Remote offices/branch offices (ROBOs) require complex infrastructure as they generally involve rural locations and distances, often with patchy connectivity, which can be problematic for the digitally transforming organisation that wants its satellite offices to be cloud-based.
Fortunately, though, the evolution of satellite, SD-WAN, 4G, hyper-converged infrastructure and backup technology is allowing the ROBO sites of today to become a more seamless extension of the organisation.
However, as Anton Jacobsz, CEO at value-added distributor Networks Unlimited Africa, clarifies, “Even with the expansion of robust connectivity options for ROBO sites, these locations must still overcome single points of network infrastructure failure and limited management visibility and control, as well as a lack of on-site technical staff ensuring high IT service levels. Routine maintenance tasks often require a site visit and outages are common, leading to high support costs and downtime incidents.”
In solution, says Jacobsz, out-of-band management allows remote IT staff to manage ROBO site networks as if they were onsite, without the cost and delay of travel. To this end, Networks Unlimited Africa has partnered with Uplogix, which provides integrated remote management solutions, distributing Uplogix platforms throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
“The benefits of out-of-band management are reduced downtime and achieving network service level agreement (SLA) goals. Innovative out-of-band systems automate onsite capabilities for configuration management, including bare-metal restoration of failed network devices and roll-back of errant configuration changes.”
Jacobsz notes that cybersecurity at a ROBO site is as critical as at corporate headquarters, and out-of-band management ensures that remote access to infrastructure utilises the same Authentication, Authorisation and Accounting (AAA) procedures as in-band management.
Lisa Frankovitch, Uplogix CEO adds: “This is key during an outage, when security processes are often disregarded and thereby expose the company to greater risks. Innovative out-of-band management also aids in network recovery after a cyber breach. Recovering from a data breach is very expensive, quantified by the Ponemon Institute as costing organisations an average of $4M and taking nine months for recovery.”
Frankovitch explains that connected employees are more efficient and productive, clarifying further, “Expanding reliable networking to ROBO increases remote employees’ effectiveness but comes at a cost: once people and processes adapt to high levels of connectivity, losing it becomes costly. Surveys on the cost of downtime continue to rise, showing the importance of reliable networks. The good news is that technologies like out-of-band management make a connected ROBO environment possible while lowering the costs of delivering high levels of service.”
Jacobsz adds, “For the service provider, deploying out-of-band management has a high ROI based on controlling two variables: labour and service level penalties. For labour, the automation in out-of-band management means that network administrators can spend more time on higher-value activities rather than basic troubleshooting and remediation. From a service level perspective, every avoided outage means fewer penalties paid back to the customer for not hitting service levels.”
Says Frankovitch: “The increasing use of cloud-based mission-critical applications requires not only that the ROBO network is up and running, but also operating at defined service levels. Coupled with the increasing demand for trained IT staff, IT groups need to work smarter and take advantage of reliable automation. Innovative out-of-band management enables remote IT staff by not only increasing monitoring of network infrastructure but also reliably automating initial recovery steps when there is a problem. Issues are either solved automatically or handed over to IT with problems already triangulated and onsite tools ready to enable IT to do their work more efficiently.
“In the ROBO world, this could be the difference between minutes of network problems for users and hours of downtime as IT employees drive or even fly to remote sites. Downtime is incredibly expensive and becoming more so all the time. Latest estimates range up to $300,000 an hour in lost worker productivity and business.”
Enabling robust ROBO connectivity
Out-of-band management used with traditional network infrastructure, or in newer SD-WAN environments, ensures that the network keeps up with business. When defining robust ROBO connectivity, several measures to consider that are improved with an innovative out-of-band management solution include:
- Reliability: This can be split into both the network working as designed and meeting service levels as well as having failover options when there are serious issues to avoid downtime. For the latter situation, out-of-band management can utilise the out-of-band network link as a failover connection, automatically moving traffic to keep business moving. Automated self-checks also ensure that systems are working as they should, including the out-of-band link.
- Security: The ROBO environment might be physically isolated from the rest of the company, but with network connectivity, it should be no less secure than the head office. Historically, the most vulnerable part of the network is at the edge. Out-of-band management delivers security features like monitoring and alerting as well as applying AAA measures according to head office standards.
- Quick reaction: In the event of a network breach, out-of-band management can be used to remotely ‘lockdown’ ROBO environments to limit the spread of malicious activity or help determine its extent. After the hack, out-of-band management can be used to rapidly bring network infrastructure back online to minimise disruptions to business.
“With new connectivity and improved bandwidth comes greater expectations and business dependence on these new technologies. Out-of-band management provides the independence IT needs to ensure ROBO sites are effective,” concludes Jacobsz.