Category: Hosted Virtual Desktops

The Remote Work Survival Kit Under the Threat of the Coronavirus

There is no denying the impact COVID-19 has had on us over the past couple of months. The coronavirus has managed to work its way into every conversation, news headline, and social media post.

The coronavirus is a pandemic according to the World Health Organization. The threat of the virus spreading
has changed the way we live. We have to prepare ourselves for the upcoming months. Canceling large events and gatherings is one way to mitigate the spread of the virus. Sports, schools, churches and many businesses have closed. Or they avoid interaction with the public. Social distancing is the new mandate. Government officials have urged us to not congregate in large crowds. Stay at home if possible. Many companies are sending emails to employees asking them to work from home if possible. Companies that aren’t set up to work remotely are scrambling to make it happen. What was once an option has become a necessity.

This article will provide some options on how to deliver a great work from home experience. None of these technologies are new. If used in combination they will ensure a better work-from-home experience.

Let’s start with the one that can take on many forms and methodologies: BYOD. Bring your Own Device. Gartner defines BYOD as allowing someone to use a personally-owned device to access a company’s resources. This could be the company’s email. It could be actually installing a VPN client on their home computer. Each company has a different take on the level of access granted to non-company assets.

 

The “Bring Your Own Device” concept has been around since 2004. It is not a new trend. What is new is the popularity of using personal mobile devices on the job. The security risks of allowing access to corporate resources has discouraged some companies from adopting a BYOD policy.
Bring Your Own Device

In this post by Remote.CO you can get a sense of the varying level BYOD plays at different organizations. BYOD had its start in the mobile device world. Companies were tired of purchasing cell phones for employees. Employees were tired of carrying around 2 phones. Employees carried their personal phone and the locked-down, outdated one provided by the company. Since then, companies have other ways of getting business data secured on personal devices.

Mobile Device Managers

Microsoft Intune and VMware Airwatch are MDM programs that help protect corporate data on personal devices. Employees have access to an Enterprise app store where they can consume their internal data while using their device of choice. The employee first opts in to install the MDM agent on their device. The list of devices with current modern Operating Systems is no longer limited to only smartphones. Once the agent is installed, the company can push down a profile that allows the device to be managed. Both Intune and Airwatch have a robust set of policies available for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. What degree of enforcement the company has on the phone will vary on the company and device type. Once the agent is deployed, and the configuration of Security baseline is set, the device can be actively monitored and secured. This could mean enforcing Bitlocker encryption for Windows 10 devices or managing Filevault on macOS with Intune.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

VDI technology has taken many forms over the years. In its purest form, VDI is accessing a virtual machine over the network from a client or web-browser. This enables companies to have virtual machines always available on the internal network. These virtual controlled Existing management systems control these machines. Security tools protect the company provided applications and data. Having a proper VDI solution for employees to use can be a major advantage. Especially if they need to travel or work from various locations and/or devices. If a company already has VDI in place today, the process of deploying new virtual desktops is easy. It only takes seconds to accommodate new users.

VDI began as a technology installed on-premise or in a company’s private data centers. Later VDI transitioned to the cloud. The major VDI players Citrix, VMware and Microsoft all have major cloud offerings. This is called DaaS or Desktops as a service. Citrix and Microsoft host their DaaS offerings within Azure. VMware can host desktops in AWS, Azure, and the IBM Cloud. Google Cloud is coming soon.

The ability to leverage cloud-based virtual desktops has great advantages. Especially in certain situations like Disaster Recovery. Traditional VDI takes longer to procure and deploy new hardware. DaaS has some extra benefits like less IT overhead. This is because the cloud provider manages more components.

 

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a means of which a computer user is granted access only after successfully presenting 2 or more pieces of evidence (factors) to an authentication mechanism. These are usually having to do with knowledge (something only the user knows); possession (only the user has it); and inherence (like fingerprint voice scan, or retina scan).

Let’s discuss the use of a multi-factor authentication solution. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a subset of multi-factor authentication (MFA). It ensures you can pass multiple criteria for identity. This includes something you know (password or security PIN). It also includes an object like a security token or fob. Finally, something physical that is specific to you (fingerprint, retina scan, facial recognition). A 2FA solution would offer only 2 of these mechanisms to prove your identity.

We’ve all had to input our email or phone number when signing up for an account online. Using a mobile banking app is a good example. An authentication mechanism can be a one-time-password sent to you via text message. It could be using your phone’s builtin face or fingerprint reader. These are ways to prove your identity.

The FBI warns MFA solutions are not completely foolproof. Still, it’s the best way to thwart cyber-thieves from stealing your data. Having a second form of authentication proof is safer than only having a long password. Most modern smartphones and laptops have a built-in fingerprint or smart card reader. There are several key players in the MFA space. The top leaders include Okta, Microsoft Azure MFA, and Duo (recently acquired by Cisco). Duo uses a simple cloud-based 2FA approach. Their system integrates with various types of applications. When a user attempts to gain access, a VDI or VPN provider sends a push notification to your smartphone. The user acknowledges the push notification on their smartphone. There’s no need to enter a second password or copy a 16-digit PIN for verification.

