Business Continuity Planning: Preparing for Telework in Response to an Emergency

publish date is March 12th, 2020
By: Zach Evans, Managing Director

Most businesses are familiar with the use of a VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) for typical remote workers or occasional access to company resources from home. These solutions work very well, and allow employees to access file shares and other network resources as if they were sitting in their office. Because of this, businesses may feel that this is the obvious remote work solution when planning for Telework in response to an emergency or pandemic situation, but there are several considerations when making determinations about how best to work remotely on a company-wide scale.

Technology and Network Considerations related to Telework (specifically on a large scale)

• Connecting through VPN and accessing network resources like file shares, etc. can be a significant drag on your business’ internet bandwidth. Because all actions are pulling files, application activity, etc. across the internet, a VPN user can utilize 5-10Mbps of bandwidth at a time. If many users are doing this concurrently, it can quickly impact performance and responsiveness.
• Additionally, performance (responsiveness, speed of access) on a VPN is limited by slowest internet connection in the equation. If your connection at home is unreliable or has a low bandwidth limit, this will be your limiting factor. If your office connection is heavily utilized and constrained, this will be your bottleneck.
• Streaming of music or video through the VPN (or while connected to the VPN) can severely impact performance, specifically if a number of people are connecting simultaneously. In most cases, when connected to VPN, all internet traffic leverages the office connection. This is an unnecessary drain on the office bandwidth.
• Users should only be connected to the VPN if necessary for access to network resources – file shares, on-premise email connectivity, access to role-specific applications (an Accounting software package, for example), etc. If you do not need access to these types of resources on a consistent or ongoing basis, disconnect from the VPN for the time being and reconnect when needed. This is inconvenient, but if leveraging VPN for the entire organization, this will help to conserve bandwidth as best as possible to protect performance.
• If you primarily use hosted/cloud email (Microsoft’s Office365 or Google’s G Suite), cloud-based applications, and the internet for your role, you do not need to connect through the VPN.
• VPN usage requires a VPN solution and related licensing. It’s important to ensure that your organization has enough licenses to support all of the users that will be connecting. In most cases, companies have a limited number of VPN licenses because in typical situations, most workers do not work remotely.
• As mentioned, internet bandwidth is a primarily limiter for wide-spread VPN usage. Although it is certainly possible to increase your bandwidth, it can be challenging for a few reasons. Depending on the type of internet connection you have (cable/broadband vs. fiber, dedicated vs. best effort, burstable vs. hard limit), you may not be able to increase your speeds quickly or easily or inexpensively. Increasing your bandwidth can be dependent on a number of factors, including equipment limitations or build-out requirements, for example. Your Internet Service Provider equipment or your company’s own firewall device may only have the capacity to handle a certain amount of bandwidth. Increasing beyond these limits would require the purchase of a new firewall and/or a swap out of the ISP’s device. If a build-out is required by the ISP to increase your speeds, there is typically a 90-120 day wait to get this completed. Another limiting factor is related to cost. In most cases, you are required to sign a long-term contract for increased bandwidth (at an increased rate), but after the temporary need for full-scale remote work subsides, you will likely be stuck with bandwidth and related costs that you simply no longer need.
• If a large number of your users will need to work remotely, and these users need access to network resources, you may want to consider alternative options, like Remote Desktop solutions. These solutions leverage your work PC as a remote workstation, allowing you to connect to it and work on it as if you were sitting in your office. The benefit to these solutions is that instead of pulling files and/or other resources across the company bandwidth, you are primarily just sending keystrokes and all processing of data/files, etc. is happening within your office network. This is much less of a drain on office bandwidth and should provide better performance for all.
o This will require that your work PC (laptop or desktop) is turned on and at your office (on the office network).
o It is important to ensure that your work PC is set to not “go to sleep” after a period of inactivity.
• Most organizations have some type of collaboration software in place. This can be an important tool when the majority (or all) of your organization is working remotely.

Steps for Developing a Plan

1. Determine your best option for access to your company’s network resources. Consider the implementation and use of a Remote Desktop solution.
• Verify that you have the correct type and number of licenses to meet your needs.
2. Determine how your team will interact while working remotely. Consider the implementation of a collaboration tool that provides chat functionality, project-based “meeting” rooms, and conferencing capabilities.
• Microsoft is offering a free 6-month trial of the premium version of their Microsoft Teams solution.
3. Determine potential bandwidth requirements and investigate whether or not your current internet bandwidth is sufficient for your needs.
• Contact your Internet Service Provider and your IT support team to determine what options might exist for increasing your bandwidth; consider equipment limitations, timeframes, contract requirements, costs, etc.
4. Determine how phone calls, etc. will be handled by your team. In many cases, VOIP phone systems can be used from anywhere that has an internet connection. This will allow your team to work as close to normally as possible, while minimizing impact felt by your clients.
5. Develop and communicate comprehensive policies related to Remote Access and Telework.

About Sophisticated Systems

Sophisticated Systems’ has been providing technology services and solutions to Central Ohio for more than a quarter-century. Our Technology Solutions Group has more than 200 years of expertise amongst its team, and we are knowledgeable and experienced in developing Disaster Recovery plans.
We offer customizable technology solutions that fit the needs of our clients. Our skilled technology professionals deliver measurable value to our clients so that they can focus on their business priorities.

Our suite of technology services and solutions includes IT projects, managed services, cloud services, technology deployment, network monitoring and security, hardware and software procurement, and professional services.

SSI has been recognized multiple times for its dedication to uplifting the Central Ohio community as Corporate Caring award finalist and recipient, as well as one of the fastest growing companies, both locally and nationally, by Columbus Business First, FORTUNE and INC. magazines.