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March 24, 2020 | Andrew Baird

Adapting IT Services for a Remote Workforce: A COVID-19 Pandemic FAQ

Businesses are quickly adapting corporate IT networks to allow more office-based staff to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, the world needs to send everyone home – and business continuity and personal income depend on more workers having remote access to enterprise IT systems.  Few organizations were prepared: “54% of HR leaders in our snap poll indicated that poor technology and/or infrastructure for remote working is the biggest barrier to effective remote working,” reports Gartner. As a result, it’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for IT leaders and all of us at TierPoint.

Frequently asked questions on adapting to COVID-19 requirements

This post provides guidance on the questions many of our customers and you may have about what IT tools and technology are needed to support your rapidly expanding remote workforce. As daunting as it may seem, cloud solutions and software-defined networking make remote work viable for pandemic resilience for many companies – and allow TierPoint to quickly design and provision compute, network and storage to meet our customers’ new requirements.

In this FAQ, you’ll learn about:

How can I support more VPN users? What do I need to consider?

As a network service provider, we’ve seen large increases in VPN connections and bandwidth during past disaster events and the COVID-19 pandemic. VPN connections can be licensed in a few ways. Here are three common examples:

  1. Manufacturers license their VPN access by ‘named’ users. This means that every user that needs to access the VPN needs their own license – Cisco uses this method.
  2. Manufacturers license user VPNs based on the maximum number of users logged in at one time. So more remote workers may require more VPN licenses, but not necessarily one for every user, depending on work schedules.
  3. Manufacturers, like Fortinet, do not charge for VPN licenses at all.

In any of the cases above, please know that each firewall will have a certain amount of processing power to handle a set number for VPN users. When you hit the physical device limit, you need to upgrade the firewall device or add a dedicated VPN appliance to add additional users. You also want to ensure your VPN into your disaster recovery environments is right-sized and configured to burst bandwidth and the number of remote users when you need it.

How do I know if I need more bandwidth for a remote workforce? And does TierPoint have the capacity to increase my bandwidth?

Your requirement for network bandwidth is driven by the bandwidth consumption of the applications your workforce needs to access and your patterns of network traffic. You may need more bandwidth for:

  • Resource-heavy applications over your corporate network, such as file-sharing systems that involve rich media or large data sets
  • The use of a virtual private network (VPN)
  • If many people remotely access applications at once

TierPoint offers a spectrum of scalable network services over a variety of network infrastructures, ranging from multi-homed resilient internet to dedicated circuits. As a result, we have the flexibility, agility and network capacity to support increases in bandwidth.

How can I enable my work-from-home (WFH) employees to collaborate and stay connected?

Managed Microsoft Office 365 is a popular and secure choice that allows users to work remotely, securely and collaboratively in a familiar environment. Users can access Office 365 (O365) on any type of device – desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone – and can collaborate, share and connect in real-time remotely. Privacy and compliance tools provide built-in security and data protection. Microsoft Teams, part of Office 365, provides chat, online meetings, calling, and file sharing features.

What security controls do we need now that our workforce is working remotely?

A virtual private network (VPN), multifactor authentication (MFA), and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies are all essential security controls for a remote workforce. A VPN, which will provide secure connections, needs to be paired with multi-factor authentication for identity verification. In addition, many systems can be configured to prohibit file storage on personal devices or to prevent VPN access to employees’ home devices altogether, if you provide company-owned endpoints.

Another best practice is to prevent split tunneling. While split tunneling reduces bandwidth requirements, it comes at a cost – less security. Split tunneling sends some traffic over the public internet (e.g. streaming video and web browsing), diverting it from your VPN. Preventing split tunneling will make endpoints more secure by bringing all user traffic through your network security infrastructure and applying more protective policies than they likely have in place with their home/remote network.

What security best practices should our employees follow as they work remotely?

Cyber-attackers are exploiting the COVID pandemic, such as with information-stealing malware disguised as a real-time Coronavirus map. The malware captures credentials stored by a user’s browser.

Three ways employees can help keep company networks and data safe:

  • Don’t click on links or open files from any unknown senders. If such an email has a “click here” option or link, forward it to your network administrator for review and link validation. Also review the sender’s email address to ensure it’s legitimate.
  • Keep passwords safe and don’t let a web browser store a password on your behalf, because malware can steal it.
  • Always use the corporate VPN on a public WiFi system. It takes less than two minutes for a hacker to capture data packets and steal credentials on an unsecured network.

How do we better ensure business continuity & accessibility for the next disruption?

Companies are realizing that while disaster recovery is critical, it’s only one aspect of business continuity. A point-localized disaster has not occurred – IT infrastructure, data, and applications are functioning as they should – and yet business continuity is at risk in the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, businesses are discovering a lack of sufficient accessibility of IT systems for a remote workforce. In addition, partner connections, global supply chains, and just-in-time delivery models are putting business continuity at risk.

Also read: A Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery Plan for Any Disruption

Forrester Research recommends incorporating lessons learned from prior invocations of a business continuity plan, including the lessons to be learned in 2020. Scenario-specific business continuity plans and exercises are called out as helpful, although only 60% of organizations create business continuity plans by scenario.

A phased-in response is best: “Just as WHO lists different phases of an outbreak, your continuity plan should have multiple phases of response — what action to take at the first news of an outbreak and the appropriate actions to take at the first sign of employee infection, at 5% absenteeism, at 15% absenteeism, at 40% absenteeism, and so on.”

Complimentary Forrester report: Prepare Your Organization for a Pandemic

TierPoint helps businesses support a remote workforce

TierPoint can help you support your newly remote workforce with VPN connections and bandwidth, security controls, Managed Office 365, cloud-based virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), remote help desk services, and our remote hands service which enables customers to delegate IT management to our on-site technicians and engineers.

Contact us to get the expert help you need to respond to this unprecedented business continuity challenge.

Read more about our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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