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Mid-March saw an almighty scramble within IT departments up and down the UK. Whatever the state of readiness, the lockdown announcement sparked a Herculean effort to enable teams to seamlessly transition to working from home wherever possible.  

The experience of those facilitating remote working environments varied significantly, however. On reflection it was undoubtedly a tougher time for organisations that had been maintaining an on-premise infrastructure. Suddenly, they found themselves needing to rush out and acquire additional licenses, buy more hardware and install it all, just to keep everyone functioning; whereas, for those in the cloud, it was relatively smooth sailing. 

Over the last few months, we’ve seen the on-premise crowd look at their cloud-based peers with envy. And, as they’ve sought to manage their disparate IT estate, many have gravitated over to cloud based solutions. 

With millions working from home for a prolonged period of time, many organisations felt that control over their IT estates had loosened. To regain their grip, they have turned to mobile device management solutions (MDM) such as Microsoft Intune, which provide multiple benefits:   

  1. Storage and backup 

When machines are in the office and connected to a network server, ensuring that data is stored in a location where it can be backed up and protected is fairly straight forward. However, with so many company employees shifting to remote working, standard practice has been disrupted.  

There has been a surge in staff storing documents locally on their devices – not on the network servers – often because it is faster and more convenient to do so. This is something we have all been guilty of, yet it poses a clear risk if a device is lost, stolen, damaged or hacked. 

MDM, however, can help ensure information is being stored in the places where proper backup can take place. Even if workers are using a remote productivity suite such as Office 365 (where Microsoft does the replication and data centre recovery work for you), you will still want to make sure data is saved in the right location so you can provide added protection, if a file is accidentally deleted or overwritten.  

This does not detract from the fact that companies need to be deploying best practice guides to employees working from home, to ensure they are saving and storing information in the correct way, but it does provide some reassurance.

  1. Access protection 

You should be able to take an enterprise-owned device and pass it to any employee for them to work on. They should be able to login and start work immediately without any fuss, essentially using that device as a ‘hot desk.’

MDM can ensure that devices employ appropriate authentication controls, ensuring access only for authorised and properly authenticated users. Authentication can incorporate passwords, and Multi-Factor Authentication. 

In addition to this, MDM will monitor and protect against any security risk that these devices present. It will check if the anti-virus, firewalls and software patches are up-to-date. And, if they do pose a risk, it can either close the gate or impose conditional access controls to mitigate the risk. For example, it could label that machine as an untrusted device so that the user would be either challenged for additional authentication (such as further multi-factor authentication prompts), or lock-out access altogether until the Administrator can remediate the device.  

A regular check of all devices not connected to the network would be a painstakingly slow process without MDM. 

  1. Software roll-out

A mass manual roll-out of the latest software is also much easier with MDM in place. You don’t want to be logging on remotely to install this on each individual device. Instead, having central control will allow you to do this across the entire IT estate automatically. 

When you look at the situation as a whole, it’s far more efficient to move to a cloud-based model. 

There are still organisations that will want to maintain an on-premise infrastructure – to leverage legacy infrastructure, hold sensitive information or because they see a cost benefit to a capex ownership model. However, increasingly they will more than likely want this to be a smaller part of a hybrid infrastructure. 

The leading vendors have all been moving in this direction for some time, with solution providers such as Google and AWS operating entirely in the cloud. 

What we’ve seen during the pandemic is merely the acceleration of a journey down a road that was already laid out in front of us, and solutions like MDM are allowing this to happen. 

By Mark Lomas

Mark Lomas is a technical architect with Probrand. With nearly twenty years' experience, Mark is an accredited NetApp, VMWare and Microsoft professional, specialising in cyber security, SAN storage and virtualisation. Working across a variety of areas of systems infrastructure, Mark provides award-winning cloud and managed IT services to large organisations and SMEs alike, helping them save time and money.