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Remote Work and What It Means for the Future of Network Architecture

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If you had asked any pundit going into 2020 about remote work trends for the coming year, most would have predicted an upswing, due largely to the need to stay competitive as wars for talent were raging. “Work from home” was considered an employee benefit and posed an opportunity for companies to tap into qualified workers based in other locations. This seemingly progressive view of the world now seems like a lifetime ago.


Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s entire workforce, save for essential employees, went remote in the blink of an eye. Additionally, nearly 40 million people filed for unemployment, meaning the pipeline is now wide open for finding necessary talent in the majority of industries. Remote work is no longer a luxury — it’s survival.

Within this upside-down world, enterprises face new issues. Among them, their corporate VPNs are getting hammered, and network management and security has become even more complex for IT teams stretched thin and operating under tremendous strain.

While enterprise leaders know that COVID-19 will eventually end, few believe that work will ever go completely back to “normal.” Between the establishment of new remote work habits and the fear that another unforeseen crisis could send their entire workforce home again, companies are formulating strategies to protect their networks, operations and employees.

The Big Issues

Prior to March, advancements in collaboration technologies had led enterprises to allow more employees to work from home — typically a day or two a week. Despite this, networks and infrastructure were never built to enable an entire workforce to work remotely all at the same time for even a single day, let alone for weeks or months.

Where this becomes a problem is that companies still have to maintain all of the machines and devices connected to the network, and it gets a whole lot more complicated when everyone is out of the office. Deploying software, updates and patches are a vital part of endpoint management and security. At the same time, this type of content distribution often requires a lot of bandwidth even in the best environments. When attempted over VPN under the current circumstances, it’s just too much. As a result, many endpoints won’t receive their updates — at least not as often as needed. This is incredibly risky because bad actors are well aware of growing network holes; they will not hesitate to exploit any vulnerabilities.

Additionally, because quarantines happened so quickly, many employees didn’t have what they needed at home. They’ve been unable to use a work-issued machine that was properly configured by IT, and it’s nearly impossible for IT to take care of it from a distance when they can’t see all of the pieces they are dealing with, from machine settings, personal apps, and home network configurations to whatever the employees’ kids might be doing with the machine if they need to use it for virtual school or connecting with friends. IT might be able to work through these challenges with a small number of employees, but imagine trying to do this at scale for thousands of employees over a VPN. It’s debilitating.

Interim Solutions

To get past the immediate hurdles, enterprises are adopting sophisticated content distribution engines. A number of solutions are on the market that use automation to offload management tasks and reduce security risks. But, automation is not always enough to solve bandwidth, scalability and reliability issues.

One approach that is rapidly gaining popularity is peer-to-peer content distribution. It differs from traditional methods by requiring IT to download a piece of software or a patch only one time, and that single version can then be shared across the entire network at once versus requiring each individual machine to download the software. That kind of speed and scalability pays big dividends when you think about the difference in bandwidth required to send an update to 30,000 machines over a VPN. The network impact is enormous. As such, content can be successfully deployed in a timely manner without compromising network performance or impeding business operations.

The reward is even greater for companies that can do it via the cloud. Solutions that leverage split tunnel VPN architecture make it possible for machines and devices to get content from a cloud-based CDN instead of over the corporate VPN or WAN — removing any strain on the network. They can also offer much better remote device support and management.

The Long Term

Enterprises have long discussed moving from on-premise environments to cloud-based modern device management (MDM) environments. However, most have not started that transition, or if they have, they are stuck somewhere in the middle because until very recently, MDM has not been able to support content distribution at scale; traditional servers have been required, stalling the MDM movement.

Today’s uncertainty has reprioritized it, though. Enterprises want to eliminate the costs associated with maintaining on-premise environments. They also want access to better systems management platforms that allow uniform endpoint management and the means to unify disparate systems, particularly when people are outside of the corporate network and when employees need to connect remotely. MDM has promised all of this and more.

With new content distribution engines debuting to serve MDM environments efficiently, enterprises can finally dust off MDM plans long set aside. The network challenges highlighted throughout the pandemic, coupled with new technology that solves scalability and reliability issues, will likely prompt organizations to move forward with their digital transformation. It won’t happen overnight because digital transformation is a massive undertaking — converting thousands of machines and devices — and companies already have a lot to contend with due to COVID-19. But MDM will become a priority in the days to come — if nothing else than as a protective mechanism for the next global crisis.

Remote work, VPN overload, and how to tackle these challenges will be addressed in greater detail in an on-demand webinar.

As first published in Business 2 Community.

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Jeff Harrell

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