SD-WAN – The Cornerstone of Modern Networking

Over the past 10 years software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) have been implemented across myriad of industries.

Since its first iteration, it was projected to become the linchpin of modern cloud and application-centric networking environments, delivering the ability to meet the expectation of growing reliance on the cloud and, in particular, applications.

Recently, IDC forecast a growth rate of 21% CAGR for SD-WAN services globally, reaching $16 billion by 2026. Our own research with IDC found that more than 95% of enterprises have deployed SD-WAN or plan to do so within the next two years.

But despite this widescale adoption, our study revealed that organisations aren’t reaping the full benefits that SD-WAN can provide. Two in five (42%) of those organisations we surveyed with IDC do not have a robust security framework integrated into their networks, nor do they have network protection specifically designed for SD-WAN. This leaves them dangerously exposed to all kinds of malicious cyber threats.

The importance of combining SD-WAN and cyber security

In recent years, security frameworks and approaches, such as Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) and zero-trust networking (ZTNA), have emerged as a response to rising levels of data breaches, external attacks, and vulnerability exploitations made even more challenging due to the hybrid working environment we see today.

Integrating frameworks such as SASE and ZTNA into SD-WAN ensures integrated security for networks, regardless of where employees, applications, and devices are located.

And this more integrated approach can also reduce the overall complexity of a network, which will ultimately improve performance. For example, avoiding routing traffic through multiple network and security gateways which can increase latency and impact productivity.

A well-designed network deployment will also support digital transformation initiatives such as work-from-anywhere, branch transformation or cloud migrations. For example, SASE solutions offer choice and a roadmap to enhancing the security posture of any business by replacing legacy VPN technology, improving security for employees at brick-and-mortar locations, and developing a more comprehensive foundation to support a hybrid cloud model.

Businesses gain more value when SD-WAN is integrated with security, and SASE adopters report higher satisfaction and greater benefits than those that deploy SD-WAN in a silo. The good news is that our research found that seven out of 10 respondents expect to use integrated security in the next 12 months and that two-thirds (65%) of businesses are deploying managed security services to assist in their rollout.

The obstacles to widespread adoption

But why the slow pace? Enterprises looking to implement new security solutions are facing multiple roadblocks, most notably finding and hiring staff with the necessary skills. Last year, the global cybersecurity workforce gap increased by 26% compared to 2021, with 3.4 million more workers needed to secure enterprises effectively. The need for extra cybersecurity staffing on top of an existing skills gap is putting organisations at significant risk.

As businesses shift to the cloud, these migrations create more complexity in the network environment, further compounding the technology skills gap. Furthermore, the hybrid workforce has expanded the network perimeter and the attack surface for malicious actors. All these challenges are putting a tremendous strain on businesses.

Leaders should think about whether they are going to take the do-it-yourself approach or use external experts to assist with the planning and deployment of software-defined networking technologies. If time and cost-savings are important factors, then partnering with managed service providers (MSPs) that understand business objectives and goals can provide the organisation with the necessary elements to design and implement an effective solution package. MSPs can manage and maintain the SD-WAN and SASE solution on the business’ behalf and can also procure and manage the underlying network, providing the business with greater flexibility and agility.

Organisations looking to deploy SD-WAN should start with a “kick the tyres” approach by getting demonstrations of how it works and a potential lab trial or a proof-of-concept. They should review their current deployment models, such as the number of remote employees, branch locations, regional locations, headquarters, and data centres, and create a microcosm of their existing network to allow for a full evaluation.

Leaders also need to assess SD-WAN in terms of its reach, functionality, and support for critical workloads in relation to legacy networks. Selecting the right underlying technology by carefully aligning the business objectives with the deployment model will result in an integrated and secure SD-WAN solution. In addition, the network should be viewed through the corporate security lens to ensure a holistic approach to data, application, and user cybersecurity is applied. SD-WAN when fully integrated with the right security framework is a powerful tool to protect and secure corporate assets.

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ with SD-WAN

Every organisation has its own goals, culture, and barriers which demand something unique from their network. There is no single path to success when it comes to SD-WAN deployment.

Economic disruptions are becoming the norm. And as businesses brace themselves for what the future holds, they are looking to improve cost efficiency and agility through a digital-first, hybrid working approach. Enter, SD-WAN.

About the Author

Todd Kiehn is Senior Vice President of Strategy & Product at GTT. GTT is a managed network and security services provider to global organizations. We design and deliver solutions that leverage advanced cloud, networking and security technologies. We complement our solutions with a suite of professional services and exceptional support teams in local markets around the world. We serve thousands of national and multinational companies with a portfolio that includes SD-WAN, security, internet, voice and other connectivity options.

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