Archive for the ‘Unified Communications’ Category

Predictions for 2013…

January 7, 2013

I normally post stuff here to make sure I like it before cross-posting on the Softcat website. This one made it onto the main site before I got round to sticking it on here, but for completeness’ sake here are my predictions for 2013 – interested in your views so please feel free to comment!

Clouds moving faster

It looks like ‘cloud’ is finally past the ‘trough of disillusionment’. We saw a surge of interest particularly in the second half of 2012 and we expect that to continue and even accelerate this year. IT departments are starting to realise that they need to spend more time working with the business on the applications they need to do their jobs – and less time worrying about the flashing lights in the data centre. Cloud doesn’t necessarily mean you have to throw out all your servers and storage and let your data out into the big wide world – your strategy might equally be to invest in the latest generation of pre-validated infrastructure stacks, complete with management layer, to take a lot of the pain away from worrying about hardware, firmware compatibility, multi-vendor support issues etc. The main thing is there are options…

What to do?
Evaluate your options, when the time is right – with the help of someone who can advise on a range of different approaches. On/off premise and indeed hybrid are all options. When acquiring new software, look at SaaS options alongside on premise deployments. Don’t forget connectivity – quite often overlooked when considering cloud approaches.

A big year for Microsoft

It’s going to be a huge year for Microsoft, with new releases of Windows, Office, Exchange and SharePoint either out or shipping this year. The desktop is the obvious place to start – with the impending end of support for Windows XP (April 2014) it doesn’t take a genius to suggest that we’ll see an acceleration of Windows 7/8 migrations. It will be really interesting to see the split between Windows 7 and Windows 8. My gut feel is that Windows 7 will be the default choice but the UI in Windows 8 as well as the wide selection of form factors (pick one to suit your working style!) will drive adoption for more mobile workers.

Outside of Windows, there’s a lot of interest in LYNC – and with the increase in collaboration features as well as a much more social approach SharePoint 2013 could be a hit!

What to do?

Familiarise yourself with the roadmap and work out where the technology matches the needs of your organisation over the coming year or so. It’s also worth taking stock of your licensing situation to make sure you’re in a position to take advantage of the new releases if appropriate. If you have Software Assurance in place, make sure you are taking advantage of some of the extra benefits – in particular Deployment Planning Services and Training Vouchers to help you get set for the roll-out.


No surprises here but the pressure on IT to allow user-owned devices to connect will get even stronger. You can try and offset this with an appropriate form factor of Windows 8 tablet, but in reality your users will want to work on whatever device they choose/chose! Fortunately this year will see a range of technologies to help you secure these devices and deliver services to them. Our security team are talking about ‘The Return of the NAC’ – using network security to identify users and devices and route them securely to appropriate resources. This sort of ‘contextual analysis’ will also hopefully enable us to detect threats and infections earlier and respond appropriately. Now that this new mobile world means that we cannot rely upon perimeter-based security, maybe now we will start to see a ‘secure by design’ approach rather than making use of point products to plug gaps.

We’ll also see offerings, from Citrix and VMware among others, that will provide a ‘gateway application’ delivering access to a range of internal resources, SaaS services and native apps.

I’m going to go out on a limb here having spent the last year researching options – but maybe this year we will get clear and concise guidance from HMRC on tax treatment for individuals buying devices for work use, and for organisations providing a contribution towards such devices…. Fingers crossed, anyway!

What to do?

Now more than ever it is imperative to have a clearly defined mobile strategy. Email is the starting point – but it is definitely worth looking at how access to applications on the go can speed up the flow of your business.

Buzzwords of the year

No doubt we will hear (as we have every year since 2006!) that 2013 will be the year of the virtual desktop… Other than that, hopefully we will see a decline in the tendency of vendors to ‘cloud-wash’ their software. Now that the whole IT world knows what cloud is, that ceases to have much value. No doubt the ‘Big Data’ bandwagon will continue to trundle on this year. I rather think the value is in the analytics rather than the size of the data! The big one for 2013 will of course be ‘Software Defined’ – the concept that functionality previously in hardware can be managed from a software layer in an abstracted manner. This has been applied so far to networking, storage and indeed the whole data centre – expect to be flooded with ‘software defined’ products by the end of the year!


My predictions for 2012…

January 3, 2012

I normally do this the other way round, but this time I decided to publish on the news site first – but for those of you who follow me here (thank you!), here’s my predictions for IT, plus some suggestions for how to address and take advantage of these trends. Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from all at Softcat! I thought we would start the year off with a few predictions for what we expect to happen over the course of the year. Rather than this being simply some predictions in isolation, we’ve made a few suggestions as to how you might be able to respond to, or take advantage of, these trends:

Desktop – if you haven’t already, you will come under increasing pressure to migrate to Windows 7. We expect IT to need to reduce desktop management costs, while maintaining or improving service levels to the business. Windows 8 is looking likely to ship towards the end of the year – it’s looking good so far and could be interesting when your PC, phone and tablet run basically the same OS. We think Windows 8 will be the last revision of the ‘desktop’ operating system as we know it – Windows won’t go away, but will increasingly be a platform across a huge range of devices.

