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SD-WAN Work from anywhere

Powering Business Growth through Engaged Staff

Are your employees engaged, or simply going through the motions? Technology choice, the ability to work from anywhere, and a great end-user experience can have a real effect on job satisfaction – which has a real effect on your customers. VMware cloud solution strategist Stephen Porter explains tools, apps and architectures that can help employers create that engaging experience for their employees.

Regardless of industry or tenure, from cloud start up to established government department, it is the staff that ensure the customer is supported and happy. That means they need access to information to complete their role. 

Much staff dissatisfaction comes from this basic need to do their job effectively and contribute to the business success. When this is not met, grumblings occur. 

Embracing the challenge and providing an approach to this requirement—which meets both the corporate goals and improves the experience for the users—should be the nirvana for all IT departments.

In the highly competitive jobs market, it is important to develop approaches that attract and retain staff or enable further contracted or temporary resources.

The study, “The Distributed Work Dilemma: When Innovation and Job Satisfaction Compete,” conducted by Vanson Bourne on behalf of VMware, highlights how survey respondent’s views on where they feel they are most innovative are at odds with where they would prefer to work, with 82% of all respondents having higher job satisfaction if they can work from anywhere. In addition, more than half (57%) of respondents with anywhere and hybrid working policies, where they can work in an office and remotely, report increased morale, creativity (56%) and collaboration (55%) within their teams since prior to the pandemic.

VMware’s comprehensive solutions for working anywhere

VMware has recognised the need to deliver a comprehensive solution for our customers. The goal is to bring together elements to delight users, while enabling companies to complement existing tools—or radically transform the environment with a single integrated capability.

VMware solutions extend unified endpoint management, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), and a unified app catalog experience with new capabilities around security and employee experience. By integrating these industry-leading technologies into a single platform,  VMware enables a simpler user experience, avoids the management complexities and blind spots created by fragmented offerings, and avoids security that doesn’t work at the expense of experience and productivity.

In this blog I will focus on the virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and secure Access service edge (SASE) Networking elements, but please be aware that these are only part of the complete portfolio of capabilities needed for the solution. Click here to learn more about VMware’s complete portfolio of solutions that enable work from anywhere on any device.

Staff attraction

For many organisations the onboarding process is part of the first day in the office. Over the past few years, onboarding staff who are often remote has been a challenging situation. So, the enablement of staff for remote work is very important aspect of a modern hybrid work model, ensuring that full-time staff and contractors secure access to the corporate systems of record to help them to work effectively.

One of the ways to bring staff on side is to allow them a choice of a corporate-provided device, or to provide access to enterprise resources on their personal devices. A VDI deployment can provide very quick access to applications across any device type offering a wide range of use cases. But most importantly, this approach works with the user to allow a device that best suits their work style. When an employee is happy with their device, it engenders positive support, rather than making them use whatever device happens to be in an office cupboard at the time. Allowing Windows or Mac, or even a tablet instead of a laptop, to be their own choice could be a reason for individuals to join an organisation and recommend further colleagues to join.

Virtual desktop technologies allow the corporate applications to be delivered to any device as a packaged desktop or individual applications. New applications can be instantly added or updated to ensure a productive community of staff.    

Having SD-WAN is important when on-boarding employees because it allows for more efficient and secure connectivity to the company’s network and resources. SD-WAN uses software to dynamically manage and optimize network traffic, which can improve the performance and reliability of remote access for employees. Additionally, SD-WAN can provide enhanced security features, such as zero trust architecture and traffic segmentation, to protect against cyber threats and unauthorized access to company data. Overall, SD-WAN can help ensure that remote employees have seamless and secure access to the resources they need to be productive from day 1.    

Diversity and inclusion 

Organisations burdened with a skills shortage due to attrition or difficult recruitment market may be able to tap into an alternative approach which provides access to experience and skills. Attrition due to retirement, family or health commitments might be managed more effectively through offering flexible work arrangements with limited hours. The experience and knowledge from the experienced staff can be retained in the organisation to support customers and more importantly support other staff by acting as a mentor or SME for early-career employees. All applications and tools can be enabled on a VDI desktop, allowing remote access from staff home locations. The employees can use flexible working so their experience and skills are no longer lost completely to the business but enabled for the period staff can offer to the business, “clocking on or off “as they are available.    

To support employees with disabilities, VDI enables corporate applications to be accessed on individuals’ customised devices with improved graphics or specific keyboards. The use of VDI technologies can enable a more diverse pool of people to be available to work for organisations.

