To support the massive uptick in the number of remote employees due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, IT administrators had to make some critical changes to sufficiently bolster their internet edge. But as employees begin considering a migration back to the office, questions must be answered regarding what network changes should become permanent -- as well as other adds/changes that can be made to better serve employees in a post-COVID-19 work environment. Let’s look at how you can prepare your network for an employee migration back to the corporate LAN.
What work from home (WFH) network “band-aids” should be made permanent?
Some network administrators that maintain private data centers or hybrid cloud architectures had to make sure that performance bottlenecks wouldn’t form at the corporate Internet edge. This likely included a process to verify the baseline consumed percentage of bandwidth during normal working situations using network monitoring tools. Then some calculations to estimate additional throughput requirements with a fully remote workforce gave admin’s a rough estimate of the new about of bandwidth required. In some situations, this meant:
- Upgrading internet upload/download speeds
- The addition of redundant internet links
- Inclusion of modern internet load balancing/SD-WAN techniques
In some cases, it may be prudent to taper back internet bandwidth upgrades or redundant links once the ISP contract is up for renewal. In other situations, the extra bandwidth and added redundancy features were long overdue and likely should remain.
Another segment of the corporate internet edge that needed attention were the appliances, software, and licenses for remote access VPN connectivity. Most VPN architectures were built to accommodate a predefined percentage of the overall workforce. Prior to the WFH shift, only a fraction of employees simultaneously connected to corporate VPN services. However, the pandemic forced administrators to not only add VPN licenses to accommodate for far more simultaneously connected employees – but also the addition of new and dispersed VPN termination points into the network. By distributing the points of VPN entry, it helps to alleviate bandwidth bottlenecks while also providing lower-latency access to employees that may be more geographically dispersed than ever before.
Now may also be the perfect opportunity to reevaluate the business's entire remote access strategy from a technological point of view. Many IT departments are beginning to abandon legacy remote access VPN in favor of virtual desktop technologies such as VDI or other hosted desktop solutions. Network administrators should be closely involved with any planning of these types of remote desktop architectures so they can provide the best network performance with the necessary security tools baked-into the network.
Additional adds/changes to consider
For at least a while, getting back to work in the office may be a different experience compared to what most are used to. The biggest difference being social distancing requirements. Instead of open work areas and every cubicle occupied, workers will be far more spread out. From a Wi-Fi perspective, this may change how wireless access points (WAPs) are deployed. Instead of concentrating wireless signal into a handful of areas where employees previously were densely populated, a building will now require far more uniform coverage – along with the elimination of dead spots in all corners of the building.
Network administrators must also consider the likelihood of adding dozens, hundreds, or thousands of IoT or connected devices meant to protect employees from virus flare-ups in the workplace. This may include the network connectivity of smart thermometers, thermal cameras, contactless kiosks, surveillance cameras, and other devices that can use a combination of Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth technologies with the intention of keeping employees as safe as possible.
Lastly, if this pandemic has showed us anything in the world of enterprise IT, it’s that cloud computing – specifically, SaaS-based cloud services – are ideal options for employees both inside and outside the office. Likely, the adoption of SaaS tools will further accelerate the migration of on-premises servers and applications into the cloud. These types of application and data storage migrations will significantly impact network data flows. Instead of East/West LAN traffic for applications and services that are delivered in-house, those flows will shift to North/South traffic between the end-user and the public cloud. Thus, rearchitected networks to compensate for changes in traffic flows may be required sooner than originally anticipated.
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