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Business Continuity Series: Network Connectivity

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Network connectivity underpins nearly every aspect of remote working. Many employees can get by with using home internet, but many other critical operations require specific network connectivity solutions to guarantee predictable, high-quality communication. WWT’s Neil Anderson talks about the scenarios that require such solutions, the options companies have to enable employees in critical environments connected and some best practices other organizations are finding success with.

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Read the transcript below:

- Hi there, my name is Brian Feldt with World Wide Technology, joined today by Neil Anderson who leads the WWT networking practice and today we're going to be talking about network connectivity particularly as it relates to remote working in order to maintain productivity of the workforce and business continuity. Neil, so as we know entire work forces are now stuck working from home and figure to be for some time. Many of these employees are relying on home internet or personal endpoints to make that connection which can in some cases get the job done but in a lot of other cases, that's just simply not the case. I'm wondering if you can walk me through real quick what types of scenarios we're seeing where organizations are needing network connectivity to support those workers remotely.

 

- Yeah, we're seeing several scenarios. One is of course home workers and remote working is a big one, right? Everybody needs to send their employees home. That was a huge, huge spike. But there's a few others that we've been working on. One is around home agents. People may not be familiar that many, many call centers have had to move their employees home to continue to serve their customers and that leads to some very interesting requirements on home offices that are slightly different than just a normal home office if you´re trying to do remote working. We've also seen an explosion in the healthcare industry and state and local governments and service providers trying to help the healthcare crisis, right? Everything from tele-work, tele-health trying to basically connect doctors and patients together without physical contact, let patients talk to families, just a ton of different scenarios there that we've had to step in and try to help customers. As well as what we call improvised treatment locations. The pop-up field hospitals or testing centers in parking lots, just places where network connectivity didn't exist before and we have to try to quickly stand that up. Then of course home learning students are also trying to learn from home and that creates some interesting challenges as well.

 

- So you've outlined just a few of these types of scenarios and I imagine there's many more. But I would also think this isn't necessarily a one size fits all solution so, what types of connectivity options should organizations be thinking about when they're trying to enable these in place.

 

- Yeah, there's a number of possibilities, right, if you're trying to get connected and different kinds of wireless technologies. And what we´re telling our customers is don't forget the obvious. In a pinch you know, smartphones and tablets can operate as a portable hotspot for a small number of users, right? The same thing if you´re fortunate enough you have a MiFi device from your service provider. You can use that as well. The advantages are that those are very portable. They're immediately available in many people's hands today and you can get by in a pinch on those. The disadvantages are, they're typically a fairly low range and designed really for a very small number of devices or people to use them. Um, so what we're seeing is those are being used in a pinch but, really as enterprises start to grapple with what you know, how is this gonna happen long-term, we're moving to these other models that we call WiFi extension and then remote networks and using a wireless router, some with just connecting to broadband internet, some connecting to LTE gateways. And the way to look at this is there's a couple of ways to connect people. One that's not well known and publicized is this idea of WiFi extension, which is kinda the diagram I'm showing on the top. You can simply take an access point similar to which you have installed in your office, at your work location, and have your IT department configure one of those and you can take it home. And the advantage of that is you connect it through your broadband internet, it connects back to the corporate network, and it provides the same SSID as if you were working at the work location. So that's pretty advantageous, I don't have to change the way I log in. I don't have to change anything, the way I'm securing that, it's the same as if I'm at the work location, my laptop connects I enter my credentials, I get connected to the network and then I can continue to work. The downside of that approach is that if I have the need to put some wired device at home like an IP phone or a video unit, it's much more challenging to do that, right? If I need a wired connection, I can't really do that with the WiFi extension model. But, what you can do is then flip over to a wireless router that has some built in ethernet ports and then I can connect an IP phone or a desktop unit. I can still advertise the work SSID, again making it a seamless experience for people that their home office becomes basically an extension of the corporate office and how they work is the exact same login, exact same experiences when they're at work. And, another one we've seen, I'll show this one, especially with these improvised locations where I may not have internet access. Many of these wireless routers have the option to either add an LTE gateway to them or a lot of them have a built-in LTE gateway so I can actually leverage the public LTE system to provide that internet connectivity and so I can get a portable environment up and running in a short amount of time. And again if I've got the ethernet connections, I can add IP phones to that or desktop video units to that, and I can even leverage more than one mobile connection at a time, if I need more bandwidth and I need that diversity to reach locations, so this is another really interesting one we're seeing is a lot of our customers investigating and deploying very rapidly to get these kind of locations up and running, right? May not have had Internet before.

 

- So we have options. Customers have options when it comes to connectivity so the natural next question is which types of connectivity would help alleviate my specific business needs? So walk me through a little but about how organizations should be thinking about what types of connectivity to deploy and when?

 

- That's a good question. So, if I already have Internet at a location then I think the decision really comes down to do I need wired connectivity or not. If I don't, maybe I'd just use the WiFi extension model and quickly put an office out there for employees. The nice part of that is, I can still manage the security of that environment, only the employees are going to get connected, I don't have to worry about you know, significant others or children getting connected to that access point, I can still provide that enterprise security that I'm looking for. And also, I could make it easy for people to connect there you know, connecting in the home office is the same as if I go to work, so that is a good model. But then, if I do need something like an IP phone out there or a desktop video unit, I would want to switch over to the wireless router because that makes it a lot easier. A lot of them provide POE and I can simply plug that IP phone in there and it's going to connect to its call manager, it's going to register and it's going to act just like my desk phone, as if I was sitting in my work location. So that really gives a seamless experience for people who are suddenly displaced from work and have to work from home. Whether I'm a home agent or I'm home remote working or I'm a doctor trying to you know establish connectivity to patients that I don't have physical access to, there's just some great options to do that. And then again if I don't have internet access at the location, if it's an improvised location or it's a home that doesn't have Internet today, I can leverage the LTE network so I can simply add that LTE gateway and I'm off and running.

 

- We've dealt with a number of real world scenarios in terms of delivering in solutions to get these organizations up and running, so what are we seeing in terms of what customers are deploying the most of and how are they reacting to this type of shift?

 

- Yeah, a lot of customers initially had to really just, rely on whatever was out there, right? A lot of the home internet, using VPN clients, or however people could get connected using their cell phones. What we're seeing now is people are thinking about that future phase, okay, so if this persists, and I have to deal with this for a much longer period of time, I can't have people, you know with varying levels of experience, and imagine a call center that has one person's got a very robust home network and another one has, trying to get by with their cell phone. The people that are calling that call center are gonna get a very different experience and so most of our customers are thinking about wait a minute, how do I make this a more consistent environment and so that's where we're seeing customers thinking about you know okay maybe I need to manage a WiFi device or an enterprise-class router out there to give that consistent experience and security that I need for that. So, were seeing quite a bit of that going on. And then of course in the response to the virus we're seeing an awful lot of the taking advantage of LTE connectivity, just quickly, quickly stand-up these environments, whether it's in a parking lot, or it's in a convention center, or wherever we need the connectivity, being able to connect back to the healthcare systems is just critically important.

 

- Well Neil, I'm out of questions for you but I appreciate very much you joining me today amidst a very busy schedule. And thanks to our viewers for joining on the conversation today as well. All of the resources that Neil showed and talked about are available for consumption on wwt.com. Along with a litany of other additional content that you could walk through that talks about business continuity, enabling remote employees and the connectivity options that it takes to get there. So with that we´ll leave you and appreciate you watching.