• 05/12/2014
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Beyond VPN: Supporting The Mobile Workforce

Today's employees demand support for mobile devices and cloud applications that the traditional hardware-based network cannot supply.

Much has been written about the potential benefits of mobile and cloud computing on IT organizations' ability to drive efficiencies, accelerate delivery cycles, and enable new applications. However, little has been said about how these macro technological trends are affecting the work style and IT expectations of the average American worker.

To find out, Pertino surveyed 862 college-educated adults who use computers at work. The results signal a rising expectation gap between today's modern mobile workforce and current IT capabilities -- in particular, the ability to extend legacy, hardware-based networks.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 50% of the US workforce will be millennials by 2020. This is the first generation that has grown up with the Internet as a way of life rather than a wondrous novelty. It should come as no surprise that, according to ComScore, four out of five millennials have smartphones or tablets, and nearly one in five have shunned PCs in favor of using their mobile device as the only mode of personal electronic engagement. 

The current workforce values the ability to work anywhere, at anytime more than they do other benefits, including pay and promotion. This is evidenced by a 2013 PwC study on the next generation workforce that found 64% of millennials would like to occasionally work from home, and 66% would like to shift their work hours. In essence, they view work as an "activity" and not a "place." While this work style is prevalent among millennials, it is by no means limited to them. 

Perhaps the second most significant technology trend that is "imprinting" the expectations of today's workforce is the cloud. Every day, people interact with cloud-based apps in their personal lives -- sharing photos with family and friends on Dropbox, managing their finances with Mint, or keeping everyone on schedule with Google Calendar. People have come to rely on always-on and easy-to-use cloud apps to keep them connected and productive. And they are bringing their proclivity for cloud-easy experiences to the workplace.

Modern workforce meets antiquated workplace
For many people who work in traditional organizations, the workplace seems like it has been frozen in time for a decade from a mobile perspective. Critical business files and applications are locked deep behind firewalls where access is constrained to the physical office or to a few "chosen" employees or departments who can justify remote network access. In fact, a recent Spiceworks community poll found that only 19% of SMBs provide remote network access to more than half of their workforce today. 

That's amazing when you consider that almost 60% of workers stated that remote network access enables them to be more productive and adhere to security policies by not downloading server files to their laptops (34%) and obviating the need to use unsanctioned cloud file-sharing apps like Dropbox (23%).

When it comes to the use of cloud apps in the workplace, most SMB IT organizations buck, if not block, the trend. Only 33% of IT pros acknowledged support of cloud-based file sharing apps. Concerns included the lack of sufficient security, visibility, and control capabilities for cloud-based apps.

IT pros are feeling the pain of the widening gap between evolving workforce expectations and the ability to extend legacy networks to meet them. On one hand, more than 50% of IT pros polled were planning to increase remote network access within the next 12 months, citing employee demand (70%), increased productivity (59%), and proliferation of mobile devices (53%). On the other hand, fewer than 25% of users were pleased with their current VPN solution. Better performance, more reliable connections, and improved ease of use topped the list of most-wanted improvements.

This dissatisfaction was further evidenced by the fact that 65% of current VPN users submitted at least one or more helpdesk tickets per month. Clearly, deploying more of the same legacy VPN technology to try and meet the surge in demand for remote network access will not bode well for IT pros and end users alike.

Mobile workforces need a modern cloud
The current generation of network technology is now decades old; conceived at a time when connecting office LANs was the order of the day -- first across private WANs, then the Internet with VPN. To keep up with the times, hardware VPN solutions have been bolted onto, bundled with other boxes, and band-aided in order to fit new network requirements. But when compared to how cloud and virtualization technologies have transformed almost every other aspect of IT infrastructure, including apps, computing, and storage, VPN remains a veritable relic.

Today's modern mobile workforce can benefit from a modern cloud network. Cloud networking combines the reach, reliability, and economics of the cloud, with the flexibility of network virtualization, and the simplicity and adaptability of software-defined networks. The result is an entirely new networking paradigm for the mobile and cloud era that meets the expectations of modern workforces and the needs of IT pros. 


So confused

Your post, though well written, doesn't really have sources to back up your claims. You went out and interviewed VPN providers who said that fewer than 25% of their customers were satisfied with their service?

Also, the "cloud" is not VPN. I don't know where you are confused on that. People use the cloud for hosting and storage nowadays, among others. For example, is a VPN provider and DNS proxy provider. That means people can stream netflix/hulu/whatever while abroad outside of their geolocation IP address restrictions.

How does "the cloud" solve geo restrictions without being a paid service? Or are you trying to argue "cloud" service providers can also provide VPN services while being rebranded under a different term?

Re: So confused


I think the cloud can sometimes (not always) achieve the same objective that was previously only available with VPN. 

Some of the employees who are most likely to travel as part of their jobs are salespeople.  Such an individual may only need access to something such as, corporate email, and perhaps some shared documents.

For those who need access to a full blown desktop, I know that Citrix offers the ability to deliver a virtual desktop via the web browser.  Once you maximize the screen its as if you're sitting in front of a computer at your corporate location.

Mobile First, Cloud Second

I agree, and I love the statistics on what millennials do today, and expect of their workplace in the future. Overall, large enterprises have made significant progress providing secure mobile access and supporting BYOD, while smaller organizations lag far behind. While a company waits for the Cloud network envisioned in this article, employers still need to give mobile workers a secure, easy way to access files and perform routine business processes. A private cloud content management solution can provide the security that "old school IT" demands, while giving the mobile millennials the tools they need to get work done.

John Gonzalez, senior director, product management, Xerox Content Marketing and Workflow Automation, Large Enterprise Operations, Xerox.

Mobile Access May be a Taboo Topic

Mobile access may be a taboo topic if you take into account that many workers are not being compensated to perform certain tasks while home or on vacation. 

I would imagine that the most popular form of mobile access is email.  A pending project or task can sometimes be quickly put back on track with a simple email response from an employee who might otherwise not be able to respond until returning from a vacation, sick leave, etc.

A bit of controversy arises when a given employee takes sick time and yet continues to work on a hospital bed with the help of his/her laptop and remote access.  It's one thing if the person answers a quick call here and there, but how might the situation be perceieved if a company provides full remote access to all employees while not officially having any remote workers?