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The remote workforce is redefining mission-critical apps

The explosion in remote work doesn't just mean more work calls in your pajamas. IT must be prepared to support application performance and availability as mission-critical.

With remote workplaces being the new modus operandi for organizations and enterprises across the globe, IT teams must be ready to support legacy business and mobile tools as mission-critical applications.

A Gartner CFO survey from April 2020 found that 74% of CFOs will shift at least 5% of their on-site workforce to permanently remote positions. This transition from wholly on-premises staff to a long-term partially distributed workforce underlines the importance of mobile performance and consistent accessibility to digital tools.

In this article, we look at the implications of an expanded remote workforce and the steps IT should take to support application performance and availability of mission-critical applications.

Define mission-critical

Organizations of all sizes have long relied on the term mission-critical to designate key compute, storage and networking resources as essential or top priority. These systems must operate continuously, and at a high-performance level, to ensure that a company achieves its goals. As businesses rely heavily on remote workplaces due to pandemic restrictions, they must recognize that applications require that same high level of performance integrity.

Of course, the types of supported applications depend on the business sector, and operational needs vary. However, the requirements to be mission-critical are broadly applicable to include N+1 redundancy for resiliency and rapid recoverability if an application fails. As well as their work to maintain application copies and perform frequent backups, IT teams must provide 24/7 support and automated network monitoring to ensure high availability. Moreover, through increased operational automation, IT teams can update software, install patches and reinforce security more efficiently.

The challenge: Increased deployments and rising complexity

Over time, applications have evolved to become essential for a variety of business processes, from unified communications to social media and analytics tools for marketing campaigns. The widespread adoption of mobility is a notable factor in this evolution. At the same time, end-user, business and networking tools enable rapid responsiveness and efficiency within remote work environments.

Yet, the explosion of personal productivity tools and business applications has also increased operational complexity -- and produced a wide array of discontinuous tools. For example, the rise of shadow IT has led to new challenges that increase security threats, add to operational overload and risk corporate financial losses. Prioritize consistency and control to limit unauthorized deployments and avoid security failures or data loss.

Frequently, legacy applications grow in complexity from purpose-built, limited user base tools to organization-wide deployments. However, these foundational applications often pose safety and scalability challenges -- particularly in terms of remote use -- and IT support must be ready to meet their growing sophistication.

Steps to mission-critical applications support

As IT leaders evaluate operational readiness for sustaining a remote workforce, they must not only ensure that data center standards are in place, but also devise a systematic approach to providing support. These include early technical outreach, a remote operations checklist, overall security assessment and established contingency plans to sustain support as work situations change.

Increased automation helps guarantee consistent network performance and improves application functionality.

From the outset, assess VPN infrastructure viability, and consider adopting new tools to initiate or expand remote workplace access. For example, cloud-based enterprise application access defines which authorized remote users or devices can access an internal application, as well as limit network exposure.

In addition, administrators can expand automation to streamline routine operational tasks and reduce the IT burden. Increased automation helps guarantee consistent network performance and improves application functionality. Through this rote task automation, IT can streamline operations and reduce -- or, optimistically, eliminate -- the risks of human error.

Another support approach entails providing operational checklists to remote end users. For example, level one IT support teams -- also known as L1 support -- can provide instructions for home Wi-Fi testing, application usability and basic troubleshooting. The more technical IT staff -- L2 support -- handle more advanced issues, such as real-time server and network performance monitoring.

These IT teams can use remote tools to track behavior, map devices or manage network performance from anywhere, at any time. They can also implement capacity planning tools to prevent compute and storage shortfalls, as well as perform security checks.

Security is critical to safeguard remote workplace processes, such as communications, file transfers and data analytics. Additional Gartner research found that 52% of compliance leaders remain concerned about cybersecurity risks related to increased remote work. In addition to upgrading overall security, IT leaders should boost intrusion identification and protection capabilities, as well as improve perimeter protections.

IT leaders should identify contingencies and potential what-if scenarios that might affect future operations. For example, have tools in place that will help support teams to deliver the resources to sustain remote work over the long term. And, for data center hardware and services coming to end-of-life replacement, evaluate if these current supply chains are resilient enough to deliver the level of functionality required.

These new resource demands require a reorientation of applications fundamental for the success of remote work and should be prioritized as mission-critical. Guaranteeing consistent resource access and ensuring high availability will help organizations establish a reliable status quo as they make the transition.

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