IT Service Provider Consulting

Why Companies Need an IT Solutions Provider and How to Choose One

You are ready to purchase IT network and security infrastructure. You are confident about your choices for the refresh or added solutions. You advocated internally and received buy-in. For weeks, potentially months, you spoke with the manufacturer. Now you are ready to sign the dotted line but are told you cannot buy directly from the manufacturer. You must purchase through a third party.

Your point-of-contact with the manufacturer may offer to put you in touch with an IT Solutions Provider, but why do you need to take this extra step? What are the benefits?

The fast and easy route may be to go with the first IT Solutions Provider the manufacturer recommends or the first online reseller that comes up in your Google search. Before you do that, read this article.

You don’t want to be like many of the companies who call us after having problems with a third-party reseller.

“No one is calling us back and we’re ready to purchase. It’s always difficult getting a call back.”

“We purchased the equipment but are having issues. The entity we purchased from can’t help us.”

These are a few examples of the many calls we get with customers having issues with the third-party from which they purchased the infrastructure.

Why Companies Need an IT Solution Provider

Why must you purchase from a third party instead of the manufacturer?

The reason behind this tiered distribution channel is that manufacturers find it cost advantageous. For example, a manufacturer would have to hire an account manager for every customer. It makes more sense for the technology vendors to sell through distributors, IT partners, and resellers.

The benefits are in your favor, especially when you start your journey working with an IT Solution Provider rather than the manufacturer, online reseller, or other third parties within the distribution channel. Unlike the other options within the channel, an IT Solution Provider acts as a trusted advisor, extended team, and single-point-of-contact between multiple IT vendors. This makes it easier for you to purchase and manage a variety of technologies. Otherwise, you would be working with ten or more vendors every time you want to purchase or have an infrastructure issue.

Manufacturers have a monetary goal to sell more of their own products whether it’s the right fit for the customer or not, whereas IT Solution Providers are technology and brand agnostic. The IT Solution Provider helps you identify the best technology fit regardless of the vendor. Online resellers provide a variety of vendor products and infrastructure, but they don’t provide the consulting, implementation, testing, troubleshooting, and overall partnership that you get with IT Solution Providers.

IT Solutions Providers are the best choice for most companies. You just need to make sure you’re working with the right one to reap all the value.

Considerations for Identifying the Best IT Solution Provider for Your Company

Here are the top considerations for choosing the IT Solutions Provider that best fits your needs and team dynamic.

Company Longevity

Manufacturers make it easy to become a resale partner. All anyone needs to do is sign some reseller contracts and, within a week, he or she could start taking orders to sell vendor products. Just because a company is legally able to sell doesn’t mean it has the people on staff with the technical experience, knowledge, and capabilities to add the true value you want.

Look at company longevity to see if the IT Solutions Provider is only a reseller, or a reseller that can bring value in the form of consulting, partnership, and technical execution.

A new company isn’t always a red flag, but it is something to consider. This brings us to our other points.

Partner Level

What partner level does the IT Solutions Provider have with various manufacturers?

As mentioned above, anyone can sign up to be a partner. Look at what tier of partnership they earned. Do they have the basic, entry-level partnership that only requires the partner to sign some contracts? Or, did the IT Solutions Partner earn higher tiers of partnership because of their sales and certifications?

Also take into consideration the partnership level they have they earned across manufacturers, both with large and up-and-coming vendors. You probably don’t want to work with a partner that is only competent with one manufacturer. In this case, you’re probably going to receive biased consulting.

Certifications

How many and what type of certifications does the organization have?

Certifications let you know how competent and experienced an IT Solutions Provider is with specific manufacturers and technologies. Look at the level of certifications earned, not just the number of certifications. This is because there is a pyramid of certifications with easier, entry-level certifications making the bulk.

If you have a complex network, you need to talk to someone who has some experienced and knowledgeable talent on staff. The number of high-level, top-of-pyramid certifications will be an indicator if an IT Solutions Provider is the right talent fit. You can find this information on different manufacturer websites and then compare the certifications the partner earned.

Engineering Talent

The certifications will provide insight into the technical expertise on staff, but also take a look at the people behind the certifications. Does the engineering talent with the IT Solutions Provider complement the talent you are lacking within your internal team?

Maybe you have someone internally who is great with phone systems and another who is great with computers and printers. Does the IT partner have engineers who are strong at data networking? Security? Network road-mapping? Specific tools and products?

Infrastructure Management

Managing infrastructure refresh cycles and software updates can be a full-time job, especially when tools vary between manufacturers. Ask the IT Solutions Provider if and how they help you manage this infrastructure maintenance. For example, EdgeTeam uses an internal system that helps us automatically stay updated with all our customers’ infrastructure.

