Why a Phased Approach to Communications-in-the-Cloud Makes Sense

As IT departments refresh their assets, an increasing number of decision-makers are taking a close look at cloud-based software to replace aging, on-premise hardware.

The benefits of the cloud should be well-worn territory by now: Lower initial costs and steady monthly billing make long-term budget planning a breeze, upgrades and security patches are virtually pain-free, remote workers can access their complete suite of business tools and applications, critical data is housed in multiple locations, easing disaster recovery—the list goes on.

Business communications is getting a similar overhaul to the cloud. Desk phones can be untethered from the traditional on-premise PBX and placed in the cloud, accessible through IP-based hard phones, desktop-based soft phones and mobile apps. Similarly, contact centers can place their software, equipment and customer databases in the cloud.

Avaya has made significant investments in the cloud, and offers a range of cloud-based solutions for its customers. At VMworld 2015, a team of engineers are demonstrating Avaya UC and CC products hosted on VMware vCloud Air, the company’s cloud-based service platform.

A key feature to Avaya’s vCloud Air-based offer is its phased rollout, says Mohan Gopalakrishna, one of the lead engineers on the project, who will speak at VMworld 2015 on Wednesday.

“A phased approach gives customers a chance to try a smaller piece of the infrastructure in the cloud and builds their confidence in cloud-based solutions,” said Gopalakrishna. “We can gradually retire servers from the on-premise campus and into the cloud. Avaya protects the investment and gives you an easy migration path to the cloud at your own pace.”

Avaya’s Enterprise Solution Practice team helps architect cloud migration plans for existing customers, adopting a phased approach that uses on-premise equipment on the path to the entire solution being in the cloud. Cloud doesn’t have to mean rip-and-replace.

Currently, Gopalakrishna estimates it would take about a month to fully migrate a midsized company’s unified communications to the cloud—a target he thinks could eventually be shortened to under a week.

Contact centers are more complex, and could take 3 to 6 months based on the project’s complexity. Still, that’s much faster than the 8 to 12 months it currently takes to migrate an on-premise contact center. Eventually, Avaya expects an average reduction of 50 percent in lead-time-to-market.

Avaya works with major cloud service providers like VMware on two levels: The first is placing Avaya solutions inside the provider’s cloud service, essentially treating it as infrastructure. The second is by using the cloud provider’s unique tools to enhance Avaya software running on the infrastructure. At VMworld, Mohan will talk about the ways Avaya used VMware’s real-time hypervisor to improve its hybrid cloud solutions.

If you’re attending VMworld 2015, join Mohan Gopalakrishna on Wednesday, Sept. 2 (details here), and visit booth #541 to learn more about Avaya products and solutions.

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How Enterprise Virtualization Will Save Your Business in the Era of IoT

Having a backyard full of trees is quite therapeutic during a marathon day of conference calls, but it also comes with a fair share of maintenance: picking up the fallen limbs from the elms, keeping the invasive cedars from choking out other species, and trimming up the oaks to keep them healthy and the fireplace burning through the winter. On those maintenance days, it’s easy to get obsessed with a tree or set of trees that are causing a problem … say, dropping large limbs dangerously close to your daughters’ trampoline. When you’re fixing up your backyard, one problem – one tree – at a time, the solution to the problem at hand often fails to take into account the needs of the larger ecosystem. Unfortunately, for many networking professionals, every day feels like a maintenance day.

We see problems with mobility and service chaining in and across data centers. We see problems with cost and reliability in the WAN. We see problems with scalability and security in the campus. In a nutshell, we see problems. Fortunately, for every problem, there’s a good ol’ fashioned snake oil salesman. We’re inundated with the latest and greatest technologies to solve our woes … even some we didn’t know we had.

The problem is that we’re putting Band-Aids on bullet holes. The bleeding stops, but the real problem is still lurking beneath the surface. It’s not that these fixes are bad. The problem is that they’re being positioned as a cure-all instead of simply tools to address localized side effects of the problem.

The problem is broader. The data center exists to host applications. Those applications exist to enable users. The WAN exists to connect the data center to the campus, which exists for the users. And, of course, the users exist to run the business.

Since the business is the thing we’re looking to keep alive and thriving, those users need to be productive. That means that they need fast, efficient access to the applications that enable their jobs. So, those problems we rattled off earlier are really just symptoms that have emerged as we tried to create enterprise services across silos of control.

If we want to remove the bullet and save the patient, we must recognize the need for end-to-end services and look holistically at Enterprise Virtualization methods that will securely extend services from user to application at scale with on-demand mobility and business continuity. Otherwise, the problem is only going to get worse.

With the Internet of Things (IoT) becoming an ever-increasing reality in the enterprise, the need for services from device to application is going to multiply exponentially. Without Enterprise Virtualization, the burden on IT to deal with every little problem across the islands of campus, WAN and data center will be overwhelming. They simply won’t be able to keep pace, and, as a result, neither will the business. The users will be limited and become frustrated, and productivity will suffer in turn. It’s a bleak picture, but it doesn’t have to be.

Enterprise Virtualization provides a number of advantages that have long been unattainable to the general enterprise. While we’ve managed to achieve “micro-segmentation” down to the virtual machine layer for applications, the very same data is set free at the data center doors and left vulnerable in the less secure world beyond.

Enterprise Virtualization enables you to extend the segmentation in the data center to the very edges of the network, where the data is consumed by users. Not only can you extend isolation, you can also view it as one contiguous service from server node to user node.

All of the tools available for measuring quality and performance have a clear view from end-to-end, rather than requiring additional tools to aggregate and correlate metrics across the three different islands of technology. Not to mention, Enterprise Virtualization allows you to significantly reduce the number of touch points while provisioning and troubleshooting, thus minimizing the likelihood of down time due to human error.

