Welcome to the Sentinel Blog!
We are proud to feature a carefully curated collection of articles and other content related to the most important technology topics of today and beyond. Our posts are composed and edited by Sentinel’s ALWAYS ENGAGED team of solutions architects, engineers, project managers and other subject matter experts.
Q & A on Hyperconvergence
Last week at our Downers Grove headquarters, Sentinel held a special lunch & learn event highlighting the benefits of hyperconvergence. The customers in attendance enjoyed a presentation from Sentinel experts and also had the opportunity to engage with a live demonstration of Cisco Hyperflex. In case you missed this highly informative and entertaining session, we’re hosting another one on March 30th in our Business Solution Center. We hope you can join us! As a preview of what to expect, here is a brief Q&A on hyperconvergence from Sentinel Solutions Architect Geoff Woodhouse:
**If you’re starting out with nothing and want to venture into the hyperconverged space, what would you recommend doing first?**
At the very least, start with a 3 node with 2 fabric interconnects system and build up from there. Sentinel can work with you to determine what exactly you need. Sizing can be a little tricky because we’ve got to know what your workload is like, what are your metrics, CPU, memory, how many IOPS and other kinds of things. After we have that information we can make a recommendation that’s best for your particular business.
**What’s the best path if you have a hybrid solution and want to eventually adopt Hyperflex?**
We’ve had people want to install Hyperflex to replace a storage area network (SAN) but keep their blades. In that case we would typically recommend something like a middle-of-the-road processor with a lot of disk. So for example you’d get 3 nodes with 30 TB and allow them to function like a new SAN as we migrate off your current blades. You can move the workloads on there or pick up another node as needed, whatever you’d like to do.
If you wanted to, you could buy a simple SAN with a CPU and continue to use your current blades to do the workload. But at some point down the road you’ll have to get a new SAN and will be forced to do a SAN migration, which will result in a temporary outage and other inconveniences. With Hyperflex, you just add a node and you’ve instantly have more storage. Any old nodes that you don’t need any more can be taken away from the cluster, and the Hyperflex software will move everything around without any problem.
**If you have multiple Hyperflex clusters, can data be replicated between them?**
You could create a hot site and use Site Recovery Manager, which is part of the VMware suite of tools. Hyperflex is just the guts underneath. Therefore, you could do something like SAN to SAN copy, but generally if you have VMware and you want to develop a hot site, I’d recommend Site Recovery Manager.
The challenge is that if you don’t have or want a hot site, then you’ll have to take the data and store it somewhere like a data domain or compress it with Veeam before you can send it to a backup site, cloud or anywhere else. So it all depends on how important that data is. If you’re looking for a real-time, five-minute difference kind of RTO/RPO for your DR site, that’s where a hot site is essential. If a 4-hour to 24-hours RTO/RPO is fine, then maybe our cloud would be an option for you. You can send it off there, and if you do have a disaster, you can call us. This way you can save the cost of buying a second set of hardware hoping you’ll never have to use it.
Ways to Reduce Human Error in Cybersecurity
By Ben Piorkowski, Sentinel Sales Executive
Recent studies affirm that human error contributes to at least 95% of all cybersecurity threats and breaches. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial for an organization to not only stay on the cutting edge of technology tools, but be willing to adopt a stronger and stricter company culture in order to actually maximize their cybersecurity investment as well.
Many people in the industry understand that having a good firewall, having antivirus and malware protection installed, not clicking on suspicious emails, keeping systems up to date, and using strong passwords all play critical roles in keeping data secure. What it ultimately comes down to however is effective execution and the adoption of a comprehensive and multifaceted cybersecurity strategy that is continually monitored and reinforced. The following principles are important cultural guidelines to help implement and maintain the technologies and procedures essential to protecting your company’s critical data.
Establishing a culture of integrity is of utmost importance to maintaining the security of your data. All employees and shareholders need to have a very clear understanding of what is acceptable and unacceptable, along with a known process to identify sins of commission or slips in protocol so any errors can be eliminated right away. People should report problems immediately so as to avoid lengthy and costly investigations later on or to avoid an emergency entirely. A large part of this is also personal accountability – being willing to accept and admit when a mistake has been made.
