Reliably and securely connecting remote users to applications and services is not a trivial task. In today’s world, the new reality is that enterprises must be prepared to support a “work from anywhere” model, or at a minimum support a growing number of remote users. This means, it’s critical that businesses not only architect the network appropriately, such that it assures the quality of experience for IT and takes into account the rollout and management and the end user in terms of application performance, but that the implementation is second to none.
You can read more about various distributed workforce options here, including a work from anywhere reference architecture. However, in this blog I’ll detail a use case from a technical perspective for call center agents – specifically, businesses with agents that utilize zero clients. This scenario is based on Silver Peak customer TrialCard that needed to react quickly and efficiently to support an immediate transition to a remote workforce in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. TrialCard literally extended its SD-WAN deployment to 400+ remote call agents and went live in less than two weeks, without disruption to their business. You are probably familiar with client-based VPNs, as many enterprises have these software solutions in place today. But there are times when these solutions will not fully address the user performance requirements or hardware needs that dictate a physical demarcation point.
Unlike traditional PCs or even thin clients, a zero client contains an extremely limited set of compute and software options. Most do not run a traditional OS, but simply contain firmware programmed to point the client towards a data center server. In a normal branch or call center deployment, the zero clients are connected to a trusted LAN. The call center will likely then have one or more high-speed WAN links for connectivity to the data center. This configuration is straightforward for IT staff to deploy; while maintenance and patching tasks are simplified. However, when the workforce is mandated to decamp traditional office settings and begin working remotely from home offices these former benefits pose a new challenge: How to extend a LAN-like high quality of experience network into employee homes?
SD-WAN provides a possible solution. Using zero-touch provisioning the Silver Peak Unity EdgeConnect™ SD-WAN edge Ultra-Small (US) and Extra-Small (XS) appliances can be quickly deployed to agents’ homes. Home users simply plug in their zero client to a LAN port on the EdgeConnect appliance. From the perspective of the zero client, it appears to be connected to the corporate LAN.
EdgeConnect enforces software-defined application routing policies in the form of business intent overlays. Standardized QoS policies ensure that VoIP and VDI traffic receive proper treatments, while security policies block any unwanted applications. All allowed traffic benefits from Silver Peak industry-leading path conditioning capabilities paired with unified WAN optimization. These combined capabilities deliver a quality of experience for the work from the home user that can’t be easily matched.
Indeed, forward-thinking Silver Peak enterprise customer TrialCard has done exactly this. At the outset of confirmed US cases of the COVID-19 virus this distributed enterprise took proactive steps to protect their call center workforce and business. As a company that takes medical-related phone calls, it was not an option for them to suspend business during this crisis. Nor would poor quality phone calls or slow applications be acceptable.
The TrialCard IT team immediately began reaching out to its vendors and made contact with our local Silver Peak account team. Given the urgency, could the Silver Peak team provide a quick turn around on a test device? Thankfully the local Systems Engineer was able to safely hand deliver test gear the next business day. This customer then had to consider its options. Traditional VPN clients were considered, but quickly ruled out for the reasons above.
By the end of a long day, TrialCard selected Silver Peak. A key factor was our ease of deployment and a proven track record of protecting voice and optimizing business-critical applications. The customer was then able to move quickly on a phased purchase approach with the first 100 units delivered within the week.
Silver Peak was able to help TrialCard leverage its existing branch SD-WAN to create an ExtraNet SD-WAN capable of supporting hundreds of remote call agents now working from their homes. Building on their own process of gathering the other requisite hardware, the customer then leveraged the templates and ZTP profiles within Unity Orchestrator™ to complete first phase deployments for agents within seven days.
Just as important, now with all these new agents deployed from home offices was the IT staff’s visibility into the health of each broadband connection. Orchestrator provides rich built-in reporting capabilities at no additional charge delivering robust insight into each user’s quality of experience. Furthermore, the EdgeConnect SD-WAN edge platform provides the ability to condition the path to overcome some instances of degradation
In congested networks, some packet loss is expected. This is often the case with home broadband services. Real-time applications like voice and video are particularly susceptible to packet loss that severely impacts quality. Modern codecs compress VoIP payloads and are extremely intolerant to packet loss. Loss of greater than 0.5 percent of a VoIP UDP stream can cause a noticeable drop in call quality. This loss usually occurs upstream and is out of the control of remote workers.
In less than a calendar week, TrialCard went from placing an order to deploying 300+ agents. Even more incredible, if the hardware shipping times are subtracted this customer brought online an average of 100 EdgeConnect appliances each day. That’s an unprecedented ramp-up “curve”. The goal of this project is to enable as many as 600 agents to work productively from home, enabling TrialCard to deliver uninterrupted service to their customers through this healthcare crises. Going from 0 remote workers to 400 in less than two weeks of work is nothing short of incredible. And the team isn’t finished, it plans to add an additional 200 sites in the coming weeks.
Wherever your company finds itself along the digital transformation journey, we know connectivity is fundamental. Events of recent weeks have left no question that your connectivity needs must include options for quickly enabling a remote workforce to maintain business continuity.
Watch this on-demand webcast to learn how to securely connect a remote workforce to business applications in the data center or the cloud.
Watch this webcast to learn how TrialCard extended its SD-WAN to support 400+ remote workers, going live in under two weeks, all while maintaining business productivity and continuity.