Overcoming Active Directory Administrator Challenges

23rd February 2018
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Overcoming Active Directory Administrator Challenges

The central role of Active Directory in business environments

Deployment of and reliance upon Active Directory in the enterprise continues to grow at a rapid pace, and is more often becoming the central data storage point for sensitive user data as well as the gateway to critical business information. This provides businesses with a consolidated, integrated and distributed directory service, and enables the business to better manage user and administrative access to business applications and services.

Over the past 10+ years, Wanstor has seen Active Directory’s role in the enterprise drastically expand, as has the need to secure the data it both stores and enables access to. Unfortunately, native Active Directory administration tools provide little control over user and administrative permissions and access. The lack of control makes the secure administration of Active Directory a challenging task for IT administrators. In addition to limited control over what users and administrators can do within Active Directory, the database has limited ability in reporting on activities performed therein. This makes it very difficult to meet audit requirements, and to secure Active Directory. As a result, many businesses need assistance in creating repeatable, enforceable processes that will reduce their administrative overhead, whilst helping increase the availability and security of their systems.

Because Active Directory is an essential part of the IT infrastructure, IT teams must manage it both thoughtfully and diligently – controlling it, securing it and auditing it. Not surprisingly, with an application of this importance there are challenges to confront and resolve in reducing risk, whilst deriving maximum value for the business. This blog will examine some of the most challenging administrative tasks related to Active Directory.

Compliance Auditing and Reporting

To satisfy audit requirements, businesses must demonstrate control over the security of sensitive and business-critical data. However, without additional tools, demonstrating regulatory compliance with Active Directory is time-consuming, tedious and complex.

Auditors and stakeholders require detailed information about privileged-user activity. This level of granular information allows interested parties to troubleshoot problems and also provides information necessary to improve the performance and availability of Active Directory.

Auditing and reporting on Active Directory has always been a challenge. To more easily achieve, demonstrate and maintain compliance, businesses should employ a solution that provides robust, custom reporting and auditing capabilities. Reporting should provide information on what, when and where changes happen, and who made the changes.

Reporting capabilities should be flexible enough to provide graphical trend information for business stakeholders, while also providing granular detail necessary for administrators to improve their Active Directory deployment. Solutions should also securely store audit events for as long as necessary to meet data retention requirements and enable the easy search of these events.

Group Policy Management

Microsoft recommends that Group Policy be a cornerstone of Active Directory security. Leveraging the powerful capabilities of Group Policy, IT teams can manage and configure user and asset settings, applications and operating systems from a central console. It is an indispensable resource for managing user access, permissions and security settings in the Windows environment.

However maintaining a large number of Group Policy Objects (GPOs), which store policy settings, can be a challenging task. for example, Administrators should take special care in large IT environments with many system administrators, because making changes to GPOs can affect every computer or user in a domain in real time. However, Group Policy lacks true change-management and version-control capabilities. Due to the limited native controls available, accomplishing something as simple as deploying a shortcut requires writing a script. Custom scripts are often complex to create and difficult to debug and test. If the script fails or causes disruption in the live environment, there is no way to roll back to the last known setting or configuration. Malicious or unintended changes to Group Policy can have devastating and permanent effects on an IT environment and a business.

To prevent Group Policy changes that can negatively impact the business, IT teams often restrict administrative privilege to a few highly-skilled administrators. As a result, these staff members are overburdened with administering Group Policy rather than supporting the greater goals of the business. To leverage the powerful capabilities of Group Policy, it is necessary to have a solution in place that provides a secure offline repository to model and predict the impact of Group Policy changes before they go live. The ability to plan, control and troubleshoot Group Policy changes, with an approved change and release-management process, enables IT teams to improve the security and compliance of their Windows environment without making business-crippling administrative errors.

Businesses should also employ a solution for managing Group Policy that enables easy and flexible reporting to demonstrate that they’ve met audit requirements.

User Provisioning, Re-provisioning and De-provisioning

Most employees require access to several systems and applications, and each programme has its own account and login information. Even with today’s more advanced processes and systems, employees often find themselves waiting for days for access to the systems they need. This can cost businesses thousands of pounds in lost productivity and employee downtime.

