As the work-from-home trend continues accelerating, many network managers are struggling to provide a degree of remote service reliability and quality that meets or exceeds on-site levels.
Providing consistently excellent network service to staff wherever they're located isn't an impossible mission. Just a few basic technologies and methodologies will ensure that all team members, regardless of location, receive the quality connectivity they need and deserve.
Adopting a standardized approach to home office connectivity can ensure a stable and reliable communications environment, noted Rob Long, senior director, network advisory services, with technology research firm ISG. "The standard must include local wired and/or wireless networks within the home office, as well as minimum broadband connectivity at the edge," he said.
Given the fact that two paths are better than one, mobile and fixed networks can be combined to raise performance and availability metrics. "Standardization is key, so new user installations, changes, and most importantly, troubleshooting, can be tailored to the type of worker," Long said.
User density should drive connectivity decisions, Long advised. "For example, if a high percentage of users are connected through a particular cable company, then resources should be added at data centers or cloud peering points with the same provider," he said. "Common backbones can help with performance and can help control and measure specific application experiences, so services can be fine-tuned and optimized more quickly."
Luigi Vattelana, a consulting managing director at the business advisory firm EY Technology, stated that the best way to improve remote network reliability is by adopting two key network architectures. "The first architecture focuses on increasing virtualization technology for the management and operation of WAN transport, also known as software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN)," he explained. The second architecture, he noted, should focus on delivering integrated network and security services natively from the cloud, closer to the source of connections and access requests, an approach known as the secure access service edge (SASE). "For an enterprise to meet the needs of a post-pandemic digital business model, and improve remote network reliability to offices or homes, it must develop an infrastructure and services transformation roadmap that incorporates SD-WAN and SASE into the journey," Vattelana said.
A holistic approach spanning multiple services tends to yield the best connectivity and reliability results. Yet tactical improvements can also be achieved by implementing an SD-WAN solution that allows media, such as MPLS, Internet, and cellular broadband (4G/5G) to blend across terrestrial and non-terrestrial services while enabling route optimization. "Historically, this blending was a challenge that was often too costly to fully overcome," Long noted. That's no longer true.
Arun Santhanam, vice president and head of the telco market unit at IT and business advisory firm Capgemini, North America, suggested that telco solutions, connected with fiber and 5G, can provide excellent network reliability to offices and homes. "As remote working and learning becomes commonplace, this [type of] fiber-based connectivity provides the best upload speed required for offices and homes, supporting functions like video conferencing," he explained.
Santhanam advised organizations to diversify their network choices in a way that can help them better manage unexpected services disruptions, such as an unexpected fiber cut. "Integrating a 5G-powered network can be a great backup option for a fiber-based network and allows for uninterrupted service," he noted.
Once the basic network architecture strategy has been defined, various physical connectivity approaches can be addressed. "For homes, which tend to have fewer, if any, diverse physical connections, a broadband/fixed wireless strategy would normally achieve the desired uptime and performance requirements," said Tyler Affolter, senior vice president, managed services, at global technology services provider NTT.
Affolter observed that when striving for remote network reliability, a key yet often overlooked component is the LAN/WLAN infrastructure. This is where a large portion of connectivity issues occur and must be considered, he stated.
Redundancy and diversity
The best way to increase remote office reliability has always been to strive for redundancy and diversity, said John Annand, an analyst and infrastructure team director at Info-Tech Research Group. Using two distinct ISPs all the way down to the last mile has always been a best practice in network design, he noted. "Once, only data centers could afford such luxury," he said. "This reliability measure is now available to the masses."
Commercial sites, for instance, now have the option of using multiple Internet providers, each with its own connectivity to the central wiring closet. "Residential last mile may not have this degree of physical diversity as an option," Annand (said, "but wireless cellular last-mile zones overlap all the time." Meanwhile, new alternatives are always appearing, such as Elon Musk’s satellite-based StarLink service, which promises to also give at-home workers a reliable backup connectivity option.