he global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is causing companies to rethink their distributed workforce strategy. Thousands of businesses have moved to work-from-home environments as employees adapt to new ways of communicating and collaborating with each other.
This shift presents new challenges for IT departments, such as connecting a distributed, remote workforce to business apps and services both in data centers and in the cloud. All employees and their home networks are now treated as remote branches that IT must support with existing resources. At the same time, IT must ensure that those connections are secure and dependable. Historically, for most people, remote access was something used once in a while. Now it needs to be as available and reliable as the company network because people are working from home for an indefinite period of time.
Companies have several options for equipping employees with remote access. The first, most obvious choice for businesses is a client-based virtual private network (VPN) from cloud providers like Amazon Web Services, which work with existing enterprise infrastructure. The second option could be a zero-trust, secure remote access solution, such as Zscaler Private Access. Both have the place but don’t solve all problems. Organizations also need remote connections that provide high performance and reliability for accessing mission-critical apps in data centers and in the cloud.
A Reference Architecture for a Distributed Workforce
To meet the requirements of businesses in the third category, Silver Peak created a reference architecture for a distributed workforce, powered by its Unity EdgeConnect software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) platform. The platform was designed to address those unique requirements, specifically secure and direct access to cloud services; access to real-time apps that include voice, video and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI); and additional performance for high-throughput apps like medical imaging.
Silver Peak’s Unity EdgeConnect allows both SD-WAN and non-SD-WAN users to connect to apps and services remotely. Businesses with large remote workforces get the benefits of SD-WAN networking hardware that can be managed with a software-based controller hosted in the cloud. This way, businesses can link up sites using multiple connections from different providers and different types of transport, including 4G LTE, multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and broadband internet.
EdgeConnect can be deployed locally for quality of service (QoS), local internet breakout, WAN optimization and other services that support real-time and high-throughput apps. A business can choose to install ultra-small and extra-small appliances at employees’ homes, so they can instantly plug in their zero client to a local area network (LAN) port on the EdgeConnect appliance. The zero client acts as if it were connected to the enterprise LAN.
IT administrators can use Silver Peak’s Unity Orchestrator to centrally enforce policies based on business intent to secure and manage app traffic across the WAN infrastructure. Unity Orchestrator assigns policies to all Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN traffic and generates unique tenants based on each user’s requirements. Unity Orchestrator and Unity EdgeConnect go hand in hand to ensure that mission-critical apps are prioritized and protected.
Better Visibility Into Which Apps Employees Are Using and How Often
Consequently, IT administrators can gain better visibility into which cloud apps employees are accessing and spend time on other tasks. End users feel the difference as well. By localizing an employee’s connection to the network with an SD-WAN, they can get the highest quality from a service provider at a lower cost, as opposed to routing all traffic centrally through MPLS.
During these uncertain times, businesses must plan for a scenario where all employees will continue to work remotely for many months to come. While some may have addressed the challenge temporarily with VPNs and other traditional remote solutions, an SD-WAN-based distributed workforce architecture offers more benefits in the long term. After all, remote workers expect the same quality experience and uninterrupted access to enterprise apps whether they’re at home or in the office.
Zeus Kerravala is an eWEEK regular contributor and the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions.