By Lee Thompson >>

AS AUSTRALIAN educational institutions rushed to adjust to the new norm of virtual classrooms, remote collaboration, and an absence of international students, cloud-based solutions have helped keep things together and a core service operating.

But could these short-term cloud fixes have long-term consequences?

In the space of a few weeks, educational institutions deployed ‘off-the-shelf’ cloud-based solutions such as virtual desktops and collaboration software – many provided free of charge by technology giants – to reshape the curriculum, provide a viable online learning experience for students, and help shield the industry from the impact of COVID-19. 

However, in the understandable rush to provide and maintain services and the curriculum, many institutions may be too quick to lock themselves into services which meet their needs now, but may not be the most appropriate in a post COVID-19 world.

THE RENT-V-BUY ISSUE

Cloud is typically consumed as a private owned resource or a public rented one; and in some cases, a hybrid combination of both.

In order to get students and staff online as quickly as possible, most universities without the capabilities to do it privately have opted for the rent model.

It is fine in the short-term – making virtual classrooms viable is priority number one for higher education and should be achieved in whatever manner possible, for now.

But when society returns to some sense of normalcy – on a timeline that’s yet to be defined – the institutions that rapidly spun up public cloud services will face some difficult questions.

Will they continue using the applications they deployed to get through the COVID-19 restrictions? If so, how will all these services be integrated with their normal infrastructure?

Then, how will they continue to pay for these services as needs increase? If not, how will they retrieve the months of data that’s been stored on these platforms?

Personally, I believe much of the rapid online transition will stick, as students will now expect to use the services they have been over the past few months. This, however, will have implications for how universities operate long into the future.

BRACING FOR A DOWNTURN

There’s no telling what economic impact this crisis will have on the higher education sector, but it doesn’t seem many industries are in for an easy ride when the dust settles.

Already this year the COVID-19 pandemic has kept 114,000 international students – over 15 percent of the total based on last year’s figures – away from Australian shores. This number will likely jump much higher with new students unable to arrive for the second half of the year, increasing the financial pressure on the $40 billion-plus international education sector.

On one hand, this situation stresses the need for online virtual classes to be in operation; but it also means universities need to gain control of whatever expenditure they can to prepare for the times ahead.

Endless ‘rent cheques’ from public cloud providers clash strongly with this. There’s no way to easily turn that tap off, and worse still, as universities increase their cloud dependency a concept known as ‘data gravity’ can easily sink in, making universities more dependent on their provider even as costs soar with no end in sight.

To put it another way, if you’re reliant on using a taxi or ride-share to get from A to B, it’s going to cost you the same each time and this will add up over time. You can’t simply lower the cost because money’s tight.

With your own vehicle though, you can be sparing with how you use it. You can change the type of fuel you use. You can hold off purchasing a new one. You can change the oil yourself rather than using a mechanic.

In November, right when the journey to pandemic was in motion, analyst firm Gartner predicted Australian cloud spend would reach $8.8 billion by 2020 – an 18.3 percent rise compared with 2019 and a higher growth rate than the global average.

That figure is no doubt already irrelevant – the education industry needs to ensure its share of the investment is wisely spent wisely, not just in a public, rent-only format.

Australian universities need to start thinking about ‘buying their own car’, getting all the cloud capabilities they need but under a private or owned cloud-led model.

This will help continue the waves of innovation – and we need that – but within universities’ control from a cost and data perspective.

The ‘necessary’ is largely complete – students are learning online and, hopefully, adapting to the new model.

Now is the time to consider what the post-pandemic future of education looks like, and how university decision makers can ensure it's tenable to keep the sector alive and thriving.

www.nutanix.com

 

About the author

Lee Thompson is managing director, Australia and New Zealand, for enterprise cloud computing group Nutanix.  Nutanix works with a number of universities in Australia on their digital initiatives.

