Five ways to bulk up your network for telecommuters

Tips for adapting your corporate network for people working from home

Whether they're in branch offices or home offices, workers are increasingly telecommuting instead of working in a traditional centralized office environment.

For many companies, this trend presents many benefits as well as challenges. On the plus side, a recent survey shows that telecommuting increases worker productivity by allowing for more flexible working hours, and it saves companies money on reimbursing transportation costs and on office materials. On the down side, telecommuting can produce major security and privacy risks for companies that extend their WANs out to their employees' homes without giving them the knowledge or the tools to connect to the corporate network securely.

That means the big challenge for many companies is how to not only expand the reach of their WAN, but also keep it fast, secure and reliable. Here is a review of five of the most important techniques, technologies and practices that companies can adopt to bolster their telecommuter WAN performance, and whether they should look outside their own in-house IT departments to meet some of these challenges.

Make sure your employees have strong home broadband connections

This may seem obvious, but the first step to ensuring that your WAN can accommodate telecommuters is to ensure that their connections are up to speed for the corporate network. After all, security and software updates won't help anyone if the Internet pipe isn't strong enough to download them from the corporate network at a reasonable pace. This gets tricky, however, when telecommuters live in areas of the country that don't have access to fast cable or DSL services. In these cases, says Kelly Brown, the group manager for Internet and mobility services at Verizon Business, there is very little a company can do to upgrade a connection speed, and companies must look for ways to either upgrade the connection speed on the margins or upgrade to a stronger connection altogether.

One way to upgrade at the margins is to make sure that the PCs being used by the workers are fully optimized and have enough memory and hard drive space to fully take advantage of the Web connection they're working from, Brown says. Eric Bozich, the vice president of product management for Qwest, says another option for companies looking to upgrade at the margins would be to invest in WAN acceleration technology that optimizes Internet routing and maximizes speeds for enterprise applications. He says one such product is Akamai's IP application accelerator that continuously scours the Web for the fastest and most reliable path to an origin server, much like a traffic helicopter that reports on which roads are clogged or open during rush hour. Other WAN acceleration vendors include Array Networks, Converged Access, Expand Networks, Juniper, Orbital Data, Packeteer, Riverbed Technology, Silver Peak Systems and Swan Labs.

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Brad Reed

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