The iTech 2016 Conference was held in Toronto on Nov. 17, and I came away with a few thoughts that I’d like to pass along. These are my own impressions and not a full report of the event. In fact, there were six parallel presentation tracks so I was only able to attend part of the conference.

iTech was billed as “Toronto’s leading infrastructure, cloud, mobility and security conference” which covers a lot of territory. Since it wouldn’t be hard to have a full day conference on each of these topics, there was no shortage of interesting material. There were also more than 40 sponsors including hardware, software, telecom, training and consulting companies.

Cloud-based management and security

The first session that I attended, presented by Microsoft, was about taking management and security to the cloud (i.e., using Operations Management Suite). The idea is that operations functions for configuring, monitoring and protecting systems do not need to be a customized in-house deployment – deployed in a cloud supported by the provider is a new solution. The goal is to get a unified view of a complete hybrid cloud environment with sub-views for specific groups. This can be combined with security services such as threat intelligence and disaster recovery. A lot of the emphasis goes back to which vendors you can trust, and the main way of judging that is by standards compliance.

There were six factors that should drive adoption of Microsoft’s OMS – economics, speed, troubleshooting, innovation, self-service, and futures.

The future of IT

The next session, presented by the Graycon Group, was about the shifting perspective of IT in business, driven by the consumerization of IT. Apparently, cloud computing is finally becoming mainstream in Canada – all their client discussions over the past six months have included cloud.

The general view was that cloud may not be the solution to every need but it should be a consideration every time. Overall, the rationale for a cloud solution has moved from cost savings to agility, elasticity and availability – all of which mean being more responsive to the needs of business in a hyper-connected world.

Key messages were:

  • IT must be business-led;
  • Cloud cannot and should not be avoided; and
  • Risk is increasing so security is a priority.

A new way to WAN

The third session that I attended, presented by Cradlepoint, was about the next generation of wide area networks, and specifically the use of wireless communications in the WAN.

The next generation of WAN networks will include:

  • Things as endpoints in addition to places and people;
  • Software stacks instead of hardware-based nodes;
  • Mixtures of Internet, broadband, and cellular services (i.e., not just dedicated MPLS);
  • Cloud-centric security; and
  • Automated management instead of human operators.

The drivers for change in the WAN are the emergence of cloud, SD-WAN, 4G-LTE, mobile endpoints and IoT. The view put forward is that 4G-LTE will have a strong role to play for the next few years (presumably until 5G is mature). A 4G-LTE WAN can complement traditional WANs (such as for failover, etc.), can augment the MPLS WAN, can extend the network to vehicles and mobile systems, and can even replace wires in some situations.

Some examples of uses for 4G-LTE include:

  • MPLS replacement and service provider consolidation;
  • Network failover;
  • Dedicated networks for PoS devices;
  • Store within a store configurations;
  • Removing third parties from a corporate network; and
  • Kiosks and digital signage.

Simplifying hybrid cloud

The lunch keynote speech by IBM Canada and VMWare was entitled “simplifying hybrid cloud while maximizing IT investments”. It was observed that cloud is enabling an historic level of innovation in IT and that this was one of the key reasons cloud has become so important.

The term “hybrid” is used here as a bridge between traditional IT and the future scenario in which substantially all IT is cloud-based. This future scenario is based on cloud services, cloud security brokers, cloud-based management platforms and web-scale operations.

Three approaches to cloud transformation were identified:

  • Lift and shift using bare metal servers, VM, container integration;
  • Extend, re-factor and integrate; and
  • Transform using cloud foundry, containers and microservices.

The estimate is that 7 in 10 solutions are a blend of cloud and in-house systems. IBM and VMWare have partnered to make hybrid cloud easier and to help accelerate the move to cloud and its benefits. The benefits of VMWare on an IBM cloud include compatibility and flexibility. If you have VMs in-house, then this partnership will allow moves to occur more easily.

Some observations

The afternoon sessions continued with discussions of security, agile development, and storage as a service. The final session from Rogers presented their vision for a Unified Communications Service. One of the drivers is the idea of flexible work – working from anywhere as if it were the same as an office. A big push towards unified communications is expected in 2017-2018.

I felt there were five themes that came through at this conference:

  1. Operating systems are still a factor – Linux and Windows are both important;
  2. Automation of management and security “as a service” is a driving force for modernization;
  3. Open source, APIs, and new software development techniques are now part of the ecosystem;
  4. Data center technologies are evolving to provide better service including networks, operating systems and storage; and
  5. Supporting business speed and agility has become a necessity for future success.


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