What to do?

Get your desktop house in order – look at management toolsets such as System Center to reduce the pain of migrating to Windows 7 and of ongoing maintenance, and reconsider server-based computing (VDI, Terminal Services etc) where this makes sense.

BYOD – more and more people within  your organisation will demand, and even expect, to be able to use their own devices – particularly phones and tablets – for work purposes. You need to set out your strategy here, as it is something that you can harness to improve productivity, employee satisfaction and business continuity.

What to do?

Evaluate the risk inherent in having data on these devices, versus the demand and potential gains. Technologies such as GOOD can encrypt data on those end-points, or you can use centralised computing to deliver Windows apps to those devices without any data getting on to the device. Over time, you may want to consider rearchitecting your line-of-business applications or at least having a transport mechanism that enables delivery to handheld devices.

Communications – we think there will be two main trends in communications. The first will be mobility-related – replacing desktop handsets by running telephony clients on mobile devices, and increasingly implementing VoIP over GSM or WiFi. The second will be an increase in the use of casual, desktop-based video conferencing and application sharing. Both of these trends will improve collaboration across geographical boundaries and bring disparate work-forces closer together.

What to do?

We think the increasing interest in Microsoft LYNC will drive both of these areas, so you could do worse than start there, especially if you have an Enterprise Agreement which gives you at least some LYNC entitlement. There’s a healthy ecosystem of products to improve and extend the capabilities of LYNC, as well.

Datacentre – virtualisation will continue to be the prevailing trend. If you haven’t, you really should – and if you have, you should probably do more! We’ll see more management technologies, both from the virtualisation vendors and from the ecosystem, which will help to push up the percentage of applications you virtualise, as well as to migrate towards the nirvana of a ‘private cloud’. No doubt your demand for storage will accelerate as well, so you will need to be clever about the way in which you use disk to keep on top of costs in that area while maintaining the performance your applications need. Oh, and you’ll need to improve your ability to recover in the event of a disaster, too.

What to do?

Review your strategy for virtualisation – are you trading physical server sprawl for the virtual equivalent? Would tighter management enable you to drive up utilisation? Review your storage strategy as well – can you make use of deduplication, for example – or employ a combination of SSDs for performance and cheaper, slower disk for data? The combination of clever use of storage and increased virtualisation can make it far easier – and cheaper – to implement a robust DR plan.

Cloud – this is the year that we will see ‘Cloud’ descend into Gartner’s ‘trough of disillusionment’. It wouldn’t surprise us if we saw the first serious security breach in the cloud space, and doubtless another large-scale outage.  Having said that, losing some of the hype will make Cloud a more realistic proposition for businesses when done properly. We think that localised, friendly cloud providers will be increasingly important – credit-card-cloud will be reserved for development and test.

What to do?

Don’t write cloud off – but look to providers where you have or can build a relationship and where doing your own due diligence is possible. Look to extend the capabilities of your infrastructure for capacity or DR by partnering with a provider of infrastructure as a service, and if your business needs a new application, consider cloud options against on-premise.

Security – Firstly, 2012 is the year we expect security technologies to start to catch up with virtualisation. Up until now the available technologies have been somewhat immature, and the new model of ‘introspection’ via APIs will improve this. Secondly, this will be the year the business tells you to stop blocking Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, as people are now genuinely using them as business tools. You will no longer be able to mitigate the risks by turning them off! We’ll also see more focus than ever on keeping data safe – something which is increasingly difficult in this mobile world.

What to do?

Firstly, if your legislative or threat landscape demands it, look seriously at Intrusion Prevention technologies which will work across your virtual environment. Secondly, make sure that your Web Security Policy is up-to-date, and supplement it with a powerful filtering technology that enables control down to application-level within social networking sites, rather than taking a simple allow-or-deny approach. Thirdly, gain an understanding of the way in which data moves around your organisation and make sure your access policy limits data misuse, especially through social media and email. Encryption of remote access is a sensible step, and you may, if your position requires it, like to give consideration to a data-loss-prevention tool.

Instant Messaging in decline?

May 6, 2011

Now this was interesting – and possibly a surprise! According to this article, instant messaging is in slight decline, in favour of email (I thought email had been declared dead some years ago) and social media. Initially, this came as something of a surprise, I think, particularly with all the excitement behind the release of LYNC and its inclusion within the standard Enterprise Agreement entitlement as of August.

Thinking it through, though, they might be on to something. I’ve changed the way I use our IM (we use OCS and integrate it with our Cisco phone system via CUCIMOC). I don’t use it nearly as much as I used to as a communications tool, mainly due to a personal drive to use face-to-face and phone methods of communication more. It feels to me like stuff gets done quicker that way, and communication is of better quality.

