Written by: Sebastian Grabski, Sales Engineer at Zscaler
Mobile employees, distributed enterprises, and the move to the cloud are all forces that are driving organisations to transform their networks. But what about the arrival of 5G? Are you prepared for how that will affect your network?
The growth of the mobile workforce and the need to provide a user experience that’s comparable to that in the office is a key component of a transformation initiative. In the office, the experience is generally transparent and seamless. Employees open up their laptops, connect to the Wi-Fi, and get access to all necessary resources. Organizations (most notably Cisco) touted technology to try to bring this seamless work experience to the home worker. There was a catch, though. Employees would need to install a router at home that had Wi-Fi SSID associated with the corporate VPN, so they could seamlessly connect to a corporate network without a clumsy VPN client.
This concept worked well as long as the applications resided in the company’s data center. Once corporate applications moved to the cloud, employees once again suffered a poor user experience, even if they had a state-of-the-art corporate router at home. Why? Well, imagine this scenario: You have 100Mbps internet access at home and you’re backhauling traffic to the company’s office to then exit to the internet—a methodology used by other co-workers at the exact same time. This definitely slows network performance and affects user productivity, no matter which applications or data are being accessed.
An ideal user experience
How do we define user experience? The simplest definition might be fast and hassle-free access to applications. Who likes to wait for a document to pop up or an application to open? This becomes even more pertinent once you start using cloud applications, such as Office 365 or G Suite. User experience is one of the reasons why Microsoft is suggesting direct internet access for Office 365 applications. Traffic backhauling to a central gateway has a significant impact on user experience and is a source of continuous complaints.
However, direct internet access—allowing traffic to bypass security controls—is not safe. That’s why organizations have built a security perimeter around the corporate network with a large stack of appliances, but it would be impractical to replicate such an infrastructure at home or in every branch office. Does that leave remote employees no choice but to backhaul traffic to the place that provides an appropriate level of security? There has to be a better option in the age of the cloud when users and applications have left the perimeter.
5G will be a game-changer
When applications are in a cloud, fast internet access is more important than ever. What if your laptop or mobile phone has faster internet access than your corporate network? What would you do? Keep on using corporate, shared internet access or use your superior mobile access? People usually go the way of least resistance. If they can do things faster and with a better user experience, they will.
This is what 5G will bring—a predicted performance boost of a factor of 10 over 4G. Unprecedented speed for the end user is predicted to be available toward the second half of 2019. This internet speed is expected to be so enticing that employees will skip the office network and connect directly to the internet. Whether enterprises like it or not, this will become a technical reality in the near future. The question is whether enterprises are ready for it from a security point of view.
Security implications of 5G
A mobile workforce directly accessing the internet requires an infrastructure transformation as traditional hub-and-spoke networks combined with VPN gateways are not designed for mobility. Users need to be secured, but it’s impossible to replicate perimeter functionality on every laptop. Security needs to be applied on the way to the internet—it needs to sit between the user and applications in the cloud—without traffic backhauling. From a corporate point of view, visibility across the entire enterprise network, including connected device traffic, will be critical in defending corporate assets from hackers.
To address these security challenges, some companies are trying to build security stacks in public clouds. This might sound like a reasonable approach. But the reality is this solution poses more challenges than benefits. The challenges are mostly operation- and performance-related, which have a dramatic impact on reliability. The only reasonable approach is to build a specialized distributed security cloud that will handle user traffic regardless of location. This cloud-based platform must be able to handle user traffic and clear it from malware, enforce business policies, and ensure that nothing bad comes in and nothing good leaves.
The near future
Let’s take a leap into the near future when 5G has eventually arrived and has become a commodity. Are enterprises ready for it? Is your network ready for mobile users browsing a web via 5G at speeds above 1Gbps? The time to think about this is now. IT decision-makers will be instrumental in ensuring businesses are taking the necessary precautions and investing in the right tools to protect themselves when embarking on their digital transformation journeys.
In the reality of this modern workplace, the internet will become the new network where business takes place. Are you ready for this new reality?
Mr Grabski has been with Zscaler for half a year. He brings about 19 years of experience in the technology industry, having held a number of engineering positions.