Quocirca Insights


December 5, 2014  8:47 AM

Securing virtual infrastructure

Bob Tarzey Profile: Bob Tarzey
Cloud Computing, OpenStack, Platform as a Service, vCloud, VMware

When considering the security of virtual environments, it helps to point out where in the virtual stack the discussion is alluding to. There are two basic levels, the virtual platform itself and the virtual machines (VM) and associated applications deployed on such platforms. This is the first of two Quocirca blog posts aimed to provide some high level clarity regarding security in a virtual world, starting with the platform itself.

 

Virtual platforms can be privately owned or procured from cloud service providers. Those organisations that rely 100% on the use of public platforms or who outsource 100% of the management of their virtual and/or private cloud infrastructure need read little further through this first post. They have outsourced the responsibility for platform security to their provider and should refer to their service level agreement (SLA).

 

As Amazon Web Services (AWS) puts it: “AWS takes responsibly for securing its facilities, server infrastructure, network infrastructure and virtualisation infrastructure, whilst customers choose their operating environment, how it should be configured and set up its own security groups and access control lists“.

 

The AWS statement points out the areas those deploying their own virtual platforms and private clouds need to address, to ensure base security. The risk is in three areas:

  •  Security of the virtualisation infrastructure (the hypervisor)
  • Security of the resources that the hypervisor allocates to VMs
  • Virtualisation management tools and the access rights they provide to the virtual infrastructure

 

The third point includes the use of cloud orchestration tools such as OpenStack and VMware’s vCloud Director, which can be used for managing private clouds or moving VMs between compatible private and public clouds (hybrid cloud).

 

Hypervisor security

All hypervisors can, and do, contain errors in their software which lead to vulnerabilities which can be exploited by hackers. So, as with any software, there needs to be a rigorous patching regime for a given organisation’s chosen hypervisor and the management tools that support it. That said, hypervisor vulnerabilities are of little use unless they open access either to the hypervisor’s management environment or resources it has access to. Most press reports reflect this, for example, picking on the most widely used hypervisor, VMware’s ESX:

 

ThreatPost Dec 2013VMware has patched a vulnerability in its ESX and ESXi hypervisors that could allow unauthorised local access to files“, the article goes on the report that that the vulnerability has the effect of extending privilege, something hackers are always seeking.

 

Network World, Oct 2013: report on an ESX vulnerability “To exploit the vulnerability an attacker would have to intercept and modify management traffic. If successful, the hacker would compromise the hosted-VMDBs, which would lead to a denial of service for parts of the program“.

 

In both cases, VMware went on to issue a patch ensuring that fast acting customers were protected before hackers had much time to act.

 

Security of resources allocated by hypervisors

Both of the above examples underline the need to address the basic security of underlying resources; networking, storage, access controls and so on. For those that do everything in house, that includes physical access to the data centre. The considerations are pretty much the same for non-virtual deployments with one big caveat. In the virtual world many of these resources are themselves software files that are easy to create, change and move, so compromise of a file server may provide access to more than just confidential data, it may allow the virtual environment itself to be manipulated.

 

Securing use of virtual management tools

As with all IT management there are two dangers here; the outsider finding their way in with privilege or the privileged insider who behaves carelessly or maliciously. A virtual administrator, however their privileges are obtained, can change the virtual environment as they see fit without needing physical access. That may include changing the configuration and/or security settings of virtual components and/or deploying unauthorised VMs for nefarious use.

 

When it comes to access control, the management of privilege, who has it, when they have it and auditing what they do with it is similar to that for physical environments. However, there are other considerations that apply in a virtual world over and above those in a physical one. Principally this is about being able to monitor hypervisor-level events; control and audit access to key files, the copying and movement of VMs, capturing hypervisor event streams and feeding all this to security information and event management (SIEM) tools. There is also the need to define hypervisor-level security and take actions when it is breached for example closing VMs or blocking traffic to and from VMs.

 

Specialist vendors

There are certain specialist vendors that are focussed purely on the security of virtual infrastructure layer. For example Catbird specialises in reporting on and controlling security of VMware-related deployments and GroundWork which focuses on monitoring data flows in open source-based virtual environments. The suppliers of virtual platforms and tools provide support too, not least access to urgent patching advice.

 

When many mainstream IT security vendors talk about virtual security they refer to the security of deploying VMs and associated applications. Security at this level is of course important to address and has its own special considerations which will be covered in the second blog post. For those that have outsourced the virtual platform and/or the management of it, and are confident in their supplier, the focus will already be at this higher level.

December 2, 2014  11:05 AM

Think-again Tuesday?

Bob Tarzey Profile: Bob Tarzey
Cyber Monday

How did your web site stand up on Black-Friday and Cyber-Monday (Nov 28th and Dec 1st 2014)? These were expected to be the most frenetic online shopping days of the year. Whether you are an online retailer or processing the payments generated, if you were able to maintain a good customer experience and complete transactions on these busiest of days, hopefully the rest of the year was a cake walk!