The order from management is to stay at home. Do not come to the office for the next 2 weeks. Work remotely until government and health organizations deem the coronavirus has been contained. Don’t worry about a report or project plan saved on your office desktop. Embrace VDI technology.

Do Your Work, Anywhere, and on Any Device

 

If you’re new to working from home, make sure your technology is in order. One important aspect of working remotely is communication. Make sure you have the bandwidth needed to support your tasks throughout the day.

The order from management is to stay at home. Do not come to the office for the next 2 weeks. Work remotely until government and health organizations deem the coronavirus has been contained. Don’t worry about a report or project plan saved on your office desktop. Embrace VDI technology.

VDI means working from a virtual desktop every day. Your data is always available, accessible from wherever you are and protected. Your data is more secure now than it ever was when kept on-premises. The data is backed up across different geographic regions within the cloud. There is no need to worry about catastrophic power or network outage at your local data center. It’s also always on and provides a consistent experience whenever you need to access it.

Maybe you don’t need a full Windows Virtual Desktop to get your work done. You just need access to a handful of SaaS apps like Salesforce.com. An Okta or other MFA solution can help authenticate you from an outside connection. This allows you to gain entry to those specific internal resources without the need to install a VPN client.

Or, what if all you really need is to access your corporate email and files on your phone while safe at your home? Having your smart device enrolled in your company’s Mobile Device Management solution can provide the access you need while keeping the business data secured.

Deciding how to start a remote work enablement plan for your team can seem like an overwhelming task. Like other challenges, it can is not so daunting when done in small steps. Better yet, it is a good idea to bring in experts who can design a solution that works best for your business.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. While there are many ways to enable employees to work from home, there is only one that is perfect for your needs.

Many adversities are beyond our control. It is helpful to focus on those things we can control. We can take steps to prepare for the uncertainties ahead. We can do what is best for our employees and our loved ones.

Using the cloud to work remote is less to do with “social distancing,” and more to do with benefiting your company. Being on the cloud will democratize opportunities for you across the board. You’ll see that remote work is not so much a challenge to overcome, but a business advantage to achieve.

 

The Main Benefit of VDI
VDI Planning: 4 Key Pitfalls to Avoid
What is VDI?

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) enables virtualized desktops hosted on remote servers on the Internet.  Reducing the need for hardware while improving flexibility, VDI offers practical benefits as well as a hefty return on investment. There is a strong business case to be made. According to the IDC, “The Business Value of VMware Horizon,” of January 2016, there is a 5-year return-on-investment of 413 percent. On average, the virtualized desktop costs 71 percent less to buy, deploy, support, maintain, and use over a 5-year period. This is on a per-device basis. Users spend 76 percent less time on device application log-ins. VDI enables companies to make full use of human capital while preventing many IT-related issues. We need all the help we can get to unlock the massive human assets such as talent, empathy, and creativity. You know, the things computers aren’t that good at. There are indeed great advantages to moving to a DaaS environment. There are also many opportunities for making mistakes along the way. Let’s take a look at the 4 most common pitfalls associated with VDI migration.

A TechRepublic article cites a lack of planning as a major pitfall of VDI integration.  The article went on to report that companies failed to plan for enough resources. Don’t provision for today or tomorrow. Design an infrastructure that will serve your needs next year and for the years ahead. That article was from 2013. It is just as relevant today.

Decide what are the priorities in your VDI environment.

The problem with most VDI implementation is lack of planning. Internal stakeholders should begin with a comprehensive assessment of the IT environment. Also, consider the individual desktop environment. The VDI landscape has changed over the years. Planning and project management are the key to a successful VDI adoption. The initial steps start with an internal dialogue. It’s a good idea to bring in outside expert advice early in the process. Each company is unique. There are different demands and different expectations. The time and effort put into VDI planning will pay incredible dividends for years.

Here are a few of the most common hurdles. They can be overcome when identified early.

VDI Planning
A Common problem with VDI planning is wanting to include everything.
Don’t Try to Do Everything at Once

The first common issue in rolling out a VDI initiative is trying to do too much at once. This applies to both large and small environments alike. VDI does not look the same at any two companies.

Don’t try to include every attractive feature in your initial implementation. Be focused on meeting key objectives. And be selective. Understand the major features and benefits of VDI. But don’t try to include everything in the beginning. This will only slow down the process. It will also distract you from your key objectives. A white paper by VMware recommends taking a step back. Consider what you’re trying to do. Do this before you even think about IT requirements. Instead of diving straight into technical requirements, such as numbers of servers and sizing of WAN links, begin by exploring user needs, business drivers, and special requirements. These special requirements might include things like: compliance issues; high availability; disaster recovery plans, or even the need for the business to rapidly onboard large numbers of new users due to mergers or acquisitions.

Don’t get stuck on the age-old VDI question. For example, using non-persistent versus persistent desktops in their initial deployment.

