Hot from NRF ’18: Secure retail networks are critical!

Fresh off a torrential snow storm in the NYC area, Javits Center hosted the world’s biggest retail showcase, the Big Show! Aruba demonstrated a flurry of new location-based technologies with Aruba Tags, innovations in software-defined networking best practices, and technology partnerships with AT&T, Deloitte, Zoox, and Ziosk (those tabletop tablets you’d find in many casual restaurants).


Many conversations at NRF last year focused on AI and robotics to improve store operations – just like our HPE booth did from a networking standpoint. But this year, with rising interest in software-defined networking (SD-WAN, SDN, etc), customers focused on critical problems surrounding simplicity and deployment. Those I spoke with commonly sent their IT teams on installs for every new store their companies launch to perform some manual, in-store configuration. Even those with cloud vendors had per-site WAN configurations that proved un-scalable.


Likewise, when I delved deeper with these IT leaders around their security practices, the feedback I got was deafening. NAC (network access control) was a huge concern for them, to a degree where the challenges of deploying it outweighed the benefits it brought to the table. The conversation quickly turned into: How can I regain control over my network? What do I do about IoT? How do I streamline my IT business?


Build network security around user experience


Many variables impact branch security, but the primary risks of a breach comes from everyday users and configuration itself. Users themselves bear different degrees of risk to the network, from negligence, compromised devices, or even malicious intent, which can be challenging to analyze. By emphasizing user experience as an organic part of Aruba network architecture, Aruba provides rich insight from what we call context awareness, which can then be used streamline policies that simplify security and network configuration. With context, we can tie a user’s role in the organization (employee, guest, contractor) to a device (phone, tablet, IoT), identify application usage, and location information to permit, limit, or deny access to a certain area of the network.


This was exactly what I demo’ed at our branch pod. By assigning myself to the role of a security administrator, I had unrestricted privileges to view security camera footage and access branch network configuration through our centralized IT dashboard. Likewise, when I logged onto the network as a basic guest user, I effectively changed my role into a public user profile and lost all access to network and security equipment, and even a few Web URLs and applications. This dynamic change in policy can be applied simplistically across hundreds or thousands of locations without any additional manual provisioning.


From a configuration standpoint, this means that highly customizable rules can be applied without manual IT requirements. For example, guest users and store employees would not be able to see or communicate with store surveillance equipment because their role don’t allow them to.


Enhance your WAN with role-based policy


Once you’ve taken user experience into the software layer, you can expand role-based policy beyond WLAN and LAN to impact the WAN edge. A primary use case for roles is with policy-based routing (PBR). PBR enables IT to segment cloud, Internet, or guest traffic, and send them intelligently out to the broadband link, as opposed to overloading the private, MPLS link. This is especially useful in optimizing application performance that can be severely capped at small, remote locations, and simultaneously improve bandwidth efficiencies on private connections.


Simplify management, branch-wide


Aruba Central dashboardAruba Central dashboard

NRF attendees provided some critical takeaways about how crucial simplicity and security are in everyday IT operations. With role-based network management, organizations can introduce software-defined best practices to boost network performance, automate network and endpoint security, and dramatically free up IT resources. For those of you who have yet to explore Aruba’s architectural approach, I encourage you to take a look at Aruba 360 Secure Fabric alongside Aruba Central cloud-based management. For everyone else, I hope to see at our next Atmosphere in Vegas, and of course, NRF 2019!

Fueling Retail Performance with IoT Connectivity Power

When it comes to serving the modern shopper, IT performance matters. In the retail sector, businesses need achieve optimal levels of speed, security, and performance in order to create a superior shopping experience. To achieve this, retailers are utilizing large quantities of data—such as transactional, historical, and customer data—to learn customer spending behaviors, identify upcoming trends, and deliver quality products and services. Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in particular must strive to extract and implement data insights in order to enhance retail offerings, store layouts, and more, and gain competitive advantage.

Today’s businesses are utilizing data from Internet-enabled cash registers, computers, personal devices, and a variety of intelligent machines in order to better understand their customers and optimize the supply chain through inventory monitoring. These intelligent things are constantly connected and generating data on a platform known as the internet of things (IoT). According to a 2016 Business Insider report, a projected 34 billion devices will connect to the Internet by 2020, rising from 10 billion in 2015. To accommodate this major disruption, nearly $6 trillion will be spent on IoT solutions in the next five years.

For retail SMBs, quickly and securely harnessing IoT data is key to deliver a convenient and personalized shopping experience. 70% of brands worldwide are working to adopt the IoT in order to drive business performance and enhance customer satisfaction. Of these investments, 81% of retailers are deploying security sensors, earmarking network protection as a chief concern in the digital age.


