The expansion of remote work and the massive growth in usage of cloud-based applications have stressed existing infrastructure and put a keen focus on the performance of everyone’s network environment. Research shows that organizations from nearly every industry are looking to roll out an even greater number of cloud services in the next couple of years to ensure their organization can take advantage of the agility, speed and lower costs that cloud services have been proving they provide.
However, cloud success is not all about streamlining operations and cutting costs – the performance that users have come to expect needs to be treated as a critical success factor. Considerations must be made for managing traffic, protecting experiences and taking a flexible approach that can adapt with the changing reality of the workplace.
When it Comes to the Cloud, Performance Matters
When employees log on to a cloud service, they expect that it will work immediately, plain and simple. That is the only measurement that matters at the end of the day. Are the cloud services in question available – and are they working at expected speeds? Any deviation from that means frustrated employees that are not able to work at optimal levels.
One way to provide a better network experience for end-users is to truly understand the traffic traversing the network. Is it all critical traffic? Does all traffic need strong encryption, or to be routed through the company’s systems of rules and requirements in order to work properly? Or is effectiveness being slowed down by doing so?
One of the major lessons from early in the age of cloud computing and remote work is that there is no reason to force certain types of traffic off of the public internet if it will result in a diminished experience. For example, Zoom calls and Slack messages have become a core element of today’s workplaces. History has shown that this type of network traffic is fine to leave to the public internet – forcing it through a corporate internet would typically slow the responsiveness and degrade the images. Understanding what the importance level is of certain types of traffic will enable said traffic to be properly routed, maintaining the end-user experience. Utilizing the latest SD-WAN technology will help organizations to prioritize traffic and data, and make sure they’re able to send the most important of each over the strongest possible network connection.
Flexibility is Critical
But what if those traffic patterns suddenly changed? Is the organization prepared for that?
The current state of the working world is one where many big companies have returned to working in an office environment a majority of the week. It is also, at the same time, one where many organizations have decided to embrace a hybrid model, with a few days in the office and a few days at home. Even still, it is also one where many big companies have said goodbye to office life forever. The truth is that all three of these are true; there simply is no set pattern and no way to predict how the current situation will evolve over time.
The next generation of workers may decide that they want to be in an office or that they want to make the change to working remotely a permanent one. It’s impossible to say. But through all of these options and possible working configurations, the expectation for high performance networks and always on cloud services will remain. Once again, it’s the experience that matters to employees – not service levels or uptime requirements. Does it work? Then they’re happy.
IT and network teams need to be prepared for all of these variables. Cloud is the norm for the business world of today and the foreseeable future; there are variables to contend with when it comes to the location of employees and the performance of the network environments they’re connecting to. Because of the open question about the future of the workplace, IT and network teams need to be prepared for any eventuality. If the Board decides to send everyone back into the office full-time, the network needs to be ready to deliver the expected positive experience. If the company continues to embrace remote work and around-the-clock employee access, the network needs to be as good at 9am as it is at 2am. If employees are sent home because of a public health issue, the network needs to be prepared.
Another example of how having a flexible network is critical is when an organization has to scale resources to match customer demand. Think of peak seasons in retail; during the holiday shopping season, for example, there is a much greater demand on network resources. Stores are filled with shoppers, retailers need more staff working at the same time and those in management and logistics are often also working long hours. If the network can’t keep up with the demands of the season, you risk hurting your brand and driving away customers permanently.
While different types of traffic can have different levels of importance, as discussed above, an organization’s network needs to be able to handle the potential for increased volume – and employees’ inconsistent need for it. By taking steps to understand the traffic on the network, it can be optimized. Allowing IT and network teams to make routing and bandwidth decisions based on efficiency and security means bandwidth can be added or freed up as needed, protecting the overall employee cloud experience.
It is becoming increasingly challenging for companies to find the IT and network talent they need to staff these roles. IT teams are often resource-constrained and need to juggle many more responsibilities than usual. Embracing automation and artificial intelligence (AI) may be the solution.
Using automated tools can enable teams to gain an understanding of their traffic even faster, recognizing patterns and helping to proactively manage routing and bandwidth decisions. Embracing automated tools can help internal teams maintain a positive cloud experience, even in the face of staffing shortages. AI technologies could even help to identify issues that could cause a slowdown or an outage, and help teams to fix them before they do.
When it’s all about the experience, automating the more repeatable and mundane tasks can also help an organization’s key staff to have the time to address higher-value problems.
The bottom line is that cloud-based services and applications are here to stay. Regardless of how an employee logs on to work, or where they log on from, their expectation is the same – immediate connections, strong network performance and an overall excellent user experience. Anything less is unacceptable.
By Patrick MeLampy
Patrick MeLampy serves as a Juniper Fellow at Juniper Networks. Before joining Juniper Networks through acquisition, Patrick was the co-Founder, COO and CTO at 128 Technology. Prior to 128 Technology, Patrick was CTO and Founder of Acme Packet until it was acquired by Oracle in 2013. After the acquisition, Patrick served as Vice President of Product Development for Oracle Communications Network Session Delivery products. Patrick has an MBA from Boston University, and an Engineering Degree from University of Pittsburgh. Patrick has been awarded 35 patents in the telecommunications field.