Master Solutions | Master Solutions: March Blog
About VPNs, the IBM/Siemens Business Intelligence deal and Microsoft Azure's upcoming Industry Bundles.
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The what, why and how of a VPN

No doubt you’ve heard or read about ‘VPNs’, Virtual Private Networks. Over the last few years they have become commonplace for many businesses and individuals. In this article, we’ll take you through what a VPN is, how it works and -most importantly- what their added value is for your business. Curious to learn more? Read on!


What is a VPN?


Any regular old network is dependent on networking hardware; servers, switches, cables etc. Especially nowadays, where working from home is quickly becoming the default, it is much more practical to have a virtual version of a network. It definitely beats some engineers having to draw cables from the office to each employee’s individual home to make sure everyone has access to the company network.


At the most basic level, VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are a way to do this. They simulate a traditional network infrastructure. A VPN adds extra security to your connections and allows you to hide your IP address (the unique number that servers as identifier for any machine connected to the internet) and location. This makes it more difficult for anyone with ill intent to monitor and intercept your online activities. Now, you may have heard of ‘proxy servers’ which do something similar. You connect to a proxy server somewhere in the world and the proxy server retrieves the websites for you. This way, any information you send to or receive from the internet seems to originate and stop at the proxy server’s IP address. A proxy server is used to mask an IP address and spoof your location. But there is something that a proxy server can’t do: encrypt your data. Where someone with ill intent can still trace you when they’re connected to the same proxy server, doing the same with a VPN is definitely not as easy!


How does a VPN work?


Imagine a tunnel through a mountain that is exclusively used by trucks use to transport valuables. The only way in and out of this tunnel is through the entrance and exit on either end. Once in the tunnel, the trucks are quite protected from anyone wishing to steal the valuables; the only way to steal from the trucks now, is to dig through thick layers of rock and earth. Not the most interesting and lucrative prospect for any criminals trying to snatch a quick profit.


VPNs work much in the same way; when you connect to a VPN server, you build a tunnel between your computer and that server. The only way in and out of that tunnel is from either your computer or the server. Any data that you send or receive goes through the tunnel and is protected from outside tampering. This makes the data you’re transporting a much harder target to intercept.


But that’s not all.


Let’s keep with the example of the mountain and the trucks. Company A is transporting valuable goods to Company B through the tunnel. All the goods are tightly locked in the back of the truck with a very elaborate and complex lock. Only the bosses of Company A and Company B possess the key to this lock. Not even the truck driver can get to them. Company A locks the trucks and only after they’ve gone through the tunnel and emerge on the other side can they be opened with the key Company B possesses. So even if any potential thieves would dig an entire tunnel through the mountain to get to the trucks, they wouldn’t be able to unlock them and get to the goods inside.


A VPN server protects your data with what we call (much like the traditional object) a ‘key’; a very long and randomly generated password. Only your computer and the VPN server you connect to know what this key is. Any data that goes through the VPN tunnel is locked (or as it is formally called: encrypted) with that key. Once on the other side, the data is unlocked. In short, it means that whatever data is sent from your device to the VPN server or the other way around is practically impossible to intercept.


Why use a VPN?


By now it should be clear that a VPN is a very secure way to make connections between multiple devices in different places. The technique is mainly used in businesses to ensure that employees can log in to, and work with systems they’d normally used at the office. That’s the big benefit of a VPN: it allows you to connect to your company network from anywhere with all the security privileges that you would have on an office computer.


Due to the international pandemic, the way we work is changing. Working from home is gearing up to be the default. We believe that this trend is here to stay, now that many companies are discovering that it is very much possible to work remotely. In this new world of cloud services, Digital Nomads and working anywhere, a VPN is the first requirement to keep all your sensitive data traffic safe!

IBM, Red Hat & Siemens announce MindSphere deal

2,200 Gigabytes. That is, IBM estimates, how much raw data goes unused in a business’ production location that carefully monitors its assets. With automation, smart sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT) more data than ever is available. Troves of valuable business information that are rarely put to good use. Siemens’ business intelligence solution MindSphere, that helps collect and present data, is getting some new options in collaboration with IBM and Red Hat. What exactly? Read on!


