An Investment in Remote Workforce is an Investment in the Future
- By Michael Wood
- Oct 09, 2020
It is no mystery that the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed remote working to the forefront of critical business issues for companies like never before. For organizations that pre-pandemic had done little in the way of remote working, this new way of working has been a significant undertaking. Without the right processes and systems in place, remote working can prove to be extremely challenging, for workers looking to stay productive and companies alike.
As remote working continues to be the way of life during this pandemic and beyond, businesses will need to adapt their operations in order to keep their workforce productive, safe and secure. Reliable and fast internet connection speeds and access to cloud-based tools are commonly accepted as top priorities on the list for ensuring an effective remote work strategy.
Legacy Remote Access Systems Prove Ineffective
For those organizations that had looked to remote working for the occasional home emergency or offsite visit, the most common solution was a traditional VPN. This approach creates a secure connection back to the corporate network by routing traffic through a VPN concentrator, often tromboned through a data center. Absent a true demand for remote working like we see today, itis understandable that businesses would rely on older legacy VPN solutions. That’s because these solutions are usually sufficient for a small number of workers, but present all kinds of challenges when there is a sudden need to scale like we have seen these past six months.
Older VPNs are labor intensive for IT departments when it comes to management and support. For example, setting up just one VPN can take between 30 to 60 minutes. Multiply that by a large workforce across multiple locations that suddenly needs to work remotely, and this approach becomes a costly and unbearable task.
Beyond proven connectivity issues with legacy VPNs, performance is also poor because of traffic tromboned back through the data center. This results in reduced productivity due to slow internet speeds, and more data-intensive needs such as video calls we have all grown to love can be all but impossible. In addition, many VPNs were not designed to integrate across multiple different devices and operating systems, which is often the case with work-from-home (WFH) employees using personal devices.
Remote Working and the Security Risk
Inadequate network connectivity and speeds can also lead to the emergence of security issues. Workers looking to perform at their usual levels may seek alternative connectivity methods outside the corporate sanctioned secure VPN, and can accidentally expose themselves and their organizations to cybersecurity threats.
In addition, while VPNs do deliver a secure connection, the rush to provide remote work functionality to the masses has caused many organizations to introduce even more security risks. Companies can be hesitant to begin updating or changing the software of older solutions to avoid accidentally disrupting service for users. The result is that security patches are missed, opening up VPNs functioning with known vulnerabilities to cyber hackers.
VPNs also do not allow security and IT teams to have visibility into the applications remote workers are using or administer network segmentation, making it impossible to monitor for Shadow IT, unauthorized access, or malicious activity.
Planning for the Future of Remote Working
In March, organizations embraced the WFH model likely expecting things to be back to “normal” after a few weeks, with no idea they would be supporting remote working for the long haul. While not the best scenario, companies could have limped along with inadequate VPN provisioning as a short-term fix.
Many months later, “normal” has been estimated to be as far into the future as a year from now. While some companies have opened their campuses on a limited basis, most workforces are required to work at least some of the time to adhere to social distancing requirements. In other cases, companies and employees alike have discovered the productivity benefits of remote work, and believe it’s here to stay. With remote work still very much a part of our future, those organizations that rushed to provide remote connectivity stopgap fixes need to rethink their strategies and plan for the future.
Businesses must understand that legacy VPNs are not a viable option for the future of remote working. While not an easy endeavour to replace an entire system, updating the remote work infrastructure will prove to be important in keeping the business productive and the workforce safe. A new approach to addressing these evolving remote working needs is a cloud-based SaaS (Software as a Service) method, such as a Secure SD-WAN (software-defined Wide Area Network).
Cloud-based SaaS infrastructure requires no onsite physical infrastructure and has significant advantages over on-premises systems. To start, cloud-based enables workers to be up and running productive much more easily and cost effectively. SaaS contracts also generally allow for flexible provisioning for scaling up or down. Businesses should seek out providers that will allow them to easily add more users, and also scale back if business conditions change.
When considering a remote work solution, interoperability is another key feature organizations should require. An effective solution must have virtual architecture that is compatible with all devices and operating systems in use by the company, including the potential for authorized personal devices to be leveraged at home.
Enabling Security and Performance of Connectivity
Organizations looking to update their remote work infrastructure for the long haul will need to maintain two main priorities – enabling their workforce to operate in a productive manner, and ensuring they can do so securely.
Leveraging virtual architecture hosted through cloud gateways located globally will help organizations overcome the network latency issues of older VPN solutions, which rely on a single data center to support workers. Selecting a solution that can prioritize application traffic according to user need will improve network performance and productivity further. For example, a reliable and fast connection is required for a remote sales team which uses Zoom to host important prospect meetings. This team can receive a higher priority for network traffic when using Zoom to ensure their calls are conducted in an effective fashion.
Secure SD-WAN delivers a single point of control for the entire network, and solves the security issues inherent in a legacy VPN. With a Secure SD-WAN, security and IT teams can also easily ensure patches are current, as well as gain full visibility into all application and network performance and activity.
By selecting a modern approach to tackle today’s dynamic remote worker needs that easily scales in delivering reliable, secure connectivity, organizations will keep their workers productive and safe during the uncertain times of 2021, and beyond.
Michael Wood is the CMO at Versa Networks.