How to scale quickly and safely to facilitate more homeworkers?

“Sometimes an organization finds itself in complex situations that are not covered by its own ‘disaster recovery plan;

  • A crisis is forcing many more people to work from home than was planned in the DR scope?
  • The support of your Windows version on which the IT of your organization runs, will be phased out faster than expected?

I’d love to share my vision – with some practical answers – on this current challenge.”

“There are scope challenges when designing disaster recovery planning. What are the scope, duration and responses to be considered in the planning stage? Often these were based around short time frames, a denial of access, and were targeted on keeping key workers, perhaps the traders for instance, active. These scope challenges were hidden behind scenes. Then the Corona Virus crisis impacted. This crisis situation has made these potential scope challenges a reality – now an organization is forced to consider all workers working from home for an extended period. We must change course very quickly.”

“This is in stark contrast to the typical IT scenario of when the ‘end of running support ‘ of a desktop OS is announced, then you can take time, plan systematically and take step by step actions. But also look at current events: suddenly almost the entire company works from home – how do you scale up quickly is this even possible in terms of capacity without compromising security?”

‘How do we scale up our virtual workplaces and what role can the cloud play in this?’ I have received this question several times in the past few weeks, from different organizations with different situations. There is a common thread throughout their stories, always the same principles emerge. ”

When developing workplaces, organizations take into account a certain intensity of use. If that use increases exponentially – for example because all employees now need to work at home – the planned capacity in the datacentre will not be readily available. You cannot simply double or triple the number of workplaces without the environment coming to a complete standstill as capacity is quickly exceeded.

 To quickly increase the demand for processing capacity to meet this new demand is a challenge.

  • A large banking organisation may be able to redeploy existing servers from its existing server farm capacity.
  • For another organization delivery of new hardware in the short-term will be a challenge.

The availability of servers for rental or purchase, as with face masks, is a scarcity. Purchasing new hardware to increase capacity is a supply chain nightmare at the moment as stocks of new server hardware are now depleted. Moreover, is purchasing hardware the correct commercial decision?

The cost of the investment to meet extreme and maximum capacity demand should be considered Who can say how long the need for additional capacity for the VDI virtual desktops going to last and what happens ‘post crisis’ to this extra capacity?

Let me be clear: I am convinced that with the cloud fast, secure and highly scalable solution is possible for the increased capacity requirements of virtual desktops. For example, Microsoft Azure can be billed on a consumption model aligned to usage per hour. Many of the cloud providers offer this scalability but note should be taken not only of the ability to scale up but also the ability to decommission quickly post event.

The Microsoft Azure platform was chosen to offer a British-based government organization more than 15,000 emergency workplaces. It provided an environment that can be quickly scaled up to meet the immediate demand and, importantly, post event, scaled back down.

Fast Deployments require a different project approach

I would like to explain how the new project approach works, in two steps each of a few weeks duration:

  1. Minimal viable to be up and running
  2. Adding business apps in short sprints.

 Step 1: Minimal viable

We start by asking an important question: what is the ‘ minimal viable product’ for the organization to be up and running? With this minimal definition of the workplace, a significant proportion of employees can perform their main tasks and be productive.

Typically this is the basic functionality, for example with five core applications, but without the dozens of special and often complex apps used in the organization.

How are these agreed?

Firstly – a clear and concise conversation with the business managers to ask; ‘What is the core basic functionality to enable employees to be productive? Secondly – coordination with the security team. In partnership an acceleration through their procedures is required to ensure that practical security that is optimal for the circumstances.

 

What is the result then?

The workplace that we offer organizations according to our new working method is standard CIS-1 compliant. We apply a kind of bypass solution to avoid the regular and long-term change processes – to really make quick metres in a short time. It must be expedient, call it a ‘practical, decisive emergency-breaking-laws – solution ‘ with this in place we can move forward quickly. I am convinced that it is a responsible approach , with reasonable controls for optimal security at a basic level – with a mandate from the customer and his Change Control Board.

 

From a scratch start to a production environment.

How is this possible?

This success depends on an acceleration of construction by the deployment of standard building blocks. Think in particular of proven elements, such as image recipes for Windows 10 , 2016 server and 2019 server with tuning components and best practices in which we reduce the opportunity for errors.

Furthermore, our customs experts deploy various tools in the software suite of Login VSI , the ability to automate and monitor are introduced from the start . I see it not only great opportunities provides for acceleration of the construction process , but also to take it quickly into BAU management .

In this way, the new environment can also be operational quickly, with well-arranged patching and monitoring.

Step 2: Add apps with quick, short sprints

After deployment the following weeks are also well spent. With fast scrum sprints, the project team can be adding new applications to the virtual workplace daily. In a normal deployment each app is singularly tested, validated and UAT before deployment. In this crisis speedy deployment we use app bundles in short sprints. Our experience shows us that as the virtual workplace can be fully constructed in a period of three weeks to 80-90 percent completion. This quickly allows working functionality to be delivered to all employees to enable home working

 

I would like to point out an important condition for success. Building a good test environment. There needs to be an acceptance environment where the customer can validate the functioning of an application before release to production. Many test – and acceptance – environments that I have seen are based on the principle of ‘doing the same change in multiple isolated environments ‘. The disadvantage of this approach is that the environments are by definition different, so that the test results cannot be completely trusted. The approach we choose is that the test – and acceptance – environment is an integral part of the production environment in which the image using ‘staging’ is brought into production. This methodology is standard part of our deployment approach.

In conclusion

One thing clients should consider: invest time and attention in ‘broadening’ the disaster recovery plans. Think not only fires or other disasters, but consider all disruptions of business, for extended periods of time. Even then such must plan provided in a fast alternative to the standard IT, with an Azure or cloud  environment as a failsafe and practical plan for rapid scaling up. Virtual desktops can be a part of your disiater planning in the light of a crisis such as the Coronavirus. This proactive planning helps to keep an organization agile and ready to respond to the future, whatever it may look like.

 

And know: with the right support, the cloud can be your ally. ”

 

Chris van Werkhoven, CTO Login Consultants