Managing the IT for a multi-site business, an operation with multiple premises or a remote workforce, naturally comes with additional challenges compared to single site operations.
There’s the need to deliver a consistent and reliable service across all locations, so that everyone experiences the same level of performance wherever they’re located.
You may also need to meet very different demands from end-users. For example, a particular team or function based at one site may have very specific IT requirements compared to a team located at a different site.
Then there’s the resourcing challenges of procuring, deploying and managing an IT infrastructure that spans multiple sites. Factor in the security concerns that this environment presents and you’ve got quite a lot more to deal with than the IT director with a single site!
This is where a cloud infrastructure helps overcome many of these challenges and becomes a business enabler. Below we show you how.
1. IT performance
We’re increasingly coming across the concept of an ‘omni-channel experience’. This means that wherever an end user is located they get the same experience. For remote workers this equates to the same experience as their colleagues working in an office. For workers located at different corporate premises, it’s the same experience across each site. No one is penalised with a poor IT performance because of the location they’re working from.
With multi location businesses IT performance can vary because of legacy technology. Connectivity is often the first challenge. In order to deliver an equal experience across multi-sites you may need to upgrade your wired or wireless networking.
Then you need to ensure that everyone can access the corporate network securely when working in the office, remotely or on the move.
Here the cloud steps up. SD-WAN, VPN connections, remote desktops and cloud apps ensure secure site-to-site connections; anytime, anywhere and on any device.
2. End user requirements
The cloud also helps you deliver an omni-channel experience that meets the needs of your end users. Modern workplace technology such as cloud collaboration platforms, unified communications and remote desktops, provide an equal experience so it doesn’t matter where an end user is located.
But what about teams or functions that have very specific technology requirements? For some teams who need access to bespoke apps or highly sensitive data, a hybrid cloud model may be appropriate. For example, if your core finance team is generally located in one office some workloads could be on-premise, with others integrated in the cloud to facilitate remote work.
3. Infrastructure management
A physical IT infrastructure across multi-sites can be challenging to monitor and maintain. There can also be inconsistencies with implementation and legacy issues, which can make infrastructure management even harder.
Then there’s the cost. While naturally you need to get ROI from your existing IT infrastructure there comes a point where it becomes a financial burden. As hardware becomes End of Life (EoL) or End of Support (EoS), the cost of maintaining it increases. There are also security concerns as the hardware manufacturer scales back the development of firmware, software patches or upgrades, until these stop completely.
A cloud IT infrastructure solves these challenges as it provides all the architecture, computation and storage resources virtually, so all your business’ sites share the same infrastructure.
It’s also a highly scalable and flexible model so if your business adds new locations in the future, your IT infrastructure can quickly scale.
A sprawling IT environment across multi-sites, and particularly with remote end-users, is highly likely to have vulnerability gaps. Maintaining a physical infrastructure and ensuring patches and upgrades are performed in a timely manner is difficult if you don’t have a large IT team.
While you can provide end users with robust security policies and procedures for accessing the network remotely, if those measures are a barrier to productivity some individuals will find ways to circumvent your controls.
The cloud can help you increase security, particularly if you don’t have enough resources internally to effectively monitor and manage your IT infrastructure. Cloud providers invest heavily in security innovation and their platforms have built-in security capabilities throughout their fabrics. Patching is often handled by the cloud provider and when the customer is required to patch assets like virtual machines, the tooling is built into the cloud.
Cloud native security solutions also provide visibility on end user behaviour and have been developed to manage an IT environment without the traditional network perimeter.
5. Internal IT team
Finally, one of the biggest challenges for IT teams that manage multi-site businesses is internal resource. It’s expensive to run a team with sufficient coverage for site visits and the necessary expertise for a diverse range of technologies. Providing high quality end user support to a distributed workforce is also challenging.
The cloud effectively centralises a lot of these activities so you don’t need to be physically on site. There’s also the option to outsource some of this workload to cloud service providers. Services such as Infrastructure as a Service can free up your team to focus on value adding projects.
You might also want to explore outsourcing your IT support. With a remote support desk your internal team, or IT lead, can rotate among sites while support tickets are handled by the remote team. Deploying cloud platforms makes this much easier to outsource, and you will also benefit from specialist cloud expertise that you might not have internally.
You don’t need to go all-in with the cloud to get the benefits across your multi location business. A hybrid cloud model is often the best solution. Or you can plan your cloud migration roadmap to prioritise the areas that will deliver the most value or ROI and gradually migrate more workloads to the cloud as required.
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