The ability for IT leaders and their departments to deliver new efficiencies and competitive advantage to their organisations rests in no small part on the innovation of the IT industry.
Here, we profile the winners of this year’s Innovation Awards, a competition run by Information Age to highlight innovative technologies on offer from suppliers. Over the last few months, visitors to the Information Age website were invited to view video submissions from suppliers across seven IT categories, and to choose the product or project they thought was the most innovative.
The winning entrants offer solutions to problems arising from the consumerisation of IT and the erosion of the corporate IT perimeter. Cloud computing figures in almost every solution, with innovative uses of ubiquitous connectivity winning the day.
Comms and Networking Innovation Award
Winner: Networks First
The data centre is the engine of modern business, and making significant changes to that engine without disrupting business operations is no mean feat.
Networks First’s Transformation Testing solution, the winning entry in the Comms and Networking category, is designed to remove some of the risk from data centre transformation.
The tool emulates a wide area network (WAN) before and after the roll-out of any major change, showing the impact of implementing new services.
Transformation Testing, Networks First says, can predict what the end user experience is going to be like after the
transformation takes place.
Frank Puranik, chief technology officer of iTrinegy, Networks First’s technology partner on the solution, emphasises that Transformation Testing lets users experience the future network, not just get information about it.
“You can actually experience it directly, sitting at your workstation, using the applications you usually use, as if the data centre had already been moved,” he says. “It is to this industry what a flight simulator is to pilots.”
John Ashley, CIO at UK sports retailer Sports Direct, is a Networks First customer, and says that pre-launch testing allowed his company to resolve problem prior to the launch of applications at branch sites.
“This service greatly assists in mitigating the risk of downtime, something which we as a 24×7 business cannot afford,” Ashley comments.
Networks First chairman Peter Titmus says the company focuses on helping businesses evolve their networks in the
face of new technologies.
“Our industry does at times have herd instinct that can sometimes create an ‘it’ll be all right on the night’ approach,” Titmus says. “The reality is that mistakes could threaten a company’s business. Our services minimise risk and help customers get the most benefit when they transform their networks.”
“The service greatly assists in mitigating the risk of downtime”
NEXT>>> Cloud computing innovation
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Cloud Computing Innovation Award
Winner: Virgin Media
For companies looking to understand what advantages cloud computing can offer them, the marketplace can seem daunting.
Cloud computing has the potential to help businesses make significant financial savings and efficiency gains, but which corporate data belongs in the cloud and how that data should be managed are not trivial questions.
Virgin Media Business’s approach to these issues is to offer cloud services in their simplest form. Andy Perrin, Virgin’s cloud services product manager, says that Virgin was determined to provide jargon-free advice and easy to use technology when it launched its virtual private datacentre (VPDC) in September last year.
“We wanted to let businesses try out the cloud without being tied in,” Perrin says. To that end, Virgin’s VPDC lets business buy computing capacity hosted in a tier three, ISO27001 compliant data centre.
Customer pay for the resources on a per-hour basis, with an average cost of 16p per hour. Businesses can specify their data centre needs via a web-based portal, and their requested resources will be spun up within a couple of hours.
Although VPDC runs using a pay-as-you-go model and focuses on making it easy for businesses to take to the cloud, Virgin does offer different levels of performance and price, as well as different degrees of service level agreement.
“The best bit is that we’re able to offer a range of secure connectivity options, such as multiprotocol layer switching,” Perrin says. MPLS is network switching standard that accelerates network traffic and makes it easier to manage.
“VPDC can also help you test new products and applications easily,” Perrin says. “If you need to support a new online marketing camaign for example, you can do that without buying or owning your own hardware.”
NEXT>>> Green IT innovation
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Green IT Innovation Award
Winner: PEER 1 Hosting
As cloud computing and a content explosion drive demand for data centre space, the pressure is on to make data
centres as efficient as possible.
In its Portsmouth facility, data centre hosting provider PEER 1 addresses this challenge with technology called eXcool.
This exchanges the heat from air that has been warmed by the IT equipment within the data centre with the cold air outside.
However, no outside air enters the data centre directly. Instead it uses a heat transfer system that moves heat to the
outside air without letting the air in. In the summer, when the outside air is too hot to cool the data centre, the heat transfer system adds a mist of water to the outdoor air, allowing heat exhange to take place.
The system is far more efficient than conventional air conditioning. Using eXcool has helped PEER1 get the power
usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio of its Portsmouth facility down to 1.1. The industry standard PUE is 1.8.
“A PUE of 1.0 is the lowest you can get, because that’s just the power for the computers,” explains PEER 1’s EMEA sales director Alastair Stewart. “So we’re only using 0.1 wasted power if you like, keeping them cool, keeping the lights on and running the security systems.”
Stewart says the price of carbon will soon go up to £30 per ton, from its current level of £13 per ton. “Anything you
can do to reduce the amount of carbon a company is using makes a phenomenal improvement in their bottom line,” he says. “This is a significant net saving on the amount of tax you’re paying for carbon, and this is not a tax that’s going to go down any time soon.”
NEXT>>> Security innovation
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Security Innovation Award
For the average IT user, the solution to the problem of having multiple passwords for multiple accounts is to write those passwords on post-it notes stuck to their monitor. While the consequences of doing this on a home PC might not be too dire, the same behaviour in a corporate IT environment could be disastrous.