What I do use IM for however (and I would really miss this) is the presence aspect. This enables me to see if someone is around (and due to our telephone integration whether they are on the phone), and then pop round to see them. It also enables me to set up a quick informal meeting, usually involving coffee. So IM is more of an enabler for communication rather than a communication vector in and of itself. The main time I really use it for serious messaging is as a ‘backchannel’ during a conference call – which is incredibly useful.

What do you reckon? Have you deployed IM/ presence in your organisation? How do people use it? Would they miss it?

Useful note on Outlook in VDI

April 15, 2011

Just a short one this morning: I had to share this excellent article on setting up Outlook in VDI. Our customers are frequently looking to solve roaming profile issues, particularly involving sizeable Outlook caches, in hot-desking environments by using VDI so it is really handy to have such a well-written summary of the issues. Great post!

HP’s E5000 messaging appliance

April 11, 2011

After seeing the sales pitch a while back, I spent an hour or so this afternoon looking under the covers of the HP E5000 messaging appliances. These are part of the HP/ Microsoft Frontline partnership, where the two organisations have invested $250m on working together. The premise of a drop-in appliance which runs Exchange, sized by mailbox number and size, is a strong one I think – especially with a lot of organisations still on Exchange 2003 – 74% apparently!

Does anyone remember the old HP DL380 packaged cluster that was available up to maybe 4-5 years ago? I used to love those things… Great for SQL, Exchange, TS clusters. Well, the E5000 is basically a modern version of that. Two blades and a chunk of shared storage, in a custom enclosure. The ‘secret sauce’ is a wizard-driven interface which enables you to set up Exchange considerably quicker. Needless to say you still need to migrate the mailboxes, but if you are an IT team needing to get Exchange 2010 up and running, this may just help you out. With the fact that Exchange 2010 is tuned for local rather than SAN storage, and requires less in the way of IOPS, you are not taking up expensive space on your SAN….

Whilst the major benefit in my mind is the speed of deployment, it’s also space and power efficient, being based on blades. I reckon it will cut down on consultancy costs as well if you don’t have any Exchange experts on staff.

I’ve got some links to further information coming over shortly and I will add those then.

Silly Snow Season is here again!

November 30, 2010

Tube strikes on Monday; snow and ice today; I can’t be alone in having had meetings cancelled this week. Looking at the news, I’m quite glad I’m not travelling to Newcastle tonight – even though it is one of my favourite cities, it doesn’t look much fun at the minute.

Watching BBC News this morning (on the iPad of course, while I was making my daughter’s sandwiches!), they were again talking about people working from home – not just during periods of snow, but generally to save on transport infrastructure, time etc. Back-to-back with that, there was an article on how Hogg Robinson, a corporate travel company, had doubled their profit as travel increases. (I’m assuming this isn’t just down to the ridiculous costs of train fares!)

We’ve got a video conferencing system at Softcat – it’s really useful for talking to the Manchester team without a three hour drive. We use Office Communications Server, so we can communicate across offices and see where everyone is at a glance. We have remote access systems powered by Citrix, or just OWA for those that don’t need business systems. Last year in the snow, I really think we picked up a load of business as other organisations just weren’t there. We had people working from home, from our offices, from wherever – and we got the job done!

Isn’t it time to look at your unified communications and business continuity strategy?

Simple things…

July 5, 2010

So as well as implementing Unified Communications solutions for our customers, we are embarking on that journey ourselves. We have been using Microsoft Office Communications Server for some time; I’ve become a huge fan and I am convinced it has made me more productive. Just being able to see if someone is at their desk is a great thing! Funnily enough it has had what I would consider a positive impact in that I am more likely to walk round to see someone if I know they are there and their light is green. Maybe that’s not a stated benefit of presence, but it works for me.

A couple of months ago we upgraded our phone system to a Cisco Call Manager solution. This tracks your calls, so you know if you have a missed call (we still don’t, and never will, use voicemail!). I was amazed by the number of missed calls I had from within the office when my OCS status was set to ‘Away’ (or worse: Do Not Disturb!). Surely it’s more productive to check the colour of someone’s OCS blob first?

Anyway, a few weeks ago we took the next step and integrated OCS with Call Manager using the gloriously-named and does-exactly-what-it-says-on-the-tin Cisco Unified Communications Integration with Microsoft Office Communications (or CUCIMOC for short). I’ve noticed an immediate drop in the number of missed calls when I’ve been away from my desk.

What’s that all about? Well, one of the benefits of CUCIMOC is that you can trigger a call from your PC, which is far easier than tapping through the directory on the phone itself. Once everyone realised that, of course, they started using OCS to initiate the call – which means that by default they are checking the status of the person they are calling.

Obviously there is far more to Unified Communications than this, but I think we’ve seen a material productivity gain with this small step…

While I think about it, if you are a Softcat customer or partner, you can connect to us via instant messaging – just ask your account manager!