The Sudden Need to Work Remotely: How This Company Transitioned 500 Users in Just One Weekend with a Cost-Effective Solution on Microsoft Azure
At 3 PM last Friday, we received an urgent call from a long-time client. Like thousands of companies across the world, this national media company was suddenly faced with the immediate need to enable their users to work remotely.
The need to go virtual…with no time to spare
We’re hearing cases of this challenge daily. The need to suddenly work remotely, is not only a cultural shift, adding more stress to an already stressful situation, but it’s also a technical, governance, and budgetary challenge. For this client, in particular, this appeared to be a very significant technical challenge. With 400+ radio stations in 87 media markets, this company was facing a herculean effort to figure out how to transition 500 market managers, who are responsible for programming across their entire radio network. There were additional complicating factors:
- The company was in the process of rolling out Microsoft 365 when COVID-19 hit and was not yet fully able to collaborate remotely, trying different technologies to temporarily fill the gap fast.
- Second, the company’s current systems are older, client-server scenarios. For example, a critical application the market managers use for scheduling ads, managing the network, scheduling radio programs and so forth, would not lend itself well to 500 remote workers all using it at one time.
- Last but certainly not least, they are extremely security conscious and very risk-averse because many of their competitors have been the target of ransomware attacks.
Azure—and thoughtful design—provide the answer
This company has been a client of AKA’s for many years, and we are hosting their on-premises Microsoft Dynamics GP (Great Plains) ERP system on Microsoft Azure. Essentially, GP is a client-server application with a server backbone running beautifully in the cloud. So, they thought, “Why can’t AKA do the same thing with any application needed to be accessed remotely? Can it be done quickly? And without breaking the bank?”
The answer from AKA to all those questions was YES. With Azure, you can make any application, not just Microsoft—even open-source Linux!—accessible to your employees at any location and on any device (not just company-issued hardware) and satisfy compliance and security requirements.
Over the course of an hour, the client and AKA came up with a solution: Virtualize desktops using remote-to-desktop software—with access to applications through a browser on any device and completely secure—and add extra servers as needed to handle the load.
Outcome: Problem solved and 500 users enabled to work remotely – in one weekend
The entire project—adding more servers, loading the software, taking care of connectivity, testing, and deploying the solution to 100 users as a soft launch, the entire project took less than 48 hours after the initial call. By Tuesday, all 500 users were conducting business as usual.
Fast scalability that only Azure could provide
AKA is continuing to monitor the environment, ensuring the servers are at the right capacity. Here is where Azure stands out: Servers can be sized up in minutes. As the CTO said, “So, you’re telling me that, through a couple of clicks, within a half an hour you can double the size of the entire farm?” Yep, pretty much.
Glitches: None. Cost: Surprising (in a good way)
With such a monumental shift in operations, you would assume there were glitches along the way. Amazingly, there were not. The only thing that happened—which slowed the process only slightly: The AKA team had to wait for a list of users who required the primary application so they could be added to security groups. Otherwise, the company sends requests by email to add a username to a group.
The cost of the project might surprise you. Because of the flexibility and scalability of Azure, AKA’s number of billable hours on this project were amazingly low. But more importantly, the client did not have to buy laptops or servers. In fact, they had just invested in a large number of Chromebooks and were concerned that they would essentially be useless in this situation. That was not true.
In addition, the client can run their servers 24/7, but they don’t have to. They can easily use automation schedules to throttle based on load, scaling up or down as needed. If they don’t use it, they don’t pay for it. And, if you’re wondering, this is where Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) differ. Unlike AWS licensing, which can get expensive, Azure’s cost is based on paying only for what you use. If you shut down a server, you don’t pay for it—nor do you pay for the licenses.
Every solution—like every business—is unique
If your company is facing a major paradigm shift like this, you are probably wondering if this solution will work for you. Every organization has its own, unique infrastructure, software, requirements, and security concerns. The customer story discussed here is just one example.
But here’s the key take-away from this story: If you’re suddenly faced with the need to move to a remote workforce (or some other major shift), there is an answer, and it doesn’t have to be a weeks-long, painful, budget-busting IT project.
We are a partner dedicated to supporting businesses in any way we can to get through difficult challenges now and in the future. Our doors are open and our experts are here to help. Let us know what we can do for you.