Proactive Strategies for Pandemia

More on assuring network access resilience

It seems my last post was timely regarding network access during and through a pandemic. Gartner Group came out the next day with their list of concerns, which were quite similar to mine. They also mentioned a strategy which I had talked about with my colleague but forgot to include in my post -- the use of WAN optimization technologies as a hedge against Internet congestion. My thought there was “well, that sounds great, but how much would that cost??”

The answer is that, depending on your WOC vendor, it could be quite reasonable, or even nothing at all. Most of the major WAN optimization technology vendors offer a remote soft client option. Depending on who you have on the data center side, this may be a truly viable option for planning.

What I think would be one of the key questions specific to the pandemic scenario is this: How will you accommodate a rapid increase in transient population of suddenly remote workers? It's one thing to set up your regularly remote workers with these client options -- you can build the cost of the client software into your cost of operations for sales and other field personnel. But you don't want to do the same thing when it comes to non-field personnel -- in this case it would be better to have a floating pool of licenses which could be used by whoever happens to be remote at any particular period of time. Then again, it would be good to guarantee that your field personnel (or your temporarily remote executives) don't find a shared pool of licenses depleted when they need to do their regular jobs, just because you had a spike in illness-related absentees. Ideally you need both node-lock and concurrent use licensing available, plus the ability to deploy them in parallel.

So what are the options? Based on a very rapid survey of who offers flexibility of this type, I found the following (advance apologies here: I’m 99% certain that there are other offerings out there which I did not have time to run down and cover. Please feel free to post any you know of in comments below and berate me as you see fit):

Cisco offers the WAAS Mobile client based on a concurrent user license model with options for 25, 100 and 500 users. It appears that node lock options are not currently available.

Blue Coat offers the ProxyClient, which matches up with their ProxySG product. ProxyClient comes at the best price of all -- it's free! No option exists today for use with their PacketShaper product line, though Blue Coat says this is a roadmap item.

Riverbed offers the Steelhead Mobile client to meet this need, and their licensing options are based on a concurrent access model. Riverbed does require at least one copy of an additional product, the Steelhead Mobile Controller (SMC) to be deployed as part of any mobile solution, and that is where the licensing functions reside. The SMC can be deployed as an appliance or as a virtual image, with the appliance more appropriate for large numbers of mobile clients (it supports up to 4000 versus the virtual version which only supports 100.) Again, it does not appear that Riverbed offers node locking.

Expand Networks offers (or will soon offer) a product they call the Mobile Accelerator Client, or MACC. Expand was the first to make a mobile client announcement, at Interop last May, and at that time said “The MACC Client will be available in the fourth quarter of 2009, free of charge. Concurrent user licenses will be priced from sub $100 dollars per user, dependent on licenses purchased.” Is it free or is it not?  Expand hasn't answered my questions for clarification - I'd tend to believe "free" only applies to the MACC code, and not the subsequent use thereof.  Once more, it appears that node-locking is not a option from Expand. So it appears that no one offers node locking.

To be fair & clear, only BlueCoat answered my specific question about node locking, and with them the issue is moot, since there is no license fee in the first place. If you're not a BlueCoat ProxySG customer, this means that you should probably plan to purchase additional concurrent licenses so that essential remote personnel don't get left out. Alternatively, you might consider access rationing policies - dictating time of day usage guidelines so that load can be kept at manageable levels and user expectations can be set and met successfully.

As I mentioned in my last post, planning for the pandemic is an opportunity to look ahead at what is likely to be a more typical situation in the future -- an increasingly mobile workforce which is not tethered by traditional fixed networks. So this is a great time to go investigate options for proactively improving user experience and productivity over my workers -- you might just find yourself ahead of the game.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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