A company may never deliver a useable VDI solution if they allow themselves to get stuck on an idea. Let’s say that you determine 99% of its VDI desktops will be non-persistent. Well, you need to know that you’re going to spend countless OpEx and CapEx funds.

Stay Focused on Key Points
Zero in on what’s most important to you in a VDI environment.

Narrow down what you need in the planning stage to get VDI in a solid usable state. Set-up your VDI on a set of lean criteria. You can make additions as you go.

Do an Effective Initial Assessment

The next hurdle is company-specific. It is also often overlooked due to the upfront cost and time. I am referring to the VDI assessment that should be a part of the planning. The VDI assessment is the discovery phase of the project. It will help you isolate and focus on what is most important for your business.

Identify who will be using the VDI solution. The assessment is two parts: discussion and analysis. Be sure the process includes all the stakeholders including those who will be using the virtual desktops. Getting them involved early in the design process will help manage expectations. It will also go a long way in nurturing the acceptance of the resulting VDI environment.

Bring All the Brains to the Table
Bringing all the brains to the table will ensure the existing infrastructure is understood and all solution options are on the table.

Let’s use the example of an HR group that will be using VDI during the initial deployment. There is an initial interview. The agenda includes setting expectations of VDI. Begin by looking at how the company currently uses the computer environment.

Discussions along these lines will establish some parameters.
Do they generally only use a combined set of 4 applications? Do they work at varied times throughout the day? Do they only need a web browser and the ability to email clients on the company network?

You also need to do some data gathering of what traditional desktops are doing during the day. What are the applications used? What is needed for the machines to operate?

Most PCs are oversized with wasted resources. VDI is all about compute and storage density. Determining accurate sizing needs equals more cost savings. There are several tools that can do the 2nd part of this equation but don’t overlook the first.

Don’t Overlook Management and Support Responsibilities
This third point is around IT staff.

Who will be managing the new environment once the consultants have departed? Will you share this duty between existing desktop/infrastructure teams? Or will a new team arise to manage the entire solution? Decide this early on.

Manage a VDI environment requires an engineer who understands several key technologies. They sound know how these technologies affect the virtual desktop. These technologies include but are not limited to:

Networking  
Know how users connect to the virtual desktop. Know where to troubleshoot problems like lost connections or poor performance

Compute/Infrastructure
Deep understanding of hypervisors and server infrastructure, depending on the vendor of choice

Security
Knowledge of security products will be inside the virtual desktops and in the network path of VD. This is for troubleshooting purposes.

Desktop Engineering
Basic knowledge for customizing Windows installations and troubleshooting.

Additionally, there are several other ancillary technologies that come in handy. These technologies include DNS, Active Directory, Application Packaging/Delivery, Load Balancing, and Storage.

These skills can come from various class training offerings. Many should come from experience. Knowing how all these different technologies work together in your environment is critical.

Larger companies own many of these technologies.
Separate teams manage them. It is crucial that all the stakeholders be aware of the impact of VDI.

Know who has ownership of the new VDI systems. Make sure there is buy-in from across your IT organization. This is important to establish in the beginning. Everyone needs to be on the same page. This will make training easier. can occur for those needing to ramp up.

This ownership and buy-in include first-line defenders like your typical service desk team. Let them know they’re responsible to field certain common VDI related issues as they come in. Provide education and resources to support them. Service and support is the key benefit of partnering with seasoned VDI consultants.

Don’t Forget the User Experience

As VDI deployment comes together, don’t forget about the user experience.

The User Experience Is Important
User experience is the final litmus test. How the user feels about the experience means the success or failure of VDI or DaaS.

Consider how things were before VDI. Chances are, your employees have been using similar pieces of hardware. They know how their workstation machines perform every day (good or bad). They’ll compare the new VDI environment to what they had before.

This goes back to the assessment stage. Understanding the proper-sizing and performance of each machine is important. It can mean the difference between successful adoption and one that isn’t. It’s also more than that.

If a user now has to login twice to access their Virtual Desktop they will complain. If the machine hangs when opening a video conference they will complain. If patches cause reboots on different days, they will complain. You want to make the change over to VDI as seamless as possible.

The experience should be better, not equal or worse than on a traditional desktop. Make sure you plan to provide the expected performance of each workstation. Allow for a tailored storage solution that is intelligent and optimized for VDI. Consider network crashes. If for whatever reason, they can’t access their virtual desktops, this can also be a problem. Here’s the point. Outside factors can contribute to the total experience on a Virtual Desktop. Many of these factors will be beyond your control.

The successful adoption of VDI means user acceptance. Deliver a desktop-like experience. It means proving the training and support necessary. Company-wide buy-in is key to the success of the whole program. It all begins with planning and making sure you have every brain at the table when that happens.

Case Study: Dant Clayton

Background

Headquartered in Louisville, KY, Dant Clayton is a leading designer and manufacturer of aluminum bleachers, grandstands, stadium structures, and accessory products. The company has provided aluminum bleachers for the stadiums of leading sports programs like the New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, the University of Oklahoma, and Ohio State.

