Westbase.io has long championed the benefits of cloud management for networking solutions. From helping organisations to streamline their operational costs to speeding time to deployment, the positives are many and varied. In this help guide we will explore these, as well as negate some of the arguments against cloud management.
What is Cloud Management?
Cloud management software is designed for operating and monitoring products and services which run in the Cloud. In the case of Westbase.io’s portfolio it refers specifically to tools which leverage the Cloud to manage networks – both physical and virtual. In doing so, it enables service providers or end users alike to administer remote networks from one central system.
Cloud management can be used to troubleshoot, configure, and update the network, as well as providing alerts and reporting about how the network is behaving.
The Benefits of Cloud Management
Reduced Total Cost of Ownership
In legacy systems, if something goes wrong it demands a truck roll to fix – be that the deployment of an engineer to the location with the problem, or the provision of a replacement piece of equipment. Either way, truck rolls are expensive and sometimes later found to be unnecessary. With cloud management, however, a central IT team can remotely troubleshoot the malfunctioning element in the network, removing the need for truck rolls unless they are absolutely required – and thereby massively reducing management and equipment costs associated with this. If a truck roll is required in the form of an engineer visit then cloud management can also help to improve first-time fix rates, as the visibility provided by such means an engineer can attend with the right equipment etc. for the issue, to be able to complete the necessary work in one go.
Furthermore, real-time alerts can be delivered by cloud management systems to enable teams to respond faster to issues as they are aware of them immediately. These two factors combined means that downtime can be dramatically reduced, as are its associated costs.
Real-time alerts and reporting also allow the IT team to monitor data usage and be intelligent about how it is being consumed, thereby removing the risk of bill shock – particularly important when managing a cellular networking solution. For example, if an organisation has deployed an in-vehicle network they may opt to allow users to access the Internet freely, for whatever purpose they please. If, however, their data usage approaches their limit then an alert can be triggered and the network can be updated to restrict data usage except for essential tasks such as email – preventing overage, and thereby reducing cost of ownership, without impacting on work needs.
Another upside to cloud management is that employee time spent on managing the network can be reduced. The simple-to-use but powerful capabilities of cloud management means that even the smallest IT team can easily and efficiently administer a network of 1000’s of routers, gateways, access points and so on. This frees up the team’s time to focus on activities which can deliver additional business value or improvements instead, as updates no longer take weeks to implement but can instead be pushed out in a few simple clicks. This helps to improve the overall network performance, and therefore prevent poor end user experience and its associated costs, as well as increasing technical team output.
Reduced Time to Deployment
The ability to configure devices remotely via cloud-management means units can simply be shipped and plugged in at their end location with no pre-configuration required (bar SIM insertion, which could be done during the physical installation on site). When the devices connect, they can automatically associate with the cloud account they belong to, and the IT team can simply push down the configuration without ever having to touch the device – dramatically speeding time to deployment.
Many cloud management tools, and all of those in the Westbase.io portfolio, also enable the creation of groups and/or templates which means the IT team can even pre-determine configurations for devices that can then be pushed out “en masse” as they connect to the network.
This further comes into play when updates are required as the team can update the entire estate with just a few clicks, meaning new capabilities etc. can be deployed very quickly as well.
Improved Network Uptime and Performance
As discussed above, by enabling remote troubleshooting and configuration, cloud management removes the need to wait for a replacement device or engineer to arrive when there is an issue – and therefore network uptime can be improved as time to recover is dramatically decreased in many situations.
Network performance is also enhanced in terms of efficiency. As well as cloud management reducing time to manage the network for the IT team, it also enables the team to tweak and reconfigure it very easily. This means that minor changes to improve performance, that might have previously been avoided due to the labour-intensive nature of rolling these out, can instead be pushed out to the entire network with just a few simple clicks.
Improved Network Security
Cloud management can help to improve the network’s security:
The ability to remotely update the network estate means that firmware can be upgraded more easily and regularly, keeping equipment security up-to-date and compliant.
Westbase.io cloud management solutions all include advanced VPN options, and some even have security software add-on’s such as Unified Threat Management and content filtering – all of which simplifies and improves network security.
The combination of cloud management and enterprise-grade hardware capabilities offered by the Westbase.io range, ultimately means that organisations can easily roll out their corporate security policies to the very Edge of the network.
By remotely managing the network via the Cloud, any detected security issues can also be more quickly resolved – providing the agility needed to respond to new threats as quickly as possible to ensure the integrity of the network.
So Why Do Some People Opt Out of Cloud Management?
“We don’t trust the Cloud – it’s not secure.”
Cloud technologies owned by leading manufacturers such as Cradlepoint and Sierra Wireless, and supported by leading services such as Amazon Web Services, are built to be inherently secure and have the top minds and technologies in place to protect them. While many wish to keep control within their own walls and private network, it cannot be denied that in many cases the cloud alternative is just as, if not more, secure than this, due to:
Specific skillsets employed by cloud services which specialise in monitoring the Cloud and cyber security threat prevention
Multi-faceted security measures are common to the Cloud
Central management ensures security remains up-to-date at all times in the Cloud
Reason dictates that when comparing the capabilities of a general organisation to one which specialises in something, that which specialises is better equipped and skilled to deliver – and in the case of the Cloud, this means better equipped and skilled to protect data and systems from attack.
