I recently took part in my first Wi-Fi enabled flight (AA 387 STL — SAN) and, in addition to raving about the experience, I found it one of the better ways to make productive use of otherwise lost time. While the speed was reasonable, and better than I'd expected, there was a separate tier of experience that I encountered as a result of being a mobile user accessing Forrester's services and applications from 30,000 feet. 

A separate level of speed and responsiveness is a normal part of the conversation around mobile and remote user support, and while an airplane with Wi-Fi is an extreme example, the impact to productivity on users relying on remote access such as SSL VPN connections for day-to-day work quickly adds up as more users are leveraging these means for connectivity. Fact is, while most of the focus of late on providing access for continuity in light of disruptions like office closures for H1N1, the focus takes into account only a portion of the problem: access, but does not address an issue with potentially further-reaching affects: parity of experience. As long-term remote access scenarios loom as an increasingly likely.

A handful of vendors tackling issues of network performance for branch and remote users are addressing the needs of the mobile user through mobile WAN optimization. In short, in mobile WAN optimization, a piece of software residing on the mobile users takes the place of a WAN optimization appliance that would sit in a branch office or datacenter front-ending the user's connection. In this way, a user can have their connection optimized, experience the perceived uptick in bandwidth speed that comes from compressing and prioritizing application data and, when possible, caching information — in the case of an offering from vendor Expand Networks, creating a virtual cache across multiple mobile users in a branch — to ease the burden on the WAN link.

As users connect from more and varied locations — and Forrester data shows that, while internal WLAN is the number one means for wireless connectivity, other modalities such as those from cellular carriers are among the top three — the need to provide optimization in addition to remote connectivity for these users is critical. Ensuring that users can connect to resources may allow for business operations to maintain continuity but providing a parity of experience to an office or wired connection can ensure that that continuity does not equal an efficiency hit when multiplied across an entire organization which is sifted to a remote worker environment.

So next time you're on a plane, or simply logging into your VPN from the local coffee shop, take note of the experience; is this the way your entire organization should be served in the event of a disaster?

By Chris Silva

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