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.

Striking the Balance Between Security and Productivity – [Infographic]

As an IT leader, you want to help users to be as productive as possible To do this, you need to provide a frictionless technology experience

But in today’s security landscape, protecting users and data is non-negotiable. The result? IT leaders face a dilemma between productivity and security.  

With too much protection, real agility becomes impossible. Too little protection, however, leaves the organization vulnerable to disaster.  

The complexity starts there and keeps growing as other factors enter the equation:  

  • Today’s end users want a flexible, human technology experience that works wherever they do. 
  • Trends like the cloud, BYOD and SaaS provide more options – and more vulnerabilities 
  • Regulatory compliance requirements are evolving, often so fast it’s a challenge to keep up.   
  • The need for cost-effective solutions that are easy to deploy and maintain isn’t going away 
  • The sheer number of security vendors, categories and products becomes overwhelming fast. 

 We created the infographic below to outline the need for balance between productivity and security and how organizations are unleashing their potential without compromising protection.  

  

Productivity AND Security, Not Productivity vs. Security 

 Fulfilling the mandate to provide end users with the technology they need to be their most productive isn’t always easy. Making the right technology decisions with so much at stake poses a real challenge.  Furthermore, balancing productivity and protection is much harder when users don’t fully understand the critical role they play in IT security.  

 Providing the right user with access to the right applications and data requires an end-to-end solution based on experience, expertise and strong partnerships in the security space. Working with a partner like Softchoice helps you cut through the complexity and select the best solutions for your productivity and security needs.  

Looking to learn more about enabling your users for collaboration without compromising protection? Explore Softchoice productivity and collaboration solutions 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roadmap to Multicloud Success: 5 Things to Consider

You want to spin up new digital business capabilities. Maybe compliance requirements mean some of your workloads can’t move to the public cloud.  Or you’re a cloud-native business with no plans to build your own data center. 

If any of these describes you, multicloud is an attractive option.  

Combining cloud services and infrastructure from several providers allows you to bolster your portfolio with the best features from each. At the same time, you avoid the contractual, technical and cost burden of shifting from one cloud provider to another in the event something doesn’t work out 

In fact, Gartner estimates 75% of organizations will have deployed multicloud this year.  Nonetheless, adding new cloud services without a solid architecture and governance strategy in place means success in a multicloud environment is far from guaranteed.  

In the article below, we explore 5 key technologies to consider before making the move to multicloud.  

Software-defined Everything

When it comes to building digital business capabilities, the software-defined data center (SDDC) is a big enabler. The SDDC extends virtualization to data center resources, including network, storage, compute and security.

The result is an environment that is much easier to extend to the cloud (or clouds) of your choice. The SDDC also uses the same frameworks thanks to technologies like VMware Cloud on AWS.

In turn, IT gets the benefits of managing it all within software instead of hardware, including:  

  • Virtualized IT infrastructure for compute, network and storage  
  • Flexibility to use the data center as a private or hybrid cloud  
  • Extension to the public cloud through providers partnered with the SDDC vendor 
  • Virtualization efficiencies/economics across all data center services 
  • Protection of legacy hardware investments that can be virtualized  
  • Centralized and policy-driven management for all software-driven workloads 

A virtualized and automated data center allows for more efficient deployment of applications and infrastructure within these types of restrictions. For this reason, the SDDC will be a major growth area going forward as organizations look to acquire cloud capabilities while accommodating security and compliance requirements. 

In fact, Allied Market Research foresees a $139 billion SDDC market by 2022, in which the government, banking, finance and insurance verticals lead the way in deployments.

Unified multicloud management and orchestration

Multicloud delivers considerable benefits. But every cloud service in your environment also adds to the management burden and skills required by IT. 

Each cloud platform comes with its own cost structures and provisioning processes. Moreover, workloads management across multiple environments often calls for technologies like containerization, Kubernetes (for container orchestration), performance monitoring tools and analytics engines to name a few. 

Making all of this work in concert can seem like a daunting prospect. Without a detailed plan for migration, cost, service management, and overall visibility into your environments it can be overwhelming. Tasks like accurate cost forecasting and budgeting, plus rightsizing of cloud services for current requirements, have to be front and center.  

The Flexera State of Tech Spend 2020 report finds 68% of respondents already struggle to understand on-premise versus cloud costs, just one illustration of the extent of this challenge in the multicloud environment.

Better application and workload portability through containers

Today the leading public cloud providers operate on a pay-as-you-go model. But this doesn’t erase the sometimes substantial (and expensive) technical hurdles that impede the transition of applications and workloads between clouds.  

A cloud solution provider (CSP) controls the way applications work on its infrastructure. The specifics of each platform have a considerable impact on the portability of applications between different cloud environments.

Enter containers. Containerization technologies like Docker package an application’s full runtime environment, including files, dependencies, and libraries, and isolates them so that it can be easily ported across cloud domains.  

Beyond enhancing the portability of apps and workloads, containerization insulates developers from an upfront requirement to invest time and resources learning the ins and outs of each public cloud platform. Because they can remove that extra dev effort as they move applications between clouds, the result is lower cost to transition. 

Placing applications in containers also reduces the overhead you would experience in a virtual machine-heavy setup. Containers don’t require a hypervisor to emulate hardware and instead share OS resources, making them more streamlined.

Improved app performance and user experience with SD-WAN

Supporting real-time and TCP applications within a multicloud environment requires a dynamic, cost-effective network. Above all, this network needs to deliver predictable performance. Legacy WANs are not built to meet these requirements.  

The traditional WAN facilitates VPN access to an enterprise application via pricey MPLS links. These backhaul traffic to a data center. But performance for cloud applications degrades to noticeable levels when bandwidth doesn’t meet demand. 

In contrast, a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) provides more flexible transport. It also provides dynamic, intelligent routing and a greater range of modern security features.

To help multicloud adopters, an SD-WAN (depending on the vendor) provides:  

  • Application-aware connectivity between branches and across cloud services, including IaaS and SaaS deployments 
  • Constant measurement of jitter, packet loss and latency to send critical workloads down the best available path
  • Compatibility with broadband, cellular and satellite internet as alternatives or supplements to MPLS
  • Secure direct-to-cloud connections, without the traditional backhaul that degrades Quality of Experience (QoE)
  • Aggregation to colocation sites for more consistent performance for large multi-branch organizations 

Greater business continuity with a secure approach to backup and DevOps

Modern organizations face daily risks to business continuity. These include everything from ransomware and DDoS attacks to downtime resulting from technical issues or even old-fashioned human error. 

To keep your data secure and your business running in a multicloud environment calls for a multi-pronged resilience strategy. Each cloud provider applies its own authorization and authentication models. Keeping security standards consistent when workloads live in different clouds is a big ask for any DevOps organization.

As such, scoping out potential security challenges is an important step in securing your multicloud environment. The task extends to backup and disaster recovery. Identifying the weaknesses and potential points of failure in your architecture is an essential part of determining where and how different cloud technologies will intersect in your environment.

Making multicloud work with strategic partners

Multicloud is fast becoming the main way organizations adopt and consume cloud services. But this approach is still very new. However, recruiting for the right skills is often time-consuming and cost-prohibitive. Working with a strategic partner like Softchoice helps you ensure your multicloud strategy is a success.

We’ve covered five of the key technologies and architecture decisions that lead to successful multicloud adoptions. To learn how the right approach to architecture can make the difference, check out our guide, Roadmap to Multicloud Success: Why Architecture Matters.

Softchoice can help you navigate the difficult decisions and make the best possible choices for your environment. Learn more by contacting our team or explore Softchoice cloud services.