The 4 Drivers in the Journey to Full WAN Transformation

October 9, 2017

Organizations around the world are beginning to go through digital transformation projects. They are moving their datacenters to the cloud, using more and more SaaS products, and moving their networking (SD-WAN) and security (FWaaS) to cloud-based solutions.

The 4 Mega Drivers of Business

Profitability is always the driving factor for business. But in today’s hypercompetitive world, we can generally point to four mega drivers that impact profitability and influence business decisions: speed, scope, security and simplicity.

  • The need for speed — Speed matters more than ever. Businesses must move fast and react quickly to changing conditions and new opportunities. Local organizations go global; manufacturing moves factories to lower cost regions. From pop-up stores to project sites, business locations tend to have shorter lifecycles. There is no time to waste, and IT must operate at the pace of today’s business.
  • Get stuff done everywhere — Mobility is increasingly important to getting close to customers and responding to business opportunities. The support infrastructure previously designed for fixed locations must now include individual workers. These users could be anything from offshore developers to field engineers, project managers, claim adjustors, or simply IT consultants.
  • Secure by design — Security can no longer be an afterthought. Given today’s threat landscape, security must be built into the way we do business. Because the strength of the defense is determined by the weakest link, we can’t treat remote locations and mobile users as secondary targets. Enterprise-grade security must extend to all users and enterprise resources, especially the most dynamic and volatile ones.
  • Simplification drives cost reductions — Every company needs to focus on its core competencies, and unless you are a hosting provider you don’t have an edge running complex private IT infrastructure. This is why enterprises increasingly turn to service providers and the cloud to run compute, storage, networking, and security. IT no longer has to own generic infrastructure and invest the resources just to keep the lights on. It can now better focus and serve company-specific needs and initiatives.

For IT leaders, this means we must maximize the speed, scope, security and simplification benefits of every project. WAN transformation is one such example.

The WAN Is Incompatible with Today’s Business

The legacy WAN is misaligned with the way business gets done today.

First, the WAN is slow to evolve. It was designed for permanent, static locations connected via expensive, MPLS links. The legacy WAN slows us down when we need a quick turnaround for new sites, on a deadline to split networks due to spin-offs, or are rushing to securely integrate acquisitions.

Second, the WAN provides no value to our mobile workforce. All of our fancy connectivity solutions, such as edge SD-WAN appliances, do not extend to the field-people that are vital to our success.

Third, the WAN does not support our drive towards simplification by using the cloud. As we migrate our businesses to cloud datacenters or public-cloud applications, our legacy WAN architectures and optimizations can’t effectively support the new hybrid environment.

And lastly, traditional WANs are complex and very expensive. WAN providers can no longer justify their premium prices they used to charge when businesses mostly operated from fixed locations. Continue paying for dated services that are not compatible with today’s global, mobile and cloud-driven businesses makes little sense.  

The 4 S’s of WAN Transformation

To be successful, WAN transformation must address the mega drivers impacting the business — speed, scope, security and simplicity — for fixed locations as well as mobile users and cloud resources. Many organizations are looking to the Internet as a way to address the limitations of their traditional WANs. The software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) lets companies connect locations with multiple Internet links, securely, using algorithms and custom policies to direct traffic to the optimum link. Here are some of the ways an SD-WAN can meet these mega drivers:

  • Make the WAN more agile: SD-WAN enables IT to be more agile, deploying new locations and accommodating new business requests far faster than was possible with MPLS. By using inexpensive Internet services, companies can afford to over provision site capacity, eliminating the delays associated with MPLS line upgrades. The use of Internet and zero-touch provisioning, where the SD-WAN routers configure themselves upon connecting the network, reduce the time and complexity of connecting a new site. Traditional SD-WAN still requires the configuration and implementation of advanced security if the remote site will use the Internet line for general Internet access. An SD-WAN that integrates advanced security — next generation firewall (NGFW), advanced threat protection, and the like — can also simplify and accelerate the deployment of the local security architecture.
  • Extend the scope of the WAN everywhere: Traditional business might have been done from fixed locations, but today’s business is done everywhere. Mobile users, though, were never incorporated into the WAN. They connect to enterprises resources through a virtual private network (VPN), part of a network security solution. VPNs are infamous for poor user-experience and performance issues, in part because users connect through the unpredictable and slow public Internet. If they need to reach cloud applications, users must also connect back to a datacenter appliance, adding further latency. Expanding the scope of the WAN edge to the last mobile user sounds like fiction, but new WAN technologies treat mobile users as equal players, providing global, optimized and secure mobile connectivity for every user, everywhere.
  • Secure cloud and private resources: We need to securely extend the WAN to the cloud and optimize the connectivity. What were previously resources in a physical datacenter, are now spread between physical datacenters and the cloud. Furthermore, the cloud datacenter may span multiple cloud providers. Integrating all of these “fragments” into a secure and optimized network is essential to realizing the benefits of cloud migration. This is easier said than done: If your WAN thinks “physical” it will be hard-pressed to extend to the cloud. And, the cloud will most likely introduce latency and other unforeseen optimization challenges. This doesn’t mean the cloud isn’t right for you; it does mean that the WAN has to evolve.
  • Reduce costs by eliminating MPLS and simplifying IT: SD-WAN is promising to boost the capacity of the WAN by adding inexpensive Internet links to augment expensive MPLS ones. This is called a hybrid WAN. It’s a reasonable first step, but there is so much more. Hybrid WANs persist the reliance on MPLS due to the unpredictable latency of the public Internet, especially for national and global organizations. SD-WAN must offer a roadmap for MPLS elimination with a cost-effective MPLS alternative.

In addition, SD-WAN offers the opportunity to simplify IT structures. Instead of maintaining separate network security architectures — for WAN, mobile and cloud — companies can now consolidate around one holistic secure network architecture. This radical simplification gives IT visibility into and control over all aspects of the network, reducing operational complexity and costs. But it’s only possible with proper security in the network. Traditional WAN didn’t face this issue as it backhauled Internet-traffic across MPLS to the datacenter for secure Internet access. Security operations were simplified at the expense of network and application performance — precisely the factors driving demand for SD-WAN. Building advanced security into the network itself enables network security technical simplification and ultimately — and this is often the most controversial part — allows for further cost savings through the integration of networking, and security teams.

An SD-WAN for Transformed Business

These are major considerations. The WAN represents a significant opportunity to change the way IT serves the business, with immediate and tangible benefits. While WAN transformation is a journey, it is essential that IT leaders do not fall into the trap of short-term thinking by solving one challenge at a time with point-products. Whatever your approach, WAN transformation projects are architectural in nature. The capabilities of the architecture you choose will determine the incremental effort you will have to invest and the benefits you can reap.

An ideal WAN architecture will eliminate MPLS connectivity costs, regionally and globally, extend the WAN to cloud resources and mobile users, and deliver network security everywhere. The WAN of the future — fast, agile, secure and all inclusive — is in sight.

Dave Greenfield

Dave Greenfield

Dave Greenfield is a veteran of IT industry. He’s spent more than 20 years as an award-winning journalist and independent technology consultant. Today, he serves as a secure networking evangelist for Cato Networks.