To minimize workloads and expedite the provisioning process, many businesses view Active Directory to be the commanding data store for managing user account information and access rights to IT resources and assets. Provisioning, re-provisioning and de-provisioning access via Active Directory is often a manual process. In a large business, maintaining appropriate user permissions and access can be a time-consuming activity, especially when the business has significant personnel turnover. Systems administrators often spend hours creating, modifying and removing credentials. In a large, complex business, manual provisioning can take days. There are no automation or policy enforcement capabilities native to Active Directory. With little control in place, there is no way to make sure that users will receive the access they need when they need it.

Additionally, there is no system of checks and balances. Administrative errors can easily result in elevated user privileges that can lead to security breaches, malicious activity or unintended errors that can expose the business to significant risk. Businesses should look for an automated solution to execute provisioning activities. Implementing an automated solution with approval capabilities greatly reduces the burden on administrators, improves adherence to security policies, improves standards and decreases the time a user must wait for access. It also speeds up the removal of user access, which minimizes the ability of a user with malicious intent to access sensitive data.

Secure Delegation of User Privilege

Reducing the number of users with elevated administrative privileges is a constant challenge for the owners of Active Directory. Many user and helpdesk requests require interaction with Active Directory, but these common interactions often result in elevated access for users who do not need it to perform their jobs. Because there are only two levels of administrative access in Active Directory (Domain Administrator or Enterprise Administrator), it is very difficult to control what users can see and do once they gain administrative privileges.

Once a user has access to powerful administrative capabilities, they can easily access sensitive business and user information, elevate their privileges and even make changes within Active Directory. Elevated administrative privileges, especially when in the hands of someone with malicious intent, dramatically increase the risk exposure of Active Directory and the applications, users and systems that rely upon it. At Wanstor we have found through our years of experience of dealing with Active Directory that it is not uncommon for a business to discover that thousands of users have elevated administrative privileges. Each user with unauthorized administrative privileges presents a unique threat to the security of the IT infrastructure and business. Coupled with Active Directory’s latent vulnerabilities, it is easy for someone to make business-crippling administrative changes. When this occurs, troubleshooting becomes difficult, as auditing and reporting limitations make it nearly impossible to quickly gather a clear picture of the problem.

To reduce the risk associated with elevated user privilege and make sure that users only have access to the information they require, businesses should seek a solution that can securely delegate entitlements. This is a requirement to meet separation-of-duties mandates, as well as a way to share the administrative load by securely delegating privileges to subordinates.

Change Auditing and Monitoring

To achieve and maintain a secure and compliant IT environment, IT administrators must control change and monitor for unauthorized changes that may negatively impact their business. Active Directory change auditing is an important procedure for identifying and limiting errors and unauthorized changes to Active Directory configuration. One single change can put a business at risk, introducing security breaches and compliance issues.

Native Active Directory tools fail to proactively track, audit, report and alert administrators about vital configuration changes. Additionally, native real-time auditing and reporting on configuration changes, day-to-day operational changes and critical group changes do not exist. This exposes the business to risk, as the IT team’s ability to correct and limit damage is dependent on their ability to detect and troubleshoot a change once it has occurred.

A change that goes undetected can have a drastic impact on a business. E.g. someone who elevated their privileges and changed their identity to that of a senior member of the finance department could potentially access company funds resulting in theft, wire transfers and so forth. To reduce risk and help prevent security breaches, businesses should employ a solution that provides comprehensive change monitoring. This solution should include real-time change detection, intelligent notification, human-readable events, central auditing and detailed reporting. Employing a solution that encompasses all of these elements will enable IT teams to quickly and easily identify unauthorized changes, pinpoint their source, and resolve issues before they negatively impact the business.

Maintaining Data Integrity

It is important for businesses of all sizes to make sure that the data housed within Active Directory supports the needs of the business, especially as other applications rely on Active Directory for content and information.

