A recent analyst study from Forrester Research indicates that within three years, there will be over one billion remote workers worldwide, so the problems of secure, fast, and reliable remote access will only escalate.

From a remote worker perspective, up-to-the-minute information is the life blood of their jobs. Regardless of whether they are at home in Watford or working from a café in Stockholm, speed, performance and dependability are vital for them to successfully do their work.

However, from an IT department’s perspective, they must support the needs of all employees while diligently maintaining security policies. This is becoming increasingly challenging now that the majority of the workforce has stepped beyond the corporate environment.

As a result of this change, there are many problematic issues that the remote user faces on a daily basis, but just what are they and what can be done to provide fast and secure remote access?

The day-to-day troubles for the remote worker

A remote worker, who happens to be a senior VP for a large organisation, is sitting at an airport waiting for his flight. Unfortunately, it’s delayed, nothing new there then, so he uses the airport’s WiFi to check on the status of the accounts he is about to visit. He tries to access his company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) application, but it’s moving so slowly he’s sure there is a problem with the system. He gives up on ERP and tries to access sales force automation (SFA) and customer relationship management (CRM) and experiences the same problems.

He phones the IT help desk, waits for someone to pick-up, and they tell him the systems are fine. That’s not what he is seeing, but what can he do?

What's more, because of his company’s security policies, he is not able to use his laptop. So he then arrives to his meeting only to find himself having to use the PC in the client’s conference room, not exactly ideal.

Understandably, he’s still not comfortable accessing his company’s systems from his client’s computer, although he has no choice as otherwise he risks disappointing the client.

It’s not an uncommon scenario, but it graphically illustrates the need for reliable and quick performance when accessing the company’s web-based applications or file shares from outside the office. However, performance is not the only issue. There are also numerous security threats that the remote worker is open to often without the IT department having visibility of what they are or where they are coming in from.

There are many security threats that lurk in seemingly “safe” and well-known web sites. For example, an employee could have remote access to business critical applications from five different access points – none of them are owned or secured by his company.

Without the proper processes and policies in place, the employee could repeatedly expose the organisations systems and laptop to security risks such as malware, Trojans, botnets and phishing attacks, not to mention jeopardising their own identity. The rising popularity of Web 2.0 applications such as LinkedIn and Twitter also further compounds the risk of exposure.

There are many applications that a modern day remote worker requires such as VoIP, IM and access to training materials, which creates challenges for the IT department.

There are many threats happening behind the scenes that can affect the remote worker, with the growing use of video for everything from training to personal entertainment (eg BBC iPlayer, YouTube.) Voice and video require low latency and reliable network service – exactly where many wide area networks (WAN) architectures fall short.

Video applications such as BBC iPlayer in particular require a lot of bandwidth. In addition, if WAN optimisation products aren’t integrated with security solutions, the IT department is left with a simple choice: either accelerate the traffic or secure it. Alternatively, they choose the latter, and application performance suffers.

Therefore, it’s critical that the IT department deploys the correct security solutions to not only protect the employees’ valuable assets from access via unsecured Internet connections, unknown and unsecured devices, but also to Improve overall performance of the WAN to provide priority access to remote employees. But just how can both of these requirements be met?

What can organisations do?

There are a number of products on the market that address all of the IT requirements to provide for the millions of remote workers needs. Unfortunately some IT departments are trying to address these needs by picking and choosing solutions from multiple vendors.

These multi-vendor solutions can cause issues and complications for the IT department. There are a number of obvious issues, including the need to negotiate contracts with different vendors and the problems of training staff to handle the multiple user interfaces.

Although a far more serious problem involves the sharing of policies among the various solutions that have been deployed, so rather than sharing policies, these multi-vendor solutions often involve contradictory policies, or the duplication of policies in each of the products. This makes it difficult to maintain the policies and to ensure that they are enforced by each vendor’s products. There is a select group of vendors that provide a single integrated solution that addresses all of the connectivity and security needs of distributed organisations.

The good news is that there is a single solution on the market that can address all of the IT requirements to provide for the millions of remote workers needs. For example, Blue Coat’s Application Delivery Network infrastructure now provides the visibility, acceleration and security required for the IT manager to optimise and secure the flow of information to any user, on any network and from any location.

This provides the comprehensive application and user control required to contain costs, enhance productivity and respond quickly to changing business requirements, enabling companies to allocate more resources to key personnel to help ensure that all employees such as remote workers have the bandwidth and speed of performance that they require to perform their jobs successfully.

Nigel Hawthorn, Vice President, International Marketing and Channels at Blue Coat Systems, has been working in the computing industry since 1980. He has since co-written a number of books and articles on high-speed networking, network security and Internet performance and presents regularly at industry forums.