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Cisco ACI Is Data Center Solution of Choice for Service Providers Worldwide

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Cisco ACI Is Data Center Solution of Choice for Service Providers Worldwide

Service providers deliver new cloud services more quickly and offer superior customer experience with the help of Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure

Providing secure, differentiated and rapidly delivered cloud services to customers is a crucial requirement for today’s service providers.  To meet cloud infrastructure demands, global service providers are increasingly turning to the Cisco® Application Centric Infrastructure (Cisco ACI(TM))the industry-leading software-defined networking (SDN) solution. Cisco ACI reduces operational costs with an automated, policy-based programmable architecture, while improving scalability and security. In addition, new Cisco ACI multi-site management capability helps service providers to connect and manage multiple geographically distributed Cisco ACI fabrics and to move and manage workloads with a single pane of glass.

Cisco ACI is being deployed worldwide by service providers such as NTT Communications (United States), T-Systems (Germany), Hosters (Denmark), scanplus GmbH (Germany), Tieto Oyj (Finland), and Ritter (United States).

NTT Communications
NTT Communications (NTT Com) is a subsidiary of NTT Group and a 20-year IT service provider veteran.   The U.S. division of NTT Com recognized a market opportunity to better serve the enterprise market with a portfolio of managed service offerings tailored to key vertical markets that would also meet compliance mandates and regulations.

To succeed in this new direction, NTT Com decided to transform its data centers with a focus on greater security and performance. NTT Com selected Cisco ACI because it offered a much more agile management model over competing industry solutions.  NTT Com can now quickly set up highly complex data center domains, bringing new customers onboard in as little as three days, and the security policies inherent in Cisco’s SDN solution also support the compliance needs of its customers.

“Cisco ACI means applications guide the way the network acts, not the other way around,” says Indranil Sengupta, vice president of product engineering at NTT Com.  “We’re able to offer an outstanding customer experience with fewer errors and up to 80 percent better application performance.”

T-Systems

With operations in more than 20 countries and multi-billion euro revenues, T-Systems, based in Germany, is one of the world’s leading providers of information and communications technology.  Increasingly T-Systems midsize customers are requesting new services based on cloud services and innovative business models, such as data analytics, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications, and industrial Internet.  T-Systems selected Cisco ACI to provide its customers with tailored infrastructure, platforms, and software solutions.

“Our customers want high quality services, uncompromised security, and flexibility, all at a reasonable price,” says Andreas Schwall, Delivery Executive Production Midmarket at T-Systems. “Our challenge was to reduce IT effort and maintenance-based outages, while improving capacity at the network and security layer.”

In addition, Cisco ACI allows T-Systems to run more agile, flexible operations and open up new security offerings for customers. “Based on open APIs and an application-centric view of our landscape, we can reduce lead times during the onboarding process and rapidly add more services to our portfolio,” adds Schwall.

Now application traffic steers the network, rather than the other way around, enabling T-Systems to build the network environment around different customer applications, significantly improving performance and better meeting requirements.   Optimizing software-defined automation has reduced manual tasks by 90%, providing a productivity gain equivalent to three full-time employees.

Hosters
Hosters, located in Denmark, is a certified Microsoft Azure Managed Service Provider offering cloud and hybrid solutions.  The company turned to Cisco ACI to reduce time to market and to provide customers with the right solution easily and quickly.  Security was also an important consideration, and Hosters worked with Fortinet and Cisco ACI to ensure the highest levels of security for customers.  Cisco ACI is now operating in three Hosters data centers and baby spines, and the company is planning to upgrade its data centers to 100GbE, made easier with the Cisco ACI deployment.

