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Your Old BCP = Your New Normal

Change is difficult. Especially in large IT organizations with resource constraints, budgetary limits, procedural red tape and multiple stakeholders to account for. And that’s under the best of circumstances. And yet we’ve just witnessed unforeseen levels of change, driven by our friends and colleagues while supporting business needs and serving customers. I’ve worked with some amazing people over the years, so I’m not surprised these professionals had the grit to get it done. What is interesting, however, if not surprising, is that the enabling technology was not one of the cool new network technologies (e.g. SD-WAN, automated provisioning, cloud enablement). It was the plain, old-fashioned Internet, leveraging Broadband, Mobile, VPN and UCaaS that made it all happen.

Thank goodness for the Business Continuity Plans that were designed, documented, tested and now implemented. No one practiced for the global pandemic; I’m not sure anyone even considered the possibility, but our IT infrastructure teams lived up to this challenge, even without having a blueprint to support global workforces at home.

Sure, there may have been plans to recover the South-East from a hurricane or the West-Coast from a massive Earthquake. But a global event of this magnitude was not a part of anyone’s playbook. Yes, this recovery took hard work and grit. But technology played its role as well, with the evolution of networks pushing to the edge, connecting Enterprises to cloud services allowing for improved speed to market and previously unimagined scalability.

Those with significant infrastructure at the edge benefited from significant increases in capacity achieved via a simple port change or “quick” cross connects.  Additional licenses and hardware were required, and there were, for sure, some tense moments before hardware arrived at the loading dock as Enterprises competed with one another and even with the government for network gear. But perhaps the biggest wild card in transitioning to a purely WFH environment was always going to be the ‘questionable’ performance of the public Internet. 

In recent years, Enterprises have been leveraging the public Internet for more and more applications as comfort levels rise. And yet no one imagined a scenario where home-based workers would complete with home-based students and pretty much everyone else who relied on streaming video and games to pass the time. This was no small test for the Internet, and the Internet passed. Traffic increased up to 70%, and while Enterprise customers have reported some performance issues, others have gone as far as calling the Internet “rock solid”. While there are certainly localized bottlenecks and plenty of last mile chokepoints, the Internet has undeniably proven itself as the most reliable communication platform on the planet. 

Yet with the Internet’s reliability, many Enterprise applications were not built for a WFH environment.  Despite the migration of many applications to the Cloud, it’s the bandwidth-hungry apps like software distribution and Enterprise video that are in greatest need in the virtual office environment. And so adjustments are made. Some Enterprises have chosen to switch video off entirely. And some software distribution apps have been updated to make better use of available bandwidth. 

As more people will continue to work from home well into the future (and perhaps permanently), it’s helpful to pause and ask how Enterprise infrastructure will continue to adjust and accommodate future needs. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve collected:

Playbooks for Business Continuity Plans worked, but now we need one for coming back to the office. Some Enterprises have reported they will heavily lean on a WFH model in the future. This shift will impact how Enterprises deploy and manage their cyber security environment and will likely necessitate additional security in data centers, regulating access to data and encrypting data while in flight. And for those who return to the office, how will commercial Real Estate be redesigned and what network (e.g. LAN) requirements will follow? Will open floorplans disappear? Even as companies reduce their commercial square footage to save money, the per capita efficiencies gained from the ‘office of the future’ will now be lost, as fewer occupants are allowed to share the same spaces they did just weeks ago. 

A new Business Continuity Plan is needed because the old BCP has become primary. As we quickly ramped up remote infrastructure, let’s take pause to consider the unintended risks that may have been introduced. How many users are mapped to specific remote access instances, and is there concentration risk? If one of these remote instances were to fail, what is the path to recovery? Along with assessing these failover / outage risks, Enterprises should also consider evaluating the physical route diversity of ISP connectivity. Furthermore, how should KPIs and the tools that track them be updated to monitor performance in the new environment?

A new cost model is required. Having invested so quickly to support remote users, there is ample risk in now paying for excess capacity, whether that be for bandwidth or licenses. How will Enterprises avoid stranded assets that now serve two populations – work from home AND work from office – at the same time? Suppliers will need to offer flexible models, where Enterprises can pay reduced costs to reserve capacity, paying for only services consumed. In parallel, location strategies will likely reduce aggregate costs for real estate, helping to fund some investment in remote infrastructure.

Showcase the new technology. It is incredibly unfortunate it took a pandemic to highlight the importance of ‘good-old infrastructure’. Regardless of how it happened, however, the capabilities of communications and collaboration tools are a prime topic at all management levels, and will remain that way for some time. Perhaps it’s now time to declare the Internet reliable and ‘enterprise grade’. Maybe we should stop working so hard to mitigate the risks associated with the Internet, and rather showcase the innovation that can be harnessed from the network. Where would we be in this crisis without the network (Internet included)? Without this vital connectivity, not only would we be disconnected from family and friends, but the financial impact for many would be much worse. 

At Strongbow, we believe those who build and operate IT infrastructure are the unsung heroes who have helped to ensure some semblance of social and business continuity during these most difficult times. And we now look forward to seeing the next wave of innovation that is built upon these recent lessons learned. As the dust clears, I wonder, will the pendulum swing back to security policies and internal procedures that slow us down and keep us safe? Or can we change the narrative and agree that we have infrastructure that is scalable, reliable, and shared and it’s truly a safe foundation to build upon? 

To continue to explore the impact of COVID on Enterprise Infrastructure, Strongbow will be hosting a webinar at noon EDT on June 3rd. I look forward to discussing lessons learned from those impacted. Details to come!