Thanks to Paul Gainham, our colleague at Juniper Networks for this contribution:
Mobile SSL'Congestion ahead take alternative route via xxx'
For those regular commuters using the UK road network an all too familiar and depressing sign that many have become resigned to as more and more traffic fights for comparatively less and less road capacity, particularly at peak hour. The only salvation at this time of need comes from either a good old fashioned road atlas or satellite navigation, either of which may give you the opportunity to take avoiding action based on an understanding of where you are trying to get to and the possible alternative routes on offer.
Ok so not the most enlightening start to a blog but it does serve as a good if obvious analogy for how organisations should begin to think about planning for handling Internet congestion during the period of the London Olympics (27th July – 9th September if you count the Paralympic Games).
The London Olympics will be the first 'Mobile Olympics' on record – the first games at which widespread mobile usage covering all aspects of viewing, filming, uploading, downloading and voice / text communication will be an experience enjoyed by a significant percentage of those people attending the event. It is impossible to predict what that behaviour will result in terms of the additional traffic load it will place on 'UK Network PLC' but it is expected to be significant.
The UK government has already released a report 'Preparing your business for the games' covering how businesses should prepare for all aspects of the games. On the subject of the Internet, the report mentions that 'It is possible that Internet services may be slower during the games or in very severe cases there may be drop outs due to an increased number of people accessing the internet'
I have already written about the broader impact that a series of major events will have on UK Network PLC in my previous blog here.
If you read deeper into the above report it suggests that business will be well served by allowing staff to work more flexibly during the period of the games, this may involve them working from different locations, from home or working different hours. This of course will be more acute for those organisations with employees based in and around the London area where some travel challenges are inevitable given the massive influx of people destines for a relatively small number of locations.
So what should businesses do to survive this temporal but crucial challenge?
The UK Government report makes some sensible recommendations for businesses around flexible working and is worthy of reading. Many organisations will either have to encourage staff to take holidays during the above period to lessen the impact or operate a truly flexible working policy during the games that positively encourages appropriate staff to work away from the office.
Clearly the last thing UK PLC needs is pictures of London in Gridlock being beamed around the world and many organisations have a part to play in stopping that happening.
For some organisations that may appear a relatively straightforward thing to do. Publicise to staff that for the period of the games the company is actively encouraging certain staff to work from home and will provide the means to do that. Clearly, many information workers will have the PC / Tablet or Smartphone device, broadband or 3G mobile access at home and access to the corporate network via a secure gateway of some description.
All sounds pretty straightforward, yes? There is as you would expect a 'however'!
If you go back to my opening analogy, the Internet is a lawless place, there are no guarantees, it is a truly best effort service and there is no 'map' of the internet that you can use to steer traffic around points of congestion. IP packets that enter the 'cloud' of the internet are routed to their destination by the intermediate routers in the various ISP and IX networks and miraculously appear at their destination.
So, what if as a business you have followed UK Government guidelines, allowed your workforce to work flexibly from home, given them all of the necessary tools and then find that Internet congestion brought on by excessive traffic from the games followers makes their remote access unusable? If you read through the above report and many of the comments from on line commentary, this could be a very real possibility.
So what are the 3 major steps that businesses need to take to get around these potential issues, assuming many adopt a policy of flexible home working during the period of the games?
Make sure you have both a clear policy in place on home working and the right levels of security and corporate access in place. The Juniper Networks MAG Series Appliances make for an ideal solution for secured remote access to corporate networks, providing full network level access, fully encrypted client to gateway security and can scale up to many thousands of concurrent users. Also, make sure there is redundancy built in so users can switch over to alternate access points if necessary. For those organisations that already have this capability in place, make sure you have budgeted for additional user ports and licences for the period they will be needed for!
Focus your user policies on utilising wired broadband services for those home workers. Typically they will have greater capacity than wireless or 3G mobile services and will be less impacted by the peak in traffic than their mobile data equivalents. Furthermore, they are less likely to leave you with a case of severe bill shock.
All of the above counts for nothing if you don't build a clear plan based on knowledge of how Internet services are provided. Dependant on the size of the organisation in question, you may have many hundreds or thousands of remote workers to have to cater for. Simply providing a device and a secure gateway does not address the variability of the Internet itself. As an example, if your corporate security network gateway is connected to 'ISP A' and your home workers spread across ISP's 'X, Y and Z' traffic between them will need to traverse an indeterminate route between them that is impossible to guarantee traffic over and to my earlier point may well be mixed with the 'great unwashed' traffic of video's and streaming traffic from the games. If the opportunity exists, look to connect your security gateways to the same ISP networks as your home workers broadband lines are connected to. Whilst this does not directly 'solve' the issue, it gives you the opportunity to negotiate an end to end level of QOS as both the client and gateway sit on the same network under one administrative domain.
Of course the above assumes a DIY approach to this issue. It may be more appropriate for businesses to make use of a managed service during this period. Services like BT's MobileXpress and Orange Business Services' Mobile SSL make use of Juniper Networks SSL VPN appliances and technology.
Final thought on this. Whatever you decide to do, do it quickly. Many of the major service provider networks in the UK will be operating a policy of 'freezing' any major updates or changes to their networks ahead of the Olympics, this may extend the 'period of the games' from early to mid June through to September.
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