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How virtual desktops help put employees at the heart of business continuity plans

By David Grimes.

If a disaster or an unexpected event takes place, people’s lives are affected in a number of different ways and it can take time to adapt and get things up and back to normal.

For businesses looking to get up and running as soon as possible this presents a real challenge, especially if the buildings and office parks – the heart of employment – have been damaged or made inaccessible. If employees can’t get to their offices – how will organizations ensure the day-to-day running of their business? How will companies ensure that they are not losing money through missed opportunities and low productivity?

IT industry experts regularly talk about the need for network redundancy and server resiliency delivered by technologies like clustering and high availability. Ensuring that corporate data is backed up and copies stored in multiple locations is now common practice. But how much time do businesses spend on ensuring that individual groups of employees can continue to work in an emergency?

The truth is that many business continuity and disaster recovery plans tend to overlook the human factor. A solid and effective plan should encompass far more than just technology – businesses need to think about how their employees will access that technology and continue to be productive away from the office.

Certain industries that rely on providing services based on real time information, such as the financial industry, need a strategy for employees to be able to conduct business even if their primary place of work is not accessible. Typically that means partnering with an alternate location/company for temporary space in the case of an emergency. Or perhaps it means having space in a second corporate location to accommodate the displaced employees. However, with advances in technology, businesses now have alternative ways to keep day-to-day activity running when employees can’t make it into their offices. For example, the New York Stock Exchange has been investigating how it can avoid a repeat of the four day shut-down it experienced during hurricane Sandy, and has proposed methods for brokers to run the stock market remotely. The result of this means that we could soon see - for first time in its 221 year history - the NYSE relying entirely on computers to execute trades during an emergency.

Other more common options include:

Remote working
While working from home or while travelling has become common place today, many employees don’t have access to all of the corporate applications and information they may require should they be away from the office for an extended period of time. A business may think that it’s covered because it’s occasional remote workers have been ‘BCDR'd’ (given the basic systems they need on a short-term basis to keep being productive), but the reality is that working from home on a planned basis is very different from providing resources during a crisis from an alternate location with little, to no, advance notice.

Virtual desktops
Cloud computing solutions have led to a tremendous shift in the business continuity and disaster recovery options available. With services like cloud-based collaboration and desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) available in enterprise-class solutions, companies can provide employees with critical business tools accessible from anywhere and on a variety of devices. No longer do employees have to be tethered to a specific corporate-issued computer to access business applications and directories.

Now teams can collaborate virtually through messaging, conferencing, and video applications accessed via the cloud, enabling teams to be productive whether they are physically in the same location or half a world apart. In addition, the efforts of an IT department to keep these applications up-to-date and functional is dramatically reduced compared to traditional workstation maintenance. DaaS, or virtual desktop infrastructure, is becoming a crucial component of the modern business continuity plan.

Whether permanently or in times of incident, leveraging cloud based tools such as virtual desktops provides employees access to the full enterprise application suite and corporate collaboration solutions ensuring continued communication and interaction even when employees are not physically together. In short, companies can ensure their businesses continue to operate.

The positive effect of ‘Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)’
As the ‘consumerisation of IT’ continues to grow, companies increasingly find that their employees are requesting secure access to corporate IT services and data using devices they already own – their personal laptops, smartphones, and tablets. In many ways, of course, BYOD presents a myriad of security and accessibility challenges for IT, but when it comes to the business continuity plan, a well-defined BYOD policy that includes a virtual desktop is a tremendous advantage. That’s because employees are already ‘pre-provisioned’ with disaster-ready access devices and work environments.

What’s more, those devices are used and tested on a daily basis – so any crossover to remote access from the iPhone or Android tablet, for example, is largely problem-free in terms of reliability or user productivity. Employees are already accustomed to using these devices to access corporate IT resources.

A solid and effective business continuity plan encompasses far more than technology, because even world-class servers, apps, and networks have no value if employees, customers, and partners can’t access them. Whether it is a flood, a devastating storm, civil unrest, a transport strike or any other major event, if employees can’t get to their office resources, the business can’t function. With a strong business continuity plan in place for employees, it will be (almost) ‘business as usual’.

David Grimes is CTO of NaviSite.

•Date: 26th April 2013 • World •Type: Article • Topic: Cloud computing

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