In my last post, I explored how companies are taking their workforces remote. This time around, I’d like to return to that data set and ask: what are the biggest challenges WAN managers face as offices adapt to remote work?
What I uncovered was interesting and bore out some of our predictions from the beginning of the pandemic. Let’s get to it.
Roadblocks to Work From Home
We asked WAN managers what their biggest challenges were in moving a company to remote work en masse. Three things stood out as particularly ornery roadblocks:
1. Congestion at Gateways
Back in March, we predicted that adequate bandwidth and security for gateways would be crucial to preventing users from bottlenecking. There was always a risk for this as users connected from the public internet back to their corporate network.
I think we hit the nail on the head with this one. Responding network managers ranked gateway congestion as their biggest challenge in adjusting to distributed work.
This is an issue that was most pressing in the immediate scramble to get remote networks working, as infrastructure teams found that their VPN gateways were being overloaded. One respondent said that they were able to quickly double their remote access capacity through splitting SSH pairs. Another already had virtual gateways installed so they were able to spin up virtual firewalls to exponentially increase their capacity.
One respondent said that they were able to quickly double their remote access capacity through splitting SSH pairs. Another already had virtual gateways installed so they were able to spin up virtual firewalls to exponentially increase their capacity.
2. Access to Devices
Some IT departments faced the issue of not having enough work laptops or other devices in inventory to send home with employees. It’s the fundamentals—if you can’t access the tools you need, you can’t do your work.
One interviewee explained that offices had different business disruption contingency plans: if it was based on working from home, they usually had the laptops ready, but if it was based on working at a different office location, they had to figure something out last minute.
Others reported that employees were able to travel back to the office in small groups to pick up equipment to use at home.
3. Employee Broadband Performance
Employee broadband performance is probably where the IT team has the least control, but that doesn’t stop the user complaints from rolling in.
Now, on one hand, some employees in urban/suburban centers might have better at-home internet than was available at the office (ex. 500 Mbps from residential broadband plan vs 10 Mbps from the office MPLS connection). But that connection is (1) contended, (2) asymmetrical, and (3) shared with other members of the household for work, school, or entertainment.
So what can you do about these broadband frustrations?
Some WAN managers addressed this through “employee education”—anything from encouraging staggered meeting times, to tools to measure Wi-Fi signals, or other ways to problem-solve connectivity issues.
More directly, some network teams have helped employees upgrade their residential network plan, and in select large enterprises, have even sourced business broadband for their executives.
Networks Proved Surprisingly Resilient
Given that our survey question about remote work challenges was based on a one-out-of-five ranking, it appears that WAN managers felt they were able to handle these issues fairly well. Just as the internet bent but did not break, their teams were able to keep the network up and users connected through the uncertainty.
You can thank the leg work done ahead of time to virtualize the network and transition functions to the cloud.
One network manager even expressed surprise that the company was able to transition so well, but noted that they had transitioned to O365 two years ago.
Others similarly remarked that going virtual on UC and other tools allowed their users to switch to working out of the office fairly easily.
Elizabeth Thorne is a Senior Research Analyst at TeleGeography. Her work is focused on enterprise network research.