March of 2020 began as you would expect: people looking forward to the Spring and planning those Summer vacations. All of those plans would soon unravel as the COVID-19 pandemic would dig its claws into the lives of everyone around the world.
A client called on us for help. They needed to move to remote work as fast as possible. This client is in a regulated industry, with high-security obligations. The vast majority of their employees went into the office each and every day.
Like many companies, their initial thought was to purchase, configure and ship laptops to their remote staff. The pandemic had different ideas: the supply chain was in shambles, laptops were hard to find, not to mention the nightmare of shipping, receiving, configuring and re-shipping hundreds of laptops. The company did have a small Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solution, but it was already over capacity, and wasn’t very popular with the staff.
Enter AWS Workspaces
AWS Workspaces came to mind. It’s an alternative to laptops or desktops and perfect for the work-at-home scenario. You can think of it as Amazon’s take on VDI, and it’s easy to deploy and scale. AWS has a Windows Server 2016 installation designed for use as a desktop. They also offer Windows 10 Enterprise under the BYOL (Bring Your Own License) umbrella.
Unlike traditional VDI implementations with a limited amount of computing resources available (and there is almost always contention for those resources), AWS has enough overall capacity, such that you never feel like you’re sharing resources with others. While the quota for how many Workspaces you can have is relatively low to start, there is a process in place to request an increase in these limits. I requested several thousand Workspaces for our client. While AWS wanted to verify they had the capacity to do so (keep in mind that I was one of many organizations that asked for large amounts of Workspaces in that same week), they rapidly authorized the quota increase.
Since Workspaces, like almost all AWS services, provides a rich API for provisioning, I was able to quickly automate the setup of several thousand Workspaces. Workspaces play nicely with the systems you may already use, like Active Directory and management tools such as Ivanti or Endpoint Configuration Manager. They also provide their own application layering tools to customize images for various individuals or departments without managing a pile of different VM images if you don’t already have a strategy for managing those assets.
This client had four distinct Active Directory server farms. I connected to all of them in one account and provisioned Workspaces out to each accordingly. This work took only hours to execute. The entire workforce could begin working from home, with all the conveniences of their computer behaving as if they were in the office, with the appropriate security controls still in place.
Within days, AWS Workspaces had accommodated their needs. Additionally, the client could issue older hardware, like outdated laptops, that only needed to run the AWS Workspaces client. This technology saved the client tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in new hardware costs while maintaining their regulatory bodies’ security. Additionally, once life returns to normal with people back in the office, you won’t have a pile of hardware that you purchased and no longer have a use for. Instead, you simply reduce the amount of AWS Workspaces that you have provisioned.
AWS Workspaces offers flexibility in terms of billing, usage, and applications, plus, AWS Workspaces are easy to use. Customer satisfaction with the solution is fantastic, and their help desk couldn’t be happier. Overall, AWS Workspaces made a complicated process easy and I don’t know if it could have been any better even if we’d planned far in advance.
Our goal at LucidPoint is to find the right IT solution for your purposes. Whether it’s AWS Workspaces or something else, we believe IT should serve your needs.
Containers are the new Commodity
The advantages of UNIX logical partitions in the early days of enterprise computing became mainstream and cross-platform to now colloquially be known as Virtual Machines, "VMs." Almost overnight it became clear that running business applications inside a VM was the default posture purely from the portability and consistency advantages they provide. The VM-based operational model was highly effective at decoupling your valuable and complex applications from your commoditizing hardware investments. Now architects can center IT workloads around data and software without direct ties to hardware appliances and vendors. While VMs have made it much easier to maintain and life-cycle traditional IT workloads, they're still each heavy weight full-fat OS systems that require a level of care and feeding that's not trivial, even in the most efficient and automated shops.
As container orchestration technology such as Kubernetes and container-based marketplace solution support have gone mainstream in today's Cloud computing era, nearly all businesses are finding a similar transformative effect that VMs brought historically. Every modern cloud platform will allow you to run a serverless framework around your containers nearly instantly -- at production grade. Every modern laptop will allow a developer to run the very same containers and get the same experience during development. This consistency and portability in packaging smooths promote-to-production activities and ensures consistent deployment behaviors.
For most businesses, directly managing IP addresses, server OS patches, file system usage, etc. are all administrative overhead that can disappear completely in a smartly implemented container-based hosting strategy. As you find opportunities to make technology selections, consider how agile a container-focused hosting strategy for your applications can make your business. While containers aren't the right runtime for every workload, the friction-free deployment and universality of containerized workloads completes the decoupling of your applications from hardware and OS burden. Containers are an ideal way to enable both aggressive innovation and mainstream application non-stop availability.
Agility through CI/CD
Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment/Delivery was once a concept primarily relevant to the software engineering use-cases. The CICD concept automates all of the downstream events after source code has been committed to successful deployment of that change. With modern IT systems managed through infrastructure-as-code and automated DevOps patterns, CICD has become the new norm among technology-focused operations teams. Not only is CICD used to integrate the latest security fixes into custom code, but it's also the gold standard framework to manage software-defined IT infrastructure from the bottom-up. An ability to respond quickly, robustly test, and consistently deploy changes to your environment are now table stakes to operate best-of-breed services. CICD techniques and implementations allow your business to position digital assets with your customers and employees quickly and with total consistency. Defining your digital assets in source code repositories and executing automated build, test, and deployment jobs enables the CICD dream across all IT workloads. React faster, innovate rapidly, and proactively operate with total consistency. Talk about gaining a competitive advantage!
Losing the Infrastructure Pounds
Every environment is unique and the modernization journey that's best for your business must reflect your strategic goals. Whether an in-place refactoring is all you need, or migration to a whole new platform, adopting the techniques described here will help set a solid foundation to make the latest technologies truly valuable for your business. If you're asking yourself what it will take to bring Advanced Analytics or Machine Learning capabilities to your high-value business data, consider starting by first modernizing your critical systems and identifying what new business opportunities a faster innovation cycle unlocks for you.
Becoming agile with your IT workloads doesn't mean using less data or squeezing out CPU cycles until your applications sweat. Often the most effective way to help your IT systems move faster and become more powerful is to simply use better tools or different consumption models to manage the ever evolving needs of your business.
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