Furthermore, most security issues which occur within the Cloud are down to exactly the same risk that exists in a private system: human error, and not shortcomings in the Cloud infrastructure. Some of the most widely publicised cloud attacks, such as on Target in the US, were caused not by hacking the Cloud but instead by human error. Adoption of the Cloud can even help to reduce the risk of human error by physically separating data from employees and other third parties. Cloud management specifically can help to improve network security as well, as outlined above.
It is for these reasons that security concerns are starting to be assuaged and cloud adoption is becoming more common place – even the public sector is now moving to cloud-based services. Clutch research also reflects this as it found that 64% of IT professionals say the Cloud is more secure than legacy systems, while 25% say it is about the same.
“It’s an unnecessary expense.”
It is true that many cloud management tools are at an extra cost to the hardware which they manage, but they are usually charged on a subscription basis which works well for many organisations as it shifts costs from CapEx to OpEx.
As noted above as well, the cost-saving benefits are numerous when you invest in a cloud-managed network. From reducing the number of necessary truck rolls and decreasing downtime costs, to limiting time spent administering the network, the savings outweigh the costs in most scenarios.
Doddle, a revolutionary parcel service, use Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Manager to reduce the time it takes them to administer their remote network, improving network performance while keeping maintenance costs low:
“The cloud management capability is a big support to our team, allowing them to remotely provision hundreds of devices around the country, and isolate and address any issues without having to go into the field.” – Gary O’Connor, CTO at Doddle.
“It takes additional training to use.”
Cloud management solutions which Westbase.io represent have been devised so that they are simple to administer, minimising training investment while maximising capabilities. Don’t take our word for it though, South Wales Police use Sierra Wireless’ AirLink Management Service to manage their in-vehicle network:
“While the system is live we use the ALMS cloud management system to administer all of the 75 live devices that we’ve got. I’m not particularly technically-minded, I’m a Police Constable, and I found it quite easy to use but at the same time I found it to be a really powerful piece of software that lets you configure your entire fleet with just a couple of clicks.” – Gregory Methven, Detective Constable at South Wales Police.
“I don’t really understand what the Cloud offers me.”
Unfortunately, it’s a truth that in the case of cloud management sometimes the use to too many “fluffy” marketing terms can confuse people and they don’t really understand what it’s offering as a result. That’s why we’ve written this help guide to clearly explain what cloud management is and what the benefits are.
Many IT professionals are also wary that cloud management tools will lead to department cuts as the network can be managed more efficiently and with less manpower. While cloud management does free up employee time, this means employees can spend more time on improving the network rather than just maintaining it and can instead contribute to the introduction of new services which enhance customer experience, or generate new revenue streams for the business, and so on – increasing, rather than decreasing, the value the IT team provides to the organisation.
Another key oversight which leads to companies failing to see the value of cloud management, comes down to a lack of understanding of the real-life costs of something going wrong in the field. For those who have never had to administer a remote network this is an easy mistake to make when rolling out a new project, but Westbase.io encourages its customers to think about how they would have to handle an issue in their remote network, should it occur, and just how expensive that issue could be to support without cloud management. For example, if a company deploys an in-vehicle network to enable key applications on-the-road for their field teams and a unit goes down, then the company could potentially lose out both in productivity and financially without cloud management:
The person in the field can no longer complete their work efficiently, reducing their productivity and potentially even harming the level of service they provide to a customer.
The inability of the field-based employee to carry out their work as normal, may result in their work being reassigned to other employees. This in turn may impact on the service which other employees can provide to their customers, as well as increasing pressure on them which could impact their productivity adversely.
In cases where workloads cannot be reassigned, the work may have to be postponed until the issue has been resolved, directly compromising customer service.
Affected customers may see this poor service as a reason to take their business elsewhere, therefore impacting negatively on revenue.
The IT department needs to fix the issue, but without remote access has to ask the employee to bring the device back to a central location – further impacting their ability to work and their productivity – or otherwise has to deploy a member of the IT team or a replacement device in the form of a truck roll which is expensive to manage and increases network costs.
If an IT engineer is deployed into the field to fix the device, then not only does this increase costs but it also reduces the time that employee could be spending on other technical requirements, reducing overall productivity of the technical team. Without remote troubleshooting capabilities, the engineer also has no idea what the problem with the device is, so it may take more than one attempt to fix it which further reduces their productivity and all the time increases the cost to fix.
The bottom line is that cloud management help to alleviate nearly all of these issues by enabling remote access and management of the network. By taking the time to understand the true impact of issues that might occur in a remote network, the value of cloud management can quickly be determined.