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Reaching out to remote knowledge workers

Mar 14, 20063 mins
Data Center

* Sharing corporate knowledge with remote knowledge workers

We reap what we sow.

To an increasing degree, companies have been moving key knowledge-related functions offsite during the last several years. In some cases this has been a case of outsourcing (allow me to plug the Network World outsourcing newsletter written by my colleague Dan Twing). More often it is simply a case of deploying key services out into the world so a company can be closer to it sales prospects and customers (the usual reason for branch offices and service facilities), or so that there can be a local point of presence where some natural resource is located (think oil and gas exploration field offices).

The difficulty with having knowledge workers located remotely of course is that the knowledge they work with is often physically located back in the “IT core” of the corporate data center. Having sown the outside world with important workers, companies now need to address the requirement to keep those workers fed with up-to-date information and make sure they have access to any applications or IT services they might require but which are nonetheless located back in the data center.

This difficulty will become more acute during the next few years, because one important aspect of the way remote workers will work is likely to undergo a fundamental change: to an increasing degree, workers at remote sites will be expected to participate in the same collaborative corporate efforts as do their coworkers back at corporate headquarters, and at about the same levels too.

In this case, “collaborative efforts” is not a euphemism: groupware such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft SharePoint, while used sparingly at most companies today, offers tremendous potential for information sharing and often is the underpinning for corporate collaborative efforts. The use of these and many other such applications will grow – if you are skeptical, go on the Web and look at what some of the application vendors are rolling out these days. It you are an IT admin, the question you should be asking yourself is how likely do you think it is that companies in competitive industries are going to leave their remote workers out of the process?

Already companies are seeing increasing traffic across their LANs because of collaboration. What the result will be when those applications with their LAN-based protocols are used across WANs – where LAN-optimized protocols are at best a hindrance and at worst an often-unmitigated disaster – will not be a pretty sight.

It is tempting to suggest just buying some wide area file service (WAFS) product, but these new apps will place additional requirements on WAN access. Next time we’ll discuss what to look for.