Working remotely, whether from home, the local coffee shop or a co-working space is a big trend. As a result, many enterprises are converting their office spaces and even getting rid of providing a fixed desk per employee. Having this kind of workspace flexibility and freedom in how to structure their workday is a priority for many modern workers, especially for Millennials and Gen Z. This shift in strategy may be critical for attracting and retaining talent into the future.
In the past, it was often only the largest enterprises that could afford to put the systems in place to make flex-time, work from home options, or entirely remote workforces possible. For many small to medium enterprises, the logistics associated with remote access servers, VPNs, token systems for authentication, backing up home workers’ data, and implementing disaster recovery simply made remote working too costly. This has all changed in the cloud era, which is now allowing enterprises of almost any size to cost-effectively support part-time or full-time remote workers with the right resources.
For IT managers needing to set up cloud services for remote workers, there are a number of things to consider. These include services for hosting, security, backups and disaster recovery. Additionally, there are HR policies that need to change, extended employee training, new equipment and software licenses, and configuration of network access and permissions for these more mobile employees.
On the hosting front, the cloud solves one of the biggest issues — scaling. As employees become more mobile and move in and out of the office, the need for remote access infrastructure can become quite unpredictable. For instance, if a snowstorm closes schools, most of your staff may suddenly want to work from home. Fortunately, the cloud’s ability to scale on demand means that you can accommodate them.
Managed Cloud Services are based on multi-tenant virtual machines running environments such as VMWare, Hyper-V, and Nutanix. Because virtual machines can be spun up at a moment’s notice, you should have on-demand access to these resources with no practical limits. They are perfect environments for supporting business operations that are unpredictable such as remote work.
You may also want the option to use cloud infrastructure for more sensitive and predictable operations. The option may also be available to co-locate some of your own compute and storage hardware in the same facility alongside cloud infrastructure to create a hybrid cloud setup for added flexibility and security. Ideally, the two services can be bundled together in a single cost-effective offer.
On the most basic level, you will need your cloud supplier to provide the networking and data infrastructure to support remote workers. This includes remote access servers, data storage and operating software. This is known as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Your remote workers will need fully redundant private networking with direct, secure connectivity including VPNs and firewalls. If your operations are widely distributed, the cloud provider should be able to offer you multiple certified datacenter options along with clear service level agreements (SLAs).
One of the most challenging aspects of working from home is ensuring that data backups are running regularly and are error-free. Unlike the in-office desktop PC, home PCs and laptops are not connected to the LAN 24/7; this can make running and managing backups difficult. Fortunately, cloud-based backup services are always connected to the user’s machine. Thus, it is possible to run continuous or scheduled backups of the contents of the remote machine throughout the day. A good backup service should also offer an internal backup system for the machine as well.
SaaS applications, like Salesforce, Microsoft 365 or G Suite help to ensure that remote workers are keeping their data in the cloud, but these SaaS services also need to be included in the backup service landscape. Most SaaS providers do backup their servers, but these backups are often limited in scope and have few recovery points to restore from. Many SaaS providers won’t take responsibility for partially or fully restoring your data, especially in the common scenario where user error has caused a failure, corruption, or breach.
Without strict enforcement and training, many end users tend to save their files on their PCs in local folders like “My Documents” rather than on company servers. These machines are often turned off during normal backup windows which complicates data protection. To prevent data loss, IT managers should search for a workstation backup solution that offers resume and cache functionalities, along with the ability to back up locally saved workstation data.
With remote work, risks around email phishing and other security concerns increase. Thus, it is critical to have continuous backups of user data so that it is possible to restore previous versions of files and rollback user error or outside threats such as ransomware or crypto-type attacks.
Finally, it is critical to have a disaster recovery service (DRaaS). There are, after all, worse things than snow days. Flooding, fire, disgruntled employees and outside cyberattacks can shut down your business, sometimes costing you days and weeks to recover. As businesses and organizations pursue their digital transformation, the stakes are only mounting.
Remote workers and their data have to be included in the recovery plan. The disaster may be something that occurs in their home or co-working space and yet not affect any of your offices. To complicate matters, if you have a BYOD policy, they may be working off of their own machines. You will have to quickly replace non-standard laptops, tablets or other devices and restore their data.
DRaaS providers can not only protect your data assets; they can also provide an entire disaster recovery service. Your IT department will obviously want to take the lead on recovery efforts, but they probably won’t have a lot of experience doing it and might also be feeling the pressure.
A DRaaS provider should be able to help. After all, it is their day-to-day business to help businesses and organizations of all kinds and sizes to recover from these kinds of events. They should consult with you beforehand to put a disaster recovery process in place, and they can help save you many hours and days by guiding the IT team in the right direction when you need to recover.
Working remotely is becoming increasingly popular and for younger generations of workers, it is often viewed as essential. The good news is that supporting these new, more flexible work patterns is much easier and cost-effective with the cloud and managed services. This is not only making the workplace more flexible and attractive, it also enables you to on-board workers faster, accommodate partners and suppliers that are collaborating with you and, generally, make your business or organization more agile — as well as safe and secure.
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