**Depth of Knowledge**
Having depth of knowledge starts with having top notch talent. Any employees who have access to company data need to have some basic understanding of how these systems work. The more advanced or high risk the system, the greater their knowledge should be. This means understanding how a system works, its potential vulnerabilities, and the procedures on what to do in every circumstance. If they really know the system, they will be able to recognize problems early on, know how to deal with them and when to report them. This is why attracting top talent and thorough training is crucial.
Passing industry audits is a necessity, but in addition to simply being at the industry standard, everyone in your organization should know where to find operational policies and follow them to the letter. This is particularly important for critical systems and company data. They also need to be able to recognize when new policies are needed. Taking the time to write policies and procedures for the various layers and positions within the organization can help greatly. Another way an organization can maximize compliance is through periodic inspections such as written tests, interviews, observations, and responses to fake emergencies.
Closely monitor any critical or high risk system being worked on by senior personnel. In most complex systems it is prudent to require two people to work on it so you don’t create the dreaded “single point of failure.”
**A Questioning Attitude**
This can be counterintuitive in any rank-structure organization, however, this mindset can be invaluable. It is important that people know it is okay to listen to their internal alarm bells, search for the causes of problems and immediately take steps to solve them (according to specified policies and procedures). These people will then double and triple check processes and be very thorough.
**Formality in Communication**
Those giving instructions should state their orders clearly and have subordinates repeat steps back verbatim. This establishes an appropriate gravity for each procedure by the eliminating small talk and personal familiarity that can lead to inattention, assumptions, slip ups, etc.
IBM sponsors the “Cost of Data Breach Study”, which is a gold-standard security research study independently conducted by Ponemon Institute. The 2016 study found the average consolidated total cost of a data breach grew in the last year from $3.8 million to $4 million. In a separate study, Cisco cites the average loss of value to a brand after a security breach is now a staggering 31%, doubling over the past five years from $184 million in 2011 to $332 million in 2016:
So it’s more important than ever for corporate leadership to have tough conversations about the importance of investing in cybersecurity as well as effective training and change management. Breaches almost always occur when one or more of these principles are broken. Embed all of these in daily lives of all your employees and the difference will pay off exponentially.
Sentinel’s SecuritySelect offers the complete security solution for your organization, including employee and manager training to significantly reduce the possibility of breaches due to human error. Please contact us for more information.
An Introduction to the Sentinel Online Store
By Jason Golba, Sentinel E-Commerce Specialist
The Sentinel store is an online portal that provides customers with access to more than half a million of our product and solution offerings. If you’re looking to place a smaller technology order, the store is a quick and easy way to do that without having to engage with your Sentinel sales representative. You can browse our extensive selection and inventory, and our dedicated store team is available to answer any questions and offer support as needed.
Just like any online retailer, it’s simple to make a purchase using the Sentinel store. Say you want to buy an additional headset and a couple of switches for your environment. Start by visiting store.sentinel.com. Menu bars on the left and right side of the page enable you to view products by category or sort by specific brand/manufacturer. Of course you can always use the search bar at the top of the page to find something using keywords or a manufacturer part number. All search results display the product list price, sell price, part number and amount in stock. Clicking on a specific product brings up additional information, including descriptions and technical specifications to help ensure it will work in your particular environment.
An account is required to buy or save any items. We make it easy to create an account, log in or recover a forgotten password. Once you have decided on a product, you can select the quantity and add it to your cart. If you are not ready to make a purchase at the time or want to remember it for later, you can also save it to your account favorites. After an order is placed, the Sentinel team will process, pack and ship your items to you in a timely fashion. Express shipping is available at an additional cost.
If you need any assistance with the Sentinel store, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Our team is highly knowledgeable and more than happy to provide support. We also have a Help Center, which contains answers to frequently asked questions. The store is just one more convenient way Sentinel is able to deliver industry-leading technology solutions to your business at an affordable rate.
