Remote Work Challenges: Key Considerations for Managing Networks
Telecommuting is not new; companies have had field-based sales and service people on the road since payphones were still a thing. Traditionally, virtual private networks (VPNs) were thrown together to accommodate remote teams, and users tolerated latency. Then COVID-19 hit, and it wasn't just sales and service that needed to work remotely, it was everyone who possibly could.
Corporate networks designed five or more years ago are being tested and stressed in unforeseen ways. Applications that once had plenty of overhead before hitting latency limits now face more significant challenges as VPN tunnels are filling up with more users. New bottlenecks are emerging and causing latency to climb. Add to the mix home networks, and the additional security companies need for remote workforces, and it is easy to see why user experience suffers.
Most IT leaders understand they need to reset their network capability requirements to accommodate the accelerated shift their organization has made to remote work.
Addressing the network
The following actions help position companies to address their remote work challenges:
1. Determine the real edge of your network. The buzz word 'edge' means something different to everyone, and everyone's edge is distinct. Is it the micro data center at a 5G tower, the newest container, or maybe even a point of presence in a region or country? Since COVID-19, the one edge everyone has is users' homes. Remember to define the edge specific to your business use case and take into account data sovereignty and compliance concerns by location such as CCPA and GDPR.
2. Move to a network built to support the cloud. Legacy MPLS networks were designed to connect all company locations in a meshed configuration. That was fine for software and applications distributed at each branch and when the network only carried web, video and voice communications, however, now that data is in the cloud and applications are available "as a service," MPLS no longer serves the needs of a cloud-empowered enterprise. Latency, throughput and security become primary concerns for cloud services when applications live outside the corporate WAN. More flexible connectivity is needed to connect external locations that are aggregating cloud, SaaS and communications services. SD-WAN is the latest in networking technology that begins to address these needs, with increased flexibility, control and security managed programmatically by IT.
"Latency, throughput and security become primary concerns for cloud services when applications live outside the corporate WAN."
3. Optimize your network for the edge. There has been a lot of talk about where to place workloads, and there’s a need to balance edge advantages with business needs and legacy applications. Questions begin with which applications are best in a cloud, and is private or public cloud best? Then, when planning, avoiding latency requires focus. Latency isn't always solved with bigger pipes; distance is a significant factor, too. The more hops and distance between an application and users, the further the light must travel and the higher the latency. (Speed of light is a constant – the most valuable information from that high school physics class.) Theoretical latency, provided by Inflect.com, says Los Angeles to New York is 63 milliseconds round trip. That is the best case, and chances are it won't reflect reality. Therefore, a data center in Los Angeles is not an edge if the user is in New York. There are free online tools available that spot check voice, internet and data lines. Inflect.com, for example, provides a free marketplace to weigh options on available circuit types and sizes as well as latency benchmarks. This is useful information for planning IT transformations and cloud journeys.
Leading companies have accepted the technical challenges of the quick shift to remote work and have begun looking at ways to improve their network for the long term. Changes include modernizing the architecture, rightsizing bandwidth, and finding and optimizing their edge. Companies that have made these improvements have seen a drastic reduction in telco costs, in some cases allowing them to move into several edge colocation facilities and deploy an SD-WAN in a cost-neutral scenario. Working with a partner that can support your edge locations and help you define, find and migrate to them will be very important, now and beyond COVID-19.