SD-WAN for Teleworkers: Scalability and Application Performance

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As organizations implement remote work at scale, a lot of organizations that sized their firewall based on how many branches they have, and not on how many users might need to log in remotely, are facing severe issues related to scalability. As a result, many organizations have had to implement workarounds to enable their remote workers to access the resources they need to get theor jobs done.

Connecting Remote Workers to the Network is Only Half the Challenge

But that is only half the challenge. Connectivity alone isn’t enough. Even for those organizations that have managed to scale out the number of SSL or IPSec VPN connections they can support from remote workers to the core network, getting the business-critical applications those users rely on to run the way they need to run is still a challenge.

Application traffic that used to run over the high-performance internal LAN is now having to utilize the scarce bandwidth resources of WAN connectivity. For example, the use of video conferencing is so high right now that remote user experience is often severely degraded. To address this, all of those VPN connections between remote workers and the core network also need to be balanced and managed, and the most critical applications – whether hosted on the local network or in the cloud – need to be prioritized. This is precisely the sort of challenge that SD-WAN was designed to address.

The problem starts with the limitations of many home networks. Most of those networks need to support a variety of devices and technologies, often because there is more than one adult who needs to work at home. At the same time, there may be children participating in distance learning, interacting with their peers through social media or gaming systems, or want to stream entertainment. 

Under most circumstances, a home network can support having a user participate in a video conference. But when multiple people need to use the same video application at the same time – especially if one or more of them needs to, for example, also have screen sharing on – performance can degrade rapidly. Working with an ISP to upgrade available bandwidth is a possible workaround. But even then, application prioritization remains critical.

The Value of SD-WAN for Super Users

This challenge is especially difficult for remote super users in an organization. These may be systems administrators remotely managing segments of the network, help desk personnel who need to troubleshoot the devices of remote workers or executives who need real-time access to large volumes of data. They may comprise about 5% to 10% of your remote workforce, and their ability to do their jobs – responsibilities that your other workers rely on – can be especially impacted by poor application performance due to limited bandwidth.

In these circumstances, a small desktop SD-WAN appliance that includes LTE connection capabilities can be a powerful solution for managing limited bandwidth while optimizing and prioritizing application use. The SD-WAN device can detect when a video conferencing app starts to experience packet loss and jitter, perhaps because another device on the home network is consuming bandwidth. It can then automatically switch to the built-in LTE connection to ensure application integrity. It should also be able to automatically identify thousands of SaaS applications, from Office 365, to Salesforce, to video conferencing, and then optimize the application connection even more to further enhance the end user experience.

These desktop SD-WAN devices should also be able to provide reliable, high-performance WiFi connectivity for wireless devices. This enables work devices and traffic to be isolated from the open home network. They should also support and secure voice traffic, enabling super users to have full access to all of the phone services they rely on through a secured softphone application – all supported by an extra path of LTE connectivity to ensure application continuity.

Just as importantly, any SD-WAN devices being selected should also include centralized management for all SD-WAN functions, including security. A fullt integrated solutions enables administrators to fine-tune security, connectivity, and application performance simultaneously so changes can be made on-the-fly.

Remote Work is Part of the New Normal – SD-WAN Can Help

Making the right solution choice now will provide long-term benefits. Once we emerge from this crisis, the ways people work may not ever return to the way they were. Some of your current users may now insist on the option of working from home, at least on occasion. But your next generation of employees is going to insist on greater flexibility. Like BYOD, organizations will only be able to resist this workplace transformation for so long. Early adopters will find they not only have the pick of the best candidates, but a happier and more productive workforce, giving them a competitive edge.

Once our inherent resistance to this cultural shift has been overcome, organizations will appreciate the flexibility of a workforce that can immediately respond to business demands, whether on-premise or at home. At the same time, the teams tasked with business continuity and disaster recovery will need to consider that providing remote workers with sufficient remote access technology needs to be part of those plans. That means more VPN capacity across the board, and enhanced tools for certain workers because we have now all learned that there is a measurable business impact in not having the right level of performance or availability for business-criticial applications.

The advantage of extending SD-WAN functionality to individual teleworkers, especially super users, is not only that they can enjoy on-demand remote access, but dynamically scalable performance regardless of their local network availability. And when others in the organization rely on these individuals to do their jobs quickly and efficiently, that enhanced SD-WAN functionality will make all the difference.

Take a security-driven approach to networking to improve user experience and simplify operations at the WAN edge with Fortinet’s Secure SD-WAN solution.

Learn more about how to maintain business continuity through broad, integrated, and automated Fortinet Teleworker Solutions.

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