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Evolving Your Network for Hybrid Work

The rapid shift to work from home (WFH) in the last one-plus years has drastically changed network demands. Prior to the pandemic, network designs were already in flux as traffic patterns increasingly shifted from the enterprise data center to the cloud, and technologies like SD-WAN saw widespread adoption for their ability to virtualize underlying network services to reduce cost and improve performance.
Since the pandemic, network considerations were mostly driven by the need to ensure reliable remote connectivity to internal and cloud-based apps, and to support the massive increase in video. To support WFH, many organizations simply relied on existing VPN capabilities, or allowed remote employees to access cloud-based apps through their residential Internet connection.
Now, IT leaders must contend with growing adoption of cloud-based videoconferencing video and streaming. At the same time, they must ensure that WANs and LANs are able to support ever-increasing video and voice engagement, internally and externally. To achieve success, here are five areas to address:
  1. Optimizing the home experience – VPNs provide highly secure access to enterprise apps, but they aren’t well suited for real-time cloud services such as video-enabled meetings. Running meeting traffic across a VPN adds potential for extra delay rather than allowing remote workers to connect directly to cloud services. Split-tunnel approaches provide an alternative that preserves the VPN for access to apps served out of the company data center, but that also allow remote employees to access cloud-based apps directly via their own Internet connection. In conjunction with split-tunnel, IT leaders should evaluate and implement resiliency technologies that use wireless services as backup for critical remote workers, or primary access for those with limited wired network connectivity to their home.
  2. Securing the home experience – Allowing split-tunnel creates security concerns. The employee’s personal computer could potentially become a vector for attacks across the VPN into the enterprise and companies may lose the ability to manage website and app access. To address these concerns, organizations are increasingly turning to approaches like secure access service edge (SASE) that integrate firewalls, gateways, and WAN services like software-defined networking into a comprehensive security architecture. SASE supports zero trust models that treat all devices and users as untrusted, as an alternative to the old perimeter-based security model that granted widespread network access to users once authenticated. Consider SASE and zero trust as ways to apply appropriate security policies to remote users and protect your internal information resources.
  3. Evolving the LAN – Poor Wi-Fi performance is no longer acceptable in the age of video-first communications. As employees return to the office, on either a full- or part-time basis, ensure that you’ve eliminated wireless network dead spots, and that Wi-Fi networks can handle the anticipated growth in videoconferencing and streaming traffic.
  4. Evolving the WAN – WAN strategies must evolve to support reliable performance for videoconferencing as employees return to the office in some form or fashion. Remote sites with insufficient bandwidth for video will negatively impact productivity and potentially customer service. Evaluate SD-WAN, 5G, and other emerging access technologies to ensure that all sites are capable of supporting high-quality video for however many employees are anticipated to be on site at any given time.
  5. Optimizing cloud connectivity – Many leading cloud providers support direct access to their services, either through a private WAN connection or through "meet me” services in shared data centers. Examples of the former include AWS Direct Connect, Google Cloud Interconnect, and Microsoft ExpressRoute, while examples of the latter include AT&T NetBond and Equinix Cloud Exchange. These direct federation services can improve performance of cloud-based apps for on-premises users by reducing the need to traverse the public Internet for app access.
In our research, we’ve found that investing in remote, LAN, and WAN services correlated with collaboration investment success, defined as above-average ROI or productivity gains associated with app deployments. Metrigy’s “Workplace Collaboration: 2021-22” global research study of more than 475 end-user organizations, published this January, found that successful companies were significantly more likely to invest in expanded Internet access, Wi-Fi upgrades, WAN services, SD-WAN, and residential Internet improvements to support increasing video traffic. 
Metrigy graphic showing network investments to make for video support
Source: Metrigy
Now is the time to revisit your LAN and WAN strategy as you prepare for hybrid work, and ever-increasing amounts of video, as well as to ensure security and availability for all your cloud apps. Reassess your remote, LAN, and WAN strategies to ensure that you are taking advantage of the optimal architectural and technology approaches to ensure success.

Metrigy is an innovative research firm focusing on the rapidly changing areas of unified communications & collaboration (UCC), digital workplace, digital transformation, and customer experience (CX)/contact center — along with several related technologies. Metrigy delivers strategic guidance and informative content, backed by primary research metrics and analysis, for technology providers and enterprise organizations.