How To Prepare IT for the Coronavirus Pandemic

Can your organization support remote work for all employees? How can you insulate your projects against supply chain delays? Joey walks you through all the bases your IT team needs to cover during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the biggest stories of 2020 so far has been COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus. The virus started in the Wuhan region of China but has slowly made its way throughout the world, with some hot spots in South Korea, Italy and the eastern suburbs of the Seattle area, including this publication's namesake, Redmond.

We have already seen COVID-19's impact on the IT world. Google's I/O developer conference has been cancelled, among numerous others. Microsoft has changed its annual MVP Summit to a virtual conference, and has taken the extra step of urging employees in impacted areas like the Bay Area and Washington state to work from home until March 25 if their tasks can be done remotely. The stock markets have also reacted strongly to potential supply challenges caused by COVID-19's impact in China.

Beyond that, there are a number of effects on your IT organization that you need to think about.

Can You Suddenly Support 90 Percent of Your Employees Working Remotely?
While this scenario seems far-fetched, some countries like Japan, Italy and Iran have closed schools for the near future to prevent spread of the virus. With that in mind, most of your employees becoming remote suddenly becomes a lot more feasible. Some firms are equipped for this issue; all of their employees have laptops or the company has a remote desktop solution that is easily scalable and broadly accessible.

However, many large organizations have moved to thin desktop clients, in conjunction with a virtual desktop infrastructure solution to provide access to employee applications, which limit the deployment of laptops. While this is good from a security and budget perspective, it does limit your options for remote work.

If you are currently unprepared for all of your workers to be remote, you have a couple of options. If you have fewer than 10 employees, this is probably easy: You go to the store and buy everyone a laptop. However, even in that scenario, you may see some supply chain issues. One of the consultants with whom I work needs a new laptop and we are looking at a two- to three-week shipping delay -- a downstream supply chain effect from the outbreak in China.

If you are a large organization, one option is to stand up a large virtual desktop infrastructure in the public cloud. You can do it quickly; you shouldn't have hardware delays with a cloud vendor (more on that later). This is probably a good idea for a smaller company, as well.

The challenge with quickly standing up a new cloud deployment is making sure that you build it out in a secure fashion and configuring things like multifactor authentication -- especially if you are implementing a remote desktop solution -- to ensure that you maintain the security of your environment since you may not have the same physical boundary.

One advantage of a remote desktop solution over a traditional VPN is that instead of being reliant on the bandwidth of your VPN device, you are letting each user supply their own bandwidth to your remote desktop. Obviously, power users (like most of you reading this) will probably still use VPN to connect. If you are using a VPN, you should ensure that you have adequate bandwidth, both on your appliance and from your network provider, to support the onslaught of remote workers.

Other potential solutions include ensuring that your employees can access SaaS solutions such as Office 365 and Salesforce from outside of the office. In most cases, that is their default behavior, but if your organization has a high security configuration, you may want to evaluate those policies. You also need to ensure that employees who need access to special phone services -- for example, the financial services sector requires all calls to be recorded -- have soft phones that function just as they would on-premises. This is a non-factor for many folks who can just use a cell phone, but some workers need access to a permanent phone number and other calling features.

Back to That Supply Chain
Most of the world's computer hardware is made in Asia, which is currently the part of the world that's most impacted by the coronavirus. Many factories in China have completely shuttered in recent weeks.

The impact to the global supply chain is currently unknown but will clearly delay timelines. That means if you are planning on hardware being delivered in the next quarter or two, any projects on that hardware could be delayed. I would be more concerned about making sure you have enough storage capacity for the next 12 months since, in an ideal world, enterprise storage has reasonably long lead times.

If your workloads are in the public cloud, I think you are insulated from short-term hardware problems. However, over the longer term (the next six months) Amazon Web Services and Microsoft may run into the same supply chain issues and have capacity constraints over time. Because of that, you may want to allocate your cloud resources earlier if you have critical projects. This will cost you money in unused compute time, but will ensure you have your virtual machines, storage and PaaS services pre-allocated for when you are ready to use them.

Ensuring Communications
As a disaster situation, this is not much different than, say, your storage array crashing or your servers getting ransomwared. In all of these cases, the key is to have a clear and well-defined communications plan.

How this particular situation does differ from a technology-based disaster is that many of these decisions will go beyond your IT organization. As a leader in your IT organization, you should be communicating with the senior management in your company to discuss their plans and the options that the IT organization has to facilitate those plans.

You should also communicate those plans to your employees frequently. It is in the interest of the company for even slightly ill employees not to come to work, and to have a process in place where employees can not worry about losing pay or time. The coronavirus pandemic goes far beyond our normal technology problems, and since IT has such an important role in the process of running the business, it needs to be at the forefront of leadership on communications and process.

About the Author

Joseph D'Antoni is an Architect and SQL Server MVP with over a decade of experience working in both Fortune 500 and smaller firms. He is currently Principal Consultant for Denny Cherry and Associates Consulting. He holds a BS in Computer Information Systems from Louisiana Tech University and an MBA from North Carolina State University. Joey is the co-president of the Philadelphia SQL Server Users Group . He is a frequent speaker at PASS Summit, TechEd, Code Camps, and SQLSaturday events.


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