“The results of the Cisco ACI deployment have exceeded our expectations,” said Thomas Raabo, CTO, Hosters.  “Our deployment time of new services to customers has been cut down from weeks to hours, and we are spending less time on systems integration and more time on innovation.  We’re moving to a DevOps model of continuous improvement, and we’re creating agility and value that can be passed along to our customers.”

scanplus GmbH
As a leading provider of managed cloud services in Germany, scanplus delivers to Deutsche Telekom business customers carrier-grade cloud services with rock-solid service level agreements throughout Europe. scanplus wanted to provide Deutsche Telekom customers with a “cloud in a box” that offered options and full automation and delivery through a self-service portal. scanplus chose Cisco ACI to address these needs, and will also benefit from a network fabric that scales to multiple sites, with single pane-of-glass management and automation.  Because scanplus is supporting a large number of business customers in a shared cloud environment, data protection and strict tenant segmentation are essential.   Designed for secure multi-tenancy, Cisco ACI makes it possible for applications and users to share the same infrastructure without leaking information across tenant boundaries.

“With Cisco ACI, we have full segmentation of each tenant, and can also reference other tenant objects within a tenant while maintaining isolation, which makes them private, separated, and highly secure,” said Stefan Daiber, head of architecture at scanplus.

Using Cisco ACI multi-site functionality, scanplus is also in the process of extending its network fabric to multiple data centers.  Because the solution works with any vendor’s hypervisor, it can easily accommodate the different systems in each location.

“The openness of Cisco ACI is a big benefit,” said Daiber.  “It doesn’t just support any hypervisor, but also all of the network equipment surrounding the hypervisor.  It gives us a tremendous amount of choice and flexibility.”

Tieto Oyj
Tieto Oyj, headquartered in Finland, is a Nordic software and services company.   Tieto has deployed Cisco ACI as a Layer 2 fabric in six data centers in three countries.  Tieto’s growth strategy is to shift from providing basic services to also delivering an outstanding experience for its customers. That means being able to deliver services quickly and making it possible to build anything on the application level that a customer wants-without being hindered by the underlying physical infrastructure.

Tieto selected Cisco ACI solution to ensure a holistic architecture with centralized automation and policy-driven application profiles. Using the Cisco ACI unified policy model, the team enforces policy through endpoint groups (EPGs), a collection of network endpoints that includes a wide range of entities, including bare-metal servers, virtual machines, and containers.

“Cisco ACI provides a foundation that we can build on to channel innovation into new services,” said Juha Syrjänen, Head of Connectivity Services Business at Tieto. “We’ll be able to quickly and efficiently deliver basic connectivity services, while building a new connectivity ecosystem between our customers, their other partners, and Tieto.”

Ritter Communications
Headquartered in the United States, Ritter Communications serves more than 45,000 customers in rural Arkansas and Tennessee with advanced voice and data services typically only found in major metropolitan areas.  Although Ritter Communications has provided local phone service since 1906, sheer connectivity doesn’t deliver the revenues it once did.  Ritter needed to deliver a new set of business-focused cloud services to drive revenue growth.  But Ritter had limited operational experience with cloud services, and so did its customers.

“We serve a very rural market, and many network managers are tied to their servers.  They wouldn’t feel comfortable putting everything in the public cloud,” said Greg Sunderwood, vice president of engineering at Ritter Communications.   “We wanted more differentiation on the front end and more control on the back end.”

Ritter’s Hosted Solutions team found the answer in Cisco Cloud Architecture for the Microsoft Cloud Platform.  The integrated solutions feature a combination of Cisco ACI, Windows Azure Pack, and Cisco Unified Computing Systems (UCS®).

“We essentially pull the public cloud into a customer’s environment,” says Brandon Fergerson, senior cloud engineer at Ritter Communications.  “Microsoft Azure is the customer-facing management console, and Cisco ACI handles back end infrastructure and network management.”

The Hosted Solutions team has gone from manual provisioning to 100 percent virtual deployments, and customer spending for the new services is 50 to 60 percent higher than Ritter anticipated.