 

Meeting the challenge requires a mature approach to managing your online presence as recent Quocirca research shows. The new report (see link at the end of this post) shows consumer-facing organisations to be more advanced in this regard than organisations that deal only with other businesses. They have to be; on average, consumer-facing organisations deal with three times as many registered users online as their non-consumer-facing counterparts. They also know that consumers are more impatient and capricious.

 

The report identifies seven things that consumer-facing organisations are more likely to be doing to rise to the online maturity challenge. Any organisation that underperformed on Black-Friday, Cyber-Monday or at any other time should follow their lead.

 

1: Monitor performance

Most organisations have some sort of capability to monitor the performance of their web sites and online applications. However, consumer-facing organisations are much more likely to be focussed on metrics to do with the user experience whilst their non-consumer-facing counter parts fret about bandwidth and system information. Consumer-facing organisations are able to do this because the platform basics are often outsourced.

 

2: Outsource infrastructure

Consumer-facing organisations free themselves to focus on delivering the applications and websites that are core to their business and avoid getting bogged down with infrastructure issues that are not. This includes the infrastructure on which their online resources are deployed as well as supporting services such as DNS management, content distribution and security. Indeed, a key finding of the new survey is that better security is now seen as one of the top benefits of cloud-based services.

 

3: Outsource security

Nearly all aspects of security were more likely to be outsourced by consumer-facing organisations.  This includes emergency DDoS protection, malware detection and blocking, advanced threat detection, security information and event management (SIEM) and fraud detection. The motivators for this are that applications and users are in the cloud, so the security needs to be too and, as with the base infrastructure, leaving security to experts further frees staff to focus directly on the user experience.

 

4: Deploy advanced security

It is not just that consumer-facing organisations are using cloud-based security, the protection they have in place is also more advanced. Non-consumer-facing organisations are more likely to rely on older technologies such as host-based malware protection and intrusion detection systems (IDS). Consumer-facing organisations have these capabilities too, but are much more likely to supplement them with state of the art advance security systems, be they outsourced or deployed in-house.

 

5: Take a granular approach

No two consumers are exactly the same; they will be using different devices, different browsers and have varying access speeds based on their network connection and geographic location. Consumer-facing organisations are more likely to monitor such things and adjust the way they respond to individual users accordingly.

 

6: Link the user experience metrics with business success

Having all sorts of capabilities to monitor the user experience is all well and good, but it is even more useful if it can be shown how variable delivery affects the business. Consumer-facing organisations are more likely to have a strong capability to do this, linking metrics to revenue and customer loyalty.

 

7: Find the budget to do all this

Of course putting all these capabilities in place has a cost. However, that is no barrier for the most forward thinking consumer-facing organisations; they are almost twice as likely to be increasing the budget for supporting online resources as their non-consumer-facing counterparts. Just throwing money at a problem is never an answer in its own right, but if the spending is well-focussed it can make real difference as those that coped best over the last few days will surely know.

 

Organisations that only deal with other businesses may say; ‘what has all this got to do with us?‘ Well, as more and more digital natives enter the work place they will bring their consumer expectations and habits with them. All businesses need a razor-sharp focus on the online experience. For those that fail to do so, it will not just be Black-Friday and Cyber-Monday that they lose business; it will be every day of the year.

 

*The report was sponsored by Neustar (a supplier of online security and monitoring services) and is free to download at this this link:

http://hello.neustar.biz/QuocircaDomainMaturityReport_it_security_lp.html


November 14, 2014  1:58 PM

Car ownership – a dying thing?

Clive Longbottom Clive Longbottom Profile: Clive Longbottom
Earth, mars, satellite, SpaceX, twitter

At a recent BMC event, CEO and Chairman Bob Beauchamp stood on stage and gave a view on how the rise of the autonomous car could result in major changes in many different areas.

The argument went something along these lines – as individuals start to use autonomous cars, they see less value in the vehicle itself.  The “driving experience” disappears, and the vehicle is seen far more as a tool than a desirable object.  By using autonomous vehicles, congestion can be avoided, both through the vehicles adapting to driving conditions, accidents being avoided, areas where non-autonomous vehicles are causing problems being by-passed and so on. The experience becomes an analogue to SDN – the car’s function can be seen as the data plane (it gets from point A to point B) is decided by a set of commands (control plane deciding what should happen) through commands issues by the management plane (what is the best way to get from point A to point B?).

It is then seen that the tool is not being used that much – for long periods of time, it is in the garage, drive or roadway doing nothing.  It needs to be insured; needs to be maintained – it becomes an issue, rather than a “must have”.

Far better to just rent a vehicle as and when you need it – a “car as a service” approach means that you don’t need to maintain the vehicle.  Insurance is a moot point – you aren’t driving the vehicle anyway; it is the multiple computer “brains” that are doing so, working a full 360 degrees at computer speed, never getting tired; never failing to notice and extrapolate events going on around them.  Insurance is cheaper and only has to cover damage caused by e.g. vandalism and fire: theft is out, as the vehicle is autonomous anyway and can be tied in to a central controller.

