Services

Category: Services

This thought pattern is bananas!

This thought pattern is bananas!

Most of us like bananas, right? We’re privileged to have access to bananas in areas where they do not grow naturally. We even have the luxury of choosing how many we want to buy and we can hand-pick them from hundreds on display!

But why do you buy bananas? Do you just buy for the sake of having a fruit snack? Are you making a fruit salad or perhaps banana bread? Do you buy them because they’re on sale and look REALLY good? And because they’re on sale, “let’s buy more and decide what to do with them after the purchase!” (Sounds like my wife…)

Have you noticed that if you purposely buy bananas for a specific reason, then you become very selective in your purchasing decision? Generally we would shop for ripe and maybe organic bananas to make really nice banana bread. Anything other than ripe really will not do.

Making the ideal banana bread requires a good recipe, some additional ingredients and some know-how. We could opt to purchase a pre-made banana bread, but we know that some people REALLY know how to make an excellent banana bread, so much so that you might ask them to make it for you!

So what?

So, what if I told you that the banana is your product and the banana bread is your required output? This would mean the additional ingredients, recipe and baker make up the services provided to get to the required output.

I use this metaphor to illustrate to many organisations that when they start looking at service companies to provide services, they should find someone that can provide them with the required output!

Most organisations – especially in IT – will use tech experts to review service companies and (as I’ve heard before) ask to “lift their skirts” and reveal components that make up the service offering…. i.e. “lift your skirts and show us your bananas, baker!” Mmmm, this metaphor just took a turn down the wrong path…

Let’s refocus! Don’t fall into the trap of evaluating products (bananas) when you know what you want as a service! Contract for the required output and let the service provider control the rest!

 

Application Monitoring – still haven’t found what you’re looking for?

In the IT Monitoring space, it has become a requirement to have eyes on everything in your infrastructure and everyone has become used to the single pane of glass, API integration with drill-through capability and full stack service monitoring.

As a result, many specialist companies are punting complete visibility of your entire infrastructure and positioning their tools as the panacea to keeping an eye on it all, the entire time.

Looking at the features and capabilities of the more prevalent vendors out there, it appears to be realistic enough, but can one specialist tool really manage all of this in one go?

Is it possible? Yes!

Does is ever work?  Hardly…!

Here’s why…

Supposing you have the Rolls Royce of application monitoring tools, as soon as you start investigating last hop network latency on a per transaction basis to troubleshoot your customer portal’s performance issues – or something just as intricate, but relevant to your IT service – in most cases you will find a mundanely basic network error is actually affecting normal service delivery.

Most of the marquee application monitoring tools that you come across can see any level of detail into the most critical IT services.

Embarrassingly, but most often upon implementation, these tools end up pointing out bad housekeeping, like misconfigured DHCP or how network flows are being directed to discontinued IP addresses.

Despite the grand visions that we have for our IT environments, the ground level is not as stable as we expect or want it to be and will always be something that requires our attention.

One way of looking at it is the TCP/IP model of networking communications. Application monitoring tools are used to look at, troubleshoot and alert on the upper layer, as the name suggests, where transaction details can be decrypted for DPI – Deep Packet Inspection.

Following this the Transport, Internet and Physical Layers are the supporting communication layers and essentially constitute physical and virtualized network equipment, VLANs, Quality of Service Bands and their configurations – everything that the business applications need to serve the end users with information.

If this TCP/IP model is viewed as a tower of building blocks, which it does represent in many ways, it stands to reason that the foundational layers need to be in place and under control before the upper layers can be used to any effect.

These are areas and functions that need to be maintained.

Don’t take my word for it though, refer to any operational lifecycle or governance framework. Somewhere between the planning, design and operation of any service in IT, maintenance is required.
ITIL labels it as “Transition”, COBIT says “Review Effectiveness” and the Sintrex in-house methodology chose to call it “Verify”, but it still speaks to evaluating existing structures for effectiveness and performing maintenance where necessary.

But “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”, so unless something goes wrong and gets rectified, how would one maintain the lower layers of this tower?

There should be emphasis on the lowest level of the model continuously, but your focus can only move to the upper layers, provided that the current layers in focus mature into established processes of maintenance and upkeep.