Reflections on Sentinel's Technology Summit 2017
On January 17th, Sentinel Technologies held a Technology Summit. The event took place in the O’Hare Room at Cisco headquarters in Rosemont, and featured some of Sentinel’s subject matter experts giving presentations and taking questions from customers on a wide variety of IT topics including security, data center and collaboration. If you were able to attend, we thank you and sincerely hope you found it to be an informative and entertaining afternoon. For those unable to make it, our presenters have offered some reflections and highlights from the day:
Robert Keblusek – Chief Technical Officer
First of all, I appreciate the time investment our customers made in Sentinel by spending an afternoon with us at the Technology Summit. I hope they felt it was valuable and would consider it again in the future.
My hope would be that everyone came away with the understanding that security is not a product, but an ongoing program with key performance indicators that can greatly improve an organization’s risk footprint. While Sentinel has industry best security products and threat intelligence that work together to protect an organization, the overall program and alignment with our framework is critical to its success. Also, our Security as a Service (SECaaS) and Security Operations Center (SOC) services give customers a world-class security organization available to them 24x7x365 with extremely fast engagement and constant monitoring. We not only have indicators of compromise that reduce the time to detection and time to protect, but also provide measurable results while offloading the workload with fully managed or hybrid managed options.
I was surprised that most customers didn’t feel their current security program was sufficient, but also pleased that they identified this area as a need. Security is an ongoing program. Many customers have very little visibility and are not getting the most out of existing investments. It isn’t always about selling a product to “fix” security, often it is about identifying a program, getting the most out of current investments and adding elements needed over time. I was also very thankful for some of the customer interactions highlighting the use of one of our offerings as part of their own vendor risk management program. It was wonderful to have a customer speak to what I was presenting in action and recommend its value to others.
Security has many components that add different value in different environments and situations. Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to cover how our security operations can bring best practices and processes to an organization. We can integrate it with existing business processes and create a strong hybrid IT experience. I hope my presentation encouraged each participant to think about their next security steps and go deeper into areas specific to their organization’s needs. We’re always available to talk through more specifics, demonstrate solutions in action or even move to some proof of value engagements. I would also like to remind customers that Sentinel offers a NIST alignment workshop as well as breach assessment workshops at no charge, in case you’re unsure of where to start. Please reach out to us if you’d like more information.
Adam Bertram – Advanced Strategic Solutions Advisor
After getting a chance to connect with some of our current and future customers at the Technology Summit, it was clear that many understood the importance of having a detailed strategy when it comes to deploying next-generation collaboration solutions in your environment. Don’t forget about the user experience! We often only get one shot at getting it right with users, so understanding your audience and the multiple modalities through which they will consume collaboration features is crucial to developing a successful deployment.
Organizations are going to need to cater to the next generation of users who will demand the ability to work effectively from anywhere in the world, on any device, and with the same capabilities as their peers. In order to support these demands, organizations will need to build a scalable environment that enables rich, premise-based features as well as effortless roaming for voice, video, and meeting services such as those found in Cisco Spark Hybrid Services with Cisco Unified Communications Manager. The good news is that we are heading into an era where cloud-native solutions will support these features along with rapid provisioning and administration, yet still allow for legacy integrations that will still exist in many environments as they make the transition. It’s an exciting time for collaboration as we figure out how to refine and enhance our daily activities to squeeze out even more productivity from key technology investments.
Geoff Woodhouse – Solutions Architect
My biggest takeaway from the Tech Summit was that the hyperconverged market continues to grow in a very fast and meaningful way. It dramatically simplifies purchasing storage, server, and networking components. It also simplifies administration of the entire environment. For this technology to be successful however, it is important for customers to understand that they may need to change or rethink certain processes and strategies for their IT department.
Typically, organizations have a certain amount of money allocated for IT components, so for example administrators may purchase storage one year, servers the next year, and networking the year after that. Hyperconverged solutions operate a bit differently, which is why critical processes and resources require adjustment. Will the VMware admin, SAN admin, or networking admin be in charge of the appliance? Since the appliance has the ability to be upgraded in small increments, is the customer prepared to make small server, storage, or networking purchases every 6 months? Once these internal issues have been ironed out, the hyperconverged technology can be implemented with success in any environment.
