CIOs need to rethink branch IT to navigate modern business

From an IT perspective, branch offices, remote sites, retail locations, and manufacturing sites are no less difficult to manage than corporate headquarters, despite having fewer employees and a much smaller physical footprint. In addition to this, these sites are the revenue-generating front lines when it comes to business today. Although cloud computing and SaaS-based applications offer an enormous amount of ubiquity, this will not eliminate the need to keep certain critical business systems and information in remote locations.

There is no room for legacy IT

When it comes to IT, legacy approaches to enterprise infrastructure are costly and complex to manage. Businesses become exposed to an increasing number of security breaches and data loss and it can often take longer to recover from unplanned outages. By eliminating traditional server, storage, and backup systems at each branch office and instead creating a 'Zero Branch IT' model comprised of a hyper-converged infrastructure solution, IT can dynamically project applications and data from the centralised data centre, reducing corporate risk with no compromise to performance at remote locations.

As companies migrate more of their applications and information stores to various cloud computing services, and as more employees work remotely, the network has become more complex and difficult to manage than ever. The strain on the WAN routers impacts performance, which makes delivering and using applications slow, unreliable and expensive.

Don’t treat the branch like an afterthought

Organisations have on average 55 remote IT facilities for every large data centre (IDC 2013: Enhancing Business Value with an Edge-Optimized Virtual Server and Storage Delivery Solution). Additionally, IT has to devote 50 per cent of its budget to branch offices. About 50 per cent of all data resides outside the data centre, and almost half of all employees work in branch offices.

An increasing number of organisations are trying to unfold how they can streamline operations by converging technology in the data centre; consequently ‘hyper-convergence’ has become a popular term. However, this does not take into account revenue-generating edges of the business.

A better approach is ‘hyper-converged edge’ whereby technologies such as virtualisation, compute, storage, and networking are combined as one unified solution. What this does is centrally extend the power of the data centre out to all branches, sales offices, retail stores, production facilities, manufacturing plants, oil rigs, government missions, and other remote locations.

This presents benefits as infrastructure is simplified from remote sites while keeping a company’s data protected, IT and business teams agile, as well as still allowing users to remain productive, irrespective of their circumstance or distance involved. An outage or performance slowdown can have implications on levels of productivity, leading to direct loss of revenue.

Make way for Zero Branch IT

Applying a Zero Branch IT model means that CIOs can escape this cycle by extending the security, resilience, and flexibility of the data centre out to the edge of the distributed enterprise. Technology is now able to deliver new services and applications to each and every branch location as quickly as creating new virtual machines in your data centre. What’s more, technology is now available to facilitate the deployment of entirely new branch locations faster than the physical location being ready for business.

It’s essential to imagine what is possible when it comes to adopting a Zero Branch IT model. There is a plethora of benefits when rethinking what can be done at the edge of hybrid networks, and each should be carefully considered:

  • Quick provisioning of new applications and services to branch offices from the data centre
  • Gaining central control of all company data in the data centre – this enables IT to remove sensitive information from high-risk locations without (and this is key), sacrificing performance or availability at the branch
  • Ability to recover remote locations from an unplanned outages within minutes, as opposed of hours or days
  • Ability to cut IT Capex and Opex by eliminating the need to purchase, maintain, and back up infrastructure in branch offices
  • Simplify IT workloads by completely eliminating the need for branch backup
  • Scale on the fly by deploying new branches almost instantly, at extremely low cost
  • Ability to significantly slash Opex by bringing the management of all remote and branch locations back to the central data centre, simplifying and ratifying the branch infrastructure required

To ensure superior application performance, CIOs should opt for best-practice approaches to the Zero Branch IT, hyper-converged edge. This involves proven virtualisation, storage backup, and WAN optimisation technologies, regardless of distance, and for all types of branch applications, whether they’re traditionally run locally at the branch, served from on-premises data centres, or delivered from private or public clouds.

Implementing a solution that combines storage delivery, server virtualisation, and hybrid-WAN optimisation technologies, eliminates the need for physical servers, storage backup infrastructure at their remote and branch office (ROBO) locations. The result of this is dramatic increases in data security, business continuity, agility and operational efficiency.

By applying a Zero Branch IT model, branches are higher-performing, disaster-resistant and more reliable. This will address today’s business needs, while simultaneously reducing cost and improving customer and employee satisfaction. It can also help a CIO sleep a lot easier at night.

Joe Bombagi, Director, SteelFusion EMEA & APJ, at Riverbed Technology