May 07 2020

The Networking Needed to Power Successful Remote Work

Businesses need the capacity to support collaboration and communication tools at scale.

Remote work isn’t a new concept. Many businesses have been offering at least partial remote work as a benefit for years, reflected by the increasing number of people who are working from home at least part of the time.

But what organizations maybe didn’t account for when they were setting up these systems was the possibility of having the entire workforce go remote nearly overnight. 

“I’d bet my next paycheck that most organizations plan for a maximum of between 10 percent and 30 percent of their employees connecting concurrently to their existing infrastructure,” Stan Lowe, global CISO at Zscaler, told BizTech. 

With so many more employees connecting remotely, networks are being pushed to their limits. It may be difficult to increase capacity depending on the technology used, but there are still ways that businesses and employees alike can help get the most out of their network. 

What Employees Can Do to Enhance Their Connection

Networking responsibility lies with IT, but there are things that workers can do in their homes to help their connectivity too. These extraordinary circumstances have left many employees finding themselves fighting with children or spouses for connectivity, something they perhaps didn’t have to account for during previous streaks of remote work.

“Remember that bandwidth is a scarce resource,” says Sven Rasmussen, enterprise networking team lead for CDW. Setting schedules for when people in the house can connect to the internet or stream videos can help things run more smoothly. Workers can also adjust their settings to make sure these rules are followed.

“You can go in and actually set the limits for different applications like Netflix and YouTube and WebEx and things like that,” says Rasmussen. “You can go in and set those parameters so nonessential internet usage is kind of throttled down.” 

Proximity can also make a difference. 

“If you have a wireless access point that you're connecting to, make sure that you're sitting as close as possible to it,” says Rasmussen. If that doesn’t work, he suggests using a CAT 5 or CAT 6 cable to plug directly into the router.

Watch experts discuss the networking needed to support a widespread remote workforce.

Businesses Need to Scale Existing VPNs

Many organizations already had virtual private networks in place to support employees working from home. What has changed is the sheer number of remote workers, which has put a strain on systems. CDW Cybersecurity Practice Lead Jeff Falcon says that it’s important for businesses to look at maximum volume.

“We need to make sure that we're testing the capacity and the scale of that VPN during peak load hours,” said Falcon. “This is critical.”

While increasing VPN capacity could be difficult for some organizations to achieve, there are ways to adjust how it’s being used to create more space.

“There are a lot of routers and firewalls out there that people aren't using for VPNs,” says Rasmussen. “So if they download the VPN clients and load them on their endpoint devices, that's a short-term, quick solution that they can do today.”

WATCH: Experts discuss how businesses can enable large-scale remote work.

Get Employees Accustomed to Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

Another popular remote work technology is virtual desktop infrastructure, which allows users to access their workstations from home. Much like VPNs, VDI is a solution that many businesses are now being forced to use at a larger scale than they originally planned for. 

“A lot of organizations probably have an existing VDI infrastructure,” says Mike Elrod, principle field solution architect for CDW. “But what they’re looking to understand is how best to expand and get those users that haven't used it historically.”

One necessity has been to get remote workers up and running quickly. Augmenting VDI with the right hosting technology can help get things moving.  

“We're seeing remote desktops running in the cloud environment as another potential option,” says Elrod. “Those options help get users productive quickly without having to spend a lot of time figuring out the internal infrastructure required.” 

While many businesses will need to deploy new technology, many of them may already have what they need. Mike Murphy, solution architect team lead for collaboration at CDW, says that assessing what organizations currently have is a crucial first step. 

“Let's evaluate that and see how far we can take that,” Murphy said. “Many of the cloud providers for virtual meetings and videoconferencing, they're extending offers now knowing that folks are scrambling to work from home. Evaluate whether you don't have something in-house already.”

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