Sunday 01 Oct 2023
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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on April 12, 2021 - April 18, 2021

After more than a year of operating in a pandemic, it would not be difficult to assume that companies would have come to terms with work-from-home (WFH) arrangements, establishing the necessary standard operating procedures and infrastructure to facilitate a remote working environment.

These preparations have not only been essential to the day-to-day running of companies during the pandemic but also serve as the foundation of a new hybrid working environment — a growing trend among organisations that have witnessed first-hand the benefits of remote working.

However, business owners and IT departments are currently facing the daunting challenge of supporting the technical and technology needs of employees working both in the office and remotely, says Tommy Lok, regional solution architect at Paessler Asia-Pacific.

“The typical home networking infrastructure is not designed for everyone in the household to be at home at the same time. When family members are streaming videos or children are playing online games, the home network’s bandwidth may get overloaded, causing connectivity issues for employees trying to join virtual meetings,” he says.

“Another common challenge would be IT security, because security parameters now encompass all employee home networks and home devices. Considerations have to be made, for example, if valuable company data is stored on a personal home computer.”

Lok points out that preparing non-corporate-owned devices for work use involves many steps, including installing security features, updates and patches, as well as establishing remote endpoints to allow employees to connect to company servers remotely.

“The typical home networking infrastructure is not designed for everyone in the household to be at home at the same time. When family members are streaming videos or children are playing online games, the home network’s bandwidth may get overloaded, causing connectivity issues for employees trying to join virtual meetings.” - Lok (Photo by Paessler)

Another point he highlights is that IT departments are now shouldering the task of troubleshooting employees’ technical issues. For example, they regularly receive inbound calls on how to connect to the company’s server because some software requires special configurations to be remotely accessible. 

“A year after the pandemic, it is still a problem because most of the IT environments that we have encountered are not well prepared for this massive shift,” says Lok.

Small and medium enterprises do not invest in high-performance equipment while larger businesses are worried about complying with regulations such as the Personal Data Protection Act, as employees can bring the data and assets home on their personal devices, which may spark privacy concerns.

Lok observes that companies approach remote working in different ways. Small enterprises, which do not have adequate budgets may have to implement their IT and remote working solutions in phases, while larger businesses may find that the most efficient way to enable remote working is to create a virtual private network (VPN) that allows users to connect to the company’s servers. With this in place, the company can restrict access to applications and assets while monitoring the network.

Under such circumstances, he believes that central monitoring systems such as Paessler PRTG will play an increasingly important role in a progressively more hybrid working environment.

Sunrise industry for monitoring solutions

Paessler PRTG helps businesses monitor critical business systems such as company devices, network infrastructure, VPN connections and even robotic process automation (RPA) systems. 

According to Lok, the solution is currently being used by more than 300,000 IT administrators in over 170 countries. With more companies venturing into cloud services, there is an increased demand for centralised monitoring systems that are able to monitor network traffic from both cloud services and on-premise infrastructure — a service Paessler PRTG provides.

“One of the three key benefits of monitoring solutions is bandwidth monitoring. For example, the system can track how much of a network’s traffic is being fed into a particular computer application or protocol,” he says.

“Second, the network management solution is able to continuously check whether an employee’s devices can be reached and monitor the devices’ uptime and downtime. Finally, there is performance and alert monitoring, which monitors the network speed, CPU usage, RAM loss and other important system parameters.

“Most organisations only employ a few IT staff members. So, it is important to have a centralised monitoring system to provide them with a comprehensive overview of the company’s IT infrastructure.”

Lok points out that these features help address one of the most significant pain points IT departments face — resolving IT and technical issues before they arise and reducing the employees’ need for troubleshooting.

After being aware of a technical issue, the IT team generally uses existing tools to troubleshoot the root cause of the problem. But to do so, they have to log into multiple consoles and go through an arduous process of resolving them. A centralised monitoring platform would provide visibility of all the IT operations from the get-go, saving them plenty of time and effort.

Lok says many business owners have the misconception that monitoring solutions are primarily security tools that prevent and protect the IT infrastructure from attacks. Instead, monitoring systems primarily enable visibility of the company’s IT infrastructure, and that comprehensive security solutions are built on top of that bedrock.

He also points out that companies from a wide range of industries have benefited greatly from monitoring solutions — primarily those in the telecommunications, manufacturing, services, transport and healthcare industries.

“For telecommunications companies, we actually provide them with a real-time overview of their equipment and devices, such as the status of their radio towers. Not only do we monitor their network infrastructure at data centres, such as firewalls, server loads and virtual environments, we also have physical sensors to monitor the data centre’s physical environment such as humidity, smoke detectors and even movements in the server room,” says Lok.

Although employees may shudder at the thought of their employers constantly monitoring their activities and devices due to privacy concerns, he stresses that Paessler PRTG is not a solution designed to collect employee data, but to monitor the capabilities and status of IT components.

“The solution focuses on performance metadata of machines rather than the content created and used by users. For example, if a user’s home network environment only caters for a 100Mbps bandwidth, certain software may cause the network to spike, and the monitoring solution displays graphs to help users detect that.”

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