Category Archives: Security

Write Once, Run Anywhere: The IoT Machine Learning Shift From Proprietary Technology To Data

Write Once, Run Anywhere: The IoT Machine Learning Shift From Proprietary Technology To Data

The IoT Machine Learning Shift

While early artificial intelligence (AI) programs were a one-trick pony, typically only able to excel at one task, today it’s about becoming a jack of all trades. Or at least, that’s the intention. The goal is to write one program that can solve multi-variant problems without the need to be rewritten when conditions change—write once, run anywhere. Digital heavyweights—notably Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft—are now open sourcing their machine learning (ML) libraries in pursuit of that goal as competitive pressures shift focus from proprietary technologies to proprietary data for differentiation.

Machine learning is the study of algorithms that learn from examples and experience, rather than relying on hard-coded rules that do not always adapt well to real-world environments. ABI Research forecasts ML-based IoT analytics revenues will grow from $2 billion in 2016 to more than $19 billion in 2021, with more than 90% of 2021 revenue to be attributed to more advanced analytics phases. Yet while ML is an intuitive and organic approach to what was once a very rudimentary and primal way of analyzing data, it is worth noting that the ML/AI model creation process itself can be a very complex.

Data

The techniques used to develop machine learning algorithms fall under two umbrellas:

  • How they learn: based on the type of input data provided to the algorithm (supervised learning, unsupervised learning, reinforcement learning, and semi-supervised learning)

  • How they work: based on type of operation, task, or problem performed on I/O data (classification, regression, clustering, anomaly detection, and recommendation engines)

Once the basic principles are established, a classifier can be trained to automate the creation of rules for a model. The challenge lies in learning and implementing the complex algorithms required to build these ML models, which can be costly, difficult, and time-consuming.

Engaging the open-source community introduces an order of magnitude to the development and integration of machine learning technologies without the need to expose proprietary data, a trend which Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft swiftly pioneered.

At more than $1 trillion, these four companies have a combined market cap that dwarfs the annual gross domestic product of more than 90% of countries in the world. Each also open sourced its own deep learning library in the past 12 to 18 months: Amazon’s Deep Scalable Sparse Tensor Network Engine (DSSTNE; pronounced “destiny”), Google’s TensorFlow, IBM’s SystemML, and Microsoft’s Computational Network Toolkit (CNTK). And others are quickly following suit, including Baidu, Facebook, and OpenAI.

But this is just the beginning. To take the most advanced ML models used in IoT to the next level (artificial intelligence), modeling, and neural network toolsets (e.g., syntactic parsers) must improve. Open sourcing such toolsets is again a viable option, and Google is taking the lead by open sourcing its neural network framework, Google’s SyntaxNet, driving the next evolution in IoT from advanced analytics to smart, autonomous machines.

But should others continue to jump on this bandwagon and attempt to shift away from proprietary technology and toward proprietary data? Not all companies own the kind of data that Google collects through Android or Search, or that IBM picked up with its acquisition of The Weather Company’s B2B, mobile, and cloud-based web-properties. Fortunately, a proprietary data strategy is not the panacea for competitive advantage in data and analytics. As more devices get connected, technology will play an increasingly important role for balancing insight generation from previously untapped datasets, and the capacity to derive value from the highly variable, high-volume data that comes with these new endpoints—at a cloud scale, with zero manual tuning.

Collaboration 

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Collaborative economics is an important component in the analytics product and service strategies of these four leading digital companies all seeking to build a greater presence in IoT and more broadly the convergence of the digital and the physical. But “collaboration” should be placed in context. Once one company open-sourced its ML libraries, other companies were forced to release theirs as well. Millions of developers are far more powerful than a few thousand in-house employees. As well, open sourcing offers these companies tremendous benefits because they can use the new tools to enhance their own operations. For example, Baidu’s Paddle ML software is being used in 30 different online and offline Baidu businesses ranging from health to financial services.

And there are other areas for these companies to invest resources that go beyond the analytics toolsets. Identity management services, data exchange services and data chain of custody are three key areas that will be critical in the growth of IoT and the digital/physical convergence. Pursuing ownership or proprietary access to important data has its appeal. But the new opportunities in the IoT landscape will rely on great technology and the scale these companies possess for a connected world that will in the decades to come reach hundreds of billions of endpoints.

martin-ryan-hi-rezBy  Ryan Martin and Dan Shey

Ryan Martin, Senior Analyst at ABI Research, covers new and emerging mobile technologies, including wearable tech, connected cars, big data analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) / Internet of Everything (IoE). 

Ryan holds degrees in economics and political science, with an additional concentration in global studies, from the University of Vermont and an M.B.A. from the University of New Hampshire.

Why Do Television Companies Need A Digital Transformation

Why Do Television Companies Need A Digital Transformation

Cloud TV

Over just a few years, the world of television production, distribution, and consumption has changed dramatically. In the past, with only a few channels to choose from, viewers watched news and entertainment television at specific times of the day or night. They were also limited by where and how to watch. Options included staying home, going to a friend’s house, or perhaps going to a restaurant or bar to watch a special game, show, news story, or event. When we are talking about the TV industry has now been completing and moving to the high definition from the standard definition, now the discussion is about 4K and 8K video standard. But before all these things happen, analog based broadcasting needs to transform digitally. That means TV industry is unavoidable needing a disruptive transformation in their ICT platform to cope with the new processes of acquisition, production, distribution and consumption.

cloudtweaks-tv

Fast-forward to today, and you have a very different scenario. Thanks to the rise of the Internet – and, in particular, mobile technology – people have nearly limitless options for their news and entertainment sources. Not only that, but they can choose to get their news and other media on TV or on a variety of smart devices, including phones, tablets, smart watches, and more.

Improved Business Value From New Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)

The world has changed, and continues to change, at a rapid pace. This change has introduced a number of challenges to businesses in the television industry. Making the digital media transformation can do a number of things to resolve these challenges and improve your business and viewership.

With leading new ICT, you can see significant business value and improved marketing and production strategies. For example, making this transformation can vastly improve your television station’s information production and service capabilities. It can also smooth the processes involved with improving broadcasting coverage and performance as well.

With these improvements, your station will have faster response times when handling time-sensitive broadcasts. This delivers to your audience the up-to-the-minute coverage and updates they want across different TV and media devices and platforms.

Improved Social Value with New ICT

A television station that refuses to change and evolve with viewers’ continuously evolving needs and wants will find themselves falling behind competitors. However, a TV station that understands the necessity to make the digital media transformation will have significantly improved social value with their audiences.

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Television stations that embrace new technology, digital media, storage, cloud computing and sharing will see massive improvements in social value. Consider that this transformation enables your station to produce timely and accurate reports faster, giving your audience the freshest information and entertainment.

By bringing news and entertainment media to your audience when, where and how they want and need it, you can enrich their lives and promote a culture of information sharing that will also serve to improve your ratings and business. With technologies like cloud-based high-definition video production and cloud-based storage and sharing architectures, you can eliminate many of the challenges and pain points associated with reporting news and bringing TV entertainment to a large audience.

Why Do Television, Media, and Entertainment Companies Need a Digital Transformation?

Consider the basic steps that a TV news station must take to get the news to their audience:

  • Acquisition
  • Production
  • Distribution
  • Consumption

For television stations that have not yet embraced a digital media transformation, these steps do not just represent the process of delivering news media to the public. They also represent a series of pain points that can halt progress and delay deadlines. These include:

  • Traditional AV matrices use numerous cables, are limited by short transmission distance for HD signals and require complicated maintenance, slowing down 4K video evolution.
  • Delays when attempting to transmit large video files from remote locations back to the television station.
  • Delays when reporters edit videos because office and production networks in TV stations are separated from each other, requiring them to move back and forth between the production zone and the office zone in their building to do research
  • Delays due to the time it takes to transmit a finished program (between six and twenty-four minutes, depending on the length and whether or not it is a high-definition video) to the audience.
  • 4K video production has much higher requirements on bandwidth and frame rates.

