Get Microsoft Lync working with Cisco Call Manager
Written by Michael Papalabrou on March 2nd, 2014
Microsoft Lync enables users to connect in new ways and to stay connected, regardless of their physical location
Next generation UC platform
Lync has many communication and collaboration features, all integrated in one easy to use and well designed client. Its tight integration with the Office suite makes it a business hub for connecting with your colleagues and collaborating (federating) with other organisations. It is therefore not a surprise that Lync quickly reached second place in the world in Unified Communications platforms. With its fully-featured, cloud-based Office 365 variant, it can easily transition a business to the next generation of cloud-based computing. Microsoft have quoted growth of 25% for Lync in Q4 2013.
However, a very common problem for IT managers and budget owners is the protection of their past investments. Lync can replace traditional phone systems and bring new features, but as businesses have already invested large amounts in standard IP telephony, replacing them with Lync is a hard decision. This might be the reason why statistics show the vast majority of Lync users are not implementing voice.
The option of deploying Lync independently is not very attractive; users can be confused between choosing their desk phone and the software client; they do not easily switch to using USB or Bluetooth headsets. It all results in them keep using their phones as before and the hoped-for collaboration benefits are not realised.
Powerful collaboration features
But now, there is a solution to all these problems. In Lync Server 2013, support for remote call control scenarios enables users to control their private branch exchange (PBX) phones by using Lync 2013 on their desktop computers. Lync can be integrated with mature IP telephony platforms like Cisco Unified Communications Manager and its Business Edition variant. The integration feature allows Lync to control traditional IP desk phones, while maintaining all its powerful collaboration features. With Lync’s Active Directory integration, a contact in every Office application will have a multimodal communication panel that will include all contact details and phone numbers. Dialling a number could not be easier; just one click and the desk phone will dial the appropriate number. The conversation can be continued any time by just picking up the handset.
The users now can benefit from this approach in many ways:
- They can have accurate presence information for their colleagues; when someone is talking on the phone, presence will be automatically set to “in a call”. Users can now be sure that they’re not interrupting an important phone call when their colleagues are shown as being available.
They receive missed calls and voice messages as attachments in their email inbox
They can instantly call someone from their computer screen instead of having to manually dial the number, a huge productivity improvement for busy people.
For businesses, this integration brings investment protection for existing phone systems and it gets people to accept the idea of using the Lync client as a phone. It also solves known immaturity issues of Lync as a traditional IP PBX replacement including complexity in applying quality of service in the network, feature gaps and more.
Cisco telephone systems seem to be a de facto standard within the oil industry; integration with Lync has been something of a black art in the past with little help coming from either Microsoft or Cisco. Lync is as revolutionary today, in our opinion, as email was in the nineties. If you are interested in unlocking its capabilities and building upon your existing phone system, please call us on +44 20 7313 8300 and ask to speak to a sales consultant.
CTO Blog – Remote Geoscience
Written by Paul Downe on February 18th, 2014
Centralised processing power and data
One of the newest and most interesting IT concepts in the oil and gas industry at the moment is the possibility of running geological and geophysical (G&G) applications remotely. There are a number of really good reasons you would want to do this, e.g. data consolidation and centralisation; security; collaboration; reduced data duplication; and version control.
The current way of working is via very powerful, graphics-intensive local workstations with data storage locally or very close by (on-premise). If you are a large company, you are likely to have multiple instances of these workstations in different office locations around the world each with copies of the same data.
Wouldn’t it be great to have all of this data and graphics-intensive processing power in a centralised data centre that could be accessed from any location and also from any device? Well, that is the goal of this architecture. (Yes, we are talking about a cloud-based solution!)
ISN has put together a test solution with its partners Cisco and Nvidia and run a proof of concept (PoC) to test the capabilities and performance of remote G&G on real customer data to see if the hype is justified.
So, what will the PoC consist of?
For our purposes, we have chosen a Cisco C240 M3 server and the Nvidia K2 GPU to serve as the data centre host for the solution. We will run Citrix XenDesktop with HDX to enable the remote desktop access. The Cisco C240 M3 Rack Server was our first choice for the PoC because it is designed for both performance and expandability over a wide range of application workloads. It is also part of the Cisco UCS solution; this means it can be subsumed into a FlexPod type solution. All good news if you have seen my comments on FlexPod.
