Insight by Nutanix

Agencies need to rethink what telework preparedness means

This coronavirus pandemic is challenging our day-to-day status quo from all points of view.

Federal employees and contractors are working remotely in ways and in numbers that are unprecedented.

A recent Federal News Network survey of federal employees found 77% of the more than 1,000 respondents say they are teleworking today because of the coronavirus pandemic. Of those, about 47% said they didn’t already telework before the emergency. This means we have a whole lot of people working from home who aren’t used to it or aren’t happy about it.

All of this means, federal employees and managers, and their industry partners need to consider how to make it all work from technology, people and security perspectives.

Chris Howard, the vice president of U.S. public sector at Nutanix, said there are ways that government can move forward on much-needed telework and related infrastructure initiatives while maintaining mission critical operations as the coronavirus pandemic reshapes how the government works in both the short and long terms.

“A lot of our customers we have been talking to and other folks in government, even if they thought they had a work from home capability, it was always meant to be in very short instances and only a portion of the staff that was potentially teleworking versus, in some cases, we are at 100% of the staff,” Howard said in the Innovation in Government show. “The infrastructure that was built from a concurrent user base, is difficult to support. There’s also networking challenges. There are security challenges. I think the preparedness was not designed for an instance exactly like this.”

Many agencies put their network through a “stress test” before telling a majority of employees to work remotely. From that analysis, many agencies made changes to ensure the network could handle the traffic.

But Howard said it’s difficult to spin up more capacity quickly, especially these days when infrastructure components can be more difficult to find and install.

He said as agencies move forward with network and infrastructure modernization designs, they will have to prepare and plan for the worst case scenarios in a different way than ever before.

Dan Fallon, the senior director of federal engineering at Nutanix, said agencies are expanding existing capabilities either on-premise or in the cloud.

He said there are things like networking and security changes that can’t be done overnight so agencies tend to stick with and improve what they are using today.

“We’ve seen some innovative and creative ways to get around overloading the virtual private network or existing virtual desktop infrastructure,” Fallon said. “We’ve seen agencies do things like a simple virtual desktop in the cloud just to get them the ability to get inside the secure corporate network. Agencies also are off loading things like typical office technology to relieve the virtual desktop and save that capacity for more high-end users so you are splitting the workloads to ease demand on the current infrastructure.”

Howard said two major trends have emerged for how agencies are dealing with the pandemic. He said some agencies are expanding their work-from-home capabilities that tends to be on-premise. Others, however, want to move to a desktop-as-a-service capability where everything is cloud based.

“It’s easier to spin up. You can rent it on a consumption model that is model,” Howard said. “We have a lot of customers who are looking for what solutions are available through the cloud because they don’t have the wherewithal to set up an on-premise telework solution and then still take care of the challenges around bandwidth and security.”

Like most agencies and contractors, Nutanix went 100% teleworking a few weeks ago. Fallon said that decision made company security executives refocus on the idea that the edge of the network is now each employees’ home and device.

“The cyber criminals are not sleeping,” he said. “They are continuing to target the federal networks. There is definitely a need for users to continue to be educated because a lot of it is on the user. Then there are technical solutions. As much as you can do to separate the user’s home environment from the work session. The challenge with your home device, you just aren’t thinking about it as much.”

He said VPN and virtual desktop solutions are some of the ways agencies can secure their networks and applications and separate their environments.

The coronavirus pandemic is opening the eyes of many agency and contractor executives about what the future of work looks like.

Howard said the pandemic will spur innovation in both technology and processes whether that’s an expansion of desktop-as-a-service or virtual desktops or something else.

“I think there will be an increasing demand for multi-cloud and an open architecture that can shift across clouds to deal with the need for additional capacity and expand service rapidly,” Fallon said.