These challenges all occur in traditional structures and architectures for media handling, but they quickly dissolve when a TV station makes the digital transformation and begin using a cloud-based architecture with new ICT.

Keeping Up With Viewer Demand via Ultra High Definition (UHD) Omnimedia

Increasingly, viewers demand more and more individualized experiences. These include interactive programming, rich media, UHD video, and they want it across all applicable devices. Delivering UHD omnimedia is only possible through new ICT, as older IT infrastructures simply cannot scale to the levels necessary to keep up with viewer demands.

Fortunately, through cloud-based architectures and faster sharing, networks and stations may not only keep up with consumer demand but actually surpass it. For example, when using 4K formatting, your station can provide viewers with the highest resolution possible (4096 x 2160 pixels), and your video formatting will be easily scalable for different platforms for the most convenient viewing possible.

Furthermore, by becoming an omnimedia center, your station can enjoy the benefits of converged communications. Essentially, this means that you will be creating information and/or entertainment that can be used in multiple different ways for television, social media, news sites, etc., giving you more coverage and exposure than ever before.

What Is Required to Make the Transformation to Digital Media?

Cloud computing and embracing 4K for video formatting are both essential to digital media transformation, but they are not all that is necessary. Aside from these two elements, television stations can take advantage of advances in technology in a number of ways to improve their marketing and production strategies through the use of new ICTs.

For example, thin clients and cloud computing could enable video editing anywhere and anytime, increasing efficiency. In order to improve the latency between the thin clients and the cloud, with the help of enhanced display protocol, virtual machine and GPU virtualization technology, the new ICT architectures today can enable a smooth editing of 8-track HD video in audio / video synchronization, or even support 6-track 4K video editing on clients via the industry’s only IP storage system.

As mentioned earlier, through cloud computing, it is no longer necessary to physically transport video from a news site to the station. Likewise, it is no longer necessary to do all production work and research in separate areas. Thanks to cloud storage and sharing, these pain points can easily be eliminated, as sharing and sending information becomes much simpler and faster.

An all-IP based video injection process is a must if TV stations want to lower network complexity and simplify system maintenance. There are two ways to approach this:

  1. For example, IP cables can replace traditional SDI signals. Each cable transmits 1 channel of 4K video signal. (SDI requires 4 cables to transmit the same video.) Thus, using IP cables can reduce the number of necessary cables by up to 92%, improving O&M efficiency by 60%, and bringing convenience to system interworking and interaction.
  2. With the help of mobile broadband, WAN accelerated networks, smart phones or tablets, journalists in the field can now shorten the video submission process by 90%. Most importantly, cloud computing allows journalists to edit video anywhere and anytime. With the help of fast trans-coding resources in the cloud, real time video reporting is now possible.

Another major factor in any digital media transformation is big data and data analytics. By collecting and analyzing information on your station’s viewers, you can better create more personalized viewing experiences. Netflix has, perhaps, one of the best and most widely known examples of this, as they have created specific algorithms based on previous customer behavior to predict whether or not a viewer will enjoy a certain film or show, and which media to recommend for any viewer.

netflix-image

Through these and other information and communication technologies, such as the Internet of Things(IoT), SDN (software-defined networking), improved mobile broadband, etc., television stations can bring faster, more accurate, and more convenient news and entertainment to their customers and viewers.

Who Is Leading the Way in the Transformation?

In my opinion, the company who has complete agile innovations across cloud-pipe-device collaboration will lead the way to transformation. One of companies in China called Huawei is now trying to create an ecosystem for the global channel partners and solution partners across the news and media entertainment industry, and it provides an open ICT platform that encourages media industry developers to continue to innovate their products. With strong development in cloud-based architectures, SDN, mobile broadband, and IoT, developers and partners are able to create the most comprehensive solutions that best empower media stations of all kinds to move into the future.

What do you think of the digital media transformation in the Television Industry?

