an Agilix Solutions technology company, is an advanced technology systems integration company that designs, builds and implements customized technology solutions for real-world business needs. Founded in 1988, Applied Technologies helps manufacturing, distribution, commercial/enterprise, hospitality/gaming, healthcare, medical cannabis, financial and education industries achieve their digital transformation goals and objectives by partnering with leading industry technology providers such as Aruba/HPE, Cisco, Microsoft, NetApp, Nimble Storage, Rockwell Automation and VMWare.

About Agilix Solutions:
Agilix is one of the 50 largest electrical supply distributors in the United States, and a leading distributor of products and services to the industrial, commercial and construction markets. Founded in 2021 through the merger of French Gerleman and IAC Supply Solutions, the company has longstanding partnerships with manufacturers such as Rockwell Automation, nVent Hoffman, Panduit, ABB, Southwire, Siemens, Hubbell, Acuity Brands, 3M, Mersen, and many other top manufacturers of automation, electrical, datacom, power transmission, safety, industrial supply, lighting and solar solutions.

Disaster Recovery Planning: Are You Prepared for the Worst?

Disaster Recovery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How important is a disaster recovery plan? According to FEMA, 40% of all businesses who experience a disaster never reopen their doors. And 25% of the ones that do fail within a year. Most every company today has a data footprint. That data needs to live somewhere and be protected. A documented disaster recovery plan is a lot like an insurance policy. You hope you never need it. But you are sure glad you have it when you do.

Most large companies have a disaster recovery plan in place. However, many small to mid-sized businesses either don’t have one or are operating with one that doesn’t provide the level of protection they need. There are many events that could put your data at risk, some more obvious than others. But each of them has the potential to cause problems. The most common risks to your data include:

  • Human error
  • Malicious employee behavior
  • Hardware failure
  • Natural disasters
  • Power failure
  • Ransomware
  • Cybercrime

Regardless of the cause, disaster is a major threat to your data and business continuity. That’s why disaster recovery plans are so critical. Let’s explore the factors you need to consider when deciding on a solution and detail how Applied Technologies helps companies develop, implement, and test data recovery plans for long-term protection.

Weighing Your RPO and RTO

One of the most common hesitations businesses have with developing a disaster recovery plan is the cost. They struggle to prioritize budget for something they might never need. But there is a broad spectrum of disaster recovery solutions available on the market today. Compared to the data and financial loss they could incur in a disaster, a well-implemented plan would more than pay for itself if it were needed just once over the life of a business. And even if it’s never needed, the peace of mind that comes with having it takes one less stress off their shoulders so they can focus on running the business.

The extent of your disaster recovery plan and the cost associated with it are heavily weighted by two factors: your recovery point objective (RPO) and your recovery time objective (RTO). Your RPO is the point in history you need to go back to for data recovery. Your RTO is how quickly your business needs to be back up and functioning. While a financial institution might have very stringent needs for a long RPO and a quick RTO, a retail store might have more flexibility and the solution and cost would reflect that.

The Disaster Recovery Planning Process

Applied Technologies’ data recovery planning process starts with a complete assessment of your current infrastructure. We want to determine the amount of data you’re backing up, how long you need to retain that data, and how often you need to perform a backup. We’ll ask the right questions to help establish your RPO and RTO. Once we know what you need, we work with our technology partners to implement the right solution for your organization. We get your backups going on a recurring basis, document the plan including screenshots of what you would see in a disaster recovery situation, and set up a plan for annual testing. Technology is ever changing, and new challenges arise every day.  In many cases, we serve as a long-term partner for customers, managing their annual testing.

Disasters do not discriminate, and they rarely happen at a time when it’s convenient for you. So we deliver your plan in both a hard copy version that can sit on a shelf in your server room, and a digital version you can store in a secure location. This ensures that even if key IT personnel are not present at the time of the disaster, there are step-by-step instructions for other employees to follow to recover the system.

Why We Partner with Veeam for Disaster Recovery

Veeam is a company we commonly partner with in the development of disaster recovery solutions for customers. They are a software company with a hardware-agnostic approach to disaster recovery. Their solutions work on whichever hardware and server products you choose to use.

One of the biggest things that sets Veeam apart is their Microsoft 365 backup solution. Many companies using Microsoft 365 believe their data is protected from disaster because it is a cloud-based solution. Unfortunately, we’ve met with companies who had to find out the hard way that wasn’t the case. For more information on the data that is and isn’t protected by Microsoft, and how Veeam provides protection and access for all your Microsoft 365 business data we suggest checking out their Veeam Backup for Microsoft 365 whitepaper.

Protect the Irreplaceable with Applied Technologies and Veeam

Operating a business with an inadequate plan (or no plan at all) for disaster recovery is gambling with incredibly high stakes. If this article has left you feeling unsure how prepared your business is for a disaster, contact Applied Technologies. We will provide an honest assessment of your current vulnerabilities and a clear plan for overcoming them with a carefully architected plan utilizing the latest in data recovery technology from Veeam and our other disaster recovery technology partners.

Scaling Infrastructure in the Cloud: Scale Up or Scale Out?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most attractive benefits of cloud computing for companies is the ability to scale their IT infrastructure. Scaling, in the context of the cloud, refers to a company’s ability to adapt its IT resources to meet changing demand. The cloud allows companies to scale data storage, networking, and processing power using their existing infrastructure, with minimal disruption and downtime.

 

In this blog, we are going to examine two common methods for cloud scaling: scale up and scale out. We’ll explore indicators of a need for scalable solutions, the difference between the two options, and important considerations you need to keep in mind when making the decision.

Signs it’s Time to Scale

If you’re currently operating in a on-premise server or cloud environment, there are a number of scenarios that can drive your need to scale your network’s capabilities:

  • Performance: The first and most obvious symptom of a cloud infrastructure in need of expansion IT resources is performance. If your website is hosted on an overtaxed server for instance, load times can be negatively affected. Studies have shown that 46% of users don’t revisit websites that perform poorly and just a 1-second delay in load time can reduce customer satisfaction by 16%.
  • Maintenance Requirement: Perhaps your server is performing great, but your network requires some sort of maintenance work. If you only have one server, maintenance equals costly outages. Scaling additional resources can dedicate one node to do the maintenance while another handles the workload.
  • Seasonal Fluctuations: If you operate in a market that sees significant seasonal changes in demand, scaling can help you temporarily add resources to meet it and remove them when they’re no longer needed.
  • Development need: If your company is undertaking a significant development project with a dedicated team of programmers and developers, spinning up additional cloud resources to dedicate infrastructure capacity to that team can help to ensure the rest of the business resources don’t take a hit.
Scaling Up vs. Scaling Out

The cloud provides companies with the ability to be nimble from an IT infrastructure perspective. As resource needs change, you can quickly adapt. But there’s more than one way to do it.

Scaling up refers to adding additional resources, like memory, hard drives, and CPUs to your existing physical server. Scaling out, on the other hand, refers to adding additional servers to the system to spread the workload across more machines, increasing capacity and performance.

Scaling up is often the solution of choice for meeting seasonal demand. It is also an ideal solution for organizations with a relatively small dataset, who don’t expect that data to grow exponentially in the next three to five years. It involves fewer resources and is typically the less expensive route to take.

If you are managing data for a larger organization with 30 terabytes or more of backup data or are expecting significant growth in the years to come, scaling out is the better option.

Depending on the resources available in your organization, you may or may not be able to dedicate someone to manually monitor usage and make scaling decisions in real time. Autoscaling allows your cloud environment to anticipate surges in business activity or unexpected traffic and take action automatically. Autoscaling is more typical in large enterprises, where the cloud is harder to manage because there are more resources housed in it. Smaller companies with less dramatic fluctuations in demand are usually able to manage scaling manually.

Risks and Challenges of Scaling Without the Cloud

As available technological capabilities grow, the volume of resources needed to support them grows as well. It’s important to consider the business impact of not having enough resources available when you need them. If you’re currently managing everything with on-premise servers, you’re likely already seeing some of the limitations. With a cloud-based infrastructure, upgrades that used to take two to three months to complete can be done in a few clicks of a mouse.

The decision of how to scale for the unique needs of your company is an important one. You must take into consideration what you need from an application perspective and the strengths and weaknesses of various cloud providers to avoid overpaying for resources you don’t or won’t need. Business priorities change over time and sometimes seemingly unrelated decisions can affect your needs. It’s important that you continuously monitor shifts in demand for cloud resources, and adapt accordingly to ensure you’re getting the maximum ROI from your investment.

Which Scaling Direction is Right for You?

