Like many other companies, GHD, one of the world’s leading professional services companies, needed to quickly scale work-from-home capabilities due to COVID-19 shelter-in-place mandates. The business need was clear: deliver an at-home work experience for GHD employees that was equal to working from the office.
Prior to COVID-19, GHD was prepared to support 1,500 active remote connections in any given region. But between March and April 2020, that number leapt to as many as 6,000 connections at once.
GHD employees needed fast, secure access to corporate networks, cloud services and large computer-aided design (CAD) files stored on file servers in seven regional data centers and public clouds to continue to serve its customers.
In the typical workflow, an engineer or architect checks out a file, makes changes, and then checks it back in for the next team member. While working in an office, these CAD file transfers may take only a few moments. But for employees working from a home Internet connection, downloading the same size file may take two to four times longer. So, productivity loss was a big concern.
GHD began its transition to an agile workplace in 2017 and had already put in place key solutions to enable employees to work remotely. However, when the pandemic hit, GHD had to quickly assess its readiness to support thousands of additional employees in four primary areas:
Before offices closed, GHD was running Check Point VPN software and another VPN solution. As employees transitioned to working from home, this allowed them to choose between the two solutions. After trying both VPN solutions, employees who performed large file transactions between their home computers and the corporate network (or routinely used web-based or SaaS-based applications) unanimously chose Check Point. They chose Check Point because it takes advantage of Riverbed Client Accelerator, which provides a 55% speed increase and a much better user experience.
Fortunately, GHD already had 140 Riverbed SteelHead appliances in its network and Riverbed Client Accelerator installed on every laptop when the pandemic crisis started. In its environment, these solutions work together to reduce WAN traffic by 49%. When GHD shifted nearly all employees to work from home, Riverbed quickly provided 3,000 additional Client Accelerator licenses, bringing the total to 4,000, to support their geographically dispersed staff and follow-the-sun model.
The company turned up multi-gigabit circuits to its regional data centers just before shelter-in-place orders began. However, to adjust to new traffic patterns, the company re-sized its internet circuits, adding up to 40 times more capacity in some regions. This allowed GHD to conserve bandwidth and reduce latency by routing traffic directly to the Internet instead of detouring through regional data centers.
In terms of security, GHD leveraged Zscaler Internet Agent on every laptop and Riverbed SteelConnect SD-WAN to connect and secure direct Internet access at remote sites. It wouldn’t have been possible without these solutions, a cloud-based network management or endpoint security program in place, to shift everything from internal to external in a matter of days or weeks.
Finally, GHD oversaw and managed network performance using SteelConnect Insight as well as Riverbed Network Performance Management (NPM). The company granted access to SteelConnect Insight to all IS managers so they can have direct insight into Internet breakouts. And, with east-west traffic now shifting to north-south traffic, GHD used Riverbed NPM to provide a full view into everything that’s going on across our hybrid network.
Results and Next Steps
The steps taken by GHD enabled the company to decrease WAN traffic by 49% and increase file transfer performance by 55% using Riverbed solutions. And, with WAN optimization and application acceleration all the way to laptops and remote desktops, employees are as productive at home as they are in the office. The executive team and board of directors recognized the IS team for enabling the company to manage through the COVID-19 situation with little impact to its revenue and to its clients and customers.
Even after COVID-19 passes, GHD anticipates 30% to 50% of its workforce will continue to work remotely. The company plans to continue to improve WAN performance to provide the best possible work experience for their increasingly remote workforce.