Company Size and Client Size

Consider the size of the partner company and the size of its clients. This can be a big indicator of the quality of service you will receive. For example, are you the smallest client in revenue or purchases on the IT Solution Provider’s client roaster? If so, there could be a higher likelihood that your needs and requests are not the highest priority because the account managers will be busy attending to larger clients with larger budgets.

The opposite also applies. Are you the largest client on the roaster? If you’re too big or complex for their staff, will they have the capabilities you need? You’re supposed to lean on IT Solution Provider. You don’t want to take a chance your needs are more than they can manage.

Industries Served

Regulations, strategies, and funding mechanisms vary from industry-to-industry. While an IT Solutions Provider may have an impressive client roaster, make sure they have experience with your industry.

For example, a service provider will want to work with a company that has experience working with service providers. An IT Solutions Provider that only has experience working within finance and healthcare will have a harder time navigating reimbursement mechanisms and other intricacies that are only applicable to service providers.

Consulting Investment and Leadership

One of the biggest indicators of the value an IT Solutions Provider will bring in your working relationship is how they invest in your relationship and lead the conversation with manufacturers.

Manufacturers will always have an agenda to sell more of their products and tools. While the IT partner will set up calls and virtual meetings, it’s important they are also the people leading the conversation and strategy. Not the other way around.

For example, an IT Solutions Provider should lead and help manage the evaluation of multiple manufacturer solutions. They will listen to your goals and challenges, help identify the best tools to consider and manage demos and trials across various manufacturers. This is to determine which tools are truly the best fit for your needs. The Solution Provider will orchestrate and lead this process where a manufacturer or an online reseller will not go through this multi-vendor product evaluation process.

Next Steps

We work with your team to share the time, resources, and expertise your team doesn’t have.

Look through our website to see the industries we serve and how we solve client problems. Sign up for our newsletter and social media so you never miss a story or piece of advice that applies to you.

The best way to get to know us is by starting a conversation so we can learn more about you and share expertise related to your current challenges and goals. Call us at 817-953-2750 or submit the contact form.

Questions for Solving IT and Security Challenges during Covid-19 Work-From-Home

Your company has a workforce of 500 people who all need to work remotely due to Covid-19. As an IT leader, what do you do?

Many companies offer some form of remote working capabilities, especially for those employees who may travel for work and are not touching heavy loads of critical data. But with Covid-19, everyone is forced to work from home or not at all. Most companies are not scaled to do that, especially overnight.

As an IT leader, your responsibility is to optimize the overall performance of the network that spans across multiple locations from branch offices to employee homes and their favorite coffee shops (at least when these businesses start opening to the public again).

From a security standpoint, there’s the expectation that everything will be secured regardless of the platform. At the end of the day, you’re trying to reduce security breaches and the number of network performance issues.

The questions that probably first come to mind include:

  • How are we going to get our employees the fast, consistent, and secure access that’s required to work out-of-office? We don’t have three months to finally let them start working again.
  • How much do I want to spend to allow people to work from home during Covid-19? Is it worth the cost?
  • What if mandatory work-from-home happens again?
  • Should I plan for this to be the new normal?

How to Approach Strategy

This answer is not a one-fits-all strategy. For example, it doesn’t always make sense to push everything to the cloud because this can be expensive, time-consuming, and maybe not the best strategy for certain data and long-term goals in general. It might make more sense for 100 of your 500 people workforce to use a VPN tunnel where everyone else is fine with SSL VPN access, and then move more of the non-critical data to the cloud.

Internal conversations are needed on how to send people home to work and why to do it.

Here are some questions we recommend you consider as you build your strategy.

Who needs access to which applications and data?

Everyone needs access to different data based on their roles. People in finance are going to require different applications and security than those working in marketing or IT.

Based on the different needs of these employees, you can send people working from home and remote in different ways.

For example, it might make more sense to set up your technical analysts and engineers or VP of Finance with a direct VPN tunnel, download a client onto that laptop or device, and have them work only from that specific device. Why? Because these people are working with heavy, critical data loads and multiple applications that require high security. You don’t want that data running over the web or in the cloud.

What do you want them to be able to do remotely?

What is necessary for workers to access remotely? Is it every application and data set they would have access to inside the office?

You may decide that you want certain employees to only have access to data when they are on location, whether it’s during Covid-19 or not. Maybe you can send them home with access to some applications and data that keep them working on some projects, but other data sets will have to wait until they can be back in the office.

We’ve seen some companies stagger how employees come into work during Covid-19. Take accounting, for example. Some of the director’s of finance team members may still go onsite two days a week because it was decided to not let them have complete access from home.

Do you want them to be able to access applications from any device, any time?

There’s a lot more to think about than just the VPN, SSL, and cloud. Take for example mobile device management. Are you going to manage iPhones, Androids, Macs, and so on remotely?

Some employees may best be set up with SSL VPN where they log into the web browser from any device. Add in two-factor authentication and other security measures so even if one device is lost or stolen, it shouldn’t put the company at risk.

