Over the decades, on-site Information Technology (IT) infrastructures have given way to distributed, cloud-based systems. This approach is nimble and accessible, and has helped to revolutionize the way companies work. This has also helped to:
- Improve scalability, availability, and efficiency
- Save on costs and overhead
- Increase productivity and flexibility
- Provide overall resiliency that can reduce the risk of downtime, disruption, and failures
The companies successfully reaching digital maturity right now aren’t just reinventing their tech stacks—they’re reinventing how work gets done. The message is clear: Distributed is the future, and remote is the way.
So, how can you make sure your IT infrastructure is sound, stable, and ready to support you as you go remote? If you’re on the path to modernization with AI, automation, cloud environments, and remote talent, here are some things to know.
Watch this webinar with Upwork and Citrix to learn more about ensuring your IT infrastructure can support a remote workforce at scale, and how to mitigate common security concerns.
What is IT infrastructure?
Information technology infrastructure is a broad term that refers to the technology companies use to support and manage their IT services. It includes physical devices like computers and laptops, as well as the software that runs the operation and the networking that ties everything together.
IT infrastructure isn’t just about the technology. It also refers to the security procedures put in place to protect business networks and keep devices safe—and to comply with regulations in your industry. A good IT environment also helps you manage business data, giving companies quick access to vital data needed to run efficient operations and make intelligent decisions.
Examples of IT infrastructure
- Servers. These computers host files, databases, and applications that your company needs to run. Servers also provide connections between other computers that form a business network. Web servers are also available to provide services to the public.
- Network devices. Network components facilitate data communication between company devices. They include switches, firewalls, and routers.
- Storage devices. Devices used to store, protect, and manage data include hard drives and Storage Area Networks (SANs).
- Databases. Applications to store and manage data are used heavily by applications to function. Examples include Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, and Oracle.
- Operating systems. Among the common options of software to provide applications to end users are Microsoft Windows, Linux, and macOS.
- Security services. Software and hardware systems for securing network devices from attackers include firewalls, anti-malware, intrusion detection, and email spam detection.
- Backup and recovery solutions. Strategies and products for securing data in a backup location are available for cases of data loss and needs to restore missing information.
- Cloud computing. Cloud services are delivered over the internet whether in the form of Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) service providers.
- Monitoring tools. A reliable IT infrastructure needs monitoring tools to monitor systems to ensure they’re in good health. They will check for errors, send alerts to IT administrators, and prevent costly downtime.
- Unified communication. Tools to enable communication through text, video, and audio throughout the organization include video conferencing, phone systems, and email.
- Virtualization. Tools to create virtual environments of servers, storage, and computing systems quickly spin up to emulate environments for testing systems and other tasks.
- Data center. The location that houses an organization’s computer equipment to handle data transmission and connection be located on-site or with cloud infrastructure services.
The goal: remote IT infrastructure management (RIM)
The end goal for remote IT Service Management (ITSM) is the ability to manage IT infrastructures from anywhere—a benefit that’s especially tangible during crisis-related shutdowns like the COVID-19 pandemic. When buildings and on-site hardware are suddenly inaccessible, companies and IT departments have to quickly adopt new practices and tools in order to support virtual, remote work.
Long-term, RIM should be holistic and scalable to support operations management today and into the future because remote work is the new normal.
Here’s a look at what you’ll need to set up a remote IT infrastructure and how to minimize disruptions as you navigate effects created by shifting from on-site to “anywhere” access and operations.
How to set up and manage a remote IT infrastructure
With remote and hybrid work becoming more common, having a reliable IT infrastructure designed for remote work is necessary. Here are the steps to take to create a reliable remote work environment.
1. Map out your existing components, vendors, software, hardware, and services
Start by listing all of the mission-critical, organization-wide components. Then, list service contracts and vendors on a team-by-team basis. We’ve included a selection of items you might have within your organization in the checklist below.
One thing to address as soon as possible is if and how you’ll provision hardware to end users unable to access workstations in the office. For example, who will be assigned laptops? How will you acquire hardware for remote workers? How will you ensure secure access?
2. Identify what can be virtualized or managed remotely, and what you’ll need to support going remote
Which of the items mapped above can be carried over or adapted to remote work? And which can’t? Assigning items to these two categories will help you identify opportunities to upgrade with new solutions such as laptops for remote workers, third-party integrations, or virtual servers. Consider what each team or role needs to support their primary functions. Which of those tasks or functions can be translated to remote?
Tip: This may be a good time to implement an AI and automation strategy. As you’re identifying ways to optimize for remote work, you may also find ways AI and automation can support and streamline roles and tasks. Download the free ebook to learn more.