We chose the Nvidia K2 because Citrix and Nvidia have been collaborating since 2008 on graphics hardware acceleration for virtualised 3D applications. This latest offering from their collaboration is the Nvidia VGX K2 card, which can be used with XenDesktop HDX 3D Pro. It also provides a new option for XenApp 6.5 HDX 3D, where each GPU serves a multi-user Windows Server 2008 R2 virtual machine. The new NVIDIA VGX K2 offers outstanding rendering performance with two workstation-class Kepler GPUs on each board, each with 1536 CUDA cores and 4GB of video RAM. In my opinion this will provide more than enough GPU horse power for the G&G applications.
Best end-user experience
To give the end user the best possible experience, we intend to optimize the PoC WAN capacity with a Citrix CloudBridge. This will reduce bandwidth consumption per desktop by up to 80% and application traffic by up to 95%. We can leverage the unique reporting and QoS capabilities of CloudBridge to understand application performance and manage the bandwidth accordingly.
Over the next few weeks we will be building the solution and mapping out the testing criteria and schedule. I will report back in this blog to update you all on how the PoC is progressing.
CTO Blog – Flexible data centre architecture
Written by Paul Downe on February 11th, 2014
Ever wondered what the best approach to a flexible data centre architecture might be?
In my opinion, the answer could well be FlexPod. Having spent over 25 years in the IT industry, I have seen a lot of changes and innovations: some good, some bad and many mediocre. FlexPod from NetApp and Cisco is one of the good ones.
Put simply, it’s an efficient, scalable, reference architecture that combines industry leading hardware from NetApp and Cisco. The architecture is endorsed and supported by hypervisor and software vendors such as VMware, Microsoft and Citrix. These vendors have collaborated to produce a standardised, pre-tested, pre-validated, modular solution that hits the ground running.
From a technical perspective
The FlexPod stack consists of NetApp FAS storage, Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) servers and Cisco Nexus network switches, and either VMware or Microsoft hypervisor technology. This standardised approach holds significant benefit in reducing risk and takes the guesswork out of architecting new environments, making the delivery of scalable and flexible platforms easy.
The key concept of FlexPod is to transform the physical infrastructure into dynamic pools of data centre resources, creating a shared virtualised infrastructure that is both flexible and efficient whilst still retaining the control and security of a dedicated environment.
From a business perspective
Deploying FlexPod architecture enables businesses to become more agile, reducing the time it takes to deliver new products and services to market when compared to traditional IT delivery models. The FlexPod architecture requires less technology too, this simplifies your datacentre, meaning the support team spend less time looking after technology and spend more time focusing on delivering new projects and enabling innovation.
One of the big issues I have experienced in the past when using technology from multiple vendors is support while diagnosing faults or trying to remediate problems. You end up with a bun fight between storage, server, networking and software vendors all saying, “Our bit works fine, it must be something else!” this is not the case with FlexPod. NetApp and Cisco have established a cooperative Support Model. You choose which vendor to call based on your initial assessment of the problem’s origin; multi-vendor engineers then respond to resolve the issue. The cooperative support model includes an ecosystem of software partners such as VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, Redhat, Oracle, and SAP, among others.
In conclusion, deploying FlexPod will simplify your IT environment, giving you predictable performance, on-demand scalability and industry leading data protection. It allows you to meet changing business demands by delivering rapid, repeatable, cost-effective and consistent IT services.
ISN welcomes new CTO, Paul Downe
Written by David Ellison on September 23rd, 2013
“I am really excited to be able to bring my experience to ISN, supporting their journey to develop new and exciting solutions for the upstream oil & gas industry.”
During more than 25 years in the IT industry, Paul has directed some cutting edge ‘enterprise class’ solutions and projects. Most recently he has played the role of principal consultant specialising in leading large IT transformation designs for enterprise level organisations; helping them to do more with less and developing their cloud strategy.
Before starting ISN, Paul was Global Solutions Architect at Dell Services & Solutions, where he initially ran pre-sales engagements for large ($100M+) transformational opportunities; including with large telco, logistics and legal companies. He then moved into a practice development role, which involved harvesting and creating new intellectual property (IP) for the group. Paul spearheaded the use of standardised reusable processes and artefacts to be used for both large and medium sized transformational projects.
Prior to Dell, Paul spent five years at Comdisco building data centres and workarea facilities for disaster recovery purposes and was responsible for helping customers develop, test and improve their business continuity and disaster recovery plans. On multiple occasions those plans were tested by real invocations of the service because of incidents such as power failures, equipment failures, denied access and acts of terrorism.
