Embracing the new normal drives network transformation

As companies ease back towards a very new normal, they will view the workplace with a very different pair of eyes. While some employees will return to an office ruled by social distancing, others will continue to telecommute. This demands a re-think of IT posture and network infrastructures.

Large companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have said they support a significant move to more remote working, while Barclays Bank and advertising giant WPP are looking to a more decentralized approach to staffing. For our part, we have been a long-time advocate of flexible working, which has enabled us to draw upon a wider talent pool and give our people a work-life balance of their choosing.

Since March, we have been helping our customers to rapidly scale up their remote working capabilities as wave after wave of countries introduced a lockdown. Our teams worked 24/7 installing gateways, scaling up firewalls, and instigating workarounds to allow employees to stay securely connected in these challenging times.

As these new working patterns are likely to be with us for some time, we need to look beyond those initial measures to give homeworkers a better experience. Most homeworkers are accessing company networks using their home Internet connections via private VPNs. This protects online privacy and maintains data security. We have seen an increase of around 700% in the number of concurrent remote workers at most of our enterprise customers.

Orange has come up with some clever Band-Aids to get organizations up and running remotely. But the network infrastructure must change to sustain new working habits. Networks will need to handle an increasing amount of data from software and apps for video calls and tools for smart working and collaboration.

The office will be a very different space

Workspaces will look very different due to social distancing rules. Cubicles or individual offices will replace the open-plan workspace.

Some companies are looking at distributed offices, where smaller offices are set up closer to where staff live. This allows for collaboration and human connection, without long commutes on public transport. Others are considering contactless offices, where employees operate everything from the elevator to meeting rooms from their smartphones.

This new way of working will require a re-think of the IT and network architecture. Organizations will turn to high-speed Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) and Wi-Fi. Access to the Wi-Fi network will be on a zero-touch basis to bolster security. This means each user’s device will be accountable for its own authentication, irrespective of its physical location or IP address.

A wireless network comes with many advantages, including mobility, accessibility, elasticity and guest user access, while protecting network resources. Systems such as cloud-managed Cisco Meraki, with built-in analytics and intelligence, can provide full visibility of devices on Wi-Fi networks. Meraki also has its own built-in intrusion prevention solution for added security.

As in the old world, employees will expect better bandwidth and network coverage in the office environment. The integration of SD-LAN into the network infrastructure will help to provide this by enhancing end-to-end network and application performance.

Ramping up infrastructures essential for efficient remote working

IT infrastructure is critical in enabling communications and supporting remote working, yet 54% of HR leaders in a recent Gartner poll said that a poor IT infrastructure has been their most significant barrier to homeworking. Aaron McEwan, VP Research & Advisory at Gartner maintains: “The first lesson learned from the coronavirus situation is to accelerate the development of a technology infrastructure that supports alternative types of working.” We have also seen this from our large multinational customers.

Organizations have managed to scale up SSL connections, for example, to cope in the pandemic. But in many cases, business-critical applications are not getting the network performance they need. Remote users have suffered degradation and dropouts with videoconferencing, for example. Companies can, however, turn this unforeseen crisis on its head and use it as an opportunity to update their IT infrastructures to support progressive policies for flexible working.

SDN vendors and service providers have been moving to include remote access functionality into their technologies as standard. SDN architecture is now a real contender for telecommuters.

IDC is confident that SD-WAN technology can be adapted to enhance remote working environments by extending its benefits to telecommuters at the edge. We expect to see a wave of announcements from vendors in the coming months, which will enable our customers to treat home offices like branches.

And this will be well received by enterprises. One of our customers recently told me: “You will no longer be managing our 300 large global offices for us. We will need you to manage 100 global offices and 25,000 homeworkers.” So we’re working with the customer to give those homeworkers the same experience and security they would get if they had gone into the office.

SD-WAN will have a crucial role here. The intelligence built into SD-WAN encompasses multiple functions and capabilities. Routing and switching decisions are made based on the network view to optimize performance. By automating workflows at various points on the network, reliability and speed can be improved together with the end-user experience. Zero-touch provisioning and centralized policies mean there is minimal involvement for homeworkers.

The big issue of security and homeworking

The pandemic caused a huge spike in security breaches. Researchers at Check Point Technologies report COVID-19-related cyberattacks increased by 30% in May 2020. Chief Security Officers (CSOs) will need to ensure that remote teams can work securely and apply best practices. Threat intelligence will be essential, using analytics to look for deviations in behaviors.

Utilizing edge-to-edge encrypted communication tunnels and robust firewalls, SD-WAN can protect the homeworker from unauthorized traffic. Micro-segmentation is valuable in defining specific policies for specific user access with regards to business-critical applications, such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

The big workplace culture change

In the new normal, we will all be working differently, which means networks need to adapt. Gone are the days of complex networks full of proprietary hardware. Enter automated, open infrastructures that are flexible, agile and responsive to change.

Rob Willcock
Rob Willcock

Rob Willcock is President of the Americas for Orange Business. He leads the company’s enterprise activities across North and Latin America, positioning Orange Business as a trusted partner in the digital transformation of multinational corporations. Rob has more than 20 years of business and technology experience in the telecommunications industry encompassing consulting, business development and global customer programs across multiple regions. He was previously the Country Manager for Orange Business in the UK and Ireland, and Vice President of the Orange European customer division. Rob is a member of the International Business Leadership Team at Orange and chairs the Americas Customer Advisory Board.