(Originally published September 7th, 2016)

By Ronald van Loon

The Importance of Cloud Backups: Guarding Your Data Against Hackers

The Importance of Cloud Backups: Guarding Your Data Against Hackers

The Importance of Cloud Backups

Cloud platforms have become a necessary part of modern business with the benefits far outweighing the risks. However, the risks are real and account for billions of dollars in losses across the globe per year. If you’ve been hacked, you’re not alone. Here are some other companies in the past several years that have fallen victim to data breaches and lived to survive:

  • Premera Blue Cross had 11 million member’s names, birthdates, email addresses, addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, member identification numbers, bank account information and medical claims information compromised in 2014.
  • Sony had 47,000 current and former employee’s names, addresses, Social Security numbers, internal emails and other personal information exposed in 2014.
  • Staples had 1.16 million customer’s credit card numbers from 115 stores stolen.
  • Home Depot had 56 million customer’s credit card numbers stolen.
  • LinkedIn had passwords for nearly 6.5 million user accounts taken by Russian cybercriminals in 2012 which resurfaced in May 2016.
  • Worse yet, in 2013, the U.S. Army, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services had their databases breached which included personal information on at least 104,000 employees, contractors, family members and others associated with the Department of Energy, along with information on almost 2,0000 bank accounts.

At the risk of sounding like misery loves company, you are clearly not alone and anyone is susceptible to a breach in data security. In fact, a survey conducted by security consultancy company CyberEdge found that 71% of those surveyed fell victim to a cyber attack in 2014 and 52% believed they would be hit by a successful cyber attack in the near future. Another online backup survey found that 56% of SMBs store mission-critical data both on-premise and in the cloud, identifying that extra precautions are common practice.

security-insider

While malware comes in different forms of destruction, Ramsonware is one of the newest ploys to handicap the systems of cyber victims. “’Ransomware’ is malicious software that allows a hacker to access an individual or company’s computers, encrypt sensitive data and then demand some form of payment to decrypt it. Doing so essentially lets hackers hold user data or a system hostage,” reports Security Magazine.

Cybercriminals could seek to exploit weak or ignored corporate security policies established to protect cloud services. Home to an increasing amount of business confidential information, such services, if exploited, could compromise organizational business strategy, company portfolio strategies, next-generation innovations, financials, acquisition and divestiture plans, employee data and other data.”

So how do you backup your cloud so that you can recover data without falling victim to Ransomware? Many cloud platforms BDR (backup and disaster recovery) services allow you to schedule backup frequency and replicate data off-site to reduce the possibilities of losing valuable information due to a Ransomware attack, natural disaster or other cause which prevents you from accessing your cloud. For example, if you use Microsoft Azure, they offer Azure Site Recovery which can replicate workloads to the company’s Premium Storage tier of cloud storage which uses SSDs packed with flash chips to speed up cloud applications and associated storage operations. “If you are running I/O [input/output] intensive enterprise workloads on-premises, we recommend that you replicate these workloads to Premium Storage,” wrote Poornima Natarajan, a Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise program manager, in a blog post. “At the time of a failover of your on-premises environment to Azure, workloads replicating to Premium storage will come up on Azure virtual machines running on high speed solid state drives (SSDs) and will continue to achieve high-levels of performance, both in terms of throughout and latency.

While it may be a hassle to backup your cloud data, not doing so could be detrimental to your business. From natural disasters to hackers to human error, taking the time to secure your cloud-based data may cost you a few minutes but could end up being priceless.

By Alex Miller

Technology and the Future of Cognitive Computing

Technology and the Future of Cognitive Computing

Cognitive Computing

Recently popularized by IBM’s highly intelligent Watson supercomputer, which competed on the hit game show Jeopardy, cognitive computing refers to machines that are capable of learning concepts and patterns through advanced language processing algorithms. A system that involves incredibly advanced artificial intelligence, cognitive computing is one facet of computer science that isn’t for the faint of heart.

Consumer Uses for Cognitive Computing

Although much of the hype is centered on big business and big data processing, there are a number of consumer applications. Whereas business leaders might use the technology to increase their bottom line, streamline daily operations and achieve greater profitability, consumers can take advantage of computing to ease some of the burdens of everyday life.