The Challenge

High cost of CAD workstations, decentralized IT, reliability, and security

Dant Clayton felt it was spending too much on purchasing and maintaining expensive local hardware. Its high-powered CAD workstations cost an average of $3,000+/unit, for example, and needed to be replaced every 3-5 years.

The firm also wanted to improve its disaster recovery setup. They wanted to be able to quickly and fully recover their systems and data in the event of a disaster. Their need to store a lot of CAD data locally, as well as workers only being able to access their CAD applications from workstations at the office, made this difficult.

“With IronOrbit’s GPU Cloud desktops, every user now has the power and functionality of a high end CAD station while taking advantage of the latest in Cloud security, accessibility and cost-efficiency. The customizability & scalability of the platform have made it easy for us to add employees & expand as needed, as well as attract & retain the best engineering talent with a work-from-home option.” – Matthew Harper, VP of Technology

The company also desired anywhere, any device CAD access, which would allow it to attract and retain engineering talent with a work-from-home option, and to maintain a consolidated IT between its two locations. This capability would also make it easier for them to share their CAD assets with remote contractors and project stakeholders.

In addition, Dant Clayton needed the solution to be reliable and secure enough for their needs as a manufacturer, since any downtime could severely impact their operations, and they had to worry about intellectual property (IP) theft and sabotage. They also had to maintain consistent records for legal and compliance reasons.

The Solution

INFINITY cloud-based CAD workstations

A cloud-based CAD infrastructure would reduce Dant Clayton’s local hardware costs and provide it with a robust, multi-site disaster recovery setup.

Setting up a cloud-based CAD infrastructure can be extremely difficult, however, due to the power and complexity of the applications and the sizes of the files involved (often 100 MB+). Only a small number of cloud providers offered the service at the time, including IronOrbit.

Reliability, security, and compliant data storage would not be such a challenge, since these features come standard with all IronOrbit solutions.

In the end, IronOrbit provided Dant Clayton with a 114-user cloud-based CAD infrastructure that supported all its applications, including AutoCAD, SolidWorks, and Bluebeam.

IronOrbit’s cloud CAD solution helped Dant Clayton helped Dant Clayton lower its costs, enhance its disaster recovery setup with multi-site replication, consolidate its IT across multiple locations, and maintain its records.

It helped them avoid spending tens of thousands on new onsite hardware, reducing their future hardware costs as well.

It also provided them with protection from disasters by:

  • Hosting their business-critical IT assets at a secure, highly-resilient data center in Virginia
  • Replicating their data locally at this facility to enable quick restores (minimum RTO & RPO of 4 hours)
  • Backing up their systems and data to another facility in Dallas, TX, to guarantee against data loss and ensure full restoration

Our cloud CAD solution helped Dant Clayton enhance IT reliability and security by:

  • Providing a highly-resilient infrastructure backed by a 99.999% uptime guarantee
  • Including 24/7/365 monitoring and maintenance by a 22-person Network Operations Center (NOC)
  • Including security measures such as antivirus, firewall, IDS/IPS, anti-DDoS, content filter, DNS filter, and data-at-rest encryption

Said Mathew Harper, Dant Clayton’s VP of Technology: “With IronOrbit’s GPU Cloud desktops, every user now has the power and functionality of a high end CAD station while taking advantage of the latest in Cloud security, accessibility and cost-efficiency. The customizability & scalability of the platform have made it easy for us to add employees & expand as needed, as well as attract & retain the best engineering talent with a work-from-home option.”

Hosted Desktops for Travel Agencies: The Features

There are many ways that travel agencies can benefit from signing up for hosted desktops from an IT hosting company.

Before we discuss the benefits of hosted desktops for travel agencies though, let’s clarify exactly what travel agencies, or any other type of business, get when they sign up for this solution:

  • Hosted desktops
  • A desktop management portal
  • Application management services
  • Infrastructure management services
  • 24×7 performance and security monitoring
  • Data security
  • Data backups
  • 24×7 technical support

What are the benefits of hosted desktops for travel agencies?

Hosted desktops

These are basically Windows desktop operating systems that the IT hosting company hosts on its servers, and that users access via the Internet.

These desktops look and perform exactly the same as the Windows desktop operating systems that you would install on your PC. For example, they have GUIs with desktops, icons, windows, taskbars, and Start menus, and you can use them to run applications, store files, send and receive emails, and browse the Internet, among other things.

Each hosted desktop is assigned to a specific user, and any changes that the user makes to his or her desktop are saved, so that all of the applications, files, and settings that are on the user’s desktop when he or she logs out will still be there when he or she logs back in.

Most hosted desktops are either Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 desktops. They’re usually accessed via a web browser or a no-cost client such as Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection.

A desktop management portal

Most IT hosting companies provide their hosted desktop customers with access to an online portal that allows them to monitor and manage all of the desktops in their deployment.

The portal may allow customers to add and delete desktops, add and delete Exchange mailboxes, shut down and restart desktops, and reset passwords, among other management features.

Application management services

You can easily install, uninstall, and update applications on an infinite number of your hosted desktops simultaneously.