Applied Technologies works with clients to evaluate the performance of their  data storage and compute infrastructure, understand challenges and issues they are facing, and present options tailored to overcoming them. We then partner with companies like NetApp, Cisco, VMware, Unitrends, and Veeam to develop a solution to help clients scale their infrastructure from where they are with their cloud capabilities to where they want to be. If you’re ready to explore a more scalable IT infrastructure, contact Applied Technologies to get the conversation started.

 

The Five Biggest Business Benefits of Utilizing SD-WAN

SD-WAN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For many years, traditional wide area network (WAN) technology has been the standard for IT, voice, and data networking in organizations of all kinds. WANs connect local area networks in multiple office locations together through routers and virtual private networks. As the demand for cloud activity in business has increased traditional WANs have struggled to keep up, resulting in performance issues and reduced productivity.

 

To solve for these issues, many organizations are considering replacing traditional WANs with software defined WAN (SD-WAN) solutions. While traditional WAN infrastructure is hardware-defined on individual devices, SD-WAN solutions allow organizations to set policies in one centralized location and push them out to all devices on a network. A centralized virtual controller defines how traffic on the network is routed.

SD-WAN offers considerable benefits to organizations attempting to manage complex data networking requirements. In this blog, we’ll explore five big reasons your organization should consider making the switch to SD-WAN.

 

SD-WAN Improves Network Performance

One of the biggest benefits of implementing SD-WAN is drastically improved network performance. Different types of traffic respond differently to network performance. Voice and video data, often referred to as real time data, can become choppy if the network is too bogged down. Realtime data requires reliable connections.

With an SD-WAN solution, policies are predefined and centrally located. Instead of configuring policies individually on branch equipment, they’re set in one central location and pushed out to branch controllers. An SD-WAN solution allows your organization to automatically steer traffic based on network conditions to identify more reliable and efficient routes for high performance traffic.

Solve Network Complexity Issues with SD-WAN

Traditional WAN systems were not designed to do what they’re tasked with in most organizations today. As our needs have evolved, these systems have become increasingly large, complex, and difficult to manage with multiple layers of connectivity. Policies must be defined and configured individually for every single branch link.  If an organizational security change occurs, policies also must be updated on each of those branch links.

SD-WAN solutions drastically simplify WAN management. The centralized controller serves as a single pane of glass, or portal, into the performance of the entire network. All policies are managed from a central location and pushed down to branch equipment. Traffic can be easily monitored and rerouted. Troubleshooting also becomes significantly easier. Instead of needing to physically check individual pieces of equipment when issues arise, SD-WAN gives your team an understanding of the network from one portal, without needing to get on edge devices.

Automation and Zero-Touch Provisioning to Improve Efficiency

Before SD-WAN, deploying connectivity to branch sites required a lot of manual upfront configurations. For many IT teams, that meant a lot of employee hours provisioning routers and going on site to complete device configuration. If you need to deploy a configuration change at sixty different sites with a traditional WAN solution, that means you need to touch every site to deploy it.

Most SD-WAN solution offerings have self-provisioning baked in. As a result, configuration is pulled from the central controller and branch equipment doesn’t require as much individual configuration. Devices can be plugged in at branch locations with no configuration, and the device automatically checks in with the network and is configured accordingly. Setting up a branch location, which used to take days from a network perspective, can often be done in about 20 minutes with an SD-WAN solution.

Reduce the Costs of Your WAN Configuration

WAN usage always comes with a price tag. The greater the requirements for reliability and security, the higher the cost. Most organizations with a traditional WAN solution use a private MPLS connection, which offers a great deal of reliability and security. But it can also come at a significant expense.

SD-WAN solutions often reduce the cost required for a WAN configuration. Instead of depending on high-cost connections like MPLS circuits, SD-WAN can utilize affordable broadband public internet circuits to build a reliable and secure connection. If you’re located in an area without access to reliable internet connectivity, an MPLS connection may not even be an option. SD-WAN opens organizations like yours up to alternative connectivity options.

SD-WAN Delivers Flexibility and High Availability

Traditional WAN networks can only route traffic through a single connection. If you were receiving a telecommunications connection from one internet provider, and they had issues, you had issues too.

