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Then it seemed that overnight, millions of workers worldwide were told to isolate and work from home as best as they could. Businesses were suddenly forced to enable remote access for hundreds or thousands of users, all at once, from anywhere across the globe. Many companies that already offered VPN services to a small group of remote workers scurried to extend those capabilities to the much larger workforce sequestering at home. It was a decision made in haste out of necessity, but now it’s time to consider, is VPN the best remote access technology for the enterprise, or can other technologies provide a better long-term solution?

Long-term Remote Access Could Be the Norm for Some Time

Some knowledge workers are trickling back to their actual offices, but many more are still at home and will be for some time. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 25-30% of the workforce will still be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021. Others may never return to an official office, opting to remain a work-from-home (WFH) employee for good.

Consequently, enterprises need to find a remote access solution that gives home-based workers a similar experience as they would have in the office, including ease of use, good performance, and a fully secure network access experience. What’s more, the solution must be cost effective and easy to administer without the need to add more technical staff members.

VPNs are certainly one option, but not the only one. Other choices include appliance-based SD-WAN and SASE. Let’s have a look at each approach.

VPNs Weren’t Designed to Support an Entire Workforce

While VPNs are a useful remote access solution for a small portion of the workforce, they are an inefficient technology for giving remote access to a very large number of workers. VPNs are designed for point-to-point connectivity, so each secure connection between two points – presumably a remote worker and a network access server (NAS) in a datacenter – requires its own VPN link. Each NAS has a finite capacity for simultaneous users, so for a large remote user base, some serious infrastructure may be needed in the datacenter.

Performance can be an issue. With a VPN, all communication between the user and the VPN is encrypted. The encryption process takes time, and depending on the type of encryption used, this may add noticeable latency to Internet communications. More important, however, is the latency added when a remote user needs access to IaaS and SaaS applications and services. The traffic path is convoluted because it must travel between the end user and the NAS before then going out to the cloud, and vice versa on the way back.

An important issue with VPNs is that they provide overly broad access to the entire network without the option of controlling granular user access to specific resources. Stolen VPN credentials have been implicated in several high-profile data breaches. By using legitimate credentials and connecting through a VPN, attackers were able to infiltrate and move freely through targeted company networks. What’s more, there is no scrutiny of the security posture of the connecting device, which could allow malware to enter the network via insecure user devices.

SD-WAN Brings Intelligence into Routing Remote Users’ Traffic

Another option for providing remote access for home-based workers is appliance-based SD-WAN. It brings a level of intelligence to the connectivity that VPNs don’t have. Lee Doyle, principal analyst with Doyle Research, outlines the benefits of using SD-WAN to connect home office users to their enterprise network:

  • Prioritization for mission-critical and latency-sensitive applications
  • Accelerated access to cloud-based services
  • Enhanced security via encryption, VPNs, firewalls and integration with cloud-based security
  • Centralized management tools for IT administrators

One thing to consider about appliance-based SD-WAN is that it’s primarily designed for branch office connectivity—though it can accommodate individual users at home as well. However, if a company isn’t already using SD-WAN, this isn’t a technology that is easy to implement and setup for hundreds or thousands of home-based users. What’s more, a significant investment must be made in the various communication and security appliances.

SASE Provides a Simpler, More Secure, Easily Scalable Solution

Cato’s Secure Access Service Edge (or SASE) platform provides a great alternative to VPN for remote access by many simultaneous workers. The platform offers scalable access, optimized connectivity, and integrated threat prevention that are needed to support continuous large-scale remote access.

Companies that enable WFH using Cato’s platform can scale quickly to any number of remote users with ease. There is no need to set up regional hubs or VPN concentrators. The SASE service is built on top of dozens of globally distributed Points of Presence (PoPs) maintained by Cato to deliver a wide range of security and networking services close to all locations and users. The complexity of scaling is all hidden in the Cato-provided PoPs, so there is no infrastructure for the organization to purchase, configure or deploy. Giving end users remote access is as simple as installing a client agent on the user’s device, or by providing clientless access to specific applications via a secure browser.

Cato’s SASE platform employs Zero Trust Network Access in granting users access to the specific resources and applications they need to use. This granular-level security is part of the identity-driven approach to network access that SASE demands. Since all traffic passes through a full network security stack built into the SASE service, multi-factor authentication, full access control, and threat prevention are applied to traffic from remote users. All processing is done within the PoP closest to the users while enforcing all corporate network and security policies. This eliminates the “trombone effect” associated with forcing traffic to specific security choke points on a network. Further, admins have consistent visibility and control of all traffic throughout the enterprise WAN.