The Rundown on Runbook
By Chris Folland, Sentinel Senior Business Consultant
**What is a Runbook?**
In computer systems, networks, and operations, a Runbook is a set of defined IT procedures developed by administrators to perform day-to-day operational tasks and respond to emergency situations. It’s automation also speeds recovery in the event of a system shutdown.
The Runbook should contain all the information that IT staff would need to perform daily operations and deal with any problems that may arise during usage from the operational system or network.
Typically, a Runbook is divided into routine automated processes and routine manual processes, and contains procedures to begin, stop, supervise, and debug the system. It may also describe procedures for handling special requests and contingencies. An effective Runbook allows other operators with prerequisite expertise to effectively manage and troubleshoot a system.
The evolution of a Runbook is automation, where these processes can be carried out using software tools in a predetermined manner.
Runbook Automation (RBA) is the ability to define, build, orchestrate, manage, and report on workflows that support system and network operational processes. A runbook workflow can potentially interact with all types of infrastructure elements, such as applications, databases, and hardware.
According to Gartner, the growth of RBA has coincided with the need for executives to enhance IT operations efficiency measures. This includes reducing Mean Time to Repair (MTTR), increasing Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF), and automating the provisioning of IT resources. In addition, it is necessary to have the tools to implement best practices, increase the effectiveness of IT personnel, and report on how well the processes are executed in line with established policies and service levels.
**Why Businesses Need Runbooks**
Although organizations may have Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for various functions of IT, the Runbook is specific, with the goal to be consistent in performing a function or process so an element of the system can be restored quickly and without interruption.
**When and How Often Should a Runbook Be Updated?**
A Runbook must be tested and reviewed by peers before formal release to ensure it functions properly and according to specifications. It also requires regular maintenance to ensure it continues to operate smoothly, similar to how cars need periodic oil changes. When a disaster occurs, you need to be sure that the Runbook will expediently get your systems back online.
Change Control Management is a crucial element of IT operations, and as such needs to be linked with the Runbook. This allows items such as Microsoft Service Pack upgrades, patch upgrades to the operating system, additional memory, or larger disk capacity to be included in the Runbook architecture. Any change to the environment needs to be validated back to the Runbook.
As part of Sentinel Technologies’ Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery suite of assessments, we can not only offer Runbook assessments, but help you author the Runbook documents and provide it as a Managed Service. Please contact us or reach out to your Sentinel sales representative for more details.
A Data Engineer's Guide to Ransomware Protection
By Ted Joffs, Sentinel IT Solutions Team Lead
Your worst nightmare just happened: A popup on your computer screen appears, telling you that your data is being encrypted and that you have a certain number of days to pay if you ever want access to it again. It gets worse - every day you delay, chunks of your data are deleted. Scenarios like this are occurring with increased frequency across the globe. I have been on the outside helping to restore data, remove the threats, salvage business operations and prevent further damage. It has given me a unique perspective on ransomware.
We do have tools like Cisco AMP, which is a truly robust and state-of-the-art anti-malware system that integrates everything from firewall to endpoint with telemetry systems and response rates beyond anything else in the industry at a crazy fast 13 hours! However even Cisco will tell you that it is not possible to rely on prevention alone. That is why they embed their AMP endpoints into everything – it keeps watch for malware that may have slipped through during that 13-hour window. If you don’t have Cisco AMP, you could have a much longer response time window. The current industry average is 100 days.
So, how do you protect your data when something gets through? How do you guarantee the ability to recover and restore? Will you be ready when that popup box shows up?
This may seem obvious, but backups are critical to recovery. When your data is encrypted, there is a very strong chance you will not be able to recover it using decrypting tools, so having proper backups will help. So, what is a proper backup? I like Veeam Backup & Replication as it has some really handy features that can make it and its backups a little more resilient to malware.
+ Out of the box, it will back up its own configuration and repository data. If the Veeam Controller is infected, you have the ability to restore the Veeam system quickly.
+ It can replicate itself. In fact, you should replicate all critical data if you can. Having a secondary copy in another location can be handy – especially if you have non-real-time replication scheduled for the Controller.
