Futureproofing SD-WAN to Support Ongoing Digital Innovation

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SD-WAN has seen tremendous growth and adoption, in part because it provided a flexible WAN solution just as networks were undergoing a radical transformation. To compete effectively in today's digital marketplace, organizations needed to provide users at remote locations with reliable, adaptable, and high-performance access to critical business resources, such as cloud-based business applications.

But this transformation had just begun, and many SD-WAN solutions were simply not designed to support the new use cases resulting from ongoing digital innovation. Today, networks are increasingly complex, with new edge environments—including work from anywhere employees and multi-cloud environments—and distributed resources continuing to evolve. As a result, even though SD-WAN is a relatively new technology, many solutions have already begun to fail the test of time because they can't support many of today's new digital business use cases.

An effective SD-WAN solution needs to meet the requirements of your organization both today and tomorrow. And it needs to do that without a lot of add-ons, overlays, or workarounds that add complexity and reduce the solution's efficiency. And it needs to provide complete, end-to-end security, so IT teams have seamless visibility, enforcement, and control across the entire network even as environments adapt to changing business and connectivity needs.

Five critical functions every SD-WAN solution should provide

Whether you are considering SD-WAN for the first time or rethinking your SD-WAN strategy to meet your evolving needs, there are five critical use cases any SD-WAN solution should be able to address out of the box.

  1. Empower the new work-from-anywhere (WFA) paradigm:The work-from-home model adopted during the COVID pandemic is still evolving. Most organizations are predicted to implement a hybrid work environment, where workers split time between their home office, on-premises desktops, and mobile computing. This new work-from-anywhere (WFA) model adds another layer of complexity because not only are quality of experience and security top of mind, so is consistency. User experience needs to remain consistent regardless of where they are accessing applications and collaboration tools or what device they are using.

To meet this need, SD-WAN solutions need to include advanced access tools, such as built-in Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) Access Proxy function. ZTNA ensures superior user experience, advanced security, and complete visibility across all users, applications, and devices on or off the network. And because it is built directly into the ZTNA platform, organizations can also eliminate device sprawl while enforcing one policy across all edges to ensure consistent protection across the entire attack surface.

  1. Provide SD-WAN at any scale: Digital transformation efforts show no sign of slowing down. As organizations adopt hybrid and multi-cloud strategies and develop new intelligent edge resources, the need for SD-WAN to dynamically scale to any environment or workload is critical. New use cases require flexible, on-demand connectivity between headquarters, branch locations, and home offices, and to and between multi-cloud environments. Future-proofing today's networks requires an SD-WAN solution capable of scaling to thousands of sites across various environments. And it needs a single-pane-of-glass management solution to simplify management at any scale. The addition of AIOps to simplify troubleshooting will identify anomalies and predict failure types based on machine learning models. And simplified day-0, day-1, and day 2+ networking operations enable organizations to rapidly scale while saving time and increasing productivity.
  2. Accelerate cloud on-ramp: For enterprises with a hybrid or multi-cloud strategy, an SD-WAN solution should also address to the cloud, in the cloud, and between the cloud connectivity challenges, including ensuring consistent security and performance on and between different cloud platforms. It should simplify cloud on-ramp by establishing secure, fast connectivity and maintain high performance to the cloud, in the cloud as a native solution, and across clouds by federating inter-cloud protocols in real-time.
  3. Secure the WAN edge: SD-WAN connections are highly dynamic. Effective solutions monitor bandwidth and packet loss and make real-time modifications to connections to maintain optimal user experience. Unfortunately, most security tools, especially when deployed as an overlay solution, were never designed to be that adaptable. As a result, security is often left playing catch-up to network changes, leaving security gaps that can be exploited or limiting connection flexibility, impacting user experience and productivity.

Organizations should be looking for an SD-WAN solution designed to take a security-driven networking approach, where advanced security and routing capabilities are designed to function as a unified system. Such an approach improves operational efficiencies and ensures the delivery of consistent protections, whether using built-in or SASE-based cloud-delivered security. But regardless of the delivery method, it is vital to have the same security stack everywhere to provide consistent threat protection for outbound traffic and internally for the network to stop the lateral movement of threats. And they also need to be managed through a single management console. Of course, integrating such functions onto a single secure platform can take a toll on traditional, off-the-shelf processors. This is especially true when the solution needs to inspect encrypted traffic in real-time. So, organizations should also look for solutions that have been architected to provide maximum performance even when things like deep inspection of critical traffic occur.

  1. Extend SD-WAN services into the branch network: Neither security nor connectivity ends at the edge of the branch office. An effective SD-WAN solution should extend its core functions deep into the branch network to manage and secure connectivity and transactions across the local LAN. SD-Branch and SD-WAN should work together to ensure a secure and manageable remote branch by converging security, WAN, LAN, and WLAN into a unified system at distributed locations. It should also support LTE and 5G as a cellular gateway to provide better availability and resiliency for SD-WAN deployment.

Design for now but prepare for the future

The network of today may not look anything like the network of tomorrow. But that doesn't have to mean that organizations will need to perpetually rip and replace critical—and expensive—technologies. By understanding the sorts of changes being made across the technology sector, solutions can be chosen based on their ability to meet current needs and support future demands. An SD-WAN solution able to address the five challenges outlined above will meet the requirements of any organization regardless of size or shape—now and well into the future.

Learn how Fortinet’s Secure SD-WAN Solution uses a security-driven networking approach to improve user experience and simplify operations at the WAN Edge.

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