Insurance companies struggle; car manufacturers have to move away from marketing based on seeing fast cars driving on deserted roads to selling to large centralised fleet managers who are only interested in overall lifetime cost of ownership.  Houses can change – no need for a garage or a drive and cities can change with less need of parking spaces.  More living space can be put in the same area – or more properties on the same plot of land. Autonomous driving means less time spent commuting; less frustration; less fuel being used up in stop-start traffic.

When Bob first said this, my immediate response was “it will never happen”.  I like my car; I like the sense of personal ownership and the driving experience that I get – on an open road.

However, I then took more of an outside view of it.  Already, I have friends in large cities such as London who do not own a car.  They use public transport for a lot of their day-to-day needs, and where they need a vehicle, they hire one for a short period of time.  Whereas this may have been on a daily basis via Hertz or Avis in the past, newer companies such as City Car Club allow you rent a vehicle by the hour and pick it up from a designated parking bay close to you and drop it off in the same way wherever you want.  The rise of Uber as a callable taxicab company is also showing how more people want the ease of using a car, but not in owning the vehicle themselves.  These friends have no requirement for a flashy car badge or for the capability to get in “their” car and drive it at any time – in fact, the majority do not like driving at all, and would jump at the chance of using an autonomous vehicle, so removing this last issue for them.

As tech companies like Google improve their autonomous vehicles on a rapid basis, manufacturers such as Mercedes Benz, Ford and GM are having to respond.  Already, over fifty 500 tonne Caterpillar and Komatsu trucks are being used in Australia to move mining material, running truly autonomously in convoys across private roads in the outback, allowing 24×7 operations with lower safety issues. 

Just as the car manufacturers are coming out of a very bad period, they now stand a chance of being hit by new players in the market.  Elon Musk, of Tesla electric car fame, is a strong proponent of autonomous vehicles.  Amazon would like to take on Google, and it is likely that other high-tech companies will look to the Far East for help in building simple vehicles that can be used in urban situations via a central subscription model.

Sure, such a move to a predominantly autonomous vehicle model will take some time.  There will be dinosaurs such as myself who will fight to maintain ownership of a car that has to be manually driven.  There will be the need to show that the vehicle is truly autonomous; that it does not require continuous connectivity to a network to maintain a safe environment.  More companies such as City Car Club will need to be brought about, and suitable long-term business and technology models put in place to manage large car fleets and get them to customers rapidly and effectively without a need for massive acreage of space to store cars not being used.  Superfast recharging systems need to be more commonplace; these vehicles need to be able to recharge in minutes rather than hours, or to use replaceable battery packs.

Certainly, moving to the use of autonomous electronic vehicles where overall utilisation rates can be pushed above 60% would result in far less congestion in city centres and so in less pollution, less impact on citizens’ health and less time wasted in the morning and evening rush hours. Indeed, Helsinki has set itself a target of zero private car ownership by 2025.

At the current rate of innovation and improvement in autonomous vehicles, it is becoming more of a “when” than an “if” as to when we will see a major change in car ownership.  The impact on existing companies involved in the car industry cannot be underestimated.  The need for improved technology and for technology vendors to work together to ensure that an autonomous future can and will happen is showing signs of being met.


November 10, 2014  11:41 AM

The problem of buggy software components

Bob Tarzey Profile: Bob Tarzey
OpenSSL

What do Heartbleed, Shellshock and Poodle all have in common? Well apart from being software vulnerabilities discovered in 2014, they were all found in pre-built software components, used by developers to speed-up the development of their own bespoke programs. Heartbleed was in OpenSSL (an open source toolkit for implementing secure access to web sites), Shellshock was in the UNIX Bash shell (which enables the running of UNIX operating system commands from programs), whilst Poodle was another SSL vulnerability.

 

Also common to all three is that they were given fancy names and well publicised. This is not a bad thing; it gives the press something to hang its hat on and gets the message out to software developers that a bug needs fixing. The time lag between zero day, when a vulnerability is first identified, and the bug being patched is the window of opportunity for hackers to exploit it. With Heartbleed in particular, there was also advice for the general public, to change their passwords for certain web sites that used the vulnerable version of OpenSSL.

 

However, these widely publicised bugs are just the tip of the iceberg, as data from HP’s Security Research (HPSR) team reveals. HPSR uncovers software security flaws on behalf of its customers and the boarder community. Unlike the discoverers of Heartbleed, Shellshock and Poodle, HPSR does not seek publicity for all the flaws it hunts down via its Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) programme; not least because there are so many of them.

 

HPSR has a number of ways of seeking vulnerabilities out. Some it simply buys from white hat hackers (those who look for ways to hack software code, but not to exploit the flaws they find). It also sponsors an annual competition to find flaws called Pwn2Own; the 2014 event uncovered 33 in software from Adobe, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla. On top of this HPSR does its own research. In total in 2014 ZDI has uncovered over 500 bugs, two thirds of which have been patched, it estimate 50-75% of these were in software components. HPSR claims ZDI is the number one finder of bugs in deployed versions of Microsoft software.

