The cloud, delivering what it promised, mostly

Since my last blog post, the world has changed massively the COVID-19 pandemic is a major health emergency taking lives across the globe and the world has had to react. The reaction is wide-reaching with (as of the 25th March) reportedly 25% of the world’s population under some sort of movement restriction, this has not only affected our ability to get a coffee or do some shopping but is also having a huge economic impact with businesses finding themselves having to readjust to a new reality, for many this has included most, if not all, staff having to work remotely.

The business I work in is no different, we are a consultancy in the north-west of England and have been since 1985, we work in a traditional manner, that is we have an office that most of us work in every day and while some of us work remotely occasionally we do not have a culture of doing so, the restrictions now in force however, make operating like this if not impossible, at least unacceptable in terms of providing due care and attention to our staff and their families.

The current situation could have been a real challenge but the reality is that we were able to enable all users to work remotely within a day of deciding that this was the right thing to do for our business, how did we do it?

We are not unique, the transition that we, as well as many others, have made has been eased greatly by many of our key services provided via the public cloud. If I wind back 5 years or so, much of the infrastructure we used daily was housed in our datacentre, email, file stores, business applications and telephones, many of those services, while not impossible to enable for a remote workforce, would have been extremely challenging, a seamless transition for us and our customers would have been highly unlikely.

However, in those last 5 years, like many, we have moved much of what rely on to the public cloud, most of our services provided via Office365, email, file stores and of course Teams all hosted on our behalf by Microsoft and our telephone system provided as a service by a UK cloud provider, bolt onto that tools like Zoom, it has left only one application still hosted internally, for that we have provided VPN access just for those that need to use it.

The impact of this has never been more clear as we sent our users to work from home for their safety as well as that of their families, all they needed was Internet access, from there everything else was seamless, devices connecting to 365 resources, desktop and mobile clients connecting to our phone system, which when our customers call they ring on handsets sat in the hands of the same teams regardless of their location. Not only has the impact been minimal to our customers it has been (hopefully) invisible and already the technology shift has allowed us to come up with new and innovative methods of working including a daily meeting hosted on Teams, this allows everyone to check in and rather than this change reducing interaction across the business, it is raising it, everyone making the time to be on the call and happy to share how they are and what they are doing.

This is the point behind the title of this post if we think back to those first tentative cloud conversations one of the major “selling” points was how the cloud provides us resilience, scale, availability and connectivity from any location far beyond what we could do for ourselves. This current situation for many is that claims first true test and on the whole services like Office/Microsoft 365 are passing with flying colours, not without glitches (again as of 25th March users reporting issues with resource restraints inside of Microsoft Azure), however, the major cloud providers will be in a much better place to overcome those glitches than our internal IT teams, with restricted travel and limited access to equipment and services.

Cloud is not only allowing us to deliver services as is, they are opening up new ways of working, the increased use of tools like Zoom are providing not only important methods of communication but providing brand new ways of operating businesses are embracing the idea of delivering services on-line and live and this is not only going to be something to help them survive in the short term but if these new models are successful they are likely to be retained when we start to return to a level of normality.

Of course, I’m not naive enough to suggest that technology easing some of the challenges we face is the answer to everything, many businesses are going to have to deal with far bigger issues as business changes hugely and economies inevitably contract, but the cloud has delivered on one of its core promises and has allowed us to maintain relatively normal operations relatively smoothly and if nothing else it has been one less thing to concern ourselves with and for that, in these challenging times, we are thankful.

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