20 must-attend IT events of 2016

calendar IT eventsMark your calendars and get your travel bag packed – you better get ready for the top IT conferences scheduled for 2016. While there are hundreds of IT events this year around the globe, we’ve narrowed down the 20 events that you don’t want to miss. So get busy writing the proposal that convinces your boss to allow you to attend these events in 2016: Continue Reading…

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Check this: How Belly planned ahead to avoid bandwidth bottlenecks

mobile apps retailBelly had a fairly simple problem: Success. As its user base grew, so did its data, to the point that it outpaced the company’s available bandwidth.

Belly’s loyalty platform allows businesses to create unique rewards for their customers. Small businesses can set up an iPad where customers scan a QR code in their Belly mobile app to check in and earn rewards points – sometimes for quirky benefits and rewards, like winning an ice cream date with Jerry from Ben and Jerry’s or a 30-second shopping spree. This digital loyalty program generates heaps of data in the form of check-ins, as well as information about customers and their habits. Continue Reading…

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Staff picks for the week of Jan. 25, 2016

Staff Picks GeneralFrom how we think of ourselves to how we shop, eat, and apparently even how we take our latte, technology is filling gaps in our lives that we didn’t even know existed. This week’s staff picks demonstrate just how embedded in our lives technology is. Continue Reading…

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4 best practices for sidestepping cloud migration challenges

cloud migrationWhether you’re the head of IT at an enterprise company with 100,000 users, or at an elementary school with 50 users, this much is true: Migrating to the cloud can be a frustrating and stressful undertaking. But it’s one that’s well worth the time and investment. The advantages in moving your environment to the cloud far outweigh any trouble getting there.

But how can you complete a cloud migration without all of the downtime, bugs, and slow user adoption that many organizations experience? The answer is simple, but not always put into practice.

Let’s go through some cloud migration best practices that make the transition less of a headache. Continue Reading…

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Resources, relationships, and results: How a children’s hospital fixed its disaster recovery plan

children's hospitalWhen faced with bad choices, it’s sometimes easier to just do nothing, even if that inaction can lead to a new round of issues.

Such was the situation for a children’s hospital in one U.S. city. The hospital had no disaster recovery (DR), and it was stuck with an impractical plan from a consultant – backup hardware in a building across the street. Continue Reading…

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Anatomy of a Design: Building a robust server architecture

infrastructure designThis is the third post in a series about IT infrastructure design.

We laid out what our hypothetical law firm needs in our last post. Today, we’ll focus our attention on the server, where the work actually gets done.

Building the right server based on our needs

Before we begin, we need to make some more assumptions about the applications a law firm might use to properly specify the right server. Our first assumption will be the firm is using Office 365 for e-mail and Microsoft Office applications. We’ll also assume that Voice over IP (VoIP) services are provided by a carrier, and only an external network connection is required to make and receive calls. It’s possible to wirelessly connect the phones to the network, but if the firm uses regular VoIP phones, running additional cables to each desk and a primary power over Ethernet (POE) switch will do the trick.

Our final assumption is that most of the remaining functions can be provided by single applications sold in suites from various software companies. The only exception might be document management and storage applications, which could be two different applications. Part of our assumption is that certain specifications, such as CPU, memory, and storage capacity, will be met by the server.

What do we need? Let’s add it up

If we list our requirements (these will vary based on different vendors’ applications), and add in potential virtual desktops, here’s what we arrive at:

AnatomyOfDesign_LawFirmRequirements

Based on these requirements, we’d suggest virtual infrastructure — a virtual host running multiple virtual guest operating systems to support the firm’s applications and users. While we could use physical servers, it represents too much extra management and a waste of resources. In our virtual infrastructure, the CPUs and, to some degree, the memory will be shared among the applications and desktops.

But a single server does represent a violation of the requirement of being highly available. To remedy this weakness, redundant connections for external storage and network, as well as redundant power and fans, will be employed. Our backups will protect against data loss and we’ll add some additional features to the server to prevent any single component from failing.

Finding the right solution through floor plans and server designs

Visuals will help us check our approach. Figure 1 is the floor plan of our hypothetical law office, complete with dedicated offices for the lawyers and cubicles for the administrative assistants and paralegals. There is also space for a kitchen and conference room.

AnatomyOfDesign_Figure1

Figure 1

Marked on the diagram are the locations of various wireless access points; while there may be better placements for these access points, the current setup should more than cover all of the cubicles and offices. Cable drops for the VoIP phones aren’t shown, but let’s assume wires can be run along the perimeter of the office space to each office, cubicle, and the conference room.

Next we’ll examine a diagram of the overall network that details connections for the wireless access points, desktops, and laptops (Figure 2). The network diagram shows the server with two connections to our POE switch and a dedicated storage array. The virtual machines or virtual guests that will run our applications are all contained within a single server. We also have enough capacity to run four or more virtual desktops.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Now for a breakdown of the server design, or specifications to support our law firm. We only need enough CPU cores to support about half of our needs; because all of the cores required by an application aren’t in use at the same time, some of these resources can be shared. But that’s not true for memory, which is locked to a virtual guest’s operating environment. If we’re forced to use a CPU with more cores, we can simply install more memory than needed –what application doesn’t do better when it has more than enough memory?

