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SD-WAN for remote workers - The Rise of “Desk-as-a-Service”

John McVicker

"You can't build an adaptable organisation without adaptable people--and individuals change only when they have to, or when they want to". --Gary Hamel


The commercial world of 2021 has had to find ways to become more adaptable in light of the pandemic of 2020, providing staff who have had to find evolved ways to work supported by new tools, operational models and technology. We have seen that the overall adaptability of an organisation and its effectiveness to support the staff in enabling them to fulfil their roles is crucial to that business's commercial success and viability. And yet, many organisations believe that this adaptability is optional, temporary and not a long-term prospect, believing that they can survive by using the "old way" of operating – they cannot.

Against this backdrop of this Black Swan event of 2021 and structural market change, many organisations have, understandably and sensibly, modified working practices to decouple staff from having to come to an office to perform their daily work tasks – working from home has become the norm. Many of Silicon Valley's most high-profile names have embraced this as the default working practice for their staff, and so it would be hard to discount the significant shift in working practices which is now remote working or working from home.


It feels like we are repeatedly made aware that we can all leave our chosen urban suburb and move to the beach, the mountains or the countryside and continue to perform the role and complete the jobs that we used to complete in an office. And whilst that is true in large part, much of this change relies on technology to do its job.


The SD-WAN infrastructure has been at the centre of many organisations, enabling them to extend their applications to support remote workers in many disparate locations. What was formerly a reasonably uncomplicated network infrastructure with a few large sites with concentrated staff members has now become more dispersed and needs to support staff in many different locations. The network has evolved from probably supporting 10-20 locations with reasonably rich and extensive connectivity to helping hundreds of end locations with relatively modest network connectivity.

Fortunately, SD-WAN technology enables organisations to modify their network infrastructure to prioritise application and user traffic, deploy new applications quickly. 


It also provides a networking infrastructure that can support this quantum shift in how businesses now operate - a network that embraces different connectivity types ranging from mobile connections, right through the ADSL and Fibre connections. Adding new links quickly, prioritising traffic differently, adding new applications, and optimising their performance. This has meant that those organisations which deployed an SD-WAN service are far more likely to support remote working with minimal disruption to operations.


This necessary change in working practices – lots of people working in a few centralised locations – can now give way to decentralised methods. 

Many people are working in many decentralised and dispersed locations, with the business evolving both operational and general business models to embrace a different way of working, all against the backdrop of trying to stay in business, keep clients happy and maintain some form of income.

And yet several years before organisations looked at embracing a Software Defined Network infrastructure, many had taken the step to adopt a virtualised desktop infrastructure. This approach provided employees with a secure, homogenous, controlled and "anywhere accessible" desktop that enabled them to embrace other remote working aspects where the desktop was virtualised and the network more physically defined and controlled. 


It was pioneered by vendors that included the best and brightest of the technology industry. This quantum shift in decoupling employees from the need to maintain a physical "tether" to their hardware or location. This thinking's genesis enabled SD-WAN infrastructure to flourish and employees to be so relatively comfortable with the whole notion of remote working. 


However, this remote, virtualised and Software-defined operating environment still has hardware elements at its core, all of which need to be installed, maintained, and services to enable the user to continue to function remotely. This physical infrastructure - keyboards, screens, routers, wireless access points, laptops, desktops etc., give rise to the notion of Desk-as-a-Service - a similar concept fo the idea of a Virtualised Desktop Infrastructure.


So what is this Desk-as-a-Service (Daas)? 


In short, it takes all of the hardware elements that a user might have. It provides a simplified installation, maintenance and preventative maintenance to each user, on a price-per-user-per-month basis. 


They were echoing SaaS providers and VDI providers' standard commercial models. The complementary model ensures that all remote users (no matter their location, connectivity type or seniority) are provided with an onsite support service for installation and break-fix issues, for a fixed and predictable monthly fee. 


Gone are the frantic calls to replace a broken PC or upgrade the hardware to accommodate new applications. All users need is access to their work SD-WAN, applications delivered and prioritised across that SD-WAN and service to support their hardware so that they can continue to operate, no matter their location.


In light of Gary Hamel's words above, it is clear that for organisations to adapt and grow, not only do the staff have to change but the people and operational models that, in turn, support those organisations have to change. 


Gone are the days of providing support to a single or a low number of physical locations. With the rise of SD-WAN technologies and the array of vendors offering service in this market space, it is only logical the service that supports all of those elements needs to look and operate in a manner that is complementary to that approach. 


In that way, not only can the staff adapt as the business itself adapts, but the network, the applications that they use and the support mechanism that enables staff to keep working. It also needs to adapt and deliver a better service to fit these evolved technological and operational models. 

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