Hybrid work has been the single most important topic in my discussions with C-level executives at a company of all sizes. This isn’t just CIOs and CTOs I’m having conversations with, but also CEOs, heads of HR, CFOs and anyone in a leadership position. I recently had a conversation with Juan Vela, Global Head of Market Strategy at Cisco Meraki on how they are helping customers migrate to hybrid work.
Meraki is best known as the company that pioneered the use of cloud technology to manage networks, long before Cisco acquired it. What some might not know is that Cisco Meraki has a broad portfolio that covers access, WAN, and IoT technologies that can be used as a complete hybrid work solution.
Hybrid work is now permanent
Prior to the pandemic, most employees worked in the office with only about 22% of workers doing their job remotely. At the peak of the pandemic, that number jumped to 57% of all workers and 95% of knowledge workers.
Looking ahead, the future is clearly hybrid as employees have mixed feelings about where and how they work. 76% of workers want the option of working from home at least 2 days per week, but 69% want the option of coming to the office when they want to. The only way to meet both requirements is for businesses to shift to a flexible, hybrid work model.
Successful hybrid work requires the right technology
The shift to hybrid work model will require the right technology, just as technology previously enabled businesses to shift to 100% work from home. Businesses that want to embrace hybrid work need to leverage the network to ensure users are productive and secure.
As this becomes top of mind for many organizations, here are the key areas that IT leaders should consider in providing a complete hybrid work solution:
Traditional WANs were effective at connecting branch offices to a centralized data center where the majority of the organization’s information and applications were stored. Hybrid work shifts the WAN from being branch focused to being user centric as each worker needs to be connected to the company network and to cloud resources. This requires using the Internet as the primary network versus traditional private IP services, such as MPLS.
Meraki’s MX appliances enable businesses to quickly and easily deploy SD-WAN. The product can securely auto-provision IPsec VPN tunnels between sites and can be managed through the Meraki cloud-first dashboard.
The solution automatically negotiates VPN routes, authentication and encryption protocols, and key exchanges for the MX appliances to create a hub and spoke network or mesh VPN. This will provide the connectivity layer for hybrid work.
Workers today use a wide range of applications, including several bandwidth-intensive ones, such as Webex video. Any kind of performance issues can lead to a degraded application experience, which results in productivity issues. The challenge for IT is that troubleshooting performance issues can be nearly impossible using traditional monitoring tools as neither the workers nor the apps are on the company premises.
Meraki MX appliances and Z3 teleworker gateways provide an end-to-end view of user experience with machine learning thoughtfully applied to the mountains of data to make IT admins’ jobs much simpler. IT professionals will have a view of internal issues such as the user’s endpoint, Wi-Fi network, and router, as well as visibility into external factors like the internet connection and cloud server performance.
This ensures performance issues can be identified quickly and remediated so workers always have the best experience.
The changing WAN strategy therefore mandates a shift in security strategy. With traditional WANs, security tools were placed at the internet perimeter as all traffic flowed through that single point. Now that users are accessing applications directly from the cloud, network traffic bypasses those security devices.
Securing a hybrid workforce requires a distributed security architecture where home users can have the same level of threat protection as when they are in the office. Meraki’s MX appliance has several security tools built into it such as a next generation layer 7 firewall, Cisco advanced malware protection (AMP), intrusion prevention, SSL inspection and more.
With the MX appliance, Meraki offers the building blocks for a Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solution built on the native extension of its optimized SD-WAN fabric to Cisco’s Umbrella product, which pushes enterprise grade security into the cloud, making it possible to protect any worker, anywhere.
Last, all security events can be monitored though an interactive security center in the Meraki dashboard.
Ease of management is also critical for IT to be successful
One last thing to consider is ease of deployment and ongoing management. The fact is, no one knows what hybrid work will look like and that puts a strain to IT to rapidly adapt and change. The pressure is on IT to enable a productive workforce at home or in the office without losing productivity. This requires easy to deploy and manage networking, security and collaboration tools.
Meraki may have come to the forefront of networking with its Wi-Fi offering, but under Cisco, it has steadily evolved the platform to be a consolidated end-to-end network and security vendor. Meraki is now bringing the same level of ease of management to hybrid work as it did to Wi-Fi.