Remote enablement of staff  

During the pandemic, the remote enablement of staff was the main priority for many IT departments to get existing staff able to support the business.  However, there are many use cases for VDI to support recruitment for specific types of employees. Highly specialised staff with rare skills can benefit from the use of technology— taking the job to the staff, rather than forcing staff to relocate and travel into an office.  Highly skilled roles such as a radiography or designing with compute-intensive CAD can be enabled remotely by the VDI technologies. This approach allows HR teams to be creative in recruitment, allowing staff to be based in other countries and still be productive or offer hybrid working models. The staff can feel empowered and engaged with the organisation if their needs for family or work life balance is in their control. A side benefit of the flexible approach beyond the human value, is the ability to reduce costs with relocation charges, or additional travel charges or duplication of technology no longer required.

During 2020, VMware was able to deploy 9,000 VMware SD-WAN Edges in 9 business days for a customer in need of enabling staff to work in home office environments. The customer required its staff to have secure and optimized access to multiple cloud locations in addition to providing reliable connectivity to perform video calls to patients.

In an internal test conducted with VMware Horizon VDI hosted on Azure, home users with a single WAN connection who accessed a 4K training video over the internet suffered from a choppy experience with a 5% packet loss on the legacy WAN infrastructure. The same content viewed by users on VMware SD-WAN infrastructure experienced no choppiness in the video when the packet loss approached 15% over the WAN infrastructure.

Environment and sustainability goals   

There are many ways that the use of VDI can support corporate aspirations around environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. The reduction in energy consumption can be between 30-40% for on premises delivery. However, using hyperscaler platforms such as AWS, Azure or Google with carbon neutral datacentres can reduce the impact even further. Staff are now looking at the environmental credentials of organisations to determine if there is a good cultural fit before joining an organisation.   

ESG benefits can start with the ability to reuse older devices which have passed their traditional end of life deadline, or enable users to choose their device. These contribute to minimising the churn or duplication of devices. From simple low-powered thin clients to very expensive compute-intensive devices with an equally significant power footprint, VDI can change the way applications are delivered. This can drive efficiency in device diversity, the number of devices and the operational requirements for the device.

From an employee perspective, the use of VDI can reduce the number of trips to the office or remote locations. This applies to staff using the applications and to IT support staff required to keep the devices active and available for the staff. Reducing the use of cars, flights or public transport can dramatically cut the emissions and carbon footprint of the employee during their working day. This is illustrated by numbers from the pandemic period when people worked from home.

In 2020, electricity demand was depressed by 20% or more during periods of full lockdown in several countries. Global road transport activity was almost 50% below the 2019 average by the end of March 2020, and commercial flight activity was almost 75% below 2019 by mid-April.

International Energy Agency

Virtual desktops can be delivered from a variety of IT environments. From an ESG perspective and operationally, the most beneficial platform to deliver VDI from is the public cloud. All hyper-scalers have adopted VDI technologies and support the delivery of VDI services from their respective clouds. The environmental efficiency of a public cloud datacentre is well documented. When combined with the platform efficiency of the VDI solutions, the impact on the environmental credentials for an organisation is quite dramatic.   

Furthermore, by incorporating VDI with SD-WAN, a number of additional sustainability advantages can be harnessed. There are a few sustainability reasons for deploying SD-WAN:

  • Energy efficiency: SD-WAN can help reduce the energy consumption of network infrastructure by dynamically managing and optimizing network traffic. This can lead to a reduction in energy costs and a decrease in the carbon footprint of the organization.
  • Remote work: SD-WAN enables employees to work remotely, which can reduce the need for physical office spaces and the associated energy consumption, such as heating and lighting.
  • Network optimization: SD-WAN can help optimize the use of network resources by directing traffic over the most efficient path and dynamically adjusting to changing network conditions. This can reduce the need to overprovision network capacity and reduce energy consumption.
  • Cloud-based: SD-WAN solutions are often cloud-based, which can help reduce the need for large on-premises infrastructure. This can lead to a reduction in energy consumption and the carbon footprint of the organization.
  • Green networking: SD-WAN can support green networking features such as power-saving modes, which can help reduce energy consumption when network usage is low.

All these features of SD-WAN can help organizations reduce their environmental impact and meet sustainability goals.

