Network planning to scale up and support distributed users

Remote working has put a massive strain on networks with concerns about how they will cope if telecommuting becomes the long-term norm. Since the lockdown started, the number of users accessing their organizations’ networks remotely has risen 700% among Orange Business customers.

Performance depends on network quality

Collaboration applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex need a good, consistent connection. A small delay, for example, can result in audio or video distortion. At the same time, the number of applications being accessed and user behavior patterns are changing. Current networking tools, particularly virtual private network (VPN) connections, have not been designed to cope with such an increase in traffic.

Orange Business had teams working 24/7 around the globe coming up with workarounds to enable companies to continue operations with staff working from home. Companies have lacked the required licenses, updated features and bandwidth to support tens of thousands of telecommuters simultaneously. These fixes, although they work satisfactorily, are largely temporary and will not necessarily provide the optimum experience for remote users. Going forward, organizations need to address networking capabilities as a matter of urgency.

“Corporate VPN is an aging technology as organizations shift to more cloud-based services. However, in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, companies are realizing they must fundamentally change the way they work. For security and risk management leaders, that means grappling with the best course of action to solve the challenges of large-scale modern remote access,” says Rob Smith, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner.

As organizations support more telecommuters, they must have the right technology and networking plans in place to ensure secure, high-performance access. This may include remote monitoring solutions and an additional Internet connection dedicated to work use, for example. This will ensure correct passwords and configurations are observed as well as optimizing bandwidth. The Enterprise Networks in the “New Normal” whitepaper looks at some of these solutions. One example being edge computing to support specialist, high‑performance applications, by allowing some processing to be done locally as an extension of the hyperscale platform. The sort of jobs this could support include financial services traders who have high processing requirements for trading desks with multiple screens. Others include industrial designers who need to work on high-bandwidth CAD files and even medical professionals who have high processing requirements for applications like scans.

Organizations must plan for digital native networks

The wide area network (WAN) undoubtedly needs to change. Before COVID-19, many organizations were at the start of this transformational curve, having realized they needed more agile and flexible networks to cope with changing applications. According to IDC, 99% of companies said that network changes were being made as a direct result of new technologies including cloud, multicloud, big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), video and unified communications and collaboration tools (UC&C). As we ease into the new normal, this trend will accelerate as more organizations speed up their implementation of software-defined solutions.

To digitally transform into what IDC refers to as a “Future Enterprise,” organizations need to deploy digital native networks. These are built around flexibility, scalability, cost effectiveness, security and manageability, reducing complexity and providing increased visibility of application performance. The analyst firm sees this as a map for an “application-centric network that supports the right end user for each application and user.”

IDC’s vision is based on several central elements. These include virtualization technologies such as software-defined networking (SDN) driving “automation, orchestration and programmability by decoupling the data and control planes.” Network intelligence and automation tools will reduce complexity, enhance visibility and optimize both network and application performance.

Hybrid WANs, which have been deployed over the last few years, will form the foundation of these networks. Fixed and mobile technologies, such as fiber and 5G, will provide organizations with access to public Internet and private networks. Cloud connectivity will be key in balancing the “security and predictable performance of private networks” with the “ubiquity and cost effectiveness of public Internet,” especially as more mission-critical applications are migrated to the cloud, IDC maintains.

SDN vendors and service providers have started to incorporate remote access functionalities into their offerings as standard, making the SDN architecture a sweet spot for secure remote working capabilities.

SD-WAN is not a standalone answer

The spotlight is undoubtedly on SD-WAN right now, but organizations should not see it as a silver bullet to their networking conundrum. IDC warns against looking at SD-WAN on an autonomous, independent basis and recommends taking a holistic approach to SD-WAN with hybrid architecture, cloud connectivity and security central to the WAN design.

The goal should be a “seamless and risk-averse” network. To achieve this, organizations must choose a trusted partner with the expertise and ability to understand the organization’s current and future business plan. Orange Business is agnostic and has an extensive partner ecosystem and solutions portfolio that is not only there to help an organization transform, but to support its long-term goals.

A stark reminder of the importance of the network

One thing the pandemic has highlighted to organizations is the importance of their network as the workhorse in their day-to-day business. It has exposed how any weakness in the network has an immediate effect on application performance.

The hybrid concept of working from the office and home is set to become the new norm. To make this work, smart, flexible, secure connectivity will be critical. Read the exclusive IDC research note: Digital Transformation Requires Network Transformation and the Enterprise Networks in the “New Normal” brief.

Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites, including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.