The Inevitable Covid-19 Post
Phew, what a week. Nothing quite like a global pandemic to force you to review your remote access capabilities!
I think this week was when the severity of Covid-19 really hit home for me. Prior to this I was of the impression that it was just a new flu variant being blown out of proportion, that would have the same impact as any seasonal flu. I still think that the panic-buying and media scaremongering we’re seeing is completely unreasonable, but I’m now resigned to the fact that this coronavirus will have serious effects on work, life, the economy, and no doubt loss of life on a large scale.
On Tuesday we began having daily morning Covid-19 update meetings, to discuss how our plans are progressing for remote access requirements, but also to get an update on how the hospital itself is coping with the outbreak. It was at this first meeting that we were told, due to the nature of where we work, that it is practically inevitable that we will all contract Covid-19 sooner rather than later. With a family member already seriously ill in hospital for the past few weeks who I now can’t visit, it brought it all home in a big way.
No doubt just about every sysadmin the world over has found themselves in the same position; a flood of remote access requests, unreasonable expectations and presumptions from higher ups as to your company’s remote work capabilities, and an “opportunity” to stress test your remote bandwidth capabilities and licensing…whether you wanted it or not!
In my case, we were found a little bit on the back foot. Since I started in this position less than a year ago, there’s been a long running but low-priority wish to replace our internet edge routers. Aging Cisco 2600s, bought used (yup!), not capable of providing our full ISP bandwidth and suspected to be the cause of a few VPN dropout issues. “We’ll replace them when we get the chance” was what I was told. Well, replacing these just became the highest priority. I received a pair of Fortinet 50E replacements on Friday afternoon, and Monday morning will be spent installing them. Hoping to use the existing HA Cisco pair to do this during hours with zero-to-minimal downtime, so should be fun.
At the same time, the next highest priority, is to allow remote workers to use our ShoreTel phone system from home, including staff who take calls as queue agents. We’ve never had this requirement before, but I’ve spend the last couple of days getting it up and running. In short, the ShoreTel Connect client will allow our users to use a softphone and headset to make and receive calls from their laptop over VPN. The biggest issue I ran into? Damn Trend Micro OfficeScan anti-virus causing issues with the Connect client! There’s few things more frustrating in life than to spend hours getting routing and firewall security in place to make VoIP over VPN working, only to find this little AV client has been causing issues all along! Hoping to resolve this on Monday and have this requirement ticked off. The increase in internet bandwidth and reliability that will come from the new internet routers should improve VoIP performance too, although all test calls I’ve made so far have been fine on the existing routers. Again, being able to stress test the solution on the scale we’re expecting from next week onward is a difficulty.
Oh, and did I mention I was already in the middle of upgrading our Veeam backup software this week, expanding repository capacity and hoping to do a redesign of our backup infrastructure before all this hit? I hope that this project won’t just end up being a case of dumping a few more TB of storage at the existing solution and calling it a day due to higher priorities. Not to mention the many dozens of other small issues that have fallen completely by the wayside during this event.
This week was a 50 hour week for me, including a 14 hour day to do some VM migrations, and not including some lab work I’ve done this weekend to trial a few concerns I had. I’m sure there’s guys out there doing a lot more hours than that, but for the first time in a long time I’ve wanted a “tech-free” weekend; no labbing for pleasure, no study for the next cert, no programming for fun. This week felt quite close to a burnout of sorts, I definitely felt less enthusiasm this weekend to do anything related to my career. I fired up Morrowind for a few hours last night! Partly because I’ve had a long held desire to revisit that game with some graphical and gameplay mods, but no doubt also partly as a bit of an escape. I rarely play games any more; I feel a sense of guilt these last few years whenever I try to fire up a game, that this isn’t a very effective use of my increasingly rare free time, but it sure was nice to relax in Tamriel for a few hours and get the mind off this week and what is sure to be a crazy week coming up.
So many questions are unanswered at the moment; are we capable of supporting all our staff who are required to work remotely? Will I be required to work on site due to my position? If I do become sick will I still be required to work remotely? Will I still be paid if put into forced quarantine? Will the hospital be even able to cope with Covid-19 cases over the next few weeks? How serious is this thing going to get on a global level? I’m sure to find out very shortly!