If there's one thing the last year has taught us, it's the need for flexibility. The IT teams working at businesses around the world didn't have "global pandemic" on their radar, yet they had to work to shift processes and business models almost overnight with a SD-WAN solution. And in many cases, they had to cope with setting up tens, hundreds, or even thousands of employees working from home. Many organizations plan for the fact that a certain percentage of people will be using a VPN to access the data center, but when the pandemic hit, IT had to deal with updating and adding support for a significant number of additional VPNs.
Moving forward, even those businesses that return to a majority of in-person work are likely to have some employees that continue to work remotely, if for no other reason than because quite a few of them actually prefer remote work. According to a Pew Research survey, about half of the respondents want to stay remote, at least part-time. And analysts at Global Workplace Analytics forecast that 25-30% of the workforce will be working multiple days at home per week by the end of 2021.
To meet employee needs, organizations need to take a "work from anywhere" approach to their networks and security. It's no longer a choice between being the best option for a largely remote workforce and being the best option for a mainly in-office situation. Organizations need solutions that are able to adapt to any type of hybrid work model and flexibly and securely address all workforce scenarios.
Some organizations have embraced the challenges of the pandemic as an opportunity to invest in innovation including modern technologies like SD-WAN. Now they aren't just using SD-WAN to support traditional branch offices, they're using it to enable the home office as the new "branch of one."
SD-WAN is key for organizations that need to connect to multiple clouds to accelerate the delivery of cloud-based resources, whether the assets are deployed in a private or public cloud environment or users require access to business-critical software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications such as Salesforce, Microsoft Office 365, or streaming video. Providing reliable access to cloud-based resources requires granular controls, including dynamic failover, SLA-based application steering, and application availability, even during brownout or blackout conditions.
Solutions should support secure and high-performance connectivity between public cloud workloads running on multiple clouds without increasing cost and complexity. Fast, encrypted connections over the internet reduce operational costs and offer a better application experience for users.
The problem is that the internet wasn't designed for performance. Most traditional methods used for steering traffic through public networks don’t redirect traffic to avoid congestion. To address this problem, organizations need cloud on-ramp solutions that can join colocation sites to a cloud-based application accelerator for accelerated cloud connectivity. There should also be a simultaneous focus on middle-mile optimization using sensors embedded in backbone networks. Combining SD-WAN acceleration with backbone-based route optimization and protocol acceleration helps reduce the inherent performance issues associated with traditional internet routing.
Another challenge associated with SD-WAN is that most solutions must be looped in with a vendor-specific cloud connector that manages matters like traffic steering and internet access before connecting to an application acceleration point. This element adds extraneous distance and delays to a system already unfavorably disposed to latency, jitter, and packet loss. Organization should use an SD-WAN solution that has a built-in connector to enable intelligent connection flexibility without the need to backhaul application traffic through an SD-WAN vendor’s remote cloud connector.
The key to making the right investments is to think about security and networking as a converged solution, rather than as discrete elements. A secure SD-WAN solution should be pervasive with the ability to be deployed beyond the branch to home, campus, and multi-cloud environments. With users working from anywhere, finding a flexible secure SD-WAN solution is critical to deliver security everywhere with good user experience.
A secure SD-WAN together with cloud-delivered security solutions can enable secure WAN edge, thin WAN edge and end-point powered ZTNA solutions. To improve the user experience with better security posture, organizations should set up an infrastructure that spans all three deployments so it can use the same orchestrator and predictive analytics powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. Covering these three deployments supports all of the use cases that are required for hybrid workforce that includes some people working in an office and some working at home.
In researching solutions, organizations need to make sure adaptability is part of the equation because circumstances and plans change. A solution provider should be able to support the organization whether your plan it to return all employees to the office, continue work-from-home policies, or any combination in between. The ability to support any type of hybrid work-from-anywhere model needs to be something solutions can accommodate. And most importantly, they should be able to do it securely.
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