SASE Supports WFH in the Short-term and Long-term

While some workers are venturing back to their offices, many more are still working from home—and may work from home permanently. The Cato SASE platform is the ideal way to give them access to their usual network environment without forcing them to go through insecure and inconvenient VPNs.

Originally posted here

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IoT Minute Episode 62: The Collaborative Edge

When retail machines talk to each other directly or collaborate through edge gateways, customers are more likely to find what they're looking for. Why lose a sale due to a lack of inventory when a customer can be redirected to a nearby location where their product preferences can be met.

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Why Edge Computing Is an IIoT Requirement

How edge computing is poised to jump-start the next industrial revolution.

From travel to fitness to entertainment, we now have killer apps for many things we never knew we needed. Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed tremendous improvements in terms of democratizing data and productivity across the consumer world.

Building on that, we’re entering a new era of software-defined machines that will transform productivity, products and services in the industrial world. This is the critical link which will drive new scenarios at even faster rates of innovation. By 2020, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is expected to be a $225 billion market.

To jump-start the productivity engine of IIoT, real-time response is needed at the machine-level at scale and that requires an edge-plus-cloud architecture designed specifically for the Industrial Internet. From Google maps to weather apps, we’ve been experiencing the benefits of cloud and edge computing working together in our daily lives for quite some time.

But, what is edge? Edge is the physical location that allows computing closer to the source of data. Edge computing enables data analytics to occur and resulting insights to be gleaned closer to the machines. While edge computing isn’t new, it’s beginning to take hold in the industrial sector – and the opportunity is far greater than anything we’ve seen in the consumer sector, and here’s why:

Real-time data in a real-time world: The edge is not merely a way to collect data for transmission to the cloud. We are now able to process, analyze and act upon the collected data at the edge within milliseconds. It is the gateway for optimizing industrial data. And when millions of dollars and human lives are on the line, edge computing is essential for optimizing industrial data at every aspect of an operation.

Take windfarms for example. If wind direction changes, the edge software onsite would collect and analyze this data in real-time and then communicate to the wind turbine to adjust appropriately using an edge device, such as a field agent and connected control system, and successfully capture more kinetic energy. Because the data is not sent to the cloud, the processing time is significantly faster. This increases wind turbines’ production, and ultimately distributes more clean energy to our cities, increasing the value of the renewable energy space.

Big data, big trade-offs: The harsh and remote conditions of many industrial sites make it challenging to connect and cost-effectively transmit large quantities of data in real-time. We are now able to add intelligence to machines at the edge of the network, in the plant or field. Through edge computing on the device, we’re bringing analytics capabilities closer to the machine and providing a less expensive option for optimizing asset performance.

Consider the thousands of terabytes of data from a gas turbine. Sending this data to the cloud to run advanced analytics maybe technologically possible, but certainly too cost prohibitive to do a daily basis. Through edge computing, we can capture streaming data from a turbine and use this data in real-time to prevent unplanned downtime and optimize production to extend the life of the machine.

What’s Next

Today, only 3% of data from industrial assets is useable. Connecting machines from the cloud to the edge will dramatically increase useable data by providing greater access to high powered, cost effective computing and analytics tools at the machine and plant level.

Consider the fact that for years traditional control systems were designed to keep a machine running the same way day in and day out for the lifecycle of the machine. At GE Energy Connections, we recently debuted the Industrial Internet Control System (IICS), which successfully allows machines to see, think and do and will enable machine learning at scale. To take IICS to the next level, we’re creating an ecosystem of edge offerings to accelerate widespread adoption across the industrial sector. We’re advancing this ecosystem and empowering app developers who want to play a role in driving the new industrial era. 

Currently, to add value to a software system, a developer writes the code, ports it into the legacy software stack, shuts down the devices and finally, updates it. That’s all going to change. We are working on creating an opportunity for any developer to create value-added edge applications. Customers will be able port the necessary apps to their machine without having to shut it down, just like we do on our phones today. Companies will be able to download apps for their needs and update frequently to ensure their business is running smoothly. While no one likes to run out of battery on their smart phone, an outage for a powerplant is far more costly, so the ability to port apps without shutting down devices and being able to detect issues before it occurs will be a game changer.

From wind turbines to autonomous cars, edge computing is poised to completely revolutionize our world. It’s forcing change in the way information is sent, stored and analyzed.  And there’s no sign of slowing down.

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