You can send a firewall to someone’s home and many companies choose to do that. But if that employee will be traveling or back in office full time after Covid-19, that may not be beneficial long term and also not worth the cost for just a couple of months.

From a security standpoint, how much of the device traffic (per employee) do you need to see?

Do you want to let people use those devices to go straight to the internet through their homes, Starbucks, or wherever they are during and after the pandemic?

Let’s say the web is out of the question and you need a VPN. Do you want to send all user traffic through the VPN tunnel, or just what they need from the company? If you send everything the employee does on the device through the corporate network, then you’re probably also going to get all their Netflix, gaming, or whatever else they may do. You’re going to have to consider if you want to take on the bandwidth and security cost.

Should I plan for this to be the new normal?

If you know three months from now that some or most employees will be back to the office, do you want to spend what could be tens of thousands of dollars on a deployment mechanism that may not be needed after this pandemic? Maybe you want to enable remote working as the new normal. Many companies are choosing to do this.

Covid-19 came as a surprise to everyone. Unfortunately, we can’t always know if this will happen again. All we can do is plan.

Next Steps

These are just a few of many questions you need to consider when building your network performance and security strategy across multiple locations and users.

Your team is busy managing a range of IT responsibilities. Let us help save you time and stress by and discussing what strategies and technologies can benefit your goals, operations, and budget.

Reach out today to start a conversation. Call us at 817-953-2750 or submit the contact form.

6 Step Process to Go from Barely Managing IT Workloads to Innovating Networks

This IT director called me saying something wasn’t working. It was affecting network uptime and needed to be fixed immediately.

This isn’t the first time I’ve received this type of call. It’s the story I hear eight out of 10 times when an IT leader calls for the first time.

“The Wi-Fi keeps going down.”

“Firewalls are blocking business-critical traffic.”

“Network’s down and we don’t know why.”

Most of the time, it needs to be fixed immediately. Business reputation and revenue depend on it. The IT director’s job depends on it. There are some things you only have one chance to get right.

The lean IT team is so caught up in the day-to-day tasks that they don’t have the time or expertise to fix it long-term. They already tried to fix it, but it’s broken again.

This is just the beginning of the IT leader’s problem. He’s also been told to roll out more branch locations and more applications.

How can a team add more tools, applications, and capabilities when it barely manages the current workloads to keep the network up and running?

It’s for these reasons that IT teams are sold the idea that tools will make their lives easier. Get the right automation or visibility and your problems are fixed.

What often happens is the people within these busy teams start cherry-picking, so-to-speak, different technology either based on cost or what they know and are comfortable using. From a topical perspective, the network is implemented in bits and pieces over the years. It creates a hodgepodge of attempts to create some efficiencies that actually overburden the team because there’s no continuity between the tools. We’ve seen three or more tools being used for similar functions. Each not being used to its full capabilities.

We’re running into this with one of our large customers right now. They keep asking for automation and ways to better rollout visibility tools. A real road map to innovating out complexity is what will benefit them the most now and the long-term.

It’s such a common problem that we had to write an article about it.

Steps to Innovating Out IT Operational Complexity

Step 1: Identify the Real Problem

Go beyond the problem at hand to make sure it’s the actual root of the problem.

For example, a customer will come to us wanting to replace the firewalls. We’ll find that the problem isn’t the firewalls. It’s how the firewalls are configured. There’s no need for the customer to rip and replace. Imagine their relief when fixing the problem doesn’t require draining their budget.

Other times, the solution does require new tools. The problem then is working within fixed budgets. Ask yourself if you need to solve for a number and pick the best tools that give you the most satisfaction for what you’re willing to spend. Or, is there a large fundamental problem in a specific area that needs to be fixed first?

Sometimes, you need to fix the big problem first because spending on anything else is money wasted. It may buy a little more time, but does it fix anything long-term? You may need to present your case to other executives or board of directors to receive the support you need. More on that coming up.

Once you can identify your problem and limiting factors, you can start solving for a long-term plan for success. For example, you may only have a certain amount of dollars but know your top priorities. You may not solve 100% of your issue in the first phase. Your plan and tools may solve 80% of your issue but give you the flexibility to purchase the tools needed as funds become available; all without having to rip and replace.

Step 2: Identify Resources

Take a good inventory of the skills, expertise, and availability of your current team. Maybe you have someone who is great with phone systems and another who is great with computers and printers. Who is strong at data networking? Security? Network road-mapping?

Do you have all the people and talent needed? If so, who has the time or who can alter their current workload to create time to tackle on this planning project?

Step 3: Get to Know Technology Vendors

Get to know technology vendors and get to know them well. Manufacturers’ goal is to sell more of their tools. Unfortunately, this often results in selling something to customers that is not the best fit for their needs.

We run into this often. A customer wants a specific vendor. The vendor is more than willing to sell. But we know that based on the customer’s goals, budget, and current operations that another vendor is the best fit.