In fact, many consumers are using some form of it without realizing it. Smartphone apps, in-store kiosks, and e-Commerce use cognitive computing to offer users and customers greater accessibility, increased support and cost comparison. According to Deloitte, more than half of all mobile users currently use their devices while shopping in order to browse prices and download coupons.

How Cognitive Computing Is Changing the Workplace

cognitive computing

While cognitive computing has yet to reach its full potential, there are nearly infinite possibilities for its future implementation.

According to some sources can bolster the recordkeeping and documentation process within the healthcare sector by collating patient history, recommending the appropriate diagnostic tools and even suggesting relevant articles or whitepapers. Some analysts predict that approximately 30 percent of all healthcare IT systems will use cognitive computing by the year 2018.

Our ability to manage ad-hoc projects can also benefit from it. By utilizing a system like IBM’s Watson as a personal, AI-driven secretary, project managers can obtain accurate information, monitor timelines and deliverables or even participate in the overall project planning and budgeting phases. People who actively use a project portfolio management strategy can use the technology to achieve greater resource allocation, track multiple projects and collate data from various sources.

People in the insurance industry also stand to benefit from cognitive computing and advanced AI. According to research by experts with IBM, computing systems can bolster human-computer engagement, strengthen information discovery and make important business decisions. Additional benefits include improvements in risk management, cost analysis and customer service.

Companies use cognitive computing in a myriad of other ways, too. Some use the technology as a means of supporting internal troubleshooting and third-party software, while others use it to collect, store and analyze financial data on behalf of individual clientele.

Receiving Brand Name Support

Cognitive computing is receiving support from some of the top names in the IT world. Apart from IBM and their Watson supercomputer, brands such as Microsoft, Cisco, Google and Spark have thrown their respective hats into the mix. Moreover, they all add something different to the concept of cognitive computing.

For example, Microsoft offers various software development kits and utilities in order to support the programming and implementation of advanced artificial intelligence in modern software. Conversely, Cisco’s Cognitive Threat Analytics suite is meant to identify and resolve cyber-threats as soon as possible.

The Longevity of Cognitive Computing

Despite the fact that it’s still a relatively new concept, there’s no denying the computing’s impact on our daily lives. As more companies pledge resources to the development of the technology and as more consumers embrace it in their personal lives, we’ll only see the technology improve even further. Indeed, its definitely here to stay.

By Kayla Matthews

Ouissam Youssef: The Future of Media Investment

Ouissam Youssef: The Future of Media Investment

The Future of Media Investment

Sponsored series by the Valsef Group

Once upon a time, media was easy to understand. There were printed newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio. Together, they were our exclusive sources of news and entertainment. They had two basic financial models: advertiser-supported free media and subscription media, which included anything that had to be purchased for a nominal price, such as newspaper or a paid TV channel. Separately, movie theatres and hardcopy video supports provided the public with the right to watch a film for a fee.

The Internet arrived, said hello, settled in, and turned that whole world into a state of turmoil and fragmentation that is still baffling to the old media titans. A myriad of content-driven websites was born, with several clusters specializing in subjects that appealed to increasingly niche audiences. With the advent of Google, Facebook, YouTube, and powerful advances in video streaming technology, everyone drifted to the web, and through a handful of keyboard clicks, anyone could find anything they wanted to read or watch within seconds. Audiences were no longer slaves to rigid prime time TV or radio schedules and took control of their viewing habits. The decision of what and when to read or watch something shifted away from media owners to media consumers.