Want Microsoft Excel installed on all of your hosted desktops? Or do you just want it installed on the desktops of your accountants? Just contact the IT hosting company, and they’ll deploy the application for you.

Infrastructure management services

The IT hosting company will handle purchasing, setting up, and maintaining all of the following:

  • Hardware (including servers and storage devices)
  • Software (including hypervisors, server OSes, and VDI management software)
  • And networking equipment used to host the hosted desktops.

24×7 performance and security monitoring

The IT hosting company will monitor your desktops 24x7x365 for performance and security problems and will respond to any problems that it finds as quickly as possible.

Data security

With the help of an IT hosting company, you are able to protect your desktops and their data from unauthorized access with security measures such as authentication systems, firewalls, IDS/IPS, gateway antivirus, and spam filters.

Data backups

Plus, your IT hosting provider will back up all of the data on all of your hosted desktops on a regular basis (usually at least once per day).

24×7 technical support

The IT hosting company will provide you with 24x7x365 technical support for problems related to your hosted desktops.

In addition, it will help you resolve problems such as:

  • Being unable to connect to or log in to your desktops
  • Being unable to launch or use applications,
  • Needing to restore accidentally deleted files
  • And integrating your desktops with printers, scanners, and other local devices

If you’re interested in learning about the benefits for travel agencies of signing up for hosted desktops, check out our follow-up article, “Hosted Desktops for Travel Agencies: The Benefits.”

Hosted Desktops for Travel Agencies: The Benefits

In a previous article, “Hosted Desktops for Travel Agencies: The Features,” we talked about the features of hosted desktops that are most relevant to travel agencies.

Now, in today’s article, we’re going to talk about how travel agencies can benefit from signing up for hosted desktops.

The main benefits of hosted desktops to travel agencies are that they:

  • Allow travel agencies to become better businesses overall—more streamlined, efficient, and agile and better coordinated
  • Allow travel agencies to serve their customers better
  • Provide travel agencies with a competitive advantage over agencies with different IT setups

How They Turn Travel Agencies into Better Overall Businesses

Let’s start with the first point, how hosted desktops make travel agencies better businesses overall.

Hosted desktops are accessible from anywhere with any Internet-connected computer, tablet, smartphone, or thin client.

They’re also highly centralized, and even a large deployment of thousands of hosted desktops can be managed relatively easily from the hosting provider’s online management portal.

Furthermore, hosted desktops are scalable, so you can add or delete any amount of hosted desktops at any time. The setup, management (including backups and security), and maintenance of the hosted desktops is mostly the responsibility of the hosted desktop provider.

Hosted desktops allow travel agencies to provide all of their employees with access to all of the applications they need, no matter where these employees are located.

This makes it easier for the travel agencies to open offices in new locations, as well as hire employees that work from home.

Which may allow the travel agency to hire employees located in other states or countries that are more talented and/or will accept lower wages than locally-based workers. Subsequently, it also helps the travel agencies minimize their real estate costs. But, without decentralizing the agencies’ IT.

Security and scalability for travel companies

Hosted desktops are highly centralized and are secured and maintained by the hosting provider. They are safe from expensive and highly-disruptive security breaches and downtime and data loss incidents.

The scalability of hosted desktops makes it easier for travel companies to add and subtract employees. Which in turn allows them to easily add temporary workers during the busy travel seasons.

As well as permanently increase their workforce without having to worry about stuck with a bunch of expensive, unused hardware if the expansion doesn’t work out.

Also with hosted desktops, travel agencies can put all of their internal resources and focus into providing travel services to their clients and not have to worry about setting up, managing, or maintaining their IT.

Most hosted desktop providers will set up, manage, and maintain your desktops for you. It also costs much less than it would cost you to hire your own IT employees.

Hosted desktops make monitoring and managing employees easier. This is possible because supervisors can monitor and control the desktops via the hosting company’s online administrative portal. It’s where they can check if an employee logs in to his or her desktop, reset passwords, block access, etc.

The applications which employees get to install on their websites and what websites they can visit also depends on the Supervisors.

Hosted Desktops for Travel Agencies Allow Businesses to Better Serve their Customers and Give Them a Competitive Advantage over Other Agencies

Of course, hosted desktops making travel agencies better businesses overall also improves their ability to serve their customers. And provide them with a competitive advantage over agencies that don’t use hosted desktops.

Hosted desktops also improve travel agencies’ ability to serve their customers by being more reliable. Your hosting provider manages and maintains them 24x7x365. This capability minimizes downtime and allows the agencies to provide 24x7x365 travel services.

In addition, the anywhere-accessibility of hosted desktops allows the travel agency to hire more agents in more locations. This helps improve customer satisfaction by allowing customers to get travel planning services in person (which some consumers prefer).

Or by allowing customers to get travel support after normal working hours. Since the travel agency will be able to hire travel agents in different time zones or overseas, ensuring that there will always be a travel agent available at all times of the day.

Meanwhile, the market for travel agency services has shrunk significantly over the decade or so. This is because most consumers now plan vacations and make reservations themselves using self-booking sites like Hotwire or Priceline.