To navigate these waters and make the best decisions, you have to be educated about your environment and the capabilities of most, if not all, the manufacturers.

Start doing this now because it takes time to thoroughly know these vendors and their product lines. Don’t forget the up-and-rising vendors, too.

Step 4: Make Your Case

If your findings lead you to need more resources than currently allocated, you’ll have to present your case to other executives and board of directors. Show them the risk of not moving forward with your plan and how your plan solves for vulnerabilities impacting business outcomes.

If you’re unable to secure all the needed resources, at least you’ve said your piece so if/when problems arise, you’ll be remembered for pointing it out and recommending a solution. You can’t be blamed for being unaware.

Step 5: Make Time to Do It

Perhaps the most difficult challenge will be setting time aside to take these steps. If your list of responsibilities to keep the network up and running is truly too extensive and there’s no time available to develop the relationships and expertise needed, there is an easier way. This brings us to the final step.

Step 6: Get to Know Network Solution Partners and Resellers

Network solution and resale partners build and operate networks across businesses and industries. They attend the most respected technology events from VMworld to RSA. From an engineering standpoint, they’ve been in the trenches and can help you better understand some of the pain points and solutions you may not have identified.

Take some time to get to know different partners. See who you like and trust most. Who has the best experience to apply to your business?

Find a partner with confidence to handle the manufacturers and advise you as the client. It’s not just the consulting and technology advice they’re offering. They can also get better technology deals and help prepare your presentations when asking executives and board of directors for approval.

Start these relationships now so you’ll be confident in your partner-of-choice when you need the help. Waiting will only add stress.

Closing

Start your journey by getting to know EdgeTeam. We work with your team to share the time, resources, and expertise your team doesn’t have.

Take our nuggets of advice and put them to use. Reach out to us when you have questions. The best way to do this is by signing up for our newsletter and social media so you never miss a story or piece of advice that applies to you.

AI driven WiFi

How Mid-Sized Businesses Use AI-Driven Wi-Fi to Simplify IT Operations and Innovation

As an IT person for a mid-market sized company, you’re doing what you can to provide an experience that meets today’s business demand. More than just keeping the lights on, you want to help the company innovate. Or, using today’s buzzword, you want to be a part of digital transformation.

This looks like providing Wi-Fi in branch offices so people can use mobile devices anywhere from conference rooms to the break room. It’s adding Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices to better regulate lights, thermostats, and cameras. Maybe you considered launching an app and smart devices to help navigate customers to certain products and receive coupons. This is really just the beginning.

The Challenge for IT Teams

Taking the company through digital transformation is the ideal scenario, but you’re already tied down with operational tasks. You receive hundreds of help desk tickets a month. Many are around Wi-Fi issues. You’re removing malware-infected devices off the network daily. When something stops working, you have to go through backlogs of data through multiple systems just to find out where something went wrong. Was there a misconfiguration of a firewall rule? Is it a switch or access point issue?

You already have a full-time job managing the normal day-to-day needs of those using the network. How could you possibly add more devices, applications, and services to the network while securing and managing all of it?

It’s for these reasons that mid-sized companies are adopting artificial intelligence (AI). This helps IT teams simplify network management and security while giving them the foundation for digital transformation.

How Mid-Sized Companies Are Adopting AI-Driven Wi-Fi

How are these companies rolling out AI? Fortunately, it’s easier and more budget-friendly than one may think. This is because the solution includes a cloud-based appliance with Wi-Fi 6 access points. Everything starts working the moment you install the access points and log into the appliance portal. The solution is called Juniper Mist.

Here’s what it does and how it’s changing IT operations from a management nightmare to a foundation of innovation possibilities.

Consolidate Infrastructure and Management Tools

To create the digital experiences we described, companies would need to purchase a third-party product called a beacon as well as access points and smart devices. Beacons allow a Bluetooth enabled device to connect to the wireless network. Juniper Mist put the antennas inside of the access points so you don’t need beacons anymore. That’s just one way you’re consolidating infrastructure.

You’re also consolidating management tools, which brings us to our next point.

Client Level Visibility

One of the main reasons for IT complexity is a lack of visibility. It’s hard to see what’s happening in the network when you’re going back and forth between different management tools trying to piece together the data into a story. There’s a management tool for the access points, firewalls, IoT devices, and so on.

With Juniper Mist, you see a high-level view of the location (i.e building, store, arena) and all the Wi-Fi connected devices to easily see patterns and movement across the environment. This is done by putting three of the Juniper Mist access points in an area for triangulation so you can see where each person (or WiFi-connected device) is standing, walking, or sitting in a building. Once the Juniper Mist access points are installed, all you have to do is sign into one application portal and see how all the devices on your network are moving and working.