“We’ve turned server-hugging skepticism into cloud-first approaches,” Fergerson says.  “I see it all the time.  The subscriptions start with just one low-risk server, then it seems like every time I check back on that tenant, they are adding more and more resources in the cloud as the trust grows.  The Ritter cloud is a simple, customer-friendly, highly automated offering, and it’s been the catalyst for a mind shift-for us and our customers.”

Additional Resources
Read case study: NTT Communications
Read case study:  T-Systems
Read case study:  scanplus GmbH
Read case study: Hosters
Read case study:  Tieto Oyj
Read case study:  Ritter Communications
Learn more about: Cisco ACI
Learn more about Cisco ACI ecosystem partners
Learn more about: Cisco data center technology

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Lockdown 2.0 – Here’s how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room

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Lockdown 2.0 – Here's how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room 1

By Jeff Carlson, author of The Photographer’s Guide to Luminar 4 and Take Control of Your Digital Photos

suggests “the product you’re creating is not the camera, the lens or a webcam’s clever industrial design. It’s the subject, you, which is just on e part of the entire image they see. You want that image to convey quality, not convenience.”

Technology experts at Reincubate saw an opportunity in the rise of remote-working video calls and developed the app, Camo, to improve the video quality of our webcam calls. As part of this, they consulted the digital photography expert and author, Jeff Carlson, to reveal how we can look our best online. 

It’s clear by now that COVID-19 has normalised remote working, but as part of this the importance of video calls has risen exponentially. While we’re all used to seeing the more casual sides of our colleagues (t-shirt and shorts, anyone?), poor webcam quality is slightly less forgivable.

But how can we improve how we look on video? We consulted Jeff Carlson for some top tips– here is what he had to say.

  1. Improve the picture quality of your call

The better your camera, the higher quality your webcam calls will be. Most webcams (as well as currently being hard to get hold of and expensive), are subpar. A DSLR setup will give you the best picture, but will cost $1,500+. You can also use your iPhone’s amazing camera as a webcam, using the new app from Reincubate, Camo.

Jeff’s comments “The iPhone’s camera system features dedicated coprocessors for evaluating and adjusting the image in real time. Apple has put a tremendous amount of work into its imaging software as a way to compensate for the necessarily small camera sensors. Although it all works in service of creating stills and video, you get the same benefits when using the iPhone as a webcam.”

Aidan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Reincubate explains why the team created Camo, “Earlier this year our team moved to working remotely, and in video calls everyone looked pretty bad, irrespective of whether they were on built-in Mac webcams or third-party ones. Thus began my journey to build Camo: an iPhone has one of the world’s best cameras in it, so could we make it work as a webcam? Category-leading webcams are noticeably worse than an iPhone 7. This makes sense: six weeks of Apple’s R&D spend tops Logitech’s annual gross revenue.”

  1. Place your camera at eye level

A video call will never quite be the same as a face-to-face conversation, but bringing your camera up to eye level is a good place to start. That can involve putting your laptop on a stand or pile of books, mounting a webcam to the top of your display screen, or even using a tripod to get the perfect position.

Jeff points out, “If the camera is looking down on you, you’ll appear minimized in the frame; if it’s looking up, you’re inviting people to focus on your chin, neck, or nostrils. Most important, positioning the camera off your eye level is a distraction. Look them in the eye, even if they’re miles or continents away.

Lockdown 2.0 – Here's how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room 2

Low camera placement from a MacBook

  1. Make the most of natural lighting

Be aware of the lighting in the room and move yourself to face natural lighting if you can. Positioning the camera so any natural light is behind you takes the light away from your face, which can make it harder to see and read expressions on a call.

Jeff Carlson’s top tip: “If the light from outside is too harsh, diffuse it and create softer shadows by tacking up a white sheet or a stand-alone diffuser over the window.” 

Lockdown 2.0 – Here's how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room 3Lockdown 2.0 – Here's how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room 4

Backlit against a window Facing natural light

  1. Use supplementary lighting like ring lights

The downside to natural lighting is that you’re at the mercy of the elements: if it’s too bright you’ll have the sun in your eyes, if it’s too dark you won’t be well lit.

