UPDATED 17:45 EST / OCTOBER 13 2020

INFRA

Working from home requires software-defined wide-area networks at home

Managed service provider Masergy Communications Inc. today announced two new offerings in its software-defined wide-area network portfolio that make it easier for people to work remotely.

The new services fall under the umbrella brand of “SD-WAN Work From Anywhere solutions” and extend Masergy’s current managed service to the millions of people now working out of the office. This enables businesses to give workers the same level of network and security services as they would have in the office.

Here’s the rundown on the solutions:

  • SD-WAN Secure Home includes a lightweight SD-WAN device from Fortinet. This acts as the gateway between the home network and the corporate one and provides application optimization and security capabilities. The use of an appliance simplifies deployment since the information technology department or Masergy can pre-provision it, ship it to the home worker and have the worker up and running almost instantly. The Fortinet appliance also provides access to the Masergy cloud for secure access service edge or SASE services such as network-based security services. This is available now and the price starts at $250 a month and then there are add-ons for security and unified communications bundles. But the price can also go down based on volume discounts.
  • SD-WAN On the Go is a software client that can be installed on mobile devices and laptops. The client includes a virtual private network and uses IPsec protocols to create a secure tunnel back to the company network. There is also integrated endpoint protection for threat protection. The On the Go product will be available, and although Masergy has not yet finalized pricing, it will be less than the Secure Home.

Both products are designed with zero-touch provisioning for fast setup. This is a key feature because asking users to download software, configure it and tune it often leads to a disastrous situation since the average worker doesn’t have the technical chops to properly configure VPNs.

One thing to keep in mind is that while firing up and modifying the settings in VPN and security might seem straightforward to a typical road warrior, many of the people that are working from home today have never done that before, so the experience is completely new. Making it easy is critical to keeping productivity high.

Masergy’s release of its Work From Anywhere solutions indicates an interesting pivot in networking. Just a year ago, SD-WANs were focused on connecting branch offices and other company locations. Then COVID-19 happened and people started working from home temporarily – which now looks like it will be permanent. Many large organizations have made the decision to keep a large remote workforce.

In fact, the 2020 ZK Research Work From Anywhere Study, coincidentally sponsored by Masergy, found that the number of remote workers will almost double to 40% from the pre-pandemic number of 22%. The study also found that 58% of respondents felt SD-WANs make working remote easier.

Looking ahead, the campus network is shrinking to the point where some businesses will see that network shrink 50%, 60% or even 70%.  The WAN, on the other hand, will explode as it now connected traditional branches, home workers, mobile devices, IoT endpoints and cloud locations. 

In many ways, the WAN has become the backbone for almost every business but needs to change. The challenge is how does connectivity and security get extended easily and cost-effectively. Masergy’s products address the major issues with the extension of SD-WANs into people’s homes. Thanks to the pre-configuration of the Fortinet appliance and software client, the appliance just needs to be plugged into the home router and the software client can be installed with just a couple of mouse clicks.

One of the interesting aspects of Masergy’s solution is the alignment with its SASE cloud services. With traditional SD-WANs, security is deployed in the traditional way of rolling out branch office hardware. Although there is still a use case for this, it doesn’t work in home environments because corporate-grade security is extremely expensive.

SASE shifts security into the cloud. The Masergy services direct all company traffic to the cloud for inspection and threat protection services so anyone, anywhere, can have the same level of security as they have in an office.

Another interesting feature of the services is the possibility of increased reliability. Once one starts working from home permanently, having “always on” connectivity is a must. However, home broadband can be notoriously flaky.

I talked to a U.K. chief information officer about this just last week and she told me this was one of her top priorities. I asked what they did about redundant connections, since few home workers have two types of broadband, and she told me they train workers to tether off a mobile phone that acts as a WiFi hotspot.

I actually had to do this last week as Comcast had an outage in my area and I had to fall back to my mobile hotspot.  Had I been using an at-home SD-WAN appliance, the fail-over would have been seamless instead of forcing me to go change the connection.

In this ongoing work-from-home environment that has become permanent for many organizations, reliable connectivity and enterprise grade security is a must-have. Traditional networks were never designed to be extended to individual microsites such as a person’s home or mobile device, but SD-WANs can. I believe Masergy is the first with a solution like this, but I expect to see a lot of innovation in this area from the vendor community in the near future.

Zeus Kerravala is a principal analyst at ZK Research, a division of Kerravala Consulting. He wrote this article for SiliconANGLE.

Photo: Anthony Shkraba/Pexels

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