Security investment is finally driving SD-WAN into the enterprise

by Budd Ilic, ANZ Country Manager, Zscaler
  • Budd Ilic (CSO Online)
  • 06 February, 2019 12:11

After a few years of missteps and slower-than-anticipated take-up, it's now clear what will get enterprises to open their wallets for SD-WAN, writes Budd Ilic, ANZ Country Manager, Zscaler.

Software-defined wide area networking is widely considered to be coming into its own this year, with the rise in interest - and production deployments - driven by investment in cybersecurity.

Arguably, it's been a tough path into the enterprise environment for SD-WAN. The technology has been in-market for a number of years, with a strong value proposition, and yet take-up has largely been slower than expected.

One reason for this is likely to be competing priorities. To date, SD-WAN has mostly been pitched on its ability to replace pricey multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) networks used to carry enterprise traffic between head office and branch locations. With the rise of cloud, MPLS architecture is becoming unnecessary as a large percentage of traffic can be routed over the public internet instead - and SD-WAN can manage that and find the quickest routes.

But cost is both a reason to turf and keep MPLS. While some organisations may want to sweat their MPLS arrangements just a little bit more, the same cost pressures might drive others towards SD-WAN. However, against a backdrop of many competing IT priorities, MPLS replacement hasn't been at the top of the to-do list for many IT executives.

Where there has been significant and consistent budget growth is in cybersecurity. A recent Gartner survey of 3000 chief information officers found their strongest area of focus is on cybersecurity, eclipsing other technologies by a long shot. As Gartner put it, cybersecurity is shaping the CIO technology agenda.

"To improve security against cyber threats, in all organisations, CIOs are combining measures to harden information-processing assets with efforts to influence the people that use technology," Gartner said.

SD-WAN has strong credentials in hardening an organisation's security posture - and, as it turns out, enterprises think so, too. Research by Verizon published in July last year found "almost one in two organisations (47%) said the need to improve their cybersecurity has been a factor in their take-up of software-defined networking (SDN) tools, of which SD-WAN is one. More than half (56%) believe that increased network security will be one of the most important benefits they will gain from a move to SDN," the research found.

That trend continued through the back half of 2018; security researchers at Ericsson, for example, noted that SDN generally was being positioned as a key ingredient in both emerging security research and best-practice strategies and methodologies targeted at the enterprise.

So, why the buzz about bolstering cybersecurity with SD-WAN?                                      

Over the past decade, enterprise cybersecurity has changed significantly. While securing a business was not necessarily easier in the past, the way in which companies went about it was more straightforward and well-defined.

Traditional networks were built to house and protect users in a stationary world, a world designed for people who used desktop PCs in offices and accessed all of the applications and data within that network. In this world, companies operated with a hub-and-spoke model in which Internet traffic from branch offices would be routed through a regional hub to ensure safe connections. While that caused latency, it also meant companies had only a few network touchpoints to worry about.

That world is gone. The perimeter is broken. The new world companies live in has grown beyond the hub-and-spoke model. Now, users are employing a multitude of mobile devices, from a constantly changing number of locations, to connect and communicate over the Internet. And with the advent of the cloud, networks aren’t all located in a single place and on a single set of servers.

The hub-and-spoke model can’t handle this new need for mobility and flexibility - but SD-WAN can, and it's why enterprises are now moving ahead with deployments.

While the zone of trust that protected users inside the network and that companies experienced with traditional networks cannot be recreated in this new world, with SD-WAN, companies can achieve enterprise-grade security through enterprise-grade cloud-based security solutions.

Once SD-WAN is in place, enterprises can also benefit from the more traditional benefits the technology provides: for example, leveraging more cost-effective broadband connections to local service providers rather than having to push internet-bound traffic through an MPLS backbone in a centralised location before it goes out to the internet. But it appears that - at least in 2019 - it's security that will get the next wave of SD-WAN projects over the line.