This year, the sudden onset of the coronavirus pandemic changed just about all of the assumptions IT infrastructure managers had made going into the year. In less than a month, the priority shifted from internal network security to finding ways to accommodate massive new remote workforces. As anyone in the industry can tell you, it was a Herculean effort that went about as well as could be expected.
But now, as 2021 begins, infrastructure managers face the unenviable task of evaluating their networks and looking for long-term solutions to their cobbled-together ones. Complicating matters is the fact that nobody’s quite sure when or if things will go back to the pre-pandemic status quo. And that means they need to go looking for solutions that give them maximum flexibility without sacrificing security.
One of the things that businesses must consider to accomplish that is a shift toward SD-WAN architecture. It’s a topology that allows for granular security control alongside a high degree of traffic control, resulting in a flexible network that’s not a nightmare to defend. And considering the sweeping effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the cybersecurity space, anything that can lighten their load is worth considering. Here’s a look at SD-WAN technology, why it’s a go-to option for network designers and enterprise networks, and the challenges that remain in adopting it.
What is SD-WAN?
SD-WAN, or software-defined wide area network, is a recent evolution of network topology that uses software rather than hardware to stitch together multiple network locations into a single, coherent group. In practice, it offers businesses a way to create a single secure virtual business network comprised of multiple office locations, cloud services, and even remote workers’ home networks. And because the network is software-controlled, the business ends up with a single point of management for the whole thing. But that’s not the only benefit.
The security benefits of SD-WAN
From a security standpoint, an SD-WAN architecture gives businesses security options they may not have had before. For example, sites in an SD-WAN layout connect together via automated secure tunnels. They function like enterprise VPN products but without the complex configuration. But they also allow for enhanced data flow controls that VPNs don’t offer.
For example, businesses can designate specific types of traffic that will traverse the encrypted links. They can send IP telephony and fileserver traffic to the main office with encryption while allowing YouTube traffic to go out over the unencrypted WAN link. This reduces the traffic load at both endpoints, which lowers the cost of deployments. And it also provides a means of instant network segmentation, which increases security visibility and facilitates zero-trust security arrangements.
And that visibility makes it possible for cybersecurity staff to minimize the number of data flows they need to monitor for trouble. With data only getting secured when it needs to be, there’s a whole lot less to worry about traversing the network’s encrypted interconnections. And when SD-WAN architecture extends to every edge of the network, it’s no longer as necessary to trust users to do the right thing when they’re accessing sensitive data – the network controls where all data flows and how.
Cost a factor, but is improving
Another one of the major benefits of an SD-WAN architecture is that it’s well-suited to handle remote workers, particularly when they’re not transient. SD-WAN hardware endpoints can readily replace VPNs as the main security technology used to support work-from-home setups. The only thing holding them back from this right now is cost.
Right now, it’s difficult to find an SD-WAN endpoint in the sub-$1,000 range, which makes the technology a costly replacement for VPNs. But that’s only a problem when you’re equipping workers who will only work from home periodically. For employees who will transition to permanent remote work going forward, it’s an investment that makes more sense. And because SD-WAN hardware offers fine-grain traffic controls, it reduces the traffic burdens on main office networks. That’s one of the major reasons that experts on the subject predict that SD-WAN use in home offices will only grow from here on.
Building secure networks of the future
It’s already clear that the pandemic has changed the requirements of business networks going forward. From this point on, network and infrastructure managers are on notice that they need to be ready for anything – even a sudden shift to all-remote work. And that means network security can no longer rely on the walled-garden approach that has defined the IT industry for decades.
Fortunately, SD-WAN is coming of age at exactly the right time to help meet the security and flexibility challenges of the 21st century. Its security benefits are manifold, and it helps to minimize attack surfaces and increase data flow visibility. As a technology, it’s well-suited to become the heir-apparent to old-school network topologies. And the sooner that businesses get on board, the better off they’ll be.