SD-WAN for work-from-home heats up with a new entry by Versa

Versa Networks has launched Versa Secure Access, which was designed to provide SD-WAN and security capabilities for employees that are now working-from-home (WFH.)

The Versa Secure Access offering is based on the Versa Operating System and it works on users' end devices across Windows, Apple OS and Apple iOS devices, which eliminates the need for customer premises equipment in a home office.

Versa is also supporting some Linux devices for its work-from-home and work-from-anywhere solution, and plans to support Android devices at a later date, according to Versa's Michael Wood, chief marketing officer. The Versa Secure Access Client uses an automatic installation model that runs across any access link including wired, wireless, cellular, and remote access.

With companies sending millions of employees to work from home in about mid-March due the coronavirus pandemic, most of the WFH solutions entailed getting VPN concentrators enabled for a large number of employees to sign on and use at the same time, which most weren't built to do.

Versa Secure Access is part of the company's Secure Access Edge (SASE) services. SASE, which is a term that Gartner analysts coined last year, converges network and security technologies as part of the move to a cloud-based model.

"The system does connect into the cloud gateways, which provide the encrypted connection back into one or multiple private data centers," Wood said of Versa Secure Access. "It uses those VPN concentrators that already exist back into our VPNs and the Versa cloud gateways. It also connects to the front doorstep of most every cloud service and SaaS service that are out there.

"You don't need to have a private data center to take advantage of this. We didn't go out and create a brand new VPN encryption client. We leverage the encryption technology for VPNs that's on each of these devices and operating systems already. It integrates with the existing IT infrastructure."

RELATED: Why service providers and vendors are tuning up home-based SD-WAN services

With COVID-19 as the backdrop, companies, vendors and service providers now realize they need more robust, secure home-office solutions, which now include SD-WAN. Comcast Business, which uses Versa for its SD-WAN service, is in the process of evaluating a WFH SD-WAN solution while AT&T recently announced a new broadband tier for remote workers that includes a gateway that is SD-WAN compatible.

Wood said that Comcast Business is aware of its Versa Secure Access solution, but Comcast didn't respond when asked if it was planning to use it. Wood said OmniClouds, which provides services in Europe, Asia Pacific and the Middle East, plans to deploy Versa Secure Access for its remote solutions. With over 120 service providers on its roster, Wood said carriers could offer Versa Secure Access as a white label solution for their customers

Versa Secure Access comes with some of the standard SD-WAN features such as application segmentation and split tunneling to make sure the traffic is routed across the best available path over WiFi, LTE or broadband. With application segmentation, users can be directed to the internet via the client or cloud gateway to enable better quality of service (QoS) and performance for cloud and on premises locations. 

Wood said companies that are interested in using Versa Secure Access don't need to be existing customers. Companies can spin up or spin down the service based on their current needs. Pricing for Versa Secure Access starts at $10 a month per user. It also includes a simple interface that gives customer visibility into how it is being used.

"They'll have full visibility into the complete system and the complete network to be able to see where are people are accessing applications," Wood said. "What's the performance of those applications? How many people in aggregate are on the system? What applications are they running?

"They can drill all the way down to individual users to see how much bandwidth is being consumed by this particular application.  Does this application look like it's performing as it should be, or is it running into network issues?"

Versa Secure Access includes stateful firewall, DOS protection, next-generation firewall, IPS, and URL filtering on end users’ client devices. It monitors network degradation and can take action, such as packet loss correction, by switching to a different gateway, or moving to different WAN connectivity.

Versa Secure Access is currently available in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and some Asia-Pacific markets.

About that last mile…

Wood said Versa saw a 200% expansion for remote workers by the second half of March. With many companies, such as Twitter, saying they may keep a all of their employees, or large number of them, in home offices, there needs to be better connectivity and security, which is opening another door for SD-WAN vendors and service providers.

"Work-from-home is pushing SD-WAN vendors that did not previously have a software client for mobile devices or laptops to quickly create one," said Roy Chua, the founder and principal at AvidThink. "Further, for SD-WAN solutions that did not have a cloud gateway component, I'm seeing them rapidly bring up a network of virtual gateways, usually in topologically advantageous locations on the Internet.

"Often, they're leveraging someone like an Equinix, that puts them one or few hops away from the major cloud services—public clouds, B2B SaaS applications. This essentially drives any SD-WAN vendor who didn't offer a managed service into essentially running one now, either by themselves or via MSP partners."

Wood said Versa Secure Access customers are able to detect when they are having an issue with their last mile connectivity. Once that problem is detected, they can contact their service providers.

RELATED: AT&T serves up a faster, more secure broadband speed for work from home employees

But Chua said a dedicated last mile service that's separate from home broadband—which is under additional strain due to remote learning and video streaming during the coronavirus—is a much more of an ideal solution for WFH, which is what AT&T is offering. While software-based SD-WAN solutions can provide improved security and visibility, carriers have an advantage for WFH solutions because they own the last mile.

"While these SD-WAN software solutions solve the security and visibility problems, they are still constrained by their employees' last mile access," Chua said. "The usual benefits of SD-WAN like application-based QoS, or multi-path routing can only be achieved with control over the employees' home routers or wireless gateways, and with the addition other another of access, like an LTE link or a second broadband link."

While Versa is laying claim to having the industry's first SASE-based solution for remote and WFH employees, Cato Networks has multiple cloud gateways and a software client that it has been shipping for years. Using its own point-of-presence (POPs), Cato has been offering client-based and clientless access to its customers.

While no one knows for certain how many employees will return to their office spaces, the COVID-19 crisis has proved that WFH and work-from-anywhere is achievable. Clearly, businesses and organizations will want better security and connectivity options as their perimeters have extended beyond office locations into employees' homes.

"Business have oftentimes have found ways to expand their existing solutions in some cases, which has provided some temporary relief and capacity," Wood said of the initial wave of WFH solutions. "But CIOs and IT teams are noticing that this has uncovered new challenges. CIOs are looking at 'How do I re-architect, or rebuild' their infrastructure for this new normal?

"We had been working on this already. When COVID-19 hit we accelerated the development of it. I would say it would have probably been another three to four months, but we pulled schedule in because of the situation that we were in. We definitely feel like cloud is the future, but there still needs to be a strong anchor on premises. Having SD-WAN on the client device is also the future. I can take my device anywhere and have these type of services."