 

As an HPSR rep points out ‘these days most software is composed not written‘, meaning that software is largely built from pre-constructed components. In fact, not using components would be highly inefficient, as it would mean constantly re-inventing the wheel, especially when many components are cheap or free via open source. However, the number of bugs in software components means that users need more effective ways to monitor their use and fix problems that arise. This is especially true of open source components, as anyone can contribute to them. HPSR contends that commercial software vendors could strengthen the open source movement by investing more resources to ensure open source components are well-tested and secure.

 

Of course, the broader HP has an interest in all this for two reasons. First, as a builder and supplier of software, HP is a big user of components. Second, it also helps its customers build and deploy safer software through its Fortify product range. In February 2014 HP announced its Fortify Open Review Project to identify and report on security vulnerabilities in widely used open-source software components. HP also announced improved component checking support for its on-demand scanning service by partnering with Sonatype to use its Component Lifecycle Management analysis technology.

 

HP is not alone in recognising the need for safer component use. Veracode, another software security vendor, estimates that components constitute up to 90% of the code in some in-house developed applications. In September 2014 Veracode added a ‘software composition analysis‘ into its static software scanning service to protect customers more rapidly from zero day vulnerabilities discovered in components.

With the introduction of software composition analysis Veracode can now create an inventory of all the components used by a given customer, detailing the programs in which each is embedded. When a new vulnerability is identified in a component, Veracode can take rapid and pervasive action; either applying fixes immediately or isolating already deployed applications until patches are available.

 

This further enhances its ability to protect customers from newly discovered vulnerabilities. Its dynamic scanning service, which tests deployed executables, would pick many of these up too. However, it focusses on common paths through applications and may miss obscure parts that are rarely or never used, but a hacker may focus exactly on these areas once a vulnerability becomes public knowledge.

 

As Veracode points out, most IT departments are managing software code that was largely not built in-house. The only control, security teams have over software is to maintain effective scanning capabilities with an awareness of components to help understand inherited risk. Software components are not going to disappear; their value to business is too great, security teams need to learn how to live with them.


November 3, 2014  9:52 AM

Google Glass – seeing is believing

Bob Tarzey Profile: Bob Tarzey

I must admit to being sceptical about the whole ‘wearables’ thing. However, I was intrigued at recent Google event to be given an opportunity to try out a pair of Google Glass glasses. Glasses have been part of my life for as long as I can remember and here-in lay a problem. Google Glass assumes reasonable distance vision, so if you already wear glasses to correct for this, then the only way to try out Google’s device proved to be wearing them on top of your normal specs. Still, it was only a demo, so style could be set aside!

The Google Glass equivalent of a screen is a translucent rectangle hanging in the upper right of your vision (think of walking down a street and reading a hanging pub sign). You might not want to read a book or watch a movie using such a display, but it was obvious it would be great for following directions or displaying information about museum exhibits or landscapes.

Apparently you can control the Google Glass menu by jolting your head, however, I did not master this. It conjures a future of people walking along the street making involuntary head movements (I suppose we have got used to the idea that people who are seemingly talking to themselves are no longer all mad, but usually using a Bluetooth mobile phone mic). You can also control Google Glass by swiping the arm of the glasses with your finger or by talking to them with certain prefaced commands.

So, if you have perfect 20/20 vision and are prepared to enter the bespectacled world to take advantage of Google Glass, what style choice do you have? You can choose from five different frames from the designer Net-a-Porter, which is not quite the range you might have in the local opticians, but it’s a start. And, if you need your long term vision correcting, you can have prescription lenses fitted (the lenses are nothing to do with the device; indeed, you can wear them lens-free with just the frame).

In fact as the Google rep demoing the device pointed out, Google Glass is little more than a face mounted smartphone. So, when it comes to IT security the considerations are pretty much the same as for any personal device. Data can be stored and the internet accessed on Google Glass and therefore, in certain circumstances, their use may need to be controlled. You could argue that taking pictures or making videos would be more surreptitious with Google Glass than a standard smartphone, however, stylish as Google has tried to make its specs, it would still be pretty obvious you were wearing them, unless efforts have been made to conceal them with a hat or veil.

Privacy objections seem more likely. Google Glass and similar devices, that will surely follow if the form-factor takes off, may revolutionise certain job roles. Employees working in warehouses, hospitals or inspecting infrastructure in the field may really benefit from being able to see and record their activity whilst having both hands free. However, an employer with constant insight into what an employee is doing and seeing may be too much for some regulators. Time will tell.


October 27, 2014  1:09 PM

Cloud & mobile security – take aim, save the data

Rob Bamforth Rob Bamforth Profile: Rob Bamforth
BYOD, Data-security, Europe, France, Wi-Fi, WODA

In all the hubbub around mobile users increasingly making their own choices of operating systems and hardware, something has been lost sight of – it doesn’t really matter if you bring your own device (BYOD), a more pressing matter for businesses should be where is our data accessed? (WODA).

This issue extends beyond the choice of the mobile endpoint as increasingly ‘mobile’ doesn’t simply mean a single mobile touchscreen tablet alternative to a fixed desktop PC, but multiple points or modes of access with users flitting between them to use whichever is most appropriate (or to hand) at any moment in time. What has become mobile is the point of access to the business process, not just the hardware.