This should ring true for anyone involved in networks, as the first port of call when assigning blame is invariably, the network. More trust in the network and higher visibility into the lower layers translates into less time you need to spend hunting basic errors.

And when an end user claims the ERP system is not working, IT support should first and foremost confirm that the physical network servicing the system is up and running.

If you can say with confidence that the basics are in place and the network is doing what it should, it enables you to build up from this foundation to view all the intricacies that depend on the network.

This is the level of confidence you should have in your network, before you should be able to put your trust in Application monitoring.

Finding method in the madness

In 2018, IT spend in South Africa totaled a whopping R276.6 billion (Gartner, Inc). The core challenge remains determining how to derive value from all this investment…

People, Process and Technology:
This is the foundation of any established IT management domain. It may come with proprietary terminology and be straight from a governance framework playbook, or it could be a customized set of rules based on requirements for your own environment. Whether you are the owner, an outsourced service provider, consultant or even vendor, you will need to fulfill your role within the boundaries of this framework.

In the building, maintenance and management of any IT environment, direct costs are incurred from the People and the Technology. These two terms represent most expenditures from infrastructure to cloud and software subscriptions, to permanent employees, consultants and service providers.
Unpacking all of this, you end up with all of the building blocks that show up on the company’s financial ledgers against IT. All of these building blocks put together are what IT has to ensure delivery of a service that enables business.

To best deliver a service that satisfies requirements, there are questions that need answering like:

Which team looks after WAN CE links?
What dashboard(s) do you grant to service provider XYZ?
Which processes should I keep internal and which should I entrust to an outsourced provider?
What SLA’s need to be negotiated and imposed on each team involved in service delivery?

… to name but a few. As a whole, questions related to this will very likely range far beyond these and dig much more into particular details.

It is indeed a daunting challenge.

With due respect to all vendors and service providers, there is seldom a clear winner when it comes to a particular software toolset and the same can be said about service providers. A few obvious choices come to mind but most purchases, that are seen as strategically important, go through a like-for-like comparison, exhaustive and often extended proofs of concept as well as carefully negotiated contracts terms.

In and of its nature, this purchasing of software or signing of service agreements is something that experience can teach you. The rules of the game do not change all that often and investing in technology can – in most cases – be measured and justified by a prior success internally or reference sites where the same purchase has proven to be successful. “Company A” might thrive on open source software and specialists capable of running systems smoothly, in which case you could follow the same mix of skills and solution sets. Or “Company B” is able to show ROI on high end proprietary solutions that come with marquee price-tags, in which case a value proposition can be built.

Despite having to service your own unique environment, there is most certainly a recipe for buying toolsets and selecting service providers or employees to meet your own requirements.

Why then, do some succeed and others fails with certain technology toolsets?
OR at the same token, why do some partnerships with a service provider work, while others do not?

If you have followed along to this point, it should be obvious that the third part of the introductory management framework has been left well alone. It is the part that cannot be purchased, but instead that each management team needs to build, grow and evolve to suit the needs of their own business:

Process!

This is the “secret sauce” unique to each environment that can ensure success.
Without it, any mix of “end-to-end” solution sets won’t work, nor will any amount of product specialists run an IT environment successfully. The process is what defines who gets the correct information at the right time and what to do with this information.

There should be a set procedure for every eventuality in an IT infrastructure. If an event occurs that impacts the ERP system, what remedial steps need to be taken and who needs to be informed?
What is the time frame and standard response to resolve an incident? Which steps in this procedure is repeated and thus suitable to automate?

Unfortunately, process is often overlooked. Not to the extent there is no process, but rather that the process is not adapted to changes within the environment. The trick is to acknowledge that this is a “live” document and to ensure that these adaptations are made to keep in line with today’s environment.

A technology specialist might leave the organization and someone inexperienced is appointed as custodian of a system they cannot properly use. There might be changes in your company’s e-mail or internal communications and the automated messages are just not being delivered anymore. Any part of the IT infrastructure that changes will have an impact on the tools used and the people running them and vice versa.

