The large-scale shift to remote work in March 2020 raised numerous questions for agencies about their network infrastructure: Would employees still be able to access the resources they needed to do their jobs? Would bottlenecks diminish their productivity? What was the most effective way to secure this distributed environment?
But even before the pandemic, many agencies were already dealing with an increasingly complex network architecture, and this trend is certain to continue. So how can they manage this environment more effectively?
GovLoop put this question to Brandon Shopp, Vice President of Products at SolarWinds, which provides IT infrastructure management software. He recommended three best practices.
Use Metrics to Get Visibility Into Real-Time Operations
At the beginning of the pandemic, many agency leaders were concerned the remote work environment would make it difficult for their employees to stay productive. In fact, the surge in virtual private network (VPN) connections and in the use of video conferencing and other collaboration tools often led to network bottlenecks that disrupted daily work routines. This is why metrics are so important.
In one case, SolarWinds worked with an agency to leverage performance metrics to get visibility into their networks and identify emerging problems in real time. These metrics fed what the agency called COVID dashboards, which proved to be a boon to its network operations centers, Shopp said.
Use Historical Data to Drive Infrastructure Planning
To develop a realistic infrastructure strategy, you need to understand the demands being put on your infrastructure over time. For example, if a given application consistently eats up the available compute capacity, you can justify beefing up your on-premises infrastructure.
If, on the other hand, you see only occasional or periodic spikes, you might look at migrating the application so you can pay for increased capacity on an as-needed basis. In the long run, a data-driven strategy will help agencies develop budgets and modernization strategies better reflecting their IT requirements.
“Having performance data allows you to make more informed decisions about your priorities based on data rather than on a hypothesis or belief,” Shopp said.
Treat Remote Users, Offices as Part of the Norm
Before the pandemic, most organizations tended to treat remote users, and even remote offices, as exceptions to the norm. The most common solution? Link them back to the data center via VPNs.
But the pandemic showed VPNs, while useful, don’t work well at scale. A better approach, Shopp said, is to push the infrastructure to the edge—that is, push it closer to those remote users and offices rather than forcing them to rely on IT services back at the data center.
Agencies should also look to develop standardized configurations for their extended infrastructure. This consistency will make it easier to set up, maintain and troubleshoot the infrastructure, he said.
Taken all together, it comes back to “looking at your IT road map and making sure the organization understands how their focus might have to pivot given the challenges that arose in 2020,” Shopp said.