The Internet of Things


Nowadays, nearly everything is connected to the internet. From phones and fridges to complex industrial machinery. We call this the Internet of Things (IoT). Being connected to the internet usually means that a device can be controlled remotely. There is an aspect to the IoT, however, that is a lot more valuable for businesses -especially manufacturing companies-: sensors. Sensors can detect and measure and send whatever data they collect over to your business’ data warehouse. This gives you a lot of data to use to improve your operations. As IBM estimates; 2,200 gigabytes per month for a single production line of an enterprise company. Good luck ploughing through and interpreting all of that data manually!


The Private Cloud Solution


Siemens, manufacturer of electronic equipment, has developed Siemens MindSphere. Mindsphere is an IoTaaS (‘Internet of Things as a Service’) business intelligence solution for companies. It offers a cloud-based service that reads sensors, stores operational data and utilizes AI to present customers with relevant data. All of this allows users of MindSphere to make data-driven decisions about their business operations. In less fancy words: MindSphere helps you know what’s going on in your business so you can make informed decisions.


Siemens has recently struck a deal with IBM and Red Hat to further develop the MindSphere services. MindSphere will start offering hybrid cloud options based on Red Hat OpenShift. Rather than exclusively offering MindSphere as a cloud service, it can be combined with on-premise access. This effectively offers the best of both worlds; the speed and connectivity of cloud-based solutions and the (regulatory) control of locally running software. The benefit of this approach is that it gives the customer a lot more flexibility and speed in deploying, redeploying and configuring MindSphere to optimally complement business processes. In short: the new solution offers a private data cloud with full, flexible control over your data.


Building on a Tradition


IBM and Siemens have a history of partnerships and working together. Just last year, both parties announced that they would work together to optimise Asset Lifecycle Management. The aim of this project is to offer insights in the full, closed loop of equipment manufacturing by sharing engineering, operational and maintenance data in one place. To achieve this, they have combined elements of IBM’s Maximo Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solution with parts of Siemens’ Xcelerator software portfolio (data and network system tools).  Siemens’ Xcelerator software consists of many different cloud solutions for various industries. IBM Maximo EAM is a software package for monitoring assets and maintenance work, from asset acquisition to breakdown. By combining these digital forces, both equipment manufacturers and their clients can optimise the entire lifecycle of an asset, from initial design document to retirement.


Evident in all of the above is that putting your data to work for your organisation is a huge trend in the coming years. Business Intelligence is here to stay! We’ve been able to connect nearly everything to everything with the advent of the Internet of Things. Now the challenge is to make sense of it all. We can help you with that.

Microsoft announces new Industry Bundles

Microsoft’s Azure platform has been on the rise for several years now and has carved out a good spot in the world of SaaS (Software as a Service). Perfect for setting up any remote workplace, it offers great flexibility of security, network tools and software access. Now Microsoft is upping the game by releasing additional industry-specific cloud packages. Which one and why? Read on!


Work in a Changing World


Like many of us, Microsoft has noticed that the world has rapidly changed over the past year. The global pandemic situation has forced many a business to transform the way they work. Microsoft is turning the situation into an opportunity by expanding their cloud-based Azure services with new, industry-specific packages. These packages are Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services, Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing and Microsoft Cloud for Nonprofit. These three new packages join Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare and Microsoft Cloud for Retail, adding up to a total of five industry-specific that Microsoft offers.


Three New Packages


A quick overview of the new industry bundles:


Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services
Like many industries, the financial industry is forced more and more into the digital world, edged on by the pandemic. Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services integrates many different templates, Office software and business intelligence solutions in a single package, allowing financial institutions to sell and offer service remotely, to increase customer engagement and manage loan processes amongst many other things.


Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing
This package’s focus is mainly on IoT, machine learning and AI. By connecting different aspects of the manufacturing chain it offers a total solution. Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing connects people, assets and workflows to optimise the entire business process.


Microsoft Cloud for Nonprofit
More often than not, nonprofit organisations have to deal with a disparity of software licenses and data sources. Microsoft Cloud for Nonprofit aims to give Nonprofit organisations the tools to have all their needs in a single place. This leaves the people free to focus on a Nonprofit organisation’s most important thing: accomplishing their mission.


In Development


All three of these packages are currently in development with Microsoft. The first package to be publicly shown will be Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services sometime later this month, with the other packages following later in the year.