This multiplicity of points of mobile access – some corporate owned, some not – means that when IT services are required on the move they are often best delivered ‘as a service’ from the network, so it is no wonder that the growth in acceptance of cloud seems to have symbiotically mirrored the growth of mobile.

Both pose a similar challenge to the embattled IT manager. A significant element of control has been taken away – essentially the steady operating platform ‘rug’ has been pulled from under their feet.

So how do they retain some balance and control?

The first thing is to accept that things have changed. BYOD is more than a short-lived fad; most people have embraced their inner nerd and now have an opinion about what technology they like to use, and what they don’t like. They buy it and use it as a fundamental part of their personal life from making social connections to paying utility bills. Most people are more productive if comfortable with familiar technology, so why force them to use something else?

However, enterprise data needs to be under enterprise control. Concerns about data are generally much higher than those surrounding applications and the devices themselves. This is a sensible, if accidental, prioritisation of how to deal with BYOD – first focus on corporate data. Unfortunately, few organisations have either a full document classification system or an approach to store mobile data in encrypted containers separated from the rest of the data and apps that will reside on BYO devices.

These are both worthy, if rarely reached at present, goals, but at least the first steps have been taken in recognising the problem. Organisations now need to understand their data a little better, and apply measured control of valuable data in the BYOD world – which doesnt look like diminishing any time soon.

In the core infrastructure, things have changed significantly too. Service provision has evolved from the convergence (or one could say, collision) of the IT industry with telecoms to deliver services on demand. IT might have been fragile with interoperability and resilience standards, but some of the positive side of telecoms has spilled over.   And eventually telecoms are starting to understand the power of supporting a portfolio of applications and that there is more to communications than voice. Cloud, or the delivery of elements of IT-as-a-service, is the active offspring of the coupling of IT and telecoms.

For businesses, struggling to do more IT with smaller budgets and fewer resources, the incremental outsourcing of some IT demands into the cloud makes sense.

However, cloud is still exhibiting some traits of the rebellious teenager. While there are some regions in Europe that appear more resistant to cloud (notably, Italy, Spain and to a lesser extent France), overall acceptance is positive, although this is across a mix of hybrid, private and public cloud approaches. There are also significant concerns about the location of data centres and the location of registration or ownership of cloud storage companies.

These are understandable in the light of recent revelations, but to enforce heavy security on all data ‘just in case’ would be excessive and counterproductive. Thankfully, most companies seem to realise this, and there is a pragmatic mix of opinions as to how to best store and secure data held in the cloud.

This needs to be an informed decision, however, and just as with mobile, all organisations need to be taking a more forensic approach to their digital assets. IT needs to work hand in hand with the business to identify those assets and data that are most precious, assess the vulnerability and apply appropriate controls, differentiated from other things that are neither valuable nor private as far as the organisation is concerned. The days of blanket approaches to data security are over.

For more information and recent research into cloud and mobile security, download this free Quocirca report, Neither here nor there.


October 23, 2014  9:31 AM

BMC – turnaround or more of the same?

Clive Longbottom Clive Longbottom Profile: Clive Longbottom
BMC, Cloud Computing, Dell, Distributed computing, IBM, information technology, ServiceNow, Software as a Service

A little over a year ago, BMC was not looking good.  It had a portfolio of good, but tired technology and was failing to move with the times.  Internal problems at various levels in the company were leading to high levels of employee churn.  Things did not look good.

Led by CEO Bob Beauchamp, BMC was taken off the stock market and into private ownership. Investors were chosen based on their long term vision: what Beauchamp did not want was an approach of drive revenues and then cash in rapidly.

This has freed up BMC to take a new marketing approach.  New hires have been brought in.  The portfolio is being rationalised.  The focus is now on the user experience, with an understanding that mobility, hybrid private/public cloud systems and the business user are all important links in the new sales process. Substantially more money has been freed up to be invested in sales & marketing and research & development than was the case in its last year as a public company.

BMC’s first new offering aimed to show an understanding of these issues was MyIT – an end-user self-service system that provides consumer-style front end systems with enterprise-grade back end capabilities.  MyIT has proved popular – and has galvanised BMC to take a similar approach across the rest of its product portfolio.

Help desk (or service desk as BMC prefers to call it) has been a mainstay of BMC over the years.  Its enterprise Remedy offering is the tool of choice in the Global 2000, but it was looking increasingly old-style in its over dependence on screens of text; was far too process-bound; and help desk agents and end users alike were beginning to question its overall efficacy in the light of new SaaS-based competition such as ServiceNow.  At its recent BMC Engage event in Orlando, BMC launched Remedy with Smart IT, a far more modern approach to service desk operation. Enabling better reach at the front end through mobile devices and better integration at the back end through to hybrid cloud services, Remedy with Smart IT offers a far more intuitive and usable experience than was previously available from BMC, available both as an on-premise and cloud-based offering.

BMC believes that it already has a strong counter-offer to ServiceNow in the mid-maturity market with its Remedyforce product (a service desk offering that runs on Salesforce’s Salesforce1 cloud platform). The cloud-based version of Remedy with Smart IT, combined with MyIT will provide a much more complete offering with a better experience for users, service desk staff and IT alike across the total service desk market.