An SD-WAN solution can actively use and integrate a wide variety of connections and multiple forms of traffic into the WAN infrastructure. If you want to continue to utilize your MPLS connection for specific types of traffic, for instance, you can. You can also integrate connections from multiple telecommunications companies. Utilizing multiple connections, you can set policies for which networks specific data types use. Traffic can be directed based on policies, or circuits can be integrated to serve strictly as a backup. Additional connections can easily scale to your organization’s pool of SD-WAN resources.

If versatility and a consistent, reliable connection matter, SD-WAN can help you achieve it.

Applied Technologies Can Help

There are a wide variety of SD-WAN solutions, ranging from simple to complex, depending on your unique circumstances and needs. Applied Technologies works with clients to identify, configure, and implement a tailored SD-WAN solution to help your organization get the most from the benefits outlined in this article.

In addition, we offer training to help your staff manage the network with limited third-party involvement. Traditionally if your team didn’t have the expertise to do configurations, you needed to bring someone in to make them. While we’re still available to support you when needed, with the appropriate training a SD-WAN solution will allow you to bring more expertise in house.

When you’re ready to realize the benefits outlined in this blog, make Applied Technologies your first call. Our team will work with you directly to understand the complexities of your network requirements and implement an SD-WAN solution suited specifically to your needs.

 

Is it Time to Upgrade Your School’s Security System?

Verkada School Security

 

Over the past two decades, there’s been an evolution in the role of school district technology directors and their teams. School technology teams today find themselves responsible for installing and maintaining systems and software, managing complex networks, and performing help desk duties.

 

As the Internet of Things (IoT) has become a standard in schools, IT teams are now managing an even broader set of responsibilities like network-connected HVAC systems and security systems. 

 

Unfortunately, staff and budgets haven’t necessarily grown at the same rate as the responsibilities of the school’s technology team. As a result, teams are trying to identify solutions to help them do more with fewer people. One area where they’re looking to gain efficiency is in school security. In this article, we’ll detail the four signs it’s time to upgrade your school’s video security system and talk through how Applied Technologies and our solutions partner Verkada can help you free up time and budget for other activities. 

“We’re working closely with thousands of school districts to not only deliver a video security solution that is making campuses safer, but one that also solves for additional non-safety related challenges educational leaders face,” shared Jeff Chase, Product Marketing at Verkada.

Sign 1:
The School Security System Can’t Do Its Job Without IT Intervention

When there’s an incident in one of the schools in your district, and someone needs to access video footage, what does that look like for your team? If you’re like many of the technology directors we talk to, it requires someone sifting through hours of footage to identify the incident. Once you do find the footage you need, there are additional complications getting it into a useful medium, and very rigid requirements for which devices it can be viewed on. 

If the above scenario sounds all too familiar, it’s a sure sign that you’re due for an upgrade that will eliminate the need for you and your team to play the role of middleman between principals and vice principals, and their security cameras. One of the biggest benefits of Verkada’s cloud-based video security solution is that it allows end users to get to the footage they need on their own, from any connected device, and find that footage in seconds. Users can be trained on the mobile app in a matter of minutes, freeing up your team for other high priority tasks.  

Sign 2:
Your Security System is Depleting Bandwidth District-Wide

A major problem we see with traditional school video security systems is bandwidth. In many districts, video flows to one central server hub at the district office. That means large video files are flowing through each school’s network and then onto a fiber connection between each school and the district. The result, as you’ve likely experienced, is a depleted bandwidth district-wide.   

You need a video security system in your schools, but you can’t slow down everything else in the name of security. The cloud-based nature of Verkada’s school security systems removes large video files from your local network, opening up bandwidth and ensuring smooth operation throughout your district.  

Sign 3:
Making Changes to the System is a Difficult and Time-Consuming Process

Imagine there is an issue of theft at one of your schools, in an area where there are no video cameras installed. The principal calls with a request to move a camera to provide visibility for the area where the theft is taking place. How complicated of a process would that be with your existing school security system? If it’s like many of the systems in place in school districts across the country, there’s no such thing as a “quick change.”

Verkada’s solutions allow cameras to quickly and easily be relocated if a need arises. As long as there’s an available ethernet port, a camera can be uninstalled from one location and reinstalled in another in less than ten minutes. 

Sign 4:
There’s No Clear Ownership of Security Budget  

Who owns the budget for your district’s shared video security solution today? If you have multiple schools sharing the same hard drive to store video data, who is responsible for repairs, upgrades, and add-ons? Too often, shared IT teams are expected to shoulder that bill. Your team likely doesn’t have time to change the hard drives, let alone money set aside to pay for them. 

