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BackDecember 8, 2021
Author: Robert Muller

Enabling the Modern Hybrid Workforce

Coffee shops. Book stores. A comfortable bench at a local park.

These are the office spaces of the modern workforce, and companies that want to stay competitive need the digital infrastructure to support secure and productive work in these diverse and disconnected environments.

As work from home and hybrid workforce models become the "new normal," companies must explore new opportunities for increased security, performance, and productivity offered by emerging technology.

Failing to adapt to this shift could significantly stunt the growth of businesses across industries and cost companies valuable talent in their most impactful positions. Modern employees need (and increasingly expect) more than flexibility from employers. They need the ability to quickly and confidently access their work files, project dashboards, and anything else they need to get the job done, anywhere.

To support this "new normal" IT departments and administrators need a modern network that allows policy applications based on a variety of parameters, including device, user, location, and security posture.

The Old Way

Before the work from home boom, businesses were slowly but surely adapting to digitized models. Companies were in limbo, suspended between modernity and conventionalism.

LANs, Perimeter Firewalls, and VPNs

Corporate Local Area Networks (LANs) have reigned supreme for in-office network connectivity with extensive support for wired and wireless connections. Corporate LANs heavily relied on perimeter firewalls and gateways for security, intrusion prevention, and access control. So long as you were “on the LAN” or “behind the firewall”, you’d likely be granted privileged access to resources on the network.

If you happened to be on the road, chances are that you would use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), to remotely connect back to the Corporate LAN (wherever it may be), so that you could “get behind the firewall” to access your resources.

While the connectivity offered by Corporate LANs and VPNs were practical, they have some serious flaws. First, these solutions are incredibly static in nature, unable to respond to the dynamically changing connectivity landscape required in the modern workplace.

When the WFH movement led to a 200% increase in VPN usage for businesses, some businesses were crushed by load on their VPN and the Internet connectivity. VPNs already suffer from performance issues due to the way traffic gets routed through them; they are hardly a long term WFH solution.

Now, with entire enterprises attempting to remotely access company WANs with VPNs, the intense network load is leading to diminished user experience and frequent performance issues.

Second, while perimeter firewalls reduce LAN vulnerability, they do very little to stop an attack once a successful vulnerability is exploited. Known as “pivoting”, attackers will obtain remote access (usually via a phishing campaign) to one machine on the LAN, and then use it to “pivot” to secure access to other, now unsecured by the firewall, machines in the network.

Thirdly, with the adoption of Cloud services, the entire topology of the corporate network had to evolve. No longer were resources located on-premise in the corporate data center, they are often a hybrid mix of on-premise and cloud services today. For a WFH user, that means tunneling to the office via VPN, and then using some type of transport service out to a Cloud provider. Why not directly secure the path between WFH and the Cloud provider - skip the VPN hop - and provide a superior user experience?!!!

Corporate Data Centers

Corporate data centers were also common and provided a centralized location for data storage, IT operations, and data management. However, these data centers were extremely costly to both build and maintain.

The average enterprise data center costs between $10 and $12 million per megawatt to build, and prone to hardware failures, complex IT maintenance needs, and disaster recovery efforts inflated the cost of maintaining an in-house corporate data center even further.

Conventional Remote Office Solutions

Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) and Software Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN) were also mainstays for branch offices connecting to the corporate datacenter or HQ LAN in years past. MPLS offered reliable packet delivery which was essential to real-time protocols, and SD-WAN offered even greater functionality with improved visibility, scalability, performance, and control.

However, MPLS adoption is severely limited by high bandwidth costs, dependence upon slow carriers for service delivery, and an inability to adapt to evolving networking requirements. That’s where SD-WANs offered significant benefits over MPLS. SD-WAN implements an overlay network on top of MPLS or commodity Internet access, provides new options for 3G/LTE backup connectivity, in a highly flexible delivery model suitied to adapting to changing network requirements. These advantages quickly made SD-WAN the go-to option for decentralized working arrangements.

Enter, SaaS

Software as a Service, more commonly known as SaaS, was a significant leap forward in the struggle to provide reliable and powerful business application access regardless of geographical location.

SaaS applications introduced unmatched platform compatibility, enhanced customization options, improved user interfaces, and effortless updating to businesses around the globe. These advantages led the average organization to utilize 110 SaaS applications in 2021, paving the way for a new digital business landscape.

The Split Network Paradox

In 2020 and beyond, IT administrators are faced with a paradox of optimization: Do we optimize the network for the person working from the office, with proximity to the corporate datacenter, and a straight line to the Cloud? Or, do we optimize for the remote worker, who needs pathways to the corporate datacenter and the cloud, without hairpinning or tromboning traffic through extra hops in the network? Where is security and policy applied, given a lack of a hard perimeter around the network?

The New Way

The future of corporate networks and digital infrastructures share the best qualities of SaaS applications and solutions. Decentralized and automated network architectures reduce security vulnerabilities, eliminate single points of failure, improve performance, and lower maintenance costs.

But more importantly, decentralized and automated networks optimize your workforce’s productivity and performance capabilities from anywhere in the world. Transitioning from home to office becomes a straightforward process safeguarded by end-to-end encryption, and made simple with near-limitless platform compatibility.

The advantages offered by these new network models are significant. For example, distributed peer-to-peer communication optimizes latency and user experience for remote staff, unlike any traditional network.

Streamlined processes for policy dictation and distribution improve the effectiveness of your IT efforts while reducing work-hours, and the consolidation and reduction of the tools and systems deployed and maintained by IT departments can significantly cut expenses.

IT administrators also gain dramatically improved policy application capabilities that are no longer tied to geographic location or connection type.

How Big Network in Enabling the Modern Hybrid Workforce

Big Network is revolutionizing the way companies think about connectivity.

Big Network offers unmatched virtual networking technology, intuitive applications, and innovative hardware and cloud services that modernize every aspect of operations, allowing companies to expand and evolve as quickly as they can push themselves.

Our diverse product and service offerings can be combined to create the “new LAN”, but this time optimized to support remote and hybrid workforces with no performance losses or increased security vulnerabilities.

To learn more about how Big Network can revolutionize the way your workforce connects, communicates, and performs, reach out to one of our specialists.