For example, you can view the rumba going room-to-room cleaning floors. You can see people walking down the hallways or aisles. Each device appears as a moving dot. If a device moving from the lunchroom to the conference room is infected with malware, the dot representing it turns red and you receive a notification. Now you can click, drag, and drop to remove it before it infects more devices. This is possible because all devices using the Wi-Fi show up in this cloud-based application’s portal.

Consider how important this might be to hospitals that want to keep track of all the ventilators. Now the IT team can sign into Juniper Mist and see exactly where all the ventilators are located.

It’s not just the access points and wireless devices that populate in this portal. It’s also your switches and will soon include security. Now you have even a fuller view of the network to better analyze traffic and remediate issues.

Operational Efficiency

For those of you managing networks, you already see the operational efficiencies this would bring to your day. You can manage larger environments with fewer people and less overhead. But this solution doesn’t stop with visibility benefits. Remember, this is AI-driven. With an add-on subscription, you can have an AI assistant called Marvis.

Marvis is constantly learning about your environment.

For example, a firewall misconfiguration can throw an entire site down by stopping point-of-sale scanners, thermostats, and any other wireless devices from authenticating. This would normally take a team hours-to-days to find the problem and resolve it. Marvis finds the problem and automatically fixes it for you before it there’s a performance issue. No scrambling and little-to-no downtime.

Or, have a question about network performance? Type in a question to Marvis and receive an answer as though asking an assistant.

It’s because of these visibility and AI-driven efficiencies that some companies are moving from 200 help desk tickets a month to less than five.

In short, Marvis helps you be proactive instead of reactive.

Now that you and the rest of your team are no longer tied down with repetitive and tedious performance tasks, you can use that time and resources to innovate.

Customer Experience Innovation

Most of us in IT want to do more than keep the lights on. Innovation feels like play and is why most of us entered this field. It’s even better when our innovative play benefits everyone who interacts with the business.

For example, school districts can better manage Wi-Fi and the various education devices while securing against malware-infections that students and teachers often bring back on location. Or, use the location services to know where students are at any given time and event. Is there a fire and you want to make sure everyone evacuated? Now you can.

Hospitals can provide high wireless performance for mission-critical devices while also keeping tabs on device location at all times. For example, want to make sure a patient doesn’t walk out of the facility before they are safe to leave? Now you can track patients and notify caretakers.

Imagination becomes the limit instead of how many hours are in a day.

That’s why mid-sized companies are taking this next step in their AI strategy. They’re looking ahead to build the network they will need 5-10 years from now.

Next Steps

Curious to see this action? Select your most problematic site and let us do a proof-of-concept.

You can also join us for the Wireless Wednesday live demo where you will also see it in action.

Your team is busy managing a range of IT responsibilities. Let us help save you time and stress by and discussing what strategies and technologies can benefit your goals, operations, and budget.

Partnership

This post is brought to you by Juniper Mist. Juniper Mist is pioneering the new wireless network. The first AI-driven network makes Wi-Fi predictable, reliable, and measurable while delivering amazing indoor and outdoor location experiences.

How to Adopt Wi-Fi 6 To Solve Mid-Market Companies Wi-Fi Problems

Wi-Fi 6 is the new standard of Wi-Fi that’s promised to increase speed, efficiency, and device management for improved performance in congested areas such as restaurants, offices, campuses, retail and grocery stores.

This sounds like a dream come true for businesses that continually have Wi-Fi performance issues that not only impact business but result in a long list of complaints. Take for example the retail stores that now use Wi-Fi enabled Point-of-Sale (POS) scanners and other devices. Or, the influx of customers using grocery retailers’ apps and Wi-Fi for product information and store placement. Or, the office where someone watching a cat video in the lunchroom is impacting how fast the CEO can download a report on his or her phone. For many mid-market organizations, the fast-evolving demands for Wi-Fi exceed the network’s ability to support it.

If you’re on the IT team looking at this problem, you considering how to tackle this issue when you already have a full-time job managing computers, applications, printers, and the normal day-to-day needs of those using the network.

The go-to answer may seem to go and buy Wi-Fi 6 devices. Before you do that, read this post. A quick purchase may not give you all the capabilities you want.

Follow these steps to Wi-Fi 6 adoption to make sure you’re meeting immediate and future needs while making the most of your time and resources.

Review Inventory and Refresh Cycle

Take a good look at what’s in your network and the capabilities. For example, if your switches can’t handle the traffic from the Wi-Fi 6 access point, you’re not going to get the Wi-Fi 6 benefits. If you purchased switches within the last twelve months, you may be even more prepared to take the next step because most new switches have the high capacity to operate Wi-Fi 6 traffic. If your switches have less than 2.5 gig through-put, you may need to refresh your switches.

Identify Client Devices Supporting Wi-Fi 6

Part of the research includes analyzing the client devices on the network such as phones, laptops, tablets, POS scanners, and other devices. This includes the user devices (i.e. personal phones and laptops) brought onto the network.