Verkada’s solution removes the need for expensive video storage, allowing technology directors to centrally manage the system, while allocating costs specifically to the schools for the equipment they’re using. Principals in each school have a direct relationship with the video security system, and IT can be completely removed from the financial responsibility discussion when spending decisions are made.     

There Is a Better Way to Manage Your School’s Video Security System

Applied Technologies has a better approach to installing and managing your school security needs. We partner with Verkada to implement cloud-based school video security solutions and eliminate the need for dedicated servers and bogged down networks. They put access to footage directly in the hands of the principals and vice principals who need it, from any device, using a simple and easy-to-operate app. 

“We are excited to be partnered with the experts at Applied Technologies to help IT teams at schools better manage their physical security systems,” says Rob Marwanga, Head of Partner Marketing at Verkada. 

If you’re ready to optimize the performance of your school security system and free up time, money, and bandwidth, contact us at 314-274-8000 or sales@appliedtech.pro to start the conversation.  

Photo: Provided by Verkada 

Strategic Network Design: When Good Enough isn’t Good Enough Anymore

Network

 

In most manufacturing facilities, there is a point person everyone turns to for their shop floor network needs. When a new device needs to be plugged in, a change needs to be made, or a problem is encountered, they rely on their de facto architect and keeper of the Frankenstein Network. For the purposes of this article, let’s call him Tom.

 

Tom possesses a mental catalog of the devices included, what has been added over the years, and what not to do when it comes to the network. When a snafu occurs, he’s likely to know how to untangle it in the moment. Tom has overseen the growth of the network over the years, and has supported business requirements as new devices and systems have been added. Tom’s a great guy, and everyone on the shop floor has come to rely on him over the years for issues related to their operational technology (OT).

Although Tom has great deal of knowledge about the inner workings of the shop floor network and knows all the reasons why the environment is the way it is, Tom may be the first to tell you that while he has a handle on the operation of the network today, there really isn’t an overarching, top-down strategy for designing, managing, ensuring the security, integrating OT and IT, and scaling the network into the future. And by the way, Tom is scheduled to retire in less than two years, taking all of his network knowledge away with him.

This is a scenario that we at Applied Technologies see playing out in manufacturing facilities every day. Many of these companies are looking to seek a more strategic approach, to have a deliberate design for their network for better management and scalability to help bridge the gap between IT and OT which can allow organizations to reach their goals. Companies looking for a strategic network design are the companies that will be the industry leaders of tomorrow.

 

The Journey to Strategic Network Design

It may seem like an overwhelming task, but the Applied Technologies team employs an organized and systematic process to pick you up wherever you are in your journey. The most successful implementations involve the following steps:

1. Alignment across the organization

There is a common belief that the shop floor network is strictly an engineering and operations technology department function. You select the devices and programs that will keep your plant floor operations running.

Today companies, have recognized that both their operational and informational technology teams can play a critical role in reaching key business goals. It’s a top-down approach in which leadership establishes the objectives, assembles a team to develop the right strategies, and rallies the organization around the achievement of these objectives. In essence, it’s a big culture shift which aligns functions, such as OT and IT, which traditionally are held in separate silos. When leadership conveys the vision and successfully builds these alliances to leverage the valuable data that exists on the shop floor with the top floor, the results can be quite powerful.

2. The Network Assessment

To know where you’re going, you must first know where you are (and embrace the idea of starting where you are). Applied Technologies makes this possible through the Network Assessment. Through this process, you’ll learn the actual, real-time state of your shop floor network:

  • A catalogue of all devices on your network
  • Various software running
  • A basic analysis of your network traffic
  • A topology of how the network is currently, setup and configured
  • A list of low, medium, and high problem areas
  • Existing segmentation, if any

In most cases, the person in charge of the network is surprised to learn everything that he or she didn’t realize is occurring on the network. There may be unknown devices, outdated pieces of software, and even a great deal more traffic than originally anticipated. Regardless, the assessment gives us a baseline to begin identifying a plan for the future – starting exactly where you are and phasing it in as budgets and plant capacity allows.  It’s the stepping stone to ultimately achieving Manufacturing 2.0 or IoT.

