Employees access shared servers to collaborate on presentations, annotate documents and pool other digital resources
Keeping this running smoothly falls to IT managers, but the situation has been complicated by the splintering of office through remote working, leaving troubleshooting issues now having to be sorted for individuals in separate households and locations, rather than centrally through an office.
IT users are dealing with others as well as themselves logging in remotely. The physical space that IT managers are used to running and fixing is less important now; some offices in towns and cities are beginning to open their doors and allow workers back in, but many still work from home. Recent research from Morgan Stanley shows that only a third (34%) of UK white-collar workers have returned to the office, which is some way behind other European countries; 83% of French office staff have returned, followed by 76% in Italy. This is according to analysis from US bank Morgan Stanley’s research unit AlphaWise.
So, with all this remote working in the UK, how do IT managers ensure critical services are up and running in these separate locations? Network monitoring is the answer, as it helps keep a weather eye on tech infrastructure and see problems emerging across applications and services in real-time.
Ensure bandwidth is healthy
Without a doubt bandwidth will remain key to how efficiently staff are able to work whilst not in the office. This is all based on how fast and effectively users can access and use services and applications. Video conferencing or sharing files on cloud services like Microsoft 365 are some of the main factors that have been incremental in teams working remotely. And with staff relying on remaining connected, low bandwidth needs to be avoided at all costs. In addition, teams may be split between those returning to the office and those who choose to remain at home so IT teams need to ensure that all team members can get the same efficient connection regardless of location. In short, bandwidth is probably still the most crucial element to monitor.
Bandwidth is a tricky problem because there are now so many variables that could affect a user’s connection to services—and many of these variables are outside of an IT team’s control. First, there’s the user’s wireless network at home, which might have countless devices connected to it right now. Also, in the same way that things are changing globally on a daily basis, employees may have also experienced changes to their connectivity solutions – something that IT teams will also have to bear in mind.
Then there’s the user’s connection to the Internet itself. This is almost impossible to monitor, of course, because you can’t exactly install a network monitoring solutions in each employee’s home without contravening privacy laws. Rather, this needs to be handled on an exception basis: Keep a close eye on what staff are having issues with. If someone complains that they’re having problems with some or other services, start by asking them to run an Internet speed test. This will indicate whether the issue is with their connection to the Internet, or somewhere else.
To control and limit the amount of incoming issues from staff, it’s vital to continue to actively monitor what is going in the organisation’s network. By monitoring potential problem spots in the network, it makes it easier to spot traffic congestion – before users raise the alarm.
Optimise security through the VPN
Virtual Private Networks have most likely been considered a saving grace by many workforces. However, it also means that there will still be dozens or even hundreds of remote workers connecting at any time. And of course, this means it’s vital to ensure the VPN is functional. The key aspects to consider with VPNs are the traffic in and out of the VPN, and the number of connections. Slow traffic might indicate a potential problem and knowing the number of currently connected users can help with troubleshooting and diagnosis. To be able to do so, businesses can use Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) for VPN monitoring. If the VPN environment is based on Cisco ASA or SonicWall devices, the system should incorporate a number of default sensors that use SNMP to monitor the VPN traffic, users, and connections of those solutions. If there is an alternative VPN option, then user-defined SNMP sensors can be used. Manufacturers such as Juniper and Fortigate provide MIB files that can feed into the monitoring system, allowing the monitoring of the corresponding VPNs.
Keep everyone connected by monitoring teleconferencing
There’s no doubt that the glue that has been holding virtual teams together is online video meetings. Teleconferencing tools, like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and others, are the only way that teams can continue working as…well, teams. So of course, these need to be up and running.
Fortunately, some monitoring systems have now implemented out-of-the-box solutions to monitor teleconferencing. These solutions can monitor applications like Zoom, checking live streaming status, web client status, web portal status, chat and meetings status. They show the operational states of the services and according error messages if something malfunctions; this new sensor type will help you keep tabs on the availability of Zoom so you can immediately react if there is an issue, which is especially important if your company relies on remote work via Zoom.
However, if no direct monitoring solution is available, there are also indirect options that can be made use of. Most services offer either an API or a Website for users to check on the availability of the service. For example, Zoom offers this service status, along with details of an API to query the status. It’s crucial to keep tabs on this since having a live feed of status data can allow the IT admins to immediately react if there’s an issue on Zoom or similar platforms.
There are a thousand services that need to be kept healthy and on track when using IT day-to-day. Internet connection, access to the VPN, data sharing on servers, instant messaging, video conferencing, email and telephone lines – to round up the monitoring of all these disparate parts, network monitoring provides the key answer, helping to reduce the chance of tech issues slipping through the net and damaging a company’s productivity and efficiency.
About the Author
Martin Hodgson is Head of UK & Ireland at Paessler AG. Paessler AG, a leading worldwide provider of network monitoring software, provides IT and network administrators with comprehensive network monitoring tools that are easy to use, easy to buy, and easy to install and maintain.
Featured image: ©PinkEyes