The number of people working from home has exploded in the pandemic, increasing by 500% from just 16% of employees at the beginning of the year to about 77% now, according to an IDG survey.
That's clearly had an influence on network infrastructure build-outs, and SD-WAN projects in particular. With fewer people working in branch offices, for example, there is a less pressing need to roll out SD-WAN to them to connect them to the enterprise data center. The pandemic has been, for SD-WAN vendors, "a major bump in the road," according to Shin Umeda, a Dell'Oro Group vice president.
The emergence of home SD-WAN
But there's another way of looking at this, and that's that home offices, particularly those inhabited by key executives and other important employees, are now branch offices - albeit very small ones.
This provides an opportunity for SD-WAN vendors to provide home-based SD-WAN offerings, and that explains why Masergy, the Plano, Texas-based managed SD-WAN provider, launched its SD-WAN Secure Home product earlier this month. Work-from-anywhere initiatives are exposing the limitations of VPN tunnels and the inadequacies of using home internet services for business purposes, the company says.
The product makes use of a lightweight Fortinet secure SD-WAN device, which is installed in each remote worker's home, and the company promises a "zero touch provisioning experience" to ensure that even the most technically clueless exec can get it up and running. (The hard stuff is carried out remotely by an IT manager through a client portal, with pre-provisioned devices sent out to staff members' homes.) Although that might not sound like a big deal, the truth is that people who have never worked from home before can end up being a serious drain on productivity if they can't get their home networking connections up and running easily, so it is quite a big deal if it really is "zero touch."
The service can run over Masergy's own private software-defined network, or, more importantly, it can run on top of a typical Verizon, AT&T, Comcast or any other ISP connection.
Once up and running, this provides a connection back to the main office with improved application performance through optimization, according to the company, as well as direct connections to an ecosystem of cloud services, avoiding going through the main corporate network.
The Masergy box also includes built-in next generation firewall and routing, and security is provided by secure access service edge (SASE) capabilities.
Will home SD-WAN catch on?
If home working remains a feature of corporate life in the long term, then products like SD-WAN Secure Home are going to be increasingly important. That's because the WAN will become the new LAN, everyone will need a WAN connection, and everyone will want it to be as easy as plugging a LAN cable into an Ethernet jack.
Next month the company is also intending to launch a product called SD-WAN on the Go. It's not clear how much SD-WAN there is in this, as the product consists of a multi-platform software client and VPN that uses IPsec tunnels and SASE-based security features to provide remote workers with a secure connection when they are outside their home.
It will be interesting to see if it catches on, but Masergy's new home SD-WAN offerings have the potential to change the conversation around SD-WAN.