3. The Security Assessment

Every business is a target for a security breach, and manufacturing facilities are no different. Any breach can cause a disruption in operations, and some can spell disaster for the company involved. Furthermore, a manufacturing company can find itself at greater risk due to the Frankenstein network. This ad hoc network approach can create a wide range of vulnerabilities and exposure.  It can be as simple as outdated software versions or unintentional access points in the network design or architecture.  Other challenges can quickly arise when there is no cohesive plan for the network.

A Security Assessment from Applied Technologies follows a two-pronged approach:

  • The Diagnostic Assessment… we’ll plug a special diagnostic apparatus into your system to identify issues and specify which components may be in need of attention. This helps us get a quick snapshot, with hard, real-time data, of the status of your network function and vulnerabilities.
  • Analysis… we’ll dig deep to fact find, learn about your goals and concerns, examine your workflow, and develop a comprehensive report to calculate your risk score, present the vulnerabilities that exist by area and device, highlight deviations from industry standards on network accessibility, and more. Our reports are customized for each Applied Technologies client.

The final report serves as a blueprint for implementation of security measures that will help protect against a breach and integrate seamlessly into your overall network design and strategy.

4. Strategic Network Design Plan

It’s typically not realistic to overhaul an entire shop floor network at once. That’s why the Applied Technologies team creates a plan that will prioritize the various areas of your network and build them into manageable segments, until we’ve covered all the ground.

  • Segmentation: As we examine the shop floor and all of the processes that make up the operations, we can begin to identify where walls must be constructed within the network. Segmentation is driven by processes, so a picture emerges that allows us to see which areas should be addressed first versus which are more long-term endeavors.
  • Organization: Applied Technologies follows a defined process for organizing the network, labeling the various connections and components so that it’s easy to identify which process, which line, or even which building each piece lives in.
  • Deployment: One-by-one, and based on the plan we’ve developed, the migration of devices from the existing, flat network to a newly created and segmented environment will begin.
  • Network Topology/Blueprint: Applied Technologies will develop a new network topology of how everything should be connected based on findings from the assessment phase
  • Deployment Process: Applied will work to develop a phased approach on the best way to start implementing the new network topology.
  • Management: Because everything that exists on the network is organized and well documented, managing and troubleshooting the network becomes simplified and much more efficient. When there is a problem, it’s isolated to its appropriate segment, so you know exactly where to find it. In this environment, impact to other areas of the plant if something goes wrong (or if there is a security breach) is minimized. When a new device or connection needs to be added, there is a process in place to identify it and document the change.

 

The Impact of Strategic Network Design

Once we roll out the first segment, the effects are quickly felt. That portion of the shop floor network runs smoothly, like a well-tuned car on a freshly paved highway. You probably didn’t really notice the chugs in the engine or the ruts on the road that developed over time. But once they’re gone, it’s a completely different experience. It leaves you anxious to pave the next stretch so that you can continue your journey in a better place.

But that better place isn’t just for your comfort and convenience. That better place is what will facilitate the achievement of your company’s goals through efficiency and the harnessing of valuable data from the shop floor. This is where your industry’s leaders of tomorrow are operating, and you can too.

Applied Technologies is ready to help you begin your journey. Get better insight into your shop floor network. Create a more efficient, organized and secure network environment. Be a leader in your space. For more information, please call us at 314-274-8000 or contact us at sales@appliedtech.pro.

 

Propel Your Business into the Future with a Network Assessment from Applied Technologies

 

The Frankenstein Network

 

Most of us are familiar with the story of Dr. Frankenstein, a determined young chemist who brings a creature to life that’s not quite what he intended to create. While his intentions were good, the ultimate reality of his creation brought a host of unintended consequences.

 

At Applied Technologies, we’re often reminded of Dr. Frankenstein and his creation when we examine plant floor networks.

 

The Current State of The Plant Floor Network

Building a plant floor network and adding components along the way isn’t quite as straightforward as it may seem. Like Dr. Frankenstein, those on the plant floor know all of the fundamentals and have a pretty good grasp on the various switches and components that are plugged in. However, there is a lot going on behind the scenes that isn’t immediately obvious to those who are in charge of managing the system. These things can impact the operation of the network in other areas and result in unexpected situations. In fact, when we plug in to get a handle on the traffic moving through the plant floor network, it’s often astonishing. Most don’t have a full understanding of how much traffic is moving at any one given time, or a full inventory of everything they’re dealing with.