Jeff recommends adding supplementary lighting if you’re looking to really enhance your video calls. After all, it looks like remote working will be carrying on for quite some time.

“The light can be just as easy as a household or inexpensive work light. Angle the light so it’s bouncing off a wall or the ceiling, depending on your work area, which, again, diffuses the light and makes it more flattering.

Or, for a little money, use a softbox or a shoot-through umbrella with daylight bulbs (5500K temperature), or if space is tight, LED panels. Larger lights are better for distributing illumination– don’t be afraid to get them in close to you. Placement depends on the look you’re going after; start by positioning one at a 45-degree angle in front and to the side of you, which lights most of your face while retaining nice shadow detail.” 

In some cases, a ring light may work best. LEDs are arranged in a circle, with space in the middle to put the camera’s lens and get direct illumination from the direction of the camera.

  1. Centre yourself in the frame

Make sure you’re getting the right angle and that you’re using the frame effectively.

“You should aim for people to see your head and part of your torso, not all the space between your hair and the ceiling. Leave a little space above your head so it’s not cut off, but not enough that someone’s eyes are going to drift there.”

  1. Be mindful of your backdrop

It’s not always easy to get the quiet space needed for video calls when working from home, but try as best you can to remove anything too distracting from your background.

“Get rid of clutter or anything that’s distracting or unprofessional, because you can bet that will be the second thing the viewers notice after they see you. (The Twitter account @RateMySkypeRoom is an amusing ongoing commentary on the environments people on television are connecting from.)”

A busy background as seen by a webcam

  1. Make the most of virtual backgrounds

If you’re really struggling with finding a background that looks professional, try using a virtual background.

Jeff suggests: “Some apps can identify your presence in the scene and create a live mask that enables you to use an entirely different image to cover the background. While it’s a fun feature, the quality of the masking is still rudimentary, even with a green screen background that makes this sort of keying more accurate.”

  1. Be aware of your audio settings

Our laptop webcams, cameras, and mobile phones all include microphones, but if it’s at all possible, use a separate microphone instead.

“That can be an inexpensive lavalier mic, a USB microphone, or a set of iPhone earbuds. You can also get wireless lavalier models if you’re moving around during a call, such as presenting at a whiteboard in the camera’s field of view.

The idea is to get the microphone closer to your mouth so it’s recording what you say, not other sounds or echoes in the room. If you type during meetings, mount the mic on an arm instead of resting it on the same surface as your keyboard.”

  1. Be wary of video app add-ons

Video apps like Zoom include a ‘Touch up your appearance’ option in the Video settings. This applies a skin-smoothing filter to your face, but more often than not, the end result looks artificially blurry instead of smooth.

“Zoom also includes settings for suppressing persistent and intermittent background noise, and echo cancellation. They’re all set to Auto by default, but you can choose how aggressive or not the feature is.”

  1. Be the best looking person in the virtual room

What’s important to remember about video calls at this point in time is that most people are new to what is, really, personal broadcasting. That means you can easily get an edge, just by adopting a few suggestions in this article. When your video and audio quality improves, people will take notice.

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Bringing finance into the 21st Century – How COVID and collaboration are catalysing digital transformation

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By Keith Phillips, CEO of TISATech

If just six or seven months ago someone had told you that in a matter of weeks people around the world would be locked down in their homes, trying to navigate modern work systems from a prehistoric laptop, bickering with family over who’s hogging the Wi-Fi, migrating online to manage all financial services digitally, all while washing their hands every five minutes in fear of a global pandemic… You’d think they had lost their mind. But this very quickly became the reality for huge swathes of the world and we’re about to go through that all over again as the UK government has asked that those who can work from home should.