Are you seeing more devices that are Wi-Fi 6 compatible? If not, when are the next generations coming out that will be Wi-Fi 6 compatible? How well does this coordinate with your refresh cycle?

Most manufacturers have released or plan to release new devices that are Wi-Fi 6 compatible. This is good news because Wi-Fi 6 access points are backward compatible with previous generations of Wi-Fi. Devices that are Wi-Fi 5 compatible will still operate on Wi-Fi 5 instead of Wi-Fi 6 but, you’ll have the Wi-Fi 6 access points when the phones are upgraded soon. In this case, it’s worth purchasing the Wi-Fi 6 access points in your upcoming refresh.

Plan

Now that you have a deep understanding of your current resources, make a plan for how your Wi-Fi will be used. What are the company policies and procedures? How should they change to better meet customer and security needs as Wi-Fi demands and threats evolve?

Research Manufacturers and Purchase

This is an imperative step because, in addition to making sure the equipment is compatible with your network infrastructure that is not up for refresh yet, you’ll need to compare capabilities, pricing, and overall contracts across vendors.

Some manufacturers take extra steps to make the transition to Wi-Fi 6 easier. For example, CommScope Wi-Fi 6 access point radios can support up to 10 gigs of data but will work with 2.5 or 5 gig connections.

Deploy

Put the new equipment where it needs to go and connect it.

Configure

Configure the protocols to match the company policies and procedures and how you intend the Wi-Fi to be used.

The Easier Way

Adopting Wi-Fi 6 to match your company goals, budget, policies, and operations may not be as simple as purchasing a few more Wi-Fi 6 devices to “plug-and-play.” Some time and expertise in planning, research, vendor review, deployment, and configuration are needed to give you the performance and ease of management needed.

IT solutions partners like EdgeTeam already have a deep understanding of most, if not all, manufacturers. They can also get you the infrastructure at a lower cost. It’s why we have a large client base with mid-market sized organizations. They want the IT team focused on their expertise and responsibilities while having a trusted partner to get them a good deal with fast, efficient deployment.

Next Steps

Have more questions? Reach out to us. We want to understand what’s important to you so we can share stories and strategies most relevant to your goals. Your team is busy managing a range of IT responsibilities. Let us help you save time and stress by coming on site and sharing what new technology, strategies, or funding opportunities can benefit you.

Partnership

This article is brought to you by CommScope. CommScope and the recently acquired ARRIS and Ruckus Networks are redefining tomorrow by shaping the future of wired and wireless communications.

How to Use SD-WAN to Secure and Automate Complexity Out of Your Distributed Network

Today’s business is distributed and you’re responsible for bringing up new branches quickly. That’s why you adopt digital innovation that requires high-speed reliable bandwidth for voice, video, and internet applications so people can interact with your business anytime, anywhere. But, you’re also responsible for ensuring security in the case of an expanding attack surface.

Adding these new technologies to an MPLS infrastructure, especially while adding more branches, creates a new set of problems.

This increased traffic over an MPLS WAN creates bottlenecks. Take for example a SaaS application like Office 365. It was purposely built and designed by Microsoft to access the Internet directly, not be backhauled across a private circuit, then to a data center, and then out to the user.

Take the increased traffic from more devices such as Internet-of-Things (IoT), personal devices, and application bottlenecks and combine it with no way to distinguish the traffic priority, and critical business data gets stuck in a queue behind non-critical data. The joke is that someone in the break room watching a cat video on YouTube is probably keeping the executive from downloading a report.

Most companies have invested heavily in a single security stack in their data center or headquarters, which is why they backhaul everything to a central location.
What you can do now is go direct to the Internet from your locations with cheaper bandwidth and not compromise the security.

This is why we’re seeing so many network engineering and operations leaders looking to replace their WAN infrastructures with some form of software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN).

The good news is that you can create a secure SD-WAN using the infrastructure (routing, switches, and firewalls) already needed within your WAN.

What is SD-WAN and how does it solve my problems?

SD-WAN offers the ability to use available WAN services more effectively and economically—giving users across distributed organizations the freedom to better engage customers, optimize business processes, and innovate.

What does that look like?

A lot of you are not going to dump all the MPLS circuits because it’s reliable and there are certain things you need to control.

One of the biggest benefits of SD-WAN is that you will have an automated path diversity. You can decide and automate which data is the priority and goes through specific circuits and which goes direct Internet, removing those bottlenecks creating slow connectivity.

You get the additional performance by having multiple circuits and the segmentation to where you can restrict certain people to use certain circuits or certain devices.
For example, you may want to offload internet traffic from one expensive circuit to a different circuit, but use this different circuit if the primary one fails. Because this is automated rather than having someone do it manually, the transitions are fairly seamless.

With the traditional WAN and circuit, if something goes down and you don’t have failover (or even if you do), it’s a manual process where one person knows how to remotely access a router over a different circuit and change the route. Or, use routing protocols to switch everything over. You don’t have to do that anymore. You can designate certain applications and individual users to use one path and then certain applications use the other. For example, we want to make sure executives always have the fastest bandwidth regardless of what office or branch they are located in.