Data integrity involves both the consistency of data and the completeness of information. For example, there are multiple ways to enter a phone number. Entering data in inconsistent formats creates data pollution. Data pollution inhibits the business from efficiently organizing and accessing important information. Another example of data inconsistency is the ability to abbreviate a department name. Think of the various ways to abbreviate “Accounting.” If there are inconsistencies in Active Directory’s data, there is no way to make sure that an administrator can group all the members of accounting together, which is necessary for payroll, communications, systems access and so on. Another vital aspect of data integrity when working with Active Directory is the completeness of information. Active Directory provides no control over content that is entered natively. If no controls are in place, administrators can enter information in any format they wish and leave fields that the business relies upon blank. To support and provide trustworthy information to all aspects of the business that rely on Active Directory, businesses should employ a solution that controls both the format and completeness of data entered in Active Directory. By putting these controls in place, IT teams can drastically reduce data pollution and significantly improve the uniformity and completeness of the content in Active Directory.

Self-Service Administration

Most requests made by the business or by users require access to and administration of Active Directory. This is often manual work and there are few controls in place to prevent administrative errors. Active Directory’s inherent complexity makes these errors common, and just one mistake could do damage to the entire security infrastructure. With the lack of controls, the business cannot have just anyone administering Active Directory.

While it may be practical to employ engineers and consultants to install and maintain Active Directory, businesses cannot afford to have their highly-skilled and valuable employees spending the majority of their time responding to relatively trivial user requests. Self-service administration and automation are logical solutions for businesses looking to streamline operations, become more efficient and improve compliance. This is achieved by placing controls around common administrative tasks and enabling the system to perform user requests without tasking highly skilled administrators.

Businesses should identify processes that are routine yet hands-on, and consider solutions that provide user self-service and automation of the process. Automation of these processes reduces the workload on highly-skilled administrators, it also improves compliance with policies since automation does not allow users to skip steps in the process. Businesses should also look for self-service and automation solutions that allow for approval and provide a comprehensive audit trail of events to help demonstrate policy compliance.

Final thoughts

Active Directory has found its home as a mission-critical component of the IT infrastructure. As businesses continue to leverage it for its powerful capabilities as a commanding repository, Active Directory is a vital part of enterprise security. Therefore, administrators must be able to control, monitor, administer and protect it with the same degree of discipline currently applied to other high-profile information such as credit card data, customer data and so forth. Because native tools do not enable or support the secure and disciplined administration of Active Directory, businesses must look for solutions that enable its controlled and efficient administration. These solutions help make sure the business information housed in Active Directory is both secure and appropriately serving the needs of the business.

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A blog on Website Security

22nd February 2018
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At Wanstor this week, we have been discussing website security. This is because of news that the Information Commissioner’s Office or ICO had to take its website down after a warning that hackers were taking control of visitor’s computers to mine cryptocurrency.

Following this story, some of our customers have been in contact regarding website security and suggested best practices. In light of this, Wanstor’s security experts have come together to develop the following high level guide to website security.

You may not think your website has anything worth hacking, but corporate websites are compromised all the time. Despite what people think, the majority of website security breaches are not to steal data or deface a website. Instead they are hacked to use servers as an email relay for spam, or to setup a temporary web server, normally to serve files of an illegal nature. Other common ways to abuse compromised machines include using your company servers as part of a botnet, or to mine for Bitcoins. You could even be hit by ransomware. Hacking is regularly performed by automated scripts written to scour the Internet in an attempt to exploit known website security issues in software. By following the tips below, your website should be able to operate in a safer way and put hackers and the tools they use off from attack.

Keep software updated

It may seem obvious, but making sure you keep all software updated is vital to keeping your site secure. This applies to both the server operating system and to any software you may be running on your website such as a CMS or forum. When holes are found in website security software, hackers are quick to attempt abuse. If you are using a managed hosting solution, then your hosting company should take care of any updates, so you do not need to worry about this – unless your hosting company contacts you to tell you to worry!

If you are using third-party software on your website such as a CMS or forum, you should make sure you are quick to apply any security patches. Most vendors have a mailing list or RSS feed detailing any website security issues.  Many developers use tools like Composer, npm, or RubyGems to manage their software dependencies, and security vulnerabilities appearing in a package you depend upon but aren’t paying any attention to is one of the easiest ways to get caught out. Make sure you keep your dependencies up to date and use relevant tools to get automatic notifications when a vulnerability is announced in one of your components.

SQL injection

SQL injection attacks occur when attackers use a web form field or URL parameter to gain access to or manipulate your database. When you use standard Transact SQL, it is easy for such individuals to insert rogue code into your query that could be used to change tables, retrieve information and delete data. You can easily prevent this by always using parameterised queries – most web languages have this feature and it is easy to implement.

