Covid-19 Applies Pressure on Networks to Transform Remote Work

by Seshu Venkata, General Manager and VirtuaDesk Global Practice Head, Wipro

Covid-19 has caused a lot of disruption globally. Leading companies have cancelled events, asked employees to curtail non-essential business travel and encouraged them to work from home. In China, the epicenter of the outbreak, millions of employees are now working from home for the first time in history.

Someone once famously said, “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” In the wake of the Covid-19 or the coronavirus pandemic, information technology is faced with an interesting opportunity to rethink how employees operate and how IT infrastructure can be redesigned around a workforce that is increasingly mobile and remote.

In a recent interview, flipping the remote working switch is now something we all need to consider. Citrix CIO Meerah Rajavel mentioned that the power of adaptation will be essential for managers amid the crisis. When people start working remote, their behavior changes.

“I expect our audio videoconference use is going to go through the roof,” said Rajavel, in the interview with CIO Dive. “I expect certain types of software and file transfers are going to go higher. That absolutely means that I need to administer resources dynamically.”

The power of adaptation will be essential for managers amid the crisis. When people start working remote, their behavior changes, Citrix CIO Meerah Rajavel said. 

Beyond Covid-19: Increasing need and popularity of remote work

There has been a steady increase in remote work (almost 400% in the past decade) owing to a changing technology landscape: powerful mobile devices, cloud storage, SaaS applications and emergent 5G networks. With Gen Z entering the workforce by 2030, Gartner predicts that the demand for remote work will increase by almost 30%. Per a recent survey, 55% of workers indicated having cancelled their travel plans and 40% plan on increasing their use of video conferencing tools. As others follow suit and remote work increases in popularity, understanding how to harness the challenges faced, Quartz and Citrix have produced guidance on the “Anywhere Workforce” to help guide through the maze of challenges to remain secure and efficient when remote working.


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Businesses need better remote access

But what if suddenly hundreds and thousands of remote workers access infrastructure that is only built for a small number of remote workers?  Can the technology cope with the extra load? How do you address this in your BCP strategy?

Let’s not forget that remote workers need access to applications that are not only on public networks, but also on private cloud such as ERP, CRM, accounting systems, intranets and more. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to access data and applications that enables remote workers to do their jobs.

Traditionally virtual private network solutions have been the most commonly used technology for remote workers. However, VPN has its inherent pitfalls:

  • VPNs are a popular vector for cyberattacks. VPNs encrypt data (in transit) from point A to point B, but it does not protect employee devices. If someone hacks the device or steals VPN credentials, hackers can easily steal company data.
  • VPNs can easily get overloaded as they are not typically built to scale well. In case of a pandemic or if suddenly 500,000 employees use a VPN, it will likely crash.
  • Since VPN reroutes internet traffic via VPN servers, internet speeds are dramatically reduced, affecting bandwidth-hungry audio and video applications. This will most likely bring productivity to a screeching halt.

Potential solutions like DirectAccess have also been talked about in the past, however, they too are plagued with similar scalability, security and performance issues like that of VPNs.

Emerging technologies like Cloud-based Desktop Virtualization (VDI) hold promise

DJI, sponsored by Citrix, undertook a comprehensive global survey of 1,000 senior and HR executives. employers across the globe were found to place great emphasis on the transformation of the employee experience through technological solutions, with 74% of respondents rating it as a high or top priority versus only 4% rating it as low/no priority

With cloud-based VDI, end users log into a virtual PC that is connected to the organization’s central infrastructure (on the cloud). This approach improves employee experience whilst delivering many benefits:

  • Flexibility and portability: The only requirement of VDI is a device that is capable of connecting and logging into the infrastructure. Whether you’re using a desktop, laptop or a mobile device, users have a consistent experience across the board. The service is device and platform independent. If you’re working on a file or editing an image, you can pick up where you left off immediately after you reconnect.
  • High performance and scalability: Since the user is accessing the server directly and all the files available locally within the LAN, employees can enjoy gigabit speeds and no longer have to transmit large documents over VPNs which often hampers productivity. This service is also scalable to the entire organization in case a crisis happens and for business continuity if the entire workforce goes remote.
  • Better security: None of the data is actually stored on the employee’s device and the user only accesses a virtual instance of their desktop. In case of loss of device or theft, all your data remains secure since none of the data actually resides on the device. IT teams can also fine-tune security controls using micro segmentation and also leverage two factor authentication in case they want to limit certain applications to specific users. VDI can also be integrated with monitoring tools so that security teams can identify risky users and risky applications and vulnerabilities can be quickly contained.
  • Improved productivity: Research shows that remote workers are happier, more productive and loyal than on-site workers. Deploying a cloud-based VDI solution will enable seamless access to applications and resources to remote workers and provide them the flexibility they need in an increasingly mobile environment.

Finally, every business is unique and has different goals and needs. If your goal is to truly enable your workforce for remote work and business continuity then you need to rethink work itself and design infrastructure using emerging technologies that are scalable, secure and a remote-work friendly.

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