Because you can choose which data goes through your data center and leverages your MPLS network, and which leverages the Internet, you can start taking the full advantage of cloud on-ramping of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) that drive revenue and efficiency.

What is the downside to SD-WAN?

Most SD-WAN solutions do not have an inherent security component. That means more infrastructure and expertise is needed.

While selecting the right SD-WAN solution for a specific implementation may require a few compromises, security should not be one of them.

How do I build a secure, software-defined WAN?

The goal is to reduce complexity while increasing elasticity and security. That’s why we’re sharing how to use routing, switching, and firewalls together as a secure, SD-WAN solution. It’s not an additional solution because you already need these components.

While the process and steps will differ based on the unique needs of the business, these high-level steps apply to most.

Take Inventory and Review Refresh

What is currently in your network and when is the refresh? This will help when reviewing vendors.

Review Vendors

When your refresh comes, you want to purchase the switches, routers, and firewalls that include software-defined networking capabilities.

Look at the fine details of what these vendors offer because it can make a big difference in the total cost of ownership (TCO), operational expense (OPEX), and security.

For example, we’re seeing as high as 92 percent of internet traffic is encrypted. If you’re not decrypting, you’re only seeing eight percent of what comes out of your network.

The FortiGate can do SSL decryption so you can decrypt the traffic and look at it to determine the paths it should take. Someone wants to download a file from Dropbox, automatically send them to the circuit that’s 200 megs down. Another person wants to upload a file, send them to the circuit that is 50 up. You can steer based on the direction because you can see inside the encrypted stream. Now your user experience skyrockets. Most vendors only do traffic steering. That’s just one example.

Many vendors require additional management since they require more appliances and multiple management consoles. This not only puts pressure on people’s resources but increases your TCO and the overhead costs of implementing these solutions. This brings us to…

Consolidate Infrastructure

Some equipment is going to be able to do more with less, allowing you to consolidate your infrastructure. Reduce your number of SKEWS, have it all managed in a single application or pane of glass, and now your help desk can start managing it instead of a system engineer (SE).

For example, you can replace separate WAN routers, WAN optimization, and security devices such as firewalls and secure web gateways (SWGs) with a single FortiGate NGFW.
From a security standpoint, what we like about Fortinet is the packaged threat protection, including firewall, antivirus, intrusion prevention system (IPS), and application control. The web filtering to enforce internet security doesn’t require a separate secure web gateway (SWG) device.

Strategically Turn Off Circuits

It’s understandable why you don’t want all your applications going through the internet, but not all are mission-critical and sensitive. It’s dependent on the vertical and business. I can’t say that I have seen oil and gas jump all over the idea of dropping the expensive circuits.

As you adopt this secure, SD-WAN solution, you’re going to strategically turn off circuits and reduce your costs.

We have a lot of conversations about turning off expensive circuits at certain facilities, almost like a staging type of approach. They start testing with data and applications that are not necessarily mission-critical. Once tested and comfortable, you can have a more informed discussion when the circuit comes up for renewal.

Look at Total Cost of Ownership

The move to public broadband means that expensive MPLS connections can be replaced with more cost-effective options. With the Fortinet transport-agnostic solution, enterprises can use the entire available bandwidth by using a combination of MPLS circuits and the Internet.

Closing

We’ve provided a high-level look at what adopting SD-WAN looks like. As you can see, it’s easy, affordable, and improves overall network performance.

If you’re interested in taking steps for your unique business, reach out to EdgeTeam. We’re happy to have a conversation on how you can use SD-WAN to secure and automate complexity out of your distributed network.

Partnership

This article is brought to you by Fortinet. Fortinet Secure SD-WAN enables organizations to solve the secure communications problem for distributed locations quickly and easily. Fortinet is the only vendor with a custom-designed ASIC to provide the fastest application identification and steering in the industry, while providing connectivity and advanced security capabilities 10 times faster than the competition. Fortinet is the market-share leader in providing security solutions to the distributed organization.

Too Early for Municipalities to Think About Wi-Fi 6? EdgeTeam Investigates

Wi-Fi 6 is said to have increased speed, efficiency, and device management that provides better user experience in congested areas such as stadiums, campuses, and cities.

But is this new standard for Wi-Fi technology so new that only cities should start planning for it? Or, could municipalities start reaping benefits that match their goals, budget, and operations, too?

The only way to answer this question is to look at the wireless performance municipalities are challenged with now, and the performance they need to provide in the future to measure up to their city counterparts.

Let’s look at some real-world Wi-Fi challenges for municipalities and compare to Wi-Fi 6 capabilities.

Municipality as a Service Provider

Big city benefits with small-town security and hospitality. That’s what a lot of municipalities are aiming for.

