Organizations around the world are navigating the dramatic increase in work-from-anywhere needs as a result of the pandemic. Even in municipalities where businesses have begun to re-open, much of the work continues – and will continue – to be done remotely for the foreseeable future. Employers must examine long-term, elastic remote work solutions that can support the modern workplace. Scalability is a chief concern for any remote or flexible work policy, and business leaders must carefully examine the tradeoffs of various solutions.
Understanding the scalability problem
Let’s start by looking at remote desktop solutions. Both VPNs and on-prem VDI were typically provisioned for the use case where five percent of people are working remotely. Let’s look first at IPSec VPN technologies. For the vast majority of the time, end users would connect from the office. However, if they were traveling or needed to work from home, employees could use their corporate-owned device to establish a secure network tunnel back through a VPN to the corporate data center, and then access their applications and data.
Now, with substantially more people working remotely, IT has struggled to scale the VPN infrastructure to support the necessary volume of users. The quality of this experience depends greatly on the amount of traffic, as well as the latency and the bandwidth of the remote connection. Further, access to common SaaS applications is also funneled through the data center, resulting in substantially slower performance and reduced end user productivity. Lastly, many organizations are concerned about the security of VPNs – as it allows malware a direct route into the datacenter and cannot ensure that sensitive or regulated data does not get copied to endpoints.
A second approach was to expand use of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). End users, be they contractors or remote employees, could use their personal or corporate-owned devices to gain access to Windows desktops or to applications running in a data center.
Many promises were made about the simplicity, performance, scalability and manageability of traditional VDI that did not come to fruition. The reality is that VDI suffers from significant scalability and agility limitations. Adding infrastructure to support additional users is expensive and complex to deploy, especially when it is unclear how many users will remain remote once shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted. From an end user perspective, performance can be terrible. VDI in most cases was designed for occasional access – not an 8 hour workday.
In short, VPN and VDI technologies actually stymie enterprise growth compared with what’s possible today with alternative approaches. Neither of these technologies were designed to address the widespread work-from-home scenarios companies are experiencing today – and for the foreseeable future. Today’s IT teams require an end user computing solution that supports the ability to work from anywhere with little or no intervention from IT. It should be a seamless transition that happens at a moment’s notice; people should be able to simply go home and pick up work where they left off.
Cloud to the rescue
IT leaders have two new solution categories to consider that replace VPN and VDI in this cloud era:
- Desktop as a Service (DaaS)solutions are a SaaS equivalent of VDI. They make it simple and elastic for IT to deliver virtual desktops to end users. By taking advantage of service availability in cloud regions all over the world, IT can dramatically simplify their overhead and processes while reducing latency and delivering better end user performance.
- Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) solutions are optimized for the SaaS and cloud era. They use a combination of techniques to solve the security problems mentioned above by sending SaaS traffic directly to the vendor and making zero trust end points possible.
As the world floats through uncharted waters, no one really knows what’s next, which makes it difficult to prepare for the future. For many organizations, the assumption was that quarantine and the resulting work-from-home mandate would be short-term. Now that the situation has stretched into months, organizations must examine the sustainability of their plans. Most companies have patched up the problem for the next three months or so, but are beginning the search for more cost-effective and secure long-term remote work solutions.
A recent Gartner survey of 317 CFOs and finance leaders found that 74% of companies plan to shift “at least five percent of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19.” Nearly one quarter (23%) plan to convert at least 20% of previously on-site employees into permanent telecommuters. Twitter and Square are just two of the companies that have announced their employees can work remotely forever.
Long-term remote work will require long-term adjustments by workers and employers. While employees may have felt fine with a “couch office” for the short term, a longer duration of working from home may mean creating dedicated home office space that is comfortable and more conducive to productivity. For their part, employers need to consider things like partially compensating employees for the costs of home internet and cell phone use, as well as implementing collaboration and other necessary technologies. Unlike some initially adopted solutions, cloud desktops aren’t just a quick fix for remote work – they can be an integral part of the long-term solution.
Making the most of uncertainty
The phrase “May you live in interesting times” has sometimes been used as a curse, but in our present circumstances, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow. Most business continuity planning did not account for a pandemic, nor the broad impact it would have on business. The jury’s still out on what all the long-term consequences will be. However, one thing that’s obvious is that for the foreseeable future, organizations are going to need reliable, scalable solutions that enable remote work. Legacy solutions such as VDI and VPN were not designed to support a remote and mobile workforce and are not optimal for meeting these needs. A new crop of options, including Zero Trust Network Access and DaaS, provide the scalability organizations need at a cost they can afford. These options not only help during unprecedented times like a pandemic but can position your organization for long-term success with their agility and cost effectiveness.
About the author:
Amitabh Sinha, co-founder and CEO, Workspot
Amitabh Sinha has more than 20 years of experience in enterprise software, end-user computing, mobile, and database software. Amitabh co-founded Workspot with Puneet Chawla and Ty Wang in August 2012. Prior to Workspot, Amitabh was the general manager for enterprise desktops and Apps at Citrix Systems. In his five years at Citrix, Amitabh was vice president of product management for XenDesktop and vice president of engineering for the Advanced Solutions Group. Amitabh has a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.