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March 27, 2015

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How Next-Generation Firewalls Boost Security

As today’s networks become more sophisticated and complex, so do the threats that attempt to infiltrate them. More than viruses that can wipe out a single system or hard drive, so-called advanced persistent threats (APTs) can break down security mechanisms, target and steal sensitive information, send that data back to the source of the attack, hide undetected in your network and wait for the next opportunity to strike.


These security threats are smart and relentless. Can you say the same about your firewall?


What advantages do next-generation firewalls have over older firewalls?


First, older firewalls are unable to distinguish business applications that enhance productivity from non-business applications that sap productivity, hamper performance or threaten network security. Next-generation firewalls allow you to create specific application signatures and acceptable-use policies so individual applications can be identified, classified, tracked and, if necessary, blocked.


Second, older firewalls are incapable of inspecting the payload of data packets. Next-generation firewalls examine data traffic on a granular level by employing intrusion prevention and deep packet inspection techniques.


Why is a next-generation firewall critical to the security of your business?


Instead of making blocking decisions based on IP addresses, protocols and ports, you must be able to monitor and control traffic at the application level. This is where the vast majority of security breaches take place. By using a next-generation firewall to define and enforce application-level policies, organizations will become less vulnerable to attacks and data leakage while conserving bandwidth by limiting the use of non-business applications.


The explosion of mobile devices in the workplace has also created more opportunities and avenues for security threats to invade your network. The HP 2015 Cyber Risk Report an increase in the level of mobile malware detected, coupled with the growing number of security issues presented via Internet of Things devices. As the computing ecosystem continues to expand, attackers will continue to find more points of entry unless organizations take security into consideration.


The sheer volume of data stored within a network empowers users to instantly respond to customer requests and make decisions faster in a work environment with no boundaries. This available data also represents a larger, more valuable prize for attackers. In order to ward off attacks, organizations must be able to manage and analyze all data that travels in and out of the network. A next-generation firewall monitors and controls user activity, application activity and data flow to reduce the risk of a security breach.


What factors should you consider when choosing a next-generation firewall?


What solution is best suited to meet your business requirements? How easy is it to integrate with your existing IT infrastructure? What management capabilities does it have? Is it easy to deploy, configure, manage and maintain? Will it affect the performance of your network? What is the total cost of ownership? How qualified is the company that will help you choose and implement a next-generation firewall for your business?


ICG has helped organizations of all sizes select the right security tools to protect their networks and sensitive data. Let us show you how a next-generation firewall can thwart the most sophisticated security threats.

March 19, 2015

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How a Network Refresh Can Keep Business Moving Forward

In our last two posts we talked about how the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard is taking wireless networks to the next level. Many organizations are adopting this new high-speed Wi-Fi standard in order to support growing numbers of devices and bandwidth-hungry applications.


But even as organizations are souping up their wireless networks, they are waiting longer and longer to upgrade their wired infrastructure. According to Dimension Data’s Network Barometer Report 2014, the network refresh cycle in enterprise networking equipment has reached a six-year high. In fact, half of network switches, routers and wireless devices are either aging or obsolete. Devices that are past end of sale are considered “aging,” while those past end of support are considered obsolete. In many cases, the recession caused organizations to delay upgrades and squeeze every last drop of juice from their legacy network equipment.


The useful life of networking equipment ranges from three to five years all the way up to seven to 10 years, depending upon whom you ask. However, even though certain components of your network infrastructure may still be working, older technology could be preventing your network from properly supporting new wireless and Voice over IP (VoIP) technologies.


High-performance Wi-Fi is essential for most enterprises, yet a rapid increase in mobile device density is making it difficult to keep up with heavy bandwidth demands. A network refresh may be required if enterprises are going to meet employee and customer expectations for wireless speed and availability and support new, faster Wi-Fi standards such as 802.11ac. Enterprises will likely need to rethink wireless network design and upgrade their wired network, which will in turn make the wireless network function better.


Significant bandwidth is also needed to support a VoIP-based phone system and server virtualization, which consolidates servers and runs multiple applications on each server. When upgrading the network, enterprises should look for network switches that provide Power over Ethernet capabilities. PoE supports wireless access points and VoIP equipment without having to run AC power to each of those devices. Fortunately, lower prices for Ethernet technology are making a network refresh more economically feasible.


In addition to better supporting the wireless network, VoIP and virtualized environments, there are several key benefits to upgrading your network infrastructure.


  • Productivity will be enhanced when employees have access to more reliable connections, inside and outside of the office.
  • Your network will be able to support innovative services and new product features and functionality.
  • Your network will be more efficient, more cost-effective and easier to manage.


Let ICG assess your network infrastructure to determine if it’s capable of supporting wireless, VoIP and virtualization technology. A network refresh may be necessary to take your organization to the next level.

March 9, 2015

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The Latest Wi-Fi Standard Part 2: 7 Steps to Prepare for Migration

In our last post we the critical importance of the Wi-Fi network in today’s IT environment. Once considered a convenience, Wi-Fi is now viewed as a strategic business asset. In order to provide on-demand access to business data and applications from mobile devices and enable the use of bandwidth-heavy applications such as videoconferencing without performance glitches, organizations need a reliable, high-performance wireless LAN (WLAN).

