Very few initiatives help IT departments save money while they increase the reach and service of their infrastructure; but a well thought-out remote access strategy can do just that. It can help IT give distributed users the access they need to the information and resources they require from wherever they are located, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And, if done right, a remote access strategy can reduce the complexity and ongoing security and management headaches that have typically resulted from extending the reach of the network to remote users.
This is a boon considering IT departments struggle daily to support the ever-increasing number of users who are traveling or working remotely and provide them predictable, always-available access to the relevant applications and services they need to move the business forward. Researchers have found that one in three information workers telecommute at least occasionally. According to Forrester's 2009 IT Services Survey, mobile professionals make up 28% of the information (knowledge) workforce, on average using five different locations. This percentage is likely to continue to go up, as 40% of the enterprises surveyed reported that at least 10% of their employees travel out of the office on a weekly basis; and on any given week, 35% of the enterprises had at least 10% of their employees working from home.
One of the best underlying solutions available to support this remote access is SSL VPNs. IT departments are increasingly using SSL VPNs to replace their costly, legacy remote access solutions, finding it a much more flexible and user-friendly solution. Using an Internet connection and a Web browser, end users can easily and securely log in to their VPN and access all or a subset of their corporate applications as specified by the IT manager's security policies. Forrester found that two-thirds of the North American-based, multinational businesses they surveyed have implemented SSL VPNs, predicting that the percentage will go up to 70% by mid-2010.
As a result, the real opportunity is to make sure organizations revisit their remote access strategies and get the most leverage from their remote access solutions. Most organizations are using SSL VPNs for a singular use case, but the same technology can be used to support multiple applications, including:
- Telecommuting — providing employees who regularly work away from the office easy, secure access to the resources they need to do their job.
- Mobile access — enabling employees who are traveling or unable to make it into the office, due to weather, illness, or disaster, a reliable connection to continue to work.
- Partner extranets — allowing businesses to securely grant the individuals and organizations (such as suppliers, partners, distributors, etc.) that make up their extended operations access to the information and resources they need to conduct business.
By using the same underlying platform, organizations can maximize their investments and reduce the overall costs that would be associated with having to manage multiple, different IT environments.
Another trend uncovered in Forrester's survey is that more and more companies are interested in using a third party to manage their remote access VPN service, citing the primary benefits of being able to simplify IT operational management, allow IT to focus on core competencies, and achieve overall cost savings. It makes sense when you think of the costs and complexity associated with deploying an in-house solution that can support hundreds or even thousands of users located around the world. Managed VPN services, including increasingly popular cloud-based VPN services, are able to provide organizations with a secure, cost-effective solution that delivers consistent performance, regardless of location, and can easily be scaled to meet the changing needs of the organization. Managed service providers also offer advanced performance and security options that can further accelerate application response times and protect against common Internet threats aimed at remote workers.
A well thought-out remote access strategy can become a differentiator for an organization, supporting high-level business objectives that deliver strategic value. It can support disaster recovery preparedness, reduce environmental impacts, and create a flexible work environment that gives the organization an improved ability to attract and retain top talent. The Polling Company, for example, found that employees valued the ability to work remotely more than stock options and onsite child care. In addition there are real productivity benefits as home-based information workers work an average of two hours more per week. This represents a conservative 5% increase in productivity, which when calculated against a $1 billion payroll can represent $50 million annually in efficiency gains.
It is not often you can develop an IT strategy that is able to play defense (save money) and offense (improve reach to boost productivity and business continuity) at the same time. In the face of these myriad benefits, it is worth it for organizations to make the transition to a more strategic and effective remote access strategy to ensure business can be done from anywhere at anytime to maintain or increase their competitive edge.
Ron Haigh is the Vice President of Technology and Customer Solutions at Virtela, where he is responsible for the global managed network services company's cloud strategy. Ron has an extensive technological background in the fields of scientific computing, high-performance networks, and nuclear physics diagnostics. Prior to Virtela, Ron was a senior member of the technical staff at Qwest and a R&D group leader at Lawrence Livermore National Labs.