Inflexible IT architectures can be a barrier to organizational change. As companies embark on digital transformations aimed at improving their business, the pressure is on IT to reduce complexity and increase the efficiency of enterprise systems and applications. Fave Raves is an annual feature from Network World that invites IT pros to share hands-on assessments of products they love. Several tools that enable organizations to simplify their infrastructure and automate key tasks ranked among the favorites in 2017 and recent years. Here’s what IT pros had to say, in their own words. For more enterprise favorites, check out the full Fave Raves collection.
A move to software-defined WAN is allowing Autodesk to simplify its branch office infrastructure, improve application performance, and better manage WAN expenses.
The CloudGenix ION SD-WAN “unifies our connectivity by allowing all our offices, including remote small offices, to be connected together in a mesh network through the Internet, instead of some through hub sites, and it provides better performance overall and meets our business Internet requirements,” says Prakash Kota, vice president of IT at San Rafael, Calif.-based Autodesk, which makes 3D design and engineering software. “It increases the access speed and performance of our enterprise applications, which in turn provide our end users more efficiency and make them more productive.”
As the company grows, the CloudGenix ION technology will allow Kota and his team to provision branch offices faster, using simpler hardware and connectivity options. “CloudGenix will [speed] the deployment time of Internet connectivity for future new Autodesk sites and provide our business with Internet access in days versus months by reducing the connectivity requirements and allowing Autodesk to utilize commodity services such as purchasing Internet circuits instead of MPLS hardware,” Kota says.
Looking ahead, the future for Autodesk is all about automation. “I am big on automation,” Kota says. “I have a rule that any activity that must be done more than once should be automated. It is easy in large organizations for us to fall into the inefficiencies created by manual processes. The only way a nearly $20 billion organization competes with startups is by relentlessly automating – this drives efficient usage of resources, and [lets us] focus on the most business-impacting activity.”
At Texas A&M University System, Daniel Basile was looking to automate threat detection and response to help defend the statewide higher-ed system, which spans 11 universities and seven state agencies. His technology of choice is Vectra’s cybersecurity platform.
“There are very few tools that allow you to distil cybersecurity event information to a level where a tier-1 analyst can make a meaningful decision with the information presented to him within five minutes,” says Basile, who is executive director of the security operations center at Texas A&M University System. “If the tool can do this without agents, without signatures, and without logs, many people would claim disbelief. With Vectra, we are able to obtain this.”
The effectiveness of Vectra has allowed A&M System to monitor its system network and run a security operations center with an extremely small staff. “We are able to leverage student workers with an affinity for cybersecurity to act as our tier-1 analysts. This turns our titled tier-1 individuals effectively into tier-2 analysts,” Basile says.
Vectra has also reduced the risk of costly data breaches. “On average, in the past, if you had a breach you called forensics and you found out about it usually a month after it actually occurred,” Basile says. “With Vectra, we found seven incidents, but we found them quickly enough I didn’t need to call an outside forensics team.” Early detection has saved A&M System millions of dollars, he says.
Virtual server hosting and DRaaS
BRIDGE Housing builds and manages affordable homes for families and seniors. The nonprofit developer has properties throughout California, as well as in Portland and Seattle, which creates a dispersed environment for the IT team to manage and administer. Thomas Hesse, IT director at BRIDGE Housing, depends on Evolve IP for virtual server hosting and managed disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS).
“The ability to leverage an experienced team if and when server or network issues arise is a great advantage for me. I have a small IT group and therefore limited resources. It also gives me and my senior leadership the peace of mind knowing corporate data is secure and recoverable in a private cloud environment,” Hesse says. “It has allowed me and my IT team the time to focus on research and development of technology that helps BRIDGE Housing grow as a business. We do not need to worry about managing, maintaining, or protecting our network servers or corporate data.”
Content is core to the work of Densho, an organization whose mission is to preserve the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were held in internment camps during World War II. In the past, Densho needed a complex storage environment to house its 30TB of production data, says Geoff Froh, deputy director and CIO at the nonprofit organization based in Seattle.
“The two-tier infrastructure was composed of high-performance SAN hardware and high-capacity consumer-grade NAS appliances. The SAN was expensive, difficult to manage and not scalable. The NAS gear was unreliable and lacked the IOPS to handle our workload,” Froh recalls.
Densho turned to storage start-up Qumulo, which aims to help enterprises store their data more efficiently and with greater visibility into how content is being used. Froh raved about the scalability, easy manageability, and baked-in analytics of the Qumulo Core and Q0626 hybrid storage appliance.
“The Q0626, powered by the Qumulo Core software platform, has allowed us to consolidate all of our data to a single point of control. We now have the capability to incrementally scale out our storage into the tens of petabytes without interrupting user services,” Froh says. “The hybrid flash/SSD/HDD hardware provides rock-solid, enterprise performance, and the Qumulo is managed through a simple web interface that makes administration and provisioning incredibly easy. The hours every month we spent tending to our storage and troubleshooting problems are now dedicated to more productive work.”
Rich Russo singled out Paessler’s PRTG Network Monitor. “It’s the all-seeing eye-in-the-sky over our entire network,” says Russo, who is senior engineer of infrastructure at insurance and risk management advisor Crystal & Company.
“We run a lean IT department so there is never a shortage of issues. If we had to additionally check in on systems for things like hard drive space, CPU utilization or bandwidth spikes, we’d never get anything done,” Russo says. “PRTG checks more systems than all of us put together could in a day, with ease. When you combine that with email notifications for red flags, it’s the perfect tool. We know about issues before the users do and can start remediating before they even call.”
Data center facilities monitoring
Stuart Walker, facilities technical services manager at Mentor Graphics, has grown to depend on FieldView Infrastructure Software (FieldView was acquired in 2016 by Nlyte Software, which makes data center infrastructure management software). “The [FieldView] tool is a monitoring and reporting solution that spans the IT and facilities universe, so it’s easy to integrate multiple vendor equipment and multiple protocols with a global reach,” Walker says. “We use it to monitor and alert our data centers and critical infrastructure around the world. It only gets better with age. The tools helps me sleep at night knowing that any issue will be detected and alerted. Then for the day job, it’s helping us identify waste and inefficiencies.”
App performance assistance
August Azzarello, IS quality assurance engineer at The Container Store, wrote in about his favorite: application performance monitoring software from AppDynamics (now a Cisco company) that’s designed to help companies see what’s going on in their application environments and take action when application performance is affecting the business.
“AppDynamics helps give us clear insight into our infrastructure(s), in both production and test environments. This allows us to more efficiently focus on performance and stability by notifying us of problem spots. More and more, we are realizing the power of AppDynamics, not only from a true production monitoring platform, but in development and test processes,” Azzarello says. “Simple implementation of alerting, instant increased knowledge of our infrastructure and application performance, and visual dashboards for every type of audience make it a complete solution.”
Similarly, Jan Swaelens shared his experience with Dynatrace application performance management.
“I am especially fond of Dynatrace because it gives us a crystal-clear view of what is happening to not only our application but the complete landscape of our deployments,” says Swaelens, software architect and member of the solution management team at Sofico, which develops software for car leasing, fleet management and mobility companies. “In addition to that, [it gives us] a view of what the actual (real) user perceives at his end, which is the ultimate point of a commercial application – making the end user happy and productive.”
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