Networking / Observability

Q&A with Accedian: How Remote Work Stresses the Company VPN

23 Apr 2020 3:00am, by

We know that corporate networks are being strained by the sudden switch to an all-remote workforce. But what can they do to ease the pressure on the network, in the short run as well as the long run? We spoke with Mike Canney, client solution architect at network and application monitoring company Accedian, about some of the surprises that business have seen as their corporate networks strain to keep up with a flood of inbound connections. He talked about who has been hardest hit with network woes, what it means for the cloud transition and some “easy” fixes for network problems. 

What exactly does Accedian do? 

From a 10,000 foot view, Accedian really specializes in helping customers understand their networks and applications. All the way from monitoring the end-user experience to understanding, in a complex environment, where the response time problem may be. For example, a user hits enter and 30 seconds later gets the screen back. What caused that? What were the sources of delay, from layer two to layer sever, understanding the networking side as well as the system and application side? We’ve found that most organizations, especially enterprises, don’t actually know their network like they should. 

How does understanding your network related to a successful shift to remote work? 

Organizations are using networks in a way that they weren’t designed for. So Imagine the networks and systems were designed for maybe vendors to come in and monitor and repair their systems, or maybe for a handful of people who were on the road to connect and access resources. The VPN or remote access network in most organizations was not designed for everyone to be accessing it at the same time, and it’s not designed to handle primarily inbound traffic — it’s designed for outbound traffic. So we’ve been seeing this influx of traffic in scales of magnitude, compared to what these networks were designed for, especially in medium-sized organizations. 

Why medium-sized companies? 

We’ve seen this in small companies up to the Fortune 100, but the most impacted seem to have more than 2,000 employees but aren’t large enterprises. I suspect it’s because they’re less likely to have the budget to have a redundant architecture. A lot of these organizations didn’t buy or didn’t architect the biggest and baddest solutions available. 

What are some of the strategies companies can use to ease pressure on their networks? 

Right now there’s a big shift to kind of re-evaluate cloud migrations. Most companies have been planning on moving things to the cloud and have started on it and planned a staged approach, and this has really accelerated it. Another issue we’ve seen recently is just a need to understand what bandwidth requirements, what system requirements, are really needed to have users working from home. How do you prioritize the traffic? Do we need to upgrade our remote access services? How do we prioritize the business-critical traffic versus running all traffic, even local internet traffic, through the VPN? 

“We can set up split tunneling, which can really reduce the amount over the network, and we can also provide visibility, so we can see every transaction that comes over the remote access network.”

We can set up split tunneling, which can really reduce the amount over the network, and we can also provide visibility, so we can see every transaction that comes over the remote access network. To visualize how split tunneling works, if I’m working at home and listening to Spotify in the background, using split tunneling allows me to route my work through the VPN but use my local internet connection to connect to Spotify instead of send the music through the corporate network. Just using split tunneling can dramatically reduce the amount of bandwidth needed. 

Do you have any examples of companies that went from 2% remote workers to 100% remote? 

Yeah. I’d say the vast majority of our customers are in that situation. We have been helping these customers remedy the remote access situation, whether that is upgrading the VPN architecture or just increasing the bandwidth volume. A lot of smart organizations are looking at prioritizing what applications and what traffic comes back from the remote worker to the corporate network and looking for easy wins they could have with migrating those applications to the public cloud to alleviate some of that pain. 

Has there been anything that’s surprised you in the past couple of weeks?

I’ve been in the networking industry for a long time, so I’ve seen most congestion-related problems already. I was surprised, I suppose, by the number of organizations that hadn’t designed any kind of telecommuting plan, at least not large enough to handle this. 

Quite a few of our customers were surprised by the performance issues that they’re having, however. Not everyone understands how little inbound traffic most corporate networks were designed to handle. 

Feature image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.