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(Image Credit: Statista)

The Revenue Conundrum

When crossing over to the web, some conventions carried over while others were reversed. Viewers had developed the habit of paying for TV thanks to channels like HBO and Per-per-View, and were therefore more receptive to dishing out cash for films and shows online. Netflix, which began as much derided online mail order business that would ship DVDs and expect renters to return them with a stamp, had the last laugh when technology enabled it to stream video content to a large base of subscribers, whom it had already trained to order entertainment online. On the other side, while readers had had no problem paying for printed newspapers or magazines, all of a sudden they expected to get their news online for free. Leading publications saw their retail revenues shrink and their advertising income wither away, as advertisers found it harder to reach identifiable, localized audiences. A newspaper, which was previously published and marketed in one single major city, could now find readership worldwide thanks to the Internet, but that development brought no benefits to local advertisers seeking to appeal to local buyers. Advertisers slowly, but massively, began to spend their precious dollars on media ventures that could target buyers not only geographically, but also behaviorally by displaying ads to those viewers whose tastes would coincide with the products being pitched. Google, Facebook, and YouTube became the masters of data mining for the benefit of advertisers, designing awe-inspiring algorithms to track the habits of their users, who had willingly given up a certain amount of privacy in exchange for free content and services.

The Innovation Juggernaut

Sam Youssef - photo 2 (1)Ouissam Youssef, founder and CEO of Valsef Capital, a Montreal-based firm, has spent the last decade-and-a-half studying obsessively the tectonic shifts in the media industry. His insights have led Valsef to make a number of acquisitions of web-based media companies, making the firm one of the world’s biggest providers of online entertainment and information content, with over one billion page views per month. “The way media is created and delivered to audiences is changing on a daily basis. We are no longer passive watchers that get our sitcoms interrupted every seven minutes by an ad for a product we couldn’t care less about,” observes Youssef. “Public TV was supplanted by pay-TV, which is in turn being replaced by streaming. We have witnessed a shift from desktop computers to mobile devices. Email, chat apps, video apps, social media apps… the channels are endless. The question is no longer where will media go, but where will it not go.

Business leaders, marketers, and innovators must think one step ahead of the up-to-the-second trends,” added Ouissam Youssef. “What will the citizens of the world immerse themselves in next? And how can media companies benefit?” Forms of media that did not exist a decade ago have taken over thanks to the wonders of mobile technology. Today’s savvy media businesses employ a multitude of apps that keep users engaged for longer periods, mine relevant data, and promote products and services in effortless synchronicity with the user experience. “Media content and delivery have transformed advertising into a personal experience, carefully tailored to suit the attention spans and interests of niche audiences,” explained Youssef. “Ultimately, this is the symbiotic dance that continues to allow the public to access for free relevant content, paid by marketing dollars.

youtube

YouTube’s evolution from an ‘anything goes’ video platform to a commercial portal used by leading companies in all industries, is an impressive case study. “Some analysts believe the YouTube platform may be worth $100 billion, twice that of Netflix, thanks to its consistent high growth of subscribers,”. Top videos receive above one billion views, and YouTube rakes increasing profits through its customized ad-based model.

Valsef’s online properties include leading entertainment, content-driven websites TheRichest, ScreenRant, The Sportster, BabyGaga, and Comic Book Resources (CBR) to name a few. “We have made it our mission to not wait for the platforms to come to us, but to search out the next notable trends and bring them into our fold,” explains Ouissam. “Our ventures target sports, TV and movie news, and all things money, as well as software solutions that make use of the latest in cloud and tech advancements.

The future of media is not in monolithic structures that struggle to fit antiquated revenue models into an ever-evolving nebulae of media delivery channels, but in the hands of flexible, dynamic players, who embrace technology shifts as a way of life. “People will never stop consuming information and entertainment,” concludes Ouissam. “The only thing that will change is how they will consume it. And success in the media business will depend exclusively on a company’s ability to exploit trending channels and media platforms as they appear and evolve, in whatever form they may take.

By Jennifer Klostermann

Password Syncing Platforms Frequently Targeted

Password Syncing Platforms Frequently Targeted

Opera Sync

Following on the heels of a recent public request by Dropbox that their users change their passwords in response to a 2012 attack that recently turned up more usernames and passwords online, Opera also became a target last week when their browser’s sync service became compromised. While Opera has not released any specifics about the attack, they did submit a public statement on their blog requesting that all users of Opera Sync update their 3rd party passwords stored in Opera Sync as a security precaution against the attack, which they said was “quickly blocked.” While only about 0.5% of Opera browser’s users actually use the Opera Sync service, this still is a pretty significant data breach of 1.7 million users.