Summary

Hosted desktops can help them gain a competitive advantage in a difficult market by:

  • Increasing their agents’ productivity (with anywhere-accessibility and support for multiple offices and telecommuting)
  • Maximizing their availability and responsiveness to customers (by minimizing downtime)
  • And making it easier for them to adapt (by being scalable)

To get the process of signing up for hosted desktops started, travel agencies should contact your preferred IT hosting company.

How to Connect to a Hosted Desktop

In previous blog posts, we’ve mentioned how most hosted desktops can be accessed from anywhere with almost any Internet-connected computing device, including Windows and Apple PCs, Android and iOS mobile devices, and thin clients.

What we haven’t really described at length yet, though, and what we’ll be covering in today’s blog post, is exactly how you access your hosted desktop from all of these different types of devices.

There are two primary ways to access a hosted desktop: via a standalone remote desktop connection client, or via a web browser.

In most cases, how you access your hosted desktop will be up to your hosted desktop provider. Your hosted desktop provider will usually provide you with detailed instructions on how to access your hosted desktop when you sign up. It may also include this information in the automatically-generated email invite you get when your account administrator assigns a hosted desktop to you.

You should follow the instructions of your hosting provider and not attempt to connect to your desktop by any of the other methods described here, since these methods may not work with your provider’s specific desktops.

If your hosting provider tells you to connect to your hosted desktop via a remote desktop connection client, it will probably tell you to use one of these two clients: Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection and Citrix Receiver.

Remote Desktop Connection

It comes preinstalled on all recent versions of Windows, including Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10. You can find it by typing “Remote Desktop Connection” in the search box of your OS. There are also versions of Remote Desktop Connection for the OS X, iOS, and Android operating systems that can be downloaded for free from the App Store and Google Play.

Citrix Receiver

Meanwhile, Citrix Receiver can be downloaded for free from the Citrix website or your device’s respective app store. There are versions available for a number of platforms, including the Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, Linux, and Chrome OS operating systems.

Both of these clients are pretty simple to set up and use. To connect to your hosted desktop from one of them, you just have to enter a username, password, and hosted desktop address (info that should have been provided to you by your hosting company).

It should take you no more than 2 minutes to connect to a hosted desktop for the first time from one of these clients. After you’ve connected to your hosted desktop once, reconnecting to it should only take a click or two.

To connect to a hosted desktop via a web browser, you usually just have to navigate to a login page on the website of your hosting provider and input your credentials; your desktop will then launch in a new window.

You should be able to access your hosted desktop from any up-to-date version of any web browser, including Google Chrome and Microsoft Internet Explorer and Edge. You may or may not have to download additional applications or browser plugins to be able to access your desktop this way; it depends on the provider.

Some providers require you to download and install the aforementioned Citrix Receiver, for example, though instead of connecting via the standalone client, you’ll connect via your browser, and the Receiver will operate in the background as a browser plugin.

If you need help connecting to your hosted desktop—perhaps you never received your connection instructions from your hosting provider, or you don’t understand the instructions, or you understand the instructions but still can’t connect—just contact your IT provider for support.

Hosted Server Migration: The Basics, Part 2

This is the second and final part of an article about how to perform a hosted server migration. This was the first part.

Selecting a Server OS

In general, the migration process is the easiest when the old and the new server have the same OS, and hardest when they have different OSes (especially if one is Windows and the other is Linux).

If you’re going to use the opportunity of the migration to switch from an older version of Windows Server on the old server to a newer version (such as from Server 2003 or 2008 to 2012) on the new server, you might want to make sure beforehand that all of your applications are compatible with the newer OS.

Unless you’re planning to switch to new applications, too, or know how to host applications on OSes they aren’t compatible with.

If you end up selecting a hosted server with a Windows OS, then you’re going to need a Windows Server license. You may be able to transfer the license from your onsite server to the new server if they have the same OS version.

Many hosting providers also offer hosted Windows servers that include the cost of the license in the monthly price of the server.

Performing the Migration

Now that you’ve got the hosted server set up, you’re ready to start transferring over the data from the old server and then configuring and integrating the hosted server. First, though, you’re going to want to back up all of the data on your onsite server just in case something goes wrong.

One option when migrating to the new server is to transfer only the assets you need or want (the applications, files, users, etc., that you selected in the planning phase) from the onsite server to the hosted server.

This will prevent your nice new server from being cluttered with a lot of old, useless applications and data, though it also increases the possibility that important data will be left behind.

Alternatively, you could simply copy the onsite server as a whole to the hosted server, which will ensure that all of the data from the old server is transferred to the new one, as well as make it more likely that the new server will function exactly the same as the old one.

The exact method that you use to transfer your assets from the onsite server to the hosted server will depend on factors such as your server OSes, your hosting company, whether your onsite server is virtualized or not, and whether or not you use server management software.

If your migration method prevents users from being able to access the server while the migration is taking place, you’ll probably want to perform the migration before or after regular working hours or over the weekend to minimize the disruption to your business. Also, ensure that you perform the migration over a secure connection.