By Leon Gettler >>

WHEN the Morrison Government unveiled its COVID-19 $189 billion stimulus package to keep Australians in work and businesses in businesses, there was a lot of public interest. And confusion.

Many didn’t know what exactly the package was offering them, how it could help them and where to find it.

Troy Roennfeldt and his team from the digital agency Increaseo had lost a lot of business thanks to COVID-19.  So in their downtime, they set up a website named Stimulus Package to help to arm all Australians with information regarding the recently implemented Stimulus Packages.

It enabled individuals and businesses to locate and easily sort through all applicable support packages offered by the Federal and State Governments to help ease financial pressures and better navigate the tough times ahead.

Mr Roennfeldt said the site collates all the packages at the state and federal level. The idea for it came when he was combing through all the information and “couldn’t find it in one spot where it was needed.” 

FUSION OF CONFUSION

While the government information packages have improved, it was very difficult back in March finding the right information. One had to piece it together from various news reports and the government websites were then sparse on information.

“Once I realised it was a bit hard, I was ticking over in my head one evening while I was working through things and I started looking through different domain names and realised stimuluspackage.com.au was available,” Mr Roennfeldt told Talking Business.

“I registered that, thought about it for another day or two and got my team working on developing it out.

“We had some capacity as we had lost a number of projects in the preceding days with some clients who were in the events space and the catering space. Their businesses had pretty much imploded so all work we had with them was put on hold.

“So we used that downtime to get our developers and content guys on to fleshing the site out.”

He said the firm had four or five of its team members working on it.

Mr Roennfeldt said the site could potentially become even more informative if it could drill into what was on offer in various local government areas and post codes.

“However, the amount of work involved in that is something we don’t have the capacity to put all that out considering we’re doing it for nothing,” he said.

He said there is now an ongoing process of keeping the stimulus package content up to date.

With JobKeeper still being a work in progress, the team will add new information to keep it updated.

FIT FOR THE TIMES

Mr Roennfeldt said the response to Stimulus Package had been really good, with many people signing up for newsletters and updates.

“I’m sure there’s probably going to be future stimulus package announcements in the coming weeks or months and we’ll keep that updated and shoot out updates to people who are registered on the site,” he said.

Mr Roennfeldt said the website also offered support services in areas such as mental health and accommodation for people looking for help. It also included information from businesses offering products for free, like productivity tools.

The site also had content from accountants and lawyers and financial advisers.

It’s become very much a community exercise and Mr Roennfeldt said if businesses, lawyers, accountants and financial advisers wanted to send in more material, they should get in touch with him at Increaseo.

Mr Roennfeldt expects the website will be running for more months to come as the government brings in more packages and changes schemes like JobKeeper and JobSeeker.

www.stimuluspackage.com.au

www.increaseo.com

www.leongettler.com

 

Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at www.acast.com/talkingbusiness.  

OPERATIONAL TECHNOLOGY security has come into sharp focus in recent months. Digital security experts warn that it is an aspect of business in transition as legacy operational technologies are morphed into internet connected systems.

Advisory group Forescout’s senior director for systems engineering across the Asia Pacific and Japan region, Steve Hunter, said the operational technology (OT) security market was officially in transition. He said acquisitions are accelerating, venture capital investment is slowing, and strategic partnerships are becoming critically important.

He said OT systems themselves were also in a transitional state, as traditional, isolated legacy systems turn into fully IP-connected, cyber-physical systems. Forescout research showed that to stay relevant in the OT world, the cybersecurity market had to evolve alongside these systems.

“IT and OT networks are founded on different and often conflicting priorities, making IT-OT security challenging for businesses,” Mr Hunter said. “Only when the needs of both environments are thoroughly understood can digital convergence be successful.” 

He said Gartner’s 2019 report, Market Guide for Operational Technology Security, confirmed that by the end of 2023, organisations would need to adjust their OT security solutions, because 60 percent of today’s point solution OT security providers would have been rebranded, repositioned or bought – or may have disappeared.

