IT and IoT convergence in action: the new era of physical environments with Cisco Meraki

In recent years, the convergence of Information Technology (IT) and the Internet of Things (IoT) has revolutionised the way we perceive and interact with the physical environment.

In this article, Jawaid Iqbal, our Head of Pre-sales and Solutions talks about the integration of IT and IoT convergence, which has given rise to a new era of interconnected, intelligent environments. We explore the transformative journey of Meraki, a company at the forefront of this convergence, and how their solutions are shaping the landscape of modern physical environments.

The Meraki story

Meraki, a subsidiary of Cisco, has been delivering cloud-managed IT solutions. Their expertise in IoT convergence emerged from a vision to collect intelligent, self-aware networks capable of adapting to the evolving needs of businesses and organisations.

Meraki has expanded its product portfolio, to include a wide range of IoT devices that seamlessly integrate with its cloud-managed networking solutions:

  • Smart cameras
  • Environmental sensors
  • Locational analytics devices

Merakis’ IoT offerings enable organisations to create intelligent, data-driven environments. For example, businesses can optimise energy usage based on real-time occupancy data collected by sensors, leading to significant cost savings.

Through a centralised cloud platform, organisations can oversee and govern their IT infrastructure and IoT devices. This not only simplifies network deployment and maintenance, but also facilitates real-time data analysis, enabling informed decision-making.

The importance of security

Security remains a paramount concern in the realm of IT and IoT convergence. Meraki addresses this challenge by providing robust security features into its solutions. Employing end-to-end encryption, threat detection, and automated security updates, Meraki ensures that connected environments are shielded from potential vulnerabilities.

They have recently expanded their Cisco Catalyst 9300-M-Cloud-Managed switching portfolio, adding new security capabilities. These devices will be managed natively from the Meraki dashboard, their first step towards full cloud management for their Catalyst switching portfolio.

Is your network infrastructure ready for the future growth of IoT devices?

Cisco Meraki state that by 2027, IoT devices are expected to grow by 50%. As the number of businesses deploying IoT devices increases, it could lead to network congestion and poor response times.

Businesses must ensure they have a resilient infrastructure in place, ready to handle the expected growth of IoT.

The convergence of IT and IoT impacts various industries, particularly in the context of smart spaces. In healthcare, Meraki’s solutions provide base for the development of smart hospitals equipped with interconnected medical devices, elevating patient care and operational efficiency. In the retail sector, intelligent networks facilitate personalised thorough location-based services and analytics.

At VCG, we can help you prepare for the future. We are technology and IT transformation specialists, with accredited partnership with Cisco.

To future-proof your networking and connectivity infrastructure: Speak with one of our experienced technical architects at

Time to Wise Up as Microsoft gets Tough on Pricing

EA discounts pulled and an 18% price rise imminent – but there is something you can do!

Price rises and EA discounts being pulled … licensing costs could increase by 35% … but there is something you can do!

By Matt Gifford, Microsoft Practice Lead at VCG

In this article I deal with the Microsoft price and Enterprise Agreement changes coming up in March 2023, and how to optimise your costs going forward.

Managing Change

To avoid Microsoft licence price rises at the start of 2022, many organisations signed new agreements ahead of the date to lock-in their existing discount for a further 12 months. It was an obvious thing to do, and it bought time to examine workforce licensing requirements in more detail.

But ‘kicking the can down the road’ means that eventually, you’ll catch up with it again – and that moment arrives in March 2023, and the start of the new fiscal year.

What this means for you …

Absorbing an 18% licensing price rise will be extremely unwelcome, coming – as it does- at a time when operating costs are soaring for all organisations, but to add insult to injury, we’ll be stung by a Microsoft ‘Double Whammy’, as there are wider changes and cost increases to swallow.

Microsoft Enterprise Agreements (EAs) provided a simple broad-brush option for organisations to access discounted licence costs. And whilst many companies intended to look more closely at services they were needlessly paying for, most didn’t – due to the notion that the discount they were receiving was sufficient.

Changes coming in January 23 mean that to qualify for a new EA, organisations must have over 2,400 users, and Microsoft now aim to deal directly with those larger organisations. If you have 2,399 users or less, then Enterprise Agreements are a thing of the past.

The 18% price hike will hit everyone, but simultaneously losing an EA discount will mean an increase in prices for many of around 35% in real terms.

