In Times of Panic, IT Preparation Pays Off

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced office closings, Nutanix CIO Wendy M. Pfeiffer explained how IT teams can empower remote workers with automation and virtual desktop technologies.

By Joanie Wexler

By Joanie Wexler March 23, 2020

As businesses and governments reacted to red alerts aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19, the people in charge of managing the technologies powering those organizations felt added pressure from an unprecedented wave of work-at-home employees.

Chief information officers around the world saw their IT teams hammered by employee demand for remote access to business data and applications. The dramatic pivot from office to remote working in early March was a wakeup call for many IT departments, and for others, it was a time to shine, according to Wendy M.Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix. 

“Engaging and enabling employees through technology has grown even more critical for IT leaders during what is becoming a ‘seismic shift to remote work’ fueled by the pandemic,” stated Pfeiffer in an article in CNBC.

[Read related article: Coronavirus Gives AI and Big Data Chance to Shine]

She pointed out that business productivity is heavily reliant on business data. Providing data access to employees in an office setting is one thing, but providing it to employees working remotely requires robust planning and the ability to scale and react quickly to changing needs.

“As employees increasingly interact with technology from their homes, user-friendliness, design, and utility play more important roles in fostering worker productivity,” she said.

Plan and Test for All Scenarios

Nearly three-fourths (74%) of global respondents to a 2019 IWG Global Workplace Survey believe that flexible working is the norm. “It's one thing to have part of the workforce at home and an entirely different scenario when thousands of people are trying to connect remotely to a VPN simultaneously,” said Pfeiffer. “It becomes a test of whether your system will scale.”

Smart Male IT Programer Working on Desktop Green Mock-up Screen Computer in Data Center System Control Room. Team of Young Professionals Programming Sophisticated Code

Thinking about such eventualities and conducting “what-if” planning are critical first steps for IT if they want to make sure everyone can access apps and data securely from home. She advised considering what would happen if suddenly the entire company needed to telework and the network became overloaded.  

“Ask yourself: What is the backup plan? Will the collaboration tools currently in place scale? Do people have instructions for how to access the systems they need to do their work?”

Once IT has developed a small set of possible scenarios, the next step is testing to ensure performance and scalability.

[Related story: This CIO Drinks Her Own Champagne]

“If you’re at a company that hasn’t made much progress here, do it right now,” Pfeiffer said. “Plan one day when all of IT works from home. If something physically doesn’t work, this is an excellent opportunity to learn about it and fix it.”

Pfeiffer and her team run the company’s infrastructure on Nutanix software and use Nutanix Prism to ensure they can manage global systems from anywhere. 

“We are also using Nutanix Frame [desktop as a service] to ensure that even employees working from home over low bandwidth connections can access all of the capabilities that we provide for them in IT,” she said.

Align on Technology

Many people talk about remote collaboration technologies, but according to Pfeiffer, some don’t emphasize the importance of configuration. She said knowing how to use technology is just as important as knowing what technology to use. 

At Nutanix, Pfeiffer’s team has created an ever-expanding intranet site called, “How to Work from Home.”  It includes details about accessing the VPN, logging into company-wide applications, how to use the corporate video conferencing tool, and how to enable employees to use their mobile phones on the company’s cloud-based IP phone system.

The website compiles the information into one central place for remote work while serving as a resource for new employees who join the company.

Virtual desktops also play a role.

“We have worked hard at enabling employees through our cloud-based virtual desktop solution, Frame, which allows them to access their desktop, files and networks without having to be in the office physically,” Pfeiffer said. Remote staff has secure, reliable access to any application from their home web browser, with no software download required,” she explained.

Empower IT Teams with Automated Runbooks

Runbooks are a basic tenet of IT management that outline where a system is running and how to access it, store admin accounts and passwords, document expected operations and performance, provide monitoring guidance, and detail how to stop and start a system, explained Pfeiffer. In a worst-case scenario, a core contributor may be inaccessible, and all team members need to be able to function using this information. 

“Today, almost any runbook and its associated workflows can be automated,” she said. “The extent to which your organization has made progress in running things autonomously is a huge factor that contributes to your ability to weather a storm like this, even if a significant part of the team is impacted or unable to work.”

For companies that haven’t started the automation journey, just getting the runbook information updated is a good step to ensure consistency and performance, Pfeiffer advised.

“Replacing even 5% of your manual operations with code can contribute significantly to your ability to scale in times of pressure,” she said.

Maintaining Employee Productivity

An organization’s main value comes from its employees, said Pfeiffer. When they’re isolated from each other as they perform their daily work, how IT leaders support and enable them through technology will have a profound impact on the productivity of the company overall. 

“IT has the systems, tools and processes to enable every person in corporate America, if necessary, to physically disconnect from the web of coronavirus contagion and work from home,” said Pfeiffer. “And if everybody does that, then we’ll buy the medical professionals and scientists enough time to create and promulgate a vaccine. And that will save thousands of precious lives.”

Pfeiffer said that she believes that when the history books cover this time period, IT pros will get an honorable mention.

“My people – the techies, nerds and social misfits – will be listed with the heroes,” she said. “We’ll be the people who had the foresight to build our companies on a solid foundation of scale-out technology. We’ll be the ones who bought society enough time to find and deliver a cure.”

Try Nutanix Frame Desktop-as-a-Service free for 30 day.

Editor’s note: This article was largely excerpted from articles written by Nutanix CIO Wendy Pfeiffer for CNBC and LinkedIn. Read her Nutanix blog post IT in the Time of COVID-19

Joanie Wexler is a contributing `writer and editor with more than 20 years’ experience covering IT and computer networking technologies.

© 2020 Nutanix, Inc. All rights reserved.  For additional legal information, please go here.

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