Workload automation is another major area for BMC.  Its Control-M suite of products has enabled automation of batch and other workloads from the mainframe through to distributed systems.  However, this has been a set of highly technical products requiring IT staff with technical and scripting skills.  Now, the aim is to enable greater usage by end users themselves, enabling business value to be more easily created.

All this is a journey for BMC – identifying and dealing with the needs of end users and how automation can help is something that is changing with the underlying platform.  For example, a hybrid platform requires more intelligence to identify where a workload should reside at any time (for example on private or public cloud), and the promise of cloud in breaking down monolithic applications to create the composite application built dynamically from required functions needs contextual knowledge of how the various functions can work together. 

This needs deep integration with BMC’s products in its performance and availability group.  Being able to identify where problems are and dig down rapidly to root cause and remediate issues requires systems that can work with the service desk systems and with workload automation to ensure that business continuity is well managed.  Here BMC’s TrueSight Operations Management provides probable cause analysis based on advanced pattern matching and analytics, enabling far more proactive approaches to be taken to running an IT environment.

TrueSight also offers further value in that it is moving from being an IT tool to a business one.  Through tying in the analytics capabilities of TrueSight into business processes and issues, dashboards can be created that show the direct business impact in cash terms for any existing or future problems, enabling the business to prioritise which issues should be focused on.

BMC has to work to deal with managing IT platforms both vertically at the stack level and horizontally at the hybrid cloud level.  It has taken a little time for BMC to move effectively from being a physical IT management systems vendor to a hybrid physical/virtual one; now, via its Cloud and Data Centre Automation team in BMC is positioning itself to provide systems to both end user and service provider organisations that are independent of any tie-in to hardware vendors, differentiating itself from the likes of IBM, HP and Dell (Dell is a long-term BMC partner anyway, although its acquisition of Quest and other management vendors has provided Dell with enough capability to go its own way should it so choose). At the same time, BMC still works closely with its data centre automation customers; it has recently published what it calls the Automation Passport, a best practices methodology for using automation to transform the business value of IT.

BMC still has a strong mainframe capability, which differentiates it from many of the new SaaS-based players.  Sure, not all organisations do have a mainframe, but the capability to manage the mainframe as a peer system within the overall IT platform means that those with one only have BMC, CA and IBM to look to for such an embracing management system.  IBM’s strength is in its high-touch capacity of putting together a system once it is on the customer’s site.  BMC and CA have both been moving towards simpler messaging and portfolios, along with providing on-premise and cloud based systems to give customers greater flexibility in how they deal with their IT platforms.

Overall, BMC seems to be turning itself around.  The lack of financially-driven quarterly targets has freed up Beauchamp and his team to take a far more strategic view of where the company needs to go.  Product sales volumes are up, and customer satisfaction is solid. However, BMC has to continue with a suitable speed along this new journey – and also has to ensure that it gets its message out there far more forcibly than it is doing at the moment.


October 20, 2014  10:07 AM

Quocirca – security vendor to watch – Pwnie Express

Bob Tarzey Profile: Bob Tarzey
Uncategorized

Branches are where the rubber still hits the road for many organisations; where retailers still do most of their selling, where much banking is still carried out and where health care is often dispensed. However, for IT managers, branches are outliers, where rogue activity is hard to curb; this means branches can become security and compliance black spots.

 

Branch employees may see fit to make their lives easier by informally adding to the local IT infrastructure, for example installing wireless access points purchased from the computer store next door. Whilst such activity could also happen at HQ, controls are likely to be more rigorous. What is needed is an ability to extend such controls to branches, monitoring network activity, scanning for security issues and detecting non-compliant activity before it has an impact.

 

A proposition from Boston, USA-based vendor Pwnie Express should improve branch network and security visibility. Founded in 2010, Pwnie Express has so far received $5.1 million Series-A venture capital financing from Fairhaven Capital and the Vermont Seed Capital Fund. The name is a play on both Pony Express, the 19th century US mail system and the Pwnie Awards, a competition run each year at the Black Hat conference to recognise the best discoverers of exploitable software bugs.

 

Pwnie Express’s core offering is to monitor IT activity in branches through the installation of plugandplay in-branch network sensor hardware. These enable branch-level vulnerability management, asset discovery and penetration testing. As such the sensors can also scan for wireless access points, which may have been installed by branch employees for convenience or even by a malicious outsider, and monitor the use of employee/visitor-owned personal devices.

 

To date Pwnie monitoring has been on a one-to-one basis and so hard to scale. That has changed with the release of a new software-as-a-service (SaaS) based management platform called Pwn Pulse. This increases the number of locations that can be covered from a single console, allowing HQ-based IT management teams to extend full security testing to branches. Pwn Pulse also improves backend integration to other security management tools and security information and event management (SIEM) systems improving an organisation’s overall understanding its IT security and compliance issues.

 

Currently 25 percent of Pwnie Express’s sales are via an expanding European reseller network, mainly in the UK. With data protection laws only likely to tighten in Europe in the coming years, Pwnie Express should provide visibility into the remote locations other security tools simply cannot reach.