Source: Forbes, 2017

Retailers are experiencing a rapid influx of IoT data, and businesses leaders are now seeking a more capable infrastructure in order to safeguard their networks and accelerate innovation. IT solutions expressly designed for the IoT are helping SMBs operate with confidence, providing the flexibility, security, and affordability required to accommodate business growth.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) is equipping businesses for IoT connectivity with the help of Aruba technologies. These solutions, such as Aruba Instant Access Points and Aruba ClearPass, offer additional levels of business network security as users utilize smart devices. Aruba Instant Access Points, and network switches, support a growing number of vulnerable endpoints by ensuring simply and safe access from the intelligent edge to the core. In addition to secure network access points, Aruba ClearPass enables SMB leaders to create and monitor network access policies in real time. This ensures that operations are secure from both internal and external threats.

Retailers who pursue IoT innovation stand to gain significant advantages:

  • Optimized workforce.IoT connectivity helps retailers understand buying patterns based shopping trends, weather, holidays, store layout, and more, which increases workplace productivity and reduces workforce costs.
  • Faster inventory turn.IoT technologies monitor purchases in real time and alert employees when products run out on a display, thereby mitigating loss of sales and boosting customer satisfaction.
  • Loss prevention.Utilizing security sensors, videos, and electromagnetic tag tracking to monitor in-store products significantly reduces the risk of theft.
  • Better IT management.Investing in the right IT solutions provides consistent visibility across the network, letting SMBs easily manage their IT networks and connected devices across disparate locations.

What’s Your New Year Resolution for Better Networks?

2017 marks the year cybercrime went mainstream. Security breaches and ransomware splashed headlines, demonstrating the impact malicious hackers have in today’s digitized world.


I could be exaggerating when I say that Asia Pacific is in the eye of the storm. With the advent of Mobility, Internet of Things (IoT) and Cloud, consider how organizations in the region are 80 percent more likely to be breached than their global counterparts. Did you also know that half of the infected systems in the first two days of the WannaCry outbreak were found in China? While almost every business and nation is embarking on digital transformation, the majority still struggle to get a handle on cybersecurity.


So what does 2018 have in store for us? One thing’s for sure, cybercrime is not slowing down. With digital transformation in full swing, the network has become the foundation for organizations. Securing your business starts with securing your network, but that is already a given (if you don’t have a sturdy network security strategy, you should get started now). In today’s digital age, we need to aim towards delivering new levels of connectivity that ensures security while driving agility, innovation, and productivity. My take on getting there? Adding intelligence to your network, which is a personal business resolution I advocate.


An eye for intelligence

If mobile is the undisputed king of Asia Pacific, then IoT is the queen. The resulting device explosion introduces more devices than ever before to enterprise networks, revolutionizing workplaces and enabling new engagement models.


While this could translate to significant business benefits, it also stresses traditional networking architectures built for the client-server era. Legacy networks are simply not equipped to compute power, agility, and reach needed to support today’s complex environments. For instance, connected devices in healthcare often don’t have the luxury to wait for a centralized computer source to tell them what to do. At the same time, IT managers now have the added responsibility of manually managing multiple devices per person with unpredictable locations, new traffic patterns, and unknown shadow devices across a wide area.


Having complete visibility into your networks may help alleviate these pressures, but in device-dominated environments, this is hardly enough.


For the most part, intelligence is about automation: the network is smart enough to act and react autonomously. The simple act of having the network automatically identifying the devices that are connected, as well as the data and applications they can access, goes a long way in streamlining workflows and accelerating processes. This will ultimately reduce the strain on IT to cope with growing workloads, giving them breathing space to focus on innovation instead of maintenance. Aruba is focused on driving programmability and automation through its end-to-end framework encompassed through its mobile-first strategy.


With security continuing to be top-of-mind, next-generation end-to-end security solutions, such as Aruba 360 Secure Fabric, further demonstrate how they are empowering organizations to secure their business and infrastructure IoT through machine-learning, becoming smarter and faster at detecting threats coming through the network.


On the other end of the stick, intelligent networks can enhance end-user engagements. In a world where instant gratification is the new normal, having constant and multiple touchpoints—think real-time engagements like location-based marketing—is key to building stronger business relationships for healthier bottom lines. Sectors such as healthcare and retail can utilize intelligent networks to collect crucial data on user traffic patterns and automatically enable powerful BI tools to draw insights to help boost end-user satisfaction.


The technology landscape will not evolve slowly and neither should we. Like Gartner, I believe intelligence is the game changer of 2018. Having not just a robust network, but an intelligent one will be key for your organization to move as fast as technology advances.


Intelligence is my 2018 resolution. What’s yours?