Mr Hunter said while this scenario may cause anxiety for OT security stakeholders, businesses can implement strategies to help prepare for the imminent changes in the OT security market.

Mr Hunter said Forescout has developed four tips to help businesses future proof their OT security strategy:

1.        Proactively identify, classify and monitor OT network assets
The first step to managing cyber and operational risk for any OT system is to figure out what’s in it. Almost every security framework, including NIST CSF, NERC CIP and CIS Critical Security Controls, requires identifying and classifying hardware as a prerequisite. If businesses haven’t implemented some form of real-time OT asset inventory tracking, they should make it a priority for 2020.

OT systems are rapidly morphing into cyber-physical systems that are connected to vast corporate and operational networks via the internet. Not only does this expose them to new internet-based threats, but it also increases the potential for misconfiguration and malfunction of these assets. More moving parts plus more connections equals a higher risk of operational problems.

Proactively identifying, classifying and monitoring OT network assets can help businesses discover what risks they face in the present, and also plan to reduce future risks. Not only will cyber threats like malware be a risk, but businesses will also be able to confirm whether assets in a cyber-physical system are performing as they should and take steps to remediate any issues before they cause downtime.

Implementing an OT network monitoring technology is one of the fastest ways to create and monitor an accurate asset inventory. Businesses should look for a mature vendor with an extensive library of built-in checks for OT-specific cyber and operational threats developed from experience in the field.

2.        Align IT and OT teams to execute integrated cybersecurity initiatives
With IT-OT convergence gaining more traction, businesses need to implement a strong cybersecurity program while also maintaining the top priority of availability for OT systems. For this to succeed, many elements must align, and teams must seamlessly integrate. There are certain areas where IT is the expert and other areas where OT is the expert, and both teams need to align, working towards a common goal.

To promote an alignment initiative, businesses must clearly define roles and common goals, designating subject matter experts, and conducting cross-training. Additionally, empowering teams with mature platform security solutions that have strong cross-functional capabilities can greatly streamline security activities and improve team cohesion.

3.        Use proof-of-value (PoV) requirements that will accurately assess a vendor’s suitability
When undertaking any security PoV, all relevant teams, including security, engineering and operations, should be consulted for input. Ensuring that solution requirements meet everyone’s needs is vital to the success of any OT security investment.

Elements to consider include how a vendor is collecting OT data, the strength of a vendor’s threat intelligence database, and how comprehensive their orchestration and integration capabilities are.

Whatever PoV requirements businesses decide to include, the most important thing is to ensure that they accurately assess a vendor’s maturity and suitability for the business, as well as try to weed out companies that won’t be around in two or three years.

4.        Align with emerging market dynamics by reassessing the OT security vendor landscape
Acquisitions and partnerships in OT security products are accelerating, making the market landscape more volatile. As this market matures, narrow-scope point solutions will be challenged by vendors offering organisation-wide platforms that traverse IT, OT, Internet of Things (IoT), and the cloud, according to Gartner’s Market Guide for Operational Technology Security report. This year is an ideal time to evaluate the current security suite to understand which tools are providing the most value and whether any of the organisation’s current vendors are at risk of becoming obsolete or going out of business.

Mr Hunter said, “The future of the OT security market is uncertain; however, by staying up to date on emerging technologies and understanding how IT and OT networks interoperate, organisations can holistically manage risks to their organisational OT infrastructure.”

www.forescout.com

ends

By Leon Gettler >>

ONE OF the biggest issues facing Zoom is ‘Zoombombing’. That’s when uninvited intruders break into and disrupt the meeting.

They jump into public Zoom calls and use the platform’s screen-sharing feature to project graphic content to unwitting conference participants, forcing hosts to shut down their events. Zoombombers often hurl racial slurs or profanity, or share pornography and other offensive imagery, or try to add malware to Zoom users’ computers.

