Tip

A new path to remote IT support that makes the branch offices happier

The remote office is always a bit of a problem when it comes to technology.

Employees in remote offices are still just as dependent on technology as their counterparts in the main offices -- but enterprises tend to centralize the technology where qualified IT staff can care for it, and provide access to the remote employees as necessary.

The result? Slow response and poor connectivity and availability push users away from using the organization's preferred centralized solution, working around the systems with processes and solutions they have chosen themselves.

As

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bring your own device (BYOD) proliferates, each employee has become something of a self-proclaimed IT expert. Consumer apps that carry out enterprise tasks are leading to a new set of information silos -- ones that central IT is unable to manage, ones where pulling together the disparate data for corporate analysis and reporting is impossible.

Architecting a new platform that meets everyone's needs should now be possible.

IT should start developing this platform with a focus on data centralization. As long as the organization can access all data and information assets, it can analyze them so that informed decisions can be made against all the available information.

Data and files should eventually be stored in the same place. This does not interdict enterprise file sharing systems, such as Huddle, Box Inc. or Citrix ShareFile; it just means that the information within these repositories needs to be integrated into the rest of the platform. Capturing the individual's application usage is important; being able to steer them towards corporate equivalents of consumer applications can help minimize problems later on when security is low, or when the inability to centralize data leads to poor decision making.

Remote users may be best served through server-based end-point approaches such as virtual desktop infrastructure. Modern acceleration technologies, such as application streaming or Numecent's cloudpaging, will provide very fast response for remote users, while allowing them full access to their specific desktop. Citrix, Centrix Software and RES Software also provide access to desktops from the user's BYOD devices and apply enterprise security to the whole system. An organization should be looking for the proficiency to sandbox the device. It creates an area within any device that is completely separate from the rest, where any security threat can be controlled. Enterprise information can be maintained within the sandbox so users aren't able to cut and paste from the corporate to the consumer part of the device. When a user leaves the organization, remote IT support can simply wipe the sandbox without harming the user's device.

For remote offices of a certain size or in a location where connectivity to the central data center may be too slow, a server room can host specific applications that the office needs and even run desktop images locally. Data and information can be replicated in the background, using WAN acceleration from vendors including Veeam, Symantec, Silver Peak Systems and Riverbed Technology, ensuring that it is still all available centrally.

The server room must run as a lights-out facility with remote IT support from the more central location. Qualified staff must be able to log in remotely and carry out actions on the systems as required. Wherever possible, patching and updating should be automated with full capability to identify systems that may not be able upgrade, due to a lack of disk space, an old device driver or some other issue. The IT team must either remediate the issue or roll back updates to the remote server room as required. CA Technologies and BMC Software Inc. offer good software management systems built around solid configuration management databases, or CMDBs.

The answer for many organizations, however, is to outsource the issue of supporting remote IT support for branch offices. As systems such as Microsoft Office 365 become more capable, many service providers are offering fully managed desktops that provide a full office suite, along with Lync telephony and other software. Some let organizations install their own software on these desktops, enabling any highly specific applications, such as old accountancy or engineering software packages, to be maintained. Cloud-based service providers should provide greater levels of systems availability and better response times and service-level agreements through their scalability -- and should maintain their platforms to a more up-to-date level.

With connectivity speed and availability improvements, a centralized approach to remote IT support should be back on the data center manager's agenda. However, how that centralization takes place is a big question. For most organizations, a cloud-based service provisioning of a suitable platform will probably be better for remote employees than using a server room or centralizing directly to an existing owned data center. Look to outsourcing wherever possible: Use the existing data center for differentiated core, mission-critical activities only.

Clive Longbottom is the co-founder and service director of IT research and analysis firm Quocirca, based in the U.K. Longbottom has more than 15 years of experience in the field. With a background in chemical engineering, he's worked on automation, control of hazardous substances, document management and knowledge management projects.

This was first published in January 2014

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