Good News

For small and medium businesses (SMBs), the good news is that by working with an accredited Microsoft partner, known as a Cloud Solution Provider or CSP – you can still take advantage of discounted Microsoft licensing options.

Furthermore, it’s the perfect time for IT and purchasing managers to forensically examine the services they’re paying for. Managing complex licensing requirements has long been a tortuous experience, leading many companies to wave the white flag and put everyone the same deal, whether they need it or not.

Many CSPs simply managed the ordering and ceasing of licences and Large EA Partners also handle the annual ‘true up / true down’ process, to ensure that things were kept on an even keel.

We take a more proactive approach with our clients by finding the most appropriate commercial options and blends from the vast array of licensing deals available.

Keeping a close watch on market changes, and anticipating future issues and challenges is key to the value we add, and it’s always been core to our approach – and if alarm bells are ringing about your current arrangements, then perhaps we should have a conversation sooner rather than later.

A thorough understanding of the intricacies of licensing is a pre-requisite, and by working closely with clients to fully understand their operational needs, we tailor licensing packages to drive optimal productivity and value.

Key Takeaways

Many tariff plans and packages are not widely publicised or promoted, and blending options based on workforce need is the key to competitive licensing costs.

To optimise investment, it’s essential to monitor licensing throughout its lifecycle, not just at the point of renewal, and our on-going managed services and commercial health checks typically reduce licensing spend by around 45% – and we have the examples to prove it.

Having day-to-day involvement in licensing means we’re constantly watching and monitoring developments across the spectrum, and we do the aforementioned forensic examination for you, based on your specific requirements.

Optimising licensing costs is just one the services we provide and our Microsoft practice covers all aspects of collaboration, security, Azure cloud services, networking, and wider accredited IT services from global leading partnerships.

If you’d like an informal business conversation with me about any aspect of Microsoft business collaboration suite licensing, or any other aspect of IT services, then please contact me directly, I’ll be delighted to help you.

Click here to read more about our Microsoft services.

Datacentre, network, and collaboration services refresh

Experiencing new ways of driving business in retail: enhanced digital and in-store customer journeys

The pandemic has changed consumer behaviours, some permanently, reshaping the entire retail landscape; many customers have also tried new omnichannel models: buying online, picking up in-store (BOPIS) this grew 28% year-over-year in February compared with 18% in January, and grocery delivery up by 57%.

Consumers report high intention to continue using models such as BOPIS (56%) and grocery delivery (45%) after the pandemic.

COVID-19 has driven cloud spend up versus on-premises software spend down; this isn’t surprising as organisations turn to SaaS to move apps and data to the cloud, as business shifts online.

Creating a future-ready technology ecosystem

Implementing the right IT platforms, network functions or systems in the right sequence can help improve the experience and serve the needs of shoppers, whether in-store or digitally.

This means that while sometimes the business case may seem like a simple implementation and technology decision, the reality of redesigning your network architecture and optimising services, applications and workflows can have several implications on operational efficiency and security if poorly applied.

Fast and secure access to cloud-based software

Retail networks require fast and secure access to cloud-based software, from anywhere at any time, from any number of locations. SD-WAN connectivity provides a single pane of glass that consolidates multi-vendor environments into one cohesive and connected platform.

Built on SD-WAN connectivity, a bespoke store network solution such as the one we developed for Poundland illustrates how this is achieved and the opportunities it provides such as: enabling fast, secure, and reliable access to cloud-based software that can be used from anywhere.

Enabling a consolidated customer journey

Solutions such as SD-WAN and secure wireless access to enterprise-class Wi-Fi for guests, side by side with business networks, can be a game-changer for retailers looking to secure omnichannel environments. Resilient network capabilities and in-store wireless access are key to achieving this.

Why VCG for retail?

Our expertise in the retail sector and multi-vendor relationships enable us to offer seamless solutions, unrivalled engineering capability, delivering technology for retail transformation at scale.

We provide industry-leading capabilities and a lower total cost of ownership when evaluating an acquisition, training costs, deployment, and operations. This helps decision-makers achieve business value, improve operational and cost efficiency and better manage transformational challenges.

Read more to find out how to strengthen or implement an enhanced in-store and online customer experience.