Final Steps & Further Info

All that’s left to do now is integrate your hosted server with the rest of your IT and decommission the onsite server.

If you need any assistance with migrating from an onsite to a hosted server, simply contact your hosting company. IronOrbit can be reached at [email protected], or (888) 753-5060.

For more information about the benefits of switching to a hosted server, check out one of the hosted server offerings on our site: Citrix servers, terminal servers, application servers, managed servers, and virtual private servers.

Hosted Server Migration: The Basics, Part 1

Today we’re going to be talking about what you need to do to migrate an onsite server (as in a physical server that you keep at your office) to a hosted or cloud-based server.

We’re not going to get too technical here; the purpose of this article is to give you a general overview of the onsite-to-cloud server migration process and provide you with a starting point for further research.

I’ll also mention before we go any further that many hosting companies, including IronOrbit, will perform your migration for you for a relatively small fee.

This not only lets you avoid having to perform the migration yourself but also usually results in a much faster and problem-free migration.

Due to the fact that the hosting company’s personnel have a lot more experience at performing onsite-to-cloud migrations of all types, have more advanced migration tools, and are more familiar with the ins and outs of their own hosting platform.

Plan Your Migration

operating system

For those still interested in performing their onsite-to-cloud server migration by themselves, let’s start by figuring out what you want to move, as well as what needs to be moved, from the onsite server to the cloud server: applications, databases, files, settings, users, permissions, etc. Plan to leave behind any applications or data that you won’t need on the new server, such as unused applications and inactive user accounts.

Note the dependencies between different assets on the server, and make sure that the migration won’t prevent any of these dependent assets from communicating with each other.

For example, if your onsite server has an application that relies on a database, ensure that you migrate the database along with the application (which may require the purchase of an additional hosted server) because otherwise, the application might not work.

Select a Hosting Company

Another preliminary step is to select which cloud provider/IT hosting company you want to host your hosted server for you. Then, depending on the types of servers that the hosting company offers, you’ll have to figure out which type of server you want and then set it up.

You have a lot of options when it comes to selecting a hosting provider for your hosted server, though of course, we’d recommend that you go with IronOrbit.

We specialize in fully-customizable and fully-managed hosted solutions, all of which cost a flat monthly fee and come with services such as 24x7x365 technical support, managed security, automatic OS and application updates, and managed backups.

Our fully-managed and -supported solutions let you stay focused on your business and not have to worry about monitoring and managing your IT.

Select Your Hosted Server Type and Features

Many hosting providers will also give you a lot of options when it comes to selecting your type of server and the features of your server, too. The two main types of hosted servers are hosted virtual servers and hosted dedicated servers.

The main difference between these two is that with virtual servers you share a single physical server with one or more of the hosting company’s other clients, while with a dedicated server you get your own private physical server.

The advantages of virtual servers include increased scalability and flexibility and lower costs, while the advantages of dedicated servers include increased performance and reliability and regulatory compliance.

Other aspects of a hosted server that hosting providers often let you select include the server’s operating system (most hosting providers offer several different versions of Windows Server, as well as several different versions of Linux), its resources (CPUs/vCPUs/CPU cores, GPUs/vGPUs, RAM, and HDD or SSD storage space), and its security and networking features.

We’ll explain how to complete a hosted server migration in the second part of this article.

The Benefits of Hosted Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office, as most people know, is a popular suite of business productivity applications such as:

  • Word (a word processing application)
  • Excel (spreadsheet software)
  • PowerPoint (presentation software)
  • And OneNote (note taking software)

These are the core applications that are included in all versions of the suite. For the other available versions of the suite, the applications also include:

  • Outlook (an email client)
  • Publisher (desktop publishing software)
  • And Access (database software)

As with Microsoft Windows, the main reason that Office is popular is precisely because it’s user-friendly and widespread in use.

Businesses select Office as their default business productivity software suite because their employees are already familiar with it from school or from previous jobs, and so don’t need to be trained to use it.

And also because most other businesses and consumers use it, and its proprietary file formats are best viewed and edited in the corresponding Office application.

Some of the things that the applications of Microsoft Office allow your employees to do include:

  • Composing, formatting, and spellchecking text
  • Creating professional-looking documents (both print and electronic)
  • Creating professional-looking charts
  • Maintaining and analyzing large sets of data and records
  • Creating professional-looking presentations
  • Sending, receiving, organizing, filtering, and archiving emails

There are three main ways to deploy Microsoft Office:

  1. One is to install it on each employee’s PC
  2. Another is to host it an onsite server
  3. And the last is to pay an IT hosting company to host it for you.

Here’s why we would recommend going with the latter option:

It increases the centralization of your company-wide Office deployment.

A hosted deployment of Microsoft Office is highly centralized—it can be hosted on a single server, or at most a small number of interconnected servers and storage devices.

You can also prohibit users from transferring their Office files to their devices’ hard drives (or any other local storage drive) so that all of your company’s Office files remain on the hosting company’s servers at all times.

It makes Office easier to manage (which helps you prevent downtime, data loss, and security breaches).