3. Ensure your internal IT team has a business continuity plan
In the event of an office closure, how will company equipment be distributed to your IT team in order to keep IT operations running? Where will you store the equipment? Which IT services require backup plans?
You’ll also want to address any limitations that shifting away from office facilities may have on your IT team’s ability to provide typical services. Will there be technical delivery delays, or will the team still be able to provide the same level of service? At the outset, be transparent with the organization in terms of IT timelines and expectations.
4. How will new systems change talent requirements?
The changes you adopt may have implications on certain teams or the talent you need to get up and running. For example, you might adopt a more DevOps-focused mindset, automate certain processes, or engage remote IT talent to monitor and optimize your new instances and platforms.
5. Be proactive about security
Create a security framework from the ground up—called a “defense in depth” strategy. For remote IT infrastructures, a common best practice is implementing an identity and access management (IAM) system, which can support processes, policies, and technologies that facilitate secure remote work. These can include sign-on systems, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and privileged access management, which is helpful when working with more sensitive data and information.
Also, limit permissions to the bare minimum needed. This is an excellent rule of thumb across all areas of security—the less access, the better.
6. Run a vulnerability assessment of remote access to any of the tools and functions
While remote components of IT infrastructure and cloud services have freed us from many constraints, these benefits come with increased complexity, vulnerabilities, and risks that need to be mitigated with a tailored security strategy. Plan for plenty of testing and vulnerability assessments to minimize gaps and secure attack surface areas, that is, all the hardware and software that connects to your network.
Managing a remote tech team
Leading a remote team takes a different approach than leading a traditional team. With people out of the office, you must provide the tools and IT resources required to collaborate and get work done.
Here are a few tips for managing people in a remote environment:
- Use communication tools. Having great communication will be a key part of managing a remote team. Offer tools to help people communicate and collaborate with their colleagues.
- Set expectations. People have more flexibility when working from home, but that doesn’t mean they should just do anything they want. Set expectations to ensure everyone understands what they need to do. This will include all requirements that must be met and the work to be done, as well as specific work hours if needed for collaboration with others.
- Provide the right apps. The choice of software applications will make a big difference for a remote team. Remote workers need central hubs for project management, access to company documents, and productivity tools.
- Keep in touch. Teams can become isolated when working remotely. Many people are more productive during the day, but the lack of interaction can drain some people and negatively impact them. Encourage team members to communicate regularly and have one-on-ones with other team members to keep in touch.
Checklist: the components and functions of IT infrastructures
An IT infrastructure can include everything from servers and data storage to the processes, policies, and services behind staffing, training, and security. Map out what your infrastructure looks like from a 35,000-foot view by checking off the components below that apply to you:
- Hardware. Workstations, devices (e.g., laptops, desktops, tablets, smartphones)
- Internal operational software. Enterprise and business software or applications. Internal productivity platforms like Google Analytics, Gmail, and Google Docs; social media management, or tools like content management systems, project management boards, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP), etc. (e.g., Zapier, WordPress, Trello, HootSuite)
- External software. Customer-facing websites, web and mobile applications, ecommerce stores, portals, etc.
- Servers. On-site, cloud, or virtual servers (e.g., AWS, Docker, Kubernetes)
- Data. Cloud-based data storage, analytics, streaming, processing, backup, and encryption (e.g., Apache Hadoop)
- Communications. Network and telecommunications such as email, phone, and messaging systems (Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams)
- Network applications. Microservices, mobile and web backend infrastructures, APIs, or monitoring systems.
- IT and data security measures. Identity and access management (IAM) systems, encryption, firewalls, multi-factor authentication, virtual private networks (VPN), etc.
- Automation platforms. Where AI and automation can support functions and roles
- Development resources. Test automation platforms, event and bug tracking, code versioning, and continuous integration tools (e.g., Jenkins, Ansible)
- HR and Hiring. Talent clouds, freelancer management system (FMS), payroll, etc.
- Customer support. Remote customer service or virtual help desks
Draw up a bird’s-eye view of how these systems interplay with one another. How is each coupled, dependent, or interrelated? What will need to be updated or integrated as a result of any changes you make?
Digital transformation through cloud-based systems and remote work is not only critical for staying resilient in uncertain times, but it’s also the key to competitive advantage. By upgrading your systems, you’ll be able to support and scale a new way of work and be more able to meet your business needs.
Consult with an IT expert on best practices for a secure remote workforce. If necessary, consider who you’ll need to help with any migrations and integrations. Be sure to plan for any cloud transition challenges before migration and consider diverse security measures every step of the way.
Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this article. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.
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