The British Heart Foundation

How smart is your warehouse? Six ways IoT connectivity can raise your retail game and drive sales

We’ve all seen them – the hyper-connected smart warehouses packed with robots which have been pioneered by the likes of Amazon and Ocado. Now conventional brick-and-mortar retailers are increasingly investing their warehouse budgets in Internet of Things (IoT) solutions in a bid to drive revenues. Last year alone UK retailers spent more than £1bn on warehouse automation. That spend is predicted to rise 11% year-on-year at least until 2025.
John Lewis is a prime example of a UK retailer betting big on IoT warehouse connectivity. The high street retail giant is continuing to develop a two-million-square-foot distribution centre in Milton Keynes where omnichannel orders from multiple departments are picked and packed autonomously. In practice this means John Lewis can combine clothing, homeware and electricals in one customer shipment, saving time, money and reducing the environmental impact of delivery.
Retailers now need to install the digital network infrastructure necessary to unlock the benefits of smart warehouses. Here are six ways that IoT warehouse connectivity will help you raise your retail game and drive revenue:

IoT will help you get omnichannel match fit

Modern omnichannel customers have incredibly high expectations. They take it for granted the products advertised in-store and online are immediately available and they want their order fulfilled through the most convenient channels and with the absolute minimum of delay.

This has long been a stumbling block for brick-and-mortar retailers looking to sell online, but smart tag solutions now provide an answer. IoT warehouse technology such as RFID gives the retailer a highly accurate real-time view of the number and location of SKUs they have in stock across their estate. This means both the retailer and customer can be confident that displayed stock levels are accurate. The retailer can locate SKUs immediately and fulfil orders in a fraction of the time.

Fashion retailer River Island is just one of many stores that attach RFID tags to all of their stock. Prior to RFID, River Island was achieving a stock accuracy level of around 70%, but this is now as high as 98%. Meanwhile Marks and Spencer has reported a 5.5% increase in sales following its adoption of RFID.

RFID tags can store considerably larger data volumes than barcodes. This includes SKU size, manufacturer, expiration date, serial number, production line, and so on. An average RFID reader also has a higher speed than a barcode reader and can scan up to 200 tags at once.

Accurate IoT fulfilment opens up a world of alternative omnichannel distribution models – potentially turning any store or warehouse into a distribution hub or converting uneconomical retail outlets into so-called ‘dark store’ mini fulfilment centres.

IoT boosts warehouse productivity

Warehouse management systems (WMS) are widely used by retailers to monitor inventory-related activities, but most are driven by ERP systems which rely on time-consuming, labour-intensive and error-prone processes. When IoT devices are integrated into a WMS however, they take warehouse management to the next level. That’s because smart warehouse solutions are designed to monitor inventory, gather data and generate tasks accurately, autonomously and fast.

Warehouse data is accurately harvested, processed and analysed within seconds before a condensed inventory (or other warehouse-related data) is shared with the end-user via a user-friendly dashboard.

This warehouse data can be used alongside real-time customer orders to automate and streamline warehouse tasking and workforce allocation. Various workforce management systems use artificial intelligence to calculate the most efficient way of picking orders and they then task employees via smartwatches, mobile phones and tablets. Employee performance can also be monitored and incentivised to ensure the best results.

Get to grips with perishable stock damage and waste

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization states that one-third of all foods perish in transit as supply chain managers fail to create proper storage conditions during transportation and delivery. That’s bad news for retailer profits and bad news for the planet.

IoT systems for warehouses and transportation can track and automatically adjust the temperature, atmospheric pressure, moisture, and other properties that could jeopardize the integrity of transported goods. They can also accurately monitor sell-by dates and ensure the right stock hits the shop floor at the best possible moment, protecting profits and increasing customer satisfaction.

Ensure warehouse business continuity with predictive maintenance

Modern warehouses rely on a complex array of systems to ensure the best storage conditions for stock, as well as a safe and productive working environment for employees. These systems include refrigeration units, lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) to name but a few.

These systems can quickly waste money if they’re not managed properly and they can even halt operations if they fail. When warehouse hardware is equipped with IoT smart sensors however, the data can be used to instantly detect failures or performance issues. Artificial intelligence can also interrogate this data and predict when equipment failure is likely to happen, so that pre-emptive maintenance can prevent unnecessary expense and unplanned downtime.

Take full control of your supply and distribution chains

A warehouse capable of tracking stock levels in real time right down to individual SKUs gives retailers a powerful opportunity to reimagine their supply chains.

