Full velocity or bumper-to-bumper traffic: how is your network faring during CV-19?

Full velocity or bumper-to-bumper traffic: how is your network faring during CV-19?

May 7, 2020

When COVID-19 took hold our lives changed overnight and businesses across all sectors migrated their workforces suddenly—and urgently—to remote working conditions.

But at what cost to IT networks?

While most businesses would be equipped for a portion of their workforce to be working remotely at any one time, few were ready for the ‘all in’ migration and the surge in demand that occurred, seemingly overnight.

In the midst of a very busy time for our Network Engineers, we pulled aside Jason Neatherway, our recently appointed Head of Solutions – Networks, to enlighten us on the complexities, risks and opportunities the current climate brings from an IT network infrastructure perspective, and highlight the lessons all businesses must learn for the future.

 

Welcome to the team…since joining DX in March of this year, it’s safe to say you have had a baptism of fire!

Yes…it’s fair to say we have all seen an unusual and challenging start to 2020. Both in our day to day life and the sorts of challenges impacting industry and business.

 

How do you personally describe the mass exodus from campus-based workplaces to working from home, from a networks perspective?

I have been likening it to diverting a freeway down a back street. Businesses are still trying to adapt to the change in demand from both internal users and customers. In IT infrastructure we need to make reasonable assumptions in capacity planning, but then also need to be adaptable to the unexpected scenarios like we have seen this year.

 

What networking systems are the most affected?

We’re seeing stress on networking systems that support connectivity such as Remote Access VPN, Application Delivery and Security Gateways as some of those with the most significant change.

Remote access is an obvious area of impact with staff working from home VPN devices require adequate licencing, concurrency of users, throughput and interface capacity to provide users ongoing access to internal business applications.

Application delivery functions, such as load balancer or application firewall may also see a sudden change in demand due to changing customer engagement for retail and education sectors.

Security remains as important as always and gateway security devices such as firewall and intrusion prevention are also seeing additional load, as traffic normally confined to the campus LAN is now traversing security domains such as DMZ.

 

How are these issues manifesting for workforces’ remote-working teams, end-user clients and operational delivery?

If these network bottlenecks are realised it can greatly impact productivity of remote users when they experience connectivity loss or the frustrating delay in performing routine tasks.  More significantly they can also inhibit critical business functions. Similar user experience for end customers will ultimately impact online revenue streams.

 

What kind of shift should business be considering now, and in the future, to mitigate these issues?

As mentioned, capacity and dimensioning for disaster scenarios is an important planning phase for network services. Business should consider the network dimensioning they need to support their services, and implement observability of those functions so they can effectively manage capacity during times like COVID-19.

That said, it is a challenge to balance the cost of provisioning for ‘rainy day’ scenarios – classic cost of mitigation vs risk. This is where agility in your network services can really help. A great solution for this is to leverage VNF platforms to improve flexibility and scalability of services.

 

What is a VNF, and what kind of advantages and challenges come with the transition?

A VNF is a Virtual Network Function. Basically a network appliance delivered as a virtual machine. Most network vendors provide a virtual form factor for their platforms with a management and configuration interface consistent with the traditional physical version.  VNFs can be deployed to common virtualisation and cloud platforms, such as VMware, Openstack and AWS.

A VNF based solution provides benefits in agility in deployment and also consolidates on investment in compute infrastructure – the same virtualisation platform you use for your applications can run the VNF network services. You can then minimise the footprint of your network services, and quickly scale up for disaster scenarios.

There are however challenges around understanding performance baselines and also horizontal scaling in some stateful scenarios. Performance of a VNF has several layers of dependencies from the hardware, hypervisor, virtual switch and VNF software – so it is recommended to test and devise a baseline for your particular run time environment. The other challenge is then determining a network architecture that supports scaling horizontally. VNFs as a single unit are generally lower throughput than the physical alternative, so for high throughput scenarios a VNF base service will typically need some additional consideration on how the service will scale beyond a single unit.

 

How can DX help?

The DX Networks team can help augment your network service capacity with VNF solutions or migrate to a fully virtualised solution. We have experience in functional and non-functional testing, automation and architectures for VNF. For more advanced use cases beyond the current challenges, we also have patterns for delivering VNFs as services to your internal teams like app developers and full-fledged CICD pipeline for your network services.

If your business’ network infrastructure is under stress, let’s talk about designing a solution together.

DX Solutions is a wholly owned and operated Australian private company providing businesses with strategic solutions to optimise, transform and progress their operations. With around 200 employees we are proud to partner with software, project and network engineering teams to deliver quality assurance, test automation, CI/CD, agile project management, business process analysis and automation (RPA), network engineering and cloud infrastructure services for Australia’s major digital transformations.