Zoombombing has become a huge security and privacy issue as use of the Zoom platform surges due to an increase in coronavirus-related remote working.

Chuck White, the chief technology officer for Fornetix, the advanced encryption key management company based in Maryland USA, said it come down to digital hygiene, cyber defence and making sure the door is locked to unwanted attendees. 

He concedes a lot of it is new to people using Zoom. As he sees it, they have a lot to learn.

“That’s one area where people who aren’t used to running web conferences … you have lot of people online who are not used to operating this way and I think some of it is a lack of experience,” Mr White told Talking Business.

“You used to keep your front door unlocked. So from a Zoombombing perspective, there are drives of people coming online using Zoom to collaborate and not taking appropriate steps to lock the door.

“A lot of it is a community who would not think a tool like Zoom could be abused this way.”

LOCK THAT ZOOM DOOR

Mr White said Zoom users should take a number of steps to ensure the door remains locked.

First and foremost is to make meeting private. He cited one example of people taking about the Zoom conference coming up and even putting a link.

Facebook is not the most private platform in the world. The same applies for those who put details about the Zoom meeting on a website.

Other security steps are to schedule the meeting and to invite attendees with email. The meeting should also have a password.

If a Zoombomber does enter the meeting, it is important to limit screen sharing and use of video.

Another good idea is to have someone monitoring the meeting to make sure everything is going to plan and who can remove the intruder. If all else fails, shut down the meeting.

UNDERSTAND CYBER DEFENCE

The issue is whether employees on remote teams understand cyber defence when they are not trained to use it.

“When it comes to someone who doesn’t work in this day in and day out, you’d want to teach them three to four things: keep it private, have a chaperone, kick people out and if you lose control, kill the meeting,” Mr White said.

As a former army officer, he said it is always a case of keeping it “infantry proof” and these are exactly the instructions handed down to his team at Fornetix,

“That cyber hygiene is critical because attackers will take advantage of people making mistakes,” Mr White said.

“If you can train for that appropriate posture where it becomes second nature, freedom through discipline, to prevent these things from happening, you’re going to make it much more difficult for an attacker to take advantage of a populace that’s vulnerable.”

www.fornetix.com

www.leongettler.com

Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at www.acast.com/talkingbusiness

 

ends

By Robert Linsdell >>

BUSINESS continuity planning (BCP) has long been desired and touted by IT vendors promising to keep businesses running when disaster strikes.

This is a process of creating a system of prevention and recovery against potential threats to a company. These threats can include natural or man-made disasters, health crises, terror attacks, or any other types of disruption that can adversely affect industries and businesses.

A pandemic is certainly a threat that is putting those promises to the test. Businesses are racing to get staff online and working remotely as government and travel restrictions intensify. 

Some will undoubtedly fail to achieve continuity at great cost to their business, impacting future decisions around IT. Others will thrive, weathering the storm and maintaining business operations while preparing for what may come next.

 

HOW CONNECTIVITY NOW FITS IN

With the completion of the National Broadband Network (NBN), the Australian Government anticipated that up to 12 percent of all public servants would be regularly working from home. Yet, 2020 has brought a whole new meaning to remote working.

We are now all too familiar with the current business-level effects of major disruption across the globe. Most organisations have at least partially activated their respective business continuity plans.

Though working outside of the office is not a new concept, for IT managers and data centre operators, it can be a challenge when an entire company requires remote access, particularly when managing multiple edge sites or branch locations.

This time in history will not just be remembered as arguably the most significant event of a generation, but also one of the most dramatic shifts in the IT industry as both public servants and private sector employees adjust to an indefinite future of teleworking.

Some might question why companies aren’t ready to scale up to meet the demand, but many businesses will have understandably found it prudent to not overinvest in the level of infrastructure needed for such an extreme and unpredictable event.

While it varies depending on the company and industry, organisations might account for 20 percent of staff to be online at any given time, not 80 percent or more. While there has historically been a certain threshold, it has likely now changed.

