The coronavirus crisis hasn’t just changed the way we work – it’s altering the way we think about business. The pandemic has caused companies to reinvent themselves, becoming more dynamic and agile, but they’ll need data networks to support that change. They are re-examining SD-WAN, and cloud connectivity needs to modernize their infrastructures.
“In a crisis, be aware of the danger,” warned John F Kennedy, “but recognize the opportunity.” Forward-thinking companies have already spotted the opportunity in the pandemic and are proposing deep structural changes.
Banks are a good example. The traditional banking branch, which has been under constant assault since 2015, could find a new lease of life in a world reshaped by social distancing.
For example, NatWest Group has told 50,000 staff to continue to work from home until at least the end of the year. Chief executive Alison Rose explained to BBC Radio 4 that working from home was a positive experience for many people. In the future, the bank could adopt a hybrid model, which included office space to bring people together to keep its culture alive. For example, banking branches could act as vibrant satellite workspaces where call center operators rub shoulders with fund managers.
Fujitsu has announced a permanent remote working plan offering unprecedented flexibility to its 80,000 workers in Japan, with its office footprint to be reduced to 50% of current levels by FY2022. In May, Twitter told staff that they could work from home "forever" if they wish.
A new business culture beyond remote working
Companies must reevaluate the employee experience as they lean into this new way of working. What began as a necessity could yield valuable benefits. Shrinking expensive downtown real estate in favor of regional hubs and home working will appeal to those hoping to cut costs. Beyond that, this cultural shift promises more productivity, shaving valuable time from the daily commute. Flexible working could also improve work-life balance and morale, bringing advantages in talent retention.
Research shows that many workers want this new model. According to Gartner, 64% of employees are ready to work from anywhere, and the pull is especially strong among younger employees. It predicts that demand for remote and flexible working will jump 30% by 2030, driven by Generation Z employees entering the workforce.
This new normal won’t just mean more remote work, with employees spending the odd day at home or grabbing a few hours at Starbucks. It’s a long-term change in which companies must rethink how to support employees in workplaces that they don’t own. With only 14% of employees feeling connected to HQ as it is, distancing people more systematically could ostracize them still further unless companies use collaboration tools to bridge the gap and form strong team relationships.
Building networks to cope with the change
As you reinvent your business culture to stay competitive, your data traffic patterns, performance requirements, and capacity needs will shift. Companies reinventing their business culture, and customer experiences will need new applications that will change their traffic patterns. This brings us to the fabric that will pull it all together: the network. Your network’s performance must keep up if it is to enable this transformation rather than hinder it.
One big talking point keeps coming up in these conversations: hybrid and multi-cloud connectivity based on software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN). Future networks must be agile to provide seamless connectivity to various applications as and when they get adopted by the enterprise. They must support dynamic sizing of WAN capacity to offer more flexible and cost-effective data delivery.
This is where SD-WAN breathes new life into enterprise networks by altering the way they operate. Instead of relying only on MPLS networks, you can combine broadband links like DSL, Ethernet, and cellular for better performance, reliability, and cost management.
SD-WAN is not a remote access technology, and users working from home will rely on other solutions to access applications back at the office or in the cloud. Instead, it embeds functionality into the network, enabling you to replace expensive, complex hardware infrastructure in branch locations with minimal equipment. Administrators can configure and upgrade services for these asset-light branches from a central location.
SD-WAN-enabled branches can connect directly to the cloud rather than routing traffic back through your data center, boosting performance, and lightening the burden on your network. Because it’s application-aware, it can adapt its quality of service and even its network routes based on the traffic it sees.
Sharpening the focus on SD-WAN
Enterprises were already interested in SD-WAN before the health crisis hit, according to Gartner, with approximately 20% adopting it as of December 2019, but many of these projects were immature, DIY affairs. Now, more CIOs seeking new levels of agility and flexibility are recognizing the need to transform their networks with professional services.
Since March, analysts have seen a big spike in queries from companies that now recognize the advantages of software-defined network architectures. There are several reasons for this, including:
- Network efficiencies: SD-WAN networks are more efficient than traditional switched MPLS networks, eliminating the need for dual redundant MPLS links. Setting up and configuring branches as working hubs takes hours, not weeks, and traffic prioritization lets you adapt to changing usage patterns in a more fluid working environment.
- Flexibility: Software-defined networks sourced from the right provider give you the flexibility to change your networking services without having to renegotiate with multiple carriers. When you need to close an office at short notice or shift your real estate structure to reflect the new normal, your network can adapt without incurring penalties. Look for a service provider that can fit SD-WAN services to your needs, either providing the whole package or managing a combination of connectivity or software technology from other providers.
- Switchable services: SD-WAN’s centralized software-controlled policy management enables administrators to switch on and configure services quickly, typically in minutes rather than weeks or months.
The new normal: Better than the old normal?
Whilst digital transformation has been on business agendas for many years, the network has all too often been underexposed in this transformation journey, as more applications have moved to the cloud. Sadly, it has taken a pandemic to truly accelerate digital transformation and prompt the realization that this needs to be underpinned by an agile, flexible, efficient, and dynamic network—a network with security built-in.
The larger and more complex your real estate is, the more important SD-WAN and remote access features will become in this new working culture. Rethinking your network from the core outward will help you reshape your business and accommodate unprecedented changes as you rethink your business culture and drive economic recovery.
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