Managing and securing the corporate WAN is the top challenge for network professionals

As the network becomes infinitely more expansive and complex, it’s clear that network professionals are dealing with exorbitantly more challenges in both managing and securing their network.

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In December 2017, Versa Networks in tandem with Dimensional Research conducted a survey examining hundreds of participants across five continents with the primary goal of capturing how companies are managing and securing their network across branch locations. In addition, the research also investigated the expected benefits and challenges of a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) and revealed trends when compared to a similar survey conducted in 2016.

The survey found that network administrators face many hurdles when it comes to their organization’s WAN. Increasing costs due to the growing traffic volume over existing MPLS networks represented a major headache, followed by information security risks at the branch that could later erupt into a cyberattack or data breach.

But overwhelmingly the research found that managing and securing the corporate WAN represented the top challenge for the majority – 68 percent – of network professionals. And above all else, network professionals cited complexity as a key factor of that challenge. Compounding the problem, network professionals also face IT personnel shortfalls and challenges integrating security and networking products.

Altogether, these challenges have driven more than 85 percent of companies to consider SD-WAN specifically to increase security and reduce sprawl. Perhaps not surprisingly, adoption of SD-WAN has accelerated compared to data from last year’s survey, with more than 90 percent targeting deployment by the end of 2019.

Enterprises struggle to rein in complexity

According to the survey, which examined the responses of 309 network professionals, the vast majority cited complexity as their top challenge to securing and managing branch networks – for a lot of reasons.  For one, most organizations – 74 percent – deployed or relied on a direct internet connection at the branch to help improve multi-cloud and SaaS connectivity, user-experience and performance. As a result, they also need to deploy more security devices on their network to combat threats and other risks from new and expanded attack vectors.

The growing number of devices ultimately increased the time to provision new branch locations, taking longer than a month for more than a third (32 percent) of organizations. The number of devices also significantly increased the complexity of policy change management, while negatively impacting the addition of new services and other product integrations. And in light of the additional complexity created from that abundance of disparate network and security devices, it’s also not surprising that more than half (54 percent) of organizations revealed their branch network had experienced some kind of security breach – with 15 percent maintaining that the attack gave the perpetrators access to critical corporate systems and data.

Complexity, cost, and security driving SD-WAN adoption

Increasingly, organizations are choosing SD-WAN to reduce risk, decrease costs and manage sprawl. These and other mounting challenges have spurred a tidal wave of anticipated SD-WAN adoption (85 percent) in the months and years to come, with 93 percent targeting deployment by the end of 2019. That sharp spike in adoption represents a significant increase compared to the 68 percent of organizations considering SD-WAN adoption a year prior in 2016, indicating that it’s clear that the value proposition of SD-WAN is strongly resonating with enterprise IT.

Meanwhile, every network professional surveyed (96 percent) indicated that an aggressive approach for networking and security will be required going forward. To streamline efficiency, efficacy and ease of use, IT administrators maintained that they are increasingly looking to adopt a single integrated solution that combines networking, SD-WAN and a full suite of security capabilities and services, with 80 percent maintaining that they wanted a combined network and security solution. That means that administrators are increasingly requiring typical branch security solutions such as intrusion protection, next-generation firewall and malware protection to either be built directly or integrated natively into the SD-WAN solution.  

Managed services fill in the gaps

Yet despite the overwhelming desire for comprehensive SD-WAN deployment, the lack of technology expertise and qualified personnel remain the biggest impediments to effective SD-WAN implementation. Specifically, 60 percent of respondents cited a general lack of understanding regarding SD-WAN features and capabilities, while 58 percent cited a lack of qualified people in their organization to implement it. Other barriers to entry included the perception of the solution as costly (33 percent), lack of trust for the technology (20 percent) and the absence of a true business need (16 percent). Subsequently, almost two thirds of organizations are considering a managed solution to alleviate some of these new or anticipated hurdles.

The answer for many IT administrators was managed services. The anticipated benefits of a managed single integrated solution combining SD-WAN networking with security functionality filled in a lot of gaps created by lack of SD-WAN expertise and qualified personnel. Among other things, administrators said they would realize new ways to save resources (41 percent) by not directly managing their WAN and instead focusing on greater network challenges. They could leverage provider expertise (36 percent) without having to invest time and money in learning a new WAN technology. And they could also hold the provider accountable (35 percent) for any issues or troubleshooting that might occur during implementation or after.

As the network becomes infinitely more expansive and complex, it’s clear that network professionals are dealing with exorbitantly more challenges in both managing and securing their network. These mounting network challenges are driving network professionals to come up with increasingly innovative and aggressive solutions – and they are overwhelmingly turning to SD-WAN. Now, more than 85 percent of companies are considering SD-WAN specifically to increase security and reduce sprawl – and that number is growing. The vast majority of network professionals have clearly stated that they prefer a single platform that brings them advanced networking with SD-WAN and advanced integrated security and visibility. And while the lack of education and expertise remained the biggest impediments to SD-WAN deployment, network administrators are increasingly looking outside their organization to managed SD-WAN solutions to cut costs, reduce complexity and fill in much needed personnel gaps, ultimately allowing them to move forward and succeed on their digital transformation journey.

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