Even with social distancing restrictions easing in some parts of the world, much of the workforce will continue to work from home (WFH) for the foreseeable future. In some cases, employees may even continue to do so after the pandemic passes, drawn by flexible hours and the 10-yard commute.

The problem is, traditional IT infrastructure and software aren’t designed for application usage patterns that have emerged during the COVID-19 lockdown. Unprecedented demand for services such as online grocery shopping is slowing or crashing some applications. And 3:00 AM maintenance windows are a non-starter with distributed teams in different time zones coding around the clock and employees accessing application services outside traditional work hours.

Adapting to these new behaviors – some of which will continue after the lockdown eases – will require significant change to IT infrastructure and application architectures.

For Infrastructure: Go Hybrid, with Edge Caching

If your applications reside in internal data centers, expect virtual private network (VPN) bandwidth to become a bottleneck. Have a plan to add IP addresses, VPN hubs and firewalls when and where needed.

To reduce application latency, consider moving applications to public clouds with locations closer to your users. For the most noticeable improvements to the user experience, start with heavily used applications experiencing variable demand over the day; cloud services enable you to add or remove resources in step with demand, paying only for what you need. Consider creating rules to automate the scaling of cloud resources.

If the public cloud is farther away from your users than your data centers, reduce application latency by caching frequently accessed content on internal servers. Edge caching works best with content that doesn’t change often, such as documentation, product and pricing information for an e-commerce application, or profile data for customers who use the application daily. You can control how often cached content is purged using tags.

When we helped a leading roadside assistance provider adopt a hybrid cloud model with edge caching for its claims management services, application responsiveness jumped 50%, and downtime shrank to nearly zero. Zero downtime is paying dividends during the lockdown, when IT teams are focused on enabling WFH.

For Software: Use Containers to Boost Availablity

In the first week of the pandemic lockdown, U.S. workers logged onto the network an average of three additional hours more than usual. To support around-the-clock application usage with no downtime, start modernizing legacy applications. Think of modernization as taming an unruly garden. Some applications need minor tuning, akin to trimming the hedges, while others need a complete overhaul, analogous to replanting the beds.

For quick wins, start modernizing applications accessed from mobile devices or by users spread out geographically. For these applications, we recommend a container architecture, which packages code along with operational dependencies so that the services can be freely moved across servers without modification. When a server needs maintenance, the containers running on it can be moved to any other server with a few clicks – with no downtime.

When we measured the impact of containers for a large insurance client in Canada, downtime decreased from 10% to nearly zero. Meanwhile, application management overhead shrunk by 25%, and infrastructure costs dropped by 30%. Highly reliable apps are especially valuable during the lockdown, enabling companies to give their customers an alternative to overloaded call centers.

Secure Work-Life Integration

While public cloud platforms and application modernization can enhance the WFH experience, they can’t protect the endpoint from malware. Antivirus software is not enough when employees’ family members might borrow the company laptop for homework or browsing, inadvertently downloading malware that spreads to the company network the next time the employee logs on.

Mitigating the increased risk of work from home requires comprehensive endpoint security, in addition to employee education. Workers need to be reminded to be wary of links in emails, recognize phishing attacks, etc. While a robust anti-virus package is important, it’s not enough – also consider integrated firewalls, disk encryption and data-loss prevention.

Start Small – Now

When should companies begin to make changes for a post-COVID-19 world? Our advice: Move quickly, taking small steps. Racing to move applications to the cloud without modernizing the application architecture provides little value. It’s a mistake, for example, to simply move a virtual machine in the data center to a virtual machine in the cloud and expect performance improvements. In fact, simply “lifting and shifting” applications to the cloud can cause more problems than it solves. For example, if the application depends on services that remain in the data center, network latency and “chattiness” between the components can cause congestion that slows or crashes the application.

At the other extreme, it’s also a mistake to plan the future of each application in such detail that by the time you’re ready to make changes, the underlying technology has changed significantly – as has the business.

Modernizing your applications in incremental steps will produce greater value over time. Here are the steps we recommend:

  • Explore the full scope of the transformation, including business goals, scope, readiness, constraints and the immediate focus.
  • Frame a roadmap, identifying the applications that will benefit most from a container-based architecture.
  • Calibrate by choosing one or a few apps to begin with and then build and test a minimum viable product (MVP). 
  • Scale application modernization at a pace that works best for your business.

This approach will enable your business to deliver an exceptional user experience in the continued need for social distancing – and prepare for enduring workforce and customer behavior changes that will likely remain once the pandemic recedes.

Visit our COVID-19 resources page for additional insights and updates.

Pradeep Behl

Pradeep Behl

Pradeep Behl is a Senior Architect in the Solution Architecture Subpractice within the Cognizant Digital Engineering Practice. With more than 20 years... Read more

Prem Balasubramanian

Prem Balasubramanian

Prem Balasubramanian leads the Solution Architecture and Reliability Engineering Subpractice within the Cognizant Digital Engineering Practice. With more than 20 years of... Read more

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