Without a doubt, Office 365 is unlike any SaaS application ever. Organisations have been embracing SaaS and cloud-based applications for a while now, but Office 365 is a game changer in more ways than one. With approximately 135 million active users worldwide and more businesses adopting it each day, Office 365 is transforming how businesses work and communicate.

It’s also transforming the corporate network. Each Office 365 user generates between 12 and 20 persistent connections, which, when considering how many people are using it on a daily basis, is resulting in gigabytes/terabytes of data. For businesses still relying on the traditional hub-and-spoke architectures, managing this volume of traffic is a challenge.

When Microsoft Exchange servers and Office applications were on premise, businesses had to backhaul traffic from remote sites and mobile users to the data centre. It was the only way to provide connectivity. But now that these services have moved to the cloud, backhauling traffic to data centres can create latency, which quickly leads to frustrated users and delayed deployments.

Indeed, the increased number of persistent connections can overwhelm traditional MPLS links and appliances, resulting in a poor user experience and costly upgrades. Furthermore, the performance of productivity apps, such as SharePoint and Skype, may be impeded by the latency added by centralised gateways.

To mitigate these issues, Microsoft itself has issued recommendations for organisations deploying Office 365 on hub-and-spoke architectures with centralised proxies, including performing next-generation firewall (NGFW) capacity assessments and WAN latency assessments. Microsoft also acknowledges that Office 365 was built to be accessed securely and reliably via a direct internet connection, which minimises latency – the enemy of Office 365 – on user traffic. Investing in more bandwidth and upgrading firewalls is just not sufficient. Microsoft has invested heavily in a content-delivery network (CDN) to accelerate the delivery of content to users and, subsequently, wants users to connect to its network as fast as possible.

What does “direct internet connection” mean? It essentially means the wide-area network (WAN) has been relegated to second fiddle. The traditional WAN has been displaced and is no longer suitable for the more data-intensive business applications. A direct internet connection ensures the shortest possible path for your data.

A big issue around direct internet connections is how to secure them. Direct-to-internet means bypassing the security gateway, but it’s often impractical and far too costly to place security appliances at every branch. However, by embracing a security-as-a-service approach, businesses can deliver the security required for their internet-bound traffic and the user performance needed for their Office 365 connections. Companies with successful deployments are using local internet breakouts at branch offices, which gets Office 365 traffic to Microsoft as quickly as possible, and avoids the latency added when traveling through older hub-and-spoke networks. In effect, these companies are using the internet as their network, whilst still applying the controls and rigour that their hub and spoke network provided.

Using cloud-based business applications, such as Office 365, may seem like a daunting task when taking into account the impact they are having on the traditional network. However, the benefits are significant. It enables companies to create a truly global workforce by delivering services, such as Skype for Business, Cloud PBX, SharePoint or OneNote, to users wherever they are located. Users also get to experience a frictionless IT environment that enables them to communicate and do their jobs faster and more efficiently.

By moving to a direct internet connection and using local internet breakouts at each branch office, businesses can ensure they have fast, secure connections for all application requirements.

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Matt Piercy is the Vice President and General Manager of EMEA, Zscaler. He is responsible for the overall productivity, growth and effectiveness of the entire EMEA sales organisation. Prior to Zscaler, Matt spent seven years as the Vice President of North EMEA at VMWare. He led over 1,000 people through immense growth, while simultaneously bringing in revenue measured in the high hundreds of millions. His responsibility included building and leading both the channel and direct sales organisations as well as all associated field functions. A veteran in the security industry, Matt has 22 years of experience in sales and general management positions throughout EMEA. Previously, he was the general manager at F-Secure and also took up channel management positions at Citrix.