Teleworking has moved from nice to have, to must have. Found somewhere in the corporate handbook under "business continuity", "building a sustainable business", or "improving employee satisfaction", working remotely has come of age, writes Roger Hockaday, director of marketing at Aruba Networks EMEA.
Some companies dictate it, some countries legislate for it, but every company must have a plan that allows a significant part of its workforce to work from home. Whether implemented as part of a swine flu pandemic plan, avoiding disruption from industrial action, or to provide a flexible working environment for employees, teleworking is an essential element of modern business practice.
For the occasional teleworker, a client (or SSL) based VPN installed on a laptop remains an excellent, and proven, solution. For a single user (with a single laptop), it offers better security and control than the vast majority of small branch office or consumer grade networking solutions.
Hidden costs and complexity of teleworking
However, the traditional client VPN with simple connectivity for a single laptop is not the ideal platform for teleworking when multiple services - data, voice, mobility, and always-on connectivity - are required. To provision a true "office-like" teleworker experience, several challenges exist:
To create a remote working environment that is identical to the office is a greatly underestimated challenge: having to start a VPN client prior to connection before connecting "to the office" can be frustrating. VPN client tunnels are not always as reliable as a "fixed" connection, and affect the performance of the PC.
Beyond a simple VPN solution, remote office solutions involving routers are complex to set up (in comparison with a VPN) and suffer from relatively high operational costs.
What is required is the ability to provision a service for "power" teleworkers with the characteristics of a 24/7 network connection, combined with the simplicity of VPN management.
Virtual branch networks
The idea of a "VPN in a box" has existed for some years. It however remains at heart a router, with the complexity and required configuration of a router. It is expensive and difficult to scale to a large home-worker population, particularly compared to the ease of centralised configuration, control and security of a traditional VPN managed from the datacentre.
Like a VPN, but unlike a remote office router solution, a virtual branch network centralises and virtualises the control of all remote offices. Security and encryption, per user control, policy management of users and applications are all centralised within the datacentre. Low-cost access points (whether wired or wireless) provide secure connection back to the datacentre for remote users. Services such as data and corporate voice (VoIP) extensions, guest and consultant networks are set up once and then replicated automatically as each user or new office comes online. Best of all, the remote user has an experience identical to the user in the office.
Widespread adoption of telecommuting obliges an organisation to reconsider its IT model. It should not increase IT costs - indeed, the use of telecommuting should reduce overall costs. Virtualisation and centralisation of applications is a well-accepted practice. Now is the time to do the same for remote networks rather than continue relying on the traditional router model.