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SD-WAN (Software-Defined WAN) is a way of managing and optimising a wide area network (WAN) that is designed to address the needs of a more mobile workforce in the age of ever-growing cloud computing, remote working and mobile devices.
SD-WAN is designed to be more flexible in this regard than MPLS, while being more reliable, scalable and agile than a VPN-based WAN. If you’re an organisation that utilises cloud computing, a WAN, or even just has remote workers, SD-WAN is probably something you’re aware of and may even be considering.
But what are the key advantages that SD-WAN offers? And, if you’re considering SD-WAN, what security issues should you bear in mind when making your decision and choosing your provider?
Arguably the key benefit of SD-WAN is that it offers significant savings. The primary cost benefit often cited being cheaper bandwidth. MPLS bandwidth is expensive, and time-consuming, whereas SD-WAN enables you to augment or replace these connections with broadband services, potentially cutting WAN costs by a considerable amount.
The ease-of-use SD-WAN offers also means you can make savings by not having to rely on IT expertise when it comes to, for example, setting up a new remote location online. With SD-WAN, this can be done in a couple of minutes, with just a few clicks.
With SD-WAN, you can improve the flexibility and agility of your systems, primarily by removing the burden from physical devices to software solutions with centralised control. This will enable you to quickly make any network changes necessary, whether you’re responding to or anticipating your business requirements.
SD-WAN can combine the bandwidth of multiple WAN connections, doing away with issues of bandwidth limitation. It also enables you to add or remove connections quickly and easily. This results in optimum flexibility and agility when connecting to cloud providers. Agility is improved through the automation of tasks such as maintenance, upgrades and configuration changes, to name a few.
For companies with cloud applications and a remote workforce, SD-WAN offers the benefit of universal network control and standardised security, allowing you to take full advantage of the cloud and providing you with full control of your pathways for applications and data packets.
As there is no backhaul, moreover, your business will not suffer from the expense and performance lag associated with backhauling application traffic. What you get instead is fast, reliable performance that is cost-effective and means your business never needs to wait or slow down.
If there’s an area in which SD-WAN sometimes attracts criticism, it’s security. Some SD-WAN offerings don’t come with built-in security or encryption. Thankfully, progress is being made in this regard and, with the cloud, it becomes infinitely easier to supplement any security shortcomings you might encounter.
However, to ensure you get as complete an SD-WAN package as possible, here are three things to keep in mind when looking into it.
As the data plane carries user traffic, this naturally needs to be encrypted and you’ll want to choose a provider offering the best encryption service to ensure that your data remains secure. Providers will offer a variety of encryption methods and choosing the best one for your business will enable you to outwit hackers.
One particular technique that is seen has having a high degree of effectiveness in improving security and foiling hacking attempts is shorter key rotation intervals. Rotating encryption keys frequently offers numerous benefits, allowing you to reduce a hacker’s window of opportunity, while ensuring your organisation is in line with industry standards and best practice for encryption.
While many SD-WAN providers typically used to offer some sort of firewall, the security measures were not as sophisticated as many required, leaving some companies vulnerable to intrusion and data loss. Furthermore, the inbuilt security on offer often didn’t integrate with a company’s existing security infrastructure.
This is an area in which advances are thankfully being made and many SD-WAN providers are now teaming up with security vendors to provide integrated security offerings, including features such as next-generation firewalls. When choosing your SD-WAN provider, look in detail at the kind of security features they offer and how they compare to their competitors.
When selecting your SD-WAN provider, you’ll want one that offers a secure device onboarding process, so that you know that every device on your network is a legitimate part of it and that only those who need it have access.
An important feature will be choosing a provider that ensures that new infrastructure devices are blocked from joining the network until they are fully authenticated. Some providers offer a Zero-trust model for authenticating and onboarding devices, meaning that devices will be required to be on an approved whitelist and have a certificate authenticating their legitimacy.
SD-WAN may be a sector that is still in the process of being fine-tuned, but it is a truly cutting-edge way to meet the needs of your workforce and optimise your cloud usage. While flaws are still being ironed out, utilising SD-WAN now, while ensuring you opt for the most complete, secure package available, could put you well ahead of your competitors.