To offer a more secure alternative, Ping Identity manages user login credentials in the cloud. This allows employees to use one login to access all of their work applications seamlessly, wherever they are.
Andrew Hindle, the company’s director of international business development, says that the crux of its technology lies in the speed with which it can get customers on board.
“The critical thing is how rapidly we can get customers into production and the scale we can do that at,” he says. “It
suddenly turns identity from being all about security and securing assets, into being about enabling businesses, and
getting more of their customers using their applications.”
Ping’s identity management solution uses open standards including SAML, OpenID and OAuth, to allow businesses
that depend on cloud computing services to access applications securely through a single sign-on, as well as single control panel from which user credentials can be managed.
“If you want to make identity a business enabler, rather than a security fix, you have to be able to get a solution that is resilient and can cope with scale, but is also very quick and easy to deploy,” Hindle says.
“That’s not just within your own organisation, but also within those organisations that are connecting to you.”
NEXT>>> Information management innovation
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Information Management Innovation Award
The essential process of backing up business data is typically done using physically connected disks, copying files
from employees’ work machines onto a backup system.
That is becoming less useful as employees become mobile, and start doing much of their work on smartphones and
tablets. How can enterprises keep data in sync and backed up across an enterprise IT ecosystem which might include PCs, Macs, Androids, iPhones and iPads?
This is the problem that Druva addresses with its inSync solution. InSync focuses on managing the data across a range of devices, rather than managing the devices themselves.
One issue with the proliferation of mobile devices is that leads to multiple copies of documents, as employee move
important documents to whichever device they happen to be using. Druva gets around this by using de-deplication
technology to ensure that only one copy of any file that might be common across the organisation is backed up. Only the information that has been changed is copied to the back up.
Druva chief executive and founder Jaspreet Singh says the company grew into what it saw as a hole in the market for cloud backup solution. “There was a big hole in the market for enterprise and endpoint backup when we founded
Druva,” Singh says.
He says Druva differentiates itself by focusing on enterprise and endpoints, with de-deplication and optimisation for WAN networks as its core features.
“We could price our software 40% or 50% more expensive than anything out there, and still not face much competition,” he says.
NEXT>>> Data centre innovation
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Data Centre Innovation Award
Demand for data centres is growing as the world’s thirst for information increases. But the job of building and kitting a data centre is still a long and complex task that carries considerable risk and cost for the developer.
IT and telecommunications service provider Colt helps developers reduce those costs by selling prefabricated,
modular chunks of data centre infrastructure. The company says that using its modules can help data centre
developers build facilities in just four to six weeks.
Colt’s modular design was intimately involved in the construction of what is claimed to be the world’s first “zero-
carbon” data centre.
Built by Verne Global with Colt’s help, the data centre is situated in a disused NATO base in Iceland. It runs on
geothermal power and uses cool Icelandic air to keep the data centre’s temperature down. The innards of the data centre were built in the UK by Colt and then shipped to Iceland to be installed.
When asked how a telecoms company got into the business of building data centres, Akber Jaffer, Colt’s vice-president of strategy, says that the company started doing it in an effort to build better data
centres for itself.
“At first, the project was meant to be a better way of construction data centres for our own use, to be frank,” he says. Now, Colt Data Centre Services is its own company, spun out of Colt’s research and development arm.
“The reason we chose Colt was first and foremost the ability to rapidly deploy,” says Verne Global chief executive Jeff Monroe.
The build which Colt did for Verne Global is 500 square meters and will initially allow Verne to deliver 100MW of power. “Data centres are an extremely efficient and effective way to ship the cheap power out of Iceland,” Monroe says. “You’re transmitting bits of information across the fibre lines.”
NEXT>>> IT services innovation
Page 7 of X IT Services Innovation Award
They already have thousands of PCs, servers, network devices and applications to monitor and manage, but now
enterprise IT departments have externally provided cloud services and a growing number of mobile devices to contend with as well.
Delivering available and valuable IT services in the face of this complexity cannot be achieved if the IT department
service management infrastructure is similarly complex.
Nimsoft’s IT management as a service (ITMaaS) offering promises to remove the complexity from managing complex IT environments. The cloud-hosted service gives businesses a holistic view of their entire IT infrastructure, including
externally hosted systems.
The company has been able to port its IT service management functionality to the cloud thanks to a quirk of its history. “When we started developing the solution, it was designed to be used in Norway on a lot of oil rigs,” explains Sam Fell, director of product marketing at Nimsoft. “They were trying to figure out how to manage the performance of the applications, and push data through very small dial-up lines to a central warehouse.
“A really good architecture for doing that is a publish and subscribe message bus,” he says. “That became the core of our entire infrastructure, and it just so happens that that platform is also extremely well suited for the Internet age
where you have pieces of technology that live all over the globe.”
Fell emphasises that simple IT management systems are essential if organisations are to get a handle on
their ever-growing, ever-diversifying IT estate.
“You can’t redo your entire IT management infrastructure every time you make a small change in the way you’re
delivering services to end users,” he says. “ITMaaS is about taking this big, heavy IT management footprint and making it into something that’s as easy to consume as an app.”