In Conversation with Shane Haslem Head of Network Solutions, eir Business NI

| November 23, 2017

Shane HaslemAs eir Business NI reaches its 10 year anniversary in Northern Ireland, we take some time out to talk to our own Shane Haslem about the key trends and hot topics in enterprise ICT this year.

Big Data is a Big Topic.  How are organisations managing the big data explosion?

By 2020, our accumulated digital universe of data will grow to around 44 zettabytes, from 4.4 zettabytes in 2015.  As citizens and consumers, we are each creating vast amounts of data wherever we go.  On top of this, the amount of machine-generated data is rapidly growing too.  The new catalyst for the data explosion is the Internet of Things.

Where to store this data is one of the growing challenges for organisations in 2017 and beyond.  We are seeing a hybrid model come to the fore, bringing the best of cloud and on-premise storage together – incorporating virtualisation, private clouds, hosting, colocation, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offerings.  This model allows companies the flexibility and scalability to add new services while ensuring availability, security and speed of mission-critical ones. It also allows them to maintain control of their IT environments, yet still take advantage of the efficiencies that cloud management provides.

Is IoT really happening in Northern Ireland?

Many organisations across Northern Ireland are already well down the road in ‘doing’ IoT.  We’re working with customers across manufacturing & distribution sectors with machine-to-machine (M2M) sensors in their plants.   Not only are the machines connected, they are collaborating with each other via the internet. In the hospitality sector for instance, our customer Hastings Hotels are linking key kitchen equipment and utilities like heating and electricity to a central portal where they can monitor and manage usage and switch off particular machines or heating systems remotely.

This year, we’re seeing even more organisations engage in IoT – it’s no longer an overused term, its reality. And now companies are consciously embracing it rather than organically doing it. By 2020, Gartner predicts that there will be 25 billion connected devices in the world – that may be underestimated.  Across the country, entrepreneurs and commercial partners are collaborating with universities and research centres and consultancies are working with clients to develop and implement solutions. Our business in the south of Ireland has been expanding its IoT capabilities over the past year through partnerships with companies like Asavie and has built an IoT Connect platform that can be used by small and large companies using our cellular network to connect machines in the field.

Organisations are becoming more conscious of the cybersecurity risks that this connected world brings – particularly in light of the frequency of attacks this year.  Is it properly understood?

Most enterprises cannot keep up with the pace at which security threats are evolving and we’ve been helping many re-assess their IT security strategy this year and conducting security audits. Malware has been big in 2017.  The majority of ransomware and other malware such as Trojans, typically use phishing emails to wriggle their way into an organisation’s IT system.

With security, it’s not all about technical solutions; people are often the weakest link in the IT security chain. Phishing emails have become more sophisticated. Long gone are the days when phishing mails were peppered with typos and poor grammar. They’re convincing and make use of social engineering tactics to encourage users to open them. And that’s why raising greater awareness of the threat is so important.

GDPR will help companies be better informed and more aware of data protection and management next year.  We will certainly see differences when hefty fines come into play.

What future technology developments have you emerged this year that will help cybersecurity well into the future?

I do believe artificial intelligence will come to the fore in helping organisations identify and respond to attacks.  Whether using deep learning for malware detection or machine learning for behaviour analysis and risk assessment, the technology has broad applications to cyber security.  Gartner predicts that by 2020, “advanced security analytics [by which it means AI, ML and heuristics] will be embedded in at least 75% of security products.”

Automation is going to happen in all parts of the business, from the business processes themselves to network and operational processes.  Where will it impact the IT network?

Technology innovation in the area of WAN path control, transport-agnostic connectivity, management, and automation – synonymously SD-WAN (Software-Defined WAN) – promises the ability to deliver simplicity and agility for businesses.   There are varying opinions on just how much of a role SD-WAN will play in the network of the future – IDC and Gartner each predict the size of the SD-WAN market to be $6B and $1.24B respectively by 2020 – but regardless, adoption is increasing.  This is mainly driven by growth of the Internet and Cloud, with SD-WAN allowing customers to utilise Internet services as well as MPLS connectivity to deliver WAN services.

Virtualisation will see network functions such as Firewall, Intrusion Detection & Prevention, Routing and Switching move from proprietary hardware to virtualised infrastructure.  With the physical restraints removed, the network of the future will enjoy a fluidity and flexibility that will be crucial to its ability to adapt to this all-digital, all-mobile world.

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