When centralized like this, a company-wide deployment of Office is easier to manage—it usually means that you can monitor and troubleshoot all of your instances and users from within a single dashboard; that you only have to update or “patch” a single deployment of the suite; and that you only have to set up and run a single recurring backup.

Meanwhile, if you sign up for a managed hosted Microsoft Office, you won’t have to worry about managing your Office deployment at all; instead, the hosting company will handle the monitoring, supporting, securing, updating, and backing up of your deployment for you.

It increases the security of your Office deployment.

The centralization of hosted Office also makes it easier to protect your Office deployment from inappropriate access, since it decreases the number of devices you have to protect and allows you to focus on protecting a small number of servers.

In addition, the hosting provider may also protect your hosted Office deployment for you with advanced security measures such as enterprise-level firewalls, gateway antivirus, and IDS/IPS. You also don’t have to worry about a security breach occurring as a result of a user’s device being lost or stolen with hosted Office, since your Office files remain on the hosting company’s servers at all times.

It allows your employees to access their Office applications and files from anywhere with any device.

A hosted Microsoft Office is pretty easy to access anywhere with these following devices:

  • Computer (laptop and desktop)
  • Tablet
  • Smartphone
  • Or thin client, including Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs, and Android and iOS mobile devices.

This allows businesses with multiple offices to provide Office to all of its employees with just a single deployment, instead of having to deploy it at each location. It also lets employees access their Office applications and files when they’re away from the office—whether they’re traveling, working in the field, telecommuting, or they’ve gone home for the day.

It can decrease your IT costs.

Hosted Microsoft Office doesn’t require the purchase of any expensive onsite servers or storage devices. You can also access it from low-cost devices as thin clients and old refurbished PCs.

To sign up for Microsoft Office hosting, contact your preferred hosting provider.

Why Call Centers Should Switch to Hosted Desktops

A hosted desktop is a Windows desktop operating system that you access via the Internet. You can access a hosted desktop from any Internet-connected computer, tablet, smartphone, or thin client.

In most cases, each user is assigned to a single, specific hosted desktop, and the desktop retains all of the user’s files and applications even after he or she logs out.

To sign up for hosted desktops, you usually have to contact an IT hosting company and ask them to deploy and set up the desktops for you. You usually pay for them by the month.

Call centers should consider replacing their current IT setup with hosted desktops for multiple reasons.

Cost

Because the main reason that businesses outsource their customer support operations to call center companies is to reduce their costs, it’s important for call center companies to be as cost-efficient as possible.

Hosted desktops can reduce a call center’s IT costs because they don’t require the purchase of any expensive onsite hardware or the hiring of any additional IT personnel.

Hosted desktops can be accessed from low-cost devices such as refurbished PCs and thin clients without a decrease in performance or reliability. Moreover, because hosting companies can provide hosted desktops to you at a lower cost than it would take you to deploy and maintain them yourself due to their economies of scale.

Manageability

Call centers tend to be difficult environments to manage, both for supervisors and IT administrators, because they usually involve large numbers of employees and desktops.

Hosted desktops make it easier to manage large numbers of call center employees and desktops. However, since unlike physical PCs they’re centralized onto a relatively small number of interconnected servers and are software-defined assets that are ready to integrate with a desktop management solution without any further customization.

Hosted desktops make it easier for supervisors to monitor their employees and set permissions and for IT administrators to perform management tasks such as security and performance monitoring, virus scanning, patch management, data backups, and remoting into computers to provide technical support.

Hosted desktops may also allow IT administrators to avoid having to perform these management tasks altogether if their hosting company is one that includes management and support services with their hosted desktops.

Security

Some call centers handle sensitive customer data such as payment card data, medical records, and social security numbers. Hosted desktops make it easier to protect this data from unauthorized access and inappropriate handling.

The centralization and virtualization of hosted desktops make them easier to protect, monitor, scan for malware, maintain an audit trail on, and disinfect than physical PCs.

And because hosted desktops are processed and stored on the hosting provider’s servers, call centers don’t have to worry as much about protecting end-point devices from cyberattacks and physical theft.

Scalability

Many call centers have relatively high employee turnover rates. Some also have to add or subtract large numbers of employees in a short period of time. They do it in order to fulfill the terms of a contract or to downsize once a contract has reached the end of its duration.

With hosted desktops, you can add or subtract as many desktops as you want at any time. This eliminates having to purchase or set up any hardware. Each desktop usually only takes a few minutes to deploy.

Ability to integrate telecommuters

Many call centers are hiring telecommuters these days instead of onsite workers in order to reduce their real estate costs. They also do it to hire more cost-efficient or higher-skilled employees that live too far away to commute or that prefer to work from home.

Hosted desktops make it easier for call centers to hire telecommuters. This is because they can be accessed from anywhere with any device. So, telecommuters can use their personal computer to connect to the hosted desktop. Call centers just need to provide telecommuters with their own hosted desktops in order to equip them with all of the IT resources they need to do their job.

Call centers can sign up for hosted desktops from IronOrbit by contacting us at [email protected] or (888) 753-5060.