Over the last two years or so, many organisations have moved to the Cloud, often outsourcing the IT operations to a managed service provider (“MSP”). The extent of the outsourcing will depend on the arrangements with the MSP, but will always involve two distinct elements, management of the local and remote IT Infrastructure:
- Full outsourcing – the MSP has full responsibility for the management of the total IT Infrastructure, at both the MSP Data Centre and local site.
- Shared Outsourcing – the MSP has full responsibility for the management of the IT Infrastructure, at the MSP Data Centre and the company for the infrastructure at the local site.
- Equipment Outsourcing – the company has full responsibility for the management of the entire IT Infrastructure, at both the MSP Data Centre and the local site.
A similar scenario that requires remote management but does not involve outsourcing is where the IT Infrastructure is housed in a Data Centre, but managed from elsewhere on the corporate site, or perhaps from elsewhere.
The first thing is to define IT Infrastructure. It is commonly thought to mean IT stuff like hardware and systems software, including network equipment. In reality, it includes applications systems and other management aspects such as workstation management and user support.
IT Infrastructure – Remote Management
In an outsourcing environment, defining what is to be managed and the associated service levels must be set out in a Service Level Agreement. (“SLA”). It can also be helpful to do the same where a user manages their own infrastructure.
If remote management is needed, then who has responsibility for what must be explicitly set out in the SLA.
Another item to consider is the maintenance of the remote link to the infrastructure to be managed. Losing that link, for any reason makes the infrastructure unmanaged. That implies that a secondary link must be in place to step in if the primary link fails. In some environments, rather than being unused, the secondary link can be used to carry specific classes of traffic, for example, VoIP.
To look at some specifics of IT Infrastructure remote management:
Remote infrastructure managers need management-level access to systems, without compromising data and intellectual property security. That means using a VPN to encrypt traffic and having industrial-strength user access management.
Over the last two years, in parallel with the move to the cloud, and increased remote access, the frequency and virulence of malware and other hacking exploits has increased significantly. Ransomware in particular is a major threat to businesses operating in financial services and e-commerce. Loss of service could be a business killer.
A major part of any remote infrastructure management scenario must be a focus on security, both in installing preventative measures, continuous monitoring, and having a business recovery plan. Preventative measures will include using industrial-strength hardware and software to secure access from remote devices. A second requirement is the installation of monitoring software that will alert security staff to unusual network activity.
The software providing monitoring services should also include monitoring of user access to systems and data, again alerting security staff to any unusual activity and attempts to access unauthorised systems and data.
As mentioned above, a loss of service will mean loss of business, dissatisfied clients and a negative business profile. With the best will in the world, from time to time systems will be compromised, remote links will fail, and service levels will be affected. It is essential that policies and procedures are in place to recover from unplanned outages, and that IT staff are trained and prepared if they need to be implemented.
In an outsourced environment, the appropriate tasks and responsibilities in the business recovery plan must be included in the SLA.
If support services are outsourced, users will have understandable concerns. They will worry about responsiveness and the arrangements for the physical support of items such as workstations. Once again, the responsibility for providing such services must be set out in the SLA, especially if there is a Help Desk or Service Desk. A trouble ticketing system allowing users to enter their own service requests and follow up on progress will go a long way to easing those concerns. IT will also help the support service monitor incidents and allocate staff.
The move to home working and remote access, together with systems and data moving to the cloud means that inhouse and outsourced remote management of an IT infrastructure will continue to grow in popularity.
In parallel, applications systems will expand to include app access from smart devices. The Internet of Things adds a new twist to security requirements since IoT devices are typically not security-aware. If we add AI managed intelligent devices like driverless vehicles, loss of service through hacking could have extremely serious consequences. Security is one of the key focus areas over the next few years.
We can expect that new and improved security software and appliances will continue to appear, facilities that will protect user systems and infrastructure against increasingly sophisticated malicious network-based attacks and desktop malware.