Opera was quick to sooth their users’ fears in the blog post, however, by emphasizing that they only store user information in an encrypted or hashed and salted format. This diminishes concerns that any of the compromised data may actually be in a usable format.

Security experts are now warning users everywhere that the practice of using password storage and retrieval systems that only require one password may actually be more dangerous than we previously thought. Hackers are increasingly targeting password syncing platforms, since compromising these systems can result in a much bigger and richer payload.

Opera in the meantime has provided a password reset page for their users to easily change their Opera Sync passwords. The company also extends its apologies to their users for any inconvenience this latest security breach may have caused them.

The password reset page: https://auth.opera.com/account/lost-password

By Jonquil McDaniel

Ensuring Cloud Authorizations Are Correct

Ensuring Cloud Authorizations Are Correct

Cloud Authorization

Almost all organizations in every industry now use some type cloud application. This is because of cost, efficiency, ease of use and because many software companies are offering their solutions in the cloud. For example, Microsoft 365 and Adobe Suite are mostly utilized by organizations in the respective cloud versions.

Cloud applications have many benefits for both the organization and for the end user, but there also needs to be some type of guideline or solution in place to ensure that they are managed correctly. There are many account and access management issues that come with implementing cloud applications for your organization.

So what are some of the issues that organizations have with access management to cloud applications? Like with in-house applications, often two things happen. End users either are given too few rights and need to request additional access or they accidently receive too many rights to systems and applications that they should not.

cloud-systems

For the first scenario, employees can request additional access rights from the application manager at their organization, but this is very inefficient. They need to contact someone in the company who handles access and request that an account is created for them or additional access rights are made for them. This is frustrating for the employee and for the manager, since they are likely working on other projects. The employee has to then wait until this is created and may need follow up with the admin to see if the request is in the works.

For the latter problem, it is a major security concern for the organization. Often for convenience, an employee’s account is copied from another employee’s in a similar role to make. This potentially leaves the employee with additional access rights that they should not have, possibly to sensitive information.

The issue is difficult to manage and there needs to be someone who is manually creating access or checking to ensure that access rights are accurate. If you are a system admin, a CIO or other technology director, you know that either there is no one who is designated to complete these tasks, or this is something that is delegated to an employee with to an already full workload.

So enough about talking about everything that your organization is having issues with. How can this be resolved and what type of solution and guidelines should be put in place so that this doesn’t regularly occur?

An identity and access governance (IAG) solution is the first way to help ensure that all rights are correct. The company sets up a model of exactly the access rights for each role in the organization. For example, someone working as a manger in the IT department will need certain access rights to systems, applications and resources. This allows the person who is creating the account to easily do so without accidentally making any access mistakes; either giving the employee too many rights or too little rights.

Once an account is created for the employee how can it be ensured that going forward changes are made efficiently and the network remains secure?

Another solution that can be used is workflow management. These applications are a controlled, automated process with a defined sequence of tasks that can replace an otherwise manual process. This allows for a streamlined process for employee requests and their implementation.

Using a web portal, employees can request any additional access rights to their current applications or even new applications. A workflow is set up so that when a user requests a change, the request then goes through a predefined sequence of people who need to approve it before the change is implemented. The organization can set up the workflow process however they desire, so that depending on the user, and what they request, the process goes through a specific sequence. There is also no need for the employee to bother their manager to check on the request. They can easily access the web portal and see exactly where the request is and what steps still need to be completed.

There are also several ways to check access rights, as a double check, to ensure that everything is correct throughout the year or at any interval. These methods will allow someone to check everything is correct easily and efficiently.

One way this can be achieved is with reconciliation. This module in an IAG solution compares how access rights are set up to be in the model to how they actually are and creates a report on any differences. Anything that is not accurate can then be sent to the appropriate manager to check the issue and easily correct if needed.

