5 Ways to Improve Your Remote Branch Office Operations

by Andrew Mullen on January 14, 2017

For many companies, their remote or branch offices (commonly referred to as ROBO sites) are where the action is. It's often in these locations that most customers come into direct contact with the company. And enterprises recognize the importance of their ROBOs - that's where half of their employees work.

It's in the ROBOs that critical operational data is generated during interactions with customers. When ROBO IT operations are disrupted, customers don't get served, data gets lost, and the company's reputation gets damaged. Yet, when it comes to IT infrastructure, branch locations are often given less than adequate attention and resources.

Challenges of Branch Office IT

In most companies, the organization's most expert IT staff are based in the central office data center rather than in outlying locations. In many cases the IT infrastructure in ROBOs is staffed by non-professionals whose primary job responsibilities lie elsewhere. Rather than having a well thought-out and planned strategy, IT operations may be based on a group of ad hoc solutions built up over time as responses to that particular location's specific needs.

For CIOs and IT managers dealing with multiple locations, each with its own IT policies and hardware/software implementations, is very difficult. In fact, a recent survey reveals that many IT professionals consider support of ROBOs to be their #1 challenge.

The Cloud Can Help Improve Branch Office Operations

More and more companies are discovering that the easiest way to address ROBO support issues is to consolidate as much branch office IT infrastructure as possible in the cloud. By centralizing ROBO applications and data in a cloud-based virtual data center, the company's professional staff (or that of their managed cloud services provider) can give the IT needs of remote locations the expert attention they require. This makes management of the organization's overall IT operations much more efficient, while reducing the amount of equipment and staff required in remote locations.

Here are some steps that can help you move your branch office operations into the cloud.

1. Create A Central Data Repository In The Cloud

The amount of data stored on site in ROBOs should be minimized to the greatest extent possible. Consolidating information generated and accessed by branch locations in the cloud allows it to be managed and supported by the company's most technically capable IT staff members using the most advanced technologies available. Pushing that level of expertise out to multiple remote locations would simply be cost prohibitive for most organizations.

2. Virtualize Servers and Storage In The Cloud

Through the use of server virtualization and software defined storage technologies, applications and data that are housed and supported in the company's centralized cloud-based data center can be made available to ROBO employees just as if those resources were on site at the remote location. The key is to ensure that applications and their storage interfaces are implemented so as to make them independent of local hardware or network configurations.

3. Manage Backups and Disaster Recovery From The Cloud

One of the biggest areas of concern for IT managers is that ROBO-housed data is particularly vulnerable to loss because of a natural or man-made disaster or, as is often the case, human error.

Many ROBOs have no coherent data backup/recovery strategy at all. In far too many cases, critical portions of the information a branch depends on for its day-to-day operations exist only on a local server, or perhaps on the hard disk in an employee's computer, or maybe even on a USB thumb drive casually hidden away in someone's desk drawer.

Even when the ROBO does have a formal disaster recovery plan, it's often untested. The first time the holes in the plan make themselves known may be when an actual disaster strikes. Then, of course, it's too late.

But when a ROBO's information is concentrated, along with the rest of the company's data, in a cloud-based data center, the entire disaster recovery and business continuity process can be managed according to a single coherent, well thought-out, and well-tested plan.

4. Test Newly Installed or Upgraded Applications and Configurations On Virtual Servers

Remote locations seldom can afford to support duplicate systems that can be used to comprehensively test changes to applications and storage configurations before they are introduced into the production environment. That means the branch's operations are subject to disruption when changes are made and unexpected problems occur.

But when the production environment is based or replicated in the cloud, virtual servers and associated virtual storage can be employed to fully test changes under the exact conditions in which they are expected to run. Once proven, the upgrades can safely go "live" with the figurative flip of a software switch.

5. Implement Secure File Sharing For Global Access And Collaboration

One of the greatest problems with data that is generated and stored locally within a ROBO is that it is local. Making such information available to other parts of the organization in a manner that safeguards its integrity and security can be very difficult.

But when all of a company's data is consolidated in the cloud, it can be made concurrently accessible to all authorized users wherever they may be located. Safe collaboration among multiple users can be enabled by the use of sophisticated file sharing software. For example, the Talon FAST™ offering provides global file locking that protects against data being corrupted through simultaneous changes made in different locations.

Yes, Branch Office Operations Can Be Improved!

Maximizing the effectiveness of your branch office operations will mean moving a substantial portion of the IT functionality of your ROBOs to the cloud. And doing that will require extensive virtualization through the use of sophisticated software such as industry-leading Talon FAST™. If you're ready to explore how business cloud storage can improve your ROBO operations, a good place to start is by watching the this Talon FAST™ video.

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