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March 9, 2020updated 10 Mar 2020 11:59am

Tech Firms Offer Free Remote Working Tools, as Coronavirus Cases Surge

Move comes as companies scramble to polish remote working processes

By CBR Staff Writer

Six technology companies are rolling out free or upgraded enterprise collaboration tools under a new “Open for Business” hub, in a bid to capture new users – and support enterprises scrambling to implement remote working protocols as coronavirus cases surge.

In the US, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook have advised Seattle-area employees to work from home for the next few weeks. In the UK most companies are holding fire for now, but are most are rapidly updating policies and assessing tools.

(The UK’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty today said that “we are now very close to the time, probably within the next 10-14 days, when the modelling would imply we should move to a situation where everybody with even minor respiratory tract infections or a fever should be self-isolating for a period of seven days.”)

As Cloudflare (which helped launch the hub) noted today, while large organisations might be able to work through some of the emerging provisioning issues that come with a surge of remote workers — i.e. by increasing the number of licenses for their firewalls and VPNs — many small businesses don’t have the ability to quickly provision the resources they need to support their employees when working remotely.

free remote working toolsFree Remote Working Tools: Who’s In?

Box, Cisco, Cloudflare, Google, GoToMeeting and Microsoft have joined forces to launch the initiative designed to provide primarily smaller businesses free tools for remote work — in the face of an outbreak that the WHO is resisting calling a pandemic.

Box is offering three months free of its secure file sharing and collaboration platform. The offer is for the company’s Business plan and includes unlimited storage, mobile access, and advanced user and security reporting.

Cisco is Cisco is extending services for existing customers of Webex, its video conference platform. The offer includes unlimited usage without time restriction, support for fewer than 100 participants, and toll free dial-in.

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Cloudflare is offering 500 seats of Cloudflare for Teams (a tool that lets remote workers connect securely and easily to corporate apps) for small businesses through September 1, as well as a free onboarding session.

Google is expanding features of Hangouts Meet, its video conferencing platform, for current customers, who can now host meetings with up to 250 participants, live stream to 100,000 viewers, and save recordings to Google Drive.

GoToMeeting is offering three months of free site-wide licensing of its video conferencing solution, GoToMeeting, for eligible organizations (health care providers, educational institutions, municipalities and non-profits).

Microsoft meanwhile is offering a six month free trial of Office 365 E1, which includes Microsoft Teams, a communication and collaboration platform, video conferencing, and more. (As of March 10, it is also lifting restrictions on how many users can join a team or schedule video calls. The companies expect to add more participants to the hub.

DDoS mitigation firm Radware‘s Prakash Sinha noted that for many firms, load balancing is becoming an issue as teams overload applications, struggle with thin bandwidth at home, or companies struggle to handle traffic surges.

He said: “These [can be] addressed using load balancing, software defined Wide area networks, and web performance optimisation such as FastView… Quickly scaling up thin clients (such a Vmware Horizon or Citrix XenDesktop) for companies that use these services for remote workers is [also] essential.”

Ultimately, organisations that haven’t done so need to get disaster recovery measures in place, because of the scale of dependency that comes from more workers working away from the office – global server load balancing is an integral element to that.

Shashi Kiran, CPO of SD-WAN specialist Aryaka, added: “Companies should provide flexibility for all employees to telecommute.

“All roles that can function remotely should be allowed to function remotely in a guilt-free manner till the environment is deemed safe.”

He suggested:

  1. “Ensure everyone has access to the right kind of collaboration tools to make them productive, including the right data
  2. “Help reimburse charges for bandwidth upgrades to home connections if necessary on a temporary basis so employees are not burdened to pay more
  3. “Train first time employees about secure remote access (SRA) best practices including security and collaboration practices  
  4. “Work with IT to optimise backend VPN and remote access infrastructure to ensure smooth and security connectivity to corporate data centers, SaaS applications and systems of records
  5. “Ensure business continuity processes, escalation procedures and customer engagements are all clearly understood

A fierce editorial in highly regarded medical publication the Lancet on Saturday, meanwhile, suggested that “the colossal public health efforts of the Chinese Government have saved thousands of lives.”

The editorial added: “High-income countries, now facing their own outbreaks, must take reasoned risks and act more decisively. They must abandon their fears of the negative short-term public and economic consequences that may follow from restricting public freedoms as part of more assertive infection control measures.”

See also: Adobe, Google, Intel, Informa All Cancel Events as Coronavirus Rocks the Conference World

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