The marriage of networking and security into the secure-access service edge stands to improve application performance, reduce infrastructure complexity, and protect sensitive data, and as such SASE is an attractive architecture for enterprises large and small.\nDue to the newness of SASE offerings, though, providers are still building and refining the features of their services, so available offerings are complex, often incomplete and require integration with customer organizations\u2019 existing network and security architectures.\nVendors of networking gear, cloud providers, and alliances of the two are trying to fulfill the potential of SASE through cooperation but also via in-house development and mergers and acquisitions. The landscape is shifting, so potential customers need to appraise SASE options carefully before choosing the one to adopt. IT leaders need clear criteria to evaluate how SASE would best fit in their environments.\u00a0\u00a0\n\nHere are seven criteria to help IT in its evaluation of the numerous offerings of SASE suppliers.\nComprehensive network and security portfolio\nSASE encompasses a tremendous breath of network and security technology across the edge and core\u2014routing, SD-WAN, SD-Branch, Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB), identity, zero-trust network access, firewalls, secure web gateways (SWG), data-loss prevention and more.\nSASE is responsible for securely accessing applications in the cloud or private data centers from any device at any location, and delivery models include on-premises hardware and as a cloud service.\nFew suppliers can provide a complete SASE portfolio with leading-edge networking and security capabilities, and those that do are struggling to integrate their technology acquisitions into comprehensive offerings.\u00a0 The upshot for IT leaders is to evaluate which aspects of SASE are most critical to them and how well each supplier meets their network and security requirements.\nRemote, home and mobile access\nAs events of 2020 have shown, people need secure, reliable access to all their applications and data independent of how they access them, so SASE needs to support workers on the road and on a range of mobile devices.\nMany SASE suppliers have ignored remote access until recently and are working to upgrade their services to include access from home networks and mobile devices. Often their remote-access solutions rely on VPNs that and are separate and distinct from their cloud-based security offerings for the branch and data center.\nIT organizations should implement unified remote-access architectures that do not require different technologies for the different ways their users access applications and data. IT pros should seek out SASE suppliers that provide remote access solutions that are well integrated \u2013 and ones that don\u2019t mandate employees use different security services for home or remote work as compared to those in the office.\nConnecting and securing people vs. things\nThe traditional focus of IT is to securely and reliability connect people and their PCs to on-premises and cloud-based applications. For many organizations, the next wave will be connecting and securing various IoT devices, many of them lacking in security, so they often require new security products and services.\nIn evaluating SASE solutions, IT organizations should seek out suppliers that have robust abilities to secure a wide range of IoT devices, and whose IoT security capabilities are well integrated with their overall SASE offerings.\nSASE as a managed service\nNetworking and security are distinct technology realms, each of which are extremely complex to deploy, integrate and manage. Current SASE solutions are making strides toward operational simplicity, but most require significant implementation and operational expertise.\nBecause they may lack the in-house expertise to implement SASE themselves and be attracted by the potential for reduced operational costs, IT organizations will want to consider managed SASE services. Smaller businesses and enterprises with a lean IT philosophy will be among those potential customers.\nThose that do should select SASE providers that can scale to the size their organization need, that support customization and that can accommodate multi-tenancy.\nSASE ecosystem\nIT leaders moving towards a SASE architecture should implement SASE solutions that are flexible enough to incorporate their current network and security infrastructure.\nVery few IT shops have a single vendor for all of their LAN, WAN and network security functionality, and most shops have multiple security suppliers to optimize best of breed functionality for each security element\u2014VPN, firewall, CASB, etc.\u00a0 Collapsing the network and security-appliance sprawl is perhaps the primary benefit and objective of SASE.\nSwitching to a SASE supplier means either replacing a wide range of this network and security gear\u2014which is unlikely in the near term\u2014or overlaying the SASE architecture on the existing IT infrastructure.\u00a0 So in evaluating SASE vendors, it is critical for IT decision makers to make sure they pick one that has a broad ecosystem of technology partners to ease this integration, including networking, security and management.\nLong-term vision and viability\nIT teams will find that onboarding new SASE vendors or switching suppliers will be challenging to implement, take time and add risk.\nPicking a SASE vendor and architecture is a significant decision which will impact the IT organization for the next decade. That being so, it\u2019s important that the chosen SASE supplier have a long-term vision and the agility to rapidly adjust to new market requirements.\nIt should also have the financial resources to acquire innovative start-ups to meet technology needs and the acumen to smoothly integrate new technology into its existing SASE architecture.\nUse cases: know which solution fits\nDespite the elevated marketing claims, no single SASE solution is likely to fit all use cases. Suppliers, no matter how large, cannot provide everything to all potential customers, especially considering variances in company size, application breadth, vertical requirements, compliance regulations, and geography.\nIT decision makers should compile a list of their needs and priorities and correlate them to the list of SASE features they will need to meet them. They should ask SASE suppliers for success stories of customers that have similar needs, operate in similar verticals, have like size, and that have comparable existing IT and security infrastructure.\nMigrating to SASE will bring many benefits, but also significant challenges.\u00a0 Picking the right partner to integrate SASE into the existing IT architecture or to deliver SASE as a managed service will be critical.