With little warning, COVID-19 forced large numbers of employees to leave their offices and begin working at home, where they expected fast, reliable access to enterprise services. IT managers had to scramble as the pandemic revealed weaknesses in network infrastructure, planning and management.

“The sudden surge of workers from known, planned and centralized locations to random far-flung corners of the Earth laid bare a litany of cut corners, deferred upgrades and short-sighted choices we had made in our respective networks over the years,” says John Annand, a research director specializing in technology roadmapping at Info-Tech Research Group. As a result, flexible and adaptable network technologies, capable of improving network availability and agility during a pandemic, such as SD-WAN, secure access service edge (SASE), and intent-based networking (IBN), weren’t available to many organizations.

Enterprises were able to accomplish the formidable feat of allowing teams of employees, spanning multiple business areas, to remain productive. Now, however, these same teams face a fresh challenge: handling the potential new security and privacy risks created by the rush to get remote workers connected. “The next few months will be critical as companies try to mitigate those risks without disrupting the remote working capabilities that employees are now accustomed to,” says Mike Kavis, chief cloud architect at Deloitte Consulting.

Rethinking network architectures

One weakness the pandemic revealed is that most current network infrastructures are designed with the assumption that workers are based in a central location—the office. “With many companies requiring workers to work remotely, they found that their networks had bottlenecks … and their workers were not able to access the resources they needed to do their jobs,” says Kowsik Guruswamy, CTO of cybersecurity technology provider Menlo Security. “In some cases, they weren’t even able to get to the Internet reliably because all their traffic had to go through a centralized security stack that did not have enough capacity.”