Quick application access for front-line staff

With the economic situation and the desire to have staff closer to the customer, industry is embracing the need to make all staff more effective. Many staff interact with customers but do not normally have access to IT systems. Examples include airline staff, retail staff, and hospitality staff. In parallel, organisations are moving from paper-based or face-to-face processes to SaaS and remote services. The use of VDI desktop services can make all these disparate applications available to all staff on corporate-supplied or personally owned devices quickly with the benefit of single sign on and audited access.  The random collection of URLs with independent user ID and password combinations can become a memory.

This could benefit teams including compliance and training departments, or HR functions such as holiday or development management.

The ability to bring internal services and customer-facing services together and deliver them as a single easy to use experience for all staff will drive cost savings, delight customers, and improve the productivity score for the business.

Enabling modern collaboration services and giving access to internal systems for all (properly configured) devices will make staff more effective and reduce delays. This can also be an important part of the maintenance of culture, helping hybrid teams to be more connected and helping to support early-career staff. Inclusion and innovation can be enhanced or quashed by flexible working. The tools needed to support the process can be available, but it must be a deliberate exercise, not accidental.      

Building team culture is enabled with a wide variety of tools, not just team meeting via video calling, but embracing messaging, feedback surveys, video meeting and playback. The use of VDI can have a positive impact with the technologies built into the software to optimise the available bandwidth and improve the real time tools experience.

Furthermore, by rearchitecting the WAN with VMware SD-WAN, frontline workers can access applications in an optimized manner. This is achieved through application recognition, Dynamic Multipath Optimization™, and the ability to steer the application to the closest cloud service provider location where the application resides. It’s important to note that VMware SD-WAN is a certified Microsoft 365 Network Connectivity Partner. This means that any frontline worker accessing Microsoft 365 applications will have a consistent high-quality user experience. (Read our blog Always-On Collaboration with VMware Edge Network Intelligence and Microsoft 365 Informed Network Routing Integration to learn more.)

Advanced security: simplifying access

Talk to many employees about security in the workplace and it will be viewed with scepticism, as it is seen as inhibiting productivity. The tools and rules are often focused on blocking activities rather than enabling them in the right circumstances.

The use of the right tools can support the rules, and actually improve the experience of the users helping them to be productive with guiderails and shared information. Implementing zero-trust (ZTNA) or Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) approaches provides much more comprehensive security for organisations, with captured information and knowledge guiding a risk score which is tested regularly to prevent attacks and hacks. A modular approach to building the risk score can be adopted with information from available resources co-related together to build a profile of the user and requested connection.  The defined policy will grant or allow access to applications based on user, authority group, device, location, and connection type. The solution can support fully managed employees with corporate devices and remote staff on un-managed devices.

Consolidating information used to build the risk score enables the use of single sign-on technologies. The implied risk level can be applied across applications, granting access automatically and tuned for more sensitive applications with additional challenges to improve the experience for users. This does away with the typical multiple passwords and user IDs for different applications. Reducing the security friction optimises the user experience, and delights customers or partner businesses.  

Apps evolution: modernisation and maintenance 

One of the additional benefits of the use of a VDI infrastructure is the ability to simplify modernisation and management of applications. The centralised approach of delivering applications means that the users or staff can benefit from up-to-date secure applications. Patching and updates are delivered onto a single image centrally, which is shared out to the users with customisation applied at start-up to provide a user-specific profile.

The same is true when new versions or whole applications are required to be changed. Provision via a VDI session makes them available quickly to all staff or users. This enables fast access to new features which might aid the functional needs of the user, or deliver a completely new solution which has a better user interface or performance capabilities.     

Conclusion: happy, engaged staff  

The IT and HR or employee experience team can have a big impact on how engaged staff are in supporting the business goals. Research shows that 92% of business executives believe that engaged employees perform better, boosting the success of their teams and the outcomes of their organizations.

Research shows highly engaged workers who can work from anywhere are better performers.

The effective use of technology can support the delivery of corporate DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) goals, but more importantly can, through improving employee experience, make customers happy and more willing to continue to invest.

The breadth of employee experience can be boosted with the right strategy to retain skilled staff and the early career staff being mentored, with easy access to the broader knowledge base and experienced staff.

Compliance and productivity concerns can be addressed with the right IT solutions and a developed team culture. The use of SASE components supports security goals by enabling secure application performance improvements and deliver remote working possibilities which open up the recruitment team to access a bigger talent pool.

The right technologies can have a big impact on the organisation’s bottom line, with more motivated staff, able to provide meaningful support to the business helping to prevent burnout and a lack of job satisfaction.   

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