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The COVID-19 pandemic made remote work technologies a necessity for day-to-day business. Microsoft Teams, Webex, Zoom and other collaboration offerings took the place of in-person meetings, sales calls and industry events.
Other technologies, however, have toiled behind the scenes to support distributed workforces. These technologies will continue to evolve as remote operations persist in the coming months. Panelists at the CompTIA ChannelCon conference, which concluded Aug. 4, discussed the technical underpinnings of home offices and unattended workplaces.
Zero trust, SASE emerge as essential
An increase in remote work has prompted a rise in zero-trust implementations, and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) has also landed on enterprise technology agendas. Zero trust emphasizes user and device authentication to grant network access -- a security approach that's well-suited to remote workforces that blur traditional network boundaries. SASE, based on cloud architecture, can scale to accommodate increases in the number of remote workers.
"Technologies around the zero-trust architecture and Secure Access Service Edge became critically important," said Tracy Holtz, vice president of security solutions, North America, at distributor Tech Data.
Holtz, who participated in the CompTIA panel, also identified VPN, SD-WAN and web application firewalls as pivotal remote work technologies. "Those will become a continued focus for every company as we evolve ... hybrid work environments," she said.
During the pandemic, more than 150 of Holtz's Tech Data team members transitioned from occasional to full-time remote work.
AI and ML bolster security
Artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML) have also contributed to remote work security, although largely out of view.
"A lot of the ways AI has impacted this area [have] been in ... background processes," said Lloyd Danzig, chairman and founder of the International Consortium for the Ethical Development of Artificial Intelligence. Pattern recognition, used in ML, provides one example.
"There's a lot of pattern recognition involved in the cybersecurity protocols that keep companies safe every day during the normal course of business," Danzig said. That includes when people access servers from all over the country.
Pattern recognition lets people "work much more fluidly from home using their own devices," he added.
Tracy HoltzVice president of security solutions, North America, Tech Data
IoT supports lights-out operations
IoT, meanwhile, plays a role back in the main office, as many workforces remain highly distributed.
"IoT, from a sensor perspective, has been a very important part of moving our world forward," said Robert Senatore, CEO at Data2Go Wireless, an IoT network services provider. "We have a lot less people who are actually going to an office ... so IoT, the automation and the data collection through sensors, and other pieces of wireless hardware, have been really important to ... capture the data."
He cited examples of sensors that provide temperature readings or indicate whether doors open or close. IoT, he said, helps businesses maintain control of their offices, gain information and take action on that information.
The future: Drones boost remote connectivity
Many remote workers have experienced poor connectivity -- in densely populated cities where peak-use periods can affect service quality, for example.
Kimberly Penn, founder and CEO at Professor Drones, a drone consultant based in Houston, suggested drones could provide a connectivity boost. "It would be amazing to have a drone associated with 5G and some of the other [high-speed internet] technologies that ... could tether and help us stay connected," she said.