XSS

Cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks inject malicious JavaScript into your pages, which then runs in the browsers of your users, allowing page content to be modified or information to be stolen or transmitted to the attacker. For example, if you show comments on a page without validation, attackers might submit comments containing script tags and JavaScript, which could run in every other user’s browser and steal their login cookie, allowing the attacker to take control of accounts owned by each user who views the comment. You need to ensure that users cannot inject active JavaScript content into your pages.

The key here is to focus on how your user-generated content could escape the bounds you expect and be interpreted by the browser as something other than what you intended. This is similar to defending against SQL injection. When dynamically generating HTML, use functions which explicitly make the changes you’re looking for, or use functions in your templating tool that automatically ensure appropriate escaping, rather than concatenating strings or setting raw HTML content.

Another powerful tool in the XSS defender’s toolbox is Content Security Policy (CSP). CSP is a header your server can return which tells the browser to limit how and what JavaScript is executed in the page, for example to disallow running of any scripts not hosted on your domain, disallow inline JavaScript. Mozilla have an excellent guide with some example configurations. This makes it harder for an attacker’s scripts to work, even if they can get them into your page.

Error messages

Be careful with how much information you give away in error messages. Provide only minimal errors to your users, to make sure they do not leak secrets present on your server. Although tempting, do not provide full exception details either, as these can make complex attacks like SQL injection far easier. Keep detailed errors in your server logs, and show users only the information they need to see.

Server side validation

Validation should always be done both on the browser and server side. The browser can catch simple failures like mandatory fields which are empty and when you enter text into a numbers only field. These can however be bypassed, and you should make sure you check for these validation and deeper validation server side as failing to do so could lead to malicious code or scripting code being inserted into the database or could cause undesirable results in your website.

Passwords

Everyone knows they should use complex passwords, but that doesn’t mean they always do. It is crucial to use strong passwords to your server and website admin area, but equally also important to insist on good password practices for your users to protect the security of their accounts. As much as users may not like it, enforcing password requirements such as a minimum of around eight characters, including an uppercase letter and number will help to protect their information in the long run. Passwords should always be stored as encrypted values, preferably using a one way hashing algorithm. Using this method means when you are authenticating users you are only ever comparing encrypted values.

In the event of someone hacking in and stealing your passwords, using hashed passwords could help damage limitation, as decrypting them is not possible. The best someone can do is a dictionary attack or brute force attack, essentially guessing every combination until it finds a match.

Thankfully, many CMS’s provide user management out of the box with a lot of these website security features built in, although some configuration or extra modules might be required to use to set the minimum password strength. If you are using .NET then its worth using membership providers as they are very configurable, provide inbuilt website security and include readymade controls for login and password reset.

File uploads

Allowing users to upload files to your website can be a significant website security risk, even if it’s simply to change their photo, background picture or avatar. The risk is that any file uploaded however innocent it may look, could contain a script that when executed on your server completely opens up your website. If you have a file upload form then you need to treat all files with great suspicion. If you are allowing users to upload images, you cannot rely on the file extension or the mime type to verify that the file is an image as these can easily be faked. Even opening the file and reading the header, or using functions to check the image size are not fool proof. Most images formats allow storing a comment section which could contain PHP code that could be executed by the server.

So what can you do to prevent this? Ultimately you want to stop users from being able to execute any file they upload. By default web servers won’t attempt to execute files with image extensions, but it isn’t recommended to rely solely on checking the file extension as a file with the name image.jpg.php has been known to get through. Some options are to rename the file on upload to make sure ensure the correct file extension, or to change the file permissions so it can’t be executed.

In Wanstor’s opinion, the recommended solution is to prevent direct access to uploaded files. This way, any files uploaded to your website are stored in a folder outside of the webroot or in the database as a blob. If your files are not directly accessible you will need to create a script to fetch the files from the private folder (or an HTTP handler in .NET) and deliver them to the browser. Image tags support an src attribute that is not a direct URL to an image, so your src attribute can point to your file delivery script providing you set the correct content type in the HTTP header.

The majority of hosting providers deal with the server configuration for you, but if you are hosting your website on your own server then there are few things you will want to check. E.g. Make sure you have a firewall setup, and are blocking all non-essential ports.

