The pandemic has changed many things about the way we live and work. But digital and cloud-based technologies have in most cases stepped up to soften the blow of government lockdowns and social distancing. Although digital transformation was growing in popularity long before COVID-19 emerged, we may well have reached a tipping point in adoption. New cloud-based business models have been rapidly developed while business owners have largely come to realize the importance of seamless, remote connectivity and access to online resources.
With every remote worker now effectively their own discrete branch office, the stage is set for greater adoption of SD-WAN capabilities for secure, streamlined cloud working.
Networks under strain
Although the situation is still very fluid, an estimated 40% of employees across Europe began working remotely full-time as a result of the pandemic, more than double the usual number. In some countries, and cities like London (57%), the number was even higher. With second waves of infection already starting to emerge, this trend for mass distributing working could become the norm for many businesses. But with this rapid shift has come extra strain for traditional network architectures.
VPNs have born much of the negative publicity. They may have provided an adequate solution when supporting a small number of remote workers. But various reports suggest many organizations’ remote access infrastructure has been found wanting during the crisis — creating performance issues that hampered productivity and access to cloud apps, as well as security challenges. One vendor claimed that 43% of IT operations leaders had problems patching remote endpoints, thanks in part to overwhelmed VPN tunnels.
This comes at a time when cybercriminals have been focusing their efforts on targeting distracted remote workers running possibly insecure machines and networks. Another vendor warned of a 127% increase in exposed RDP endpoints, for example.
SD-WAN to the rescue
While remote workers, therefore, need fast, secure access to corporate and cloud-hosted applications, the security and network infrastructure has largely not kept up. This is where SD-WAN can help.
It decouples the networking hardware from the control layer, virtualizing the WAN to simplify configuration and traffic routing. IT and network administrators can manage security policies and bandwidth at the click of a mouse from any location rather than being forced to manually configure the network. SD-WAN also adds intelligence, by prioritizing traffic for mission-critical applications, and reduces costs versus legacy MPLS, as traffic is routed over the internet.
SD-WAN would therefore seem to provide a preferable option for companies looking to support mass remote working and secure access to cloud services and applications.
Doing it properly
SD-WAN in itself is not a silver bullet, however. Migration can be complex and tricky to deploy, requiring a manually managed gateway in the public cloud, which could introduce security issues. Many SD-WAN solutions also require a separate security appliance or cloud service, adding further cost and complexity. If firms choose a telco or network service provider option, they may struggle with a lack of flexibility to add new locations at speed.
It’s therefore important to look for a third-party SD-WAN provider that combines security and network optimization in a one-stop-shop offering, for maximum ease-of-deployment and use, and to keep costs to a minimum. But beyond this, the SD-WAN framework should be natively built into a public cloud network if they want to benefit from Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), a relatively new concept growing in popularity and first coined by Gartner. This packages SD-WAN with network security functions like CASB and firewall-as-a-service “to support the dynamic secure access needs of organizations.”
With SD-WAN built into a public cloud network, organizations can benefit from even stronger security, enhanced performance for site-to-site and site-to-cloud connections, zero-touch deployment, and significantly reduced costs. According to Barracuda Networks, 23% of global firms have already deployed SD-WAN, and another 51% are either in the process of deploying or expect to do so within the next 12 months. With the post-COVID world likely to feature a much greater emphasis on remote working, it’s a smart move to future-proof your organization.
Phil Muncaster is a technology writer and editor with over 12 years’ experience working on some of the biggest technology titles around, including Computing, The Register, V3 and MIT Technology Review. He spent over two years in Hong Kong immersed in the Asian tech scene and is now back in London where information security has become a major focus for his work.