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers introduced the 802.11ac wireless standard to meet the demands of high-density Wi-Fi environments. Built upon the foundation of the 802.11n standard, 802.11ac dramatically improves speed and capacity and supports more users per stream while reducing latency and interference.

802.11ac products are being introduced in two “waves.” Wave 1 products, which are available now, use the less-crowded 5GHz band and 20MHz, 40MHz and 80MHz channels. Although Wave 1 access points (APs) generally support three spatial streams, many tablets and smartphones are single-stream devices, resulting in a wide variety of data rates.

Wave 2 products support multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO) technology that maximizes the number of megabits transmitted per megahertz of spectrum. MU-MIMO improves upon the capabilities of the 802.11n technology by supporting up to four simultaneous user transmissions on each spatial stream. 802.11ac also doubles the number of spatial streams from four to eight. This allows for much higher user density.

The challenge is that many wired networks use 1 Gigabit switches and Cat5e cabling to connect APs to the network. The wired network will be slower than 802.11ac Wave 2 devices, which promise speeds greater than a Gigabit. In addition, 802.11ac devices require 30W Power over Ethernet Plus (PoE+), but many organizations have only 15W PoE capabilities.

Clearly there are a number of things to consider before deploying 802.11ac. Organizations seeking to migrate to this new technology should prepare by taking the following steps:

1) Assess your wired network. 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) uplinks are typically required and backhaul infrastructure may need to be upgraded in order to avoid performance degradation. You’ll also need to evaluate your (PoE) capabilities.

2) Assess your WLAN controller. The WLAN controller must be 802.11ac-aware and capable of supporting the additional capacity provided by 802.11ac.

3) Evaluate capacity requirements. Determine the number of wireless devices that must be supported, the number of devices that will be used at the same time, and what types of applications will be used. This will help you plan for both capacity and access point density.

4) Review RF requirements from a 5GHz perspective. Organizations should plan to use both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, but 802.11ac delivers maximum bandwidth and performance in the 5GHz band.

5) Consider a dense deployment strategy. Because 5GHz is a shorter wavelength, a denser deployment of access points is required. Also, a dense deployment strategy will shorten the distance between endpoints and help to sustain performance.

6) Determine a deployment plan for both coexistence and migration. Keep in mind that 802.11ac is compatible with 802.11n, so upgrading to 802.11ac shouldn’t require you to rip out existing equipment. A phased migration may be the ideal approach to take.

7) Consider operations and management capabilities. Because effective management is critical with Wi-Fi optimization, organizations should consider combining wired and wireless management and upgrading to an enterprise-grade management console.

ICG’s Network Infrastructure team has extensive experience in the design, implementation and support of high-performance network solutions. Let us help you develop a wireless networking strategy that meets your current and future business requirements.


March 2, 2015

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The Latest Wi-Fi Standard, Part 1: What 802.11ac Brings to the Table

A reliable wireless LAN (WLAN) has become as important to the day-to-day operations of the enterprise as the telephone and fax machine were 25 years ago. More than a convenience, Wi-Fi enables greater flexibility, agility, efficiency, productivity and customer service, all of which contribute to a bigger bottom line.


A reliable WLAN makes it possible to implement a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy so employees can have anytime, anywhere access to business applications and data from their favorite devices. Everything employees need to perform their jobs is within arm’s reach. They may leave the office, but the office never leaves them.


Now, simply having WLAN isn’t enough. There’s a constant demand to improve the speed, reliability, coverage and capacity of Wi-Fi. Users expect to be able to use bandwidth-intensive business applications and collaboration tools such as videoconferencing without compromising performance.


The growing demand and importance of WLAN has spurred the development of the latest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac. According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), 802.11ac builds upon the technology of its predecessor, the 802.11n standard, delivering a number of performance-boosting enhancements.


The most notable improvements in the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard include:


More horsepower. 802.11ac is capable of tripling the speed of 802.11n with a theoretical maximum rate of up to 1.3Gbps. An even faster version has been tested at speeds of 7Gbps.


Wider roads, less traveled. 802.11ac exits the busy 2.4GHz spectrum and its 40Mhz channels for the more spacious 5GHz band, where less traffic and wide 80MHz and 160MHz channels allow for faster speeds, higher throughput and less interference.


Smarter spectrum allocation to support more users. A major upgrade from 802.11n’s single-user multiple input, multiple output (SU MIMO), 802.11ac’s multiple user (MU) MIMO uses smart antenna technology to support up to four simultaneous user transmissions on each spatial stream. The standard also doubles the number of spatial streams from four to eight, resulting in much higher capacity and lower latency.


Increased data rate. 802.11ac uses a higher order modulation, 256 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), to boost the data rate by 33 percent. This data rate is then doubled, thanks to the increase in spatial streams mentioned previously.


What do these improvements to the Wi-Fi standard mean for your organization?

802.11ac take the speed and performance of the WLAN to a whole new level. New users and mobile devices are constantly being added to enterprise networks, and 802.11ac is much better-equipped to handle a higher density wireless environment. Employees can access and share large amounts of data and utilize real-time, streaming media applications with a much smaller risk of bandwidth bottlenecks. And because 802.11ac operates on a band unused by most mobile devices, minimal interference and greater reliability contribute to a better user experience.


In Part 2 of this post, we’ll explains the two “waves” of 802.11ac products and discuss adoption trends and strategies. Meanwhile, contact ICG if you’re ready to take advantage of faster Wi-Fi in your business.