If we use the right memory DIMM size, we should have extra slots to add additional memory later. The same is true for the CPU. We’ll specify one CPU with at least 16 cores or more, and reserve the spare slot for future expansion as needed. Let’s examine a general diagram (Figure 3) of how this would look, including all of the redundant connections and components (fans, power supplies, cabling, controllers, disks, etc.).

Figure 3

Figure 3

Can you spot the glaring issue? The network switch represents a single point of failure. If it fails, all work ceases – bad news for a law firm dependent on the billable hour.

Network switches rarely fail, and the one we’d look for (from a reputable vendor) would have dual power supplies and sufficient ports, which should ensure a long life. But we could avoid that trouble by employing a second switch. This diagram shows another design, complete with enough redundant connections to satisfy almost anyone (Figure 4).

Figure 4

Figure 4

Since we have more than enough wireless access points by a safe margin, losing three of the access points wouldn’t prevent any work from getting done, but it would be slightly annoying. A single connection for the VoIP phones isn’t shown, but because we have spare ports, it shouldn’t present a problem.

Check your shopping list twice

At this point, we’ve addressed almost every aspect of the firm’s requirements, including the ability to support virtual desktops. Below is our shopping list and the necessary specifications required to build out our custom, 21st-century IT infrastructure for the law firm. The items on this list can be purchased through a third-party vendor for agnostic advice and favorable pricing.

AnatomyOfDesign_ShoppingList

We haven’t yet mentioned some of the software products listed in our shopping list: The VEEAM backup software provides protection for our virtual guests, backing up the data to the internal storage on the server. VEEAM also allows for almost instant recovery, running the backup directly from the backup storage.

Additionally, the wireless management software supports the access points. One option is the use of a network gateway or firewall to support the access points’ connections. This saves ports on the primary switch and should include the ability to manage the wireless network and secure user access.

Our next post will detail how to run this infrastructure in the cloud.

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Staff picks for the week of Jan. 11, 2016

Staff Picks GeneralThe tech industry kicks off each new year with a bang at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, and this year was no different. From new apps and wearables to a resurgence of old technology, we picked a few of our favorite CES 2016 announcements. Keep reading for the details as well as some other interesting and timely tech reads.

The return of technics is symbolic, but will anyone actually buy them? (Read by Camillia S.)

Everything old is eventually new again. While vinyl will likely never be as popular as it was when it was the only way to play music, it’s making a comeback. In fact, vinyl sales generated $221.8 million from January to June 2015. But does that mean DJs will start spinning records again? Panasonic seems to think so. The company announced at CES 2016 that it’s bringing back the Technics SL-1200 turntable (“the most important piece of DJ equipment ever created”) with a 50th anniversary limited and a non-limited edition to be released later in the year. As a record player owner, I’m interested in the increasing popularity of vinyl and I’m curious to see just how long the trend will last.

The big data of bad driving, and how insurers plan to track your every turn (Read by Heidi B.)

I’m a pretty safe driver, but sometimes I feel like I don’t get credit for it. Luckily big data is on my side as major insurers (Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Progressive, and State Farm) increasingly rely on in-car technology to judge driving habits, such as how often you slam on the brakes and what time of the day you’re on the road. Some car manufacturers enable drivers to download an app to their vehicles that notifies them when they’re driving too aggressively. Others provide a device that plugs into a port near the steering column. In-car tracking raises privacy and security questions but could also help insurers design more accurate plans and better understand driving habits.

L’Oréal takes the wearables war to the beauty counter (Read by Heidi B.)

UV rays: We all know they can be dangerous, but almost none of us know how many we’re actually soaking up. L’Oréal is looking to change that with My UV Patch, a new wearable, ultra-thin, stretchable sensor that tells you how much UV exposure you receive. Unveiled last week at CES, My UV Patch is scheduled to hit the market in late 2016 and is one of several wearable devices L’Oréal is making in partnership with engineering firm PCH. I’m excited to see what the others are!

What 6 Chicago-area theaters had to do to show Tarantino’s ‘Hateful Eight’ (Read by Ed M.)

The clips of “The Hateful Eight” aired during last night’s Golden Globes led me to research where (and whether) I could/should see the film in the 70 mm format. That’s when I ran across this story about the challenges of distributing a 70 mm film to a nation of theaters that long since converted to digital. Reading about how experienced projectionists fanned out to other theaters to demonstrate a format that had been the industry standard years ago reminded me of the Y2K issues we helped organizations research during my third year at SHI. Here’s hoping U2 releases an album 10 years from now that’s only meant to be played via cassette on a Sony Walkman. #JobSecurity

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2016 IT preview: What we’re expecting from the biggest players in tech

coming soonWill 2016 be the year we see the next industry-changing technology? Even if the next big thing doesn’t come, plenty of new products, improvements, and a few discontinuations are scheduled for the year.

Here’s a sneak peek into what we can expect from the biggest names in tech over the next 12 months. Continue Reading…

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