Remote working – working from anywhere, anytime (including working from home/WFH), has long been an enabling goal for many organizations in their move to flexible working practices. Until now, this goal has not been fully realised by many organisations, with only a small portion of employees working from home for limited times.
As the COVID-19 pandemic event unfolds, we are seeing more and more of our customers (universities and other organisations in the research and education sector) implementing work from home policies to help limit the spread of the virus and protect themselves, their families and colleagues. This push to remote working is at a scale not seen before and is a new challenge for IT teams to manage.
One of the biggest challenges to ensuring business continuity with staff working from home is within the networking domain, given the network is the primary enabler for remote working. Moving from 20% of staff working from home, 20% of the time during ‘business as usual’ times (a generous estimate), to the majority of staff working from home, the majority of the time is resulting in scale never seen before. Most of us in the networking industry don’t typically have the budget or time to real world test systems at this scale.
AARNet staff are well experienced with working remotely, and we also provide services that are relied upon by our customers to support remote working (including Zoom). Our staff also work with customers on their challenges including some of the technologies and solutions that can support remote working, so we wanted to take this opportunity to share some insight and considerations for networking and connectivity for remote working.
Some of these considerations or recommendations may have significant time or cost implication, requiring senior sponsorship and financial support which may not easy to come by at this or other times. For these and other considerations or recommendations, we realise that without unlimited time or budget, gold standards are not possible or feasible, but as the saying goes don’t let perfect get in the way of good. For some of these considerations, we will endeavour to provide a range of recommendations or alternatives.
The information in this article aims to be useful to you now as well as when your organisation is operating under normal business conditions in future.
Before we even discuss access to your organization specifically (your apps, DC, Cloud or other specific ‘corporate’ access), we generally first need to ensure our users have basic internet access. This enables corporate remote access, remote productivity and supports various communications and team collaboration capabilities.
While many of your users hopefully have some form of home broadband connectivity, the current technology mix available can cause issues for some users in terms of performance, reliability, etc. Many organisations also don’t necessarily provide or have consistent mobile telephony or mobile broadband connectivity options for users either.
Here are some considerations for internet access to best support users with remote working capabilities:
Help your users connect
Your organization may already support staff with subsidies for some or all of their home broadband costs, but sometimes, this may not be feasible. Here are some alternative approaches where you can act as a trusted advisor to your users:
Consider publishing basic guidance or directing users to published guidance on optimizing their home broadband and wireless setups. Not everyone is a network engineer!
Resiliency of connectivity
One of our main concerns in network design is typically resiliency of some kind, whether leveraging redundancy or other forms of backup. We’ll discuss more on Mobile broadband in a moment, but mobile broadband could be leveraged as a form of resiliency for your users, by providing an alternative short term connectivity option.
Under more normal conditions, when staff are working from remote locations outside of their home, they will hopefully have some form of wifi access available to them (e.g. Eduroam, hotel wifi etc.). Mobile broadband can however be a useful capability now and in future, e.g. decreasing reliance on wifi availability, providing a resiliency option. Even without the current situation, mobile broadband has its place in a catalog of connectivity solutions for remote workers, along with providing some of the resiliency vectors for home connectivity discussed above.
As per the home broadband point above, ideally your organization already has a mobile carrier partner selected and provides a data enabled smartphone or plan to staff. Again, this may not always be the case, or may only be provided at present for certain staff, or not be feasible.
Some notes about current internet connectivity issues:
The above remote internet connectivity considerations are of course focused on connectivity itself, not general practices for working from home in terms of workstation setups, routines etc.
There have been many fantastic articles already published on these topics recently, which we’ll include a few of below (and there are additional general useful links and resources at the end of this article). We know you’re busy already so hopefully these provide some short cuts for you (some of these may be out of date or not consider the current COVID-19 situation – content is out of AARNet control of course, so please consider within your own context!).
Author: Paul Italiano, AARNet Enterprise Services Technical Consultant – Networks
Disclaimer: This is general advice only and is not intended to be address individual circumstances. Each person should conduct their own evaluation of using any product or service.