For a start, high-confidence IoT-generated data means retailers can switch to a lean supply chain model, reducing their on-premise stock levels and significantly cutting costs. It also means that retailers can switch to a demand-driven, customer-centric supply model more easily – stocking what they sell, rather than attempting to sell what they stock.

This achieved by monitoring customers’ buying signals the length of their path to purchase and translating these signals in real time to warehouse actions. This could mean, for example, ordering more stock from suppliers, fulfilling orders faster, locating SKUs across the retailers estate to name but a few.

IoT-generated warehouse data also enables retailers to keep a closer eye on supplier performance and identify potential supply chain bottlenecks before they escalate. For instance, this can be achieved by monitoring and collecting data on late and incorrect deliveries so they can be raised with a supplier in a timely manner.

Pioneer innovative retail models with the help of IoT

Granular IoT-generated warehouse data can enable retailers to become significantly more innovative with their inventories and assortments. For example greater IoT-driven fulfilment speed and agility in the warehouse makes it possible to support in-season capsule collections in fashion retail, pop-up stores which may only trade for a month or two and stores which change their inventory on a regular basis. Nike’s LA concept store is one such example. It’s store assortment changes every two weeks and is based on local NikePlus members’ online browsing and purchasing behaviour.

Contact VCG to find out if your digital networks are robust and secure enough to support IoT devices and deliver the benefits of a smart warehouse. Connecting to cloud solutions does increase cybersecurity risk, but VCG provides the additional protection your network needs. We also offer solutions to ensure your brand is fully connected and your network is scalable, flexible and can be fully managed with 24/7 service and technical support. Get in touch to find out how we can help your business grow.

Hyperconvergence – Top tips for success

The hyperconverged market is heating up. With the speed, simplicity, and agility needed for a digital economy, HCI solutions are more efficient and deliver a better experience for end users.

Not all HCI solutions were created equal

What’s the best solution, and how do you maximise the potential performance? It’s a crowded market place out there, with vendors competing for market share. The real question is – what’s the best solution for your business? What will enable you to overcome your specific challenges and enable your goals?

Our Data Centre and Virtualisation consultant, Joost Buelens, highlights the key considerations when looking to HCI:

  • How much compute and storage power are required to provide HCI services? Utlising the virtualisation host compute resources to provide storage services is the principal foundation behind all HCI solutions. Yet the amount of resource overhead consumed varies amongst HCI solutions, so always consider how much workload your HCI solution can support.
  • Network integration. What networking does the solution include? Optimal network performance is essential for a proper functioning HCI solution. To be fault tolerant, all data written to any node must be sent across the network to at least one other node, making it a vital part of the system. Some HCI solutions have the network built in, if not, you may need to invest in additional switches.
  • Fault tolerance. How does the solution provide fault tolerance? Some solutions use traditional RAID methods locally on each node, whereas others rely on replicating data to different nodes to provide fault tolerance. Differing strategies mean that some solutions will better handle multiple component failure than others which will impact resilience.
  • Deduplication and Compression. Does the solution use storage efficiency techniques to increase the amount of data that can be stored? In some HCI architectures, enabling dedupe and compression can be beneficial for performance – on write, compression means less data is sent to the disk, and using dedupe means only metadata needs to be updated. If the solution does not have compression and dedupe, you may need to purchase more nodes for a certain amount of data.
  • Orchestration & Automation support. How much manual work is required to get the solution to achieve what you want – both at installation and in operation? Consider how much resource you have available in your teams to manage the solution at installation and going forward. Can you integrate your HCI platform with any automation tools you are currently using?
  • HyperVisor support. This one is quite simple. While some solutions only support ESXi, others will additionally support HyperV.
  • Node Sizing. Can you buy or build nodes sized correctly for your requirements? If nodes are limited to a set number of small sizes, you could be paying for more compute than you need to get a certain amount of storage, or vice versa. The right HCI solution should allow you to scale economically as you grow.
  • Backup and replication. Some solutions have some backup and/or replication services built-in. Others are supported by popular backup products, so it’s important to consider how to back up the HCI solution and how to replicate data for site resilience – some HCI solutions may even be able replace your current backup solution.

With multiple factors to consider, our consultants first listen to what you want to achieve, combining our commercial and technical expertise to design, implement, and manage the right HCI solution to support your specific requirements.

Speak to our experienced consultants and tell us your goals.

Book a free consultation for your business today Get in touch