Okay, so we’re a full year into the first worldwide pandemic in 100 years, and it’s shifted our world completely. Nothing is the same as it was–and in just about every segment of our lives. In this article, the first of a special eWEEK series on “The Home as Enterprise Branch,” we’re focusing on the continuing evolution of our home and office workplaces, which generally have been held hostage by nagging effects from the pandemic.
In this series, we’ll be looking at this sea change in terms of networking, security, devices, collaboration tools and applications. We’ll examine what kinds of devices and security are available for individual use cases for companies large and small that are using homes as literal enterprise branch offices. We’ll have thought leaders in this area offer their perspectives all along the way. It’s safe to say we’ll all learn a lot.
Network and device security, naturally, are the most common concerns, with all of this super-important business data flowing from companies to kitchen tables on a 24/7 basis. Here’s a fresh metric for starters: Prey Inc., a provider of open-source, cross-platform anti-theft and management software, on April 12 released a study–“Status of the Remote Work Cyber Security Landscape 2021”–which found that 43% of workers will stay remote after the pandemic ends and that two-thirds of IT professionals are very concerned with endpoint misuse and security breaches.
The report, which parallels others on the same topic, examines the remote work challenges generated by the pandemic year and the number of people working from home far from corporate environments, on insecure networks–which in many cases are sharing data channels with other unsafe devices in their homes.
“I literally have my lawn sprinkler system on the same network as my laptops,” a high-ranking executive with a first-line IT company told eWEEK. He also said he has teenagers that use the home network for various gaming sessions.
Now those are some red flags of danger. How many others might there be?
Part 1: What Next-Gen Networking Brings to the Home Table
Pain points of remote work
Generally, what both enterprises and employees want is freedom to work from anywhere on a phone or laptop that is safe, reliable and efficient: a workplace that is a moveable feast for normal and power users alike.
Matt Martin, co-founder and CEO of smart calendar assistant maker Clockwise, outlined for eWEEK some of the key pain points of enterprise business done inside private residences.
“The pandemic has made it even more difficult to find focus — from non-stop Zoom calls to kids shouting in the background, we’re all struggling to prioritize our time,” Martin told eWEEK. “As a result, workers end up with schedules that hurt their productivity–whether it’s hours of back-to-back Zoom calls, or a meeting falling in the middle of a block of focus time designated to get work done on key projects.
According to his company’s latest customer information, Martin said that time spent in team meetings has increased by 25% as people have shifted to working from home since the start of the pandemic.
“We also found that about 60% of our users view scheduling and rescheduling meetings as a significant pain point,” Martin said. “So we built our own smart scheduler to make it radically easier for teams to collaborate, while preserving time for everyone to focus on their most important work.”
This problem is especially felt by engineering organizations and teams, where focus time is a precious commodity, Martin said. Without adequate focus time, engineers lack the critical heads-down and problem-solving time to develop and deliver effective products on time and of the highest quality, Martin said.
Employees working more often from ‘anywhere’
During the past few years, software-defined network routers for both enterprises and home offices are being shipped with better and faster data streaming and security, making everything more efficient. They’re also now outfitted with intelligence software that helps move data to the right places in automated fashion. Companies such as HPE’s Aruba, Cisco Systems, Juniper, Qualcomm, Open Systems, Masergy and others are busy filling these needs for home, small office and large office SD-WAN installations.
5G connectivity from telecoms won’t be in the mainstream market for a while yet, but WiFi 6E units have been available for more than a year and are way more performant than the elderly WiFi 2.4 and 5.0 systems that are so common in home networks.
VMware, known far and wide for its B2B data center product line but not necessarily for its home-based products, is reinventing itself again. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based software giant rolled out a new remote workplace platform, VMware Anywhere Workspace, on April 20 that uses its Workspace One package as a centerpiece. Go here for a complete report on the new platform
Sanjay Uppal, who came to VMware three years ago in the acquisition of SD-WAN maker VeloCloud Networks, now runs the company’s new Service Provider and Edge business unit. This comprises three key networking sectors: SASE (secure access service edge), communications services providers and edge computing, “because a lot of applications are becoming edge-native,” Uppal told eWEEK.
“We already had businesses that were targeting employees’ productivity with our Workspace One solution, but the pandemic accelerated a lot of our plans,” Uppal said. “When a company with, say, 5,000 employees had to move most of their offices to home or a coffee shop, suddenly there were a whole lot more connections that you had to get in. You had to worry about operational flexibility as well as the performance of all these folks coming in.”
So this is VMware’s opportunity, as Uppal sees it, to address all these issues at once: bringing their existing products together to solve networking problems for the enterprise, the service provider and for the employee as companies move to become “anywhere” businesses.
Lots of upgrading now in progress
With the advent of widespread SD-WAN, WiFi 6 and 5G on the horizon, plenty of key decision-makers are, in fact, currently upgrading their networks. Speed in moving data streams to where the computing is taking place, and vice-versa, has never been more important to businesses–local or global.
WiFi 6, for one example, enables speeds to improve, latency to recede and cause familiar limitations of WiFi to vanish. The relatively fallow ground of 6GHz means that compromises due to legacy devices would be gone, making WiFi something that you could use anywhere in the office or on the production floor.
Imagine WiFi 6 at 60GHz. With all of that extra bandwidth, wireless capacity would move far beyond the current limitations of fiber networks in the office. While there will still be a role for fiber outside of the office, inside the office, 60GHz WiFi 6 will simplify enterprise networking by providing a multi-gigabit infrastructure without the disruption of cabling or the expense of wired infrastructure.
‘COVID-19 has changed the working world forever’
Henning Volkmer, president and CEO of cloud-printing software maker ThinPrint, Inc., told eWEEK that “COVID-19 has changed the working world forever. Fortunately, this means that hybrid work is making its way as the new standard, leveraging the positives and avoiding the downsides of both working options.
“Decisionmakers can address the IT challenges ahead by understanding the various solutions that are at their disposal to ensure a smooth transition to support their organization’s home office and traditional office hybrid workplace.”
Next in this series: Enterprise Security Needed at Home: Remote Access Security Options