Accelerating the journey to autonomous everything

Businesses are operating in an unprecedented time of turbulence and disruption. Emergence of COVID-19, and subsequent lockdowns around the world, has brought industries like hospitality and tourism to their knees, though the power of technology has kept many others running.

The ubiquity of fast internet connectivity and cloud services has allowed most companies to continue operating with their workforce at home, which would not have been the case had the pandemic occurred twenty or even ten years ago, when major remote working would have been an almost impossible challenge.

That’s not to say the transition to remote working has been easy. Far from it. Just one in twenty UK employees worked mainly from home in 2019 and more than 70 per cent didn’t work from home at all, according to the Office for National Statistics. This means the majority of organisations were not set up with the appropriate technology systems, policies and security controls to enable home working on such a large scale.

The need for secure and immediate remote access to networks, applications and services, and infrastructure that can cope with the increased workload, has placed enormous strain on IT departments.

“Lockdown was totally sprung on businesses,” says Scott Dodds, chief executive at Ultima, an automation and infrastructure service provider. “Most companies had a few days, if they were lucky a week or two, to make it work.

“Even a tech company like Ultima was somewhat in the dark about stress testing some of our systems because we’ve never put the whole organisation online for a week and tested it. I don’t think anybody has. They’ve tested pockets, bits of applications and services as part of a business continuity plan, but the way it was all thrown at everybody within a few hours or days means it was something very few had planned for. Everybody’s been learning as they go.

“Business continuity is instant. Either it works or it doesn’t. If it hasn’t been working, then how do you fix it in real time? There has not been this kind of plan to do it. It’s just whatever it takes to get the services and capabilities of your employees up and running as soon as possible.

“Ultimately, intelligent platforms drive intelligent transformation. But who drives that transformation? The chief information officer? The chief financial officer? Right now, the answer is COVID-19, plain and simple.

“A lot of companies are waking up to the fact remote working can be very effective, but there is more they need to do to make it robust and secure. Cloud and automation hold the key to doing that with maximum flexibility and agility.”

Cloud has transformed business operations in the last decade, enabling workforces to be more productive and agile. It also allows organisations to reduce their infrastructure costs, offering the ability to flex up and down according to current needs and detect idle services, though only if they have the right skills and know-how. The manual processes required to operate workloads in the cloud are often fraught with human errors leading to delays, spiralling costs and security vulnerabilities.

Seven in ten IT decision-makers quizzed by the London School of Economics said their company had lost money due to a lack of cloud expertise and American computer software company Flexera estimates wasted cloud spend stands at 35 per cent.

Through Autonomous Cloud, Ultima is helping mid-sized organisations to transition effectively to the cloud, enabling them to reduce costs while optimising business performance

Automation is the crucial ingredient. By automating maintenance, security and support requirements, the benefits of the cloud can be delivered without the operational pain points.

To support companies in the current environment, Ultima has launched Autonomous Business Continuity (ABC). The solution allows organisations to inoculate their business-critical environments with automation services immediately, achieving low-cost, software-driven cloud disaster recovery in three hours, remote working in three days and a full autonomous cloud datacentre in three weeks.

Meanwhile, Autonomous Edge, Ultima’s product for workforce automation, provides powerful capabilities for companies to manage devices and applications remotely.

The autonomous cloud datacentre is provided by Ultima’s Autonomous Cloud platform, which improves business-as-usual activities rapidly by monitoring, managing and optimising cloud environments without the need for agents. Running infrastructure in the cloud is typically 50 per cent cheaper than on-premise infrastructure for small and medium-sized or mid-market companies, according to Ultima, and Autonomous Cloud is on average three times cheaper than having your own skilled-up cloud team in-house.

The platform takes the existing virtual environment and builds it in the cloud in minimal time, before managing the migration in days, supported by artificial intelligence techniques. Even a company with just several dozen virtual machines would ordinarily require more than six weeks of professional services to migrate manually.

Once it’s up and running, the autonomous cloud service provides all the management, patching, monitoring, dashboarding and reporting within the software. It also enhances security, utilising machine-learning to analyse trends and create alerts, with automatic patching.

Ultima infographic

“The companies that don’t have this kind of autonomous cloud environment, set up for remote working and flexibility, will almost certainly be left behind in the new normal that emerges post-COVID,” says Dodds. “It’s not just about enabling remote working, but allowing you to manage your business in a more flexible and agile way, and to be more innovative.

“Clearly, businesses that were already set up in this way, and we work with hundreds of them, have experienced much fewer issues and less friction during the pandemic. That has meant they can focus on creating serious competitive advantage.

“Our ABC offering takes away the requirements for all those people and skills you’d normally need to provide IT. It releases the time for what your technical people should be doing, which is managing your app layers and business innovation and projects that will really give you that crucial competitive advantage.

“Managing core infrastructure is just not something you should be spending a lot of money on. It’s expensive enough as it is just to have infrastructure there ready for you to use, but to then add layers of management or monitoring and other elements on top that are not software delivered is a heavy expense. We release some of that time and money so your IT department can focus on the things they should be doing, which is driving innovation in the business.”

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