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EDF Rapidly Adapts to Remote Work Using Amazon WorkSpaces


When the COVID-19 pandemic led to sudden shutdowns of several offices around the globe, EDF in the UK (EDF), a leader in low-carbon energy, needed to provide its employees with a secure and reliable work-from-home solution that the company could implement quickly. To keep things up and running, employees needed to have access to company systems from home while avoiding potential compatibility and security issues.

The company called upon Amazon Web Services (AWS) for support and discovered Amazon WorkSpaces, a fully managed desktop virtualization service for Windows and Linux that provides secure, reliable, and scalable access to persistent desktops from any location. “We had to deliver a solution that could operate long term,” says Mike Lillingston, cloud services manager at EDF. “We asked, ‘What can we do in a couple of weeks that helps our remote teams operate in a safe and reliable manner?’ And that’s when we explored the idea of using Amazon WorkSpaces.” EDF used Amazon WorkSpaces to get its teams up and running securely on devices with differing network capabilities from home. The company did so by keeping data in the cloud instead of on personal devices. What’s more, EDF made this change efficiently and flexibly, scaling up and down as needed and moving its Amazon WorkSpaces capability closer to users to reduce latency.

Wind turbines in water

In the long term, there is a place for Amazon WorkSpaces at EDF. If we need Amazon WorkSpaces at a large scale, we can trust that it will be available virtually instantly.”

Mike Lillingston
Cloud Services Manager, EDF in the UK

Meeting the Needs of Remote Workers

EDF is owned by the global electric utility company EDF Group. Its goal is to address the climate crisis by working toward a net-zero energy future—in other words, lowering carbon emissions and generating electricity more efficiently. It began using Amazon WorkSpaces with its back-office support by working with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), an AWS Partner and an IT services, consulting, and business solutions organization that has been partnering with EDF. And before the COVID-19 pandemic, EDF had also been working with Contino, an AWS Partner. “We needed to make sure our system was modern and met the needs of our business,” says Lillingston. “Using a mix of services from TCS and Contino, we gained the support capability and software engineering capability that would help our system scale and meet the usage pattern of our business.”

Contino helps companies facilitate digital transformation and cloud adoption at scale. “We had been helping EDF adopt AWS with a cloud-native mindset since March 2019,” says Tegid Edwards, a client director at Contino. “We were initially engaged with EDF as part of the company’s Residential Accelerator program, an initiative that looked at transforming the way EDF delivered residential energy to four million customers in the United Kingdom.” Since earlier in 2020, Contino had been working with EDF to establish a cloud-native AWS Landing Zone—a solution that helps customers more quickly set up secure, multiaccount AWS environments—with a modern cloud operating model that would facilitate a multimodel delivery of digital services.

EDF partnered with TCS from an early phase of its cloud journey on AWS. “Our strategic partnership with EDF goes back 12 years and spans business and IT services,” says Yunas Mohammad, client partner for TCS Utilities. “Over the years, we have built a strong digital foundation for EDF on data and the cloud. This foundation, coupled with maturity in Agile and DevOps delivery, helped us take up the challenge when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.” TCS made significant contributions in building a complete automated solution to provision Amazon WorkSpaces desktops with robust security controls and packaged application software. When the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting the UK, EDF used its existing collaborations and the infrastructure it had built with TCS and Contino to rapidly move a large portion of its global workforce to remote working environments.

Because EDF had already used the services of AWS Partners to build a cloud-native AWS Landing Zone, it had worked out several issues related to networking security, identity, access management, and multi-factor authentication. But when it came to standing up remote workstations on top of the necessary network functionality, EDF found that its existing on-premises environment couldn’t scale to the company’s requirements at the speed required. That’s when Amazon WorkSpaces, which can scale quickly, emerged as a viable alternative. The team also anticipated that the move would be user friendly for employees around the globe. “Once you’re using Amazon WorkSpaces, there’s no real difference from a standard desktop,” says Lillingston.

Gaining Flexibility and Adaptability Using Amazon WorkSpaces

The implementation of Amazon WorkSpaces went smoothly. “We had a proof of concept that users were using within about a 10-day period,” says Lillingston. “We had a team in the United Kingdom initially building up an account structure that was secure, and we made the decision to do that by code using Terraform so that it could be done in a repeatable manner time and time again.” Terraform is an open-source infrastructure-as-code software tool.

Automation made it simple for EDF to set up accounts at different sites around the globe, empowering the sites to roll out workstations as needed for maximum flexibility and adaptability. “We did this by code using the ServiceNow ticketing tool,” says Lillingston. “A user puts a request in ServiceNow for an Amazon WorkSpaces desktop, and it is available in seconds.” This removed constraints, helping EDF roll out at speed or stand the capability down when the company decided that it didn’t need it. The result was a self-service system.

EDF was concerned that the need for new accounts would test the limits of Amazon WorkSpaces—especially considering high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. But capacity proved to be a nonissue for EDF using Amazon WorkSpaces. “On AWS, we have been able to scale up to support our need,” says Lillingston.

Not only was EDF able to roll out services to 1,000 remote workers but the flexibility also helped the company scale down as users were able to return to the office and then back up again when additional lockdowns were implemented. “One useful thing about AWS is the ability to turn off a capability when it’s not needed to avoid incurring costs and—when the capability is needed—to turn it on again and very quickly grow the service,” says Lillingston. “From our point of view, it’s all very seamless.” The fact that the sites could do this on a self-service basis also meant they didn’t have to draw on resources from the company’s central IT to make the necessary changes.

Moving Forward Using a Reliable Model

In a time of global crisis, EDF was able to quickly adapt to a remote work environment, scaling up and down as needed, all while maintaining reliability and security with maximum flexibility. EDF plans to continue making use of Amazon WorkSpaces, even as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions decline. “In the long term, there is a place for Amazon WorkSpaces at EDF,” says Lillingston. “If we need Amazon WorkSpaces at a large scale, we can trust that it will be available virtually instantly.”

About EDF in the UK

Owned by global electric utility company EDF Group, EDF in the UK aims to address the climate crisis while generating electricity. It is working toward a net-zero energy future by lowering carbon emissions and generating electricity more efficiently and with less of an impact on the environment and people.

Benefits of AWS

  • Set up user-friendly remote desktops within 10 days
  • Scaled up to 1,000 remote desktops and scaled down again as need subsided
  • Reduced latency by taking advantage of the global footprint of AWS

AWS Services Used

Amazon WorkSpaces

Amazon WorkSpaces is a fully managed desktop virtualization service for Windows and Linux that enables you to access resources from any supported device.

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AWS Landing Zone

AWS Landing Zone helps customers more quickly set up a secure, multi-account AWS environment based on AWS best practices. 

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