If you are allowing files to be uploaded from the Internet only use secure transport methods to your server such as SFTP or SSH. Where possible have your database running on a different server to that of your web server. Doing this means the database server cannot be accessed directly from the outside world, only your web server can access it, minimising the risk of your data being exposed. Finally, don’t forget about restricting physical access to your server.

HTTPS

HTTPS is a protocol used to provide security over the Internet. HTTPS guarantees users that they’re communicating with the server that they should be, and that nobody else can intercept or modify the content in transit. If you have anything that your users might want to remain private, it’s highly advisable to use only HTTPS in delivering it. That of course means credit card and login pages. A login form will often set a cookie for example, which is sent with every other request to your site that a logged in user makes, and is used to authenticate those requests. An attacker stealing this would be able to perfectly imitate a user and take over their login session. To defeat these kind of attacks, you almost always want to use HTTPS for your entire site.

Website security tools

Once you think you have done all you can, then it’s time to test your website security. The most effective way of doing this is via website security tools, often referred to as penetration testing or pen testing for short. There are many commercial and free products to assist you in this. They work on a similar basis to scripts hackers will use in that they test all know exploits and attempt to compromise your site using some of the previous mentioned methods such as SQL injection.

Some free tools that are worth looking at include:

  • Netsparker (Free community edition and trial version available). Good for testing SQL injection and XSS.
  • OpenVAS claims to be the most advanced open source security scanner. Good for testing known vulnerabilities, currently scans over 25,000. But it can be difficult to setup and requires a OpenVAS server to be installed which only runs on *nix. OpenVAS was fork of Nessus before it became a closed-source commercial product.
  • io is a tool offering a free online check to quickly report which security headers mentioned above (such as CSP and HSTS) a domain has enabled and correctly configured.
  • Xenotix XSS Exploit Framework is a tool from OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) that includes a huge selection of XSS attack examples, which you can run to quickly confirm whether your site’s inputs are vulnerable in Chrome, Firefox and IE.

The results from automated tests can be daunting, as they present a wealth of potential issues. The important thing is to focus on the critical issues first. Each issue reported normally comes with a good explanation of the potential vulnerability. You will probably find that some of the issues rated as low or medium in importance aren’t a concern for your site. If you wish to take things a step further then there are some further steps you can take to manually try to compromise your site by altering POST/GET values. A debugging proxy can assist you here as it allows you to intercept the values of an HTTP request between your browser and the server. A popular freeware application called Fiddler is a good starting point.

So what should you be trying to alter on the request? If you have pages which should only be visible to a logged in user then try changing URL parameters such as user id, or cookie values in an attempt to view details of another user. Another area worth testing are forms, changing the POST values to attempt to submit code to perform XSS or to upload a server side script.

Hopefully these tips will help keep your site and information safe. Thankfully most Content Management Systems have inbuilt website security features; it is a still a good idea to have knowledge of the most common security exploits, so you can make sure that you are covered.

For more information about Wanstor’s IT security solutions, please click here – https://www.wanstor.com/managed-it-security-services-business.htm

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Why flash storage is so important to the success of hybrid IT infrastructure

9th February 2018
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Why flash storage is so important to the success of hybrid IT infrastructure

IT leaders are facing critical decisions on how to best deploy data centre and cloud resources to enable digital transformation. The advantages of cloud models have been written about by many IT industry commentators, experts and opinion makers. Understandably, cloud computing is fundamental to delivering the agility, cost efficiencies and simplified operations necessary for modern IT workloads and applications at scale. However the truth is, even in today’s cloud era, IT leaders still need their own IT infrastructure and data centres to make IT work for their business.

At Wanstor, we believe that today and tomorrow’s data centres must support new models for resource pooling, self-service delivery, metering, elastic scalability and automatic chargebacks. They must deliver performance and agility that the business needs. No longer is it good enough to blame legacy IT equipment for standing in the way of business progress. IT departments must make sure they reduce complexity by leveraging technologies and architectures that are simple to deploy and manage. They must achieve levels of automation, orchestration and scalability that are not possible within data centres that operate on their own.