Provided that the process is documented and available to the various stakeholders and responsible parties, the impact of the changes mentioned above can be minimized. It enables one person to hand over to his or her successor and could be used to outline minimum requirements for replacement software. The process lays the platform for growth and sustainability in how IT delivers value to business. You cannot get this off the shelf, but if it is not maintained, your process can be the most costly component of your IT management framework. We can therefore safely say that effective and efficient processes are paramount to deriving value from your investment in IT!

SD WAN’s impact on network monitoring

SD WAN providers claim that application performance can improve by up to forty times when migrated to SD WAN technologies…  That’s a phenomenal statistic! But how true is it? How did this number roll up to the marketing department to lure you into clicking the “Subscribe to SD-WAN” button?

Strategy guru Peter Drucker once said: “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” So these claims imply there being some form of measurement to back up the statistic. This also means that the initial concern is having the visibility to actually measure performance, before being able to improve on it.

Recently at the Interop ITX in Las Vegas, one of the breakfast briefings was hosted by the IDC. The topic was “Intelligent Automation of Networks” and, more specifically, the rise of “intent based networking.”

IDC claim that network visibility is critical for all companies looking to digitally transform or improve their cloud architecture deployment. Those facing pressure to support a massively complex infrastructure should start by taking a good, hard look at their network monitoring capabilities.

It’s not just about monitoring a massively complex infrastructure to ensure a better user experience, but also to baseline the current user experience to ensure that user experience actually does improve. Migration for the sake of trying to resolve user perceived problems may not yield the desired user satisfaction, increased productivity or operational saving.

Many years ago, Sintrex was at the forefront of monitoring client experience while enterprises were migrating from private WANs to service provider MPLS networks. It was essential to baseline existing service levels so that new service levels could be compared. It’s not much different now. To retain control, organisations need to retain visibility.

A couple of other predictions made by the IDC include:

  • In the near term (6-to-12 months), monitoring for SD-WAN links and specific SaaS services will see the greatest levels of investment.
  • Over the 12 to 24 month period, enterprises will invest in and integrate new network performance monitoring capabilities with existing application performance management platforms.

Sintrex Executive, Ludwig Myburgh asserts that “from a Sintrex perspective SD Networks do not have a major impact on our monitoring paradigm. Devices will still have IP addresses, with management capabilities, interconnected via Subnets and perform similar networking services. “

“The configuration and changes applied dynamically to these devices is where there is a major change to the traditional WAN paradigm. To monitor, store, check for compliance, track changes etc. we see ourselves playing a major role. Vendors are exposing the information via API’s and particularly RESTful API’s.”

“This is where Sintrex will interconnect and collate information, store in the CMDB and bring into a consolidated warehouse to provide holistic IT intelligence.”

“From a Fault, Performance and Flow perspective there are no major changes as most of the information is still available via SNMP and NetFlow for the network based platforms and WMI for the Windows environment.”

This article was published in partnership with Sintrex.

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Partner update – ExtraHop introduces reveal (X)

ExtraHop Introduces Reveal(x) to Expose Attacks on Critical Assets and Automate Investigations

New Security Analytics Product Discovers and Contextualizes all Network Transactions to Surface High Risk Anomalies and Cut Investigation Time from Days to Minutes

SEATTLE – January 30, 2018 – ExtraHop, the leader in analytics for security and performance management, today announced the general availability of ExtraHop Reveal(x). This new security analytics product builds on enterprise-proven anomaly detection powered by wire data, giving security teams much-needed insight into what’s happening within the enterprise while automating the detection and investigation of threats. By analyzing all network interactions for abnormal behavior and identifying critical assets in the environment, Reveal(x) focuses analysts’ attention on the most important risks and streamlines response to limit exposure.

An Industry in Transition…

Security teams face a convergence of factors that complicate operations and decrease visibility. Hybrid and multi-cloud architectures increase agility but reduce operational control. Encryption is vital but disguises both benign and malicious activities. At the same time, businesses are shifting the emphasis from physical control points like endpoints and firewalls to logical perimeters such as trusted domains, privileged users, IoT, cloud, microservices, and containers. A new source of insight is required for modern architectures, one that provides empirical evidence to help analysts triage and investigate threats with confidence and timeliness.

