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Broader Business: Extending the WAN to the home.

Is work-from-home as much about business opportunity as business continuity? We set Globalinternet CPO Mike Lloyd this question as “homework”.

Working from home used to be a pleasant option. A worthwhile way to get more done in greater comfort. And for some cynics, a way to keep employees productive long after lights-out.

Today, it’s not a nice-to-have … but a can’t-do-without.

In 2020 around 80% of the white-collar workforce has spent three months plus working from home. MNCs from JP Morgan to Google are saying their people can be home-based until the end of time. (Which, if 2020 has anything else in store for us, might not be far off.) So bandwidth normally used for Disney and Amazon has morphed into project management and teleconferences.

Which means an executive’s £1m deal can hinge on his kids not maxing out Animal Crossing.

Fortunately, there’s a way to square the circle—and what’s more, it can mitigate these business risks not just in 2020, but for evermore. (As Globalinternet’s Chief Portfolio Officer, it’s my business to know about this stuff.)

Here are my tips for extending your office WAN where it happens to be today …. outside the office.

The real difference between home and office.

Home broadband is a different kettle of fish to dedicated business internet. And I’m not talking about how the challenges of business transformation compare to your Friday night Netflix marathon.

Both need reliable, always-on connections. Both need high-speed broadband. And with C-Levellers everywhere sharing confidential data from their dining tables, both types need rock-solid security, too.

But there’s another factor that matters even more.

At first glance, home broadband—particularly newer FTTH installs—seems perfect for work-from-home. Designed for low latency and smooth streaming across multiple rooms of a family home (even on a contended pipe) it works great. When it works.

And there’s the kicker.

Home broadband connections don’t come with SLAs. And those that do rarely include any upper limit on downtime. When that £19.95 router from PC World goes south, you’re high and dry until the repairman pulls up. Sometimes the fault isn’t even a fault; if your neighbour upstairs is upgrading his broadband today, the whole building might go down for hours on end.

“It’s all to do with break-fix: the arrangement in place to bring bandwidth back if it drops. Break-fix SLAs can’t guarantee all the bits and pieces of a WAN will always work. But they do guarantee how long it’ll be before you’re up and running again.”

So that’s Step 1 in extending WAN to the home: making the break-fix SLA valid “wherever the workplace be”. Or an alternative, as in the case of your enterprise WAN, offer a back-up link – but make it affordable.

Not everyone might take it as seriously as I do - combining Globalinternet’s mobile solution within a load-balanced failover router - but mobile, even if it’s just your phone’s tethering function, is an option too.

Mifigin

Stir in zero-trust security.

ZTS is almost universal on office networks. But it’s harder on the shared pipe to 65 Acacia Avenue. So a second factor is to harden your broadened network to the same level of security your people get in the office.

Potentially, this means SD-WAN at home – but the cost is a challenge and of course there are several excellent solutions for secure 128-bit plus encryption across your entire workforce. And it’s not all about tech.

So I’d recommend going big on user education (again). People don’t behave the same at home as they do in the workplace; they’ll open browser windows, start sessions, click on links they’d never entertain in the office. Because being at home lulls them into a false sense of security. And their lulls will become a hackers’ LULZ.

“Harden your network, of course. But harden the people too.”

Foster a change in mindset.

For many businesses today—and perhaps forever—the office-based WAN is a backup to the cloud-based one, not the other way around. Cloud services, nomad road warriors, and work-from-homers are primary. It’s a model many of Globalinternet’s 600 enterprise customers have adopted.

With that said, there are still plenty of IT departments who treat those outside the office as secondary. And in this new world, that’s got to change. That ERP application will suck the same bandwidth from home WiFi as the office Ethernet socket; maintaining connectivity for homeworkers is business-critical, even mission-critical.

So my third rec is another “people” one: encourage a culture of the office being just one more building to connect, not any kind of “hub”. If the CEO is doing the earnings call on Zoom at home, then for the next hour his living room is the global HQ.

Gather ye data points while ye may.

While not everyone needs an SD-WAN box at home, it may nonetheless be worthwhile rolling out your software-defined network to everyone in place of the VPN they use now. Because an SD-WAN is dynamically self-configuring, actively optimising the paths your packets take … which makes it a great tool for seeing where the weak points are.

It’s my stated belief that home broadband speeds are now high enough for most people to get most of their work done. But your distributed workforce isn’t all on fibre: it spans masked stalwarts in the server farm, white-collar workers on WiFi, managers connecting via 4G from the summerhouse. There’ll be gushes and trickles, highways and logjams.

Adopting an SD-WAN model can look at the big picture, and show you—in hard charts and graphs—where you need to pay attention.

Sidebar: The Globalinternet experience.

Which brings me to a case in point: me! And my colleagues at Globalinternet.

At Globalinternet, we’re not all metropolitan trendies in W1 and E14 with the latest fibre. Plenty of us (including me) live in remote locations with more sheep than people. So we faced the same challenges in lockdown as many of our 600 enterprise customers.

How long did it take us to move from an 80% office-based team, to 100% working from home? You might be shocked.

Having the infrastructure in place and all our data and apps in the cloud, it was 12 hours, all in. Basically, one full working day. (Albeit a busier one than normal.) and if we can do it for ourselves, we can do it for you.

Conclusion: keep calm and carry on connecting.

Pandemics are unpleasant. But they’re not new. In the 19th century, tuberculosis consumed one in seven European lives. Smallpox made milkmaiding a savvy career choice in the C18th. And R. Rattus joyriding on Venetian cargo ships put London in annual lockdowns centuries before Covid-19 was heard of.

Yet international trade, connected by sea lanes and postal networks that were, in abstract, similar to the internet today, carried on.

And despite the worst 2020 can do, we’ll carry on, too. With a break-fix SLA, some friendly user education and policies, and data that lets you look critically at the efficiency of your entire network, you can thrive.

And we’re ready to help.