Paul is looking forward to bringing enterprise experience gained at these companies – as well as the BBC, BT, Intel, Fujitsu and Siemens -to bear on IT challenges within the energy sector and helping ISN’s clients develop scalable enterprise-class infrastructure to support exploration and production globally.
How do ISN provide better VSAT for oil and gas?
Written by David Ellison on September 17th, 2013
Gain more value from VSAT services
Download ISN VSAT Services datasheet here.
We know how to overcome the technical barriers that typically prevent
a shared infrastructure approach. ISN has detailed knowledge of how to
get the best from both VSAT service providers and the VSAT connection
itself, through its extensive experience of working and managing VSAT
supplier providers, coupled with its advanced optimisation knowledge that
improves bandwidth utilisation.
We evolve field site VSAT communications from restrictive, asset-based
infrastructure to multi-asset, shared infrastructure in order to simplify
management; improve service quality; and create dramatic cost savings
in excess of 30 percent.
Our VSAT capabilities include a range of services that ensure expert
help with everything from provider selection to on-going monitoring,
management and support of your VSAT connections.
The service is perfect for operators with limited in-house expertise
or limited time.
To find out more about our VSAT services, download datasheet or
call us on +44 20 7313 9900.
ISN registered to bid for work in Kurdistan
Written by David Ellison on July 29th, 2013
We are pleased to announce that ISN is now formally registered at the Ministry of Natural Resources, Kurdistan Regional Government, Iraq. Our registration number is 001046.
ISN has been advising oil companies on establishing IT and comms infrastructure in Kurdistan for some time. Being registered with the ministry means that we are now able to bid for work in our own right rather than acting on behalf of an oil producer.
ISN capability for providing IT infrastructure services to the upstream oil & gas industry in any part of the world, makes it unique amongst UK IT companies.
To find out more about our work in Kurdistan, please contact us on +44 20 7313 8300 or email@example.com.
6th SMi Communications in Oil & Gas Conference 2013
Written by David Ellison on April 8th, 2013
Paul Warwick is an Account Director at ISN and was one of ISN’s representatives at this annual conference organised by SMi for technical and commercial professionals interested in the IT and comms challenges experienced by the oil industry wordwide.
DE: So, Paul, as a first time delegate, what were your thoughts about the SMi Data Communications for Oil & Gas you attended on 21st March?
Paul Warwick: I thought it was really useful, because it was a really interesting mix of operators and suppliers, including IT people, management, geologists and so forth. A great mix of people and, although the theme was telecommunications, there was a very broad range of different presenters about different topics.
DE: Did any particular presentations stand out for you?
PW: Yes, the Tullow one was really good. Ian Theophilus from Tullow, simply said, “Well these are the problems that we have with our vendors at the moment, and this is where we want to get to. Can you help us get there?” It was very honest, and that was extremely useful for all of us at ISN to hear so directly what we need to do in order to work better with oil and gas companies.
DE: So what sort of things is Ian looking for from suppliers?
PW: He just wants suppliers to work together more closely. He wants a better level of communication. Now that Tullow has a strategy, he wants better online supplier Internet strategy, and he was asked some very pertinent questions from the floor, including from my ISN colleagues to find out how suppliers to the oil & gas industry can add value to what they are doing. So it was very, very good.
DE: Which other speakers did you find interesting?
PW: The Statoil guys basically went through how telecommunications works for the Norwegian continental shelf. I didn’t realise that there was that much fibre optic available in the Norwegian continental shelf. What is more is that all of the Norwegian oil & gas companies share the same resources. They just section off a part for themselves. So they collaborate really closely together with all the other Norwegian companies.
DE: Are there any particular comms issues that Statoil mentioned?
PW: No, they have bandwidth to die for, they have fibre optic everywhere, so gigabit type speed is common. ISN can’t offer much to help Statoil in Norway, we’re more interested in the other 35 countries that they work in, where our expertise at delivering data and voice links in remote areas comes to the fore.
DE: What was your highlight over the two days from a technical point of view and from a business point of view?
PW: From the business point of view was definitely the chance to make new contacts within the industry as well as a chance to spend time with people from our existing clients and other suppliers. African Petroleum, Tullow, Statoil, Afren, Enquest, Arqiva and Hermes were all represented.
DE: There are usually some innovative ideas presented at the conference. Did you have any take aways from the technology side?
PW: To be honest with you there weren’t many deeply technical presentations; although there were plenty of experts there (not least from ISN!) with years of experience who were able to discuss theory and practice of any comms technology used in the oil industry. One presenter talked about VSAT to the polar regions; the Russians are about to launch a satellite that is going to go round the world, orbiting via the two poles, rather than via the equator, so that was really interesting. Obviously with the Arctic being a big focus for Norwegians for example, that struck a chord with many people.
Citrix Partner Accelerator 2013 – Highlights
Written by Akmal Shah on March 8th, 2013
Citrix 16 years later is still exciting
Citrix held their annual briefing for partners in London yesterday. Quite a few of ISN’s staff attended in order to pick up the latest on their roadmap for mobile working and cloud strategies.
The thing that struck me immediately was, that having adopted Citrix in the late nineties with Winframe, that Citrix continue to be exciting and focused on their goals. Application delivery to users anywhere has evolved from modem connections to 4G, home broadband, wireless hot spots, mobile broadband to even offline working.
The range of devices has grown exponentially and Citrix are still positioned to allow any user any app any where any time any device. Pretty awesome in my opinion.
It is fair when Citrix say we have been doing this a long time. They have! Work from any device, with the multitude oF client software has been possible ever since Winframe. The striking thing is how quickly Citrix are able to present solutions that allow them to move to mobile and cloud computing. But in reality it shouldn’t be striking, they have done this better than anyone for the last 15 years.
XenMobile will allow even more seamless access for the user but with security and controls wrapped round it. BYOD can be accommodated safely by corporates, and securely too, with differentiation between life and work established on these devices. IT no longer need to fear user controlled technology, but can secure, manage and integrate any device into the enterprise.
I spoke with Lakeside Software, who had a stand at the show; they are providing some good discovery tools and sizing for free. This should help us in green field sites where we have little prior knowledge of the company apps and usage. Monitoring can be added at a cost to keep tabs on the ICA channel and maybe replace the cumbersome EdgeSight. (Edgesight is being redeveloped for Project Excalibur).
SMSPasscode multiform authentication looks good and is also cheaper than RSA SecurID. It also doesn’t allow user to input all credentials in one go. The multiform happens on second page. What I like about it is that no one has to carry an extra gizmo; it all works off the phone which people carry everywhere anyway. They also have a solution for locations were an SMS signal is not possible.
Atlantis showed how a memory-based solution was 25 percent of the cost of filer and networking, simplifying everything with more performance because everything runs from RAM.
Our old friends Trend Micro had a stand at the event too. Their anti malware suite is second to none for physical as well as Hyper-V, Xen and VMware virtual deployments.
Best of all was being able to talk to the Citrix guys and get the inside track on what is happening with EdgeSight and the forthcoming projects Avalon and Excalibur, which should build upon XenDesktop, Provisioning Server and take mobile working to a new level.
Lastly, I thought I won a prize at the final keynote! Numbers were right, but the colour of ticket didn’t match. Still, a great day. If anyone wants to chat about current or future Citrix technology, please give us a call or comment below.
IPS reduces network security risk for oil and gas
Written by Neil Meadows on January 15th, 2013
Intrusion protection brings peace of mind to network managers
Oil industry targeted by hackers
Oil and gas firms are being specifically targeted by electronic hackers and industrial documents and commercially sensitive information are being stolen. A growing number of attacks on the oil and gas industry has resulted in the theft of secrets and intellectual property by cyber thieves and so called ‘hacktivists’.
Attacks included targeted emails, carefully designed to look as if they had come from trusted individuals. When opened, damaging code was activated, causing business disruption and resulting in significant financial loss. Another attack featured a virus called ‘Shamoon’ which wiped the hard disks on 30,000 machines in one Middle Eastern oil business.
Commentators expressed dismay that these attacks featured tools, software and code that are easily downloaded. In fact the techniques used are found in ‘ethical hacking’ books and online tutorials. The attacks were very unsophisticated and weren’t performed by technically talented ‘Black Hat’ hacker groups.
What can be done to mitigate targeted attacks?
Although there is no single device or method which solves all network security concerns, industry best practice is to implement ‘defence-in-depth’, adding layers of defence to networks. Facing layer upon layer of security, attackers may eventually decide to focus their attention elsewhere. Worryingly though, evidence also revealed that many breached security cases involved hackers working methodically over a long period of time to penetrate the computer networks of the companies involved
McAfee, the IT security firm, recently announced that it had evidence that hackers had “run rampant through the networks of at least five oil and gas firms for years”. The hackers had breached their victims’ defenses using a combination of con tricks, operating system vulnerabilities and generally poor security controls. Having gained access, the hackers stole confidential secrets containing damaging commercial information. McAfee also said that the companies targeted didn’t know that they had been compromised or that their documents were in the public domain.
A well known entry point is an external server running as a web server. Tools are loaded onto the machine when compromised, allowing hackers to escalate privileges and gain access to internal machines. Cracking tools are then used to gather usernames and passwords, which increases the depth and range of access, until the critical areas of the network are discovered and prised open. Reverse engineering is then used to provide remote access from any attacker machine. This position can either be sold on or exploited to steal contractual documentation, production data and other files worth an enormous amount of money to competitors or organisations looking to disrupt oil and gas exploration.
Firewall or IPS? Or both?
One method proven to increase protection is an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS). These operate at a higher level than a firewall and look inside network traffic for the electronic signature of viruses, trojans or other malicious activity that has been loaded into its database. Performed in real time, using solid state memory silicon that is devastatingly fast, this provides protection against ‘zero-day’ attacks. It is possible to examine all traffic entering from the Internet, while also checking traffic that is already internal or is being generated internally. Firewalls provide protection on technically limited factors and in any case many reported attacks are initiated on the inside of the network or planted by emails.
Installing an IPS module inside a firewall is like building a second perimeter fence, providing protection beyond that provided by a firewall. It also alerts you to infected traffic on the inside of your network , so if traffic is already infected, you can considerably lower your risk rating at your network perimeter as well as reducing your internal exposure.
How a modern IPS meets the increased needs of the oil and gas industry
ISN was commissioned to recommend an improved security solution for an oil & gas client. Cisco IPS was chosen mainly because of the elegant, non disruptive hardware installation, with modules integrated into existing Cisco ASA firewalls. Existing support skills were also a good match, and the centralised management system (Cisco IPS Manager Express or IME) fitted comfortably inside the network support function.
Minimal business disruption in the implementation
The work took place over several weeks, consisting of only a two hour, out-of-business-hours outage per site across four international sites. The management system was installed inside the customer’s data centre, and sits on a secure ring-fenced VLAN. External management is only possible via a machine to machine VPN. Cisco IME delivers excellent performance and fast response times. Investigation tickets are raised based on the issues discovered, with the ability to raise or lower the security rating of each signature, providing a fine balance between false positives and robust protection.
After the installation, the system is first operated in ‘promiscuous mode’ where traffic is inspected, but not blocked. After a period of stabilisation, where the fine-tuning occurs, the IPS system is switched ‘in line’. At this point, the network and the business are protected to the international PCI DSS standard, required by the credit card industry.
Does your network need an IPS?
Assuming that best practice is followed, network managers can have the peace of mind that comes from compliance with a security standard, while also utilising security intelligence gathered from a vast network of businesses. Given that Cisco’s global market penetration is more than 60 percent, the protection provided by Cisco’s IT security intelligence is a significant advance in your network’s protection.
The very nature of the oil and gas business could result in you being a target. Sensitive data stored in your network infrastructure is demonstrably safer behind an IPS system.
The Cisco IPS solution with ISN project management and installation is non-disruptive and extremely effective.
Time to evaluate what ISN and Cisco IPS can do for your network
ISN has a lot of experience in deploying and managing networks in the oil and gas sector. If you would like to hear more, and would like us to demonstrate how easily and quickly a far higher level of security for your network can be gained, please call me on +44 20 7313 8300.
England 38 New Zealand 21
Written by David Ellison on December 3rd, 2012
Our annual hospitality event on Saturday was even more successful than anyone expected, with England’s stunning victory over the All Blacks.
We were joined by guests from Afren, African Petroleum, Aminex, Summit, Hansteen and Leni for a gourmet lunch followed by the QBE International between England and New Zealand.
After the disappointments of the previous two matches in the series and after seeing headlines in the press along the lines of “England Roadkill” most of us were hoping for an entertaining game and not too great a points difference. However we were treated to a game that Clive Woodward described later as the perfect game of rugby and England’s first win over the ABs since 2003!
ISN’s own two Kiwis, Dave Greenwood and Paul Warwick, were the most sporting of losers, although it may take them a while to get over the shock of the All Blacks’ first defeat by England in 9 years.
Immediately after the men’s match the England women followed suit and won convincingly by 32-23, maintaining their unbeaten run at Twickenham. Paul is shown here celebrating with England wing Fran Matthews.