“Attack surfaces are expanding and the sophistication of attackers is increasing. There simply aren’t enough talented security professionals to keep up,” said Jesse Rothstein, CTO and co-founder, ExtraHop. “Reveal(x) provides security teams with increased scrutiny of critical assets, detection of suspicious and anomalous behaviors, and workflows for both automated and streamlined investigation. We enable practitioners to do more with less by getting smarter about the data they already have.”

A Better Approach, A More Efficient Workflow

Reveal(x) addresses the gaps in security programs by harnessing wire data, which encompasses all information contained in application transactions. It auto-discovers, classifies, and prioritizes all devices, clients, and applications on the network and employs machine learning to deliver high-fidelity insights immediately. Anomalies are directly correlated with the attack chain and highlight hard-to-detect activities, including:

  • Internal reconnaissance — scans for open ports and active hosts, brute force attacks, attempted logins, and unusual access patterns.
  • Lateral movement — relocation from an original entry point, privilege escalation, and ransomware spread.
  • Command and control traffic — communications between a compromised host within the network and the targeted asset or an external host.
  • Exfiltration — large file transfers, unusual read/write patterns, and unusual application and user activity from an asset either directly or via a stopover host.

In a single unified system, Reveal(x) guides analysts to review relationships between these malicious activities and related evidence that informs disposition: the exhibited behavior, baselined measurements, transaction details, and assets involved. Live Activity Maps show communications in real time and can also replay transactions to illuminate the incident’s timing and scope. Detailed forensic evidence is just a click away, enabling immediate root cause determination using individual packets.

What Customers Are Saying

“When you work in a business dealing with the nation’s leading insurance companies, there is a lot of pressure to get it right. We rely on ExtraHop to provide us with the visibility needed to investigate performance and security issues,” said Chris Wenger, Senior Manager of Network & Telecommunication Systems at Mitchell International. “With ExtraHop in our IT environment, we can more easily monitor all of the communications coming into our network, including use of insecure protocols. These insights enable my team to better secure our environment. ExtraHop has been that extra layer of security for us.”

What Analysts Are Saying

“In security, your intelligence is only as good as the data source from which it’s derived,” said Eric Ogren, Senior Analyst at 451 Research. “The network is an ideal place to identify active computing devices and call out threats as they attempt to probe and communicate. ExtraHop Reveal(x) balances real-time critical asset insights with machine learning-based network traffic analytics to create visibility that will help security teams stay one step ahead of security incidents for those assets that matter most.”

What Partners Are Saying

“There are no silver bullets when it comes to identifying and managing risk within a business information security program. It’s a multidimensional problem that requires reliable sources of insight and best-of-breed technology,” said Tim O’Brien, Director of Security Operations at Trace3. “We are excited to integrate the power of ExtraHop Reveal(x) enterprise visibility and machine learning into our world-class security practice, helping our customers identify and address threats before they affect the business.”

For more information on ExtraHop Reveal(x), check out these additional resources:

Product Availability

ExtraHop Reveal(x) is available now in North America via ExtraHop’s value-added resellers for an annual subscription.

About ExtraHop

ExtraHop is the first place IT turns for insights that transform and secure the digital enterprise. By applying real-time analytics and machine learning to all digital interactions on the network, ExtraHop delivers instant and accurate insights that help IT improve security, performance, and the digital experience. Just ask the hundreds of global ExtraHop customers, including Sony, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Adobe, and Google.

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Sintrex deploys automated testing to provide end-to-end service solutions

Sintrex, an Infrastructure Management Company based in South Africa, believes in quality service delivery and is passionate about the innovative pursuit of excellence in providing end-to-end IT solutions and services.

To help ensure this quality, they have worked hard to deploy automated testing to the Sintelligent modules they use to deliver their services to clients.

How Sintrex automated testing works

Automated testing makes use of a testing framework consisting of Jenkins and Selenium that allows test cases to be run unassisted anytime of the day or night to ensure functionality is working as expected.  ­­­

Sintrex’s automated software framework allows them to test changes made to their code base at regular intervals and allows them to do so with minimal assistance from testing team members.

