Jun
17
2020
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‘One day we were in the office and the next we were working from home’

Ryan Easter couldn’t believe he was being asked to run a pandemic business continuity test.

It was late October, 2019 and Easter, IT Director and a principal at Johnson Investment Counsel, was being asked by regulators to ensure that their employees could work from home with the same capabilities they had in the office. In addition, the company needed to evaluate situations where up to 50% of personnel were impacted by a virus and unable to work, forcing others to pick up their internal functions and workload.

“I honestly thought that it was going to be a waste of time,” said Easter. “I never imagined that we would have had to put our pandemic plan into action. But because we had a tested strategy already in place, we didn’t miss a beat when COVID-19 struck.”

In the months leading up to the initial test, Johnson Investment Counsel developed a work anywhere blueprint with their technology partner Evolve IP. The plan covered a wide variety of integrated technologies including voice services, collaboration, virtual desktops, disaster recovery and remote office connectivity.

“Having a strategy where our work anywhere services were integrated together was one of the keys to our success,” said Easter. “We manage about $13 billion in assets for clients across the United States and provide comprehensive wealth and investment management to individual and institutional investors. We have our own line of mutual funds, a state-chartered trust company, a proprietary charitable gift fund, with research analysts and traders covering both equity and fixed income markets. Duct taping one-off solutions wasn’t going to cut it.”

Easter continued, “It was imperative that our advisors could communicate with clients, collaborate with each other and operate the business seamlessly. That included ensuring we could make real-time trades and provide all of our other client services.”

Five months later, the novel coronavirus hit the United States and Johnson Investment Counsel’s blueprint test got real.

Apr
30
2020
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Microsoft makes it easier to get started with Windows Virtual Desktops

Microsoft today announced a slew of updates to various parts of its Microsoft 365 ecosystem. A lot of these aren’t all that exciting (though that obviously depends on your level of enthusiasm for products like Microsoft Endpoint Manager), but the overall thrust behind this update is to make life easier for the IT admins that help provision and manage corporate Windows — and Mac — machines, something that’s even more important right now, given how many companies are trying to quickly adapt to this new work-from-home environment.

For them, the highlight of today’s set of announcements is surely an update to Windows Virtual Desktop, Microsoft’s service for giving employees access to a virtualized desktop environment on Azure and that allows IT departments to host multiple Windows 10 sessions on the same hardware. The company is launching a completely new management experience for this service that makes getting started significantly easier for admins.

Ahead of today’s announcement, Brad Anderson, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Microsoft 365, told me that it took a considerable amount of Azure expertise to get started with this service. With this update, you still need to know a bit about Azure, but the overall process of getting started is now significantly easier. And that, Anderson noted, is now more important than ever.

“Some organizations are telling me that they’re using on-prem [Virtual Desktop Infrastructure]. They had to go do work to basically free up capacity. In some cases, that means doing away with disaster recovery for some of their services in order to get the capacity,” Anderson said. “In some cases, I hear leaders say it’s going to take until the middle or the end of May to get the additional capacity to spin up the VDI sessions that are needed. In today’s world, that’s just unacceptable. Given what the cloud can do, people need to have the ability to spin up and spin down on demand. And that’s the unique thing that a Windows Virtual Desktop does relative to traditional VDI.”

Anderson also believes that remote work will remain much more common once things go back to normal — whenever that happens and whatever that will look like. “I think the usage of virtualization where you are virtualizing running an app in a data center in the cloud and then virtualizing it down will grow. This will introduce a secular trend and growth of cloud-based VDI,” he said.

In addition to making the management experience easier, Microsoft is now also making it possible to use Microsoft Teams for video meetings in these virtual desktop environments, using a feature called ‘A/V redirection’ that allows users to connect their local audio and video hardware and virtual machines with low latency. It’ll take another month or so for this feature to roll out, though.

Also new is the ability to keep service metadata about Windows Virtual Desktop usage within a certain Azure region for compliance and regulatory reasons.

For those of you interested in Microsoft Endpoint Manager, the big news here is better support for macOS-based machines. Using the new Intune MDM agent for macOS, admins can use the same tool for managing repetitive tasks on Windows 10 and macOS.

Productivity Score — a product only an enterprise manager would love — is also getting an update. You can now see how people in an organization are reading, authoring and collaborating around content in OneDrive and SharePoint, for example. And if they aren’t, you can write a memo and tell them they should collaborate more.

There are also new dashboards here for looking at how employees work across devices and how they communicate. It’s worth noting that this is aggregate data and not another way for corporate to look at what individual employees are doing.

The one feature here that does actually seem really useful, especially given the current situation, is a new Network Connectivity category that helps IT to figure out where there are networking challenges.

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