It’s why municipalities act as a service provider, building an IT network so businesses, residential areas, education, and healthcare facilities can provide the best experience to its constituents. Some are even following their city counterparts and deploying “smart” initiatives. Although the organizations and businesses served within a municipality vary, all share a common challenge. They all have more services, devices, and data dependent on a wireless network.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common wireless challenges municipalities face.

Slower Internet in Shared Spaces

Noticing that parks, waiting rooms, classrooms, and anywhere people gather becomes a spot for slower Wi-FI?

This is because today’s devices, such as mobile phones, are requesting more high-bandwidth applications ranging from social media to streaming video. It doesn’t help that more people, ranging in all ages, have a least one device.

With the current standard of WiFi, multiple devices request data from an access point at the same time, but are only serviced one at a time. It’s like going to a restaurant where everyone can put their food order in at the same time, but the orders are made and delivered one at a time. This is one of the main reasons the Wi-FI slows down when people come together in big groups.

This brings us to…

Businesses and Facilities Struggle to Keep Up with Industry Technology

Not only is slower Wi-FI an annoyance when attending school sporting events, charity runs, or parades where people want to share photos and videos on social media.

It creates problems when businesses and facilities try to adopt the latest standard of technology for their industry.

Consider the classroom environment where multiple students are trying to download homework from an application on a tablet. Think of healthcare facilities where more mission-critical medical devices are going wireless.

Wireless medical devices, such as EKG/ECG, patient monitoring, and imaging system devices are booming within the healthcare market. A wireless network unable to handle this additional traffic means these critical medical devices, that are portable for better performance, are either not adopted by the healthcare facility or have performance problems.

One of the ways CommScope’s Wifi 6 wireless access points tackles this problem is by improved MU-MIMO (“Multiple User, Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output”) and Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA). This combined technology lets more devices access and retrieve data at the same time, versus a one-by-one service. Not to get too technical, but Wi-FI 6 divides channels and frequency to allow both high and low bandwidth applications to perform simultaneously.

This means Pat can sit in the hospital waiting room and watch YouTube videos from a mobile phone without interfering with the wireless medical devices in the hallways and nearby rooms.

Near-Future Plans for Internet-of-Things

Are more discussions brought up in council meetings about how to leverage Internet-of-Things (IoT)?

Cities and municipalities across Texas, Arkansas, Colorado and the nation are deploying “smart” initiatives to better regulate lighting, water, electricity, and security cameras.

For the reasons listed above, adding more IoT sensors and infrastructure will demand more from a wireless network not built to move so much low and high-bandwidth traffic.

Co-Channel Interference Degrading the Network

Does a long list of available networks show up when you go to your phone (or other device’s) Wi-Fi settings?

Up until now, the solution to meeting wireless needs was to add more access points. This creates a lot of “noise” and requires extra work for your devices to talk to access points. The high co-channel interference degrades the network because the access points are less available as they constantly react to the noise in the environment.

We’re seeing this happen in dense areas from parks, shared retail areas, and residential areas. For example, the access points in people’s homes interfere with the school(s) in the neighborhood.

WiFi 6 access points allows for a color coding of the different broadcast service sets or SSIDs. This means it’s able to group devices in such a way that the access point can currently transmit data to multiple devices in a congested area within those broadcasted network SSIDs, eliminating much of the co-channel interference.

Shorter Battery Life for More Devices

Notice battery life draining from phones, tablets, hand-held scanners, and other devices?

As mentioned above, devices are always searching and requesting for Wi-Fi access. This drains the battery power.

This changes with Wi-Fi 6 because the access point alters data packetization so the devices aren’t requesting access unless the device needs to. This new Target Wake Time is the function that allows an access point to define a specific time or set of times for individual devices to access the wireless network.

This is important for industries like education where tablets are used for digital learning and education. Other environments where this is useful include logistics and warehouses where handheld scanners are used.

Infrastructure Refresh Is Coming Up

Is a refresh coming up? This is a great time to identify what infrastructure is meeting the new Wi-Fi 6 standard.

Some manufacturers take extra steps to make the transition easier. For example, CommScope Wi-Fi 6 access point radios can support up to 10 gigabytes of data. Most ethernet ports only support one gigabyte. That’s why the access points are usually shipped with an ethernet port that supports either 2.5 or 5 gigabytes.

Next Steps for Municipalities

Are any of these situations experienced by your municipality?

The good thing about Wi-Fi 6 is that a lot of the features are backward compatible. For example, Commscope’s Wi-FI 6 Access Points are completely client agnostic because many of the benefits happen on the access point infrastructure side.

In our next post, we’re sharing the steps you can take to start preparing for Wi-Fi 6 adoption.
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Partnership

This article is brought to you by CommScope. CommScope and the recently acquired ARRIS and Ruckus Networks are redefining tomorrow by shaping the future of wired and wireless communications.

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