October 9, 2014  10:07 AM

Do I Concur with the SAP deal?

Clive Longbottom Clive Longbottom Profile: Clive Longbottom
Uncategorized

SAP‘s recent $8.3b deal to acquire on-line travel and expense management vendor Concur can be read a few ways.  The first, and most positive one, is that it shows that SAP is continuing to try and broaden its appeal, diversifying from being “the ERP company”.

Another view is that SAP has had a few bites at the cloud cherry and mostly failed.  Concur brings a massive cloud infrastructure with it, and SAP can make use of this in other ways.

A third, less charitable view is just that SAP has a large amount of money that it needs to be seen to do something with – and Concur was around at the right time and place.

Which one is most likely?  I would plump for diversification, with a bit of cloud thrown in.  SAP acquired SaaS-based human capital management vendor, SuccessFactors, in 2012.  It can be argued that Concur fits quite nicely into this vein – both are SaaS; both deal with managing employees.  This takes SAP from being the ERP solution for a few to a provider of functions for everyone; becoming a far stickier and embedded supplier that is even harder for an organisation to extricate itself from.

However, such a simplistic view hides many problems that could now face SAP as it integrates Concur.  Travel and expense management is complexity that only a few software vendors have managed to deal with.  It is not a simple replacement for employees using Excel spreadsheets to log their expenses – but requires deep domain expertise in areas such as multi-national tax laws, per diem rules, how travel management companies (TMCs) operate, how to interact with financial institutions on a broad scale to manage company and personal credit cards in a secure and effective manner and so on. Concur understands this in spades – but what impact will SAP have on this?

Sure, SAP understand the first part of this: ERP has had to deal with multi-national currencies and tax laws for some time.  The rest, though, is new territory for SAP.

Not only are the basics of expense management a difficult area, but Concur has been pushing the boundaries of what it does.  In the US, it has various deals for example with integrated taxi cab expense management, where the employee uses their mobile phones to identify a nearby cab and hail it electronically, and then pay the cab driver via the phone with the expense directly integrated into expense claims.  Other ongoing work has been looking at how travellers can have their whole trip automated from booking through travel and stay with capabilities such as the use of near field communication (NFC) as a means of booking into hotels without a need to go to the check in desk, and for mobile phones to act as electronic keys to unlock the hotel room door.  Such work requires a certain mindset and understanding of the travel and entertainment expense world – and the investment of large amounts of money.

Also, with Concur’s 2011 acquisition of travel details management vendor TripIt, SAP finds itself with a more consumer-oriented product: taking it well out of its comfort zone.

It leaves SAP with a couple of choices – the first is to pretty much leave Concur as a separate entity, trying to keep all its existing staff and domain expertise to continue focusing on what Concur has been calling “the perfect trip” experience.  SAP can provide Concur with the deeper pockets to continue work in achieving the perfect trip – but is SAP up to understanding this and achieving any pay back on such investment?

For customers, they now find themselves with the unfortunate impact of moving from dealing with a small but fleet of foot and interesting supplier, to a rather staid and enterprise-focused behemoth.  I believe that this will raise flags for many customers: those who have been dealing with Concur in the past (travel and expense management professionals) are unlikely to be the ones in a company who have been dealing with SAP, and many companies will have ruled out SAP for other functions such as ERP and CRM and have gone for others, such as Oracle or Microsoft. Dealing with SAP may then be seen as the thin end of the wedge, with rapacious SAP salespeople trying to usurp the incumbent ERP and CRM vendors.

As with most acquisitions, the SAP/Concur deal will raise worries in may existing customers’ minds, and will open up opportunities for Concur’s competitors.  As stated earlier, the market is not exactly flush with such companies that understand travel and expense management well and have software that addresses all requirements.  For companies such as KDS and Infor, the SAP/Concur deal must be seen as opening up opportunities.

For Concur’s existing customers, I would advise caution.  The two companies’ view of the world are not the same – watch to see how SAP manages the acquisition; watch how many staff start to move on from Concur to join its competitors.  If it becomes apparent that SAP is trying to force Concur to fit into the SAP mould, maybe it will be time to look elsewhere.


October 6, 2014  2:11 PM

Ricoh’s plans for transformation

Louella Fernandes Louella Fernandes Profile: Louella Fernandes
Uncategorized

Ricoh recently held its first industry analyst summit in Tokyo. The event focused on communicating Ricoh’s focus on its services-led business transformation through its 18th Mid-Term Plan.

Ricoh is in the midst of transformation, actively streamlining its company structure to accelerate growth across a number of markets. Like many traditional print hardware companies, it is shifting its focus to services. Its primary focus is on what it calls “workstyle innovation”. Over the past few years, Ricoh has repositioned the company as a services-led organisation – and has greatly enhanced its marketing communications and web presence to shift perception of Ricoh as a company that can support a business’ transformation in today’s evolving and mobile workplace. Ricoh’s services target is to gain 30% growth in revenue globally in 3 years. It plans to achieve this by enhancing its core business as well as expanding its presence in new markets.

