The WAN just moved to the internet

COVID 19 has overnight moved the user base from the office to the home office

While many organisations have been grappling with how their MPLS and datacentre centric WANs will support the move to utilise a greater range of public cloud applications, and how an Internet-based SD-WAN might deliver low costs, more flexibility and local Internet breakout, COVID 19 has overnight moved the user base from the office to the home office.

Working from outside the WAN, users are now placing huge pressure on VPNs and remote access solutions that were typically designed and dimensioned for a subset of remote users.  From a bandwidth demand perspective, there has been an explosion in the use of collaboration and bandwidth-hungry applications as organisations adopt media-rich tools such as MS Teams and Zoom.

Home Office workers are now also suffering local access contention from within their bubble with spouses, partners and children all demanding bandwidth from the domestic broadband connection and their chosen ISP.

Industry commentators are predicting that the home working mode will continue even after restrictive lockdowns have abated.  The predictions suggest that working from home will become the new norm as individuals and organisations become more comfortable with the mode of working.  At the very least a hybrid working mode will likely become more common as staff work in a more fluid mode between the home and the office.

For the WAN and Networking, this is an interesting development and one that organisations will need to ponder so that they can deliver a consistent user experience and limit cost as they focus on the need to support underutilised office-based networks and a dispersed worker base.

For optimising access to cloud-based applications, the Internet SD-WAN offered tools to support direct internet access and hence remove the reliance on a single internet ingress.  However, working from home has taken this to a new level where access to tools such as Office 365 would be better served by allowing break out or VPN split tunnelling via the home internet service rather than clogging the VPN.  Both Microsoft and VPN providers are providing guidance around such a concept to help organisations de-load the VPN and better support the remote users.

“While the adoption of SD-WAN is still low, the generic attributes of the SD-WAN now need to be extended to the remote and home user where workers will be subject to a host of variables.  This could even extend to the adoption of SD-WAN edge appliances being utilised at the home to better manage security, optimise traffic and provide a greater level of analytics.”

In a broader context, the widespread adoption of home working requires a rethink of the WAN architecture, security, support models and performance analytics.  Compared to MPLS, the SD-WAN promised a greater level of manageability, analytics and optimisation up to the application layer to ensure better performance and user experience.  While the adoption of SD-WAN is still low, the generic attributes of the SD-WAN now need to be extended to the remote and home user where workers will be subject to a host of variables.  This could even extend to the adoption of SD-WAN edge appliances being utilised at the home to better manage security, optimise traffic and provide a greater level of analytics.

From a business perspective, these variable conditions will impact on productivity, the user experience, the cost of support and moreover the customer experience.

The radical change presents a compelling opportunity and demand for organisations to adopt remote working as a norm and with this, adapt the WAN and connectivity infrastructure and environment to be more resilient, more flexible and to be granularly managed despite the reliance on an array of working styles and access mechanisms.  

In this model, the influence of the Telco as a key partner in the delivery of ‘managed networks’ will diminish as workers utilise best-effort connections across multiple service providers.

By being able to flex bandwidth up and down, manage traffic flow and analyse performance to the user and application level, organisations will be better placed to ensure users and customers can be supported and that costs can be contained.

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