+ It can back up to a variety of locations, including the cloud, to protect your data from afar.
+ You can backup to deduplication appliances such Dell EMC Data Domain, which uses protocols that are not typically prone to malware attacks.
If you don’t have Veeam you can still achieve some or all of this, it just may not be as easy. Either way, multi-location and multi-type backup/replication strategies are critical to protecting data.
How can snapshots help? If you are using snapshot inclusive storage such as EMC Unity or Nimble arrays, you can configure the snapshots with retention schedules to allow you to quickly roll the system back to a point in time BEFORE a malware attack. You might lose a few minutes or an hour of data, but it is much better than the alternative. If your storage network supports snapshots and you are not using them, set them up as soon as you can.
Patching is crucial. Without patching you are more vulnerable to ransomware and malware attacks. Typically, security patches for software are a free or low-cost measure to protect your systems. Yet they are often overlooked. Why? Usually it is a lack of a management system or personnel to perform the patching. This can be addressed with things like WSUS, Microsoft System Center, or VMware Update Manager. Use them.
**Control System Access**
This is more than making sure you have passwords for employees – it is often protecting employees from themselves. You can prevent the propagation of ransomware by investing in or making use of some of the following options to restrict access to data.
1. Grant read-only access. If ransomware can’t write, it can’t encrypt. Write access should be granted only as necessary. This applies to databases, file systems, servers, Active Directory, etc. You can use things like Microsoft Identity Manager to help control and automate that access.
2. Use Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) to your advantage. Create an air-gap of sorts between end user local systems and the critical systems. Lock down folder redirection and USB redirection. Both Citrix XenDesktop and VMware Horizon with View are great tools to use for this.
3. Use Group Policies to lock systems down. Is allowing users to set a screen background worth losing all your data?
4. Use things like Cisco ISE with posturing to ensure that only secure systems connect to the network.
Sentinel’s SecuritySelect has all of the products, solutions and services essential to preventing, responding to and recovering from ransomware and other attacks. As threats continue to evolve no solution will remain perfect, however having the right protections in place can go a long way toward keeping your business and data safe from harm. For more information on ransomware and Sentinel’s SecuritySelect offerings, please contact us.
Five Business Benefits of Managed Services
By Diane Jackson, Associate Solutions Architect
A Managed Service Provider (MSP) is a company that remotely manages a client's IT infrastructure, either working in conjunction with their existing IT department or acting entirely as their IT department. Here are five reasons why using a MSP can significantly benefit your business.
1. Qualified, Certified and Experienced IT Staff.
Sentinel takes pride in keeping the training of all our staff up-to-date to ensure we have the technical and business expertise to meet and go beyond our client’s expectations. Our staff has 2,400+ individual technical certifications across all our expert engineers. Our engineers work with a team mentality, meaning they will engage whomever necessary to ensure you, as our client, are receiving the best service possible.
2. Increased Core Business Efficiency.
A Managed Service Provider allows your IT department to fully focus on your core business needs instead of day-to-day administration of your infrastructure. Strategic IT projects will become a priority instead of being set aside whenever a problem occurs, so your business can remain growing, efficient and competitive. Your IT personnel will also become more valuable and attentive to the areas where you need them most. If you do not have a dedicated IT staff, a MSP will relieve the burden on your management team so they no longer have to divert any of their limited time and attention to IT issues. Our engineers can keep you updated on all system matters without requiring lengthy phone calls or taking up a lot of your time.
3. Better IT Strategic Planning.
The entire team of engineers is available to you and will become familiar with your IT design and needs. All notes, processes and procedures are saved into a knowledge database that is accessible to all engineers. Our team will ensure you always have up-to-date information and all historical information available at your fingertips. As part of our Managed Services, you will also have access to our Quality Assurance (QA) team. They are available to further discuss any incidents that have occurred and assist with the development of an IT roadmap for your business. Having these resources available will help your company achieve new levels of success along with the right technology to support that growth.