What causes this high volume of traffic? We’ve found that most industrial networks have been built in a flat, open manner with components plugged in over a span of decades as additional functionality is required. Everything is running on the same highway, and all machines can see every other machine on the network. It’s a situation that isn’t necessarily “broken” – like Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, it can “walk and talk” – but it sure does leave the door open for problems. Think of the 1,000-plus devices that are plugged into your network. When left to play in the same space, they not only can cause unintended consequences for other devices on your network, they can open up security issues that you may not be aware of.

If this sounds like your plant floor network, you’re not alone. And if you’re inclined to think that this isn’t applicable to your network (everything is working, so it’s fine!), you may be surprised to learn what’s happening behind the scenes. In fact, an ad-hoc, “Frankenstein” network is the norm in most situations. The Applied Technologies team has worked with industrial clients for more than 30 years to build and maintain organized, efficient networks. The process begins with a comprehensive Network Assessment.

 

When You Should Start to Consider a Network Assessment

Companies understand the need for more efficient design and management of their networks. They are looking for greater efficiency, increased security, and the ability to leverage data to progress towards their overall business objectives. The Frankenstein network doesn’t work for them. It won’t drive them to the future or allow them to excel in a competitive environment.

Many customers begin thinking about the health of their network at key points of their existence. Perhaps they have a new device or switch that needs to be plugged in. Maybe there is a piece of software or hardware that’s due for an upgrade.  Regardless, in most cases, they don’t have a strategic plan or full picture of the network. Some know this, and others don’t. We’ve found that there are four predominant mindsets in the management of plant floor networks:

  • The unaware … these are the folks that live in bliss. Their network is working, so everything must be OK.
  • The confident … those who believe they know exactly what is happening in their network, and what will happen when that next device is plugged in.
  • The worriers … they know something catastrophic will happen one day, and they’re anticipating the pain that they’ll go through when it does. They pray every time a new device is plugged in that nothing will go wrong.
  • The duct tape masters … they’ve become the experts of putting in a little patch here and there to keep things running. In most cases, duct tape masters have been around for a long time, and no one really knows where all their patches are. Which may be OK today, but when they retire or leave the company, they take that knowledge with them.

The Network Assessment from Applied Technologies is the primary step in pulling back the curtain on your plant floor network. Through this process, we can show the unaware and the confident all the things they may not know. We give comfort to the worriers and identify all the patches made by the duct tape masters over the years. Our goal is to help our customers build their networks so they can be efficient, productive, and excel in their industries.

 

The Network Assessment covers the following areas:

  • Network traffic analysis
  • Inventory of all devices, switches and hardware installed on the system
  • Security assessment to identify vulnerabilities
  • Network stability
  • Recommendations for network segmentation

With the insights delivered through the Network Assessment, you’ll be able to make informed decisions about how to scale your network moving forward, how to get the greatest level of efficiency, stability and security, and how you can begin to leverage smart manufacturing in your business.

Every company can benefit from a Network Assessment.  It really doesn’t matter your company size, number of years in business or your industry.  No company is immune to problems if they don’t have a well-designed and documented network.

Don’t wait until something breaks to assess your network. Contact Applied Technologies today at 636.274.8000 or sales@appliedtech.pro, and start seeing the benefits of moving away from a Frankenstein network. Once you uncover the possibilities, you’ll experience a great, worry-free ride.

NetApp HCI Meets Public Clouds to Simplify Storage and Processing

 

In order to compete in today’s business environment, companies strive to identify ways to simplify processes to create efficiencies and speed up their go-to-market time.  While there are many process and technology enhancements that can contribute, there is a fundamental way that organizations of all types and sizes can change the way they approach their IT infrastructure – that solution is hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), taken to the next level with NetApp Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure (HCI).

 

NetApp HCI is a revolutionary way to manage data and applications leveraging an on-premise cloud environment. NetApp HCI has changed the traditional model of hybrid cloud storage and made it possible for a company to have a system that combines on-premise and cloud functionality in the three major public Clouds.  It serves as the fabric that holds all of the pieces of your overall architecture together, allowing for seamless movement of data and workflows from one to the next, and back again.

 

How is NetApp HCI fundamentally different?

A NetApp HCI can scale compute and storage independently. Users now have the power to run applications and maintain efficient storage space needed for the workloads. Previous HCI architectures combined those capabilities, which consumed valuable resources both from an infrastructure perspective and a financial one. The traditional architecture was clumsy; NetApp HCI streamlines infrastructure solutions and makes application environment options simpler and more efficient.

