As cloud applications are becoming prominent tools for employee productivity, communication and data storage, the need to adopt a wide area network (WAN) has become increasingly important for IT decision makers. Read more in this TechPulse Whitepaper.
Non-HQ Offices Bypass Data Centers for Cloud Apps
The cloud is rapidly becoming the communications and collaboration hub of nonheadquarters locations—and it’s not “shadow IT” driving the shift away from corporate hubs. A recent survey indicates, overwhelmingly, that IT strategists are the key decision-makers shifting branch offices to cloud-based apps that support communications and collaboration needs of distributed organizations.
IDG Research Services recently polled IT decision-makers to find out how and why they are connecting remote branch and satellite locations to the cloud. In the poll, 100 decision-makers—47% at the C level and 28% at vice president and senior VP levels—provided insights into how changing business needs are rapidly recasting fulfillment of application needs for workers across the distributed enterprise.
Cloud-based productivity apps such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google’s G Suite are in use at 70% of the organizations represented in the survey. “CIOs and IT managers are increasingly adopting Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google’s G Suite for collaboration, productivity and messaging,” observed CIO. Chat and document collaboration features are increasingly integrated with these core applications to boost worker productivity.
Further highlighting how cloud-based communication and collaboration, as opposed to traditional hub-based wide-area networks (WANs), are driving branch office connectivity, 59% of the survey respondents said non-HQ workers are using audio- and videoconferencing apps and 56% are using file-sharing apps such as Dropbox.
“What we’re seeing is the Internet breakout, where many needs of local offices can bypass the traditional corporate hub and go directly to a cloud provider to directly access apps,” says Jeff Lewis, vice president of product management with Comcast Business.
It’s not just productivity and collaboration driving branch apps. More than 40% of the survey respondents said their branch locations are also relying on the cloud for traditionally data center-oriented applications such as CRM, financial management, and customer service.
Digital transformation strategies are a primary driver behind these cloud decisions, according to 63%. But even though this reveals that applications are becoming increasingly decentralized, an even greater percentage—82%—cited IT strategy as the driver, indicating that decision-making continues to reside within the centralized IT organization. Line-of-business directives (49%) and customer experience initiatives (46%) are lesser factors in decision-making.
The findings echo those of a broader IDG 2018 Digital Transformation report that found that most enterprises have plans to adopt a digital-first business strategy, although just under half of those are just in the process of gathering information or beginning to formulate a strategy. That report indicates that half of the surveyed companies equate becoming a digital business with enabling worker productivity through tools such as mobile, data access and AI-assisted processes (52%), and the ability to better manage business performance through data availability and visibility.
“There is a big uptick in demand for direct access, particularly for productivity apps, as IT tries to support more autonomous branch locations,” Lewis adds. “This is a lot more efficient than a traditional ‘hairpin’ approach that depends on back-hauling app traffic to and from the corporate data center and then out to the cloud.”
Seismic shift in the WAN
Modernization of the WAN is a key element in achieving digital transformation goals, but the survey indicates there is substantial disparity in how decision-makers believe they should best connect non-HQ locations to the cloud.
“Many organizations are still conforming to what they already have in terms of network architecture and capacity and adjusting their IT vision within that framework, rather than starting from a more progressive perspective of what the business needs in order meet and exceed evolving customer expectations,” Lewis says.
The largest segment of the survey base, 37%, view adopting either hybrid WAN or SD-WAN options as the best way to achieve cloud connectivity for future needs in branch locations. The preferred option for 31% is cloud-direct connect, connecting their private networks to a public cloud provider via business-grade Ethernet. Another 14% are looking to utilize peered cloud gateways—essentially using public broadband to connect to a service provider that then routes traffic over its own private network to other cloud services.
“The vast majority of our customers’ branch locations are tracking to use Internet breakout for public cloud access,” says Lewis. “That’s the fastest, most cost-effective way to increase capacity to take on these transformation initiatives.”
Expanding WAN options
SD-WAN may be the ultimate hybrid WAN option, as it adds a control layer on top of existing network infrastructure to enable centralized policy management of critical network functions while eliminating the need for single-purpose appliances. SD-WAN can connect users to cloud providers over the public Internet or route over secure virtual private networks to the MPLS-based corporate hub.
Utilizing an application-aware SD-WAN, administrators can set up dynamic policies that direct traffic over the best path, based on application priority and the status of network connections. Traffic routing can fail over to another link—automatically and dynamically—to meet varying demands on capacity and application performance.
Collaboration and communications are increasingly driving branch office connectivity to bypass corporate hubs in favor of going directly to the cloud. But many will continue to rely on those hubs for critical applications that aren’t readily suited for cloud hosting due to latency and performance issues.
Comcast Business SD-WAN, the first virtualized network function available with its ActiveCore SDN platform, provides centralized, integrated management of network functions such as IP VPN, routing, and firewall. For more information on how that can help you transform branch and satellite office networking, go to ComcastBusiness.com/enterprise