4. Reduced Downtime and Fast Response.
Sentinel's Network Operations Center (NOC) will monitor your devices across all technologies 24x7x365. It enables us to identify any potential risks or issues and take action to help prevent any incidents from occurring. When an incident does occur we are immediately alerted and our industry-leading Service Level Agreements (SLAs) guarantee you will receive prompt status notifications and swift resolutions. Since Managed Services is a remote offering, we are able to connect and resolve issues for any client no matter their location around the world. We can guarantee that our NOC will be both proactive and reactive in a quick, efficient and professional manner.
5. Cost Saving.
Using a MSP lowers business costs by covering three shifts of work with 24x7x365 monitoring and promptly addressing any problems that emerge, resulting in reduced downtime. For budgetary purposes it gives you a predictable monthly payment which only increases or decreases if you choose to add or remove devices. Managed Services is also a flexible offering, meaning that we can assist with one or two of your technology solutions or your entire environment, depending on your particular needs.
Collaboration in 2017: Cisco Meeting Server
By Jimmy Hanus, Sentinel Solutions Architect
The myriad of different collaboration platforms available on the market today have made it particularly challenging for businesses to efficiently connect with others and get their best work done. Cisco understands this, which is why they recently acquired online collaboration platform Acano. Now rebranded as Cisco Meeting Server, it allows anyone with any type of video endpoint to join a meeting from anywhere.
Have you ever been asked “Can we Skype?” or “Can we use WebEx?” With the Cisco Meeting Server technology, it bridges the gap between both conferencing solutions. Cisco + Acano provides best in industry interoperability with Microsoft Lync/Skype for Business and compliments Cisco’s focus on a flexible and scalable collaboration architecture which underscores Cisco’s position of leadership in the industry.
The Cisco Meeting Server enables the best experience from your conference rooms, desktop and mobile devices. Boosting productivity has never been easier! The platform brings business quality video, audio and web communication together to meet the modern needs of virtual meeting collaboration today. Cisco Meeting Server also scales easily for small or large deployments, allowing your organization to add capacity incrementally as needed. This protects your on-premises infrastructure, which helps ensure the current and future needs of your organization.
Everyone in your organization can create and attend virtual meetings from their preferred device and location, including conference rooms, desktop video systems, mobile clients and web browsers. This allows for smooth and seamless functionality across all platforms.
The Cisco Meeting Server enables you to:
- Invite anyone to join your meeting using:
o Cisco or third-party video endpoints
o Cisco Jabber Client
o Cisco Meeting App (native or via WebRTC compatible browsers)
o Skype for Business
- Meet with others in your personal meeting room environment, schedule meetings or create ad hoc discussions.
- Deploy your solution on Cisco UCS®-based platforms:
o Cisco Meeting Server 1000, for up to 96 HD video ports capacity in one rack unity (1RU)
- Extend meetings to include any number of participants with meetings that scale easily while maintaining a consistent user experience.
- Manage costs with bandwidth optimization between your data center locations.
- Purchase a solution that meets your needs today and can grow as your organization develops via a simple all-in-one, user-based licensing model.
**Cisco Meeting Server Hardware Requirements**
Cisco Meeting Server 1000
- 96 HD Calls
- 168 SD Calls
- 168 Skype for Business video calls
- 70 Hyperthreaded Cores
- Co-residency not supported
- ESXi 6.0 and above
- Virtual Machine version 11 and above
- Trunked to Cisco Unified Communications Manager
- Trunked to Video TelePresence Communications Server
o Supports Trusted SIP Trunk to Lync/Skype for Business
If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the Cisco Meeting Server platform, please contact us or your Sentinel sales representative.
Five Technology Trends for 2017
We’re only a couple of weeks away from the start of 2017, and as you work towards developing and implementing your IT strategy for the new year, it’s essential to stay on top of what’s coming next. While nobody can determine exactly how the year in technology will go, decades of experience and analysis have enabled our thought leaders at Sentinel to make some highly educated guesses about which solutions, services and verticals are poised to make a big splash over the next twelve months. Pay close attention to the five trends outlined below – they may just help your business achieve unprecedented levels of success!