Unsurprisingly, statistics show that lockdown restrictions introduced by the UK government in March, led to a sharp increase in people adopting digital services. Banks encouraged its customers to log onto online banking, as they limited (and eventually halted) services at branches. This forced many customers online as their primary means of managing personal finances for the first time.

If anyone had doubts before, the Covid-19 pandemic proved to us the importance of well-functioning, effective digital financial services platforms, for both financial institutions and the people using them.

But with this sudden mass online migration, it’s become clear that traditional banks have struggled to keep up with servicing clients virtually. Legacy banking systems have always stilted the digitisation of financial services, but the pandemic thrust this issue into the limelight. Fintech firms, which focus intently on digital and mobile services, knew it was only a matter of time before financial institutions’ reliance was to increase at an unprecedented rate.

For years, fintechs have been called upon by traditional players to find solutions to problems borne from those clunky legacy systems, like manual completion of account changes and money transfers. Now it is the demand for these services to be online coupled with the need for financial services firms to cut costs, since Covid-19 hit the economy.

Covid-19 has catalysed the urgent need to bring digital transformation to a wider pool of financial services businesses. Customers now have even higher expectations of larger institutions, demanding that they keep up with what the younger and more nimble challengers have to offer. Industry leaders realise that they must transform their businesses as soon as possible, by streamlining and digitising operations to compete and, ultimately, improve services for their customers.

The race for digital acceleration began far before the recent pandemic – in fact, following the 2008 financial crisis is likely more accurate. Since the credit crunch, there has been a wave of new fintech firms, full of young, bright techies looking to be the next big thing. Fintechs have marketed themselves hard at big conferences and expos or by hosting ‘hackathons’, trying to prove themselves as the fastest, most innovative or the most vital to the future of the industry.

However, even during this period where accelerating innovation in online financial services and legacy systems is crucial, the conditions brought about by the pandemic have not been conducive to this much-needed transformation.

The second issue, which again was clear far before the pandemic, is that fact that no matter how nimble or clever the fintechs’ solutions are, it is still hard to implement the solutions seamlessly, as the sector is highly fragmented with banks using extremely outdated systems populated with vast amounts of data.

With the significance of the pandemic becoming more and more clear, and the need for better digital products and services becoming more crucial to financial services firms and consumers by the day, the industry has finally come together to provide a solution.

The TISAtech project was launched last month by The Investing and Saving Alliance (TISA), a membership organisation in the UK with more than 200 leading financial institutions as members. TISA asked The Disruption House, a specialist benchmarking and data analytics business, to create a clearing house platform for the industry to help it more effectively integrate new financial technology. The project aims to enhance products and services while reducing friction and ultimately lowering costs which are passed on to the customers.

With nearly 4,000 fintechs from around the world participating, it will be the world’s largest marketplace dedicated to Open Finance, Savings, and Investment.

Not only will it provide a ‘matchmaking’ service between financial institutions an fintechs, it will also host a sandbox environment. Financial institutions can pose real problems with real data and the fintechs are given the space to race to the bottom – to find the most constructive, cost-effective solution.

Yes, there are other marketplaces, but they all seem to struggle to achieve a return on investment. There is a genuine need for the ‘Trivago’ of financial technology – a one stop shop, run by an independent body, which can do more than just matchmaking. It needs to go above and beyond to encompass the sandboxing, assessments, profiling of fintechs to separate the wheat from the chaff, and provide a space for true collaboration.

The pandemic has taught us that we are more effective if we work together. We need mass support and collaboration to find solutions to problems. Businesses and industries are no different. If fintechs and financial institutions can work together, there is a real chance that we can start to lessen the economic hit for many businesses and consumers by lowering costs and streamlining better services and products. And even if it is just making it that little bit easier to manage personal finances from home when fighting with your children for the Wi-Fi, we are making a difference.

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What to Know Before You Expand Across Borders

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What to Know Before You Expand Across Borders 6

By Sean King, Director of International Tax at McGuire Sponsel

The American retail giant, Target Corporation, has a market cap of $64 billion and access to seemingly limitless resources and advisors. So, when the company engaged in its first global expansion, how could anything possibly go wrong?