For IT managers, data centre continuity is now a vital priority in the event of any disruption. Any minute of downtime in a data centre can cost businesses thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses.

 

THE HUMAN ELEMENT

While IT departments are learning to ace the 'how and where' for BCP, human resource departments and business leaders need to ensure the 'who' isn’t overlooked.

Firms need to make provisions for adequate education and ensure communication resources are available to staff members concerning remote working inertia.

Employees who are typically high-performing workers may experience productivity and performance decline when beginning to work remotely due to absence of preparation and training. With the reduced access to on-demand managerial support and communication, companies need to ensure employees are well equipped to manage the change in operational behaviour.

Considering that overall stress levels are high with health concerns and so much uncertainty, it’s also important that tech and people managers collaborate to take care of their own well-being, ensuring continued contribution to the business.


LOOKING FORWARD

The BCP process doesn’t mean planning only for major disasters or a zombie apocalypse. It also should include plans for smaller, disruptive events that can be as damaging and are far more likely to occur, such as plumbing leakage or a utility power outage.

As part of BCP, provisioning for highly reliable local, remote, and out-of-band access to IT systems reduces the need for on-site operators, ensuring the safety of your personnel. This capability to manage critical infrastructure assets also goes a long way toward ensuring continuity of business operations.

We will soon uncover radical changes in the long-term relationship between digital workers and firms. And once the dust has settled, the world will be confronted with a more informed workforce better equipped for remote working, who may not want to return to pre-pandemic working models.

Robert Linsdell is managing director Australia and New Zealand for Vertiv

www.vertiv.com

ends

ENTERPRISE cloud computing group Nutanix has  announced a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) service to help promote remote work adoption among Australian and New Zealand organisations.

Nutanix FastTrack for VDI brings together Nutanix HCI and software with selected partners to accelerate and optimise a full VDI service in just a few weeks.

Building VDI environments to effectively maintain core business and technical operations usually takes up to a few months but Nutanix FastTrack for VDI can reduce that to a matter of weeks. 

The announcement comes as research shows 77 percent of Austalian and New Zealand (ANZ) workers are currently working from home, with a third reporting they feel less productive since they started. As the nations’ businesses continue to battle the impact of COVID-19, many are struggling to enable their workforces to operate and function remotely while still maintaining access to the same tools and applications they require to be productive and efficient.

For companies that have adopted remote working, one of the biggest challenges stems from their existing IT infrastructure: which has often been found unable to maintain operations during the  unanticipated demand surges.

"Nutanix is making every effort to help ensure that ANZ enterprises have quick and easy access to the right solutions and technology to keep their staff engaged, efficient and productive,” Nutanix ANZ managing director Lee Thompson said.

Nutanix FastTrack for VDI helps to address these challenges while supporting local businesses to continue their DX journey in these times of uncertainty. It allows remote access to critical business applications, even via BYOD devices, and strict security policies can be implemented and managed through its simple management console. 

The performance and speed of Nutanix VDI solutions is also well documented: it has a large, existing customer base and its influence continues to expand as a wide range of industry sectors, educational institutions and local governments rapidly embrace its technologies.

“As businesses look towards enabling a more permanent work from anywhere model, Nutanix will be there to help accelerate and smooth their journey to the cloud," Mr Thompson said.

"FastTrack for VDI’ is designed to support companies rapidly deploying a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution."

Mr Thompson said Nutanix FastTrack for VDI allows organisations to reduce the time required to onboard thousands of remote employees. He said the offer includes services to set up and provision of desktops in under five business days for predefined Nutanix configurations.

This will help enterprises provide secure access with minimal interruptions to business apps and desktops employees want while maintaining the security and control businesses need.

Mr Thompson said customers would be able to leverage existing hardware, select predefined Nutanix hardware or leverage managed cloud infrastructure from managed service provider (MSP) partners such as CompNow.

