Evaluating "Office in a Box" for the Enterprise

John Cupit, CTO, Cloud and DC Transformation, Global Solution Expert Team America Branch, Huawei Technologies USA, Inc.
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John Cupit, CTO, Cloud and DC Transformation, Global Solution Expert Team America Branch, Huawei Technologies USA, Inc.

Corporate acquisitions, new market entry and the expansion of operations are driving the rapid addition of new branch offices in the Enterprise environment.  The average Enterprise data center today, on average, serves over fifty-five branch offices or remote locations. The growth of branch offices, while critical to future business growth and success, require significant infrastructure CAPEX and OPEX costs. In addition, the operation and management of the remote sites introduce significant support and security challenges.

As the number of branch locations increases, the Unified Communication (“UC”) and collaboration requirements often drive the additional deployment of infrastructure while further increasing the OPEX required to deliver applications and data reliably and efficiently.  Emails and voice mails stored on these locations is often left unprotected and is frequently stored on systems deployed in a wiring closet as opposed to a true data center environment.  Without qualified IT staff on site to manage the infrastructure and key business processes, provisioning new services, resolving application issues and executing BC/DR can take days or even weeks, which ultimately impacts business productivity and business results.

Given the advancements in virtualization and the cloudification of the Enterprise environment, several carriers in the United States and Western Europe are selling “Office in a Box” solutions which also provide managed UC solutions (such as Office 365 Managed Skype for Business; which was formally known as Lync).  These offers, in conjunction with Virtual Desktop Instances (VDIs) provide Enterprises with a potential approach to reduce the CAPEX and OPEX required to support rapid growth.

From the CIO perspective, how does someone evaluate an “Office in the Box” solution? The following factors should be considered in the decision to deploy “Office in a Box”.

  ​It is no surprise that the biggest driver of VDI and Managed UC in any Enterprise is cost   

Total Cost of Ownership It is no surprise that the biggest driver of VDI and Managed UC in any Enterprise is cost.  Cost of laptops and desktops represent a large percentage of the annual IT budget.  The maintenance and operations of IP PBXs across multiple locations can significantly increase OPEX.

Agility  A user’s productivity is determined on how quickly and efficiently an IT organization can provision and set up business critical services. If we treat desktop as just one more critical service, historically it is one of the slowest to deliver as well as one of the slowest to support.  If all desktops are virtualized back at a centralized data center, it becomes very easy to push out the user instance so it can be securely accessed anytime on any device.

Action Evaluate the provisioning process that the Vendor utilizes both to turn up and turn down business critical services from a user perspective.

Security, Compliance and Governance  Through the deployment of VDI and Managed UC, we can centralize, control and protect data within the confines of d data center or cloud instance.  This supports the use of centralized mission-critical resources to store the data as well as capable tools to protect and manage the data.

Action Evaluate how the vendor is providing security in depth and the platform that the vendor is using for data management. Do you have access to a real-time portal which monitors the security of the data streams? Does the vendor have the necessary audit processes that your business processes require?

Technical Challenges The following technical issues with “Office in a Box” must be closely analyzed before any executable decisions are made:

Network Capacity and Costs

Wide area network costs still remain some of the highest expenditures for enterprise networks. Large WAN pipes are required to stream multiple VDI, Voice and Video streams to the remote end users. This typically results in high network costs, both at the data center as well as at the remote office.

Storage Capacity and Costs

In 2011, VDI consumed $7 to $8 in backend storage for every $1 dollar spent on VDI deployment.  Today, that number has been reduced by about 50 percent, but we are still storing VDI images on Enterprise-grade storage arrays.  While storage is becoming commoditized; Enterprise grade storage is still not cheap.  VDI creates significant I/O requirements and boot storms and Antivirus scans can cause havoc during certain times of the day and affect end-user experience. Moreover, the I/O patterns are often quite random with mixed read/write ratios and can cause the storage systems to behave erratically, causing system outages or data corruption.

User Productivity

User productivity can suffer through latency and through network outages.  VDI and UC applications drive real-time traffic and hence have low latency requirements. When I move a mouse or type an email, I want to experience immediate feedback on my screen. If my virtual desktop is sitting hundreds, even thousands of miles away, I may experience some lag. Secondly, since VDI solutions are typically consolidated in the data center or deployed in the cloud, these solutions are totally WAN dependent. If the network connection is down, a user cannot access his or her desktop or any other service for that matter, and productivity suffers. 

Architectural Limitations

Branch users typically have branch peripherals they interact with such as scanners and printers.  In a VDI deployment, a simple print job is executed at the data center, traverses the WAN and then is sent to the local printer. PDF files tend to be quite large and can create network congestion as well as delays in printing.

Certain VDI solutions offer a “View Only” mode to reduce the amount of WAN print traffic, but this mode is often not suitable for some environments.

Action It is critical to analyze the applications and the data flows that you are seeking to support with an “Office in the Box” solution.  What is the minimum WAN connectivity that is required?  Does the solution support 4G or LTE for failover?  How is voice supported in the event that the WAN connection is lost?  Are there specific days when print jobs will be heavy?  The most crucial aspect is to understand the number of seats you are supporting and the average data flows that each seat will create so that you can properly calculate WAN bandwidth and evaluate the RTO of the BC/DR processes that are provided to avoid downtime.

Conclusion

Data Center consolidation and the cloudification of the Enterprise environment will facilitate more cost effective solutions in support of remote offices.  “Office in the Box” is one of those solutions that can be utilized to support VDI and UC in a cost-effective manner.  As with most solutions, it is necessary to fully understand your application mix and the business processes that you seek to support as well as the data flows that these business processes will create.  “Office in the Box” is not a one size fits all solution.  It is imperative to evaluate the approach in light of the specific recommendations that have been articulated herein.

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