Core business enhancement

Ricoh’s core business revolves around office printing, where it has carved out a strong strategy around managed document services (MDS). This established approach has enabled enterprises to tackle the escalating costs associated with an unmanaged print infrastructure. Ricoh has extended this model to encompass all document-centric processes and is effectively increasing its presence in the market on a global basis. In Quocirca’s recent review of the MPS landscape, it is positioned as a global market leader – testament to its global scale, unified service and delivery infrastructure and effective approach to business process automation.

Service expansion

Ricoh’s 18th mid-term plan relates to five key business areas. Its primary business, the office business market, encompasses both hardware technology and services such as MDS, business process services (BPS), IT services and Visual Communication.  Ricoh also operates in the consumer market (as seen in its new THETA 360 camera, a range of projectors and an electronic white board product); the industrial business market (optic devices, thermal media and inkjet heads), commercial printing (production printers) and new business, which includes additive manufacturing.  Ricoh plans a full-scale entry into commercial printing and intends to expand its growth in the industrial market by 50% in the next three years.

Ricoh announced eight new service lines

  • Managed Document Services – leveraging Ricoh’s 5 step adaptive model to help organisations optimise document-centric processes.
  • Production Printing Services – portfolio of integrated services to complement Ricoh’s hardware and solution portfolio for in-house corporate printing or graphic arts and commercial Printing.
  • Business Process Services – streamlining business processes such as human resources, finance and accounting, and front office outsourcing services such as contact center services.
  • Application Services – Integration of applications such as insurance claims processing services
  • Sustainability Management Services – Services to reduce environmental impact such as electricity and paper for Ricoh and non-Ricoh devices.
  • Communication Services – Development, deployment and integration of unified communication solutions including communication/collaboration solutions (such as Video Conferencing, Interactive White Board, Digital Signage, Virtual Help Desk)
  • Workplace Services – Services to maximise efficiency of workplace and effectiveness of workforce, including optimised use of space, smart use of technology and automation of certain office functions.
  • IT Infrastructure Services – Consulting, designing, supplying and implementation of IT infrastructure as well as support and management of full IT Infrastructure by remote and on-site support.

Perhaps the most focus was given to Ricoh’s IT services portfolio which varies by region. Ricoh has made a number of IT services acquisitions across several regions and is seeing strong success in Asia Pacific, Europe and the US.   In The US, the acquisition of MindSHIFT is enabling Ricoh to target small and medium sized businesses. If Ricoh can articulate a strong proposition around IT services, this could be a key differentiator to its traditional competitors over the coming year. However, Ricoh is now operating in a wider IT services market and perhaps its penetration will be limited to its existing customer base looking to extend existing MDS engagements to the IT infrastructure.

Innovation

Ricoh is working on a range of technologies around what it calls the infinite network (TIN) where all people and things will be connected all the time. This is Ricoh’s view of the internet of things (IoT) and also embraces Ricoh’s vision of the need to connect to a rapidly increasing set of sensors in the environment.

Ricoh R&D discussed a range of differentiated technology platforms which aim to address multiple markets, enabling the business units and operating companies to go to market with highly differentiated solutions for the office and for specific large verticals. This includes communication and collaboration, visual search and recognition, digital signage and hetero-integration photonics (optics and image processing).

Perhaps the most relevant to the print industry is its mobile visual search technology which provi des an interactive dimension to the printed page. A simple snap of an image can provide access to digital content such as text, video, purchase options and social networks.  Ricoh has commercialised this through its Clickable Paper product. Based on digital layers, this enables consumers to hover their mobile phone over a magazine advert, for example, and it could generate video or a link to a web site. Ricoh demonstrated an example used by Mazda, which is using the technology in its brochures.

This technology promises to potentially breathe new life into print by connecting print to the digital world.  The market is rapidly evolving market and Ricoh is competing with a range of interactive print/ augmented reality vendors in this space. The only other printer vendor to offer something similar is HP, with its Aurasma technology, which has been available for a number of years.

Quocirca opinion

Ricoh, like its traditional print competitors, needs to drive a dramatic shift to a services business model – its long-term relevance depends on this. While Ricoh has developed a cohesive set of new service offerings, it already has developed a relatively mature set of business process services across areas such as e-invoicing, healthcare, loan applications and so on.  Quocirca believes that this should be a priority for Ricoh going forward with its services strategy.

Indeed, Ricoh has already made strong inroads with its MDS strategy. To drive deeper engagements with larger enterprises needs to further articulate a strong vision around business process automation. Ricoh faces strong competition from Lexmark and Xerox in this space.

Ricoh illustrated that it is innovating across a number of markets and this shows commitment to expanding its presence in non-core markets. Overall, Ricoh is taking the right direction to change perceptions of its brand and develop broader services capabilities.  Ricoh certainly has a broad array of services, but it is now competing in many new markets and should focus on building its credibility in a few core areas and partnering with best of breed providers in others.

Some of the less conventional products, such as Clickable Page, need to be positioned carefully, and Ricoh will need to either ensure that it moves with improvements in the technology and with the increasing use of wearable technology, and even fully understand when such ephemeral approaches have run their time and so pull out of providing any offerings in the space.


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