COVID-19 – A Stress Test for The Remote Workforce

The rapid spread of COVID-19 worldwide and growing concerns have escalated quickly due to our interconnected world. This is a challenging and emotional time, and we are grateful for the support of caregivers and healthcare personnel around the globe who are working tirelessly to stem the tide of this brutal virus and support the many people who are in need.  At 2nd Watch, we have instituted similar mitigation efforts as many other companies regarding travel, social distancing and deep cleaning of offices.  We are fortunate the very nature of our cloud business allows us to maintain business continuity for our clients because we are already largely setup for working remotely and telecommuting. We are sharing a recent customer use case in the event businesses are having issues setting up remote operations. Maybe you haven’t felt the extremes of the effects yet, but many have. Imagine this scenario:

Friday 8:00AM

You receive a call and mandate; your Westcoast office has been shut down suddenly and immediately.  All 400 employees are sent home.  Many didn’t even have the opportunity to collect their laptops or other items in their workspace.  First and foremost, you hope all are healthy and safe.  Their wellbeing is paramount.

Now the questions start, “How will I do my job and remain in a safe environment?”

Saturday & Sunday

Over the weekend you deploy desktop-as-a-service (DaaS).  It is secure, compliant, and more importantly, ready to go with the tools the workforce needs.

Monday 8:00AM

Your company is ready to serve the needs of your business and customers.  You can continue under the new “normal” we are experiencing.

2nd Watch is committed to helping our clients during this unprecedented time.  The example above is exactly what we did for one of the largest media companies in the world.  Not only was DaaS implemented in record time, it was done meeting the governance and compliant requirements the business follows.

If you need to discuss how to meet your Business Continuity requirements, let us help you in developing a strategy.  2nd Watch is a Premier Amazon Web Services partner and a Microsoft Azure Gold Partner.  We have extensive experience with these cloud providers in delivering remote worker solutions while leveraging funding opportunities, reducing the capital constraints.

Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS)

Amazon WorkSpaces and Azure Windows Virtual Desktop solutions are secure ways to enable your workforce to work remotely from home on either personal devices or company owned equipment.  They can be centrally managed and rapidly deployed and configured.  DaaS is the go-to solution to get your new remote workers up and running.

Application Streaming

When there is a limited number of applications that need to be accessed remotely and securely, Amazon AppStream is a solid solution.  Existing applications are deployed quickly with your current authentication platforms.  It works well with mobile and browser-based platforms.

Remote Connectivity

VPN-as-a-Service can be used for rapidly scaling remote connectivity back to your corporate IT assets.  Using industry standards and best practices, you can get your workers access to what they need without the hassle of procuring and provisioning new hardware.

Operational Management

2nd Watch is an audited Managed Service Provider for both AWS and Azure.  We were born in the cloud and have a different perspective on how to manage your infrastructure based on our experience.  Not only can we design and build solutions for the unexpected, we know how to keep your infrastructure running, allowing you to focus on your business.

If we can help you prepare the best course of action for your business, please do not hesitate to include us in your planning.  We are committed to helping all of our businesses survive and thrive.

In the meantime, following are several tips for working remotely. We hope these are helpful, and that you and yours will be safe and healthy.

  • Stick to Your Routine – If you’re used to getting up early, keep doing it, even though you may be working from home. Maintaining a normal schedule will help you do your job to the best of your ability, and it’s the best way to ensure that your colleagues, customers and partners will be able to reach you.
  • Maintain Engagements and Connections – If you have meetings or appointments, do your best to keep them, but do so online. There are an abundance of collaboration and conferencing tools available, including Windows Virtual Desktop and Amazon WorkSpaces. They can help you stay connected and productive, wherever you are.
  • Be Healthy – If you’re not accustomed to working remotely, it can be tempting to feel added pressure to perform, which can lead to longer work hours and anxiety. Given the current level of anxiety most of us are feeling already, it’s more important than ever to take breaks, go for a walk, eat well and exercise.

Ian Willoughby, Chief Architect, 2nd Watch

Cost Accounting for Amazon WorkSpaces

Who would have thought, back in 2014, when AWS launched Amazon WorkSpaces it would have such an impact on the virtual desktop market?  Amazon WorkSpaces—AWS’ fully managed, secure desktop computing service—allows enterprises to easily provision cloud-based virtual desktops and provide users access to the documents, applications, and resources they need from any supported device. Over these three short years, Amazon WorkSpaces has made great strides in reducing the costs related to VDI deployment, support and software packaging while improving service levels and deployment time of new applications. Amazon WorkSpaces provides the flexibility to securely work from anywhere, anytime and on any device without the cost and complexity of traditional VDI infrastructure.

However, enterprises have faced a few challenges when deploying Amazon WorkSpaces.  One of the grea challenges with wholesale deployment of Amazon WorkSpaces has been how to allocate the costs associated with thousands of instances to the various departments that are using each resource.  In 2016 AWS enabled users to tag each workspace with up to 50 tags.  While this is a step in the right direction, tagging is not included in the launch process. Instead, users have to remember to tag the instance after it is launched. This is where the process tends to break down, leaving thousands of dollars related to cloud spend either un-allocated or incorrectly allocated.

To address this drawback, it is important to create and implement two processes. The first step is pretty basic: Develop a process and train all team members responsible for launching new WorkSpaces to tag each workspace after it is launched.  The second step is to set up automation to efficiently audit and provide notifications when resources (specifically Amazon WorkSpaces) are launched without a particular tag or set of tags.  Unfortunately, with Amazon WorkSpaces you aren’t able to use the AWS Config “required-tags” rule to enforce your process policy as Config only supports a limited set of AWS resource types. (NOTE: You can check out the AWS Config Developer Guide for more on using it to enforce tag requirements on Config supported resources.) Instead, you can roll your own tag enforcement solution using AWS Lambda and CloudTrail.

This process is fairly simple. When you activate AWS CloudTrail logs, AWS will dump all API calls as JSON log files to an S3 bucket.  You can then setup a trigger on that bucket to invoke an AWS Lambda function that can scan the logs for specific events, such as Amazon WorkSpace’s “CreateWorkSpaces” method. If it finds an event, it can publish a message to an SNS topic notifying you that the resource does not have the appropriate tag.  You can even set the message up to include the creator tag that AWS adds to all new resources. This way, if you need to know who launched the instance in order to determine how to tag it, you will have that information included.

Even when you have the tag in place there is still the issue of how to allocate those costs incurred before the resource was tagged.  Because AWS tags are point in time, only costs associated after the tag is in place will be included in any AWS tag report. 2nd Watch’s cloud financial management tool, CMP|FM, is a powerful resource that can provide accurate cost accounting and deep, financial insight into Amazon WorkSpaces usage by applying boundaries by month to all tags.  In other words, any tag applied during the middle of the month will be applied to the entire month’s usage— appropriately accounting for all of your costs associated with Amazon WorkSpaces—without the need to manually allocate them to the correct department.

If you are looking to deploy Amazon WorkSpaces across your enterprise, it is important to ensure that you have the systems in place for proper cost accounting.  This includes implementing documented processes for tagging during launch and automation to identify and manage untagged instances, and leveraging powerful tools like 2nd Watch CMP|FM for all your cost allocation needs to ensure accurate cost accounting.

— Timothy Hill, Senior Product Manager, 2nd Watch