Maintaining Business Continuity During Crisis, Empowering a Remote Workforce and Scaling for Future Success

COVID-19 has literally forced companies around the world to turn on a dime. Overnight, they had to quickly scale their work-from-home capabilities in order to maintain business continuity and employee productivity. GHD, an engineering and consulting services company, was able to accomplish this daunting task. Brandon Carroll from tech company Riverbed interviewed Randy Taylor with GHD at ONUG’s recent Digital Live Event to get some insight into how they successfully made this transition.

Listen to their discussion here, or read the highlights below. 

Forced to Ramp Up

Carroll explained the pain points many companies are experiencing. While it’s critical that IT teams transition to work-at-home models quickly, it’s easier said than done. “Networks are strained. Local connections are saturated. Application performance is unpredictable given bandwidth contention at home. As data moves back and forth between data centers, the cloud and homes, latency and security become even bigger problems.” 

GHD was already using a work-at-home model for about 1,500 employees prior to the COVID-19 crisis. “We recognized having an agile work environment was important to attracting talent,” explained Taylor. However, they quickly had to scale up to transition about half their workforce to a work-at-home model. That meant maintaining around 6,000 active connections at one time. They were able to scale up, while decreasing WAN traffic by 49% and increasing file transfer performance by 55%. 

Taylor explained that the company’s leadership gave them 10 days to get systems prepared to support lockdown. They started by identifying three areas that would need to be improved to support the crisis situation. 

  1. Increase the size of the internet bandwidth flowing into private colocation data centers.
  2. Increase VPN capacity and the technology used to connect people securely to the network.
  3. Examine security at the edge to ensure adding so many remote users working in uncontrolled environments does not put data at risk. 

Working Out a Solution

Taylor emphasized their success was attributable to solutions they already had in place that were easily scalable. They already had high speed internet circuits flowing into their data centers and scalable firewall solutions to take care of VPN traffic. They also had a client accelerator by Riverbed, which allowed them to optimize protocol transfers, file transfers and cut bandwidth, all critical pieces of supporting remote workers.

Riverbed’s solutions were critical in helping GHD determine how much bandwidth they would need to support an increased load. “We used our network managing and monitoring tools to determine how much bandwidth we would need in each region, and immediately began placing upgrade orders,” explained Taylor. “We had to increase WAN capacity by 40 times in some regions.”

These tools helped GHD to compare how much bandwidth was being used by remote users versus normal day-to-day traffic. “Client acceleration technology from Riverbed enabled us to reduce the amount of bandwidth used to support a remote user by 50% or more, as well as increase file transfer speed by 50% – 70%,” Taylor said.

GHD was able to classify users into various use cases. For example, they could identify transaction users, such as accountants or people simply working on email. Their traffic hits the network then they are idle for long periods of time. “The protocol optimization capabilities of client accelerator were able to cut response times for many transactions by 50% or more.” 

Conversely, they also looked at users who are transactional, but also heavy on file transfers. The client accelerator package allowed GHD to see reduced bandwidth usage by up to half, in addition to faster file transfer speed for these users. “Much of what we do in the engineering world is transfer large files from data storage to the client. The client will work on the file then batch it back into the data center,” explained Taylor. “These file transfers take two to three minutes in the office, but can take up to 10 minutes at home. It’s a real productivity killer. Using client accelerator, users were actually getting faster transfer speeds at home than they did in the office.” 

Using a Cloud-based Security Approach

Taylor explained the advantages of using a cloud-based security approach. Internet breakout is the new technique that replaces having all your internet traffic backhauled into your private network. Instead, remote workers have the ability to connect to the internet directly. GHD uses Zscaler technology to accomplish this. It allows them to scrub all information users are looking at. Taylor called it “a key component to providing secure remote access.” 

Next, Taylor addressed network monitoring. “When people started working from home, we had to shift where we look for bottlenecks and performance issues,” he explained. They used a combination of tools to efficiently monitor their network. Riverbed network performance monitoring tools were their core. Eternity was used to measure endpoint performance and user experience. SteelConnect allowed GHD to monitor internet breakout and what users were doing on the web. Overall, SteelConnect helped them make efficient use of traffic patterns and improve overall user experience. 

Keeping Performance at its Peak

“What we would consider acceptable performance metrics internally are impossible to control for users working at home,” Taylor said. Workers are competing with their families for bandwidth. He emphasized the need to utilize WAN optimization technology, which makes it possible for employees to do their work with 50% of the required bandwidth. “That helps even when we can’t control the internet speed.” He emphasized the goal is to keep employees productive and provide a secure environment.

Lastly, Carroll asked Taylor to sum up trends he sees continuing as we move beyond the pandemic. 

  • 20% – 40% of the workforce will remain at home.
  • Social distancing will eliminate the ideas of “hot desking” or “hoteling.”
  • It will become even more critical to watch your internet edges and focus on the most efficient use of bandwidth.
  • Since you can’t control the quality of the internet connection, you must use every tool in your toolbox to ensure the user’s experience stays high. 
  • We’ll see increased adoption of hybrid cloud. That’s key to reacting to disasters. It’s the “Pillar of IT strategy.” 

Tap into more insights from industry leaders at the next ONUG Virtual Live Event on October 14 – 15. Register here or contact us to find out more about the ONUG community.

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