Attestation is still another form of checking access and goes one step further to verify everything is correct. A report will be sent out to managers of a department, with all their employees, for them to verify that everything is correct. For example, the marketing manager will receive a report on the access rights of everyone in the marketing department. He or she will need to look over and either mark access right for deletion, change access right directly, or create a ticket in the helpdesk system to change the access rights. After looking everything over, the manager must give their final approval for the proposed set of changes to ensure that everything is correct.

For organizations to receive the best benefits from cloud applications there needs to be guideline and solutions in place to help manage the accounts in these applications. These are just some of the many ways IAG solutions allow for the organization to easily ensure correct access rights.

By Dean Wiech

Was The Promised Land Of Cloud False? Or Did It Just Take A While?

Was The Promised Land Of Cloud False? Or Did It Just Take A While?

Cloud Consumption

A new day has dawned! Computing will now be accessed and consumed like a power utility. Just flip the switch and consume what you need. When done, turn it off and you pay only for what you used. Why it is so cheap and easy to use, you can buy it with your credit card. No more waiting for months to get equipment purchased, installed and verified. Welcome to the Promised Land – or so Amazon Web Services (AWS) promised us when it launched its cloud offering ten years ago.

But look where we are today. Sure, AWS is a behemoth with an annual run rate over $10 Billion. On the other hand, the promise of a simple and easy to use utility has been replaced by a wild garden of over sixty products and services. A growing number of firms are lining up to be AWS Certified MSP’s (Managed Service Providers) just to help you navigate this thicket. And AWS’s competitors, Microsoft and Google, are proliferating their offerings as well, as they chase the market leader. What happened? Amazon will tell you that they are just responding to the needs customers are sharing with them. And while true, let’s look deeper.

Consider our power utility analogy. All power in a household comes out of standard outlets in standard voltages and amperages. What we often don’t think about is how we turn that power into useful work for us. I am writing this on a computer where it stepped the voltage down to the low levels needed to process information through Integrated Circuits and memory drives.

I had toast this morning created by a toaster that took the full power and turned it into heat. The vacuum cleaner used a different amount to turn it into mechanical work. Think of your appliances as applications that take the raw standard electrical power and create some useful outcome for you. The key is that they manipulate that power – raising it up or down – to produce the needed outcomes.

IoT-CloudTweaks-Comic

That’s not the way it quite works in computing. Applications need different amounts of resources depending upon what they are designed to do in order to function well. We are used to the applications we all run on our personal computers and mobile devices. These were all designed to run on those standard platforms. Even today we can see that some run better than others depending on the machine you have. Some of the newer applications won’t even run on old machines or run so slow as to not be practical to use.

Imagine the difference between running the applications for a retail website, versus processing checks for payroll, versus analyzing a piece of the human genome. These are very different tasks needing very different levels of capability to be effective. So, was the cloud’s promise of computing being an easy to use utility a bogus come-on designed to draw in the unsuspecting? Not really, it was more of an imperfect analogy. (Aren’t they all?).

In the “early days” of cloud computing developers were used to needing to consider the concepts of servers, memory, storage, etc. When AWS started, it packaged its offerings in this familiar way. This means the developer had to be knowledgeable about the processing speed and capacity needed for the application to run well. Lots of different applications mean lots of different sizes and combinations – that’s how we got the unruly garden.

But what if that was not necessary? What if the machines were “smart” enough to know what the application needed? (I know, this takes a little time to get used to.) That’s where AWS Lambda comes in. The application is written to the Lambda Service – you do not specify any infrastructure – and then is activated by a triggering event. The event can be almost anything but let’s say, someone want to place an order on your site. The Lambda service then turns on the right resources, executes the application and you are billed only for as long as it took to execute your application. Billing is $0.00001667 for every GB-second used – Voila! – A true utility.

Microsoft and Google have responded and launched their own services in what is being called “serverless computing”. Although almost two years old, we are in the early days. While almost all customers use the original standard AWS offerings, only about 17% have used Lambda. But could it be, are we entering the Promised Land?

By John Pientka

(Originally published September 1st, 2016. You can periodically read John’s syndicated articles here on CloudTweaks. Contact us for more information on our programs)

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