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As organizations rushed to implement a remote work environment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation created well-publicized constraints on IT systems, with remote video and conference calling systems feeling the greatest impact. Additionally, VPN and remote desktop, such as Citrix, environments have also experienced unprecedented demand challenges requiring IT departments to rapidly provision additional capacity in these environments.
While the long-term implications of COVID-19 on IT systems remain to be seen, these recent challenges have highlighted the unexpected shortcomings of most IT systems. Understanding the longer-term remote work business culture is key to establishing IT operations improvement plans.
Following is a starting point to begin addressing those key areas that will require specific remediation.
Readdress remote desktop with VDI
Over the years, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) has been difficult and expensive to deploy. Utilizing server-grade hardware and very high-performance storage, return on investments (ROI) have been difficult to justify, as many of these types of projects fail. However, with new Desktop as a Service (DaaS) cloud offerings, along with additional best practices from the on-site options, VDI may be a solution worth revisiting. DaaS / VDI improves accessibility by allowing users to access their desktop computers from any device or location that has internet connectivity, regardless of the type of device or operating system (Android, iOS, phone, tablet, desktop, laptop computer, etc.). Other advantages of DaaS / VDI include lower maintenance costs, increased security, improved business continuity, better centralized control and tracking of devices, which can potentially deliver better ROI on desktop computing investments.
Outside of remote user and conferencing capacity constraints, other systems may require increased capacity. Websites, portals, intranet and other systems may have seen increased workload due to customer needs or internal changes of employees’ daily work. Utilizing elastic cloud capabilities can address many of these issues. With cloud (or virtualized) elastic computing, capacity can be adjusted (increased or reduced) “on the fly,” which can lead to reduced costs when demand is low and improved performance when demand is high.
Security impact on remote work
Some organizations have sensitive, high security environments under regulatory requirements that constrain remote workers. While updates from those regulatory organizations are unknown, companies may be able to pursue novel and compliant approaches for remote work. Collaborating with auditors and regulatory agencies may open options, including highly restrictive environments that still allow key functions to be performed remotely.
Business continuity coordination
While most companies did not activate Disaster Recovery (DR) plans under COVID-19, there are many technical lessons from the business continuity teams that may drive new IT requirements. Geographic disbursement of resources and the inability to perform functions manually are particularly challenging areas. Some of these are easier to solve than others and will depend largely on the architecture of the applications and underlying systems. Business continuity capabilities can be enhanced via the cloud (DaaS, Software as a Service, Platform as a Service, Infrastructure as a Serivce, geographically dispersed availability zones, etc.). However, the requirement to have work done manually can be particularly challenging when it comes to the management of terrestrial (non-cloud) data centers.
Data center personnel
Some companies allow staff into their data center space due to the need for different skillsets, such as network cabling, crash carts for servers, tape management and other management functions. However, this approach may not be an option in a COVID-19-like scenario. It may become necessary to treat the data center as a lights-off operation where only very specific personnel have access. This “low manual touch” solution has the advantage of combining an increased security profile along with fewer employees in the data center, potentially leading to lower costs and reduced risks. Deployment of specialized management tools, such as out-of-band server management, and specifying data center staff as responsible for cabling, are examples of steps required to deploy a lights-off operation. Additionally, companies can utilize collocation facilities that provide those remote hands functions. Migrating to the cloud will eliminate the need to send your staff into a data center. So, COVID-19 might be a truly compelling motivation to begin that cloud transformation project.
Along with VPNs, in-bound internet connectivity to support remote work has felt the strain. Some internet service providers (ISPs) are flexible and can add bandwidth fairly easily, while others find it far more difficult. Additionally, underlying hardware may require upgrades to support the additional bandwidth. Consider upgrading your company’s internet WAN/LAN solutions, which might involve replacing routers, switches, firewalls, or switching your current ISP. Serious consideration may even be given to using more than one carrier for internet connectivity (i.e. carrier redundancy).
Availability of hardware
With most IT manufacturing being conducted overseas and the current disruption of supply chains, delivering on projects can be affected dramatically. IT organizations may have to revisit some of their priorities along with infrastructure teams considering alternatives, such as cloud services, ordering used equipment, or accepting risky increases in the utilization of existing resources. Like other situations, short-term fixes may be needed while medium and long-term solutions may require more analysis and consideration. For example, computing resources that were intended for new applications may need to be reallocated to support existing legacy systems. Of course, what “fix” is needed will depend on the specific difficulty or scenario being encountered.
Based on the current (and potentially future) levels of uncertainty and volatility, the old ways of operating based on longer term planning under more predictable circumstances may not work. An organization’s ability to be more Agile may be crucial to success in a COVID-19 and post-pandemic world. Organizations should consider the adoption of Agile, Lean and DevOps best practices (Scrum, SAFe, Kanban, Extreme Programming, CI/CD pipeline, etc.) for survival in the future.
The long-term implications on IT are currently unknown, especially if COVID-19 is a seasonal virus without a near-term cure. For the near term, some quick fixes like provisioning additional storage or network bandwidth capacity may help to get companies through the current storm. Once (or if) things return to “normal,” companies that discouraged working from home before the pandemic, may become more lenient in their polices. As with most IT projects, understanding the overall corporate strategy will be necessary to deploy effective solutions.
Short-term solutions that your organization has already implemented (or is currently considering) may suffice as stop-gap measures. However, at some point, a longer-term strategy will be required to meet the continually changing needs of the business. Incorporating the pandemic realities, corporate strategy, and IT requirements, as well as many aspects of IT architecture, infrastructure, and application development may require significant retooling to respond to future crises.