"The simplicity and flexibility of the Nutanix infrastructure makes deployment easier, enabling the company to expedite delivery service," he said.

www.nutanix.com

ends

By Neville Vincent >>

AUSTRALIAN businesses have been battered, bruised and besieged over recent months as a series of biological, natural, and social disturbances have taken their toll on the APAC region.

Domestically, the devastating countrywide bushfires, followed immediately by torrential rains and floods left the country and the population ravaged. But this has quickly been overshadowed by the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 outbreak as businesses brace for more disruption. 

The back-to-back disruption meant there has been no respite for beleaguered Australian businesses and the impact on staff, especially their inability to navigate hostile environments to get to work, has meant significant workplace challenges for their employers.

As a result, managing and maintaining productivity when staff are unable to get to the office has suddenly become a high priority for the country’s businesses.

ECONOMIC AND EMOTIONAL IMPACT

There is no hiding the scale of recent events. For Australia, the economic impact of the bushfires alone is already around $100 billion.

However, this figure excludes 'intangible' costs: the effect on the working population of injury and reduced lifespan due to smoke-related illness, damage to species and habitats, and the loss of livestock food supplies, and national and local parks.

It also omits the impact and ability (mental and physical) of the workforce to simply attend, or engage in work.

The much-welcomed rains that followed may have helped extinguish the fires, but the resulting flooding shocked the state, leaving thousands without power, roadways blocked and dozens of schools closed.

Once again, the conditions caused physical disruption and commuter chaos, with many unable to make it into the workplace.

MANAGING THE 'NEW NORM'

The back-to-back fires and floods and now the ongoing coronavirus outbreak are leading many businesses to accept a new norm – how to keep your business running with employees who are regularly, physically unable to make it to the office yet still required to be 'present' and productive?

An initial, and now second stimulus package have already been confirmed by the Federal Government, but it won’t solve the problem unless companies and staff can adapt to working remotely.

So, how can staff who have never done this maximise productivity while working in isolation at home or in some other safe environment?

The answer is technology, and it is playing a pivotal role in assisting Australian businesses transition and overcome the recent disruption and its effect on the region. The adoption of public, private and hybrid cloud services has meant that the access to, and availability of, critical data has been maintained.

At the same time, the transition from hardware-based to software-defined infrastructure has meant that physical access to datacentres is no longer required and central operations can be handled remotely or by a skeleton staff. And so, the heart of many organisations has continued pumping.

Thus, inundated businesses and isolated workers are rushing cloud services like VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) and DaaS (desktop-as-a-service).

CLOUDING THE ISSUE

VDI is a cloud-hosted desktop normally located in an on-site datacentre and operated and maintained by in-house IT personnel.

DaaS, on the other hand, is a fully outsourced system providing a virtual desktop. It neither relies on, nor consumes, any internal hardware. It provides the same flexibility, safety, security and access as VDI – but it is fully handled by a third party and hosted on their cloud.

VDI and DaaS are helping to keep Australian businesses running by providing virtual workspaces for teams, customers, or partners, and can usually be up and running in under an hour.

Isolated staff can then have safe and secure access to any application simply from their home web browser, with no software download or upgrade required. It’s almost as simple as point and click.

The user simplicity of these services, inspired by the consumerisation of technology available in smart phones for example, makes it simple for any staff member to use and continue to fulfil their roles from home or elsewhere.

However, the true benefit for the enterprise is that it provides mobility and flexibility for personnel without compromising business security, productivity or performance. It lets staff work from anywhere, on any device with secure and complete access to their work computer, files and network.

If disruption and mobility restrictions are set to continue, the sooner we embrace the modern tools required to keep our staff safe and productive, our businesses resilient, and our economies protected, the better we will be at mitigating future risks in turbulent times.

www.nutanix.com

 

Neville Vincent is the South Asia Pacific vice president for enterprise cloud and hyper-converged infrastructure company Nutanix.

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