Given the increased number of attacks on businesses in which important and confidential data is stolen and/or held for ransom, security has never been more important. As technology continues to evolve and more devices than ever are able to connect and communicate with one another, the amount of areas and points of attack increase exponentially with each passing year. That growth is showing no signs of slowing down, which means businesses need to consistently find new ways to protect their files and network while also providing access and convenience to authorized users.
Sentinel’s SecuritySelect solutions offer a complete and robust defense against all known types of attack across all types of environments to ensure your most important physical and virtual assets remain safe. Our assessment services scan and test your environment for vulnerabilities throughout your network, applications, endpoints and more, which is the foundation for building a proper security strategy. In the event of a breach, our monitoring services will immediately respond and contain the threat to minimize any damage restore normal functionality as quickly as possible. Highly adaptable and in sync with the latest trends, SecuritySelect solutions are prepared to protect every aspect of your business throughout 2017 and beyond.
Just a couple of years ago, the cloud was considered to be an advanced platform ready to change how people interact and do business. Now that a vast majority of organizations and individuals have adopted cloud technologies into their daily lives, it’s being used in fresh and innovative ways to stimulate growth across a wide variety of processes, practices and professions.
Sentinel is planning to expand our cloud offerings in 2017, as demand for public, private and hybrid options continues to skyrocket. Reaffirming our commitment to remain Always Leading, we will provide complete integration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Azure, the two top cloud platforms in the industry. We also intend to deliver the full range of Microsoft Office 365 services through the cloud, which improves access while reducing maintenance needs and support costs.
Collaboration is one of the primary and most essential pieces of radical transformation. As we’ve seen countless times, truly great things can happen when people work together. With so many new applications being developed to improve our ability to collaborate, it has been ironically difficult to get businesses on the same page and settle on some industry standard solutions. One of the newest and most popular collaboration tools is Cisco Spark, which connects all of your employees across all mediums (messaging, meeting, phone) and devices through a single, cloud-based system. Skype for Business is also likely to show exponential growth in 2017, as the application not only handles messaging, meetings and calls but works in tandem with Microsoft Office 365 for easier screen and document sharing. Of course Office 365 has its own collaboration abilities built right into the architecture as well, which is already leading to new ways of doing business. Sentinel currently offers all three of these solutions for our customers, and expects them to become even more important throughout next year.
If 2016 was a big year for technology in the healthcare industry, 2017 looks to be even bigger. Conversion to electronic health records (EHR) using programs such as Meditech and Epic will continue to expand, as will new security efforts to protect private patient information. But as healthcare organizations continue to invest in technology, vendors are adjusting their solutions to help cater better to their needs. Sentinel anticipates that products and services will be packaged together with contractors and industry expertise to create complex and complete solutions that will allow networks to expand beyond normal support for business technology. This will create new opportunities to improve operations and patient care.
As the manufacturing industry continues to modernize with the addition of new technologies and automation, primary shop floor processes will become easier than ever to install and manage. The Internet of Things (IoT) will connect more machines to one another and enable them to send/receive notifications about operating conditions, so in the event of a problem critical processes can be adjusted or stopped as necessary. This will lower downtime and create less waste. The growing support for cloud will also significantly widen network capabilities, improving access to remote services and data. These advancements will require additional security to protect key assets and information. In 2017 technology is likely to expand beyond traditional shop floor environments as well, aiding in the development of new materials and ways to do business that will improve efficiency and convenience while reducing overall costs. Sentinel is committed to remaining at the forefront of these trends, and is excited to deliver the newest and best manufacturing solutions as they emerge.
Sentinel's 2016 Technology Year in Review
At the beginning of 2016, Sentinel experts assembled a comprehensive list of innovative technology services and solutions we anticipated would improve the industry along with the businesses that utilized them. As the year comes to a close, we wanted to take a moment to look back at some of those selections and highlight how Sentinel has implemented them to help our customers achieve unprecedented levels of success.
