Beyond Legacy Thinking: 3 Suggestions for SME IT Admins Considering the Shift to the CloudJanuary 21, 2021 No Comments
Featured article by Van Romine, IT Manager, Inland Valleys Association of Realtors (IVAR)
For those of us who have worked in IT long enough to remember checking out dongles to employees or assisting users with dialing in through phone lines, the shifts in technology over the last 30 years have been no less than extraordinary.
Despite such innovation, legacy thinking (as opposed to legacy systems) often binds us to solutions and processes that simply don’t work as well as contemporary alternatives. This can be especially true for those of us who work in the SME space, where we’re often the only one managing a complex and critical infrastructure that supports many.
I fully empathize with the hesitancy around migrating to new systems. Not only is the process costly (usually in terms of both time and budget), there’s always the chance it won’t work as well as the system you know. But sometimes you don’t have a choice. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to accelerate that transition to cloud, as was the case for nearly every global organization. The rapid shift to remote work forced IT teams of all sizes to instantly adjust to a new remote work structure. With that change came an opportunity to reevaluate how modern solutions better solve today’s IT challenges.
As the IT manager for a small company that manages 4,000 users, I had the benefit of overseeing the successful transition to a distributed SME workforce. I learned three lessons, offered here for those looking to make a similar move.
1. Just get started—and stay open to new possibilities.
Prior to our shift, we’d made some progress in our cloud adoption. We’d initially sought a cloud-based directory service as a backup possibility in the case of an earthquake—an important consideration here in California. We’d implemented VoIP phones, replaced Microsoft Exchange, and moved financial systems to cloud-based platforms. But Microsoft Active Directory (AD) was one of the last holdouts of our cloud transformation.
While we went to the cloud for reliability, stability, and disaster recovery (DR) for all kinds of worst-case scenarios, COVID-19 meant we needed to make that shift to a cloud-based directory. We never expected to depend on it for anything longer than a brief period. We were soon surprised by the functionality, flexibility, and ease of use we experienced while running our infrastructure in the cloud.
For example, we needed a SaaS solution that would run in parallel with AD. We stumbled upon JumpCloud’s cloud directory platform and liked that it could serve as a comprehensive identity bridge by extending AD to non-Windows and cloud-based resources, while also offering a standalone directory service. We migrated users to JumpCloud, converting domain-bound accounts to local, JumpCloud-managed accounts on users’ machines. When we had to make the shift to fully remote work, this solution solved not just for our initial use, but provided a foundation to expand. Our users were already accustomed to the JumpCloud workflow, so it didn’t lead to any disruption, despite my initial concerns. In fact, it was a Friday when we’d discussed shifting to remote; by Tuesday, employees took desktops and monitors home and logged on.
Simply put, my experience suggests that if you’re considering a more holistic transition to cloud, just do it. Though we haven’t shifted off of AD entirely, our experience with the cloud-based JumpCloud platform has resulted in our only rarely using AD at all. The shift was seamless and I couldn’t have anticipated it going as easily as it did.
2. Explore hidden value.
Because we hadn’t been planning for a long-term shift to the cloud, we had zeroed in on the functionality we needed in the moment. Once things settled down, we had the opportunity to move from simply making things work and assess how new tooling allowed us to make things work well.
For example, we deployed JumpCloud initially for its directory services in relation to AD. But the JumpCloud platform offered additional access and identity features including policies and custom commands that allow IT to configure security settings, update patches, and tackle other maintenance tasks. We were also able to use additional features, like those that return telemetry data about hardware, software, and network configurations.
Because of the time and cost of getting an IT infrastructure up and running, it’s no surprise that IT teams can be reticent—not only to experiment with new technologies but to look beyond the use case for which they’re currently solving. Agile development and product-led growth postures of many cloud companies likely translate into available features that you aren’t taking advantage of. Exploring and using those can provide operational and security improvements over legacy solutions.
3. Use cloud solutions to scale simply.
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that predicting the future can be a little dicey. But what does seem certain is that remote work, or a hybrid model that relies on it, is likely here to stay. A recent Gallup survey reported nearly two-thirds of U.S.-based remote workers would prefer to continue working remotely; Gartner found that 90% of HR leaders plan on allowing it after the COVID-19 vaccine is available.
So while SaaS applications offer a plethora of benefits, it’s important that the solutions you choose are able to support your organization not just today, but also tomorrow. Because on-premise data infrastructures have underpinned operations for so long, many consider them necessary for handling user workloads. But cloud solutions offer not only the flexibility to manage users in cross-OS environments and with multiple devices, but also the ability to adjust and scale based on immediate need. As the world transitions to whatever the new work normal will be, cloud solutions can meet varied scalability issues, without the cost and time spent managing on-prem servers or complicated legacy systems.
The new reality is that we’re never going to go back to the old ways of doing things. That can sound a little scary, especially at SMEs, where small IT teams aren’t supported by large IT departments or budgets. But we can support one another along the way. I hope my experience serves as an example of the benefits of cloud solutions and how you can maximize value for your team.