Many office workers are working from home during the coronavirus crisis, but there's connectivity issues to overcome
With many people across the world now being told to work from home, connectivity can be a big challenge – but perhaps a VPN could be the answer. Shashi Kiran, CPO at network company Aryaka, explains.
Covid-19 has created a sudden and drastic change in business operations. As travel clampdowns spread far and wide, it impacts the day-to-day business operations, creating challenges for employees, customers and partners.
The ripple effect is clearly seen as stocks continue to plunge and businesses have sent employees home to quell fears around further contagion.
The Covid-19 pandemic kept about 60 million people in China alone under partial or full lockdown in January, with similar restrictions since placed in Italy and France.
CNN’s affirmation that the situation is the “world’s biggest work-from-home experiment” is correct, in the sense that the variables that determine the result are still to be defined.
All this does not imply a company shutdown is acceptable. Instead, there is an expectation to maintain the notion of “business as usual” – workers who were coming in to work are now expected to maintain their job functions, while being remote and telecommuting.
CEOs and CIOs are expected to have business continuity and contingency plans in place. While most do have a redundancy in connectivity accounting for branch, data centre or cloud link failures and some disaster recovery mechanisms, accommodating a huge percentage of teleworkers is usually not at the top of the list.
But wait a minute, is telecommuting even a problem? Doesn’t every corporation have a virtual private network (VPN) solution widely deployed?
While telecommuting can be perceived as a problem solved in the 1990s, most corporations today are not geared to have a majority of their employees working remotely.
The corporate networks are designed to accommodate “work from home” Fridays, or a certain percentage of employees being mobile.
They’re simply not equipped to change this mix overnight where a majority of their employees are now expected to be remote and productive at the same time. In many cases, it requires re-architecting the network.
Role of VPNs in working from home
VPN solutions have indeed previously provided secure corporate connectivity to enable working from home. However, these solutions are designed for a limited scale, where the network architectures are designed to have a certain number of telecommuters connecting to a VPN concentrator in a certain geography.
With major unprecedented disruption as a result of Covid-19, these concentrators have become overloaded with the number of connections and the amount of throughput required to support such a large workforce.
If network connectivity is compromised it impacts application performance. Unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) and other productivity applications take a hit, further impacting employee productivity and business operations.
When the outbreak started and those affected were primarily based in APAC, enterprises tried to get these users to connect to other geographies.
However, in many cases, it required procuring and deployment of additional infrastructure which can be time-consuming. As the virus spreads, the situation is no longer localised, but rather becoming a global problem to tackle.
Even though remote users can connect to globally-dispersed VPN servers to access business applications, the user experience turns out poor because the transport is across the long-haul public internet.
The internet, especially across long distances, suffers from high levels of packet loss, as well as increased latency and jitter. In short, long-haul VPN servers are not built for high traffic levels.
Another major problem arises from the lack of visibility for IT teams into the network since traffic is traversing over the public internet. Without that visibility, application performance becomes difficult to monitor or predict.
This is hard for the network administrators to troubleshoot, as they end up working with multiple providers to resolve the connectivity and performance issues.
How can businesses improve connectivity across VPNs without impacting performance when staff work from home?
This is where private networks established by service providers with built-in WAN optimisation technologies can step in. They can serve as “HOV lanes” for application traffic.
With the right type of secure remote access (SRA) solution, telecommuters can connect any VPN client to any VPN server in the world, leveraging a private layer-2 core that delivers a very predictable pathway with full service level agreements (SLAs).
In such cases, the traffic is just routed to the nearest point of presence (PoP) and exits from the PoPs to the nearest VPN server, allowing for more dynamic distribution of the connection load, while ensuring that application performance is not compromised.
Such an approach is not feasible through just the public internet, which has inherent latency and jitter issues creating unreliability.
More importantly, such an approach doesn’t require organisations to buy new VPN servers and expensive licences. The capacity shortage can be resolved by dynamic allocation of such resources without additional hardware procurement in most cases.
Re-thinking the role of the network for business readiness
While no-one expected a tiny virus to have such significant global impact costing billions of dollars, it can serve as a wake-up call to re-think network architectures.
While corporations can rightsize their network and connectivity architectures in the long run, having a managed network that can dynamically adapt to changing site connectivity and secure remote access (SRA) connectivity needs on the fly, can be a huge plus in not only ensuring business continuity and uptime, but also to retain the competitive edge that global businesses are so keen to maintain.
Enterprises evaluating new network architectures like software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs) would do well to consider providers with private backbones that guarantee application performance globally, are able to accommodate secure remote access and can maintain business continuity with security and reliability for sites and telecommuters anywhere in the world.
Having this delivered as a managed service will further improve the speed in which a business can react to unprecedented scenarios.
Managing change for any business is hard. Not every security attack, or business disaster can be predicted.
But having access to the the right technology, IT architectures and workforce expertise can go a long way in determining how a business responds to such change.