Converged and Hyper-Converged Infrastructure
Compute, storage and networking come together in a single package, complete with an intuitive interface for easy adjustment and management. This year saw a large expansion of hyper-converged infrastructure solutions, as Cisco’s HyperFlex and Dell EMC’s VxRail were quickly and eagerly adopted by many of our forward-thinking customers. The high level of interest enabled us to put together multiple events and presentations highlighting the benefits of both solutions. There was a similar amount of enthusiasm for converged infrastructure solutions, which are similar but less agile than their hyper-converged counterparts. Dell EMC’s Vblock was the primary architecture for several major projects developed for our customers in 2016.
As cyber attacks continue to grow in size, profile and frequency, security has become more important than ever. Sentinel’s portfolio of SecuritySelectTM solutions were introduced earlier this year, offering comprehensive protection for every aspect of your business, including network, applications, endpoints, on premise and more. Combined with vulnerability assessments and testing as well as 24x7 monitoring and threat response, our intention is to keep your most important assets as safe as possible before, during and after an attack. Sentinel’s focus on providing the best possible security solutions also meant expanding our proof of value (POV) capabilities. We are now able to develop a POV for our customers in Arizona and Colorado surrounding Cisco’s ASA with FirePOWER to determine if the firewall solution can handle their specific needs and is the right investment for the company.
Cloud and Managed Services
Sentinel’s CloudSelect and related cloud-based services continued to show strong growth in 2016. Of particular note was our adoption and expansion of offerings related to Meraki. Highly scalable for enterprise networks, Meraki is a virtual platform that enables solutions such as wireless, switching, communications, mobility and security to be easily and centrally managed through the cloud. All Sentinel locations are now capable of hosting Meraki demonstrations to showcase the myriad of ways it can enhance and simplify your business. Coming in 2017, Sentinel will also become one of the only providers in the U.S. certified to deliver Managed Services for Meraki.
The primary purpose behind software-defined networking (SDN) is to increase the agility of your business by accelerating application deployment and automating certain IT processes through the integration of physical and virtual network environments. Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) is one of the most prominent SDN solutions, and this year Sentinel delivered it to more customers than ever before. A full demo version is now available across all Sentinel locations, so customers can see it in action before making a commitment.
Sentinel is proud to have established a partnership with Splunk in 2016. If you’re not familiar, Splunk is a software company specializing in big data solutions for businesses. Their platform enables users to search, monitor and analyze machine-generated data in order to gain insights that help make companies more productive, profitable, competitive and secure. This partnership builds on Sentinel’s dedication to providing our customers with leading technology solutions across all types of architectures and environments.
Vertical IT Solutions
Two industries showed remarkable growth this year as they continued to progress forward with plans to modernize through new technologies and digitization. Healthcare institutions continued to convert many of their paper records and patient files into virtual ones. This not only resulted in greater investments in electronic health record platforms such as Epic and Meditech, but also solutions that included storage, backup and unified communications to better manage them. Of course given the sensitive nature of these files and the increased frequency of data breaches, security solutions and managed services took priority over everything else this year.
With the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the advancement of factory floor automation, the manufacturing industry also continued to undergo a technological sea change in 2016. More customers than ever have been embracing the concept of data-driven factories, where machines are unified on a single platform to better communicate with designers, operators and one another. Sentinel works with a large number of organizations throughout the healthcare and manufacturing industries, and is proud to provide a comprehensive range of solutions to help them meet compliance standards, common goals and individual needs.
As technology has become more dynamic, so have the ways businesses can invest in it. Instead of paying for a product or solution upfront and in full, Sentinel expanded our leasing and financing options this year to make it easier than ever to obtain the new technology that plays an essential role in accelerating your business. There is also a metered offering available for certain solutions and services, allowing customers to pay only for what they use. This is particularly beneficial for growing companies, enabling them to scale out as needed without breaking the bank. No matter your situation or budgetary concerns, we will work with you to achieve that delicate balance between cost, efficiency and productivity.
This past spring, Sentinel opened a new office in Colorado. Located in the Denver suburb of Centennial, our team has been expanding quickly with sales, pre-sales engineering, deployment engineering, and Day 2 support resources. This new branch is equipped to deliver the complete range of business technology solutions offered by Sentinel to customers throughout the Denver region.