A user can mix and match different storage nodes without making any changes at the compute layer and vice versa. This is incredibly powerful when it comes to expanding storage capacity or compute resources one node at a time. NetApp HCI was developed for large enterprises, so it can be scaled in a large corporate scenario, but it is accessible enough to be easily and efficiently deployed in smaller organizations and even the Edge. This makes NetApp HCI an agile technology that any industry can benefit from regardless of size or scope while achieving enterprise-grade levels of resources, performance, and protection.

Why utilize NetApp HCI?

Any corporation facing a new technology development or looking to expand their storage or computing capabilities can benefit from NetApp’s hybrid cloud architecture:

  • Speed … the system provides the highway for information to move more quickly through your organization. This means that your internal and external customers have the data and services they need more readily available as there is a smooth conduit in place to facilitate on-premise and cloud communication – regardless of what cloud your data and workflow reside in. NetApp HCI delivers an elastic hybrid cloud infrastructure that enables customers to start anywhere, run anywhere, and manage everywhere from Edge, to Core, to Cloud.
  • Scale-on-Demand … need more storage space but not more processing power, or vice versa? You can quickly scale your system, on your terms, to meet your specific needs. Due to the modular nature of the system and included automation, it is quick and easy to add or reallocate what you need as your requirements change ultimately reducing TCO.
  • Security … you can have the best of both worlds with a cloud-operational environment located on-premise, maintaining a hybrid cloud, while still securing your applications with built-in security features such as multi-factor authentication, data at rest encryption, and FIPS 140-2 Level 1.
  • Control … there can be layers of complexity when it comes to fully managing your IT in the cloud. You can gain the control and governance you need with a NetApp HCI solution.
  • Flexibility … NetApp HCI is multi-cloud and supports multiple hybrid-cloud solutions such as those from VMware, Google, and RedHat delivering an agile foundation for your private and hybrid cloud infrastructure.
  • Guaranteed Performance … in a traditional environment, you may find processes competing for resources at the same time, in different areas of your production workflow. The NetApp architecture allows you the visibility into these resource demands in order to allocate them for maximum speed and efficiency while guaranteeing performance for all of your applications through three-dimensional QoS capabilities.

 

How is NetApp HCI Implemented?

Discovery & Goal Setting: The discovery process begins with a meeting to determine your company’s overall objectives and the storage and compute needs that will be required to achieve those objectives. The goal of this process is to gain an understanding of the resource requirements needed in the environment. The team leverages assessment tools to gain a thorough picture of what is already running in the environment, what modifications may be in order, and what the key objectives from leadership may be. This might include striving for a reduction in complexity or cost, or a move to a new environment for example.

Easy Implementation: The time needed to implement is dependent on how large the cluster is, but in general it is a streamlined and consolidated process depending on the following factors:

  • If a customer already has VMware in the environment and the network is determined to be in appropriate working order, HCI can attach to an existing vCenter, so it can shift to the new infrastructure with VMotion.
  • The only migration required is moving the VMs to the new hardware, which is done through VMware’s typical mechanisms.
  • If there is no VMware present, the process entails more planning in order to implement.
  • After implementation, if you need more compute or storage, you may easily add either (or both if needed) through the NetApp Deployment Engine. The beauty of the system is that you can scale independently, using the new available nodes which are easy to absorb into the cluster.

Partner Collaboration: Partnerships are key in ensuring the success of NetApp implementations. NetApp Partners, such as Applied Technologies, hold the valuable experience and intimate knowledge of each customer’s needs, goals, and challenges. These insights allow for the creation of a comprehensive technology plan that can include the NetApp HCI solution working in concert with other hardware and software platforms for maximum performance and advancement towards the customer’s goals.

NetApp HCI’s innovative design combines the best methods for managing data and applications. You no longer need to pay for extra storage or compute you don’t need while still benefiting from an enterprise-grade infrastructure with guaranteed performance. The bottom line is, NetApp HCI creates more flexibility, eliminates complexity, and drives costs down while accelerating new services for faster time to market speeds.  As a preferred NetApp partner, Applied Technologies will help you understand how your company can leverage the system which is scalable, delivers the speed you need, and allows for the security and control you’re looking for.

To begin the conversation contact us at sales@appliedtech.pro or call 636.274.8000 to discuss your business requirements with one of our Account Managers or Practice Leaders.