What is microbranch?

While the term “microbranch” has historically been associated with small retail banking locations, today a microbranch or “branch of one” refers to small offices/home offices (SOHO) or even small or remote work pop-up locations, associated with a larger company, that require secure, reliable, and high-performing connectivity.

Microbranch Explained

A microbranch is essentially a very small, remote corporate office. Today this often means the home office of a corporate employee, but it can also be a pop-up or other small location. These locations require the same robust, IT-managed, secure network as is used at headquarters, and it should provide a consistent experience, whether an employee logs on from the home office or corporate campus.

Considerations for a successful microbranch solution

The three main considerations for any microbranch solution should be:

  • Ease of set up and connection
  • Corporate network protection
  • Ability for IT to analyze and act

Ease of set up and connection

Because a microbranch, by definition, serves a very small number of employees, there is most likely no onsite IT assistance. This means that any microbranch networking solution should be extremely simple for someone with no technical knowledge to set up. Once connected to the Internet, it should automatically be connected to the corporate network and visible to and managed by corporate IT. From this point forward, the experience of using the corporate network at the remote location should be no different than if the user were accessing the network from the main campus.

Microbranch solution

Figure 1. The HPE Aruba Networking EdgeConnect Microbranch solution includes Aruba Central for management and control and an AP located in the small office/home office to support VPN capabilities, SD-WAN orchestration, and SASE. LTE backup can be added via an AP dongle.

Corporate network protection

As networks become more distributed, the need for inherent network security increases. Protection needs to be built in but shouldn’t unnecessarily hinder network performance. SD-WAN policy-based routing, along with SASE and Zero Trust frameworks, provide edge-to-cloud security. Users can access trusted SaaS applications directly, minimizing latency issues, while IT organizations can define routing rules and cloud-inspection policies. And users and devices have access to only those network resources defined by role- and device-based policies.

Ability for IT to analyze and act

The ability for IT to support large numbers of remote work locations without deploying additional appliances or endpoint agents is important. Additionally, insights into WAN health can help IT professionals determine if any issues that arise are due to the ISP or elsewhere. And detailed visibility of all devices—wireless, wired, and branch locations—connected to the enterprise aids in faster, better incident analysis and response

What are the use cases for microbranch technology?

There are three key use cases for microbranch capabilities: performance, reliability, and security. For example, distributed contact center employees use microbranch technology to plug in VoIP phones and to gain reliable, high-performing access to customer service applications, thereby improving employee productivity and customer service levels. In addition, IT teams can leverage microbranch capabilities for deeper visibility into remote work environments (going beyond VPN connection status) to quickly identify and resolve issues. Lastly, a SASE framework, including cloud orchestration with security vendors, better meets the needs of security-focused industries such as healthcare and government and reduces security risk across all industries.

How do I choose a microbranch technology vendor?

There are several factors to consider:

  • Hardware footprint: Some vendors require additional gateways in the home office or separate security appliances in the data center. Look for a vendor that minimizes the hardware footprint to lower costs and to streamline operations.
  • Built-in security: Any solution you consider should provide consistent, role- and device-based security policies from edge to cloud.
  • Integration with 3rd party providers: Your microbranch solution should be extensible with integrations to third-party vendors, including security vendors.
  • Wi-Fi 6 AP support: Remote work access points (APs) should be Wi-Fi 6 certified to deliver interoperability, enhanced security, and investment protection.
  • Built-in SD-WAN: SD-WAN capabilities typically include route/tunnel orchestration, policy-based routing, multiple active tunnels, WAN health visibility, and cloud security orchestration.

When should I use microbranch technology vs a VPN client?

Microbranch technology is ideal for secure, reliable connectivity at home, especially for distributed workers accessing data center and SaaS applications. However, because it requires a local AP, it is less convenient to use on the go. When employees visit customer or partner sites or access the corporate network via a coffee shop or airport, there are software client options that can provide secure IPsec/SSL connectivity.