Virtual Internal Cloud: Building global business collaboration
Ideal infrastructure relies on three best practice pillars: security, freedom and mobility
By Rasesh Shah and Aliasgar Rajkotwala (l-r)
Swift advances in mobile devices and worldwide information networks have untethered employees from their traditional office environments. Most organizations face challenges in building a culture that ensures work-life balance and increased job satisfaction. The work culture needs to ensure that deadlines are met under relatively stress-free environments while ensuring data security.
This article describes challenges and lessons learned along the way in enabling a virtual global workforce with freedom, mobility and the highest standards of security.
Global Business Collaboration
The advantages of mobility are so attractive that IDC projects 1.3 billion professionals are expected to work remotely by 2015, representing 37.2 percent of the total workforce. Adding another layer of complexity, most organizations understand that today’s fight for top talent demands they offer employees the ability to complete assignments on time and still successfully manage their personal lives.
Supporting security, productivity and employee freedom is easier said than done. Most organizations struggle to balance these competing goals with the right infrastructure that enables their employees a wide degree of flexibility while retaining the company’s accountability to safety and security.
Having a formal expression of “People Principles” creates an environment of trust and freedom by encouraging employees to define their goals, as well as self-regulate and evaluate their performance. Such policy guidelines ensure an open, innovative, collaborative and meritocratic culture by empowering people with ownership and accountability to serve and satisfy clients.
To successfully adopt a people-principled culture, organizations need a reliable and scalable infrastructure. However, the use of a large-scale internal cloud infrastructure that supports a diverse set of software platforms also increases security risks, especially for global organizations.
Such organizational systems need to have:
- secure data transfer and storage capabilities;
- the ability to tightly manage authorization and data access controls;
- the ability to process large data volumes in the internal cloud infrastructure; and
- safeguards to avoid potential data leaks.
To successfully adopt a people-principled culture, organizations need a reliable and scalable infrastructure.
Building a Global Collaboration Infrastructure
The ideal infrastructure relies on three best practice pillars: security, freedom and mobility.
Security: The ideal mobility solution gives each employee access to two environments: production and personal. The production environment represents the security of an internal cloud that is controlled, monitored and secured using authentication, authorization and access protocols that meet or exceed the client’s security standards. The security-mobility bridge creates physical restrictions and control measures to ensure production data cannot be shared or copied to the personal environment, and vice versa.
Freedom: The personal environment, in contrast, is an open space dedicated to the employee. This space is kept completely partitioned from the production environment, and gives users the flexibility to engage in activities outside of client servicing, such as company administration, training or personal email. The personal environment allows the employee to manage their personal business and check in on families and friends while upholding client and corporate data usage protocols.
Mobility: Mobility allows a global services organization to deliver the best service to clients, bringing a more flexible way of working from anywhere and anytime without compromising productivity, security or committed delivery timelines. For example, analysts and data scientists can build solutions that solve complex, big data problems using a range of software and analytical tools on their laptops, with standard security appliances that protect client data. Meanwhile, their consulting counterparts can log into secure servers to view project results from tablets while traveling or take a quick late night status call while their kids are sleeping, without risking a data breach.
As we set up our own virtual global workforce, we faced three key challenges when we decided to enable virtualization throughout the company: 1. sizing challenges, 2. user adoption, and 3. managing cost.
Sizing challenges: Virtualization is a proven global technology, most often related to cloud-based servers for data storage and access. Desktop virtualizing is less common and is still in the early stages of adoption by the big data industry. When it comes to enabling a global team of analytics professionals, especially where freedom, mobility and security are paramount, virtualizing a desktop environment is a necessity that is fraught with unique challenges.
Before designing a desktop virtualization infrastructure, you first need to define the scope, scale and requirements of your solution. This requires careful planning and consideration across a number of dimensions including:
- accurate sizing of computational and graphical requirements;
- storage area networks and input/output ratios; and
- network throughput.
To overcome these challenges, we captured software, computation and storage requirements from a cross-section of teams representing different functions and locations. We reviewed and prioritized the requirements and developed a plan to address the most common and critical issues in a systematic manner.
User adoption: Users demand high performance from their technology systems, and most users are very comfortable with how they experience local computing. Business users are particularly demanding. Even when they recognize the benefits, they are often slow to adapt to system changes. To move people out of their comfort zone into a virtual environment, the computing experience needs to be seamless with equivalent performance, with the look and feel of a local desktop.
Unfortunately, achieving adoption often requires using the lemming approach. Find a group of highly motivated users to pilot the new system before rolling it out across the organization. This approach will allow you to fix bugs and create a case study with happy promoters to share their experiences to encourage others to give it a try. Ask your marketing team to help you build a promotional program using a “slow reveal” to generate curiosity and make the adoption process fun and engaging. Take the time to set up training with multiple iterations and repeated reminder tips, then gamify with adoption statistics showing how many users are coming onboard each week or month to build momentum.
Managing cost: Virtualization can be expensive to enable collaboration across a large global workforce. Providing the benefits of security, flexibility and mobility comes at a cost. The goal, of course, is to find an approach at marginally higher costs as the current infrastructure to accommodate both production and personal environments.
Practices such as standardizing the software and laptop models can contribute in a significant way toward standardizing the virtual environment and controlling the overall implementation costs.
To fuel the explosion of analytics demand around the world, a virtual internal cloud infrastructure can ignite workforce morale, boost productivity and create a robust, global data security environment. It is possible to build an internal infrastructure to support the development of analytics based on the three best practices of global collaboration: security, freedom and mobility.
Choosing the right technology and sizing the infrastructure is very important to make the project successful and feasible from a technical and commercial point of view. Set up your virtual environment to engender a happy and productive workforce on your journey toward institutionalizing analytics.
Rasesh Shah is senior vice president and CIO of Fractal Analytics, a global provider of predictive analytics and decision sciences headquartered in Jersey City, N.J. He has 23 years of technology experience building and delivering IT solutions and services. His mission is to scale analytics with quality, by providing a big data environment that enables real-time analytics for clients.
Aliasgar Rajkotwala is associate director and global head of IT at Fractal Analytics. He has more than 15 years of diversified experience from conceptualizing to implementation of a large, scalable and secure infrastructure. He is currently the architect of information security and governance at Fractal, responsible for driving innovation strategies that further evolve an advanced big data IT infrastructure in support of global Fortune 500 clients.