COVID-19 has changed the way the world works. Working from home is commonplace and it looks like that’s here to stay. Being forced to make the change to work from home has helped businesses realize that many jobs can be done from home just as effectively. Businesses can potentially even recognize some savings by allowing folks to work from home. The only snag is that you must have a solid technology solution that allows folks to stay productive. Here are our tips on choosing the best work from home solution for your business.
Identify Problems or Areas for Improvement
The first thing you should do when determining what work from home solution will be best suited to your business need is ask some questions.
What applications and data do your employees need access to?
Are those applications and data currently accessible outside your business network?
If they are accessible, how are users connecting to them?
Does this solution give them sufficient functionality to be productive?
Is a change in how they access applications or data necessary for them to be truly productive?
Where is your data stored?
Do you have an on-premises server that houses applications or data?
Is it stored in the cloud somewhere?
What kind of applications does your business use?
If all your applications and data are easily accessible, and processes for users are functional and simple, you can stop reading. This article isn’t meant for you.
If on the other hand your apps and data aren’t accessible, or aren’t fully accessible, we can help.
Accessing On-Premises Applications and Data
If you have a server that is there in your office that holds critical data for your business, there are a few different secure ways you can make that accessible outside the office. Please avoid opening your firewall. This is a huge unnecessary security risk. It may be tempting because it makes getting your data so easy, but it’s not worth it. There are plenty of ways to get connected securely.
VPN – This is possibly the oldest of all the remote connection solutions, and still works great if you just need quick secure access to files on your server. You’ll need to have IT configure the VPN on your firewall in most cases. Then load an agent on each machine that will need to connect remotely and configure that agent. Once done the user can simply click on the VPN to open it and enter their credentials. This creates a secure connecting back to a file server in the office. You can browse the network share just like you were sitting there in the office.
Pros: Easy to set up. Great for browsing files securely located on a file share.
Cons: Does not play well with database applications.
Terminal Server – A terminal server is a great way to serve up your on-premises applications and make them accessible from anywhere. This also allows your users to browse files stored on the server. This is generally another server that you would set up at your business, and it does take an IT professional to configure it properly. Once configured users can remote into the terminal server for work.
Pros: Better solution if you’re trying to work on database applications remotely. Can access multiple applications in one place. Can browse data on the share.
Cons: When working on a terminal server user must remember that they’re not saving data locally, but to the server. This is confusing for some users and they may need training. If not properly sized with enough hardware resources terminal servers can have poor performance. They don’t scale past a certain number of users, and multiple may be required for large loads.
These are some of the most common ways to access data, but by no means an exhaustive list. Your needs may require a different solution. Consult with an IT pro that can understand your specific needs.
Published Applications – This is another way to access on-premises applications outside the network. Years ago, Citrix almost had a corner on this market. Now, much of the same functionality is built into Microsoft Server. The idea is that you take applications hosted on an on-premises server and publish them to endpoints on and off the network. The advantage is that it allows users to have an experience that is most familiar. It essentially acts like the application is being accessed locally, when it only appears that way, and all the data is stored on the server.
Pros: Great user experience with little training required. Works well with database applications.
Cons: Only works for applications. Separate solution is required for file browsing. Can be difficult to configure properly and is not compatible with every application.
Many businesses have already moved their data and applications to the cloud in one form or another. We’ll discuss some of the most common solutions and their advantages and disadvantages.
SAAS Applications – Software as a Service applications essentially take your apps and put them in a browser. This makes it easy to access them from anywhere. The data is stored on servers maintained by the software manufacturer in a data center somewhere. You will typically pay an ongoing monthly fee for each license that allows you to access the application.
Pros: Dead simple to access. No user training required. Software maintained by the software manufacturer.
Cons: You have little control over your data. Ongoing monthly fees can be pricey.
Cloud Based File Sharing – Cloud based file sharing has taken off in the last few years. This essentially eliminates the need for a VPN or other connection and puts your data into the cloud where you can access it anywhere you have internet. Typically, your data resides in a data center maintained by the software manufacturer. Dropbox, One Drive, Azure Files, Google Drive, Box, Sharefile, and many more are all examples of this kind of product. While these can be great tools for sharing files with your team when working from home most have some limitations that should be noted.
Pros: Easy to use and can be accessed from anywhere. No need for VPN or complex setup.
Cons: All cloud-based file sharing applications have limitations of some kind. Some limit the type of file you can upload. Some limit the size of the files. Most will have limited permissions capabilities compared to an on-premises file server. Monthly Fees.
Hosted Servers – Another way to make those servers accessible is to put them in the cloud. Many businesses have migrated workloads to hosted servers. This is commonly done by leveraging Microsoft Azure, Amazon, or Google Cloud, but you can also privately host servers in a datacenter as well. Which is the best fit for your business will typically depend on the workload you’re trying to host, as well as your needs for agility, scalability, and a few other factors.
Pros: Paying someone else to host your servers eliminates much of the needed maintenance and support on your network. This can also make things that weren’t previously accessible available to users outside your network. Data centers offer added resilience to your network.
Cons: Monthly fees can be significant. Migrating your servers to the cloud can be a significant undertaking and costly.
Working from home can present complex technology problems for business owners. Take the time to ask questions and understand the needs of your team. What problems do they have? What can facilitate a better work from home experience. Once you’re armed with this information consult with a professional that can help you determine what the best plan is for your specific situation.
Working from home is here to stay. If you haven’t already migrated your data and applications to solutions that make doing so easy, now is the time to investigate. If you need help, call the experts at i.t.NOW. We can consult with you on your specific needs and create practical cost effective work from home solutions that will keep your staff productive.