By eliminating the need for a person to do the testing, it allows them to run these tests nightly and helps them to identify any issues caused by code changes almost as quickly as they happen.

The road ahead

As their test automation framework matures, Sintrex will be in a position to rely on their automation processes with enough confidence to release versions of the modules more frequently.

“Unlike solutions where the software sits in a central location and is accessed by multiples of clients, our software is deployed at each of our clients and used to provide the services we offer to that particular client,” says Gregory Hooper the Quality Assurance Manager.

This adds logistical challenges to their upgrade process, as each release must be deployed in an individual change control slot at each of their clients.

This means that, although there will be benefits in being able to deliver releases more frequently, Sintrex still need to work to find the sweet spot of regular intervals to deploy.

Through the deployment of automation testing, Sintrex is now able to offer their IT management solutions in even more accurate and relevant.

This gives you improved real-time infrastructure and service level information that is constantly available and will enable easy identification of service level lapses and minimised time of problem resolution.

To get insight into your business applications, IT infrastructure, or user network usage patterns, with Sintrex automated testing, please visit the Sintrex website.

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The right way to transform your IT infrastructure

 

Modern businesses have extensive global networks, multiple service providers and utilise various technologies across a range of platforms.

However, monitoring and reacting to downtime or threats across these platforms can be strenuous and time-consuming without a solution in place.

In effect, this places your company’s corporate image in jeopardy when productivity decreases and customer service deteriorate.

When there is downtime, data needs to be secure and IT infrastructure management has to be faster, more agile, more easily scalable and cost-efficient.

Sintrex helps to manage complex environments to ensure maximum efficiency and consistent service to your end users.

Sintrex’s Infrastructure Management solutions also assist in protecting your business against downtime and threats which can result in lasting financial loss, brand damage, legal liabilities, and other extremely unpleasant consequences.

Infrastructure Management Services is essential to help automate, manage, and align your company’s IT resources and has become a must-have with the proliferation of virtualization and cloud technology.

Automation reduces the time it takes to perform a wide range of functions, making it possible to manage servers, storage and networks in converged infrastructures from a centralised location.

Sintrex services allow you to improve the stability, reliability and availability of the IT infrastructure and application services while constantly improving on performance levels and management of your IT investment.

It will also empower you to proactively identify any areas that are vulnerable and identify potential problems to prevent future downtime and disruption to end users.

As a local company, Sintrex’s team is highly familiar with challenges affecting South Africans, and their experience in a wide range of industries enables them to deliver custom results.

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Meet the local company that’s transforming IT Infrastructure Management in SA

 

The company has a strong internship programme that currently sees 80% of its interns joining its team full-time.

Mclachlan argued that South African companies need to be at the forefront of developing young people and creating jobs.

Keeping revenue local empowers companies investing in the future of South Africa to mature their products, drive innovation and ultimately create employment opportunities.

For its efforts to driving local job creation, Sintrex has been recognised by the IDC and DTI.

What Sintrex offers

The company offers its clients accurate, real time data and ensures that a desired level of performance is achieved and maintained in all IT assets throughout the business.

While many products and services in the local IT sector are based on imported products, Sintrex is dedicated to providing local solutions.

By listening to and adapting services to each client’s unique needs, Sintrex offers a complete end-to-end service built on the following four service pillars:

  • Sintrex Infrastructure Management:
  • Sintrex Asset Management:
  • Sintrex Application Management:
  • Sintrex SLA Management:

Addressing these four service pillars results in a comprehensive IT management solution designed to enhance the customers experience of their IT.

The personal touch

Yet what really sets Sintrex apart is the motivated, credible and attentive team that seem to become part of the client’s extended family.

Through a culture of excellence, partnership and fun, Sintrex also attracts and empowers staff with an inspirational work experience, world class software and globally renowned suppliers and partners.

“Sintrex delivers great results because it mentors a great team,” said Keith Mclachlan, CEO at Sintrex.

“With a culture of open participation, results a driven through great collaboration between departments allowing a shared passion for IT solutions to bring the staff together productively.”

Employees at Sintrex are able to deliver top quality services and solutions to their clients, helping to secure and enhance their IT reputations.

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Sintrex addresses I.T. skills shortage

 

Sintrex