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The evolving branch office

In a recent newsletter we introduced the concept of Application Delivery 2.0. One of the steps that IT organizations are taking in order to support the requirements of Application Delivery 2.0 is to implement a next generation branch office. As the next three newsletters will demonstrate, the next generation branch office represents a multi-year movement away from branch offices that are IT-heavy to ones that are IT-lite.

Over the last decade most companies have come to realize that their branch offices are a critical business asset. As a result, many companies have moved employees out of a headquarters facility and relocated them into a branch office. In addition, in an effort to both reduce cost and maximize flexibility, many employees now work out of home offices. The trend to have employees work outside of a headquarters facility was discussed in an article in Network World. That article stated that 90% of employees currently work away from headquarters.

Employees who work in a branch office still need access to a wide range of applications. Because of this requirement, the reaction of most IT departments five to 10 years ago was to upgrade the branch office infrastructure to include many, if not all of the same technologies that are used at central sites. These include high-performance PCs and server platforms as well as high-speed switched LANs. In addition, the typical branch office of this era hosted most of the applications that the branch office users needed to access. This included e-mail, sales force automation, CRM as well as office productivity applications.

The branch office of this era can be considered to be IT-heavy. That follows because in addition to having complex IT infrastructure and applications at each branch office, it was also common to have IT staff at an organization's larger branch offices. This staffing was necessary in order to provide technical support and maintenance for the applications hosted at the branch as well as to support the complex IT infrastructure. One of the key characteristics of having branch offices that are IT-heavy is that while branch office employees rely on the WAN, the performance of the WAN does not have a major impact on their productivity.

In addition to the cost associated with being IT-heavy, it was extremely difficult for IT organizations of this era to control access to the data stored in branch office and to maintain physical security for the servers in the branch office. In addition, virtually all of the management functionality of this era focused on individual technology domains; for example, LANs, WANs, servers, databases. There was almost no ability to measure the actual application response time as seen by the end user.

In our next newsletter we will discuss how IT organizations began to move IT resources out of branch offices and how that gave rise to Application Delivery 1.0.

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