Just like that limb-dropping elm can avoid the chainsaw, your enterprise can avoid being cut down in its prime. You see, it was a problem in the ecosystem that would have eventually killed all the trees through their intertwined root systems. It was lurking beneath the surface, but the arborist took a step back to see the whole forest, and then recognized and treated the real issue. Likewise, you need to make sure that someone is looking at your forest of IT challenges … not just banging their head on a single tree.

Why Avaya + VMware = SDN Success

Why it doesn’t have to be an either-or decision between the underlay and the overlay

Software-Defined Networking (SDN), Network Function Virtualization, virtualization, data center automation, the list goes on. These are the hot topics fundamentally changing the way we design, build and operate our IT infrastructures. What do they all have in common? They’re being discussed in detail this week at VMworld, one of the largest annual gatherings of customers, experts and vendors in the industry.

As mentioned in our last post on VMworld, Avaya is showcasing its cloud-based Unified Communications and Contact Center service offerings, and the new, smaller sibling of the Avaya Collaboration Pod family, the Collaboration Pod 2400.

The Collaboration Pod 2400 combines virtual compute, storage, networking and all Avaya UC/CC applications in a ready-to-deploy platform with a “single pane of glass” management system and integrated support provided by Avaya.

This allows customers to have a very complex set of applications up and running in mere hours. Stay tuned for a future blog post on Collaboration Pods, where we talk to cloud service providers who confirm this time-to-service advantage.

Underpinning the infrastructure agility of the Collaboration Pod platform is Avaya SDN FxTM networking architecture and VMware’s virtualization technology. Avaya SDN Fx offers unprecedented flexibility and ease of deployment. Independent research found the technology resulted in 100 percent fewer outages based on human error, 11 times faster implementation and 7 times faster configuration and troubleshooting time. Avaya SDN Fx is a true game changer.

In order to provide compute virtualization and overlay networking, the Collaboration Pod uses VMware’s proven ESXi technology in conjunction with Avaya Virtual Provisioning Service.

The Collaboration Pod we are exhibiting at VMworld is a proof of concept that runs on VMware’s NSX-V platform. We’re leveraging NSX-V’s compute, storage and networking virtualization, as well as its micro-segmentation, to provide enhanced capabilities for controlling micro-flows.

VMware’s NSX-V and Avaya SDN Fx are highly complementary and an ideal foundation for SDN and cloud-based offerings in and beyond the data center.

Avaya Collaboration Pods Overlay and Underlay

Avaya SDN Fx and VMware’s NSX form a best-in-class combination and are proof of the ongoing innovation provided by Avaya and VMware. Avaya SDN Fx allows for the extension of the VMware fabric–including its micro-segmentation capabilities–to the campus and branch, thus providing an integrated, end-to-end solution.

As partners, we continue to deliver best-in-class solutions to our customers. Avaya plans to work with VMware to ensure closer integration with NSX-V and a co-certification once the VMware program for NSX-V becomes available.

Vishing – Another Form of Social Engineering

Recently, a customer reached out to me and asked me to comment on the current state of Vishing, or Voice Phishing, as it applies to today’s communications environments. Since it is one of my pet peeves, I gladly provided them with a brief write-up on the topic of Caller ID spoofing and the net effect on overall network security. Writing about such things is like walking a very thin line. While you don’t want to educate potential “bad actors” with information on how to perpetrate an event, you need to increase awareness so that others can easily recognize potential threats that fit, or do not fit, a specific pattern or profile.

As communications technology migrates away from traditional carrier network architectures, confidence in Caller ID is dwindling. In a legacy network, Caller ID is typically associated with a specific pair of wires connected to the telephone company end office. The subscriber information for each call is associated with the call event by the central office, and the originating endpoint, in most cases, has no ability to generate or modify this information. Based on this, the information received at the terminating side (Caller ID) was trusted and assumed to be verified.

While this is true for analog endpoints, or POTS lines, the same is not true for VoIP. This new technology brings a twist to the trust factor of Caller ID, as now the origination endpoint (being IP-based) has the ability to define and transmit the Caller ID and name of each individual call session.

VoIP carriers rarely provide any validation of this information, letting it proceed into the PSTN unfettered. This enables the creation of several new scenarios that, before now, were not even possible without complex equipment or access at a deep level in the telephone network. If sent by the originating endpoint, Caller Name (CNAM) information can be transported to the receiving endpoint. Typically it is applied at the terminating Central Office which does a CNAM lookup based on the ANI or Caller ID received. Unfortunately, this can enable a spoofed Caller ID at the terminating endpoint.

Telephone hackers, or “phone phreakers,” can use this loophole to add a level of credibility to their efforts. Using a number of methods, they can easily control whatever Caller ID and CNAM appear, ultimately masking their true identity and adding an incredible amount of credibility to their phishing schemes.

It is a well-known fact that hackers look for and exploit tiny, seemingly irrelevant bits of information and then use that information to build credibility.

Imagine receiving a simple call from a representative of your company’s IT support team that displays a valid, recognizable caller ID.

This new technology makes that hack possible. It creates a veil of confidence that allows the phreaker to extract sensitive information such as usernames or passwords.

Scared? Good, you should be.

What’s even scarier is the fact that there is currently no way to authenticate or expose this tactic, so we must remain alert and diligent. We need to train our employees to immediately recognize and then report social engineering attacks.

There is a lesson in this story. While the hack is simple caller ID spoofing, it in itself is not the sole threat. This is an enabler of an even graver threat: social engineering… and that is difficult or impossible to prevent.