Is Your Network Ready to Support a Remote Workforce?

The recent surge in full-time remote workers is putting corporate networks under unusual stress.

More people than ever are connecting through virtual private networks (VPNs), taking frequent video calls or meetings and accessing business applications from outside the office.

Without a LAN/WAN infrastructure designed and optimized for the new all-remote workforce, poor connectivity and degraded performance may be frustrating end users. Over time, these issues could prevent people from being their most productive while working from home full-time.

The keys to improving network performance while supporting remote work lie in alleviating network traffic, better supporting bandwidth-intensive applications and routing traffic intelligently. An assessment-led approach will help you map the traffic patterns in your current networking infrastructure and identify the main areas for improvement.

Below, we’ll look at the three key questions you need to ask to pinpoint problems and remove the barriers to network readiness for a remote workforce.

#1 Are you using best practices for VPN?

A sudden increase in the volume of connections can overwhelm a VPN infrastructure designed to support a limited remote workforce. In some cases, the surge in volume strains VPN concentrators at the edge of the network while in others, the number of VPN circuits isn’t enough to support a much higher-than-usual number of users.

As such, the response to COVID-19 has put many IT departments under pressure to scale their VPN implementations in days or weeks. Consider the following advice to ensure your VPN solution is ready to alleviate the traffic resulting from a massive spike in volume.

  • Upgrading VPN bandwidth: Remember, users expect the same connection speed from a corporate VPN as they have in the office. You may need to upgrade your VPN solution to handle bandwidth usage from a much higher volume of users.
  • Stress testing for stability: The ability to handle 24-hour connectivity requirements is a must for many organizations, especially those supporting essential services. Ensuring your VPN implementation is stable at all hours is critical.
  • Strong encryption and authentication: More users than usual will be connecting over unsecured public internet connections. It’s important to verify that traffic to and from the corporate network is safe. To this end, consider implementing multi-factor or other advanced authentication methods.
  • Cost-efficient licensing: As cost considerations become more important during this period, making sure you can afford to scale your VPN solution to accommodate the entire workforce is a primary concern. Ensure your VPN solution provider will support a cost-effective scale up in user and device counts.

#2 Are you doing everything you can to support bandwidth-intensive applications?

Working from home full-time has prompted a dramatic rise in the number of people participating in video calls and meetings. Meanwhile, users accustomed to using CPU or GPU-intensive applications in the office may need to do so remotely through virtual desktops.

This increase in bandwidth-intensive traffic puts a lot of strain on LAN/WAN infrastructure, leading to degraded performance and user experience.

The first step to better supporting these critical yet bandwidth-intensive applications is to assess the increase in traffic volume across a few categories: voice calls, real-time interactive video, streaming video (such as training content), collaborative applications (such as in-document collaboration tools), and bulk file transfers.

Next, it’s important to consider possible network stress points and remedies, including:

  • Traffic routing and internet access: You may need to consider rerouting network traffic to optimize performance while most or all users are connecting from outside the office. Routers, firewalls and other networking equipment may also need to be reconfigured to carry ingress and egress traffic.
  • Strain on the network edge: A surge in connections will likely strain VPN concentrators on the network edge. Virtualized solutions may be your best option to scale quickly.
  • Conference and video call limitations: Higher demand for video and conference calls may push the physical limits of equipment meant to support these calls in-office. In this case, cloud-hosted solutions may help alleviate connection problems.
  • Advanced virtual desktop requirements: You may need to support virtual desktops for “power user” profiles with CPU/GPU-intensive workflows like CAD drafting or high motion video. Here, cloud hosted VDI is a fast, cost-efficient option for scaling remote access.
  • Remote phone issues: Over longer paths, remote or “soft” phones may be subject to packet loss or latency issues. Consider diagnostic or testing tools to identify connectivity problems.

Other considerations outside the corporate IT environment may also have a hand in degrading user experience as they attempt to connect. These include:

  • Home networking equipment: The networking equipment people have at home is often less advanced than its corporate counterparts. At the same time, interference and bandwidth competition from inside the home (especially from streaming video) may be degrading connectivity.
  • Public ISP congestion: Past increases in the number of remote workers have tended to cause congestion in public ISP exchanges, especially in areas with lower public network quality. With a historic surge, many people may be experiencing added difficulty.

#3 Could SD-WAN help you improve support for critical applications and locations with intelligent traffic routing?

The shift to an all-remote workforce will cause significant changes in the way traffic flows in and out of the corporate network. Meanwhile, most legacy WAN infrastructure was designed assuming most employees would be connecting from a core office environment.

Modernizing the network by adopting SD-WAN could yield benefits, including:

  • Software-driven management and monitoring: With SD-WAN, monitoring and management happen in the cloud while traffic passes through the LAN/WAN infrastructure. This allows the network to remain secure without relying on continuous cloud connectivity.
  • Intelligent traffic routing: The leading SD-WAN vendors offer solutions with application-aware connectivity, which supports segmentation of traffic by differentiating high-priority workloads, such as productivity or collaboration tools, from typical internet usage.
  • Improved quality of experience (QoE): Intelligent routing and more predictable performance in turn support better user experience for end users along with centralized, streamlined administration for IT teams.
  • Cost efficiency: SD-WAN also eliminates the need to back-haul traffic to the data center over MPLS links, a significant cause of performance degradation, especially for cloud-based SaaS applications. As MPLS links are traditionally expensive to operate, the move to SD-WAN also has the potential to drive further cost savings in the long term.

Where to Go Next

Most corporate networks were not designed to support a sudden shift to all-remote work.

The related performance issues could be slowing productivity as calls and meetings drop, critical files fail to transfer, or users are unable to connect. Solving these issues may be critical to business continuity. The first step is to assess your current environment to pinpoint problem areas and put the necessary solutions in place.

No matter where your organization is in its response to the global pandemic, our team of experts is ready to help you identify and resolve network performance problems and in turn enable your employees for productive work from any location.

Looking for help to address network performance issues?

Watch our virtual workshop “Performance Meets Demand: Is your Network Ready to Support a Remote Workforce? on-demand. Or explore Softchoice Business Continuity solutions.

Avoiding the bottleneck: The impact of hybrid IT on your network

Avoiding the bottleneck: The impact of hybrid IT on your network

“Whether it’s a “cloud-first” start-up looking at their own infrastructure needs or a more mature company slowly moving to the cloud, every business today is embracing hybrid IT in one form or another,” says Alexandra Della Sera, Softchoice Associate Solution Architect.

Still, as with any new technology, organizations possess significantly varied levels of familiarity, she adds. “Just closing that knowledge gap tends to be a big challenge. Understanding what the impact of a converged architecture will be, but also why you’re doing it and why it’s valuable.”

This blog is the first in a three-part Cisco ‘Ask an Expert’ series looking at how hybrid IT is influencing the technology topics of the network, data center, and unified communications. We asked Della Sera to share her insights into the challenges that hybrid IT places on the network, the considerations organizations must make, and how to deploy hybrid IT successfully.

[Read more…]