On a recent business trip, I remembered how significant the challenges of managing a Private Cloud (or any data center) operation model can be. Without reliable voice and video communication, and sometimes low-bandwidth data connectivity, tools used have to sip data, not gulp it. They also need to work offline whenever you’re doing something that doesn’t require connecting to an external service or server. Even in cases when you’re working with Public Clouds, most of the same challenges exist. With minimal space to work, using a full function laptop may just not be an option. So what tools can you use to get the job done?

  1. A text editor or code editor. Scripting and minor coding is something that can easily be done between airports. You may not be able to test if there’s no in-flight Wi-Fi, but you can tap out scripts to have them ready to go when you land. The key here is simplicity in the interface, and support for multiple scripting/coding languages. You don’t want to have 18 different sidebars or pages and pages of settings just to get to the point where you can start typing code. Whichever product you choose, make sure it can sync with the cloud file service of your choice. You will need to be able to move this stuff between your desktop, tablet and laptop quickly and easily.
  2. An SSH client. There’s a ton of these for iPad and Android, and of course you can use the native tools on Mac and Linux, as well as alternatives like PuTTY for Windows. You’re going to want to use your cloud platform’s web interface for as much as you can, but nothing can replace SSH for a lot of common tasks. Have one in your tool-kit, and for the tablet tools make sure you pre-configure the servers you’ll use and test the connections before you leave for your trip. Make sure they also have any key pairs you need to log into VM’s and services. Nothing is more frustrating than realizing you can’t log into a VM because you’re using keypair authentication and your tablet doesn’t have a way to just grab a key file.
  3. A robust web browser. Safari mobile and Microsoft Edge are not bad browsers for most general use operations. Cloud software/provider web interfaces are not, however, general use. They leverage a lot of JavaScript, sometimes even use plugins, etc. I’d recommend using a third-party browser like Chrome or Firefox portable on your tablet devices; or the full-function browser of your choice on your laptop. Double-check before you leave that these tablet browsers are set to emulate desktop so that they don’t identify themselves as portable browsers and hamstring you while in-flight.
  4. A VPN client and service. Your company may provide this for you, and that’s not a bad thing – use it! For those cases where VPN connectivity isn’t required (such as accessing the AWS websites), or where your company doesn’t provide VPN services for you; remember you’re still sharing a network on-board with dozens of other people. Since you’re probably touching systems that contain proprietary or confidential info, you don’t want your browser leaking into to everyone on the plane with a packet sniffer going. So even if your company doesn’t provide a VPN for you to use, invest in a personal VPN to at least get your traffic outside the plane in an encrypted stream. I have personally used Witopia (witopia.net) as they support just about every device out there from desktops/laptops on Windows, Mac and Linux to iDevices, Android phones and tablets, and Windows-based tablets. One annual fee and you’re safely getting your data stream outside the in-flight wireless provider without anyone being able to snoop on it along the way.
  5. Instant Messaging clients. If your company uses Slack, Skype for Business or other messaging platforms, make sure they’re on your mobile devices and set up for the lowest bandwidth use possible. Slack, for example, can shut off trying to download and display video and images unless you purposely click on them. This ensures you can keep in touch with your team in close to real time, but not have to wait half an hour just because someone posted a .gif to the chat channel.
  6. Mobile versions of your business applications. If you’re using Google Apps, Microsoft Office, etc., make sure you’ve downloaded and configured them prior to boarding. Nothing will bring productivity to a halt than to find out you need to open a document to edit it, only to find that you forgot to install MS Word or configure Google Docs for offline use. Open each app you will use while you’re still on the ground, as most will need to periodically re-check. Your subscription or perform a login operation – something you don’t want to have to do at 35,000 feet – or may not be able to do if there is no in-flight Wi-Fi.
  7. A Cloud File Sync service provider that allows for selective sync of specific folders to mobile devices. This allows you to hold your work product someplace that will end up synced between devices, but not have to worry about a dozen GB of data all getting dumped into your mobile device’s memory. Set up a folder for work-in-travel, and place what you’ll be working on when you’re traveling into that folder. Ensure that all your other tools can also save their data to that sync service in order to make sure anything new you create also gets sync’d up. DropBox and many other tools have this functionality and integrate seamlessly into tons of mobile applications.
  8. Possibly not required, but definitely recommended – grab a combination external battery and Wi-Fi router. The battery is a lifesaver on longer flights if the aircraft you’re on doesn’t have in-seat USB charging ports for your tablet. The Wi-Fi router can make your hotel stays a lot easier since you can just connect the router to the hotel Wi-Fi and have all your devices connect to the router. No more trying to get every device individually walked through the captive network logon, and no more individual fees for each and every device just to get online. I’ve used HooToo products for years, and they’re great. They make several, so pick the one that has the battery size you want, as they all handle the Wi-Fi router functionality excellently. Bonus: Most come with multiple USB charge ports, so your seat mates will love you when there’s just one outlet to share between the whole row.

Now that you’re properly armed for working at the speed of flight (or train, etc.), you can get out there and be productive while you wait to arrive at your destination!