When Covid-19 reared its ugly head earlier this year it altered the way millions of corporate workers access enterprise resources.\u00a0 Now that it\u2019s obvious those changes in many cases are going to be more permanent than originally thought, many customers and vendors are looking to support remote workers in ways not really expected in the past.\n\u201cThe Covid-19 pandemic brought about a huge experiment in widespread remote working,\u201d said Gartner vice president Elisabeth Joyce, of a recent survey of 127 company leaders that found \u00a047% said they intend to allow employees to work remotely full time going forward. \u201cAs business leaders plan and execute reopening of their workplaces, they are evaluating more permanent remote working arrangements as a way to meet employee expectations and to build more resilient business operations."\nSee "How to determine if Wi-Fi 6 is right for you"\nIndeed building robust remote networking environments is driving what Cisco and others are preparing for.\u00a0\n\u201cThe fundamental shift is that we need to think about our people working from home, and the home networks they use, as the default network. What we want is to create a high-quality micro-branch office in your home,\u201d said Greg Dorai, vice president of product management and strategy for Cisco\u2019s Enterprise Infrastructure and Solutions Group.\u00a0 \u201cNow we must consider every work-from-home worker and every one of their home offices as worthy of the same level of connectivity support as our company headquarters and branches.\u201d\nRealistically every company cannot provide every worker with headquarters-level support for their home networks, but there are technologies available and coming in the near future that can address the different needs of different workers, Dorai said.\nIn Cisco\u2019s case a couple of new offerings address wireless and wide area networking connectivity for remote users.\u00a0\n\u201cFor employees for whom best-effort connectivity isn\u2019t enough, we can replace or augment their home-networking access point with a Wi-Fi router that acts as an extension of the corporate network,\u201d Dorai said. \u201cHome wireless access points, configured by company IT before the employee installs them, can provide advanced security and monitoring and prioritize bandwidth for applications that need it.\u201d\n\nCorporate access points can make the in-home user experience appear the same as the experience on the corproate-office network. If the devices automatically connect at the office, they\u2019ll do the same at home \u2013 no need to bother with firing up a VPN, Dorai said.\nAs remote extensions of the corporate network, corporate IT will have full visibility into these access points, and can manage the devices remotely and track performance and security issues, Dorai said.\nIn Cisco\u2019s case IT can manage remote users through its DNA Spaces package, which is comprised of Cisco\u2019s Connected Mobile Experience (CMX) wireless suite and enterprise geolocation technology. Cisco CMX is a software engine that analyzes location and other intelligence gleaned from Cisco wireless infrastructure to help deliver services to customers on their mobile devices. DNA Spaces also provides businesses with analytics about who and what are in their physical locations along with the ability to act on those insights in real-time, according to Cisco.\nTo address some of these issues, Cisco has recently added a package called Remote Workforce Wireless Solution that lets customers provision and manage home workers.\u00a0\nAnother remote worker extension Cisco suggests is the use of SD-WAN routers for the home that include a wireless connection.\u00a0\n\u201cWhile this solution is overkill for most workers, when connectivity is mission-critical it\u2019s the best option. It\u2019s also a good solution for employees who don\u2019t have a reliable primary ISP,\u201d Dorai said. \u201cIT can configure this equipment so critical communications are routed over it \u2013 either all the time, or when the main link becomes burdened.\u201d\nCisco recently added a package called Remote Workforce Routing that offers zero-touch onboarding of all remote workers' wired and wireless devices and the company\u2019s wireless LTE Advanced PRO for backup. The bundle also features Cisco\u2019s SD-WAN Cloud OnRamp and Umbrella security support to let remote users access applications remotely and securely, Cisco says.\nSecurity for remote users\n\u201cFor many office employees in companies that rely heavily on corporate applications, the standard model of equipping them with virtual private network software for their computers will continue to work. Configuring split tunneling can optimize performance to cloud-hosted services while still giving employees secure access to corporate-hosted resources,\u201d Dorai said.\u00a0\n\n\n\n\n\nSplit tunneling is lets customers select specific, enterprise-bound traffic to be sent through a corporate VPN tunnel. The rest goes directly to the internet without going through the tunnel. Otherwise all traffic, even traffic headed for sites on the internet, would go through the VPN, through enterprise security measures and then back out to the internet. The idea is that the VPN infrastructure has to handle less traffic, so it performs better.\nAt the onset of the remote worker rush, many VPN providers \u2013 including Cisco and Microsoft \u2013 were talking up split tunneling as a key technology to help companies handle remote traffic.\n"Remote users that require access to mostly cloud-based resources can use zero-trust technologies for security,\u201d Dorai said \u00a0\u201cBut even in cases where the end user isn\u2019t connected to corporate-controlled resources or for whom connecting to a VPN is superfluous, IT should still monitor the performance of the services they are using, to get ahead of any issues that may arise in their cloud services.\u201d\nDorai said that Cisco is working on other packages it will ultimately offer \u201cas-a-service\u201d to help customers support remote workers.\nThe as-a-service strategy is part of a larger Cisco goal of increasing service offerings. Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said in the company\u2019s recent financial results call that the vendor \u201cwill accelerate the transition of the majority of our portfolio to be delivered as a service,\u201d Robbins said. \u201cWe will also accelerate our investments in the following areas: cloud security; cloud collaboration; key enhancements for education, healthcare, and other industries; increased automation in the enterprise; the future of work; and application insights and analytics.\u201d\nCisco's not alone\nAcross the board other vendors are offering enterprise customers better remote-worker support as well.\u00a0 For example, earlier this month Juniper extended its family of Wi-Fi 6 wireless access points with the express idea of helping enterprise customers support remote workers.\u00a0 The access points feature integration with the Juniper Mist Wi-Fi Assurance cloud service to help customers with automated WLAN configuration, anomaly detection, performance and service-level metrics to ultimately make wireless networks more predictable and reliable.\nOther wireless vendors such as Cisco\u2019s Meraki, CommScope, Cambium Networks are targeting the remote workforce.\nFor example, HPE\u2019s Aruba has also targeted remote users with services from it recently introduced Edge Services Platform (ESP) which promises to analyze telemetry data and automatically optimize connectivity, find network problems, and secure edge networking. Its SD-Branch support offers a variety of corporate network-type feature support.\u00a0\nExtreme too, through its ExtremeCloud IQ package and Wi-Fi 6 offerings, has also extended the enterprise network to help run and manage remote workers.\nVMware has made upgrades to its Workspace Workspace ONE platform that securely manages end users' mobile devices and cloud-hosted virtual desktops and applications from the cloud or on-premise.