At Wanstor we have been thinking about the future of the data centre. We believe many IT departments are missing the fundamental question when seeking answers to their existing infrastructure plans and that is:

How does the data storage strategy integrate within existing and future company owned IT infrastructure and public cloud infrastructures?

At Wanstor we believe the answer to the “storage strategy” question can be found in a storage strategy that encompasses all flash and no longer relies on cumbersome disks and tapes. All-flash storage is the single most important change an IT Manager will need to make to successfully build their future hybrid infrastructure model. Without a flexible and scalable all-flash storage architecture the future data centre and hybrid cloud model actually fails. The performance, cost efficiencies, simplicity, agility and scalability the modern IT department will need to successfully serve their business cannot be achieved without all-flash storage as the infrastructure foundation.

So how do IT Managers leverage the benefits of all-flash storage to build a service-centric data storage infrastructure required for their business? What are some of the innovations in pricing models and all-flash storage architectures that will help them create a cost-efficient, scalable, resilient and reliable hybrid IT infrastructure?

The first thing IT Managers need to recognise is that moving to all-flash storage for a truly hybrid IT infrastructure is not just simply taking an extra step and buying some more kit nor is it rip everything out and start all over again. Instead it is an iterative process that will take place over a period of time depending on how mature a business’s IT infrastructure model is at the moment and what needs to be delivered by IT for business success in the future.

Migrating applications onto all flash storage

If you are an IT decision maker, you realise that your business has probably spent a quite a bit of budget and a significant amount of effort to make sure business critical applications are supported by an underlying IT infrastructure that is reliable, robust and resilient. Indeed you are probably beginning to experience performance challenges with a range of applications, particularly those that require high levels of IOPS. But applications and workloads that might see incremental improvements through faster, more responsive storage are unlikely to be the first place where IT will deploy all-flash systems. Instead, the IT Manager is likely to have specific applications and workloads where the performance challenges of spinning disk storage are difficult to overcome and the underlying storage infrastructure needs to be modernised instead to avoid putting the business at risk. Typical applications and workloads at this stage include databases supporting online transaction processing solutions for e-commerce, infrastructures supporting DevOps teams, and applications that are specific to a particular industry, which require levels of performance that traditional disk storage simply cannot deliver.

To understand which applications should be moved to all-flash storage first, it is important to do three things:

Understand the businesses own requirements for data storage, applications and budget considerations, and identify those workloads that are causing the most pain or providing the best opportunity to use all-flash storage to drive measurable business improvements.

Evaluate the benefits of all-flash storage solutions and how they can be applied to enhance and strengthen particular applications and workloads.

Compare leading all-flash solutions and determine which features, functions and pricing models will maximize the IT department’s ability to modernise workloads and begin a journey to an IT infrastructure model based around flash storage.

When evaluating the benefits of all flash storage, Wanstor believes IT Managers should consider the following critical factors:

Performance – All-flash storage will deliver performance that is at least 10 times greater than that of traditional disks. When thinking about performance, do not focus solely on IOPS; it is also about consistent performance at low latency. Make sure an all flash architecture is deployed that delivers consistent performance across all workloads and I/O sizes, particularly if starting with multiple workloads.

Total Cost of Ownership – The price of flash storage has come down dramatically in the past 12 months. If the IT and finance teams looked at flash several years ago and were scared off by the price, it is time to explore flash storage again. In fact some all flash storage providers have prices as low as £1k per TB of data.

Smaller storage footprint – This will happen through inline de-duplication and compression, along with thin provisioning, space-efficient snapshots and clones. In some cases the storage footprint can be reduced by a ratio of 5:1, depending upon the application and workload.

Lower operational overheads – Through faster more simple deployments, provisioning and scaling and cost savings as less manual maintenance is required.

Availability and resiliency – All-flash arrays utilise a stateless controller architecture that separates the I/O processing plane from the persistent data storage plane. This architecture provides high availability (greater than 99.999%) and non-disruptive operations. The IT Manager can update hardware and software and expand capacity without reconfiguring applications, hosts or I/O networks, without disrupting applications or sacrificing performance of the hardware.

Simpler IT operations – Many all-flash arrays are now plug and play, so simple that they can be installed in less than hour in many cases. Additionally storage administrators do not have to worry about configuration tuning and tweaking, saving hours or days of effort and associated expenses.

Consolidation – The next stage of moving more applications to flash storage

Once you have put your first applications on an all-flash storage array, the improvements in performance should be enough for the IT and finance teams to decide to invest further in the technology and really accelerate their journey to a flash storage based IT infrastructure.

Most IT leaders, will want to expand the benefits they will have seen from the initial deployment of flash storage to additional applications and workloads across the data centre. As the all-flash storage solution expands to additional applications, IT Managers will find that TCO benefits increase substantially. Because all-flash storage supports mixed workloads, IT Managers will be able to consolidate more applications on fewer devices, thus reducing IT infrastructure capital expenditure. By consolidating, IT Managers will also be able to maximize many of the cost savings mentioned earlier in this article (lower energy consumption, less floor space use, reduced software licensing fees etc).

In dense mixed workload applications, the TCO of using a flash storage solution will typically be 50% to 70% lower than a comparably configured traditional disk solution. Beyond the specific cost savings, the performance gains across more applications will drive significant business improvements and new opportunities. Resulting in a more agile IT infrastructure.

Additionally, the right all-flash storage architecture will help future-proof storage infrastructure, so that the investments being made today will continue to provide value as all flash storage usage is expanded across the business.

Building a business ready cloud on all flash storage

What do IT departments want and need from their cloud infrastructures? How can they leverage the cost savings and agility of the public cloud model, and link it to the control, security, data protection and peace of mind which can be achieved with an on-premises cloud infrastructure?

From Wanstor’s recent experiences many IT Managers want it all when it comes to cloud computing. They want to be able to provide all the features, functions and flexibility available from the leading public cloud service providers within their own IT infrastructure constraints. For many IT departments deploying cloud models similar to the big 3 cloud providers in a private cloud environment is simply unrealistic as the big 3 public cloud operators have lots of cash, resources and availability in terms of their infrastructure platforms.

If the IT department is unable to provide a better alternative to a public cloud solution, it is highly likely users within a business will feel the need to go to the public cloud. This creates a fertile ground for shadow IT initiatives that can cause security problems and other risks.

Beyond delivering public cloud-like features and functionality for an IT infrastructure solution, the IT department may also want to improve in areas where the public cloud may fall short. Performance is an example of this – If you want to use cloud services to support high-performance computing or big data analytics or some of the other important next-generation IT initiatives, it is likely the IT team will have to pay a premium to a public cloud service provider to match the businesses requirements.

Security is another critical area where building your own cloud infrastructure will give the IT department much greater control and peace of mind, particularly as they begin thinking about supporting the most important business applications and data in the cloud. As the IT department moves from the first all-flash applications through consolidation and toward the all flash cloud, an important step will be to bridge the virtualization gap between servers and the rest of the IT infrastructure, namely storage and networking.

To deliver a basic cloud-type service based on a flash storage platform, IT’s list of wants must include:

Shared resources through automated processes – Users should be able to go straight to an on-premises cloud and choose the storage capacity and performance they need, for as long as they need it.

Automated metering and charging – Once users have chosen the resources they want, the cloud infrastructure should be able to meter their usage and create an automated chargeback mechanism so they pay for what they actually used.

Scalability – Once resources are used, they go back into the pool and become available to other users and departments. As storage capacity and performance requirements grow, the storage platform should be simple to upgrade, update and scale. With virtualization across servers, storage and networking, an all-flash storage array becomes the foundation for a cloud infrastructure.

In this article we have discussed all-flash storage and the foundation it provides for a truly hybrid IT infrastructure to take place. Without the benefits of all-flash storage businesses will not be able to modernise their infrastructures to deliver cloud services. It is no coincidence that the largest cloud providers rely on all-flash storage solutions as their storage foundation. As discussed you can take the journey in stages, starting small with a single application or two, and then adding more applications through consolidation and virtualization. You can also implement multiple stages at once. Or you can do everything at once with all-flash storage solutions.

At Wanstor we believe the time for flash storage is now. The technology is great and at a price point where most businesses will see a return on their storage investments within 12 months due to the improved performance they receive across their business operations.

For more information about flash storage and how Wanstor can help your business with its IT infrastructure strategy and storage platforms, please visit https://www.wanstor.com/data-centre-storage-business.htm

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