With many lockdowns across the world easing, questions are being asked about what’s going to happen next; including whether the ‘new normal’ of remote working will remain a key trend over the months and years to come. Remote working changes many things: it has a decentralizing because data traffic flows become more widely dispersed. While this model may have advantages, such as enabling employees to take more control of their work-life-balance while creating benefits for the environment, due to fewer people getting into their cars and onto trains to commute to work. For example, these changes have led to a reduction in air pollution. However, the pandemic has also brought about some challenges around distinct data management, cyber-security and data security.
These challenges will require changes in data security policies and data management. Organizations’ IT departments will therefore need to adapt to remote working, which has emerged from the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdowns, to ensure they can play a role in supporting this transformation, while keeping the locks on data. Traffic is flowing in a different way to what it used to do, and with pressure on the internet as there are many more people are online, there will be a significant need to mitigate latency and packet loss, too. They need to be addressed to maximize data throughput across wide area networks (WANs) – such as the internet, without which the speed of data transmission will be sluggish.
Thankfully, WAN Data Acceleration can help organizations to mitigate latency and packet loss to enable faster and tightly secured data flows. While many home-working employees will be using their own domestic broadband to connect to the internet to do their work, there will still be a need to back up and restore large volumes of data quickly to ensure that the organization itself can maintain service continuity whenever a natural or manmade disaster strikes.
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Compared to WAN Data Acceleration, the traditional methods of mitigating latency and packet loss, such as WAN optimization or adding more bandwidth, and to a certain extent SD-WANs, just aren’t efficient enough. However, the key question is: What’s going to be the new normal? David Trossell, CEO and CTO of Bridgeworks, thinks it’s hard to say, asking, with the city of Leicester being put into a second localized lockdown: “How many people will be affected by a second wave of the virus, and how deep will the next lockdown be, if it happens?” There are also concerns about whether there will be more effective treatments and a vaccine against Covid-19.
Our past behavior involving how we commute to work is therefore being examined. He explains: “It has raised some questions over the sanity of the long daily commute in crowded public transport or cars with all the pollution that causes. Have employees or employers realized we don’t need to be all crammed into office space to do our jobs when they can be done just as easily from home? Equally, being so isolated can be a problem – how do you maintain a culture, what about those new employees – understanding how a company works and the minefield that needs to be skirted is picked up by a form of osmosis. Then again, we might get on the hamster wheel all over again and dismiss this phase in their life.”
Remote working realism
Lockdown has shown that for some types of work, it makes sense to enable people to work remotely, particularly when sufficient and efficient supporting infrastructure enables staff to carry out their work without impinging on their quality and performance output. Even software development and help desks could arguably be done from home, or from any other location today. There simply isn’t a need to be in the office all the time, and yet remote working does raise some IT security challenges and concerns.
Trossell therefore comments: “With GDPR and cybersecurity a constant threat, we need to extend to the edge those procedures and policies that form part of the corporate security; and this requires a lot more focus on using only heavily locked down corporate-provided computing platforms, and on having everything encrypted, including transmissions across the internet. “
Remote working makes data protection and cyber-security potentially more of a challenge than within a corporate environment. This increases the need to back-up data centrally to minimize risk. Trossell therefore agrees that the ‘new normal’ of increased remote working will require data to be backed up centrally, adding that for “many this will not cause problems.” Yet there will be sectors that will find it a significant challenge, and he gives the Media and Entertainment (M & E) sector as an example:
“Those dealing with large files such in the M & E industry will find that it can cause issues. The concerns are about how to move these large media files efficiently with the minimal overhead on the WFH equipment and the central storage facility.” Due to the large file sizes and the copious amounts of data being created by the sector during production and post-production, the organizations involved need very powerful machines, and many of them may be scattered around various countries, located miles apart around the world.
He explains: “This raises the issue of how they service them and questions about whether they all have powerful rending machines at their disposal. “This is expensive, and so the alternative option is to have a central machine and then link them through with something like a virtual network computer (VNC). This is where latency kicks in, over long distances.”
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WAN Op troubles
The trouble is that the traditional methods of dealing with latency and packet loss aren’t up to the job as much as people expect them to be. This includes WAN optimization, increasing bandwidth in the belief that it will reduce latency and packet loss, and even SD-WANs on their own without a WAN Data Acceleration overlay. Let’s take WAN optimization: it has its uses but it’s not good for sending and receiving encrypted data, and it does little to mitigate latency and packet loss. However, in solutions such as PORTrockIT, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning, voluminous amount of encrypted data can be transmitted and received over a wide area network (WAN) at speed by mitigating the effects of latency and packet loss.
Trossell adds: “Let’s face it, we’re all paranoid about data security, especially over the internet. Yes, we can use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and such like, but many organizations will want to keep the data encrypted on the storage and transmit it in its encrypted state before hitting the firewall or VPN. If you are using SD-WANs and or WAN-Optimization tools, then these are not going to work for you.” In stark contrast, he says, solutions such as PORTrockIT “dramatically improve data throughput up to 98 percent – regardless of distance, and data is secured without touching it to maintain security protocols, governance & compliance.”
In conclusion, he believes that remote working is here to stay for a few years to come until people feel safe from the virus. However, he adds: “The issue on the horizon is how to build the companies’ esprit de corps when we are all isolated, working remotely. Many employment sociologists are worrying how new hires are going to learn to create inter-personal and inter-personnel relationships that make a company tick.” So, with the lockdown easing in many parts of the world, some things aren’t likely to change any time soon. There is even the possibility that the ‘new normal’ will soon become the normal, rather than normality, as everyone once knew it. Remote working therefore has a future, and it will change the way data is managed.
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Graham Jarvis, freelance business and technology journalist