Less than two years after opening its first Canadian store in 2013, Target shut down all133 Canadian locations and terminated more than 17,000 Canadian employees.

Expansion of an operation to another country can create unique challenges that may impact the financial viability of the entire enterprise. If Target Corporation can colossally fail in its expansion to Canada, how might Mom ‘N’ Pop LLC fare when expanding into Switzerland, Singapore, or Australia?

Successful global expansion requires an understanding of multilayered taxes, regulatory hurdles, employment laws, and cultural nuances. Fortunately, with the right guidance, global expansion can be both possible and profitable for businesses of any size.

Permanent establishment

Any company with global ambitions must first consider whether the company’s expansion outside of the U.S. will give rise to a taxable presence in the local country. In the cross-border context, a “permanent establishment” can be created in a local country when the enterprise reaches a certain level of activity, which is problematic because it exposes the U.S. multinational to taxation in the foreign country.

Foreign entity incorporation

To avoid permanent establishment risk, many U.S. multinationals choose to operate overseas through a formal corporate subsidiary, which reduces the company’s foreign income tax exposure, though it may result in an additional level of foreign income tax on the subsidiary’s earnings. In most jurisdictions, multinationals can operate their business in the foreign country as a branch, a pass through (e.g., partnership,) or a corporation.

As a branch, the U.S. multinational does not create a subsidiary in the foreign country. It holds assets, employees, and bank accounts under its own name. With a pass through, the U.S. multinational creates a separate entity in the foreign country that is treated as a partnership under the tax law of the foreign country but not necessarily as a partnership under U.S. tax law.

U.S. multinationals can also create corporate subsidiaries in the foreign country treated as corporations under the tax law of both the foreign country and the U.S., with possibly two levels of income taxation in the foreign country plus U.S. income taxation of earnings repatriated to the U.S. as dividends.

Check-the-box planning

Under U.S. entity classification rules, certain types of entities can “check the box” to elect their classification to be taxed as a corporation with two levels of tax, a partnership with pass-through taxation, or even be disregarded for U.S. federal income tax purposes. The check the box election allows U.S. multinationals to engage in more effective global tax planning.

Toll charges, transfer pricing and treaties

When establishing a foreign corporate subsidiary, the U.S. multinational will likely need to transfer certain assets to the new entity to make it fully operational. However, in many cases, the U.S. multinational cannot perform the transfer without recognizing taxable income. In the international context, the IRS imposes certain outbound “toll charges” on the transfer of appreciated property to a foreign entity, which are usually provided for in IRC Section 367 and subject to various exceptions and nuances.

Instead, the U.S. multinational may prefer to license intellectual property to the foreign subsidiary for a fee rather than transfer the property outright. However, licensing requires the company and foreign subsidiary to adhere to transfer pricing rules, as dictated by IRC Section 482. The U.S. multinational and the foreign subsidiary must interact in an arms-length manner regarding pricing and economic terms. Furthermore, any such arrangement may attract withholding taxes when royalties are paid across a border.

Are you GILTI?

Certain U.S. multinationals opt to focus on deferring the income recognition at the U.S. level. In doing so, they simply leave overseas profits overseas and delay repatriating any of the earnings to the U.S.

Despite the general merits of this form of planning, U.S. multinationals will be subject to certain IRS anti-deferral mechanisms, commonly known as “Subpart F” and GILTI. Essentially, U.S. shareholders of certain foreign corporations are forced to recognize their pro rata share of certain types of income generated by these foreign entities at the time the income is earned instead of waiting until the foreign entity formally repatriates the income to the U.S.

The end goal

Essentially, all effective international tax planning boils down to treasury management. Effective and early tax planning can properly allow a company to better achieve its initial goal: profitability.

If global expansion is on the horizon for your company, consult a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.

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