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Software-defined home offerings drive remote productivity

Say hello to software-defined home, a 'branch of one' package that combines professional-grade Wi-Fi, security, SD-WAN and centralized management for remote workers.

Tens of millions of employees now require a secure, high-quality application experience for their remote and home offices. Legacy options, such as VPNs and consumer-grade Wi-Fi, affect user productivity and impair security and compliance.

Software-defined home (SD-home) offerings are now becoming available, which encompass the benefits of software-defined WAN and software-defined branch -- such as the application prioritization, reliability and centralized management of SD-WAN and the converged LAN, WAN and security of SD-branch -- for a "branch of one."

Expanding remote workforce

The experiences of most employees working at home during 2020 have brought an end to old assumptions that an organization's productivity is dependent on treating the office as a factory. Most white-collar work can be done from anywhere at any time, and many employees like the freedom to work from home -- at least some of the time -- and the benefits of not commuting to and from the office every day during rush hour.

Worldwide, tens of millions of employees will choose to work full time at home during 2021 and beyond. As the COVID-19 health situation improves, tens of millions more will migrate to a hybrid model in which they go to an office a couple days a week for the benefit of interaction with their team.

IT organizations need to deploy new technology to support this large percentage -- 30% to 70% -- of employees who no longer come to the office every day. Remote users require reliable, fast access to cloud-based and on-premises applications. IT organizations need options that are easy to provision, guarantee security and enable rapid troubleshooting with centralized management consoles. Home offerings should be simple to use, flexible and cost-effective.

Introducing software-defined home

SD-home offerings use the advances in software networking to offer a unified option for professionals who spend significant time working at home. This one-box SD-home package should provide the following capabilities:

  • professional-grade Wi-Fi;
  • built-in security -- both on premises and cloud, based on zero-trust network access (ZTNA);
  • application prioritization with SD-WAN and routing functionality;
  • zero-touch provisioning;
  • centralized management, updating and control; and
  • support for multiple WAN links, including 4G LTE and 5G.

A number of networking suppliers have introduced SD-home offerings that meet most, if not all, of these requirements -- e.g., Cisco, Citrix, Cradlepoint, HPE Aruba and Versa Networks. Prices are typically about $1,000 per home but are likely to decline as volumes increase. Aryaka offers a managed network remote access option. Other innovative suppliers are focused on software-based ZTNA offerings to replace VPNs and improve secure, remote UX, including Ananda Networks, Elisity, Infiot and Tempered, among others.

5G for the home

Current mobile networks offer performance of 100 Mbps or more, with speeds that will continue to increase as 5G networks roll out. For home users, 4G and 5G offer both private connectivity and ideal backup options if the primary internet circuit becomes degraded.

As mobile data pricing moves to unlimited and becomes bundled in corporate plans, 4G and 5G connections will be increasingly attractive to home and mobile employees. Over the next several years, 4G and 5G mobile services will become a standard option for SD-home deployments.

Deploying and managing home-based network and security platforms at scale is now a priority for most IT organizations.

Software-defined home market opportunity

Providing improved remote and home networking options will be a key area of investment for IT organizations in 2021 and beyond. Options for IT include providing a complete SD-home offering -- one centrally managed box with Wi-Fi, security and SD-WAN -- replacing VPNs with ZTNA platforms and subsidizing remote employee home setups, such as upgrading broadband or Wi-Fi and adding 5G.

The market for SD-home offerings will be driven both by a significant increase in employees that work from home permanently and from workers who choose a hybrid model of working at home two to three days a week. Doyle Research forecasted that the worldwide market for networking and security spending at home will exceed $10 billion by 2024, including new network and security hardware, software, cloud services and bandwidth upgrades.

Plan for the long term

Deploying and managing home-based network and security platforms at scale is now a priority for most IT organizations. IT leaders need to look beyond the short term toward long-term architectures that will support the large numbers of employees who will continue to work at home at least some of the time.

SD-home offerings must provide reliable, high-quality access to all applications. They need to be easy to deploy and use and have powerful centralized management capabilities. Remote access cannot be a distinct silo; it needs to be integrated with the organization's overall network and security architectures. Suppliers should provide home offerings that range in price and features, including all-in-one hardware and software-only and cloud-based options to meet the varying requirements of employees and their organizations.

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