Guest Column | July 20, 2020

Standing Up An Effective Remote Office Solution In Times Of Crisis

By Brian Shillair, Nasuni

Video Conference Remote

Three months ago, every company in the world executed its business continuity plan – AT THE SAME TIME! If that isn’t scary enough, while every company in the world was executing its business continuity plan, they were writing a new plan to account for the nuclear scenario – every employee working from home. Even at Nasuni, we were a little caught off guard. In this article, I’ll share how our partners leveraged Nasuni with their customers through that business continuity plan, which includes going back to the office.

The world has adapted to a “new normal” of social distancing and telework but is starting to set an eye toward the future with lessons learned in mind. The experienced changes not only affected us as individuals but showed us that as members of a team – in some cases very large teams – we must remain connected and interoperable to keep businesses going.

Maintaining business continuity in the face of disruption has long been the responsibility of the enterprise. We’ve had some practice with natural disasters, 9/11, the financial crisis to name a few. Some have done a better job than others at reducing the pain of unexpected events like the pandemic. Naturally, these companies will be better prepared for what could be a radically altered economy moving forward.

That said, for the technology industry specifically, though, the most pertinent question of the moment is how do you ensure a smooth transition into the post-crisis world that keeps the data flowing without sacrificing performance or security? And, of course, without blowing a budget?

Working The Cloud

Even before the pandemic erupted, the go-to solution for most organizations to support a remote workforce was the cloud. The cloud was built to be available everywhere. The resources are far more flexible and scalable than on-premises systems, and once the initial fears of weak security were addressed, it seemed like only a few businesses were not keen to push some of their operations onto the cloud.

But is this enough for a truly massive shift in the working relationship between business and employee like the one we are seeing now that may persist into the future?

Ideally, a remote office allows the knowledge worker to log into their workspace from virtually any location and receive full functionality. Namely, that includes access to all data sources, files, and work applications, just as if they were sitting at their office workstation. While many businesses have established highly mobile work environments based on this concept, it has traditionally been viewed as more of a convenience rather than a necessity. Until now.

Even companies that embraced concepts like virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) recognized it suffered from two major flaws. First, it’s not enough to stand up a VDI solution for your desktop but then force users to tap into the office for file access. In large part, this was due to a desire to keep NAS (networks attached storage) appliances in the data center under the false belief they would be easier to manage and secure. But this approach essentially hampered functionality because it forced all workers to pull data from the relatively narrow pipeline connecting the data center.

Secondly, keep in mind that most VDI deployments weren’t meant to handle hundreds of thousands of users requiring hundreds of terabytes, even petabytes of data. Even fewer were designed to simultaneously support a remote VDI contingent and on-site office worker accessing files in the data center.

This will be a common scenario moving ahead. So, the flexibility to quickly scale up, and just as easily decommission resources, will be critical for meeting demand, competing, and controlling costs. We will see increased adoption of Cloud VDI instead of organizations building single VDI datacenters to service employees.

Quick Access

In this light, a cloud-based NAS solution is needed, with active files cached in an edge appliance so they’ll be readily accessible for those remote users via VDI. In this way, organizations can maintain distributed file infrastructure in a highly flexible manner, all while utilizing centralized management and security tools to ensure a safe, reliable, and consistent experience for all employees.

This approach addresses many key performance issues when dealing with a highly distributed workforce. As mentioned above, a leading issue is latency which impacts the end user's performance. When users rely on their own devices to connect to critical data, performance becomes subject to the vagaries of IP networks. How then, can the enterprise ensure that data and processes are moving at an acceptable pace when they no longer control the network?

Some organizations have attempted to alleviate this problem simply by housing their NAS appliance in a data center that is closer to the cloud. In the end, however, this is merely changing the central problem from one location to another. The goal should be to put data as close to the user as possible, and for that, it needs to be housed in the cloud or at the edge.

Other organizations have attempted to deploy their legacy NAS appliance software in the cloud, which is still just moving the problem from one location to another – but this time costs are increased and scalability severely limited. Trying to deploy a modern cloud VDI solution with a legacy NAS technology only creates new challenges. And, of course, the reason there aren’t many on-premise VDI solutions in the first place is expense and complexity. Our new world won’t change that, so VDI will be going to the cloud.

In the cloud, everything needed to quickly stand up a functional VDI solution is at the ready and can be consumed on-demand – including your NAS infrastructure. That means you buy what you need when you need it, and if loads start to spike there are additional resources at the ready. And if the rationale for remote office work is temporary, it can be decommissioned at any time.

On the operational side, most enterprises are finding that costs are dramatically lower as well. Both active file storage and backups are a fraction of the cost of an on-prem file system (or one you’re trying to deploy in the cloud). Further, built-in-the-cloud-based NAS solutions are particularly effective on services like Azure and AWS where object storage solutions replace traditional solid-state drives.

Best And Brightest

Meanwhile, companies that took a cloud-first approach to infrastructure are finding themselves enabled to quickly deploy the newest solutions that emerge to meet both the rapid changes in the business environment and the slower, more evolutionary shifts that remain constant over long periods. Tools like Slack, Zoom, and teams are more easily distributed across a disparate workforce when they are connected to the cloud rather than the data center, and they can more easily be integrated into highly customized platforms within the confines of an overarching business ecosystem like Nasuni.

Leading businesses and industry groups spend a great deal of money analyzing and predicting the future, but when a black swan event like COVID-19 emerges, even the most careful, well-thought-out predictions quickly falter. In the days before the cloud and virtual IT infrastructure, this would have left a large percentage of the market powerless to conduct business.

Fortunately, the modern business environment has evolved to the point where most organizations have implemented enough rudimentary infrastructure to make remote work at least possible, if not altogether optimal. With a full office environment in the cloud, however, leading businesses are showing that they can not only survive major disruptions like we are experiencing now but thrive.

This level of functionality will extend far beyond the duration of the current pandemic to ensure that organizations can adapt to whatever economic conditions may occur in the aftermath.

Finally, on a personal note, I’d like to thank the solutions providers and systems integrators on the front lines enabling companies to adopt more modern business environments. They’ve not only proven the technology exists to overcome today’s challenges, they’ve shown the expertise to deploy these solutions quickly and cost-effectively is as good as it gets.

About The Author

Brian Shillair is vice president worldwide channels for Nasuni, a file services platform built for the cloud, powered by the world's only global file system. Nasuni consolidates network attached storage and file server silos in cloud storage, delivering infinite scale, built-in backup, global file sharing, and local file server performance, all at half the cost of traditional file infrastructures.