With homes serving as the new office spaces, CenturyLink has rolled out a new virtual private connection service that taps into corporate wide-area networks (WANs.) CenturyLink's Remote Connect service provides additional security and a self-install model to help home-bound employees create and share information across their businesses.
The coronavirus has reshaped how and where employees work with millions of them making the move to home offices as part of work-from-home (WFH) policies. The initial phases of WFH broadband services were rudimentary at best as remote workers shared their bandwidth with remote learning and more online gaming applications across entire households.
While shelter-in-place policies are starting to loosen, it remains to be seen just how many employees will return to their office spaces for work, According to a survey by CenturyLink, nearly 72% of the companies surveyed expect to continue their current work-from-home strategy for another three to 12 months or more because of the pandemic while 73% of those surveyed said they would consider adopting technology to prioritize applications for remote workers.
"Going forward, work-from-home is here to stay," said CenturyLink's Adam Saenger, vice president of adaptive networking. "We have not talked to any businesses that expect to go back to the way their employees worked at their offices before COVID-19.
"This (Remote Connect) is something that is going to allow us to adapt with our customers' changing environments. It's really just serving a new use case that has been born out of this new environment in 2020."
Remote Connect uses the existing broadband service in each household—including in homes that aren't CenturyLink broadband customers—to connect to the corporate WANs. Saenger said Remote Connect customers could use either the Cisco Meraki Z3 router or the more robust Meraki MX64W device.
Saenger said the Z3 device comes with a "light" firewall while the Meraki MX64W can provide more advanced firewall and security capabilities as well as a SIM card for wireless connectivity in the event that the home broadband goes down.
While other service providers can tap into the Meraki devices to provision WHF services, CenturyLink is offering Remote Connect as a managed service, which includes the deployment of the assets, the management of the service overlay and the connectivity.
For the per seat pricing model, Saenger said the Remote Connect costs under $50 a month for the Meraki Z3 router while the Meraki MX64W is around $100 per month. Remote Connect also includes CenturyLink's tech migration clause, or service portability clause, that allows customers to redeploy CenturyLink's services and applications as their needs change or evolve.
To enable connectivity, the home-user plugs in either of the Meraki devices, which then communicates with the enterprise WAN. CenturyLink provides the configurations to ensure that the assets have a secure channel of communication across the home broadband service.
"We will then do the application level prioritization across any of the enterprise applications that the user is presently operating," Saenger said. "We're not looking into the consumer traffic. We are prioritizing traffic within the enterprise traffic that is being transmitted. So if I'm running a couple of different disparate applications, it'll prioritize my traffic without having to look into the consumer traffic.
"We've seen several competitive announcements over the last week or two that have been centered around alternative means of connectivity by deploying a second or third connection into the home. This leverages the existing connectivity and provides that private tunneling over that connection into the corporate network."
AT&T Business recently announced a separate broadband tier, which is called "AT&T Home Office Connectivity," as a new WFH solution for business customers while Comcast Business and Colt Technology Services are looking at deploying SD-WAN as a WFH solution.
"Remote Connect is the first step in CenturyLink serving the needs of what I call 'x from home' or anything from home environments," Saenger said. "We will be re-evaluating how we can serve more complex security policies through our adaptive network security portfolio, as well as our cloud edge strategy."
The additional new services and applications includes offering virtualized customer premises equipment (vCPE) in a WHF model, according to Saenger, as well as enhancements to CenturyLink's SD-WAN services.
"Customers are asking us for a virtualized instance of work-from-home applications," Saenger said. "So we are evaluating additional work from home models that potentially would not require the placement of the CPE."