How I Work from Home

Instead of relying on my home internet bandwidth, I simply RDP into my workstation that’s still physically sitting in the office.

This is like a month late, but I didn’t have anything for the latest TSQL Tuesday on Unit Testing. Kudos to those of you who are doing it… it’s REALLY HARD. Harder than it should be anyway.

So as we all started working from home last month, it dawned on me that, apparently, the way I work from home is drastically different than most everybody around me. And it got me really curious, whether this is sort of generally applicable IT workers, or whether I’m really the odd-duck!

a basic VPN diagram
Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Setup

Probably like many of you, my primary workstation at the office is a laptop with a docking station hooked up to dual monitors and a full size keyboard and mouse. It makes going to meetings easier, and in theory I’m able to take it to the occasional conference. (I say “in theory” because, as I’ll explain in a moment, it rarely happens.)

Now, apparently the ‘norm’, at least for non-IT staff, is to take their laptop home, maybe with a dock & an extra monitor or two, fire it up, connect to the VPN, and off you go. Some people need printers and/or scanners, which makes it more complicated. But for now let’s focus on the typical knowledge worker that just needs a PC. And of course, if their workstation at the office is not a laptop, IT is tasked to provide them with one. Which, during this Coronavirus outbreak, has caused its own subset of issues with supply & demand at the big-box tech retailers.

Contrast that to me, and hopefully maybe some of you. I have the good fortune (or not, depending on whether you’d asked my wife early on) of owning a plethora of computing devices, most of which are at least suitable for running VPN & RDP (Remote Desktop). All of the, say, resources which I need access to and that I manage and manipulate on a regular basis, are in a data center, a big building with tons of racks of servers and gear and super-high-speed connections. And the office, of course, has a much higher-speed/bandwidth connection TO that data center than anybody does from their home. Some of you may see where I’m going with this.

The Why

So instead of relying on my home internet bandwidth to keep up with all the bandwidth-intensive tasks that constitute my workday — including, as my fellow DBAs will attest, dozens upon dozens of queries against the SQL Servers in SSMS — I simply RDP into my workstation at the office. Yes, my work laptop, which is still sitting in its dock on my desk in an empty (mostly) building. It’s the closest thing to actually being there.

Here’s what that allows me to do. All my network resources are just as quick and responsive as they are at the office. My code repositories and my Visual Studio windows are instantly available. My queries return results in milliseconds because they’re only traveling from the data center to the office. The only thing traveling the longer and slower distance to my house is the image of the screen from the work laptop. Make sense?

This is the same principle that drives some of these new “cloud gaming” services like Google Stadia or NVidia GeForce Now. The only thing you as the player really need is the continuous moving picture of the game, not all the hard work behind-the-scenes that it takes the GPU to render it. (Of course, the thing they haven’t really solved for is the input latency and the turnaround time of the player’s action being replicated on the screen and leading to the next action in the chain.)

a picture of an old desktop computer on a dining table with several other computers nearby.
Disclaimer: not my actual dining room. But at one point in history, it was pretty close.

Okay, I get it, it’s not for everyone

I understand some workers need more than that to do their jobs. And some folks don’t have the handful of spare PCs that I do. So I get it. Not everybody can or should work this way. But I was quite shocked that, out of all the folks I work with, I was the only who thought this was THE way to work remotely. Or at least the best way.

Surely, most people with a.. what we might call “gray collar” jobs — we work at a desk all day but we aren’t Wall Street and we don’t wear suits, so.. your typical middle class occupations, yeah? — anyway. We all have a workstation at the office. And surely we have at least one computer at home, even if it’s another laptop. Right? But no, apparently, the “tablet revolution” was a thing, and people don’t have big ol’ desktops or even traditional laptops at home much anymore.

Not only that, even if you could afford to invest in one FOR this season of mass-remote-work, you’d have had a bitch of time getting ahold of one, because everybody and their mother decided now was the time to buy. And not without good reason. Most of that purchasing was actually done BY the small-medium enterprise business market, because their IT departments had to buy a bunch of new laptops for their non-IT colleagues to take home for work!

Anyway.

I guess there’s not much of a big important point or lesson here.

Is there ever?

audience

If anything, I would encourage people to TRY working from home this way, if they have the resources to do so. It significantly lessens the burden on your IT folks, as long as your home PC that you’re using to VPN is secure. That’s really the biggest variable in this equation, and in some cases, it’s why they actually prefer to issue you a company-imaged/company-secured device instead. But, thankfully, with a few network and firewall tweaks, they can lock down the VPN traffic so that it doesn’t allow your home device to talk to anything BUT your own workstation — or at least, any computer in the “workstations” group. So yes, there are some trade-offs. But again, especially if your employer has had trouble keeping up with the surge in demand for “loaner laptops”, maybe suggest you try this way and see if it can work for you.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and be kind.